Tag Archives: The Bronx

A Eulogy for My Dad

For his funeral, Dad had long talked about having a New Orleans jazz band. We don’t have that. Instead, you’re stuck with me.

I’m Christopher Mele. Eugene’s only son, or his “favorite son” as he would often tell me.

On behalf of Eugene’s wife, Winnie, and my sisters Cathy and Lorraine, I want to thank you all for being here this evening, particularly those who have traveled great distances.

Your presence here is deeply appreciated.

I want to point out that there are only three geographic places with “the” in front of their names:

The Vatican, The Hague and the Bronx.

“The” is an important signal of distinction there, especially for the Bronx.

It emphasizes the unique quality of the place.

After all, you don’t hear people referring to “the Brooklyn.”

No, the Bronx is special and special people come from the Bronx.

Such was the case with my Dad.

He was born in the Bronx at Fordham Hospital in 1937.

The road of his childhood was pitted with potholes and detours: His mother had a mental illness and was hospitalized. And my grandfather, who was 14 years older than my grandmother and who had to work, felt ill-equipped to care for an infant, so that meant stays for a time in foster care for Dad.

For more than eight years, he was raised by his sister and her husband, our beloved Aunt Lucille and Uncle Charlie, and for a year, he stayed with his Aunt Henrietta.

But Dad persevered through those childhood traumas and relished the great melting pot in the Bronx where he was raised.

His memories of the neighborhood sound like scripts from a rom-com but they also revealed a particular warmth and a humanity that were his trademarks.

A friend, upon hearing of Dad’s death, wrote to say: “He was as interesting as he was kind, and that’s saying a lot.”

From the old neighborhood, stories from Dad abound.

The father of a friend, a girl named Phyllis, did not approve of the guy she was dating so Dad would pick her up and then when they turned the corner, Dad would hand Phyllis off to her boyfriend. When her date was over, Dad would return her home.

His neighborhood buddies were Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts, as well as Carlo Mastrangelo, the doo-wop singer who was an original member of The Belmonts.

Dad tells the story of cleaning a butcher shop in the Bronx for $2 a week and a fish store owner recruited him to work there instead.

One day Carl Reiner walked in and Dad, excitedly pointed at Reiner, and said: “You’re Carl Reiner!”

And Reiner in return said: “And you’re the fish boy!”

Dad graduated from high school and a few months later, in 1955, enlisted in the Navy, serving aboard the destroyer, the USS William R. Rush.

A few years ago, I requested his military records and I saw in his application under “leisure activities” that he had listed “fishing.”

As a boy, I had gone fishing with Dad, and I assure you, he was no fisherman.

So, I asked him one day: “Dad, you grew up on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx. Did you fish from a puddle?! Che cazzo è?” (Like WTF in Italian slang.)

He explained that he listed fishing because he thought it would look good and help him get accepted into the Navy.

Dad said that when he was in the Navy that his father went to the Russian embassy to buy Russian war bonds so he would be on the winning side.

He tells the story of his ship being in heavy, heavy seas — the worst of his tour — and he was fearful.

“I got on my knees and prayed to God to keep me safe,” he said. “I swore to Him: ‘I’ll give up smoking. I’ll give up drinking. I won’t see those girls in the bars in Barcelona.’”

“Well, human frailty being what it is, we got through the rough seas and what did I do? I smoked, I drank and I saw those girls in Barcelona!”

When Dad got out of the Navy, he worked at a factory making plastic covers for dry-cleaned clothes and as an electrician for Otis elevators.

But it was working as a maintenance man for Parkchester in the Bronx that changed the trajectory of his life.

It was in that job that he met his future wife of nearly 60 years, Alwine, a German immigrant who worked in a German deli.

The Parkchester maintenance men would come in the morning to get coffees and buttered rolls.

Mom recalls that the first time she was introduced to Dad he touched her face saying, “What a beautiful natural complexion. No makeup.”

I found that strange, she said, but thought: Well, this is America and men behave differently. I really liked his Italian looks, his dark hair and big brown eyes.

Mom, whose English was so-so, was asked by Dad if she liked Viennese music.

She had no idea what he was talking about until he hummed a few bars of the “Blue Danube Waltz” and invited her to a concert.

Mom was suspicious and held him at bay. She said he had that “married look” so Mom did some due diligence and asked around among those in the know.

The verdict from one of Dad’s workmates: “Oh, Mele. He’s a high-class Guinea.”

Everyone around laughed but mom had no idea what it meant and they finally explained that he was an Italian who liked the theater and the opera.

Mom and Dad went to the concert and she wore a beautiful green dress from Germany but did not know they were going to sit on cement steps as the concert was at Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of city college.

She recalls: “Well your father was quite the gentleman. He took out his handkerchief and spread it out for me to sit on. When I saw the big hole in it, I knew he was not married.”

Thus began their courtship that led to their engagement in 1962 and marriage the following year.

In the early going, before Dad got a job with New York Telephone Company, where he’d work for more than 30 years, his employment was spotty.

In one year, he had seven different jobs. He’d hide his toolbox under the bed because he did not want to tell mom he had lost a job.

Even when he had steady work at New York Telephone, he regularly sought to work overtime. I remember as a boy when he would come late at night and kiss me while I was sleeping, his razor stubble rubbing against my cheek.

No one out-hustled my old man for side gigs or finding ways to put bread on the table, whether that meant washing windows or working with furniture makers.

Those efforts led to one of my favorite stories.

He sought work with a Hungarian cabinet maker who had arms as thick as tree trunks, and when Dad said he wanted to work, the cabinet maker, who was drinking with friends, told him:

“Verk?! Ack. No good. Get heart attack and die. Come, have drink!”

Dad said he feared refusing the guy so he had a water glass filled with rye.

Dad said: “I came out of there and I didn’t know if the stars were shining or if it was raining. All I know is it was the best job interview I ever had.”

Dad did not have time for bullies, braggarts, bigots or, to be honest, bosses. He embodied a blue-collar nobility and advocated socialist views: he favored universal health care, a four-day work week and was a supporter of unionized labor.

He was a man of many appetites:

He had a hunger for knowledge, to connect with people and, of course, for food.

He was also a man of many talents: He was a playwright, a student of woodworking and antique restoration, a fan of the arts and museums.

He was also bilingual: He could swear in English AND Italian.

It was when his volcanic temper would erupt that the Italian swearing would flow like a melody.

He could be demanding and a perfectionist, so you didn’t want to be around him when he was agitated.

Dad tells the story that after one of his more memorable blow-ups at the dinner table, I told my sister: “You know Cathy, it’s safer in Vietnam than it is here.” Apparently even when I was younger I was a bit of a smart ass.

Dad was also a ham and a performer. In community theater, he played Marty, Officer Krupke and Big Jule.

And sometimes you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.

Would it be something profane? A bad joke? Or would it be a bit of wisdom that would start with the phrase, “As they say in Italian…?”

Or would it be something delusional, like when he’d go around introducing himself as his alter ego, the Great Khan, brother of Garbage Khan.

He’d often remind me: “You know if I were not this crazy, your life would be boring.”

But it was his other roles that mattered the most: as husband, father, Opa, brother, uncle and cousin.

My last story of Dad comes when he was 19 years old and in the Navy.

A chief who was an insomniac went out on the deck of an aircraft carrier at 2 in the morning to drink coffee and somehow drifted into the active flight deck.

One of the hooks they use to catch landing planes struck the chief and killed him.

Dad said even though he was not there to witness what happened, it left him badly shaken but another officer told him:

“It was his time to die and you have to accept that.”

Accepting Dad’s death – that’s a hard concept to wrap your brain around because we will miss him so much.

I am sure there will be a point when we will come to accept our loss, but in the meantime, we celebrate his life and we wish him godspeed.

The News for the Daily News Is Grim and I’m Taking It Personally

I will let industry experts pick apart why Tronc, the corporation that owns The Daily News, decided to slash its newsroom staff by half.

I know by heart the back story of the decline of newspapers but  I don’t care about The News’s circulation or revenue figures.

For me, what’s happening to The Daily News is personal.

The News was THE newspaper I grew up with in the Bronx.

It helped develop my love of newspapers, with the comics, horoscopes and Ann Landers my gateways to the paper. I would get lost in the Sunday comics of “Broom Hilda,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Blondie” and “Dick Tracy.”

The first article I read in The News was a Rex Reed review of the movie “Carrie.” (He didn’t like it but the review was so wonderfully bitchy!)

