Monday, April 12, 2021

There Will Be Blood

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood published my bloody Yorkville story. Thank you, Mr. Beller's! 

At 16, my dream job was working behind the deli counter at Daitch Shopwell. As a stock boy this would be a coup. Watching Milton or Marty cut thin slices of rare roast beef and Jarlsberg Swiss, I cried with pain. Pain that some son of a bitch was going to eat that tasty mound of meat and cheese and it wouldn’t be me. One Saturday in 1970, Milton got sick and Marty asked if I wanted to help him out for the ladies afternoon cold cut rush?

Did I want to see Emma Peel nude?
Did I want Ranger tickets on the glass?
Stupid questions, of course I wanted to be in the deli. And there I was, helping Marty make orders and sneaking bits of delicious cold cuts left and right into my mouth. I gained five pounds that day.

The following month, Milton was scheduled to be off for two Saturdays in a row, and Marty talked Harry Cohen, #16 store manager, into letting me cover. “Harry, you’ll save money using the kid!” Harry looked like Mr. Dithers from the Blondie comic strip. He pulled his starched collar, wiggled his neck with the huge hairy mole and said, “OK.”

I brought my LaSalle Academy schoolbag in. 

It was well used and had holes in its four corners from me throwing it around the subway platform while waiting for the #6 local at Bleecker Street. I needed the bag. I had no control this close to the goods. I talked Marty into letting me cover up the salads so he could leave early. This left me alone with the roast beef and Jarlsburg. I finely cut 3/4 of a pound each on the slicer, wrapped them like a spastic, and shoved the wax paper lumps into my bag. Making sure Pete the Assistant Manager saw how good a job I did cleaning the sawdust off the deli floor, I gathered my bag and said good night to all and went around the registers towards the exit. Two steps from the automatic door, I heard, “Pryor!” I turned towards the voice. The Assistant Manager was looking down. I followed his eyes and saw a long trail of blood leading from Pete’s feet to my LaSalle bag.
“Drip, drip, drip,”
I listened to the faint sound of my thieving deli days being cut off.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

"You Win Some, You..."

On my 12th birthday in 1966, Dad gave me a basketball. This was an odd present for two reasons: (1) Dad gifts to me always reflected his interests and he hated basketball. (2) I was terrible at basketball.

Right after Christmas 1965, I made up my mind I was going to change that. I would learn to dribble the ball with my right hand, drive in both directions to the basket, and force myself to jump higher. My vertical leap was challenged. When Dad and I played catch he’d sometimes throw the ball a little over my head so he could get a kick out of the short distance I put between the sidewalk and my chubby body with the dead legs. My left handed dribbling was something to watch. Each time I played a new rival I’d drive left, hit two to three baskets with a nasty hook until my opponent figured out "the lack of right" in my game and then I’d be blanketed for the rest of the match. Only reason I played basketball was for a good sweat because it certainly wasn’t pleasurable playing it poorly.

Dad was sick of hearing how much I wanted a basketball from New Year’s through St. Paddy’s Day so he bought the ball to shut me up. On the morning of the 20th, Dad passed the ball to me over Mom’s head as she was doing the dishes. I named it Joe, after my round headed friend, Joe Menesick, from 84th Street. It was Saturday, and I had to try it out down Carl Schurz Park. I thanked and kissed my parents, my brother, Rory, rolled his eyes and I ran down the four flights of stairs into the street.

A blast of wind headed west smacked my face on the 83rd Street stoop. I awkwardly dribbled the ball with one hand towards East End Avenue. I avoided the Drive near the water figuring a gale storm was whipping the river up. In the park, at the basketball court in the Hockey Field my left hand was numb and coiled like a cripple. I took my first shot from the top of the key, a doozy. It left my hand on a high arc and caught a demonic stream of air that lifted and carried the ball over the left side of the back board. Losing altitude near the fence, it struck a spike and let out a death rattle, “whisssh,” it hung there disheartened. I walked over to the ball, gave it an up and down but didn’t bother to touch it. It was useless. Like the ball, deflated, I walked home.

If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble or other booksellers. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon and B&N.
Thank you!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Talking Scales!

