As a young boy attending Holy Name of Jesus Grammar School, I hated Monday’s.
It always seemed like the night before I could never fall asleep. Watching TV, hanging out on the corner, the schoolyard…I just didn’t have the urge to hit the hay.
I’d get about four hours sleep so when it was time to get up for school, oh boy!
Mom would yell and scream at me to get up out of that bed as I heard the school-bell ringing across the street.
Most mornings I skipped breakfast because I was running late.
Some mornings she would pass me an English Muffin as I walked out the door, half asleep.
Hate to say it but I’m sure there were mornings where I forgot to brush my teeth too. I know, that’s gross. I probably ignored my hair too.
I bet if we looked back I was not only tardy more than any other student at Holy Name but Monday’s, well, I bet I was late every Monday for the eight years.
Now, my mantra is, “Don’t Be on Time, Be Early!”
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)
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.
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.”
When I woke up Sunday morning I reached for my cell phone on the night table and saw that I had a missed call from my sister Sharon and a text that read, “Call me.”
What the fuck? I thought to myself.
When you get shit like this at 7:55 on a Sunday morning, you know it’s not good. Especially if the person texting you is 800 miles away.
Soon as I called my sister back, she informed me that our first cousin, Lenny Melfi died Saturday night. He was 47.
It’s a day later while I write this blog entry and my heart is shattered into tiny pieces. This may be the hardest piece I have had to write since I started the blog six years ago.
As young kids back in the 70’s, Lenny and I spent a lot of time together. I had him by two years but that didn’t matter; we had a lot in common. Plus Lenny was always much more mature for his age. I, on the other hand was immature for my age.
Back in the day the Melfi’s lived on thirteenth street and fourth avenue but decided to take their talents to Greenwood Lake. They left the concrete jungle for fresh air, trees and a lot of green grass. The only memory I have of their house on thirteenth street is on New Year’s Eve night we were banging pots and pans out on the sidewalk to ring in the new year.
Every summer my mother, the late Carol Corbett would take us up to the Lake by bus where we would spend a few weeks with Lenny, and his siblings Corbett, Michael, Dori, Ellie and their mom Eleanor.
We didn’t own a car so we had to take two trains from Brooklyn over to Port Authority and board a bus for the trip from hell. It always seemed like we were on that fucking bus all night long. It would still be light out when we got on at forty-second street and eight avenue. I recall how dirty Port Authority was with all the hookers and bums hanging out all over the place. It was a human wasteland.
One Friday night before we got on the bus mom fed us dinner at Nedick’s. I ordered a hot dog and soda. As we were going through the Lincoln tunnel and entering New Jersey I threw up all over the seat next to me. I loved how we started in Brooklyn, went into Manhattan, got on the bus, went through Jersey and ended up back in New York. Like I said, the trip from hell.
Lenny’s mom, my sweet Aunt Eleanor was the best. When we would arrive in town later that night “Aunt Ellie” was always there in front of the Night Owl waiting for us to take us to her house.
I loved being with this family so much. Corbett and Michael were like big brothers to me. I was with Michael the first time I bought a 45 record. Corbett always looked out for me and Dori, she was the funniest person I had ever met. She always made me laugh and I can never forget hanging out at the Night Owl for the first time with a bar filled with locals; but I remember her the most from that night because she had everyone in stitches. Ellie, Lenny’s younger sister was an outstanding high school basketball player. I loved watching her play point guard for Tuxedo high school.
There were days in the summer where I wanted to leave Brooklyn for good and move in with them, that’s how much I enjoyed being in Greenwood Lake. Mom would threaten to send me up there to live but she never went through with it.
Lenny and I would play whiffle ball together out in their backyard. We would walk the few miles into town together (we’d try to hitchhike but no one would pick us up) and go on an “adventure” in the woods. The frog pond was another frequent stop on our journey through the woods. We once got lost and the Sheriff had to bring us back home. I don’t think anyone missed us. I always thought a bear would come out from behind a tree and attack us.
