Monday, January 31, 2011

Bike Rides to the Beach

Bike Rides to the Beach

When I was 14 or so, my friends and I would sometimes ride our bikes to Rockaway Beach, a distance of about 10-15 miles from our neighborhood.

I knew the way by paying attention to how my father drove to the Rockaway Beaches by car.  We could do this by taking city streets and never have to get on the highway.

Rockaway in the summer was great.  The boardwalk had amusements and places to get food.  The young people would gather at beaches 32-38 (designated streets) because there was some food places on the boardwalk and some amusements like Bumper Cars. Beach 98th Street had Playland, a real amusement park with a rollercoaster, rides, games, etc. 

Friends of our family, the Ecksteins, took a bungalow at Beach 84th Street (or close to that), and my friends and I visited them a couple of times.  They had a daughter and son our age.

My mother was firmly against these excursions and fervently prayed for rain on the night before I was set to go.  She sometimes got her wish, but just as often the sun would shine and she would reluctantly let us go.  My father had already agreed.  After all, we were big boys now.

I was usually accompanied by three of my friends, John Sangimino, John Wekerle and Louie Weiss.  We had all gotten new bikes at around age 13.  These new bikes were “Racers” instead of the Schwinns we all had previously.

These bikes were sleek, thin and had 3 gears to make pedaling easier.  We had English Racers or Italian Racers.  The Italian Racers had handle bars that turned down so you were hunched over the handle bars much like a jockey on a horse.

After going to Rockaway a few times, we thought it was time to try another beach.  The other beach was Jones Beach.

Now, Jones Beach is the premier beach in NY.  It stretches from Nassau to Suffolk counties along the south shore of Long Island.  Compared to Rockaway it was pristine and a major step up.  It was also about 30 miles from our homes.

I thought I knew the way from the few times my family had gone there by car.  We would get on the Southern State Parkway and then the Meadowbrook Parkway which would lead us to Jones Beach.

My friends and I set up a day to try this.  Without being specific, I mentioned to my mother I was going to the “Beach”.  She did her best to dissuade me, prayed for rain and let me go, thinking I was going to Rockaway.

John Wekerle couldn’t come that day so John Sangimino, Louie Weiss and I set off.

We road our bikes to the Cross Island Parkway and got on.  The Cross Island becomes the Southern State Parkway when it enters Nassau County.

We were riding along on the Parkway when we came to a toll booth.  We attempted to go through and were held up by the toll booth guy.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked.

“Going to Jones Beach” we replied.

“Are you boys crazy?  You can’t ride your bikes on the parkway, you’ll have to get off here,” he said.

“Whattya mean” we replied, “we have a dime to go through.”

Despite our pleas he ordered us off the parkway.  We had to take the city streets. 

The Southern State does not have a service road that runs along side it and we were soon lost in the maze of neighborhood streets.  Undeterred, we pressed on, getting further and further from the parkway as the streets curved, and went off in new directions.  We were thoroughly lost.

We eventually went down a road that dead ended at a horse riding ranch.

Realizing that we were never getting to the beach, we opted to try horseback riding, something we had never done.

You have to picture us in our beach clothes.  We had on shorts or clam diggers (3/4 length pants), sneakers, T-shirts, and our bathing suits underneath the shorts or pants.

We went into the “ranch” office.

“How much to ride the horses?” we asked.

“$3.00 an hour” the man said. “You boys know how to ride?” he asked eyeing us suspiciously.

“Oh, yeah” we replied.  None of us had ever been on a horse.  We quickly consulted with each other to see if we had enough money.  We just about did.

“Ok, we want to ride,” we told the man.

“Alright, what kind of saddle do you want to use?” he asked.

What kind of saddle????  There was more than one kind????

“What kind you got?” we asked.

“There’s Western or English” he answered.  He seemed to know we didn’t have any idea about riding.

“We’ll take Western style” we said, figuring if it’s good enough for the cowboys it’s good enough for us.

“I think it best you boys stay in the corral until I see how you do” he said.    

We went out to the corral, where we were given horses to ride and some simple instructions. 

