Brooklyn’s Dill Pickle Farmer

Before I tell you what happened, you have to know how the subway in my section of Brooklyn works. When my line made its way well into Brooklyn, it crept out from the dark tunnels into the daylight and slowly climbed to be an elevated line. After riding home from high school in upper Manhattan in the dank bowels of the subterranean city for the better part of an hour, seeing the daylight was a catharsis. Relieved from the tedium of flashing bare light bulbs in black tunnels, it was a relief to study the landscape while the train was at surface level.
In the 50s, there was a pickle “farm” in close vicinity to where the train emerged. This was the landmark that I waited for. The farm consisted of enormous vats of floating cucumbers on their journey to becoming dill pickles. Although the vats appeared to be no more than two feet deep, they each seemed to be about forty yards in diameter. They didn’t need to be deep; pickles float. With the exception of a deep freeze in winter, there was always a man in hip boots skimming a rake over the surface. I later learned that he was nudging the saddest cucs to the edge of the pond to be dropouts and turn to pickle relish. The sight of pickles and the hunger of late afternoon gave me a prescient desire for a savory dill. I often stopped at the local grocery store, Cornick’s, to buy a couple to have with dinner.
But, I digress. It eventually became a challenge to spot the pickle farmer trudging through one of the vats in the 20 seconds when the train was close. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I eventually got the urge to splurge for some half-sour pickles even before daylight struck my window. One day, the whole affair ended. As my train entered the fading daylight, I spotted the pickle farmer in his hip boots at the center of the closest vat. While I was taming my urge to splurge, the farmer was giving in to the urge to purge. The setting sun sparkled through the graceful stream like the Fountains of Rome. He was peeing in a graceful arc out into the air and down into the pickles. Admittedly, trudging through 20 yards of knee-high liquid to answer a call from Mother Nature was a bummer. But on the other hand, the joy of salivating at the thought of a delicious half-sour kosher dill plucked straight from the vat was blunted forever.
Visit my web-site for the book, TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH., to learn more about Brooklyn in the early 50s. You’ll love it. At Amazon.com.

A Wonderful Start to the Teen Years

In the eighth grade in Public School I was already hooked on the concept of friendship to confirm my sense of worth. So, when I learned that there was going to be a spring celebration luncheon, I joined the buzz knowing that this was the acknowledgment of having many good friends. It was a buffet where you artfully piled your plate with donated ethnic foods and strategically chose your seat to be identified as a member of the A-crowd. I patiently stood in line, decorated my plate carefully with food and looked for the right place to be seated.

The cafeteria was empty except for one table. It was already filled with buzzing drones and furthermore, additional chairs had been pulled tighter around to press into the crowded core. There was no way that I could survive pressed into that swarming mass of insects clinging to a queen bee. I decided that my social prowess was sufficient enough to be the nucleus of another table and sat down at an empty table nearby. The napkins, knives and forks were all set up with a glass at each seat and I put my plate down and pretended that I was happy and confident.

My pulse shot up when an attractive girl came over to my table and asked if anyone was sitting across from me. I said no and with that, she scooped up the setting and pulled the chair away to the populated table. Without asking, her friend scooped another setting and chair. Now, no one could occupy the void across from me if they want to. I felt like a butterfly retreating back into his cocoon as winter unexpectedly returned. I sobbed on the inside while I presented an unconcerned face.

Then, as I felt I was bobbing alone in a vast sea, Sharon, a casual friend, came with her plate of food and without asking, pulled over a chair and a place setting and sat facing me. Her friend Lee soon followed her. They seemed to want to be at my table in spite of the illusion that the in-crowd was just a few feet away. I looked into their faces and exploded with contentment and a sense of self. At that moment I understood for the first time the meaning of a loyal friend. What a way to start the teen years!

At Amazon.com.

