Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Old Stoneface: Memories of New York

On this anniversary of 9/11, I want to repost my thoughts, written ten days after 9/11.

Old Stoneface: Memories of New York

In times of grief, I can usually call on Old Stoneface to help get me by. Old Stoneface first appeared in 1968 outside of a church in Pennsylvania. The military pallbearers carried the casket into the church. The rest of the honor guard, myself included, stood at parade rest, outside in our blues, in the freezing cold, staring at the church doors. I thought of the soldier we were honoring: killed in Vietnam. He deserved respect for paying the ultimate sacrifice. I stood taller, staring straight ahead, unblinking and solemn: Old Stoneface.

I was part of the Honor Guard from Stewart Air Force Base, New York, my first base of assignment from technical school, and close to home. New York City was home, Jamaica, New York, to be exact. I grew up close to JFK Airport, back when we used to call it Idlewild Airport. My father was a New York City cop. My Uncle Frank was a New York City cop. My Uncle Mike was a New York City fireman.

My first date was in New York City. I took a girl named Stephanie to Radio City, which I knew was right down the block from the Automat. What I did not know was that there was more than one Automat in New York City. Stephanie wore high heels that day. She got blisters.

I have faint memories of attending a game at Ebbets Field. My brother Joe used to recite the entire Brooklyn Dodgers lineup frontwards and backwards. I remember most of them by position: Roy Campanella, catcher. Gil Hodges, first baseman. Junior Gilliam, second basemen. Pee Wee Reese, shortstop. Don Hoak and Don Zimmer, third basemen. Sandy Amaros, left fielder. Gino Cimolli, right fielder. Duke Snider, centerfielder?

The Duke of Flatbush was somewhere on the playing field, but to a young boy, Mickey Mantle was the center fielder in New York City. Add Willie Mays, another center fielder, and the Duke was a distant third, except in the eyes of my brother Joe.

I have other fond memories of baseball in New York City. I was at Yankee Stadium with my friend Timmy and his sister Kathy when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. Ten years later I watched the film clip for the first time. I smiled as Maris circled the bases, stepped out of the dugout and then waved to the crowd. The camera circled the stadium, showing the New Yorkers cheering, and zoomed in on two teenagers jumping up and down on their seats as Kathy sat quietly in her seat between us.

I was in New York City when the New York Mets won the World Series in 1969. I was on leave from the Philippines, saw my son for the first time, and took my wife to opening night on Broadway. Three Men On a Horse, the name of the play was. We got off the train from Peekskill at Grand Central when the last out was made, and New York City went wild. I mean wild.

Yes, I have seen New York at its finest. My father worked for New York's Finest. I, Old Stoneface, did not cry at my father's funeral in 1975. I, Old Stoneface, did not cry at my brother's funeral in 2000. Yes, I have seen New York at its most horrible time of late. I picture myself standing at parade rest, outside of the Great Doors of Time, and I, Old Stoneface, can't help but cry.

Jerry Morris,
New Yorker

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Peeping Toms

Sooner or later, every neighborhood has its Peeping Tom. Idlewild had its Peeping Tom in the late 1950s. Sometimes, Peeping Toms never get caught: this one did.

Whenever one of the neighbors on 157th Street spotted the Peeping Tom, it seemed to take forever for the police to show up. When they did, the perp would be long gone. Finally, all the neighbors on the street got together and came up with a plan: Since my father was a cop, they would call him first the next time the Peeping Tom was spotted.

A few nights later, the phone rang. It was one of the neighbors: the Peeping Tom was hiding in the bushes, looking in the window of the house right across the street from us! It was the perfect opportunity for my father to nail the creep; however, my father wasn't home. He was at his favorite hangout, the local beer garden on the corner of Rockaway Blvd. and 158th Street. My mother called him up at the bar, passed on the message, and told my brother and I to stay away from the window. Fat chance!

We saw the Peeping Tom crouching in the bushes. A few minutes later, we saw our father staggering around the corner on his way to apprehend the Peeping Tom. My father was lucky: the Peeping Tom surrendered without a fight.

Thirty years later, when my wife, kids and I were renting a house in the Tampa Bay area, I found myself in a worse predicament than my father was!

At one o-clock in the morning, my teenage daughter woke us up, screaming, "There's a man outside my window!"

