The Drug Store

May 10th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

In HG’s youth, The Bronx was dotted with small “drug stores.” They were never called “pharmacies” and the man in charge was a “druggist,” not a “pharmacist.” The drug stores have disappeared, replaced by the huge impersonal pharmacy chains: Walgreens, CVS and in New York, Duane Reade. The old time druggist presided over his domain behind a counter with a background of multi-colored apothecary jars. He was a valuable resource in Bronx neighborhoods. He performed quasi-medical tasks like removing a cinder from an eye, putting iodine on a scraped knee. He gave free medical advice. If things looked grim, he would say: “See a doctor.” Timid young men would whisper “Trojans” to the druggist and would receive the condoms without comment. Then the condoms would nestle in a wallet (often for years) until the long awaited romantic moment arrived.

Bronx Bakeries: Jewish

May 8th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

All main shopping avenues in The Bronx of yesteryear had a “Jewish” bakery. Yes, there were non-Jewish bakeries spread throughout the Bronx and HG will describe them in a following post. But, in HG’s youth, the Jewish bakery on West Kingsbridge Road was the dispenser of joy. Bagels, Bialys, “pletzels” (onion topped flat breads); onion rolls,crisp skinned rolls dotted with poppy seeds, rye bread, pumpernickel bread, corn bread. All of these were worthy companions of the Sunday feast of cream cheese with lox, sturgeon, whitefish, sable, kippered salmon. Plus pickles, olives, sliced tomatoes and onions. Plentiful coffee (and a few shots of brandy). Big time smoked fish jamboree. The bakery also carried a variety of cookies (not great), cheesecake (great); a version of Italian almond biscotti called “mondelbrot” (great), jelly doughnuts and crullers (fair); “mondels” , hollow little balls of dough to be added to soup. HG’s late Mom made tiny balls of dough and baked them into a sticky loaf with honey and ginger. This was called “taigelach” (super great). She also made cinnamon and walnut “rugelach” (ultimate state of the art). Today’s rugelach sold by everyone from Zabar’s to Whole Foods are a pallid imitation. Elaborate, high-cal butter cream cakes were a staple at the bakery. HG’s Mom and Dad brought them to the apartments of friends when they gathered for an evening of gossip, pinochle, Russian tea and vishniak (cherry brandy). The friends reciprocated and little HG ate a left over sliver with breakfast.

Home Remedies From the Shtetl

May 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Following the example of President Roosevelt, daring fighter pilots, baseball players and, yes, doctors, HG began smoking cigarettes in 1942 at the age of 13. Puffed as many as three packs of Marlboros daily (they were the healthy choice because they had a filter). No surprise, HG was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1992. Saved by a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Victor Schramm. Arduous recovery. Stopped smoking on day of diagnosis. Now celebrating 25th anniversary of being smoke free. However, the 50 years of smoking did create problems. HG has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). However, due to advanced pharmacology and technology, HG functions nicely. Walks (slowly), swims daily, does gym work (light weights) and cardiology exercises (treadmill, bike, steps). It helps to have a vigilant and caring family. BSK is a diligent supervisor of diet, vitamins, exercise. And, of course, much is owed to SJ who discovered a lump on his Dad’s neck 25 years ago. Urged immediate diagnosis. Probably, saved HG’s life. From the very beginning of HG’s life, bronchial disease was a problem. Recurrent bronchitis every winter. HG’s Mom believed in the folk remedies of Plestyanitz, the “Shtetl” in Belorussia where she grew up over one hundred years ago. “Shtetl” is the descriptive of the small towns where Jews lived within the Russian Pale of Settlement. Sanitary and sewage facilities were primitive, Health care was medieval;. However, HG’s mom treated HG’s bronchitis the way she was treated in Russia. Basis of the cure was a “shvitz” (a sweat). Many blankets were piled on little HG. Then he drank a glass of “gugel mugel” (a glass of hot milk, honey and rye whiskey). This was followed by numerous hot cups of tea and honey. And, more blankets. Yes, little HG sweated in this Jewish version of an Indian sweat lodge. If this remedy didn’t work HG’s Mom took the drastic step of summoning the “bynkes” man. A “bynke” is a shallow glass suction cup. The “bynkes” man arrived with a leather case of the cups and a heating apparatus. An old little fellow with a long beard, he smelled strongly of whiskey and cheap cigars. Mom was forgiving. “Alteh shikker muz machen ah leben”. (an old drunk must make a living). The suction cups were heated to a robust temperature. Then they were applied with pressure to little HG’s chest and back. Ouch!! The belief was that the heat and the suction would draw out and ultimately destroy the disease. Surprisingly, it worked. It was infallible. The suction cups led to a Yiddish saying describing an ineffectual maneuver: “Helft vey toyten bynkes” It helps like dead (cold) bynkes.

