Friday, December 19, 2008

Everyone Knows It's Windy

I bought an umbrella for $5 on the corner. Within a half block it exploded ~ flew out of my hand and whacked a Starbucks window in the Woolworth Building. Inside the window, two Norwegian tourists spilled their tea on their cookies.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cowboys Up, Tommy Down

My teeth hurt saying this, but my hat's off to Romo.

Mr.Beller's Neighborhood


Schadenfreude -- How Bout Those Boys?Long before Jessica Simpson was jinxing the Cowboys, Thomas Pryor was cursing them. Since he was a boy, Pryor has been a big fan of the New YorkFootball Giants. His acquaintance Robby Zimmel, on the other hand, was more of a contrarian. Zimmel was a New Yorker who nevertheless backed the Dallas Cowboys--this during the Tom Landry, North Dallas Forty years. What else was Pryor to do but purchase a Mass Card at his local Catholic church and send it to Zimmel every time the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'll Have None of Your Shenanigans!

The Nun whacked me.

A moment before this 4th grade photo was snapped (click picture, it opens up), Sister Adrianne slugged me off the top of my forehead with her open hand. See my face? It's still red (second row, last on the right). I think she was telling me, I should have had a V-8. The good news? She hit Pierre, too. That's why he has a rosy puss (top row, second from the left).

Why'd she hit us? We were fighting over who'd sit next to Barbara O'Dea, the prettiest girl in our zip code (second row, fourth from the right).

Pierre had me in a full-nelson wrestling hold and I was biting his stomach. We worked our way to the top of the bleachers where we were lining up for our class picture. We thought the bleachers kept going, but after the fourth row, we stepped into thin air. No fifth row. We hugged and fell to the wooden floor. The nun ran around the bleachers and picked us up like a hockey fight referee. After wringing us out, she gave us a look of enormous disgust and said, "I'll have none of your shenanigans," she slapped Pierre, then tried to hit me. I ducked. That's when I got the pop off the forehead.

I've always found it oddly exciting to duck and avoid that first shot. After you acquire "getting hit experience," you know the second shot's going to be a harder, more accurate blow, but you can't resist the instinct to duck the first one.

Pierre was banished to the top row, far away from Barbara. To torture me, the Nun put me in the same row as Barbara but three seats away sitting next to Olga Goulash. To move the knife around, Sister Adrianne placed the best-looking guy in the class; Jean Paul Piccolo, to Barbara's left. Look at Jean Paul, new to our country from Milan, Italy, right next to Barbara. The dummy isn't even sitting heinie to heinie ~ there's no contact ~ Jean Paul's giving her space! I'd have made sure our apples were nestled together, cheek to cheek.

He was so cute it made me sick. Even Paul McCartney would look ugly sitting next to him. The final twist of the blade, everyone called him "John Paul." Not only named after a Beatle, he was named after two Beatles!

It was April 1964. Things looked grim.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

nygiants 2008 eastern division champions

Here come those tears again,
Just when I was getting over them.
(jackson browne)
The New York Giants are the 2008 Eastern Division Champions and Terrell Owens' popcorn maker broke.
67th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor today

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Gotta Get a Thurman Munson T-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 the ball, 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

The shirt came in the mail 10 days later. I wore it for twenty years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Family Pictures Taken by the Police

Here's a picture of my grandfather, Tom Pryor, taken by those "dirty, rotten screws."

It's his NYC Police Department issued 1934-35 Hack license. Pop bore no love for authority. My grandmother told me, "he could hear somebody give him the finger from a block away. The cops were number one on his list." Nan said, "when he wasn't a bastard, he was charming, artistic and left handed."

He spent most of of his youth in an orphanage called: Father Drumgoole's Home for Homeless Newsboys - later known as Mt. Loretto. The largest orphanage in the U.S. at the turn of the century. A 500 acre working farm facing Raritan Bay at the southern tip of Staten Island. The picture to the right, is Tom in the orphanage in 1914. He's thirteen years old ~ he entered the home at eight years old and stayed till he was sixteen. I found this letter in my grandmother's strong box. It was written by Tom, the day before he died, February 20, 1941. It's addressed to his first great-grandchild, my daughter, Alison. He wrote:
Dear Alison,
My name is Thomas Edward Pryor. I am your great-grandfather. I was born on December 16, 1900 to James and Mary Pryor. Dad was a hostler, and Mom was a housekeeper. I was baptized in the new Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on December 23, 1900. My brother, Eddie was four years older than me. Everyone called him Buster.

