Monday, September 5, 2011

The Stoop - 3530 Decatur Avenue, Bronx, NY


The guys in the five pictures below are, from left to right, Steven Springer (the author of this page), Steve Haimowitz (aka Witz) and Errol Honig. We're sitting on the stoop at Errol's building, 3530 Decatur Avenue. Witz lived across the street at 3525 Decatur, and I was up the block from him at 3539.



August 25, 1971
The stoop was our place. It's where we started our days, it's where we hung out after a day of hoops at the P.S. 94 schoolyard or after playing stickball on the block. It's where we hung out in the evening if we didn't have someone's house to go to. The stoop was IT.

We were usually joined by our friends Mike Bruno, Pete Roche, the brothers Paul and George LoMedico, Jack Brooks, Gene Nocerino and Errol's brother Ken. You'll see shots of most of them later. 

I don't think Witz, Errol or I can explain it all these years later, but on August 25, 1971, the three of us decided that no matter where we were, no matter what we were doing, we would meet again on the stoop at high noon on August 25, 1981. When we made this decision, Witz and I were 17 and Errol had just turned 18.

As the years went by, we would call each other on August 25 and count down to 1981. When '81 rolled around, we started thinking of a way to mark the day. We found out the Yankees would be at the Stadium that night, so we got tickets. Bruno offered to have everyone up to his house for a BBQ before the game. We knew we'd shoot some hoops at P.S. 94. But how should we memorialize the day?

Errol came through in the clutch. Rummaging through his desk, he found a photo of me, him and Witz sitting on the stoop. Based on the length of our hair and what we wearing, we decided that that photo was taken on August 25, 1971...and that on 8/25/81 we would do our best to take the same exact shot.

And now we've celebrated the 40th anniversary reunion, which was our biggest and best yet.  I've posted the "official" photo below; but click on the dates under the '81, '91, '01 and '11 pix to read more...










Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Stoop - 40 Years (+ 1 Day) - August 26, 2011

So our 40th reunion has come and gone, and it's taken me quite a while to even try to gather all my thoughts because it was a most incredible day.  However, my friend Pete Roche -- who you met in the blog for the 1981 reunion -- sent the "Decatur gang" a note that really says it all, and he's agreed to let me post it here.  Talk about coming from the heart...

My thoughts and feelings are belated but need to be said:

From the very beginning of day one, Steve (Witz) picking me up at the airport; guys I can't express myself enough for you all to know how Steve rolled out the red carpet for me! He went over and beyond to make my reunion memorable! He made me feel as part of his family and his family received my visit with open arms! Amazing people, thank you Joan and Jake!

Witz you are my best friend for so many years but in my heart and soul you are my brother for life! THANK YOU in big capital letters, thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my visit so wonderful........!

Steve (Springer)…my feelings when we were cruising the neighborhood and we parked the cars by the schoolyard, I couldn't get out of the car fast enough! Before I go any further, seeing everyone was fantastic and wonderful and I will never forget that feeling of joy running thru my veins! But Steve, when you came out of your car and we hugged, the chills ran down my spine; I felt this true warmth about you that you were happy to see me and really showed it! The connection of what true friendship and brotherhood should feel like! Even after we played ball and we had to say goodbye, your embrace and in your eyes I knew we too are brothers for life! Steve you’re the best and tell your beautiful wife thank you for being such a great sport in taking the pictures and making those moments so special for us!

Errol and Kenny, it's amazing to me that even if the years pass us by and we don't stay in touch as much as we like to our friendship is as strong as the day we meet when we were kids.  To know that I was stranded for two more days because of the hurricane and you came over to Witz's house to spend the last night with me and go have a few drinks and just share old times made me feel very special!

Mary, Lynn, Tony DeMarco, and oh my God, Scott who looked awesome; Lew and his family; and in spirit and by phone Jack and Mariaelena…love you guys, love the friendship we shared on this fantastic reunion!

Bottom line is: words cannot express the feeling of seeing everyone! I share my experience with new friends about all of us and they can’t believe we are so close in friendship, but I have to correct them and say we are not friends -- we are family and family is forever!

And for the ones that could not make it; Theresa, Tony, Helen and George, Gene, Denise…man so many to mention now.  Just wanted to tell you all that you were there with us because we all missed you all and we all shared all the good times we had when we all were together! The whole entire gang!

