Monday, October 13, 2008

Christopher Columbus: Tony Soprano's Version Plus KV Chatter

Tony's talk about some of the myths of tribalism along what is topical (are white people telling the truth as to whether they will vote for Obama?) brought to mind a question that was posed to KVers a few weeks ago about as to whether the KV experience helped or hurt.

The question follows below. BTW, the questioner never did fess up
I love the memories of KV, but I feel compelled to ask about our present lives. Did KV help or hurt us? For me and two (of my three) brothers it proved to be a disadvantage as we sought to establish ourselves professionally. I am willing to provide the details, but I am interested in what were your experiences? I would love to hear.

The responses, separated by blocks
Your brothers were a few years older than the oldest of the guys on this list. Except for the "babies," Ron, Paul, Mark, Howie, Lee, Bruce, Jeff..the rest had to deal with the Vietnamese War. That's why a bunch of us became teachers or go into some other deferrable occupation or even into the military. For some that may have been a temporary stop in their careers, but it did have a big impact. It's hard to say whether KV had an effect and I include in that the education we got in the neighborhood schools. The exposure we had to a variety of people had to have helped . Most other people I know who are contemporaries and who grew up in the city had more insulated lives. Personally, I don't think I had it in me to be a good teacher, especially in a tough inner city school environment. I had to work on issues that ran counter to my emotional make up and that had relatively little to do with growing up in Knickerbocker. In the end I feel I was the better for it. I think the "babies", who had the freedom to choose from a variety of vocations, certainly fared well. They had intelligence as well as a good dose of street smarts to draw on.

In some ways you have to first "establish" what is it that growing up in KV "gave and didn't give" us to answer that question. Even in that regard it'd have to be in broad terms, as of course each of us had our own family dynamics that filtered just about everything. But, it's a great question to tackle and we should try to take it on. I know that even though I was too immature as a child and teen to practice it, I learned to be part of a community and I know this will sound very trite but I care(d) a lot and still do for the welfare of others. That was a strong value in KV in spite of the "gossip" which circulated at times. I guess I became ingrained with the seeds of what Giuliani laughingly refers to as "community organizers". I consider that a plus for my life and career. On the negative side we were coddled and overprotected. Meeting my wife of 38 years was my biggest breakthrough not just in meeting "the love of my life (don't start playing those violins)", but she was not from NYC and brought a whole new world of things to explore and love, particularly cultural things beyond my parents' kind of shtetl mentality. I know this will sound anti-Semitic but in KV we had shmatas on a lot of the furniture to protect it (we took it off when company arrived). Then in Warbasse we modernized and had plastic covers for the couch and chairs. Then I met my in laws and I discovered beautiful expensive furniture without plastic slipcovers and art and music in the house. It wasn't that my in laws were right but, boy was it different and eye opening. Again, sounding naive it had an incredible affect in broadening my world!

You ask an important question. If you're comfortable doing so, I'd be very interested in how the KV experience proved to be a disadvantage. I can only speak for myself, but I feel quite positive about the experience. My sense is that my Lower East Side upbringing, the diversity of it--I went to PS 177, JHS 22, and Seward Park HS and played ball with all types of kids racially, culturally, socioeconomically--contributed much to who I've become. Also, to this day, I'm comfortable talking with anyone, respectful of differences, able to handle tension-filled situations, kibitzing about anything, and seeing things from others' shoes, and I credit my foundational years raised on the LES. I had friends who lived in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper who related to others very differently than I and my other KV friends. Many of the guys I grew up with have done quite well for themselves as human beings--it's not about how much money they've made, although most of us are comfortable, and I've felt very proud of us as a group. I've been a professor of Education for many years, successfully teach quite a range of students, and on a number of issues have maintained quite a different perspective from many of my colleagues which, again, I credit the LES for.

Back to the question of our "KV" upbringing and how it was positive or negative. "Schvartzah" was a word I distinctly heard in my family. Much more so when we moved to Warbasse, however that might be more of a "memory" issue . So what were he prevailing feelings in the "race" issue in KV. As I grew up I realized (or at least I thought)that we grew up in a "semi" segregated neighborhood (KV and Smith Projects).
Years ago I met a fellow social worker, an African-American, when we lived in Milwauke, Wiscnsin and it turned out he grew up in the Smith Projects. He thought the neighborhood was segregated, even within classes at PS 177. Each grade had several classes and more whites were grouped in the "smarter" classes. He went on to become an attorney and then a judge. So I guess I'm subtlety saying that I grew up in a racist family.

No need to Hebrew Hammer yourself here, your experience is not much different than the rest of us. Still kv was, on a sliding scale, less racist for that era than most other city neighborhoods.

You're right. When we moved to Warbasse many of the kids whose families came from Sheepshead Bay had much less progressive views about race relations

We grew up in an era of segregation when racial prejudice was not publicly frowned upon. I don't see our neighborhood being more or less racist than the times. I remember a couple of black kids getting beat up-one badly, broken arm-in Tanahey, by the Italians. I remember Spino-of Flannery and Spino fame-threatening me because I played basketball with Dudley Jackson and another incident when Big George asked me if I liked spics. It was clear to me that if I did he would have wiped the floor with me. I was so young that it actually was the first time I had ever heard the term and I think I told him I didn't know what a spic was. He let me go thinking I was too dumb to pound-dumber than a minute steak in other words. I remember Morton Byrd being chased by 'Lip' a tall thin Irish-Italian (17 when I was about 8) on Cherry Street. Morton looked back to see if Lip was gaining on him and smacked into a tree. Morton vaguely remembered the incident--he definitely remembered running into the tree--when we had our reunion. On a person-to-person basis I don't know of any Jewish kids who would mouth praise for the KKK but a sense of white superiority-arrogance-is unfortunately not foreign to the Jewish culture. As a child my mother taught me that a Jew could never hate a person because of their race or religion if they had any understanding of what happened during the Holocaust.

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