Thanks to JFH for this essay on her days growing up in the neighborhood.
Lately, nostalgia has been calling my name and I often find myself surfing the net for any information about my old neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn.
You can imagine my surprise when one day I keyed in Brooklyn and the 50s and the name of the Jokers, which was the gang from my old neighborhood, appeared on several websites. I excitedly opened one of the sites and couldn’t believe my eyes. Several photos of the gang members from the Slope, in which Park Slope, Brooklyn was known at the time, were posted. These pictures were taken by a professional photographer, Bruce Davidson, who had hooked up with a social service agency working with juvenile delinquents of the 50’s, and the Jokers in particular. It’s hard for me to describe the feeling of euphoria I encountered upon seeing these photos. To say I was elated would be an understatement. Memories of my youth bubbled to the surface.
These gang members, who used to fight the Puerto Ricans or anyone else invading their territory, as most sections of Brooklyn were partitioned off according to turf, hung out at the candy store around the corner from the tenement where I had lived. The photos displayed many of the gang members who were familiar to me: There’s Joey Douglas who always got in trouble. There’s Michael Galvin, my girlfriend’s brother. There’s Cagi with whom I had a crush on as a 12-year-old. There’s Tony, the only Italian in an Irish neighborhood. I wallowed in the surroundings of my youth depicted in these pictures: Pictures of Prospect Park. Pictures of Holy Name of Jesus. Pictures of Coney Island. Pictures of a ride that used to come around and I could swear my older brother and sister were on it. Pictures of the candy store where Helen, the proprietor, used to make the most delicious chocolate egg creams.
As 12-year-olds, my friends and I would call the Jokers at this same candy story pretending we were older in order to talk and make dates. We would arrange to meet them at the bus stop and when the day arrived we would be sitting on our tenement stoop watching them waiting for the bus and making fools of themselves. Each time a bus came they would kick it when their so-called dates did not appear. Of course, they did not notice the 12-year-olds sitting next door.
Other memories of the old neighborhood began to emerge. When I was much younger. I would put on my bathing suit and walk around the corner in my bare feet successfully avoiding broken glass or any other obstacles that might appear on the pavement to cool off under the Johnny pump. This is what a fire hydrant in Brooklyn was called. Cannonball, a member of the senior Jokers, would open the Johnny pump in the sweltering heat to the delight of all the little kids in the neighborhood. His wife was the exact image of Bridget Bardot.
The claim has been made that there are “six degrees of separation” between each person. I truly believe this finding. After I excitedly told my dear friend about my discovery on the internet, she nonchalantly stated that she has these photos in a book given to her as a present. The book is called the Brooklyn Gang: Summer 1959. In my mind, the chances of this happening, especially because of our dissimilar backgrounds, were nil.
I guess you can also call this Karma.