Soapbox, Sept. 1

Following a reader’s request, we are reprinting a Town & Village Soapbox column that originally ran on September 1, 2011. The column, submitted by Peter Cooper Village resident Joe McGrath, details his memories of an early Stuyvesant Town.


Town & Village encourages readers to submit their own columns for “The Soapbox,” which features a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net or Town & Village, editor, 20 W. 22nd St., 14th floor, New York, NY, 10010.

Nobody asked me about the old days, but…

Nobody asked me, but I miss the good ol’ days in Stuyvesant Town as a wide-eyed, red headed/freckled faced youth and teen. Where has the time gone? Man, do I miss:Egg-creams and lime rickeys in Fradels on Avenue B. “Schlepping out” around 8 p.m. to get my Dad a pint of hand packed ice cream at Daltons and the Daily News Night Owl newspaper.

“Pensie-Pinkie” and “Spaldeens” at Jo-Jo’s Toy Store on 14th Street.
Being legally allowed to play in Oval grass… only with major snowfall. During those snowfalls, knowing that all security officers, gardeners, handymen, plumbers and porters would be called to duty to shovel overnight and salt ground to ensure our safety. I can still hear the shovels! Non-negotiable… done with pride and success.

Mission sodas (specifically orange) at Ralph’s on First Avenue and 16th. Vinnie loved us!

Our Annual Little League Award Ceremony at McKenna’s Restaurant on First Avenue. And great teams like the Shamrock Cleaner Shamrocks and Gristede Comets.

Speaking of First Avenue… man does the neighborhood miss that Great Gin Mill and Restaurant! And if you are old enough, it was your or your Dad’s hangout — Freddy’s!

The best grilled cheese on the Lower East Side at Mindy’s, right here on 14th Street between Avenue A and First… just two doors down from you got it. Horn and Hardart!

Buying baseball cards in Woolworth’s or “Five and Dime” Store (now the spiffy looking rental office) on First Avenue and 15th (later Jan’s). They had the ones with see-through wrapper, so at least you could peek at the first and last card. And please, let there be a Willie Mays card in the middle.

Having at least one water-balloon fight back in the old days.
And of course, I just know that you had a “black and white” at one of the Town Rose Bake Shops (14th between A and B, or First Avenue and 13th).

Hitting our teenage years (legally of course), and gaining entry to Guy Fawkes on Wednesday nights for 25-cent beer night, and Nurses Night… They drank free! Yikes.

I know I’m really reaching, but who can forget “Bottle Cap Baseball” developed by a local politician’s son and one of first local shows on Manhattan Cable TV? The game was played similar to “scully” and had its birth in Playground 12.

Manhattan Cable TV (now Time Warner Cable), sending the great Marty Glickman to our Con Ed Field to broadcast the Majors Little League Championship Game. Yes, Marty Glickman!

And boy what I do I have to do to get my hands on the board game “Challenge The Yankees,” and play a few hours against my friend Timbo…like our days after a Little League tilt…D’Agostino Cardinals vs. New Star All Stars. He was always the Yankees and back in the mid 60’s, they didn’t always win!

And where did the New Star Deli ever go? Wasn’t it just a few years ago, where we went there for our Yoo-Hoo’s and those funky little wax bottles filled with some sugary drink that could not have been good for anyone?

I know if you’re a neighborhood regular you had to run into such icons like Ramon, Todd, Lester and Eddie Panic the deliveryman.
Getting your favorite slice and should I mention that it was 15 cents? Prince of Pizza on Avenue B, or Angelos (dba C&A) next to Immaculate Conception on 14th? Great “combover” Angelo. Or maybe Nunzios on First Avenue, and wasn’t Nunzio like missing three out of his five fingers, but he wasn’t shy making the pizzas!

“Regular or a Trim” at Andrew’s Barber Shop. I always preferred Phil…second chair in! Kind of resembled Paulie “Walnuts.”
And let’s never forget the large Woolworths on 14th… and that “hair-netted” wonder working the lunch counter. Please don’t tell me that I ever had the Chicken- A-La-King.

Mouseys on 13th and C…..and the infamous Ivan and Ida…and such characters that seemed that they could come right out of a sitcom or a horror movie… Butchie, Annette, Louie and owners Kenny and Billy. And oh the many games of Strike Ninety or Flash we played on the shuffleboard bowling machine with Richie (who is so deeply missed) and great friends Jimmy A, Ricky, Danny, Mike and Tim. I can still smell the sawdust! And unfortunately, the urinals!