We lived on 50th Street and our apartment over looked the Third Avenue El. The trains had steam engines until I was four years old. In 1905 they electrified the rails, the year after they opened the first New York City subway. My Mom and Dad died in 1909 from influenza. Aunt Mary put us in an orphanage in Staten Island. I got out seven years later. I met Anna Cuccia in 1921. We married in 1923. Thomas was born in 1925. Robert came along in 1929. We lived in several Yorkville apartments.
My Mom had a little Irish gypsy in her, and gave me the gift to see into the future. Here's what I see: Tom joins the Army at 18, marries Rose at 21 in Garguilo's in Coney Island, and Bobby's born in 1949. Robert joins the Navy on his 17th birthday. He tried to get in a year earlier but gets caught. Robert meets Patty Ryan at the East Side Settlement House in 1945. They win the Settlement House's 1949 Lindy Dance Contest and start keeping company. They marry in 1952. Tommy flies through the window in 1954. Rory falls from a plane in 1956. That’s all I’m telling you, right now. If we meet, I’m sure you’ll like me, because boy, do I love you.
All My Love, Great Grandpa Tom

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clothes Horse, Then and Forever

They seek him here,
They seek him there.
His clothes are loud,
But never square.

You had no clue, Ray Davies wrote those telling words about me. Ray said, "Tommy, you are a dedicated follower of fashion."

That's me at LaSalle Academy @ 44 East 2nd Street in 1969.
(Photo taken by "Cool Pat" Cullinan, my geometry teacher)

I still own the jacket, a 40 Regular. Worn on my first date with Rosemary DiNatale in 1970. We took in Monterrey Pop at the Paris movie house across from The Plaza on a rainy afternoon.

This outfit, complimented with powder blue socks and desert boots earned me jealous stares, oohs & aahs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Put the Friggin Camera Down

Did I ever tell you, that Weegee, the crime photographer, was a friend of my grandmother?

Problem was, when he visited the family on York Avenue he couldn't sit still and kept taking flash photos without warning. It unnerved us, but Nan loved the lug.
That's Mom, me and my grandfather, John Rode, in his best "I'm not with the hooker perp walk pose."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yorkville Nut Baseball Club circa 1915

Jimmy Cagney, his brother, Bill, and my uncle, Joe Cuccia, played together on the "Yorkville Nut Baseball Club." I believe the years were between 1912 and 1917. The "Yorkville Nuts" were a famous and successful sandlot team in New York City at the turn of the century through World War I. Their main rivals were the "John Jays."
This photograph of a group of Yorkville boys was taken in approx. 1912.
Cagney is in the photo with my Uncle Joe, whose nickname was "Cheech." I'm trying to locate information on the Yorkville Nut Baseball Club, stories, pictures, box scores, etc.
If Anyone has information on the "Yorkville Nut Baseball Club," and is willing to share it with me, I'd be so grateful, please contact me through my email.
Cagney loved his Yorkville youth and loved the team. He kept the Nut uniform for his entire life, see the NY Times article below. My Uncle Joe had box scores, I saw as a boy, but sadly, they are lost.
Thank you. be well, Tommy

New York Times
September 24, 1992
Objects and memorabilia belonging to James Cagney will be put on auction Sept. 30 at William Doyle Galleries on the Upper East Side.
Fans of the actor, who died in 1986, will find mementos of some of his most famous movies, including the spats and boots he wore as George M. Cohan in the 1942 musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy," the role for which he won an Oscar.
The auction will also include his personal copy of the screenplay from "The Time of Your Life" and canisters containing various films, including "Public Enemy." A signed drawing by Al Hirschfeld and five 1930's portraits of the actor by Edward Weston are included.
Also on sale will be more private items like a uniform from Cagney's childhood days on the Yorkville Nut Club baseball team and paintings and drawings that the actor made after he retired to his farm in Dutchess County.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Clamato & the Tumbleweed in My Belly Button

Readying myself for today's Giants vs Ravens game, I drank three glasses of Clamato. Thank you, Freddy Muller, for turning me on to this quirky cocktail in 1966. What a nutty flavor, clam juice, tomatoes, and garlic. A perfect drink to ward off vampires when you're buried in the sand.

