Virus: A new generation of heroes

You ever walk into a room and forget why you went in there?

OK, probably not the bathroom.

I started today’s column about the moves, some life changing, one makes during life because in my mind I had a connection to the Great Isolation, the pandemic we are now fighting.

Marlboro housing project in Brooklyn

As sometimes happens, the connection was broken.

But I think there’s a lesson in here anyway. 

Among the dozen moves I made in my life, only two were life-changing: My 1966 move from New York City to Philadelphia, at a time when no one was moving to Philadelphia, especially from New York, the center of the universe.

The other significant move was in 1957 from a tenement in the South Bronx to the Marlboro city housing project in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, and that’s quite a scary name for a community. Gravesend and neighboring Bensonhurst were home base for Mafioso before they moved up and out to Long Island.

That trauma of my move was intense. Although it was still in New York City, the distance between the Bronx and the ass end of Brooklyn, just outside Coney Island, was so great — two hours by subway — it discouraged visits from Bronx friends. 

So I lost them, and because the project prohibited pets, my parents were forced to give away the dog of my youth. Having to surrender her to strangers when she was past her prime brings tears to my eyes today, 60 years later.

It’s hard to explain why. 

The two benefits of the move: I got my own bedroom for the first time, my sister got hers and my parents no longer had to sleep in the living room, which was common in the South Bronx.

The other thing: I would be a Dodgers fan, as I had laid down my allegiance to the New York Yankees, the Bronx Bombers, after they had mistreated some of my heroes.

But just as I moved to Brooklyn, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and I have hated them with furnace heat ever since then. No team had been so attached to the community as the Dodgers, known as the Bums,  a team of heroes that had integrated the majors a decade earlier with the immortal Jackie Robinson, backed by players like Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, and Duke Snider. 

But I digress.

It was a sad, four-year wait until the New York Mets were launched in 1964, insanely supported by reflagged Dodger fans who could never bring themselves to cheer for the Yankees. 

In 1966, I left my beloved Mets and my beloved New York to take a job in Philly and turned to the wretched Phillies enterprise. Three years after I left, in 1969, the Mets won the World Series. By coincidence a Met, Tug McGraw, led the Phillies to its first world championship in 1980. About 10 years later, McGraw threatened to sue me for calling him a deadbeat dad, which he had been. The suit went nowhere. 

Between 1966 and today I have lived in Philadelphia except for my first year here when I rented a house in Yeadon. The best thing about that was that I got to be a volunteer firefighter with the excellent Yeadon volunteer fire department.  

At the time, my father-in-law was a lieutenant in the FDNY and he was stunned that Yeadon’s equipment was better than what he had in his Brooklyn firehouse, Engine 255.

I spent a weekend living with 255 for a big spread I did for the local weekly newspapers. That’s where I learned that breathing smoke is almost like drowning. Every boy wants to be a firefighter sometime in his youth, so I lived my dream for a weekend.

With the pandemic we are living through, I think a new generation or kids will idolize medical workers, the soldiers on the front lines of our Great Isolation. They are our new heroes.

And I guess that is where I wanted this column to go.

18 thoughts on “Virus: A new generation of heroes”

    ( passover / good Friday )
    Interesting blog, Stu. You could go in so many directions with this report. I hope that you are right, saying that our youth has real heroes. (boy, do they need encouragement).
    We were not so lucky in our time. John Wayne and friends were who we admired, if not worshiped. I said so in a earlier blog. Many of us went to war. A lot of the guys that I knew growing up, upon their return to Philly, they became cops or firemen. Others became heroes by giving some, if not all . I followed my father and brother into construction.
    What could be a more noble calling, than to care for your fellow man.

    1. Well, then we learned John Wayne never served and was a racist… I think uniforms are respected by most, I hope health professionals are added to the list for courage, not just compassion.

