Monthly Archives: April 2011

Moving On Up

Shortly after we had evened up things with the Landlord on Bay 13th we turned our energies into buying a Brownstone on Bay 14th Street.  The owner was an elderly widow.  It was a two family house, right across from the elementary school and around the corner from relatives.  The place needed much work but the price was right for us.  We were in negotiations when I learned from Mrs. C, the elderly widow, that her daughter and her daughter’s husband and  family occupied the upstairs apartment.   We knew there was a tenant but had no idea that they were related to Mrs. C.   

The middle-aged daughter had two grown sons.  One who was out of the house and married and one twenty year old who still lived with his mother and father in the building.  It was the 20-year-old who we got to meet up close and personal.

Prior to going to contract we were taking one last walk through  with Mrs. C.  She was telling us about the beautiful roses that bloomed in the small Brooklyn backyard.  They were probably beautiful because they had a vicious dog that pooped all over the yard.  No one bothered to pick it up so there was tons of fresh fertilizer feeding the flowers.  We were still discussing the flowers  when her grandson, Bobby,  came storming into the apartment screaming at his grandmother.  “Are you going to give us half the money?  Are you?”

Mrs. C was a tough old lady.  She yelled back, “No and go to hell!

With that the level of his rage elevated to a pitch.  He picked up one of her dining room chairs and flung it through a back window.  “See if they want to buy it now?”  he shouted as he ran out of the apartment.  He never looked at us.  The vicious dog started to bark ferociously adding to the chaos.  It is as if we were watching a movie.  We were in the midst of it and untouched.Mrs. C didn’t even look shaken.  She told us not to worry the window would be repaired before we moved in. 

We went to contract with the proviso that the daughter and family would move out within three months or their rent would double.  About a month later we closed on the house.  I doubt if anyone realized it at the time but I was only 20 years old, an infant under the law. and my signature wasn’t worth the paper I wrote it on the day of closing.  In the long run it made no difference we made every mortgage payment until the day we sold that house.

Mrs. C’s family moved out within three months and the miserable grandson never looked us in the eye the entire time they were living in our building.

As for Mrs. C – she took off with her friend for Vegas the day after the closing.  I heard about a month later she contacted her family for some money to get home.

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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


Brooklyn III

We were notified by mail of where to go, Landlord and Tenant Court in downtown Brooklyn.  When we got there no announcement  was listed on the directory of what room we would be in, but after a brief  inquire of the lobby clerk we were directed  to a small court room.

Upon retrospect we should have known that something was odd as soon as we entered.  But we were really young.   The only people  in the room were the judge,  seated high behind his bench, Vincent, Lambagini’s  nervous attorney, and us.  There was no court officer, or stenographer.  No one sitting on the hard oak benches waiting their turn.  It was like we were all characters in a play standing in position until the curtain was drawn.    If you have ever been to Landlord/Tenant Court in Brooklyn you know there are usually hoards of people milling around, and benches inside the courtroom fully occupied as people waited impatiently to be called.  At these times agitation permeated the air.  Not so this day.

Our proceeding began at once.  The judge listened to our side of the story.  He asked one or two appropriate questions, and jotted down notes.  We told him of the conditions of the building and that it was being managed by Dominick of Dumb Realty.  We explained the lack of any handrail, no heat, and no repairs to the building in all the time we had been living there.  He asked if Dumb were the owners of the building.  Vincent promptly told him no.  The judge then ordered that we could not continue with the case until such a time that the owner of the building was present.  Vincent bolted out of his seat, and asked if he could approach the bench.  He rushed up to whisper into the judge’s ear.  By the expression on his honor’s lined face it was the first time he learned it was actually Carlo Lambagini who he was ordering to appear in his courtroom.  I can only assume he already knew that this hearing was a farce, but didn’t know how high up in the organization the building’s owner ranked.

The judge paled, cleared his throat, and nodded a few more  times.  Looking very official he informed us as soon as the building’s owner was notified that he must appear in court we would be sent notification of the new court date.  That was the last time we heard from Landlord/Tenant court on the law suit, to this day.