Thank you all for making my childhood to manhood into what I have today -- a "Special Friendship" that nobody can compare! Love you all and that you can believe!

Happy 40th reunion!
Pete

Now to the fun stuff: why was this year's reunion pushed back by a day? Because time marches on, and on August 25 Errol had to drive his daughter Maggie to Binghamton, NY so that she could start college!  That seemed an awfully good reason to delay things by 24 hours.

As Pete wrote, I hooked up with him and Witz about an hour ahead of the reunion, and we went to the schoolyard where we used to play basketball for hours on end.  Unfortunately, the yard has been built over (as in, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot"), but there was enough room for us to get in a little stickball practice...this is Pete taking his swings...


 Witz, me and Pete at the schoolyard 
for the first time in 30 years!
(click on the photos to see them full-size)

 Then we got to Decatur Avenue and the fun REALLY started!
 That's my son Jonathan in the jeans with Witz's son Jake in front of The Stoop at 3530 Decatur Avenue. 
And me and Witz, of course.

Jonathan and Errol's son Doug at the far left; Pete saying hello to Ken Honig, who he hadn't seen in 30 years; I'm talking to Errol and Witz is talking with Lynn Goodkin Hamlin.

Pete, Witz's brother Lew and me

Lynn with Mary Brooks Erps


 
Tony DeMarco, who was the son of the 
superintendent of my building, with Mary

Errol getting ready to play stickball 
the way we used to...in the street!

Errol's brother Ken takes his at bats

 Pete, me, Jake and Doug in the field

Now, a video interlude -- this is the "making of" video of the 40th anniversary Decatur Avenue stoop reunion photo:

 
If you want to see a larger version of this, go here:

Jonathan, Jake and Doug try in vain to recreate the 
"official" photo. See the 2001 blog for their first attempt.

 Our basketball-playing buddy Scott Vogel arrives; 
none of us had seen Scott in over 35 years

Some, but not all, of the Decatur Avenue gang:
Pete, me, Ken, Errol, Mary, Witz and Lynn

The Decatur Avenue extended family, 
including one wife, four sons and one daughter

This is the T-shirt Witz designed from his original drawing of the stoop as it looked in the early '70s.  And for the sake of accuracy, he included the rear of a 1971 Ford Torino.

So in the end, what can I write about our 40th anniversary reunion?  Well, the fact is that all of us on Decatur Avenue -- those who were there last Friday and those who couldn't be there -- went through a very crucial time in our lives together, and that meant something then and it means even more now. Neither time nor distance can EVER make that fade away. It is as simple as that. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back In The Homeland

Took a brief trip through The Bronx this afternoon in advance of the 40th anniversary stoop reunion.  See my earlier blog posts for the details...

The Throggs Neck Bridge westbound from Queens into The Bronx



Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Stoop - 10 Years - August 25, 1981

So here we are at the first 10-year reunion, August 25, 1981. Pete had moved to Florida in 1973, followed by Witz and Bruno in '74. Steve and Mike came back to NYC about 3 years later, but I hadn't seen Pete since we'd all gone down to FL for spring break in '74. So it was a real treat to see him and for him to make it back for the first reunion.

The first three shots were taken before we went up to the P.S. 94 schoolyard to shoot hoops. How do I know that? Because in those shots I'm wearing my overalls, and in the last shot you can see my super-cool knee-high ball-playing socks!

In the first shot Errol, Witz and I are joined by Crazy Pete, who's holding up the game ball of The Bronx - The Spaldeen. That's Ken on the top step between me and his brother Errol. Clearly we were trying to mug for the camera.


But in the second picture we're REALLY putting on our best ugly mugs.


The third picture is with Alice Falco, one of the sweetest ladies in the entire world; she's with her dog Ginger The Wonder Pup. Great doggie.


The final shot is of The Boys, with Bruno sitting next to Witz. All of these are pretty rare (to us, anyway) because I don't think we ever took pictures of ourselves just hanging out on The Stoop.




The Stoop - 20 Years - August 25, 1991

And then it was twenty years. By August of 1991 I'd been long gone from New York, and had settled in Atlanta, but there was no way I was missing the reunion.

