Friday, February 9, 2024

Instantly, Life Got Better

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood published "Instantly, Life Got Better," my story about The Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan February 9, 1964. The piece conveyed that night in my home but doesn't explore a deeper connection the event had across our country.

It was less than three months after the Kennedy assassination, Pope John XXIII died in June 1963 (even if you weren't religious, you would've loved this guy) and the country's nerves were still rattled by the upper case, bold, 24 point newspaper headlines and frantic news coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

Children, particularly in Catholic households, saw one or both parents lose it. I mean really lose it. Cuba, The Pope and JFK knocked them for a loop and the younger children were at a total loss understanding what was happening in Mom and Dad's heads - they were crying out of context, drinking when they shouldn't and not making the usual "I'm all there" eye contact. Felt like there was no chance things were going to be OK and the parents lost their license as kid protectors.

In February 1964, The Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan offered a bit of salvation, a distraction away from grief. If you let 'em in. The younger audience's reaction telegraphed to the older audience, "we still have joy." Like or hate them, The Beatles rallied hope.

the story...

My brother, Rory, and I, agreed on two things in early 1964: we loved bacon and we were crazy cuckoo nuts over the Beatles. Every Friday night that year, Mom gave us each a dollar to “get the hell out of the house and don’t come back until the store closes.” Together, Rory, 7, and I, 9, zoomed up 86th Street to Woolworth's 5 & 10 for our “start the weekend” ritual: carefully look over all the records in the store’s basement after our pizza dinner on Second Avenue. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the Beatles first U.S. single came out the day after Christmas 1963, and the Lp "Meet the Beatles," was released on January 20th. Our mouths watered as we fingered through our favorite album covers: the Motown artists, Beach Boys, the Four Seasons and others.

We didn’t own a record player yet, but each of us had a few 45s that with low frequency Dad would let us hear on his 1955 RCA Victrola. He never let us touch it. He stood there giving us lessons on how to put the record on the turntable, how to clean the needle, but he always put the record on and he would lower the sound so we had to put our ears against the speaker’s grill to hear the song. Rory told Dad if he really loved us he should get us a dog like “Nipper” the RCA pup inside the record player’s top listening to “His Master’s Voice.”

Dad surprised the family with a Motorola TV Console at Christmas time in 1963. Mom, Rory, and me were pleased as punch, the only down side was taking tuner changing lessons from Dad once a night. He’d stand in front of the TV screen demanding our full attention. Rory and I were not allowed to touch it. Mom had limited privileges. “Slow, turn the knob slow, only one station at a time. Got me? Very slow, and make sure it precisely stops at each station.” I could feel the heat of the cigarette in his mouth near my ear when he leaned in during my lesson. When Mom was upset with Dad (often) and he wasn’t around, she’d let Rory and I have tuner-turning contests — who was the fastest going from Channel 2 to Channel 13 then back to Channel 2.

My only refuge to enjoy my media alone, anxiety free, was listening to my eight transistor radio. My confirmation gift was packed carefully in the front pocket of my dungarees. I’d run down to the 89th Street hill inside Carl Schurz Park and lay on the ground oblivious to the cold. I’d open my jacket, lift my shirt, and place the radio on my belly so I could feel the vibrations of the music through my body. By New Year’s I was listening to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There, the single’s B-side, over and over. That’s all I wanted to do. Be alone with my songs and dream.

On Sunday night, February 9, 1964, the family, the four of us were in our 83rd Street living room. Rory and I in our usual positions lying on the area rug over the linoleum covered floor, our heads pushed up with our arms. At 7:30 we were watching “My Favorite Martian,” on CBS, normally a must see show. But that night, all I wanted was it to be over and it to be eight o’clock. After scratching my ass five hundred times, Ed Sullivan came on the air. He made an announcement and then, they were there, The Beatles, live! Paul counted and then they drove into "All My Loving," and life instantly got better.

In 1964, you could see ballplayers live, you could see movie and TV stars on the screens but it was nearly impossible to see the musicians you loved when you were too young to be going to a concert. When I saw The Beatles for the first time, they were mine, not to be shared with my parents; I owned this picture, this sound, these feelings. I looked over at Rory and saw him glowing. He got it, too. We found a place of our own. The Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan, the flesh and blood merge with the music that was driving us crazy to distraction opened up a pleasure vault in our hearts and minds.

Glued to the TV screen we inched closer as if touching the screen with our noses would put us in the audience. Using slight body English to move when Dad yelled,” You’re in my way!” As if he cared. We gawked with our mouths wide-open, hands to our chins, our hearts beating faster than they had any right to. Their names flashed on the screen: Paul, George, Ringo, John, (SORRY GIRLS, HE’S MARRIED). Our eyes and ears conspired, making a movie we’d keep inside our heads forever.

It’s still there, the TV console Dad bought Christmas 1963. No TV inside it, but I have a worn beautiful piece of furniture in my living room that reminds me of a moment sixty years ago that stopped my heart in the best way.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Adrianne Frost Show This Sunday, Jan 21 @ 7pm... I'm Telling A Good One


I'm telling one this Sunday, Jan 21 @ 7pm at Adrianne Frost's "New Beginnings" show at QED Astoria @qedastoria

Adrianne throws a great party and she's invited a cool lineup of storytellers who know their way around the blck.
Adrianne's shout out... below!!!
Two days until New Tricks present stories of “New Beginnings”! With the best storytellers of a certain age!
January 21st @ 7pm,
Jeff Simmermon: This American Life, The Moth Podcast @jeff.simmermon
Thomas Pryor: I Hate The Dallas Cowboys, Stoops To Nuts @yorkville_nut
Ivy Eisenberg: Generation Women, The Moth @ivy_eisenberg
Heather Dell’Amore: Moth Story Slam Champion, Hudson Valley Improv @bulletintheheatherd
Troy Allen: Edinburgh Fringe Fest, Finalist Houston @Comedy Film Festival @troyallen70
And your host who’s been over 40 for a bit now: Adrianne Frost!

Friday, November 24, 2023

Over The River And Through The Potatoes

This is the final chapter in the Yorkville 1961 Thanksgiving trilogy.

Around one o'clock, Dad and I got back from the parade to my grandparents apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad’s Mom, and Pop Rode, Nan and Pop Cuckoo to me, always cooked our bird. Mom’s parents did Easter’s lamb roast. At the kitchen table, Mom and Nan were snapping ends off a few pounds of string beans and throwing them into a spaghetti pot. Rory and Pop were in the living room watching Babes in Toyland.
“Hi, all, I thought we were eating at one?” Dad said.
“The bird’s got a way to go – maybe another hour,” Nan said.
Mom mouthed to Dad a silent, “No way.”
I was a first class Mom lip reader.
Dad walked to the oven and opened the front.
“Jesus Christ, who are you feeding?”
“Shut your mouth,” Nan said.
“That prehistoric beast is the same size as Rory,” Dad said.
​“Mind your business.”
Mom whispered to me, “Rory is smaller.”
“We’ll eat tomorrow,” Dad said.

“Another hour. Go inside and be useful.” Nan said, waving Dad away. “Get two folding chairs and bring my bag. I forgot something and need you to go to the store.”