The News was also a source of information for school projects, like sunset, sunrise and the phases of the moon and for a time it published your Biorhythms. (Hey, it was the 70s!)

My family did not subscribe to the “TV Guide” that was so popular back then. Instead, we relied on the “TV sheet” — a pullout listing of the week’s television shows that The News carried on Sundays.

Befitting its longtime slogan as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” it once featured a two-page center spread filled with photos. Sometimes there were feature shots from the tops of bridges where workers toiled or scenes from beaches on a hot day.

I started to read the columns by Jimmy Breslin, the TV critic Kay Gardella, gossip purveyor Liz Smith and later the Phantom of the Movies, who wrote passionately about Grade Z horror and sci-fi flicks.

I remember the Night Owl edition and people lining up at the candy store across the street from my apartment on Saturday nights to get the early version of the Sunday paper.

The News on Sundays was a monster paper that came in three sections: the comics, which were loaded with advertising inserts and coupons, the arts and entertainment section, and then the main book, which was that day’s daily newspaper.

I delivered The News for five years starting when I was 13. The sections would come in stages over the week and had to be assembled on Sunday morning.

At my peak, I had more than 100 Sunday customers and often had to make two trips to complete my appointed rounds. I broke many a shopping cart under the weight of the papers.

The work had its rewards as I was named The Daily News newspaper carrier of the year from the Bronx and won an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for four – an achievement I still brag about!

As I got older, I appreciated The News’s sass and tone. It was fearless in calling out elected leaders (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”) and embodied a sense of social responsibility.

It led investigations, spoke truth to power and rooted for the little guy. It celebrated and reflected New York City – warts and all.

In the past decade or so, The News became a shadow of its former self and relied on gimmicky front pages that soured me on reading it. While my passion for The News may have faded, I still pray it rallies.

I certainly hope it does not go the way of another beloved tabloid, New York Newsday, where I cut my teeth as a college intern and worked with journalistic luminaries. That tab closed in 1995 after 10 years.

Over the decades, The News has survived strikes, blackouts and a bankruptcy, so don’t count it out.

Maybe a wealthy benefactor will step forward to rescue The News the way Jeff Bezos did for The Washington Post, John Henry did for The Boston Globe or more recently Patrick Soon-Shiong did for the The Los Angeles Times.

If such a white knight were to come forward, the front page could then declare: “Daily News to Tronc: Drop Dead.”


Lights! Camera! New York!

If there is one thing guys can argue about, it’s movies.

Put three guys in a room and ask them to rank the best movie in any category and you will get five different opinions.

Now, suppose these guys are New Yorkers.

You can get five different opinions — this time with attitude.

Which bring us to this: Picking the top three movies that were either set in New York City or best depicted it.

This was all set in motion by an article last year in The New York Times that attempted to tackle this issue.

At AMR, we are an opinionated stubborn lot, each with our own heartfelt views of movies and each with our own personal favorites for which movie shined the best spotlight on our hometown.

So over the next few days, each of us will weigh in with our “Best Of” lists. Turns out some of our picks overlap but many do not.

What movies set in New York City were your favorites? How far off base are our picks?

Let us know. You can comment on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

Or be like a New Yorker and just scream at your computer screen loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Here’s my picks:

“The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three”

For me, this is the quintessential New York movie. Maybe it explains why it ranks as my all-time favorite (Shhhhhh….Don’t tell “Star Wars.”)

Let’s start with the basics: The No. 6 line (aka Pelham line aka Lexington Avenue line ) was the one I grew up with, so it’s close to home.

The thing about “Pelham” is that it so perfectly captured the attitude, passion, dark humor and grittiness of New York and its 8 million inhabitants.

The plot is terrific and the dialogue is like listening to a beautiful symphony of smart-ass street-savvy New Yorkers.

The authentic feel of the cop cars, the politics and the trains coupled with the dynamic soundtrack make this a must-see celebration of the city.

“The Warriors”

This is another one of those dark gritty movies with some smaller light moments to break up the grim.

Set largely at night with an overwhelming sense of menace lurking behind every corner, this 1979 movie captured the dispirited nature of New Yorkers who were contending with high crime and a broken subway system.

Despite its almost relentless hopelessness, there does come triumph in the end.

It’s a bit schlocky in places and maybe the production values are not the highest, but it stands out for the sense of place it delivers about the city.

Bonus: In recognition of a big blowout cast reunion in 2015, I interviewed one of the leading actors, Terence Michos, who played Vermin in the movie.

Vermin Speaks! An About Men Radio Podcast Interview With “The Warriors” Star

​”The Pope of Greenwich Village”

This one is a personal favorite again because it hit close to home.

I was in college when it was being shot, with many key scenes filmed at “my” subway stop on the No. 6 line at Castle Hill Avenue.

I recall the big stage lights and crew occupying one of the entrances to the subway and being there for a long stretch. It was exciting to see a bit of Hollywood come to the Bronx!

There was an old Irish bar on the corner of Castle Hill and Westchester Avenues where some of the key characters, played by Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, meet.

That it was shot in a place so familiar to me lent the film an air of authenticity that was easy to relate to.

You know, it’s like one of those things where you see a scene on the big screen and you go: “I know where that is!”

BTW, as a total aside, AMR posse member Pedro and I both have had our brush with Hollywood, appearing as extras in a crowd protest scene in the 1983 movie “Daniel,” starring Timothy Hutton.

We had to get to the Lower East Side super early on a winter’s morning, wear dark clothing and donated our day’s pay to a charity.

If you want to see what we look like, click here. It’s truly a “Where’s Waldo?” moment.

And no, I still have not watched the movie.





A Mother’s Day Tribute by Rich Rodriguez

It has been many years since you’ve been gone mom but you live with me every day.

Not sure if you knew this when you were alive but you were my best friend as I was growing up.

You spent your life raising your boys and making sure we had everything we needed.

Even when Dad was working two jobs to save for a house and we didn’t get to see him very much, maybe sometimes on weekends, you made it a point to take us places, zoos, museums, the beach.

If you could take a bus to it, we were there, especially when Dad was working for transit and you got free bus rides.

That was the best getting on buses and never paying!

During the summers we would always end up at Orchard Beach in the Bronx and she would not only take us but some neighborhood kids too.

Always fun times. I can still taste the sand in the cheese sandwiches.

Anyone who knew my mom knew she was not a quiet person.  I surely get my yelling skills from her.

My kids don’t like it when I yell, neither do our dogs, but we are doomed to become our parents and that was an everyday part of life in our house.

I know that’s not the best way to communicate but it does get attention especially when no one is listening to you and you need to get your point heard.

My mom was 4 feet 11 inches, but when she used that strong voice, she was 8 feet tall and then some.

She was a force to be reckoned with. Ask the neighbors, I’m sure they heard her.

As a young adult we sat and talked a lot about life and I wish she was still alive and could meet my kids and hang with them.

I think they would have gotten along great.  My son was born on her birthday and I see some of her in him, especially that loud voice.

He has no volume control, no inside voice, I do not think he knows how to whisper.

Good for him, I hope he makes himself heard in this world.

I miss you Mom, wish you were still here.

Hopefully I can keep you alive in stories about you and memories that I share.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Just Plain Squirrely

A recent video making the rounds on Facebook about a baby squirrel made me cheer.

If you have not already seen this clip, take a moment.

Watched it? Good.

For those who could not be bothered, let me give you a quick snapshot of what you missed.

A man is gently holding a squirrel, clasping it close to his chest in a gesture of love and affection after having rehabilitated the sick critter.

He is near a tree and talking to the squirrel and encouraging it to return to nature as the squirrel takes a few tentative spider-like shimmies upward.

A happy ending, right?

Yes, until a cat flashes into view, grabs the squirrel in its jaws and there is much screaming.

Score one for the cat I say.

I have had an enmity toward squirrels dating back years.

As a kid in the Bronx I recall digging “squirrel traps” with my friend Michael Butler.

Vietcong-like, we would dig holes, fill them with thorns from bushes and cover them with grass in the mistaken belief we would “catch” squirrels.

Why we did this I do not know. Bored boys in the Bronx is all I can suggest.

Flash-forward about 30 years and I am a first-time homeowner, complete with a shed in the backyard.

One of the first times I went in there I jumped out of my skin because a squirrel had built a nest by chewing a hole into it.

I spooked the squirrel. The squirrel spooked me. And the game was on.

I boarded up the hole.

