The Fight that Never was.

Surviving a brain tumor might seem paramount to many. Surviving high school is something many never live to tell. However, for myself, the challenges that often followed were often traumatizing. It was often the changes and adjustments I’d have to make later that proved to be the toughest. Though we’re talking a lifetime ago, I still remember that follow up visit to my doctor when the surgeries and treatment were done. I recall going through the ordeal with him while going over some C-A-T scans and being told how lucky I was to have survived. Then came to bad news about how I needed to restrain from the sports loved, which meant no more baseball, hockey, soccer, and above all, fighting, explaining that even one blow to the head could kill me. What else was a kid to do? Wear a fitted helmet for the rest of my life? Maybe an iron robot suit. I might have sucked at basketball and football., but damn, I still loved boxing, had a nasty left hook, and had made the all-star team with my little local league the year before.
High school turned out to be quite a challenge. While I wisely chose a school close to my home that had its share of older friends that looked out for me in varying degrees, I soon found new people who, for whatever reason, designated me as a target.
Just as the bell rang and I could see our teacher Mr. G steps away from the door. I made my move leaping from my desk, gripping the front of his and flipped it over with him in it. “No, Motherfucker, we’re going to do this right now.” the combination of the look on the kid’s face and the alarm in which our teacher entered the class served as proof of perfect timing during the most desperate of times. Though my hastily devised plan didn’t give me the protection that cooling my jets during a lasting after school would have. It scared the fight out of my opponent. Like my mother always told me and my father would go on to add. “If you think you can’t win, make them think you’re crazy and capable of anything.” The Fight-1.jpg
While no further words exchanged between myself and my aggressor, his previous call to meet him after school spread throughout the hallways, cafeteria, and gymnasium long before the final bell concluding the school day rang.
Though the walk from the school doors to the buses and trains blocks away were never lonely ones. It felt as if the entire school was heading in the same direction and ultimate destination that was the IHOP parking lot where the fight was to take place.  As the crowd grew and began to create a physical circle, my older friend Jimmy took his school ring off and placed it on mine. ‘Put this in his eye. You got this.’ I remember taking some deep breathes and mentally devising a plan based loosely around the countless other fights I had before. Only this time, my focus was more on survival than winning.
While I can’t recall if I thought of what that doctor had told me about what the chances of a blow to head killing me were, but I’m pretty sure it crossed my mind. As the minutes passed and the crowd began to disperse, it became apparent that this clown wasn’t going to show. Perhaps he forgot, maybe I convinced him that I was, indeed, crazy. I guess I’ll never know though we would cross paths the next day and many other times during our tenure at Monsignor Mc Clancy. We would never again speak. Though others might confront the aggressor, knowing full well that he would have probably hand me my ass, I took that little victory and kept it packed away for another day. Just as I appreciate my Dad for teaching me how to fight my mother’s lesson of making your opponent think you’re crazy and capable of anything might have been my saving grace. Thanks, Mom.

Someone to Watch Over Me

Some of my earliest memories involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.Waztch (1 of 1)

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything regarding my own experience. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

Stories that involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I could never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

Heroes of Another Kind.

Having positive role models and heroes are very important when growing up and forming your moral compass. As one who didn’t have very many adult male role models to look up to. I often found leadership and guidance in older friends. Looking back to my childhood, I was fortunate in that I had many older friends to look up to and depend on for the guidance and reassuring that a stoop session or kick in the ass that a not much older, but somehow wiser head could offer.
This morning I was informed that my old friend Jimmy had passed due to a heart attack.

Though I had only reconnected about ten years ago at his fortieth birthday celebration and shortly after at his brother Frank’s funeral, I felt that getting to see both of them and thank both of them for the guidance and support they often provided. While neither Jimmy or Frank understood or remembered the times they went the extra mile to keep me out of the line of fire. I remembered every instance and episode with detail.

I initially met Jimmy and Frank on the corner of ninety-third street and thirty-fifth avenue on the steps that led to Blessed Sacrament Church.
It was where we’d meet to catch the school bus that would deliver us to day camp in nearby Whitestone. Though it would be a few months before the start of the third grade and my inevitable transfer to Blessed Sacrament School. Though at the time, a typical classroom of school was often a Kickstarter when it came to friendship. I credit Marvel Comics and Stan Lee as the common interest that ignited our first, second, and third conversations. Those comic book trading sessions led to a long-lasting friendship that would follow through elementary, high school, and beyond.