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

The Giants are 9-1. Ray Lewis failed to get the license plate number off the truck that ran over him in the first quarter. The plate number was "27." Brandon Jacobs driving. Philly tied the Bengals. Should I root for the Redskins or the Anti-Christ? Hee, hee.

The photo, that's me at the Giant victory parade down Broadway after February's Super Bowl.

Why do I have a tumbleweed in my belly button every evening? Where does the lint come from? Should I knit a mohair sweater for Barbie?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Neighborhood Lore

My friend, Jon Calvert & I put on an Old Neighborhood Story, Song & Picture Show: Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts, two weeks ago with our talented friends, Myles Goldin, Saara Dutton & Amanda Thorpe.

The genesis for Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts was the thousand of hours I spent watching Sandy Becker, Chuck McCann, and Zacherly. From two years old through my early teens, these three nut jobs made me laugh, made me happy. Probably most responsible for forming my creative personality.

They invited you into their neighborhood, their house, their living room and told you stories, told you jokes, sang songs, taught things, gave kids prizes, played cartoons, tied songs to sketches with people and puppets. Behind, the silliness, they stressed the value of old places, people, games, songs, dances, language. They reinforced what my family taught me, and they showed me around the old neighborhood. My best days as a kid were when my family played together and forgot they were adults. You saw it in their eyes.

It's natural to invite you to my block, to tell you a story, sing you a song, show you pictures and give you a gift for valuing and storing your memories.

Hambone was a loony disk jockey. He wore a pith helmet with a decorative plume, a drum major's uniform, and a pair of binocular glasses. The Big Professor, introduced to Pomp and Circumstance, answered questions and gave away Golden Book Encyclopedias for the best questions. K. Lastima was a dishevelled, Spanish-speaking kid's-show host in a Panama hat. He played trivia with the kids.

Zacherly was the host of Chiller Theatre and one of the first FM disc jockeys in New York on WNEW. Chuck McCann was out of his mind and matched Sandy Becker with his own characters, tales, songs, puppets, film & history trivia, movie clips, cartoons and pictures.

Neighborhood lore was embedded in these shows, and from there it flew straight into my heart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Life's Good

"Fran the Scram" against the Eagles at Yankee Stadium in 1970.

Eli Manning, managed a terrific game against the Eagles last night. The Giant ball-carrier unit, collectively, is their best ever but must protect the ball.
8-1... a three game lead on the Anti-Christ.
Life's good.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Don't Like the Eagles

I don't like any Philadelphia sports teams. The Eagles are not the Anti-Christ from Dallas, but serve the underlord well. Like the other lesser devils, the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers, the Eagles must die.
Great piece in today's NYTimes Fifth Down on the Giants/Eagles history.
Goooooooooooooooo Giiiiiiiiiiiiiants!
That's me running the football for the St. Stephen's/19th Pct. team against the Our Lady Of Good Counsel/23rd Pct. team in the 1974 Pineapple Bowl. The Pineapple Bowl was the Manhattan Eastside PAL Football Championship held at the Asphalt Green field on York Avenue and 90th Street. OLGC/23rd Pct. also served the underlord. St. Stephen's crushed the serpent 23-7.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

York Avenue, June 1906

This photo was taken in front of my great-grandparents fruit stand on the southwest corner of 75th Street & Avenue A, later named, York Avenue.
From left to right, my great-aunt Mary (b. 1899), my great-grandmother Giovanni Cuccia, eight months pregnant with my grandmother. Anna Cuccia, later Ann Pryor Rode, to her right, two great cousins.
My family's been on York Avenue since 1896.
If you can come to the reading tonight, I'll tell about old Yorkville.
be well, Tommy
Trumpet Fiction's is celebrating Flash Fiction tonight, Saturday, @645pm
November 8th @ KGBs' @ 85 East 4th Street (just west of Second Avenue)
I'm reading three short stories, leading off a talented band of readers.
Here's a link to Trumpet Fiction's official announcement.
Get a seat at 6:45pm, I start reading at 7pm, sharp.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Told the Witch Doctor, I Was in Love With You

My first record was "Witch Doctor" by Dave Seville and the Chipmunks.
I was four, taking a bath. My Dad came home from work and snuck into the bathroom and said, "I've got something for you." I remember his brown raincoat hanging over the tub's rim and his coat's belt dipped in the water, he leaned in with my surprise ~ A brand new 45 single. Seeing the title, I yelled, "yippee," snapped my head forward, rapping my face off the hot water knob, knocking my front tooth out. It was my baby tooth, it grew back. I still have the record, it's in my living room with my singles. I got a dime for the tooth.
Trumpet Fiction's is celebrating Flash Fiction tomorrow, Saturday, November 8th
@ KGBs' @ 85 East 4th Street (just west of Second Avenue)
I'm reading three short stories, leading off a talented band of readers.

