Back in 1980 Pete Hamill wrote an outstanding piece for New York magazine about growing up in Brooklyn. Click the link is below.
Remember the days of talking on the phone?
Nowadays everyone texts, or e-mails. Or they don’t communicate at all.
Back in the day I would spend hours on the phone with my girlfriend; she lived one block away.
This past Saturday I hooked up with Jay Cusato. Jay is a filmmaker, director and producer. He’s currently working on a project about Farrell’s. From the sound of things, it’s going to be a smash.
Here’s some of Jay’s work on stickball, “When Broomsticks Were King.” You remember stickball, right?
Received some sad news this morning about the passing of Brian Corrigan.
Soon as I get more information I will post it here on the blog. (If you have any info, please feel free to e-mail me at the address below.)
Brian grew up on Howard Place and came from a great family. We played a lot of whiffle ball and stickball together.
We called him “Milner,” after the former New York Mets first baseman, John “The Hammer” Milner. I believe Tom Brady gave Brian that nickname.
Thoughts and prayers going out to the Corrigan family.
It’s ready to go down.
They’re choosin’ up sides. I know, kids today are clueless at that concept.
Love the theme: “End the summer of 2014 with a big hit!”
Holy Name’s Family BBQ. Stickball Game/Reunion.
One of these days Alice…I’m going to get back to the neighborhood for a reunion.
Proceeds support Holy Name (Hooley told me that…)
Sponsored by Farrell’s. Greatest bar in the history of mankind.
Saturday September 20, 2014
Entrance to Prospect Park. Right by what Denis Hamill calls the Totem Poles. We called it, “Monument.”
You know, across from Sanders. I mean The Pavilion. Or, across from Lefrak. By the circle.
BBQ at 1:00 over in the yard at Holy Name.
After the game head across the avenue to the yard.
Donations: Adults $25. Ages 6-16 $10. Under 6 – free
Sign up at Farrell’s, Holy Name Rectory or St. Joseph Catholic Academy (Damn that was hard to type…)
Chips on the ball…
Beer, Bishop Loughlin, Boots, Citadel, Coney Island Avenue, Grady High School, John Jay, Lefrak, OLPH, Parkside, Prospect Park, Prospect Park Southwest, Quaker Cemetery, Rolling Stones, Stickball, Sympathy for the Devil, Windsor Terrace
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.
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.
People, places and things…in our neighborhood, they all change at one time or another.
Folks come and go in Windsor Terrace.
Some move away and unfortunately some pass away.
Stores open, stores close.
New business opens, old ones go under.
Out-of-towners purchase the brownstones for sale.
Wine shops open, espresso is now sipped on sidewalk cafes.
Brick oven pizza, top-notch restaurants, five hundred-dollar baby strollers glide across ninth avenue and stay at home dads are out in full force.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the old-timers that hang out on the corners reminiscing. (They still hang out, right?)
My friends, these are the tales from the streets of Windsor Terrace.
The streets where I once roamed.
Eighth, ninth and tenth avenues where I played stickball, whiffle ball, drank booze and listened to music on the street corners.
Windsor Place, 16th street, Howard Place and Fuller.
Streets where I knew everyone.
When the residents saw me coming I could just hear them, “Oh no, here comes the dysfunctional, red-headed kid from up on the avenue…”
Some people in the neighborhood liked me, some didn’t…I didn’t care. I still don’t.
I was a lost kid trying to find my way. Searching for guidance. Trying to read the map; the map for a young child to find his way and become a productive teenager. (Does such a map exist?)
I was without a plan. No blueprint in sight.
When I write, I begin to cry. But to be fair, I also smile at some of the shit I went through. The bottom line, I had no fuckin’ clue.
Funny thing is I thought I was the only kid in the neighborhood going through tough times. As a teenager I had no idea my best friends and many kids before me were going through the same shit; some had it worse. Life at home was awful. We all have a story to tell. We all stood in front of a disgruntled parent at one time or another wondering if we were going to get smacked in the face. As kids, we were defenseless.
I often think about all the people I grew up with and more and more I think of the people who came before me. I think of the junkies sleeping in the streets; the drunks staggering along ninth avenue at four a.m. and the tough guys who scared the shit out of me. I think of the older guys who I looked up to but never told them. I think of the parents of my friends that were always there for them and I think of the parents that were absent in their kids lives.
My memory goes back to the mid-70’s.
We have readers that go as far back as the 50’s.
And of course we have the readers that hung out on Hippie Hill from the 60’s.
There were teens from the neighborhood way before me that went through the same shit as we did. A period of time where I was unaware of; The days of such street gangs like “The Jokers“, “The Tigers” and the “South Brooklyn Boys.” One person in particular is Bengie Powers. With the help of the Internet, I researched and found some material. Our very own, Pat Fenton, an amazing writer has also been a huge help; Pat has written some powerful material on the neighborhood from back in the day.
Here’s an article from Blaine Harden of the New York Times from back in 1999.
Patrick Fenton, then a gangly Irish kid with a pompadour and now a part-time writer and full-time court clerk at the State Supreme Court in Queens, remembered a drunken fight not so much for the punches as for its ending. ”We both threw up,” Mr. Fenton said.
Robert (Bengie) Powers, a former drug dealer and a former heroin addict and now an addiction counselor, said he never once won a fight unless three or four of ”you guys held somebody down and I could beat them.”
There is also a book coming out real soon on Bengie’s life. I am looking forward to reading it. A book on Bengie’s life will be out at the end of this month. It’s called “Bobby’s Book.” Pat is writing a piece about it for the Irish Echo, which I’m sure will be top-notch. Fenton’s a great story-teller and certified neighborhood historian.
Bruce Davidson published a photography book, “Brooklyn Gang” a book with many photos including Junior Rice.
The saddest story behind Mr. Davidson’s photographs is that of Howard (Junior) Rice and Cathy O’Neal, the gang couple whose cool and beauty were without compare. No one had the heart to tell their story on Saturday.
Junior was the Romeo of the street gang. He wore sunglasses everywhere and carried a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s ”Howl” in his back pocket. He had the pick of girls on Eighth Avenue and his pick was Cathy, a 13-year-old blond he thought looked like Brigitte Bardot.
Cathy, in the most famous of Mr. Davidson’s gang photographs, fusses with her long golden hair in the mirror of a Coney Island cigarette machine. She loved Junior and he loved her. Mr. Davidson photographed them embracing while lying on the sand underneath the Boardwalk. She became pregnant with his child before she was 15.
Mr. Rice, who is now 57 but whose Brooklyn friends still call him Junior, remembers that everything went wrong after Cathy became pregnant. ”We went to a judge and got permission to get married, which my parents weren’t happy about,” Mr. Rice said in an earlier interview. ”Our daughter passed away after 15 months, and I went into a self-destructive mode and so did she. We got divorced. There was a lot of shame.”
Mr. Rice said he took street fighting to ”the extreme,” using bats, chains and knives. ”I used to go out there and fight and I didn’t know what I was fighting about,” Mr. Rice said. He said he became a drug dealer, selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of heroin, and the ”profits went up my arm.” He had several failed marriages and is now divorced and unemployed.
Ms. O’Neal committed suicide years later with a shotgun.
Before we played a game of stickball or softball, before we would choose up sides, what was the one thing the owner of the ball would scream out?
“CHIPS ON THE BALL!”
Playing a street game that included a rubber ball, if you happened to lose the ball you had to pay the owner to replace it.
In the girls schoolyard playing stickball, if someone hit the Spaldeen over the roof on 9th avenue; pay me Reggie!
If you played baseball in the lot and out fouled off a pitch over the fence, game over. Chip in for a new baseball!
Down at P.S. 154’s if someone “roofed” the softball you had to ante up. That is unless Joey Stasiak, Richie or Phillip Mullins were around to climb the roof and retrieve the ball.
To be honest though, I don’t ever recall anyone chipping in to buy a new ball.
Do kids still call, “chips on the ball?”
Let’s not forget the alert, smart aleck kid prior to the game screaming out, “NO CHIPS!”