BROOKLYN BOOKS #5

I love reading good books – especially good books set in New York. I’m guessing you do to or you wouldn’t be here. And, I’m guessing that, like me, you love discovering book stores built over basements bursting with used books and then hunting and coughing your way through the dusty stacks.

I even have a recurring dream of descending into an imagined basement in a Manhattan slum and finding the used book store of my dreams. (Literally of my dreams.) For years, I’ve been returning to this seemingly limitless catacomb.   

The great joy of being a book hunter is stumbling over a new author, subject or world. Here are some of my most treasured discoveries – 

Psychic Dictatorship in America 

by Gerald B. Bryan (1940)

Guy and Edna Ballard – the Bonnie & Clyde of the Occult
  • An insider’s exposé of The Mighty I Am. This spiritualist cult was popular in the 1930s and is still around. The money-mad Ballards gave birth to many imitators and set the template for the entire New Age movement complete with fairies, fruitcakes and frauds. On orders from the Ascended Masters, adherents murdered their pets. No foolin’.

Instantaneous Personal Magnetism 

by Edmund Shaftesbury (1933) 

“Look into my eyes, stop fidgeting and remove your wet clothes… ”
  • Tips published by the International Magnetism Club based in Manchester, England. Chock full of lifesaving information on nerve tensing, magnetic foods, wet clothes, thin shoes and fidgets. Hey, these guys were from Manchester and that’s good enough for me. Betcha they were Masons, too.

Adventures with Vending Machines

by Ray Burkett (1967)

Vending sun tans in the 1940s.
And, people doubt that man landed on the moon.
  • The “straight skinny” from one-who-knows on how to make millions stocking gumball machines in garages and paperback book racks in drug stores. With special chapters on, condom vending machines, pay toilets, the salted-in-the-shell peanut racket and the ever-fraught subject of vending in negro locations.  

Analism Among the Poor 

by Preston Harriman (1970)

Part of Harriman’s multi-volume indictment of class struggle and lube.
  • Harriman’s oeuvre includes: Analism Among the Poor, Analism Among the Rich, Anal Girl, From Adultery to Analism and Oral Aunts. (Preston was either hungry for a change of pace, or had a very friendly aunt.) Sadly, I’ve found only the one work by Harriman but I live in hope. Still, I’m not sure I’d shake his hand at a book signing.
And you thought I was kidding!

But what does all this have to do with Joe the Engineer, I hear you cry. This –

You know how it is – your moving down the used book aisle, head tilted sideways, giving yourself scoliosis, scanning the book spines when a title catches your interest. You never heard of the author. The cover and blurbs intrigue you. You read the first sentence and next thing you know the clerk is telling you the store is closing. You blow the mildew from your lungs, brush the cobwebs from your clothes and head up to the cashier clutching gold-in-print. 

That’s how I found Joe the Engineer by Chuck Wachtel (1983). I stumbled over it in the used book basement of the original Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake City. I found Francine Prose, David Markson, Charles Portis, Sam Lypsyte and Tom Perrotta in similar basements around the world. (They haven’t written any “Brooklyn” books so I’m not featuring them on this blog. But, if you are a fan of dazzling prose, do yourself a favor and read them. Trust me. Just do it.) 

Anyone who has read my memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn will know that my opinion of the neighboring Borough of Queens is not high. Since Wachtel’s book is set in that hellhole, it’s not a “Brooklyn” book. But, since I grew up surrounded by “Joe the Engineers” and might have been one myself, and since it validates everything I’ve written about Queens and since it is so damn good and since this is my blog and I can do whatever I wanna do – I’m gonna do you a favor by making it my Brooklyn Book # 5. (So there.)

Joe the Engineer is quite simply one of the truest and most moving novels of working-class life ever written. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Chuck the Wachtel

Joe is a Vietnam vet stuck in a dead-end job reading meters in Queens basements and living in Richmond Hill – the same dead-end Queens neighborhood where he grew up.

Joe’s Richmond Hill, Queens is the evil twin my South Brooklyn.

Joe is saddled with half-assed intelligence and half-assed dreams. And, Wachtel does a masterful job of capturing the mind of a person who isn’t fully conscious of the “how and why” of his miserable state but senses that something is wrong somewhere. The working class is full of such “canaries in a coal mine.” The media loves to mock them when they are inarticulate in their rage and confusion but I’ve always heard them loud and clear.  

I’ve heard them because I am one of them. My antenna has always been finely attuned to pick up snide condescension from the elites. (That’s what cost Hillary Clinton the election. White workers ain’t dumb ya know.) So, I appreciated how “working-class Wachtel” applied his writer’s eye to our shared caste without snobbery or sentimentality. 

I especially enjoyed listening to Joe’s thoughts as he read his customer’s lives while reading their basement meters. I saw him as a blue-collar Howard Carter mining the minutiae of ancient Egyptian life from hieroglyphs though in Joe’s case it is from ancient wall calendars and broken toys.

In one exquisitely painful passage, the unhappily married Joe has a disastrous one-night-stand with a supermarket checkout girl.
 

I found a 1983 radio interview with Wachtel – the year Joe was published. I was pleased but not surprised to learn that one of Chuck’s literary models was Hubert Selby Jr. whose Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of my Brooklyn Books. I was less pleased and surprised that Wachtel sounded prissy and academic. And when he blithely stated that America was a “mulatto” nation, my antenna started twitching. “Mulatto” is code for White genocide. It’s shorthand for “Death to Joe the Engineer.”

