Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Wave Flows Over The Irish Riviera

Rockaway's classic newspaper, "The Wave" (1893) re-published my love letter to the peninsula, "The Irish Riviera." Thank you, Ray Vahn, Community Editor, for reaching out to me. My family's connection to Rockaway goes back to the early 1920s.

More old photos to follow.

Thank you, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood for  publishing this story and your 15 years of strong support for my New York City neighborhood stories. 

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, 15 75 York Avenue or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 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.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Giving Thanks To Mom

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood published my tribute "Giving Thanks To Mom" a few years ago. I called her "Uncle Mommy" because she was the best uncle I ever had. Thinking of Ma today.

Patricia Helen Pryor
3/24/30 ~ 7/24/98

So I walk into the house, I’m 10, and the first thing I see is a pair of bare legs on the inside of a closed window and the rest of the body isn’t in the apartment. I’m praying to God whoever it is doesn’t fall, the soapy glass prevents a clean identification of the person sitting on the outside sill, but I kind of figure it’s my mother by the unmistakable fluffy sky blue slippers dangling from her toes. Now I’m flipping out because I’m scared of heights. She’s four stories up, 50 feet smack over the concrete backyard. My heart’s outside my chest doing a Mexican Bean dance on my T-Shirt. Finally an arm starts swirling away the soapy water and I see Mom’s face through the glass and she smiles at me. I love that smile, and for a brief moment, I was not frightened for her I was just amazed at how hard she worked to keep our small apartment clean.

When I was boy right through my teens, if I was away a day or longer from the house she’d surprise me and clean my room like something out of a movie. It looked so good I thought I was in Beaver Cleaver’s bedroom. This blew my mind, I’d run through the apartment and grab my mother and kiss her over and over and shower her with thank yous. All Mom said while I tackled her, “Watch my head, I don’t like people touching my head.”
This morning, I washed ten windows, five storms windows and two screens. When I got to my daughter’s room that’s when Mom’s spirit swept through me, I felt it, I felt her, and she made several passes. As I cleaned my daughter’s space (dusted the knick-knacks, too) Mom stayed with me for two hours and I began to feel the love and enjoyment she experienced doing this for me countless times many years ago. Doing something she was good at with her whole heart. Mom knew she had maternal limitations; she was a street kid who never grew up, an urban Peter Pan smoking a Marlboro with a bump-up hairdo and a High Ball drink, neat. But with the mothering tools she had, she gave totally with humor and unconditional love. 

As a dad, I’m no Ward Cleaver. Nope, I’m restless, pushy and jump the gun a lot, and this drives my daughter cuckoo. I wish I could control it but I’m not adopted, and if you spent quality time with my parents you’d know I’m a dysfunctional family car accident survivor. I know my paternal limitations and I give my best with the skills I have to express love to my daughter. I make things for her: dioramas, cards, photo books with stories, whatever I can to extract a smile. Once in a blue moon, I’m able to patch my patience together and clean the dusty house around my records, books, papers, photos, Dad’s art, and sports junk.
This morning, thinking about my daughter while I polished my mother’s bone china pieces and her Aries statute, behind me I felt that same smile I saw through the soapy window when I was 10.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Biking Over The 103rd Street Walkway

My ten year old self would've had a baby gaping at the beautiful baseball fields on Randall's Island Park empty, just waiting for a game. A single occupied field had three retired guys whacking the ball around.

"Hot Fun In The Summertime."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Whip Cream & Other Delights

The Losers Lounge is my favorite recurring NYC music event. My grammar school, St. Stephen’s was my first nest outside of my home and the fond memories below of school and songs tie it all together. 

A few years ago at Joe’s Pub, Tony Zajkowski crooned at the Losers Lounge tribute to Burt Bacharach.

You say this guy, this guy’s in love with you.
Yes I’m in love, who looks at you the way I do?

Tony nailed the tune with his duel fuel & prop martini glass. As always, The Losers Lounge delivered. Hal David was there in spirit and the song reeled me back.

1968 ~ I worshipped Julie Wilfinger from St. Joseph’s grammar school, but Julie loved Julio Marcovich. Julio had a high end Grundig portable radio with colossal speakers. It was FM radio’s second year and WNEW was playing our music virtually commercial free. The classic radio with the wood grill and stainless steel knobs was catnip to the girls. Julio wooed Julie with his music maker.

Julie had smooth olive skin, a tomboy’s energy and charm, and two scoops of peach ice cream that made regular appearances when the top buttons loosened on her man’s tailored shirt – her summer uniform with cut off shorts and white sneakers. Glasses on a cute girl’s face turned boys to mush. Julie’s glasses were always a little crooked on her nose and perfect that way. Julie liked wrestling with the boys. When she perspired, her skin glowed. If I made her laugh she lightly touched my nose. I craved that. Down the park, she’d let you take you her up on the swings, and she was the only girl at the time that would take the boys up on a swing. All the other girls thought that was outrageous, but she didn’t care. Because everyone knew, she belonged to Julio, and Julio belonged to her. My heart broke with this knowledge.