Dad eyed me up and down. He wanted to send me but he thought I was getting sick. Resigned, Dad exhaled loudly, ensuring everyone in the balcony knew he was leaving the stage. Being at Nan’s cheered me up. Everything was big. She was big. Pop was big. The coffee cups were big. At her house, I could drink anything I wanted, when I wanted. Dad returned from the front room to the kitchen with Nan’s pocketbook. I could see his arm muscles working hard, lifting the heavy bag.
“Here you go. What do you need?” Dad said.
“Go down to Parker’s and get me a pound of butter.”

Dad walked to the fridge, opened the door and stuck his head in it. “You have a full pound.”
“I need six sticks for the mashed potatoes.”
“We’re six people! That’s a quarter pound of butter per person. Are you trying to stop our hearts with a single meal?”

1582 YorkAve Parkers Grocery @1940

“I’m making mashed potatoes for the week and it’s none of your business. Get the butter.”
“And the thirty pound bird?”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’s twenty-six pounds.”
“Oh, only twenty-six. Let’s see, more than four pounds per person, that should cover our meat provision for our sea voyage.”

I was curious. Would Nan slap him or not? I was pulling for a slap. She seemed close. Instead, she stared him down. He wisely took the money and went to the store. I joined Rory and Pop in the living room to watch the end of the movie. Dad came back and stayed in the kitchen with Nan and Mom.

More than an hour passed.

“I’m starving. How much longer?” Dad said.
“I’ll take a look,” answered Nan.
I got up and watched through the doorway. Nan opened the oven and took the turkey out with her arms firmly hanging onto both pan handles. From behind, she looked like a Russian weightlifter. She placed the pan on the counter and checked the thermometer. Dad was right behind her.
“What does it say?” Dad said.
“135 degrees,” Nan said.
“Forget it, put it back in.”
“No, it’s done.”
“You’re nuts.”
“It’s fine, look?”
Nan sliced into the meat. It was pink like a flower.
“Meat should be 175 degrees,” Dad said. “That bird just stopped breathing.”
“That’s it. Let’s go.”
Nan said and moved the enormous pan toward the table. Dad met her halfway across the kitchen floor and began guiding her back toward the oven. They both had their hands on the pan’s handles. A turkey dance!
“Give it to me,” Dad said.
“Leave me alone. Start mashing the potatoes,” Nan said.
“Give it to me!”
He tugged. She tugged. The pan didn’t know what to do.
The pan flipped over. The gravy soared and the turkey smacked the floor. Nan was a mess. Dad’s shirt, slacks and new dress shoes with the little pinholes were no better. Stunned, Nan and Dad stared down at the the bird on the linoleum. Nan spoke first. “Ah shit, I’m lying down,” And she did.

She passed through the living room. Me frozen in the doorway and Pop with Rory on his lap. They watched like two wide mouth bass. I wish I could’ve taken a picture. Pop and Mom exchanged places. She joined Rory watching TV. Pop went to the kitchen and began to help Dad. They put the bird back in the pan with a couple of cups of water to replace the irreplaceable gravy and put the pan back in the oven. Pop gave Dad one of his extra large guinea tee shirts. Pop’s pants didn't fit Dad, so he gave Dad a pair of his giant boxer shorts. Dad wore Pop’s boxer shorts over his boxer shorts – that went nicely with his dark socks and skinny legs. I saw Mom peek in, point at Dad and start to laugh.
Sometime much later, Pop announced, “OK, everything is ready.”
He went into the front room and brought Nan back. She returned to the kitchen and took over as if nothing had happened.
“Bob, carve the meat.”

Dad grabbed the knife and did as he was told. This relieved everyone. The table comfortably sat six people yet with the large amount of food on it, it was hard to see each other. Everyone was scary polite. Late in the meal, Dad looked at the bucket of mashed potatoes and said, “You know from this angle I can see a goat circling the top of Potato Mountain.”

We all laughed except Nan. But she didn’t hit him. The storm passed and Rory and I started looking forward to our favorite Thanksgiving ritual – Pop watching. He was a gentle Smokey the bear and never yelled at us. After the meal, he drank two short glasses of Ballantine Ale, wiped his mouth carefully with his linen napkin, and said, “Thank you, excuse me.”

​He lifted himself from the table, then walked from his kitchen chair to his living room chair. Once Rory and I heard “Swoosh,” Pop’s bottom sinking into the plastic, we started counting backward, “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…”
We peeked into the living room. Pop was sawing wood. Rory and I stared at him.

While Pop slept, a cartoon came on with two poor kids who go to bed with nothing to eat. They dream, people come and bring them goodies and music starts to play. Rory and I stood behind Pop’s chair on each side of his head and softly sung along with the cartoon song into his ears:
"Meet me tonight in dreamland, under the silvery moon.
Meet me tonight in dreamland, where love’s sweet roses bloom.
Come with the love light gleaming, in your dear eyes of blue.
Meet me in dreamland, Sweet dreamy dreamland,
There let my dreams come true."
Our singing didn’t wake him. Pop had a stretched out snore with three different sounds. Nan had a toy piano with eight color coded keys. You could play a full octave of tones. It came with a color-coded music book with classics like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “Roll Out the Barrel” and “This Old Man.” Rory was pretty good on the thing – he played “Jingle Bells” with ease. He went over to the piano.

In between Pop's snores he’d hit a key. It sounded pretty good. Rory played around a bit until he located a couple of notes to harmonize with Pop’s snoring. Not wanting to be left out, not having Rory’s natural musical talent, I improvised. Nan’s toilet door made a creaking sound when you opened or closed it. I went over to the door and opened it a smidge to try to join the band. I found a funky “eek” and added it to the mix. Leaning over, looking back into the living room, I could see Rory. Once we made eye contact, it was easy to locate our rhythm.
We riffed, “Snore, piano key, eek; snore, piano key, eek.”
Our tune had a hook as Dad loved to say.
Mom threw a sponge at my head. I ducked. The band played on.
Sponge two was in the air.
I avoided it by doing the cha-cha.

“I will kill you both. Keep it up, I’ll kill you both dead."
Noticing Mom was out of sponges, and the next airborne item could be a spoon or fork, Rory and I left the airwaves.
Later on, Pauline and Charlie Hannah came over and started playing Pokeno with Nan and Pop. Dad and Mom moved to the sink area. I sat on the washing machine right next to them. Mom picked up a dish and started scrubbing it. Dad squeezed too much dish soap into the water, then started playing with the faucet’s screws.
“Let’s get this over with, you’re moping.”
“Not true. The secret is a long hot soak. Then the grease slides itself off.” Dad said and continued to play with the faucet.
“The secret is you’re full of shit and have a bony ass,” Mom said.
Nan got up came over to the sink and said “Leave the kids here. You can pick them up in the morning.”

She helped them gather their things and threw them out of the house. Rory and I conked out together on one bed. The playful noise coming from the card game in the kitchen was the kind of yelling we could sleep through. The last thing on my mind as I drifted off was Santa’s sleigh flying over the 59th Street Bridge up York Avenue heading towards my house.

Do you like old New York City photos and street life stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir,"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 136 Amazon five star reviews out of 136 authentic reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus

Uncle Mommy & Tommy
Thanksgiving morning, 1961. Mom woke me quietly and whispered, “Rory is sick. If you wake him up before you leave, you’re not going either.”

