I love Brooklyn. Don't get me started.
My Brooklyn had its center at 2813 Ocean Avenue, corner of Avenue X.
My father had a hardware store on Avenue X near East 23rd Street. We all went to
Abe and Harold's "candy" store, where I learned about egg creams and lime rickeys.
My dad used to go there at night to get tomorrow's newspaper, a concept which I
had a great deal of trouble comprehending. "How did they know what was going to
I attended P.S. 206, P.S. 254, Shell Bank Jr. High ('57) and James Madison High School('60).
I was in the last Madison graduating class that kids in my neighborhood made. The class
of '61 attended Sheepshead, a brand-new school across the street from Shell Bank having
neither the marble nor tradition of Madison. I really loved my days there, and was always proud to be
associated with the school. When's the next reunion??? We had a great basketball team.
One year, we even beat Boys' High's team with Connie Hawkins! Let's not talk about football.
Except to say when we finally won a game, our victory parade closed Kings Highway on a
My Brooklyn extended southward to the ocean at Brighton Beach and Coney Island,
and later included Manhattan Beach. This included, of course, my beloved Steeplechase,
Nathan's Famous hot dog stand, Mrs. Stahl's knishes, and the Cyclone, a wonderful,
terrifying, wooden roller coaster. My father used to swim from Coney Island to Manhattan Beach,
which from my perspective seemed to be a Herculean feat.
Steeplechase was as an amazing place. Built, I believe, around the turn of the century
(uhhh, last century: Y1.9K), it contained the most amazing array of rides and other forms of
entertainment imaginable. Its hallmark attraction was "The Horses." These were carousel-
like horses, but they had wheels and rode on tracks which encircled the entire park.
Now, I realize that through the eyes of
a ten-year-old, things seem larger than life, but I swear that this ride lasted for minutes
and must have travelled a mile. There were four horses abreast, and since they were propelled
by gravity, being a bit heavier than the average kid gave me an advantage over my skinnier
friends. For a change.
But the end of the ride was just the beginning! From the finish line, the riders would
dismount their wooden steeds and, often unknowingly, enter several stages of humiliating
contraptions through which they would try to walk. These included a large, rotating cylinder
about ten feet long and six feet high; moving steps and walkways which shuttled quickly back
and forth sideways as
the unsuspecting or experienced patsies would try to walk through; and finally, there was a
grate we had to walk over which had jets of air which would blow straight up and lift skirts
and dresses over the heads of the poor girls and women walking above. And if they somehow
escaped those jets, a couple of clowns would chase them with a wand of forced air to complete
the job. Capping the humiliation of all this was the fact that there was an audience watching
all this and you were the performers! Of course, once your performance ended, you could take
a seat and watch and cheer as the next suckers endured the same gauntlet.
On the way to the ocean (along Ocean Avenue, of course) was Sheepshead Bay with Lundy's and
its outdoor clam bar counters. The waiters there always gave us kids as much icd water to
drink as we asked for. I can't imagine that kind of accommodation today.
Sheepshead Bay was also where Gary Morgenstern and I used to bowl at Freddy Fitsimmons'
bowling alley where they had "pinboys" and two-holed balls. I didn't even know who Freddy
Fitz was! (He was a Brooklyn Dodger before Jackie Robinson's and therefore my era.)
At age ten or twelve during the summers, my friend Peter Beichman (whose dad also owned a
hardware store--his on the Bowery) and I joined the Sheepshead Bay Boy's Club (for a buck!),
which allowed us to go on any of the fishing boats in the Bay for a quarter or a half-dollar.
Some of the boats (the Effort and the Elmar, for example) were converted submarine chasers from
World War II. I never ate fish, but really enjoyed fishing.
To the east was Marine Park where I played baseball, once against a team
with Joe Torre, whose brother Frank was still playing in the bigs. One of Joe's teammates
used to say "Come on, Joe Torre, brother of Frank Torre, get a hit!"
Although I never knew exactly where it was (we took the bus and trolley), friends and I
went north to Ebbet's Field very often during the summer months. We scoured the gutters
for Dixie Cup lids and wrappers or sticks from Borden's (?) ice cream pops, and could turn
in ten of them in (with seventy-five cents?) for a ticket to the bleachers, from where we
often snuck around to behind third base as the game progressed. I loved that ballpark and
those Dodgers. My heart was broken, along with the hearts of most of the rest of Brooklyn,
when they inexplicably moved to L.A. I think I've never recovered. I had a brief dalliance
with the (Amazin') Mets while I still lived in N.Y., and when I moved to San Francisco, I
became a Giants fan. Sort of. A funny thing happened when the Dodgers came to the 'stick
to play the Giants in a season opener... nearly everyone around me would boo their arch-rivals
from El Lay, but something about good old Dodger Blue revitalized my childhood connection and I
had to come out to my friends as a Dodger fan.
Also somewhere north were Prospect Park and the Botanical Gardens, but they
weren't very important to me. In fact, most of Brooklyn was foreign to me until after I
moved to Lawn Guyland, with great sadness, in '61.
In and around my apartment building, we played (with Spaldeens) stoopball,
box baseball, punchball, slapball, Chinese handball, stickball against a wall and on a
bounce in the middle of the street. We played skelly, flipped and traded baseball cards,
roller skated, and rode our bikes with baseball cards flapping in the spokes.
While in high school, I learned to shoot pool, much to my mother's displeasure.
Especially on Yom Kippur when she caught me in Joe's Pool Room on Avenue X. What a sleazy,
wonderful place that was! Joe really liked me, and let me run the joint while he escaped to
the sunlight from time to time. It was there that I learned to play three-cushion billiards
really well. I graduated to Barney's Pool Room (and bowling alley) on E. 13th St., just off
the Highway. Barney's, although also underground, was a bit more respectable. They sold food
there and had a ladies room! Floyd, a black man in his thirties or forties, worked there
much of the time. He spoke Yiddish better than my father.
God... I could write a book. I think I just did!
... Certainly you will agree that President George W. Bush's presidency has been a miserable failure.
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