Needless to say, we never left the corral and had no idea how to get the horses to do what we wanted.  At the end of the hour we got back on our bikes and decided to try to find our way home.

We eventually made it to Hempstead Turnpike, a road we had heard of.  We knew if we continued west on Hempstead Turnpike, we would eventually get back to Queens near our homes.  We started to ride.

Hempstead Turnpike is a busy commercial roadway with stop lights, traffic and many ways for us to get in trouble.

We were cruising along with me in the lead, John behind me and then Louie.  I had one of the Italian Racer bikes, so I was hunched over the handlebars, head down as I was pedaling along. 

We were approaching an intersection where the light was placed about 20 yards from the corner.  I was passing under it when it changed.    

John yelled out “Shell, watch out”.

I turned my head in his direction to see what I should watch out for.  As I turned back I entered the intersection.  So did a car from the right. We met in the middle.

I crashed into his front fender and did a flip over his hood and landed on the other side on my backside.

John later claimed it was a great flip and interesting to watch.

Somewhat stunned, I took stock and discovered I was alright except for some scratches and an aching backside.

The driver stopped and asked how I was.  I told him I was ok, and he sped off.

John and Louie came over to see how I was.  A small crowd was gathering.  I stood up and walked over to where my bike was.  The front and rear wheels were now side by side.  The bike resembled a unicycle.

Fortunately, we were in front of a corner candy store.  The owner had seen the accident and offered us free Lime Rickeys to drink.  They were pretty good.

We were now faced with a dilemma, how to get home.  We thought about me riding the cross bars of one of the bikes, but we had no idea of how far it was.  Also, the problem of what to do about my bike.  It was unrideable and could not be carried by one of us while riding his bike.

I realized I would have to bite the bullet and call my mother, who had the family car that day. 

The prospect of calling her was not appealing.   She would be mad I had not told her I was going to Jones Beach (I just never mentioned which beach), and that I had got into a car accident and destroyed my relatively new bike would not go over well.  Plus, she was at work and wouldn’t like to be disturbed.

I made the dreaded call from the phone booth in the candy store.

“Hello ma, I had a little accident, don’t worry, I’m not hurt but I need you to come get me,” I said.

“What do you mean a little accident, where are you?” she said.

I told her what happened and where I thought we were.  She agreed to come get me.  She was not happy.

About 40 minutes later she drove up and parked near the candy store.

“Alright, let’s see you.  You look alright, how’s the bike?  Oh my God, wait till your father see’s this, you’re going to get it.  Do you realize I had to leave work for this?  What are you an idiot, a moron?  Throw that bike in the trunk and get in the car.  You boys follow me.  Wait till I tell your mothers you were out here” she angrily exclaimed.

I think she was a little put out.  The correct term I believe is “pissed”.

I got in the car and she took off.  My friends tried to follow but she soon left them behind.  They eventually made it home.

My mother was beside herself.  She was mad I got into an accident, mad I had destroyed the bike, and mad she had to leave work to get me.  She didn’t seem very concerned about my well being, only in what she was going to do to me when we got home.

I never did get a new bike, so in effect she got her wish. 

No more bike rides to the beach.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hayley vs. Grandma

Hayley vs. Her Grandma

Both my mother and granddaughter love jewelry.  In fact they have a lot in common.  Both like to be the center of attention, both would perform at the drop of a hat, both like to dress up, and while one gave me lists of things to buy, the other would probably like to.

Hayley is a somewhat younger version of my mother.

My mother had a fairly large collection of costume jewelry, which she kept in her bedroom.  She wore a lot of it and a lot of it was in boxes in her nightstand, forgotten.

When Hayley was 4, I initially took Hayley into my mother’s bedroom to look at the jewelry as a way of keeping her amused.  From that time on, whenever we would visit my mother, Hayley would take my hand and lead me into my mother’s bedroom so she could go through the jewelry.

I once took a crystal necklace from the jewelry box and gave it to Hayley (my mother had two almost identical ones).  My mother caught us at the door, but I insisted she give it as a gift to Hayley.

The necklace was actually too long for Hayley and she wore it doubled.   She called it her sparkly necklace.

