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IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN
MYRNA: Good morning everyone. We are here to talk to you about BROOKLYN!
Now there are many Brooklyns. So before we begin let’s make it clear that we’re not here to talk about the “new?Brooklyn ?the arty, trendy Brooklyn of the 21st century, the Brooklyn of Park Slope and Fort Green and (can you believe it?) Williamsburg and even Red Hook that have been transformed into high fashion/high rent districts.
No, we’re here to talk about mid 20th century Brooklyn where Harvey and I, and I bet many of you grew up. Our Brooklyn didn’t have the panache and sophistication of Manhattan. The scenery was nothing to rave about --for the most part it was flat and uninspiring. And yet it still exerts a pull. You may have left it but you never will forget it.
You never will forget Prospect Park and Coney Island, Lundy’s and Ebbets Field. You’ll never forget those safe and clean subways that had names like the West End Local and the Sea Beach Express or the trolleys that glided under the McDonald Avenue El all the way to Coney Island for a fare of seven cents.
You’ll never forget the foods of your Brooklyn childhood. You can still taste the half sour pickle straight from the barrel, the ice cream scooped by the man in the candy store into a sugar cone, the long skinny pretzels, the egg creams, and the incomparable Ebinger’s blackout cake.
HARVEY: You remember going to a neighborhood elementary school named by a number preceded by the initials P.S. And then moving on to a huge high school with thousands of students. Their names still strike a chord: Lafayette, Lincoln, Madison, Midwood, Erasmus, Tilden, Jefferson, Boys, Eastern District, Brooklyn Tech, New Utrecht, Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton. Did I get them all?
You remember hanging out in cavernous cafeterias like the Famous or Garfield’s or Dubrow’s, and going out on Saturday nights to one of the massive movie palaces like the Kingsway, the Patio or Loewe’s Oriental. And staking out sections of Brighton Beach like Bay 7 or Bay 2 in the summertime. And if you were lucky enough to have access to a car, making out under the stars in the parking lot of Plum Beach.
MYRNA: To a kid from Brooklyn, Manhattan was another world, the place where your father worked and your mother took you to buy clothes or see the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. The Bronx was some hilly terrain up north, Queens an indistinct wilderness, and Staten Island a place across the water that you had to take a ferry boat to reach. Whatever you wanted and needed was there, right at home, in Brooklyn.
That was Brooklyn in the 1940s, 50s and into the 60s. But then things started to change. There was Vietnam, civil unrest, riots, new rules, new games. The beloved Dodgers had done the unbelievable --moved away, and to California of all places. The few surviving movie palaces got divided into multiplex theaters. The old hangouts closed down.
There are plenty of compensations. You’ve got more delicacies in your freezer than the corner candy store ever stocked. Who needs a steamy summer night on a sweltering stoop when you can sit on your deck in the clean desert air and look up at a starry Scottsdale sky? And how can the Coney Island steam bath compete with the private pleasures of your own sauna or Jacuzzi?
Still, for some reason, Brooklyn stays with you. That special time, that special place. It keeps coming back like a song.
Today we’d like to play that song for you. IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN includes the memories of more than 100 people: teachers, lawyers, businesspeople, retired garment workers, an opera singer, a judge, a Baptist minister all of whom share the common experience of a Brooklyn childhood. What we are going to do now is move in and out of these personalities, assume their characters, speak through their different voices, and hope by doing so, to bring back that special time and place.
Our story begins in the post war years, when people all over the country were upbeat about the future. The Depression was over, the war had been won. But nowhere was there more hopefulness, more of a sense bright tomorrow than in Brooklyn. Here’s what it was like:
HARVEY: For a week or more, the word was going around the neighborhood: the candy store on Havemeyer Street was getting a shipment of Fleer's Double Bubble Gum. When it finally arrived, they sold it direct from cartons stacked up outside the store. The line stretched almost a block and a half. Adults were there along with the kids. People were jumping the line, bumping the line, in a panic to get to that sweet chewy taste. The price was ten times what it had been before the war. It was so expensive, we put it into a glass of water overnight so we could chew it again the next day. Still everyone had to have it. I guess it made us feel things were getting back to the way they used to be.
We had been through the blackouts, the rations, but now everything was coming back. People were even buying new cars. But best of all, the war was over, and now there was the United Nations that would make sure there would never be another one.