I nodded my head yes. I felt bad that my brother wouldn’t see the parade, but I was happy to go with Dad alone. It was much easier having a good time with Dad when it was just the two of us. This was my first Macy’s parade and I didn’t want one of Dad’s bad moods blowing it.

At nine o’clock, we slipped out the door. We met Dad’s friend Richie Kovarik and his daughter, Deborah, inside Loftus Tavern a few blocks away. The four of us were going together. Richie was talking to Jack, the bar’s owner, over coffee. Deborah sat on a barstool sipping a Coke and sucking a cube of ice with the hole in the middle. She was a year older than I was, stuck up, and knew everything.
Debbie Kovarik

I hated her guts.
Richie greeted us. “Hi, Bob. Where’s Rory?”
“He’s sick. We’ll catch up later at my mother’s for dinner. Hi, Deborah, you look so pretty and grown up.”
With a wide phony smile she said, “Thank you, Mr. Pryor.”
I almost vomited.
Saying goodbye to Jack, we went out the bar’s side door, smack into a vicious cold wind. A Checker cab was just turning off York Avenue heading west on 85th Street. “Cabby!" yelled Dad and we piled in.
Checker taxi cab

Despite plenty of room to sit alongside our fathers, Deborah and I naturally sat on the round pull-up seats that faced them. That’s because for adults a Checker cab was transportation, but for kids it was an amusement ride and the bouncy pull-up seats were why. It was better than most rides, in fact, because there was nothing to strap you in. Deborah and I didn’t acknowledge each other. The cab made it nonstop from York Avenue to Fifth Avenue through a swirl of green and yellow lights. My head slapped the roof several times. The driver impressed me. Crossing Fifth Avenue, we dove into the Transverse through Central Park. 
flip up seats in Checker taxi

“You’re in second grade, right?” Deborah asked.
“I’m in third grade,” she said, pleased as punch.
She knew what grade I was in. She continued talking while looking out her window. I tried ignoring her.
“What are you getting for Christmas?” she asked.
That was a dirty trick. It’s nearly impossible for a kid to stay silent when this subject comes up.
“Things,” I said.


“I’m getting a bike and an Erector set.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“What did you ask for?” Deborah pressed on.
“I’m still deciding. I have a list.”
“What’s on the list?”
“Lots of stuff.”
“Oh, come on, name a few things.”
“That’s between me and Santa.”
“WHAT?” she said.
“It’s between me and Santa.”
“Well, good luck, dummy, because there ain’t no Santa.”
Despite my lingering hope, I worried it was true. I wanted her dead.
I tried to recover. “I know there’s no Santa, stupid.”
“No you didn’t, but you do now.” Her eyebrows arched up and down.
“I play along for my brother. It makes him feel good. He’s just a kid.”
“Still believe in the Easter Bunny?” she said.
“Oh crap, him too?” I thought, then said, “No, of course not.”
I never realized until that moment how much detail there was on the stone blocks lining the underpasses through Central Park. The road was twisted and bumpy. My forehead banged repeatedly against the window’s glass. It felt good. It took my mind off the other pain. Silently staring out, I saw the glitter of the granite and the chiseled cuts where they sliced the stone to make the blocks. I imagined Deborah’s head being dragged across that rock as we drove back and forth through the park. Kaput!
“Johnny, leave us off on the near corner of 86th Street and Central Park West.” Dad’s voice broke my dream of vengeance.
The driver aimed for the curb. The air was frigid. I barely noticed. Normally, I would’ve run ahead toward the action, but my heart remained behind on the cab’s pull-up seat. I took Dad’s hand, even though I didn’t feel like a little boy anymore. We walked south to 77th Street in formation. Dad squeezed my hand. I weakly squeezed back.
“I don’t think we’re staying too long,” Dad said to Richie. “I think Tommy’s got something, too.”
We stood inside the park’s wall on the rocks. This allowed us to see the parade over the sidewalk crowd. Only because Dad announced the balloon names as they passed by, do I remember they included Underdog, Popeye, and Bullwinkle J. Moose from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.

Underdog Thanksgiving @ 1961

This is the second story of three, the finale appears tomorrow

Do you like old New York City photos and street life stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir,"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 136 Amazon five star reviews out of 136 authentic reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

My Turkey Got A B minus

It was Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving 1961 in St. Stephen of Hungary’s second grade.

“Children, the Pilgrims had a bountiful crop their first year in the American colony. They arranged a peace treaty with the Indians. They celebrated together, and feasted on geese, deer, corn, and oysters.”

“Yuck,” said a few kids at the mention of oysters.

Sister Lorraine threw a look around the room then said, “… and President Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1863.”

She cleared her throat, “Let’s move on. Everyone take out the hats, bonnets and headdresses we’ve been working on. Pilgrims, go over to the windows… Indians, stay on the closet side. Think about your lines, everybody.”

While the kids got into place, I put on my Indian headdress and snuck over to the teacher’s desk. It was the only one with a cartridge pen. Second graders worked in pencil. Sister Lorraine, distracted by the two herds moving to her left and right, missed my pre-show make-up application. I had no mirror to work with so I figured out two spots and wiped an inky finger across each cheek twice. Sister Lorraine gave us a short history lesson while she passed back our art assignments. My turkey got a B minus. I ran out of brown crayon and finished his stomach off with green and red. Eventually she saw me upfront.

“Thomas, what are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” Sister Lorraine repeated.
“Putting on stripes.” I said, standing in front of her desk working the ink off my fingers onto a piece of loose leaf.
“Why, God Almighty are you putting on stripes?”
“I’m an Indian. If I’m an Indian, I’ll need war paint. It’ll look good, promise.”
“Do you ever listen to me?”
“Yes, Sister.”
“Didn’t I just say the Pilgrims and Natives declared a peace treaty?”
“Was she nuts?” I thought.
“You’d trust an Injun? I watch a lot of movies. Believe me; Sister, peace treaties are broken all the time.”
“This will be a calm re-enactment of a peaceful gathering. Thomas, the war paint is not necessary.”
“There might be trouble.” I said.
“You have one minute, mister. One minute, that’s it. Go to the bathroom and wash the ink off your hands and face. And don’t touch your shirt again. Your mother is going to kill you.”

Disgusted, I ran off.

“Don’t run,” she said.
“Make up your mind,” I mumbled.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Cartridge pen ink doesn’t wash off well with cheap school soap. The nun sent two boys to get me. My head was buried in the sink.

“Sister told us, ‘Get him back in here if you have to drag him by his feet,’” Joey Skrapits said to the back of my head. “She’s not happy. What’s up?” Leslie Henits added. I turned around and showed them. I held my hands out. They were beginning to look white; my face, however, had an even blue tan. It seemed the washing, rather than taking the ink off, just moved it around.

“I can’t get it off,” I said.
“Holy crap, forget your face, look at your shirt. Joey said. It’s a gunshot wound.”
I looked down and moaned.
“You’re going to need Lava Soap to get that off. Come on, dry up and let’s go.” Leslie said.

As I crept through the classroom door, the entire class laughed their heads off. I tried to bury myself in the middle of the Indian tribe. I thought of opening one of the coat closets and spending a little time in there. My first stage appearance as Injun Joe was ruined. The only good part was: Sister Lorraine was laughing too. I was more afraid about her being angry than me being embarrassed. Once I saw her laughing, I calmed down. I almost forgot that my mother was going to murder me.