Julio carried the radio on his shoulder like a shipping crate and Julie held his free arm. When they passed me sitting on the stoop alone, Julio would give me a nod, he was two years older than me and owed me no greeting at all, so the nod was generous. Julie gave me a little smile, and then they’d be gone. I’d half sing under my breath… “Say you’re in love, in love with this guy, if not I’ll just die…” Julie kissed me once when she was drunk at a St. Stephen’s dance on March 10, 1969. I banked the kiss.

1965 ~ Herb Alpert’s released his “Whipped Cream” LP as the record world exploded. I was in 5th grade and needed to know what was going on, and the only place to know what was going on was the basement of Woolworth’s Five and Ten on 86th Street in Yorkville. Every Friday and Saturday night, my brother, Rory, and I went there to discover the new releases and go through our favorite records.

We stood in front of the record counters for so long, both of us would have to pee bad, but they never, ever, let you use the bathroom in Woolworth’s. It was waste of time to ask, so Rory and I did the “pee-pee dance.” We’d bounce up and down in the aisle, going from record row to record row, keeping our legs moving to hold it in. This drove the Woolworth’s clerk crazy. That’s half of the Whipped Cream story.

Look at the record cover above. Christmas Eve arrived early when this Lp came out. Because, that picture of Dolores Erickson lathered in whipped cream was the best Playboy cover ever and I could look at it for as long as I wanted without someone yelling at me, 

"Kid, put it down!"  

In the candy store and the barbershop we weren’t allowed in the men’s magazine areas, but now, Herb Alpert puts out an album cover better than any Playboy I’d ever seen. And all I needed to do was use my imagination and that album cover became my favorite picture of all time. When we looked at copies of “Whipped Cream” in the store, they were manhandled so many times the plastic on each album was worn or torn at the corners.

A Taste of Honey, a good song, Beatles did it too, but it was so beside the point. The “Whipped Cream” album cover was the thing, and any boring Yorkville night was less boring, when we got to look through the records, find the naughty covers and torture the store’s clerk.

1962 ~ I was eight years old, sitting on my 83rd Street stoop with nothing to do and no friends around to do nothing with. I felt blue. I had my grandfather’s grey plastic eight transistor radio to my ear listening to the Scott Muni show on WABC. A song came on I’d never heard before and the horns went right through me… I was in Spain at a bullfight and the crowd was full of senors and senoritas, dressed up fancy, all roused up and ready to dance. After the song, the DJ said, “that was ‘Lonely Bull’ by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass.” I was happy and confused. Glad to be alone, thinking about this new song that tickled my ears and took me away to somewhere fantastic. The horns sad notes warmed me up, made me feel better and I wondered – how does music do that do you?

Dissolve back to Losers, Tony Z pulled me along with the rest of the Joe’s Pub audience in on the song’s final verse. I was back at the show and I sang along…

I need your love, I want your love
Say you’re in love, in love with this guy,
If not, I’ll just die.

As the horn faded away, I felt Julie Wilfinger touch my nose.

Monday, July 19, 2021

"Nice Jacket, Where Are My Pants?"

 A slice of winter, to cool you off.

From my Our Town column in 2009.

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, 15 75 York Avenue or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 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. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Dad Lights Up

Being with my parents together meant entering a war zone. The space was negotiated rather than shared. Rory and I played an assortment of survival games. One essential game was “Mum.” We’d try and see who could go the longest without saying a word. Whoever lost got a punch in the arm. Dad invented “Mum” as an antidote for his frequent hangovers. He liked it quiet when he wasn’t speaking. His hangover cocktail of choice, TV and a long game of “Mum.”

Once, in 1960, it was the TV that was caught in one of my parents’ many crossfires.

It wasn’t working and time was of the essence. Game seven of the Yankees-Pirates World Series was less than two hours away. Dad had pulled the set away from the wall and had taken the rear panel off with a screwdriver.

“You know nothing about TVs,” my mother said. “Call Dominick.” 

“It’s a loose wire or a blown tube, I know it.”

“Thick as a brick…” Mom said and left the room. Dad stuck his tongue out. I was betting on Dad in this match. Whatever broke, he fixed it…my toys, bike, everything. 

While Dad operated on the TV, I paced back and forth with my hands behind my back, so I didn’t whack anything. I was nervous about whether we would fix the TV in time. It was Thursday, a school day, but Dad had let me play half a day of hooky from first grade so I could see the game.

Dad and I watched all the games together. Dad got excited when the Yankees won. He did the same thing when the football Giants won. I wanted to bottle that excitement and keep it around for the bad days. I learned to root when he rooted. I learned how and when to yell at the TV when the teams played poorly.

Concentrating on my hands, I nearly took a header when I walked into his toolbox. I danced myself back straight up.

“Tommy, go sit down.”

“Can’t I help?”

“No, when I’m done, you can help me push it back and plug it in.”

“OK,” I said, kicking one of my feet into the other.

Finally, Dad said, “That should do it.” 

I began to help. I knew he told me I could help him with two things. I didn’t remember which thing came first. When I thought Dad was done, but his head was still inside the TV, I stuck the plug back into the wall socket. 

Dad lit up. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center came to mind. 

