Mom’s Hammer

The radiator stood at the corner of our living room like a brat being punished for a misdeed. In a vacant apartment, it was the centerpiece of a bare bedroom or living room. Spruced up with a new coat of silver paint, it glowed to greet a new tenant. The landlord spared no expense in hiring a Michelangelo to douse the radiator and anything that happened to be on it with a veneer of silver. Consequently, tangles of cobwebs, a roach on a constitutional, or paint chips that abandoned the ceiling were laminated on to its new coating. Thus, like layers of sedimentary rock, each coat of paint revealed a history of the wildlife that trespassed over the radiator.

Who designed this thing? It should have been placed near a cinderblock wall of a warehouse complementing the tangle of exposed wires, rusty pipes, and meters. Its credentials for dispersing some heat allowed it to barge in and ensconce itself in the far corner of our living room.

My Bronx tenement building was built in 1894. I guess this tubular, cast iron device was state of the art at the time. It did not corrode; it did not erode. As Shakespeare said of Cleopatra, “Age could not wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.” So, here we were, forty-five years later, in 1939, with this silver mass, unaffected by age, indifferent to fashion, defiantly standing tall, proud and silver.

Some unhappy tenants hid its intrusiveness with creative camouflage. The common disguise was a punctured sheet metal veil, allowing heat to escape but concealing the eyesore behind it. In the winter, Mom used it for reheating her cuisine. The escaping tidbits formed a bond, and then became a permanent part of this appendage. In the summer, when the radiator was at rest, Mom placed her annual failure on it. An avocado plant’s brown, golfball-sized seed. Her seed was not the fittest. It struggled for survival, then dropped its leaves as if it knew it could not compete with an occasionally whistling radiator in the winter.

“Maybe next year, it will be better,” Mom would say.

It was never better for her next casualty waiting to germinate.

With the arrival of cold weather, steam heat was meted out sparingly. After all, coal came from fossilized trees. Our landlord couldn’t scoop it out.

A hiss from a shiny, chrome plated valve connected to the side of the radiator announced that Mr. Tekula, our janitor, was sufficiently sober to locate the aperture of the furnace with a shovelful of coal. In his usual inebriated state, he was aroused by a cacophony of clangs from the tenant’s hammers striking their radiators. Thus, this Tenant Symphony informed him we were trembling in the tundra.

Mom played first hammer in the percussion section. She stepped up in her uniform; a cotton housedress, a stained yellow apron, and felt slippers. As tender as she was with her children, as devoted as she was to her husband, she defiantly held her hammer, dug in her heels, snapped her wrists, swung her hips and followed through like Joe DiMaggio to pound the battered radiator for a home run. Shards of silver paint darted in every direction leaving Rorschachlike depressions on the radiator in their wake. Pa, in his bathrobe, shivering on his shabby club chair, made sure he played a part in the recital.

“Rose, go easy on the radiator. Tekula may be sleeping.”

“If he’s freezing like I am, he shouldn’t wake up. It’s Alaska inhere.”

Pa’s major role was the grip for the concert. He was there with his tiny brush and little jar of silver paint to medicate the scars on the radiator after Mom’s solo.

When three years elapsed, the landlord was mandated to paint the apartment, radiator included. The scarred martyr was smeared again by his artist’s supersaturated brush leaving droplets of silver puddles in its wake. The radiator was left standing within a silver, rectangular, drip outline of itself on our linoleum floor covering. Now it was prepared to take a beating for the next three years.

If I had foreseen the Tenement Museum in Manhattan, I would have bronzed and framed Ma’s hammer, silvered a radiator from a junkyard alongside of it, and then engraved it’s history on a brass plate.

Today, the buyer of a three story brownstone might inherit these radiators. With a substantial investment they are usually replaced by baseboard or forced air heat; two developments that have evolved in the thermal evolution. But, will there be a history of pounding hammers, clanging radiators or inebriated janitors?

Baseboard heaters and grates for forced air have no presence. They melt into the landscape of the living room. If they malfunctiond and were within reach, Mom’s hammer surely would have left a few dents on them..

Our radiators are history; Mom’s hammer is history. Today, most rooms are efficiently warmed through vents or heated foils. We are left without a janitor, without a cast iron radiator, without a hissing valve, without a hammer. What tales can vents or heated foils tell?

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Passing Parade

Although I lived on the ground floor facing the street, I rarely observed the parade from my window. Most of my free time was devoted to playing ball in the street, the “eye” of the parade.

In the mid 1930s, the population density of our neighborhood was the magnet that brought itinerant entrepreneurs on their daily Odyssey through our streets. Using the simple skills developed in Eastern Europe, they honed and refined them on the teeming streets of the East Bronx. Their given names were unknown to us. We identified them by their occupation.

The I Cash Clothes Man had a plodding, stooped horse with an arched neck that brought its head so close to the asphalt, it appeared as if he were searching for a line to guide him to Seabury Place. The ragman’s scraggly beard matched the threads escaping from his worn collar. The bench upon which he sat was covered with an oily flannel blanket that long ago surrendered its nap to the odds and ends that were congealed to the seat of his pants. He was the centerpiece of a rusty metal arch from which copper bells dangled. With reins in hand, he pleaded with a horse whose legs seemed to have forgotten the coordinated sequence to move him forward.

“Ma, it’s The I Cash Clothes Man.”

“We send our clothes to our relatives in Lithuania. They need it more than he does.”

“Why don’t they buy their own clothes?”

“They have no money for clothes.”

“Why don’t they work? Pa does.”

“There is no work.”

“Why don’t they leave?”

“They’re not allowed to leave.”

“You left.”

“Oy! You ask too many questions.”

His blasts of, “I Cash Clothes” accompanied by the clanging of his copper bells let everyone in the neighborhood know he was there.

It puzzled me why he would bother to visit our neighborhood. Most of the residents wore that he collected as rags.

Without rising from his perch on the wagon, he belted out his familiar refrain as the windows on the street reverberated to his solo, “I Cash Clothes! I Cash Clothes!” If a housewife accumulated enough shmatehs, she would raise her window and call out her apartment number. The cart came to a halt. He strapped a feedbag to his horse’s mouth then climbed the steps hauling a large, empty, canvas bag.

The haggling began with the turn of the doorknob. The price for all the garments ranged between twenty-five and fifty-cents. If a serviceable man’s suit was involved, the price could rocket to seventy-five cents or one dollar. With the booty in his sack, he returned to his wagon, removed the feedbag then continued in his pursuit of rejected rags.

Where did The I Cash Clothes Man come from? Where did he go? He was as mysterious as The Lineman. Just as The I Cash Clothes Man appeared to have driven off the stage of Fiddler On The Roof, The Lineman seemed to have stepped out of the cornfields of the musical, Oklahoma! He made his way through the backyard tenements with yards of clothesline spiraled around his shoulder. He was a tall, lean, blond, middle-aged, handsome man apparently of Anglo or Nordic stock. A light blue denim work shirt, freshly washed dungarees and a navy blue knit hat complemented his rugged persona The I Cash Clothes Man’s territory was the street. The Lineman’s domain was the backyard where clotheslines spun on pulley wheels from tall, wooden poles.

His signature call was, “Line! Line!” A frazzled tenant’s clothesline and her shout of her apartment number brought him up the steps. He connected his new rope to the old one then guided it through a pulley attached to the tall wooden pole and the other pulley at the tenant’s window jamb. After discarding the frayed line, he knotted the new one together leaving a series of concentric circles like a hangman’s noose. all for $3.00, no haggling.

At the end of WWII, the launderette burst upon the scene. He couldn’t compete with the dryer. Where did he go? Maybe her returned to the cornfields of Oklahoma. Another voice from The East Bronx Chorus was eliminated. The spider web of clotheslines in our backyards almost disappeared. One of its few remaining filaments was suspended from our apartment. On her hands and knees, Ma removed her rocking, corrugated metal washboard from under the bathtub. She kneaded and rubbed our dirty clothes against its metal folds then rinsed them. The launderette’s dryer was no competitor to our fresh, air-dried clothes hanging on the line. Unlike the disappearing Lineman, Ma refused to surrender to technology. Her washboard remained under the tub waiting for its call to duty.

