Monday, March 29, 2010

Things Change, Some Don't

I'm fascinated by people giving the same thing different names. When I was young, Dad called a five dollar bill, "A Pound," he called our chase and capture game, Ringalario, Ringalevio. When I called it Ringalario, he'd get pissed and correct me.

The one place he and I agreed everything had the same name was Central Park. The great sleigh
ride hill on 79th Street was Cherry Hill. The dangerous sleigh ride on 72nd Street was Pilgrim Hill (easy, there's a statute of a Pilgrim on top the hill). The man made pond north of 72nd Street was Sailboat Lake not the crappy formal name, The Conservatory. The lake below the castle next to the Shakespeare theatre was called, Catfish Lake. Why? Dad, Mom, Rory and I fished the lake for catfish, Dad and Mom used Silvercup Bread for bait, Rory and I used Wonder Bread, we always threw the fish back in. Then there was the Reservoir and North Lake, and everything else was part of Rowboat Lake. When I'm in Central Park I get comfort knowing my benchmarks, but also enjoy letting myself go and pretending I'm in the deep woods, just like dad did.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Yorkville & Manhattan's Best Bicycle Shop

Leaving the Central Park Mall today, my front bike brake ceased. No clue why and with no talent to find out, I sought out a bike person for assistance near Bethesda Fountain. I asked a tall lady with a lot of bike accessories for help. She turned her Crayola 64 crayon French bike cap around and tugged and played with my brake parts, then turned the screws at the brake handle on the handlebar, and said, "I'm stumped."
Thanking the lady, I rode to Larry & Jeff's Bicycle Shop at Third Avenue between 79th & 80th Street ~ the absolute best bike shop in Manhattan.

Abraham met my frown and bike with a grin, "How can I help you?"

"My front brake is froze."

He looked at the bike and said, "Oh, my God," then twisted the handlebars and the neck of the bike around two times like Regan's head in The Exorcist.
As he did this, I knew without him telling me, that I had turned the front of the bike the wrong way, two times, after I locked and unlocked the bike causing the brake wire strangulation.

Abraham did this at the front of the store, the whole thing took ten seconds. This is typical of the service at Papa Jeff's Bicycle Shop. Flats are fixed quick and cheap, chains are tightened, not unnecessarily replaced, service is friendly, they tell you what they are doing, and do it right in front of you, charging you fairly. They are the best bike store in Yorkville & Manhattan. Here is their link:

Riding home I thought about dad's tool pouch on the back of his 26 inch Raleigh touring bike seat. That olive green satchel contained a flat head screw driver, a Philips head, two wrenches and a hex wrench. I couldn't wait for Dad to pass me that bike with the tools, along with the knowledge on how to use them. His bike was stolen before my inheritance came due, but that was all right because my mechanical skills never developed.

Where was your favorite bike store when you were young?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

99 ~ Where Did We Go Wrong?

Get Smart, the TV show, was huge in the fall of 1965. Written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry before they created The Producers, The Graduate, Blazing Saddles, etc. Brooks and Henry knew how to manipulate an 11 year old boy's brain with a surgeon's precision. Fast and silly dialogue spoken by ridiculous men with a very pretty woman thrown in for good luck. Barbara Feldon playing Agent 99, was just as silly as the men, plus a boy bonus: if you didn't like brunettes, when you saw "99," you all of a sudden liked brunettes.

Her full length portrait sat beside Emma Peel on my bedtime dream wall.

Everyone had Get Smart-itis, so my St. Stephen of Hungary Boy Scout Troop 654 decided we'd put on a show. I think I played Hymie the Robot. I don't recall who played Maxwell Smart, but I do remember we decided to not put Agent 99 in the sketch because no one in the scout troop had the guts to play a girl.

After practicing for weeks, we set a show date and invited our parents down to watch the sketch. We asked them to come without thinking through the sketch lasted nine minutes. Not much plot, and not much of a show. Bobby Hauser, our Assistant Scout Master, and one of the most enthusiastic contact sport freaks I've ever had the pleasure to be hit by, decided it'd be a great idea if we put on a few one minute long boxing matches right after the sketch. This decision by Bobby, like the length of the sketch, was not well thought through. Bobby kept two pairs of 16 ounce boxing gloves handy. One, because they were useful in quickly settling arguments between the boys at scout meetings, and the second reason: he liked violence.

On the night of the play, our parents were led into the St. Stephen's lunchroom. I was glad we did it there. The school lunches were horrific, the room always smelled like rotten eggs, old meat and spoiled soup. I got a kick out of a couple of fathers holding their noses and whispering to their swooning wives.

The sketch flew by, then one of the older guys made an announcement: "Mothers & Fathers, Sisters and Brothers, we bring you Friday Night at the Fights!"