Dumb Realty didn’t collect rent from us for ten months after the court fiasco, which when added was the exact amount we had sued for.   Nor did they put heat in the building ,which we did and paid for ourselves.  After all was said and done the numbers worked out perfectly.  No loss no gain.

Carlo Lambagini came by a couple of times because he loved the smell of Italian gravy cooking on my stove, especially when my little old grandmother was visiting and stirring the pot.  She spoke to him in Sicilian of course, and he was duly respectful of her.

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Uncategorized


Brooklyn II

Everyone at Dumb Realty was in an uproar (change of name).  What audacity to sue them for my falling down the stairs.  Never mind that they would not supply the heating oil in the winter, which was supposed to be included in the rent,  or repair anything in the building.  We were kids playing at being adults, and should just take whatever was handed out.  Well we sued and that is when I found out that the building was owned by a high-ranking mafia made man.

In those days, honest police were not messed with and Jim was a young, honest, cop.  They didn’t need the aggravation of trying to strong arm us.  We were civilians.

We were invited to a bar on 18th Avenue and 86th Street to meet the owner of the building.  He was a handsome, tall older man, about 50 years of age or there abouts,  wearing the requisite back suit and a beautiful woman on his arm.  He was charming as only those types can be.  He smiled and bought us a drink all the while fondling the breast of his arm ornament, who was becoming more and more embarrassed in front of us.  She kept trying to wiggle away from him.  With that Carlo Lambagini says to her something in Italian.  He looks back at us and repeated in English, I told her to be a good girl.  That’s the moment when I won his heart – Or you’ll smack her in the face – I finished his translation.  His eyes widened – you speak Italian – I smiled sweetly, of course doesn’t everyone.  Better yet, Sicilian.

That’s when he told us the story about how he learned to play the tuba in reform school.  Warming to his subject, he took his arm away from around the relieved eye candy and began to relate some of his adventures as a boy all the while getting drunker and drunker.  Finally he blurted, I don’t care about the building, what is it to me?  I will give you the building.  That’s when his very sweaty lawyer came running over, Vincent, and the equally nervous, Dominick of Dumb Realty.   No, no Carlo, please you don’t mean that.  Vincent quietly whispered to us, you don’t know who this is.  You’d better back off.  Carlo was quite drunk and we didn’t get the building, but we did continue with the law suit.

To be continued.

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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


Brooklyn 1

Early in my marriage we lived in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  After the Bronx and Manhattan this was really the country.  First we lived in a mafia owned three apartment building on Bay 13th and then we bought a brownstone on Bay 14th.    I will change some names to protect the innocent and not so innocent.

We lived in the center apartment in a building that quickly became party central.  We all used a concrete backyard for song fests and bbqs.  It was about as wide as a three car garage.  The guy upstairs, Tony, played the guitar and we spent hours singing, House of the Rising Sun.  My aunt who was only a few years older than me lived on the first floor with her two young sons.  Her husband was a medic serving in Viet Nam.  Upstairs was Tony, his wife and three young children, and as I said Jim and I were sandwiched in the middle with our baby girl.

There was never an end to our parties.  We had seltzer delivered by the case.  It came in those clown like spray bottles.  You never knew if when someone called your name, and you opened the apartment door, if you were going to get squirted in the face.  I did a lot of squirting myself.  It got so out of control we eventually had to call a moratorium to seltzer.

Separating our building from the one next door was a driveway.  It was not unusual to get bombarded with a bag of water when walking down the driveway alley.  Everyone in the building was under twenty-nine years of age.  It was like a frat house.  One time the brother of the girl who lived upstairs drove into the driveway in his little convertible.  You guessed it!  His sister dumped a trash pail full of water right into his front seat.  What a shot.  We came in and out of each other’s apartment at all hours of the day and night.  Jim was the only one in the building who had a regular job, he was a Cop.  Everyone knew when he came home at four AM.    He worked steady 8 PM until 4 in the morning.  They could hear his ball of keys and flashlight jangling as he ran up the stairs.  Remember the days when you could work for eight hours and still run up the stairs?

The reason I mentioned that this was a mafia owned building was that it was barely maintained and there was no bannister on the hallway flight of stairs which was pretty steep.  One summer day I fell down these steps with my baby in my arms.  She did not get hurt but I broke my tail bone.  We had been having all kinds of fights with the realty company who was supposed to be maintaining the property.  I fell, and we sued.  That’s when all hell really broke loose.