Quietly, he trudged along the streets clutching the smoothly chiseled, projecting handles of his handmade, unpainted gray, seven-foot wooden cart. As he wandered the streets, a millstone suspended on an axle was spinning lazily from the front-center. A few repaired, unclaimed umbrellas were tucked behind a strip of wood on each side of the cart. The housewives in the neighborhood knew that the sound of the gong from his pushcart meant it was time to gather their dull knives or a damaged umbrella. He was The Knife Sharpener. I ran to our apartment to announce his visit. If only Ma had a knife that needed sharpening. I knew she would sharpen her knives on the rough windowsill outside our kitchen window, but maybe this time she would give me one to carry to the sharpener.

“Ma, The Knife Sharpener is in the street. ”

“No, there are no knives to sharpen.”

“But last night you said the knife was so dull, you could ride on the blade.”

“Maybe next time.”

The Sharpener began his rhythmic pedaling sitting on a bicycle seat at the end of his cart. The assembled knives waited their turn to meet the spinning wheel. We gathered in awe, ducking and dodging, as his wheel spun and sparks flew. Occasionally he repaired an umbrella but that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the darting sparks. Unfortunately, this poor man couldn’t compete with progress. Motorized sharpening wheels in a large, green van drove him out off the street. It was an example of a pro totally outclassing an amateur. The Knife Sharpener pushed his cart into obscurity.

In the autumn, a simple black, sheet metal wagon riding on small metal wheels creaked over the street. It could easily have been constructed in Mr. Haller’s sheet metal shop at Hermann Ridder Jr. HS. Behind this wagon, straining and pushing, was an elderly gentleman wearing a black derby, a black jacket and pants covered by a sparkling white-bibbed apron. No matter that the street was level, his body leaned at a 45-degree angle leaving the impression that he was guiding the cart uphill. A tubular three-foot metal chimney projected upward from the end of his cart, sending a gentle flow of black smoke into the air. He was The Sweet Potato Man. The scent of his baking potatoes crept through every unplugged nostril in the neighborhood. He kept opening and closing the three wide metal drawers in his cart to rearrange the potatoes. The bottom drawer held glowing charcoal. In the drawer above, were potatoes in the process of being baked, and in the top drawer were warming totally baked sweet potatoes waiting to be sold. For three cents he would wrap a white napkin around the hottest and sweetest potato ever to excite a taste bud. A gentle pat on the rear sent you on your way. He found the same lonely path as the Knife Sharpener, the path of no return.

Tony, The Jelly Apple Man also made his debut in late spring. Tony had two brightly polished copper vats set in the center of his cart, each holding heated, red jelly. A crowded mound of small Macintosh apples in a wire basket separated the two vats.

If you didn’t care for an apple, a selection of dried fruits and marshmallows filled glass partitions running along the sides of the cart. There was a choice of prunes, marshmallows, apricots or shoe leather (pressed sheets of apricot). We pointed to our selection then Tony impaled the apples or dried fruits on a round lollipop stick. With an arching loop, Tony removed the copper lid and ceremoniously twisted the fruit into the warm, red jelly. For three cents he placed your choice into your hand with a paper napkin wrapped around the stick. Then we gathered at his side to take inventory of our friend’s selections. The item least requested was at the front left corner of Tony’s cart, coconut slices floating in a translucent liquid against the walls of a square jar. I never saw Tony unscrew its lid. Did we know then that coconut contained saturated fat?

“So, what are you gettin’ Mutt?”

“I think I’ll get the prunes.”

“Ugh. The last time I had them, I couldn’t get off the toilet seat.”

“That’s you. I’m me. I’m gettin’ the prunes.”

“I don’t care what you get. But don’t ask me for a bite of my apple.”

“I don’t like the apples”.

“I didn’t get it yet, did I?”

The bickering was aimed at getting in the last word.

As warm weather approached, Tony and The Sweet Potato Man deferred to an enameled, white wooden cart with a red border and a green striped canvas canopy. Inside this open cart rested a rectangular block of ice. To prevent its premature melting, The Ices Man placed a grungy sheet of water saturated brown burlap over the ice. The Board of Health was never consulted on the suitability of his product.

It took two cents to create his masterpiece. With a cast iron plane the size of a board eraser he shaved and collected the ice. The shavings were placed into a paper cone cup then doused with your choice from a spectrum of colored flavors in containers resembling hair tonic bottles. With that soggy burlap cover indelibly imprinted into our minds, my friends and I were observers, never customers.

“Do you believe that kid is getting ices?”

“Look at that green flavor he picked.”

“It looks like the chlorine water in Crotona Park pool.”

“He’ll be at Dr. Kulock’s office tomorrow.”

“I hope he will be. I hate that kid.”

The neighborhood resounded with tympanic blasts. He was The One Man Band. With an accordion in his hands, a harmonica braced into his mouth and a snare drum strapped to his back, he tuned, harmonized and energized the neighborhood. Each step activated a drumbeater that pounded the skins of his drum while cymbals above it crashed on impact. We slowly followed the booms and clangs accompanied by the harmonica and accordion enlivening the residents in their apartments. An aluminum cup, connected to the side of his drum collected coins from the music lovers. Out of step with the changing times, he joined the shrinking caravan of characters to gradually slow the parade to a crawl.

Another contributor to the sound of music was The Yardnik. In the shtetls from where they had emigrated, the immigrants gave aliases to the citizens usually based upon their occupation. He performed in the yards; therefore he was The Yardnik. Singing or performing on his intsrument in Yiddish, Polish or Russian, TheYardnik worked the maze of backyards behind the tenements. My mother, in the midst of preparing dinner, would tear off a piece of newspaper and wrap two cents in it. When the song was over, I threw the package to the grateful singer awaiting a wave or a smile. Although the neighborhood ached from the sting of The Depression, unemployment the norm, the concept of charity was passed on from the parents to their children.

Our favorite Yardnik carried an old, black case worn gray around the edges. Inside, in contrast to its shabby exterior, was his glossy, honey colored violin and stringy bow. Sometimes he was The Yardnik, sometimes he played on a street corner. When he was a child, I’m sure, these were not the venues his parents envisioned when they saved their coins for his music lessons. He wore an ironed, white dress shirt whose frayed cuffs bounced off his wrists in tempo to the melodies escaping from the strands of his violin. Many of the tragic Yiddish songs he played lent themselves to the melancholy tone of the violin and the melancholy tone of his appearance. The backyard airshaft provided an ideal conduit for the flow of these nostalgic tunes up to and through the open windows. Sometimes, I would hear my mother sadly humming, occasionally muttering along with the notes. On the other hand, he could energize his violin, himself and the tenants with an energizing fraylach, a lively tune usually played at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Newspaper wrapped coins of appreciation fell at his feet at the end of the recital. With a “thank you”, he gathered the packets then left to complete his gig on the tenement circuit. Whatever became of him and his violin?

A truck approached with music thundering from a speaker at each side of the cab. On the rear platform of the truck sat a circular mesh gate about 15 feet in diameter. It was covered like an umbrella by a multicolored dome When the truck came to a halt, the proprietor opened a door in the gate then flipped down three wooden steps leading to five brightly colored, miniature cars each accommodated one driver. The cars were connected to a geared wheel at the center of the platform.

The volume of the music increased as mothers in housedresses brought their excited children to operate a car. Once securely inside, the trucker shut the gate then stepped out and manually turned the handle of a geared wheel at the side of the gate. The motorists were on a voyage to Oz. They pulled on a rope attached to bells. They squeezed black rubber honking balls at the side of their car. They spun the steering wheel to avoid road hazards. At the end of the journey, each motorist was given a lollipop before returning to his or her mother. With the advent of World War II and gas rationing, the truck left following the cars inside the truck on their journey to Oz.

His wagon was approximately 20’x 12′. Four large, wooden spoked, metal-surfaced wheels slowly spun as a heavy necked, wide hipped draft horse pulled a produce-laden cart. He was The Fruit Man. Why not the vegetable man? Who knows? He was The Fruit Man. Frequently, his horse left a trail of compact, brown spheres in the middle of the street temporarily impeding, but not stopping a stickball or punchball game. That was a given we lived with.

Thin, 3’x1’ wooden boards were nailed to the end of a 2’ x 4’ behind each variety of produce. Brown paper bags displaying the name and price of the product were slipped over the boards. The prices could easily be changed as the merchandise aged or changed. The fruits and vegetables, exploding with color, were in sharp contrast to the gray or brown-faced tenements standing and peering down on the wagon. His bounty was seated on angled boards so that it could be seen from a distance. To measure the weight of a purchase, a round-faced scale had from three chains connected to a dangling steel pan. The customer placed her selection in a brown paper bag. The Fruit Man placed it onto the pan. After watching the dial tremble then come to a halt, he would invariably say,

“I should charge you…, but for you, it’s …”

Of course, he and his horse trudged off to oblivion when supermarkets appeared in the area.

