SITTIN’ ON THE STOOP WITH…

Cathy Gigante-Brown…

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I’m a Bay Ridge girl, born and bred in Brooklyn. I was born at a hospital called Brooklyn Doctors which isn’t there anymore but I believe it was located at 45th Street and 15th Avenue. I grew up in Bay Ridge, on Gelston Avenue, and went to St. Patrick’s. For high school, I “escaped” Catholic school and attended Fort Hamilton, where I had great teachers who encouraged my love of writing. I was a shy kid who could write much better than I could talk and that’s how it all started. I’m also grateful to Mildred McVay, my third grade teacher at St. Pat’s, who instilled in me of a love of reading. (I thank her in the “Acknowledgements” section of THE EL.) I set a number of scenes in the book in places familiar to me growing up–a noteworthy accident takes place on the corner of Gelston, for example.

The EL

In Chapter 24, a scene in your book takes place in Farrell’s.  What was the reason for using Farrell’s?

I’ve lived in Windsor Terrace since 1994, just a couple of blocks away from Farrell’s. Even though I’m not much of a beer drinker, I’ve always loved the sense of camaraderie of Farrell’s. People celebrate there, mourn there, get jobs there…I’ve never seen another place like it. So, when I needed a place for a clandestine family pow-wow, the back tables of Farrell’s seemed perfect. The characters lived in Borough Park and in a sense, Farrell’s was a world away for them. Few people knew them there, so they could speak frankly, plot and bond. I even put Houlie into the scene (but changed his first name) even though he probably wasn’t even born yet. I wanted to pay homage to Farrell’s, to its spirit, and it seemed to fit perfectly into the plot. I hope it worked!

If you can sit down tonight and have dinner with any three people, who would they be and where would it be? (Don’t worry, you’re not picking up the check…)

I guess I should say something noble like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln but I think I’ll be selfish and say my mom and dad Teresa and Francis Gigante, and my great-grandmother Marguerite Cirigliano who inspired the “Bridget” character in THE EL. Both of my parents have passed away (my dad almost 2 years ago and my mom 19 years ago) and I would love to have one last dinner where I could ask them things I didn’t and tell them things I should have. I’ve always wanted to meet my great-grandmother who died about 7 years before I was born. And dinner would be a home-cooked meal! To cook with Marguerite and my mom would be amazing, and to share all of the things women talk about when they cook together would be a gift.

Your three favorite books of all-time?

That’s a tough one. Let’s see. In no particular order: Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude and Pete Hamill’s Forever.

Are you working on a new book?

Yes, I am. The working title is “Society’s Child” and it’s set in 1979 Brooklyn, mostly the Sheepshead Bay area. It’s about a female drummer in the club-date business (aka “society music”)…you know, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc…who’s trying to “make it” and get a recording contract. It’s very different than “The El,” written in journalistic style from the drummer’s POV, and also from the POVs of various people close to her. I’m a little more than halfway through. I wish I had more time to work on it. For “The El,” I took off six months and managed to write it. I’ve been working on my second novel a lot longer but I love being able to squirrel away any time I can to work on it. I love writing about Brooklyn and the colorful characters in it.

Cathy Gigante-Brown lives in Windsor Terrace and is the author of “The EL.”

Click here for more information on her book.

Respectfully,

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com

COME TUMBLING DOWN

What’s going on?

People are going bananas!

Who’s to blame?  Because that’s what we do, right? We look to place blame.

The Police?

Politicians?

School Teachers?

The Coach?

Parents?

Or, the entitled kids?

I don’t ever recall society being out of control like this.

Everywhere I turn something crazy is happening

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We have a lot of smart people who read Container Diaries. Some leave comments, some e-mail and some, well they read an entry and sit it out.  They clear things up for me. Give me hope.

As a teen I recall being afraid of the police, now people want to fight them, scream at them, spit at them and of course, bring a lawsuit down against them.  Doesn’t anyone respect authority anymore?

I miss the days of waking up in the morning and going to the schoolyard to play ball day. You went home for lunch, grabbed a bite to eat and went right back to your friends.  At supper time you went home, ate and returned to the yard.

I miss the days of hanging out on ninth avenue shooting the breeze with my friends. We could be on any street corner having a good time. Talking girls, sports or how we were getting liquored up on the weekend.

