BREAK A LEG

Front of Farrell's (Pat Feenton)No, no, no,  I’m not telling you to go out and break someone’s leg because they said something about you behind your back or maybe they owe you money.  There’s a universal phrase “Break a leg” in theatre used to wish a performer “good luck.”

Journalist, playwright, good friend and writing mentor Pat Fenton will be at Farrell’s this coming Sunday along with actors Jack O’Connell and Honor Molloy. The trio will take us back to Pat’s old Windsor Terrace neighborhood performing a dramatic reading of three scenes from his play “STOOPDREAMER.”

Pat intimates the dreams, trials and travails of just ordinary people trying to find the American dream in post WWII.

Irish-American stories about a lost part of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, that existed around 17th Street and 9th Avenue before Robert Moses drove the Prospect Expressway through the very heart of it in 1953, and divided it forever.

FARRELL’S BAR
215 Prospect Park West
Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. 11215

Sunday, April 13th. 2 P.M. to 2:45.

Admission is free.

If you can’t make it, don’t worry, like Pat told me, “just pour a pint and pretend you are back in Farrell’s for the reading.”

Yo Pat, Break a Leg brother!

OUT IN THE STREETS

IMG_1585I miss the days of hanging out in the boys schoolyard at Holy Name playing basketball with all my friends and kids I didn’t know, but after a few games of three-on-three, we became life-long buddies. ..Thanks for the competition.

Hey Cubie, make us laugh; you were the best at it. Remember the time when the malted spilled on a certain someone during the summer league? Or how about Danny’s dog whistle?

I see you Timmy Kemp jumping so high through the air that you were talking to the lord.

Forte Bellino, can I get a ride with you down to St. Francis? Miss your conversations. Say hi to “Fonz” for me.

Curtis Walker with your afro and pick dug in the back taking the ball to the rack and scoring in traffic. No one could stop you.

I miss guys like Sean Riley who was one of the toughest SOB’s I hung out with; despite being a tough guy, he had the biggest heart in the neighborhood…Thanks for your protection and your friendship.

I miss the “older” guys who hung out in Farrell’s. They hit you with their wisdom and wit…Thanks for showing the way.

Yo, Hooley, gimme a container to go! What? I’m not 21? So what…

Ok, I’ll go to the bodega on 8th avenue and 15th street for a six-pack. Take it to the park and get drunk.

I miss my basketball coaches at Holy Name…Thanks for teaching me the game and that it’s OK to have passion for something.

CYO – riding the trains to away games. OLPH, OLA, Regina Pacis, St. Finbar…

Danny, thanks for making me develop a left-hand in the fourth grade; I took that lesson and taught my daughter to shoot left handed lay-ups. I didn’t see many kids on her team shooting them left-handed.

I miss the teachers at Holy Name. You taught me my A,B,C’s…Thanks for always being there. I DON’T miss anyone at the school who hit me with the wooden paddle.

Yo Brother Thomas, wish I could sit down and listen to some of your stories.

Imagine if I moved to Greenwood Lake to live with my cousins? Don’t laugh, I actually wanted to at one point in my childhood.

Father Shine, why did you always throw me out of the boys schoolyard late at night? It sucked being at home, the yard was my refuge. When I was there it felt like I was in Madison Square Garden.

Andy Purdy, how about those late nights after the CBS west coast game on TV heading down to PS 154′s and playing ball until 3 AM? No one ever threw us out.

Yo G, let’s hang out down in your basement and listen to records.

I had so much fun in the third grade playing for Georgie Rauthier; he was the best coach any boy could have.

Joe Lee, forget the Yankee games, how about shooting in the yard at 8AM on Saturday mornings?

To all my buddies who rushed the gate with me at 15th street.

Mr. Liquor Store man; I was 16 when you were selling me Wild Irish Rose.

Farrell’s football on Sunday mornings down Farragut Road. Duffer, thanks for the numerous rides to and from.

Officer Doyle, thanks for trying to set us straight. Now can you pay me back for pouring out my beer.

