tom briggs

I remember there was a drug store on Thirteenth and West First, and the Daily Argus had a great smell when the ink was still wet and I delivered it to old people in white painted houses with shiny porches on Thirteenth and the summer of ‘60 was hot, real hot, and they had dark hardwood banisters in their houses but it looked like a dull place to live: too orderly and shiny with the smell of furniture polish wafting through the air,  because I liked the smell of model glue and paint and the dope used to stretch the model airplane paper. And Mad Magazines laying around my room and I still like paint smell. Then the bubble gum from the card pack stuck to my shoe and I got a Rocky Colavito finally, he looked confident in the shot taken at Yankee Stadium, who wouldn’t be with 43 homers, and everyone knew Schwerger’s was the place for pastry and Silver’s for rolls and Joe’s Deli for those neat little Table Talk pies. Then there was the Carvel soft ice cream stand near the Sunshine Biscuit garage where I once saw Robert Duncan, who had a marine’s neck like he was headed for Tulane as a running back or something, slap boxing with Tommy D’Nisco while the sun was setting beyond the New Haven tracks.  Where Robert & Willie Benvenuti and I used to lay large nails on the tracks and wait for them it to become a knife and it was sad, really sad about Tommy, because I saw him in uniform in Katherine’s Tavern on Fifth in 1966, I think, before he left for Vietnam. And me and my Irish cousin Johnny used to slap box too, reddening one another’s face while the candy store guy’s father looked on approvingly and  of course we all did those boyish things before then like stealing tomatoes and apples, burning tall heaps of Christmas trees and the suicidal sleighing-while-standing rides down Pearl Street all the way to the casket factory on the street with no name while the branches glistened against the purplish night sky. Then there was the parking meter straddling with the two hands, then over the top and do it right because your balls will squish like grapes if you don’t and the  Italian lemon ice melted on my arm after looking too long at Maureen’s ample pink Irish thighs. Then there was the music that played forever from Del Shannon and the Ronnette’s and with Cousin Brucie talking fast on ABC and the blizzards were fun, but adults hated them. And we threw snowballs with rocks in them at buses and close friends, then water balloons off the roof in summer and we should’ve all been in reform school.  I swear if it weren’t for the Grace of God, I  don’t know how we came out of it alive, but many did in a good way, I’m sure. But I’m still unraveling and rewinding the ball of psychological and spiritual yarn that I’ve been intermittently trapped in for seven decades and the years and decades came and went like the flashing lighted windows of a fast night train that disappeared into a tunnel and the Spaldeen I hit off of Junior Poliaka is still bouncing on the roof of Ward Leonard’s Electric Company on South Street and  I swear the fish my big brother Russell caught in the Bronx River is getting bigger all the time. And Russell was one hell-of-a jokester who made everybody laugh and the sun went down and the moon went up twenty thousand times since but Sonny Liston is still staring at me balefully from the cover of Boxing Illustrated, the one I bought in ’61 on Ninth Avenue along First Street, the magazine I loved to read, though I couldn’t fight a lick. Then Edwin Quinn got kicked in the head in gym class and died two days  later. All the kids were at Pat King’s big birthday party, except Edwin. I saw him in his room looking at his aquarium while I shied from dancing. And that wintery night when I walked past the vacant Coloruso house on Terrace Avenue. Andy Williams’ song Can’t Get Used to Losing You played on the radio in my head. The Coloruso’s were murdered, all five of them, by a guy named Hansen. The same street where Maureen offered her very personal jewels to me, a few years later. Then that kid who stood there and got smacked hard in the eye by the football I bulleted to Roy. Look, there’s  Mike Graziano getting smacked by his mother because all the Orange Crush we all stole from Bob’s  Candy Store cellar was in there. “What’s in the bag, Michael?”  And all the guys liked Bob’s wife Madeline’s tits which stuck straight out real big from her sweater. Then they had to lower gargantuan Mrs.Vertrano out of the fourth story window by special means. And Nate King Cole died and it was sadder than when Kennedy got shot. He had over two hundred suits but wouldn’t sing anymore. Then Junior or somebody lit a high pile of ashcan powder that took two days to clear from Kowell’s garage. And Doctor Panitz ordered me and Russell to write a thousand word composition on why we should attend school. I wrote that the diner where we hung out was better than Mister Altshuler’s geography class. That took up five hundred words. The rest was about how Gus’s diner served fried eggs and bacon, the likes of which were rarely surpassed. I was then told to write a two thousand word composition on the futility of writing smart-mouthed compositions.. Then that record by the Animals hit the radio in sixty four. House of the Rising Sun. All over the radio the English Invasion played. And we drove to New Jersey, I forgot why but it looked nice with the rain and red lights and neon along the Jersey Turnpike as the radio played Gene Pitney’s  Town Without Pity. Then the lights went out all over the east coast and Roy, a tall and good-looking fellow, walked a long way home from Eastchester in the dark, and bingo, eighteen months later he’s in Vietnam. Hooky from school was played casually and shamelessly in cousin Johnny’s apartment watching Bullwinkle cartoons and shooting rubber bands and cursing everything to do with school until Aunt Stella returned from work. Of course, the German butcher Gene Kramer was doing more than resting in the rear room of his store, what with perfumy Mrs. Kincher’s floppy bottom hanging and waving around. Lookout, Russell just threw a sizable rock through the New Haven Train engineer’s window, but miraculously avoided reform school. And the old Jewish lady on the fourth floor gave me a twenty-cent tip, all in pennies, with her shaky blue-veined hand for bringing her gevelta fish. And the autumn wind blew October into November and Tom Mack, the white-haired gullible and naive father of a West Pointer, always volunteered to run the store polling place… “ Schultz checks with McCarver, here’s the pitch…Mantle sends it high and deep to right. It’s going, going,  gone!” And the watery-eyed red-faced bums with too-short trousers left empty bottles of cheap wine and Mrs. Wagner’s Pie wrappers on the snowy ground in makeshift box-houses in the vacant lot near the Bronx line. Now the Christmas tree lights are reflecting beautifully on our living room window with the blackness of outside showing a little blue. Someone is out there in this black cold night, wandering, maybe lost in the mind and beyond hope is what I thought as I got ready to open a present. Did they have a tree and presents once? “Terry checks the runners, here’s the pitch, McCovey hits a line drive bullet, right at Richardrson, and the Yanks are world champions”.

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