Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Summer Sundays on Long Island

Last Sunday was Father's Day and I spent the weekend in New York.  On that special day, I got wined and dined by my "pseudo" nieces and nephews because, after all, Father's Day does count for "pseudo" uncles as well.

Well, we went to a BBQ place on Long Beach, which is still in the middle of rebuilding itself after Hurricane Sandy last October.  After we parted company, I headed home under some late afternoon summer clouds.  On whatever highway I was on, the traffic was heavy.  You go.  You stop.  You go.  You stop.  Your foot hits the gas.  Your foot hits the brake.  Push.  Pull.  Push. Pull.

As I sat there at times motionless and, at other times, a slow creep-along, I suddenly was awash with reminders. Another tsunami of memories from my childhood.  The truest sensory perception.

When was the last time I had sat in Sunday summer traffic heading out of Long Island?

And how many times did this happen when I was a kid?

I can't answer the former, but I know the response to the latter.

A whole freakin' lot.

It seems like that's all my family ever did on Sundays during the summer.  Go out to visit somebody in Long Island.  Hell, don't we know anybody where a bridge toll isn't involved??

This process killed me all the time.  During those days, I wanted to be home for the day.  Curled up with a New York Mets doubleheader on the television.  I'd put up a stink.  Can't I stay home and watch baseball?  Either parent came back with the same retort.

"You can watch the Mets there."


So we'd pile into the car.  My folks and sometimes Grandma and even my beagle Tuffy.  We'd head down Baychester Avenue in the Bronx on our way to either the Bronx Whitestone Bridge and the Throgs Neck Bridge.  Stopping briefly so I could throw two quarters into the toll basket.  (I noted the toll now is $7.50!!)  And, once on "the other side," we'd be up for a day of fun and frivolity.

Or, as I would often prefer, a fork in the eye.

There were a bunch of places we could be headed.

Maybe Floral Park where my parents had friends, Joe and Dotty, with three or maybe four awful kids.  I've written about this form of waterboarding before.  Joe was the guy missing some fingers.  Enough said.

Or New Hyde Park.  My parents had another set of friends there.  Mike and....wait for it...Dotty.  From what I was told, my folks and those two were like the Ricardos and the Mertzes before I was born.  They went everywhere together and I saw the photos for proof.  Now they had a daughter, Joanne, who I had zero in common with.  And, to make matters worse, Dotty was now in a wheelchair.  Another cry for an explanation that always went unanswered.  I never found out how she wound up there.

Or we could really travel and wind up at Lake Ronkonkoma.  I can still spell that correctly to this day.  My parents had old neighborhood friends from Mount Vernon who had recently moved there.  A couple of Greeks named Nick and Eppie.  They had two kids who I had....wait for in common with.  Their names were George and Effie.  The names alone killed me in this house.  Meanwhile, their old Greek grandmother lived with them.  She was always dressed completely in black and hadn't altered this fashion statement since 1943.  They called her "Ya Ya." 

The problem with this set-up was that the old lady had the only television in the house.  So, when I attempted to tune into the Mets, I had to ask for her permission.

"I don't think we get Channel 9 here."

You're in the New York metropolitan area, Granny, not Athens!

The fight would always have me losing because everything with Ya Ya was "No No."  She'd make another offer.

"Don't you want to watch the Ted Mack Amateur Hour?  He always puts on a good show."

Kill me now.

So I'd wind up with the two kids play acting in the yard.  George had his own issues.  No matter what we were enacting, he wanted me to kill him in our little playlet. 

"Okay, so now you shoot me dead...."

"You come save Effie and stab me in the heart..."

"Let's pretend you push me into the BBQ grill and I burn to death..."

Even the sunniest days in Lake Ronkonkoma were as dark as night.

Of course, our most frequent trips to Long Island were to my mom's loopy sister and that bunch in Deer Park.  There, I had two cousins, Patty and Bobby, who were my age.  Plus they'd had a backyard pool so there would be endless fun.  Eventually, I'd put Tuffy in a plastic boat and push her around the pool until it inevitably tipped over and she would dogpaddle herself out.