The Stewart Sandwich machine in Mouseys too, serving such delicacies like the “Torpedo Hero”. Yummy.

The Corner House, Dintys, Dublin Castle, Posh Place and Allens.
Hopefully you were able to be a member of the Knights of Columbus, whereby at one time, we had two of the most successful and competitive Councils in NYC… Ave Maria on 14th and B and Vera Cruz on First Avenue and 22nd. Raising money for charities, while forming lifelong friendships and softball battles that are still talked about today 30 years later! Priceless.

And if you did frequent Ave Maria on 14th and B… you had to have stopped by Ya-Ya’s Diner right? Chee-burger…chee- burger….chips and rotating apple pies in the window.

That was a great block in the day, you know (14th between B and C), a block that Town & Village originally called home. And what was right upstairs? The bigger than life Stuyvesant bowling alley… that somehow turned into a bingo parlor for many years. Blasphemy!

The recreation department’s yearly summer trips to Alley Pond Park in Queens? At the time it seemed like it was in the Hamptons, not Queens. And first time this city slicker ever went fishing…yup, caught guppies in a cup!

Moe’s Sporting Goods on Avenue A between 12th and 13th. The “real” Moe’s… way before “gotta go to Moe’s” came out. What a dump…but he would find it for you. Mickey Mantle glove… here it is. Stan Mikita hockey stick… got it! Chicago Shoe Skate ball bearings and wheel truck… here it is. Moe Frankel… one of a kind!

All of the Christmas trees in the Oval. Not just one gigantic tree… and those great wooden ornaments like Woody Woodpecker.

Please tell me you were lucky enough to have your parents take you to Freedom Land (now remarkably Co-op City) or perhaps Palisades Park (“Ride The Coaster, get cool by the waves in the pool.”) or Rockaway Playland!

Oh yeah, forgot one more great place on 14th and B, right under Knights of Columbus… China Boy Restaurant (later Tai Pei). Back when we had somewhat large/sit down Chinese Restaurants, unlike tiny storefront/take out joints now. And the magic of walking through the beaded doorway to restrooms.Turkey Bowl Battles in Playground 9 and Playground 5. Freezing cold Hockey League games at Playground 7, and trying to score on goalies named Whitey, Gio and Teddy. Turkey Trots organized by my friend Bubba and still going strong over 30 years later.

And in closing, sitting down at the East River (now Stuyvesant Cove) watching the boats as a youth. The bench where we hung is now right next to the sign memorializing one of our many heroes from 9/11, FDNY Captain Paddy Brown of Stuy Town. As we close in on the 10th anniversary of that horrible day, please remember Paddy and all of our men and women who paid the ultimate price that day.

Now that’s my “Stuy Town,” my neighborhood…where friendships are made, fostered and still treasured a half a century later! I’m sure that I missed a whole bunch.

So if you ever “had your name taken,” bombarded anyone with “itchy balls” (round cone type objects that fell from our trees), or bought a “whammy” off of Joe the Good Humor Man, you know where I’m coming from!

Seems like only yesterday.

9 thoughts on “Soapbox, Sept. 1

  1. When our grandchildren reminise about ‘the good ol’ days: the may say. ‘You know my parents told me that years ago there were three printed daily newspapers printed every day in New York City. I’ve never seen one but, I’d sure like to see one.’

  2. I lived on 14th and B for the first 30 years of my life starting in 1963. I remember many of these restaurants and locations. Your description of China Boy/Taipei is spot on (I remember the back hallway/bathroom walls were a vicious pointy stucco, as my older brother once pushed me into a wall back there and i came away scraped and bleeding). And who could forget Jo-Jo’s and Moe’s?

    I must try to rattle your cage a little and remind you of one of my favorite places in the area… That little Bagel/Bialy shop between B and A…near Woolsworth’s… don’t remember if it had a name, but there was a funny little guy who worked there with googly eyes and very thick glasses. He was always covered in flour. Not only could you get bialys and bagels there, but Onion Disks, Bulkas, and other unique baked goods.