The squirrel created a new one.

I cleaned out the nest — carefully.

The squirrel flipped me the paw.

And so it went.

Think of Bill Murray fighting the gopher in “Caddyshack” and you have some idea of what I was like.

Years later, the boys and I and my fiancée rented a two-family home that had a spacious attic. And in the attic was, you guessed it, more damn squirrels.

They chewed through the walls and left piles of sawdust everywhere like some beaver-wannabes.

But the all-time craziest encounter I had happened on a magnificent Sunday afternoon in May and we opened the inner and outer doors to the apartment to take advantage of the weather.

My fiancée and I were in the living room watching TV when we both perceived a blur of gray fly through the hallway.

We both looked at each as if to say, “Did you see that?”

Sure enough, a squirrel had bolted into the house.

It hid briefly in our bedroom, escaped into the kitchen, jumped into my lunch bag briefly before bounding upstairs and hiding in the kitchen there.

It remained a fugitive for a day as I tried to corner it with sticky traps (it left clumps of fur but otherwise escaped) and tried to lure it out with peanut butter.

We eventually opened the doors and it ushered itself out the same way it found itself in.

I just remember seeing its hind legs bounding across the street like its ass was on fire.

The cat in the video had the right idea.

Memories of Snowstorms in the Bronx

The storm battering New York City and much of the East Coast today is exactly the kind of snowstorm I yearned for as a kid growing up in the Bronx.

We didn’t get a lot of snow often, but when we did, it was cause for jubilation.

The Cross-Bronx Expressway came to a standstill and motorists were stranded during a blizzard in 1978.

I had gotten a Red Flyer wooden sled with metal blades  (with a wooden arm to steer!) from my cousins when they moved from New York to Germany in the late 1960s and this thing was my beloved Rosebud.

I would go to the steepest  hill in Parkchester, which was near the playground in the East and several stairways removed from the back of Oval Drug.

I would get there early, ahead of the other kids.

Dressed in long johns, snowpants when I was younger and later jeans (or dungarees as they were known then), rubber boots pulled over shoes with Wonder Bread plastic bags over them (the bags helped make getting the shoes on easier), hat, a green scarf made by my cousin and gloves, and I would lose myself in the endless traipsing up and down the hill.

Now the trick was not to kill yourself.

Parkchester had these metal poles that connected chains to mark off grassy areas where you were not permitted. During snowstorms, Parkchester security turned a blind eye to the sledders.

But if you went tearing down the hill like I did, you wanted to make damn sure you did not go head-first into one of the poles or lift your head up and get garroted by the chains.


The chains in Parkchester marked off where the grass was off limits. Buses and cars got suck in this blizzard circa 1978.

I was the envy of the other kids, most of whom had the plastic “flying saucers” that were coming into vogue or relied on flattened large cardboard boxes they would get from the supermarket.

I’d leave after about three hours because the hill would be getting too crowded and icy.

I’d carry my sled home, undress just inside the doorway, my ass and legs pink and tingly from the cold and snow, and would then chow down on hot Farina mom would make.

When I had my paper route, I used the sled to deliver the papers. I’d wrap them in a bundle encased in plastic, strap them to the sled and drag it behind me to make my rounds.

As I got older, the snow was a different cause for excitement: the possibility of schools being closed! (It seldom happened in the 1970s. Maybe three times in total?)

But when it did, my friend John and I would go around, walking in the streets, which were deserted, and look for stranded drivers.

This was back in the day of rear-wheel drive cars, and John and I would listen for the telltale sound of tires spinning in the snow and go and lean into the back of the car to help push it out, getting a spray full of snow in our faces in the process!

The drivers were always appreciative and it was a fun way to spend the time in the outdoors.

Top middle photo was from East Tremont Avenue and lower right photo is John O’Connell atop a huge manmade snow mound across from St. Helena’s Church.

The snow also had a unique quieting effect on the busy cacophony that was the Bronx.

As the snow would fall, especially at night, it would muffle the noise and traffic would slow.

The quiet would be punctuated only by the ching-clang-ching sound of the chains on the tires of the sanitation trucks and police cars and in the morning, the scraping of the shovels of the porters clearing the sidewalks.

Who’s a True New Yawker? We Put Ourselves to the Test

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro debate the finer points of country vs. city living.

The discussion is not exactly the opening credits of “Green Acres,” but let’s just say that Chris was more the Eddie Albert character in this talk and Pedro identified more strongly with Eva Gabor.

(Well, that’s also because he looks better in a dress than Chris does, but that’s a conversation for another time…)

This was all set into motion when Chris wrote a blog post about how he eschewed his once native Bronx ways and embraced life in the woods.

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

Pedro took umbrage to this — his exact words were “I take umbrage to this!” — and off to the races they went.

If you are a native New Yawker, a wannabe native, a visitor to the city or never ever been here, you will enjoy the banter.

Listen to the quiz Chris gives Pedro to test his bona fides as a true New Yorker.

And just remember: I’m walkin’ he-ayah!


A White Guy and a Puerto Rican Talk About Racism

In this episode of About Men Radio, Pedro and I discuss the thorny intractable issue of racism and how we’ve experienced it.

It’s a white dude (me) and a Puerto Rican (Pedro), who both grew up in the Bronx, talking about a topic that in many ways is the third rail of polite conversation.

I came of age in New York City when our neighborhood in the Bronx was in the bull’s eye of white flight.

I can recall the housing complex where we lived, Parkchester, being derisively called “Darkchester” by those who viewed newcomers with suspicion and hostility.

My young adulthood in New York City was punctuated with headline-grabbing incidents with race at the center stage:

The so-called Subway Vigilante, Bernie Goetz, shooting three black youths who accosted him and even more notably, the death of a black youth who was being chased by white teenagers in Howard Beach, Brooklyn.

He ran into the street and was struck by a car and killed.

When I was in my early teens, I delivered supermarket flyers to mailboxes in various neighborhoods. Our crew leader would load up our big canvas bags, drop us off and collect us as at a designated time and place.

One time, a classmate and co-worker, Paul Richards, and I were working a section of the Bronx called Edgewater.

It was a mostly working poor housing in bungalows converted to year-round housing. It had a reputation for being insular.

I don’t recall all the particulars, but I do remember Paul, who is black, and I being chased by a gang of white kids. As I remember it, they were shouting “nigger” at him and screaming at me for being a “nigger lover.”

We ran for our lives.

We made good our escape and vowed never to serve that neighborhood again.

The whole confrontation left me scared and angry.

Thankfully, I was raised color blind.

My dad was the first in our building to welcome the first black family to move into our high-rise. In fact, my mother was a babysitter for the family’s two sons, who were playmates for me growing up.

I recall how my family and I once visited the Bowery and I recounted the visit to my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Wallace. I relayed how I had seen a black man panhandling from drivers at an intersection.

“Now, tell me the story again,” she said, “but this time don’t tell me what color he was.”

I was 10 years old.

Then, and today, it serves as a valuable lasting lesson to look beyond a person’s race and see them instead as a human being.

Recalling ‘Baretta’ and the Blackout

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Don’t do it!”

In the mid 1970s that was the intro for the hit TV show “Baretta” about a street-smart quick-talking undercover cop with the NYPD who lived with an old man and a cockatoo.

When “Baretta” came on, it was dad-and-me TV. Dad and I would watch Robert Blake as Baretta ham it up with Huggy Bear. (Google it. He was street ’70s cool!)

Am I going down this nostalgic path to wax poetically about Robert Blake, a child actor of “Our Gang” turned tough guy actor who was later accused of murdering his wife by shooting her in a car outside a restaurant and then acquitted?


It’s to remember where I was when the lights went out in New York City on July 13, 1977.

History shows that the electrical shutdown started at about 8:55 p.m. with a lightning strike in Yonkers.

I didn’t know anything about that at the time.

But what I do remember is watching “Baretta” with my dad in our Bronx apartment.

The screen suddenly went blank and everything in the apartment went black.

My dad enlisted me to find out what happened. So I went to the first floor where my dad rented space for his knitting factory.

As I went up the stairs with a flashlight, I looked outside and noticed just how freaking dark it was out there.

The house we rented was on a corner and one side was parallel to a major highway. Our corner had at least three light poles so it was never dark — except that day.

Looking out the factory’s ground floor windows, something our basement apartment lacked, I could see a very dark Bronx street.

It was something I had never seen before.

“Dad?!” I cried out. He told me to talk to the landlord.