  2. Wow, a GREAT column. It’s especially touching to me because one of my dearest friends (of now 44 years), was a teen-aged hoodlum in the Brooklyn projects he called Williamsburg. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and by the grace of God he not only made it out of the projects, but went on to a very successful career in broadcasting. He and I were VP/GMs together at WCAU/WOGL. He and I both served in the military (he was a six-month wonder, I did four years). My life changing event? I left a very successful radio career in the East to move to San Diego in 1971, to work with a brilliant young guy who bought a radio station and was planning on building an empire. The day I got to San Diego he dropped dead at his son’s birthday party. He was 37 years old. There I was, no career, no real future, and I had cut the cord with the East. As I was told one time by an old-timer: “Write down your plan for the next five days, then go see at the end of five days how your life turned out.” We are all too often looking to tomorrow to realize all we have is NOW.

    1. Glad you liked. Although the projects were a bad “zip code” in today’s parlance, education and ambition lifted a lot of us to success… I have heard of 5 year plans, never 5 day plans. ☺️

  3. Stu,
    I’m glad that you got to where you wanted to go! Between, it reads like a condensed autobiography. A very interesting one! That part about your dog…..having to give up a pet that way…is something I never had to do or thought about. Had to be hard.

    That the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic, will be remembered as such, I don’t see it. But, I’m hoping that I’m wrong.

    My ‘moves’ isn’t the house ones, although many. Briefly, I moved the wrong way one time on a ladder(after my FD days) and fell. Suffice it to say it has changed my life physically.

    Stu, it’s FDNY not NYFD, not sure why, but I think it’s cool.

    1. Tom,
      anybody that watches “blue bloods” know that it’s”FDNY” !
      ladders; I’ll hear it for this, but that’s me. When you lean too far to one side, that’s call “wopsided”. Either that, or “stepping into air”. Been there and done that !

      1. Tony (Happy Good Morning!!)
        Is there anywhere you haven ‘t been or anything you haven’t done? Or said, ad infinitum?😄😁

        1. Tom,
          I tell people that I have had more broken bones than Evel Knievel . He just did it with more grace & style – & money. During my years in construction, I was involved in a “few” building collapses. Riding a bike (cycle) was okay in the ’60s. In the ’80s & ’90s, people started to try to run you off the road. Did you know that the ambulance has air shocks ? Nice smooth ride. Floating down the highway on a gurney.
          then there’s that thing called “war”……………..

          1. Tony
            You served your country well and I try to never forget those who have in my own way.

  4. My compliments on condensing a lifetime of movement and affiliations into one column. Your journalistic talent is always worth a read on any subject just to stir the pot and then move on to another subject as your readers voice their opinions. Maybe I missed the column but I wondered based on your resettlement in various locations what was the driving force to become a newspaper writer instead of taking a fireman’s examination?

      1. Stu,
        That’s exactly what I thought, the gift! You’ve validated it, that’s for sure. As to fd pay, June ’66…went from a nowhere job, $4,400 a year to $6,100!
        That was big back then!!

        1. HAPPY SATURDAY !!!
          Yea buddy. You guys were all working on your 2nd million. You gave up on making the first million. Couple bucks per hour. Most guys had bad lungs, plus you had to live long enough to collect your pension. I remember a “hook & ladder” failing to navigate a turn. The “Tiller man” was killed. Everybody else on the back of the rig was in the hospital.
          Every place that I’ve ever been, cops and fire fighters usually had a second income. They took advantage of the shift work and did their contracting, rug cleaning or what ever. A neighbor where I grew up had a body & fender shop. One car at a time. He’ld buy a wreck, rebuild it and then buy another. He put his kids through college doing that. He also did a lot of free work for PFD. When Rizzo was the Commish, Joe didn’t like his red cars scratched. They were always over Jule’s garage getting touch ups.

          1. Some worked their way through college.. lawyers, some became the boss in FD’s in other cities, some went to lesser jobs and some stayed in forever. And others just retired. They’re the lucky ones.
            A guy I worked with had 6 children and 1 grandchild. He was a young grandfather. One day the small gas station he would occasionally work in to help his family was robbed at gunpoint. As he lay on the floor pleading for his life, he was shot through the head, March 27 1973. Will never forget.

  5. I remember the one and only time I visited you in Brooklyn it was a really long ride. Loved your dog. I believe her name was lucky. I lamented when you left – not only because of you leaving but your mom was my second mother always fixing me up after I fell down or whatever bruise I had at the moment. I wasn’t allowed to have a dog and so your dog was my dog too. So when you left I ost a mom ,a dog and a brother.

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