Happily, in 2020, “mulatto” is still not the norm in America and race-mixing is frowned upon by the vast majority of all races. (Don’t believe me? Listen to minority talk radio.) And, it was certainly not the rule fifty years ago despite Wachtel’s best wishes. However, due to the subversive work of those condescending elites (whom Wachtel chastised) and their fellow-travellers like, ironically, Chuck Wachtel himself, the Joe the Engineers of Richmond Hill and the world are being replaced. 

Joe’s parents circa 1950
The couple who bought Joe’s parent’s house.
Ya think they have racial consciousness?

Yes, the solidly White working-class Richmond Hill, Queens to which Joe returned after being used as cannon fodder in Viet Nam is now not open to his kind. For Richmond Hill, Queens is now known as Little India-Guyana-Trinidad and Tobago.     

Richmond Hill circa 2050.
Who needs water meters when there’s no water?

I eagerly sought out and read Wachtel’s other works which include poetry but, for me, Chuck is a one-hit-wonder. Still, as with those other liberal half-wits I’ve reviewed, Alfred Kazin and Pete Hamill, I’m gonna cut Chuck Wachtel some slack coz he wrote a beauty.  Do yourself a favor – read it!

There seems to be a movie in the works but I fear they’ll kill the book with politically correct crap. Betcha the supermarket check out girl is Black or Muslim. And, probably cast with Chuck’s approval. Never mind –  “I hereby pronounce Joe the Engineer an honorary Brooklyn Boy.”

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
and as a paperback and eBook from
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

BROOKLYN BOOKS #2

Dead Black man on the floor in New York City in the early 20th century.

The Thomas Boyle Trilogy

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn (1985)

Post-Mortem Effects (1987)

Brooklyn Three (1991)

Thomas F. Boyle
Why do the best “tough-guy” writers always look like Geography teachers?

The late Thomas Boyle was a Pennsylvania kid who spent part of his childhood in Brooklyn. (That makes him an Honorary Brooklyn Boy in my opinion.) He graduated from Cornell, earned his doctorate at NYU and taught at Brooklyn College for many years. Some book review sites confuse him with the more famous T.C. Boyle the author of many brilliant novels including The Road to Wellville – set in a 19th century health-spa and Drop City – set in an Alaskan hippie commune. 

Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead

Our Thomas Boyle’s last book (published in 1990 in the midst of his crime trilogy) was Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead – a study of Victorian crime fiction. It sounds like the Sherlock Holmes mystery Conan Doyle forgot to write! I’ve added it to my “must read” list. 

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn by Thomas Boyle.

Any fan of gumshoe fiction will enjoy Boyle’s modern yet faithful reworking of the much-loved archetypes and plot devices of that often hackneyed genre. 

The Brooklyn Three by Thomas Boyle

Anyone who knows the geography of Brooklyn will get an extra kick out of Boyle’s locales. His hard-boiled tales follow Detective Frank DeSales as he chases bad guys down hidden alleys in Red Hook, across garbage strewn vacant lots in Williamsburgh and even onto the hallowed ground of Green-Wood Cemetery. 

Post-Mortem Effects by Thomas Boyle.

If you like Lawrence Block’s ex-cop now “private dick” Matt Scudder, you’ll feel right at home with Thomas Boyle’s active duty detective Frank DeSales. They are brothers from another mother.

New York Police with dead body on subway platform.
“On the job”

I can’t find any movies or TV shows based on this trilogy which is a shame and surprising. For decades now, “All things Brooklyn” have been all the rage. Go know! 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
and as a paperback and eBook
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

BROOKLYN BOOKS #1

Vintage postcard of the 9th street branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
My discovery of Brooklyn literature began here. In fact, I still have an overdue book from this branch. Hey, I remember that car!

Any list of famous writers from Brooklyn would fill a decent sized phone book. And any list of books set in Brooklyn would be almost as large. I’ve read plenty of both but there are many more I’ve missed. So, the posts I’ll be making about Brooklyn books will be far from a definitive list. Think of them as tips from your friendly Brooklyn librarian.  

It would be remiss of me not to begin with the very first “Brooklyn” book I ever read. (Hell, it was the very first book I ever read cover-to-cover!) And, I’ve reread it many times since – most recently last Tuesday. In fact, it’s the overdue book mentioned above – overdue for over 60 years! If you haven’t read it then all I can say is, “I pity you!”

The book cover of The Phil Rizzuto Story by Milton J. Shapiro.
The life & loves, wit & wisdom, trials & tribulations of the inimitable “Scooter” – Hall of Fame Yankee shortstop and broadcaster. And, it goes without saying quintessential Brooklyn Boy.

“Psssst, hey kid, ya wanna read a really doity book?”

The book cover of Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

As you drive into Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge a large sign looms up at you. It screams, “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” If a driver doesn’t take that exit they are taken onto the Gowanus Expressway and thence over the neighborhood of Sunset Park where the spectacularly downbeat novel Last Exit to Brooklyn is set. In the 1950s, the period of the novel, that sign should have screamed, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway beneath Brooklyn Heights.

In the 50s, the waterfront of Sunset Park was a land of perpetual night – a slum rotting in fetid shadow beneath the elevated Gowanus Expressway. The Mafia had killed the docks, Robert Moses had killed Sunset Park by cutting it in two with his hideous highway and the Dodgers had killed Brooklyn by moving to L.A.

Hubert Selby Jr. knew this coz he was a Brooklyn boy born right next door to Sunset Park in Bay Ridge.  

Vintage photo of Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Industry City – another flop by Robert Moses & FDR. It’s now a gentrified flea market. Hey, I remember those cars, too.

Selby’s book consists of inter-locking tales of losers, junkies, sadists, pimps, hookers and trannies who fight for scraps in a nightmare world of gangs and gang-bangs.

