Tag Archives: Bronx History

From A to Z: another blog challenge: A

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Yes, I am looking at from Zero to 57 spanning the month of April 2011. From hating the idea of blogs and such, to finding (1) it makes me write and (2) I find the use in restarting my freelance creative life a plus. I’ll also have two weeks of downtime later in the month (schools on Spring Break), so it’s good for mental health as well.

The reason for 57 above? In the month of April, between this blog (for the writer/ storyteller part of me) and my more Teaching Artist/performance blog BornStoryteller, I will be writing a total of 57 blogs: 26 here (one for each letter of the alphabet) and 31 on BornStoryteller, one for each day of the month. Will I do it? Will I forget and drive myself crazy…well, crazier? May 1st will tell the tale.  Not even sure how I’ll use this yet: just stories; poetry/song lyrics; journaling; true stories; just not really sure what.

So…the letter A: Alexandra

Alexandra was one of those that got away, that I long for now, knowing if we really gave it a shot..I would still have no idea how it would have turned out. Got away, ran away, pushed away, never really was in the way? As above, not really sure, now. Infatuated? Definitely. Love, yes, but still never sure how much. Intrigued by and pulled towards and maddened by and longed for and lusted for…yes, yes, yes, yes..and, oh, yes.

One summer night…Alex was off to the wilds of New England to spend a good part of the summer at a camp. Musically gifted, this was her world she was entering, one specifically for those with real talent and passion, of which she had in full. Gone already for a week or two, this young lady I talked to often, saw not as often as liked, was MIA.

Around 11pm, just off an ice cream binge with my friend Sam (who, btw, introduced me to Alexandra..Alex..Ai) and I were leaving the Howard Johnson’s. Bored, awake, and both of us antsy, we decided then and there to get in the car, drive up to the New England camp and find her. Now, this was way before cell phones, GPS, or all that. We had a map, a name, and some money in our pockets. Off we went.

The drive up was uneventful. Sam & I did our usual talking, goofed around, sang badly to the songs on the radio, got lost a few times, but never once did we talk about what we would do when we got to the camp. That discussion came later.

Hours later, we drove into the town that grounded the area the camp was located.  Almost out of gas, we drove around a sleepy, roll-up-the-sidewalk-at-6pm little town, looking for an open gas station. Luck on our side, we found the ONLY place open at 2 something in the morning: a gas station. Filling up, and asking any final directions, we made our way to the camp.

It was an absolutely calm summer night, clear skies, moon shining bright, and not a car on the road except for us. We found the camp, pulled over on the opposite side of the road, got out.. and just stood there. Somewhere, inside one of the shadowed, darkened buildings, under a very starry starry night, was the object of my quest. My Pancho to my Don Quixote said: “So, now what?”

We wound up by the car for quite awhile, talking, looking in silence, and some deep heavy sighing (most, if not all,  from me, I’m pretty sure).  Whatever bravado or knuckleheadedness that drove us out there, it left as we just stood and stared at the camp. The chicken side of me took over completely. We got in the car and drove off south, back to New York.

There were some other adventures that night, but I’ll save them for another blog letter, maybe.

Alexandra came back to NYC, we saw each other here and there, talked a lot on the phone, and I felt drawn to her when we were together over the next few years, and distanced myself at times (there was an age difference that at times became my own built in barrier). I know we had some excellent times together, I know I let her down more than once, and most likely hurt her (for which I am always so sorry about), and I know we had a love/need/want for each other. Well, I know it from my end.

The letter A: Alexandra. Alex. Ai.

Crossing 161st Street: Doing Things We Weren’t Supposed To

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I was asked to tell a true story of my growing up in The Bronx at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. If you haven’t been there, you should. They host a number of wonderful evenings, and the art in the museum (this current exhibition) has many moving pieces.

Here’s the story I told on March 4th, 2011:

How many of you, when you were younger, did something you were not supposed to? How many of you still do that? Keep your hands raised…I’m taking a count.

I grew up on Gerard Avenue, just south of 161st street (around the corner from the REAL Yankee Stadium) in the early to mid 1960’s. This neighborhood was like a very small community. Everyone knew each other (and yes, this was all apartment buildings). All the adults and the shopkeepers knew all the neighborhood kids. WE could not get away with anything (well, most of the time).  This was one of those times.

