My Brooklyn

Readers Report

Sheldon (Shike) Steinman continues . . .

Walking the streets of the old neighborhood, I could hardly pass a candy store or a delicatessen without stopping for a nosh. I was an addictive "street nosher." Oh how my mouth still waters for a chocolate covered cherry, with the cherry syrup center, or a chocolate covered jellied graham cracker.

For the nut gourmand, there were sunflower seeds. Back then, we called them "polly seeds." When I was twelve I ate a huge amount of polly seeds, which in turn caused my appendix to rupture and I was rushed to the Crown Heights Hospital for emergency surgery. This was perhaps the beginning of me abusing my health.

Other nut related nosheray that I consumed in those days were red pistachio nuts and toasted pumpkinseeds. I remember buying loose salted pretzel sticks and large twisted pretzels.

Aside from all the junk food, I remember when I could buy loose cigarettes (probably illegal at the time) accompanied by wooden matches. Most of us bought our smokes that way, because we couldn't afford the cost of a pack. The price was one cent per cigarette.

The real lure of the candy store for me was its social aspects. It was a meeting place. It was a place where the Saxons and other young people in the neighborhood gathered. Neighborhood gossip, sports, school and world affairs were the topics of the day. It was just a wonderful place to be in a time that is no more.

Summertime is what I remember most. On the streets of Brownsville the only escape from the heat was to get away. The likely destinations were to the Catskill Mountains or to Coney Island, Brighton, or Rockaway beach. Those of us, who were unable to leave, spent our summers just hanging out. Usually at a candy store.

When we didn't discuss our conquests with girls, we talked baseball. We were all ardent Brooklyn Dodger fans, except for one fellow, Abe Strahl, who lived on the same block as my friend Jackie. He was a Yankee fan, and was as popular as Hitler would be in a synagogue. Abe and I had countless baseball arguments. Most of the fellows knew the batting averages and other pertaining statistics by heart. It was a shame that they didn't put that effort into their schoolwork. Brooklyn was a baseball town. The Dodgers were the main sports topic of those times. I still recall some of those memorable games. One was when the Giants beat our beloved "Bums" in the 1951 playoffs to win the pennant. My biggest thrill came when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Alas, a few years later the Dodgers left town to play in Los Angeles. I was devastated. Since then I suffered through many barren baseball seasons, until 1962, when the Mets came to town.
Brownsville also had its seedy side. My uncle Moishe owned a barbershop on Sutter Ave. between Hopkinson and Bristol streets. Aside from being a reputable tonsorial establishment, it was most noted for its notorious clientele. Names such as Louie Lepkie Buchalter, Babyface Nelson, Abe Relis and other members of that famous underworld fraternity were seen regularly in Moishe's back room playing some friendly draw poker, attired in their finest garb, sporting shoulder holsters. Truly a scene from The Untouchables. It seemed that Moishe never really got involved with these gentlemen, but just gave them the sanctuary of his back room. I guess that he probably enjoyed associating with them, and being privy to the inner sanctum of "Murder Inc." Moishe had an unusual sideline. He "laid baynkes." Baynkes were small glass cups that adhered to a sick person's skin by swabbing the cup with alcohol, and igniting it. This created a vacuum and was applied to the skin of the victim, er I mean patient. My mom actually had him apply this treatment to me. That remedy along with mustard plasters and cod liver oil were the cutting edge in medicine at that time.

I remember taking walks along Pitkin Avenue, Brownsville's main street. That is where all the fancy shops were. On one end of that street was the Loew's Pitkin. It was the most magnificent movie theater. The interior was like a royal palace. Its ceiling incorporated thousands of lights to simulate a starlit night. I did a lot of heavy necking in the balcony. While strolling along the avenue, I usually stopped off at Jungle Jim's coconut stand for a refreshing tropical soft drink. Jungle Jim was an old Jewish man who wore a tropical pith helmet while dispensing his drinks. There was a good Chinese restaurant on Pitkin near Hopkinson. And just off the avenue was Vincent's, the best place for pizza. Finally at the far end of the street was the Kishka King. It was a kosher style deli that featured foot long franks. This establishment had the hot dogs sizzling on an open window grill facing the street. Along Pitkin Avenue, I could sample food from street vendors, selling hot chestnuts, roasted sweet potatoes and "Mom's" knishes.