Mrs. Deere, sorry I cursed at you when you yelled at me for crossing the avenue…the light was red. You raised three great kids in Richie, Mickey and Eileen. They were always nice to me.

Tommy Houk, loved playing whiffle ball with you on Howard Place.

Yo Charlie Alberti, how often did you work out? You were great at baseball and basketball. Bet you would have made a great football player too.

Jamie and Timmy Rooney, think we need to choose up a game of stickball. Do kids still do that?

Mary Kay, how about “the last dance?” If not, I’ll take a game of ‘Around the World’ in the yard.

Bobby and Gerard Trapp, I don’t have a ball, can I walk down your steps and use one? I see about six or seven of them. I promise to return it.

Mom I’ll go to the store but please don’t make me use the food stamps.

Dad, oh shit, the bum’s not here. Mom, where is he?

Playing ball down at East 5th with Jackie and Billy Ryan.  Can’t forget my guys Turk, Randy and Guido.

Hey Joe, can I pay you tomorrow for a slice and a coke?

Wanna go to Bonali’s and get a slush?

Gerry Coles, you wanna race? Better yet, let’s have a 100 yard dash on ninth avenue; you vs Charlie Kawas.

Joey Corrar, who you like tonight in the NCAA tournament? “Keep an eye on Valvano…”

Let’s go down to fifth avenue, I wanna buy some records. Forte, I’ll be sure to pick up a racing form for you.

Oh shit, there she goes again, I gotta ask her out. She’ll probably say no.

Let’s go to Lenny’s for a slice. “I can go for a slice, you got wheels?”

Hey Laura Cox, it’s raining, let’s go hang out in your apartment.

Who wants to go over to the city?

Bishop Ford.

Why did we waste all those eggs on Halloween?

Mustaseed in Bay Ridge…I was 17, the lady I danced with was in her 30′s.

You need your sidewalk shoveled?

I forgot to do my homework. Shit, the bell rang, I’m late for school again.

Track practice at 3:30. We have to meet at the 10th avenue entrance of the park.

Sister Joan, hope all is well.

Midwood field, track meet. Edward R. Murrow right across the street.

Mr. Mussa, miss your enthusiasm.

John Jay, not once, not twice, but three times a student!

The Grady Special, Coney Island Avenue.

Miss Monzillo, you were always a great sight in the morning.

When it rained, we had so many leaks in our ceiling. Mom put pots on the floor and when they filled we had to dump them in the tub.

L’Mour with George Brossard…I was 17.

Breakin’ night.

Basketball Digest.

I’ll see you in the NBA.

I hate mom’s new boyfriend.

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com

IN MY TIME OF DYING

Go ahead, say it, when you read the title of this entry you think of the Led Zeppelin song, right?

“OH MY JESUS, OH MY JESUS, OH MY JESUS!”

I feel like I’m going to die right now.

They have me surrounded. There’s no escape. I’m fast and all but there’s no way out.

There’s about five or six of them.

They’re all bigger than me. I’m 15, they look about 17, maybe 18?

I don’t have a chance.

FUCK!

All I’m doing is walking through the park over by Hippie Hill looking for a spot to crash.  I decided to hit the grass and rest. A few cars are out on Prospect Park South West. I see the 68 bus pulling out on it’s way down Coney Island Avenue.

Sitting down on the grass is a big mistake!

Mom threw me out of the house a few hours ago.  She’s always on my case.

Take the garbage out.

Make your bed.

Brush your teeth.

Eat your dinner.

Get off the phone.

Blah, Blah, Blah…

It’s a school-night, a little before midnight. All my friends have gone home. I have nowhere to go. I was thinking of going over to the boys schoolyard but I’m drunk and have a hard time walking. I also smoked a few joints tonight, so I’m in no shape to go anywhere.

Think I’ll rest my weary bones right here but I’m fucked.

“Give us your money,” one of them says.

I stand still, frozen, staring at him.

“You heard ‘em, cough up your dough, bro!” another says.