I jumped up out of bed, ran out the door, and tried to catch the Peeping Tom. I ran around the entire house, but didn't see him. It was then that I noticed my own predicament: all I had on was an undershirt!

The heck with the Peeping Tom! I was lucky to get back into my house, red-faced, bare-assed and all, without getting arrested for indecent exposure!

Stage Fright

One of my earliest and most vivid memories was when I pretended to be Gabby Hayes.

When the western I was watching on the tv was over, I ran around the house looking for a stagecoach, so I could get away from the bad guys just like Gabby did in the movie.

I found the stagecoach upstairs, in the walk-in closet of my parents' bedroom; only I had to climb up to the top shelf to get there. Get there, I did; but I knocked a few boxes to the floor while climbing up.

Hiding in the far corner of the top shelf, I found my father's gun. I picked it up, and held it with both hands, while dangling my feet over the edge of the shelf.

The bad guys didn't have a chance now!

Just then, my mother stepped into the walk-in closet.

I pointed the gun at her and said, "I shoot you."

I never saw that gun again the entire time my father was on the New York City Police Force.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

My Old House: It Is Still Standing

With over half of the houses in the neighborhood gone, I am surprised that my old house is still standing. Google Satellite shows the house too far up the street; but 144-57 157th Street is located where the blue placemark is, two houses north of 145th Rd, near the middle of the street.

I don't know when exactly we moved into our house. My sister, Patty, was born in 1943, my brother, Joe, was born in 1945, and I was born in 1947. I know I was born in Brooklyn before we moved to Queens. My younger brother, Billy, was born in Queens in 1954. I have quite a few memories of my childhood before Billy was born, so I believe we moved into our house around 1950.

The house itself was two stories, with either two or three bedrooms upstairs, and an unfinished basement downstairs. Sometime in the 1950s, my parents hired our next door neighbor, Mr. Negron, a carpenter, to convert the basement into a recreation room/bedroom for Joey and me. Mr. Negron also built a huge shed in our backyard at the end of the property line. It was at least twenty feet long, twenty feet wide, and ten feet high, and had a door and a window. After looking at the satellite photo from Google, I can't tell if the shed is still there, but the house sure is. It was a house full of memories, some of which I will share in this blog.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Old Neighborhood

This blog is mostly about myself and my family; but will also be about my childhood friends,and the old neighborhood where we grew up. I haven't been back to the old neighborhood in forty years! My, how it has changed.

The old neighborhood extended between Rockaway Blvd and Idlewild Airport, from 155th St. to 159th St. On each street lived at least one of my childhood friends: Carol Broadbent lived on 155th St. Joe Shearer and Dorothy Polovoy lived on 156th St. Timmy Phelan, Frankie Dallas, Jimmy and Ann McHale, Freddy Hueur, Stephen and Kenny Anson, Kevin and Leo Smith, and Tony Induisi lived on 157th Street. Helen and Stephanie McCaffrey, Linda Salvato, Tommy Conlin, Dennis Werner, Arlene Shimko, Rose Scomello, and Bruce Katt lived on 158th St. Eddie Wade, Frankie Alberghini and Susan Tullo lived on 159th St. I should mention Michael Dyer, Linda's boyfriend, as well. Although he lived on the other side of Rockaway Blvd., Ekim spent most of his time in our old neighborhood. As for me, I lived on 157th St..

The old neighborhood used to be nothing but houses on the streets and local businesses on each side of Rockaway Blvd. Today, half of the houses are gone, replaced by freight warehouses. Likewise, the Sunoco gas station at the corner of Rockaway Blvd and 157th St. is gone, as is the Carvel stand on the corner of Rockaway Blvd. and 158th. St.. On the other side of Rockaway Blvd, from left to right, stood Joe's Barber Shop, an A&P Supermarket, Idlewild Rest Bar & Grill, a delicatessen, a dry cleaning business, a cafe, and Sam Flug's candy store. I believe most of these businesses are no longer there.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the old ball field at 159th St. and Rockaway Blvd. is gone. I remember that the Idlewild Rest sponsored two youth baseball teams and a men's softball team. The youth teams were called the Idlewild Bombers and the Idlewild Jets. The sotfball team was called the Idlewild Bombers. Today, a five-story building is located where baseballs used to fly high into the sky, blasted from the mighty bats of Bombers and Jets.  It is now the location of the regional headquarters of the Federal Aviation Administration