Monday, March 9, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 5: Echoes Of My Past

Below the KV Basement. A link to a video of the basement taken back in April of 2008

KV was a great source of sounds and echoes—something adults probably didn’t realize. But it was something that I, as an 8-year-old was very aware of. The ambient sounds and acoustics varied considerably depending on where you were in KV at the time. The basement (clean, safe graffiti-free in the 1940s) offered some unique sound experiences, the coolest spot being the “tunnel” that I believe connected the two courts. A great echo chamber, your footfalls reverberated off the walls, and you got great feedback when you “hooted” in there. The basement section with the long ramps near the A building, also had some echo qualities, but was a weak sister to the “tunnel.”
The basement was more than echoes. There was the sound of stuff flowing through the overhead pipes, most prevalent when you approached the C building. There were hissing noises, roars and howls—sounds I’ve never heard any place else. And who, walking the basement can forget that huge red pipe overhead?
There were big metal cellar doors on Cherry St. next to the playground. When the weather was hot, the doors were open, revealing a long flight of metal stairs leading down to the basement level. A good deal of heat rose up from below, along with a loud drone of motors. This also was the spot where fuel or heating oil was delivered to KV. So what did an 8-year-old (and sometimes friends for moral support) prowling Cherry St. do when he came upon the open cellar doors and the mysterious motor room below? Why, he’d throw stuff down there, what else? (Or as my grandmother would have said, vah denn?) And that brought forth another sound—the big feet of the guy working down there, pounding up the metal stairs to chase us. ‘Course, we had a big head start by the time he hit street level. Then, after waiting for him to return to the basement, we would do it again.
As a matter of fact I think I can summarize all of my formative years as (A) Get into mischief. (B) Run like hell. It certainly was more exciting than, say, going to school, or even writing this blog (let alone reading it).
The courtyards and the playground had their own kind of echoes, as sounds of people shouting and kids playing reflected off the surrounding buildings. Then there were the knockers—not those kind, but the heavy brass apartment door knockers that produced a solid metallic rap. But banging the knocker on its stop wasn’t necessary to let you know someone was at the door. The squeak that the knocker made as it was being raised was sufficient.
From my bedroom in HG9, I could hear the crashing of the ash cans that had come up from the incinerator room on a street elevator on Monroe St, next to the stairway that lead to the KV office, as they were being emptied and abused by the sanitation men. This usually was early in the morning. Then there was the accompanying whine of the garbage truck as it revved up to compact the trash that was banged into its hopper. I think these guys were vying for the honor of who could make the most noise with a trash can. There would be a short silence, and you’d wait (and hope) for the truck to grind into low gear and crawl away, after it first sneezed when the air brake was released. Whew!
I could never figure the bells of St. Joseph’s Church. I could understand if they chimed out the hour, or pealed out some semblance of a tune. But at odd times the bells would ring forth with tones that seemed to have no rhyme or reason. Sometimes there would be a hint of something you could call “music,” but most of the time it was irritating cacophony, like the bell ringer was in his death throes and pulling on ropes to keep from falling out of the bell tower. Yeah, and they were pretty loud!
There were still some horse-drawn carts plodding through the neighborhood, so I was able to enjoy the last of clop-clopping down Monroe St. And while later generations missed this sound, they also missed having to dodge the horse cakes when they crossed the street.
We didn’t have Mr. Softee back then, with its never ending jingle that made you so crazy you wanted to take a gun and shoot yourself in the head. We had Bungalow Bar--an ice cream truck with a row of bells strung on a rope that the driver would jingle every once in a while. The back of the truck was made to look like a bungalow with a peaked shingled roof and a fake chimney poking through—cute. But the vanilla pops were real good (after you pulled off the paper cover.) The Dixie cups were good too, and had pictures of movie stars on the inside of the lids. There was a thin layer of semi-transparent paper on the lid that separated the picture from the ice cream. You peeled off this paper when you saved the lid. The pictures were black and white with a bluish tone.
Younger folks are really missing something by not experiencing the ratcheting clickety-click of a rotary dial phone. We had the 1930s Western Electric Model 202 with the heavy Bakelite E-1 handset.

We didn’t switch to the more modern plastic square design that many of my friends had in the 1950s. I was glad. I loved this phone that set on its own special telephone table in the foyer of HG9. The separate bell box gave it a great ring. The pay phones in the Normandie Pharmacy were rotaries, but they had a much smoother, quieter dial return. Ours had more of a sharp staccato-like click that I enjoyed. A few years ago, I picked up a restored 202. I wasn’t used to the very heavy handset, as modern phones have a very light handset which you usually bring to your ear very quickly. The first time I used the old phone, out of habit, I just brought it to my ear without thinking. I clunked myself in the head so hard, I thought I had a concussion.
There was a local coal company (one of their customers was P.S. 177) that used old Mack trucks (probably AC models from the 1920s) with solid rubber tires.

These trucks used a chain drive to the rear wheels instead of a driveshaft. I distinctly remember the loud sounds of the chain as the trucks, fully loaded, struggled up the hill on Market St. from Cherry to Monroe. Yeah, and they had those original Aaoogah horns.
And what KVer hasn’t taken the IND at the E’Bway station on Rutgers and Madison (first tagged as the F train, then the D train and then back to the F train in my day). Those cars were a symphony in themselves with the clatter of the air compressors and the whirring of the big, black electric fans overhead. Then there was the Madison St. bus…but that will be a whole ‘nuther story in itself.
The next chapter of Cliff's KV Notes
back to previous chapter
If you want to hear the bells of St. Joseph's we had a post about them last November

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