I also remember back yard musicians playing their instruments for a few coins tossed to them from the tenement windows. I recall old men collecting used clothes, newspapers and cartons for the few dollars it would earn for them. I remember the Sunday market on Belmont Ave., with the many pushcarts, selling everything imaginable.

Let me now mention the fashions of the 50s. The rage then was brightly colored pegged pants with a high rise waist and pistol pockets. The colors were outrageous for those times. They were custom made by a tailor at Hal’s pants shop on Sutter Ave. I owned a pair that were kelly green. Only an illustration could depict what these outlandish trousers looked like. This was considered casual wear. On Saturday night dates we usually wore one button suits with shawl lapels. We wore dungarees with rolled up cuffs when we were sporting our club jackets.
The men's hairstyles were also bizarre. Most of the guys had a pompadour wave in the front and a DA (duck's ass) in the back. These hairstyles later succumbed to crew cuts when most of us went into the service in the late 50s.

The girl's fashions of that time included angora sweaters, poodle skirts and crinolines. For those of you who never made out with a girl wearing a crinoline, be thankful. It was very difficult to reach a girl's anatomy when she wore one of these absurd under garments. I don't want appear to sound like a dirty old man, but garter belts really turned me on.

Jack Fulfrost and I were comic book collectors. He had a huge collection that included Captain America, Action comics and many others. I collected the ones mentioned and many other titles that included Don Winslow of the Navy, Detective comics, TipTop comics and Captain Marvel. My collection of treasure was destroyed while I was in the navy when my cat urinated on them. My mother couldn't stand the odor, so they wound up in the trash. I shudder to think what they would be worth today. As I recall, we called them "joke books." There was a small bookstore on Saratoga Ave., near the elevated subway station, called Fingerhoffs. That is where I purchased most of my books. An elderly couple ran the store they used to watch me like a hawk, to make sure that I wouldn't steal any thing. I always stopped off at Fingerhoffs after seeing a triple feature at the Peoples Cinema Theater. The Cinema was a dingy run down place that showed mostly westerns and B films. The cost to watch three movies was 10 cents. For a quarter I was able to go to the Cinema and buy three comic books. What a bargain! Some of the comic books I bought in that little store were Mutt & Jeff, Nancy & Sluggo, Henry, and the Little King. As I recall, a comic book cost 5 cents.
During the summers my friends and I spent much time going to the beach. The Saxons made Bay 4 in Brighton Beach our summer hangout. I remember making a Saxon flag which we proudly displayed next to the area that we occupied, so that all who were around knew that the Saxons were there. Before I bought my first car, a 1951 blue and cream Pontiac Catalina, we had to take the Church Ave. trolley, then transfer to the BMT Brighton line (elevated subway) to get to the beach. On a hot day, it was a long and exhausting trek. But it was worth the misery. Bay 4 was a haven for girls. Jack and I met two of our girl friends there, Gladys and Marilyn. They were young and were from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I went out with Gladys for quite a few years. I was the first of my friends to have a car, so for a time I became the club chauffeur. By then we were going to the beach and other venues throughout the city in style. On one occasion, while traveling up to the mountains with my with a few of my friends, my Pontiac didn't have enough power to make it up to the top of Wurtsboro Hill (a high elevation on route 17). To solve this dilemma, my passengers got out of the vehicle and pushed the car up the incline.

