Friday, November 25, 2022

Over The River & Through The Potatoes

Around one o'clock, Dad and I got back from the parade to my grandparents apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad’s Mom, and Pop Rode, Nan and Pop Cuckoo to me, always cooked our bird. Mom’s parents did Easter’s lamb roast. At the kitchen table, Mom and Nan were snapping ends off a few pounds of string beans and throwing them into a spaghetti pot. Rory and Pop were in the living room watching Babes in Toyland.
“Hi, all, I thought we were eating at one?” Dad said.
“The bird’s got a way to go – maybe another hour,” Nan said.
Mom mouthed to Dad a silent, “No way.”
I was a first class Mom lip reader.
Dad walked to the oven and opened the front.
“Jesus Christ, who are you feeding?”
“Shut your mouth,” Nan said.
“That prehistoric beast is the same size as Rory,” Dad said.
​“Mind your business.”
Mom whispered to me, “Rory is smaller.”
“We’ll eat tomorrow,” Dad said.

“Another hour. Go inside and be useful.” Nan said, waving Dad away. “Get two folding chairs and bring my bag. I forgot something and need you to go to the store.”
Dad eyed me up and down. He wanted to send me but he thought I was getting sick. Resigned, Dad exhaled loudly, ensuring everyone in the balcony knew he was leaving the stage. Being at Nan’s cheered me up. Everything was big. She was big. Pop was big. The coffee cups were big. At her house, I could drink anything I wanted, when I wanted. Dad returned from the front room to the kitchen with Nan’s pocketbook. I could see his arm muscles working hard, lifting the heavy bag.
“Here you go. What do you need?” Dad said.
“Go down to Parker’s and get me a pound of butter.” 

Dad walked to the fridge, opened the door and stuck his head in it. “You have a full pound.”
“I need six sticks for the mashed potatoes.”
“We’re six people! That’s a quarter pound of butter per person. Are you trying to stop our hearts with a single meal?”
1582 YorkAve Parkers Grocery @1940

“I’m making mashed potatoes for the week and it’s none of your business. Get the butter.”
“And the thirty pound bird?”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’s twenty-six pounds.”
“Oh, only twenty-six. Let’s see, more than four pounds per person, that should cover our meat provision for our sea voyage.”
I was curious. Would Nan slap him or not? I was pulling for a slap. She seemed close. Instead, she stared him down. He wisely took the money and went to the store. I joined Rory and Pop in the living room to watch the end of the movie. Dad came back and stayed in the kitchen with Nan and Mom.
More than an hour passed.
“I’m starving. How much longer?” Dad said.
“I’ll take a look,” answered Nan.
I got up and watched through the doorway. Nan opened the oven and took the turkey out with her arms firmly hanging onto both pan handles. From behind, she looked like a Russian weightlifter. She placed the pan on the counter and checked the thermometer. Dad was right behind her.
“What does it say?” Dad said.
“135 degrees,” Nan said.
“Forget it, put it back in.”
“No, it’s done.”
“You’re nuts.”
“It’s fine, look?”
Nan sliced into the meat. It was pink like a flower.
“Meat should be 175 degrees,” Dad said. “That bird just stopped breathing.”
“That’s it. Let’s go.”
Nan said and moved the enormous pan toward the table. Dad met her halfway across the kitchen floor and began guiding her back toward the oven. They both had their hands on the pan’s handles. A turkey dance!
“Give it to me,” Dad said.
“Leave me alone. Start mashing the potatoes,” Nan said.
“Give it to me!”
He tugged. She tugged. The pan didn’t know what to do.
The pan flipped over. The gravy soared and the turkey smacked the floor. Nan was a mess. Dad’s shirt, slacks and new dress shoes with the little pinholes were no better. Stunned, Nan and Dad stared down at the the bird on the linoleum. Nan spoke first. “Ah shit, I’m lying down,” And she did.
She passed through the living room. Me frozen in the doorway and Pop with Rory on his lap. They watched like two wide mouth bass. I wish I could’ve taken a picture. Pop and Mom exchanged places. She joined Rory watching TV. Pop went to the kitchen and began to help Dad. They put the bird back in the pan with a couple of cups of water to replace the irreplaceable gravy and put the pan back in the oven. Pop gave Dad one of his extra large guinea tee shirts. Pop’s pants didn't fit Dad, so he gave Dad a pair of his giant boxer shorts. Dad wore Pop’s boxer shorts over his boxer shorts – that went nicely with his dark socks and skinny legs. I saw Mom peek in, point at Dad and start to laugh.
Sometime much later, Pop announced, “OK, everything is ready.”
He went into the front room and brought Nan back. She returned to the kitchen and took over as if nothing had happened.
“Bob, carve the meat.”
Dad grabbed the knife and did as he was told. This relieved everyone. The table comfortably sat six people yet with the large amount of food on it, it was hard to see each other. Everyone was scary polite. Late in the meal, Dad looked at the bucket of mashed potatoes and said, “You know from this angle I can see a goat circling the top of Potato Mountain.”
We all laughed except Nan. But she didn’t hit him. The storm passed and Rory and I started looking forward to our favorite Thanksgiving ritual – Pop watching. He was a gentle Smokey the bear and never yelled at us. After the meal, he drank two short glasses of Ballantine Ale, wiped his mouth carefully with his linen napkin, and said, “Thank you, excuse me.” 