We did our little Pilgrim and Indian “everyone be thankful” speeches, and then we started singing, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…” I stared at the clock over the alphabet cards lining the top of the blackboard. The clock said, One minute to three.

Pop! My Mom’s incredibly angry face flashed over the clock’s face.

When I got home, Mom pounced. “What the hell did you do?”
“What happened to your shirt?”

Then she saw my face and her voice went up an octave.

“What the hell did you do to your face!”
“Two sixth graders started a fight in the schoolyard at lunchtime. I was leaning against a car right next to them. One of them had a box of pen cartridges in his shirt pocket. They were wrestling, two of the cartridges were crushed - and the ink flew all over. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, but the ink got me in a few places.”
“A few places?” Mom said.
“Are you sure you weren’t refereeing the fight?
“No, Mom…no, no, no, I was doing nothing. Just standing there.”
“Where? In the ink factory when it exploded?”
“Take the shirt off and throw it away. Then come over here by the sink.”
Mom knew second graders weren’t allowed near ink.
“Thank you, God,” I whispered.

At the sink, Mom put Boraxo scrubbing powder on a washcloth and began making little circles on my face.

“Ouch” I said pulling away. “My face is being ground with sand.”
“Well, what else can we use to get this ink off? Stop fidgeting and stay still. If you let me work, it’ll be over one, two, three.”
“Big fat liar,” I thought.

Once clean, my face was a deeply embarrassed rosy red.

My brother, Rory, mocked me, “ha, ha!”

I gave him a knuckle when Mom wasn’t looking – a slight tap. He had a fever, so I held back a bit. I felt bad for him. On the verge of getting sick, there was no way Mom was letting him go with Dad and me to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in the morning.

Part two of three tomorrow…

Do you like old New York City photos and street life stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Saint Francis, The Pope & The Devil Dog

On October 4, 1965, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Stephen of Hungary's student body marched up to Third Avenue to wave to Pope Paul VI driving by on his way to Yankee Stadium in his limousine. This was important to me on a few levels:

We were getting out of sixth grade early.

st. stephen's 4th grade @1964

The New York Yankees stunk in 1965 and having the Pope say a Mass on their home field should help the team. 

I'd have free rein to look at all the older girls in the school, and they couldn't do anything about it.

"What are you looking at?"
'Ha, ha,' I'd think, not say.

The Franciscan priests in our parish were good guys and the nuns and the students got into the spirit of the day each year, whether the Pope showed up or not. Plus, I loved the guy. St. Francis was cool. I loved animals and he blessed them. Unlike Doctor Doolittle, St. Francis could really talk to them. And, St. Francis was in my grandmother's holy trinity along with St. Anthony for lost objects and super duper St. Jude for hopeless cases ~ a biggie for our family.

Every two years, the school ran a movie of the Life of St. Francis in the auditorium getting us out of a class for a Friday afternoon. The movie wasn't bad, and I admired the comfort of only wearing a robe with a rope belt, best uniform every invented, and Italy was beautiful and I considered it a place I definitely would visit down the road. After lunch, we lined up outside the school and like a gaggle of 300 geese we waddled up 82nd Street to the avenue, where we stood against police saw horses on the east side of Third between 81st and 82nd Street.

Earlier that morning, I served eight o'clock mass with a guy in my class, Michael Toth, who was a big pain in my ass. One of those guys that always had to be first in everything: out the door, on line for the water fountain, first at bat in punch ball. Toth located a Siamese pipe connection right behind us against a building, and used it to sit on, its shape perfect for a kid's bottom. We waited a long time, and Toth also planned on standing on it when the Pope went by for a better view. Toth kept coming over and telling everyone how comfortable it was and how he was going to have a perfect view, and if anyone tried to sit there he'd run over and throw them off. We all wanted him dead.

While he's doing this, I'm eating a Devil Dog the long way, taking the two cake parts apart and starting to lick the crème out of the middle, when Toth comes over to tell Freddy Muller, "Ha. Ha, I've got a great seat," While he's yapping to Freddy, I slip one half of my half licked Devil Dog onto the Siamese connection, crème side up. Toth satisfied with himself, sits on it and he's so caught up he doesn't notice, the nun, sick of Toth popping up and down moves over to straighten him out, Toth pops up again on his way over to brag some more. The nun notices the Devil Dog sticking to his pants and smacks Toth in the head thinking he's an idiot. After she hits him she says, "Wipe yourself off, wood head."

Toth puzzled about everything, reaches behind and grabs most of the cake, and I could tell by the look on his face he was praying it wasn't dog crap. Meantime, the Pope's a half block north of us. I missed him, Toth missed him, and the nun hit Toth again because she missed him, too.

Above us from a window, I heard 'The We Five' singing on the radio, "When I woke up this morning, you were on my mind." I returned my focus to the older girls.

Do you like old New York City photos and street life stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir,"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways & Checker cabs.

Praise for the book:

“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”
 Kevin Baker, author of the novels “Dreamland,” Paradise Alley,” and “Strivers Row,” as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction

“Tommy Pryor’s New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read.”
  Robert Lipsyte, former city and sports columnist, The New York Times

“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.”
  Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of “Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall”

“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.”
  Thomas Beller, author, “J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist” & founder of 'Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.'

The Jean Shepherd of Yorkville has a book. You should get!  I've been a HUGE fan of Thomas Pryor's stories for a long time. It's so great to read so many of them in this fantastic book. Pryor pours his heart and soul into each and everyone of them. Some gut wrenching, others laugh out loud funny. And you don't have to be a NY Giants fan or a Cowboys hater to enjoy this book (though that will help). You just have to have a heart and love fun, authentic stories. Buy this book, I promise you'll enjoy it!

Adam Wade, winner of 20 SLAMS at The Moth (18 StorySLAM victories and 2 GrandSLAM Championships)

I wasn't alive for the New York Thomas Pryor writes about, but thanks to his brilliant, honest, and hilarious book, I feel like I was there."

Dave Hill "The Goddamn Dave Hill Show" ~ WFMU radio

Great writers are supposed to transport you to their world - Thomas Pryor is one of those unique writers who can grab your heart and make you laugh and cry in a single sentence. The portrait he paints of growing up in New York City -- in Yorkville, specifically -- in the 60s is so vivid that you'll feel yourself there with him in every single scene, and every single memory. Great writers are supposed to transport you to their world, and Thomas Pryor does this exceptionally well. You'll walk away from this book feeling like you know intimately every butcher and bartender in town, every Sister at St. Stephens, and certainly every member of Thomas's family. Even more than that, though, this is a book about being a kid, growing up, loving people and losing them, losing people and loving them even more, and finding one's way. Basically, it's a book for anyone who's ever experienced the sheer pleasure and pain of being alive and growing up. Buy it today. It will leave you feeling enriched, touched, entertained, and eager to turn to page one all over again.

Nicole Ferraro, writer, N.Y Times

Wonderful Storytelling with a Time Machine Effect! - Leslie Gosko, entertainer, storyteller, comedian, "Funniest Woman in NYC"
Heart-warming, hilarious, and wonderfully quirky, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys" has something for everyone. Thomas Pryor does a fantastic job of transporting you to 1960's New York where you feel like one of the characters in his Yorkville neighborhood. Stylistically reminiscent of Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," this book, too, becomes an instant classic!