My mother would ask for it back occasionally but I would refuse.  Hayley would often wear it when my mother was around.  I think to taunt her.

Hayley wore it to preschool one day and one of her friends broke it.  My daughter collected as many crystal beads as she could, and told me what happened.  I told her not to worry and I took the remains of the necklace.  I went to a craft store and got materials to restring it.

I restrung the remaining crystal beads but many had been lost.  When I finished restringing it, the necklace fit Hayley with one loop instead of two.

We told Hayley not to mention that the necklace had been broken and my mother never noticed it had been shortened.

Hayley continued to take me by the hand to go into my mother’s room and my mother continued to pretend (or maybe not pretend) to be mad about it and demand jewelry back from Hayley.

I once took her into the bedroom and we were going through the jewelry, Hayley trying on different pieces, when my mother spotted us.

She started marching into the room.

Hayley looked up and said, “He made me do it!” while pointing to me. 

So much for loyalty.

Giving Hayley some of the jewelry was justified payback I thought.

My mother had once taken a very nice gold and blue topaz ring from my daughter.

My wife had given my daughter the ring when my daughter was about 14.  My wife had too many rings and thought my daughter would like it.

When my mother came to visit, my daughter showed the ring to my mother, who immediately took a liking to it.

“It’s too old for you,” my mother said and took the ring from her.

I protested and demanded she give the ring back. 

My mother took off a small gold ring she had and said “Here, take this one, it’s more youthful.”

My daughter, good sport that she is, accepted the exchange. 

This incident was often brought up to my mother when she would try to stop me from letting Hayley choose “gifts” from my mother.

Hayley eventually wound up with the gold and topaz ring after my mother died.

Once, when my mother came to my daughter for a family dinner, Hayley, fearful that my mother would take back some of the jewelry, stood guard at the door to her bedroom so my mother couldn’t go in and take back some of the jewelry she had “given” to Hayley.

Hayley now has gone through my daughter’s jewelry, telling her that what’s her’s is to be shared by both of them.

Hayley has the most real jewelry and nicest pieces of anyone her age.

Her little cousin Isabella won’t be far behind.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Summer in the Catskills

The Shebourne Hotel

All Jewish boys living in NY in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who were of college age, tried to work summers in the Catskill Mountain Resorts in the Jewish Alps.

We worked for tips and very minimal salary. Lived under squalid conditions and had a great time doing it.  We all told the guests we were working our way through college to become lawyers and doctors.  This helped increase tips from the families who stayed there.

I was fortunate to work there for two full summers and part of a third.  I worked at a small hotel called the Shelbourne as a busboy and later as a waiter.

My experience there was not quite like that of Patrick Swayze but we had a lot of fun

I met two friends there who I continue to see.  One became my brother-in-law, and one became our business partner.  Both are still my very close friends.

I started working as a busboy since it was my first year, and Bob was the waiter I was paired with.  We had fun in and out of the dining room.

At the hotel, families would come for a week or more at a time.  Sometimes Grandmothers would come and bring their granddaughters.  Most of them young, like 13-15 year olds.

One of my friends Louie worked with us.  He had a penchant for falling in love with these girls.

Louie fell in love instantly.  In high school, you could always tell who Louie had a date with on Saturday, because she would be wearing his letter sweater on Monday.  I think he had a dozen of them to give out.

One afternoon as we were setting up for lunch, the owner came in and made a general announcement.

“The grandmothers are complaining some of you are taking their granddaughters over to the abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of the property and necking with them.  This has to stop.  Do you all understand?“

We all shook our heads, but wondered what he was talking about.

He then turned to Louie and said:

“Louie, do you understand?”

It made sense then.

Louie next turned his attention to a girl in the bungalow colony near the hotel. 

Bob, Louie and I took three of the girls to a drive in movie.  The next morning, Louie was in love.

The girl was going home to Brooklyn the next Monday and Louie took off to follow her.  He came back about a week later.  He had been wandering the streets of Brooklyn trying to see her.

Another time, Bob was dating this crazy girl guest.  A bunch of us went to a pizza joint in town.  We played a game called “pass the ice cube” which consists of passing an ice cube from one person to the next by kissing. 

