Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Anna Cuccia 1917
What's today?"


"No, the date?"

"May 30th"

Nan, my Dad’s mother looked out the window and got wet in the eyes.

"What's a matter?"

She didn't answer, I tried again.

"Nan, what's bothering you?"



"My cousin."

Your cousin, who?"

"My older cousin."

"Pasquale, your older cousin?"

"He died."

"OK, where did he die?"




It was May 1999. I was at Nan's bedside at the Jewish Home on 106th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. She'd just passed her fourth anniversary in Room Frank 510 - we didn't celebrate.

"We're you guys close?"

Nan looked up, her eyes milky white with macular degeneration.

"He was my best friend."

She was 12 in 1918, lived at 1403 York Avenue off 75th Street. Nan told me Pasquale lived around the corner and walked her to school when he wasn't working in the cigar factory on 69th Street.

"I was a tomboy; he'd played catch with me and skate with me.  Pasquale got me out of trouble with my mother ~ she loved him. He was tall and always stepped in when she was ready to give me a whack. He'd pick Mom up and spin her round. She'd forget all about me."

81 years later, my grandmother, Anne Pryor Rode, formerly Anna Cuccia, 93, was remembering her cousin, Pasquale, with love. He died for his adopted country.

Years ago, Memorial Day always fell on May 30th. It was a somber day. No fireworks, honor guard honoring the flag, and later a long moment of silence at the ball game remembering those who died for their country.

Pasquale Cuccia

Tom Pryor 1945 on York Avenue/83rd Street

Robert Pryor and cousins 1946 84St & York Ave

August 1942 Flag Dedication in front of  511 E 84th Street

Tom Pryor & Anne Pryor Rode 1995

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Only Soul in the World That's Real

In the fall of 1997 on Long Beach Island in Jersey my friends, John, Jerome and Freddy cautiously agreed to let me help them build a porch on Second Street in Beach Heaven. John well knew I was mechanically challenged and years away from memorizing and applying “lefty loosey, righty tighty” when turning a screw.

Early in the affair, one of them foolishly handed me a nail gun that I playfully discharged. The first three inch nail flew between Freddy’s legs near his goods and the next one exploded past John & Jerome’s heads when I lifted the gun to see how it operated. Jerome said quietly but firmly, “get the fecking thing out of his hands.”

Despite my failure to assist, the guys generously added my name to the porch plaque.

I’m known for my lousy mechanical skills and my love for Long Beach Island.
Here are pictures from my trip there last week and one of my favorite beach songs, “Bell Boy,” by The Who.

Coming up:

Monday, June 11th, I open up for Adam Wade at his monthly show in the Theatre under St. Mark's @ 94 St. Mark's Place.

Tuesday, June 12th is our next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts," storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe with amazing near equinox talent: Barbara Aliprantis, Robin Bady, Leslie Goshko, Joy Kelly, Mike Fornatale and The Tall Pines.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

99 Miles From NYC

99 miles from NYC, the old man missing his mate fished the ocean thinking about his past and caught a 12 pound striped bass.  His arthritic gnarled fingers prevented him from lifting his catch by its gills. John helped him. Then the old man walked off the beach to eat alone, thinking of her.

99 miles from NYC, Long Beach Island on a beautiful May day.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dominick and The Madonna ~ An Old Yorkville Story

The victim window in St. Joseph's Church
Here's a great old Yorkville story written by my friend, Denny Ferado with photos. It primarily takes place on 87th Street in front of St. Joseph's.

Dominick and The Madonna

Dennis John Ferado

When my grandfather, Samuel Ferado, married my grandmother, Mary Buondiconti, in 1907 he already had one child, Victoria, from a previous marriage.  Two-year old Victoria’s mother had passed away.  In the years that followed, Mary gave birth to eight children:  Salvatore, Dominick (my father), Albert and then twin boys, William & George. George died young and three years later in 1917 Mary had another baby boy who she also named George.  In due course she birthed two girls, Annetta and then Vivian, the baby.  Grandma Mary passed on February 3, 1922 and subsequently little George died May 7th, 3 months and 4 days later, of what they called a broken heart.  Grandma might have over compensated for her first loss because George missed his mother too much to care about living.