“I ain’t got no money,” I reply.

It’s not what they wanna hear.

One kid steps to me and punches me in the face, I go down and hit the ground.

I wish my friends were here right now.

Why can’t Officer Doyle roll up now like he always does when we’re drinking a can of beer out of a brown paper bag.

No one ever said, “Stay out of the park at night,” Why should they? Prospect Park was safe at night. No one fucked with you, especially if you were with your friends. But now I’m alone.

I get up to my knees, I can feel blood dripping down my face.

Looking up another kid walks towards me and looks down at me.

“Give us your money and we’ll leave you alone!”

“I told you, I don’t have any, I’m broke.”

Now it’s his turn as he kicks me in the chest, I fall backwards.

All I can hear is these guys laughing.

“Check his pockets!”

“Yeah, empty this punk’s pockets and get his money!”

I’m on my back looking up and all I see is the dark sky and some stars.

One kid starts to slide his hand in my pocket. I don’t put up a fight. I figure if he goes through them, and finds nothing, he’ll leave me alone.

“This chump is broke!”

“Told ya,” I say as I’m trying to get up. Bad move. The kid pushes me back.

“Let’s kick his ass,” one kid cries out.

All I can hear are voices. I have no idea who’s who.

They begin to take turns punching and kicking me. One time I watched ‘West Side Story’ and now I feel like I’m part of the cast; getting jumped.

A sneaker in my rib cage, a fist on my head, a punch in the face; holy shit,  I’m getting my ass kicked and there’s nothing I can do about it.  I remember someone once said if you ever get jumped by a bunch of kids just roll up into a ball and cover your head.

I try that, it doesn’t seem to work. I wish they would leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to them.

After a ton of blows from these guys they finally stop. I’m on the grass almost certain I’m about to die. I can’t feel any part of my body. I see them walking away and can hear them laughing. At least I’m not blind and can still hear.  They walk towards the road in the park and pass the horse corral.  I can barely make out what they look like. I have no idea where they come from or where they’re going.

In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home

Well, well, well, so I can die easy…

Jesus, gonna make up my dyin’ bed.
Meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air
If my wings should fail me, Lord. Please meet me with another pair

THE WIND BEGAN TO HOWL

“Frustration leads to anger.  Anger to violence. Don’t get frustrated.”

-Dave Kindred

Saturday morning in February.

It’s so cold in our apartment.

IMG_0927

I have two blankets covering me, a sweatshirt and a pair of white long johns. I’m wearing a pair of white tube socks.

Glancing over at my digital clock on the table it says 4:35.

Thank God I can still sleep some more. But how can I sleep? Mom is having another fight with her boyfriend.

They are out in the living room, screaming at each other.

My sister who is nine, slept over my cousin’s house last night so she’s safe.

My older brother who’s 17 is not home. I know this because we have bunk beds and he sleeps on the top.

I’m not only cold, I’m scared.

Mom’s boyfriend is mean. He’s vicious and strong too. His temper is out of control.

What makes it worse is when he’s drunk, like he is now, he’s twice as bad.

This is becoming the norm on Saturday mornings.

It’s hard to understand what they are yelling about. Their speech is slurred.

The shouting match goes on for what seems like an hour. But finally they are quiet. Too quiet if you ask me. I decide to get up from the bed, I’m not scared of him. I’ll pick up my Louisville slugger which sits close by and smack him across the fuckin’ head.

I look out of my room towards the living room. I see mom on the couch and her boyfriend on the living room floor.

Looks like they both passed out.

How can they go from screaming at each other to sleeping?

It’s still dark outside. In the past I have run out of the apartment to the schoolyard to get away from all the bullshit.

But I think I’m going to stick this one out.

I make my way closer to where they are sleeping.

Looking at my mom she has her mouth open a little bit and she still has her clothes on. The boyfriend is on his stomach, sprawled out on the carpet. I can smell booze and cigarettes. I’m sure they were in Timboo’s all night.

I don’t think he has hit her though, usually when he does she screams really loud.