Lawrence L. Langer

May 10th, 2017 § 2 comments § permalink

There was a glaring omission from HG’s recent post, “Thanks Sam”. HG mentioned the careers of fellow members of Hurricanes, SAC., the club of HG’s Bronx youth. Carelessly, HG didn’t mention Lawrence L. Langer. Larry was a special pal of HG’s. A Professor at Simmons College, Boston, for many years until retirement in 1992, Larry is one of the foremost scholars and analysts of the Holocaust. He was the first academic to teach a course on the Holocaust. Among his many books are: “Holocaust Testimonies”, “Admitting the Holocaust”, “The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination”, “Art From the Ashes.” The books have received many awards and Larry has been given honorary degrees from a number of colleges and universities. Larry’s analysis of the Holocaust has been rigorous and dispassionate. He has been skeptical of efforts to deflect attention from the realities of industrialized killing of Jews by emphasizing resistance and rescue. He has challenged the idea that the Holocaust–a mass murder–sanctifies the dignity of the human spirit. Larry established the idea of “choiceless choice” to describe the disintegration of moral reality for concentration camp inmates. Though grim and unsparing, Larry’s books are an essential read if you wish to understand modern history.

The Dime

March 21st, 2017 § 1 comment § permalink

Found a thin dime in a coat pocket. Insignificant coin. That wasn’t the case when HG was a Bronx nine-year-old. Two dimes bought art, adventure, nourishment and appreciation of the female form and female artistic talent. HG would earn the two dimes by carrying the heavy shopping bags of women shopping at the Kingsbridge Road markets. (“Carry your bag, Lady?). Few buildings had elevators and sturdy little HG would have to trudge up many steps to earn a nickel or (rare) dime tip. When HG had the necessary two dimes it was off to Manhattan. Destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Preparing for the trip, HG spent a dime on nourishment. A chunk of garlic salami (“A Nickel a Shtickel”) and two sour dill pickles (the tasty treats were wrapped in waxed paper and placed in a brown paper bag.) They were obtained at Tower Delicatessen. HG spent a nickel on the subway fare at the Kingsbridge Road/Jerome Avenue station. HG read abandoned copies of newspapers on the ride to 81st Street and Lexington Avenue. (yes, nine-year-olds traveled alone on subways in 1938). Quick walk to the Met. Admission was free for children (SJ notes that the Met is still donation-only meaning you have to pay something, even a penny, but the “suggested admission” is for tourists and suckers!) . First stop was The Armor Room. A stirring sight was fully armored knights on horses. Plenty of lances, axes, bludgeons, swords, daggers, spears to spark a young fellow’s imagination. There were two favorite paintings at the Met. One was “The Lady and the Parrot” by Gustave Courbet. Then and now, HG finds this the most beautiful (and sexiest) nude of a woman ever painted, The other was “The Horse Fair” by a female painter, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), the most famous female painter of the 19th Century. “The Horse Fair” is monumental, eight feet by 16 feet, Little HG would stand transfixed before this painting, which throbbed with the energy and beauty of rearing and tossing horses. Bonheur was an “animalier”, a painter of animals. (later in life, HG was happy to discover her “Plowing at Nivernais,” a serene but forceful depiction of oxen at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris). HG consumed the pickle and salami lunch with many glasses of free water, in the beautiful dining room of the Met. HG’s final nickel was spent on the subway ride home. Bedtime sleep was filled with beautiful and stirring images.

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Smetana

March 17th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Sour cream was omnipresent on the family table when HG was growing up in The Bronx. HG’s late Mom called it “smetana” (the Russian name). Though not observant of Jewish dietary restrictions, Mom confined sour cream to “dairy” (non-meat) dishes. Sour cream accompanied blintzes. Mom sneered at jam. Considered it an aberration of “galitzianers” (Galicans), Jews fixated on sweets. Kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats and Italian “farfalle”) was topped with smetana as was cold beet borscht and “schav” (sorrel soup). Typical summer lunch was a bowl of sliced bananas (or seasonal strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) with ample smetana. There was a vegetable variant: chopped onions or scallions, cucumbers and radishes. Smetana covered bowls of cottage cheese or pot cheese (lots of kosher salt and black pepper). Mom always bought sour cream, cheese and butter at Daitch Dairy. Considered their products superior. HG/BSK continued that tradition when they lived on W. 79th in Manhattan and there was a Daitch Dairy on the southwest corner of Broadway (the cream cheese was epic and a ‘shmear” on a warm bialy turned morning coffee into a happy ritual). Sour cream plays a big role in fiery New Mexico cuisine. A scoop brings cool to a palate singed by chiles. HG/BSK like to top Goya black beans with chopped onion and sour cream. Mixed with Greek yogurt, sour cream accompanies a variety of BSK’s lamb, middle eastern and Indian dishes. HG is looking forward to Final Four and NBA playoffs. HG’s TV dinner will be small boiled potatoes covered with sour cream. Much salt and pepper, of course. Dill pickles. Icy vodka. Beer chasers. Smetana heaven.

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Homage To Hershele

April 15th, 2016 § 4 comments § permalink

During HG’s young years, HG’s late, beloved father, Hershele Zvi Freimann (anglicized at Ellis Island to “Harry Freeman”), would arrive home after work in a breathless state. It was a long, uphill trudge from the Bronx’s 170th Street subway station (later the Kingsbridge station). Hershele hung up fedora and coat. Opened the refrigerator to get a piece of schmaltz (or home pickled) herring. Tore off a hunk of pumpernickel bread (Pechter’s or Stuhmer’s). Poured a substantial glass of Park & Tilford rye whiskey (tiny glass for little HG). Hershele and HG clinked glasses and said: “L’chaim !! (To Life). Hershele knocked off the big glass in one mighty gulp and followed it with the herring/pumpernickel chaser (HG opted for a small piece of bread). Yes, immigrant Jews like Hershele enjoyed alcohol. The pre-dinner drink was known as a “brumfen.” At the end of dinner, a dessert of fruit compote was served with a glass of home brewed “vishniak” (cherry brandy). Thus, HG grew up believing alcohol was part of dining. Hershele (and HG in later life) always accompanied spirits with food. HG sips bitters and soda before a meal with one or two shrimp, ceviche from the Pojoaque (New Mexico) Super Market, or a simple, salted cracker. Wine accompanies dinner and HG sips an after dinner TV-watching-snifter of brandy (or Scotch) with a sweet: peanut brittle or Belgian Butter Cookies. Tonight, HG’s meal will be an homage to much missed Hershele. There will be a bottle of icy Aakavit on the table plus dark ale brewed by New Mexico monks. Two kinds of herring: Pickled and Matjes. Gefilte fish and Jewish Rye Bread (both from New York’s Zabar’s via visiting Peter Hellman). Sliced sweet onions (from Texas). Boiled potatoes. Sour cream. For dessert: a thin slice of New York cheese cake with a snifter of brandy. HG will raise his glass of Aakavit and say “L’chaim !!. With a second glass, HG will raise it and say: “To your blessed memory, beloved Hershele.”

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Memories of Dolph

December 12th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Here is an improbable fact. HG once drove to the basket and scored while being guarded by the great basketball player (Hall of Famer) Dolph Schayes. This happened in the gym of Creston Junior High School in The Bronx when HG was 13 and Dolph was 14. HG was aided in the score by teammate Jerry Tenney (later a prominent New York real estate investor) who gave Dolph a push. Young Dolph was very tall, gawky and awkward. HG liked the smart, untalented young man. HG was present when Dolph made his high school debut as the center of the talented De Witt Clinton High School basketball team. Dolph had replaced graduating center Stretch Durant, a fan favorite. Still awkward, Dolph was not well received. But, Dolph soon got better and better. And, better. Soon, he was equal to the exciting Joel Kaufman with whom Dolph played at Clinton and N.Y.U.. HG was often present when Dolph (with the Syracuse Nats) came to New York to bedevil the Knicks. He had become a great professional star, deadly from inside and outside, a solid defender, deft passer, never static but always in motion. Dolph was the prototype of today’s power forwards. HG was sorry to read his obituary this week and bemused by the fact Dolph earned a total of $250,000 for his entire 16-year career as a pro star (12 times an NBA All Star and voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history). Great player’s career timing was off.

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Ida Kopkind Freeman

November 2nd, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

HG’s late Mom was a short, hefty woman with a big bosom and an ample bottom. Her marriage to HG’s father was not ideal but they remained married for more than a half century. For immigrant Jews of her generation divorce was non-existent. Chaika (later anglicized to “Ida”) Kopkind, was born in Plestyanitz, a “shtetl” (a Jewish village) in the Minsk province of Belorussia. She was one of three sisters in a family of seven children. Ida, her sister Feigel (“Fanny”) and brother Shmuel (“Samuel”) emigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. Some of the family died in the pogroms and disruptions following the Russian revolution and the ensuing civil war. The rest were murdered by the Nazis during World War Two. There is no trace of her family left in Russia. (HG’s father’s family, the Freimann family [later anglicized to “Freeman”] fared better. A few members survived including a very old man who recalled HG’s father by his boyhood nickname, “Grisha”.) Ida loved the lively Lower East Side of New York where she lived in a tenement with another immigrant young woman, Maryasha (“Marie”). From her earliest childhood, Ida was nimble with a needle and thread (later a sewing machine). She found employment as a sewing machine “operator” in a clothing factory and her speed and skill gave her a reasonable income doing piece work. (Some of her unlucky friends died in the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an event that galvanized the Jewish immigrants and led to the unionization of the garment industry). When Ida married Harry Freeman, a skilled cutter in a woman’s coat factory, the young couple moved away from the teeming Lower East Side to the healthier neighborhoods of The Bronx. And, that’s where they raised a family and lived for the great majority of their lives. HG’s Mom was a master of household skills. She had the powerful energy needed in those days of low incomes and no labor saving devices. The HG home was always surgically clean. Laundry was done by hand and dried on clothes lines. Socks were darned and clothing rips were repaired. Mom made shirts, dresses, night gowns on her busy Singer Sewing Machine as well as curtains, table cloths, slip covers, bed covers, etc. She prepared robust food for the HG family of five. The cuisine was Eastern European/Jewish Great stuffed cabbage and chopped liver. Incomparable gefilte fish. Borscht. Schav. Chicken soup with matzo balls. Brisket and gravy.The best blintzes ever. Stuffed derma (a chicken neck stuffed with matzo meal, onions, garlic and spices). Knaidlach (hefty matzo meal dumplings). Mom pickled herring, made her own noodles, baked apple pies, honey cake, rugelach. Ginger and honey glazed pastries were little HG’s favorite. The only vegetable HG recalls was a carrot dish called “tzimmes”. (carrot shavings were baked in a casserole with honey, ginger and cinnamon). Sorry, there were other vegetables. So terrible, HG has blanked them from memory (almost). A big bargain at a local supermarket were “mystery” cans. These were canned foods that had been knocked about and lost their identifying labels. They cost pennies. Mom believed she had a secret talent. She would shake the cans. From the sound she would determine if they contained dessert choices–canned peaches, plums, cherries, prunes. She was often correct but often erred. That meant she opened a can at dessert time. Unfortunately, it might contain brussels sprouts or lima beans. Depression era. Waste not. Want not. The family ate these cold vegetables for dessert. Mom rendered lots of chicken fat and the flavorful stuff played a big role in her cooking. There was a brief, unhappy period when Mom served “American health” food. She was influenced by a radio program, “You Are What You Eat,” hosted by nutrition expert Dr. Victor Lindlahr. Fortunately, under pressure from family protests, the good chicken fat cuisine resumed. Ida did not shower little HG with praise. Mrs. Brownstein, HG’s first grade teacher, told Mom at an obligatory school visit, that HG was a brilliant, gifted child. Mom’s response: “So, if you’re so smart you should help out around the house. And, you should learn to tie your shoelaces so you don’t trip.” Later, when HG was 11, the young fellow competed in the Americana Quiz, a history contest held in New York’s elementary schools. HG was judged best in The Bronx so was eligible to compete for The Best In New York Prize with four other young contenders, one each from Staten Island, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The event was held in the studio of WNYC, the New York City radio station and hosted by the city’s colorful Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, “The Little Flower.” HG’s Mom was in the audience. HG came in second, beaten by a smart little girl from Brooklyn. The Mayor shook HG’s hand, praised his effort, and gave him the second prize, an American history book by Charles A. Beard. Mom’s comment: “So, why didn’t you win?” HG discussed this incident and others relating to his Mom with a Freudian psychoanalyst. Her mysteries were only partially revealed.

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Part Three: Early Bronx Memories (More Woodycrest)

October 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

One of HG’s sharpest Great Depression memories (circa 1935-37) is of clusters of men gathered each day in front of 1210 Woodycrest Avenue, the Bronx apartment house where HG and family lived. The men were dressed in coats, suits, shirts and ties, shined shoes, fedora hats. That’s the way men dressed in those days. Sportswear hadn’t been invented and only cowboys or laborers wore jeans.They smoked cigarettes. They were unemployed but neatly dressed in case a job interview came up. Unlikely. But, they were prepared. A grim time. HG’s older brother, Bernard, found a job as a bartender at the Topps restaurant on W. 42nd Street. Then he worked in the stock room of a luggage manufacturer. Bernard was always unlucky, a rat bit him and he became the last recorded typhus victim in New York. Later he worked as a salesman in the fur district. Saved money. Studied optometry at Columbia. Became an optometrist and lived and practiced optometry in Atlanta from 1941 until his death a few years ago (Some 14 years older than HG, he was proud that he supplied eye glasses for Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. King Jr’s father–who he called “Daddy” King–and all other members of the King family and their congregants). In 1937, HG’s late sister, Beulah Naomi, graduated high school at the age of 15 and immediately went to work as a bookkeeper for a fur coat manufacturer. At night she attended City College of New York at the 23rd Street branch (now known as Baruch College). The family weathered the Great Depression. The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936. Politically left wing (but not Communist), HG’s family supported vigorously the Loyalists who battled the Fascists. Some of HG’s brother’s friends joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and went to Spain to fight. Little HG was shocked by the bombing by German and Italian warplanes of the Basque village of Guernica. The vision of death from the skies haunted HG. Picasso, of course, responded to the bombing by painting Guernica, his huge, moving anti-war work of art. (Completed in 1937). In later years, HG always viewed Guernica at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Very moving. Viewed Guernica again after it was moved to the Reina Sofia Museum In Madrid. HG and BSK agreed, It still had a powerful impact.

Woodycrest Avenue (and much of The Bronx) began to deteriorate in the 1960’s and by the 1970’s became dangerous and decayed. In the 1970’s HG’s public relations firm was retained by a Bronx-based elevator repair and maintenance company. It became HG’s mission to dramatize the dangers of the elevators in bedraggled Bronx apartment houses. The aim was to force the city to enforce vigorously safety codes regarding elevators. Of course, this would mean increased business for elevator repair and maintenance firms. At the time, HG worked closely with Carl Stokes, the African-American ex-Mayor of Cleveland and then an NBC-TV anchorman and reporter. The elevator story that Stokes reported on for NBC centered on HG’s childhood home, 1210 Woodycrest Avenue. The place was in desperate shape. Glass doors had been replaced by plywood sheets smeared with graffiti. The lobby was filled with debris. Corridors were filthy. The elevator barely functioned. The program created action. Elevator inspections and enforcement became more frequent in The Bronx and other boroughs.

At the time, Woodycrest Avenue was the home of a folk hero, idolized by some of The Bronx’s impoverished African-American population. He was Larry Davis, an alleged murderer and drug dealer. Davis, his mother, brothers, relatives and a group of friends lived in a frame house on Woodycrest. (Many of the inhabitants wound up in prison). In 1986, Davis was at his sister’s home in the East Bronx. Davis was wanted for murder. Six police officers burst into the apartment. Davis answered with gunfire. A number of officers were wounded (some seriously) before he was captured. At his trial, Davis was represented by William Kunstler, a flamboyant attorney who represented many left wing radicals and anti-Vietnam War activists (including the “Chicago Seven”).. Kunstler claimed that Davis sold drugs for corrupt police officers. Davis said the officers were going to kill him before he could inform on their activities. Thus, his actions could be defined as self defense. The jury acquitted him. Later, he went to prison on a murder charge and was killed by a fellow inmate in 2008.

Woodycrest and its environs have changed through the years. It is now a Dominican neighborhood with some Puerto Rican and African-American residents. Much of the housing has been renovated (including 1210). Two architectural landmarks in the art deco style have been preserved and revitalized. They are the eight-story Noonan Towers (939 Woodycrest Avenue) and the remarkable group of buildings, Noonan Plaza on W. 168th Street. Both were built in the late 1920’s by developer Bernard Noonan. The Noonan Plaza complex was little HG’s vision of paradise. It was entered by a gate manned by an imposing fellow with a colorful cape. The buildings were white brick art deco. The courtyard had a waterfall, streams adorned with Japanese bridges and graceful swans who glided on he water. HG visited Noonan Plaza with HG’s sister (a high school friend lived there). HG was astonished by the big living rooms, bathrooms with colorful tiles and built-in tubs, kitchens that were the height of Moderne. Tragically, Noonan Plaza disintegrated. But, fortunately, the city stepped in before it disappeared. A very ambitious restoration program made it sought after housing for lower income families. No, the swans and waterfall are gone. But, Noonan Plaza lives. HG doesn’t know what has happened to another great art deco masterpiece in the neighborhood, the Park Plaza apartment house on Jerome Avenue. Built between 1929-31, it faces Mullaly Park. Its facade is adorned with remarkable gargoyles and terra cotta plaques. The architect was the late Horace Ginsbern who designed some 137 Bronx apartment houses as well as many Manhattan buildings. The late Julien J. Studley, who loved architecture (HG wrote about him recently), bought the building at one point. Fascinated by its design, Julien, an optimist, thought he could effectively maintain the building despite the strictures of rent control. He was wrong. Quickly sold the building. The Woodycrest neighborhood is improving (still a bit dangerous, however). At one time, it was composed of estates where the gentry rode to the hounds. Woodycrest Avenue was part of the Marcher estate. The Marchers loved Shakespeare and created formal gardens with busts of Shakespeare and characters from his plays. All that remains of their interest is Woodycrest’s neighboring street: Shakesepeare Avenue.

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