BROOKLYN BOOKS #4

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill and I grew up side-by-side in working-class, Catholic, Brooklyn neighborhoods.   

Row of brownstones in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Pete in leafy Park Slope.
Me in not so leafy South Brooklyn.
Brooklyn trolley in the 1940s
Pete in the 1940s
The cast of The Honeymooners on a bus.
Me in the 1950s

Pete – Irish. Me – Italian

Kiss Me, I'm Irish. Blow me, I'm Italian.

That last distinction was the biggie. For as much as I admired and even feared the Brooklyn Irish; and though we lived cheek by jowl, I felt they were alien to my tribe. Sharper. Colder. Meaner. And, lots, lots drunker.

19th century anti-Irish immigration cartoon in the USA.

I can’t remember ever seeing an Irish parent being warm and affectionate with one of their children. 

It was the Irish parents who mocked their kids and blackened their eyes; the Irish parents who drunkenly fell off bar stools and tenement stoops; the Irish parents who got thrown into the aptly named Paddy Wagon to be hauled away by Irish cops. 

Cartoon Paddy Wagon

It was the Irish mother upstairs in our tenement who got her sluggish sons out of bed by throwing pails of cold water over them. It was the Irish father upstairs who chased one of those same sons out of their kitchen window only for the terrified kid to go sailing past our kitchen window as we ate dinner. 

My childhood impression, formed in countless games of stick ball, tag and Monopoly, was that all Irish kids had fiery tempers and green teeth. I also learned that all Irish nuns had cheeks forever reddened with fury. No lie, it seemed like all of Irish Brooklyn was constantly plastered and pissed-off. 

So, for me, Hamill’s memoir was an insider’s lowdown from the enemy camp – one that confirmed what I felt as a child about his kith and kin. In A Drinking Life, he spills his guts on himself and his breed with bittersweet affection and brutal honesty. This is a brave, brilliantly observed memoir that captures the feel of 20th century urban American life as well as any I’ve read. Pete’s description of the VE Day celebrations in Park Slope brought me to tears. The way he conjured his proud, angry one-legged father made me see and feel the man as he limped up the street to the corner bar.   

Pete Hamill and I played in the same streets, rode the same trolleys, hung-out in the same parks, fought in the same playgrounds and gorged in the same ice cream parlors. I suffered a year of weekly piano lessons from a terrifying Irish nun at Holy Name School where Pete suffered the full-time fury of the Sisters of Perpetual Rage.

Group of unsmiling nuns
Here they are saying “cheese”

I even bought movie tickets from Pete’s mother at the local itch-house.

She probably short-changed me , too.
Pete at play. Wait a minute… that’s me!
Pete Hamill at Holy Name School, Brooklyn
Me in the 8th grade. Wait minute… that’s Pete!

Yet, no matter how similar our childhood landscapes, we were separated not only by ethnicity but by politics. 

Pete – Left. Me – Right.

Pete’s pin-up.
Mine.

Pete Hamill became one of New York’s premier newspaper columnists and bleeding-heart liberals. Like his contemporary Irish columnist, the insufferable douchebag-blowhard Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill loved playing the “muck-raking White knight” fighting for what he believed was equality but what I knew was actually White replacement. 

Pete believed dat dey was depraved on account dey wuz deprived.

In the 1980s when Brooklyn was stewing in crack-fueled racial violence, Hamill sided with Black Brooklyn against White Brooklyn – specifically Italian Brooklyn. He sneeringly called we Italians fighting for our survival, “guidos” which was tantamount to calling Blacks, “niggers.” I’ll never forgive Hamill for being a race traitor.  

Irish drunks are a dime a dozen (and a fuckin’ bore) so Hamill’s saga of bottoming out before straightening out, though well told, wasn’t for me. I much preferred his bawdy, Henry Miller-like tales of being a budding beatnik artist. Those were full of fun period details and read like Tropic of Art School. Besides, a little sexual braggadocio never hurts. In fact, Brooklyn and braggadocio go together like sausage and peppers.