​He lifted himself from the table, then walked from his kitchen chair to his living room chair. Once Rory and I heard “Swoosh,” Pop’s bottom sinking into the plastic, we started counting backward, “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…”
We peeked into the living room. Pop was sawing wood. Rory and I stared at him.

While Pop slept, a cartoon came on with two poor kids who go to bed with nothing to eat. They dream, people come and bring them goodies and music starts to play. Rory and I stood behind Pop’s chair on each side of his head and softly sung along with the cartoon song into his ears:
"Meet me tonight in dreamland, under the silvery moon.
Meet me tonight in dreamland, where love’s sweet roses bloom.
Come with the love light gleaming, in your dear eyes of blue.
Meet me in dreamland, Sweet dreamy dreamland,
There let my dreams come true."
Our singing didn’t wake him. Pop had a stretched out snore with three different sounds. Nan had a toy piano with eight color coded keys. You could play a full octave of tones. It came with a color-coded music book with classics like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “Roll Out the Barrel” and “This Old Man.” Rory was pretty good on the thing – he played “Jingle Bells” with ease. He went over to the piano.

In between Pop's snores he’d hit a key. It sounded pretty good. Rory played around a bit until he located a couple of notes to harmonize with Pop’s snoring. Not wanting to be left out, not having Rory’s natural musical talent, I improvised. Nan’s toilet door made a creaking sound when you opened or closed it. I went over to the door and opened it a smidge to try to join the band. I found a funky “eek” and added it to the mix. Leaning over, looking back into the living room, I could see Rory. Once we made eye contact, it was easy to locate our rhythm.
We riffed, “Snore, piano key, eek; snore, piano key, eek.”
Our tune had a hook as Dad loved to say.
Mom threw a sponge at my head. I ducked. The band played on.
Sponge two was in the air.
I avoided it by doing the cha-cha.

“I will kill you both. Keep it up, I’ll kill you both dead."
Noticing Mom was out of sponges, and the next airborne item could be a spoon or fork, Rory and I left the airwaves.
Later on, Pauline and Charlie Hannah came over and started playing Pokeno with Nan and Pop. Dad and Mom moved to the sink area. I sat on the washing machine right next to them. Mom picked up a dish and started scrubbing it. Dad squeezed too much dish soap into the water, then started playing with the faucet’s screws.
“Let’s get this over with, you’re moping.”
“Not true. The secret is a long hot soak. Then the grease slides itself off.” Dad said and continued to play with the faucet.
“The secret is you’re full of shit and have a bony ass,” Mom said.
Nan got up came over to the sink and said “Leave the kids here – you can pick them up in the morning.”
She helped them gather their things and threw them out of the house.
Rory and I conked out together on one bed. The playful noise coming from the card game in the kitchen was the kind of yelling we could sleep through. The last thing on my mind as I drifted off was Santa’s sleigh flying over the 59th Street Bridge up York Avenue heading towards my house.

59th Street Bridge

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Girl Who Killed Santa

Thanksgiving morning, 1961. Mom woke me quietly and whispered, “Rory is sick. If you wake him up before you leave, you’re not going either.”

I nodded my head yes. I felt bad that my brother wouldn’t see the parade, but I was happy to go with Dad alone. It was much easier having a good time with Dad when it was just the two of us. This was my first Macy’s parade and I didn’t want one of Dad’s bad moods blowing it.

At nine o’clock, we slipped out the door. We met Dad’s friend Richie Kovarik and his daughter, Deborah, inside Loftus Tavern a few blocks away. The four of us were going together. Richie was talking to Jack, the bar’s owner, over coffee. Deborah sat on a barstool sipping a Coke and sucking a cube of ice with the hole in the middle. She was a year older than I was, stuck up, and knew everything.

I hated her guts.

Richie greeted us. “Hi, Bob. Where’s Rory?”
“He’s sick. We’ll catch up later at my mother’s for dinner. Hi, Deborah, you look so pretty and grown up.”

With a wide phony smile she said, “Thank you, Mr. Pryor.”
I almost vomited.
Saying goodbye to Jack, we went out the bar’s side door, smack into a vicious cold wind. A Checker cab was just turning off York Avenue heading west on 85th Street. “Cabby!" yelled Dad and we piled in.