MYRNA: The soldiers and sailors and marines coming home helped bring about the resurgence of Coney Island. They’d come off the subway at Stillwell Avenue and rush to the rides. They loved the cyclone, especially the Air Force guys. They’d spend every nickel they had, and the rides were a nickel then. If they didn’t have any money left for carfare, they’d go to the 60th precinct where the police had a special fund to help them.
In Red Hook, there was a block party every night for a year. They’d put up a little platform or use the back of a truck. There was a festive feeling. Everybody kissed each other. People hung flags and streamers from their windows.
With all the world upheaval, people had come into Brooklyn by the bushel, and there was a feeling we had made it. We went out to Fulton Street to shop and left the iron gate to our brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant open. We went to dances and parties and came back at three in the morning, and there would be singing in the street, and the milkman would wave to us.
HARVEY: In the years after the war, nothing symbolized the feeling of hope and optimism in Brooklyn more than the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before the war, the team had been one of comedy and futility. But now, suddenly, with the introduction and acceptance of Jackie Robinson and then other black players, it becomes one of the two great teams of the modern era.
Jackie Robinson breaking through the color line in 1947 gave folks the perception that there was something different about Brooklyn. The Dodgers stood for an aspiration at a time when the people of the city were ready for a future of rightness.
For us in Brooklyn, there was the feeling that not only had we made it through, we were on the way up. We had a lot of motivation, we children of immigrants. There was a tremendous amount of talent pooled together to be the smartest, the best, the wittiest, the most mischievous. We had that desire to work hard plus the feeling we could do anything. The myth of invincibility was very important. Coming after a great victory in war, there was a feeling that merit would be recognized. It was like coming into a bright light.
MYRNA: In victory or defeat, never was a baseball team so intimately connected with its place, never were fans so loyal, never was a stadium so beloved as that little bandbox of a ballpark on Bedford Avenue called Ebbets Field. Here’s how some remember it:
HARVEY: I could take the trolley or the bus, but usually I took the Brighton line and switched to the Franklin Avenue Shuttle to get to my favorite place in all of Brooklyn: Ebbets Field. I’d walk out of the train station, and immediately Ifd be hit by the aroma of baking bread from the Taystee factory. It would follow me all the way to the ballpark. I’d see the massive crowds descending, hear the voice of the guy selling programs getting stronger as we came closer: “The Dodgers are going to win. . . The Dodgers are going to win.? It was a total sensory experience.
We were all Dodger fans, naturally. If a guy was a Yankee fan, you knew he was a nerd, out of touch. He probably was anti-union, not for good causes, had a rich uncle somewhere. If a guy was a Giant fan, he was mixed up, like an anarchist; he was doing it to spite his family, his friends. A Giant fan. Who could be a Giant fan?
Dodger fans were the salt of
the earth, the common folk who believed in social progress, the American way,
the underdog. Where did Jackie Robinson come to if not to Brooklyn?
MYRNA: The thing about the Dodgers was that they actually lived in Brooklyn. They could be your neighbors. You got to see them out of uniform, on the streets, doing things ordinary people did.
We used to see Gil Hodges washing his car. We’d walk past his house on Bedford Avenue, and jump up and try to look in the windows or stand across the street for hours waiting for someone to come out.
HARVEY: My father was a taxi driver. Sometimes when school was out, he let me come along with him as he drove around the streets of Brooklyn. One morning, we were driving down Snyder Avenue in East Flatbush. He pointed out a dark red brick house with a high porch. “I think Jackie Robinson lives there," he said. He parked across the street, and we got out of the cab, stood on the sidewalk and looked at the house.
Suddenly the front door
opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I couldn’t believe it.
Here we were on a quiet street on a summer morning. No one else was around. This
man was not wearing the baggy, ice-cream white uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular house in a regular
Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else, going for a newspaper or a bottle
Then incredibly, he crossed the street and came right towards me. Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips I had seen so many times on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I'm one of your biggest fans,?I said self- consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers are gonna win the pennant this year??/span>
His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll try,?he said.
“Good luck," I said.
“Thanks.?He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands, and I felt the strength and firmness of his grip.
I was a nervy kid. But I didn’t ask for an autograph or think to prolong the conversation. I just watched as Jackie Robinson walked away down the street.
MYRNA: Childhood was played out on the Brooklyn streets. They were the sites of legendary stickball games, stoop ball matches, double-dutch marathons. In warm weather, you’d go out after dinner, wait for the ice cream man, play in the street till 11 at night, till your mother leaned out the window and yelled it was time to come in. And if your mother wasn’t around, you couldn’t get into trouble because twenty other mothers were looking out the window. They all watched out for you.