Here's a link to Trumpet Fiction's official announcement.

Order a drink, get a seat at 6:45pm, I start reading at 7pm, sharp.
Hope you come.
be well, Tommy

Thursday, November 6, 2008

KGB's or Bust, Yee-Haa!

Trumpet Fiction's is celebrating
Flash Fiction on Saturday, November 8th
@ KGBs' @ 85 East 4th Street
(just west of Second Avenue)
That's in Two Days!
I'm reading three short stories Saturday,
leading off a talented band of readers.
Here's a link to Trumpet Fiction's announcment.

Order a drink, get a seat at 6:45pm, I start reading at 7pm sharp.

Hope you can come. be well, Tommy

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shanghaied on Peck Slip!

Walking along Peck's Slip in the Seaport this morning, I spied a barber's pole, looked at myself in the store window's reflection and saw a wild poet. I went inside, took a seat and announced, "Short on the sides, square in the back and take nothing off the top.
"Whoa, matey, what?"
A voice from the backroom. He was behind me and I couldn't see him, while he's talking I notice there was no mirror in front of me, just piles of ship rope and nautical devices ~ hanging over my head was a painted maidenhead with wings.
"I want a haircut."
"This ain't a barbershop."
"What is it?"
"It's the Unofficial South Street Seaport Museum and Home for Wayward Sailors. Call me, Ishmael."
"What's with the barber pole outside?"
"That's not a barber pole, It's a carved lighthouse painted with stripes."

I readjusted my glasses and looked around the place. The windows were dirty with little light coming through them, but I saw two guys asleep inside a rowboat turned on it's side so they could curl up for a nap. One sailor had an admiral outfit on and the other seaman wore a striped shirt with a hankie wrapped oddly around his bald head. They both snored. A sign said, "Bait for Sale."

"I'm sorry, I thought you were a barber, I'll leave."
"No, no, don't go, I'm a barber, I mean I was a barber when I sailed the South Seas."
I recalled my memories of sailor's hairdos from movies and concluded this wouldn't end well.
"Thanks, but no, I'll be going."
I tried to get up, but in a warm forceful way, Ishmael shoved me down. He had an eye patch.
"No, please, I'll do a fine job, and I'll feel better about myself. I've been combing the waters for another chance at barbering."
"What do you mean feel better about yourself?"
"Well the last time I cut hair, I was still rumming, covering everything with monkey shit and had a few accidents. I damaged my pepper box and had to kiss the wooden lady."
I tried to get up again, but Ishmael gave me a desperate hug and pressed me down.
"I'm better now. Haven't cut myself shaving all week."
My chance to escape was nil. I haven't been to a gym in a year; my exercise slump's taken me muscle away.

I've been Shanghaied on Peck Slip!

"Why so glum?"


"Why the long face?"

I've buried three barber shops in the last four years. Sick of the "find a new one" process, I surrendered.

"Oh nothing, go ahead."

"A fine decision, laddy, sit back, while I swab your deck."

"Who are those guys?" I said, pointing to the two sad sacks in the rowboat.

"Sporty in the admiral's outfit is Loose Lips. He's been on three ships that sunk and he's talky. Baldy's name is Billy Bones but everyone calls him Baldy."

"Do they live here?"

"On and off, but it's my sea chest they're after."

Ishmael took my glasses off and with little light coming through the haze covered windows I may as well been down in Davey Jones Locker. In the dark, I imagined what was in Ishmael's sea chest. I concluded Loose Lips and Baldy were strictly there for the free room & board.

"Why are the boys in the rowboat, don't they have beds?"

"Up on the deck they have swell hammocks, but they like being down here with me."