A few dads perked up, but the mothers all looked like they got hit in the head with a flour sock. The first fight, was Tommy Belleck and me. We were the same size and had on no headgear and the gloves felt like heavy bags of laundry. I didn't feel right lifting them up. While I'm playing with the gloves, I missed Bobby Hauser starting the fight. Belleck landed a series of shots to both sides of my head, he began to punch my head back and forth, back and forth, this all happened before I could get the gloves up. I tried to protect my ears. My head hurt. Belleck was delivering countless "bell ringer" punches that would later be deemed illegal in the NFL. I don't remember the other bouts, but do remember the parents didn't clap. The Pastor, Father Frederick heard about the fights and gave notice that the gloves and the fights were forbidden at St. Stephen's. Bobby Hauser switched the official Troop 654 inside sport to full tackle football in the auditorium.

Years later, the group, Toto, recorded a song called "99." I thought this song was a tribute to Barbara Feldon. I was wrong but that never changed my perception. It's a candy ass song, but I still think of her when I hear it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Could Be the Best Day of the Year

A long time ago, two things sometimes happened on the same day, instantly making that day the best day of the year ~ that would be daylight saving time, giving you one more hour to play in the park, and the park's water fountains being turned back on to quench your thirst. Can't happen anymore, it's too cold in New York to turn outdoor fountains back on... so, Happy Daylight Savings and Happy March birthdays to all below, and anybody I forgot.
love, left to right, Tonte, Bob, Alien Baby, Baby, Teddy & Tommy
Ellen ~ has two birthdays just like my grandmother. Ellen never told me why she has two, but I know it's not the same reason as my grandmother. Nan was delivered by a mid-wife on July 23, 1906 in her family's apartment at 1403 York Avenue. When the mid-wife filled out the Board of Health birth certificates at the end of the week, she used the same date, Friday, for all of them, so Nan had two birthdays, July 23rd & July 28th.
Aunt Mary ~ my grandmother's sister also born in 1403 York Avenue in 1899. She only has one birthday because her mid-wife filled out her birth certificates correctly.
Jimmy ~ got thrown out of his house at 12 by his mother for looking at her funny. When Jimmy visited Yorkville as a boy he wore a bow tie. I thought, he really liked the neighborhood.
Cris ~ a brilliant writer and editor, her office is down the block from the old location of Father Drumgoole's 10 story orphanage, City House, the country's largest in late 1800s.' It was at the north east corner of Lafayette Street & Great Jones Street.
Diana ~ she moved to California, but misses her view of the Hudson River terribly.

Christine ~ crochets pretty pictures and words, loves wine and food.

Anil ~ a solid friend & super duper project manager at the New York City Housing Authority.
Michael Toth ~ my Yorkville schoolmate who shares the same last name with the loony Hungarian guy, Lazlo Toth, that hammered Michelangelo's Pieta. My Toth and I got a hundred on our 4th grade final in Math, then we got beat up by the Nun, Sister Adrianne, for fighting during the award ceremony in front of the class.
Jordana ~ We Three Reading Series pal ~ claims she saw Peter Stuyvesant's ghost one night sitting on a parking meter in front of the Telephone Bar.
Me ~ spring, daylight savings time, soon Yankee Stadium opens, but I miss the old Stadium

Eddie ~ my 83rd Street friend, lived down the block.

Lauren ~ a beautiful person, met her yesterday morning in City Hall Park, instantly cheered me up.
Bobby ~ my cousin in Spring, Texas, a fine musician ,whose Dad, Tom, grew up on York Avenue.

Uncle Mommy ~ my dear ol' Mom, Erin Go Bragh! Grew up in East Harlem and later on York Avenue. 11 years gone and she's still torturing my father. I can hear them.
Dawn, "Go away, I'm no good for you" ~ my Elmhurst cous with the basketball smarts. Her Mom, Barbie Pins, grew up on York Avenue. Her Dad, Mickey, grew up on 84th Street.
Joanie Baloney ~ my funny fruit cake aunt & godmother and provider of bacon & mayo on Wonder bread at 321 East 85th Street. Another York Avenue mutt.
Laurene ~ old Yorkville chum, East End Avenue mutt.
Gabriella ~ Ms. Kantor was the object of my affection, who turned my complexion, from white to rosy red, in sixth and seventh grade at St. Stephen's of Hungary school on East 82nd Street.
Hildy ~ loved Philadelphia but made New York and West End Avenue her home for a million years. A city girl. A strong woman. We miss you!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Out of the Way! Solo Ride 1960

Christmas Day 1960, cousin, Bobby, me, and brother, Rory posing with my first bike. I'm six and a half, over the previous several weekends, I practiced learning to ride on a bomb with training wheels that Dad borrowed from his friend on 83rd Street.
I begged for a new bike for Christmas. I got it.
Still a wobbly rider, I refused further training wheel assistance. Directly after this photo, Dad reluctantly let me take my first ride around the block by myself. I headed north towards 84th Street on York Avenue made a right at Mayo's and aimed my ride east towards East End Avenue. Felt a rush of wind behind me pushing me along. The last quarter of the block was down hill, I practiced on level ground and lacked judgement on how much brake to apply, I switched my focus to braking, all my focus, this caused me to miss spying the short lady with the pill box hat carrying the Christmas gifts up to her neck, by the time I saw her and yelled, "Out of the way!" Left with only one choice, I veered left and whacked the brown mailbox near the corner by the drugstore. I collapsed on my side into a sturdy pile of dog poop off the curb. Mom was not happy, Dad was not surprised.