HARVEY: I had loads of friends. Twenty, thirty really good friends ?the kids on our block. We went to school together and then played outside together on the wide open streets of the neighborhood. We played ringoleavio and “Johnny on the Pony.?We’d draw a big geometric grid on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk, fill bottle caps with clay or melted crayons and flick the caps into boxes on the grid. That was skelly.
But we lived and breathed to play ball. When I left the house in the morning, the ball was in my hand. I'd walk down the block and I’d hit every stoop along the way.
All my friends were ball
players. My mother wanted me to be friends with Gary Stein. “Ma,?I said, “I canft.
He doesn't like to play ball." She said, “Don’t worry. Someday hefll
be something." Today he’s a heart surgeon in Boston.
Playing on the streets or in the schoolyard, we were on our own. We developed a code that was a great carryover to life: covering up for each other in certain situations, sharing --whether sharing a stickball bat, or the spalding ball that you chipped in for. If that ball rolled down the sewer, that was it, you were finished. You didn’tft have a quarter for another one. You got a wire hanger, made a loop, and fished down to bring the ball up.
Some women in the neighborhood spent a little more money for a better mop. We cased them. Mrs. Aronowitz bought a very good mop. She hung the mop out the window. It was so
tempting. I took it, passed it to my friend Billy Levine. He cut it off at the curb, and Billy and I shared it.
We played stickball with what had been Mrs. Aronowitz?mop in the gutter. If you hit as far as one sewer down the block, it was a single, two sewers were a double. If the ball went a certain way on the sidewalk to the left, it was good. If it went under the sewer, it was a foul ball.
If a car came down the street, we’d yell “Ship Ahoy!?If a guy tried to park, we’d say “Hey mister could you move your car. You’re on second base.?He’d always move.
MYRNA: We played potsy and hopscotch and jump rope and Giant Steps, the stuff that kids who spent all their time in the streets did. I lived in this crowded little apartment that was so small and stifling. I remember the yelling and all that. I spent every moment I could outside, even in the wintertime. The streets were my sanctuary.
Crowded conditions were a fact of life in Brooklyn. Who heard of a bedroom of one’s own, let alone a bathroom? Still, there was something to be said for the comfort of company.
HARVEY: My brother came back from visiting a friend who had moved to Long Island. “It’s terrible there, terrible?he said. “The kids have to sleep in their own room. They don't share with the brother.?/span>
MYRNA: My parents, two brothers and I lived in a three-room apartment. But other people always lived with us. An aunt and uncle, my grandmother, another aunt. When relatives came from out of town, they’d stay with us. We would put a drawer on top of the dresser and the baby would sleep there.
HARVEY: We lived in the upstairs apartment of a four-family, semi-attached house in Bensonhurst, and my mother's parents lived downstairs. My father’s parents lived two blocks away, and aunts and uncles lived nearby. The whole extended family made a big deal out of the children. They made us feel we were special
Living in the same house with us, my grandfather was very close to me. He liked that I played ball a lot. He wanted me to go to Yeshiva. But it ended too late to play sports, and there weren't any girls; sports and girls, the two most important elements.
My grandma was always ready with the milk and cookies when I came home from school. Weekends, she brought the milk and cookies to the schoolyard. The score is tied? Bases are loaded, and Stanley is up? Grandma Jennie comes by and stops the game. That was bad enough, but she brought a napkin yet. Between her bringing the milk and cookies and my grandfather stopping the football games to bring me a jacket. In the middle of the play, he calls me to the sidelines. “Grandpa,?I explain, “I’m the quarterback. The quarterback doesn’t wear a jacket.?/span>
Everyone in the neighborhood knew my grandma. Even Silvio, the kid who ruled the schoolyard. Silvio was an older boy who took collections: two cents, three cents, whatever he could get. Until we got wise and stopped going to the schoolyard with money.
One day, I’m playing third base, and Silvio comes over. “Goldberg, what you got for me today??br> I said “Nothing.?/span>
He checked my pockets and found a quarter.
“You lied to me. You have a quarter.?/span>
“My grandmother gave it to me for a rye bread.?/span>
He takes the quarter and gives back 21 cents. He knew better than to risk my coming home without the rye bread; Grandma would be after him. Still I was surprised. I didn't think he knew how to make change.