The three youngest children were placed in an orphanage in upstate New York and the older boys were kept home to look for work.  The burden of raising a family fell directly onto the sturdy shoulders of their older half-sister, Victoria, who at the fledging age of 16 would become surrogate mother to four wild boys; uncle Willy came back home after two years at the orphanage.
My dad was twelve when he landed his first full time position at a chocolate factory right here in New York City.  His main activity consisted of dipping cherries into a gigantic vat of hot seething chocolate.  It so happened that my father’s very favorite joy in life was eating chocolate covered cherries.  The entire first week on the job he subsisted on nothing other than this one food.  A six day week with twelve hour days demanded the consumption of an uncountable number of cherries.  For the rest of his life he could not look at a chocolate covered cherry without gagging.  However, for the rest of his life he would never be without a job.  During the Prohibition years, 1923 to 1928, he was a bell-hop at the Empire Hotel, still standing at 44 West 63rd Street where he, two other bell-hops and an elevator operator, made bathtub gin and sold it to the hotel guests.  Through the Great Depression into 1930s he worked delivering milk in large metal cans with a horse and wagon.  He made the papers when he was chased by the police while speeding through Central Park.  One paper wrote it up with the by-line:  “Ben Hur captured after furious chase through Central Park.”  He was a printer for a couple of years and worked in the Puck building at 295 Lafayette Street at the corner of Mulberry and Houston Street and during WW II he was a welder at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

It was in 1930 when my parents first met at a dance on East 86th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  Pop showed me the building one day, it was on the downtown side of 86th Street, an old brownstone with a big set of brown steps leading up into it.  There was a large plate glass window alongside the entryway at the top of the steps where, from the street, you could watch the dancers.  My father’s older brother, by one year, Salvatore, met a girl (my future aunt Kitty) who had a friend, Marg, and both girls would be at the dance.  Kitty’s friend, a classmate from Saint Joseph’s, was my mom, Margie Stein, she was 16.  The dance hall had several ethnic groups mixed in but consisted mainly of Irish kids from Yorkville--Kitty and Marg’s friends

There were some tough crowds that hung around in Yorkville back then.  My Dad’s family was from Canal Street and Sullivan Street and they were Italian.  A fight quickly ensued that lasted for some time until my father, unwillingly, exited the dance hall through the plate glass window onto the 86th Street sidewalk.  Luckily, he had gone through feet first and landed in a standing position breaking an ankle and needing stitches in several places.  Salvatore was luckier; he went tumbling down the brown flight of steps.  Both brothers were taken to hospital in an ambulance and stitched up while they put a splint on my father’s ankle. After that brawl everything was okay and the Yorkville gang never bothered the brothers again.  The two Italian guys had put up such a good fight while being greatly outnumbered (they were later informed) that their reputation had grown and they were greeted with respect after that gruesome incident. Eventually, Salvatore and Dominick married the two girls from Yorkville.

Leaping forward sixteen years to 1946 we find Dominick and Marg firmly rooted in Yorkville and the proud parents of three little Yorkvillites:  George age 13, myself, age 4 and baby Margie age 1.

Vividly, I recall the stickball games which took place on East 87th Street between York Avenue and 1st Avenue.  One particular Saturday afternoon the guys were playing stickball.  Home base was right outside my ground floor window at 411 East 87th Street.  The players hit east towards York Avenue so I could watch the batters all day long right in front of me.  Some of the older crowd were:  the Feeley brothers, Danny Kean, Joe Driscoll, Willy Malockawitz, Guinea Beans, Joe Steixner, etc. The younger ones, my brother’s friends were:  Killer Cain, Joe Wolfinger, Cosmo Verni, Johnny Hubbert, Rudy Kaminsky, Bobo, Jeep Malockawitz, Georgie Fluger, etc.  Joe Steixner was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life, bigger even than Big Joe Driscoll.  Joe Steixner always seemed to come up from behind and shock me.  He’d snatch me off the concrete and throw me so high into the air, head over heels; I thought I would land on someone’s first floor fire-escape.  I’d come back down, but my stomach would linger, and then he’d catch me by the ankles--my face 2 inches from smashing into the concrete.  Whenever that happened I usually couldn’t speak for an hour afterwards.  When my father came down the street after work there was always a spot for him to play on one or the other team, whichever group had the street that day; meaning if the older crowd wasn’t playing the younger crowd could.  They were all out this day, the older crowd was waiting for the younger guys to finish then they would play their game next.

Pop could run like the wind and often when he stepped up to the plate he’d get a hit and I’d watch him run the bases with blinding speed. I was so proud of him because everyone liked my dad and they all called him Mr. Ferado.  He had shoe-polish-black hair which he parted down the middle and when he ran his hair would fly out from both sides of his head like wings.  If I put my right cheek flat against our window pane and looked east I could see down to where first and third bases were but I’d lose him when he ran to second base.  I was young and I thought he was too fast.  The first time I saw him run to second base and out of my field of vision I thought I’d never see him again.

