My church, Our Lady of Lourdes in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, used to ring the "Angelus Bell" every day. The Angelus Domini, shortened to "the Angelus," is the ringing of the church bell -- in three groups of three chimes with a pause in between each group, followed by 9 consecutive strokes -- and its associated prayers, which spring from the old monastic practice of praying at the sound of the Angelus Bell. As Catholic school kids we were instructed to stop what we were doing wherever we were and say 3 Hail Marys in honor of the Incarnation. As we got older it became harder to follow this practice for fear of being teased (or worse) by our jeering friends. Only those guys who were very religious and very tough continued to pray unmolested.
One of man's cleverest creations was the wooden desk that school children sat at. (Sorry again Miss Baumann.) These marvels featured a writing surface complete with an inkwell (yes Virginia, we used real ink and plastic quill pens) and a carved-out notch where you could rest a pencil or pen without it rolling down the slanted desktop. There was a shelf under the desktop for storing books that kept them accessible, yet neatly out of sight. Also built in was a wooden bench that could be folded up to facilitate getting in and out of your seat. The final touch of genius was the way these units were bolted together so that the backrest of each seat supported the desk behind it. They were assembled in rows of maybe 10 desks, and served many generations of Lourdes boys in their white shirts and blue ties.
Street kids had a definite pecking order. At the bottom were kids who were hopeless at sports or who had some distinguishing characteristic like a lisp, a stutter or eyeglasses that could be made fun of. (See previous Miss Baumann apologies.) . In the middle were kids who could play sports passably and knew enough about their limitations to not press their small advantage. The alpha boys excelled at sports and usually were chosen first when games were played. There were also guys who were good with their fists who, regardless of their sports prowess, found their way into the upper echelon just because those who might disagree with them didn't like getting beat up. I sometimes wonder how many of the bookish, bottom-tier kids wound up as corporate CEOs making ten times more than the alphas now working many levels below them. Karma is a bitch.
For me, the ultimate candy store treat was an ice cold egg cream. There were some "musts" for serious egg cream drinkers that separated those truly in the know from the amateurs. First, it had to be served in a large Coca Cola glass, NEVER a cone shaped paper cup. Next, it had to be made with Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup. Finally, it had to be prepared in the proper sequence. Chocolate syrup followed by milk filled to about 25% of the glass's capacity and then cold seltzer stirred with a long spoon as it was being added so as to create the signature creamy head that formed on top. That first sip (no straw please) would coat your upper lip with white foam as the cold chocolate goodness hit the back of your throat. (No, there is no egg in an egg cream; if you thought that you never lived in Brooklyn.)
Once in a while I am confronted with something that triggers one of these dormant childhood memories and the connection is almost electric.
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