There's Ken on the top right corner of the other pix. We'd all lost touch with Pete and Bruno, so we had no way of getting them back for the 20th anniversary reunion. But Jack Brooks (in the blue polo shirt) was back on the block and living at 3530, and Gene Nocerino (in jeans and white t-shirt) was still living across the street in 3525 Decatur. 

In the first shot, Errol, Witz and I are still laughing about SOMETHING, but what it was...who knows?



You can see the stickball bat in the left corner of the other shots...we must've been hitting a few up the block that day.

The thing I remember most about this reunion was that because we'd not seen Jack and Gene in such a long time, we spent a lot of time joking and laughing about the old days on the block. And in terms of ragging the hell out of each other, it was like none of us had ever left. Looking at these pictures always makes me smile, because it reminds me how much fun we had on Decatur, and how much of it was shared by all of us.








The Stoop - 30 Years - August 25, 2001

Amazing what a difference 10 years makes! In August of '91 none of us were fathers...but on August 25, 2001, between me, Witz and Errol we had six kids on the stoop!

In the top picture we tried sitting the boys in our classic positions: that's my son Jonathan on the left, Witz's son Jake in the middle, and Errol's son Doug on the right.


The next photo is my daughters Kayleigh and Melanie, and Errol's daughter Maggie on the right.



For the first time, a non-resident of the block -- but a good friend -- joined us on Decatur to mark the 30th anniversary. That was long-time Bronx native Mike Weiser. Errol and I first met Mike in the summer of 1967 at Camp Kinder-Ring. In the summer of '70, Errol, Witz, Mike and I shared a cabin when we were all in KR's "Work Group." Mike went to Lehman College, as did I. He moved to the Chicago area after college, but is Bronx-through-and-through. You can just about make out his Bronx t-shirt in the photo below; Mike is sitting on the bottom step, far right.

Speaking of that shot, Steve's brother Lew also joined us in 2001, and you can see the "extended" Decatur family in the last picture. On the top row from left to right is me, Witz and Jake, Maggie and Doug with Errol.

Then Lew standing next to the stoop, with Jonathan and Kayleigh sitting together, and Mike and Ken filling out the shot.



I wanted to end this page with another shot of me, Witz and Errol, the way the first page starts. I chose this shot because it shows us as we're getting ready for the posed shot, and I love the way we're all cracking up about something.







Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A JOURNEY

A JOURNEY BEGINS
Saturday, February 10, 1996: I was in my room at the Wayfarer Hotel in Bedford, New Hampshire, after a day of set-up for the upcoming NH primary. I turned on my Apple Powerbook, dialed up my AOL account and saw an e-mail in response to something I posted on a bulletin board about the actors Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland six months earlier. The sender of the e-mail wrote: "Would like to chat if you are interested. Respond if you are."

In the days before spam and online scams, I didn't hesitate to respond...but neither of us had any idea that one e-mail would lead to a 15 year journey that continues to this day. Thank you Kara, for writing -- and sending -- that e-mail!!!


A JOURNEY – PART TWO
Our story 'til now: February 10, 1996: I got an e-mail from a woman wanting to chat about the actor Errol Flynn.  I was in New Hampshire prepping for the primary, and responded, sure.  Between the 10th and the 22nd, when I came home, we exchanged e-mails and did some online chatting. Cut to:

Sunday, February 25, 1996:  After I got back from NH, we spent every day either e-mailing or in online chats.  On this Sunday, I said that I would be home by 1030p (Manuel's Team Trivia afficionados take note that I made time for trivia that night!) and would look for her online.  So...we started online chatting around 1030, and shortly after 11p, we agreed that we should FINALLY have an actual verbal phone conversation.  So we got on the phone around 1115p...

And didn't get off the phone until 6a Monday!!!  Yes, a 6 hour and 45 minute phone call.  Our respective phone bills were over $300 that first month, and at least for a month after that.

I think Kara and I realized that we had something going.  But it was another three weeks before we'd finally meet in person.  


THE JOURNEY GETS VERY INTERESTING
March 15, 1996: We Finally Meet In Person

So...after our marathon phone call on February 25, and subsequent calls, e-mails and online chats, it quickly became apparent that there was a mutual attraction between Kara and myself.  And since this was well before you could really upload photos, we used plain old postal mail to send each other pix of ourselves so we had an idea who the hell we were talking to.