Despite plenty of room to sit alongside our fathers, Deborah and I naturally sat on the round pull-up seats that faced them. That’s because for adults a Checker cab was transportation, but for kids it was an amusement ride and the bouncy pull-up seats were why. It was better than most rides, in fact, because there was nothing to strap you in. Deborah and I didn’t acknowledge each other. The cab made it nonstop from York Avenue to Fifth Avenue through a swirl of green and yellow lights. My head slapped the roof several times. The driver impressed me. Crossing Fifth Avenue, we dove into the Transverse through Central Park.

“You’re in second grade, right?” Deborah asked.
“I’m in third grade,” she said, pleased as punch.
She knew what grade I was in. She continued talking while looking out her window. I tried ignoring her.
“What are you getting for Christmas?” she asked.
That was a dirty trick. It’s nearly impossible for a kid to stay silent when this subject comes up.

“Things,” I said.

“I’m getting a bike and an Erector set.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“What did you ask for?” Deborah pressed on.
“I’m still deciding. I have a list.”
“What’s on the list?”
“Lots of stuff.”
“Oh, come on, name a few things.”
“That’s between me and Santa.”
“WHAT?” she said.
“It’s between me and Santa.”
“Well, good luck, dummy, because there ain’t no Santa.


Despite my lingering hope, I worried it was true. I wanted her dead.
I tried to recover. “I know there’s no Santa, stupid.”
“No you didn’t, but you do now.” Her eyebrows arched up and down.
“I play along for my brother. It makes him feel good. He’s just a kid.”
“Still believe in the Easter Bunny?” she said.
“Oh crap, him too?” I thought, then said, “No, of course not.”

I never realized until that moment how much detail there was on the stone blocks lining the underpasses through Central Park. The road was twisted and bumpy. My forehead banged repeatedly against the window’s glass. It felt good. It took my mind off the other pain. Silently staring out, I saw the glitter of the granite and the chiseled cuts where they sliced the stone to make the blocks. I imagined Deborah’s head being dragged across that rock as we drove back and forth through the park. Kaput!

“Johnny, leave us off on the near corner of 86th Street and Central Park West.” Dad’s voice broke my dream of vengeance.
The driver aimed for the curb. The air was frigid. I barely noticed. Normally, I would’ve run ahead toward the action, but my heart remained behind on the cab’s pull-up seat. I took Dad’s hand, even though I didn’t feel like a little boy anymore. We walked south to 77th Street in formation. Dad squeezed my hand. I weakly squeezed back.
“I don’t think we’re staying too long,” Dad said to Richie. “I think Tommy’s got something, too.”
We stood inside the park’s wall on the rocks. This allowed us to see the parade over the sidewalk crowd. Only because Dad announced the balloon names as they passed by, do I remember they included Underdog, Popeye, and Bullwinkle J. Moose from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.

This is the second of three stories, the finale appears tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Sister Lorraine Gave My Turkey a B minus


 It was Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving 1961 inside St. Stephen of Hungary’s second grade in Yorkville.

“Children, the Pilgrims had a bountiful crop their first year in the American colony. They arranged a peace treaty with the Indians. They celebrated together, and feasted on geese, deer, corn, and oysters.”

“Yuck,” said a few kids at the mention of oysters.

Sister Lorraine threw a look around the room then said, “… and President Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1863.” 

She cleared her throat, “Let’s move on. Everyone take out the hats, bonnets and headdresses we’ve been working on. Pilgrims, go over to the windows… Indians, stay on the closet side. Think about your lines, everybody.”

While the kids got into place, I put on my Indian headdress and snuck over to the teacher’s desk. It was the only one with a cartridge pen. Second graders worked in pencil. Sister Lorraine, distracted by the two herds moving to her left and right, missed my pre-show make-up application. I had no mirror to work with so I figured out two spots and wiped an inky finger across each cheek twice. Sister Lorraine gave us a short history lesson while she passed back our art assignments. My turkey got a B minus. I ran out of brown crayon and finished his stomach off with green and red. Eventually she saw me upfront.

“Thomas, what are you doing?” 

“What are you doing?” Sister Lorraine repeated.
“Putting on stripes.” I said, standing in front of her desk working the ink off my fingers onto a piece of loose leaf.
“Why, God Almighty are you putting on stripes?”
“I’m an Indian. If I’m an Indian, I’ll need war paint. It’ll look good, promise.”
“Do you ever listen to me?”
“Yes, Sister.”
“Didn’t I just say the Pilgrims and Natives declared a peace treaty?”
“Was she nuts?” I thought.
“You’d trust an Injun? I watch a lot of movies. Believe me; Sister, peace treaties are broken all the time.”
“This will be a calm re-enactment of a peaceful gathering. Thomas, the war paint is not necessary.”
“There might be trouble.” I said.
“You have one minute, mister. One minute, that’s it. Go to the bathroom and wash the ink off your hands and face. And don’t touch your shirt again. Your mother is going to kill you.”

Disgusted, I ran off.
“Don’t run,” she said.
“Make up your mind,” I mumbled.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Cartridge pen ink doesn’t wash off well with cheap school soap. The nun sent two boys to get me. My head was buried in the sink. 