Every Sunday the whole extended family visited Grandma. If one of us didn’t make
it, it was noted. There must have been a book that documented the Sunday
attendance: “You know it’s been three weeks since Izzy was here; You know it’s
four weeks since we saw Aunt Rose.?br>
All afternoon, people would be coming and going, kids would be
running in and out of the house, up and down the steps. The women sit in the
kitchen, sipping glasses of tea through sugar lumps they held between their
teeth, reading out loud the letters they got from the family in Israel. The men
would play pinochle in the living room. It was Uncle Abie who arranged the
I used to wonder what Uncle Abie was doing in our otherwise sober and serious family. He worked in the china trade, and his little apartment was cluttered with useless objects my parents called “tchokes.?He had a small white piano which he played by ear. His favorite song was “H-A-double R- I-G-A-N
spells Harrigan?which he re-wrote as “S-U-S-S-M-A-N spells Sussman.?He did magic tricks for the kids like pulling nickels out of his sleeve or from behind our ears. He played practical jokes, spent money freely on things the others considered frivolous, had sweet cream instead of milk in his cereal, and was often in debt. When people asked him what he had put away for a rainy day, he’d say, “I got a big umbrella."
HARVEY: I didn't have much of an extended family, but the neighbors in my building were like members of my family. People were always dropping in unannounced. When someone was sick, the news would go through the building like lightning. In minutes, people would be knocking on your door to find out if you needed something. If a light went on in an apartment in the middle of the night, a neighbor would telephone: “Is everything okay?/span>
Everybody knew everybody else’s business: who was making money and who was laid off, what was going on with the children.
Notions of privacy were very different. You’d overhear another family’s life, the arguments, the scraping of chairs, the creaking of furniture, the footsteps on the linoleum-covered floors, the doors slamming as people went in and out. In the summertime, you could even see what was going on because people kept their doors open for cross ventilation.
MYRNA: On hot summer nights in that time before air conditioning, everyone would be out on the street. Our whole block would be lined with people sitting on bridge chairs. One row was against the building, and another backed up along the curb. The sidewalk became a narrow path. If you went out or came home on a date, it was like walking a gauntlet. My father always insisted that I say hello whenever I passed a neighbor. And as I greeted each one seated along the sidewalk, I knew they were giving me and my current boyfriend the once-over. But it was even worse for Rabbi Gartenhouse who was very orthodox. The sidewalk was so crowded, he would walk in the gutter to avoid brushing up against a woman.
If it started to rain,
everyone would grab their bridge
chairs and move into the lobby. And then, sometimes, our super Nick would entertain. Nick had been a star of vaudeville. He had played in theaters all across the country --including the Palace --and even though he was a super now, he was still a great tenor. He would sing “Oy Marie/ Oy Marie/ quanto notti/ aggio perso/ per te?in such a big operatic voice, you thought the glass doors would shatter. His voice carried all the way across the street, and hearing him, the neighbors from that building would come over, crowding into our lobby.
HARVEY: In Bensonhurst and Borough Park, the apartment houses had mostly Jewish people, but when you passed a house and through an open window heard Italian opera on the radio, when you saw a backyard with tomato plants and sweet basil and fig trees with little pink blossoms, you knew it was an Italian family.
When I was growing up, you
had an ethnic mix across the borough. You had Jews and Italians, but you also
had Poles, you had Irish, you had blacks -- that whole Gestalt of what America
was all about. Predominantly it was working class, and people were struggling.
I’m not suggesting racism, prejudice didn’t
exist. But people more or less stayed in their neighborhoods, and if someone ventured out he was looked upon as an oddity, not someone to be attacked.
MYRNA: When my father was doing carpentry work in the backyard of our house, our Italian neighbor would come over. On Friday nights, he’d turn out the lights for us. Our neighbors became familiar with Jewish customs. We’d put up the succus and they’d come in, have a drink, something to eat
HARVEY: Since my family was the only gentile one on the block, I became the Shabbos goy at the synagogue on West 7th Street and Avenue P. After I shut the lights, the rabbi would show me the bowl filled with change. He couldn’t touch the money because it was the Sabbath. I would go in whole hog. “Wait Angelo,?he would say, "take one." I would dip in and hope it was a quarter.
On Sundays, all my Jewish friends went to the Workmen's Circle for Yiddish lessons. I was left with nothing to do. My mother gave me the 50 cents so I could go along. Later on when I was delivering groceries, the old Jewish ladies just loved this little Italian kid who talked to them in Yiddish.
My aunt lived at 1926 72nd Street. She was from Italy could not speak one word of English. Her neighbor in 1924 72nd Street was a Jewish lady who also did not speak one word of English. They would sit on the bench out front and talk for hours. Nobody could ever figure out how they communicated.