Casing Steeplechase in 1950 for Revenge

At a recent reading from the part of TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. about Coney Island in 1949-50, someone asked, with suspicion, about the accuracy of the extensive description of the place. I assured her that the descriptions of specific features were quite precise. In fact, I was amazed at how one striking point in time and place stimulated my mind to wander to other spots nearby.
For example, an event on the stage at Steeplechase Park one summer afternoon in 1950 burned an image of the whole grand pavilion in my mind.
Patrons that exited the signature ride called Iron Horses had to cross a mock theater stage where a pair of clowns used them as stooges to entertain the audience. At that age, with my friends around me, I was also a clown and used the opportunity to try to upstage the professionals. Prepared for upstarts like me, they would have no part of it and cornered me on the stage to dispose of me. One of them smacked my tush with his electric cattle prod giving me a lasting painful shock. Nowadays, this would provoke a lawsuit, but then it was common entertainment. My immediate reaction was to go down like the flaming Hindenburg, but in reality, I deflated like a burst birthday balloon. With pride smashed and my bottom burning, I sat for a long time watching others romp around the grand indoor pavilion.
It was mostly during that period of studied sulking and imagined revenge that the layout and workings of Steeplechase were embossed in my memory. It was a twelve-year-old imagining a plot and casing the joint. I returned many times after that and each time, I added more detail to the image. I still remember the sounds of machinery and large gears grinding as well the smell of warm lubrication grease and overused frying oil. I remember details of the large colorful paintings that enticed and teased patrons into long lines. This was the hub of a giant world that reached throughout Coney Island and back into my neighborhood. The details are as vivid as ever. The book is accurate.

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The Importance of Being Twelve

Twelve years old is an incredible time in anyone’s life. It’s the time when you realize that you can hear more than one melody in your head at the same time. It’s the time when fantasies start to connect to the real world and they blossom into creativity. For many, it is the finale of a lifetime in the carefully shepherded world of grade school and the prospect of independence in high school. Most of all, it is the launch pad for adventure.

I would guess that my time as a twelve year old was similar to most as I now was faced with decisions that had consequences outside the home. Prior to that, my parents were responsible and shared my guilt as I tested the boundaries. Now, my friends became “peers”, my persona was nearly fully developed, and I would carry it with me throughout my lifetime. I was an adult, although the celebration wouldn’t happen until I was a year older. Yet childlike feelings of invulnerability urged me to do crazy things.

Twelve is an amazing time. I became aware of my parents as people with real life problems, not gods impenetrable by the social forces that tossed me around. It was exciting to dive back into the memory of my thirteenth year with all its adventures and dangers and to write TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. I escaped just in time.

At Amazon.com.

Get the book — have some fun — You will Love it.

Some people have asked about the web site for the book  TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. Go To

http://www.ArthurJLevy.com

or go directly to Amazon.com.

You will have surely have some fun.

Retracing Steps Doesn’t Always Work

Several people have asked me how I could write a “biography of place” with such precision, considering that it is such a long time ago, more than a half-century. It all started with reminiscences with my mother of “the good old times. ” She was 96 years old at the time and had a surprisingly accurate recollection of events. As I listened to the telling of an event, I could see with amazing detail where it took place and what the surrounding s looked like. I proceeded from there.

My memories are mostly visual. The images have an antecedent and a consequent. It is like walking in on the middle of a movie and being able to play it back a ways to see how the current frame came about. The exercise became hypnotic and I was able to see places and events as if they were unfolding in front of me. It was, amazingly, all there. I tested the veracity of the script on my elderly mother and my (much) older brother. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t revising the images to current preferences. Each of the chapters became a rebirth of a childhood and a way of life that has long vanished. Thus, TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. is a biography of place and time.

Coney Island, Now a Stuffed Animal

I was in Brooklyn not long ago and went to Coney Island to see how much had changed. It was a shock to see that it is all gone. A few trophy have survived as landmarks, but they seem like stuffed animals in a museum. I went back the pages of TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. to revitalize my memories. It worked.