We rode the subway back and forth to stay warm when it was too cold outside.

I miss the days of walking into Rae and Otto’s and ordering an egg cream at the counter. Or picking up Street and Smith’s, Basketball Digest and always trying to sneak a peek at Playboy. Otto always caught me.

“Come on Sonny, don’t look at that…”

On a summer night climbing the fire escape out back to hang out up on the roof which gave us a gorgeous view of the Twin Towers. During the day I’d take a blanket, radio and baby oil and try to get a tan from the sun on the roof but with my Irish-white pasty skin, all I ever got was red as a lobster. Burnt to the crisp.

“Ma, where’s the Noxzema?”

I miss the days of, when I was of legal age, ordering a container from Farrell’s and drinking it outside while we leaned up against a parked car on 16th street or Prospect Park West. Before I was legal, I loved hanging out in Farrell’s and chatting with the bartenders about the Knicks.

Who can ever forget the legendary basketball games in the boys schoolyard during the Summer League? The players, fans, refs and of course listening to the stories afterwards.

Speaking of basketball, I miss playing for Holy Name in CYO. Traveling to different neighborhoods by bus, train or car to play other catholic schools. We never had a gym to call our own so we were always the travel team.  There was a season or two where we rented P.S. 10′s gym down on 7th avenue and Prospect Avenue.

I miss the days of hanging out on the Parkside, inside the park or sitting on the totem poles. The bleachers over by the diamonds was a favorite spot.

Snowball fights, Trick or Treating, getting drunk on New Year’s Eve and of course the food at Thanksgiving.

I miss the friends I grew up with from the 70′s and 80′s. We communicated, we didn’t text message each other.

Sleigh-riding down cherry hill, suicide and three devils. Throwing snowballs at anything and anyone who moved.

Playing baseball in the lot without our parents shouting from the stands or choosing up the teams for us or driving us from our doorstep to 16th street.

Whiffle ball on the streets.  Along with two hand touch, slap ball and kick the can.

“Buck-Buck how many fingers are up?”

Hopping on my bike and cruising down Ocean Parkway to Manhattan Beach to play basketball all day.  Afterwards walking on the boardwalk to check out the sights.

I miss walking or taking the bus down to fifth avenue to grab some donuts, buying a board game at Sepe’s or hanging out in Timboo’s.

And why did I spend so much time taking two busses to Kings Plaza shopping mall when I could have hopped aboard the F-train and went over to the city to shop? When I discovered the city in my late teens and early twenties we spent so much time going to clubs, hanging out in the village and chillin’ by Columbus Circle. East side, West side, Mid-Town, uptown, we covered lots of ground.

Thanks to my boy Turk for introducing me to Delancey Street. Especially Katz’s.

Mostly, I miss the days of being a teenager. I miss the nights of hanging out with my steady girlfriend, Maureen.  Holding hands, kissing and laughing together.  Somewhere around nine or ten at night, I’d walk her home, kiss her good-night and then spend another hour on the phone with her.

Boy how I miss those days…

Respectfully,

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com

RACE

Denis Hamill on a white couple attacked in their car while waiting at a red light by Kings Plaza.

Click here for Hamill’s story via the New York Daily News. Here’s a short blurb.

Right over there by the traffic light near Kings Plaza at Avenue U and E. 58th St. , a guy named Ronald Russo, 30, sits in his car with his wife, Alanna, 30, about 7 p.m. Oct. 14, waiting for a red light to turn green to drive less than a mile home.

The light switches to green as a group of 10 black youths, ages 12 to 18, steps in front of the car in the crosswalk, according to prosecutors. The kids linger. Don’t move. Russo taps the horn. Instead of crossing, the youths start kicking the car. Banging on the windows, authorities say.

EVERYONE TAKES A BEATEN’

In 1969 my father stopped living with us. I was five.

Fatherless during a time a boy needed a strong male influence the most.

My mother began dating. There were many losers that showed up at our front door. Matter of fact, out of all the men she dated, I can’t recall one good one. There was a guy whose name was Joe,  he was a complete asshole.

I spotted him from a mile away.

He was a phony. Full of shit. And to top it off, he loved the bottle.

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I first met Joe in January of 1983 during a Super Bowl party in Timboo’s.