It was early in the morning. I was preparing to go to elementary school when there was a knock on the door.

“Ma, it’s The Egg Man!”

With a dragging a foot and a face misshapen from a stroke, he went door-to-door selling eggs.

“Order mir a dozen krex.”

I turned to The Egg Man and ordered a dozen krex.

For years I had no idea what krex were. I thought they were an addition to the selection from the small, medium or large eggs. In my teens, I recalled the many encounters with The Egg Man.

“Ma, do you remember The Egg Man? I asked. “What were the krex you ordered from him?”

She told me she had a choice of buying regular eggs or krex. The regular eggs were undamaged eggs; the krex had hairline cracks in them; hence, krex. They, of course, were substantially cheaper than the regular eggs. The Egg Man hobbled off to where?

Underneath those pink, dirty and dank quilted blankets, in front of Adoff’s drug store rested three 6” long blocks of ice. Sal, The Iceman was canvassing his customers. Upon seeing him at her door, the housewife lifted an oak lid on top of the icebox to see what remained of her block of ice. With his calls completed, Sal returned to his horrible blankets, removed his pick from its leather holster, lifted the soggy pink blanket and began to peck away at the block. A chunk of ice was separated. He fastened his tongs around the piece, placed it in a miniature wooden wine bucket, lifted it to his shoulder then carried it off to his first customer.

Every apartment had an oak icebox. A block of ice in the upper chamber chilled the contents in the chambers below. As the ice melted, the water was directed towards a small pipe leading to a drip pan below the icebox. Forgotten trips to the overflowing drip pan left a puddle creeping towards the curvy legs of our Quality gas stove.

In late fall when there was a consistent chill in the air, my father placed a sheet metal box with two sliding doors on our kitchen windowsill. He connected it with braided wire to two eye screws in the wooden jambs on either side of the window. Everything we had in the icebox was transferred to this window box. Our encounter with The Iceman came temporarily to a halt. The chill of fall and winter refrigerated and sometimes froze our perishables.

Milk, only available in glass bottles was yet to be homogenized. Through the glass, you could easily see the separation between the cream and the rest of the milk. On very cold days, as the freezing water in the milk expanded, it would push up the cream popping up and out the cardboard lid. The Iceman was on hold until the following spring.

In the spring of 1939, a new blue and white enameled sign dangling from a 12″ metal pipe projecting from the facade of our building replaced the old, rusty one. It announced the availability of apartments along with a perk; a Kelvinator gas refrigerator. The oak icebox was gone but would revisit fifty years later. The Iceman slid into retirement. If the landlord didn’t collect the iceboxes, they became storage containers in our small apartments. How were we to know that fifty years later these iceboxes would become expensive collectibles housing stereo sets or wines and liquor?

Who else marched in this passing parade? An occasional visitor was The Organ Grinder. At the end of his performance, his monkey darted from one person to another collecting coins in a small metal cup. In the summer, Simonize Joe, a smiling, jovial black man would appear in khaki jodhpurs, a wrinkled white shirt, clutching a bottle of whiskey while singing a song only familiar to him. His voice sounded like Louis Armstrong’s marinated in alcohol. Coins were thrown into a rumpled hat at his feet. As the change dropped into the hat, he would declare,

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

In chorus, we would ask,

“Who is the Lord?”

“Calvert is the Lord!” he replied as he held up his inexpensive bottle of Lord Calvert rye whiskey.

The last time I saw Joe was in 1939 when the Detroit Tigers were at the Yankee Stadium. He was a rabid Detroit Tiger fan. Walking along the aisles, he gesticulated at the ineptness of each Yankee batter who stepped up to the plate. Whenever Hank Greenberg came to bat, he would run towards the field boxes. With one hand he clutched tightly to the paper bag holding his pint of Lord Calvert, with the other he pointed to the bleachers. Joe tippled out of the Bronx never to be seen again.

In the 1930s, a common sight was a family dispossessed; removed from their apartment for non-payment of rent. Their furniture, dumped on the sidewalk in front of their house resembled Salvation Army rejects waiting for disposal. My mother, holding my nine-year-old hand tightly saw her friend, Tillie, her two daughters and her husband standing on the stoop of their apartment house. Tillie’s family was dispossessed. Before moving to a shelter for defaulting on her rent, she addressed a small crowd gathered between her and her possessions.

“How do we pay rent?

“How do we pay rent when there are no jobs?”

Turning to her husband, she went on,

“Is this why he was gassed in France?”

“Look at my husband. He hasn’t worked in four months!”

My mother joined the sobbers around us. I looked at a crumpled blue shirt with a worn, wilted collar, oversized pants, threadbare at the knees supported by stretched, rippled suspenders. His dirt impregnated into calloused hands hadn’t held a pickaxe, pushed a wheelbarrow or loaded a truck in months. He was a poster child for The Great Depression. The sobbing was contagious. I held back tears. Big guys didn’t cry.

One day, the empty lot adjacent to my apartment house vibrated in tempo to the explosives used to excavate a foundation for a group of stores. We watched through holes in a wooden fence as heavy metal mats, covering the detonating area heaved with each blast. Steam shovels loaded waiting trucks with the debris from the blasts. Finally, when the blasting was completed and the base of the excavation was flat, construction began on an A&P supermarket the magnet of this small shopping complex. The mom and pop stores of the neighborhood were shoved aside by this giant. They joined the The I Cash Clothes Man, The Lineman, The Sweet Potato Man, The Jelly Apple Man, The Knife Sharpener, The Fruit Man, The Iceman and The Yardnik who once marched in this rich spectrum of characters in the Passing Parade.

The Passing Parade quickstepped into oblivion. This pageant and its colorful cast of characters vanished, leaving only their memory, which will pass when the surviving residents who “cheered” from the sidelines, will follow the inevitable path of the parade.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Shadow Blankets the Bronx

A Shadow Blankets the Bronx

Nineteen-thirty-seven was not a hopeful year, but we didn’t know it. Seven-year-olds weren’t expected to know it. Neighbors shared two-cent papers, hot water visited us occasionally, and heat rose from the basement when Mom’s hammer blasting blows onto our radiator roused the janitor from his alcoholic stupor.

In the Bronx, unemployed fathers met in Crotona Park to extol the virtues of socialism. It appealed to workingmen in the garment industry who considered themselves fortunate to be employed five months a year.

By utilizing rolled up newspapers, broomsticks, milk boxes, tin cans, rubber balls, the facades and stoops of our tenement buildings, competitive games occupied us for hours.

The ground rules were being settled for a punchball game between two neighborhood rivals, the Minford Place Marauders and the Seabury Place Pawnees. To avoid the inevitable argument, we gathered in a cluster around a sewer lid in the middle of the street.

“If you catch the ball off the car without a bounce, you’re out, and don’t try to punch the ball when you’re halfway to first base. You have to punch it at the sewer-lid, which is home plate, and then run to first base. That’s how the big guys play it.”

“If the ball goes in Schmidt’s cellar, you’re out and you have to …”

“Wow! Look at that! Look up there!”

A burst of silence erupted as we stood with our mouths agape. The bright, sunny sky was eclipsed by the sinister appearance of this huge, oval object. It became the focus of our attention, an unexpected intruder on an ongoing neighborhood rivalry. We were stunned. The clear, sunlit afternoon vanished. Seabury Place was blanketed by a giant dark shadow. The airship hovered above us like a marionette suspended by strings. Why wasn’t it speeding like the airplanes that pass every day?

“Wha’…? What is that thing?” cried Arty as he moved closer to Donny.

“Get off’ a me dummy. How should I know?”

“I don’t like this. Let’s get out’a here,” shouted Bernie.

We saw the Hindenburg in newsreels and in newspapers, but who expected it to hang over Seabury Place? On its rudder, a twisted black swastika in a white circular field, encased in a red square assured us it was the Hindenburg.

Why was it flying at such a low altitude? Could it have come all the way from Germany? If there was a swastika on its rudder, were there Nazis inside? What will they do to us after they land? Where was it going to land?

The punchball game had lost its moment. Without a word, the Marauders gathered and quietly returned to the security of their turf, Minford Place. We retired to our headquarters, our meeting place, our dugout for ball games; a parked car’s running board. For security, we squeezed more closely to one another than usual. Shoulders pressed against shoulders, knees coupled with knees. Arty, shaking with fright sputtered,

“I’m going upstairs.”

Bernie, who was just as anxious as Arty, put on an air of bravado,

.        “Oh, scardy-cat is going upstairs to his mommy.”

