Blackie had come into the family before I was born, while my parents were still living in Brooklyn. Soon after my folks moved to the Bronx, Blackie ran away. My parents combed the neighborhood looking for her and put signs up on lampposts, but to no avail. A week later, a former Brooklyn neighbor called my mother and told her that Blackie was sitting on the kitchen floor in the old, still empty Brooklyn apartment, whimpering. My father wanted to leave her there, but Mom made him drive to Brooklyn to bring her back.
Tag: Bronx Tales of Yesteryear
When I was ten, Aunt Esther took me to Carnegie Hall to hear the then popular pianist, Jan August. That was the day I decided to become a concert pianist.
There wasn’t any room for a piano in the family budget, so for a while I kept my mouth shut.
Then I read a biography of George Gershwin. I thought I was reading about myself. He’d grown up in a New York apartment overlooking a noisy street. Me, too. He was the younger of two brothers. Me, too. He was from a Jewish family. Me, too. He had a funny-shaped nose. Me, too. Okay, so he was from Brooklyn and I was from the Bronx, but hadn’t my parents lived in Brooklyn before I was born? Gershwin died less than fourteen months before I was born. There was no question about it. I was the reincarnation of George Gershwin.
Florence was dead. Josh cried at the cemetery. He even said Kiddush, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Josh’s family wasn’t religious. He’d never even been bar-mitzvahed, so saying Kiddush was a lot. Josh later said he’d wanted to do the right thing for his mother.
We went back to his house in New Jersey from the cemetery. Florence’s sister Anna was there, now in her nineties, feeble and almost blind. “Why couldn’t they take me,” she wailed. “She was so good.”
Josh, almost fifty, his eyes puffy from crying, took me down to his basement playroom. “I’m an orphan now, Bobby,” he said, his voice breaking. He’d been holding it in all day except for the time at the cemetery. I hugged him.
He was a beanpole. Six foot two, a hundred forty pounds. Johnny had light-blue eyes, a thin face and crooked front teeth. When he smiled, his upper gums showed. Johnny had a crescent-shaped scar on the bridge of his straight thin nose; it was a visible reminder of a time in Taft’s dustbowl when he’d gotten too close to Tommy D when Tommy was swinging a baseball bat, and the bat clipped him.
Johnny was two years older than me, four years older than my best friend Josh. He was a rare Protestant in a Jewish neighborhood. His parents were divorced, which was unusual in our neighborhood in the early fifties. He lived on the top floor of the apartment building next to mine with his father, his brother Miltie, and his grandmother, Mrs. F, a short, frail woman in her mid-eighties. She was blind in one eye, and one of her eyeglass lenses was frosted and bound with clear tape to hold it in place.