As I went up the stairs and gained a higher vantage point, I could see more of the street and streets on the other side of the highway.

There were no lights anywhere!

My landlord screamed to go back downstairs and turn on a portable radio to hear the news. The Bronx was blacked out. Later I learned it was wider than that.

So here we were on a hot July night with absolutely no lights.

What to do?

Our landlord got into a post-Fourth of July mood and broke out the fireworks that he did not sell the previous week.

He still had a bunch of firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets.

He gave them to me and I remember my dad joining in.

My mom came up with my infant brother. My middle brother, who was too young to light the fireworks, was running back and forth delighting in the explosions I was orchestrating.

The previous week I may have been able to get my hands on a few firecrackers and bottle rockets but now our usually stingy and sour landlord was gleefully opening up a trunk full of leftover fireworks.

I was in heaven.

Rich, my friend from around the block and now About Men Radio brother, and I talked the next day about the looting and pandemonium that happened all night long in the city.

We later found out about the people in the subways and in Shea Stadium when the ballpark went dark and the stores that were broken into.

There were stories of good Samaritans, New Yorkers helping each other or simply gathering outside their buildings to meet their neighbors.

Or in my case, blow up some fireworks with them.


Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Each generation shares some moments in history that leave an indelible mark, and everyone alive at the time can recount where they were and what they were doing.

Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? When the space shuttle Challenger blew up? During 9/11?

For me, one of those moments was: Where were you when the lights went out?

I am not talking about the blackout of 1965, or the one in August 2003, in which some 50 million people in Southeast Canada and eight Northeastern states were without power for as much as two days in what turned out to be the biggest blackout in North American history.

While that was terrible — 11 people died and there was a reported $6 billion in damages – the blackout that stayed with me the most happened 40 years ago this week.

It was the evening of July 13, 1977, and New York City was enveloped in oppressive heat and humidity.

Our third-floor apartment was like the inside of a brick oven.

We had no air-conditioning. The fans did little more than loudly move the hot air around.

I was getting out of the shower when the lights went out. I thought we had blown a fuse.

It turned out the entire city blew a fuse — a really, really big one.

It was bad enough that there was no power to keep the fans – as ineffective as they were – blowing, but we soon discovered we were out of water too.

Our building in the Bronx had a tower at the top. Water would be pumped to the tower and gravity-fed to the apartments.

No power, no pump.

No pump, no water.

People lined up at open hydrants and formed bucket brigades, filling pails and carrying them back home to “flush” toilets.

I checked on my older customers on my newspaper route to make sure they were OK.

That meant in some cases walking up 10 or more flights of stairs with buckets of water. (I was a lot younger then.)

Hallways and stairwells were as dark as midnight in a coal mine.

They lacked windows so no natural light got in. On some stairwells, small candles were lit like votives in a church.

I recall listening to WINS news radio with its signature theme music.

(“You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world,” the announcer would say as the rapid fire teletype music would play, conveying a sense of urgency.)

We gathered around my sister’s Toot-A-Loop, a Panasonic doughnut-shaped radio, and heard the updates about the violence, looting and arson racking the city.

Fires consumed city blocks. In the end, more than 1,600 stores were damaged and more than 3,700 people were locked up.

The city was at a nadir, having gone through a fiscal crisis that saw its public services slashed and quality of life eroded.

For a city that was already down on the canvas, the blackout was a kick in the mouth.

But you know what? As bad as it was — and don’t get me wrong, it was bad — there was also an esprit de corps that emerged among New Yorkers.

They rallied in a time of crisis.

Strangers helped strangers as they had during blizzards and the way they would 24 years later during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Civilians took to intersections to direct traffic where signal lights were out, freeing up cops to do more important duties.

Mr. Diamond, the owner of the Carvel ice cream store across the street, gave away ice cream.

Neighbors checked on each other and offered flashlights and batteries.

The blackout brought out the worst — and some of the best — in people.

In the heat of the summer of 1977, the mettle of New Yorkers was tested and it was strong.




An Appreciation of Carrie Fisher

In the constellation of stars who died in 2016, the one that I was heartsick over the most was Carrie Fisher.

When I first saw her in “Star Wars,” the special effects and droids got more of my 12-year-old’s attention than her signature character, Leia Organa, the blaster-toting, tough-talking, take-charge princess.

By the time “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, the romantic tension between her character and Han Solo got my notice. And when “Return of the Jedi” premiered and I was 18, well, let’s just say that her appearance in that golden bikini left a lasting impression.

But as I got older, the appeal of her roles in the “Star Wars” franchise took a backseat to her plainspoken and brutally honest conversations about her struggles with mental illness and addiction.

I was horrified the first time I read about Fisher going into rehab.

The image of my beloved baby-faced star was shattered, replaced with an upsetting notion of an unstable celebrity who was following the familiar Hollywood path of drugs and booze.

Over time though, I came to appreciate — and admire — her willingness to forthrightly discuss her experiences and her treatment for bipolar disorder.

“I am mentally ill. I can say that,” Fisher said. “I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

She was a role model for so many people, me included.

Fisher – among others — inspired me to seek help for my depression. If Carrie Fisher could tackle these issues head-on and in public, what was stopping me?

Fisher’s death also struck me forcefully because she reminded me of my late fiancée, Carla, who had battled her own addictions.

Fisher was open (some called it over-sharing) about her stints in rehab. Carla was similarly open and channeled her experiences into helping others in recovery.

Fisher was a high-profile inspiration for others. Carla was also a source of inspiration but on a grassroots level. I saw this repeatedly as she connected with people individually and offered to give them a boost.

When Carla was fired as a domestic-abuse counselor, her enraged clients broke into the office in the dead of night to find her home phone number. Carla saw it as a victory because the women felt empowered and took control.

Fisher and Carla also had an ability to poke fun at – and sometimes even celebrate – themselves at their worst moments.

Some of Carla’s stories were funny, like the time she was drunk behind the wheel and rear-ended a police car, and some were terrifying, like when she was confronted by a guy who pointed a gun at her and her friend and demanded their drug stash.

Russell Crowe recalled a moment with Fisher in 2000. On Twitter he wrote that she grabbed his butt and said “You would have loved me when I was on Xanax.”

An appreciation of Fisher that appeared in The New York Times noted there were better ways to honor her than rewatching “Star Wars.”

“Read her books,” wrote Lawrence Downes. “They are works where misery and brilliance commingle with wit, the creations of an actual person who had many layers and is worth getting to know, as opposed to Princess Leia, who has none and is not.”

I agree but I think there is an even better way to honor her memory:

Don’t judge them if they have a mental illness or are now or have been an addict.

Offer to help in what ways you can.

Carrie – and Carla — would approve.

Related links:

An Open Letter of Apology to Carrie Fisher



Cutting It Close With Sal the Barber

As a kid, I’d watch my dad put the can of Barbasol under hot water and then squeeze off a little golf ball-sized foam and spread it on his face.

He’d always dab me on the nose with it.

Then he would take out his razor, the kind in which he had to add the blade. Our apartment bathroom had a slot for disposing of the used blades. I never figured out where that hole went.

Dad also had one of those electric hair cutting kits.

Every couple of months, my brothers and I would sit in the living room for our haircuts with a smock around us. It was nothing fancy, just crew cuts for us all.

That high-pitched buzzing of the little gray electric razor seemed to make everyone’s hair stand upright and dad would just whisk it away.

I was 4 but my eldest brother was 14 at the time. Then we’d pose for a photo. I still have one of the four of us with freshly cut crew cuts.


There came a time when dad stopped cutting our hair and we’d all walk over to the Korvette’s shopping center for haircuts. There was one barber, “crossed-eyed Joe,” who would be in charge of cutting our hair.

Getting a haircut from my dad was actually preferable at this point. The only added feature was getting a lollipop.

As a teen, I’d go to the local barber shop. I found this one gem on Olmstead Avenue that had dollar haircuts on Wednesdays.

It was a small shop with three barbers.

On Saturday, the line would be out the door because the shop had half-priced haircuts. Men would stand on line for an hour, go in and sit down for another hour and get to read the paper or magazines before they were up for their shave and cut.

One of the barbers was Sal. He was a thin fellow with a big bushy mustache.


All you would hear is the clickety-click of scissors from the three barbers. I’d thought you could probably make a barbershop song from the noise.

I continued to go to Sal every couple of months until college. During college, my friends went to a stylist on Castle Hill Avenue. I went to her a few times but I’m guessing that my friends went for the ambiance: a well-endowed woman.