“Sister told us, ‘Get him back in here if you have to drag him by his feet,’” Joey Skrapits said to the back of my head. “She’s not happy. What’s up?” Leslie Henits added. I turned around and showed them. I held my hands out. They were beginning to look white; my face, however, had an even blue tan. It seemed the washing, rather than taking the ink off, just moved it around.

“I can’t get it off,” I said.
“Holy crap, forget your face, look at your shirt. Joey said. It’s a gunshot wound.”
I looked down and moaned.
“You’re going to need Lava Soap to get that off. Come on, dry up and let’s go.” Leslie said.

As I crept through the classroom door, the entire class laughed their heads off. I tried to bury myself in the middle of the Indian tribe. I thought of opening one of the coat closets and spending a little time in there. My first stage appearance as Injun Joe was ruined. The only good part was: Sister Lorraine was laughing too. I was more afraid about her being angry than me being embarrassed. Once I saw her laughing, I calmed down. I almost forgot that my mother was going to murder me.

We did our little Pilgrim and Indian “everyone be thankful” speeches, and then we started singing, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…” I stared at the clock over the alphabet cards lining the top of the blackboard. The clock said, One minute to three.

Pop! My Mom’s incredibly angry face flashed over the clock’s face.

When I got home, Mom pounced. “What the hell did you do?”
“What happened to your shirt?”

Then she saw my face and her voice went up an octave.

“What the hell did you do to your face!”
“Two sixth graders started a fight in the schoolyard at lunchtime. I was leaning against a car right next to them. One of them had a box of pen cartridges in his shirt pocket. They were wrestling, two of the cartridges were crushed - and the ink flew all over. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, but the ink got me in a few places.”
“A few places?” Mom said.
“Are you sure you weren’t refereeing the fight?
“No, Mom…no, no, no, I was doing nothing. Just standing there.”
“Where? In the ink factory when it exploded?”
“Take the shirt off and throw it away. Then come over here by the sink.”
Mom knew second graders weren’t allowed near ink.
“Thank you, God,” I whispered.

At the sink, Mom put Boraxo scrubbing powder on a washcloth and began making little circles on my face.

“Ouch” I said pulling away. “My face is being ground with sand.”
“Well, what else can we use to get this ink off? Stop fidgeting and stay still. If you let me work, it’ll be over one, two, three.”
“Big fat liar,” I thought.

Once clean, my face was a deeply embarrassed rosy red.

My brother, Rory, mocked me, “ha, ha!”

I gave him a knuckle when Mom wasn’t looking – a slight tap. He had a fever, so I held back a bit. I felt bad for him. On the verge of getting sick, there was no way Mom was letting him go with Dad and me to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in the morning.

Part two of three tomorrow…

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Saint Francis, The Pope & the Devil Dog

On October 4, 1965, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Stephen of Hungary's student body marched up to Third Avenue to wave to Pope Paul VI driving by on his way to Yankee Stadium in his limousine. This was important to me on a few levels:

We were getting out of sixth grade early.

The New York Yankees stunk in 1965 and having the Pope say a Mass on their home field should help the team. 

I'd have free rein to look at all the older girls in the school, and they couldn't do anything about it.

"What are you looking at?"
'Ha, ha,' I'd think, not say.

The Franciscan priests in our parish were good guys and the nuns and the students got into the spirit of the day each year, whether the Pope showed up or not. Plus, I loved the guy. St. Francis was cool. I loved animals and he blessed them. Unlike Doctor Doolittle, St. Francis could really talk to them. And, St. Francis was in my grandmother's holy trinity along with St. Anthony for lost objects and super duper St. Jude for hopeless cases ~ a biggie for our family.

Every two years, the school ran a movie of the Life of St. Francis in the auditorium getting us out of a class for a Friday afternoon. The movie wasn't bad, and I admired the comfort of only wearing a robe with a rope belt, best uniform every invented, and Italy was beautiful and I considered it a place I definitely would visit down the road. After lunch, we lined up outside the school and like a gaggle of 300 geese we waddled up 82nd Street to the avenue, where we stood against police saw horses on the east side of Third between 81st and 82nd Street.

Earlier that morning, I served eight o'clock mass with a guy in my class, Michael Toth, who was a big pain in my ass. One of those guys that always had to be first in everything: out the door, on line for the water fountain, first at bat in punch ball. Toth located a Siamese pipe connection right behind us against a building, and used it to sit on, its shape perfect for a kid's bottom. We waited a long time, and Toth also planned on standing on it when the Pope went by for a better view. Toth kept coming over and telling everyone how comfortable it was and how he was going to have a perfect view, and if anyone tried to sit there he'd run over and throw them off. We all wanted him dead.