The next morning the girl came down to breakfast with this purple dye on her mouth. We asked her what was going on.  She told us she had Trench Mouth.

We all went to the dentist that afternoon.  Fortunately she was kidding.

At one point we were all dating some girls from a bungalow colony.  Bob went out on a date with one of them and got into a car accident.  No serious damage to either one, but the car was smashed.  The father was not happy.

A few years later, Bob was working as a Maitre D’ at a temple catering hall and the bride from the party comes up to him.

She says: “Hi, do you remember me?  I’m the girl you were in the accident with.   I got this scar (barely discernable under her lip) and it’s paying for this wedding.  I wanted to thank you.”

Of the three of us, Bob, Mark and I, Mark is the craziest.

A family was bringing their daughters to the hotel to work for the summer.  The owner is showing them the staff quarters and telling them how safe it is and how protected their daughters would be.  At that moment, Mark walks by with a towel over his shoulder and nothing else, going to the shower.

Another time, we put food coloring in the water being served to the guests.  We matched it to the color of the plastic pitchers on the table.   I was careful to avoid yellow.  Not Mark.  When a guest complained that he thought the water had an odor, Mark dipped his finger in and said “delicious” I don’t think he got a tip from that guest.

I love cookies.  I was always sneaking into the bakery off the kitchen to steal some cookies.  The owner set out to trap me.

He put a case of noodles over the door to the bakery, so if I opened it, it would fall down and hit me.  He then hid in the shadows of the kitchen to wait.

I was out that evening, and as luck would have it, the chef, Margie came in and needed some flour and went to the bakery to get it.

Margie was a frightening woman.  She was big, mean, strong and probably in her 70’s.  She once tried to stab Bob in the hand because he never stopped moving when he was standing before her picking up orders.  She bragged she had thrown Jerry Lewis out of her kitchen when he was working in the mountains.  She was not someone to piss off.

Margie opens the door to the bakery and gets knocked down by the carton of noodles.  The owner rushes over to see if she’s hurt.

“Who did this?” shouts Margie.

The owner, also frightened of Margie says, “Arthur the chef must have done it”.

She wouldn’t feed him for the rest of the summer.  We had to sneak him food everyday.

After serving the dinner meal, we would all go to the track for the last 2 races.  They would let us in for free for the last 2.

At the track was a food vendor called “Artie Subway” He was called “Subway”, because if you left change on his counter top he would quickly scoop it into his tip cup and yell “Subway”

He was also a tout.  People would come up to him and say  “Artie, who you got in this race?”

Artie would make a big show of consulting his book (probably nothing written in it) and say, “The number 2, can’t lose” or something to that affect.  The next guy would get the number 3 horse and so on.  Somebody would win and Artie would get a generous tip.

Monticello Raceway was known as the crookedest track in racing.  We would watch, as drivers (this was trotters) would hold back their horses to let the other horse win.  Once we saw one driver waving on the other driver to pass him.

Every week, the milkman or egg man would come to the hotel and tell us of a sure thing.  Everyone seemed to win but us.  We decided to start our own rumor.

We went to the track and in loud whispers walked around saying, “Thursday, 4th race, 5th horse, can’t lose, the fix is in”

Sure enough, Thursday morning the egg man and milkman both told us:” Tonight, 4th race, 5th horse, can’t lose.”  We laughed about it until the horse won that night.  We were the only ones who didn’t bet.

Bob, Marvin Murray, the owner’s son, who we were friendly with, and I decide to drive to Queens and see some girls.

After serving dinner, we headed out in Marvin’s car.  It takes about 3 hours to drive to Queens where the girls are waiting.  We had a nice time and headed back to the hotel.

Marvin, who doesn’t have to work the next day, is designated to drive.  He pulls into a gas station to get gas and coffee.  Bob and I are trying to sleep in the car.  Marvin is gone a long time.   We get out to see what’s going on.  He’s negotiating for an old Studebaker at 3 AM.  We drag him away.

We get back to the hotel in time to see the baker getting ready to make rolls and bread.  He asks what are we doing up so early.  The truth is we aren’t up early, we just got in late. 

