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 #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
Available as an eBook here
and as an eBook and paperback from 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
 

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

Fuckin’ “A ” Bomb

Newspaper headline: Truman says Russia set off atom blast
“Bring it on, ya commie creeps, ya!

On the stoops of 1950s Brooklyn, the subjects debated included sex, race, sex, religion, sex, baseball, sex, politics, sex and the price of pork bellies on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. But, once the Russkies got the “H” Bomb and thus trumped our “A” Bomb the most hotly debated topic was nuclear proliferation – 

“Lissen kid, when World War Three breaks out, Brooklyn goes first.” 

“How come?” I gulped.  

“How come? Ya kiddin’ me? The Navy Yard!” 

Aerial view of the Brooklyn Navy yard
What ya call your “WW2” was won right here?
Ya got a problem wit dat?

Now, it must be said that the Brooklyn Navy Yard played a major, nay, indispensable role in the victory of World War Two. Brooklyn was/is justly proud of its contribution. But, with hindsight and considerable regret, I confess I’m not convinced that by 1955 Brooklyn would have been #1 on Moscow’s hit list. In 1945? You bet yer ass. 1955? Mmm… maybe not. 

Brooklyn Bridge after nuclear attack
As long as “trendy” Brooklyn goes first, I’ll take it.

Today, I would consider it a boon to humanity if Moscow nuked Brooklyn. I long to see its galleries of ironic art incinerated; its ubiquitous nannies and au pairs obliterated; the yummy mummies who employ them turned to dust; the metrosexual soyboys of Williamsburg and Bushwick reduced to atoms and Brooklyn’s stoops and vestibules left standing naked against the angry sky – the buildings to which they’d been attached blown all the way to Canarsie. Then, out of the rubble, tiny antennae will feel, push and emerge as King Cockroach reclaims the county of Kings.

children hiding under school desks in 1950s nuclear drill
Hey, commies, duck & cover this!

Like most kids in Cold War Brooklyn, I spent a considerable amount of time cowering inside a “fallout shelter” i.e. stuffed under my school desk. Our nuns at St. John the Pederast School took these survival drills deadly seriously. They demanded fingers on lips and hands on rosary beads until the all clear. (These sirens were a major part of the soundscape of my Brooklyn childhood but, for the life of me, I can’t remember when their blaring stopped.)

In October of 1962, during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was only twelve but already a political junkie so I was understandably scared shitless.  The morning after JFK’s famous speech to the nation when nuclear holocaust seemed moments away, my mother called her six children into the kitchen and explained that we might not ever see each other again but that we shouldn’t worry coz we’d all be “going together in a flash” – she at home, we at school and our father in his Wall Street office. Then in the throaty melodramatic tone she’d learned as a wannabe actress, she read a poem to us. It described New York City under nuclear attack. I found the description of the waters of New York harbor flooding into the canyons of Wall Street particularly harrowing and was glad that my father worked on a high floor there. Then I crawled to school sure that I’d never see lunch again let alone my siblings. I took some solace in the fact that the Yankees had just beaten the Giants in the World Series and would (like Cagney in White Heat) go out “top of the world, Ma!”  

New York City ablaze after nuclear attack
There goes the Navy Yard.
Oh well, looks like Bayonne is safe!

I’ve since learned that the world wasn’t as close to nuclear Armageddon as I thought at the time. Various back channel assets and deep state actors on both sides of the standoff had agreed to not blow each other to smithereens. So, as JFK and Khrushchev blustered and bluffed, the fate of the world had already been taken from their hands, sealed and saved.

Oh sure, now ya tell me! Thanks a fuckin’ lot.

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

Moon Over Bensonhurst

Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Jason Matthews and Terry Shand

During and just after World War Two, Brooklyn became America’s surrogate home town. In the war movies, every tank and submarine crew included a much-loved, wise-crackin’, skirt chasin’ guy from Flatbush. The comic Phil Foster carried this tradition into outer space as the most unlikely astronaut in history. In the 1955 low-budge flick Conquest of Space, “Flatbush Phil” stares out the space ship porthole as it circles the Earth and shouts, “Hey, deres Brooklyn. How ‘re da Dodgers doin’?”