  Leslie Gosko, entertainer, storyteller, comedian, "Funniest Woman in NYC"

After reading "I Hate The Dallas Cowboys", I felt as if I had grown up with author Thomas Pryor. His stories of a childhood in New York City, punctuated by family photographs, drew me into his world and took me on a personal tour of the streets and neighborhoods of his youth. Living there were a host of vivid and eccentric characters - his parents, brother Rory, grandmother Nan, Joe from the candy store, Sister Mercedes, stewardesses Marie and Justine, and his many friends and co-conspirators with whom he shared his adventures and dreams. Mr. Pryor’s humor is gentle and infectious, his memories animated and engrossing. These essays are both historically valuable as well as entertaining in a way that befits the unique voice of New York City.

David Terhune - The Losers Lounge, co-founder

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Flam & Flam ~ A New York Love Story

Flam & Flam, Attorneys at Law


Ryans, Anderson, Basilicos 1946

My Uncle Jack and Aunt Anna were having marital problems in the late 1930s. Their fighting hit a new high in their East Harlem apartment when Aunt Anna found half her house money missing from the flour tin. She chased Uncle Jack out of the house with a ladle full of dog crap, down the stoop and up First Avenue to the entrance of the Willis Avenue Bridge. Jack ran to the Bronx using the roadway’s passing lane.

Andersons, Basilicos
Lennie Ryan on right

After catching his breath, Jack not wanting to waste a good trip to the Bronx, continued walking north up to Yankee Stadium where he caught a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians. DiMaggio went 4 for 7 with two walks and five RBIs. Jack spent $2.75 of Anna’s house money on franks, beer, a ticket, a pennant for the kid, a program and a five cent pencil to keep score.

When Jack got home, Anna had put a chair against the door locking him out. Unfortunately, she also locked out her son, John, who after begging his mother to no avail to let him in stayed with my grandparents on 104th Street in their new East River Houses, Housing Authority apartment.

After much consultation with everyone on their block, Jack and Anna decided to get professional help from Flam & Flam, a 106th Street law firm, famous in the neighborhood for resolving family crises when folks were broke. After discussing their plight with Freddy (the brains in the outfit) and telling him they had one dollar for a divorce, Freddy rocked back on the legs of the library surplus chair and thought it over, then he popped a hand off his bald head.

“I’ve got it! A house divorce! It’s the rage in Philadelphia. When couples want out, but can’t afford it, the courts can grant a house divorce (no they can’t). You live together, but you’re not married (you are). You can tell everybody you’re divorced, but by a tiny technical thread you’re not really divorced. So I only have to charge you a dollar. Give me a dollar.”

Stingily, Jack gave Freddy Flam a house money dollar. Anna watched the money change hands thinking about kicking Jack’s ass right there in Flam & Flam’s office.

Anna buried Jack in Calvary Cemetery in Queens in 1978 after 23 years of conventional marriage and 37 years of house divorce thanks to the law firm of Flam and Flam.

my family the Ryans @1942

The Ryans on East 104th St.

Monday, August 28, 2023

I Gotta Get A Thurman Munson Tee Shirt!

In 1972, Pepsi Cola launched a Thurman Munson Fan Club.

They gave away Munson T-shirts to kids up to 14 years old. All you needed to do, was mail them 10 bottle caps and tell them your kid shirt size. This didn't sit well with me. I was 18, a huge fan of Thurman, and no longer able to fit into a boys size 20. 

Excluded from this fantastic offer, I wrote a letter to Pepsi Cola.

Dear Pepsi Cola Thurman Munson Fan Club:

My name is Tommy Pryor, I'm 13 years old and large. I've been a Pepsi drinker for as long as I can remember. My dream is someday there'll be a water fountain on every New York corner and instead of water, thirst quenching ice cold Pepsi Cola comes out of the fountain. I love Thurman Munson. Like him, I'm pudgy. My grandmother tells her friends I'm portly and buys me husky dungarees for Christmas.

I'm embarrassed by my huge bottom. I run slow and waddle on the ball field. They make me play catcher on my team, the Yorkville Stars. When I hit a grounder, the infielders throw the ball around the horn before lobbing it to first base for an easy putout. Your offer depresses me. I desperately want a shirt. Because I'm big could you mail me a Men's medium sized shirt?


Tommy Pryor
1582 York Avenue #2s
Ny Ny 10028

Two weeks later, the shirt came in the mail. I wore it for twenty years.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Her Two Birthdays

Cuccia family s/w corner 75 St. & Ave A @ 1906

My grandmother Nan Rode’s four-room railroad flat faced York Avenue in the front and a backyard in the rear. Leaning out her front window, I could watch my world pass by. Leaning out the rear window, I could see Yorkville as it was long ago. In the backyard was an old two-story house surrounded by five-story brick tenements. The house, built around 1890, looked like it had fallen out of the sky and plopped onto a stray witch. Somehow, it had escaped the tenement explosion in Yorkville in the first two decades of the 1900s, a frenzy primarily triggered by speculation about the underground IRT subway coming to 86th Street and then proceeding farther north. (The speculation, of course, ultimately proved true.) As buildings rose around it, the old house, with its worn porch and crooked chimney, just sat there. I enjoyed this relic from the past and imagined it there in June 1906, when my grandmother was born in her family’s apartment only eight blocks away, at 1403 Avenue A. Above is a photo of my great-grandmother, Giovanna Cuccia, with family members sitting in front of their fruit stand at the southwest corner of 75th Street and Avenue A (later named York Avenue in honor of Sargent Alvin York, a World War I hero). Giovanna, third from right, is eight months pregnant with my grandmother.

It looks like a normal old photo, but it led to a bona fide miracle: the month after it was taken, Nan was born and she had two birthdays, July 23rd and July 28th. I learned this astounding fact at age 10 when I went to my grandmother’s house to see what was up.

Nan & me 1955

“Hi, Nan.”
“That's it?”
“I said hi.”
“Where’s my ‘Happy Birthday?’”
“I wished you a happy birthday on the 23rd and made you a card. It’s right there on top of the TV.”
“Today is my birthday, too.”
Involuntarily, my head started shaking. I was used to my grandmother’s inquisitions but I didn’t understand this one.

“Nan, I don't get it.”

She explained.

Nan was delivered in her family’s apartment by Saveria Palermo, a midwife from Yorkville, on July 23rd, 1906. But Saveria was lazy, and when she filled out the Board of Health birth certificates the following Monday, July 30th, she used the same date, Saturday, July 28th, for all the babies she had delivered that week. That’s why Nan had two birthdays, July 23rd and July 28th.

Lazy Midwife filled this out

Neither Giovanna nor my great-grandfather, Antonino Cuccia, knew English, so they never fixed the certificate. But they always celebrated Anna’s – Nan’s --birthday twice. She was the baby in the family and a spoiled brat. She told me this with pride.

Anna Cuccia, 1913, Communion at St. Monica's

If you like my work check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." Available at Logos Book Store.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Happy Birthday Rory! Move In Day, 1957

June 20, 1957, on Rory’s first birthday we moved into apartment #4R at 517 East 83rd Street. Mom let Rory and me run straight into the apartment before my aunts and uncles brought the furniture up. I dragged my brother by his arm. At the window was a fire escape with a nest of baby pigeons. Rory squealed and said his newly learned word, “Wow!”