My father invited me down to watch the game between the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins.  Dad’s nickname was “Gooch” I have no idea how he got it. One day I asked him and he ignored me.

Despite Gooch not living with us I’d visit him down at the bar from time to time.  I think it started back when I was twelve. On Saturday mornings he would come by 228A Prospect Park West to pick me up.

I loved hanging out in Timboo’s. Only problem though, my mother was there that night too.  I sat in a booth alone drinking glasses of soda and eating pretzels.  My mother stood in the corner at one end of the bar with her friends and the Gooch stood at the opposite end with his friends keeping an eye on the game.

At half-time the Dolphins led 17-10.  Someone dropped a few quarters in the Jukebox and the jams started playing. With music blasting throughout the bar, Timboo’s turned into American Bandstand. The patrons began dancing, including mom.  Gooch stayed on his end shaking his head in disgust.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?” I heard Gooch ask out loud.

Mom was dancing to ABBA’s, “Dancing Queen” with some tall guy that had long, dark hair and glasses. He was kind of goofy.

After the song ended she brought him over to where I was sitting. The second half was about to start so I had no interest in talking to them.

“Steven I want you to meet Joe,” she said.

“I’m watching the game,” I replied as I had my eyes glued to the TV.

Mom and her friend stood there.

“Well, hello to you,” the guy said sarcastically to me as they both walked away back to their spot at the bar.

“Yeah, stay the fuck over there,” I said.

I wasn’t interested in meeting him.  I hated every guy my mother dated.  This one was no different.

After the game was over, which the Redskins won 27-17 the Gooch called a car service and sent me home.  As I was walking towards the front door of the bar, I noticed mom playing pinball with the long-haired creep standing behind her watching her closely. Too close if you ask me.

The car service was out in front on fifth avenue waiting for me.

“Forget the car, the guy is staying,” I shouted to the driver as he pulled away. I kept the five bucks Gooch gave me and walked home.  When I got home I grabbed my basketball and went to the schoolyard.

It was close to midnight. I didn’t want to be home when they got there. I figured they would just fall asleep soon as they got there.

The long-haired creep wound up moving in with us. He paid our rent and bought our groceries; he had a pretty good job so my mother really liked him.

One night he came home piss drunk. This turned into a normal occurrence.  It seemed like we had an argument every night. I was sitting on the couch watching the Knicks game.

“You stole money from me,” he said as he stepped in front of the television blocking my view.

“No I didn’t, get the fuck out-of-the-way, asshole!”

Mom was in the kitchen on the phone.

“Yes you did, you little fuck!”

I really wasn’t in the mood to argue with him so I got up off the couch and began to walk away.

“You’re a thief,” he shouted to me as he grabbed my arm.

“Get your fucking hands off me, asshole!” I screamed at him. His breathe stunk and he had a hard time standing. All I had to do was blow on him and I’m sure he’d fall down.

“What’s going on?” mom asked, as she hung up the phone.

“Your son stole money from me.”

“I thought you were going to let me handle it?” I heard her ask him as I walked into my bedroom.

“Fuck it, I’m gonna handle it,” he said.

The drunken bum began to walk towards my room.

“JOE, STOP IT!” mom screamed at him as he ignored her.

The bum had accused me of stealing money from him (he was right, but I denied it)

As he stood in front of my room, the yelling continued. I had a hard time understanding him, his speech was slurred due to the alcohol. I got up from my bed, pushed him out-of-the-way and ran out of the apartment.

“C’MON MOTHERFUCKER, STEP OUTSIDE!” I screamed from the hallway.

Mom and Joe were arguing in the apartment.

“COME ON YOU DRUNKEN BUM, LET’S SEE HOW TOUGH YOU ARE!” I added as I walked down the stairs.

I never expected him to follow me downstairs but as I got down the two flights of stairs I heard him yelling at my mother on his way down the stairs.

“I’m gonna teach this kid a lesson,” he said as my mother screamed at him not to hurt me.

I was going to wait for him to come out the front door and clobber him with my Louisville slugger. I could hear my mother out the window.

“STEVEN, GET YOUR ASS BACK UP HERE!” she screamed.

“NO, HE’S AN ASSHOLE, I DIDN’T STEAL HIS MONEY!” as I looked up at her, lumber in hand, ready to tee off.

