Saturday, December 30, 2017

York Avenue Slipping Away

Yorkville, New York, our neighborhood slips away. On the east side of York Avenue from 86 Street towards 85 Street, 1632-1618 York Avenue nears clearance for demolition. 
My memories are solid, but I'm sad these three-story beauties, iconic anchors in my family's history, are coming down.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

There Will Be Blood

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Spotless Cleaners

Fifty-three years ago, a ten- year-old simp walked straight into his father's bear trap...

... Nearing the 1964 Christmas break during my fifth grade, thirteen inches of snow blanketed my street on a late Thursday evening. Losing a school day to the elements was a beautiful thing.

Friday morning, my friends and I mushed over to Central Park towing our sleds through the middle of the street. Milking the day to the last of the light, we rode every hill until our feet froze. Back from the sleigh ride, I plopped down outside my apartment on the hall stairs and began undressing. Mom refused to let me inside the apartment. She, slush and dog poop were mortal enemies. As I worked my top layer off, I heard my father's familiar step coming up the stairs.

He mumbled to himself, "Damn, I forgot the suit." Noticing me, his eye focused on my half untied snow boots. "Tommy here's the ticket, hurry to the cleaners. I need that suit for the wedding."
“OOOOOOOOOOhhhhhh,” left my mouth as I rose slowly.
"Go!" Dad ordered.

I death marched down the stairs. Dad behind me, "FASTER they're going to close in 5 minutes."

When I got there, Joe, the Spotless Cleaners manager was turning off the lights. Smiling with an edge he opened the door. 
"Come in Tommy, be quick, I want to get out of here."

Deed done. I earned a slow walk home. A slow meandering trek through every snow pile between the store and my building. Walking deliberately, I was Hannibal's elephant moving over the Alps, going knee deep with every step.  I moved the suit to the back of my pea coat, resting the hanger's hook on the back of my collar. This left both hands free for better balance. My serpentine trip created swirling desire paths over each snow pile.

Calculated attention paid to each hill stretched my normal five-minute trip home to half an hour. With the satisfaction of a Sherpa's job well done, I danced a jig and rang the bell in the vestibule harking my return and an incredible urge to pee.  Running up the stairs, Dad greeted me at the door, "Where the hell were you?"

I said nothing, smirked and turned my back, offering Dad his suit from its resting-place on the nape of my neck. I ran into the bathroom, worked off my jeans, long johns, and two pairs of underwear just in time.

Stepping back into the kitchen, Dad met me face to face at the bathroom door holding up the suit.
"Nice jacket. Where are my pants?"
"Huh", I mumbled.
"My pants, where are my pants?"

A clothes hanger never had as thorough an examination as the one I put that hanger through. The pants were not on it, in it; on top it, under it. There were no pants. The jacket, the jacket was good. Two sleeves, pressed cleaned, all that. But the pants, the pants made no appearance despite multiple prayers under my breath. I was the baffled volunteer from the audience looking for the rabbit in the hat and finding it unbelievable it was gone.

Dad put his slacks on and said, "Lets' go."

Down to Hades we descended, third floor, second floor, first floor, no pants. Hallway, no pants. Down the building's stoop, no pants.

Dad, "So which way did you walk exactly?"

This is where it got tricky. I set a new record for a dramatic pause. My mouth agape, he asked again, "Exactly - where - did - you - walk?

Words failed me. I didn't even try. I owned too many fruitless experiences responding to similar requests from my father. Trying to answer unanswerable questions to even begin thinking about opening my mouth. Left with nothing to say I showed him my exact path. Every nuance. Every turn. Every double step. At one point, I did the cha-cha one up, two back, one up. I was possessed. I mirrored my entire walk never measuring how pissed off my path of greatest resistance home was making him. When Dad and I had these special moments an eerie stillness set in. No yelling, no accusations. Only the 'look' with sharp orders.

"Go left." 
"Are you sure you weren’t under any cars?"

Hill after hill we climbed towards the avenue, policing the grounds. Despite the fact, Dad's pants were charcoal and the streets contained nothing but white snow, he insisted we walk very slowly. You couldn’t miss ‘em. The cleaners were closed.

Walking back to our building, same story. Every hill walked serpentine with the look and the short barked orders. After one last look under the car directly in front of the house, we marched the stoop and began our ascent to Hades, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, into the apartment. Passing through the door, Dad gave Mom the look and then me one more look for good luck.  He went directly over to his jacket on the hanger with the plastic still on it. Dad held it up – then draped it over his arm. Together they resembled Michelangelo's Pieta. I think he was saying goodbye. It might have been my imagination, but I thought I saw him talk to the jacket.

"We have closed many bars together, old friend." Dad sighed, “I will miss the way the secretary at Pepsi looked at you, on me, when we did our sales calls."

Dad said no more about the suit.

Two weeks later, I'm playing in front of my house and Dad comes walking up the street. Getting closer, I see he has on a charcoal jacket. Oh God, I'm thinking, he bought the same suit again. Not good.

"Hi Dad, is that the suit. It looks great. Did you buy it again?"

"Nope, same suit." Dad said with a smile, "Every suit comes with two pairs of pants."


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

The book has 127 Amazon five star reviews out of 127 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. You can also purchase my photography portfolio, "River to River - New York Scenes From a Bicycle" on Amazon.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Yorkville Is His Home

My Dad's best friend, Walter, 93 years old with severe memory loss, moved two weeks ago from his 1942 railroad apartment (yep, linoleum as old as Methuselah) to a beautiful one bedroom in Yorkville. Walter, 93 years in the neighborhood. St. Joseph's, Commerce High School, NYU, Navy,  48 years with Pan Am Airlines ending with a long ride as the Director of World Wide Maintenance. He's travelled to 35 countries with photos to prove it.

After losing most of his memoryWalter hoarded. His clean organized new space is unusual to him but he's getting use to it. The guy loves our neighborhood. 93 years in Yorkville. More to come. 
Walt with chums on roof of St. Joe's @ 1936

east river

517 E. 83rd where I grew up

Here are photos of Walt at St. Joe's in the 1930s, Carl Schurz, his favorite park and 83rd Street where I grew up.
Walter had a Sister Beatrice. No kidding.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just One Look

You'll never guess who I saw on Roosevelt Island two years ago. 
"The Ring" Lady! 
We chatted, we strolled, 
then she stopped my heart 

The eye 
The dance move