With that, Bernie said he was going upstairs to ask his mother if she knew anything about the Hindenburg.

“How would she know?” asked Donny. “You don’t buy a newspaper.”

“I don’t buy one either,” I replied. “Mr. Suslow gives it to my father after he’s through with it.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll bet he doesn’t know that the Hindenburg flew over Seabury Place today.”

“When he comes home, I’ll ask him.”

The running board session was adjourned. Rapidly beating hearts and wobbly legs stumbled for home. I opened the door to my apartment. Ma was filling a chicken-neck-skin to make heldzel (stuffed derma).

“Ma, did you see the scary zeppelin that flew over Seabury Place this afternoon?”

“How can I see anything when our kitchen window shows me Mrs. Koletsky’s kitchen? Wait until Pa comes home.”

Pa soon dragged himself into our apartment. I ran to tell him about the Hindenburg. He became agitated.

“What? A swastika?” he said. “Nazis? How could it be? The United States doesn’t want those bastards here.”

Pa was well aware of the German threat throughout Europe. A large part of our family was living in a tiny village in Lithuania. He was about to turn on the radio when my uncle came home from work. He had been a freeloading boarder, laundry included since he attended my parent’s wedding.

“Izzy, did you see the Hindenburg today?” asked Pa.

“What Hindenburg? Wasn’t he a German general? What was he doing here in the Bronx?”

“Yes,” Pa said sarcastically. “Are you in good shape? He came here to draft you for the German army.”

At 8:00 PM our family gathered around our small, gothic Emerson table radio to listen to the news. It was Thursday, May 6, 1937. An excited newscaster reported that the Hindenburg drifted slowly over New York City heading for Lakehurst, New Jersey. At 7:45 PM, upon approaching its mooring at Lakehurst it exploded, killing 35 of the 97 people aboard. A member of the ground crew was also killed. Rumors as to the cause of this disaster persist to this day. Indisputable evidence is still lacking.

On September 1, 1939, without the Hindenburg, Germany invaded Poland and World War II was underway.

 The Hindenburg crashes at Lakehurst, N.J.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Col. W. A. Sidney

Korea 1952

Co. W. A. Sidney

Korea 1952

Co. W. A. Sidney

“I have but one regret in life, that I was unable to attain a soldier’s immortality and that is to die in battle for the service of my country.”

You are ordered tp attack Hill121. Lt. Sidney, the officer leading the raid seeks ” to attain a soldier’s immortality”. Read on.

Interred in Arlington National Cemetery lies Col. W. A. Sidney. When Company L was sent to reserve, he came to us as Lt. Sidney, our commanding officer. In the face of danger, he was fearless. He replaced Captain “Command Post Smith” who never ventured out of his bunker (his command post).

Lt. Sidney was a role model for a US Army recruiting poster. It would have drawn many recruits into the service. He was tall, he was handsome, he was brazen. It seemed as if his fatigues was customized by a tailor from London’s Savile Row. He was a standout wherever he went.

On Sundays, in reserve, the company had a USO show or spent the morning reviewing the previous week’s maneuvers. He reserved Sunday for Organized Athletics (Organized Grabass), which included softball, boxing, throwing dummy hand grenades toward an open barrel, or trying to hit a target for those assigned a .45 cal. pistol. Since I was a BAR man, my side weapon was a .45 cal pistol.  I feared for my life if I had to depend upon this .45 cal. pistol.

After three weeks of training, Company L returned to the MLR (Main Line of Resistance)). Unlike “Command Post Smith,” our fears diminished when Lt. Sidney accompanied us on patrols or raids. Upon encountering the Chinese, he spread us out and yelled at the men with automatic weapons, “Fire in bursts! Fire in bursts! Don’t stay in one place! Move around!” When we returned to our positions on the MLR he smelled our barrels to be sure we fired our weapons.

On the night of August 8, 1952 we were to raid and occupy Hill 117. Our platoons ambushed. Lt Sidney moved towards each man to direct their fire then stood up and yelled at the Chinese, “We’re coming at you, you bastards!” Oh yes, the fear was there, but that simple shout gave us the motivation to return fire. We suffered casualties, but I’m sure that his action dealt the Chinese a heavy blow.

On every raid, he presented optional paths of withdrawal and passed this mantra on to his officers and NCOs. When we were ambushed, to avoid further casualties, rather than return on the trail we had passed, Lt. Sidney sent us down a cliff and into the Imjin River. We waded safely to our bunkers. On another occasion, he set up our recoilless rifle team on a knoll just behind our targeted Hill 12l. We were about to withdraw when we heard ear-piercing screams. A squad of Chinese had tried to ambush us from our rear, but the recoilless rifle team on the knoll incinerated them with white phosphorus rounds.

In preparation for a planned United Nations assault on the Chinese from the north, I was sent to Japan to integrate and train with the recruits that had arrived from stateside, but the truce was signed before the invasion. I later learned that Capt. Sidney directed a helicopter base in Vietnam. He earned his third CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge). I was discharged on Sept. 19, 1953.

The years had passed. With the help of the GI Bill, I was graduated from The City College of New York, and then taught high school biology for thirty years. After I had retired, I moved to Florida.

My wife answered a phone call.

“Danny, pick up the phone. This guy scares me.” “Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Flaherty, you dummy!”

“The last time I saw you, you were lying on a litter with your bloody jaw spread out on your chest.”

“Forget about that. I found Col. Sidney and seventy-nine addresses of men from Company L. I remember you helped the guys write letters to their wives and girlfriends. I want you to write a newsletter so that we could have a reunion.”

Col. Sidney was living with his ex-wife, Ava in Winter Park, FL. Flaherty was living in Merritt Island, FL. My home was in Boca Raton, FL. To plan the reunion, Ray, Sid and I met at an outdoor restaurant in Merritt Island. After a brief discussion, people within earshot started moving their chairs toward us in order to listen to Col. Sidney. He was a dynamic presence.

Col. Sidney attended three more annual reunions and finally, he passed away on January 18, 2000. He was the glue that kept us together. With Col. Sidney gone and age slowing us down, there were no more reunions, but our men whenever they visit Washington pay him a well-earned visit.

Interred in Arlington National Cemetery lies Col. W. A. Sidney. When Company L was sent to reserve, he came to us as Lt. Sidney, our commanding officer. In the face of danger, he was fearless. He replaced Captain “Command Post Smith” who never ventured out of his bunker (his command post).

Lt. Sidney was a role model for a US Army recruiting poster. It would have drawn many recruits into the service. He was tall, he was handsome, he was brazen. It seemed as if his fatigues was customized by a tailor from London’s Savile Row. He was a standout wherever he went.

On Sundays, in reserve, the company had a USO show or spent the morning reviewing the previous week’s maneuvers. He reserved Sunday for Organized Athletics (Organized Grabass), which included softball, boxing, throwing dummy hand grenades toward an open barrel, or trying to hit a target for those assigned a .45 cal. pistol. Since I was a BAR man, my side weapon was a .45 cal pistol

After three weeks of training, Company L returned to the MLR (Main Line of Resistance)). Unlike “Command Post Smith,” our fears diminished when Lt. Sidney accompanied us on patrols or raids. Upon encountering the Chinese, he spread us out and yelled at the men with automatic weapons, “Fire in bursts! Fire in bursts! Don’t stay in one place! move around!” When we returned to our positions on the MLR he smelled our barrels to be sure we fired our weapons.

On the night of August 8, 1952 our platoons ambushed. Lt Sidney moved towards each man to direct their fire then stood up and yelled at the Chinese, “We’re coming at you, you bastards!” Oh yes, the fear was there, but that simple shout gave us the motivation to return fire. We suffered casualties, but I’m sure that his action dealt the Chinese a heavy blow.

On every raid, he presented optional paths of withdrawal and passed this mantra on to his officers and NCOs. When we were ambushed, to avoid further casualties, rather than return on the trail we had passed, Lt. Sidney sent us down a cliff and into the Imjin River. We waded safely to our bunkers. On another occasion, he set up our recoilless rifle team on a knoll just behind our targeted Hill 12l. We were about to withdraw when we heard ear-piercing screams. A squad of Chinese had tried to ambush us from our rear, but the recoilless rifle team on the knoll incinerated them with white phosphorus rounds.

In preparation for a planned United Nations assault on the Chinese from the north, I was sent to Japan to integrate and train with the recruits that had arrived from stateside, but the truce was signed before the invasion. I later learned that Capt. Sidney directed a helicopter base in Vietnam. He earned his third CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge). I was discharged on Sept. 19, 1953.