While he's doing this, I'm eating a Devil Dog the long way, taking the two cake parts apart and starting to lick the crème out of the middle, when Toth comes over to tell Freddy Muller, "Ha. Ha, I've got a great seat," While he's yapping to Freddy, I slip one half of my half licked Devil Dog onto the Siamese connection, crème side up. Toth satisfied with himself, sits on it and he's so caught up he doesn't notice, the nun, sick of Toth popping up and down moves over to straighten him out, Toth pops up again on his way over to brag some more. The nun notices the Devil Dog sticking to his pants and smacks Toth in the head thinking he's an idiot. After she hits him she says, "Wipe yourself off, wood head."

Toth puzzled about everything, reaches behind and grabs most of the cake, and I could tell by the look on his face he was praying it wasn't dog crap. Meantime, the Pope's a half block north of us. I missed him, Toth missed him, and the nun hit Toth again because she missed him, too.

Above us from a window, I heard 'The We Five' singing on the radio, "When I woke up this morning, you were on my mind." I returned my focus to the older girls.

Do you like old New York City photos and street life stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir,"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and 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 & Checker cabs.

Praise for the book:

“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”
 Kevin Baker, author of the novels “Dreamland,” Paradise Alley,” and “Strivers Row,” as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction

“Tommy Pryor’s New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read.”
  Robert Lipsyte, former city and sports columnist, The New York Times

“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.”
  Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of “Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall”

“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.”
  Thomas Beller, author, “J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist” & founder of 'Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.'

The Jean Shepherd of Yorkville has a book. You should get!  I've been a HUGE fan of Thomas Pryor's stories for a long time. It's so great to read so many of them in this fantastic book. Pryor pours his heart and soul into each and everyone of them. Some gut wrenching, others laugh out loud funny. And you don't have to be a NY Giants fan or a Cowboys hater to enjoy this book (though that will help). You just have to have a heart and love fun, authentic stories. Buy this book, I promise you'll enjoy it!

Adam Wade, winner of 20 SLAMS at The Moth (18 StorySLAM victories and 2 GrandSLAM Championships)

I wasn't alive for the New York Thomas Pryor writes about, but thanks to his brilliant, honest, and hilarious book, I feel like I was there."

Dave Hill "The Goddamn Dave Hill Show" ~ WFMU radio

Great writers are supposed to transport you to their world - Thomas Pryor is one of those unique writers who can grab your heart and make you laugh and cry in a single sentence. The portrait he paints of growing up in New York City -- in Yorkville, specifically -- in the 60s is so vivid that you'll feel yourself there with him in every single scene, and every single memory. Great writers are supposed to transport you to their world, and Thomas Pryor does this exceptionally well. You'll walk away from this book feeling like you know intimately every butcher and bartender in town, every Sister at St. Stephens, and certainly every member of Thomas's family. Even more than that, though, this is a book about being a kid, growing up, loving people and losing them, losing people and loving them even more, and finding one's way. Basically, it's a book for anyone who's ever experienced the sheer pleasure and pain of being alive and growing up. Buy it today. It will leave you feeling enriched, touched, entertained, and eager to turn to page one all over again.

Nicole Ferraro, writer, N.Y Times

Wonderful Storytelling with a Time Machine Effect! - Leslie Gosko, entertainer, storyteller, comedian, "Funniest Woman in NYC"
Heart-warming, hilarious, and wonderfully quirky, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys" has something for everyone. Thomas Pryor does a fantastic job of transporting you to 1960's New York where you feel like one of the characters in his Yorkville neighborhood. Stylistically reminiscent of Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," this book, too, becomes an instant classic!

  Leslie Gosko, entertainer, storyteller, comedian, "Funniest Woman in NYC"

After reading "I Hate The Dallas Cowboys", I felt as if I had grown up with author Thomas Pryor. His stories of a childhood in New York City, punctuated by family photographs, drew me into his world and took me on a personal tour of the streets and neighborhoods of his youth. Living there were a host of vivid and eccentric characters - his parents, brother Rory, grandmother Nan, Joe from the candy store, Sister Mercedes, stewardesses Marie and Justine, and his many friends and co-conspirators with whom he shared his adventures and dreams. Mr. Pryor’s humor is gentle and infectious, his memories animated and engrossing. These essays are both historically valuable as well as entertaining in a way that befits the unique voice of New York City.

David Terhune - The Losers Lounge, co-founder

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Old Williamsburg Memories

"Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912."

Betty Smith's opening lines, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."

June 2013, I was in Williamsburg for a friend's event. Reaching the top of the Bedford Avenue subway exit I saw a row of three story tenements and thought about Francie Nolan in 1912. Despite Williamsburg's overwhelming gentrification, if you look carefully there are remnants of the past that remind you of people, places and things that came before.

Thank you, Jimmy Wohl, for inviting me to perform at your show at Muchmore's on North 9th Street. Your artists were terrific and you gave me an excuse to explore the neighborhood for an hour.

Francie's walk in 1912 Williamsburg

"Mom, Where's Dad?"
Banksy ~ a sad boy on the wall walking away from a discarded recliner.

