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 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.
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.
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.
If you were ever 12 years old, you will get a kick from the web site for my latest book, TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH.
The stories take place in a section of Brooklyn called Flatbush. But about a third of the book takes place in Coney Island.
I would love to get comments from readers.
If you were ever 12 years old, you will get a kick out of my latest book, TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH.. Visit the website and learn a little bit more about me. I know, that I’ve brought out the best parts, but very little is hidden.