I remember playing chess and cards with Fat Jack up in his apartment. He lived in an old tenement building. I can recall that his bathtub was located in the kitchen. He always beat me in chess. Jack was the brain of our group. We all knew that some day he would be successful. Jack and I were the only ones who wore glasses. Other than Jack and Stosh, not many of us were studious. I had aspirations of becoming a cartoonist, a dream never fulfilled. Jack's idols were Jackie Gleason and Fat Jack Leonard. He would do comic impressions of these comedians that would always crack me up. The last time I remember seeing Jack was at my wedding. He was my best man. He forgot to bring the wedding ring that night and had to go home to get it. I remember Jack's father, Herman. He was a big Dodger fan. He took me to ballgames at Ebbets Field on a few occasions. I spent a lot of time hanging out on Jack's block. My cousins and many friends lived on Hopkinson Ave. Betsy Head Park and its enormous swimming pool was just up the street. On occasion we went night swimming there. I particularly remember the locker room where we changed our clothes. After seeing how well endowed the naked black men were, I felt ashamed of what genealogy did to me. I think the mohel snipped off too much! Oy ay!

Another vivid memory was of my friendship with Scotty. He and I would spend countless hours sitting on his front sun porch on Rockaway Parkway listening to records. Our favorite singer was Frankie Laine. I think that Scotty and I were the only people in the world who knew the lyrics to "Swamp Girl." Scotty was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was in his early teens. He was truly a colorful character. We had some great times together. At one time we dated two girls that were friends, Doris and Eleanor. Doris was my girl friend. I lost contact with Scotty when he enlisted in the air force. We corresponded briefly in the early 80s, but then lost track of each other.

Matty was the friend that I knew since kindergarten. We were very close. He had a great interest in aviation. His passion was building and flying model airplanes. He was the Saxon's tough guy. He was our leader and the president of the club. He had a great pitching arm. He could throw a fast ball that was impossible to hit. I know because he used me as a practice batter. He became a Korean war hero by crawling into the bomb bay area of a bomber and manually releasing an armed bomb that was stuck, thus saving the lives of the crew. Matty was awarded the Air Medal, the ninth highest military honor. He had enlisted in the air force when he was 17, after quitting school. When his enlistment was over, he came home and married his sweetheart, Gloria. The last time Matty and I met was at his home in Oakdale, Long Island in 1959. He and Gloria had a baby.

Stosh was the quiet conservative one in our bunch. We met in the sixth grade. He lived over a kosher butcher store on Lott Ave. You had to walk through the store to get up to his apartment. We became good friends later in our teens. I remember spending a few summers with him in Loch Sheldrake. He and I were attracted to two sisters from the Bronx, Arlene and Phyllis. They spent that long forgotten summer at the Pesakow's bungalow colony. Stosh and his fraternity brothers from CCNY always made me feel welcome at their parties. I was like an honorary member. I made many new friends by associating with them. Their frat house was located on E. 14th St. in Manhattan. Stosh went on to marry his pretty girl friend, Cindy. He and his family came to visit us in Miramar Florida, when they were on vacation in 1975. After that we lost contact with each other.

Another good buddy was Jay, Big Jay. He lived on Rockaway Parkway, across the street from Scotty. Jay loved to cook and wanted to become a chef. He was a large imposing guy that nobody messed with. His dad, Max, owned the luncheonette on the corner of Church Ave. and E. 98th St., across the street from my house. I briefly worked there as a soda jerk. Max also drove a hearse for the I. J. Morris funeral parlor up the street on Church Ave. I subsisted on luncheonette food through most of those years, and often dined at Max's establishment. My mom worked, thus Jay who was the luncheonette's cook, prepared many meals for me. The most important affect that Jay had on my life was when he informed me that my then fiancée, Judy, was cheating on me with a well-to-do fat guy with a white Caddy Eldorado convertible named Itzak. This occurred while I was in the navy, stationed in Key West. Itzak and Judy eventually married. (That's a whole other story.) Jay went into the army. That was the last time I saw him.