One time he hit her so hard he gave her a black-eye. Our landlord downstairs called the police and Doyle came by and placed the cuffs on him and took him away. I stuck my head out the window and saw him ushered into the back seat of the patrol car. Before he got in he looked up at me and smiled.

I gave him the finger.

Figuring that would be the last we saw of him, to my surprise he was back two days later. Mom never pressed charges.

Standing over them in the living room I feel like Mills Lane, the boxing ref standing over two boxers who knocked each other out.

But there’s no one around pleading for them to get up. I’m not counting to ten either. I don’t want them to get up. I hope he never gets up. As for mom, she can sleep as long as she wants.

A HILLTOP LOUNGE NEW YEAR’S IN WINDSOR TERRACE…

By Pat Fenton

Pat Fenton in bat

This New Year’s Eve night as the old year winds down, I’m talking to an old friend from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn who I grew up with, Bob Rice….

Like all of humanity, we replay our lives on this eve of the changing year. We’re young again for the short hours between the old year and the new year, and the Scotch and the beer.

“Imagine being able to walk back into the Hilltop Lounge on 18th Street on New Years Eve again, Pat,“ he says. And I do imagine it:

And I’m 18 again for this New Years Eve night.

Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn in the early 50’s was a neighborhood of bars on every corner.  Holy Name Church, Pete Smith’s Funeral Home and the Sanders Theater on 15th Street.  On one side of 17th Street and 9th Avenue where I came from, there was the Shamrock Bar and on the other corner there was McNulty’s. Over on Prospect Avenue and 8th there was Val’s Bar, and a block away, Boops’s bar, where a young, undiscovered Pete Hamill drank. And over on 16th Street there was Farrell’s Bar. Up in the Hilltop on New Year’s Eve, we would be slow dancing with pretty women to Lee Andrews and the Hearts singing, “Long Lonely Nights.”

Man, the place is jumping tonight. All you can here is the ching, ching, ching sound of this bowling alley game as you walk in. You slide a metal puck down at the plastic cut out pins, and as they fly up the game starts to flash scores as it makes this ching, ching, ching sound. There’s Jacky Malone doing the Cha-cha with Tony the Rigger’s girlfriend, Eileen. All the red plastic-covered booths that surround the small dance floor in the back room are full. Everyone is drinking pitchers of Rheingold beer, smoking cigarettes and talking.

Here comes Jenny and her sister Rosy too in the front door. She’s a good-looking woman, Jenny. Jenny’s husband has been in jail for at least three years now, so she walks around the corner from 18th Street where they live just to get out for a while. Nothing wrong with that. It’s the 50s, probably one of the last times that there will be such a large group of white guys in jail, and nobody really knows why.

Man, you can hardly move in here tonight. They’re lined up three deep at the bar. The guy who is pouring drinks tonight is this older guy, Phil. He looks just like that actor Cesar Romero. Everyone kids him about that. He’s grinning ear to ear, loves a big crowd like this. They’ll be plenty of tips tonight, he’s thinking. He just hopes that there aren’t any fights. Last week someone threw a chair through the front window. It ruined the whole night for Phil.

Phil grabs a handful of house red quarters with red nail polish on them from a jar, and hands them over to someone who is standing near the jukebox.

“Hey play Louie Prima and Keely Smith.  Play, “I’m just a Gigolo,” Phil yells out as he starts to sing and shake his hips back and forth.

“I’m just a Gigolo and every where I go people know the part I play… Oh, I ain’t got nobody…..”

He bangs on the bar with his hand as he sings. Everybody is laughing now. Man, the place is jumping tonight. Happy New Year, Bob, we’re home again.

And a most happy New Year to all my actor and writer friends, and to all the rest of you who mean so much to me.

A CHRISTMAS STORY OF WINDSOR TERRACE

By Pat Fenton

The snow came hard that winter. It covered 17th Street and all of the rest of Windsor Terrace in a thick, blanket of white. Strings of stark, clear light bulbs hung over rows of Christmas trees in front of Mitchy’s Fruit Stand on Prospect Park West, and over on the corner of Prospect Avenue you could see the outline of the red bricked, Holy Name Church through the swirl of the snow.

