My Brooklyn

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 happen tomorrow?"

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 beautiful Saturday!

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!"

Ebbet's Field with Trolley #1000 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!

Maurice (was Bob) Weitman

This is an updated version of my submission to: Page 48 of Readers Reports on www.brooklyn.net...


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