A short walk down Rockaway Avenue and a right turn on Eastern Parkway led to the "Eastern Parkway Roller Skating Rink". The place was not fancy by modern standards, but you could rent a pair of 4-wheel shoe skates and glide around the wooden floor to organ music with your date. They had a snack bar that served toxic hot dogs and drinks. I loved skating with street skates, the kind that rattled your teeth when you skated on the rough sidewalks! It was nice change of pace going round on wooden-wheeled shoe skates (no skate-key needed) on a smooth, level surface.
The Good Shepherd Home for girls was on Rockaway and Atlantic Avenues. This massive brick complex, surrounded by a brick wall with hunks of glass cemented on top to discourage getting in or out, was the source of much speculation and rumor. The boys from local churches were called upon to act as altar boys to serve Masses held within the walls. As you might expect from boys with raging hormones and fertile imaginations, stories began to circulate about wild sex orgies behind those walls, with priests, nuns, the resident "wayward" girls, and a few lucky altar boys who were invited to participate. (I knew I should have been an altar boy instead of a choir boy!)
On the corner of Pennsylvania and Atlantic Avenues stood the East New York Savings Bank. The bank was chartered in 1868, and the building is there to this day. This was the quintessential neighborhood bank, solid, conservative, yet friendly. In the days before ATMs, the bank had live Tellers, mostly local young women, who knew customers by name and were happy to get a job so close to home. You could open a "Christmas Club" into which you deposited as little as a dollar a week, and then at the end of the year you would have a whopping $52 to blow on Christmas gifts! Obviously a buck went a lot further back then.
If you ever got the urge for their famous "sliders" (so called because of the ease with which they left your system after eating them) there was the "White Castle" hamburger joint on Atlantic Avenue and Highland Place. This was the sight of my arrest as a suspect in a drive-by shooting. (View 10/3/08 post "The Lords of Flatbush"). To this day I get a yen for these little, paper-thin belly bombs about once a year. At the time I grew up, I think they cost like ten cents each, and we would order a bag full complete with greasy fries. It gives me comfort to know they are still with me today, comfortably nestled in the walls of my arteries!
After attending a funeral at Molinari's Funeral Home on Pacific Street and Eastern Parkway, we always headed for Carlucci's Restaurant down the block. As a kid, I think back on our visits to Carlucci's as a "bad news-good news" situation. The bad news is that usually someone had to die for us to go there, but the good news is that we didn't get to eat out restaurants much so you take what you can get. There's a time for grieving and a time for eating. The place was plain, but the food was good and plentiful, and served by the always gracious Carlucci family.
And speaking of eating, our neighborhood was the home of Sportsman's Cafe on Fulton Street, to my mind makers of the best pizza I ever ate. Their pie was unique...they made it square, Sicialian style, but crispy, not thick and doughy. If the guy from Zagat's ever rated this place, it would get minus four stars. In front was a typical dingy bar, and in the back, covered by checkered plastic table cloths, were some tables where diners could sit and eat. It was no palace, but I would trade a steak dinner at Peter Luger's for a Sportsman's pie any time. The place holds a special place in my heart because my favorite cousin Pete Caruso worked in the kitchen part time.
I enjoy reading my daughter Laura's blog "The Whinery" (see link above) because she sometimes writes of her childhood, and I'm curious to know what she remembers about growing up. We are all a combination of our genetic makeup and our environment; I honestly believe that a big part of my own personality was shaped on the streets of East New York, and I will be forever grateful for having the good fortune to grow up in that special place.