I had so much fun going to the Drive in Movie Theater with my Uncle Frank yesterday. When he dropped us off at home he told my mother that he will come to visit again in two to three weeks and he would like our family to spend a weekend at his home in New Jersey. He said that he will call us ahead of time so that we could pack with a change of clothing and pajamas for our weekend sleep over. He explained that he would pick us up in his new Buick drive our family to his home in New Jersey and drive us back to Brooklyn Sunday night. I am so excited about going to Uncle Frank’s home and spending time with his family. The last time we went to New Jersey was over six months ago. It was like a big party with lots of food, wine and all kinds of desserts, we played baseball, picked wild strawberries, went hunting for frogs in a brook that ran through his property, I even played the piano. All the adults sat around smoking cigars or cigarettes they were eating, drinking homemade wine and telling family stories.
The air was nice and clean there, not like the smog we suck in in Brooklyn from the trucks and factories all around our neighborhood. The only smoke I sucked in New Jersey was the smoke from the camp fire we made late at night to roast marshmallows and light up the Cattails we found growing in the woods. When we lit up the Cattail or punk it would burn with a slow glow to it and the kids would pretend they were smoking a cigar. I asked my sister, who seems to know everything, about the Cattail plant and why do kids call it a punk when it was lit up and glowing like a cigar. She told me, “well, the Cattail plant you’re talking about is called a Typha plant and it grows like a weed all over the world. People use this plant for decoration, some people cook and eat it, others use it for building material to making a hut or some people weave the leaf into baskets or burn it like incense to keep insects away. The kids who burn it and call it a punk is just a slang term they made up, pretty much like a nickname. I think the punk word started when they lit a slow burning Cattail so they could light fireworks one after another instead of using a bunch of matches.”
Wow, that was more complicated than I thought it would be. Big deal, so now I know what a Cattail plant is. When we finally went to bed all the kids slept together and told stories before falling asleep. It was like a vacation because I could never do all this stuff in our dirty cobble stone streets or the vacant lots in Brooklyn. Uncle Frank left late last night for his trip back to New Jersey. It’s going to seem like forever now that I have to wait about three weeks before he comes back to take our family to his home. I think the wait is going to make me crazy.
I went out this morning looking for someone or anyone I can tell about my trip to the Drive in Movie in my Uncle Frank’s new Buick. I couldn’t find any of the guys hanging out on the corner to talk to so I walked back to Columbia Street and noticed Pick-Tail Joanie sitting on her stoop holding something to her ear. Oh well, it’s better than no one, so I went over to see what she was doing. When I got close to her I could hear her singing, she didn’t notice me at first so I said. “Hey Joanie, what the hell do you have stuck to your ear?” She kept singing like she didn’t notice me standing right in front of her. So I yell out, “HEY JOANIE! Wake up girl.” I could see that she was surprised to see me standing there. She jumped and dropped whatever it was she was holding on her lap. I wrinkle my nose bend down and take a closer look at this small box she dropped because I could hear music coming out of this little thing and I say to Joanie, “What the hell is this thing?” She says, “Listen Pepino, next time, don’t yell at me. You scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t hear you to begin with because I was listing to music from my new portable radio.” I say, “This little thing is a radio? How in the hell can they do that? How can they get those big radio tubes into this little box? Where is the electric wire to light it up? How did you plug it into the eclectic outlet? How do you turn it on? How do you change stations?”
I was amazed; I couldn’t believe that this little box was a radio. Even before I finished my questions Joanie was laughing so hard that tears were coming out of her big brown eyes. All she could say was, “It’s not from outer space shit head. My Dad gave me this portable radio for my birthday stupid. You don’t have to plug it into an outlet for electric power because it works on battery power. It’s almost like a car radio but much smaller.
I don’t know how they squeezed all those radio tubes in it but as you can hear it works just fine. It has an off and on tuner and you can also adjust the volume with the same switch. The bigger dial here you can turn to find a radio station you like. So that’s the story shit head, do you have any more questions?” Now, I’m standing in front of Joanie with my mouth wide open. I see it with my eyes but I still can’t believe I hear music coming out of this little box called a portable radio. I thought that my Drive in Movie story was great but this portable radio is way better. I want a radio like that one too.