Lefty was another good friend. He lived on Herzl St. between Newport and Lott. His dad owned a gas station. He lived in what then seemed to be a very nice apartment in a two-family house. The Nudelmans must have had some bucks. He was always a truthful and sincere friend. He was thin and had a large adam's apple. Another vital part of his anatomy was also large. Thus he was known by the additional nickname, "The Wrench." He also enlisted into the air force and spent four years on a desert base in Utah. We met after his discharge, but then drifted apart.
Most of my buddies attended Tilden High School, except for Stosh and myself. Stosh went to Stuyvesant High, and I went to The School of Industrial Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That is where I met Arnie Levy. Arnie had one thing in common with me. Girls! We met every morning on the subway. I boarded the train at the Saratoga Ave. station, and then he would get on at Sutter Ave. It took us almost an hour to commute to school. We became good friends. In our senior year we dated two good-looking shikses, Jojean and Iris. (Not to be confused with my wife with the same name). Jojean lived in Astoria, Queens and Iris was from the Bronx. We also went with another pair of sweeties who were friends, Gail and Ronnie. I was really crazy for Gail. She was a beautiful strawberry blond with a great body. But it was not to be. Gail was a lesbian and Ronnie was her lover. I lose again! (And that's another long story). Arnie was a tall blondish good-looking guy. He dressed well and the girls were attracted to him. He lived on Union St. near Sutter Ave. We often got dressed up on Saturday nights and crashed weddings to grab some free food at the smorgasbord and meet girls. Arnie wasn't a Saxon but was friendly with most of us. He later changed his name to Greg Arnold. We last met around 1982 in West Palm Beach Florida. He was visiting his mother who lived in the same complex where my mom lived.

Other friends that were part of my youth should be mentioned. There was slick Arnie Pomerantz. He had a cute cousin, Hannah, whom we called "Honchie." I had the hots for her. Speaking of slick characters let me not forget Joel Frank and Lenny Jasper. Lenny was afflicted with a muscular disease. His hands were deformed and were always shaking. He had a miserable personality and was always on the defensive. But we tolerated him. He looked acted a lot like the pianist, Oscar Levant. I would always greet him with “What’s shaking Lenny?” This really pissed him off. Norman Goldberg, nicknamed Mitch was another Saxon. He was somewhat younger than the rest of us. Mitch and Joel lived around the corner from me on Steauss St. another character that deserves mention was Neil Stapleman, AKA Duke. He was a "hardguy" friend of Matty. He was your typical punk. He and Matty built homemade zip guns. As far as I knew these weapons were never used by any of my friends in any criminal activity. Basically, we were all pretty good kids. The zip gun construction consisted of a wooden body, with a section of a car antenna for the barrel. It usually was capable of firing a 22 caliber bullet, but not with any accuracy. A sharp metal nail acted as the firing pin and the firing mechanism usually was a rubber band. Zip guns and stiletto knives were the weapons of choice used by the gangs and clubs. The Saxons were not a violent group, although we did manage to get into a few rumbles. We made love, not war. Many of us think of that era being a time of innocence and serenity. That is far from the truth. We were all street kids, and we learned how to take of ourselves. We banded together and created the Saxons not only for social activity, but also as a protective alliance.

I often still reminisce about Brownsville, walking past the delicatessens with the aroma of hot dogs and knishes cooking on the window grill. I can still savor those overstuffed pastrami sandwiches. What ever happened to rolled beef and knubbelwurst (garlic salami)? These are foods that I haven't seen in years. I remember that the deli mustard was served with a sandwich in conical wax-paper tubes. I remember that Scotty’s favorite delicatessen treats were french fries, kishka, and chopped liver.

"How many eggs in an egg cream?" continues . . .

6 December 2000

Phyllis Ludman Levy

My Brooklyn was Crown Heights.

If anyone remembers me or the things I've mentioned, please let in touch. Would love to hear from you.

30 January 2001

Phyllis Ludman Levy

My Brooklyn was Crown Heights.

If anyone remembers me or the things I've mentioned, please let in touch. Would love to hear from you.

30 January 2001

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