MYRNA: : For the longest time, Bay Ridge had the largest Scandinavian community in the United States outside of Minnesota. On my block, though, we were the only Scandinavians. Salami, a Syrian boy, was a good friend of mine along with Jackie Woods who was Irish and Arnold Kahn who was Jewish. My father's friends were the men in his poker game: Italians, Jews, Irish. We associated freely, did not divide up into ethnic enclaves. It seemed most immigrants then did not dwell on their ethnicity. They tried to become fully assimilated Americans.
I helped my mother study to become a citizen, tested her on the questions in the book, who was president, etc. She came home from the test with a big smile.
“I think everything's okay.?/span>
“How do you know??br>
“I told the judge ‘I love the United States of America.?quot;
HARVEY: My sister began P.S. 180 speaking Italian which was her first language. After a few days, she told my father that she wanted us to speak English. He agreed: “We speak English, we speak English in the house.?/span>
He went with my mother to the local junior high school two nights a week to take English for foreigners. My mother used to sit around the table with us and follow our homework in English.
MYRNA: We first and second generation Americans learned our lessons in patriotism in school. At assemblies, we sang songs like "Columbia the Gem?and “Our Flag is the Flag for Me.?Miss Harrington, the assistant principal of P.S. 177, would stand on the stage of the auditorium, with a picture of George Washington on one side and Abraham Lincoln on the other. “I wish I had a camera so I could take a photograph of you,?she would say looking out at an audience of girls and boys dressed in red, white and blue.?/span>
We were also taught to sing a
lot of hymns like
“The Lord's Prayer,?“The Lord is My Shepherd," and “We Gather Together?at Thanksgiving. And at Christmas time, we would sing all the Christmas carols even though at least half the children were Jewish. But no one seemed to mind.
HARVEY: Woody Allen named the character Mia Farrow played in “Zelig?after Eudora Fletcher, the principal of P.S.99. Miss Fletcher must have been at P.S.99 for forty years. She wore bolero type jackets with frog fasteners. Her hair was pulled back into not one, but two buns. She ruled that school with an iron fist. All the teachers were afraid of her.
MYRNA: P.S. 177 was run like a military academy. It was right after the war so that was the influence. We were put through marching drills, right-face, left-face, mark time in place. We had a military set-up of monitors: line guards and stair guards and officers: the sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. It was a prestigious thing to be in the guards and most prestigious to be one of the officers. In the sixth grade, I was Sergeant of the Girl Guards. I got to blow a whistle and say: “On Line?and the kids had to assemble on lines. And then I’d blow the whistle again and say “Lines Forward," and the lines would proceed from the gym or the yard in nice weather to their classrooms --in total silence. If you spoke, one of the guards might spot you and give you a Guard Report which was noted on your Permanent Record. I was never quite sure what the Permanent Record was, but I knew it was something very significant that would stay with you for your entire life.
HARVEY: In first grade, the teacher sat behind the piano and called you up one at a time to sing while she played a little song. You were pronounced either a robin or a sparrow, a singer or a listener, a judgment that followed you all through elementary school. Most of the people I knew were listeners.
MYRNA: I was a P.S. 181 listener. I couldn't carry a tune. I also have a dead ear. The robins sang "Remember your name and address and telephone number too. . ?or “Let the ball roll, let the ball roll no matter where it may go . . .? We learned a lot of those safety songs.
The teacher walked around the room. “One of the robins or sparrows is not doing what he or she is supposed to,?she said, trying to catch the singing sparrow. That was me. When she came near, I shut up. As soon as she moved on, I sang along, off key.
HARVEY: I had tough and motivating teachers in elementary school. We had to read “The News of the Week in Review?in the New York Times every Sunday, and we were tested on it every Monday. Many of the teachers lived in the neighborhood. They had a neighborhood interest in us. It was like a small town in that way.
Every morning I would walk up to the corner and wait for Mrs. Mary Doyle. She’d come down Avenue P from the Stillwell Avenue bus stop, passing my corner at 8:20 a.m. We would walk the next seven blocks to school together, talking about this and that. She was very Irish, not terribly warm in her approach. But I loved her.
Many of the elementary schoolteachers were Irish women. There was Mrs. Doyle, Miss O’Donald, Miss Williams, Mrs. Cunningham, Miss Grady, Miss O’Shea. They all loved baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers. World Series time they would bring in radios, and we would stop classes to listen to the games.