1950s male transvestite
Vying for the title of Miss Gowanus Expressway

I was raised in the 1950s just a few blocks away from this world. I even swam in the public pool there. But, I knew better than to venture into the Terra Incognita below the highway. Many years later, I met a Yorkshireman who had lived in a sleaze-bag hotel in Sunset Park during WW2. He was outfitting ships to British standards that had been built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He told me that the whole area was full of crap games, gyp-joints and whorehouses all making a fortune from the servicemen and dock workers. 

1940s workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
They all hadda get drunk and they all hadda get laid.
WW2 female mechanics at Brooklyn Army Terminal.
They all hadda get drunk and they all… Hey, dig those crazy saddle shoes!

In the 1980s, I would spend pointless, penniless weekends meandering around Brooklyn by bike. I was drawn to the derelict and rotting factories of Industry City that lined the waterfront in Sunset Park. I thought, “Damn, this would make a great film set.” And, that’s exactly where, a few years later, much of the movie of Last Exit to Brooklyn was filmed. 

Industry City and Bush terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn
In the 80s, it was just me, my bike and tumbleweeds.

That film is good but doesn’t capture the daring style and outrageous vitality of Selby’s prose. Plus, by 1989, much of the shock value of his book’s subject matter had been lost. But, when it was first published in 1964, Last Exit to Brooklyn was an outrage and banned in several countries. I haven’t been impressed by Selby’s other work but anyone interested in the lower depths of Brooklyn life and the heights of “outsider” American literature should read Last Exit to Brooklyn. 

Cartoon male face with tongue and eyes protruding,

In 1965, I read it as a 15-year-old while working as a messenger in Times Square. The guy who sold it to me could have been arrested. I made sure that its instantly recognizable cover was always visible sticking out of my back pocket as I made deliveries. And, I made sure that same cover was visible as I read Last Exit to Brooklyn on the subway. I didn’t live in a artist’s garret in Greenwich Village but it was fun to pretend that I did.  

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
and as an eBook and paperback from
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

Blog Outa Brooklyn

The blog that reaches the wet, dark, secret places where other blogs fear to tread.

Enjoy!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Porno at the P.O.

Man screaming in a straight jacket
Suiting up for another graveyard shift at
the Grand Central Station P.O.

The Christmas blues of 1970 morphed into the January blues of 1971. I and my fellow “cultural casualties” of the 1960s having dropped out of college and dropped far too many psychedelics were facing the prospect of a lifetime of blue-collar work in the Post Office. Yeah, yeah, it was a job-for-life with uniform and pension but not quite what we had envisioned for ourselves just a few years before. Back in college we were going to be actors, writers, musicians, poets, painters, philosophers even. But, the luster had faded from our Age of Aquarius fantasies as it had from the few sorry strands of Christmas tinsel that hung from atop the mail sorting coops. 

We were a motley crew but not without our talents and charms. Alex was a half-assed genius and chess master. Mark was a poet and literate in Latin. Murray was a killer wit and killer blues guitarist. Sandy was trying to decipher the hidden codes in Dylan’s lyrics. And, Charles, our only Black member, was trying to convert everyone at the Post Office to 7th Day Adventism and vegetarianism. We were all from working class families and had discovered to our shock and horror that unless something miraculous happened we would not escape the gravitational pull of our caste. So, we embraced our fate. 

Vintage Soviet poster of worker at anvil with sledgehammer
Our new self-image and style

As if on cue and without any spoken agreement, we took to wearing plaid, flannel work shirts, tattered jeans, garrison belts and battered work boots. We cut our freakish hair back to a moderately radical length. Less Woodstock. More Workers of the World. We trimmed our facial hair to Lenin length. And, we embraced the Grateful Dead’s album Workingman’s Dead as if it were written only for us. After all, we were nothing if not workingmen.   

Album cover of Workingman's Dead by the Grateful Dead
A great album even if you’re not working.

One of the worst aspects of being a trainee mail-sorter was that we weren’t guaranteed hours. If the mail dried up we were sent home. And, this often happened shortly after we had clocked on for our graveyard shift. There we’d be in midtown Manhattan at Midnight having planned to be up all night and having ingested amphetimines to help us be up all night but suddenly with no reason to be up all night. Luckily, Alex lived in a nearby East Side tenement so we’d pick up some munchies and beer and head over to his pad, there to smoke hash and listen to Workingman’s Dead till dawn’s early light. Or, at least, till Alex’s neighbors banged on the walls. We named ourselves the Dead Workingmen. (Okay, not that clever but we needed all the help we could get.)  

Suddenly, it became embarrassingly clear that Tony, one of our Supervisors, was madly in love with Sandy. I don’t think this burly Italian knew he was gay and he certainly wasn’t swishy in any way. But, goddamn, he was as queer as a three-dollar bill for Sandy. Lovesick Tony was eager to demonstrate to Sandy how powerful he was by how many favors he could do for him. One big problem. If he gave Sandy a break he had to give it to all of the Dead Workingmen or his cover would be blown. We teased Sandy mercilessly about his conquest but he still generously connived to use his charm over Tony to the group’s advantage i.e. without “coming across” for the Italian Stallion, Sandy kept him sweet on our behalf.  

Heart tattoo on man's bicep
“Hey, I love you, Sandy.
You got a problem wit dat?”

Some nights Sandy would persuade Tony to let us get lost for a few hours. We’d head over to Alex’s while still on the clock and then sneak back in at 8AM to punch out. Some nights at Sandy’s behest Tony would let us hide and sleep on the filthy mailbags piled out on the loading dock. Other nights he’d put us on parcel sorting duty – a welcome break from the din and dementia of the sorting coops. We’d stand before rows of open mailbags and practice our basketball jump shots tossing boxes into the bags. Sometimes we even read the addresses and aimed for the right mail bag. Sometimes we even made a basket. But, truth to tell, we didn’t give a shit. We had come to hate the mail itself. Mark once tickled his throat until he vomited into the tray of mail he was sorting. (I know, I know, disgusting. But, you gotta understand that 99.999999% of the mail we were sorting was junk mail. And, the rest was going to Reverend Ike!) 