I'd still want to know what the Mets were doing, but there was no luck in this home either.  At some point, I'd go into the house where the television was being guarded by my Uncle Bob, who was a huge Yankee fan and might have even slept with Mickey Mantle at one point.  I'd ask very politely if I could check for the Mets score.

"We don't watch the Mets here.  This is a New York Yankee house."

Persecuted for my beliefs and I wasn't even ten years old.

I'd hang around and wait in the living room because the way Uncle Bob guzzled beer, he'd have to empty the bladder soon enough.  While he whizzed away in the bathroom, I'd quickly change the channel and hope that Lindsey Nelson would give the score of the Mets game in the next minute and thirty seconds.  As soon as I heard the flush, I'd switch the TV back to Channel 11 and the guys playing in the Bronx.

Logistically, the town of Islip was just a short drive from Deer Park and that's often why Grandma came along on these trips.  You see, we had some distant relatives there.  They even had our same last name but, to this day, I have no clue how they were related to us.  There was a couple there that were my parents' age, Ruth and Lenny.  Yes, he had the same name as me.  Plus his mother lived with them and she also had been dressed in black since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Grandma liked to go over and spend time with this lady.  And I still never understood the connection.

I went along when she would drop Grandma off for an afternoon visit.  The old lady also had a TV here.  Can I watch the Mets game?

"Channel 9?  Oh, that always comes in with a lot of snow."

I would smack my head in disbelief.

Now, my namesake in this house was a bit of a screwball.  Probably because I never saw him sober.  I once saw him run headfirst into a tree trunk.  Meanwhile, I would wander into the kitchen where my mother was often seated with a completely frazzled Ruth.  And she would always be saying the same thing.

"I can't take it anymore.  I want to divorce him."

Who the hell were these people and why do I care?????

So, regardless of where I was in either Nassau or Suffolk County, I could never catch a break.  Or find out the score of the Mets game.  But, as every summer Sunday on Long Island would wind down, I, at least, had the solace of going home for my weekly television tradition. 

I could stay up till 11PM and watch my two favorite Sunday night shows.  "Candid Camera" and "What's My Line?" 

The only problem was that the folks liked to linger wherever they were.  My shows started at 10PM.  We were still in Deer Park at 830PM.  Can we go?  NOW??????

Because I knew what the rides home would be like.  No matter what road you drove on.  Northern State.  Southern State.  Long Island Expressway.  They were all clogged with people headed back to New York City.  The trips home could often last for two hours.

Meanwhile, in the back seat, my grandmother did her usual brand of torture.  As soon as we would get into the car for the trip home, Grandma would immediately reach into her pocketbook and take out her back door keys.  She was ready to be home.  Of course, she would fumble with these keys for the entire ride.  Even though I was staring at the back of my mother's head, I could see her eyes rolling in disgust.

Dad would stop and start the entire trip.  Tuffy would be sound asleep up on the back window of the car.  Of course, my father would have to slam on the brakes at some time and this would send the dog flying from the window to the floor of the back seat.  It's a wonder she would live to the age of 18.

Dad, bored by the traffic, would start fiddling with the radio.  He'd stop on a news station.  My ears would perk up.

"And, today, in the sports world...."

My father would hit another button and suddenly it was Vic Damone on WNEW-AM.

The disc jockey would give the time.  9:42PM.  Damn, no Mets score and now maybe no "Candid Camera."  I'd be lucky to salvage "What's My Line."

It seemed like a weekly eternity before we would be safely across whichever Bronx bridge we used that Sunday.  Heck, I might make it home in time.   And, then, my mother, silent for the whole trip except for some loud "tsks" about Grandma's door key twirling, would make the dreaded announcement.

"We better stop at the candy store.  I'm down to my last pack."

And I'm down to my last nerve. 

Another summer Sunday on Long Island.  Final score?  Universe, one million.  Len, nothing.  I'd get home just in time to hear...

"And this is John Charles Daly saying goodnight for 'What's My Line'......"

Dinner last night:  Proscuitto and arugula pizza at Gio Cucina.

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