"Please! Step on the scale!" said a firm voice.
I waited a second; listening closely, making sure my grandmother sounded busy three rooms away. When I heard the sink running, I stepped onto the scale.

"Your weight is 178 pounds. Have a nice day. Goodbye!"

"1985... I'm a fat bastard." I mumbled.

Laughing started in the kitchen at the other end of the railroad apartment on York Avenue. My grandmother with the hearing ability of a nocturnal animal was clearing her lungs and stomach, big ol' belly laughs starting way down. I wanted to kill her, and kick my cousin, Kathy, in the ass for buying her the talking scale with Don Pardo's voice.

I loved Nanny Cuckoo dearly but she wanted me fat. She wanted everyone fat. She loved food and loved eating with people, so she filled her fridge to the point it was dark in there because the low watt light bulb was shaded by a colossal head of iceberg lettuce sitting on two large tubs of Cool Whip. The Cool Whip to go on top of the Turf Cheese Cake that she bought in the bakery right next to our house. Italian Village pizza place on First Avenue considered her family and the Parkers’ bought their first car on the profits they made off Nan's cold cut orders at their grocery store.

She never bought a quarter pound of nothing. Half pound was a snack. Three quarters of a pound was getting into sandwich country. I was a cold cut junkie.

The bond with my friends was strengthened by the load of cold cuts, Jewish rye and condiments in my Nan's fridge. Artie Peters met me on Saturday afternoons on lunch break from my delivery job at Corner Pharmacy on 79th & York. We'd go straight to Parkers, buy a pound of Swiss cheese and a loaf of rye on Nan's credit in the marble book, go up the apartment and make six grilled cheeses, two each ~ Nan included. We made dark chiaroscuro swirls on Nan's white tin ceiling with the plume of smoke coming from the butter soaked black frying pan with the foot high flame under it.

Buddy McMahon and I, had a kind of exchange student relationship with his mom and my grandmother. I'd sometimes hang out with his Mom and shoot the shit while she loaded me up with 4 C Ice Tea. Buddy would drop by my grandmother's when I wasn't there for a quick sandwich and glass of milk and catch up on the local gossip and politics.

About a month after Nan got the scale, Buddy dropped up the apartment - for a change - while I was there. "Hey, Buddy, try out the new scale," Nan said.

Obediently, Buddy stepped on the scale clueless, and Nan looked like she just ate a canary.

"Your weight is 180 pounds. Have a nice day! Goodbye!"

Buddy startled, frowned and rubbed his belly. I was pleased, and Nan grinned.

Tommy Buddy 1985

Artie Tommy 1969

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Big Bunny


"It's bigger than Nan's turkey!" Rory said.
"Leave me alone, it's too early."
"Tommy, I swear it's huge. Get up!"

I tried to punch Rory but missed and my momentum carried me out of the bunk bed onto the bedroom floor. I got up and scratched my butt through my PJ's' on the short walk to the kitchen.

"Holy crap!" Rory was right. This was the largest chocolate bunny I'd ever seen. It took up half the space on the dinner table. Nearly twice the size of the big one in the window at Woolworth's on 86th Street. This monster rabbit was surrounded by painted Easter eggs and cream-filled chickadees. Mom out did herself, but this was no surprise with Mom when it came to chocolate and sweets. When she was 13, her class at St. Joseph's visited a candy factory in New Jersey owned by Father Heidi's family. When the kids were leaving the factory, the nun pulled Mom aside and patted her down. Mom had bars of chocolate stuck in various spots on her clothing and body. The nun grew suspicious when Mom kept her winter coat on for the whole trip despite the fact it was an unusually warm April day.

When I got home from school, I knew Mom was having a good afternoon if she had chocolate stuck between her teeth. She smiled a lot after chocolate, and smiled harder when Dad hit his thumb with a hammer.
Happy Easter, Ma! love, your Boys

Rory Tommy Bunny @1959

Ryans' @1938

If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other booksellers. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon and B&N. Thank you! (133 five-star Amazon reviews out of 133 posted)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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 50 years ago that stopped my heart in the best way.