Kaiser Wilhelm

sweet colors

M. Leona Godin performing at Jimmy Wohl's show

Muchmore's front window, Williamsburg

If you enjoy vintage memories of New York neighborhoods, please take a look at my photos here in the "photos" link on top the home page, also in my public albums on Facebook & Instagram.

My memoir, "I Hate The Dallas Cowboys ~ tales of a scrappy New York boyhood,"  is about a NYC neighborhood, Yorkville, in the 1950s & 1960s with background stories starting in 1896. On sale at Logos Bookstore , 15@@ York Avenue and everywhere online. The book has 136 five star Amazon reviews our of 136. It's "The Wonder Years" meets "Everybody Hates Chris," plus Checker cabs, the Yankee bullpen & the Sisters of Divine Charity, you know... Nuns!

If you don't like it, I'll eat my straw hat.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Son Of A Son Of A Sailor

Dad&cousins@1946@500 E. 84st.
February 1941, on a Saturday morning, my father woke up and found his father drinking coffee alone in the kitchen with only the bare winter light coming in through the backyard window. My grandmother and uncle had left for work. Dad, 11, talked baseball with his Dad while eating three bowls of cereal. My 40 year old grandfather, ill with Potts Disease, a late stage Tuberculosis, told his son he needed to rest and suggested Dad go out and play. Dad got dressed took his mother’s scarf on his father’s suggestion, then he got a long hug and a wet kiss from his father and a good bye in his ear, twice.

Thomas Pryor @Mt. Loretto Orphanage

After my father left, my grandfather pushed himself up from the table, grabbed a bunch of towels and stuck them under the door and the windows. He pulled a chair over to the oven, stuck his head in it and killed himself. My father found his father dead an hour later and ran and get a cop.

T. Pryor S. I. Orphanage intake-card @1909

Today is Dad’s birthday, if he were here he’d be 93 and he’d still be expecting a call a day and a kiss on the lips, hello and goodbye. When I was young I didn’t understand his strong grip on Rory and my life. He was a suffocating son of a bitch but I guess he wanted to make sure we didn’t leave him.

Lucky for me, he was the most interesting pain in the ass I’ve ever known, and I miss him each day. His artistic and mechanical talent was boundless, barely owning an education (his early schooling were movies and the big bands at the Paramount) he read everything and could talk any subject intelligently. He knew every joke ever told, and told them well, over and over again.

Most of all he was a sailor, in his heart and in his soul. No conversation was ever far away from a reference to the sea, the Navy, the Merchant Marines, or his three trips around the world. Dad joined the Navy on his 17th birthday in 1946 after a failed attempt the previous year to get in before the war ended. After two years in the Navy he spent three more in the Merchant Marines.

1947 U.S.S. Mindoro carrier

If Dad didn’t meet Mom, he would have made a career at sea. He loved us dearly but never lost his yearning. My brother and I often heard, “if it wasn’t for you I’d be on the ocean.” He told me his father’s fondest wish was to be a sailor. Maybe in his heart that’s what my grandfather was. Being a sailor must have been a dreamy place to go to when he was a boy in the Staten Island orphanage, Mount Loretto at the end of Hyland Blvd. and later when the disease sent him upstate to Tuberculosis Sanatoriums for seven of his last ten years. Maybe my Dad wanted to finish his Dad’s dream. For five years, he got the chance

On way to Bear Mt. 1963

Friday, April 15, 2022

Kenny Devoe's Magical Nose

Walking to school the day Mom asked Dad for a house money raise, I smiled, remembering it was Good Friday. That afternoon we’d be doing the Stations of the Cross in the church. Right after lunch, I said, “Sister, can I be excused?” The nun made a face but she had to let me go down to the sacristy to transform into an altar boy. The rest of the class and the whole school assembled in the pews a half hour later. Kids ate the Stations of the Cross up. It was theatre. Two altar boys with gigantic candles would stand to the side of a third boy carrying Jesus on what to me looked like a heavy duty stickball bat with a crucifix on top. You felt like you were in the Roman Legion and you got to leave the altar and walk up and down the church aisles. “Look at me!” Standing right next to your chums and pretty older girls who couldn’t make you go away. That particular afternoon, things got interesting. 