It was the winter of 1961 and Billy Coffey was thinking of leaving the neighborhood. He was too young to understand what he would be leaving behind. He was 19 years old now and the 50′s were gone. And with them soon would go places he would never ever see again, places like the Royal Tailors on 5th Avenue where he was measured for his first pair of peg pants, the Shoe Box over on 19th Street, Bill and John’s Bar off the corner of 18th Street, Jack the Wonder Dairy’s grocery store on 17th Street, places like the Globe Theater on 15th Street, and the 16th Street Theater just off of 5th Avenue, and the Venus down on Prospect Avenue, and the Sanders on Bartell Pritchard Square, where he first saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as a kid on a “standing room only “Sunday afternoon.

It was in that long ago time in America when they actually had standing room only in movie houses, and people would announce “this is where we came in”, because, like dreams, the movies went on and on, and on. And it only cost a quarter.

Now, in bars like McNulty’s on the corner of 9th Avenue and 17th Street, men would stare down at the front page of the New York Daily News and read headlines of a wall being built by the Communists between East and West Germany, and news that Russia had built missile launching pads in nearby Cuba, and the headlines said that they were pointed at the United States.

The “Cold War” was becoming something more real now, and you could sense that change was coming to the culture of America. Where once there were empty lots all over Brooklyn where kids ran free as if they were in a rye field somewhere in the country, every square foot of the borough was being built on. And you couldn’t go to Coney Island anymore, too dangerous people said. Men were moving their families out to places like Levittown on Long Island, hoping to hang on just a little longer to the innocence of the fifties that they once knew in Brooklyn.

In early evening, just before the sunset started, he would sometimes go out the back door of the railroad room flat that he lived in at 483 17th Street, and climb up this ladder in the hallway that led to a hatch way. He would push it open and stand on the roof as he looked down toward the magnificent sky over the Brooklyn waterfront.

They called his neighborhood “The Hill” because it was located on the highest point of Brooklyn. You could see the Statute of Liberty from here. Just as the sun went down you could see the bright flicker of its torch and the weathered green of its copper robes. It was so close.

Some evenings he would watch in amazement as a giant cruise ship sliced passed it through the dark green of the water as it headed for the Verrazano Narrows, and far out to sea somewhere. And as he watched it go by he would slide a can of Rheingold Beer out of his jacket and punch a hole in with a can opener, and he would daydream about leaving here.

Maybe in the morning he would go down to Livingston Street to the Draft Board and push up his draft for the Army. He could be gone in a week.

That’s what he was going to do.

Some afternoons he would play this record called, “Far Away Places,” over and over again.

“Those far away places with strange sounding names keep calling, calling to me . . . They call me a dreamer, well maybe I am…”

He had this feeling that he wanted to pack up and leave, to travel, to see places that were far away from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. It was such a strong feeling that it scared him sometimes, but he knew that he just had to go.

When he came down from the roof he opened up a pint of Southern Comfort that he had been saving, and he poured some of it into a shot glass. It had a sweet sort of a taste to it that made it go down easy. Too easy. Maybe he would ask them to send him to France or even Germany, he thought. Then he reached over and started playing this song by Tommy Edwards on his record player, “It’s All in the Game.”

“Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game. All in the wonderful game that we know as love…”

The song made him think about Janice Joyce. She was three years older than him, and he loved being around her. She had this dark, black hair and a face so beautiful she could have been a movie star. She used to drive around in this old 1954 Ford Customline with holes punched into the exhaust pipe so the car would make a lot of noise.

There were so many guys in his neighborhood that wanted to be with her, it always amazed him that she would come looking for him up in the old Irish bars of Prospect Park West. He would see her come up to the doorway of McNulty’s saloon wearing this suede jacket with tassels on the sleeves, and she would wave to him to come out, and he would. He would quickly slide his money off of the bar and go off with her.