While Billy Bones and Loose Lips snored away the morning in their rowboat, Ishmael & I talked about the sea, the football Giants win over the Anti-Christ and my next reading for
Trumpet Fiction,
this coming Saturday, November 8th @645pm @ KGB
@ 85 East 4th Street (just west of Second Avenue)

Ishmael gave me a fine haircut; I tipped well and prayed my head had found a new barbering home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts ~ Last Night's Show

My memory is electric with images and music from my youth in Yorkville.

I remember the first day Rory, Mom, Dad and me moved into #4R in 517 East 83rd Street. It was June 20, 1957. Rory's first birthday. I was three and three months to the day. It was very warm, Mom let Rory and I run straight into the apartment before my aunts and uncles brought the furniture up.

At the window was the fire escape, on it a nest of baby pigeons. Rory squealed and I felt the same way. Rory said one of his newly learned words, "Wow!"

"Mom got to see it, birds, lots of them!" I yelled over my shoulder.
Mom came over took one look, gave Dad a look and said, "Bob, stay here. I'm taking Tommy and Rory for ice cream."

On the stairs we passed Uncle Mickey and Aunt Joan carrying a piece of our bunk bed.

When we got back from the store with our ice cream sandwiches, Rory and I ran to the window. No birds. I asked Dad, "Where they go?"

"The mom taught them to fly and they took off."

I had no ammunition, 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.

Last night's show was wonderful, Saara, Myles, Jon, Amanda, Barry, Andre, and David worked so hard and performed so well. I'm awed and grateful.

If you come to my apartment, you see dad's paintings, sketches, miniature houses & furniture, sculptures, postcards, trivia, drawings, doodles, pins, buttons, teddy bears, pictures, film, books photos, 45s, lps, mom with her finger up her nose, trophys, hats, pee wee herman, william powell, barbarella, woody, joe dimaggio, an angel with a barbie doll head and the man who reclaimed his head. i cannot go ten minutes without telling you a fact or making up a game to play trivia, or showing you a picture. I've done this since I could talk. Dad drilled it into me.

My head is full of photos, pictures, songs and loose change that roll around my brain.

Saara Dutton's Mama D's Arts Bordello is an inspiration to me. I'm grateful to Saara. Thank you. Mama Ds' is a risque bawdy show and Saara owns her character, a sexy and naughty Sophie Tucker, Last of the Red Hot Mamas' hostess. As the leader, Saara brings out the demonic in the terrific talent she attracts to the Bordello.

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood is an inspiration to me. They gave me my first outlet for my stories and reminded me of the countless books, movies and plays I've seen that are driven by this same theme. Thank you, Tom, Patrick and Jean Paul.

Losers Lounge inspires me. Westbeth to Fez to Joe's Pub. Everybody with day jobs, working their asses off to put on amazing shows. Thank you Ed, Amanda, David, Nick, Mary Lee and Lianne.

I'm not risque and most of my work isn't naughty. I never leave my neighborhood. I'm a rabbit in a warren. My stories, my pictures, my art all reflect the neighborhood as it was and sometimes, magically still is. My theme is locked. My audience looks for a nostalgic peek back to their youth. I try to oblige.

I have a hundred old neighborhood stories. I'll tell them along with my friends' art, photos and songs. The show examines stoops and nuts in Yorkville. The neighborhood will keep me busy for a long time. My friends will bring in work that connects to the neighborhood theme.

hugs, Tommy

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring, the Old Man is...

running over to 17 Murray Street in his plastic mac @ 6pm tonight to see:

Tommy's "Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" story, tune and picture show FREE with Free appies!

be well, Tommy

starring in foot size order:

Myles Goldin (size 21, she's a clown),
Jon Calvert (size 14, friends call him "Lanier"),
Amanda Thorpe (size 13 1/2 men's, Jon & Amanda are still arguing over that half foot size),
Tommy Pryor (size 10, Payless never has his size)
Saara Dutton (size 4, a little Chinese princess).

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" Free Show Tomorrow Night!

Ishmael reminded me the "Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" show is tomorrow night.

So we’ll finish the haircut on Wednesday.

Please come down to Chez Joey’s at 17 Murray Street on Tuesday night, October 28th @ 6pm for a rich trip back to Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood in the 1950s’ and 1960s’.

Saara, Myles and I have tales to tell, Amanda has tunes to sing, and Jon has pictures to show how life was, and still is, because when you’re a kid the center of your universe is never more than one block long.