I favor Westside rides, Dad and my route up to the bridge, it's only recently the south Hudson River trip is navigable without going back into traffic.

Here are a few photos of Central Park's Falconer, A Bass Player on the Mall, a Riverside Park tree in late sun, and the Jane Street Hotel formerly the Seaman's Institute, where Titanic crewmen survivors from the Carpathia were brought after their rescue in April 1912.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Someone Told Me It's All Happening At the Zoo

I do believe it, I do believe it's true.
(At the Zoo by Paul Simon)

Lovely day, hit the park, saw the sea lions, caught Madison Square at twilight, snapped a 5th Avenue Church near dark. Time well spent.

Rediscovered great stretches of blue stone sidewalk today, rollerskating heaven, more on that tomorrow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stymie the Mouser

Did I torture Augie behind the counter? Yes, I did.
Augie was the manager of Reliable Grocery store at the southwest corner of York & 84th Street. When my grandmother needed a mouser in 1972, she kicked me out of the house and told me not to come back without a cat. It was 80 degrees at nine in the morning and the air smelled foul from the butcher's garbage. I went across the street to Reliable to get a soda, inside the ice cream fridge with the slide glass top wide-open, was a box with four white kittens cuddled together. I asked Augie what's up? He said, given them away, take two. I took one with a pink nose, crossed York Avenue with the kitten in one hand covered by my other hand and went up 1582 and gave my grandmother the cat, and said, "Her name is Sally."
My grandmother looked underneath the kitten and said "it's not a girl. it's a boy."

"His name is "Stymie," I said.
Stymie was best friends with Sparky Lyle, my nan's dog for 11 years. Nearly, took Sparky's eye out, but that's what cats do, whack dogs for no good reason when they are sleeping.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beck's Bolero

Middle of 1969, my freshman year of high school at LaSalle Academy on the Lower East Side, I heard Beck's Bolero for the first time and lost it, literally lost it. When this song came on a radio, I'd stop whatever I was doing and move to the speaker source like a wayward space craft being magnetically pulled into the mother ship.

This instrumental tune off Jeff Beck's album, Truth shook my core. It featured Beck, Jimmy Page, Nicky Hopkins, John Paul Jones, and Keith Moon on drums. Moon snuck into the recording studio to avoid pissing off Pete Townshend. This Lp album, including my favorite versions of Shape of Things and Morning Dew, triggered the most stringent money saving effort in my life. I needed to hear this music the way it needed to be heard. Loud and clear. Working 30 hour weeks after school and Saturdays for three months, I earned $350 delivering groceries at Daitch Shopwell, allowing me to buy a high end Lafayette stereo receiver and a pair of Criterion 100s, Lafayette's best speakers. I bought the gear at the Lafayette store on 87th Street & Lexington Avenue. I usually got thrown out of the store for not buying nothing, so it was odd to be there with lots of money, ready to spend, and the staff was ignoring my friend, Ekis and me. To attract attention we began to play Saluggi with a portable record player. This immediately brought the sales help we sought.

I timed my purchase to coincide with an evening I'd have our family apartment to myself until 11pm. I got in the house at 7pm. I wired the speakers to the receiver and the receiver to my low end Garrard turntable. I laid the speakers on the floor facing each other two feet apart, I lowered the needle onto Beck's Bolero, I turn the volume knob up three quarters, I laid on the floor with my head in between both speakers pointed towards my ears. When the song started I had two thoughts: this was bliss & a firm belief that my decision to keep the volume at 75 percent was a prudent choice preventing me from blowing the speakers out on their first use. The deep bass vibrations rattled the bedroom window panes like a train hurtling along an imaginary El outside.
Beck's Bolero:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Neighborhood Evolution @ Maxwell's ~ Storytellers Do Well

Katie Gentile, Claudia Chopek, Debby Schwartz, photo by Jim Testa, The Jersey Journal

Yesterday's Neighborhood Evolution storytelling show was a smash. Claudia Chopek and Debby Schwartz put together a terrific group of musician storytellers to mesh with the prose storytellers. Claudia, Debby & I thank all the artists, Eddie Skuller, Mike Fornatale, Abbi Crutchfield, Lianne Smith, Adam Wade, Edward Rogers, Don Piper, Ward White, Philip Dray, Amanda Thorpe, Naturi Thomas, and Jonathon Calvert. Thank you, Claudia and Debby for asking me to do this with you. It was an honor.

Thank you, Todd and Maxwell's for having us. The seasonal storm drove some unexpected guests into our show including a squirrel and a pigeon having a silent quarrel, a snowman surrounding a tree, penguins, salmon, seals, gulls, and Gus, the depressed polar bear from Central Park Zoo.