Ithaca Blog

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Isn't It Great?

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

One thing we were all good at, in Brooklyn 3, was talking.

It didn't cost anything and there were lots of opportunities, as there were lots of people, and not much else to do. It did not take much expertise or brain power, although more than television, its biggest rival for free entertainment, so it was considered a skill; if you were really good at it, you were a community asset.

It was part survival technique. In a place crowded with people of different experiences, it helped define both commonalities and boundaries. That was good diplomacy. If, on the other hand, you were not that diplomatic, talking loud and fast meant you didn't have to listen to other guy, to bother figuring him out. Instead you could tire him out and he would go away.

Brooklyn had a reputation for craziness, but a lot of it was this kind of an act, where if you acted slightly crazy no one expected too much of you; if you were loud or rough, people left you alone.

Still, there were many who genuinely enjoyed it as a pastime. My mother and Mrs. Dolan next door would talk for hours over the fence on nice days. I don't know what they leaned on, as it was a cyclone fence with barbs at the top. They could spend time out there, though; I remember Mr. Dolan making an issue of how many cigarette butts he would see out there sometimes.

Two of my father's brothers, Robbie and Jimmy, had mobile jobs - for the police and Con Ed, respectively. Every once in a while they would be in the neighborhood and drop in for coffee, cake and conversation on the clock.

One time Jimmy visited and we were without milk for coffee so my mother sent me to the store.

I didn't get to do errands like this very much, a trip to the supermarket by myself, with paper money and all, so I was glad to help out.

I liked the Met Food store. It was run by Jewish men who wore fedoras all the time, and Jewish women who wore scarves on their heads. They all spoke in heavy accents, but the main thing was they were very friendly all the time, and always nice to a good boy, helping his Mama, and so smart to count change, like a magna cum laude, and look at the eyelashes on him, he'll make all the girls swoon some day. I liked listening to how they spoke, and what they said. Different from us.

I don't remember what happened this particular trip this day, but I came home with the milk and recounted to my mother and Uncle Jimmy whatever excitement or incongruity I had found. I remember my mother's smile and wide-open eyes, gifts she always gave you when talking.

Jimmy was a little less enthralled, with the gift he personally generally gave, which was kind of a smirk with arched eyebrow, but I didn't take it personally, nor let it slow me down.

I told the amazing tale and took my leave, like a good kid respectful of adults. From the kitchen, after some quiet, I heard them talking.

"What is it with that kid?," Jimmy said. "You send him out to the store and he's gone five minutes. When he comes back, he's got a ten-minute story."

"Yeah," said my mother. She let it sink in. "Isn't it great?"

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