I just wanted a good haircut.

I only get my haircut every four to six months, so I’ll have it cut short and let it grow. The longest I’ve let my hair grow was five years and then I had it dyed and put in a ponytail to donate to Locks of Love.


Somewhere in that time, Sal’s barbershop closed. The landlord wanted too much rent and it was just Sal. He used to be the only barber on the block, but within a few years there were more than seven salons on three blocks.

I caught up with Sal about six years ago at a candy store that had been remade into a salon that mostly catered to women’s hair braiding and waxing.

I saw a sign that read “Sal the Barber is here.”  Finally, I found him.

I’ve continued to see him since.

He still has a following, albeit no Twitter feed. Check out Sal Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A haircut will run you eight bucks.

Now that’s a bargain.


Liver: It’s What’s (Ick!) for Dinner

As a kid there was always one day a month that mom served us liver.

My dad loved it with onions.

I preferred mine back at the store — in the frozen food aisle.

During the ‘60s and early ‘70s we lived in the Castle Hill housing projects in the Bronx.

Pretty much all of your friends lived in your building. Living in the projects was pretty cool  because when I was told we were having liver, I could just say, “Oh I forgot to tell you mom, Michael downstairs invited me to dinner.”

Michael didn’t yet know it yet, but I would ask him when I would get to school.

And as it would turn out, he was having liver too.

So by school lunchtime, Michael and about three other prospects were all having liver.

Like me, they were trying to escape to another house.

I always had an ace in the hole, Robert, my best friend.

I probably ate at his house nearly every day. Like Rich’s mom, Mrs. R. always had people over. Robert had an older brother and sister around the same age as my older brothers.

Robert’s mom was a great Italian cook and even taught my mom how to make stuffed shells and lasagna.

My mom wondered why I’d always eat there and Mrs. R said that it was because of the sauce, pasta and cheese.

I loved that as they always had salad, pasta, fresh rolls and something with lots of mozzarella on it.

So on this liver-for-dinner day, I cornered Robert right after lunch and asked if I could eat at his house.

I had eaten there most nights anyway and this was a real emergency.

He said sure, that it shouldn’t be a problem. I asked if he knew what his mom was cooking and he said, “Yep, fegato alla veneziana.”

It sounded delicious as it rolled off his tongue with his Italian accent.

I got to Robert’s after telling my mom how I was invited downstairs for dinner.

I walked into their apartment. I recall smelling garlic and hot rolls and my mouth was already watering.

Robert’s older brother and sister were having dinner away at their friends’ houses this evening, so there was plenty for me.

I started with the salad and then the pasta. The main course was served to the table family style and when the lid came off, the smell overpowered me.

And then it dawned on me as I looked toward Robert, who was laughing: Fegato alla veneziana was liver and onions.

Well at least there was hot rolls with mozzarella.

More pasta, please!


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A Bronx Ghost Story

We have discussed horror movies and shows on About Men Radio but I have a real ghost story to tell that occurred right under my roof.

I was probably about 12 to 13 years old and living in The Bronx.

My parents had a two-family house that was shared with my grandparents.  The house had two owners before us, the first of which owned an Italian restaurant nearby.

The story goes like this:

My grandmother was sleeping and woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like someone was watching her.

She opened her eyes and in the darkness there was a figure of a man standing beside her bed.

This did not scare her since she was a believer in spirits and all that supernatural stuff.

If this happened to me, I would have ran out of the house screaming!

My grandma was cool though and felt this spirit was not threatening and she eventually fell back to sleep.

These nighttime visits continued to happen periodically.

She noticed it was a man in a dark suit and he wore a hat. He would just stand there and look down at her as she lay in bed.

She told my mom and my uncle about these visits.  She wasn’t scared but was getting tired of being awakened in the middle of the night.

My uncle had a friend who was a medium, actually a “Santero,” a priest of Santeria, a Caribbean spiritual religion.

He came to the house and felt a presence as soon as he walked in the house.

It wasn’t malevolent but possibly a lost spirit that had not moved on.

He went though the house and lit candles and said numerous prayers.

He spoke out loud to the spirit and comforted him and told him that his time on earth was over and he should move on and rest in peace.

It worked!

My grandmother stopped being disturbed by her nocturnal visitor, and she was able to get a full night’s sleep again.

Some years later, our neighbor’s daughter passed by with a friend who grew up in our house, family of the first owners, and they asked her about my grandparent’s apartment and if she knew if anyone had died there.

You know what her response was:  She said her uncle had died there and that was his bedroom.  Shit! The chills went through me when I heard this.

We asked about him wearing a hat and yes he typically wore one like most other men back in that time.

Crazy stuff, ghosts, Santeria, and I guess you can say an exorcism, right under my nose in The Bronx.


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Dancing as Lunchtime Therapy in a Bronx School

This story is about a song, a New York City public school, an energy-releasing lunchtime activity, and a unique policy by school officials that kept the peace during some rough times.

Growing up in the Bronx during the 70s was a rough adventure for most city kids. Gangs, violence and an economic downturn made it a hotbed of insecurity for the people who were struggling to make ends meet.

During 1976-78 I attended JHS 125, Henry Hudson Junior High, in the Bronx.

The neighborhood was a racially mixed group of working-class families, and I witnessed many in-school and after-school fights and beat downs.

I had my share of conflicts myself, especially with my personal nemesis, a kid named Kevin, who constantly picked on me and caused me grief almost every day.

During one lunch period, my backpack disappeared and I found it in the trash with all the discarded food.

I was so mad. And who was standing right there laughing? Kevin, of course.

I lost my mind and went at him. We were wrestling on the floor when we were pulled apart by the teachers and sent to cool off.

No principal’s office, no suspensions — they just broke it up and told us to stop. This happened so often it’s all they could do.

Nowadays things are different and we would probably have been detained by a school resource officer.

What did administrators do to diffuse the volatile dispositions during lunch periods?

They let us dance!

I am unsure if this was suggested by students, but a phonograph and speaker were provided, and kids brought in their favorite records.

I personally did the “Robot” thing made popular by Michael Jackson and the song “Dancing Machine” to the “Theme from SWAT.”

Then there was the track that only the best dancers were allowed to take the floor and set the place on fire as we all watched and cheered them on.

“The Mexican” was a progressive rock anthem recorded at Abbey Roads Studio by the British Band “Babe Ruth” back in 1972.

It’s driving drumbeat and funky bass and rhythm were perfect for the freestyle dancing that was being born at this time, as it was on its way to be one of the most influential songs of what was to become hip-hop.

The energy that was released by kids dancing to this tune and all of the spectators cheering them on was amazing.

We forgot about our conflicts and struggles and enjoyed being together and free during this short time during our lunch period.

Little did we know that we were witnessing and participating in the birth of the musical and cultural revolution of hip-hop.

“The Mexican” was one of the songs that was covered multiple times and used in so many songs that influenced that generation and the next.

Along with Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” and “Apache,” these songs influenced and shaped the hip-hop music and culture.

Of course older songs from years before influenced the breaks and the beats of these tunes, and I do not want to misrepresent or disrespect the original artists who came up with these riffs.

“The Mexican” and the other songs represent how some kids of the Bronx during the late 70s at a school on Pugsley Avenue honed their freestyle moves during lunch periods and blew off steam instead of fighting each other.

Looking back, I wonder if the administration that allowed this really understood or realized the importance this activity had for the sanity and sense of freedom for these kids.

I know I still listen to “The Mexican” today and think back to this time as the beginning of an exciting and influential period in music and dance that is still with me today.


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Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

What creature would roam underground, scurrying from point to point through an intricate network of tunnels — dank, dirty and dingy — tirelessly trudging in claustrophobic surroundings?

I know them as New Yorkers. And they rule the subways.

For a long time I was one of them. Today I fondly think back of my days underground — and over ground when on the El — from the safety and sunshine of Florida.

But there is another New York inhabitant that is the true ruler of the subway, especially its tunnels.

This New Yorker has many cousins in fields, landfills and building basements and is an abomination born of the darkest of crevices – The Subway Rat!

This monstrosity is no ordinary rat. Its above-ground cousin shares similar disgusting traits, such as its almost cat-like size, hideous teeth and fur and voracious appetite. Did I mention it’s as big as a freaking cat?!

The New York Subway Rat has all those traits and exponentially raises it a few degrees.