I had just got to the window to watch unaware that my father had joined them.  When I saw him stepping up to home plate I got all excited.  Our window was open about an inch, mom kept it down because I fancied climbing out and running down 87th Street towards York Ave., once in my birthday suit, I don’t know why.  I was all wired up seeing my dad but couldn’t pull the window up any higher. Just as the ball was approaching home plate and dad had already started his swing, I bent low, stuck my mouth through the one inch open space of the window and screamed:

“DADDY” He turned toward the sound of my voice and the cat stick (broomstick minus the straw broom) flew out of his hands and spear-headed straight across 87th Street and through the church’s stained glass window of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus in her arms.  In a flash you would never have known there had been a stickball game going on--only a few puffs of dust remained floating on the air on a, now, forsaken street. 
My parents were married in Saint Joseph’s Church in 1931 by Monsignor Bruder, Monsignor Rothloff’s predecessor.  Monsignor Rothloff was on a first name basis with dad and they made a deal.  Pop would pay for the broken window in installments of $2.00 a week for the rest of his life and for the rest of his children’s lives until whomever of us passes last.  At that time the debt would be eliminated.  The conversation went something like this:

“As God is my judge I swear to Jeeesus, Father Rothloff, I’lll pay the church the entire amount for the broken window if it takes me forever.”  Looking skyward with upturned palms, he continued, “I will not rest, Father, until this is done.  

“You should not take the name of God in vain Dominick, and please refrain from swearing!” 

“Excuse me father, I forgot,” Dad said, as he glanced at his shoes.  Putting a hand on my father’s shoulder the priest smiled and spoke softly:

“I know you’re an honest man, Dominick, and I know how hard you work.  You’re oldest boy, George; just graduated from Saint Joseph’s, little Dennis is living it up in kindergarten and that darling little girl, what’s her name?” 


“Yes, Margaret.  I trust she’ll be entering kindergarten at Saint Joseph’s School when she comes of age?”  I looked up at my father and he was nodding in agreement.  “I see you there in church on Sundays, sometimes--well, you’re always there on holidays anyway--with your family. Yes, a good Yorkville family.  Its people like you and Mrs. Ferado that make our parish what it is, one big family.  We stick together and we help one another.  I believe you’ll do the right thing because you’re a good man.”  But you should try to get to Sunday mass more often.  Still nodding dad said:

“You bet Monsignor. (Dad would bet on anything)  Thank you for having faith in me” Pumping the padre’s hand he added, “And thank you for being so understanding Monsignor.  I’ll see you next Friday with my first payment.”  Dad walked up the steps of our building where my mother waited for him holding my little sister in her arms with me at her side hanging onto her apron and knowing, somehow, I was responsible for all of this.  As he came closer I noticed beads of sweat had accumulated across my father’s forehead.  The price of that stained glass window could have kept any Yorkville family of five in food for a couple of years.  He stepped in between mom and myself and put his arms around the both of us and pulled us close to him.

“Thanks again, Monsignor.”  Father Rothloff turned and saw the Ferados waving at him.  He gave us a smile and a short wave and must have thought what a perfect picture they make--he’ll pay up.  He turned and began to walk up the church steps.  Dad picked me up in his arms, kissed me on the cheek, looked into my eyes and with a big smile on his face said:  “Let’s go inside son and we’ll have a little chat.  The Monsignor stopped before entering the church, turned and shouted from the top step effectively causing the four of us to turn and look at him:

“Oh, Dominick!.  The next time you play stickball with the boys kindly make certain that they fashion home plate down by the Sanitation Department and not in front of the church!”

My father made his payments on time every Friday night for the next several weeks.  Then it all seemed to have been forgotten by everyone.  Poor Pop always worked two jobs so he could own a car and take us places, feed us, get us the things we needed and have a few bucks for the ponies.  It didn’t always work out that way but he sure tried.

I’ll never stop missing him. 

Dennis John Ferado  Copyright  2012.

The author on 413 East 87th Street stoop ~ 2012

Dad on the far left, hand on hip about 1922 when he was 12 and began working in a chocolate factory.  Salvatore in the back, Albert the little guy a, Vivian is the little and Anetta (Ann) far right. With my great grandfather, their maternal grandfather, Domenico Buondiconti.

Dad about 1929 when he drove a horse and wagon. Age 20.  

Dad, 68 in 1977, still looking good.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Losers Lounge Monkees Tribute on Bleecker Street

Here are photos of last night's Losers Lounge tribute to Davey Jones & The Monkees @ Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street. There was more dancing at this show than any Losers show I've seen going back to West Beth, 100 years ago.

As Brian Ferry says, "A Really Good Time."

Here is a link to a photo album.

Coming up:

Monday, June 11th, I open up for Adam Wade at his monthly show in the Theatre under St. Mark's @ 94 St. Mark's Place.

Tuesday, June 12th is our next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts," storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe with with amazing near equinox talent: Barbara AliprantisRobin Bady, Leslie Goshko, Joy Kelly, Mike Fornatale and The Tall Pines.