Kenny Devoe loved altar wine and for some reason would never drink it directly from the gallon jug. He carefully poured the wine into the cruet, the tiny glass vessel used during the mass. This drove me crazy. First problem was a twelve-year-old drinking wine. Did Kenny think he was going to get in more trouble or less trouble depending on his method for getting it into his stomach? The other problem was his slow wine transfer meant he was tripling the chance of getting caught. We knew if Kenny got busted our indictments were sealed. School rule - If you’re there, you did it. That day, Kenny drank too much. When the altar bells rang, we led the priest out of the sacristy to the center of the altar to start the procession. I had a candle, Smithy had the cross and Kenny the other candle. At the ninth station, when Jesus carrying the cross falls for the third time, the entire student body cheered him on with practiced sarcasm learned from first grade through eighth grade; they read from their missals, “Jesus – exhausted – in pain – for the third and final time. Long pause here BUT, NO! Jesus rose and struggled on!” Three hundred little boxing announcers sounding like Don Dunphy at ringside screamed, ‘our Lord had risen from the canvas back into the heat of the battle.’ The nuns flew around the church wanting to thump somebody but really couldn’t do anything, while the getting-away-with-murder insolent children picked up the reading speed leading towards an early dismissal. The nuns tried to slow it down but the three hundred-voice rock was rolling downhill. After a good giggle, I looked around the church for some of my friends, when I noticed Kenny nodding off into the flame at the top of his candle. I nudged Smith carrying the pole, who nudged Kenny, but Kenny was well past that point. He was a sleeping horse standing up in his stall. After a hard nudge, Kenny’s head lifted up with a jolt, he shook his noggin and wiggled his nose. Then he gradually dropped back into the flame. We pulled Kenny along through the rest of the stations. By the end, his nose smelt like skirt steak. Kenny left the altar boys that week. His nose, first purple, and then red for a year became Kenny Devoe’s Magical Nose.

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 136 Amazon five star reviews out of 136 total reviews posted.  My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

School Lunch Is Killing Me

Thank you, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood for publishing my story today, "School Lunch Is Killing Me."

“Lefty, what did you do with the hard boiled egg?” I worked the words out of the side of my mouth. I was Jimmy Cagney in “White Heat” and I wanted to take this place apart.

“It’s in my pocket, and what’s with the Lefty crap?” John said.

“Lefty, we’ll know more in a few minutes. Are you sure the egg is safe?”

“Yes, you idiot. It’s safe; it’s tucked away in a Kleenex,” John snapped.

Our squawking drew Sister Adrienne’s attention as the lunch hour was winding down in St. Stephen of Hungary on East 82nd Street in April 1964. The nuns didn’t allow talking. The more you talked the longer it took you to finish your food.

4th grade April 1964

“John and Thomas, put a lid on it. You have two minutes, two minutes, misters, to finish your food. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, sister.”

John, facing me across the table mouthed a silent, “You’re dead, stupid.”

I made a face back at him. I thought that the nun was behind me. I was wrong.

“Young man, did you make a face at me?


“Do you think this is a joke?” 

Sr. Mercedes 
by Jan Chapman

“No, no, no, sister, I have allergies and sometimes I scratch the inside of my nose by moving my face around. This is good in case it itches when my hands aren’t free.”

Sister Adrienne let out a long exhale that caved her chest in.

“Well you both can sit there till the ice skating rink is done in Hell. There are poor children starving in China. You both dwell on that fact.”

John gave me a nasty look. I was convinced part of a nun’s final exam involved making the case to the Mother Superior that there was a connection between kids finishing what was left on their plates and fewer kids starving in the world. 

first campaign poster

John had put the egg in his pocket because he had no intention of eating it, and because our prison guard wouldn’t let him leave the basement cafeteria until his tray was cleared of all food.

Daydreaming about getting news that Mom was dead was my vengeance for her forcing me to eat this crummy school lunch. Mom had done the math after first grade. She was losing two hours of her day picking me up, taking me home and feeding me, then returning me to school. At the start of the second grade I was put in the school’s lunch program, or as the older kids called it the “Pain Meal Plan.” You could not bring your own lunch to school. The Parish was greedy for profit and knew that the only way to make money out of the school’s lunch program was to up its enrollment. They paid an old lady called “Ma” to cook for 150 kids. Her specialties: boiling green meat brown and adding spoiled vegetables into the soup.

While John settled his egg in his pants pocket, I rearranged the cold white beans on my plate for the sixth time. The smiley face was gone. The beans were now a crucifix. Sister Adrienne could take this a few ways. My hope was that she’d appreciate that I was thinking about our Lord. She went another way and identified my bean work as further proof of my defiance. She loved that word. 
happy faces for Father

“Thomas, your defiance will lead you to ruin. Not only will you not get out of here to play with the other kids, but if you don’t finish the beans and the half of a sandwich still on your plate, you will stay after school as well.”

Sister Adrienne’s foot kept time throughout her speech. Watching her shoe tap reminded me of a hoe down.

“Well swing your partner…” I pictured her in a straw hat, overalls, and checkered shirt with a red kerchief, telling us to dosi-doe…then I remembered the pickle I was in. I moaned, picturing the other fourth graders playing box ball in front of the school.  
Ryan Girls @ St. Stephen's

“Sister, I’m not feeling well. This is the best I can do.”

“Try harder,”

“I’m feeling weak.”

“Bite it. Chew it. You’ll get your strength back.”

“This is not meat.”

John whispered, “I am Spartacus.”