Many New Yorkers never get to see one of these monsters.

They are the fortunate ones.

I am a New Yorker who faced one and lived to tell the tail…um…tale.

My commute back in the late ’80s was on the No. 6 train from Parkchester in the Bronx to the Garment District near Seventh Avenue. (No self-respecting New Yorker ever called it Fashion Avenue.) But the No. 6 doesn’t go to Seventh Avenue in the Garment District.

I would get off at the 42nd Street Station and then take the Shuttle to the West Side.

I would always go to the first car, not because I wanted to watch the passage through the tunnels from the front door, though I often did.

My principal reason for taking that spot was logistical.

The 42nd Street Station back then had a supervisors’ booth that had long been abandoned.

But the structure was still there and at the mouth of the tunnel, it jutted into the platform forming an inverted “U” from the front tunnel entrance. To either side of the “U” there was a narrow walkway that went right up to the tunnel’s mouth.

Since this walkway was always empty, no one would stand there to wait for the train and I could exit from the first car onto the platform without bumping into anyone waiting to come in.

It saved me a few milliseconds, and if you know a New Yorker’s morning commute, every fraction of a second mattered.

For months I exited the car without ever looking. Until one day…

Sniffing around this secluded platform, at the height of morning rush hour, just inches away from where I was about to plant my first step was a Subway Rat.


He was this big: I am holding my hands out at least three feet apart!

I froze mid-step.

Average rodents will typically scurry away when confronted by a human. But this is Subterraneous Verminus Rodentus we are talking about here.

This — this thing — stopped sniffing the ground, swiveled and stood on its freaking hind legs!


I was still frozen mid-step, and five cars away there was probably a conductor watching this exchange and wondering who would win, and more important how quickly, because he needed to get the train moving and close the freaking doors!

This New York Subway Rat knew who was boss. He was!

After a brief stare-down, it lowered itself and slowly, deliberately, walked to the tunnel and out of sight.

I exited the train, turned left and got the hell out of there.

I lived to tell the tale. But often I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t froze and if I had quickly used my soccer skills to kick that bigger-than-a-football-size vermin into the subway car before the doors closed.

Oh the pandemonium that would have created!

But I’m certain the rat would have landed on its feet, killed some passengers and slowly walked off the train and into its subterranean realm.

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“The Warriors” Hit Close to Home Growing Up in the Bronx

Clink, clink, clink, clink. “Warriors come out and playyyyy.”

This iconic line I will never forget from the 1979 movie “The Warriors.”

I was 15 years old when it hit theaters.

I was not able to see it during its original run as it was rated R and my parents would not take me, especially after the crazy events surrounding the screening of the movie were reported.

The local news was full of reports of violence and people being harassed by groups of youths that had seen the movie and left the theater all riled up and getting themselves into trouble.

What the hell was going on in this film? What was it all about?

The plot in a nutshell was that a prominent gang leader brings all the gangs in New York City together for a meeting in the Bronx to rally them to work together to take over the city.

During his rousing speech he is shot dead, and the Warriors are falsely blamed. The Warriors are a gang from Coney Island in Brooklyn, and now they must fight their way to their home turf as all the gangs are now out to get them.

It was not until 1980 that I finally watched the film in my living room on WHT, a rinky-dink pay-TV service that broadcast movies over UHF, a poor-man’s HBO that we had prior to our Bronx neighborhood being wired for cable.

My good friend and future AMR brother Silvio La Frossia watched the movie with me, and wow! What an impression it made on both of us! You can read his own recollections of the film over at The Mass Invasion.

The Warriors ruled. These guys were likeable, had great chemistry, were ethnically mixed, and of course, had cool leather vests as their uniform.

They were wrongfully accused of shooting Cyrus, the leader of the Gramercy Riffs, and they were the underdogs, having to fight their way through all the other gangs.

Who could ask for more to identify with these characters?

Although the movie played out like a comic book and seemed so much like fantasy, it probably was not far from the truth.

There were hundreds of gangs portrayed in this film, and at that time there were probably similar numbers of real gangs in New York City.


I personally remember the Savage Skulls and the Black Spades in the neighborhoods I grew up in.

The gangs were real and caused a great deal of trouble and violence all around the city during the 1970s. My older brother was at that ripe age and he admitted to being actively recruited. Thankfully, he avoided making that commitment.

If being in a gang didn’t kill him, my Mom surely would have if he got involved in one.

The turf wars were real, but a lot of it had to do with protecting what was theirs.

The economic downturn of the ’70s had a lot to do with this. The police were non-existent and did not protect many of these neighborhoods, or maybe they were afraid to go into these areas.

The police in the movie had minimal impact on the outcome of the movie; they were faceless and ultimately inconsequential as the gangs took justice into their own hands at the end of the movie as the Warriors were exonerated and the Rogues paid for their misdeeds.

“The Warriors” was so much more than a movie; it was a history lesson that showed us what was really going on around us.

Silvio and I recognized that and to this day still hold that movie at a higher level than most movies we have seen. That movie rang true with us and continues to influence us in how we viewed the era when that movie was released.

The Warriors. The Cyclone. The Wonder Wheel. New York City icons forever.

Summer Movies and Memorable Flicks With Friends

It is summertime, which means it’s time for popcorn flicks and blockbuster entertainment.

When I look back, it is amazing how many times my friends and I shared bonding moments built around watching movies.

We can recall not only the movie, but where we watched it, scenes  and how we reacted to it.

The movies we have seen together run the gamut, from comedies to thrillers to horror to adult.

The first R-rated ones I saw were “Animal House” and a double-feature of “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “Groove Tube.”

If I recall correctly, we had Pedro’s older brother come with us as our “guardian” since we were 16 and worried about the Loew’s American in the Bronx enforcing the MPAA age restriction.

There are those movies that endure (“Airplane!” of course being one of them) and there are those dogs of a movie that are best forgotten.

But half the fun of recalling some of those godawful flicks is the chance for my friends to break my chops that it was MY idea to go see them.

Two that come to mind: “Squeeze Play,” a pseudo sex romp brought to you by the high-caliber Troma Films company, and “Vice Squad,” a violent, dark film with few redeeming qualities.

But for memorable movie watching — as in like impossible to erase the imprint for your brain — the first-place trophy goes to AMR crew member Rich Rodriguez who a few years ago brought to the man cave “Requiem for a Dream” and “Human Centipede.”

We were crowded into a small room to watch “Requiem,” of which I knew nothing. It was an incredible movie about addiction but so dark and heavy that I needed a drink when it was over.

It is one of those movies, like “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan” that you are glad you have seen but cannot imagine ever watching a second time.

And then, as if that did not harsh our mellow enough, Rich popped in the DVD for “Human Centipede,” which was so vile and disgusting and repulsive that we demanded we watch it on fast-forward! (For an idea of how bad it was, consider that its sequel was banned in Britain!)

On a more uplifting note, there was the time we gathered at Pedro’s to watch “Ted,” the story of the raunchy, foul-mouthed stuffed teddy bear who comes to life.

At points we were laughing so hard and loud that we had to stop the movie and replay scenes because we were missing dialogue. That was a good time!

The crowning glory of movie-going moments, though, belongs to troublemaker Pedro following our viewing of “Return of the Jedi.”

We caught an early showing of the much-anticipated third installment of the “Star Wars” trilogy.

We exited the theater and there was a line literally down the block for movie-goers waiting to get in.

So what does Pedro do?

Like the inmates in the Jimmy Cagney prison cafeteria scene where word is relayed that “Ma’s dead,” Pedro delivers a major spoiler by announcing up and down the line of those waiting for tickets: “Darth Vader dies! Darth Vader dies!”

It was a wonder that Darth Vader was not the only one who died that night!

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“Jaws” 40 Years Later Is Just as Spectacular

On June 20, 1975, movie entertainment changed forever.

I was 11 years old when “Jaws” was released, and my mom, a faithful moviegoer, took my friend and I to the Capri Theater on Fordham Road in the Bronx to see the movie everyone was talking about.

The theater was packed and it was like riding a rollercoaster, with the crowd screaming and shouting as we watched the masterpiece of cinema that Spielberg had created.

The one scene that to this day has still freaked me out was when Ben Gardener’s head popped out of the hole in the boat and surely made Hooper crap his wet suit. (Oops! Spoiler alert!)

We left the theater energized and spread the word that this was the movie to see.