Time Clock Confidential

Workers at factory time clock
“Oh yeah, punch this.”

I don’t know if anyone actually punches a time clock anymore. But when I first joined the world-of-work as a teenager, I was angered by the demeaning nature of this act. I was even more angered by the grown-ups who loitered by the time clock waiting for it to tic to a specific second so they could get a few paltry shekels more in their meagre pay envelopes. I was embarrassed for them and hated how they compared stories of time clock victories and defeats and of famous “time clock jockeys” of yesteryear. The Post Office was full of these lifers who stared in amazement and clucked with disdain as I strode past them and punched out without even looking at the hour hand. Wage slaves. Not me.

Vintage photo of young boys cleaning factory machines
The Dead Workingmen hard at work.

Meanwhile back at the Tony-Sandy love affair things became waaaay too strange and sad for this trainee mail-sorter. It happened one night when members of the Dead Workingmen were surreptitiously tapped on the shoulder and told to report to Tony’s office. There we discovered the other invited guests were the usually unfriendly Supervisors. Tony had set up a movie projector and hung a sheet on the wall. He greeted us conspiratorially then locked the door, turned off the lights and showed us a stag movie i.e. the type of fuck-film that was usually confiscated if sent in the U.S Mail. I wondered if this film had been caught by an eagle-eyed postal dick and turned over to Tony. 

Vintage magazine ad for Stag Movies

As the silent, grainy, 8MM black and white film unspooled on the stained sheet, the air in the room became noxious with nervous laughter, unfunny quips and cigar smoke. We’d been invited to a classic “smoker.” The film showed a singularly unattractive couple reclining on a singularly uncomfortable table and fucking in a singularly unenthusiastic manner. Watching their coitus was as erotic as watching the piston action on a Ford V8. But, I sensed that a bizarre male-bonding ritual was at play. The Supers wanted to show us that they weren’t such bad guys after all. Hey, they were like our fathers and uncles – just a bunch of older working-class fellas who liked watching fuck-films with a bunch of younger working-class fellas. This secret screening was an olive branch extended across the generations and a sort of test.

Would we make the grade and join their ranks of Merry (albeit horny) Mailmen?

Also, except for Charles, we were all White as were the Supers. I sensed they wanted to find racial solidarity with us since they spent so much time with obese Black women with whom they shared little cultural interest. Least of all watching fuck-films.

I’m sure that shrinks would highlight what they’d claim was clear homo-eroticism in this sweat-lodge soiree. But, I don’t think that was what was going on with the Supers. Except for Tony. He turned on the projector, pushed me aside and sat next to Sandy. As the couple built to their inevitable climax we all watched in silence. Except for Tony. He giggled and elbowed Sandy while peppering him with questions in hushed rabid whisper. 

“You believe the size of the cock on that guy.”

“Wait. Wait. She swallows the whole thing.” 

“Look at that bush. You like hairy twat, Sandy?” 

“Hey, Sandy, you ever put it in a girl’s ass?” 

Then, after the “money shot” in which the on-screen stud splashed his semen all over his fair maiden’s belly Tony gushed – “Yeah, that’s the good part, right, Sandy?” 

The Supers must have overheard Tony’s pillow talk but they didn’t react. Meanwhile, the Dead Workingmen shared looks of amused horror. Mainly horror. Then the lunch horn barked, the lights came on and with eyes cast downward we bolted out of there muttering, “Holy shit, what the fuck was that?!”

Shortly after that night I was fired for telling an especially sadistic Supervisor to go fuck himself. The union jumped to my defense assuming that I wanted to keep my job. At the mediation meeting the union rep was dumbstruck when I told all present that the United States Postal Service could sort my job where the sun don’t shine. I thought about throwing the porn party in their faces but didn’t coz I knew that would make big trouble for Tony and the Dead Workingmen I was leaving behind.

Album cover for Johnny pay check and Take this job and shove it.
Workers of the world unite.
You have nothing to lose but your jobs.

CODA

Ten years later while walking in the middle of nowhere on Staten Island, I ran into Murray. (What are the odds?) We recognized each other even though he was now as obese as his female Black co-workers. Yes, he was still at the Grand Central P.O. but he was now a Junior Supervisor. No, he wasn’t playing guitar anymore. It was an awkward encounter and a painful one for him. Murray and I had come from similar working-class backgrounds, two Brooklyn boys who had arrived at the same point via similar paths. Then our paths diverged. I had followed my dream of being an actor. He had buried his of being a musician. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together. We never did. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Christmas in Hell

Vintage Merry Christmas card

When I was a little shaver, my mother told my siblings and I the heartwarming story of a mother with many children who had killed herself on Christmas Eve. She put her brood to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads then turned on the gas oven and laid down under the Christmas tree among the presents. That’s the way her children found her on Christmas morn. As a child, I wondered how she could bear to kill herself before opening her presents. But, with every passing Yuletide, I understood more and more why that mother had checked out in such ghoulishly festive style. 

Christmas is a burden. A time of testing. A time of taking stock. And, woe betide anyone who comes up short. The pressure to be happy is overwhelming. Everywhere there are the iconic images of Santa, sleigh bells and snow; everywhere the glowing fireplaces, twinkling trees; everywhere the perfectly wrapped presents and perfectly formed snowmen.

Vintage Christmas Card with holly border
Christmas in South Brooklyn looked just like this. Honest.