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


Women Made of Steel

Long before feminism was a catch phrase there was a generation of women who had a core of steel.  These women came from Italy, Ireland, Germany, England, France, Africa, China etc.  Most were poor and didn’t speak the language of their new land.  They were Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim and they had a commonality, they were considered second class citizens by Anglo Americans that were already here and by the men they were married to.  Perhaps by all men who maintained the power.

They had no vote, no birth control,  generally had no money of their own, and barely any formal education.  Some were kept as chattel or brood mares.  Some were loved, but treated as pieces of fluff without a thought of value in their heads.

I remember my grandmother, born in 1898 Sicily, was always so proud that she could read Italian.  That was rare among those of her generation.  I would sit with her as she painstakingly read an Italian newspaper.  She would bother to translate for me.  Not that I was really interested in the what the newspaper was reporting, but it gave me a few moments to just sit with her.  She didn’t get these papers often because they were a luxury. 

Her ability to read was not a factor in the only jobs that were open to women of her time.  She arrived in America packed in steerage, pregnant and with another babe in her arms, my mother.  My grandfather had sent for her as European men did in those days.  They first came alone to work and find a place for their family to live when they arrived in the US.  I don’t remember too much about him as he died when I was a year old.

These immigrants, these women of steel, worked, cooked, cleaned and raised children.  They washed clothes for their big families on wooden washboards.  (I was promised the best wooden washboard when I got married)   During the depression mothers were usually the last  to eat.  My mother told me there were times when a pound of macaroni was made for the family of eight.  When they asked my grandmother why she wasn’t joining them at the table, she would say, “I ate in the kitchen”.  I guess everyone knew that wasn’t so, but it was easier to not press her on it.  I’m told my grandfather took work where and when he could find it.  Any student of history will tell you it was not easy to come by.

The women with their determination kept families together.  They also took back-breaking  jobs when they could and left young children at home alone.  Sometimes asking a neighbor to look in on them.  Seven year olds watched their younger siblings.  Think of what you would expect of a seven-year old today.

Those tight tenement rooms where the family lived, sparkled because floors were washed on hands and knees and the wash was hung on clothes lines in the alleys between the buildings.  Windows shone because women washed them inside and out, sometimes at peril of their own lives.  Seeing my grandmother sit on the ledge of the window, hanging more than half way out in order to wash the outside panes never frightened me then.  That’s just what she did.  It was routine.  In retrospect, there she was hanging on to those old wooden framed windows which could have given way at any time.  She would have plummeted down four stories to the cement sidewalk below.  Good thing she was only about 4’9″  and weighed approximately 90 pounds.

Men found worked where they could and also sought diversions from their tired, worn, wives with any opportunity presented to them.  They weren’t bad men, but they had very little regard for their women.  It was truly an age of poverty and ignorance.

My grandmother taught me to always squirrel away a few dollars when you could, because you never knew when more hard times were on the way.  She taught me to haggle with the butcher, how to pick out a good chicken before they rang its neck, and to manage to do things for myself.  You made up for lack of physical strength with brain power.  She was a fairly young widow as was my mother who became a widow at the age of 39.  They leaned on each other and made a decent life for myself and my sister. 

They were typical of so many women of that error.  Hardened by want.  Determined to make the best life they could.


Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


An Enviable Education

In the years between marriage and the end of my lunch room lady career I had many interests and jobs.   None of these jobs and interests earned me much money, but they afforded me the education I had never pursued with formal schooling.  I played a lot of hookey as a girl and I spent the stolen hours in the metropolitan museum of art.   I was in the museum so much that the guards  assumed I belonged there.  I always carried a pen and pad.  The props I carried must have convinced them that I was doing a school project and belonged on the marble benches staring at the works of old Masters.  When the weather was nice I  spent time sailing on New York Harbor aboard the stately Staten Island Ferry .  It only cost a nickel one way.  Hence my love of people watching.   Standing at the rail with the wind in my hair, who was better than me?  Certainly not Rose on the bow of the Titanic.