Crossing the street without an adult was forbidden to us until we reached a certain age. That distinction didn’t really seem to vary. I think all the Mothers got together and had charts and plans all set up for us until we were 18, if not older. It took a loooonnnnggg time to get my mother to allow me to cross Gerard Avenue by myself, and it was a one way street where the only time we had a lot of traffic was when there was a Yankee game. Then, I could forget about it.

I definitely could not cross 161st street by myself. If you are not from The Bronx, or have never gone to a Yankee game, let me try to explain: it’s an eight lane autobahn type of road, with cars whizzing past and turning and coming at you from umpteen million directions. The two outside lanes are “local” lanes, and they have a small island of concrete to hold pedestrians between lights. This was in a time the majority of people (cars and pedestrians) obeyed the traffic lights. I don’t even want to think about what it’s like now.

It was Comic Book Day! The new comics were delivered on Tuesdays (I think), and the local candy store (look that up), the ONLY one on 161st Street, that got comics, let ME unsnip the tightly wrapped bundles (which destroyed a lot of the comics)…if I was there when they were delivered. I not only got to do this, but I got to (1) put the comics in the slots and (2) get the first pick of the comics. No smushed up ones for me! I paid for my comics, but for doing this job, I got a free Chocolate Egg Cream Soda, straight from the fountain. Bliss, on so many counts.

I asked my mother if we could go. I had my allowance. She said, for whatever reason, “No.” This was the non-nudging, non-budging type of “NO” that I knew so well. “Go out and play” was her command, and I did. But…not so much to play, and to get what I wanted.

Making my way towards the corner of 161st & Gerard, I looked everywhere to see if ANYONE I knew, or who knew me, was around. I checked up and down the street, looked to see if anyone was watching me from the stores until I finally got to the corner. Checking both ways (even though this part was one way up towards The Grand Concourse), I took my first chance into forbidden territory.

I got to the first island with no problem. Again, looking around, I saw no one. I waited and waited and waited for the lights to turn in my favor and when they did I RAN RAN RAN full out to make the next concrete safety island before I’d get smashed and run over and bleeding all over the place and the drivers laughed at the little kid splat on the road. My heart was racing, but I was safe. And cocky. I didn’t wait for the next light like I should have, to cross that small road that was left to reach the other side of 161st…and got honked for my chutzpah.

I waited for the light to turn.

Finally crossing over, I went to the comic shop, did the comics, got my Egg Cream, got asked where my mother was (“she’s in Addie Valens”..look it up), took my comics and left.

The crossing back was easier. I had already done it. I didn’t see why my mother was so strict. See? I could do it.

Entering the apartment, I walked towards my room to put away/hide my comics. “Stuart, Sweetie,” I heard. “Where have you been?”

“outsideplayinglikeyoutoldmeto” I answered.

“You didn’t cross 161st Street?” she asked.

“no.”

Well, she had gotten a phone call from someone who was looking out her window ONTO 161st Street, and saw the whole thing. She saw me cross to the other side, go to the candy store, come back and cross back home. Then she called my mother and asked her “Edie, are you letting Stuart cross 161st Street by himself now?”

Well, that answer was yelled into me for what seemed like five hours. I had to give up my comics, and if that wasn’t enough, I heard those famous last words:

“Wait until your father gets home!”

 

Bronx Stories at the Bronx Museum: March 18

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I just had a wonderful time exploring and learning about the Bronx Museum (open since 2006) on 165th & The Grand Concourse in, of course, THE Bronx. I met with two of the women who are supportive keystones to making the museum place to visit again and again: Hannie & Bridget. It was a real pleasure meeting both of them and they should be commended for the dedication they have to making the Bronx Museum a community landmark.

They are planning a series of storytelling events, and I urge…strongly urge…all The Bronx refugees & natives & storytelling and art to support the museum and this series. The first evening is on Friday, March 18th, from 6:00-8:30pm. There will be two more events of Bronx Stories on May 20th and June 10th.

It is so close to where I grew up (just south of 161st Street on Gerard Avenue) that the whole experience made me nostalgic. I may live in Yonkers, but I’m from THE BRONX!

I’ll be there on Friday March 18th to support this wonderful new art outlet. Please join me there. They’re having an open mic after the main tellers, so if you have a short story of your life in The Bronx, come share it. I might tell everyone about the time Ricky fell through the roof of a convertible, or watching the Pope on home plate at Yankee Stadium, or standing on a long line at the Earl theater to see “Hard Days Night”, and then not being able to hear the movie ’cause all the girls screamed through the whole thing!

See you there.