Comedian Robert Klein attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. It was rough school back then which only got worse. Yankee Stadium is located at 1 East 161 Street in the Bronx right near Bronx Criminal Court, Bronx Family Court, and Bronx Supreme Criminal Court. In a live performance in New York’s Central Park, Robert Klein would repeatedly exclaim to the approving roar of the crowd “The Yanks!”. A Bronx boy cheering on the legendary baseball franchise that has been a Bronx Landmark for quite some time now was special. Despite the sometimes too graphic story (all true), you will read below I still hold a deep reverence for the Bronx. One day Charlie Medina and I will meet up to take a train to the Bronx to visit where it all began but tragically all ended for Fran.
When it came time for this Bronx boy to go to High School the choices were Evander Childs High School where my older sister Fran (of blessed memory) attended or DeWitt Clinton High School. Evander Childs High School on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx was a hotbed of gang activity as the student population was comprised of those who resided in the Edenwald Housing Project (home of the street gang Intercrime amongst other “cliques”) Baychester Houses (conveniently located across the street from Edenwald) where I moved to with my parents when it first opened along with kids from Laconia Avenue (across the street or down the block from the 47th Police Precinct), Easterchester and so on.
Teacher stabbings were common occurrences at Evander Childs as were student stabbings. I being a shy skinny boy would not have done well. Heck, I could have been killed had I gone there.
So that left DeWitt Clinton High Schools which was an all-boys school with a student population that included residents of the South Bronx a part of the Bronx that featured burned out buildings, rat-infested vacant lots, plenty of gangs, drugs, shootings, stabbings and other good not so good stuff like that. The Precinct that served that area was named Fort Apache as it was always under siege. One can safely deduct DeWitt Clinton would not have been suitable for me either.
Now to move (moving was an all too common occurrence in my family while growing up) backward in time to early childhood. The Elveson clan (Fran, Joel, and Debby) along with mom Sylvia (who grew up on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn a just a stone’s throw from 770 Eastern Parkway which was and still is the World Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement which is considered to be an iconic site in Judaism. Dad (Leon) was a Bronx boy. Mom and dad dated on the Boardwalk in Coney Island which is as I have mentioned in the past were where Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand grew up. At some point in time we moved to Olinville Avenue in the Bronx. This was a tan building with four floors but no elevator.
During those years I attended P.S. 96 that was just down the block. The school had a big yard with great swings and slides in it. Just beyond the school was Bronx Park East which was very scenic. I used to love to ride my red tricycle down a steep hill that took me past beehives. Not good at all. At the mouth of the park were these brown buildings that had the signs of a hammer and sickle on them. Many years back these buildings were owned by communists. Mom would come to school every day with a perfect tuna sandwich along with a jar of the best chocolate milk I ever had. Other days we would walk to a local store so mom could but me a cold can of Chocolate Cow chocolate milk. Mom and I would sit on some rocks and just talk.
My best friend was Johnny Appleseed although I doubt that was his real name. Our landlord or the super of the building had a great dog named Skippy. Skippy came to my rescue when I fell down the metal steps leading from the back of the building to the ground level. I loved Skippy. He was a great dog who was everybody’s friend. I don’t recall if I needed stitches. There as the shoe store owned by Frieda and her husband where mom bought us our shoes and sneakers. My first pair of PF Flyers Sneakers (they were the sneaker of choice back then just like Air Jordan is or was) came from there.
Every morning my sisters and I were woken up by the persistent whining of the train engine starting-up that always sounded like they were in agonizing pain.
My mother was friendly with a woman by the name of Ruth who lived with her family in a building that was closer to Burke Avenue. Our building was just beyond Allerton Avenue. Ruth had a cooky son named Larry (not Larry Tyler but what a treat that might have been) that I never liked. He was too annoying and too hyper for me. We never became friends. The IRT tracks for the #2 train later on known as the juice for whatever reason were right behind our building. Back then the New York City Subway system had three divisions that were independent of each other. You had the IRT which was short for Interboro Rapid Transit, and The BMT which was short Brooklyn Mass Transit, and finally the IND which was short for the Independent Line. Every morning my sisters and I were woken up by the persistent whining of the train engine starting-up that always sounded like they were in agonizing pain. The sound would get louder and louder until there was whoosh sound at which point the trains screeched and lurched forward. The sound of iron trains rolling on steel tracks held up by an iron frame was not music.
At the end of Kindergarten there came the big traumatic move that seemed to change my family’s fate (not for the better I still believe to this day) forever. The move from Olinville Avenue where we were all happy to this building with white marble fronted walls with aluminum underneath signaled the beginning of the Baychester Houses era. Playing with the MicNichols kids was fun when we kept sending the elevators to stop at all floors. We got to know Tony Rodriguez, John Dsitachio, The Lenahan’s and of course the Mullers (Von, Guy, Candy & Jay) with their mother Barbara who was an exceedingly sweet blond-haired woman along with her husband Armondo who was a jet black haired semi-bald violent alcoholic whose kids were terrified of and naturally hated. Candy was the first girl I ever saw naked not to mention the first girl who took my clothes off. Yes, we had sex even though we di not know what we were doing. Mom came home one day to catch us. Barabara and Candy thought it was funny but let’s just say mom was less than pleased.
Walking to the store you lived with the constant threat of being mugged. I was once held up by a couple of kids who flashed switchblade knives at me.