17 Murray Street Tavern
(between Broadway and Church Street)
One block west of City Hall

#6 train to Brooklyn Bridge
any westside subway line that stops at Chambers Street

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gotta Get On the Ball... Show's Only Five Days Away

I don't have much time, the show's next Tuesday, October 28th.

Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts
A neighborhood story, song & picture show
17 Murray Street @6pm
Free Show

I need to get music to Dre & Jon, rehearse with Myles, get the poultry pitch to NPR, figure out how to set up music and multimedia at "17," find two microphone stands, get to the Lower East Side Tenement museum for additional Yorkville history prize research, rehearse with Myles, finish edits on four stories, pick a third story to read at the show, get together with Jon ~ twice.

I picked the song to open with, Sueno off the Rascals' Groovin album. The song's first line:

"I feel a strange, exciting thing about to be."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yorkville's Secret Old Places

In Yorkville, there are many secret places. I'll give up one, and one teaser.

Entering Carl Schurz Park on 87 Street, if you walk straight ahead on the path under the stone bridge into the round sitting area with the Pan statue in the center, you'll see a large group of rocks on the right/south side. Up on the rocks is an ancient iron hook driven into the stone. The hook probably 250 years, secured a rope line from a ship or boat. Sit there, imagine under your feet the East River running towards the Hells Gate. Ships going back and forth to the countless piers along the waterfront.

Greenwich Village isn't the only Manhattan neighborhood with secrets in their backyards. Yorkville has at least two or more 19th century clapboard houses sitting behind the 1900-1920 built tenements that line the streets and avenues. One sat behind my grandmother's house on York Avenue, and it's still there.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Herman the German ~ Demon Barber of Yorkville is back!

Mr. Bellers Neighborhood has reposted my lost story, "A Barber's Portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm."

This prologue explains why 1960s' Yorkville fathers sent their boys to 'Herman the German" based on the local barber options.

I hated barbers. All of them. I was ten and girls started goofing on my haircut. I thought of several ways for my father to die. I’d rather get a needle in my ass from Doctor Somberg, then get a haircut.
On my block, fathers chose barbershops for their boys strictly based on who charged the least, with one exception. The cheapest barber charged 60 cents, undercutting the next guy who charged 75 cents. In a compassionate slip, most Dads coughed up the extra 15 cents rather than send their kid to Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse, known as Charlie, only to his wife, had a breathing disorder and circus size ears. The ears alone would have earned him the nickname, but the clincher, was the shape of his hairline followed the outline of the Mickey Mouse Club Hat. Put that and his ears together, and you couldn’t look at him without mumbling, “M-I-C-K-E-Y…”
When he cut your hair, you counted on two things, body odor that could kill a rat and a breathing dysfunction that made you feel like you were receiving a dirty phone call.
Heaving breathing, followed by a drag on his cigarette, a hacking cough for good luck, then back to the deep breathing. He’d rest his scissors or razor on your head when he got tired, and he was always tired because he couldn’t breathe.
The neighborhood miser, Johnny Nolan, foolishly let Mickey Mouse give his two daughters’ haircuts. When Mrs. Nolan came home and saw the state of her girls’ heads and both of them crying at the kitchen table, she walked directly into the living room and woke her husband up from his nap by bopping him in the noggin with her closed fist.
“Nolan, you’re a wood head and the cheapest Irishman in New York City.”
This alone, didn’t stop the other fathers from sending their boys to Mickey Mouse. Something else did.
Anna, Mickey Mouse’s wife, had nothing to do all day, so she hung around the store and draped herself over an empty barber chair. She was always right next to you. A large woman with sore feet. Her shoes never fit right. They only stayed on when she walked next store to the German butcher and bought a raw frankfurter that she ate carrot style.
You’d be in the middle of a haircut; heavy breathing in one ear, thinking about nothing and out of nowhere, “FUCK, SHIT, PISS!”
You’d jump a foot off the chair; lucky, if your head missed the razor on your way up and down. With your timbers shivered, you tried settling back in – it got quiet again, except for the wolfman’s breathing. A few minutes later, “FUCK, SHIT, PISS!”

Anna had tourette syndrome, Mickey Mouse didn’t care, and you, ended up with a nervous condition and a neck twitch.