And, hey, if you were playing “hide the shillelagh” with…

Pete Hamill with Shirley
Shirley MacLaine…
Pete hamill with Jackie Onassis
… and Jackie O

You’d braggadocio, too!

So, this social-justice leprechaun wasn’t averse to a bit of jet-setting at Elaine’s and P.J. Clarke’s. (Somehow I doubt he ever squired Tawana Brawley to either boîte.) And yet… like Alfred Kazin (the subject of my last post ) as much as I wanted to smack Hamill in the chops for his silly knee-jerk liberal bullshit, I couldn’t help liking the guy.

Farrell's Bar & Grill, Brooklyn

I’d love to sit down with him over a beer (Oops, better make that a root beer) not at Elaine’s but at Farrell’s – the legendary Irish working-class watering hole in Park Slope. We could stay off politics and shoot the shit about the nuns, the priests, the gangs, the girls, the Irish Mafia, the Italian Mafia, Coney Island and especially the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers.  

Pete & Me

Two boys outa Brooklyn

So very different

So very the same

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
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BROOKLYN BOOKS #3

A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin

Alfred Kazin (1915-98) was a noted Jewish critic – one of my least favorite literary types. I’m not a fan of that species because it’s part of the Jewish monopoly on printed media. (Don’t believe me? Check the names on the mastheads of every magazine and publishing house in America but… be careful. Many of those Anglo-Saxon sounding names are not genuine. Name changing is part of the Hebraic shape-shifting ploy called passing.) 

Alfred Kazin
Boychik Outa Brooklyn

The Jewish critics rave about members of their own tribe (often without merit) while neglecting more talented gentile writers. And, they only promote philo-semitic authors. Plus, their view of literature is hopelessly tainted by their Jew-centric perspective. So, to put it mildly, there exists an unbridgeable political, religious and cultural gap between Alfred Kazin and I.  

Brooklyn's Historic Brownsville

And yet… I gotta say that I loved Alf’s memoir of growing up in the Jewish ghetto that was Brownsville, Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, I couldn’t help liking the guy. Go know. I think it’s that undefinable “Brooklyn” thing that bonds us.  

Henry Miller
Like Alf, I’ve always been a compulsive urban walker;
a trait we share with another Brooklyn boy – Henry Miller. 

A Walker in the City is Kazin’s elegantly written collection of character studies, incidents and musings. It brims with colorful tales of rabbis and radicals, great books, great music, great meals and great awakenings. The reader senses Kazin walking himself into adulthood and consciousness. His love of Brooklyn, literature and his people permeate every page. I admire his own writing more than his criticisms of others.

Jews praying in a synagogue

Don’t get me wrong. I bristled at much of what he wrote but he did such a great job of writing that I cut him some slack. Hey, I’m easy. So, sue me. 

I owe Alf a debt of gratitude because his memoir was one of those that inspired me to tell the story of my boyhood across the borough in Italian-Catholic Brooklyn. That said – our takes on race, religion, sex and politics are as diametrically opposed as his Brownsville is from my South Brooklyn.   

Karl Marx
Karl Marx – Brownsville’s Meshuggah Messiah

It’s a sad but predictable irony that all of the Marxist and liberal bullshit about class and race preached in the streets and synagogues of Brownsville (and described so brilliantly by Alfred Kazin) failed. Bigtime. Marxists embedded in the city government used Marxist principles to replace the Jews of Brownsville with the Blacks of Brownsville. The result? After “70 count’ em 70” years of those Marxist ministrations, Brownsville is the murder capital of New York City.

Black men on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn
A lively debate about Torah and Das Kapital.

The area was never a garden spot but now it is a no-go zone of hellish housing projects. It makes Flatlands and East New York look like Cap d’Antibes.

Elevated subway platform in Brownsville, Brooklyn
Catching the Last Train to Brownsville.

The few Jews left in Brownsville (even fans of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela) have become the prey-of-choice for roving gangs of feral youths playing the “knock out game.”

Male victim of an anti-semitic attack
No wonder “down with the struggle” Bernie Sanders abandoned Brooklyn for Lily White Vermont.

Never mind… i­f you enjoy reading memoirs written with wit, style, brain and heart then have I got a Brooklyn book for you – A Wa­lker in the City by Alfred Kazin.  

So, read it already!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
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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
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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
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My Road to Damascus

Brooklyn College
Harvard, eat ya heart out!

It happened on a bright June day in 1967. I was walking across the surprisingly bucolic campus of Brooklyn College nestled inside the decidedly un-bucolic Flatbush. Many of the campus buildings were ivy-covered brick so who needed the Ivy League? I was a recent Catholic high school graduate there for a day of testing and orientation. I was unaware that I was in the epicenter of Jewish communist activism. 

Brooklyn College was so radical it was called “the little red school house” but not to be confused with The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village. Both institutions graduated a spectacularly disproportionate number of Levantines who were moaning-Marxists of dubious sexuality and (worst of all) folk singers. 

The co-eds at Brooklyn College were evenly divided into two opposing camps. 

Nothing’s too good for Daddy’s little princess.
  • The “JAPs” (Jewish American Princesses) had been gifted nose jobs as high school graduation presents and came to class loaded for bear i.e. they were out to land a nice Jewish boy preferably in pre-med or pre-law. I had never been in close proximity to such exotic creatures and gazed open-mouthed at them in class as they simultaneously adjusted their hair, stockings and bra while filing their nails and applying lipstick. I was a goy so I was invisible to them. They were brainless and harmless and at least afforded me a chubby or two.    
Vintage bearded lady
I think she sat behind me in Psych 101.
  • The “Rachels” and “Ruths” bore their Hebraic-honkers like a badge of honor. Their wiry hair was left to nature and they favored sandals, folk skirts and unshaven legs. Their moustaches were unshaven, too. They scurried around campus clutching to their peasant-blouse covered bosoms Joan Baez LPs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti poetry books and Wilhelm Reich’s The Function of the Orgasm. (I wouldn’t fuck these hectoring yentas with your dick.)    

So… I was strolling across campus feeling like Joe College when a Rachel ran up to me screaming like a banshee, slavering like a bronco and demanding that I boycott class because LBJ was bombing Vietnam. She shoved a flyer into my hand and her unshaven face into mine and ranted about nukes, napalm and negroes. I thanked her and promised to read the flyer but she screamed into my face, “Nazi” and ran to her next target. I tried to proceed but was forced to walk a gauntlet of Rachels, Ruths and their male counterparts – the Bruces and Barrys. All screaming. All slavering. All thrusting flyers. All demanding that Brooklyn College be brought to a standstill because LBJ was bombing Vietnam.       

The very next day the Six Day War broke out between Israel and Egypt and I was back on campus for more testing. 

So… I was strolling across campus feeling like Joe College when the very same Rachel ran up to me screaming like a banshee, slavering like a bronco and demanding that I boycott class because LBJ was not bombing Cairo. She shoved a flyer into my hand and her unshaven face into mine and ranted about Auschwitz, Anne Frank and Arabs. I thanked her and promised to read the flyer but she screamed into my face, “Nazi” and ran to her next target. I tried to proceed but was forced to walk a gauntlet of Rachels, Ruths and their male counterparts – the Bruces and Barrys. All screaming. All slavering. All thrusting flyers. All demanding that Brooklyn College be brought to a standstill because LBJ was not bombing Cairo. 

In fact, these leftist humanitarians wanted Cairo nuked!       

Cairo – I figure 10 million dead before the Soviet retaliation.

Suddenly and e’en like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, I was knocked to the ground by a blinding light of revelation. I then picked myself up and stood in the center of Brooklyn College, in the center of Flatbush, in the center of Brooklyn and knew in the center of my Catholic, Italian-American soul that I was in enemy territory. The scales had fallen from my eyes! I knew that the Rachels, Ruths, Bruces, Barrys and, yes, even the JAPs were not me. Not mine. Not American. All their supposedly selfless political activism was all about them. (And, they have done nothing to dissuade me of that conclusion in the more than fifty years since my Damascene conversion.)

  
 

St. Paul on the road to Damascus
You think it was easy getting that horse on campus?

Day of Infamy

During the Six Day War, Israel, our supposed ally, deliberately attacked and attempted to sink the USS Liberty an intelligence ship observing the war from the Mediterranean. In order to prevent the Liberty from reporting Israeli war crimes, Israel killed 34 U.S. sailors and wounded 171 more. Israeli planes even machine-gunned U.S. sailors attempting to escape in life rafts.

Meanwhile, Israeli dupes inside the White House almost gave my Brooklyn College classmates their dream. They almost tricked LBJ into nuking Cairo. (Take a minute to imagine that scenario.) Then, the dupes and LBJ conducted a massive cover up. The surviving sailors were ordered and threatened into silence. 

Israel claims its act of treachery carried out on a U.S. ship clearly flying the Stars and Stripes was a tragic mistake.  

 If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I wanna talk to you about. 

USS Liberty

POSTSCRIPT

In the 1970s, I learned that a former classmate at Brooklyn College had machine gunned many Palestinian women and children to death. When I knew this particular Bruce, he was a “peace & granola” hippie-dippie-trippie type. Then he got that Old Time Religion. Its a sad fact that from Meyer Kahane and the Jewish Defense League on, Brooklyn has been the breeding ground of Israel’s most violent fundamentalist lunatics.

Whenever I hear wild-eyed, wiry-haired women living on illegal Jewish settlements being interviewed with a baby on one hip and an uzi on the other their Brooklyn accents are those of the Rachels and Ruths I first encountered on that bright June day in 1967 on the surprisingly bucolic campus of Brooklyn College.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Roadmap to Blog Outa Brooklyn

Thanks for visiting my blog. It is a sampler of my murder-memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn. The best way to enjoy it is to start at the first post and read chronologically. I hope you’ll find it both hilarious and horrifying.

I will also be posting about the best books, movies and songs about Brooklyn. And, sharing my practical and off-beat travel tips. If you enjoy my blog, please follow me. Hover your mouse in the lower right corner of the screen and a pop-up box will appear. Enter your email address and you’ll never miss one of my posts. Your address will not be sold or shared and you won’t be pestered with any sales cons.

Welcome to my Brooklyn,

Jack Antonio

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Thanatopsis

Gravestones in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York
The view from my childhood bedroom and stoop

So many of those who shaped my life are dead – dead as the airline passengers who fell to earth one Brooklyn Christmas; dead as the woman I saw speared by a falling window pole on 42nd street. Dead. And, so many of the other souls who merely touched my life – they must also surely be dead. They could not have survived their fragile, reckless lives ’til now. I want to gather them all to me and bury them all in Green-Wood Cemetery – there to find eternal rest in a plot guarded by weeping Protestant angels, ivy-covered Civil War soldiers and by me. Their graves, a stone’s throw across the street from my boyhood stoop, will be dug in the sacred soil where Washington’s troops were slaughtered and the American Revolution saved.

I will spend my final days on that stoop staring into Green-Wood, staring into eternity. I will daily tend their graves while intoning Carrie’s poem – “What is death?” Maybe one of my dead will have the answer. 

Angle weeping on gravestone
I know just how she feels.
Drummer Boy atop grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
An earlier Boy Outa Brooklyn
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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And as an eBook here
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Calling Mr. and Mrs. Mainstreet

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Woodward & Bernstein – pin-up boys for crypto-commie journos everywhere.
Uh… Carl… the hair… can we talk?

Since my rock career had died aborning, I decided to turn my hand to politics. And, since 1976 was a presidential election year, I found ready employment with The New York Times-CBS News poll. Both of these legendary news outlets were and are notoriously slanted Left. The man running their poll “war room” was a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism – a hotbed of Cultural Marxism. Barry was prematurely balding, preternaturally sweaty and hell-bent on becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein. Preferably, Bernstein. (America was still obsessed with Watergate.) This pushy prick saw polling as a necessary step up the media ladder to his heroic, muckraking future. At worst, he might be the next Geraldo Rivera. 

Barry was drawn from the “rootless cosmopolitan” class so he had nothing in common with and nothing but contempt for anyone who lived west of the Hudson River, i.e. most Americans. He radiated disdain for what he held were the pinhead opinions of Mr. & Mrs. Mainstreet. And, all of Barry’s minions shared his belief that, parts of Manhattan aside, America was populated by knuckle-dragging nitwits. The office mantra was – “Don’t forget, Tricky Dick won the last election in a fucking landslide, man!” 

Senator George McGovern
George McGovern the only presidential candidate who could make Dukakis look dynamic.
Uh… George… the comb-over… can we talk?

Barry’s polling posse consisted of Columbia School of Journalism undergrads, grudge-bearing McGovern voters, Hadassah hags and lifetime members of the Fist Fuckers of America who gloried in being refugees from that “other America” – a land bereft of beauty, culture and glory holes. There is nothing so haughty and censorious as regional queens come to Gotham – unless it’s their balding, sweaty boss. I did my level best to man-up against them, stand-up for America and screw-up the poll results. 

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
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amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

The Dummies Guide to Guardian Angels

Guardian Angel protecting two  children
Guardian Angel for sissies

I’ve mentioned Guardian Angels several times so, for you latecomers, I better explain who they are. I have to remind myself that not every boy had hanging over his bed a painting of a Guardian Angel escorting a little boy through a dark wood while the horned, hoofed Devil lurked behind a tree. Not every boy prayed at bedtime –  

Angel of God, my guardian dear, To whom God’s love commits me here,

Ever this day be at my side, To light and guard, to rule and guide.

Amen

Here’s the straight skinny, straight out of the catechism: Catholics believe that we are all assigned a Guardian Angel at birth. These invisible, winged creatures are not dimple-buttocked cherubs but flaming-sword waving bruisers who have our backs from “Womb to Tomb.” It’s their mission to keep us out of trouble and out of live sexxx shows. But, they don’t always do a good job. I don’t know if mine was sitting next to me watching Babysitters In Bondage with his head in his hands or if he waited outside smoking a cigarette. But, supposedly, where I go, he goes. 

Orthodox St. Michael
Guardian Angel for He-men

Some Catholics find having an angelic shadow comforting. It makes my flesh crawl. Always has. And, what perplexes me no end is why these heavenly bodyguards let so many kids get hit by cars and fall off fire escapes. Why didn’t Carrie’s Guardian Angel tell her not to go into that vestibule? And, if my murdered friend Carrie wasn’t a Catholic maybe her murderer was and why didn’t his Guardian Angel warn her? You expect me to believe that Carrie didn’t pass a single Guardian Angel the night she was slaughtered?

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
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Some Entertained Angels Unawares

Vintage Archie comic book cover
Uncle Sam even got Jughead’s ass!

Place: Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn

Time: Early morning. November. 1969

Weather: Fareezzing fucking cold.

I am standing in a long line of young men, all in our underwear, all shivering and all ascared to be in a long hallway waiting for our physicals, waiting for our fates. 

  • So, this is the Army, I muse.
  • Shivering before I die, I muse.
  • Nixon can shove it up Kissinger’s ass, I muse.

Then, I hear a voice. Faint. It comes from mid-air just above and to the left of my head. The voice says, “Walk out.” The voice repeats, “Walk out.” Like a good soldier, I obey orders. I get dressed. I walk out. No one says, “Hey, you.” No sentry shouts, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” I go home. I wait for another letter pushed under my door. I wait for the knock of the MPs. Nothing. Then, a week later, the Lottery brings deliverance in the form of a life-saving high number. And, just like that, it’s over. Over. I have slipped through the cracks. I have avoided Vietnam – avoided the Draft, dismemberment, death. I feel joy, of course, but it’s tempered by survivor’s guilt – I know young men who have lost the Lottery. Most of all I give thanks to that Voice. How? What? Why? Who was that Voice? Was it the voice of my Guardian Angel? I didn’t believe I had a Guardian Angel but I’d been hedging my Catholic bets and sorta-kinda hoping he was there. 

Guardian Angel walking with little boy
“Walk out.”
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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And as an eBook here
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