Funny Ha Ha or Funny Peculiar

What we thought was funny in the days of PS9 and JHS44 are perceived differently today I’m sure.

I think it was seventh grade.  She was a substitute teacher and we were of course misbehaving.  I have no recollection of what set us off other than her status as sub but we were apparently monstrous.  I vividly recall this woman standing in the front of the room screaming “you’re like monkeys swinging from the chandeliers”.  It was a wild time.

Looking back, that of course was not funny, even though at the time we thought it all pretty hilarious.   

All the rage that year was the one about the elephant and the monkey in the bathtub.  The elephant says, “please pass the soap”.  The monkey responds, “no soap, radio”.

“What’s funny about that” you might ask.  Well, what’s funny is that there is nothing funny.  We would get hysterical laughing over that one.

In those years there were others:

Mommy, mommy where’s little brother going?  Shut up and keep flushing.

Mommy, mommy I don’t like running around in circles.  Shut up or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.

I agree, that’s enough of those.



I do believe that my father’s favorite joke in the 60’s went like this:

A man is having an operation and dies on the table.

The doctor manages to revive him and when he’s conscious looks down and says,

“you were dead, did you see God?”  The man looks the doctor in the eye and says, “yes, she’s black”.

That was my dad…

Today you probably shouldn’t tell that joke.  And I’m sure back then, as well, some people didn’t find it funny; probably different groups from now.

Humor sometimes brings us together and sometimes not.  Kids hopefully learn from their parents and teachers what’s appropriate and what’s not.

The current state of affairs in the world and in the US have made humor all that much more important.  Back in JHS 44 when we were swinging from the light fixtures and laughing about the monkey and the elephant without a care (most of the time) humor separated us from the adults who didn’t get it and brought us together.

Some of that hasn’t changed.  There are jokes I just don’t get.

Number Fifty

Fifty years ago I was 19.  On fiftieth street there was a penny arcade with a pool hall downstairs.  Fifty dollars was a lot of money when I was growing up.  Yes, this is my 50th blog post to Leaving West 83rd Street.  Whether you read at or on the facebook page by the same name or when I post them on my facebook page, twitter or linkedin, THANK YOU for coming this far on my journey back in time. 

This post was something of a struggle to get started.  I’ve decided on metamorphosis and time which happened to be the theme of the 1970 CCNY senior yearbook for which I took many photographs of timepieces around the city.  I wanted to be part of the work that year because 1970 was supposed to be my graduation year but like so many others I was late getting out.

The theme applies to this blog post by being word pictures of the change of places near West 83rd Street over time.

You may recall that dad was a fire buff and that we spent many, many hours at the firehouse, built in 1888, which still stands between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.  When we hung out there it was the home of Engine Company 56.  As the FDNY changed, so did “56”.  It changed into Squad 6.  No longer a pumper it was extra firefighters who arrived with different and less equipment.  Today it houses Engine Company 74.


While “56” was still active there was a delicatessen with a counter in the corner of 222 West 83rd Street.  One night it had a fire and went out of business.  The fire was labeled suspicious.  The fire site was never a deli again although many years later there stood a new delicatessen several doors south of the corner, where the Radio Clinic had offered radios, TVs, Stereos, and all sorts of things for the home.  Among the friends we had there were Charlie and Ray.

East of 222 on the south side of west 83rd street stood the Holy Trinity School which  is now the Manhattan Children’s Museum.  No more will local children play on the street to be tortured by the big kids coming out of that building.  And no more will we look into the rear of the school to watch the Sisters rap the knuckles of miscreants in their classes.

On the west side of Broadway from 82nd to 83rd were a number of stores.  Plymouth, for ladies lingerie, occupied the corner and Schrafft’s restaurant (2285 Broadway) at street level nearby and lest we forget the ballet school upstairs (opened in 1956) and Florsheim shoes on the southwest corner of 83rd.  

Schrafft's, Broadway and 82nd St., New York City. Exterior from right

Plymouth is gone.  Schrafft’s first became the Red Apple Supermarket and later Barnes and Noble.  The ballet school which occupied the second floor is now also Barnes and Noble;  it was fun to watch the girls dance in the big windows that overlooked the avenue.  Florsheim grew into Harry’s and is still there.

On the northwest corner of 83rd and Broadway stood Bostonian Shoes, that’s where we shopped. I remember that Shoe stores had the great smell of leather in those days.

Bostonia 2

I’m 2nd from the left and Jon Katz and his mom are on the left.  Thanks for the photo with Bostonian behind us, Jon.

On the east side of Broadway stood a three story building, the Loew’s 83rd Street and several small storefronts were found while moving north from the corner.  That’s all gone now replaced by a high rise apartment building. In my day that corner building housed unknown businesses.  It was also the building you had to hit with the spaldine to get a triple or homer in stoop ball.

The small office building was also the site of a sad revelation about neighbors.  A troubled young man once stood on the roof threatening to jump.  Below, people were shouting “jump, jump”.  The fire department set up a net and eventually wrestled him from the edge.  (I witnessed all this from my 9th floor window.)  When they brought him downstairs, to my horror, people were screaming at him “why didn’t you jump?”


Thanks Cinema Treasures for this photo

The first storefront north of the theater entrance was the driving school and tax preparation business. When I learned to drive it was Paul’s business and a woman named Helen did the tax preparation.

The theater, in my childhood, had a matron in a white dress with a flashlight who monitored the children’s section.  It was 25 cents and then fifty for us to see double features.  There was also the annual sojourn to see The Ten Commandments; the first movie I saw with an intermission.  There is now a Loew’s 84th.

Some of these changes occurred more than 50 years ago, others more recently.  222 is more expensive to live in but it is still filled with homes.  The metamorphosis of West 83rd Street and its environs no doubt continues.