Monday, April 6, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 13: A Little Mischief Music, Maestro

I wouldn’t consider myself a “bad” kid, but when I realized that there was “life outside the box,” I was curious about boundaries of an even “bigger box.” I guess, like most toddlers, I listened to my parents and went along with the program. After all, at the age of about five, I was no match for my father, or my mother, or my grandparents for that matter. But I found a conformist existence to be boring. I think the first time my imagination took a detour was before I was five, and was sitting in my favorite place—under the kitchen table in HG9. Observing my mother going about her chores in the kitchen, it appeared that her back was in close proximity to the refrigerator much of the time. Now, I as best as I can remember, I think I tried to tie her apron strings to the refrigerator door handle, which at the time seemed like a hoot.
My first exposure to life outside the hum-drum conformist box, was in 1945, when my father brought home our first phonograph. You couldn’t get anything during the war, and he came across a guy selling (non-electric) phonographs that you wound up with a big handle. The circular head at the end of the arm contained the speaker and the steel phonograph needle, which had to be changed fairly frequently. Spare needles came in a small paper packet.
Along with this small phonograph, my father bought a bunch of 78 rpm records. Included was Al Jolson recordings of “Dixie,” “I left My Love in Avalon,” and others. I never cared for Jolson’s voice. But what really got my attention, was a few Spike Jones records, including “The Laughing Record,” which I thought was stupid, and “Laura,” which was really funny, among others. What opened my eyes with Spike Jones, was that it was OK to spoof on convention. Years later, Spike Jones was featured on the “Colgate Comedy Hour” TV show. Maybe I was nine or so at the time. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen, and I remember literally rolling on the floor, clutching my sides, tears rolling out of my eyes and trying to catch my breath from laughing so hard. His best bit was doing a skit that spoofed one of the sponsor’s products, Halo Shampoo.
My second life-changing event occurred at the Chatham Sq. Library. I happened to pull out a book, “The Compleat Practical Joker,” by H. Allen Smith. This book really pushed the boundaries of the “bigger box.” I believe that this was the only hard cover book that I borrowed from the Library. The Dr. Seuss books didn’t count, because my mother had borrowed them for me on her library card.
My third life-changing event occurred in high school (Stuyvesant), when “Mad” comics (“Superduperman” was the best) hit the scene. Believe me, “Mad’ went downhill when it became a magazine. I remember in one of the issues, there was a reference to a “Thurl Mush.” The writer must have gone to Stuyvesant, because we had a gym teacher named Murl Thrush. Couldn’t have been a coincidence.
But back to KV. Somewhere along the line, I had received one of those joke “Peanut Brittle” cans. When you unscrewed the top, three cloth-covered spring “snakes” jumped out. Pretty neat. I thought it would be cool to stick one of those snakes in the green police call box attached to the wall of St. Joseph’s on Monroe St. I remember waiting for the coast to be clear, opening the box and jamming the spring inside and closing the door. The problem was that the spring pressure kept opening up the door and the snake fell out. I remember working on the problem for a while, but I can’t remember if I got the door to stay closed, or I just wrote it off.
But I even had more fun with gravity, even without knowing who Isaac Newton was. The “H” building had two staircases. One was square shaped, so you could look over the rail and see all the way down to the basement level. Which was an open invitation to drop stuff down. This was easier than throwing stuff at people (see previous installments) because nobody chased you. I used to take the garbage out to the incinerator from our apartment (one of my chores to justify my room and board). The garbage bag was an open brown paper bag from Gogel’s, so it was easy to pick out promising missiles, and take a detour to the stairway, after dumping the rest of the garbage down the chute. The best objects were burnt-out light blubs. They made a great crashing noise when they hit nine floors down and imploded. Some of the other “bombs” hit one of the railings on the trip down, but that was cool too, as they would create a shower of schmutz.
Then I discovered the KV roof. Actually, I was introduced to the roof, by my longtime best friend, Eugene Reiser. Euge (I never called him “Gene,”) showed me the stairs leading from the penthouse floor to the roof, and the door with some kind of warning about no one being allowed on the roof. But hey, we were living outside the box.