Film poster for Conquest of Space (1955)

I think Brooklyn’s much loved and easily imitated Brooklynese accent helped make the borough a shared joke that bonded military units and the folks back home. Do you remember when anytime someone announced on a radio or TV program that they were from Brooklyn the audience would break into instant laughter and applause? I’m not sure anyone even knew why they did that. But, it might have been down to a shared folk memory. After all, this was a time when 1-in-4 Americans could trace their family back to Brooklyn! (Probably 3-in-4 wanted to chase them back there!)

Meanwhile, the tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley, always on the lookout for a hit, mined the instant folksiness, humor and sentimentality of Brooklyn. Whipping out their “June – Moon” rhyming dictionary they produced delightful ditties like Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Matthews & Shand. (Believe it or not, Guy Lombardo did a very catchy version of it.) And, Same Moon Shines In Brooklyn by Felsen & Peters.

Welcome to Brooklyn - 4th largest city in America.
Hey, whataya talkin’ about? It’s the THIRD largest!

Another sweet, nostalgic tune is In Brooklyn by John Benson Brooks and Stanley Adams. Benson Brooks later composed the brilliant jazz-blues piece Alabama Concerto. Adams wrote lyrics for Hoagy Carmichael and Visitor Herbert. All the songs mentioned were written in the midst or the shadow of WW2.

45rpm cover for Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond
The Brill Building does Brooklyn

The centre of pop music songwriting in New York moved uptown from Tin Pan Alley on W. 28th st. to midtown’s Brill Building. But, so many of the composers and lyricists who worked there were from Brooklyn that it should have been called the Brooklyn Building. Just read the list below and you’ll see that the “Sound of Brooklyn” became the “Sound of America.”

Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka, Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus, Barry Mann.

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
 

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

Mongolian Porn Conquers Milwaukee

Billboard - Beautify America - Get a Haircut
Everyone was after my scalp!

Dilemma: I viewed the citizens of Milwaukee as my tribe – transplanted, Brooklyn stoop-sitters. But, they viewed me as a recruiting officer for the Viet Cong. 

Solution: I had to change how Milwaukee saw me. I had to shave my beard. I had to cut my hair. 

I loved my shaggy self, but I was hungry, broke and beaten. So, when a movie theater offered me work as an usher, but only if I took a haircut, I took a haircut. The barber howled with glee as he hacked away at my freaky flag while his waiting customers pointed and giggled at my humiliation. It was the most painful haircut I have ever taken and the worst. But, it worked. It made me invisible.

The duplex movie house that hired me was in downtown Milwaukee. Downstairs it ran Julie Andrews musicals while upstairs it screened what passed for porn in Catholic Milwaukee. Back in Sheboygan, I had seen the movie Goodbye, Columbus. When Ali McGraw dove naked into a swimming pool a celluloid covered the entire screen. Nude scene over – the disappeared. I was one shocked New Yorker. The locals didn’t even blink. But, Milwaukee was more sophisticated than Sheboygan. In fact, we screened the world’s only Mongolian soft-core porn film and that classic was held over for weeks. 

Vintage photo of Mongolian women in traditional dress

So, downstairs it was all little old ladies in hats and upstairs it all was dirty old men in trench coats. Oh, and the Vice Squad. They were upstairs a lot, especially for the Mongolian porn. They needed multiple viewings to fully grasp the depth of the film’s decadence. They’d push past me with a quick flash of the badge and a quick grunt of “Vice.” When I was bored, I’d tear the cinemagoers tickets and send the cinemagoers to the wrong cinema. I did so enjoy imagining their confused faces as they waited for Julie Andrews to break out of her bra and the naked Mongolians to break into song. 

I also had to skulk around both cinemas, flashlight in hand, ensuring that no one had their feet on the seats or was smoking in the “No Smoking” section or jerking-off in the “No Jerking-off” section. You gotta watch those little old ladies every minute! 

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