This, led kids to the other barber…

Herman the German waited for his prey... read the story in the hyperlink above

Friday, October 17, 2008


Yesterday morning, I left my doctor’s office with good news. I celebrated by walking through Central Park with a large coffee. Headed towards Columbus Circle, I sat on a bench in front of the Delacorte Theatre but kept looking left towards the Great Lawn to a particular spot in the middle of the field. I saw myself lying on the grass at nine years old. Throwing a ball as far as I could up in the air while making sure my back, firm to the ground, never left contact with the grass. Over, and over, and over.

Summer 1963, "Mom, please give me a quarter, I'm dying, come on, give me a quarter, I really need a quarter, I'm on my knee, Mom, I want a quarter!"

Mom gave me a dime and spun me towards the door out of the apartment. I had six other cents. I needed nine cents. Walking up 83rd Street, I went through everybody's garbage cans and found three Mission soda bottles and two Canada Dry bottles. That made ten cents. When Murray Parker passed me the deposit money, he made a face because I didn't buy anything. I had my quarter plus a penny. Why a quarter?

The quarter always triggered the “Triple Dilemma,” three of my favorite things each cost a quarter. This tickled me ~ that every time the bank account in my dungaree pocket hit twenty-five cents, my internal debate kicked in.

The first thing was food, I wanted crap, and my favorite crap combo was a 16-ounce Pepsi with Yankee Doodles, three to a pack, Brilliant! That gorgeous swirled bottle. What a grip, I never dropped it and I dropped everything. Your stomach was used to only getting 12 ounces with a soda, but then the 16 ouncer brought the extra soda surprise. And if other kids had 12 ounce sodas you’d torture them, finishing the 16 ouncer real slow with lots of sound effects, “Hmmmm,” “Oh, my God, that’s good,” “Ooooooooooooh!” That third Yankee Doodle was a gift. You never got three of anything, sometimes you’d sneak a second something, or someone would gift you a second thing, but, when other than a Yankee Doodle pack, did you know for sure you were getting three of anything? After the second item, your mouth’d be calming down, disappointed it was all over after a second something, sure nothing further was going in it, then all of a sudden your mouth is getting stuffed again, a third time, with fluffy chocolate cake filled with cavity-causing vanilla crème, and if your double lucky, a lob of crème stays on your upper lip for a while and you don’t realize it’s there till your tongue goes out for a walk and brings it back into your mouth. And that last crème lob goes down your throat like a royal coach.

Occasionally, I’d ignore my stomach and consider my second favorite thing, a balsa wood glider with propeller. They had names like “Hornet,” “Mustang” and “Scout.” The glider came in a plastic chute bag, same shape as a one-pound bag of imported spaghetti. The plane was a series of pieces with grooves for wing attachment and rudder. And one rubber band that powered your aircraft. The thing that intrigued me was the propeller. In a classroom, you could make a plane out of a sheet of loose leaf, and at best, clock a kid in the head four or five rows away, but with a propeller on your plane, you were going places. Exotic flight plans danced through your head before the first flight. Sometimes there was no maiden flight. The thing was made of balsa wood, fragile. Name something a kid handles delicately? Nothing, most things are slammed together. You can’t slam a glider together and even being careful, if someone distracted you while you were putting one together, it usually didn’t end well. This was a short life toy, like having a butterfly for a pet. Superb quick highs followed by swift devastating loss.

A glider might get through the assembly in one piece, despite kids walking all around me as I spread the pieces on the sidewalk trying to figure out what went where. Winding the propeller up all the way, I’d send her off. The glider sailed passed the German Butcher narrowly missing the store’s awning, climbing to the second story, it veered towards the corner where a wall of wind coming up 83rd Street met it, the blast banking it to the left, and with two quick loops it landed on Mrs. Sweeney’s fire escape, the single fire escape along the avenue without a reachable ladder even with a two kid push up. Kaput. That was the end of the glider, Mrs. Sweeney was a recluse and never answered her doorbell for anyone but her son, and he had a secret code that no one could crack.

The painful memory of lost aircraft, led me to my third favorite thing - a Spauldeen - a high bouncing reject tennis ball. You tested the quality of a spauldeen by dropping it from shoulder height. The higher the bounce, the better the ball. In Joe’s Candy Store I’d proceed with my ritual. Joe had lots of spauldeens, and they sat in a tall wire barrel near the cash register. Kids were always trying to sneak a ball in their pocket, so Joe kept a close eye on the bin. Spauldeen selection was serious business. The one you picked must have superior bounce and last through a wide variety of games. During a test, you developed immunity to being shoo-ed by Joe.

