Saturday, February 29, 2020

City Boy: Stoops to Nuts @ Ryan's Daughter Last Night!

Storytelling & melodies breezed through Thomas Pryor's City Boy: Stoops to Nuts show
last night at @ Ryans Daughter.  Talented artists told stories and sang songs beautifully about love and loss.  Thank you, Joe DettmoreFred CarusoWalter Michael DeForest & Gerard Murphy for bringing your best work to Ryan's. 

Thank you, everyone who came out last night and cheered us on.  You were a fantastic audience, you packed the place! New friends, old friends and pals I haven't seen since I left affordable housing ten years ago. Your engaging warm support let me loose in the best way. I was rocking.

When I was a boy I worried about going to war. My mother (I called Uncle Mommy because she was the best uncle I ever had) said, "don't fret, your job, now and later, is making me laugh." I'm still doing it. I hope you know the value of your memories. I hope my stories about Yorkville trigger your stories.  Keep it alive, old souls need to understand where this all started.

Thank you, Spencer for keeping the customers satisfied.  Thank you, Jim Gerding and Ryan's Daughter staff for a genuine welcome back and warm support. Topped off with a swell "on the house" food spread for the audience. 

Walter, I love you brother, you know I'm a ball of nerves and your calm guidance for this show made it happen smoothly.

Our next "City Boy: Stoops to Nuts" show at Ryan's will be in June, we're working on the date. Please come back and bring your friends.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Holy Cart Rolls To Ryan's Daughter on Friday, Feb 28 @ 7pm

"City Boy: Stoops to Nuts"
Thomas PryorJoe Dettmore & guests
stories & songs about our neighborhood's character and rich history.
Feb, Fri 28 @ 7-10pm
Ryans Daughter, 350 E. 85th St.
Admission $10

The Holy Cart
My primary focus in grammar school was scheming ways to get out of class. At the start of seventh grade, I weighed my options. The parish claimed it needed money all the time. It ran fifty/fifty clubs, cake sales, bingo, casino nights, you name it. The low earner on the ledger was the religious article store in the rear of the church beneath the school. The store sold crucifixes, religious statues, bibles, catechisms, etc. The store was a flop. Kids never went in. The woman who worked there, Mrs. Hutzpacker, was mostly deaf, six feet tall, looked like Boris Karloff and scared the heck out us. She’d come up to your face and yell, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU, SPEAK UP”, whether you said anything or not. It was unsettling.
The store’s sluggish business gave me reason to approach my teacher, Sister Mercedes.
“Sister, you know the religious article store is going down the tube?”
She gave me a funny look, but I kept talking.
“If kids won’t go to the store, let’s bring the store to the kids. I’ll go to each classroom on Friday selling religious articles and do my best to separate weekend money from each kid’s pocket.”
I watched the nun’s expression.
Her lips pulled to one side of her face and her eyes narrowed bringing her bushy brows together as one. Her “mmmmm,” and chin stroking finger meant I had a pilot program. She knew I had years of business experience selling milk and toast during morning recess. Besides, the priests and nuns were unified on only one thing: anything other than illegal drug sales was a legitimate way to raise money for St. Stephen’s parish.
I started slow, selling a few catechisms and rosary beads. The first two weeks, I made a measly six dollars for the parish. I worried I might have to go back to class – then my clarion called. Joe Skrapits approached me in the classroom.
“Hey Pryor, do you have a St. Anthony statue for sale?”
“No, why?”
“My father’s always losing things and cursing around the house. Mom says she’s had it and she’s leaving all of us unless Dad stops his ranting and raving. Mom’s a great cook, Dad can’t cook, and I love to eat. St. Anthony is the patron saint for finding lost articles, stupid.”
Normally, I would’ve been hurt by the insult. Not that time. I replied, “Thank you Joe, I’ll fill your order next Friday.”
I grabbed my milk box and ran out of the classroom. I discovered my secret weapon – the Catholic Church’s roster of saints – a lineup more powerful than the 1961 New York Yankees. Oh yes, Joe Skrapits would get his St. Anthony statue next Friday, and I’d spend my week researching everyone’s birthday. Each day of the year, the Catholic Church celebrates a martyr or a pious saint. My plan was to storm my way into the heart of every kid and get them to purchase a statue of the saint who shared their special day.
I didn’t stop with birthdays. Every profession has a patron saint. I sold three Michael the Archangel statues to kids whose dads were cops. Attila Krupinzca bought a St. Vincent Ferrer statue for his grandfather, a plumber. I sold a St. Julian to Marianne Stranklee whose uncle was in a Hungarian circus. St. Julian is the patron saint for jugglers. Gaza Zak had four cats, a parakeet and a turtle. Gaza purchased a Saint Francis of Assisi. I told Gaza, “Unlike Doctor Doolittle, St. Francis really did talk to the animals.”
Freddy “Straight to Hell” Smith was always getting into trouble with the nuns, his parents, with everybody. He also had a wicked neck twitch. I palmed a St. Jude Thaddeus and slipped it to Freddy.
“Here Freddy, put this in your pocket and keep it there.”
“Just do it. Trust me.”
I didn’t have to the heart to tell Freddy that St. Jude is the patron saint for hopeless cases.
With the sudden burst in sales, I needed to expand my operation. Sister Mercedes, now functioning as my business manager, borrowed a metal two-shelved cart from “Mom,” the school lunch lady. I circled the steel steed, knelt on one knee and said, “I dub thee, The Holy Cart.”
Traveling the school’s halls, I reminded everyone to save their pennies till Friday, when the Holy Cart rolled into town with gifts and notions for every occasion. I assured my fellow altar boys that the Holy Ghost loved making sales calls with me.
“Each Friday he leaves his perch on the side of the altar to fly alongside the Holy Cart on its rounds. We’re a liturgical team!”
My colleagues made circles around the sides of their heads while whistling.