I felt the same way. “Mom, got to see it, birds, lots of them!” I yelled over my shoulder.

Mom came over in three strides, gave Dad a look and said, “Bob, stay here. I’m taking Tommy and Rory for ice cream.”

On the stairs, we passed Aunt Barbara and Aunt Joan carrying our kitchen table and they gave Mom and us a funny look as sweat dripped down their faces.

When we returned from the store Rory and I ran to the window. No birds.

I asked Dad, “Where they go?”

“Their mom taught them to fly and they took off.”

I said nothing but knew something fishy happened. I had a good cry, Rory saw me, and he started crying too. Rory didn’t know why he was crying; he just liked to cry when I cried.

When the furniture was in and the move was over the adults started cracking beers. The next thing I knew a group of friends and extra relatives showed up. Allie Cobert, Uncle Mickey and Uncle Lenny put on Dad’s white dress shirts and made bow ties out of the ladies kerchiefs and begin singing, “Sweet Adeline.” After the singing sung out, Dad played records on his prized RCA Victrola. Bored, I retreated to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet bowl and did some target practice with my water gun. Out the window into the airshaft, a few quick shots off mom’s bra drying on the towel rack, then up at the naked light bulb on the ceiling. That was fun. The more I shot it, the more it sizzled. I could see smoke coming off it. I kept going.


The bulb exploded, the door flew open and a half dozen people were in the bathroom with me before I could hop off the bowl. Mom was on top of me pretty good but Barbara and Joan extracted me before Mom could figure out what to do with me.

The next day, Barbara came over the apartment to see how we were settling in. She sat in the kitchen drinking coffee with Mom. When Mom wasn’t paying attention, Barbara went to the back window by the fire escape and opened it. Then she sat back down in the kitchen like nothing happened.

Within a few minutes we heard birds, “Tweet, tweet, tweet.” Then it stopped. Two minutes later, “Tweet, Tweet, tweet.”

Mom moaned and said, "Oh, Christ, they’re back.”

I smiled. Then a big gruff voice said, “Fire Inspector, Fire Inspector!”

Mom popped out of her chair. In came Joan in my red fire hat with a big grin on her face.

Joan had gone to the roof and came down to the fourth floor fire escape waiting for Barbara to open the window to let her in. It was not the first, or last time someone came into our Yorkville apartment using something other than the front door.

Happy birthday, Brother.

My book, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," will be published by YBK, October 2014. If you like TV's "The Wonder Years," add tenements, loitering and a subway - you'll slip seamlessly into my world.

Our next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts, show on Tuesday, July 8th @ 6pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe is a doozy.

Our amazing artists: "The Duchess and the Fox, aka, Andrea Diaz and Joe McGinty(standout and founder of The Losers Lounge), Jennifer Barrett (Living Loud), Nicole Ferraro (NY Times) and Harry Rolnick (WSJ). We're bringing the musical side of storytelling to our show in a big way with Andrea, Joe and Jennifer merging with two of my favorite tellers in NYC, Nicole and Harry.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

A Perfect Day


“Do you wait till you’re done?”

“Yes.” I said.
“I mean, do you wait till you’re sure you’re finished?” Mom dug in.
“I really do.”
“Obviously, you don’t.” Mom said wagging a finger at the stream meandering down my left pants leg.
“It fools me.”
“Well, why don’t you fool it back? Make believe you are putting it away then leave it out and see what happens?”
“For how long?”
Losing steam, mom said, “Get your shoes on, get your brother and let’s go. If we’re lucky we’ll sneak in before the gospel. I hate getting the dirty look off the priest.”
Mom had a lot of rules about peeing including, “Lift the seat, wipe the seat, put the seat down.” She forced Dad to schedule target practice.
“Bob, I want you to work with them on their marksmanship. It’s starting to smell like we have a cat.”

No adult lecture could break the spell. My mood soared. I was invincible. It was the longest day of the year, June 21st, Sunset 8:42pm - confirmed through consultation with my Reader’s Digest Farmer’s Almanac calendar. I was liberated from fourth grade two days earlier. This was the first of an endless string of Sundays where the looming gloom of Monday faded away. On Sunday during the school year, you carry a nagging dread of the next day through all your activities. Summer empowers Sunday.
Nine o’clock Mass was always a sellout. We tried slipping into a crowded pew in the back of the church. My brother Rory led, I followed, then mom. Mom pushed me, I pushed Rory, he pushed a holy-roller lady and she said loudly, “Well, I never.”
On the altar, Father Benedict Dudley stopped his Latin chant, brought his raised arms down to his side, turned his head slow like a cow monitoring a passing car and gave mom a dirty look. Mom tried to bite me with her eyes.
I flipped my head towards Rory and mimed, “What are you going to do?”
Mom mimed back, “Thanks a lot.”
After Mass, I ran home to put on my sneakers, shorts and tee shirt. It was 10am and there was only eleven hours left of daylight and so much to do. First thing, I had to finish making Dad’s Father’s Day card. Dad slept in on Sunday, so I had time. I cut a Joe DiMaggio photo out of Life Magazine from “The Yankee Clipper’s” rookie year 1937. Joe had a wide gapped tooth smile and his bat was slung lazily over his shoulder. From the same magazine, I ripped out a photo of a young Frank Sinatra singing directly to a bunch of squealing girls at the Paramount Theatre. I placed Dad’s two favorite guys next to each other on the front of the card and pasted dialogue bubbles over the heads.

DiMaggio said, “Dear Bob, your sonny boy said you’re the Best Dad in the World, so I’m going to go five-for-five today and smack two homers into the left field bleachers for you. Happy Fathers Dad, love, Jolting Joe DiMaggio #5.”
Sinatra said, “Hey Pal, your son, Tommy, thinks you’re his Night and Day. Happy Pappy’s Day! Ding a Ling Ding, love, Francis Albert.”
I wrote dad a poem inside the card. It was kind of personal, so it’s just between Dad & me. When I finished, I went to his bedroom and left it on mom’s pillow.
Job done, I flew down the stairs to the street. Surveying the block from the stoop, I saw groups of kids and had several options. The hot sun baked each side of the street. I needed fuel. My first stop would be Joe’s Candy Store.
The Candy store was lit by two chintzy light bulbs. One must’ve been from Joe’s refrigerator and the other from his aquarium. He pulled the window shades down to cool the space. His ceiling fan had TB and hardly moved. Cheap and mean, Joe was on Con Edison’s Watch list.


“Hi Joe,” I said.