And, the U.S. Post Office is one of the major purveyors of this Christmas myth via its nostalgic stamps and “mail early” missives. So, imagine my chagrin when December of 1970 found me working at the “Christmas coal-face” aka Grand Central Station Post Office – one of the largest Christmas card sorting offices in the world. 

Vintage toy mailbox "Letters for Santa"

This was a time before emails, texting and twitter when people mailed each other Christmas cards to such an extent that the P.O. had to hire seasonal workers to handle the Xmas deluge. We sorters were buried under red and green envelopes for weeks and had to work tons of over time to make a dent in the never-ending flow. I was then living in a dreary studio in a dreary Brooklyn neighborhood without even a dreary girlfriend. Sadly, I couldn’t afford a Christmas tree to commit suicide under. (Hell, I could barely afford to pay my gas bill.) I needed the O.T. so I worked all the hours the P.O. threw at me. And, even though the Post Office closed for Christmas Day, I did have a shift on Christmas Eve. 

Vintage sign - This station will be closed Dec 25 -

That magical, candy cane night brought a heady party atmosphere to the usually grim sorting floor. The shift bosses cast off their usual Scrooge demeanours and donned elf hats and light-up reindeer horns. Most terrifying of all were the ancient workers (male and female) who stalked the sorting aisles brandishing sprigs of Mistletoe. These creeps had never smiled or spoken to me all year but were suddenly wagging their egg nog coated tongues in my direction. 

The obese Black women who were “union-job-for-lifers” had years before commandeered certain sorting aisles as their private turf and held “INVITATION ONLY” office parties in them. They jealously guarded their paper plates covered with baloney and their Ritz crackers covered with aerosol cheese while they quaffed bottle after bottle of Colt 45 and Night Train.

Sliced baloney on plate
What part of “INVITATION ONLY” don’t you understand?
Yeah, you could use this shit to write “Merry Christmas” on a cracka… er, I mean… cracker.

Meanwhile, an oldies radio station blasted the usual rock & roll “Christmas classics” on heavy rotation. It also played Air Force radar reports of a mysterious, manned flying object that was tracked leaving the North Pole and headed for New York. 

Just shoot me. 

When our 4AM lunch break came, we were called to an open area where many of us climbed atop the towering mail machinery and dangled from it like Marxists seizing the means of production. 

Charles Chaplain in Modern Times

The sadistic fat-fuck who ran this P.O. suddenly appeared in a cheap Santa suit and arm-twisted a few of the obese Black women to sit on his lap. This much racial fraternization was a rare thing in 1970s America. Cue: A rash of awkward jokes about negroes and Noel. 

Vintage Coca-Cole Santa
In the Hallmark movie version he would look like this.
Vintage creepy Santa with child
But, this was the Grand Central Post Office version.

Mercifully, several other obese Black females appeared in full Gospel choir drag to serenade us with their screeched renditions of Silent Night and We Three Kings. They finished their set with a sing-a-long of White Christmas. Cue: more forced racial jokes.

Female Gospel quartet
In the Hallmark movie version they would be great but…

Then the back to work bell sounded putting an end to this Happy Holidays horror. At the end of my shift, I headed for the subway through a deserted Grand Central Station and wondered where I could buy a Christmas tree with gas jet attached. 

Vintage Happy Holiday card
And to all a good Night!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co,uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

The Brooklyn Vampire

Mugshots of Albert Fish.
You’re looking at sub-human filth.

In my last blog, I wrote about everyone’s favorite vampire, Bela Lugosi and his relationship to Brooklyn or, at least, Brooklyn gorillas. In this post, I want to discuss a real Brooklyn vampire. And, I ain’t foolin’.  

Quote by Albert Fish about pain.
Children were his prey.

His name was Albert Fish and he worked as a house painter from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression. As he aged, he resembled a cuddly uncle. But, over those four decades, he abducted, raped, killed and ate children all over metropolitan New York. His work as a house painter gave him access to perfect hiding and abduction spaces like cellars, basements, hallways and sheds; and lethal access to children. Four decades. We still don’t know how many tenement kids fell into the clutches of this real live boogieman. 

Billy Gaffney victim of Albert Fish.
Billy Gaffney – my fellow Brooklyn Boy

One such unfortunate child was four-year-old Billy Gaffney. He had lived in my neighborhood. In fact, Billy was abducted in 1927 while playing in front of his tenement no more than five minutes from my 1950s boyhood home. His body was never found because Fish ate most of it. (If you are not of squeamish disposition you can read Fish’s description of that act in excruciating detail on Wikipedia. He makes Hannibal Lecter, Freddie Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers and Norman Bates look like the Vienna Boys’ Choir.)  

List of Albert Fish's perversions
A short list of Albert Fish’s perversions. And, remember much of this was performed on children and often dead children.

Billy’s abduction hit close to home for me (literally and figuratively) because of something that happened to me while I was playing in front of my tenement in 1957.

This was that incident… 

One day, a strange man wearing dark sunglasses who was or pretended to be dumb appeared on my block accompanied by a large, menacing dog. He rang my tenement’s vestibule doorbells in an attempt to sell an obviously second-hand Mickey Mouse film projector. The Mickey Mouse Club was every kid’s “must watch” show so this projector was prime Pied Piper bait.

Mickey Mouse Club film projector
I can still see the battered box with Mickey’s smudged and stained face on its lid

The stranger was quickly told to fuck off by the housewives annoyed at having been drawn away from their soap operas and quiz shows. I then inexplicably offered to take him around the corner to a neighbor I was sure would want to buy his piece of plastic crap. I trustingly placed my seven-year-old hand in his and lead the way with his dog nipping at my heels. 