Father Edward, our Monsignor, heard about my venture and decided we’d have a talk.
“Thomas, you need to promote the Church when you visit the classrooms. Say things to get the children excited about religion.”
I gave this some thought. From the library, I borrowed a thick book titled, “The Lives and Deaths of 1000 Saints.” Great stuff. Gory murders, disembowelments, stone crushings, more methods for dying violently then I ever imagined. It was a quick read.
Armed with this knowledge, I developed a routine for my Holy Cart visits. Every week, I brought three “Fun Facts about the Saints” with me. I’d try to mix it up, one famous saint, one obscure saint and a third saint who had an extremely bad day.
Sometimes, I’d pick a bizarre one.
I described the saint to the class, “Wulfstan was smitten by a fair young lady at a village dance. To distract himself from the impure thoughts running through his head, Wulfstan threw himself into a nearby thicket of thorn bushes. He stayed there till the impure thoughts painfully passed away. God was so impressed by the saint’s efforts, that he prevented Wulfstan from ever having those feelings again.”
I closed the book with a slap and said, “Isn’t that great kids?”
All ears were perked up for this one. Sister Mercedes seemed edgy during the telling.
My best seller was a plastic statue of Mother Mary in an alcove appearing to the faithful. The alcove was a miniature missile silo with two pieces meeting in the front like a curtain. You slid the pieces apart to reveal Mary inside a grotto with open arms standing on a rock. The problem with the item was the manufacturer made the alcove before he made the Mary statue. The alcove was long and thin. Mary was an afterthought. The only way to fit Mary in there was make her long and thin – real long and catwalk thin.
The quirky product tested my sales skill. First time I looked it over; I didn’t know what to say. I recovered and stepped up to the front of the class.
“Folks, I have something special for you today. Something the Church has hidden for years, but now proudly presents to you for the first time.”
I turned away from the kids, picked up the item and spun back to the class opening the alcove doors.
“I give you Skinny Mary, Pre-Pregnancy Mary, the Mary with a twinkle in her eye and a song in her heart.”
I opened, closed and re-opened the alcove doors.
“The Mary who plays ‘Peek-a-boo.”
The class took a deep breath in, and then exploded. Based on normal nun behavior, I expected to be wrestled to the ground like a presidential assassin. It didn’t happen. Sister Mercedes stood to the side of the class covering her mouth but not enough to completely remove the evidence she was laughing.
As a kid, there are rare blue moons when the stars align and everything falls in place despite your best efforts to blow the bridge up, and you with it. If you’re a kid and reading this, save those memories and bank them. When you grow up and stuff happens to you all the time, you can use your recollection as a balm. It doesn’t always work, but a well oiled memory can sometimes ease the pain.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Dad Shot Thumper

"Elmer Fudd" as Mom called him
February, mid-winter blues remind me of a 1950s and early 1960s "Yorkville man thing" they did as an excuse to getaway with the guys for the weekend. A few years ago, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood published my story on the subject.
Bambi & Thumper

Dad used to hunt. He didn't golf, so hunting was another made up reason to get out of the house. He never struck me as the hunting type, but once or twice a year, he'd be off upstate for a long weekend. It was a Yorkville man thing in the 1950s and 1960s.