The view from the roof was spectacular, with vistas at all four points on the compass. But that got kind of old after 10 minutes, so to keep up our interest, we started tossing stuff off the roof. We began with some of the pebbles that were on the roof, and graduated to water-filled milk containers. We never hit anyone (I think we might have tired, though, minimizing any consequences of such actions in our immature minds). We’d also unscrew light bulbs from the stairways and drop those off, too.
Then Eugene came up with a “plan.” We’d “get” the guard in the “40” court, by bombing the guard house with light bulbs, and then “bombs away” with the water filled milk containers when he came out. Worked like a charm, even though we didn’t actually hit him. We did get nailed one time, when Eugene was about to show me how one of the fire extinguishers worked. He had lifted the big brass extinguisher from its perch when we were interrupted by a KV guard. Euge managed to get us off the hook by telling the guard that he just wanted to see “how heavy” it was. Close call.
A side note on KV guards. Two stand out. One was “Jimmy,” a retired NYC cop who lived with his wife on our floor when we were in HG9. Jimmy, who guarded the “10” court, was one of the nicest guys you’d want to meet. I knew him personally. Some years later, I and a few of my cronies were walking through the basement and found the door to the bicycle room open. We went in, started riding around on the bikes, and one thing led to another, and we ended up throwing the bikes around. Jimmy appeared at the door. I really felt ashamed, like I had let him down. But he cut us a break and didn’t report us. Another good guy was “Brady” in the “40” court.
One other stunt that worked rather well was the “poor man’s mustard gas.” Actually, pepper gas. I had picked up somewhere along the way, that if you took a wad of cotton, stretched it out so it was thin, poured cayenne pepper on it, lit it with a match and blew out the flame so it just smoldered, it would create fumes that literally would choke you. Seemed like a good idea, so I tried that in the elevator when we lived in AH8. I got the cotton going, placed it in the elevator and than retired to my apartment.
The elevator went down to I believe the 4th floor, where Mary, a friend of my sister got on. She was coming up to visit my sister. When she reached our apartment she almost needed emergency treatment. Her eyes were watering, she could hardly catch her breath, and of course, she didn’t know what happened. ‘Course I proudly told her of my experiment, realizing she was in no condition to retaliate.
In the sixth grade, my teacher, Aaron Werner, would confiscate “Spauldeens” that were brought into class. This I thought was a great injustice. So I thought of an idea to make Werner look a little foolish. The guy drove a Henry J, and that, in my mind made him look foolish enough. Anyhow, I had a collection of dead balls that I received from one of my father’s friends, Herman Bogdish. Herman lived on the first floor in an apartment that overlooked the incinerator chimney in the playground. The kids would bounce balls off the corner of the chimney where it hipped down, and some of the balls would get caught in the window guard of Herman’s apartment.
Now getting 6 or 7 balls out of my apartment when I went to school wasn’t as easy as you’d think. My mother would check my pockets before I left to make sure I was “clean” (no water guns, balls, or other potential class-disrupting items). One of my jackets had a torn pocket liner, so I was able to stuff balls through the opening and they would collect around the back of the jacket between the outside and inside linings. It got past my mother. In class, I emptied the balls inside my desk.
After a while, I’d toss a ball in the air, not too high, but enough for Werner to notice. He took it away. A few minutes later, ball No. 2 appeared, and the scenario would repeat itself. After ball No. 3, the rest of the class began to take notice, and Werner started to become irritated. By ball No. 6, no one was paying any attention to Werner, all eyes being fixed on the ever-appearing balls and the increasing frustration of Werner.
Now, as any older brother will tell you, younger sisters were created with the sole purpose of being the object of any evil that came to mind. The most notable incident along this line is when Eugene and I thought it would be fun to see if we could flush my sister Susan down the toilet. She was kind of feisty, so it took some doing to get a handle on her and get her in close proximity to the flushing toilet. We didn’t actually get to stick her head into the bowl (we got it close), but her histrionics were satisfying enough, that we did not need to proceed any further.

The next chapter of Cliff's KV Notes

The previous chapter of Cliff's KV Notes

follow up.
I wrote to Cliff and asked him how he diverted Werner's attention so that he didn't notice that Cliff was the one doing the tossing

He answered:
The point was to have him notice so he'd confiscate them. The idea was to have him keep taking them away--the class would get a kick out of it and he'd look foolish in front of the class.

Boy that little guy had Moxie.

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