One view from Sunset Park
Moments we keep …
He was my buddy, my confidant … my best friend. In real life he was the Petie I’ve often use in other street stories. He was “the only boy I didn’t hate.”
The friendships we forge in childhood can last a lifetime. We talked about a month ago, two aging boomers, two kids who took different routes out of the park, who grew to raise families and become good-law-abiding citizens. The sound of his voice threw me back to those few precious years before his family moved to Long Island, before we lost touch, before time and space left its mark and childhood ended with a stinging slap.
Playing with my good buddy was an all-season event. We thought nothing of frolicking for hours in snow, relished rolling in autumn leaves down the hills of the park, became enchanted by the new growth of spring, and best of all, we lived for summertime.
Summertime was for street games, the pool at Sunset Park, the beaches,street skating, and flying kites along Shore Parkway.
In the book Sunset Park, his name is changed to Michael, and as I often wished, we were fast friends through high school. In real life, he lost his mother in third grade and moved away two years later. In real life, my family also moved to a new place in Brooklyn.
Naturally, writing fiction gives us license to rewrite history, to have those moments we might have missed, to embellish and to pretend.
In my snippet from Sunset Park today, and the last installment of Summertime, there is little reason to embellish or pretend. This one day is an amalgam of countless days of street play.
From Sunset Park …
Through no fault of her own, there just were not many girls to bum around with, not girls that were as cool or as much fun as Michael. Snooty Irene next door and Teresa Rosario around the corner were like foreigners to Antoinette and she never ventured to their doors. Slow Rosie was, poor baby, much too slow for the likes of Antoinette Gallucci.
Waiting for her friend Michael to return from the mountains, Antoinette contented herself on her alone-days riding on her skates, and with her parent’s permission, chasing around the block helping Mario complete grocery deliveries or just reading in her bedroom. She was reading more of her Nancy Drew and a few other books Joey had found for her at the library.
Antoinette sat back on her pillow at night and imagined sleuthing murder mysteries, being the only daughter the prominent Carson Drew, and doing a host of things she could only dream of doing. Joey laughed listening to her tell of the latest tale of her new found heroine, and when he found the time, read more of Mark Twain to her chapter by chapter.
When Michael came back from the mountains they were off and running, skating, and tearing up the streets in fine kid-fashion.
They had been skating in Sunset Park for hours. “Wow Toni, you’re really fast on those skates.” He flopped down near the circle by the flag pole.
“Yeah, it was great Joey gave me these skates for Christmas. Of course my mom nearly jumped into the stove. She thinks I’ll kill myself.”
“Why ‘cause they’re speed skates?”
“Yep.” She gazed longingly down the hills and tried to imagine how it would feel to finally go all the way. Perhaps today was the day. “Michael, could you do me a favor?”
He pushed out his lower lip. “You gonna get me into trouble the first week I’m home?”
“Naw, of course not. I just want to know if you could go to the bakery and get my father’s bread.”
“I thought that’s where we were going now?”
She spoke the words she kept to herself, the words that gave her a secret thrill. “Yeah, but I want to go all the way down.”
“Like I could stop you.” Then he relaxed his stance and shrugged. “Sure, I’ll go.”
“Don’t forget to tell Josie it’s for me or she won’t let you have it.”
“I won’t forget.”
“See you by my airy way.”
Antoinette tightened her skates and waved him off. The wind pushed her hair back and felt cool against her face. Nothing else compared to the feeling of being wide open and free on speed skates. She thought hard steel against the asphalt and wind buzzing in her ears was more exciting than racing down the hills on the bike.
Standing high on solid steel Antoinette jumped the curb and made the light on Fifth Avenue. Ignoring the blare of horns she weaved in and out of traffic. Her body curled for speed, she took the second hill as the houses, the trees, and pedestrians, all blurred in her peripheral vision.
As luck was on her side, she made the next light, and doing several spins across the double wide of Fourth Avenue, waved to cars halted for the red.
When she got to Third Avenue to make the turn towards the corner bar and back home, she saw a clear and empty road ahead. No traffic on Third Avenue.
She kept going!
Once across Third Avenue she continued towards her final destination. Her excitement grew as she thought of the possibility of skating to the end of the dock and screeching to a halt just before lunging off the dock into the Narrows.
Second Avenue was ghostly vacant for the middle of a work day. With a tickle of laughter, she did three more turns and headed for the docks.
Unfortunately, the side street off Second Avenue was cobblestone and she almost took a header.
She paused for a moment to enjoy the sight of two tugs entering the harbor, turned the corner, and skated over to the Trolley House. “Hey Tim! Can you drop me off on Third?”
“You bet I can. Hop on.”
Toni took the trolley to the far side of Third Avenue and skated the rest of the way. She spotted Michael standing in front of her airy-way, waiting. She raced faster, breathless, lest Carmela lean out of the window and see Michael holding the family bread.
“You been here long?”
“Naw, just got here. Whered’ya go?”
“I almost went straight into the bay, but the side streets over to the docks are still cobblestone and I couldn’t skate. Wow, I didn’t hit one light all the way! That was from Sixth town to Second without stopping. Wow!”
He poked her middle, mocking. “O h W o w. Ohhhhh.”
“Cut that out. It was great.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just jealous.”
They sat on the steps while Antoinette took off her skates.
“It’s late. Don’t you have to give your mom the bread?”
“I know. I just don’t want to go up tonight. I want to stay out and watch the sun go down and sit by the water and think about stuff.”
“You know? I think your mother dropped you on your head.”
“Yes, sometimes I think so too, Michael.” Carmela was leaning on the windowsill in Antoinette’s room just above their heads.
Antoinette leaned her head back, wiggled her fingers and grinned. “Hi Ma.”
“Don’t you hi me, young lady. Get up here now.”
She was on her feet in an instant. “Aw nuts.”
Michael looked worried. “You in trouble?”
“Naw, that’s just the way she talks.” She slung her skates over her shoulder and tucked the bread under her other arm. Tomorrow we go to the beach!”
“Yeah, see ya.”
And as always, they said in unison, “Not if I see you first!”
He asked me if I had grandchildren. I told him my son has three and my daughter was expecting, expecting the little bundle who arrived three weeks ago this Monday.
We exchanged retirement stories, promised to stay in touch, promised to hook up when he comes to Florida for his winter vacation.
We won’t. Not because we don’t want to … but maybe for the same reasons we look back and see things differently than the way they really happened. We would not want to ruin the magic of those few precious years.
Memories, so fleeting, never meant to be paired side by side with reality, memories we alter for the sake of our ego or to preserve those dreams we might have lost along the way to growing up.
Who was your best buddy?
Are you one of the few fortunate ones who keep in touch?
fOIS In The City