Little did I know that 40 years later I would be sitting in a theater and watching this movie, now my personal all-time favorite film, with two of my kids and another packed theater of enthusiastic fans, enjoying every memorable line, the great performances, and of course, Bruce the shark.

This was not the first time my kids watched “Jaws.”

I made the mistake of showing them the movie on DVD when they were much too young and surely traumatized them. They all slept in my bed that night. Luckily we are not frequent beach goers.

I wonder why?

Over the years I drove everyone in my house crazy, watching “Jaws” every time it was on TV, during Shark Week and “Jaws” marathons. Always hated when I missed the original and got stuck watching “Jaws 2” or the even worse, “Jaws 3.”  I don’t think I ever saw “Jaws: The Revenge.”

One night I drove my daughter out of the room because I kept rewinding the movie playing the “That’s some bad hat Harry” scene, and laughing each time.

The movie is filled with classic quotable lines like this.

My favorite scene and line is when Brody is complaining about chumming and the shark rises up out of the water and shows itself for the first time, totally shocking him, and he goes to Quint and says “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

So many gems like Ellen Brody’s “Wanna get drunk and fool around?” and, of course, Brody’s “Smile, you son of a bitch!”

During this 40th anniversary screening, the theater was packed again and we had to sit in the second row.

Some ladies next to me also saw the movie in 1975, and we were shocked during the scene when the two kids were pretending to be a shark in the water with the cardboard fin.

The lifeguard was standing blowing his whistle and the camera angle was from below and you could see right up his shorts. I had to turn my face away, but boy those ladies next to me got a big kick out of it.

They exclaimed “I didn’t see that in 1975!” I had to laugh out loud!

The crowd had a fun time, laughed at the classic lines and cheered at the end.

We all clapped during the credits,which my kids thought was strange.

A great nostalgic evening was had by all, and maybe some newbies discovered something special.

I am looking forward to the 50th anniversary and reserving my tickets now.


Corporal Punishment and Catholic Schools

On a recent visit to see my parents, the conversation turned to stories of how they enforced discipline with their three children.

Being the oldest, naturally, I was subjected to the worst of it.

Spatulas. Belts. Shoes.

They were all weapons of ass destruction.

They were used when I was being mouthy or disrespectful, which as I recall, was often.

But as much as my parents were enforcers of discipline, they were no match for the nuns, Christian brothers and lay teachers who made up the staff of the Catholic schools of my youth.

I recall my second-grade teacher who had “the lightning rod,” a steel ruler that was as thick as it was inflexible.

Another teacher used to grind his school ring into your skull.

I attended an all-boys Catholic high school in the Bronx where faculty members were liberal in doling out punishment and enforcing discipline.

For freshman algebra, I had Brother Tin, a Christian brother who stood about 4-foot nothing.

But his stature belied his speed.

Brother Tin

I don’t recall why, but one day a classmate, Mike Wasilewski,  who stood about 6-foot-2, got in trouble and was called to the front of the classroom.

In his heavily accented English, Brother Tin said: “Wasilewski, take off your glasses.”

I never saw Brother Tin’s hands even leave his sides but I vividly recall Wasilewski’s  head recoiling from the sharp, loud smack he took across his face.

But perhaps the most memorable story came on an afternoon while we waited outside a locked classroom and were gathered in the hallway.

This one student, Mike, was recounting a story to a buddy and it was laced with F bombs.

“F bomb this and F bomb that…”

Unfortunately for him, he did not realize that the office of our assistant principal, Ron Patnosh, was scant feet away.


And his door was open. And he was inside. Listening.

The next thing I knew Patnosh materialized as if he were an apparition.

“Where do you think you are?! Do you think you are out on the streets?! How dare you talk that way!”

As he shouted at the F bomber, each sentence was punctuated with a loud smack across the kid’s kisser.

I just stood there doe-eyed like Buckwheat from the Little Rascals.

All of this reminds me of the story of the incorrigible kid whose dad is going nuts dealing with his son’s misbehavior at school.

At public school, the kid is a disaster academically and routinely gets suspended.

The dad tries to enroll his son in a private school but the results are the same.

In desperation, the dad decides to send his son to Catholic school.

Lo and behold, the kid straightens up, discipline complaints from teachers disappear and his grades soar.

One night the dad sits the son down and asks: “After all of the trouble and anguish you put me through, why now did you decide to behave in school?”

The son replied: “Dad, I walked in the classroom and took one look at that guy nailed on the cross, and I knew they meant business!”

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Riding the Rails: All Aboard!

Germany summer 2011 143

The  older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the phrase “boys and their toys.”

It is an allusion — not always flattering — to men’s affinity for things mechanical or on wheels.

I never really inhabited that territory.

Cars? Meh.

Boats? Nah.

But short line railroads? Now you’re talking!

I can recall as a kid going to Old McDonald’s Farm in Connecticut and Catskill Game Farm in New York and riding their mini railroads and being enchanted. Or bringing my sons to the Bergen County Zoo in New Jersey and riding the rail it has there.

And as an adult, I’ve enjoyed the trips along the Delaware & Ulster Railroad and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

So I was captivated to see in The New York Times a story headlined “Riding the Rails in the Bronx.

The story explored this group that wants to put small open-air cars on tracks that are abandoned or seldom used.

When I posted a link to the story on Facebook, I called out the About Men Radio posse and suggested we should do this.

“Would so get our own car,” I wrote, “drinking, smoking, cussing, cellphones all permitted, and ride the wide open rails!”

My suggestion was met with immediate enthusiasm from the AMR crew.


Boys and their toys.

I mean, c’mon, the idea of riding in one of these old work rail cars, called a speeder, along the open rails of the Bronx?!


We could outfit it with a couch, a boom box to play 80s tunes and a wet bar! It would be a man cave on rails!

Before you ask “Does your train of thought have a caboose?” let me tell you why such personalized rail cars like these excite me: Because they do exist and I’ve ridden one!

I have cousins in Germany, some of whom live in Langeness, one of 10 halligs in the world. A hallig is an island without dikes that floods almost completely.

When the floods come, these hills become islands. The roads are impassable and they have to wait for the waters to recede.

One hundred year-round residents populate Langeness, which is made up of 18 big hills where the homes and farm buildings are perched.

You can take a ferry to reach the hallig but the most fascinating form of transit is a motorized rail car called a lorrie.

Think of a lorrie as a shed with bench seats that can seat six and that you can put on railroad tracks.

The lorrie line, which is three miles long, crosses land and sea and each inhabitant on the hallig has their own.

On the lorrie line, there are no radios, no track signals and no control tower.

For a kid who grew up on the No. 6 Lexington Avenue subway line, riding the lorrie was an immense treat.

It reminds me very much of what these rail enthusiasts hope to achieve in the Bronx. To which, all I can say is: Good luck to them and all aboard!

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Arcade Games Get A Second Life at Barcade

Barcade in Manhattan is home to a very special place that combines two of the best pastimes imaginable: Enjoying an adult beverage and playing vintage video arcade games from the days of my youth.

This is a magical place that transported me back more than 30 years to a time before Wii, online gaming, Xbox and all manner of other sophisticated game systems.

The premise of video arcade games was simple: You stood in front of a machine the size of a refrigerator with a screen, a set of buttons and, depending on the game, a joystick.

I try to explain this concept to my sons and they look at me the same way they do when I speak of black-and-white television, rotary dial phones and hard copy encyclopedias.

I was struck by a sense of nostalgia in seeing some of my old (OK, very old) favorites like Donkey Kong, Asteroids and, of course, Pac-Man.

For myself and members of the About Men Radio posse, it was a daily after-school ritual: Go to the five-and-dime store in the Bronx on Castle Hill Avenue called Kress.

Some of us were players and some of us were watchers.

A knot of kids would collect around the machine as if we were metal and it was a gigantic magnet.

Players would wedge a quarter atop the buttons or line them up on the screen, upright, as a way of holding their place in line.

Hard to believe this was the way it was done.  But this was organized on the honor system and each player waited for his turn, which could take a while depending on how advanced the current player was.

Another odd memory: Players would put their lit cigarettes (yes, this was long before indoor smoking bans) either atop the machine’s “roofs” or rest them against the buttons, where they would create small burn streaks on the machine’s dashboard.

The arcade games were in few places, mostly what we would refer to as “candy stores,” which were a combination of newsstand, cigar shop and/or ice cream parlor, complete with counter and swivel stools.

Back in the day, the mother lode of these machines, as measured by quality and diversity, was only to be found in Times Square.

