Robert Klein

Remembers His New York Roots…
                                                                        

            We lived on Decatur Avenue, between Gun Hill Road and 211th Street in the Bronx.  Right next to Woodlawn Cemetery.  The bad boys would play ring-a-levio there.  Not me – I played stickball against the cemetery wall.

 

            And we’d go to see batting practice at Yankee Stadium.  The players were TV celebrities.  Oh God, just to see the grain of their skin when I could get close enough!  I remember the thrill of looking at the back of Mickey Mantle’s neck – a real human being who seemed larger than life. 

 

            On Fordham Road, east of the Grand Concourse, there was a cafeteria with wonderful tuna sandwiches and a lame man with a built-up shoe who gave out the tickets…

 

            We lived near Luigi’s Restaurant, the place where Pacino killed the police captain in “The Godfather.” It was underneath the El, and the train noise was part of the scene.  Luigi’s was my very first Italian restaurant – pre-pizza. I used to eat spaghetti and meat balls. That was a real treat.

 

            We played a lot of ball, and I remember the smell of flowers and weeds and dog droppings in the vacant lots where we played.  My mother would be constantly inspecting my sneakers for you-know-what when I came into the house…

 

            Christmas was always magical because when I was nine or 10, I’d take the D train to meet my father at Herald Square during lunch hour. He was a textile salesman.  We’d go to Macy’s to look at the toys.  Christmas season was very exciting, but my favorite day of the year was – the day of deliciousness, the day of beauty – the last day of school in June.  I was good in school – at P.S. 94 and J.H.S. 80 – but it was incredible drudgery…

 

            There was no privacy. We had one bathroom for four people. I didn’t’ even have my own room.  I slept on a Castro in the living room.  We lived on the sixth floor, and I always wanted to say, “Mom, I’m going out” not “Mom, I’m going down.”

 

            In warm weather, you’d hear the sound of grown-ups talking noisily in the street. I remember the tinkle of the ice-cream guy. All the mothers threw down money to their children.  Mine loved me, so she put it in a paper bag and let it float down gently.

                                                                       

                                                   ~ As told to Jane Wollman Rusoff