Wednesday, December 16, 2015

1310 Avenue R. - My First Rooftop

I would be remiss if I were to let this month pass without mentioning 1310 Avenue R. in Brooklyn. I lived there from 1961 until 1972 when I left home for the last time. There are so many memories tangled up with that building, and all 70 families that lived there, that I wouldn't even know where to begin.

There were John and Katy Bucholtz, he was an ex-Nazi who served as the superintendent of the building; then across the hall from us were the Gold’s, two elderly German Jews who had escaped Nazi Germany and were the kindest of neighbors. They were friends with John and Katy, all vestiges of the war behind them. There were also the Ross family, who were Orthodox Jews; and the Roth’s, Mr. Roth was a detective Sergeant; and there was also the Cuban family who arrived in the fall of 1962 from Miami, where they had fled to from Castro. The father was a banker, which may have something to do with the family’s success in getting out. They had 2 kids, John and Robert. Later they moved to the 6th floor. These are just 4 of the 11 families who lived on our floor.

The rest of the building was composed of mainly Jewish families; some large, some small. There was also a single "efficiency" apartment on each floor. Mr. Ginsburg, a curmudgeonly older man, occupied the apartment next door to my family. He was a typewriter repairman with ear problems. He was also a pain in the ass, calling the police with a noise complaint at every possible excuse. I swear he once called the cops because he heard no noise coming from our apartment and thought it was "odd".

The building also boasted 2 apartments on the ground floor which had their own private entrances. These were located at the 2 front corners of the building. I never knew the family who occupied the East 13th Street side, but the East 14th Street "garden apartment"; as they were called; was occupied by a dentist named Marvin Cohen.

The building also had a doorman and a janitor; though the various doormen only lasted for the first 7 years. There was a string of them, my favorite being the last one, Larry. He was about 100 if he was a day, and the residents were always worried about him. He would sit on the lobby sofa and struggle to get up and open the door. Most of the time, the residents would motion through the glass for Larry to sit down, as no one wanted to be responsible for his sudden, though overdue, demise.

Each year around the holidays the lobby would be decorated with a Christmas tree and lights. There was also a Happy Chanukah banner displayed across the wall to wall mirror which faced the doors from the street. The garden area outside was also decorated with colored lights and there were candles in the window of the rock garden inside the lobby. I used to water those plants for 25 cents a day. I also used to round up the newspapers from the garbage room on each floor. You were not supposed to put them down the incinerator chute because they made black smoke and the building’s owner could be fined. The papers I gathered were set aside and sold by the janitor to the "paper pulp" guy and I would get a "share" of the money.

There was an underground parking garage with a "secure" locking system. If you waited long enough each night you could hear the cars screeching up the ramp and out into the street when they were being stolen. Nothing is more attractive to a car thief than a safe well lit environment in which to work. This was especially true on rainy or cold nights.

But, the crowning glory to this building; at least to the 7 year old who lived there; was the roof. From the very first days we lived there i was drawn to it. It began innocently enough, with my taking the stairs to the top. I just wanted to see where they went. Up and up I climbed; my 7 year old legs pumping hard and fast as I rounded the turn between each floor; nearer to the top with each step.

When I got there I was rewarded with the greatest gift of all; a sign which said "Do Not Enter." Now, I don't know who the genius was that came up with the idea of a sign to keep a 7 year old off of the roof, but I wasn't buying it. Not for one moment. There was a whole world to be discovered beyond that door, and no sign was going to keep me out. Besides, I reasoned that if caught up there, I could always say I couldn't read.

At any rate the roof became my secret place to go. I would head up there with my 6 transistor radio, trying to get stations from as far away as possible. It turned out that I had better luck at night downstairs in my bed. During the day the sun's rays heated up the ionosphere and made it harder to pick up those stations. But on a cold clear night I could get Canada, and even West Virginia. I had a whole collection of postcards from those stations acknowledging the letters I used to send to each one, letting them know how far their signal had traveled.

Summertime was a time of daily visits to the "roof". I used to go up there just for the view. You could see Manhattan to the north, including the Twin Towers. To the south and slightly west was Coney Island, including the Parachute Jump. Directly south it was hard to see much because there were so many other buildings in the line of sight. But this became my haven for many years, a place I could go to when I had no place to go.

As I got older the roof became even more important to me. It was a place to go with friends, outside of the sphere of my parents influence. Hell, they never went up there! And even later, after my Mom had passed away and I was grown, I still went up there. I even grew some pot plants on top of the elevator shaft, one story closer to the sun, and the superintendent’s wife; in all her innocence; watered them for me.

I suppose you are wondering why I am writing about this building, and the roof. Well, I file my daily blogs by year, month and date. So, all this month; every day this month; I have filed my blogs under 13-10-and the day of the month. For example, today will be filed under 13-10-30. And, each day this month I have thought about writing of the roof at 1310 Avenue R. Today, with only one day left to go before it becomes another unrealized thought, I have.

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