Cortes (1 of 1).jpg

No matter the situation. Whether it be a fistfight with a family member of the C.C. Boys or a random street fight, Frank or Jimmy would always be there for crowd control or to make sure it remained a fair fight. A few years later, after being hospitalized with a brain tumor, Frank traveled from Queens to New York City, where I was hospitalized to see if I needed anything. I never shared that with anyone, but it meant a lot to me.

So, with a considerable amount of respect, I say goodbye to another childhood friend and urge anyone who has or had someone that, in one way or another, had a positive influence on you. Find them and thank them though they might not remember. It will more likely have a positive effect on both parties. Thanks again, Frank. Thanks, Jimmy. You both left a positive footprint in my life.

More about Frank

Haunted Memories

By the time I was seven, I was finally enjoying some of the freedom I so craved. With my parents about to divorce, I bounced from my mother to my father and on to my grandmother. Being that my parents had worked different shifts,’ my mom was a 9-5 secretary and my dad working as 3-11 since I was born. I spent most of my early years with my baby sitter and her family of two boys and an older sister. By the age of seven, I became schooled in many of the pockets and corners of my neighborhood. While there were several parks and ball fields within reach, you might think I’d be found climbing monkey bars or holding onto a swing as I launched into the air.

Left Behind-42

Two things I did enjoy from time to time. However, the sudden need for housing and the new and bursting real estate market provided all the excitement a kid could want or even handle. The first one just happened to be on the way home from school. With there would be a bunch of kids, many I called friends or knew from the neighborhood already hanging out inside just outside of the wood panels and fences marked “No Trespassing.” There would always be an irresistible draw to join in and maybe journey farther within than the older kids.

On one particularly memorable day, some of the older kids started to throw a football around. Perhaps since they were older or I never quite got into throwing the pigskin around, I started heading home. Matthew went long on a pass and fell about two floors to the rubble below. I still remember the moment, the complete shock that left everyone’s expression in a frozen state. I had seen people die on TV and the movies before, but this was very, very different. I still remember the blood, the concrete pieces in his hair, and around his face and that frozen look that said: “I won’t be coming back in the squeal.” The next day, the news of Matthew’s accident reported over the school’s loudspeaker. Though he had not died immediately, he remained vegetated until his heart gave out a few days later. Strangely enough, I always felt his mom. The secretary at the school we attended and the two I later went to, knew I was there when that horrible accident happened. And while I didn’t understand why she was always so hard on me then. These days, I wish there was something I could have said or done something to comfort her during that time.

Escape to Tarzan Island

1970 Plymouth Valiant 2After my Father wrecked or sold ever car he owned. He began using his Mother Veronica’s decade old, beat up car to get from A to B and not much further. The trunk was so dirty that your hands would instantly turn black once you unlocked it. The seats were torn and tattered and the floorboards were often covered with debris and weeks worth of empty fast food containers. Regardless, we were able to fit my Father’s 6’4 frame, our dog, myself and up to eight kids piled up in the backseat. The Hawkins brothers Keith, Petey and M.J., Glen, Tommy and whoever else would risk the trip on that day. (Aside from those named. The cast would always change depending on the day and who was willing to brave the back seat.

Once there, we would often disperse into two separate tribes or war parties as my Dad would set up camp and build a fire to roast hot dogs, marsh mellows or whatever supplies we manged to gather before our voyage. In the few hours we’d stay we’d play war, burn tires and grab whatever we could from the abandoned cars and the nearby railroad tracks. In truth, there was no Tarzan or nearby water to be found. For the life of me, I may never learn how or why it came to be called “Tarzan Island.” But as I would come to learn at the time and many years later. It was what everybody called it. Year later, I’m talking decades. I returned to Sunnyside Queens to seek out the area. The train yard itself was still there, but it had been closed off and closely patrolled. Whoever said, “You can’t go back.” was probably speaking from countless heartbreaking  attempts.

