The Little Prince Of Brooklyn 

Chapter 1

When the film “The Godfather” was first released, I took my girlfriend and her mom to see it. At the point where Don Corleone tells his son Michael that “I never wanted this for you...” I realized that both of them had stopped watching the movie and were staring at me...

Merry XMas

Christmas 1958 Me and my sister Laurie

My very first memory is of Christmas time, somewhere around 1960. We lived on Gates Avenue in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn at the time. One night there was a knock on the door, my mother answered and four big cops barged in. They started asking about my father while my mom got hysterical. I grabbed my little sister and pulled her out of the way, while they ransacked the apartment. My Dad came out of the bedroom and they roughly cuffed him. As they took him, my mother grabbed on to him and they had to drag him out with her attached, until they finally forced her hands free. In the process, the Christmas tree fell over and made a brightly colored mess, with broken ornaments everywhere as the lights continued to blink. Bing Crosby never missed a beat...

Pall Mall frame

Pall Mall cigarette packages frame

While my father was in prison, my mother took me and my sister to visit him a few times. Memories of these trips are hazy as I was still young. In fact I actually only recall one of the visits with any detail, in particular the look on my father’s face as he gave my mom a photo of me as a toddler, in a frame made from Pall Mall cigarette packages. The other images are of long train rides and high, gray, stone walls and the brusque treatment of the guards as we went through security. The visits themselves happened at cold, stainless steel tables and we were only allowed to touch (hug) once when he first came into the big room full of such tables and right before he had to go back. My mom tried to make a “holiday” out of it and told us some story about this being a “factory” where daddy worked. At some point I figured out that the place looked a lot like the prison in the James Cagney movie “White Heat” and other such films, so at some point I was just playing along with Mommy’s charade.

During this time a lot changed, as we’d moved from Bedford Stuyvesant to Park Slope. My mom found a rent controlled apartment and we were on welfare. I can still see the silver cans of peanut butter with their generic black lettering and the tons of surplus American cheese...

While Daddy was in prison, my mother met and soon married another man. It turned out that one of our visits was to inform my father that she wanted a divorce...

Pepe sr

My father (my mother in the photo)

When my father got out I was around 10 years old. I remember his first visits as full of drama and fighting with my mother always complaining about the times he stood us up and even when he did show, it was usually late. When my sister and I left the house with him, all was fun. We’d go shopping for clothes and to the movies. He usually had another man with him, sometimes Eddie, one of my uncles. On other occasions strangers (at the time) but I was told that if friends and neighbors ever asked who they were, each was to be referred to as “my uncle”. Over time I realized I had a LOT of uncles.

In time the visits included more than just one “uncle”. In fact on more than one occasion dad’s arrival was marked by a procession of three identical black Cadillacs. My father would always be in the middle one. His clothes had gotten a LOT nicer. He was always a classy dresser, but now the quality went up considerably.

As I got older, the nature of our visits changed. We would still go shopping for school clothes or Christmas gifts and do something fun, but then we would drop off my little sister back at home and I would stay with him.

I remember the first time he took me shopping for him. We went to Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, downstairs in this grubby looking tenement, but the basement opened into a very nice showroom. A Hasidic Jew came out and greeted my father extremely deferentially, but with a sense that made clear he was a longtime customer. This shop only handled what they referred to as “whites” i.e. dress shirts, t-shirts, underwear, handkerchiefs, etc. They were all custom tailored and embroidered with his initials. He bought them all by the dozen.

Henry and Sackett

Henry and Sackett Street

Sometimes the entourage would make rounds so he could visit “friends”. It seemed many of these friends were old (to me at the time anyway) Italian men, who sat out in front of “social clubs” that were situated all over South Brooklyn. As our cars pulled up one of the men would walk halfway out and greet my father and one of my “uncles” who had gotten out of the car. As my dad got to the tables out front, that were set with tiny cups of espresso, that guy and my uncle would take their place by the doorway of the club, as my father and a different man went inside. Sometimes this could be real boring for a kid, just sitting in the Caddy with nothing to do but play with the radio.

One of these “clubs” was on Sacket Street just a few buildings up from where my grandmother (abuelita) lived. The old man that was the clubs owner was an exception in that instead of sitting out front, he preferred to sit on the stoop of the apartment building where my abuelita lived, as he and his family lived directly upstairs from her. His grandson was just a year older than I and when I would visit abuelita (which was often) we would usually play in the hallways during winter and on the street in front of the tenement in summer. The main thing I remember about the man on the stoop was how he dressed. He was always draped in suits that to this day boggle the imagination. They were completely color coordinated and always in vibrant hues. He had orange suits, lime green suits, and purple suits. Every one of them had matching shoes, socks, pocket handkerchief and hat. He was like a Technicolor king surveying his domain. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that this in fact, was exactly what he was.

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The Little Prince Of Brooklyn © 2018 Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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