Mischief

They say “kids will be kids”.  Mine certainly were and when I look back so was I.

Living at 222 amidst its 108 apartments afforded us many opportunities to do mischief.  Some of us looked out on Broadway and some of us looked out on West 83rd Street.  There were, I believe, 8 boys all within about 18 months of each other.  So there was great potential for the seizing of opportunities to make mischief.

Hitler’s house was a favorite of mine.  And with two parents who smoked, there were plenty of matches around to play with.  Imagine a matchbook standing up like an A frame house. It had to be a full book of course; and then the delight as a match was struck and placed under the A and the anticipation as we waited for the whole book to go up as we would want his house to have burned. {Don’t try this at home)

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Of course, this was performed in the bathtub; not very dangerous because of the siting but a heck of a lot of fun.

The bathroom in my apartment faced West 83rd Street and therefore provided a chance to try to make mayhem below with toilet paper bombs.  These were wads of toilet paper soaked with plain water in the sink and then tossed out the 9th story window.  As I recall we were trying to land them in front of people not hit them (we were good boys).

One mischief maker who did not live in our building was heralded for some time after he dropped an M80 firecracker in the toilet at his house to see if it would go out; it didn’t and the reported mess was the thing that legends are made of.

And of course there was the time in 222 when I didn’t do it but was accused. (In fact I still am accused of the dastardly deed.)  Someone carved the initials MK on the metal intercom box in the elevator.  Those are mine backwards and belong to another former resident in that order.  

Most of the stuff we did at 222 was relatively harmless.  Ringing doorbells and heading for the stairs was a big one.  Calling for the elevator (in the days of a human operator) and heading for the stairs was another one.

We could be very annoying. 

 

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Passover Then and Now

This year Passover and Holy Week are once again together on the calendar and we are reminded that in many ways we are linked through history, ritual and faith.

The Passover Seder in apartment 9E at 222 West 83rd Street was a big deal.  The living room was typically reset with a horseshoe table for forty.  I remember it being crucial to my father that there be non-Jews at the table to hear the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

The kitchen was managed by Helen supported by her sister.  My mother sat at the end of the table closest to the kitchen.  Dad sat at the head of the table in the middle with me to his left.  It was a production.

The blue paperback De Sola Pool Haggadah was marked up with red grease pencil like any script of a show my father directed: theater, radio and television.  Pictured below is the markup of the page containing the ten plagues.

 

 

Like any seder, there was great singing at the end.  Dad banging on the table to direct Dayenu (it would have been enough) and the song about the Only Kid.

Before getting married and moving to long island there were occasions when i led seder on West 83rd Street but the most memorable was with a small group of friends, also in 9E. The biggest mistake I made was walking into the kosher butcher downstairs and asking for a leg of lamb to serve as well as the shank bone required for the ritual seder plate.  I was promptly educated that the hind quarter of an animal is not kosher (think about it).  

I don’t remember what I served but I do remember insisting that my friends have raw horseradish which sent them under the table I had set in the living room.

On Long Island we held the family seder in our home.  It was known to have exceeded the length of the living room.  

Where I had chanted the four questions now my children did so.

I directed too, but at our seders I assigned parts.  Gramps was always the wicked son because he did it so well.  Other parts changed players from year to year.  Our seder also had non-Jews just like my father’s table.

For many years Jean worked in the kitchen for days with her mom, then our daughters were added to the mix.  It then became two generations and soon the granddaughters will join the fracas.  These are wonderful meals and as many of us as can are present along with friends to retell the story of the Exodus and celebrate life and love.

Now, the daughters lead the seders and the reading goes around the table.  

It’s a tradition that traditions change.

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.

me

 

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 www.leavingwest83rdstreet.com 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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.  

U2

I was 11, in 1960, when Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in his U-2 spy plane.  In my eyes he was an American cold war hero. Like today, in other matters, Captain Powers had his detractors.  He was called a traitor and many other names. He would not be released, in a trade, until 1962.

I was in 6th grade at the time and completed what for me was a huge project on Capt. Powers for Mrs. Miller.  I remember it as quite elaborate.  What we might call a “paper” today was assembled from colored construction paper, pages torn out of Newsweek or Time Magazine (Life was oversized and too big), and three hole notebook paper.  The article pages and notebook pages were carefully affixed with glue when one sided and stapled along one edge if two sided.  I was very proud of my work.

U2

This was the time of shelter drills. The Soviets might attack at any time.  We had to be prepared. Under our desks or out in the hallway away from windows we sheltered.  These drills have never been forgotten, the fear faded but not until long after times began to change.  I wonder how long my grandchildren will remember sheltering from domestic shooters.

1960 was also the year of the shoe banging incident when Communist Party Chairman Nikita Khruschev of the USSR removed his shoe and banged it on the desk at the United Nations General Assembly.  This was very undiplomatic behavior, only five months after the capture of Francis Gary Powers and indicative of the state of world affairs.