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 134 Amazon five star reviews out of 134 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.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Keeping The Lantern Lit

 Yorkville 1966 & Yorkville 2021 (s/w cor. York Ave. & 85th St.) the front of Loftus Tavern and the second photo is Bailey's Corner today on the same corner. Bailey's is a tavern that welcomes strangers & friends warmly. As did Jack Loftus in my youth. Jack would be proud of Shawn the owner. He's a good egg. Bailey's is a must stop if you are passing through Yorkville or looking for a glimpse into a part of the old New York neighborhood.

Here's my story that features this classic Yorkville tavern.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Over The River & Through The Potatoes

Around one o’clock on the day that Deborah spilled the beans about Santa and the Easter Bunny, Dad and I arrived at his family’s apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad’s mom and his stepdad, John Rode, my Nan and Pop, always cooked our bird. Mom’s parents did the Easter lamb roast. At the kitchen table, Mom and Nan Rode were snapping the 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, starring Laurel and Hardy.

“Hi, all,” Dad said. “I thought we were eating at one?”

“The bird’s got a way to go – maybe another hour,” Nan said.

Mom gave Dad a silent “No way.”

Dad went over 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.”

“Did the tribe bring him down with a spear or a net?” Dad said.

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 me my bag. I forgot something and need you to go to the store.”

Dad eyed me up and down. He wanted to send me to the store but he thought I was getting sick. Resigned, he exhaled loudly, ensuring that everyone in the balcony knew he was leaving the stage.

I was glum after my encounter with Deborah, but being at Nan’s was cheering 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?”

“I’m making mashed potatoes for the week and it’s none of your business. Get the butter.”

“And the thirty-pound bird? I suppose that’s part of your long-term meal plan?”

“Don’t exaggerate. It’s twenty-six pounds.”

“Oh, only twenty-six pounds. Let’s see, at more than four pounds per person that should cover our meat provision on our Easter Island sea voyage.”

I was curious: Would Nan slap him or not? I was pulling for a slap. She seemed real close. Instead, she stared him down. He wisely took the money and went to the grocery store.

About an hour after his return he said to Nan, “I’m starving. How much longer?”

“I’ll take a look.”

I watched through the doorway. Nan opened the oven and took the turkey out, firmly hanging on to both pan handles. From behind, she looked like a Russian Olympic 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 as a flower.

“Meat is supposed to be 175 degrees before you eat it,” 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 and began guiding her back toward the oven. They both had their hands on the pan’s small handles.

A turkey dance!

“Give it to me,” Dad said.

“Leave me alone,” Nan said. “Start mashing the potatoes.”

“Give it to me!”

He tugged. She tugged. The pan didn’t know what to do.

So it flipped over. The bird leaped to its death with all its natural juices, landing on Dad’s new dress shoes with the little pinholes all over the leather. Stunned, Nan and Dad stared down at the linoleum and the bird for a long time. Nan spoke first.

“Ah shit, I’m lying down.” And she did.

She passed through the living room. I was frozen in the doorway and Pop had Rory on his lap. They watched like two largemouth bass. Then Mom joined Rory watching TV and 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 lost gravy. Then they put the pan back in the oven. Dad’s clothes were splattered with turkey juice, so Pop gave him one of his extra-large T-shirts. None of Pop’s pants fit Dad, so he gave Dad a pair of boxer shorts. Dad wore Pop’s boxers over his own boxers – all in all a nice picture with his dark socks and skinny legs. I saw Mom peek in 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 believe I can see a couple of goats 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 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, and excuse me.”

He lifted himself from the table, and 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 asleep. Rory and I stared at him.

Then a cartoon came on about 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 sang quietly into his ears along with the cartoon song:

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. And Nan had a toy piano with eight color-coded keys. You could play a full octave of tones. The piano 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 – and soon he went over to it. In between Pop’s snores he’d hit a key. He played around a bit until he located a couple of notes that harmonized with Pop’s snoring. Not wanting to be left out, and not having Rory’s natural musical talent, I improvised. Nan’s toilet door made a creaking sound, so I opened it a smidge to see if I could somehow join the band. I found a funky “eek” noise 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 find our rhythm. We riffed, “Snore, piano key, eek; snore, piano key, eek.”

