I grew up at 365 South 3rd Street in Williamsburg. I remember doing my homework—it was to write down as many signers of the Declaration of Independence as you knew. I knew three. My brother Irving came home, and I said, “Irving, I only have three. I’m going to fail this test.” He said, “Where do you play ball?” “I play ball on Franklin Avenue.” He says, “There’s one.” He said, “Where do you play roller hockey?” “On Hooper.” “There’s another.” “Where’s the library?” “Hewes.” “Well, there’s another one.” I said, “Wait a minute, I’m beginning to get it.” I aced that test.
I had the best childhood. I loved life. I thought life was the most wonderful thing ever created. For three cents, you could get a small egg cream—they were called egg creams for some reason, there was never an egg in it. For a nickel, you could get a regular—a Coke glass, a jumbo glass. They put in a spoon of chocolate—Fox’s U-Bet from a jar. Then they would put in a little bit of milk, still from a bottle of milk—it was glass and cold from the icebox. Then they’d hit it from the fountain with a thin, powerful, high stream of seltzer. Shhhhhhhh! It would explode the chocolate syrup in the milk. It was not nonfat milk—it was milk, real milk. And then the soft flow of seltzer to bring it to the top, and a deep, long spoon stirred mightily until there was a beautiful foam top of milk and chocolate bubbles. It was the nectar of the gods. I compare it now to my Château Mouton Rothschild ’82.
My brother Irving once got an old tricycle. Not the tricycle as you’d know it, but a flat board, pedals on the front wheel of this little thing, very small, and two back wheels. No brakes. You’d put your feet down to stop. A board, lacquered and cut so you could get your thighs to get to the front wheel and push. I loved it. I cried tears of joy.
If someone threw out a pair of skates, Irving would work on it—with oil, with a skate key—and I’d have a pair of skates. I couldn’t believe it! I’m doing an eagle turn. I’m at the corner of Hooper Street. I start arms extended, arms akimbo, all extended, out as much as I can go in a kind of circle—and bang! I’m hit by a limousine, knocked down, and the wheel goes over me. I’m hit by a car. Luckily, it was an old-fashioned Ford.
I said, “Good-bye, cruel world.” I swear to God, I couldn’t have been more than 9. My brother Irving ran up, my mother fainted, my brother Bernie ran up and told her. Irving got me from under the car, cradled me in his arms, and took me to Kulick’s Drugstore on South 4th. And there was a crowd that gathered, he kind of had to push his way through with me—skates still on! Heavy skates still on. I heard him say, “Move, you son of a bitch!” I had never heard him curse in my life—like a priest, my brother Irving, or a rabbi. And I was like, Wow, this must be important! Irving is cursing! I went to St. Catherine’s Hospital and a nun with a big heavy wooden cross swinging over me—it was pretty scary—said, “You have to urinate in this bottle.” And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “You have to make pee-pee.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll try.” She gave me the bottle, and I said, “Well, I can’t.” And she said, “If you can’t, we have to put a tube in your penis.” I peed like the Amazon River.
I thank my lucky stars that I was born and that my brother Irving was so kind and good to me. He was giving me street names, he gave me a tricycle, trying to make up for the loss of—I didn’t realize it, but trying to make up for the loss of our father.