These were bad times.  It would be two years later in October 1962 that the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted.  I was 13 in 9th grade at JHS 44 and we were all following events at home and in social studies.  Soviet missiles 90 miles from Florida were unacceptable and President Kennedy took us to what we were sure was the brink of nuclear war when he faced off with the same Nikita Khruschev and forced the removal of the missiles.  These were not only  bad time but frightening times.

It was decades later that I learned that much of what we had been taught about the USSR was as false as what they had been taught about us.  We were minor players in the cold war and indoctrinated by the propaganda on both sides by our governments.  The big lie was a tool of both sides, like the big lie was used in the 1930s and is being used now.

What To Be?

When I was growing up everybody wanted to be something.  My earliest recollections are of wanting to be a fireman.  I even said it aloud in the film my father made for the fire department, FDNY.  It changed many times over the years.  I often look back and think that life happened to me rather than me controlling much.  

I did not however want to become dentist even though there were some pleasant things that might have been designed to push me in that direction or not discourage to me.

My father’s friend and my mother’s boss, Dr. A., was a pedodontist; and apparently an important one because he was once president of the American Society in his profession.

Because of him, while others played with GIJOE which my dad objected to, I played with chalk molars and real dental instruments.  I never filled the cavities I made but I do recall digging in the chalk.

Unfortunately, I got my mother’s teeth.  Dad smoked and drank to excess and had all his teeth.  Mom had the same habits and eventually no teeth.  I had a mouth full of cavities and tremendous amounts of dental work (still do).

I had the honor during a children’s dentistry week to appear in the World Telegram and Sun with Dr. A.  I treasured my celebrity for many years.

One of the structures at the World’s Fair was the Singer Bowl (yup, as in sewing machines).  The children’s dental society held an event there that featured an icon of the times, Soupy Sales.  I got to meet Soupy because of my relationship with the society’s  president.

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You may recall the Thanksgiving Day brunch on Central Park West, this was also a benefit of the world of dentistry my family was attached to.

I worked in the “pedo” department at the NYU College of Dentistry sitting right outside Dr. A’s office, he was “pedo’ chair, while I was in college.  I was collecting and processing data for a children’s dentistry research project with the affiliated Bellevue Hospital.

With all these “encouragements” I never entertained dentistry as part of my future.  I also never thought of becoming a writer like my dad, or a lawyer as was once suggested by the director of campus security at CCNY.  I fell into sociology and social science research as a result of my love and admiration for Walter C. Bailey my professor and mentor.  After his retirement I sat at his desk for my first real job at the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission located then at 61st Street and Broadway which was happily within walking distance of West 83rd Street.

Coffee Pot

I’ve been writing now for several years to bring to myself and others the memories of a West Side childhood in the 1950s and 60s.  I think there is certainly no more odiferous memory than the aluminum coffee pot perking on the stove every morning.

The pot on the stove was part of every morning that my dad was home.  If he was away on business everything was timed differently.  He drank only Savarin brand, in the red can.  The aroma when a new can was opened is one of those smells I can conjure, well sort of.

The coffee grounds were scooped into the basket which sat on the upright and then covered and placed in the pot which had already been filled with tap water.  The little glass bubble in the center of the lid placed on the pot came quickly to life and the kitchen filled with coffee, coffee, coffee.

Dad drank his black.  I remember a heavy white ceramic mug.

COFFEEPOT

The stove it sat on had four burners and five knobs.  This was the stove that had removed my sister’s eyebrows when she turned on the gas and then lit the match to stick in the little hole.  Those were the days when you applied butter to a burn.

For many many years the kitchen floor was linoleum but after a significant flood from the washing machine which stood as the centerpiece in the kitchen my mother determined the concrete floor should be painted a brick red and left otherwise uncovered.  I know that I broke more than one glass on that hard surface.

No, there was no dryer.  Well, except for the wooden contraption that was suspended from the ceiling and lowered by pulley.  Clothes which had been spun in the washer were hung from this wooden frame and dried on their own.  The rope broke more than once in my life.  One of the many things the building’s handyman was able to fix.

Outside the kitchen was the dining room.  The wallpaper was a bright red on the wall made of plywood that had been used to divide the space into dining room and dad’s study.  The floor here, like the living room and hallways was parquet.  In fact, the floors throughout the apartment were wood.

One of the other unsafe things about apartment 9E was that all the exits, that were not windows, were on one end of the apartment.  There was a backdoor in the kitchen, a front door next to the kitchen and a fire tower door in the hallway leading to the front door.  That fire tower was a nice touch.  An enclosed stairwell that ended in the lobby by the building’s front door provided safe exit if you could get to it.  If there had ever been a fire in the living room, the only exits would have been windows at the very edge of the extension of fire department ladders.  

My dad, the fire buff had thought about the extension ladder limits but apparently not about egress or maybe the 100 foot ladders of the FDNY made the exiting problem less important.  

We were never tested with a fire of any consequence in our building!