“Any bears in the woods?” I asked.
“No, there’s no bears out here,” Lenny assured me.
“What about snakes?” I asked.
“Snakes for sure,” he said.
I was scared of snakes too.
We would go swimming in their “built-in” pool. Actually I wouldn’t swim, I didn’t know how, I’d stay in the shallow part.
At night we would go watch Michael and Corbett play softball for the Greenwood Lake Elks. I always thought it was cool that they were playing a softball game under the lights complete with umpires, PA announcer and a concession stand. It seemed like the entire town was in the stands watching the game. Afterwards we would drive back to the house in the back of Red Lotito’s pick-up truck and have pizza and ice cream.
Mom would also take us up to the Lake for Thanksgiving dinner where we would put on a play for all the adults at night. I loved performing ‘Good Times’ where Lenny always played J.J. (Jimmy Walker).
As we got older Lenny and I kept in contact via Facebook. We would direct message each other and we would exchange posts on each other’s walls. I last saw him in person in 2005 when I was coaching basketball at Saint Peter’s College.
I wish I could pick up the phone right now and call him.
The one story that I will never forget is when I was in my late teens and I ran away from home. Maybe I shouldn’t tell this story and keep it inside me but I really feel you the reader should know. I’m not sure if Lenny ever told anyone, but here goes.
One Saturday morning I got on the bus at Port Authority and went up to Greenwood Lake. I needed to get away. I knew the Melfi’s would help me. I was in some serious trouble. Both Lenny and Corbett invited me down to Florida to get away from all the bullshit going on in my life. Running away from your problems as a teen, yeah right, I was going to lick them for sure.
One afternoon on a hot, sunny day we decided to come home after spending a few days in the sunshine. With my pasty white, Irish skin, I was burnt to a crisp. We had run out of money and I think we had worn out our welcome. Without a ride to the airport, and empty pockets, we followed the train tracks that would lead us to the airport. The clerk in the local gas station told us, “Follow them tracks…”
To this day I still don’t believe what happened. I’m actually surprised to be here today telling the story.
First of all, what were we thinking trying to walk thirty miles to the airport?
“Gonna take ya a while,” the guy said.
So what, we had all the time in the world, we were in no rush to get home.
We each had one bag of clothes. Mine was heavy as shit, I kept switching shoulders. Lenny had a bum ankle sustained in a fight with his brother the night before. He was limping the entire way. As he slowly faded behind me, I kept saying, “Come on, we’re almost there.”
Lenny must have been thinking, “No fucking way we’re close!”
He was probably right because if we were close we’d see a few planes taking off and landing. We couldn’t hear or see shit.
The one thing about Lenny, he was tough. With his bum ankle, he never sat down to rest. He kept on moving forward.
All of a sudden as we were walking I noticed someone up ahead about fifty yards up in front of us. He was just standing there looking at us. As we got closer I slowed down; enough for Lenny to catch up. As we stood about ten yards away I noticed the guy was shirtless, blue cut-off jeans and black M.C. Boots. He had dark hair which looked like he didn’t own a brush and a thick, bushy black mustache. First off, don’t laugh, cut-off jeans for guys were popular back in the day.
This guy looked nuts. Almost like he escaped from jail. I mean this guy was fucked up.
As we came to a stop to ask how much longer to the airport, I noticed the guy bend down and reach for something in his boot. His boot laces were untied so I knew he wasn’t bending down to tie them. I also knew he wasn’t bending down to pick something up off the ground.
“Yo, how far…”I began to ask.
This fucking nut job pulls out the biggest knife I had ever seen in my life. Now I remember my aunt using a huge knife to cut the turkey on Thanksgiving and I even think my mom had one at home but this thing was long as shit. I actually saw one about the same size in Stavenhagen’s window down on fifth avenue. How he fit that sucker in his boot, I’ll never know. I saw the shine from the sun on the sharp blade. I almost pissed my pants.