We often stayed up all night and slept between meals.  We had what was known as a “Dining Room Tan”, meaning no tan at all, since we slept while the sun was up.

One time, I was sleeping in my room when Mark and Bob wanted to see if I was there.  There was a hole in the wall between our rooms, so Mark stuck a lit match through the hole to see if he could see me.

What he didn’t count on was a serape hanging over the hole, left there by Louie who was in Brooklyn at the time following some girl around.

The serape caught fire and nearly burned the room and the building down.  We managed to get it out without alerting the owner of the hotel.

We also frequented a restaurant in Loch Sheldrake called Herbie’s Chinese, American Italian Restaurant.  It specialized in a sandwich which consisted of Chinese roast pork on garlic bread.  We were there almost every night after going to the track.  I once got thrown out because the place was crowded and I thought it would be helpful if I went in and ordered my own food.  They didn’t seem to think that was a good idea.

We should have come home with a lot of money.  We averaged about $250 a week in tips.   The only problem was we were spending about $275 between the track, restaurants and shows we went to see at the various hotels.  I did wind up with about $800 at the end of the summer.  That was a lot of money back then.

Unfortunately the Catskill Resorts weren't doing well in the mid 60's.  Many of the smaller hotels were closing as their guests chose to travel instead of going to the hotels.  This was the result of airfares and cruise fares becoming more affordable.

While driving home after Labor Day, the traditional end to the season, there would be fires on either side of the Quickway (main route into the resort area).  These were hotels that were hit by "Monticello Lightning".  The hotel owner would collect the insurance and retire or relocate to Miami Beach.  

Once the insurance agents caught on, they changed the policies to say the pools had to be destroyed in order to collect.  Some owners managed that too.

Mark continued to be a crazy guy.

He went to some quasi-legitimate college in Fort Lauderdale, Florida one year.  While there, he continued his usual habits of smoking, drinking and goofing off.

One night he called me at home at about 10:30 PM.

“Shell, I need you to send me $1000 right away”.

“What?  What are you talking about?  Are you in jail?” I asked

“No, no, I’m down on AIA (the main hangout street on the beach) and some guy wants me to buy his new Corvette.  He needs the money and he’ll take a quick thousand.” Mark explained.

“Mark, are you nuts?  Where am I going to get a thousand at this time of night?  Why would the guy sell a new Corvette for a grand?  Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in a phone booth in front of the Elbow Room (see “Where the Boys Are” with Connie Francis for reference), just send the money” Mark replied. “It’s a great deal.”

I started to offer reasons why I didn’t think this was a good idea when Mark suddenly interrupted.

“Wait a minute, something is happening. The guy’s getting back in the car, police have pulled up.  Uh oh, I think he’s being arrested.  Don’t send the money, looks like the car was stolen.  I better get out of here. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

One last story about Mark and Bob from those days. 

Mark and Bob are in a car driven by Bob’s brother Jack.  They are driving up a street in Queens near Woodhaven Blvd. 

Suddenly they are rear ended by another car.

Bob yells out “Quick, pretend you are hurt”.

They both open the door and pretend to be thrown out of the car and are now lying in the street on either side of the car.

The man in the car that hit them approaches.  They are writhing around, moaning, pretending to be hurt.

“Get up you idiots. You can’t sue me, I own both cars.” He shouts at them.

It’s the Buzzard, Bob’s father and the worst driver in the world.  He was the driver of the car that rear-ended them.

Their hopes of litigious riches dashed, everyone drives home.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Big Brother is Watching You

Big Brother is Watching You

While I was teaching in Port Washington, the use of video tape and TV’s in the classroom was just starting.

I was teaching a course in Child Development and was discussing the way neglected babies, babies that are not touched often, don’t develop properly.  To back up my point, I had borrowed from Queens College, a film of a study done in a South American orphanage showing this.

I took the film down to the schools Audio Visual Department and had them transfer the film to video tape so I could use it in future classes.

While there, the head of the Department a teacher named Dave, suggested I use the video tape for the day’s lesson instead of using a projector and screen. 