“Our song had a hook,” as Dad liked to say. Mom, who had moved into the kitchen, 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,” she said. “Keep it up, I’ll kill you both.”

Noticing Mom had run out of sponges, and the next airborne item could be a spoon or fork, Rory and I left the airwaves. Dad moved to the sink area to join Mom. I sat on the washing machine right next to them. Mom picked up a dish and started scrubbing. Dad squeezed too much dish soap into the water, and then started playing with the faucet’s screws.

“Let’s get this over with,” Mom said. “You’re moping.”

“Not true, the secret is a long hot soak,” Dad said. “Then the grease slides itself off.” He continued to play with the faucet.

“The secret is you’re full of shit and have a bony ass,” Mom said.

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.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Girl Who Killed Santa

Deborah Santa Killer
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.
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. 

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.

“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 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, November 25, 2020

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.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think"

Two years ago,  The New York Times  published my piece below. It remains relevant.

October 1962, my parents mood was grim. Lot of whispering between them.The newspaper headlines were bold and twice their normal size like World Series headlines. All I heard from just about everybody, "The Russians are coming." This raised the hair on the back of my neck. The Cuban Missile Crisis commanded television and radio's full attention. I tried to shut it out of my mind. I was eight years old in third grade at St. Stephen of Hungary on East 82nd Street. Starting our music period, our teacher, Mrs. Francis, put the needle on the record and said, "class, sing along!" The worried mood, still here.

"Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.
enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink."

At the time, I was oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics we were singing.
I liked the tune. Thinking back, it was not a prudent selection for young children to sing in fall 1962 when their world was in peril. No mystery as to why this memory came back to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

"Getting to Know You"

Today is my parents wedding anniversary or as I refer to it the anniversary of the opening volley at Fort Sumter. My parents battled over anything. The 1954 New York story below depicts one of their classic brawls. It’s an excerpt from my memoir, “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys: tales of a scrappy New York boyhood.”

The apartment in Woodside overlooked the No. 7 El and the Long Island Rail Road. The two train lines crisscrossed, and one train rattled over another train all day long.  It was March 1954, a year after Mom’s ketchup-smeared death on the kitchen floor.
“I need food!” Patty pleaded, rubbing her big belly in the kitchen.
“There’s plenty of food,” Bob answered, playing with the bunny ears on top of the living room TV.
“YOU’RE A LIAR!” Patty opened the refrigerator and eyed the contents for the fifth time in five minutes.

“There’s no food-food, only junk. I want bread, I want bacon, I want Hellman’s mayonnaise!”
Disregarding her request, Bob shook ice into the spaghetti pot that was chilling his six bottles of Rheingold. Wiping his hands on a dish towel, he definitely heard Patty’s next statement: “Get off your bony ass and get me food!”
Bob ignored this, too. It was “Friday Night at the Fights” and he’d just settled in – first round, first beer. Desiring perfect comfort, Bob moved a hassock over to put his feet up. While doing this, he missed the left hook that sent one of the boxers to the canvas with a thud. Unfortunately, Bob’s man was down. So was Bob, $20. After the stiff was counted out, the telecast went to a commercial. Disappointed, but now available for chores, Bob wrapped his arm around his extremely pregnant wife’s head.