I sit next to Joanie on her stoop and she turns off the radio. She looks at me and listens when I start talking to her about the shit that’s going on in the Red Hook Projects, The possible gang war with the Puerto Ricans from the Bronx, the shoes hanging all over the place, the Zip Gun Roger is making, my Uncle Frank’s visit and the Drive in Movie. She is so interested in everything I said to her. She put her hands together looked forward and said, “Wow, I don’t know what to say, the thing about the projects scares me because we have to go to school with these guys.
But at least you had some fun at the Dive in Movie with your Uncle Frank. You have to put the gang war thing out of your mind for now so why don’t you have breakfast with me and my father at the Woolworth Cafeteria this morning?” The last thing I expected was Joanie’s breakfast invitation. I didn’t know that Woolworth the famous five and dime had a Cafeteria. I was a loss for word but I had a reflex action and said. “Sure, I would love to go to Woolworth with you but I’m flat broke and even if I had the money wouldn’t know how to get there.” Joanie started to laugh again and said “Don’t worry about that, my Dad, Bruno, will take us to Woolworth in his new Hot Rod and he has enough money to buy us breakfast.” Holy shit, I suddenly got this chill running up and down my spine. If I make a wrong move Bruno could break me in two with one hand. I’m more afraid of Bruno than facing three Puerto Ricans gang members charging at me with baseball bats. With my voice trembling I say, “Oh, oh, okay I aaam veeery haaappy to goooo with yoooou.” I thing she could hear that I wasn’t thrilled about having breakfast with her father. She held my hand and said, “Don’t be scared my father is a pussy cat.”
As soon as Joanie finished talking, Bruno steps out of the house with all his muscles, killer bike tattoos and stands directly above us. He spots me sitting next to his daughter, and says, “Hey baby, are you ready to go? Please don’t tell me that this shit head is horning in on our breakfast just like in horned in when we went to the Automat a couple of weeks ago?” Joanie responds “Come on daddy, why can’t I take a friend with me? Remember the dog sitting he did for you? He was there when we needed him to take care of Joy, right?” He grabs the huge key ring off his belt and says, “Okay, okay, it looks like I’ll be paying for him walking our dog for the rest of my freaking life. Let’s go, I’m hungry.” We all walk together around the corner to Columbia Street. Bruno walks up to a wooden gate on the sidewalk and unlocks a padlock, takes the chain off the doors and swings the gates open. I look in the lot and I see Bruno’s new Hot Rod sitting there with a paint job that gleams like a mirror. Holy shit, I thought Uncle Frank’s new Buick was something special. But Bruno’s Hot Rod is like I died and went to heaven, his new car is beautiful. We all get in the car, Joanie sit in the front with her father and I sit in the back smelling the new leather seats.
Bruno starts the engine and we rumble over the cobble stone streets up Hamilton Avenue to Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street. He parks the car and we walk about a block to a new Woolworth. We sat at the counter, Bruno, Joanie and me. I wanted to order everything on the menu, but I waited and followed Joanie’s lead. Bruno ordered Stake and Eggs, Potatoes, Toast and Coffee Black. Joanie selected Scrambled Eggs with Bacon with a glass of milk and I did the same. All the food was delicious. Me and Joanie finished first and while Bruno was still eating. We got off our stools and we walked around the store looking at all the stuff they have on display. I don’t know how they can keep track of all this shit. Woolworth is so clean that I felt that I could wonder around the place for hours. Then I hear Bruno calling out in a very loud voice. “Hey girl! Where the hell are you? Let’s get out of this place. I have to meet a guy about a guy screwing up our collections.” We rushed over to meet him. All of us walked over to the car and drove home. When we got home it was still early. I thanked Bruno and Joanie for treating me to breakfast at Woolworth and I told them that I’m always ready to help out with the dog whenever they need me.
We said goodbye and I walked to our hang out on Hick Street to find my friends.