He grunted at me. This was progress. He usually ignored customers unless they were paying for something or he was throwing them out. I delivered newspapers for Joe, but this had no impact on his feelings for me once I slipped back into being just another annoying kid wasting time in his store.
I looked through the sports magazines and comics for new stuff. Nothing.
“Hey Joe, were there any deliveries this week?”
He spoke to me. I was honored. He had unique grunts that meant different things and he rarely used language with a kid. When he did, he got right to the point.
“Put the comic back.”
“Where you found it.”
“Touch the candy, you buy it.”
“Stop spinning on the stool.”
“No, I don’t have a bathroom.”
“Get out.”
I was thirsty. Since Joe was being Joe, I decided to take my soda business elsewhere.
“Bye Joe.” I said, just so I could get my goodbye grunt.
Two stores down was Parkers Grocery store. Murray Parker wore a girl catching Elmer Fudd leather hunting hat with ear flaps year round over his extremely bald head. His giant movie star black eyeglass frames added the ideal accessory.
“Hi Murray.”
“Hey Tommy.” Murray was helping a customer and I noticed sweat rolling down his chipmunk cheeks.
The customer was Mrs. Huthansel, a gigantic pain in the ass. All the store owners hated her and called her Sour Puss. So did I. She never gave me a tip when I delivered her newspaper.
Mrs. Huthansel was buying cold cuts. Murray was at the slicer. I watched from the back of the store while weighing my soda selection.
“Murray make sure the cheese is paper thin.” Sour Puss said this three times.
After the third time, Murray delicately held up two fingers holding a slice of air and asked, “Is this thin enough?”
Loftus crew

Mrs. Huthansel ignored him and played with the fruit. She squeezed every piece then threw it back. I saw Murray mumbling. I needed to cheer him up.
Murray had a long counter that ran from the front, to the back of the store. The sodas were in the back, so I was able to stand to Murray’s side of the counter so Mrs. Huthansel couldn’t see me, but Murray could. Every pair of shorts I owned had a hole around the crotch area. I carefully pulled my ball sac around my underwear band and pulled the sac through the hole in my shorts. I waited till Murray shut off the slicer.
I yelled, “Hey Murray want to see me blow my balloon up?”
When I had his full attention, I squeezed my nut through the hole in my shorts. The deflated sad sac blew up like a birthday bubble. Murray started choking. He stepped back so he could lean against the cash register and tried to recover. Each time he thought he was ok; he’d look back at me. When he did, I’d do it again. His hat and glasses were crooked and he began to cry. I was so proud.
“Murray are you ok? Are you ok?” Mrs. Huthansel thought he was having an epileptic fit. It was time for me to leave. I went to front of the store and left 12 cents on the counter for the Mission cream soda in and waved goodbye to Murray.
Back on my block there were several games going on. I worked my way down the street and joined the ones that moved me. First, I played a little Ace, King, Queen, then I jumped into Off the Point - two games played with a Spauldeen. A high bouncing reject tennis ball. You tested the quality of a spauldeen by dropping it from shoulder height. The higher it bounced back, the better the ball. Joe was the neighborhood’s premier spauldeen seller. The balls sat in a tall wire barrel near the register. Kids were always trying to sneak one in their pockets so Joe kept a close eye on the bin. Spauldeen selection was serious business. From a kid’s point of view they were expensive. The one you picked must have superior bounce and last through a wide variety of games. During a test you developed an immunity to being shoo-ed. Joe became a genuine conversationalist when you conducted a test.
“Pick a ball and get out of here.” Joe said.
“That’s what I’m trying to do.” I said.
“They’re all good.” He grabbed one and squeezed it. “See.” He almost smiled. This frightened me.
“Yes,” I said. “But one of them is better than all the others.”
He studied me. The relentless bouncing was murdering him. I was driving him crazy.
“You just tried that one.”
“Not true, I have a system. I repeat no ball.”
“I repeat, pick a friggin ball now.”
I had him on the ropes - he said a curse word. I found the ball and left a quarter on the counter. “Bye Joe.”
Around noon, most of the fathers on the street began showing up on the front stoops. Normally many of them would’ve headed straight for the bars - especially, on a hot Sunday afternoon. It was Father’s Day, and that wouldn’t be right. They stood on top of the stoops surveying the block. The older boys were in the street playing stickball. Most mothers had their front windows wide open looking for a breeze.
Loftus Tavern 1962

I heard Dean Martin’s voice floating in the air,
If I had it in my power,
I’d arrange for every girl to have your charm.
Then every minute, every hour,
Every boy would find what I found in your arms.
Everybody loves somebody sometimes.

Looking up, I saw a few moms draped over their window sills singing along with Dino. The dads began congregated around the older boys’ home plate. A manhole at the southern end of the street.
“You play like girls.” One dad said
“We could beat you while we were sleeping.” Said another.
“Prove it old men.” A teenager taunted back.
One insult led to another until it was agreed - there’d be a game. My Dad sitting on our stoop was amusing himself listening to the mêlée.
He yelled down to the group. “Let’s make it interesting. The dads will take the little guys on our team.”
The teenagers sneered, but the young guys got into the game. I never played in a competitive game along side my Dad. Just catch and pitch it to each other. This was my first time and I couldn’t stop grinning.
Stickball wasn’t an easy game. The bat, a broomstick, was only an inch or two across. The field included the sidewalk, the cars, the building walls and all the fire escapes. Everything was in play. There was a bona fide talent to being able to follow a bouncing ball down a web of landings, window sills and stairs till you hopefully caught the egg in your cupped hands. The ball was light and you needed to finesse its capture.
Paddy McNamara’s father, a Lieutenant in the local Police Precinct, just happened to have a parade sawhorse in the basement of his building that he dragged out for special occasions. To officially start the game, Mr. Mac plopped the sawhorse in the middle of 83rd Street where it met East End Avenue, shutting off car traffic for the rest of the day. Mr. Mac theatrically tipped his cap to acknowledge the round of applause from the mothers in the nose bleed seats. His manner reminded me of Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
500 east 83rd st.

