When I was about the age of 8, I used to go to my Grandmother’s house, where my parents ran a gift shop in the store portion of the house in Brooklyn. Everyday after school, we would walk over to Grandma’s do our homework, and then play with the neighborhood kids. One of the things a kid did was build his own scooter out of a wooden vegetable crate and a 2”x4” plank. You would nail the board to the box, get a pair of roller skates, separate the front from the back wheels and attach them like-wise to the front and back of the plank. We would decorate them, paint them, put bottle caps on them with designs of all kinds. Once the chariot was complete, we would race them up and down the sidewalk, making a racket as the metal wheels would run along the concrete, and the noise would go up into the empty box to magnify it even louder. One day my Dad made me a scooter that was perfect. It had a clean new crate, and straight pine plank, and even had handles. This was a Cadillac!
Next door to my Grandmother’s house was the Republican club, occupied by old Italians that were retired, and wanted to get away from their wives, while playing cards, drinking red wine and smoking these gnarly Italian black cigars that really stunk up the place. My Grandfather was a member of this social club, and every Sunday to get away from his screaming grandchildren and gossipy conversations that went on in the kitchen would get into a good old game of pinochle, the game of life and death.
Many late afternoons, these old geezers would sit on wooden chairs outside the club, which was a storefront and chat or argue in Italian. As I scooted buy in my Cadillac, one-by-one they would get annoyed, swearing at me in Italian. Being 8 years old and not caring, I would scoot closer and closer with every pass. Looking too evoke the most fury, I would just graze their legs, until one of them would chase me limping on foot, with Italian swear words a mile a minute, holding a glass of wine and a gnarly old black cigar in his teeth, while waving his arthritic fist at me.
“Ooh Fah!” “Come on, get-the-hell-out-of-here!” “Manuggier-STOPPER DAT NOISE”
These were the sweet little old men. The meaner old guys would yell “Hew liitler a bastard, STOPPER.”
That’s Mr. Littler Bastard to you Senor.
You must understand that there wasn’t a whole lot you could do except that and try to peep into the storefront across the street where the gypsies lived.
My folks store sold lamps, vases, kitchen gadgets, gift items and candy and Italian Ices. In the heat of the summer, when some days we had to stay there all day as my Mom watched the store, and my Dad worked in the city on Canal Street, I would load up on lemon or chocolate Italian ice, sucking every last drop of melted flavored ice, practically swallowing the little white pleated cup in the process.
There was always what I called a “Nut for the week” who would come into the store, stand at the entrance and proclaim the end of the world, or some unemployed politician who would proclaim some outlandish idea, where my Mother or Grandfather (if he wasn’t at the club) would chase him out with a broom.
Being how Grandpa loved to play cards, he would be playing from around 11 a.m. until he was called or cajoled out of the club for Sunday dinner. Years earlier, my Grandmother got her revenge on poor old grandpa. She would send someone over to the club to tell Grandpa that the dinner was ready, and everyone was waiting for him. This would go one for over an hour before he would finally come home. Grandma, being the smart woman she was, decided not to take it anymore, and called the police, telling them that there was gambling going on at the Republican Club on Fulton Street. Over come the Police with a paddy wagon and arrest the whole lot of them. Grandpa, in handcuffs is marching in line to the paddy wagon and says in Italian “Francesca, tell them that you know me, they will let me go in your custody.” She looks at the cops and says in English “Ima No Knower him, the bum.”