The years had passed. With the help of the GI Bill, I was graduated from The City College of New York, and then taught high school biology for thirty years. After I had retired, I moved to Florida.

My wife answered a phone call.

“Danny, pick up the phone. This guy scares me.” “Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Flaherty, you dummy!”

“The last time I saw you, you were lying on a litter with your bloody jaw spread out on your chest.”

“Forget about that. I found Col. Sidney and seventy-nine addresses of men from Company L. I remember you helped the guys write letters to their wives and girlfriends. I want you to write a newsletter so that we could have a reunion.”

Col. Sidney was living with his ex-wife, Ava in Winter Park, FL. Flaherty was living in Merritt Island, FL. My home was in Boca Raton, FL. To plan the reunion, Ray, Sid and I met at an outdoor restaurant in Merritt Island. After a brief discussion, people within earshot started moving their chairs toward us in order to listen to Col. Sidney. He was a dynamic presence.

Col. Sidney attended three more annual reunions and finally, he passed away on January 18, 2000. He was the glue that kept us together. With Col. Sidney gone and age slowing us down, there were no more reunions, but our men whenever they visit Washington pay him a well-earned visit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All The World’s A Stage

All The World’s A Stage

Three shabby tenements crawled out of their foundations to have a commanding view of East 172 St. in the Bronx. At the base of one of these buildings, on this unremarkable street, stood a remarkable candy store. This candy store was the focal point of our neighborhood, our command post. This was where the boys hung out. This was where neighbors made, and received phone calls. This was where insults soared with the flies that hovered over its tacky Formica counter.

Adjacent to its entrance stood a crumbling oak newspaper stand. To prevent it from a total collapse, it was held together by screwed-on metal signs, advertising Raleigh cigarettes, Model Pipe Tobacco, and Sodas by Hammer. At night, when lit, three light bulbs above the stand, attracted more insects than customers.

Yes, All The World’s a Stage, and shows were performed daily in our candy store to SRO (standing room only) crowds. In this store, Bob Hope would have had bottom billing, and Cecil B. DeMille’s spectaculars, would have been unspectacular.

The original owner was Steve the Greek. He, and his 10 year-old-daughter lived in a shabby backroom of the store. We were eight and nine year-olds waiting for the phone to ring so that we could call a neighbor to the phonebooth and receive a soda or milk bottle, redeemable for a two-cent tip at the grocery.

Penny candy during the Great Depression, with customers having not much more in their pockets, could not provide an acceptable income for Steve. In addition, one of the older boys, The Bull, who was an occasional customer, would harass Steve and his daughter to a point when Steve saw The Bull coming, he would shout,

‘Uh,Uh. Here comes da Bull”, then turned turn off the lights and closed the store.

Steve sold the store to Refugee Jack. Jack and his wife were s Holocaust survivors.

Nearly all the neighbors and building janitors were occasional customers. The most favored visit for Jack was a young lady, any young lady.

Through the door came an attractive neighborhood divorcee and her three-year-old son, Arthur. She had a skirt as tight as a tourniquet and a neckline that plunged down to her ankles. Jack’s mouth salivated and his eyes lit up like flashbulbs.

“Tell the man what you want, Arthur.”

“I want a Moyshee bar and tomato chips.”

When Arthur dropped a few potato chips, his mother bent down to pick them up. Jack nearly fell over the counter searching for cleavage. To supplement this scene, the boys sung their favorite refrain for Jack. It was sung to the tune of Gentleman Jack..

Gentleman Jack’s

A sex maniac

There’s no such thing

As a piece of dreck

To Jack, Jack, the sex maniac.

dreck: shit

Jack barely eked out a living so he sold the store to our friend’s father, Morris. His sons, Sol and Peanzy worked behind the counter while Morris drove a cab.

To celebrate the day of the purchase, Jerry ordered a Coke from the fountain. Peanzy removed a long spoon from its ceramic canister in order to mix the syrup with the seltzer. Dangling from the end of the spoon was a roach hanging and twirling by one leg. Jerry deferred to a chocolate Mello-Roll (ice cream cone).

Sol would be as active behind the counter as over it. One day Fat Anne came into the store. She was quite free with her body to the older boys, so Sol, with his white apron flailing, hurdled over the counter, wrapped his leg around Anne and shouted,

“Let’s go to it Anne.” Unlike Queen Victoria, the boys were amused.

Then there was Flat Anne. Just as Fat Anne had mega-mammaries, Flat Ann was as flat as my handkerchief. She had an unusually long stride to her walk so, in addition to Flat Anne, we called her Gunder after the Swedish runner Gunder Haag who, in the 1940s, broke many middle distance track records.

A feeble click on the door handle would announce Gravel Gertie. Gertie and her husband were the janitors of 1524 Seabury Place. Prunelike, dry, wrinkled skin highlighted an alcohol-induced, mottled cherry to blue complexion fading to gray as it reached the bristles above and below her chin. She was a sight that chased the most vicious dogs from her alley. When she reached a state of sobriety, she would elevate herself to a vertical position, stagger into the candy store and then shout,

“One up on the dope!” Sol knew what this meant: “A glass of Alka-Seltzer to counter my bleeping hangover!”

Of course, the door handle wasn’t exclusively for Gertie.

Strictly, who lived across the street would reluctantly enter the candy store. Sol baptized her Strictly after he listened to her conversation in the phonebooth.

“Flame Glo lipstick? It smears It’s strictly for the birds.”

“Janet? She strictly wears sweaters. She thinks she’s an oomph girl.”

“Strictly, between you and me, I think they’re falsies.”

She hated the name Strictly and Sol knew it.

Strictly entered the candy store.

Sol, performing for the boys shouted,

“What’ll you have Strictly?”

She was about to turn and leave when her mother who was paying for a newspaper replied,

“Sure she’s strictly. She’s strictly kosher.”

“Strictly kosher my ass, said Sol. She’s strictly bullshit.”

Two senior patrons, Mr, Silver, the owner of a grocery on Minford Place was verbally dueling with Beep-Da-Da-Brook (We never knew his real name) when a sexy young girl came into the store for a pack of cigarettes. After she left, Beep-Da-Da-Brook slobbered,

“Oy vat I could do mitt her!”

“You could do notting mitt her,” said Mr. Silver.

“So, nu Mr. Bigshot, vot kenn you do mitt her?”

“She could get me so eggsited, I could kerry a pail mitt it. Translation: I could get such an erection that I could carry a pail with it.

Nu, vot ken you do?”

”I could get so eggsited, I could put fifteen pennies on it.”

“Yeah,” said Beep-Da-Da-Brook. Vun on top of the odder!”

Is there a script-writer who could dream this up?

It was a day like any other day at the candy store. We anticipated laughs and were never disappointed.

It was unusually quiet in this 12’ x 20’ asylum. Lunchee Blum yelled out,

“Let’s outstare The Painter!”

The Painter was a character who lived on the second floor of a building directly across the street from the candy store. He would stand frozen like a saint in a stained glass window, staring down at the candy store.

The boys left the store, gathered together as in a tight-team photo, and tried to outstare The Painter. The moment he twitched, a roar of “Ray!” resounded off the nearby tenements. Until he moved from the neighborhood, he had no clue as to the entertainment he provided for the boys.

How cold I forget Coaltown and Citation? We called them Coaltown and Citation after the fabled Kentucky Derby winners. They were two slight, frail, 80+year-old Orthodox Jewish men who lived somewhere in the neighborhood. With support from their canes, arm in arm they took measured steps, like windup toys teetering towards our candy store.

Coaltown wore a black, tight-fitting overcoat with wide lapels attached to a black velvet collar surrounding the nape of his neck and shoulders. A black derby pulled down to his snowy-white eyebrows completed his fashion statement. Citation wore a loose-fitting gray overcoat embellished by a large, black, Persian lamb collar swirling around to the first button. His derby seemed stapled to the top of his head.

I was about to leave the candy store to call Mrs. Kalig to the phone when I saw them coming. I knew that they were there to recruit the boys because they didn’t have a minion (ten men for a prayer service). I returned to the store.

“Coaltown ad Citation are coming!” I shouted.

This precipitated a sacrilegious dash for the nearest hallway to avoid a pious conscription for their prayer service.

Jake the Snake and Willie the Weasel decided to expel the chalk dust and cigarette smoke from their lungs from Pop’s poolroom to pay us a visit. Hanging from Willie the Weasel’s arm was a threadbare, navy-blue overcoat. Jake the Snake was holding two oranges. Willie dropped the gauntlet.