So every once in a while, the fellas and I would trek down on a Saturday morning with rolls of quarters to play games we could not find in our Bronx neighborhood.

Of course, later as we got older, we would trek to the then far-seedier Times Square with quarters for other nefarious purposes in mind, resulting in one particularly memorable and hilarious field trip that I have written about in a previous blog post.

The occasion for the visit to the Barcade was to see old work colleagues, including April Hunt,  who I wrote about in a previous blog post. (She is a die-hard, champion Ms. Pac-Man player.)

I turned my attention to some old-time favorites, such as Asteroids and even a Star Wars game. Sure, the graphics and sound effects were clunky and dated compared with today’s almost-holographic games, but that is part of their charm.

But just like old times, I died inglorious deaths pretty quickly on the first rounds of almost every game l played.

With these old arcade games, it pays to have fast fingers.

Unfortunately, for me, I’m all thumbs.

A Calling to Help Foster Children Started at a Playground

I recently was in the supermarket and ran into someone who said, “Hey, you look familiar. Haven’t we met before?”

Perhaps I look like a lot of different people. (I hate to think about that if I’m ever called in for a lineup.)

The person and I determined that it was 25 years ago when I worked in a park in the Bronx as a recreation director.

She said that I was one of the few who seemed to really help the kids. Her son is in his 20s now.

Some parents used us as free daycare. They’d drop their children off at 8:30 a.m. in front of the park and pick them up at 6 p.m. after work.

Many of the children didn’t have a lunch bag nor money to buy food, so a few of us would always make sure that we brought a few extra slices of pizza.

I never wanted to see youngsters go hungry.

The recreation job was busy during the summer months while we had daily activities.

During the school year it got less hectic. We had mostly seniors until 3 p.m., when the school-age children would come to the parks.

It was during one of those less hectic days I met a woman who had two children, Anthony and Jonathan.

Anthony was about 10 years old and I introduced him to some of the other youngsters his own age.

Jonathan was a few years younger but would try and keep up with his older brother.

Jonathan had trouble hearing and would turn his head to the left and try and figure out what someone was saying. I told his mother about this and she said that she would take him to the agency doctor.

I learned that Anthony and Jonathan were foster care kids and this was my first experience with foster children. Their foster parent gave me her contact along with the agency that the boys were with.

One time Jonathan was at the top of the jungle gym and fell. His foster parent was there in the park when it happened and Jonathan was rushed to the hospital.

He came back the next day with a cast on his arm and wanted to play on the jungle gym, but I taught him how to play checkers instead. Jonathan became quite the checker player and played in the summer tourney and won first place.

He was awarded a trophy for the accomplishment and a few months later he and his brother went back to his mother.

The foster parent had other boys afterwards but there was always a special place in her heart for Anthony and Jonathan.

A few weeks later, I was reading “Catholic New York” and there was a call for foster care caseworkers.

I answered the call and have been helping children achieve permanency ever since.

I’ve had my share of Jonathans during my work and will probably regale you with some stories again.

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I’m Drivin’ in My Car…And Getting Into Trouble!

One night in 1985 while out with my AMR brothers cruising around, we almost all checked out.

An annual Italian heritage block event was held in our neighborhood in the east Bronx.

As was our custom, we would pile into a car and head out. This time it was my car and Zerega Avenue was our destination for the evening.

My car was really my Dad’s car and to call it a land yacht was to downplay its enormity. It was a 1976 Ford LTD. It was truly a land cruise ship. Piling into it was not a problem for just the four of us that night, Pedro, John, Rich and me.

The car was not a beater, but it had seen better days. Most of the dings, scratches and disrepair were courtesy of a teenage me that learned to drive in it and used it more than Dad did by that time.

On that fateful night, it had a burnt out headlight. Being young and broke I did not see the urgency in repairing or replacing parts immediately.

So off we went, with John riding shotgun and Pedro and Rich in the back seat.

We cruised the night a bit and headed in the direction of the festival. I can’t recall if any of us really wanted to attend the festival. We were just planning on cruising, cutting up and having fun.

Traffic was not heavy but we saw police officers directing traffic on the principal roads. I turned down a side street and, approaching a corner on the dark road, I saw a single flashlight motioning forward like an airport runway crewman.

But as my great white land ship got closer to the light, it started to motion to the curb that I should pull over.

I immediately remembered the busted headlight. Damn.

And that I had forgotten my wallet. Double damn!

I pulled to the side and a very young police officer came to my window. He asked me for my license and registration and with the same breath before I could reply to his first request he informed me that I had a headlight out.

From the corner of my eye, I saw his partner, equally young, flashlight in hand, approach the passenger side.

I told the officer that I was driving my Dad’s car and I forgot my wallet. But I did have the registration in the glove compartment, which I pointed to and was about to slowly reach all the way over to retrieve.

And here is where it all could have ended.

John lunged for the glove compartment, simply thinking that he was doing me a solid and getting my documents for me.

The cops didn’t see the nobility of the gesture as they each took a step back and trembling hands went to their holsters. Luckily, John fumbled the turn knob and I was able to calmly push him back in his seat.

I’m not certain what kept me moving calmly that night other than instinctively knowing that one does not make quick movements in the presence of officers on a dark side road in the Bronx.

After pulling out the registration and insurance card, the officer asked me to give him my name and spell it.

He returned the cards to me. His hand — and mine — were less than steady.

I guess he was satisfied that the spelling of my last name matched the one on the registration card. Thank the heavens my name wasn’t simply Smith.

He gave me a warning to drive home, get the headlight fixed and to not forget my wallet in the future. Yes, sir!

I pulled away slowly and started to drive away. Then a steady barrage of smacks and blows, intermingled with chopped unfinished sentences, started to rain down on the back of John’s head coming from the back seat.

“You dumb…” Smack!

“You never lunge when…” Bang!

“You almost got us…” Pow!

All of it was coming from Pedro. Rich didn’t say much the rest of the trip.

Thinking back on it, and without making light of recent events, we got off easy. I can only imagine that the young officers were just as frightened as we were. And we were extremely fortunate the glove box did not open, allowing John to reach in.

The officers stayed level-headed and did not draw, but all the circumstances in the event—four youths with no ID in a large car that is not theirs — could have led to calling in the sidewalk chalk outline artist that night.

I’m grateful that it turned out OK for us. And I don’t think I have ever again forgotten my wallet!

Hush Puppies Are Up!

I remember when my cousin worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken to earn money while in college.

His mom would make him come through a different entrance to the house because he reeked so badly.

I remember thinking: “Ewwwwww! Gross!”

Yeah, well thou without stench, cast the first chicken thigh into the fryer.

Fast-forward and it’s my senior year in high school and I’m desperately looking for a job. A classmate was working at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.

Through him, I got a job working as a fry cook and a bus boy.

Neither job was especially attractive. But since misery loves company, I got my buddy Pedro a job there.

Pairing us up to work was maybe not the smartest thing the managers ever did.

One night I was showing Pedro how to “recycle” the oil.  At closing, we would trot out this rectangular metal gadget. We would open up a spigot, the oil would pour into the machine’s reservoir, and then it would filter the grit and we would direct the recycled oil back into the fryer.

I had Pedro laughing so hard about some tomfoolery during this operation that, when the oil splashed, it landed on his tongue because his mouth was wide open while laughing.

Did I mention the oil was still hot?

Being fry cook was bad (your hair was matted with oil, your pores filled with batter and you stank) but being clean-up person was worse.

Mopping and cleaning tables was not so bad. But woe unto you if you worked a Sunday night and had to bring garbage to the curb for pick-up the next day.

There was a room – yes, literally a room – filled floor to ceiling with a week’s worth of rotting restaurant garbage. The farther you had to reach into the room to retrieve the garbage, the worse it got. There were roaches in there the size of pigeons and they were just as obnoxious.

Somehow I got promoted to manager of the restaurant on Bartow Avenue in the Bronx, a not-particularly great neighborhood.

How not particularly great was it?

The first night I showed up for work, my assistant manager, Javier (a short, funny Puerto Rican dude with a fro, dead-caterpillar mustache and a fuzzy goatee) pointed to pockmarks in the large steel-door freezers.

“You see these?” he asked. “These are from bullets.”

I lasted maybe nine months. All in all, I look back on my time there as a worthwhile growth experience that helped prepare me for work challenges later in life.

By the way, do you want chips with that?

Photo courtesy of http://kathythompson.wordpress.com