“I killed him,” I whispered. I had heard the story of Mom staging her death for Dad before I was born, but this wasn’t an act.

I stared down at my father. His eyes were glazed over, but open. This was good, because I didn’t think you could be dead with your eyes open. My brain switched positions. 

“If he’s not dead, he’s going to kill me.”

Looking him over, I saw he was dribbling and his belly was moving swiftly in and out. My heart was racing in time with his belly. I touched my chest.

“I’m so dead.”

Rory popped his head into the doorway. His eyes were wide open like Eddie Cantor singing “Making Whoopee.” Once Rory saw that Dad was alive, and that I was probably going to get into trouble, he slipped backed to his normal alert signal, crying. Only then did my mother come into the room from the kitchen. She lifted Rory out of the way and looked down at Dad.

“I told you to call Dominick,” she said with a headshake.

After Dad pulled himself together, we called Dominick. Mom grinned and Dad fumed. After a long game of Mum, Dad said, “Tommy, let’s go downstairs and wait for Dominick on the stoop.”

On the stoop, we didn’t talk. Dad was sore at me, but not in the mood to yell or lecture. He didn’t look well. His hair stuck straight up in places it usually was lying down. I stared at the top of his head for a long time looking for any sign of smoke. My nerves were shot. When I’m nervous, I do lots of talking. Each time I felt my mouth start to open, I’d put both my hands over it. As my worry grew, I began to eat my fist. Dad looked at me like I was nuts, but I just kept chewing away on my hand.

“What the hell are you doing?” he said.

I tried to answer through my fingers. “Nothing, everything’s fine.”

“I can’t understand a word. Get your hand out of your mouth and tell me what you’re saying.”

Freed to talk, I let ‘er go.

“I want the Yankees to win by 15 runs. I want Mickey Mantle to hit four homers. I want a Yankee parade. I want Dominick.”

I slumped against Dad’s side. He put his arm around me. I pressed my head against his chest to hear his heart. He squeezed me twice. I squeezed him twice.

“Dad, I’m sorry I almost killed you.”

He started to laugh. He pulled my head up to see my eyes. He stopped laughing when he saw I was crying. His look changed. His face was so full of love it scared me. He started to cry a little and put my head back on his chest. He kissed the top of my head. I liked when he kissed me. After a couple of minutes, we started to talk. He asked me whether I had learned a lesson.

“Yes, always push the TV back to its right spot before I plug it back in.”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, something like that.”

We got itchy waiting for Dominick. Our heads craned over the stoop railing to see all the way up the street. Dad stood to stretch. I stretched too. I saw Dominick’s swinging right arm before I saw the rest of him. He rounded the corner with his magic bag – the black leather one with the secret parts to make our sick TV well.

Mom met the three of us at the apartment door. Rory was standing between her legs peeking out from under her housedress. He looked like a little Samson ready to knock Mom’s legs down and collapse the temple.

Mom spoke to Dominick while looking directly at Dad. “Dominick, it’s so good to see you. Your ears must be burning. Bob and I were talking about you earlier today.”

My father’s lips moved noiselessly. I was a certified Mom & Dad Lip Reader.

“I will get you,” he said.

Dominick knelt behind the TV. Mom stayed in the kitchen with Rory. Dad and I stood behind Dominick. Dave Seville and the Chipmunks were on the radio singing, “I told the Witch Doctor, I was in love with you, boom, boom, boom, boom.”

It was 40 minutes to game time. Dad studied Dominick carefully for two reasons. One, to avoid further eye contact with Mom, and two, to collect important information so he could make the repair next time.

Dominick finished in 20 minutes. We’d see the pregame show!

After Dominick drank some iced tea, I carried his bag with two hands to the front door. I stood at the top of the hallway stairs, watching him go down and around each flight, saying good-bye and thank you to the top of his head several times. I stayed there until I heard his last “So long” fade as the lobby door shut behind him.

I ran back into the living room as the Gillette razor commercial music signaled the start of the World Series broadcast.

I dove onto the couch, swinging my legs crisscross over Dad’s lap. Looking back over my shoulder, I spied Mom’s head in the kitchen’s doorway. She made a funny face and wiggled her nose. I made a face back acknowledging she had won the battle.

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, 15 75 York Avenue or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 135 Amazon five star reviews out of 135 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. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

"The Irish Riviera"

Thank you, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood for publishing my new story, "The Irish Riviera." 

"On a muggy summer morning in 1961, with my parents still asleep, I crept into the kitchen and turned on the oven. I was seven years old..."

Rockaway memories warm my soul. 

This is my 20th Mr. Beller's Neighborhood story. 

My first, "Developing a Habit", May 2006. 

That was the kick in the ass I needed to push my writing forward.

Thank you, Tom & everyone in the MBN family.

 Your site makes our city shine.

My family at Rockaway back to 1924. Plus a few 2012 shots taken three months before Sandy.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Rockaway The Days

 The Rockaway Beach photos here and in the link below were taken July 2012 three months before Sandy crippled the peninsula. This glorious New York City summer beacon recovered and thrives again.

Rockaway public photo album July 1, 2012.

Some of my favorite scenes.

Rockaway the days, forever.