“This cashmere coat says that no one in this candy store can throw an orange further than my man, Jake. Ante up fifteen dollars.”

“That coat belongs in the Salvation Army, not in my candy store,” said Sol.

“He got it off a truck in the Garment district. It’s brad new.”

To perk up the afternoon, the boys pooled their money and came up with thirteen dollars.

Monty, a sidekick of Willie and Jake ran across the street and brought down two of his

older brother’s suits to up the ante. The suits were pre-war vintage and what would

anyone do with a raggedy overcoat?

Sol went to the cash register and removed four dollars. Seventeen dollars was the bet.

Why would anyone think of suits and an overcoat? It was summer. The only thing we thought about clothes was shedding them. But fun was the name of the game.

I was selected to challenge the Snake. On the hill outside the candy store, the sewer lid in the middle of the gutter was the throwing point.

Jake was first to throw. Unexpectedly, he threw the orange down the middle of the street at quite a distance. It splattered at the intersection between Minford Place and E. 172 Street. Next, my throw went down the street, passed the intersection, and hit a fire escape on a building to the left, several feet past Jake the Snake’s orange.

A quick measurement was followed by the anticipated argument.

“Anyone can see that Jake’s blast in the middle of the street is far ahead of Danny’s,”

shouted Willie.

“What are you blind?” replied Alvin. The fire escape didn’t move. “Danny’s orange is far

ahead of Jake’s.”

As the squabbling began, Jake and Monty dashed up the hill. Jake grabbed the cashmere and Monty grabbed the suits from the newsstand and disappeared.

The garments would have to wait for another scheme since a replay was declined. But the curtain was not drawn on their performance. Willie announced that he had a delicious dessert for the evening.

“I imported some vanilla trade from Java. For five dollars, guaranteed to see rockets.”

Translation: “I have some lightly pigmented girls. For a five dollars tryst, you’re guaranteed to soar to the stars.”

These were just a few featured performances on our stage’s Playbill.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Wounded Warrior Without a Shot Fired

It was the end of August 1952. The Korean War evolved into a battle for hills and firefights on night patrols.

Battalion believed that a sniper who killed Sgt. Fostine Douglas was in a bunker at the base of a cliff opposite our position overlooking the Imjin River. It must be eliminated before he kills another man.

My bunker buddy Wayne Caton was still missing in action. I was dining alone on my C-Rations when Sgt. Flaherty pulled open the blanket-door to my bunker.

“Reilly, the second squad is going to get the Gook that killed Sgt. Douglas.”

“When? How?

“Tonight we’ll have dry run, tomorrow we’ll practice with the bunker bomb. On Thursday Lt. Theiss will lead our squad across the Imjin, and blast the bunker.”

This news, as most news of any action was unsettling. Maybe Charley, our point man knows more about this. When I approached him, he was adding a new mass of green branches to the roof of his bunker.

“Hey Charley, I’m getting edgy. We’re going to blast a bunker on the other side of the Imjin with a bunker bomb.”

“Who said so?”

“Flaherty.”

“What’s a bunker bomb? How is it set off?” I asked.

 “I don’t know. I never saw one. I don’t ask questions. I follow orders.”

I should have known that this paratrooper who falsified his age to join the army, and volunteered to be the platoon point man was not someone who could ease my anxiety.

That evening, in the valley behind our frontline positions, our squad met with Lt. Theiss, our platoon leader.

“We don’t need a runner for this operation,” said Lt. Theiss. “So Reilly, you will carry the bunker bomb.”

“Where is it?”

“You’ll get it tomorrow night from Massey (our armorer).”

What a horrific way to start an evening. I will carry a bunker bomb! But all went well on the dry run.

Standing guard outside my bunker, I was distracted by the usual sounds that visited me when I was on guard duty. My nerves were placed on high alert. Sounds from crawling critters became sounds of the crawling enemy.

I abandoned my watch a month ago. The plastic crystal dissolved when I sprayed my arm with an insecticide.

When is Whitefeather coming to relieve me? He’s usually reliable. Maybe he forgot?                                                                            

Whitefeather arrived on time. How this man became a paratrooper was beyond me. He was overweight and each step he took seemed to be measured agony.

With no idea what was in store for me, I went into my bunker and managed two hours of sleep.

Mail call the following day brought a letter from Elaine that consisted of a New York City weather report, her boring job, and am I taking care of myself. No, Elaine, I don’t have to take care of myself. I have Sgt. Flaherty and Lt. Theiss to take care of me.

That evening, before our rehearsal, I went to Massey to get the bomb. The bomb consisted of .30 caliber machine gun canister filled halfway with napalm, attached to a phosphorescent grenade, all connected to the end of a four-foot pole.

What have I gotten into? Why didn’t I remain a BAR man? Why did I let Charley talk me into becoming a runner?

I carried the bomb to our practice area.

“Remember men, this bunker is at the base of a cliff. No grenades. They’ll roll back. We’ll cross the river at the sandbar and make a left. The bunker is nearby. On the cliff above us, all units have been notified.

Any questions?”

Yes. How do I get out of here?

The wait for evening seemed endless. I met my squad at Massey’s bunker. He handed me the bomb then Lt. Theiss led us down the path to the river.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Could you imagine cautiously plodding through a river that begins combat boot high at the riverbank, and then swells to an uncertain depth as you wade forward? Of course you couldn’t, but who could?

 Upon entering the river, Lt. Theiss, our platoon leader was at the center of the squad, I was in front of him. I could feel the water seeping through my cracked boots. We moved on. The blistering August heat was neutralized by the he cool water hugging my thighs, My fatigues were caked with a surreal landscape of bizarre stains decorated from two months of sleeping on the floor of my bunker, rubbing along the trenches, combined with sweat from the unbearable heat. But that millstone in my hands, that wooden pole with the bunker bomb connected at its end negated any pleasure I could derive from the cool river’s waters.

Oh yes, the water hid us, but as soon as we step onto that sandbar we’ll be target practice.                                                                                                                              

Halfway to the sandbar, Charley, our point man waded toward Lt. Theiss to inform him that all was well.

The water that was at my thighs was now pushing against my chest.                                     Was there further erosion of this riverbed? No, battalion wouldn’t plan an operation without knowing the depth of the river. The chlorinated water of the Crotona Park pool where my friends and I splashed and frolicked without a care in the world is now history. Diving into the waves at Jones Beach is now history. I was drafted. I’m 22. Here I am, a dogface, tense in a river in Korea.

I lifted the bomb above my head. The water crept up to my chin. Another step and I would be sipping the effluence from the fecal-fertilized rice paddies surrounding the river’s banks of the north.

Crack! Crack!

What was that?                                                                                                                 

Charley came rushing towards us.

”Those idiots on the cliff above us just threw a couple of concussion grenades at me!”

Lt. Theiss immediately put a halt to the attack. If I wasn’t benumbed by what had just taken place, I would have kissed him.

Our squad waded quickly back to the riverbank then onto the trail that brought us there. We sat on our inverted helmets to await a truck from battalion for a debriefing.               Unfortunately, the stress of the operation was more than Lt. Theiss could bear. His sporadic laughter, while rocking back and forth on his helmet told us we had a wounded warrior without a shot fired.

Our platoon leader was reassigned to a motor pool in the rear and was replaced by Lt. Crowe.

danielwolfebooks@aol.com

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Sidewalks of New York

The Sidewalks of New York

“Hey Jerry, get your mother off the field, we’re playing a game!”

“Cut it out Joey, Don’t talk about my mother like that. Did I ever say anything about your mother?”

“Mom, would you please get off the field, we’re playing a game. I’ll have the milk and cookies after the game.”

Mom left preaching her usual sermon.

“The game. The game. All day long you play the game. If you did your homework like Walter does, instead of punching a ball in the street I wouldn’t have to see a teacher every week.”

It was a warm June afternoon. The boys retired to their headquarters, their meeting place, their dugout for ball games, a parked car’s running board. Eddie broke the silence.

“I heard that Bill Dickey can tell where a foul pop-up is going to go once it leaves the batter’s bat.”

“You heard. You heard. You’re always hearing things Eddie. The FBI could use you.”

“No Marty. He’s too stupid.”

The running board’s hard rubber embossed strips began to squeeze into Eddie’s rear.

Eddie stood up rubbing his rear end.

“Let’s sit on to the curb near the fire hydrant, my ass is killing me.”

Marty wasn’t happy with this suggestion.