    • Hey Tricia! Happy New Year. Thank you for the kind words. Believe it or not this all started after some clown questioned your brother Jimmy’s validity of the “good ol days” around here. Had to back up an “Old Rec Teacher” and neighbor!….Stay well…Joey.

  3. I do know where you are coming from having graduated ICS ’61. The Lime Rickey’s and Cherry Cokes and Lemon Cokes were best at Sunkenbergs (sp) on First Avenue. It was Cushman’s Bakery next to Fradel’s before Ya-Ya’s. There were three in the hey-day. Millie’s – Cushman’s and Town Rose all within a block of each other. The back of China Boy was next to 604 East 14th with a back yard. Years later I always wondered if all the cats that swarmed around the back entrance to China Boy ever made it to the tables. I believe the game was scullsy with an ‘s’ sound not scully and we melted the wax into the bottle caps from heat that came up through the street vents. I worked the Prince of Pizza on 14th / B shortly after it opened making the dough and sauce and cutting the cheese in the basement on that place. I wrote a short story in ’97 about the opening of THE PRINCE in ’57 if you are interested. I stocked shelves, delivered groceries and worked the cash registers at Safeway on 14th between A & B and the Gristede’s on First Avenue. I use to watch the Town & Village Paper, Ave Maria Council, Arrow Trucking and I believe the Jewish War Veterans players a notch above Little League in a four team Pony league along the East River Ball parks in the Spring. They were my friends. My best friends were from all over Stuyvesant Town. I joined Ave Maria in ’72 when I was discharged. I delivered groceries to the homes all along the Oval and up to the ones across from Murphy’s Park on 17th Street. When they came to the Prince of Pizza and I was behind the register I made sure that all of them had that extra Coke. Someone from Stuy Town without any money was given a slice and I would put the 15 cents in the register to cover it. I used to help the people from Fradel’s unload the morning papers and cut the cords when they came off the trucks. In those days you had the Daily News, NY Times, NY Post, Journal American, Daily Mirror etc. and I got a 50 cents for an hour’s work early each morning. Those 50 cents got me a milk and English muffin at Horn & Hardart before hitting the 14th street playground at Immaculate Conception. I lived in the first building on Avenue B off 14th #223 on the East side of the avenue, directly across from Chick Seigelman’s (sp) Oval Bar & Grill in a half railroad flat with my brother and my parents straight through my years at LaSalle Academy. What I remember clearly was that when I came home as a USMC Captain after Vietnam I was still not able to dribble a basketball with my friends in Playground Nine. Ed Mackey, a class act working in the ‘housing office’ at the time got this officer a flat at 12 Oval in ’72 when I was discharged after five years in the Corps and I was then able to take my young son to Playground 12 and put him in the swings. Ed got me the flat in weeks and pushed me ahead on the list. He was one of the playground ‘officers’ who made sure I didn’t get in back in the day. Ed knew what it meant and he went above and beyond. It was only then could I enter a playground. When we moved to a two bedroom I was finally able to play paddle tennis outside my flat at 400 East 20th in Playground One. I’m not bitter at all and the memories of this 65 year old are as sharp as anyone else so don’t misread this however all the stores your mentioned and the places you “admired” – we were the children of immigrants working there and although we served the community we could never play paddle tennis in Playground 5 w/my friends from St. Emeric’s or skate hockey in Playground 6 or 10. We couldn’t dribble the courts in 9 or 11 and never could we get into the touch football games in those playgrounds during the fall. We stood outside the gates / the fences. We deserved better. We gave you those memories from our establishments and the Stuy Town community gave us the business to keep us going and ensure our jobs – for this I am truly grateful. Happy New Year.

    • Hey Joe, thanks for the feedback. And as a LaSalle Alum (1974), we probably share some memories from there as well. “White Cloud”, Brother Andrew, Brother Leo etc. I knew Mr. Mackey well and am friendly with two of his sons, Kevin and Eddie and their late brother Pat. And you probably know, I am a PGK at the now defunct Ave Maria Council. Believe it or not I have more memories filed away and Town and Village has asked me for more…so stay tuned!!

  4. Dear Joe,
    Great reminder of so many places that bring us back to our youth. Memories of good friends, good times including the time that our families signed us up to go on a trip with a church in Yorkville. Some kid was picking on me and you came to my rescue. After that I nicknamed you “The great protector”. Bet you forgot that and wish I did. Thanks for the memories!

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