She pushed him away. “Get off. You know I hate anyone touching my head.”
Bob bent over, kissed Patty’s cheek and asked her softly, “What do you need, Hon?”
Patty reeled off five items, and aimed her lips up to kiss Bob on the mouth.
Back from the store, Bob put his beers in the fridge, washed the pot and put water on for spaghetti. Grabbing a black frying pan, he made two bacon sandwiches with extra mayo on Silvercup bread. After serving Patty both sandwiches, he took a beer and joined her at the kitchen table.
“So, we’re decided on baby names, right?” Bob said. “Marc Anthony if he’s a boy, and Alison Leigh if she’s a girl.”
Bob smiled. Patty did not.
“You’re so full of shit. The girl’s name is fine. When you name the boy Marc Anthony, be sure you walk carefully over my dead body. Because that’s the only way that stupid guinea name will ever appear on my son’s birth certificate.”
Bob’s expression fell.
“Oh, cut the crap and get that stupid puss off your face.”
“So what name do you want?”
“Rory,” she said.
“R-O-R-Y, Rory.”
“Like Calhoun, the movie cowboy?”
“Yes, it’s an old Gaelic name meaning Red King.”
“Red? Our hair is black. It’s a girly name – you’re guaranteeing he’ll get the shit kicked out of him.”
It grew quiet. The only sound in the room was Patty’s low hum. She loved bacon.
Fracturing the silence, Bob said, “It’ll be Rory when Brooklyn wins the World Series.”
“I’ll alert the press.”
Bob said, “Give me an alternative.”
“Nope,” Patty said in between bites.
“Then I’ll give you one: Thomas.”
“That’s inspired.” Patty pointed her sandwich at Bob. “I thought we agreed, no fathers’ names?”
“It’s my brother’s name, too.”
“You mean we’re going to name him after Stone Face?”
“That’s my compromise. You’ll get to name the next baby.”
Patty swallowed a large bite of mayo, with a little bit of bacon and bread attached to it. She chewed slowly, wiped her mouth, and said, “OK.”
On March 20th, Patty gave birth to an eight-pound boy. When the nurse let Bob into the recovery room and he saw Patty cradling the baby, he started to cry. 
“Oh stop your blubbering and give me a kiss.”
“How do you feel?”
“Not too swift,” Patty said, wiping sweat from her brow.
Bob, lightly rubbing the baby’s dark hair, asked, “How’s Tommy?”
“Doctor said he’s fine. Isn’t he beautiful?”
Bob picked up the wrinkled, red-faced boy. He thought the baby’s head looked like a grapefruit. A gorgeous grapefruit. Bob held the baby for a long time, then returned him to Patty.
“I have to fill out the birth certificate. I was thinking about Robert as a middle name,” Bob said.
“No,” she answered.
“Why not?”
“You picked the first name. I pick the middle name.”
“No, no, no, you get to name the next baby.”
            “No, I get to name the next baby’s first name, and you get to name the next baby’s second name.”
“But…” Bob said, uselessly.
“No buts.” Patty closed the discussion. “Tommy’s middle name is Rory.”
That night, Bob temporarily parked his anger over Mom’s choice of middle name, and hailed a cab to his old Manhattan neighborhood. He celebrated his first son by dancing on the bar in Loftus Tavern on 85th Street and York Avenue. A month later, the boy was christened, Thomas Rory. When the priest repeated the boy’s second name, Bob rolled his eyes.
A year and a half later, Thanksgiving 1955, Bob and Patty told their families they were expecting again. Throughout the pregnancy, Patty kept Bob in the dark about names. He begged and whined for hints. Late in Patty’s term, Bob tried to bribe her by hiding candy bars around the apartment, promising to reveal locations only if she told him the name. Patty never cracked.
On June 20th, Patty gave birth to a perfect boy. Bob dropped Tommy off with Bob’s mother and went directly to the hospital. The room was dimly lit; the baby was sleeping in Patty’s arms. She gave Bob a weak wave. He went over to kiss mother and son. Patty gently held Bob’s arm, keeping him close. She tilted her head, signaling him to lean in so she could whisper something. Bob pressed his ear to Patty’s dry lips.
“Rory, his name is Rory,” she said.
Bob backed away. “That’s nuts – we’ve already got a Rory.”
“Shush! Middle names don’t count. You promised.”
Bob knew he’d been had. In desperation, he blurted, “His middle name is Robert.”
“Who cares?” she said.
Patty settled back into bed, gave Bob a sly smile and squeezed her Rory tight.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

In The Navy

After graduation, Charlie plans to join the navy (like Tommy's father) as a signalman. This morning on her first trip back to Central Park in a very long time Charlie practiced semaphore and  messaged her sister, Phoebe, on a Fifth Avenue roof waiting for the signal.
"I chased two squirrels. One for you, one for me."