Since she had so many boy friends, he never understood their relationship, but he didn’t question it either. She would ask him what songs he liked and when he would tell her she would tape them off of the radio for him. One of them was Johnny Cash’s “I guess Things Happen That way,” and Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only make Believe.” Sometimes he would tell her how much he liked it when she wore her hair in an up sweep and the next time he would see her she would tell him she was wearing it that way for him because she knew he liked it.

The closest he ever came to making love to her was one Christmas weekend that the two of them were drinking a pitcher of tap beer in a back booth in Val’s Bar on 10th Avenue and Prospect. They slow danced to the sound of Tommy Edwards singing “It’s All in the Game” from the Wurlitzer Juke box in a corner of the bar, and afterwards she asked him to take her up to the top of Lookout Mountain in Prospect Park.

The two of them walked up the long rows of steps in the darkness of Prospect Park to the top of the mountain where you could see all of Brooklyn lit up in the Christmas night, and Billy reached over and started to kiss her. She pulled him close as he wrapped the hood of her parka around her to keep her face warm. It was such a clear winter night filled with stars, and Billy felt so lucky to be gently holding her face in his hands and staring at her.

As he drank the whiskey, he played the Tommy Edwards song over and over again. A little while later, he stumbled out of the building and made his way down to Helen’s Candy Store on 8th Avenue. He nodded to a few young members of a local street gang called The Jokers. He was about a year older than most of them, but he felt much older than that.

They sat lined up along the soda counter, some talking, some like Bengie just day dreaming as he stared out the front window. Along the wall was a comic book rack with rows and rows of comics like Archie, Daredevil and the Little Wiseguys, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, last vestiges of the innocence of the 50′s.

All of them were slowly killing themselves by staying in Windsor Terrace, he thought. All of them were facing a life time of Irish working-class jobs in the factory row that lined the nearby Bay Ridge waterfront in a place called, “Industry City.” That’s where many of their relatives worked. That’s where they were headed. Or they could wind up in one of the local factories like National Metal Art on 19th Street where Billy wound up after he dropped out of Manual Training High School in South Brooklyn, eight hours a day of stepping on the pedal of a riveting machine as it slammed a rivet into the hinge of a bathroom hamper. And in the end the boredom and helplessness of it all would lead them to escape somewhere else with drinking in the Saturday night bars of 9th Avenue.

He leaned over the juke box as he punched in Gene Vincent’s,” Be -Bop- A- LuLa.” And then he walked out the door of the candy store and tried to get his balance as he hung onto the side of a car. A group of the Jokers came out of Helen’s candy store and threw his arms over their shoulders and walked him home.

The snow fell softly on them as they made their way up 17th Street. Across the street in Lenahan’s Bar, you could hear muffled laughter and men singing Christmas carols. In his head he kept hearing the words of the song, ”Those far Away Places,” and it saddened him, but he knew that he could never stay here. He knew that he might never see Janice Joyce again. And he was right.

“Those far away places with strange sounding names keep calling, calling to me.”

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

It’s a little after six on a cold Friday night in late November. I am sitting alone on the wall made of stone which surrounds Prospect Park. I sit patiently, no make that, I sit anxiously waiting for my friends to arrive. I’m usually the first to show up. After supper I rush out of my apartment and head over to the spot everyone calls “The Parkside.” I rest my feet on the back of the park bench in front of me.

park bench

Looking across the street at the tall apartment building we call “Lefrak,” I see people waiting for the B68 bus that begins its route down Prospect Park Southwest to Coney Island Avenue.  They are standing in the doorway trying to stay out of the cold.

As a young boy I can remember getting on that exact same bus with my mother and we would go to Brighton Beach. The trip seemed to take forever. Out in front of the Lefrak was the first bus stop, we always got seats in the back of the bus.

Some of my friends who attend Grady High School down in Coney Island take the “Grady Special” every morning from that same exact spot. One morning when I cut class I jumped on board with them and went for the ride. As they went to school I got on the B68 and came back alone.