“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, “You just tried that one,” he said.
“Not true. I have a system. I repeat no ball.”
“I repeat. Pick a friggin ball now!”
I found the ball, said, “Bye Joe,” and left a quarter on the counter.

Ball in hand; I worked my way down my street, joining games in progress that moved me. Play a little Ace, King, Queen, then some Off the Point. However, nothing made me happier than running straight up 83rd Street to Central Park to find a perfect spot in the middle of the Great Lawn to lie on my back and toss the ball as high as possible in the air over and over, and over again. Nothing eased loneliness like a good game of catch, ever when it was just my Spauldeen and me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Curls and Waves – Goodbye, Outdoor Shower

My life would radically improve, if I took an outdoor shower everyday. This morning, Ricky the retriever and I chased birds off the beach - at one point, the beach was cleared of creatures for an hour. Our exhaustive doggy mission left me sandy, breathless and sweaty. Ricky and I sniffed each other goodbye, and I returned to the backyard of the house to take my final outdoor shower. We’re going home today - that made me sad, but the shower softened my blues and I milked it like a final bite of a yummy pepperoni slice.

After I took my clothes off, I teased myself. I stuck one arm under the water, noticed the difference between the air temperature and the water’s temperature, played with it, then slowly passed my whole body through the shower. While the rope of water pounded my neck, my tension eased and I looked over the shampoo selection and noticed a purplish bottle with a frog colored top. I grabbed it and read the label,
“Herbal Essences - Totally Twisted - Curls and Waves Shampoo.”
If this was true, who knew what amazing things would happen to my hair? I read the back label, it talked to me.
“With a French fusion of lavender twist & jade extracts, I’m deliciously bent and your hair is, too.”
I couldn’t stop, my heart raced.
“Are you happy go loopy?”
That’s me! I’m in love with this amazing product.
“Happiness goes round. I’m essential to a curl’s life with a cleaning that’s totally springy.
My formula fuses French lavender and jade - makes curls and waves smooth, lush and defined. Use me: lather up, have a lush moment with your curls, rinse and repeat.”
I stretched my lush moment. I’d spent the last three days with hat head - my hair stuck flat to my brain’s roof, an area rug where a wavy plush oriental once laid. Poor shampoo choice. “Totally Twisted” promised curls and waves, I took a leap of faith.

Twenty minutes after drying off, my hair looked like a prairie. Waves, curls, I was bouffant; luckily it was a little windy and a bit humid, contributing to my full luxurious head of hair. I went to the LBI Chowder fest and the remarks thrown my way, made it clear, “Herbal Essences - Totally Twisted - Curls and Waves Shampoo” and me were going to be together for a long time.

“Holy crap!”
“Look, at those curls!”
“Did you see the wave on that guy?”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lazy Beach Day with Dog

Up early to write, then rode the bike towards the lighthouse. Took another outdoor shower, a recreational drug with no payback.

The ocean water is clean, seventy degrees and the surf, deceptively rough. The dog dug a hole, being a good guest, I joined Ricky in the hole. We stayed there covered with sand for an hour humming tunes, until a nosey pelican teased Ricky. We both rushed the bird. Exhausted from the two block run, we went in the water to freshen up. When we came out, I laid on my back in the wet sand and Ricky rubbed my belly with her front paws. Then we switched and I rubbed her belly. This kept up for a while until a flock of terns came much too close. We chased them off our beach. Afterwards, Ricky gave me an ear rub. I expect we'll be late dinner.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Long Beach Island

Greetings from a Long Beach Island sunset outside my window, inside the 19th century Beach Haven Library. Last night, John Harvey and I drove to the Jersey shore with the intention of getting some writing done. Mission accomplished. Some writing was done. Not a lot, some. We also did the beach, bought groceries and retold each other twelve St. John's Rugby stories. We rented bikes, rode to the southern tip of the island then played up and down the streets looking at houses and property for a few hours and ended up in the library. no internet access at the house.

I'm here through Sunday, life is good. Exchanged emails with Daniela in Romania, this lifted my mood a few rungs higher. She is an amazing reader and her critique of the books she reads knocks me out.

Is it me, or is an outdoor shower with a high pressure showerhead better than ...? You walk outside, take off your clothes, you're a little chilly, feet on wood slates, the water warms up, then you sing a song as the rushing spray whacks your neck, back, butt, chest and head.