My Coney Island Memories
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1960 program from the Mermaid Theatre.
(we got to see the movies well after they were already out, on their second run.... hey at .25 cents and no cable channels or vhs ,how could you beat it?)
The End Of Summer Loves
(posted to AOL message board 1996)
This time of year brings to mind years gone by when I was a young teen. I grew up in Coney Island and then Seagate. These beach areas always had a swelling of population during the summer months. It seemed that each hot summer there was a young cutie that moved into a vacant apartment summer rental with her family. One summer we actually had a family with 5 sisters from South Carolina move in our block!! They usually proceeded to absolutely tear my heart out. Making it worse was her exotic accent. Maybe from down south, or as far away as NJ or Queens! The word spread quickly. "Did you see who moved in down the block?". "Yeah what a dog". As we secretly acted nonchalant to jockey for position. Before you knew it, we were wearing our clean sneakers, and combing our hair with Vitalis or Bryl Cream. Guys that were normally your buddies, were all of a sudden tripping you, poking fun at you, and generally trying to make you look bad!! In a few days the sizing up began in ernest. It always started off slowly with lots of game playing. Flirting, teasing, hard to get, I like your friend better, were the games that were played. Playing rough and tumble street games just so you could have an excuse to playfully put your arms around her. The pressure of trying to hit that "Spaldeen" out of sight when she was watching. That first feeling of closeness to someone that smelled just SO GOOD, was exhilerating. It was near the end of the summer with dreaded school coming closer that things would finally heat up. Holding hands actually in front of your buddies! Oh my goodness was I crazy? Sitting on a quiet stoop at night in each others arms. Secretly meeting under the boardwalk to make out on the sand. I can still smell the ocean and the sen-sen on her breath! Love hurts like hell when you're a young teen and your summer girlfriend is going back home, probably forever. For some reason we didn't have the social skills back then to take a phone number or write. It was almost like some inevitable force. It started like a hurricane, then it was simply over. I still believe that there is no such thing as puppy love. Especially when it's happening to YOU. Seems like the entire winter was spent in black and white, just waiting for that first warm breeze of summer to add some color to my world. Time to keep an eye on those vacant apartments again.
My first teenage love, Brenda. at the NY Worlds Fair 1965
Since she lived in Canarsie, I had to take 2 buses to the train
to Manhattan, to catch the 14th St line back to Bklyn
to another bus, just to see her! Still one of the sweetest girls I ever knew
An Ode To Steeplechase and Coney
(this is my first story posted to AOL board 1996)
Reading some of this stuff on my computer has made me nostalgic for the old Coney Island and especially the king of the parks, Steeplechase. My hey-day was the early '60's. By then Coney was ragged around the edges and going downhill. When I was about 12 (1961 or so), it was heaven. My Mom would give me a whole dollar and I would go with my buddies, (Danny Sweet, David Louie, Joey Yosso, Larry Rosenbloom, Dennis Cavanaugh, Maurice Bank, Steve Hornberger, Larry Zeller, Joey Keonig etc), down to the Bowery. The rides, Playland, Murray Zarets Animal Land, Bat-a-way, et -all. That dollar would last me a whole day, and if I was clever (weren't all us Brooklyn kids?), I would have enough left over for Nathans fries, (they were in a cone shaped cup, placed in a bag for .15 cents. add salt a little ketchup and shake until the bag was soaked with grease). Yet we would trade all that for a day at Steeplechase. You would get a blue and white round wheel-card that would get punched the appropriate number of times depending on how good the ride was. This later changed to script, and then ride tickets.
A big part of the Steep experience was the proper management of our ride tickets. The horses and better rides cost more hole punches. We'd sit on the stoops the day before going and plan out how to get the most out of them. Of course we'd scour the floors for unpunched tickets, but they were hard to find. It was a sin to not use them all up, so we'd end up going on the 1 punchers a couple times at the end of the day. Of course we'd also save a punch for sitting in the gallery to watch the girls skirts being blown up by the clowns. One thing that was free, was the big dark room where we saw the first console color TV's.
The signature ride was the dangerous wooden horse Steeplechase race around the park, they careened around old creaky tracks at breakneck speed. There were no seat belts, so you had to hold on for dear life! When it was over the ride let you off at the entrance to a funhouse to be tortured by a midget clown with a cattle-prod. For you younger readers I swear this is all true! I was petrified of him but you couldn't ride the horses and avoid the funhouse.
The Whirlpool was a spinning Mexican hat where 20 riders would sit on the top and fight to push each other down the slope which was spinning around like a top. This ride was often temporarily closed, while they cleaned up the vomit once a day. The giant mahogany 2 story high slide which you slid down on a piece of carpet or towel. I was pleasantly surprised to find the giant bicycle ride, where we supplied the power to all go in a circle, turn up at Gaslight village in Lake George in the '70's. When you were out of tickets and money, you could stay for hours looking for unpunched tickets on the floor, watch the demon like little clown electrocute people, see the girls skirts being air blown up to their necks, or watch the very first real color TV set in a very quiet dark room. When the news was out that it was to going to close, we all made sure we went again, only to find everything in a state of disrepair. The big smile on the guy on the front of the building had many broken windows or teeth missing, and the shrine to George C. Tilyou was desecrated. Someone had even stolen the dangerous and very rare Red San Francisco Bats. (you had to climb up a ladder to see them, and the gag was that they were baseball bats). We went anyway, and looked at everything through rose colored glasses, trying to relive the greatness our parents told us of. That final night of operation in 1965 they played Old Lang Syne, and There's No Business Like Show Business. 67 bells were sounded, one for each year of Steeplechases existence. The neighborhood was falling apart as well. Empty rundown slum buildings, gated shops. I never realized until I was an adult looking back how depressing it was for us all. This was my first real experience with the death of a loved one, Steeplechase.
the funhouse, where the little clown would terrorize us The wooden Steeplechase horses
One Less Summer
It's the time of the year that seems to evoke sad memories. For some reason the coming of the fall and winter leaves us cold as well. Of course as kids the coming of the wind signaled the start of dreaded school. What was ever worse than that? Getting up early. Dealing with dress codes. Rules, rules, rules. Yuk. No more girls legs to see. No more bathing suits. Also it was the start of all the big Jewish holidays. We couldn't play ball so well all dressed up. The end of the year. Another one down. One less summer in our lives. Often it was saying goodbye to a transient summer love. The end of another great baseball season. It was getting dark earlier and earlier. At 6:00pm coming home from the late session at a bursting at the seams baby boomer High School, it was already cold and dark! Time to do homework, watch a little TV, and go to sleep. The rides and games of chance were closed and boarded up tight all around the Bowery in Coney Island. The mechanical laughing fat lady at the Magic Carpet Ride Funhouse was just sitting there, doing nothing. The paint peeling off her fat cheeks. I would always look at her for a time, scared to death that she would move on her own. The wax museum was open all year round, but without the barker screaming into a raspy microphone "see Lena Medina..... the 5 year old mother". The trees were barren, the sand was all blowing around the boardwalk. Just days ago it was teaming with millions of folks, who got off the trains at Stillwell Ave. schlepping all their bags of towels and goodies to the beach. Nathans would put up its wooden shack like walls, so you could still eat standing up outside, yet be somewhat protected from the cold. Come to think of it, Nathans was always crowded, Summer, Winter, didn't matter at all.
Winter had its good parts too. The anticipation of snow coming and cancelling school. Cuddling at night in a doorway or stoop fully dressed with your sweetheart. Christmas and/or Chanukah presents. Going to the movies. New Years. Stocking hats. Gloves. Boots. The best part of all was the sniffing of the air trying to be the first one to say, "hey I smell it.... the summer's coming"!
by J.k. Sinrod
(posted to AOL 11/00)
Oh yeah. we bad. We were Coney Island street kids alright. Mixed Italians, Jews, Polish, Irish, mutts, and whatever the summer bungalo's brought in. The girls were tougher than most of todays guys. We had a right to take it out on the rest, didn't we? What were we supposed to do with our spare time? No video games or cable TV. Pranks, scams, cons, were what we lived for. After all we were the locals who weren't allowed to play the games at Facination or the Bowery, 'cause we knew how to beat them. You name it, we had a solution. Remember the HIT THE BIG NAIL INTO THE 4 x 4 BEAM and WIN A PRIZE? Almost impossible to do in just 3 hits... but very do-able if you used a little vaseline from your hair on it. That ring toss game is unfair, so one of us would distract the barker, while a buddy would bend over and place the ring right on top of a good prize. (Ooops another secret revealed). These scams didn't last for too long. Before we knew it, we were all chased down the Bowery behind Nathans and banned for life!!
Slugs, outright stealing, cheating, that was for losers. I could play at Playland for hours, not because I was good, but because I knew the location of the secret switches under or on top of the various baseball and pinball machines. The right push and a free game.
Our best targets were the folks unlucky enough to walk down our block. We would watch with roaring laughter as an unsuspecting woman was all tangled up in our homemade web of "invisible" black thread criss-crossing back and forth across the street. What a blast it was to set firecrackers with a very slow fuse to go off right in front of nighttime strollers. We were sitting across the street minding our own business. Riding our bikes on the boardwalk in tandem each holding the end of a cord and deftly flipping the hats off the men walking by Brighton Beach. They would curse us with thick yiddish accents. You little son-of-a-bitch bestids! And of course the rumbles. Forever talk of, how, when, where, what weapons. In a local fight with one of yours, over money or a girl, fists were the only legal weapon to use. You would start out boxing, but it almost always ended with one guy wrestling and pinning the loser on the ground. Then it was over and you were buddies again. Outsiders were VERY different. Sticks, rocks, chains, pipes, whatever...... was OK. Especially since you would always say you were outnumbered. If one of your guys were in trouble it was a matter of minutes before we would be tearing down Mermaid Ave to come to his rescue. Of course there was always the weak link of the bunch. The wimpy guys who hung around for our leftovers, whether they were girls or firecrackers. You know the kind of guys I mean. The ones that got the last "zip" of the soda bottle. That last inch of 90% spit, 10% coke. This guy would take regular torture and come back for more. The night we took him down to the beach and buried him in the sand up to his neck....... naked. Put him in a garbage can and secured the lid.... rolled him around the block. Tied and gagged him and put him in front of the meanest, foulest, drunkest landlord's doorstep, and rang the bell for the umpteenth time that night. The guy came out with a shotgun once, and the kid almost had a heart attack! (We paid the price for that one). Funny but after re-reading this stuff, it sounds kind of tame compared to the school shootings, drugs, and such we read about today.
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