All of a sudden, without a word being said I turned around and booked in the direction we were coming from. Without looking behind me I heard Lenny running behind me, screwed up ankle and all. I got off the tracks and ran on the side where it was much easier to gain traction.
Literally, we were both running for our lives. I felt like I was in one of those movies when some nut with a knife was about to carve someone up.
After running for what seemed like a mile, I turned around and saw the guy standing right where we left him.
He never chased us.
The guy just stood there like a statue.
He never moved.
The knife was still in his hand.
It was like he was protecting his turf. No one was allowed to pass.
As we made our way off the tracks and into the nearest neighborhood, Lenny said, “who the fuck was that?”
I was huffing and puffing so hard, I couldn’t answer him.
“Why did we run?” Lenny asked.
Again, I was speechless.
Bet Lenny would have kicked his ass, took his blade and put it in his bag to take back to Greenwood Lake.
Lenny and I eventually made it to the airport and a few hours later we were on a plane and headed home.
We never told anyone what happened, we weren’t sure if anyone would believe us. Can you imagine if ‘Knife-Man’ had a gun?
Lenny is survived by his wife Lillian and their two boys, Matt and Nick.
Cousin Len, rest in peace my man. You were one of a kind and a hard-working ironworker that treated others well. You were a passionate New York Giants football fan and best of all a good dude. And boy would I have loved to see you kick that sucker’s ass that day on the tracks in Florida. Because I know you would have.
Growing up as a kid and into my teens, I hated work.
I had the worst fucking work ethic known to mankind.
Couldn’t get up in the morning. Didn’t want to do shit. All I wanted to do was sleep, hang out, drink and play ball.
Thank heavens all that changed.
Speaking of work, good luck to Community Bookstore (Terrace Books) on the avenue. They have taken over for Babbo’s Books. If I still lived just a few doors down from the bookstore at 228A Prospect Park West, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be working in this store! But then again I’d probably spend all my time reading the books.
Also, I came across this cat, Ivan Koota who is a pretty good artist. Check out his work. It’s top-notch!
Here’s his website. Love his Farrell’s project.
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.
Here is a list of spots I plan on checking out (in no particular order).
Holy Name Boys Schoolyard
Prospect Park and The Parkside
East 5th street park
Greasy Spoon on seventh avenue and ninth street
Visit Bob Leckie
Here I am at
Camp is very
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.
Wanna’ hear something crazy about summer camp?
Yesterday morning my fourteen year-old daughter Taylor left for basketball camp. It’s her first overnight camp where she’ll return on Wednesday.
By now you’re asking yourself, ‘Red-what’s so crazy about that‘?
Well thirty-five years ago, when I was fourteen, I went to my first overnight basketball camp.
It was the summer before I was to start my freshman year at Power Memorial. Taylor will be a freshman in September. Boy does time fly. I can remember the day she was born back in 1999 like it was yesterday.
I recall the night before camp packing a travel bag with my shorts, socks, underwear and of course a few t-shirts. I met up with Jimmy and Frankie Cullen along with Glenn Thomas sometime around six in the morning.
We met on Windsor Place at the 15th Street, Prospect Park subway station. We could barely carry our bags for we were freshmen in H.S. and those bags were heavy and huge! We were off to Jack Curren’s Basketball Camp at Marist College located in Poughkeepsie, New York. Tall trees, green grass and fresh air, just what every city kid needs.
As Glenn likes to tell the story…I remember that we took the F train to 34th street thinking that we had to go to Penn Station when in fact we had to go to Grand Central Station on the east side to 42nd Street. We were struggling down 34th street with our bags and a New York Daily News truck driver who had already made his runs saw us and let us hop in to his truck and we were holding on for our lives as we had to stand in the back of an empty truck with the back door open as he sped crosstown to drop us off at Grand Central Station. We were rolling around in the back of that truck.
By the way, Taylor’s camp is about ninety minutes away, she was picked up at eight o’clock by a teammate and her mother. They drove. We on the other hand took the train.
Thanks for reading.