When I was politely asked to leave Catholic High School in about my sophomore year I already had a good basic education.  I entered Central Commercial in my junior year and learned the skills that would aid me in making a living, typing, filing and talking to people on the phone.   Here was where I discovered my love of books.  Central Commercial was a black board jungle type of school, but you could learn if you wanted to.  I was in English class one day when this older very tired female teacher was trying to keep the class in some kind of order.  She was failing at this.  At one point near the end of the period she told us we were to do a book report.  I felt so sorry as I witnessed her frustration at the chaos around her that I went up to her and asked if she could suggest a book for me.  The women lit up and spent time choosing something.  As it happened I read it and found that I loved it.  It was a Sherlock Holmes novel.  That woman changed my life.  Thank you teach!!

 Central Commercial was located on 42nd street between second and third avenue.  What a place to go to high school.   The heart of New York City.  When the fire alarm would go off you walked down 42nd street to get away from the school.  This was practice for a true emergency.  If it happened to go off when you were in gym, you strutted down the street in your gym uniform with stockings attached to garters, gym socks and sneakers.  No one ever bothered to take off their stockings and garters in gym class.  It took too much time.  You walked to the applause of young fireman and police who responded to the alarm.  It was really fun.

This avant garde education made me truly street smart and able to think on my feet.  Because Central Commercial was coed and multi racial, I learned that people were just like me no matter their color or religion.  I was able to talk freely with everyone and for some reason no matter what gang or prejudice the young people carried I was never challenged and readily accepted in all the groups.


Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


Working on the rack

I worked in the school cafeterias, elementary, middle school, and high school for a couple of years and I learned three things, I don’t like middle school children, I wasn’t made for manual labor, and I really enjoyed speaking to and learning from older women.

I began to recognize the beauty of lined faces and see how optimism or pessimism  imprints itself on one’s face.  I saw how burdens of life either cause you to bend over, round your shoulders and slow your gate way before your age may warrant it.  Or they can cause you to stand taller, pump your arms while you walk, head erect, and lengthen your stride.  It was all in the way you handled those burdens and if you had someone to share the load with.

There was one older married woman in one of the schools who had a doll and teddy bear collection.  While not my thing, this woman practically vibrated on the day she was expecting one of her orders to arrive.  She ordered these things by mail.  It gave her so much pleasure.  The lesson to me was, do what you must to keep joy in your life.  This hobby of hers did not harm anyone and it brought her joy.

You wouldn’t believe that peeling a fifty pound bag of onions could be enjoyable, but when you worked the high school kitchen that was the volume you dealt with.  The high school did a lot of cooking for the other schools in the district.  Peeling these onions was made easy by standing on the other side of the huge bag from a 65 year old woman.  We were chit chatting.  Many people in the kitchen didn’t care for this woman because she was stern and had an old fashioned work ethic.  In other words, she expected you to earn your money while you were there.

It was with trepidation that I joined her at the huge bag of onions.  I thought this is going to be such a drag, but being me I determined to make the best of the situation and pulled out one of my tools of life, I got her to talk about herself.  This is a talent I apparently always had and have honed it through the years.  She was so interesting and told me about her life as a child which if I remember right was in the late 20s .  That’s when I discovered my love for recent history came not from a book but from the mind and voice of someone I could speak with in person.

The kitchen was like being Alice in Wonderland, or in an episode of I Love Lucy.  The dish washer was 8 feet long – it was supposed to be manned by two people.  Most often one person got stuck doing it.  As the trays came through a small window, you would empty them, load them in a rack,  push the rack on to the conveyor belt, do a couple more, then run down to the other end.  Then you would unload the steamy hot trays before the next rack you had loaded came through.  Next you would run back to the window and start the process all over again.  This had to be done very quickly or you would have pile ups.

Once a week, you had to break down this monster machine with its billion parts, and hose it out with hot water.  Sometime you would hit a wall and it would splash right back at you.  By the end of the shift you were soaking wet and your white, nylon, uniform was totally see through.  Naturally there would be some school janitor leaning on his broom taking this all in and grinning at you.

I won’t bother telling you about the pots you stirred with an oar or those that you practically got in to clean.  The US Army mess had nothing on this kitchen!

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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

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