“What are you gonna do with that bat?” she asked.

“I’m gonna smash his fuckin’ head in.”

I noticed a few of my friends walking across the ninth avenue towards me.

“Yo Fin, what’s goin on?” John asked me.

“This mother fucker coming down the stairs is gonna get it!” I said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of him,” John assured me.

Boy did they take care of him. They went after mom’s boyfriend the minute he stepped out on the sidewalk.

Joe never messed with me again.

And no, the official scorer did not charge me with an at-bat.

Respectfully,

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com

COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP

I was notified about the arrest of a suspect in the stabbing on the parkside two weeks ago.

The Brooklyn Paper has the story here.

“There was a lot of screaming and a lot of yelling. These kids were out of control,” said Tom Prendergast on the morning after the stabbing. Prendergast’s son filmed the nighttime commotion from their seventh-floor apartment, a few floors up from where the party was held, according to Prendergast.

Respectfully,

Steve

Hoops135@hotmail.com

BROOKLYN BORN

I saw this essay on Fiore Tierno’s Facebook page.  Not sure of the origin/author but I figured everyone here would enjoy it.

I come from a borough called Brooklyn where hoagies are called hero’s, shopping carts are called wagons and roads are called streets.  Going on the avenue was a night out and everyone knew someone or you were related somehow.

Your parents sat on the stoop all night while we played manhunt, hide and seek, handball, hopscotch, war, freeze tag, red light, green light and ring-o-leeveo.

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Our moms called us from the window to come in and eat; we had block parties that lasted till morning.  We ate the best Italian bread, pastries, cookies, and homemade Italian ices.

Mr. Softee, egg creams, pretzel sticks from the candy store and we hung out at the park not the playground.

These were the best of times…

Respectfully,

Steve

Hoops135@hotmail.com

HEEEEEEEEEEY BATTER, BATTER!

I miss a lot of  people, places and things from my youth growing up in the neighborhood.

One game I miss is whiffle ball.

Years ago we used to play all over the neighborhood.  We even had a league where we kept stats!

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Mom probably had a heart attack when she watched us take our fruit of the loom t-shirts and draw numbers and write our names on the back with black magic markers.

Whiffle ball gave you a chance to work on your curve ball, experiment with switch-hitting and of course, you learned to work things out (E.g. was the ball fair or foul?)

We made up fields to play.  Some areas where off-limits; automatic outs if you hit it there.

We’d park our asses on the street (the corner of Fuller and Windsor Place was a popular spot) the boys and girls schoolyard at Holy Name and at times the parking lot of Prospect Park.  And yes, we played at night.  Keep in mind, the ball is white.

Have Field will Travel” or even, “If you build it, they will come.” And boy did they come…

We ran the bases when we had enough players or we played automatics.  No bunting allowed either.  No hitting off a Tee and no parents pitching to us.

No umpires, no parents, no bullshit!  We had fun.  We played and then played some more.  Best of all, it was an inexpensive game.  Didn’t matter if your family had money or you were poor.

There was no PED users back in the day but we did “stuff” the bat.  We would rip off the top of the yellow plastic bat, stuff it with newspaper then tape it back up.  At times I recall stuffing the ball and wrapping black tape around it too.

Do kids still play whiffle ball?

PLAY BALL!

Respectfully,

Steve

Hoops135@hotmail.com

CHANGE…SO WHAT!

Yeah yeah I know, they don’t dress or talk like you.

So what!

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They have a college undergrad degree and some have their Masters from fine institutions of higher learning.

Some have Ph.d’s, a Law degree or a Business degree.

They make a lot of money and own a Brownstone.  They can afford a three bedroom apartment across the street from Prospect Park.

So what!

They drink organic milk.  They eat healthy.  They ride their bikes around the park.  They bring their expensive baby stroller outside Connecticut muffin and chat away.

So what!

They are from Ohio and Michigan, and don’t have a Brooklyn accent.

So what!

They sip tea, own i-phones, i-pads and wear pork pie hats.  They own restaurants, coffee shops and used book stores.

So what!

They are writers, college professors, artists, doctors, attorneys, Baristas, musicians…

Again, so what!

These folks are proud to live in Brooklyn; they are proud to call it their home.

You call them “hipsters.”

