It was the year of our lords (to each his own), One Thousand Nine Hundred Thirty One, and my mother had enough of me keeping her pregnant. So on the 11th day of March, just ahead of the Roman Ides, she introduced me to the world at the Rockaway Beach Hospital on the south shore of Queens, one of NYC’s five boroughs.
Two years later, the hospital burned down. The rumor was they were trying to destroy all the evidence. We lived, I am told, on Highland Court, a one-block street, three houses up from my Uncle Isadore and Aunt Pauline; and that’s a story for another blog.
The fire at the hospital must have been a sign. As soon as the embers cooled, we moved to the north shore, into the leafy Queens suburb of Jackson Heights, where most of my father’s other siblings resided.
We occupied the bottom floor of a two-story house, where my father was responsible for keeping the coal-fired heating system going in the winter.
In about 1939 I was playing some kind of game with some neighbor kids trying to spin around fast. Not sure what kind of idiotic game it was, but I got dizzy, fell and broke my right collar bone.
Because I couldn’t play much while my shoulder healed, my father occasionally took me by some construction sites. I looked on with great fascination.
I was especially intrigued with the building of LaGuardia Airport, about 1-1/2 miles or so north of our abode.
The one positive effect of that broken collar bone was that it led to the discovery that I had very poor vision—I mean, really poor. Uncorrected, it was about 20/200.
Our neighbors were mostly Irish, and a few Italians and Germans. By the time WWII got going in 41/42, we were immersed in rumors about who were spies and who were not.
I’m still fascinated with building construction and often stop to check out nearby sites.
Right after my arm came out of the sling, I inherited a camera and thought I might be interested in photography as a hobby or maybe even as a vocation.
As the war efforts were getting underway, I took my new camera and hiked down to the airport and started taking some pictures of the Pan Am International Terminal area. I wasn’t there more than five minutes when two big burly Army MP’s swooped down on me, grabbed my camera and told me I was under arrest.
Remember, they looked that big because I was only 11 years old and all adults looked big.
After some questioning and the fear of God they gave me, they agreed I probably wasn’t a spy and let me go. I got the camera back, without the film.
Because I thought I knew the LaGuardia Airport area pretty well, a few years later I decided to get one of my Boy Scout merit badges for mapping there. So off I went, recording all my calculations on a rough drawn map. When I got home, I tried to finish it all clearly and neatly.
It didn’t come out quite right but I hoped it would be close enough to get my badge and attain my star rank.
My good friend Ralph’s father, Harold,,, was the Scout Commissioner in our district and he agreed to check out my mapping. He definitely took pity on my error-filled mapping exercise and passed me through.
A couple of years later, I was hitchhiking on Route 17 in the middle of the Catskills, N.Y. and here was a big burly state trooper approaching me. I was a little older and a little taller but at 16 he still looked awfully big.
I was able to escape arrest with a warning. At that point, I realized I was trying to hitch a ride right in front of the Highway Patrol office in Monroe, NY. Talk about inviting trouble!
Wandered down the road maybe a mile or so and got a ride without another police intercept.
I escaped childhood without an arrest on my record but with enough scars to keep me honest. Probably a good thing!