As I’ve returned to many of my original stomping grounds, I find that most things are best left to memory and the mystique many things and places held when we were young impressionable and somewhat fearless. Things definitely felt a lot bigger back then. Something that helped us grow up and mature. And while there’s no diminishing the risks we took and the element of danger we were always drawn to. I feel very lucky to have taken chances and not letting those fears get the best of me. In the end, I’m happy to be able to recall so many adventures from younger years. Like my wife always says. “Maybe one day you’ll write that book.”

Once Upon a Time…

I have a long history of bad dreams regarding my childhood, the places I’d been, the characters in my life and some of the crazy things I had seen and experienced. Thankfully, I reached a place in my life (a good one.) that’s given me a sense of closure that’s allowed me to look back upon those times with a sense of humor. While writing about many of those experiences has helped immensely when it came to that closure. It’s given me something I never could have expected. That being able to sharpen my memory and bring a greater sense of detail to my writing. Time and perhaps forgiveness has given me the strength and to a great extent, a chance to look back, laugh and share some of these stories with a sense of detachment that allows me to write as if I was penning fiction. Instead of waking in the middle of the night due to a nightmare. I wake refreshed with a fluent memories of an experience I haven’t thought of in decades.

One involving my Mother leaving me in the care of a very nice woman who managed or  possibly owned a dry cleaners, While I can only recall being left there once. She was a very nice lady whose storefront was highlighted by a supersized fish tank that housed some rather colorful coy. I mean, I can’t think of a better place to leave your kids. “In before 9:00. Ready by 5:00.” had to have its origins.

The other, and perhaps the head scratcher of the two, came when left in the care of my father. Considering my parents worked shifts that almost insured they’d rarely see one another. (My Mother worked the regular 9-5 as a secretary in Manhattan. While my Dad’s city job as a bus driver had him on a 3-11 schedule. As far back as I could remember, my Dad was doing a lot of side jobs making money here and there doing work for bookies and loan sharks. While there were countless times when I could tag along to the bar (Cheese burger & fries, a plate of calamari and a couple of cokes. Armed with a handful of  quarters for the jukebox. The hours would just slip away.) Or the local O.T.B.   (Off Track Betting for those not old enough to remember.) Where I could sit and watch the races on closed circuit tv or run to the corner hot dog guy for a mustard, sauerkraut and onions Sabrett.

Through the years though, there were a number of occasions where my Dad couldn’t take me along with him on his rounds and had to get creative. The local gas station on the corner of 83rd st. and Astoria Blvd. just happened to be one. Though there were three filling stations within a two block radius of my Pop’s house. My Dad must have known the owner of this particular one. During the hours and occasions I was left in his care. I don’t recall any strange goings on. There was the office (or reception area) with a gumball machine. I spent time watching the mechanics work on cars. I can recall thinking how cool the collection of tools looked on the peg board. Those roller carts that allowed them to magically disappear under the cars and oh, those awesome car lifters that would raise the cars off the ground magically. The people there always looked after me, kept me entertained and safe from the constant traffic that flowed from La Guardia Airport into Astoria Blvd.

From a very young age, I had come to love visiting junk yards whether it be for a spare car or motorcycle part. Or to tag along with my Dad when he went to collect money for the bookies or sharks, By four or five, I had come to love the smell of gasoline.

Years later though, after hijacking my Aunts copy of The Daily News. I was somewhat surprised to see that the same gentleman my Father trusted to care for me was being arraigned on charges of extortion, arson and kidnapping. It was just one of many instances when someone I knew and trusted showed up in the local news paper or led off the days TV News report. It was just a part of growing up. People doing what they felt they needed to do to get from point A to point B taught me a lot about life and the many grey areas that you find along the road.

IMG_1170.JPG

 

5 Pointz w/ Slone.

We headed out to Queens this afternoon to do some exploring in Long Island City and Astoria. Our first stop was 5 Pointz  where we checked in to see what new pieces had gone up and which ones had survived since our last visit. The more often I go the more I find myself  talking  to both the visitors and artists. Talking about art, paint and the spots I might have missed or perhaps would like to share. Today I met up with Slone (That’s him posing in front of his latest piece) and talked a bit. We exchanged info and if things go as planned I’ll be tagging along one day to shoot a piece in the making.

The Beauty of Tanu.