They buy local and don’t complain about prices.  They are highly intelligent and follow sports.

They are alumni of Ivy League schools, Big Ten schools and Big Twelve schools.  They attended schools like Williams, Kenyon College, and Cooper Union.

So what!

Stop being ignorant. Start a conversation with the next person you see that you think is a “yuppie.”  That’s a funny word, “yuppie.”

It stands for Young Urban Professional.

I applaud these residents who have moved into the neighborhood.

They enrich it.

They cherish it.

They value it.

I heard one idiot on-line say, “They use their trust funds their parents set up for them.

These folks work hard.  They are smart with their money.  Trust funds or not, who cares?

I have a friend out here in Michigan, no make that two friends that have children who have moved to New York; they are good people, the kids rave about Brooklyn.

When I come back to the neighborhood, yeah I don’t recognize anyone on the avenue; most have moved out, some have passed. But I make it a point to say hi to these people I see in Terrace Bagels and walking the avenue.  When I visit in November I’m going to make it a point to meet them and get to know them and see how things are going.

They hang out in The Double Windsor, so what!

Respectfully,

Red

Holy Name of Jesus Class of 1978

Hoops135@hotmail.com

LESSONS FROM BACK IN THE DAY

This morning my wife and I were discussing today’s youths compared to when we were growing up in the 70′s and 80′s.

Back in the day you had the older guys passing along their encouragement, advice, and discipline to us younger guys. (Not sure if it was the same on the girl’s side of the fence)

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It could be a basketball coach like Danny Piselli in the schoolyard teaching us how to take a left-handed lay-up in the 4th grade. Or it could be the late Joe Farrell from Terrace Place showing us how to play basketball the right way or maybe it was Officer Doyle from the 7-2 telling us to get off the corner at midnight and get home.  (Not in those exact words).

I wish I could sit here and jot down all the advice I received as a kid.  Did I take the advice? Yes and no.  I was a smart-ass kid who thought they knew everything.

Bill, Jack, Gerard and Ken

There was a cool cat named Cadgee whom I believe was from twelfth street between eight and ninth avenues that was always in the schoolyard playing ball. The guy was aces.  He owned a ten-speed bike and was always riding around the neighborhood.  I recall him talking to me when I would be frustrated from playing bad or losing a game in the yard. I’d be on the side waiting to get back on the court and sure enough Cadgee would come over and tell me to cool down and get my head straight and go back out there and get them. He would also buy me an ice from time-to-time at Bonalli’s.

Years later I heard he found God and became a born-again christian. (It would be amazing if he ever finds this blog).

There was also my main man Corrado pulling up to the curb on ninth street and fifth avenue in his cherry-red caddy while I waited for the B75 bus when it was close to midnight. I was a bit hungry and was craving donuts so I walked down  to the donut shop picking up a dozen; Instead of waiting for the bus, Corado pulled up and gave me a lift up to the avenue.

Thanks to Richie Feriolo for giving me a card in celebration of my eight grade graduation from Holy Name and slipping in a ten spot. (And thanks for accompanying me on a recruiting trip years later in Staten Island)

And of course a special thanks to Gerard Trapp from Howard Place for telling me to go to school and get a good job! Also for allowing me to hang out in Farrell’s when I was underaged but always serving me a coke.  And I can’t forget the many nights after he got off work he would take me down to George’s Restaurant on Coney Island Avenue.

The older guys from the neighborhood took you under their wing.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, they were trying to teach us about life.  About growing up the right way.

Bill Parcells once said, “The kids from today and back in the day haven’t changed, it’s the people around them that have changed.”

Respectfully,

Steve

Hoops135@hotmail.com

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Planning a trip to Brooklyn the week before Thanksgiving (Friday Nov. 22 and Saturday Nov. 23).

My guys from Michigan State will be playing at the Barclays Center that weekend. I may have to give the Spartans a tour of my old stomping grounds.  Maybe MSU can practice in the boys schoolyard like we used to do.

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Here is a list of spots I plan on checking out (in no particular order).

Farrell’s

Holy Name Boys Schoolyard

Prospect Park and The Parkside

East 5th street park

Sport Prospect

Greasy Spoon on seventh avenue and ninth street

Terrace Bagels

Terrace Books

Visit Bob Leckie

Respectfully,

Red