My Uncle Mickey and my dad’s friend Allie were on our team. Both of them, comedians and good players. Allie dove into a row of garbage cans to catch a line drive. All the cans rolled over, the garbage piled out and Allie came up holding the ball.
Mickey went over, held Allie’s arm straight up, examined Allie’s wrist and said, “And it’s still ticking!”
“I’m not a watch, Doc.” Allie replied and threw the ball back to me.
Mickey playing the outfield waited for a ball to make its way down a building’s worth of fire escapes.
Staring up, he said, “Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.”
Bouncing off the last fire escape the ball eased into Mickey’s hands.
During the fifth inning, a few people started yelling and pointing up towards a building. There was a guy running up a fire escape with a portable TV under his arm. It was our neighborhood junkie, Freddie Hammer. He was being chased by Mr. Muller who I assumed came home unexpectedly while Freddie was helping himself to the TV. Freddie had a lead but looked like he was getting winded. I didn’t like Mr. Muller and was pulling for Freddie. “Come on Freddie, you can do it. Get to the roof, get to the roof.” With Freddie in the lead, he, the TV & Mr. Muller disappeared over the roof.
The game couldn’t have turned out better. We played three! We won the first one. The teenagers won the second one, then we played the rubber match. Dad had three hits in the third game and pitched great. I didn’t make any errors in the field and got on base once, scoring when Dad knocked me home on a tremendous two sewer shot. We won the game 3-2. The teens begged for a best of five, but the dads told them to go get wet. They did.
The heat was brutal. We were all sweaty and exhausted. Mr. Mac went into his basement again and came out with a giant wrench. He walked over to the fire hydrant and one, two, three the street was flooded. Steam rose off the asphalt and the air filled with a cooling mist. My skin goose-bumped. The rush of the water drowned out most other noises. I cautiously protected my transistor radio. I put the radio to my ear to get the baseball scores. I normally would’ve listened to the Yankee game only, but the Phillie pitcher, Jim Bunning, had faced fifteen batters up, fifteen batters down. He was perfect through five. I screamed out the news, “Mets are being no-hitted!”
Like my heart needed another reason to beat outside my chest. My brother held my radio while I dove head first on top of a wall of water flying down the middle of the street. The water exploded out of the hydrant so it didn’t have a chance to spread across the whole street bed. It moved syrup thick giving you an opportunity to ride a cushioned wave if you hit it perfect. On the other hand, if you missed the wave, say the pressure on the hydrant let up a bit, it’d be just you in flight and the wet asphalt coming at you very fast with your landing gear already down. This option provided no happy ending - cuts, bruises, torn clothing, or worst case, an unplanned visit to Lenox Hill’s Emergency Room. My dive was half assed. The German judge gave a five.
It slipped my mind that Dad was watching the action. He never officially approved playing in the hydrant and he absolutely never joined us when we did. He knew the cops would always shut us down; he didn’t like cops and knew he’d get in an argument with one of them one way or another. That day was different. Everyone had a hall pass thanks to Mr. Mac, and he turned the darn thing on. Rory gave the radio back to me and left his feet for a beautiful ride down the rapids. Rory was graceful and less clumsy than me.
I went back to the game and heard the Met announcer, Lindsey Nelson, “At the end of six and half innings it’s the Phillies 6 and the Mets nothing. Bunning’s retired 21 straight batters.”
Oh my god, this could be the first one since Larsen’s in 1956, I thought. I made like the Town Pryor and screamed, “He’s perfect through seven.”
By this time, even the Met fans were into it and there were so many radios on, the sound of the game was beginning to match the sound of the open hydrant. I turned to the hydrant and saw Dad took over directing the water. My Dad, he who always told me what to do, when to do it, how to do it countless times each day, was squatting behind the hydrant in a catcher’s position. He reached his arms around the fire plug giving it a big hug. With his fists together, he came up under the jet of water and began to lift the spray up in the air like a fireboat. Higher and higher he sent it up to a second story fire escape. His eyes were opened wide with joy and he laughed hard. Dad left the arch of water up there for a few minutes till he realized he knocked over Mrs. Trusits’ flower pots sitting outside her window. I watched his face carefully.
It said, “Oh, oh.” He was ten years old. When he brought the spray back to the street bed, I took a running start and hit the sky.
“Good slide, Tommy.” I heard Dad say over the noise.
As word got round the Mets were down to their last batter in the ninth inning, someone turned the pressure off the hydrant. All you could hear was Lindsey Nelson’s voice on the radio, “What a day for Bunning he has 2 hits and 2 RBIs on top of this incredible pitching performance. He’s retired 26 straight Mets. To the plate steps pinch-hitter John Stephenson. Mets are down to their last out. The 32,000 fans are on their feet. They know they’re watching history. Here’s the pitch - Stephenson takes a called first strike. The crowd is clapping as Bunning rubs the ball and gets ready to deliver – the windup, the pitch, Strike two! He’s one pitch away, one pitch away! Bunning circles the mound and returns to the pitching rubber. The catcher, Gus Triandos gives him the signal, Bunning draws a big breath, and here comes the windup and the pitch - Stephenson swings, Strike three! He did it! Perfect game! The Phillies are mobbing Bunning, slapping him, hugging him, and putting him up on their shoulders. On only 90 pitches, Jim Bunning’s made history with the first regular season perfect game in 42 years and the first one overall since Don Larsen tossed one in the 1956 World Series. What an amazing Father’s Day gift this is for Bunning on Father’s Day 1964.”
All the Yankee fans in the street went bananas, all the Met fans sulked. This lasted less than a minute before my Dad turned the hydrant back on. I don’t know who brought it up first, but no one had eaten all day. It was past four o’clock and it seemed everyone’s stomach woke up at the same time.
Barbecue?” Dad said loudly.
Everyone who had a car parked on the block had a barbecue in their car’s trunk. Two fathers took them out. During the game, when Allie knocked over the garbage cans, folks picked them up but didn’t bother to stick them back in their enclosure behind the gate off the sidewalk. A couple of men moved the garbage cans completely away from the enclosure next to the stoop, swept the area and put the two barbecue stands inside the enclosure. They called it a M.A.S.H. kitchen. With the fires set up it was time to deal with Sunday’s meat problem.

All the German butchers were closed. The men set the kids off to the store to buy franks and buns but it was impossible to have a real barbecue without hamburgers.
Mrs. Walsh watching the action from her fourth floor window said, “I was making meat loaf for dinner, but you can have it. All my kids and my knucklehead husband are down there with you. Joey, come up and get the meat.”

And that was that. The meat drive was a success. Two more mothers donated meat loaf chuck chop and a couple of mothers donated their roasts that became shish-kebobs. Vegetables and baked beans followed. By the time we finished eating it was past 8pm and the light was sinking over the Metropolitan museum up on Fifth Avenue. We sat on the stoop singing along with Peter & Gordon:
Please lock me away
And don't allow the day
Here inside, where I hide with my loneliness
I don't care what they say, I won't stay
In a world without love

As time passed, the only thing that changed was there was no daylight, the street lights came on, everyone was still in the street including the moms once we started eating. We were all together - and the Yankees won a doubleheader against the White Sox in Chicago.
“Let’s take this party to the Old Timers.” The voice came out of the dark and was met by several others all in agreement. The crowd moved as one around the corner to the Old Timers Tavern that sat in the storefront next to my dad’s mom’s apartment house. I knew from listening to Dad, that in 35 years my grandmother never stepped into the bar and he considered it a safe haven from chore requests.
Old Timers' Tavern 1962

I ran into the bar, dropped a dime in the jukebox and played the fastest song I knew:

Hey pretty baby! You can't sit down.
A don't you hear the drummer thumpin’ You can't sit down.
You gotta shake it like a crazy. You can't sit down.
Because the band is sayin' something. You can't sit down.
And everybody is a jumpin' You can't sit down.
You gotta slop, bop, flip flop, hip hop all around.
You can’t sit down, you can’t sit down.

As people passed through the tavern’s door they began to shake something. Maybe it was their hips, some it was their leg, and some just put a finger in the air and shook it back and forth. But everybody who came through the door reacted to the song. Meanwhile, the regulars on the barstools thought we were all nuts and kept drinking their short beers. The place had a big dance floor in the back. All the kids and many of the mothers headed for the back while the Dads joined the regulars.
We took over the old fashioned shuffleboard and rotated between that game and making dizzy circles on the buffed dance floor when a song moved us. One that made us bop was:
I'm broken-hearted now
Since we have parted now
My mind wanders now and then
Remember then, then, then, then, then
Remember, Re-mem-mem, Re-mem-mem-mem-ber

Well past midnight, Rory fell asleep across two chairs. A piece of a candy bar was sticking out of his mouth. Dad removed the Milky Way and carried Rory over his shoulder up the stairs to Nan’s second floor apartment next door. By the time Dad came back, I was punchy and lying on the floor watching the fan spin. Dad picked me up like the sailor’s bag in the Old Spice commercial. Upstairs, he put me to bed next to Rory who was sawing wood.
“How about that Bunning, Dad?”
“Perfect, Tommy.”
“Happy Father’s Day.” I said.
He smiled & kissed my forehead and I don’t remember another thing.