The neighbor’s vestibule door was unlocked so I didn’t bother ringing her bell and just lead my new friend into her very dark hallway. I heard her TV blaring and knocked on her door. She answered with an angry expression that quickly changed to alarm. She told the stranger to fuck off and slammed the door. (I still wonder why she didn’t pull me inside, then slam the door and call the cops! But, maybe she wanted to get back to her soap.)  

I shrugged and lead the strange man and his snarling dog back out into the sunshine. As we exited the building a group of my friends shouted from the corner with obvious and uncharacteristic alarm, “Hey, Jackie, ya mother wants ya. She sez get up da house. Now!”  I turned to apologize to the man but his dog bared its teeth and lunged at me. I jumped back, looked into the face of my new friend and saw that he was leering at me with an evil smile. Only then did I realize that I had broken the cardinal rule of childhood. He was a stranger. One of the strangers I’d been told not to talk to. Not to get into cars with. Not to take candy from. I was in danger. Stranger danger. With a sudden surge of fight-or-flight energy, I turned and bolted the fuck away from him and his mutt.

This incident (whether the threat was real or imagined) is why I have always been especially horrified and fascinated by Albert Fish. I can’t help wondering if Billy Gaffney also turned and saw his “new friend” leering down at him; if Billy felt the same shock of terror run through his little body as the one I can feel as I sit here typing more than six decades later.   

X-ray showing pins in Albert Fish's groin
X-ray of the many pins that Fish inserted into his groin and carried for decades just for fun.

Ironically, the sensational trial of Albert Fish was knocked off the front pages by the even more sensational Lindbergh baby kidnapping. But, I’m convinced it was not knocked from the collective folk-memory of my Brooklyn neighborhood; its shared shuddering-memory of a Brooklyn vampire who had stalked its children in cellars, basements, hallways and sheds not that many years before I played in those dark, hidden, dangerous places. 

Albert Fish quote on electric chair
Don’t ya just love these “extreme sports” junkies?

If you can stomach a disturbing but cathartic journey into the darkest of dark places then spend some time on the internet searching for Albert Fish the Brooklyn Vampire. There have been two awful movies made about Fish and countless TV documentaries and books of varying quality. I recommend the book Trail of Blood by Michael Angelella.  

Albert Fish I the electric chair
Albert Fish – thrill seeker
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Shed a tear for poor Bela Lugosi.

As Brooklyn boy Lenny Bruce quipped, “Bela was a junkie for ten years, cleaned up and dropped dead.” And, it’s sadly true that Lugosi had become addicted to morphine while undergoing medical treatment. It took him many painful years to kick the habit. 

His was a classic case of a film career that started at the top and finished in the sub-basement. Think about it. From Tod Browning’s Dracula to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ouch! 

Bela Lugosi's stand in - Plan 9 From Outer Space
Not the long dead Bela but Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor!

And, insult to injury, after a horror movie career spent sucking hind tit to his competitor Boris Karloff, Bela took over from Boris in the Broadway comedy Arsenic and Old Lace.  Getting sloppy seconds was bad enough but Bela had to play a character whose facial scarification was based on Karloff as Frankenstein. The biggest laughs in the play were built on that gag. (I wonder if they did a re-write so that the crazed brother Jonathan was said to resemble Lugosi as Dracula. If not… double ouch.) 

Boris Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace
Boris and Bela did not belong to a mutual admiration society.

When not appearing in a succession of bargain-basement horror films, poor Bela schlepped around the world in Dracula drag appearing in fleapit revivals of the stuffy old play. An actor friend of mine worked with Lugosi in one such production and reported that the company rehearsed the play without Bela who was only contracted to appear for the final dress rehearsal. And, at that, he would do only a quick walk through of his scenes. Count Dracula actually appears in surprisingly few scenes in the stage version.  And, Bela sure didn’t need the rehearsal, he’d been doing the same tired moves for decades.

The cast was assembled on stage awaiting Lugosi when the theater’s hydraulic lift suddenly cranked into action and slowly raised the floor of the orchestra pit. There stood Bela in full Dracula splendor. The cast formed a receiving line and Bela walked down it shaking and kissing hands while clicking his heels and repeating “I am Lugosi.” He thoroughly charmed the pants off one and all. But, during the performance, my friend was surprised to see buckets of ice in the wings. And, saddened to see Bela thrust his pin-cushion junkie’s arms into the ice to reduce his pain. 

Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein
Bela effortlessly stealing Son of Frankenstein

Some critics dismiss Lugosi as a one trick pony but I think that’s unfair. He created an iconic film character that is instantly recognized around the globe and not many actors can say that. He was deliciously evil as the hunchback Ygor in Son of Frankenstein. And, he was terrific in The Black Cat and in the criminally underrated Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. If only he had lived, Bela could have feasted on the movie memorabilia boom of the late 50s and 60s. And, I gotta believe that Roger Corman would have cast Bela in his Edgar Allen Poe movies. He would have been perfect casting and big box office along side Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Bela Lugosi and Lou Costello in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Bela having a ball with Lou Costello

But, hey, they can’t all be gems…

Movie poster for Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
Hey! Don’t blame Brooklyn!

In 1952, our hero was forced/enticed into making the “Poverty Row” comedy-horror flick Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Now, I am second to no one in my affection for all things Brooklyn and for movies that feature guys in a gorilla suit but even I have my limits. (It’s on YouTube if you dare.) 

Sammy Petrillo and gorilla in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
Doesn’t look like any of the Brooklyn gorillas I knew.

Bela actually managed to walk through this turkey with style and wit. But, this former Shakespearean actor who had worked with Garbo must have been thinking, “How the fuck did I end up playing second banana to a team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis imitators and a schmuck in a gorilla suit?”

