Various Visits To New York City
by Hal Muskat
My mom knew the location of every Schraft's Ice Cream counter in Manhattan! Mom would take us kids on trips, but always to The City to see her grandmother. I don't believe there was a time when mom wouldn't stop at one of those magical kids palaces known in those days as Schraft's where she would melt her compulsion for mocha ice cream sodas with coffee ice cream into her children's genetic stream. I grew up secure with the knowledge that my mom knew the location of every Schrafts in New York City. To this day, it's my ice cream treat of choice. I drink about three mocha shakes a week! Schraft's, long closed is but a memory.
My dad would take me into the city too. Sometimes he had to work on Saturdays and I'd go with him into Manhatten where I'd sit at an otherwise empty desk in some advertising agency and cut ads from newspapers adding them to a pile which I'm certain grows to this day.
One day, early in the summer of 1955, we were to have another of those father and eldest son "bonding" adventures as dad pulled The Chevy out of our concrete suburban driveway and headed for whatever slow route he took to that seemingly faraway mysterious place known as "Brooklyn."
But we weren't going to The Dentist or to Aunt Dollie's, and since Uncle Marvin had long sinced moved to Levittown from the same apartment building housing Duke Snider, we couldn't be going there.
The only other times we had been to Brooklyn alone and together was when he brought me to my first and subsquent baseball games at Ebbets Field. In that day, one did not become a Dodger fan, it was not anything to become, really. Simply stated, one was born into it as any other New York kid was born into a Giants or Yankess family (God Forbid! - in fact, my dad's maternal wing of first cousins were all Dodger fans).
I was seven or eight and had seen a season or two on television, read the daily sports pages and fell asleep dreaming of playing for The Bums while listening at night to the team on the road. Even with a good year or two of Little League behind me, my entire sense of what professional baseball looked like in person and up close, was within a black and white context framed by those early televsions.
Entering Ebbets Field for the first time I clearly remember being smacked broadside by the bright green grass trimmed all the way to the multi colored hand painted advertisements on the back fences. And how Green it was! Everything and person at Ebbets Field seemed to be in sharp relief and in deep magical contast to that green. Baseball black, greys and off white of early television never again appeared until I visited Yankee Stadium and later witnessed the Los Angeles Dodgers on color TV.
We saw several games before a certain child hater named O'Malley moved the team, wrecked my not yet adolescent dreams and all but destroyed my youth creating a communist in his money grubbing wake.
My first visits to Coney Island, on the other hand, were with my best friend Harvey
and his dad. The same wonderful gentleman who would each year, after his ritualistic
catechism, "Don't you ever tell your mothers' - either of them would kill me!" take
us, from the middle of Yom Kippur afternoon services, into town for ice cream. I've
just recently been enlightened to learn however - I was in the middle of a colon
cleansing juice fast at a Buddhist Retreat-- that one is not supposed to eat ice cream
But on this particular special day it was my dad's turn to take his son to Coney Island and I looked increasingly forward to the weekend as the school week passed that midway point sometime after noon Wednesday. Forty five some years later there are no recollections of the day beyond hot dogs, boardwalk, bumper cars and me and Dad, having long since forgotten whether or not we rode The Cyclone or any of the other roller coasters.
While no real specifics or feelings beyond nostalgia and missing my father emerge when the recollections of that Coney Island Sunday are brought forth (It wasn't like seeing Jackie Robinson play basseball!) a creeping warmth slides in as I contemplate one day soon taking my teenage step sons to that same place.
On a more recent visit to New York, I had the occasion to take a subway train from Brooklyn to The City. Dressed in tie dye, and carefully sipping from a water bottle, I casually entered a car taking on a bench apparently in the middle of an out of place family seated on both sides of the aisle, dressed to the nines in hand-me-down early Twentyith Century immigrant cloth. Yarmakuas were on the heads of dad and each of his three sons, two of whom were seated to the left of me, flanking a younger sister.
Across the aisle on dad's left was another daughter and to her left her youngest sister, next to mom holding tightly to both hands of her youngest daughter. The girls and mom wore shawls that covered most of their heads and long ankle lengh dresses my great grandmother would have been comfortable wearing in Schrafts. Their hands, cupped tightly in their laps, seemed to search silently for something to cook or sew. I sensed mom and dad wished they had several more sons, a few body guards and the Israeli Army. I couldn't help but notice the entire family nervously and with great paranoia, flinching at my tie dyed presence in their space on this subway car leaving Brooklyn. And, I am white and Jewish!
A distraught African American man, high, drunk, displeased, broke and crying, dressed in late Twentith Century discarded street cloth and inhalinig from a brown paper bag slipped through our car dancing and singing, doing 360's at each of the poles near the doors while begging in several unrecognizeable languages for dollar bills, jewelry or cigerettes. He looked at the Observant Ones, starred really for several long seconds and moved on visibly pleasing mom who by that time had made her child's hands chalky and bloodless white. Mother I was certain, was close to a heart attack.
Unsure of my stop and wishing to relieve their obvious stress somewhat, I got up to look at the subway map above and to the right of dad. He stiffened as I got close and moved closer to his daughter. Insulted by their uptightness and wanting them to feel comfortable and safe, at least in my presence, a fellow, if not religious, Jew, I choose to speak to them, via father. I was certain he'd be the only one to reply while the rest of his family pretended not to listen.
"Oy! Been a long time since I been to The City by subway," a downright lie I said easily to him but no one really, while looking at the map. "Visiting mishpucha?" I asked with a straight smile looking sideways at him. I took the seat beneath the map. It had been thirty five years since I'd said "Oy!"
That broke the ice, somewhat. Turns out they were from Baltimore visiting relatives in Borough Park and were on the way to a recital at Lincoln Center as I was on my way to one by Phil Lesh at The Beacon. Pop confirmed their stop with me, as if I should know and asked if it would be difficult to find two taxis to get back to Brooklyn that night. "Not unless you look like Chris Rock," I replied to entirely empty stares. No one beside dad spoke with me or offered full faced glances, and there were few recognizable expressions on the faces of his spouse or their prodigee that would not be defined by fear.
At their stop, mom and dad hustled the children out of the car and towards the Lincoln Center exits. The doors slid shut and I took another sip of electric water from my water bottle. Turns out, The Beacon exit was the same one I'd use to visit my great grandmother years ago, long after mom stopped taking us to The City. This was 72nd and Broadway and the closest Schraft's used to be right up the block and across the street.