Eleven Scenes of Growing Up On Townsend Avenue, Bronx, New York, The 1940s
By Lenny Kates
Dark chocolate, café au lait, beige-orange
frowning, laughing, sweating, straining muscular men.
Coal truck bed is tilting. Noisy gears and lubricant odors fill the air.
Anthracite and bituminous mix together pouring down
friction polished scratched steel coal chutes.
Coal-dust covered biceps and triceps, muscled arms, gloved hands,
shoveling coal into the rusty iron lined coal door,
into the bowels of my red brick, gray mortared apartment building.
Mr. Frank, the super,
blue-white tissue paper skin clinging to his skull-shape–on- the- iodine- bottle head,
fire heated orange lighted in the darkened damp flying water bugs’ cellar,
shoveling blue black coal into the fire-filled furnace of devils and wanton women
dancing, grinding, sending scalding steam up six stories of pipes
into valves’ closed yet leaking hissing radiators
in apartments of sleeping, loving, scowling, fighting,
eating, bathing, shaving faces, legs, and underarms neighbors.
Early morning, summertime day,
Mr. Frank the super is bringing mottled patterned galvanized iron garbage cans
filled with white, gray and tan burned-to-a-crisp coal ashes
up ten steep cement outdoor alleyway stairs.
Curbside, garbage men are dumping garbage
into noisy sweet and sour rancid acrid smelling chewing-it- up garbage truck,
congested with congregating flying flies,
eating, fouling, egg laying urban flies.
Harnessed chestnut horse, blinders on,
clippity-clopping down the block,
pulling a dry worn-woodened vegetable cart
on wobbling spoke and rusted metal strapped wooden wheels.
Master, perched up behind horse’s tail-covered ass,
pulls his reigns, tugging the bit into the corners of his full horse’s lipped mouth;
Equidos slows down toward the curb, stopping.
Leather oat filled feedbag is placed over and upon his long admirable nose,
damp nostrils, luscious lips and mouth full of worn-down-to-stubs brown and yellow teeth. Tongued and being-swallowed saliva-dripping oats spilling into the gutter,
as iridescent green bottle flies and fat black gray-stripped biting horse flies
are encircling his genitals, his manure and his hot pungent-smelling streams of chartreuse pee running around and beyond his ankles and hooves,
up against the blue-gray granite curb, into the sewer.
Al, Eddy’s dad, sexy blond-haired Hilda’s man,
toots his horn, pulls up his crank-to-start- up- car
with running boards, and an opened rumble seat,
to take Eddy, Alfred, Bob and me around the block,
North on Townsend, West ‘round 176, South onto Jerome,
(where, under the el, when the train moves overhead, we are inevitably
covered by shadows and splashes of sunlight, as rust, nuts and bolts fall):
East on 175th, around down Townsend again, pulling to curbside front of 1764,
as we’re making our five hundredth and nineteenth in our lifetimes’ plan
to be Silver, Scout, Tonto, The Lone Ranger, and black hat-ed bad guys,
while we’re strapping blue, green, yellow and red faux gem decorated tan leather gun belts,
holstering funny smelling bitter tasting pig iron metal cap guns around our waists;
as we’re subliminally moving our anticipating running and galloping
U.S. Ked sneaker-ed feet around on the floorboard.
Sunday morning. Going to the bakery.
Lip smacking smelling buttery cinnamon crumb cake babkas, jelly doughnuts, onion ryes.
Get a number. Stand in line. Wait in anticipation for the wild-eyed, angry, yelling lady,
To run down the line, holding up her arm for all to see her wrist
with blue-tattooed Nazi Concentration Camp numbers,
screaming at the bakery ladies for Pumpernickel, Challah, Danish,
Pumpernickel, Challah, Danish, Pumpernickel, Challah, Danish, and R-e-t-r-i-b-u-t-i-o-n.
(In L.A., years later, a Japanese lady came round the Pagoda, ranting: “Occidental devil, ” Nagasaki and Hiroshima sandwich-board signage over her frayed lotus flowered silk kimono) .
Leave the bakery. Skulk past the darkened bar’s open doors;
the wafting out of hot smelling Saturday night to Sunday morning stale liquor and beer,
and sounds of singing, moaning, mumbling, crying, hunched over miserable men.
To dad and mom, Uncle Jack and Aunt Jenny,
and shapely sixteen-year-old Doris in her Esther Williams one-piece bathing suit,
with her soft blond soft-haired hairy legs;
climbing together up six floors of our apartment building’s white-blue veined marble stairs,
carrying blankets and tan orange sweat stained wooden folding chairs,
and opaque wax paper wrapped sights of purple anchovies,
cooked yellow yoke and congealed white albumin sliced hard-boiled eggs,
with lettuce and tomatoes on Silver Cup bread,
lugging sloshing and glopping Hoffman Gingerale and coconut oil sun tan lotion bottles,
going sunbathing on bubbling-up, sticking-to our-feet-blankets- towels- hands- rooftop tar beach, with pigeon coop, fire escape ladders, painters’ scaffolds, and ants
crawling in and out of shadows thrown by the protruding staircase housing.
Paul, Alfred, Jerry and me
precariously leaning over our respective buildings’ rooftops protective ledges,
thinking about if we can jump, swashbuckling,
lighter than light, in our bathing suits,
just like Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Senior,
to one another’s roves without dying (?) ,
as we speak of yesterday’s and plot this evening’s
Hide and Go Seek and stick ball games.
Sweated up, Dad and I, having been preceded by mom,
go down stairs into our apartment
to soap up, to shower, to towel each other,
as perfumed mom walks by naked toweling her hair.
Dad teaches me too run the towel between each side of my genital and inner thighs,
Then we step out of the tub and cross pee in the toilet.
Nighttime-dreaming of Peter Lore and the Beast with Five Finger’s severed bleeding hand
crawling out from under the foot of the cover, up over the cover,
to grab my neck, to throttle me with sharp pointed dirty fingernails
digging into my blood-dripping neck flesh.
Sirens blare: “air raid”, dark green shades pulled down,
Messershmitts buzzing and strafing,
Zeros coming to kamikaze me in my cot
three feet away from mom and dad in their comfy double bed,
leaving me sleeping alone, fitful, lying on my belly, head and face in my folded arms,
periodically peeking over my left elbow, out of my left eye at them moving around,
hearing and listening to them grunting and moaning,
to their, “The boy will hear us” sighs;
to them drifting off to sleep, breathing and snoring.
Dawn! First sounds and sights of their stirrings;
into their bed; quickly getting between them
to smell their pungent musk and sweat odors,
as they roll around me, hugging me, holding me still,
directing me to go back to sleep, to have sweet dreams.
Sun shining in waking me up hungry for “Breakfast of Champions.”
Running out the apartment door, through the octagonal tiled hallway,
down the stairs, past under-the-stairs,
(where forever unforgettably Nancy and I examined each other) ,
into the lobby, and out onto the cement raspberry-your-knees sidewalks,
into the flows of Hide and Go Seek and Johnny on The Pony,
to the lot, and the peeing out of campfires,
to hiding-behind torn and dirty spring mattresses and other unceremoniously dumped debris.
Jury-rigged handmade wooden rifles shoulder-ready for mortally wounding Apaches
so they won’t shoot arrows in us
and tomahawk off the tops of our heads
before we grow up to be big guys.