The temperature is dropping with each passing hour but I don’t care. I have a pair of black gloves on, a green parka, two sweatshirts, a hat and long john’s. I can feel the chill of the cold stone on my ass.  The boots on my feet keep me warm along with two pairs tube socks. I love wearing two pairs of socks, it’s extra cushion for my bony feet.

I’m fourteen years old, some of my friends are the same age, some are fifteen and a few are sixteen. We started hanging out here on the wall back in August. We played stickball in the empty parking lot right by the tombs; so one Sunday afternoon after we played a couple of games we rested on the wall outside the park. Down on tenth avenue the older guys from the neighborhood hang out on the park benches. The “tenth avenue” entrance of the park as they call it. Whenever we had track practice or baseball practice for Holy Name this was the spot we met our coach.   I had walked by a few times at night and would see close to a hundred people hanging out drinking, listening to music and having a good time. I knew most of them by face, some by name, some I would see playing basketball in the boys schoolyard on Saturday mornings.

As for our spot on the parkside, it was cool. We’d bullshit all night with each other, check out all the people walking by, the cars and of course the busses. We would play five-card poker right on the sidewalk. I think we wanted to be like the older guys and gals down on tenth avenue. Across the street waiting at the red light is a small group of my female friends. There’s Karen,, Mary, Laura C., and the two Maureen’s, H. and D.

“What’s up Fin?” Mary asked.

“Nothing much, how you doin’?”

“Things are good,” she answers as she sucks on a lollipop she bought from Tokyo Joe’s Candy Store and smiles.  When Mary opened her mouth, she had the prettiest teeth and her tongue was blue from the lollipop.

The girls hopped up on the wall and took a seat next to me.

“How’s school?” Mary asked.

“It’s OK,” I answer as I quickly change the subject.

Little did my friends know, despite hanging out every night, I stopped going to school.

Pretty soon the rest of our crew shows up. One by one, in groups of two’s and three’s. They come from all over the neighborhood. Seeley Street, Windsor Place, Sherman Street, 16th Street, Howard Place, and Terrace Place.

We had a large group of boys and girls combined but I never took the time to count how many we actually had.  Some weekends you’d see a strange face show up to hang out.  Some would stay with us for the long haul, some would never show up again. There were some nights it was just maybe three or four of us hanging out. I guess some couldn’t come out because maybe they had homework or something. Maybe they were punished and weren’t allowed out?

Most of us became friends at Holy Name grammar school over on ninth avenue. Some had gone to school with me since first grade. There were a few guys that went to I.S. 88′s, P.S. 154′s and we had one kid from P.S. 10′s.   When we graduated from Holy Name it was time to go our separate ways for high school. I went to Power Memorial, some guys went to Grady, Bishop Ford, John Jay, OLPH, Xaverian, LaSalle Academy and one went to Bishop Loughlin.

We didn’t have a name for the group like the “Huns” a group of older guys and girls from the neighborhood.  Someone had come up with “The Young Sabres” but that didn’t last too long.

My guys are Jimmy, Speed, Sean, Mickey, Johnny G., Jose, John, and Kevin. We argued often and sometimes fought with each other, but overall, we were great friends.

“Who wants to get a six-pack?” someone shouted.

We all jumped up off the wall and were eager to chip in. Some nights I had money, other nights I was broke.

A few people were assigned to go and pick up the brewskies. Jogging across and dodging cars on the avenue, they made their way across the circle and down 15th street to the Bodega on 8th avenue. There were a few different spots around the neighborhood that never bothered to check I.D. – and if they did, we just waited outside for someone old enough to come along and purchase the beer for us.

It wasn’t long before they were back carrying brown paper bags wrapped up, and tucked under their arms. When you bought beer and wrapped it up in a brown paper bag you smuggled it because you didn’t want anyone to see it.

This was our cue to get off the wall and head into the Park.  We looked like an Army marching into enemy territory.

