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Welcome to the Neighborhood If it happened once, it happened every time a new kid arrived on our block in the late 1920s. One afternoon, fifteen-year-old “Fatso” Mendel Rothenberg, the biggest blowhard artist in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, corralled a newcomer coming out of Ragaway’s Drug Store and Sweet Shop on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and New Lots Road. “Hya. Ya new aroun’ here, aintcha?” “Yes.” “I’m Mendel. Mendel Rothenberg. What’s ya name?” “Stewart. Stewart Goldman.” “So, Stuey, wherya from?” “We’re from Staten Island.” “Oh Yeah? I know da place. That’s where they keep da Statue of Liberty, huh?” “No – the statue is on Bedloe’s Island.” 15

My Floating Grandmother

“Oh, yeah. I rememba now . . . dey musta moved it on a weekend. Hey, Stue, you play stickball?” “Sometimes.” “Me, I’m a two sewer man, but I hit tree sewers once, half way down this block, next to the weirdo Klein house. Look, you can see it from here. It’s dat yella house halfway down da block wid da milk wagon in fron’?” “I see it. Is that where you live? “Heck, no. Dat house is panic city – believe me. It’s where those nutty Kleins live. “You mean insane?” “Yeah. I dunno. They’s differen’. All nine a dem.” “Nine? Any of them our age?” “Yeah one. He’s Jerry. Only he ain’t no Klein. His last name’s Schnitzer. His ole man an’ motha live wid da Klein’s. They’s related.” “Is he crazy?” “Who?” “Jerry.” “Guess so. He hangs out widda wop, Milli Esposito. His fadda drives a fruit ‘n vegetable wagon. Jerry’s faddah is in da movie business. Sez he knows Rin Tin Tin- in poisin. You know what? I say, Seein’s believin’. An’ Jerry’s mom’s a real lookah, but she don’ give no one roun’ here a tumble … an’ her hubby thinks he’s a ladies’ man. An’ don’ mess aroun’ wid his son Jerry, or he’ll kick da crap oudaya. I guess you’ll hear all about Jerry’s uncles–they’re bookies an’ goombahs, and dey was shot by da mob and nearly died–it’s already two weeks now.” “In that house?” “Nah, dey got hit in da back of Goldie’s candy store, two blocks from here. An’ now da law’s snoopin’ roun’ on our street. It’s amazin’ 16

Gerald Schnitzer

dey never wind up in da slammah in Sing Sing–even Jerry’s Grandpa Meyer. We called him da little ole winemaker. He spends night ‘n day in his cellar makin’ bootleg hooch an’ wine. “An’ dere’s Heshy. He’s Jerry’s uncle–and he’s studin’ to be a doc, only his girlfriend’s a commie that’s drivin’ da family nuts. “I almost fahgot to tellya about Sarah – dat’s Jerry’s grandma. Whew – she’s somethin’. She’s got a good build like her daughter. Dey even look like sisters comin’down the street. And all da horny guys in Brownsville are in heat because dey tink her hubby’s too busy plugging corks in his wine bottles. But she’s not puttin’ out for no one. Pretty stuck up for a granma, I guess. They even chase her down at Coney Island in da summa. She hops the El to Coney an’ swims from Brighton Beach to Steeplechase Pier. And when she comes out of the water and walks up da beach with them boobs bouncin’, you gotta see da ole geezers in their bathing suits, flexin’ their muscles, making like da guy in da body magazines -- ya know, the one holdin’ up the woild on his shoulders?” “You mean Charles Atlas?” “Yeah, dat’s tha guy. Charley Atlast. You know what? My ole lady says she’d jump in da ocean too if she lived in dat family.” “Wow,” said Stewart. “All the way to Steeplechase? Jerry’s grandma … must be a good swimmer.” “Ahh. She can’t swim. She floats . . . on her back.” Stewart squinted and said, “I guess Sarah used a rubber tube when she went out, huh?” “Naah. She don’ need one. She’s got a great pair of hootenannies.” “Hoot … er? What are those?” “Where ‘dja say yer from?”


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Sample page of "My Floating Grandmother" by Gerald Schnitzer

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