Finally, we decided we had to meet in person to know whether this was going to go anywhere.  Kara lived in the Sarasota area, so she proposed a weekend in Orlando.  That sounded good to me, and we decided we would meet at the Orlando Airport on Friday, March 15, 1996 - The Ides Of March. 

Cut to the Orlando Airport, late afternoon on March 15.  This was when you could still meet incoming flights at the gate, and I expected to see Kara as soon as I stepped off the jetway.  Well, she wasn't there.  I kept looking around, and no sign of her.  So I called her cellphone and when she answered I asked, "Are you hiding behind a palm tree?"  She apologized, saying that it normally takes about 2 hours to drive from Sarasota to Orlando, but the traffic was miserable.  She said she'd be there soon, and we agreed to meet at baggage claim.

I got to Delta baggage claim, saw my flight wasn't unloading yet, so I waited.  Still no Kara.  Also no bags yet.  I decided to page her on a house phone.  The phone was situated in such a way that I could see the entire baggage claim area, but interestingly, I turned my back away from it.  As I was speaking to the person about setting up the page, I turned around...

...And there was Kara, standing 10 feet away from me.  I told the house phone person, "It's OK, I found her."  As I hung up the phone, Kara walked over to me, put her head on my chest, said "I'm sorry."  I said, "It's OK," and gave her a kiss on her head.

Remember, we met online just 34 days earlier because of our shared interest in Errol Flynn...could this first face-to-face meeting have been any more cinematic?

Needless to say, we had an incredible weekend, and set the pattern for what would truly be a whirlwind romance and courtship. 

More to come...


IT WAS ERROL FLYNN'S BIRTHDAY...
June 20, 1996

...But I wasn't thinking about that at the time.  Remember, Kara and I had met online in February 1996 because of our mutual interest in Errol Flynn, and met face-to-face for the first time a month later on the Ides of March.  After that initial weekend in Orlando, Kara had driven up to Atlanta with her 6-year-old fraternal twins Kayleigh and Jonathan.  I made several long weekend drives to Nokomis (south of Sarasota).   So there I was, the morning of Thursday, June 20, 1996, at my desk at CNN Special Events, when our offices were still on 7 North.  As became our habit, Kara and I were doing a morning AOL IM chat.  What I would say was the key part of that chat went like this:
ME: "Kara..."
KARA: "Yes...?"
ME: "Will you marry me?"

I honestly don't remember Kara's online response, but I know that I immediately picked up the phone and called her...and repeated my proposal.  To which she said -- thankfully -- Yes!!!

Now came the hard part...I was scheduled to leave for San Diego in a little over two weeks to start prepping for the '96 GOP Convention.  I didn't want to wait until the end of the summer for us to be married, so...what to do?


A 15 YEAR JOURNEY THAT HAS NO END 
June 28, 1996 - ____________

So what do you do when you propose to someone by instant message and phone...you're leaving town in a couple of weeks for the entire summer...and you really want to get married but your bride-to-be lives in Florida and you live in Georgia?

Why, get married 8 days later, of course!

After I proposed to Kara on the 20th, we knew we wanted to move quickly, so we each went for blood tests, I ordered wedding bands for both of us, and I arranged to work a half-day on Friday, June 28, 1996.  I picked Kara up at the airport and we went to pick up our rings.  Which would've been fine, except the store had Kara's ring -- but not mine.  OK, we could deal with that.  On to the DeKalb County Courthouse.

We got to the courthouse, started filling out paperwork -- and found out that Georgia won't accept blood tests from another state!!  What to do?  Fortunately, we were told where we could go to get a blood test done nearby, which we did.  Then it was back the courthouse, where we waited a bit more.  Finally, we were called before DeKalb County Magistrate Judge Gary Leshaw, and within minutes, we were married. 

That was 15 years ago today. Five months later Kara, Kayleigh, Jonathan and I were living together as a family...in London. From the UK to Connecticut...back to Atlanta, where Melanie came into our lives 12 years ago...and now in Maryland...it has been, and continues to be, an incredible journey. 

It seems only fitting that this story closes with a quote from the man who, you could say, started all this.  This is Errol Flynn, portraying George Armstrong Custer, speaking to his wife Libby (Olivia de Havilland):

"Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing."

Indeed it has.  Happy 15th Anniversary Kara!!!!