I wake up a little after eight. It’s cold in our five-room, railroad apartment. Heat is never on. I sleep with three blankets. Some nights I wear my white tube socks to keep my feet warm. When I was ten, mom bought me a parka for the winter, it got so cold one night I slept in it.

It’s real quiet except for mom’s snoring. She snores loud. One night she was snoring so loud that it woke me up. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Eat some cereal, get dressed and I’m out the door. I’m always asking mom to buy Captain Crunch, but she keeps buying Corn Flakes. I have to add a lot of sugar. I should make oatmeal, like I said, it’s cold.

Crossing Ninth Avenue I head down Windsor Place and hang a right on Howard Place. One time I crossed against the red light where a 75 bus almost hit me.  Mrs. Deere, who was standing on the corner shouted at me to wait for the green light to cross. I screamed back at her. You don’t want to know what I said to her. I should not have said what I said. She’s a nice lady. Probably just looking out for me.

At the corner of Windsor and Howard Place I glance over at the lot and see a few kids beginning to play baseball. Looks like they are choosing up sides.   I like baseball but today I’m playing basketball.

On the corner house they filmed a movie with Jack Nicholson. I didn’t get a chance to see him. Would have liked to talk about the Lakers with him. He’s at every home game sitting at half-court. Man, I couldn’t imagine what its like sitting on the floor. When I go to the Garden to see the Knicks I gotta sit way up in the blue seats. Nose bleed.

One thing I realize is that they have filmed a lot of stuff in the neighborhood. Remember the time Al Pacino filmed “Dog Day Afternoon?” Never saw him up close either. Harvey Keitel filmed a movie on sixteenth street and ninth avenue in the old post office. Didn’t see him either. How about the time Oscar Robertson filmed a commercial for Jordache sneakers in the yard? We stood outside on Howard Place watching but he never once talked to us. We tried but he had no interest in us.

“Clyde’s better,” someone shouted to him.

As I walk up Howard Place towards the Boys schoolyard at Holy Name I look over at the houses and cross the street. I walk to Gerard Trapp’s house and step lightly down his basement steps, grabbing a basketball. There’s about four or five of them sitting there.

It’s okay, I’m not stealing, the Trapp’s are good people, they let us take a ball when we need one. Long as we return it. Gerard’s brother Bobby is a cool dude. Both of them played at St. Francis College down on Remsen Street. I went to see them play once and the Terriers beat Seton Hall.

Walking back across Howard I head into the yard. Sometimes Tommy Houk is outside his house playing whiffle ball. But it’s probably too early for that.

No one is in the yard. What do you expect, it’s not even nine o’clock. I like it this way. I have the entire place to myself. Six baskets to shoot at.

I walk to the first basket. Look up and shoot it. The sun is in my eyes but that doesn’t bother me.  The ball bounces off the back of the rim and right back to me like a pinball. There’s a lot of air in the ball, I hate dead balls. They barely bounce. The one I took from Trapp’s basement is like a super-ball.

My jump-shot is improving believe it or not. I work on it every day. I hope one day to play for Power Memorial over in the city. It’s where Kareem Abdul-Jabber went to school. Oh forgot to tell you, I’m in the eighth grade. I go to Holy Name. I don’t like school very much, but that’s  another story for another day.

Two Hispanic guys walk past the yard on their way down Howard toward the subway.

“Yo Red, wassup bro?” one of them shouts through the chain-linked fence.

I recognize both of them but their names escape me. I just nod my head at them. They’re walking fast.

I take a few dribbles out towards the foul line, turn and face the goal.

Danny, my ex-basketball coach at Holy Name always reminded us to work on our free-throws.

“You have to work on every aspect of your game,” he would tell us.

Taking a few bounces, I look up at the goal and shoot.

The ball goes right through the steel hoop.

It’s not “nothing but net,” because our rims do not have nets.

No “swish.”

After the ball goes in, it rolls away so I chase it.

That’s what happens when you make shots and you’re all alone. You wind up on your horse chasing down the ball. If there were other kids with me, someone would grab the rebound and throw it back out to you. It’s like this, you make a shot, you get your change back. Miss it, you run in, and get a bounce pass for a lay-up.

“YO RED, HOW ABOUT THEM KNICKS LAST NIGHT, BEAT THE NETS!” A guy shouts to me as he walks past the yard, but he’s not on Howard Place, he’s walking up Prospect Avenue.

I glance over my right shoulder and it’s Tom Brady. No, not that Tom Brady, the Quarterback from the Patriots, it’s Tom Brady from Terrace Place.

“THAT’S RIGHT BABY!” I answer as I dribble a few times and head down court to the other basket against the church wall.

Tom disappears and I continue to shoot. He’s a great guy. Once gave me a ticket to a Doctor Jay clinic put on by Converse.

I’m a big Knicks fan. Everyone in the neighborhood knows it. The Nets are now in Brooklyn, no more Jersey.

I’m in love with the Knickerbockers, have been for a long time.

No way am I changing teams now.



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  1. Maureeen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    I remember growing up in those apartments without heat…you could never get warm…grateful it’s not like that anymore….nice read….

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