It was a hot, humid, Saturday night in August.
We were hanging out by the benches in Prospect Park just a few yards from the totem poles, a few feet away from “Hippie Hill. We were a tight-knit group.
One thing I noticed was that kids our age from Bay Ridge, down East Fifth Street, Fifth Avenue and a few from Ninth Street would make the trip to our neighborhood to hang out with us on the weekends. Kids from our group would invite their friends from high school to come chill with us. We didn’t have a gang-name like the Tigers, Huns, South Brooklyn Boys or La Familia.
There were about twenty-five, maybe thirty male and female teens hanging out drinking, smoking, and chatting about who was better; Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. We did this every night. On weekends we stayed out a little later.
We stood around in groups of four, six, eight, and some circles were so big, well, you couldn’t tell how many there were. Most of us were good old catholic school boys who attended Holy Name church every Sunday.
It all started right after dinner. Take a shower, get dressed and walk over to the park-side. Our meeting place was on the park wall across the street from Lefrak or the bench or the totem pole. The main topic was what everyone was going to drink.
Some went for beer. Some decided on vodka. Some felt like wine and maybe one or two kids busted out the hard stuff, Jack Daniels. There were nights I opted for Southern Comfort.
One thing was certain, we were getting smashed.
It was some sort of “badge of honor’ to follow in the footsteps of the older guys from the neighborhood. I had seen them all walking around the avenue. Sometimes they would give you advice, most of them had city jobs but still hung out, most of them in Farrell’s, their days of hanging out by the park-side were over; they had families at home now. Kids to support, a wife to keep happy.
The drinking life was a process. It started at home when I was twelve. Mom had the bottle hanging around on the kitchen table or sometimes she would try to hide it in the liquor cabinet. At Holy Name grammar school we hung out in the schoolyard and talked about it. High school was the next step so you moved over to the park where you snuck the booze in a brown bag or in the winter under your coat. When we turned eighteen it was time to order a container from Farrell’s.
The beer was bought from a Bodega on 8th Avenue, 15th street or Prospect Avenue. The owners didn’t care; they wanted and probably needed the business. If they knew you were underage and turned you down all you had to do was get an older guy to buy it for you.
Same for the liquor store on 16th street. Grab someone on the corner, give them your money and of course, place your order. The liquor store on Windsor Place was off limits, I lived on the corner so I couldn’t take the chance of my mother seeing me with a brown bag.
Pint of vodka, bottle of Wild Irish Rose or a pint of Blackberry Brandy, the choice was yours. Tonight I had a bottle of vodka and a pint of Tropicana Orange juice from Pynn’s deli. I snatched a cup from my house and mom looked at me like I was crazy but I think she knew what was up.
“Where ya goin’ with my cup?”
“We’re splitting up a bottle of soda over at the park,” was my response as I left our apartment.
I placed my Vodka bottle and carton of juice on the bench and turned into a bartender. Just like Hooley up at Farrell’s.
We had fun. Everyone got along. It was rare anyone argued. It was just a bunch of teenagers being teenagers.
My grades in school sucked, but I aced my class in ‘Streetology’ every semester.