Bye Bye Brooklyn – Part 3

It’s hard to leave your friends.

My dad was an amateur photographer and shot this picture of me and my friends in front of 893 Schenck Ave. I was three years old when it was taken.

I’m fourth from the left in the bottom row — the girl with the precision-cut bangs (my mom must have used a slide caliper) and Hopalong Cassidy wristwatch, a gift from my parents after I’d learned how to tell time.

For those next couple of years, if someone were to ask: “Do you have the time?” I could answer, “Yes.” Life was good.

But not long after I turned five, my dad announced that he was set to join the diaspora of Brooklynites fleeing to the suburbs. That our neighborhood was changing (How so? From worse to worser?). Every weekend, we began taking family car rides to Long Island just to look around.

Over my mom’s protests, my dad put a downpayment on a house in Hicksville. Before we knew it, moving day was scheduled for early March, right smack in the middle of kindergarten.

Admittedly, there were some things about Brooklyn I didn’t mind leaving behind. For example:

1) PS 137.

In my kindergarten class, when it was your birthday, you had to lie face down over the teacher Mrs. Gosden’s lap in front of the whole class. First, they’d sing “Happy Birthday.” Then she would lift up your dress and slap you on the tush, tallying her slap-count to match your years of age.

That wasn’t all. The next words out of her mouth were: “and a pinch to grow an inch…” — after which she’d make good her promise by targeting the same anatomical area.

Ever since I had entered kindergarten, I’d dreaded the arrival of my birthday but was too ashamed to tell my parents.

But fate, as it would turn out, was on my side. To my enormous relief, I would be spared the mortification of having my underpants exposed to everyone in my class because my birthday fell on a national holiday. On Lincoln’s birthday, school was closed.

2) The scary smoke stacks across the street from where I lived.

At last, I could release my fear of being stuffed into the smokestacks by a “stranger.”

3) Polio shots or shots of any kind in the school cafeteria.

I was not going to miss the gun-metal, prison-issue cafeteria tables and benches — which folded out of the walls like Murphy Beds and provided seating for the tear-stained throng of wailing, drooling, post-vacinated kids and our respective collection of sticky lollipops matted with hair.

4) Sandy, the scourge of  kindergarten, who insisted on throwing my coat on the floor every single day so he could hang his own on hook #1.

Hooks were assigned alphabetically. I didn’t care where I hung my coat, but Sandy did, and, apparently, so did my perverted teacher, who insisted on punishing him daily — thereby prolonging our vicious little cycle of misery.

5) Peeing contests staged by boys who lived in my building.

They’d line up at the curb, unzip their flies and enthusiastically expel golden arcs of urine into the air just to see whose would splash down the farthermost.

But other things, irreplaceable things, would be lost in the move, and that made me sad:

1) My vibrant network of friends.

2) Our neighbors (and honorary godparents), Aunt Eva and Uncle Hal.

Eva was drop dead glamorous and smoked her Pall Malls in a cigarette holder. Hal was a mensch who worked as a sales manager for Mattel. The night before they would hit the toy stores, my sister and I each received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears from Hal — not the cheap, plastic headband-style ears, but the genuine article:  black felt cap with Mouse Club insignia and ears sewn on, just like the Mouseketeers wore on T.V. Talk about bliss.

3) Knish runs to Pitkin Ave.

Every type of knish you could imagine was sold on Pitkin Ave. My mom’s favorite was the cabbage knish. My sister and I liked potato. My dad, not a knish man, would always go for a Hebrew National hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard.

4) The carousel at Coney Island.

My sister, Connie, riding the carousel

This carousel had a brass ring you could grab for — which is something of a rarity as far as carousels go. My arms were too short to reach the brass ring, but I loved wrapping them around the horse’s neck and running my fingers inside its flaring nostrils. I also liked sitting on the benches because that’s what the adults did.

In the picture above, I’m standing on the carousel platform next to my sister. I’m holding onto a pole. Check out the guy in the fedora behind her. He looks like he hangs out around smokestacks.

Which is probably why I was not in the saddle. I wanted to keep an eye on him.

5) The subway.

When we weren’t on foot, and for lack of a better choice (i.e., being chauffeured around by my dad), we rode the subway. We were always able to get where we wanted to go with a token.

The subway cars were not silver then, but black. The seats were actually caned. Yellow in color, they looked just like corn on the cob. And the fare was only 15 cents.

Although my mom had never learned how to drive a car, she’d always loved riding in one. For another type of person, moving to the suburbs sans drivers license — where subways were non-existent — might have proven to be an insurmountable obstacle. But not for her.

Yes, she would deign to ride buses, when necessary, but her preferred mode of transportation was the automobile. This inclination of hers would lead her in pursuit of a rather unconventional means — at least, when it came to most mothers of the 1960s — for getting around town.

Thumbing her nose at convention, and in the interest of expedience, she would take up hitchhiking.

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