Hollis

That’s our apartment. Over the Barbershop. 300 square feet. I wonder who lives there now.

 

“It’s Christmas time in Hollis Queens
Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese
And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees”

Run DMC

The song came from what seems like a different world, different culture, but those were my streets.  I can feel what they’re singing about,   I can see the snow on the ground,  and I can smell the cooking.  

In the 1970’s New York City was full of perverts and predators.  Boy or girl you were on your guard and knew how to back out of a situation.  All of my friends did.  Sure, the Port Authority Bus Terminal,  Penn Station, these were places to stay away from.  But these were places I had to go…on my own.  No matter; you could hear an adult offer to suck your dick just a few doors down from our apartment too.  We were borderline kids in a borderline neighborhood and we were all on a borderline trajectory.  We threw rocks at the Long Island Rail Road trains,  snowballs in the open doors of city buses and bottles against anything solid.  We were big into throwing stuff.

It wasn’t all bad…there were tidy little houses with well kept lawns.  There were mom and pop pizza shops and hardware stores and grocery stores.  We walked to school and joined the cub scouts and went to Holy Trinity Lutheran church.  There were hard working parents that lived in those houses and ran the Cub Scout packs and worried about crime “on the avenue”.  We lived on the avenue.

On the avenue we flipped off cops and dared them to chase us, let air out of tires and engaged in petty theft.  Meanwhile the drug dealers were moving in around us and the perverts and muggers right with them.  My mom tapped her brothers and sisters and my grandparents for a few dollars to send me off to school.  Mostly though it was a man she was dating.  He was a good guy and probably the only reason I didn’t wind up in front of a judge.  He died one day while I was away at school and my mom claimed it was natural.  I cried because he was the closest thing to a dad I had.  I was sure it was a mob hit, he was a union president.  This was Hollis.  Donald Trump grew up in the next neighborhood, Jamaica Estates.  It might as well have been in another universe. You don’t know Jamaica Estates, but you know Hollis,  because you know Run DMC and LL Cool J and  Ja Rule and “Christmas in Hollis”.

I had uncles and aunts that lived in better places with perfect lawns and cozy houses. I spent time with them and with my grandparents on the water on Broad Channel.  Those were great places…but always I came home.  Home to the avenue.  To the little apartment over the union hall and down the street from what used to be a candy store and now was something we steered clear of.  It’s better now probably…crime in NYC is not near as bad these days.  And the people are still working hard and wanting the best for their children.

Most of us got out of Queens…or moved to a better neighborhood at least.  Some of us wound up at Augusta Military Academy in Virginia.  These were good kids that just needed a shot.  They had names like Miguel, and Tony, and Raul and like my mother, their parents did what they could to send them to this, the most stripped down of all boarding schools.  None of our parents had money but they worked multiple jobs or found an angel or caught a break from the soft hearts that ran the school.

I delivered papers to rich people in Holliswood and Jamaica Estates and my mother house sat for a few of them.  Always I was touching nicer, more serene worlds.  It made me dream…there could have been worse things to dream about.  Some people turn up their noses at the upper middle classes…too much materialism and focus on making money.  Those people were never poor…you crave what you don’t have…security and safety and a nice place to call home.

I’ve left Hollis…but it’s still there.  Just below the surface.  It colors everything I do.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

The Flag

“Kessler does not raise flags.  Kessler burns flags!!!!!”  And so that was that.  There would be no flag-raising today, and the flag pole stood unadorned all day.  No one batted an eyelash.  Such was life at Camp Da-Ro, a summer camp, populated by about 400 Jewish campers and counselors…and me.

Before you get all up in your righteous flag respecting, My Country Tis of Thee rage keep in mind this was 1970.  These counselors, like Kessler, were faced with the draft and possibly going to fight in a war.  A stupid war, an insane war.  Kessler was a big intimating guy from Brooklyn and if you didn’t like what he had to say, he’d just as soon bust you in the mouth.

And so there was no flag that day.  But the next day there was, and the day after and so on until the end of the summer.  We were only 13 years old in our cabin, and so we did not quite get the significance, but the other counselors did.

Kessler had said his piece, and overseas young boys continued dying and civilians continued to be caught in the crossfire.  And we rode horses, and we water-skied, and we had color wars, and we launched panty raids.  I got a little teasing for being the only non-Jewish camper, but they mostly didn’t care.  I remember the other campers being whip-smart and the adults being kind.  The camp is closed now but if you visit the Hudson River Valley around Germantown the grounds are still there, undeveloped.  It’s a lovely spot.  And that was a wonderful summer spent with kind souls living in the midst of a crazy world.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved