He was older than us. Taller, built, Hispanic. He had one arm, and therein laid our problem. The three of us stood on our single step, grey stone stoop on West 83rd Street. Just hanging, about ten years old and giggling about a joke. He thought we were laughing at him. We didn’t find this out until the following day.
P.S. 9 Manhattan (now the old P.S. 9) was about two blocks from 222, our apartment building on West 83rd Street. It was the John Jasper school when we went there. It’s now the Mickey Mantle school; new mandate, new name. It has been through several life changes since we went there, including being replaced by a new building on Columbus Avenue many, many years ago.
We walked either one block South on Broadway and then one block West on 82nd Street or we walked one block West on 83rd Street and one block South on West End Avenue. This latter route had been prescribed for those slightly older than us, who had to walk to and from school the same way each day so that their bodies could be found if THE bomb was dropped. We didn’t have quite the same pressure.
The way home was almost always East on 82nd and North on Broadway. The corner store, on the Northwest corner of 82nd and Broadway was a Plymouth, women’s lingerie was the focus, but in those days the window displays were nowhere near as dramatic as they would become in the days of my children. There was a light on that corner, as there was on every block in the neighborhood. The crossing guard who stood by the “island” in the middle of the very busy Broadway with her whistle and her white gloves was there for our crossing safety. Broadway was a very busy boulevard.
On the days she was not there she was replaced by a policeman, man mountain, named Sam. He wore a size thirteen shoe. He was a giant to us. He was not there on the day in question.
The day after we three had enjoyed a good giggle on the stoop of 222, as the light turned red for us, with the crossing guard at her usual post, he came out of the doorway of Plymouth and started pounding on my two buddies. There were a lot tears, no blood and a lot of yelling for help. That was from my pals, never once did he lay a hand on me.
When the light changed and the crossing guard could make her way to their rescue, he was gone. Just like that, it was over. We never saw him again while we were students at P.S. 9.
It was many years later, I was sixteen, and hanging out in the poolroom on Broadway at 79th Street, when I met Tony face to face again. I was something of a little Jewish kid trying to hustle pool and he offered to play me. When I had lost, he offered to teach me how to play with one arm. His plastic hand and forearm are still clear.
The lifeless plastic appendage had five fingers, slightly bent and utterly useless. The color was a bit darker than me, intended I guess to look Hispanic. It just looked dead.
I was a good student. I learned to hold the stick rigidly enough that it wouldn’t slide from side, but loosely enough that I could still stroke with wrist action. I learned to hold the five foot long cue suspended over the table when the cue ball rested in the middle and no rail was available for support. I was good and my game was improved by this quiet guy who had once beaten up my friends for laughing at a joke at the wrong time in the wrong place.