Bela Lugosi and Greta Garbo in Ninotchka
Bela having a ball with Garbo in Ninotchka.
What might have been?
Bela Lugosi and gorilla in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
“How the fuck… ?”

I repeat.

Shed a tear for poor Bela Lugosi. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Blackout Baseball

New York Mets logo

The evening of July 13, 1977 was hot and sticky as July nights in New York City are wont to be. Vic and I were at Shea Stadium watching the Mets lose to the Cubs when BANG the lights went out. Groans, cheers and whistles from the large crowd followed immediately by jokes.  

“Hey, Mets, pay ya fuckin’ electric bill.” 

The crowd assumed it was a power failure limited to Shea. And, the stadium was able to run dim emergency lights so we weren’t left in total darkness but more of an eerie glow. Then we were told there had been a blackout in the entire city and the groans, cheers, whistles and jokes got louder.

“Hey, Mayor Beame, pay ya fuckin’ electric bill.”

Shea Stadium in New York City blackout of July 13, 1977
It actually looked much darker inside Shea.

A hardy (and hungry) few felt their way to the concession stands to stock up on beers and dogs before they got hot or cold. Others gathered around geeky fans who’d brought transistor radios to the game. (These “transistor types” looked like they’d been dressed by their mothers who invariably supplied them with sandwiches and a thermos.) The “huddled masses” around the radios looked like actors in a Radio Free Europe commercial hungry for news from the Free World. Meanwhile, the stadium announcer kept us informed and the organist kept us entertained with a Christmas carol sing along. 

Then a few cars were driven out of the bullpens on to the outfield grass with their headlights shining toward the infield. Several players from both teams took this cue and took the field to play a phantom baseball game with an invisible ball in ghost light. They made spectacular diving catches, impossible throws and gravity defying slides. The crowd went wild!  

After an hour or so and just as the fun had begun to pall (“Okay, enough of this shit, how the fuck am I gonna get home?), we were told that transportation had been arranged and we would all be home safely and soon. We were directed to buses in the Shea parking lot that were bound for major intersections all over the five boroughs where we would be able to get on the city buses that were still running. In our many thousands, we exited the stadium in better order, humor and time than we did in daylight. No pushing. No punches. No panic.  

Vic got his bus to the Bronx but I had to get to the Bowery – the scuzziest street in the slum known as the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Walking around my neighborhood was an exercise in urban survival even in bright sunshine. The idea of traversing it in blackness did not fill me with joyful anticipation. Plus, in the summer of 1977 the city had just about bottomed out. It was not a happy place and having the serial killer known as the Son of Sam picking us off at random and at night did not fill New Yorkers with confidence. But, I couldn’t sleep at Shea so I boarded a bus that took me across many blacked out Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods then over the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island finally dropping me at the ferry terminal. 

From there, we “happy few” ferried across a New York harbor that was in almost total blackout – the skyscrapers of Manhattan (including the World Trade Center) were barely visible. The only bright light in the harbor was the flame atop the torch on the Statue of Liberty. It was a scene out of a dystopian sci-fi movie – beautiful but unsettling. A hush fell over we passengers as the ferry plowed by Lady Liberty and that hush enveloped us until we disembarked at the Battery. There we climbed aboard city buses already waiting to take us uptown via the main avenues. 

Statue of Liberty torch and hand under construction.
Only the flame was lit and shining, the statue was in darkness.

This evacuation and transportation of the Shea Stadium multitude was handled brilliantly. Yet, I have seen it reported nowhere! We all like to complain about government inefficiency but I gotta say that in this case NYC really nailed it. I blush to admit that I felt proud of my hometown and her people. No panic. No anger. No fights. Just cooperation and jokes. Lotsa jokes. 

I got off the bus on First Avenue and praying that the Son of Sam was not lurking nearby equipped with a night scope, I began slowly picking my way toward my loft on the Bowery. (Goddamn how do blind people do it?) I made the trek slowly with only passing headlights, flashlights and candlelight from impromptu stoop parties to guide me. I declined invitations to join those parties coz I just wanted to get home. 

Georgian dinner by candlelight.
Stoop soirée in full swing.

I did have to navigate through a few stretches of inky blackness and, this being the Bowery, I had to be careful not to trip over bums sleeping on the street. Plus, a few overly friendly creeps loomed up at me from the murk hoping to give or receive a blowjob. But, WHEW, made it home!

Bowery bum sleeping in door way
Blacked out in a blackout

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

The next morning, I went for a walk around my still powerless neighborhood where the stores and restaurants were practically giving food away. It wasn’t until late that afternoon, when power was restored, that I learned there had been widespread looting and arson in certain neighborhoods.  (Ya want numbers? – $1.2 BILLION worth of damage in 2019 dollars. 3,700 arrests – the largest number of mass arrests in NYC history!)   

Arson in the Bronx, NYC blackout of Jul 1977
Burn Baby Burn!

Since 1977, the narrative about the blackout has been all about excusing those crimes with nary a mention of the cooperation. Perhaps this is because that cooperation seemed restricted to certain other neighborhoods. The spin has been that the crimes were caused by racism. The blackout has been turned into yet another tale of poor Blacks being victimized by evil Whitey.

Looted store in NYC blackout of 1977.
Have you noticed that book stores never get looted?

Apparently, power failures are just another aspect of White privilege and the patriarchy. Apparently, it was my fault that Blacks looted and torched stores, restaurants and even their own apartment houses. It’s over forty years later and I have yet to see, hear or read a single account of the blackout (including many by foreign news sources such as the BBC) that doesn’t push this anti-White race-hustle bullshit.  