As he was walking out the door in his Elmer Fudd hat with his rifle, Mom told him," If you shoot something, I want you to think about Bambi's mother lying in the woods bleeding to death, and she's thinking about her poor baby left with that heartless bastard father."

Dad's face did tricks when Mom said that. I never seen such complicated movement from Dad's mouth, eyes, cheeks, and eyebrows. He looked heartbroken, sad, angry, confused and through it all still came back to the look, like he wanted to kill Mom.

Well, one time he gets home from hunting, and he ain't talking. I give him a good look over, and I can see he's not playing mum because he's hungover, something's on his mind. He sits in his chair, and Mom starts pressing him.

"What the hell's a matter with you?"

For a long time, he says nothing, but Mom keeps at him, and he tears up. Up to then, I only saw Dad cry over movies. "I watched it die," he said.
"I shot a rabbit, then I watched it die."
"You son of a bitch."
"The poor thing was in pain, I'm never hunt again."
"You bet your ass."

And that was that. While Mom and Dad were talking, I began to think about Thumper. Dad loved Thumper, he drew him and Bambi for Rory & me all the time. Dad shot Thumper. I had nothing to to say.

The next day it snowed heavy, I asked, "Dad, since you're not going to hunt anymore can I use your pigskin gloves?"

Dad gave me one of his "you're out of your mind" looks, he loved those yellow gloves, had them since 1952, then, he thought it over and said, "OK."

I flew over to Central Park with Rory and the McNamara brothers. We worked the hill on 79th Street until we were soaked to the bone. When the chills got us, we dragged our sleighs back home. Mom wouldn't let us in the house until we took off everything but our drawers in the hallway. I was hoping to go back up to the park that night, so I needed to get everything dried quick. I wrapped my dungarees and long johns around the steam pole and put my socks, sweatshirt and dad's pigskin gloves on the radiator. An hour later, I went to check on everything. My dungarees and long johns were almost dried, then, I went to the radiator. The socks were fine, but Dad's gloves looked like shrunken voodoo heads. The fingers were blackened and curled up like they wanted to take a nap, for forever. They were half their normal size. Resembled beef jerky.

Before I could say I lost them, Dad came in the house and saw me looking them over. I tried to palm them down my underwear. They were too hot. He walked up to me and took one of the gloves out of my hand. Dad didn't hit, but sometimes I wished he did, rather than deal with his leaning in, verbal assaults. I could see he was about to rip into me and I rushed to say, "Dad I'm really sorry, I didn't mean it, and you're not going hunting anymore, right?"

His face switched over, he was thinking about the bunny. He held the glove up, looked at it once, gave it back to me, and walked away.

storytelling and songs about neighborhood character & history
Thomas Pryor, Joe Dettmore, Gerard Murphy 
& Guests

Fri, Feb 28 @ 7-11pm
350 East 85 St.
Admission: $10

"City Boy: Stoops to Nuts" Thomas Pryor's stories & songs about Yorkville's rich character and neighborhood history. Fri Feb 28, 2020 @ 7pm to 10pm Ryan's Daughter 350 E. 85th Street Admission $10 Thomas Pryor Bio My family landed on York Avenue in 1896 at 1403 right off 75th Street. My show takes you through one hundred and twenty-four years of our neighborhood character and history through the voices of my family, friends and neighbors that called Yorkville home. Thomas Pryor's work has appeared in The New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other periodicals. His memoir, “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood,” was published in 2014 (YBK). It has 133 five star Amazon reviews. Pryor’s blog: "Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts," was chosen by The NY Times for their Blog Roll in 2008. Thomas appeared on PBS's "Baseball: A NY Love Story," NBC’s "New York Nonstop,” “This American Life,” & “Impractical Jokers.” His newspaper column ran in Our Town & The West Side Spirit. For five years, Thomas curated “City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,” at Cornelia Street Cafe that Time Out, The NY Daily News and CBS News praised. His photography portfolio, "River to River - New York Scenes From a Bicycle," was published in 2012 (YBK). Pryor's passion is preserving the history of Yorkville through storytelling, writing and photography. His play about the neighborhood, “City Boy,” is coming back.
07:00 PM - 11:00 PM