Two housing projects right across the street from each other were constant trouble. My father was robbed in the elevator a few times. We were terrified to go in them. My bedroom window was broken numerous times as rocks were thrown at it from across the street by the “Edenwald kids. Just before the rocks made contact my cat Pinky would not let me sleep as she knew what was going to happen before it happened. Walking to the store you lived with the constant threat of being mugged. I was once held up by a couple of kids who flashed switchblade knives at me. I began to carry a knife. There were some good times I will admit along with some other friends like the Medina’s who lived right across the hall from our third-floor apartment which if I recall was apartment 3A. Mrs. Medina would drive us to school each morning. On foggy mornings we could not see our school which made me naively believe it had been erased. In a flash were dropped off right in front of P.S. 111 Seton Falls School. Don’t’ let the scenic name fool you as for the caucasian students’ life was a living he–!
Jimmy Cuttino and his equally dangerous/fearsome little brother CC were always after us. The Gonzalez sisters used to beat–up my sister Debby and me every day. Our school had such regular “special days” like kill “whitey’ day, kill whitey on a blue and gray day. My books were knocked out of my hands all the time or so it seemed. So many times I cried hysterically in class as I could not take it. So much from that terrible time was wiped from my memory although I do remember having my essay on Fire Prevention selected to represent my school in a district-wide essay writing contest. Maryann Kasten who lived in Edenwald was friends with the McNichols who lived on the 5th floor of my building. She was always insulting or embarrassing me in front of the class. One day she knocked on my door for me to come out. My mother thought she was cute. Maryann took me into the staircase unzipped my pants so she could play with my “ding dong” that she pulled out from my undergarment. She made sure to tell the whole class what it looked like.
After P.S. 111 it was onto Junior High School 142 where the graduating class from P.S. 114 merged with kids from P.S. 111. “Edenwald Kids” many of whom were members of the gang Intercrime ruled the hallways. You can guess what that was like.
When the day came to register for High School I was terrified at the prospect of going to one of the two High Schools I mentioned at the beginning of the article. I took an entrance exam to go to the New York School of Printing in Manhattan near the original Madison Square Garden but by then was a parking lot when the Garden was moved to its present location by Penn Station. To get to school I had to take a bus to an IND train to 49th Street. The school address was 439 West 49th Street which unbeknownst to me was someplace called He—‘s Kitchen. Don’t ask! My hair grew long to the point I was told I had to cut it as it could get stuck in a printing press. I could not “set type” if my life depended on it. It became abundantly clear I was not going to become a printer. Attending high school in the area that I did lead me to discover Times Square where Guy would meet me at the pinball parlors. We hung out with Alice Cooper who always had his live boa constrictor around his neck. His song “School’s Out” was hit with us as well as the record-buying public. Alice was a cool guy. We saw him in concert (at Madison Square Garden no less) and it was wild.
Thanks to the essay question that made up the biggest part of your grade I passed the exam and graduated.
George Wilson, Meekins (I don’t remember if that was his first or last name) and I became the best of friends. We were forever talking about New York Knicks basketball. More chaos as this all-boys school began admitting girls. High School boys with raging hormones wanted those girls in the worst way. I fell for the only Jewish girl by the name of Zina Charlip who lived near the station I took the train to school from. She never liked me though. High School Journalism class saved me from dropping out of school. I barely passed my other classes but my Journalism grade was 97. (I failed my History class and gym. The Gym teacher made an announcement at the beginning of the year that nobody who did not dress for gym graduated on time. Taking off my pants and putting on shorts around other boys in a locker room with no teacher present was not something I could do. The boy whose locker was next to mine pulled down my shorts to see if I had any pubic hair. Suffice I to say I failed gym. As I made up the history classes in night school all I had to do was pass the Citywide Exam. Thanks to the essay question that made up the biggest part of your grade I passed the exam and graduated.
Guy’s older brother Von introduced us to his friend Phil Greco (we called him Philly G) while others knew him as the Fonz long before the TV show Happy Days. When I got my license I bought my first car with my Bar Mitzvah money (minus the $50 fine I had to pay when Candy and I were caught spray-painting buildings in Baychester with graffiti) from Phil for $90. It was a Blue 1964 Chevy Impala. Phil had a thing for 64 Chevy’s (I love those cars to this day) so he and Von drove one. We had the milkshake wars where we would throw chocolate milkshakes from White Castle or Jack on the Box at each other from our moving cars. Phil showed us what “pimp” cars were so we sued to dive pas them and bomb them with milkshakes. I shudder to think what would have happened to us if we were ever caught.
Cars, The Bronx, The Mullers and I were all I could ask for. I went on to Baruch College but lasted only two years out of four. If I would have had my way instead of going straight to college I would have taken a year off to work and of course, have fun with the Mullers who were now living on Decatur Avenue off of Fordham Road which was the D train subway stop that took me to school. The circle never stopped going around. My family and I lived just down the road in Pelham Parkway (Pelham Parkway Houses) which became Fordham Road when you came out from the underpass.
The years went by and eventually, I wound up working for an insurance broker (Samuel Lurie Associates, Inc.) in lower Manhattan. Jay would come to visit me at the office so during lunch we hung out with his girlfriend making fun of just about everybody especially ‘The Binhamtoms” who were just men dressed in business suits. That was my life as that was the Bronx. My life in the Bronx ended a couple of years after Fran was killed. Myself, Debby and my parents were back on Onlinville Avenue except this time is a fancy apartment building with the #2 train right behind us. Between the lack of parking meeting up with people who knew us from the time of Fran’s murder, cars being broken into, the presence of kids we wanted no part of it was apparent it was time for me to go. Debby met her future husband while at NYU and I moved out to Queens.
Guy now lives in PA with his second wife (his first wife was originally my girlfriend but that chapter which began the Brooklyn chapter of life is another story for another time) and their ten-year-old young lady who was born on 09/11. Von died not too long ago. Jay is nowhere to be found. Candy has grown children and is now living in Las Vegas with her husband.