I don’t get to work on many morning sessions these days due to conflicting schedules and the fact that most of the models I’ve met are not exactly morning people. This was not the case with Tanu . When we first exchanged schedules for the week, she suggested 9:00 AM. “Whoa, I said. Perhaps a bit too early for me to be at my best. We settled on 10:00 Am agreeing it would still give us plenty of time to get things done. When I met her at the PATH my first impression was her pictures didn’t even come close to conveying her beauty or personality. Tanu was awesome and our session conveyed it. Her expressive eyes and lips had me  pausing to catch my breath. An absolute professional and a pleasure to work with. We stopped here and there but for the most part, we never really got off course. Tanu was born and raised in New Delhi India and lived in Brooklyn, NY before moving to Long Island City.

I hope to be doing a lot more morning sessions in the future. We’ll certainly see. I can’t think of many better ways to start the day.

Return to 5 Pointz

IMG_2652IMG_2646IMG_2650IMG_2615I had a little time on my hands yesterday and was looking for a little adventure. So I jumped on the train and headed from Chinatown to Long Island City to check out what was new over at Five Pointz. I’ve blogged about the place before and it’s stunning graffiti. One of the great things about the block is that the block is forever changing and evolving with new pieces and murals going up all the time. When I was growing up in nearby Jackson Heights I was exposed to the culture at an early age. There were plenty of graffiti crews and individuals with a wide array or styles and talents. Most of them were looked at as vandals and criminals and a lot of it was in all honesty crap. Yet so many had real talent and originality. Often taking it to the next level as artists and graphic designers. I always wished I was a better artist. Don’t get me wrong. Photography has made me very happy. But to be able to create something like that using pure imagination and talent is amazing. If you get the chance to go there I highly recommend it. Take the E train to 23 Ely and walk two blocks south. That’ll get you an eye full. Oh and stay the hell away from that general store by the train. 1.40 for a can of soda should be punishable by death.

Astoria still Rules!!!

IMG_9981Today I packed up my camera and head to Astoria, Queens to meet up with my old friend Tony Crisos. I met Tony a few years ago when we worked as photographers for a company called Freeze Frame. (More on Freeze Frame in my next blog.)  Tony was always an absolute pleasure to work with and be around. He might have only been a few inches taller than me but his personality made him seem like a giant. Tony’s thick Greek accent made him tough to understand but that only seem to make us all listen a little closer  I can recall the countless times I would bust out my “Tony the Greek” impersonation. Something I am still working on.  At one point we had all departed from Freeze Frame but had formed a strong bond and always talked about getting together for work or just to hang out. After a few months of playing phone tag and planning we finally got together today.

IMG_0116

Tony was nice enough to pick me up from the train station. A few seconds after jumping into the car Tony joyfully commented that it was just as if no time had passed and we were just picking up where we left off. He was right. The couple of years that had passed felt more like a matter of days. The only difference was the thick beard and mustache made him look like he had recently joined the witness protection agency. We stopped for breakfast at the Grand Cafe on 30th avenue before embarking on a tour of the neighborhood. Tony is an accomplished Jazz guitarist but if he ever decides to give up on music he has a bright future as a tour guide.

Astoria holds a lot of memories for me and will always hold a special place in my heart. As a kid growing up just a bit north in Jackson Heights we would often venture into Astoria

IMG_9996towards our final destination Astoria Pool. It was always a long trip. We never had any money (Maybe just enough for a soda and a slice on the way home.) so we couldn’t afford to train it. Walking and perhaps stealing a ride on the back of the bus was our only option. I remember we’d often opt for hopping the pools fence rather than pay the thirty five cent admission fee. For a kid between the age of seven to ten it was an adventure.our final destination Astoria Pool. It was always a long trip. We never had any money (Maybe just enough for a soda and a slice on the way home.) so we couldn’t afford to train it. Walking and perhaps stealing a ride on the back of the bus was our only option. I remember we’d often opt for hopping the pools fence rather than pay the thirty five cent admission fee. For a kid between the age of seven to ten it was an adventure.

After lunch at the Grand cafe he gave me a tour of the neighborhood. Everything from the side streets, little nooks and corners. To Socrates Sculpture Park and of course Astoria Park. I had a great time and enjoyed Tony’s easy going nature. There’s something very special about Astoria and the people who live there. You can’t help but want to be a part of it.

IMG_0124