We use to hitch rides on the back of Yellow cabs. In those days, they had old-fashioned bumpers and a bar on the rear that you could hold onto. The cab driver could not see you in the right rear. When we wanted to get off we would bang on the side, the cabbie would get mad, slam on the brakes, we would hop off and run for our lives, and if he caught you, he would punch you. We also hitched rides on trolley cars by standing on a truck, where the wheels were, and held onto a ledge near the windows above. The conductor could not see us. It was easy to get off as they stopped every few blocks. We also use to take long rides in the “Elevated” trains. It was only a nickel, same for trolley, and the Staten Island Ferry.
We swam in the East River off the coal docks at 56th Street. I almost got hung up under a scow one time. I tried to fetch under the scow and ride the current. My trunks got caught on a huge splinter of wood hanging from its bottom; I had to tear the trunks off to free myself. Many times, we swam naked. We hid our clothes, when cops came we dove in and rode the current down a few blocks. Our friends who had escaped by running would come back get our clothes and bring them to us. The river was full of raw sewerage. Naturally, we were not allowed to swim in it, but our parents did not know. When the Boston steamers came by they made huge waves that we called “lollypazoozas.” We would dive into them as they reached the docks.
We had a baseball field, dirt, under the Queens Borough Bridge at 59th Street. We use to ride sleighs down the sidewalk section of the bridge in the winter starting at mid-bridge and ending up at the foot at 2nd Ave where there was s 20′ pile of ashes to prevent us from going out onto the avenue. It was a good slope and really fast.
My maternal grandmother, Mary Margaret McNamara, was a laundress to Ambassador Davies’ family up on 79th Street off 5th Ave. I used to go up to see her occasionally, to borrow money for my mother, or just to see her. The “downstairs” servants always gave me something good to eat. Mr. Davies had been Ambassador to Russia.
I was doing real well in grade school so in September of 1926, I was sent to an advanced junior high down on 12th St and 1st Ave. I rode the 2nd Ave El to get there. I would ride out and see my Aunt Bessie; who had married Louie Crone, and moved to a fancy apartment house in Jackson Heights. I also continued visiting my Aunt Mary who was living on 52nd Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. In 1927 we moved to Ithaca St in Elmhurst. This time a moving truck moved our furniture. On our previous moves in the city, our stuff was moved in an ice wagon. My brother Tom and I rode the ice wagon up to the new location. I finished out the term at the junior HS in the city and started in PS 89 just a block from where we lived. Kids I remember from there were Eddie Leonard, Placid LePanto and Vinnie Sims. The latter later moved to Chicago and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939. I attended the graduation, and I even got to sleep in Bancroft Hall one night. Vinnie started out as a surface line officer but after his ship, the carrier LEXINGTON, sank, he applied for Naval Aviation and became a fighter pilot. He was killed after the war as a test pilot at Patuxent.
In the summer of 1927, my folks rented a bungalow on Warren Avenue in Bayville, the third house in on west side from the sound. They paid $500 to rent it. They could have bought it for $5000. They rented it again in 1928 for same amount! My father loved company. Oodles of relatives came plus many of his business associates. I remember him coming home one Friday evening in a taxi from NYC with the cab loaded with groceries and meat plus lots of spirits. It must have cost him some $50 for the cab. About this same time, my father had opened a speakeasy on Lexington Ave between 45th and 44th Streets, on the east side above a store, which served as a front. The advertising crowd and newsmen used to frequent it. He made plenty there, but gambled a great deal on horses and cards. Many times my mother would send me down there to get money from him for the house.
At Bayville, we played a lot of baseball in the parking lot of Ferry Beach, owned by the Reinhardt family. We actually had a ferry there that ran to Rye Beach on the Connecticut side. We rode it two times to go to the Playland amusement park where they had a roller coaster and other entertainment. My father use to have me row him out to Rocky Point at the east end of Bayville Beach. We left at 4 A.M. and came back about 9 A.M. I was the fastest rower around my neighborhood! We boys became “peeping Toms” as there was a “grass widow” who use to take showers in her basement ala nude, and we could see her through a rear basement window.
I had some bad sunburn the beginning of each of those summers as we were covered up in the city for 9 months of the year. I think it was 1928 when I had sunburn, with huge blisters on my arms and shoulders. My Mom had to take me to Doc’s. They punctured blisters, put salve on and some bandages. About two days after that, I was playing chase or something, and one kid chasing me grabbed me by my shoulders, causing both of us to fall with my arms and shoulders getting full of sand in the raw parts that were just starting to heal. It took a lot of washing to get all the sand out. I use to carve out boats and play for hours with them on the sand and down in the water. We had to dig deep holes in the sand of a wooded area where we had to take our garbage, as there was no service there in those days. We would cover the garbage each day with sand. To get the mail, we had to walk about quarter of a mile to the village Post Office. Two large WW1 wooden freighters were scuttled there to protect the ferry slip. They still had a good bit of super-structure on them and us kids used to climb all over them, dive off them, etc. It was a good 50′ dive off the bow. I was poking around near one of the freighters one day with a rowboat. Tommy was in the bow, I was standing up in dorying position, and we were sliding up on some 1ft wide jellyfish when we bumped into a side port of the ship. The bump caused a heavy mushroom anchor to fall off a thwart and almost cut Tommy’s big toe off. I had him hold it on while I rowed as fast as I could back to the beach. My mother got him to the Doctor and they saved the toe. Unfortunately, it didn’t save my fanny. I got a licking for that. We swam, rowed, fished, played games, etc., and before you knew it, it was time to go back to Elmhurst and school. It was a sad day for all us kids but a glad one for my mother. The Guido brothers use to walk over and play with us when they came to Ferry Beach, which was only a block or two away. We use to pick beach plums, from which my mother made jelly.
To be continued.