My guy D. from 16th street carries a huge boombox blasting “Sympathy for the Devil,” by the Rolling Stones. When we hang out, we always listen to music and D. is the guy who provides the tunes.  As we walked some of us sang along with Mick Jagger.

“Please allow me to introduce myself,  I’m a man of wealth and taste.  I’ve been around for a long, long year stole many a mans soul and faith.  And I was round when jesus christ, had his moment of doubt and pain…”

As we enter the park, Hippie Hill is on the right. Back in the day many of the neighborhood teens hung out here.  We walk the path that leads us to the road in the park. No worries about the cars because you’re not allowed to drive in the park after six at night.  We cut through the horse corral as we walk deeper into the park. Passing the baseball diamonds I flash back to the 6th grade when we played St. Saviour and Gordy struck me out three times. We make our way over to the bleachers. There were two sets of bleachers where the families and friends of baseball players would sit and watch the game.  But at night we took over. It was our “hideout.”

The cans of Budweiser were handed out and we began to drink.

We paired up, we stood in groups, some sat down on the cold concrete.

Here we were, the teenagers of America, the future…hanging out drinking beer and getting drunk.

The cops from the 7-2 were nowhere to be found; they left us alone. We were too deep in the park for anyone to see us.

The Quaker cemetery was back behind us about 100 yards away. There were rumors that Devil Worshippers hung out at night and would sacrifice goats and chickens using some crazy voodoo shit.  Kids around the neighborhood said that they had seen weird-looking people with pink hair and a lot of black make-up chanting crazy shit as they worshipped the Devil.  One night while we were wasted we made a trip to see them and actually the rumor was true. We saw a bunch of live bodies about a hundred yards in front of a big fire, I felt like Charlton Heston in the Omega Man.  We harassed them from outside the high silver fence and they scattered. We wanted to climb over the fence but there was way too much barbed wire on top.

Respectfully,

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com

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

NO MEANS NO…

During the winter of 1976 the YMCA down on ninth street between fifth and sixth avenues conducted a youth basketball clinic.

“Red, you signing up for the YBA tonight?” Jimmy Cullen asked me, as we sat on his stoop at 175 Windsor Place.

“Yeah, what time you going?”

“I’ll meet you on the corner at six,” he answered.

Young boy shooting in yard

The corner was Windsor and Ninth, right outside Red’s Shoe store. It was our usual meeting spot.

We had been talking about the YBA for a few days.  They even had a commercial about it.  When I asked my mother if I could go she said no.

“How much does it cost?” was her first question.

“Ten dollars.”

“No, you can’t go,” she replied.

I was crushed.

For the next couple of nights I actually got down on my knees in front of my bed and prayed. I even thought of going to the church and lighting a candle.  When I passed the Jesus Christ statue on the cross outside the church, I stopped, blessed myself and whispered to Jesus.

“Please, tell my mother to let me go to the YBA.  I will be good, I Swear to God.”

Uh-Oh!

Why did I say, “Swear?”

Now I was doomed! I had no shot…

After dinner, right at six o’clock I peeked out my bedroom window facing the avenue and saw Jimmy standing on the corner with a couple of other kids from the neighborhood.  They were waiting on me I’m sure.

I sat on my bed, dying inside.

Mom was in the kitchen washing dishes, I asked her again.  No make that, I pleaded with her. I felt like getting down on my hands and knees and begging.

“Can I please go to the Y?” I asked one final time.

“No, and that’s the last time I tell you, so stop asking me.”

Tears dripped out of my eyes as I turned and walked out of the kitchen, through our railroad apartment and back into my bedroom.  The tears rolled down my cheeks and my eye lashes were soaked.

At 6:10 I looked out the window again, this time my friends were gone.

When you and your friends set a time to meet, you usually waited five or ten minutes for someone and if they didn’t show, you left.

Grabbing my basketball, I left the apartment crying and walked to the boys schoolyard on Howard Place.

Instead of playing ball with my friends at the YMCA that night, I spent the next couple of hours alone, in the schoolyard shooting hundreds of shots.

Respectfully,

Red

Hoops135@hotmail.com