Dave would set up a feed to a TV in my classroom and the students could watch the film.  He casually mentioned that he could put my image on the screen from the studio.

An idea began forming in my head.

Using the school paging system and the television feed, I could continue the lesson after the video from the studio control room. 

I thought this would be fun for me and the students and potentially be a way to teach several classes at once.  The last bit was just an excuse. Fun was the real incentive here.

The class started.  The video began.  Just before the video ended, one of my colleagues came into the classroom and I hurried down to the broadcast studio.

The minute the video ended, a message came on the screen:  “Ask Mr. Dreyfuss” and I appeared on the TV screen.

I proceeded to tell them that through the miracle of Television, I could both see and hear them.

In actuality, I couldn’t see them, but the school paging system allowed me to hear them since it was a 2-way system and the TV was placed directly under the loudspeaker through which the paging system operated.

They didn’t believe me and I could hear the scoffing at my claim of being able to see and hear them. 

Fortunately, one voice in particular stood out.  A young male student, we’ll call him Rich, was very recognizable as someone I could easily identify speaking.

I knew where he was sitting in relation to the TV and I turned to look in his direction, pointed to where I thought he was sitting and said: “Rich, please pipe down, I can’t hear any questions.”

I identified another voice and turned in that student's direction.  "Bob, I can see you in the back there, let's keep it quiet," I said.

There was dead silence.

I heard whispers of “He really can see us and hear us”.

“Ok, settle down, I’ll take your questions now” I said.

The lesson continued for the next 10 minutes until the bell rang.

I hurried up to the classroom.  They students were still in the hallway.   They were in awe that I could see and hear them “through the TV”.  I became a TV celebrity for the afternoon; students were talking about it for the rest of the day.

My colleague who had sat in for me was in the Teacher’s Lounge, laughing hysterically.

That was the whole point.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011



During the 80’s and 90’s Bob (my brother-in-law) and I could be found most Friday afternoons on the Good Life, a 31foot Formula Cabin Cruiser, and later a 34 foot Wellcraft. 

We usually used it to go up and down the Intracoastal with various buddies of ours and then have dinner at a dockside restaurant like Shooters in Fort Lauderdale.

The wives and family would go out with us on Saturdays and Sundays, but not on Friday which they reserved for having dinner with my father-in-law.

We once tried sailing instead of power boating, but found it to be too much work and too slow. 

The event that convinced us to abandon sailing, was when we were out in Biscayne Bay with our wives, and wanted to go get dinner and a drink.  It took us an hour!  Way too long.

We used the boat for various recreational activities like scuba diving, occasional trips to Miami and the Keyes, anchoring off and swimming with the family and friends and taking part in the Boat Parades.

We did contemplate fishing as something we could do with the boat.

To that end, we bought expensive fishing equipment and tried to catch fish. 

No luck.

We sought advice.

Various fishermen told us we were going out at the wrong time (usually 2 PM), going to the wrong place and various other reasons why they felt we weren’t successful. 

We tried various remedies that “experts” suggested (except getting up early) to no avail.

I always felt it was because we didn’t drink beer.

I noticed that all the successful fishermen always drank a lot of beer and usually had the empty cans scattered around the boats. The fish recognized this as belonging to “real fisherman” and thus were attracted to their boats and bait.

We tended to have wine, cocktails and champagne.  I believe the fish knew the difference.  They knew we weren’t real fisherman because of the lack of beer cans.  The fish didn’t take us seriously and wouldn’t take the bait.

The next time we went, I took along some empty beer cans.

Lo and behold we caught a fish. 

It was a barracuda, but still a fish.  We had to cut the line and throw it back.

We didn’t catch anything else that day and went to dinner.

And so we continued.

Various “experts” came with us, but to no avail.  I still felt it was the “Beer Theory” that was keeping us fishless. 

We even contemplated cheating by buying fish at the fish store and claiming we caught it.

Bob eventually caught a Kingfish, not really good eating, but an edible fish.

We were all excited until we figured out that when we took into account the amount of money we spent on equipment, gas, etc., the fish cost us $500 a pound!

We went back to dining and cruising.