Watching John enjoy the nun’s and my back and forth, I was positive he couldn’t have been happier if he’d just won a million dollars. I pictured him sitting on a pile of money.

The sandwich, a plug of greenish-brown ham, was thick enough to sit in front of Snoopy’s doghouse as a doormat. It curled on the edges and was bookended by stale wheat bread and a globby spread of margarine. No mayo, no mustard, just margarine. It was sickening. I gave up salvaging any of the remaining lunchtime but I had no intention on staying after school. It was 70 degrees and sunny. The park was screaming for me to get over there as soon as I could.

St. Stephens, 1st grade, 1962

Back at the gulag, John actually liked white beans and thick chunks of ham. He made sure he showed me every half-chewed bite in his mouth. He’d drop his jaw all the way down like a ventriloquist’s dummy in a state of awe, leaving his hangar open and giving me a bird’s eye view. His eyes would stay on the nun and follow her around, and only when she was looking at him would his mouth close shut. After his final satisfying swallow, with an audible “aaahhh,” he was ready to make his break. He gave me a last smile and made a head motion towards his empty plate, wiggled his eyebrows and bid me farewell.

“See ’ya, numb nuts.”

John held his empty red tray up in presentation to the nun. I wanted to kick him in the ass. While the sister looked John over, I slipped a handful of white beans into my pocket and rushed back to my fork. I felt the cold beans gook up against my leg, but I’d deal with that later.

With John gone, it was only Sister Adrienne and me. She was ready to give me her full attention.

Looking at my plate, she said, “Well, you’ve made some progress.”

I smiled sensing something behind the stone eyes.

“Yes sister, I’ve done all I can.” I said with a pathetic smile trying to look like Dondi, the Italian orphan in the comic strip.

“Can I go now?”

A glint of kindness muscled its way round her iron mask.

“You can leave the rest of the beans but you have to finish the sandwich.”

Well, she might have well as told me, “You don’t have to jump off the building, but I’m still setting you on fire.”

I pushed the beans aside, mashing them for good luck, and centered the sandwich. I wanted to get a good look at it. I figured centering it in the middle of the plate might make it look smaller. No luck. Maybe if I imagined it was something else…I mean really, really, really imagined it was, say, a boiled hot dog, American cheese or liverwurst. Yes, liverwurst, that’s meat right? Then maybe I could eat it. But it was hopeless. The scary smell coming from in between the bread slices closed off any chance I was going to trick myself.

I stared down at the thing and tried to clear my mind. I was ready to wait till the Pope had a baby. I had my guns on. Sister Adrienne put on her holster. The streets had cleared and the bank and the barber pulled down their window shades. The clock in the steeple said twenty to one. The standoff began.

At one o’clock we’d be due on line in front of the school getting ready to return to the classrooms. I had twenty minutes before I went into the penalty situation – staying after school. There was no more conversation. We both took turns looking at each other, looking at the clock, looking at the sandwich, and looking at our feet. I kept thinking she wanted to pick her nose but wouldn’t do it in front of me. I guess that’s because my nose needed picking and I wasn’t going to do it in front of her either. Did you know that the second hand on a clock doesn’t just spin around without stopping? No, it stops each second then with little jerks does it again fifty nine more times each minute. I wondered if my turtles, Joe and Lenny, missed me when I was at school. Little nuggets like that kept me going until loud shoes smacking the wood floor interrupted my daydreaming. I looked up and saw Father Edward.

“Excuse me, Sister Adrienne, I thought lunch was over.”

“It should be.”

“Sister, I can come back a little later.”

“No Father Edward, please take care of your business.”

“No that’s okay, thank you.” The priest left.

Sister’s eyes followed the priest’s shadow long after he left the room. She liked the priest. Everyone in the school knew that. Father Edward had been a Marine chaplain and he still did his exercises. Sister got all jelly-legged when he was around. Playing Olive Oyl to Father Edward’s Popeye, I thought of balling the sandwich and putting it in my pocket. I decided against it. Sister Adrienne would probably pat me down on my way out. When she wasn’t looking, I tried sticking the sandwich inside my sock but the elastic band was too tight.

Then one word pulled the string attached to the light bulb in my brain, “Margarine.” There was enough of the stuff on the bread to stucco a wall. I slipped the two sandwich pieces apart and pressed the wet sides firmly to the bottom of the table. As Sister Adrienne turned back toward me, I chewed on the imaginary wad of pig in my mouth. I faked a swallow and got up to show the nun my tray, though it really wasn’t necessary at that point. And yes, she patted me down on my way out while looking around me to see if she missed something. As I left the lunchroom, her mumbling behind me sounded like an old car trying to turn over on a cold morning.

I headed straight for the boy’s room to dump the beans. They came out of my pocket in broken parts. I threw them into the toilet bowl on top of what remained of John’s flushed egg. I owed him one, and would plot my revenge later. My Timex watch said one minute past one. School lunch was killing me.