Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Thanks for the Memories

"The victim staggered like a drunk, blood spraying from the ragged wound in the neck where the recently severed head used to be. I stood transfixed in horror, not knowing whether to run or hide. Would I be the next victim?" A scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 12? No, just my mother buying a chicken. Back in the days when Frank Perdue was just a gleam in his father's eye, chickens were purchased fresh killed at the "chicken market".

If I remember correctly, the market was at the intersection of Pacific Street and East New York Avenue in a run down section of our neighborhood. It was a seedy looking building badly in need of repair. The place stank of burned chicken feathers (that's how they removed the feathers from the dead bird) and your ears were assaulted by the raucous sounds of chickens squawking their heads off as it dawned on them that, well, their heads were about to come off. The doomed chickens were kept in pens barely tall enough for them to stand. The customer walked up to this poultry death row, picked out a bird, and the dead-eyed executioner, white apron covered in blood, did the rest. At my insanity hearing, when they try to trace back to the traumatic event in my childhood that first unhinged my mind, the chicken market would be a good place to start.

I am reluctant to mention this next unpleasant childhood memory because it involves me attending an afternoon movie at the Colonial Theater on a day I was supposed to be in school. (My children are chiding me for the admissions of a misspent youth I've already made in this blog.) Anyhow, I was "playing hooky" from high school and sat alone in the dark watching some mid-week B-movie. A man walked down the aisle, and although the theater was nearly empty, entered my row and sat down next to me. I was puzzled of course, but not at all prepared for what happened next. This creep placed his hand on my knee. In a blink I was on my feet and running fast for the door. What annoyed me most was missing the end of the movie.

While attending summer day camp one year, I fractured my left wrist during a high jump competition. I had to go to Kings County Hospital (the medical equivalent of the Roach Motel) to have a hard cast put on from my wrist to my upper arm. The injury happened at the beginning of summer vacation, and required me to wear this itchy cast through the middle of August. What a nightmare: no swimming, no ball playing, and trying to take showers without getting the cast wet. In early August, my family had an outing at some place I can’t recall, but I do remember they had a beautiful swimming pool. Watching my cousins splash around on a hot day was more than I could bear. I grabbed an inner tube and floated around the pool as best I could, despite my mother’s protests for me to get out. Unfortunately it was too late. The upper part of the cast got wet and soft, and after visiting the doctor, I had to have a new cast put on and wear it through mid-September. A bummer of a summer.

Mike the butcher had a shop on Rockaway Avenue. His daughter Immaculata (nicknamed "Sis") was one of the girls we tolerated in our all-male, stoop sitting club. Mike was a short, amiable man with no neck and very few teeth. His shop had refrigerated, glass-front counters where his wares would be displayed. Like most butcher shops, the floor was covered with sawdust. Mike had a large, refrigerated back room. Sometimes he would open the big doors and I could see the carcasses of cows, sheep and pigs hanging. Mike would haul one out, lay it on a butcher block table, and start sawing and hacking it into chops, roasts and steaks. This revolted me, and should have turned me into a vegetarian. Happily it did not, and I love a good steak whenever I can get it.

My grandparents lived on Hull Street. My mother would walk us over some afternoons before my grandmother died and the house was sold. I enjoyed these visits since my good friend Rich lived right across the street. What I didn't enjoy was Grandma's basement. I was used to basements (or cellars as we called them) since I played often in our own cellar, especially when it was too cold or wet to go outside. I avoided Grandma's cellar though because it was creepy. Like poor people everywhere, to save on the electric bill, they used candles for light down there. The flickering candlelight cast shadows on walls covered with jars of unknown Italian "delicacies" and soda bottles filled with homemade wine. There was junk everywhere...my grandmother was the "handyman" in the family and could do carpentry, plumbing and general fix-it stuff. No spare bit of wood or metal was ever thrown away. I think they filmed the climax scene from "Psycho" down there. The only thing missing was the skeletal remains of Norman Bates' mother.

I have mostly pleasant memories from my Brooklyn childhood, but every once in a while I get a flash of recollection reminding me of the things that made me fraidy-scared.

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3 comments:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Jim,
Did your buddy Richie have a brother named Danny?
Joe

Jim Pantaleno said...

Joe,

Rich is my age, 66, and he does have a brother named Anthony who is a few years younger. They lived I think at 55A Hull.

Jim

The Whiner said...

Euuuuuwwwwww. I don't think I would have liked the chicken market, the butcher shop, or the creepy basement. I am thinking of becoming a vegetarian just after reading about them.