“Dogs piss on the hydrant. I’m staying.”

“Holy shit! Wow! Look up in the sky! Wha’, … What is that thing?” trembled Marty as he edged closer to Eddie.

“Get offa’ me dummy. How should I know?”

The boys squeezed closer together. Shoulders pressed against shoulders, knees coupled with trembling knees, their mouths were agape. They were stunned. The bright summer sky was eclipsed by the sinister appearance of a huge oval object. Seabnry Place was blanketed under a giant shadow. It was an airship that seemed to be suspended by strings like a marionette.

“Why wasn’t it moving like the airplanes that pass by every day? I don’t like this. I’m gettin’ outta’ here,” shouted Joey.

Jerry, although startled was as anxious as the rest. He had seen the Hindreberg in the newsreels, but who expected it to hang over Seabury Place? On its rudder was a black swastika in a circular white field and encased in a red square. This assured Jerry it was the Hindenberg.

Could it have come here all the way from Germany? Were there Nazis inside? What would they do to us after they land? Where is it going to land?

Eddie, shaken with fright sputtered,

“I’m going upstairs.”

Marty, who was just as anxious as Joey, put on an air of bravado,

“Oh, scardy-cat is going upstairs to his mommy.”

With that, Joey said he too was going upstairs to ask his mother if she knew anything about the Hindenburg.

“How would she know?” asked Joey. “You don’t buy a newspaper.”

“We don’t buy one either,” replied Eddie. “Mr. Suslow gives it to my father after he finishes it.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll bet he doesn’t know that the Hindenburg flew over Seabury Place today.”

“When he comes home, I’ll ask him.”

The running board summit was adjourned. Rapidly beating hearts and wobbly legs stumbled for home.

Jerry opened the door to his apartment to find his mom stuffing a chicken skin’s neck to make derma.

“Mom, did you see the Hindenberg fly over Seabury Place this afternoon?”

“How can I see anything when our kitchen window shows me Mrs. Koletsky’s kitchen? Wait until Pa or Izzy come home.”

Izzy was Pa’s bachelor brother. He moved into the apartment and became a barnacle for zero dollars a month, food and laundry included.

Pa soon dragged himself into the apartment and Izzy soon followed. Jerry ran to tell him about the Hindenburg.

“What? A swastika?” he said. “Nazis? How could it be?”

He approached Jerry’s brother, “Harold, did you see it?”

“I didn’t see it. I was in the apartment doing my homework.”

Izzy joined in,

“What Hindenburg? Wasn’t he a German general? What was he doing here in the Bronx?”

“Yes,” Pa said sarcastically. “He came here to draft you for the German army.”

After dinner the family gathered around their small, Gothic Emerson table radio. It was Thursday, May 6, 1938. An excited Gabriel Heatter delivered a special report. The Hindenburg drifted slowly over New York City. At 7:45 PM, upon approaching its mooring at Lakehurst, New Jersey, it exploded killing 35 of the 97 people aboard. A member of the ground crew was also killed.

The excitement wore off in a couple of days and the boys returned to their street.

They were ten-years-olds. They haven’t as yet graduated from punchball to stickball. But that’s OK, the field is smaller and the cops didn’t grab the sticks.

What did ten-year-olds do after school? The smarter ones did their homework. Fun was the name of the boy’s game.

Jerry, the unelected leader of the group suggested,

“How about roasting some mickies tonight? I’ll meet you after supper and we’ll go to Jennings Street Market. Me and Joey will get the potatoes, Eddie and Marty will get the wooden boxes.”

“Great idea. But what if we get caught?”

“Get caught? How many times did we get caught, Marty? Boy, are you a fink.”

“I’m not afraid, I just think the mickies are dirty when we take them out of the fire.”

“Eddie, did you ever get sick from a mickie?”

“No, and they’re really good.’”

After dinner the boys met outside Nick the shoemaker’s store. Together they walked the three blocks to Jennings Street Market. Jerry lifted the nailed-down canvas cover of Miller’s stand.

“Uh-oh, watch it Jerry, that man on the corner. He looks like a detective.”

“Detective my ass. That’s Mr. Feingold, my neighbor from the second floor.”

Eddie slipped his hand under the cover and removed four potatoes. He joined Jerry for their three-block walk to the corner of Seabury Place. In the distance they could see Joey and Marty struggling with four wooden fruit boxes.

The boxes were stacked. To be used for kindling, Marty was about to crush a Jewish newspaper.

“Stop!” said Eddie. ” You can’t burn that. It’s a sin to burn a Jewish newspaper!”

“Who said so?”

“My grandfather, and he should know. He goes to shul (synagogue) every Saturday.”

“My father doesn’t go to shul added Jerry, so I’ll burn it.”

When the wooden boxes began a slow burn, Eddie threw in the four potatoes.

“They only become mickies when their skins are a crusty black,” advised Jerry.

Now a mass of flames danced above the potatoes. The boxes were in a glowing blaze, and then began to collapse.

“Hey guys, shouted Jerry. “It’s Hitler’s house!”

A roar of “Yay!” bounced off the bedroom windowpanes of Seabury Place.

In about ten minutes, an anxious Marty asked,

“Are the mickies ready, Jerry?”

“Yeah, but how do we get them out of the fire?”

“I brought a fork.”

“OK, but don’t burn your hands.”

With the mickies wrapped in the remaining newspaper, the four sat on the curb dining on their stolen dessert.

“Eddie, what are you doing this Saturday? We’re going to Brighton Beach.”

“Brighton Beach? It’s so far. By the time you get there, you’re ready to go home. The last time I went there I was sunburned so bad, my mom took me to Bronx Hospital.”

“So, where are you going this Saturday, Joey?

“I’m going with my brother to Crotona Park pool.”

“Nah, my father says people piss in the water there.”

“So, don’t you think people piss in the ocean at Brighton Beach?”

“Crotona pool is like a bathtub compared to the ocean.”

Games continued on the asphalt street of Seabury Place. Punchball was passé. The boys graduated to stickball. A mop stick was a poor excuse for a broomstick for stickball. But who had a corn-fibered broom? Abe saw a broom tilted on a second floor fire escape.

“It’s Mrs. Stein’s broom,” said Marty.

“She doesn’t need it, we do,” replied Abe.

“How do you know she doesn’t need it?” asked Joey.

“I was in her apartment yesterday telling her she had a phone call at the candy store. Her floors dirtied my sneakers.”

It was agreed that we needed the broom more than Mrs. Stein, but who was going to climb the fire escape?

“Abe, when you’re in the playground, you climb like a monkey. You get it.”

“Hey! It’s in front of the building. Everyone could see me. I’m not going.”

“Then we’ll have to use a mop stick.”

“Maybe we could ask the big-fellas if they could loan us a stick?”

“I don’t see any of the big-fellas.”

The boys retired to Mrs. Baretz’s bench outside her candy store on Boston Road considering their next event.

“Let’s put a penny on the Boston Road trolley track and see what happens.”

“OK Jerry, put your penny on the trolley track and we’ll see what happens.”

“It isn’t worth it to me. I could buy a Hooten square of chocolate for the penny.”

“Then shut up about putting a penny on the track.”

June was coming to a close. No more math tests, spelling tests, fountain pens and inkblots.

In spite of Jerry’s mom, games continued on the sidewalks and gutters of New York.

Fifth grade began with thin spellers, thick math books and a thicker reader. Mr. Klein distributed mending tissue (precursor to Scotch Tape) to students who received books with torn pages. Blank paper was at a premium at this time spelling tests were written on sheets of paper that were cut in half.

World War II was about to take place in Europe. It was 1938, the Great Depression was still depressing the population. Great Britain and France agreed to Germany’s demands. Germany seized the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, and then they occupied Austria. The United States remained neutral but Congress increased expenditures for the Army and the Navy.

In spite of President Roosevelt’s calming Fireside Chats, the population was anxious. Public schools in New York city issued plastic ID tags to the students. Mr. Strauss, Jerry’s and Eddie’s 6th grade teacher gave then permission to collect paper for the defense effort. They left school after the morning session and went door to door in the neighborhood collecting newspapers and magazines.

“Hey Jerry, what the heck have newspapers got to do with the defense effort?”

“I don’t know, but it gets us out of school in the afternoons. So don’t ask questions.”

When Jerry and Eddie filled up a cardboard box, they carried it back to school near the end of the session.

September 1939 was the final term for the boys at P.S. 61. It was also the final term for the Polish population. Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1. Everyone in the neighborhood was apprehensive about the families they had left in Eastern Europe.