Nobody could take my job away during World Series time: putting the score up half-inning by half-inning on the blackboard. I'd get the boards ready by washing them with water and black ink so the chalk would show off, and use two different colors to distinguish between the Dodgers and the Yankees. That gave the teachers something nice to say about me when my mother came up on Open School Night.
MYRNA: My parents did not come up Open School nights. They didn't want to be bothered. The teachers knew their job. Whatever they said was right. I just had to bring home a good report card.
Sam Levinson used to tell this story that could easily describe my parents. “I got a note home from school which I gave to my father. ‘Dear Mr. Levinson,?it said, ‘your son Samuel shows signs of astigmatism.?/span>
“My father read it, looked at me, and gave me a smack, “To a teacher, you show signs of astigmatism??/span>
Sam Levinson taught Spanish at Tilden High School, and he exemplified the quality of teachers in Brooklyn high schools during those years. They were masters.
Coming out of the Depression, teaching was a coveted job. It was secure, and it was a pleasure. As Sam used to say, teachers weren’t making much, but they were getting salaries when other people were selling apples. And so gifted college students, often the top-drawer of their class, became teachers. They lasted through the post-war decades. This was a phenomenon.
You had, on the one hand, these first and second generation-American kids sent to school by parents highly motivated for them to succeed. And on the other hand, you an informed, highly liberal faculty; great dedicated teachers. It was a school system you will never see again.
HARVEY: Even now, after all these years, whenever I meet somebody and it comes out he came from Brooklyn, I ask "What high school did you go to?
If a guy of a certain age tells me he went to Brooklyn Tech, I know he had to have done well scholastically. If he went to Lincoln or Midwood, Madison or Erasmus, Lafayette or New Utrecht, we were similar: middle class kids with aspirations of upward mobility. If he went to Boys High or Eastern District, we were different. He was tougher, hustled a buck more, had a special lingo.
MYRNA:We all had so much school spirit. We knew the words to the school songs which were often original compositions written by the music teachers. We would sing, and we would cheer, and we would cry. We went to the games, took part in school activities.
HARVEY: All of us got so much from our teachers. They made us feel special, worried about us, wondered what books we were reading. It was only because of the school system that I got the opportunities that made my career possible.
That’s what comes back when I think of high school: the creative environment, the quality of the teachers, the way they encouraged us.
MYRNA I still go back to Brooklyn. I ride on the Cyclone and thrill to the first drop. I have a frank and French fries at Nathan's. I drive through the old neighborhood. I have to do it; it draws me. I’ll never forget where I came from.
So many of us have this terrible, terrible yen to come home again, to recapture the first fine careless rapture. In the mid 1970’s, a Lincoln reunion in Los Angeles attracted people from all over the country, people who went back to the beginning of the school. What was it that brought people from all over to share memories of a school? What did the word “Lincoln?do to all these people?
HARVEY: The borough is haunted by ghosts for me --not because of past relatives, but simply at the thought of people who lived there and left, and also because the whole density and intensity and diversity just seizes me by the throat. Going to Lundys, going to swim at the St. George Hotel, taking a trolley down to Coney Island and smelling the salt air even before you got there, the sense that the borough was like a vast empire with beaches and hills and woods in Prospect Park, with tenements and rows and rows of infra-structure. My greatest dream is to be able to get into a time machine and make it 1952 and just roam free across the borough.
IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN is a time machine. It brings back playing
handball at Brighton Beach Baths, spotting a Pauline Trigiere original on the
racks of the original Loehmann’s on Bedford Avenue and trying it on right there
in the aisle, shmoozing on Kings Highway and dawdling at Dubow’s, hanging out at
the local candy store waiting for the drop of the News and the Mirror, dancing
to doo-wop in finished basements, and dreaming an afternoon away in the rose
garden at Brooklyn College -- and all you needed to go there was the grades.
It brings back the house I grew up in on East 7th and Kings Highway. It was a two-family semi-attached house that my grandmother bought brand new during the boom days of the twenties. She wanted to buy a different house down the block because it had a beautiful tree in front. To her dying day, she complained that they bought the house out from under her. But my father planted a silver maple in front of her house. He tied it to keep it straight, and ultimately the rope got caught up in the tree. In the winter we could see it about ten feet off the ground.
Sometimes I go back and look at the house. The people who bought it put in new windows. They opened up the roof with skylights. They took down walls. You might not recognize it. But I do. I see it all just like it was. And best of all, the tree is still there.
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