Long Island, New York, March 2020
We are on lockdown. The coronavirus is rampaging through New York State and the City is the hardest hit area in the country. We have to stay in our house but we can still go food shopping or to the doctor’s office or the hospital if we catch the virus. The more we go out, the better the chance we’ll catch this virus.
I turned to my wife, the Beautiful AP, and said: “I don’t remember anything like this. It’s like being in a science fiction book. The entire world is affected by a virus. It’s horrifying.”
“I’m thrown,” she said. “I don’t feel like myself. We’ve read about stuff like this happening but I never thought it would happen here.”
“This has spooked me,” I said.
“It’s spooked everyone.”
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1953
I’m playing outside my father’s store at 7007 Third Avenue. I’m six years old, about to be seven.
There’s Lento’s Restaurant on the corner of Third and Ovington avenues; then Todd’s clothing store, then my father’s store, then a dry cleaners and then a grocery store, then Bedell’s pet shop. Across the street are Trunz Bakery and a new pizza parlor that just opened. Pizza was 15 cents a slice. I fell in love with pizza.
The grocery store had just been sold to a group of men who had accents just like many of the men in our neighborhood. But these men were not Italian or Irish or Norwegian like many of the men who had accents. The Norwegians owned the two delicatessens near us. They were very tall and blonde. And there were Pole-axe people in the neighborhood too.
We sat in the backyard yesterday. We have a beautiful deck that we rarely use. We wanted to get some sun. It was a pleasant day, about 60 degrees. We took two Coleman camping chairs outside. We have no furniture on the deck. Why bother? We might sit outside four times in a year. I get the best views of outdoors from my office which is three quarters windows. I spend a lot of hours in my office.
I have three fish tanks in my office: a 20-gallon, a 55-gallon and a 205-gallon. I love fish and have since I was a child.
I bought fish from Bedell’s. My mother always said to me, “You can have one small tank but when you grow up you can have as many tanks as you want.”
I wanted a lot of tanks.
The men who owned the grocery store were quiet. They had crummy-looking tattoos on their arms too; just like Kaplan the butcher, whose store was down the block on 72 Street and Third Avenue. Kaplan the butcher was not quiet. He joked around and complained about everything, even his customers. “They are always complaining and complaining about this, that and everything.”
He and my father were good friends. Kaplan the butcher would always say, “Your father is a great man, Frankie, a great man. Remember that.”
The new owners of the grocery store were very friendly to my father. But they did not talk a lot. A couple of times I saw their wives entering or leaving the grocery store. They were quiet too. I would wave to them and they would wave back. They didn’t smile. They had those tattoos on their arms too, usually covered up. They were the first women I ever saw with tattoos.
I asked my friend Stevie G. about those tattoos. He said, “They were in the Navy. All sailors get tattoos. My uncle has one too but my uncle’s is a woman bending over. It proves they were in the Navy.”
But were women in the Navy? I didn’t know.
One morning I asked my father, “The tattoos those men and Kaplan the butcher have. They are so ugly, just numbers and a letter or two. Why did they get them?”
My father looked at me for a few moments. I was six years old, going on seven. “Frankie, you are right, they are ugly tattoos. They show us that not everything in this world is nice.”
Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at bookstores.