The awful truth is that when the lights went out on July 13, 1977 some New Yorkers went feral. 

The awful truth is that when the lights went out on July 13, 1977 some New Yorkers went festive.   

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
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amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here




World In Wax

World In Wax Musee in Coney Island, Brooklyn
The scene of the crimes

It was the summer of 1960 and my family was walking past Coney Island’s World in Wax Musee when the barker shouted out, “See the rapist Caryl Chessman in the gas chamber!” 

“What’s a rapist?” I innocently asked my mother.  

“Uh… ummm… a man who forces himself on a woman,” she flustered.  

“Oh,” I replied with no idea of what she meant. 

Soon after that we shared another awkward moment of sex education. It happened one night while I was watching TV. She and her friends were in the next room chain smoking and “gassing” when someone on TV mentioned “impotence.” 

“Hey, Ma, what’s impotence?” I shouted into the room full of Catholic housewives.  

Long frozen silence from the stunned women.

“Unable to perform like a man,” my mother eventually shouted in answer.  

“Oh,” I shouted in return and (again) with no idea what she meant. 

Caryl Chessman in a wax museum gas chamber.
Caryl Chessman, darling of the liberal intelligentsia,
as I like to remember him.

The World In Wax Musee was owned by one of Coney Island’s great characters, Lillie Santangelo. Caryl Chessman wasn’t the only predatory sex fiend rendered in wax in Lillie’s macabre collection. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were in there, too; along with “full moon” killers, “vampire” killers, “bathtub” killers, “screwdriver” killers and Richard Speck the sub-human filth who tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses in Chicago. Speck escaped Chessman’s fate but unfortunately enjoyed his life in prison. He even had a half-assed sex change and acquired a set of phoney tits. These helped him attract and suck every swinging Black dick he could get his lips around. 

Richard Speck – isn’t she lovely?
Unrepentant to his/her/its grave.

Chessman and Speck both had scores of bleeding-heart intellectuals, rootless cosmopolitans and Hollywood champagne-socialists pleading their cases and screaming for their release. But, to no avail. Both of these pieces of utter shit died behind bars. Hehehe. 

Richard Speck attacking nurse in Coney Island wax museum.
“Please let me out. I promise not to do it again.”

Meanwhile, back at the Wax Musee, Lillie also had an entire exhibit dedicated to Lina Medina, the world’s youngest mother, a Peruvian girl who gave birth at the age of five. The jury is still out on which of her loving male relatives raped the child.  

Lina Medina
I’ll bet my mother was relieved I didn’t ask her how
a little girl of five could have a baby.

Fast forward to 1981

I was directing an off-Broadway play and told my designer that I’d like our stage set to look and feel like the World in Wax Musee because it was the most frightening space I’d ever been in. The brutal artlessness of the exhibits made it so. Its dioramas-of-death captured a bottom-feeder, off-hand brand of sex-violence that even the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer could not match. 

It was the very cheapness of the materials and mannequins used that gave the murder scenes their terrible power. The ill-fitting clothes and ill-posed limbs evoked nothing of reality. Yet, it was this very absence of life, movement or any hint of reality that made the mannequins seem ready to burst into murderous life. It was the gouts of ketchup-like blood splattered on the walls and linoleum; the flickering fluorescent lights and the chicken wire that separated the viewer from the crime scenes that chilled to the bone.  

There was something especially unsettling about a cheap dummy sticking a screwdriver into another cheap dummy’s neck or hiding under a female dummy’s bed. It was beyond the stuff of nightmares. 

Bloody wax head

Lillie also had a Hall of Fame where you really needed a score card to tell the players apart. I suspect Lillie had only one Caucasian head mould and one Negro head mould coz Elvis looked like Harry Truman looked like John Glenn looked like Popeye. And, Muhammad Ali looked like Jackie Robinson looked like Louis Armstrong looked like Buckwheat.

Don’t tell me… James Dean. No, Harry Truman. Wait, got it… LBJ.

Anyway… my designer visited the Musee and later cursed me for scarring her for life. While there, she spoke with Lillie who mentioned that she needed a new recorded announcement to draw a crowd but didn’t know any actors who could make one. Her budget was $10. My designer told Lillie about me and that’s how I got to spend an afternoon wandering around the World in Wax Musee (by my lonesome) gathering ideas and composing my spiel. (I have never looked over my shoulder so many times in my life!) P.S. I did the gig for free.

Lillie let me sit in her office to write my script. I noticed that she had a large ashtray on her desk filled with artificial eyes, ears and fingers that had been plucked or melted off. (I confess that I stole one of the fingers. I like to think it came from the hand of Red Foxx but it might have belonged to Hickman the Fox who kidnapped, murdered and dismembered a child in 1927.) 

Hickman the Fox in a Coney Island wax museum.
Note the exquisite craftsmanship.
The verisimilitude.

Lillie didn’t play my recording for long because she shut the Musee’s doors soon after my visit. (Jeez, I didn’t think I was that bad!) But, I wasn’t surprised when she cIosed. I had been there on a summer weekend and I’d had the Musee to myself for hours. Lillie had even tried throwing a few phrases of Spanish and Ebonics into her pitch in an attempt to draw in Coney’s new demographic but, alas, it was not to be. The writing was on the Musee wall.   

In 1986, Lillie’s entire collection was sold at auction for a tidy sum – there has always been a lucrative market for circus and side show collectibles. And, her Musee was second in size and importance only to Madame Tussaud’s in London! Along with the dioramas-of-death, 100 wax heads found in Lillie’s attic were also sold. The auction catalogue listed heads of Babe Ruth and Frank Sinatra. But, how could they tell?  Those heads could easily have been Leopold and Loeb or Abbott and Costello.

Boy outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn