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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And as an eBook here
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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
Available as an eBook and paperback
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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
 

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
amazon.com
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
 

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

Available as an eBook here

And as paperback and eBook here

amazon.com

and amazon.co.uk

Famous Boys and Girls Outa Brooklyn

Al Capone
Al Capone became notorious in Chicago where he was really just a bagman for Meyer Lansky. He got his start breaking legs in Red Hook, South Brooklyn

Brooklyn has 2.6 million people. Were it an independent city (which it was until the late 19th century), Brooklyn would be the third largest city in America after L.A. and Chicago! So, it’s not surprising that a lot of famous folk in all walks of life come from Brooklyn.

You can see a more complete list of notable Brooklynites elsewhere. When I read those lists I wonder if there’s anyone who isn’t from Brooklyn. In fact, it’s said that 25% of Americans have roots in Brooklyn.

Anyway, in no particular order, here’s my list of, “Gee, I didn’t know he/she was from Brooklyn.”

BROOKLYN BOYS

Carl Sagan, Bugsy Siegel, Joe Paterno, Vince Lombardy, Sandy Koufax, Joe Torre, Wolfman Jack, Arlo Guthrie, Michael Jordan, Mickey Rooney, Harry Nilsson, Chuck Connors, Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Bobby Fischer, Bob Guccione, Edward Everett Horton, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Moe, Curly and Shemp Howard aka The 3 Stooges (Larry Fine was from Philly but I hearby pronounce him an Honorary Brooklyn Boy.)

Mae West
Mae West – the Queen of Quips
She and Henry Miller – two of America’s greatest sexual-taboo breakers were contemporaries in Brooklyn.

BROOKLYN GIRLS

Clara Bow – the It Girl of silent films. They say her thick Brooklyn accent made her move into talking pictures impossible. But, I’ve seen one of her talkies and she was terrific. Go know.

Margaret Dumont – the very un-Brooklyn seeming society matron in the Marx Brothers films. She and Edward Everett Horton are excellent examples of early 20th century posh-New York speech. They almost sound British.

Jennie Jerome – Winston Churchill’s mother. She lived in Cobble Hill.

Other Queens of Kings County include – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Debbie Gibson, Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwyck, Lena Horne, Priscilla Presley and Mary Tyler Moore.

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