Brooklyn Boro

Sad Songs

May 23, 2021 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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My Brooklyn memories are mostly happy ones. That changed in adolescence. It had nothing to do with Brooklyn; it had to do with adolescence. Everyone at that time of life got hooked on sad songs. Was it, “Tell Laura I Love Her?” or maybe “Teen Angel?” There were dozens of them, each one more morose than the other and seemingly the more morose they were the higher on the charts they rose. 

Life throws one curves. What did we say? “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger?” Someone poisoned my dog and I watched him die in agony. 

My iconic, erratic, beloved grandfather died and at the funeral the rabbi forgot his name. “We are here to celebrate the life of…er…” and with that began a mad scramble through pockets and folders. It was seconds; it seemed like forever. Finally, “er….Louis Feinstein.” I was crushed. 

Watching my grandma bury both her children. Ugh! 

Cheating girlfriends and girls who would pay no attention to you no matter what you tried. All part of life.

Two memories haunt me. One is from elementary school and one from high school. In elementary school (PS 217 we had our rough guys, bullies, and a gang member or two. I remember one Hispanic kid who was as big as an NFL tackle, had the worst case of acne I’ve seen to this day, and facial expressions that said, “Even if you think you’d like to talk to me, don’t!” Then there were the two kids who were inseparable who were so bad, caused so much mischief and outright trouble, they probably could have used an exorcism. Since they came from the Catholic side of Coney Island Avenue it is a legitimate thought.

Why they were in my neighborhood I don’t know. Probably, it was the trains. What we did with chasing spauldeens and hopping the fence to retrieve them from the tracks was sissy stuff for kids like them. About four blocks from my house was a street bridge that crossed over the Long Island Railroad freight line. Now those were trains, real trains not pantywaist BMT cars. After a while everyone knew the schedule. You could run to what we called “the cut” and see the massive diesels, two hooked together. Behind them, pulled effortlessly, were sometimes 100 freight cars. The rumble and roar were mesmerizing.

These two decided to jump the fence and make their way down to the tracks. The drop was steep, and they found they could not keep their balance. The way down was littered with everything and anything you could imagine. There was a rebar (1/4 “construction rod) sticking out of the ground. One of the kids grabbed it to use as a cane. The other held onto his arm for dear life. Bad decision. Kid Rebar slipped, his arm went up and the rebar went higher. It touched the high-tension wire. I heard they looked like French Fries by the time the ambulance got to them. Between the two of them they lost I think four limbs. They came back to school eventually, bandaged and in wheelchairs.

What was bigger boy stuff makes up the rest of this part of the yarn. High school bore its own miseries. Same deal with the girls. Death of another dog. Hormones and the lack of knowledge about them and what to do with them, “and all that jazz.” The high school building (Midwood) encompassed a full city block. My graduating class was bigger than my freshman class in college! One day I was in the hall running an errand for a teacher and I saw one of the kids “from the other side of the tracks.” He had a reputation of being a troublemaker and a hoodlum. We knew each other in passing (no pun intended). He was headed towards the front door. Who knows why I decided to strike up a conversation? “Hey. Did I miss something? School out early today? Where are you headed?”

While I doubted it, his response was memorable. “’goin’ home to shoot my mother.” I had no response. “Ok?” Or “Have a good time?” or hope your aim’s true…?” None seemed to fit. I said nothing and regrettably that nothing included not telling a teacher or the principal. The next day one of the Daily’s (Mirror? News?) showed him, in very large type, like a war had started, to be a man of his word. He had hidden behind a couch. When his mother came home he blew her away with a long gun.

Not much else one can say about that, so I won’t.

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