All of these political events played a minor role for the eleven-year boys. They were on the trail to a new adventure. That path ended at Hermann Ridder Junior High School.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cholent For Two

Cholent: A stew that has its origin in the European shtetl where the impoverished families used very tough meat as a source of protein. This meat, in order to be edible was cooked overnight with potatoes, beans and any other available vegetables.

Cholent for Two

I got a shtick flaysh

From my butcher named Maysh

Is this a rock or a stone?

It’s as hard as a bone.

 

What can I do?

Make a tzimiss or stew?

For this kind of flaysh

A cholent will do.

 

Buhrikess and beblach

A mehrr mitt a tsibbelleh

Cook slowly overnight

Watch the pot so it doesn’t dribbeleh

 

Carefully set the table

With a place for two

Use a hacksaw and sledge

And you’ll enjoy a cholent for two.

 

Let’s have a fourshpize

I’m a bisseleh farshtupt

Boil me some floimen

Maybe the stupt will erupt

 

Did I hear flankem

Mitt ah lokshun kugle?

A burial site awaits you

With “Taps” from a bugle

 

OY! Where’s the Maalox?

My heartburn’s on fire

Pour in an antacid

There’ll be no cease-fire

 

Burn the recipe

And don’t save the ashes

Don’t even go near it

Or you’ll plotz from the gases

 

Did I forget the cholent

That cholent for two?

It stuffs up the colon

So that nothing gets through.

 

Is there a laxative in this house?

It’s a struggle to evacuate

Get me on the bowl

Before I detonate

 

A zissen kompote

Will put an end to this tsuriss

Put your end on the brettle

And feed the cholent to an allosaurus.

 

Dictionary

flaysh: a piece of meat

cholent: a stew using tough meat and is usually cooked over night.

tzimiss: a stew with potatoes

buhrikess: beets

beblach: beans

mehr: a carrot

tsibbileh: an onion

fourshpize: appetizer

bisseleh fahrshtupt: slightly   constipated

floimen: prunes

flanken: ribs

lokshen kugle: noodle kugle

plotz: explode

zissen compote: a sweet appetizer

tsuriss: troubles

brettle: toilet seat

danielwolfebooks@aol.com

.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Omaha Beach France August 2016

Omaha Beach France August 2016

danny-and-sheila-omaha-beach

An 86-year-old vet isn’t expected to trudge this far. But this is Omaha Beach! A D-day landing beach! I’ll follow our guide wherever she goes.

We stopped at a 22-foot bronze statue called, The Spirit of American Youth Rising From The Waves. It depicts a nude youth rising from the waves of Normandy with arms outstretched towards the sky. At its base, in bold, bronze letters:

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE COMING OF THE LORD.

A short walk brought us to the Omaha Beach Cemetery. Emerging from an emerald-green velvet carpet, were thousands of white, marble crosses. Scattered among them were white marble Stars of David.

Our guide distributed a red rose of remembrance to each of us. It was to rest against a gravestone of our choice. Upon approaching a Star of David, an eerie silence plugged my ears as I rested my rose upon the gravestone of a 19-year-old. Did I imagine the eerie silence, or was it really the silence radiating from the “spirit of American youth” lying under the 9,387 marble markers? Heroes who never knew the gift they had bestowed upon the free world.

I looked at that red rose. It evolved into a red bouquet, a red bouquet that President Ronald Reagan had placed at the Bitburg cemetery in Germany honoring the monstrous Nazi waffen SS.

The president, in his callous ignorance replied to the dissenters,

“They (the SS) were victims, just as the victims in the concentration camps,”

Had he had known it, the American youth below these gravestones would have thought that they had given their lives in vain.

Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor pleaded with the president,

“I implore you to do something else. That place is not your place, Mr. President. Your place is with their victims.” It fell upon deaf ears.

Our group then assembled at the foot of the bronze memorial dedicated to the spirit of American youth that passed away on the Normandy beaches.

The guide asked for any veteran in our group to step forward. About twelve veterans replied. He gave an emotional speech about the sacrifice men make when asked to serve their country. Tears welled up in my eyes recalling the Korean vets in my platoon who did not return. The Star Spangled Banner was aired from speakers surrounding us. Then we went to Omaha Beach.

The beach before us was about a quarter-of-mile wide. Unlike most beaches, it was as flat as a slab of sheetrock, passionless, completely oblivious to its history. I pictured the GIs leaving their Higgins boats and stepping on to this flat beach, helpless, to be mowed down by German machine gunners hidden in concrete bunkers.

Children were chasing after one another, leaving their tiny footprints in the sand. Parents were stretched out under multi-colored beach umbrellas. Tour buses were searching for a parking space. A woman was selling woven baskets. A peaceful panorama sitting upon a beach once soaked with blood.

A motorboat heading towards the shore had me recall this story my sergeant, a WWII vet told me.

“We were cramped up in a Higgins boat heading towards Omaha Beach when we heard machine gun bullets ricocheting off the front ramp. It sounded like a snare drum. When we reached shore, and the ramp went down, seven men in front of me slumped over, dead.”

Estimates of the number of GIs dead on that day, D-day range from 3,500 to 5,000.

sheila-on-beachWith their shoes on, my wife and her friend, Sandy waded knee-deep along the shoreline to baptize themselves with the holy water of Omaha Beach. We stopped for a while to gather memorial sand and then returned to our bus. danny-at-normandy-cemetary

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Boys Recall the Candy Store

The Boys Recall the Candy Store

The booth at the far right corner of the diner was reserved for the 80+boys. For the last three years they sat there for lunch spending most of the time reflecting on their kelly green years.

Events took place in this candy store that would have had Bob Hope applying for welfare, and Cecil B. DeMille’s spectaculars, unspectacular.

“I went back there last year. You wouldn’t believe what happened to our neighborhood.”

“Whatever was done had to be better than what we had.”

“It’s a completely different scene. It appears as if Hollywood planted a giant sterile set to replace the cracked sidewalks, tenements and potholes of our ghetto.”

“I don’t believe it. The area wasn’t cardboard. There were asphalt streets and tenements leaning against concrete sidewalks. How were they replaced?

“If you moved your ass and went there you would see what happened to our neighborhood.”

“My hearing aids don’t pick up the sounds of cars and horns from the road, so my wife doesn’t let me drive.”

“So, put her behind the wheel and go.”

“She has no interest in where we grew up. She came from a fancy neighborhood with private homes.”

“I lived in a private house in our neighborhood and I’m not fancy.”

“Yeah, a private house. It was the only private house in the neighborhood. It should have been condemned as soon as it was built. It wouldn’t surprise me if instead of a pull-chain toilet, you had an outhouse.”

“OK guys, forget about private houses and toilets. Were you able to locate the place on the hill where Refugee Jack had his candy store?”

“You wouldn’t believe it. There is no hill. It’s as flat as Flat Anne.”

“Flat Anne. She should have worn blouses. Her chest was as flat as my handkerchief.”

“What about Fat Anne? What became of her?”

“She married The Nose. I think he died.”

“Refugee Jack; his eyes lit up like flashbulbs when a young female came into his store.”

“I don’t blame him. Did you ever see his wife?”

“Don’t you remember the song we sung?”

Refugee Jack’s a sex maniac                                                                                                                                              There’s no such thing                                                                                                                              As a piece of dreck                                                                                                                                    To Jack, Jack the sex maniac.

“Then Sol Pearl’s father bought the store. That was laughs.”

Sol Pearl baptized Pearl with Strictly because “strictly” flowed from her lips like the water flows out of a hydrant. She hated the name Strictly.

She came into the store one day and Sol asked, “What’ll you have Strictly?” Her mother was about to pay for a newspaper. Upon hearing this she said,

“Sure she’s strictly; she’s strictly kosher.”

“Strictly kosher my ass,” replied Sol. “She’s strictly bullshit.”

“Were you there the day that Jake the Snake and Willie the Weasel came in with a “cashmere” overcoat?”

“What was that all about?”

“They put up the coat as wager that Jake could throw an orange further than anyone in the store. Then Monty came down with his brother’s two suits to up the ante.”

“What was the bet against those coats and suits?”

“They bet the coats and suits against fifteen dollars. We could only raise twelve, so Sol removed three bills from the cash register.

“Only in our candy store would this take place.”

“Now, this diner is our candy store. No laughs. Most of the boys are gone, just pills and memories.”

The complete story can be read in: Seabury Place, A Bronx Memoir by Daniel Wolfe

danielwolfebooks@aol.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment