Saturday, April 20, 2019

born in New York City

I was born in New York City.

Towards evening, when I was a kid, a man with a hand organ would stand in the street below the apartment windows and grind out a tune. A monkey -- dressed perhaps as a bellhop -- would 'dance' at the end of a short leash and residents would throw pennies down from the apartment windows above. Naturally, as a kid, I secretly tried to bombard the man with the organ. My pennies always missed and I think the man with the organ knew what was going on ... but his collection of pennies was the central issue. A penny was real money.

Also, there were trucks that filled the kid's eye -- great, grinding things propelled by supersized bicycle chains, some on tires that were solid rubber, some that were inflated. They delivered ...
coal that sluiced from the rear of the truck, down to to basements awaiting fuel; strong men bearing blocks of ice to cool the residential "ice boxes" that had not yet gone out of vogue; a knife- and scissors-grinder; and a rag man who collected cast-off clothing to a purpose I never really understood.

We had roller skates that clamped onto our shoes after a proper tightening with a key that always seemed to get lost. The Good Humor man parked around the corner and wooed kids with jingling bells. There were not yet advertising jingles. I never did like the ice cream much, but I liked the Popsicle sticks they came on ... they were great for sharpening against the sidewalk.

Now and then the cadets at Columbia University around the corner would march and strut their stuff to the awe of onlookers. It was a time of war, but what did a kid know about war -- World War II or any other? 1940-1-2-3-4. The cadets looked very spiffy.

Who could know that when enough of them had perished, suddenly they would become a "greatest generation?"

Looking back, shall I call it "bucolic?" "Bucolic" suggests greenery and flowers in my mind and New York was full of Macadam and cement.


  1. Hmmm....

    Monkeys and Columbia's ROTC?

    Seems that the Organ Grinder, if he actally existed, deserved to be pelted since that endeavor was made illegal in 1935.
    As for the March of Columbia's Killing Commanders, the idea of it makes me ill. Not he necessity of it but the display.

  2. For the record, the organ grinder existed. I saw him.

    1. I have no doubt you remember pelting some poor organ grinder in the 1940’s.

      Whether or not it actually happened is of little import. Further many of us acted like little shites at one point of another, but it seems your life of harassment began at an exceptionally early age.

      The disconnect comes from 1. other posts wherein you state your memory isn’t so reliable, 2. the ban on Street Organs in 1935. How old you would have been even 10 years after the edict.

      Again, LaGuardia issued his edict banning Organ Grinders in 1935. Evidently he found them quite offensive. They look like easy targets for the Police, so I just wonder how long it took for NYC to actually round up all the street organs.

  3. Out of curiosity, I’ve been trying to figure out how to search for organ grinder sightings in NYC after LaGuardia’s anti-Street Organ edict. So far, zip; however this adds a bit to the story:

    As I gathered from the links I previously sent, both the musical instruments and the monkeys were made available for rent in Manhattan’s Five Points area (lower Manhattan), I wonder if they needed to be returned every night so how far north did the grinders get if they had to travel on foot.