Thursday, June 26, 2008

MyFamily.com "Memories of College Point."

I’ve been enjoying a MyFamily.com site devoted to the small, insignificant corner of New York City where I grew up. Grew up, in fact, and got married and where my first son was born. College Point; there’s no college there anymore but it is a point jutting out into the East River, which is not a river at all but rather is an estuary, just up the Long Island north shore from LaGuardia Airport.

This site has a fanatic following of mostly Baby Boomers like me who remember the old days, fondly? no, let’s not say fondly, not always, “clearly” might be better. The town is so small, and there were so many of us, that we all feel like we know one another based on shared experience if not on actual acquaintance.

The shared experience, the volume and the quality of the shared experience, is the key to the sites success. I don’t think you could do it with a more “Leave It To Beaver” kind of neighborhood. Those kids lead a sheltered life, they’re too happy. The Beave’ had better weather too, and the odds are that he didn’t get terrorized by his teachers at school. The Beave’ and his friends had fights now and then, but it’s all so cute! Nothing traumatic. Our lives weren’t like that.

College Point was a shared-adversity. Like New York City as a whole, only more so. Coming out the other end relatively ok was like surviving a plane crash together, or a hostage situation.

The traffic was murder, literally. Just ask little Nancy R., oh, I’m sorry, she got hit by a car and killed. There were lots of fires to die in. We drove cars with the kind of reckless abandon usually displayed only by stunt-drivers or the insane. There were lots of self-immolation style auto accident deaths, sometimes more adequately described as suicides or manslaughters. Drugs were not a passing fancy in College Point, and no one waited for the Hippie days to get started either. There were plenty of drugs, ups, downs, codeine-cough-medicine and reefer from the post-war years on. And Heroin, too, with the usual accompanying deaths. Most people knew somebody; my old baby-sitter Jeannie W. went home from work one day to find her son dead with a needle in his arm. Junkies go to prison or die, or both, College Point junkies were no exception.

Somehow we Baby-Boomers remained light hearted in the face of all of this.

Drinking, under-age, barely-of-age, and over-age, was epidemic. The drinking age was eighteen, and way before that a lot of us knew how to hang around outside a deli and wait for someone’s older brother to come along and buy beer for us. There were so many bars in town that it made the Ripley’s Believe it or Not in the Sunday papers. It’s true, more bars and more churches per capita than anywhere else in America. By the time I was sixteen there were bars that were so devoid of business that they’d serve you as long as you were as tall as some adults and looked like you’d shut up and drink. Bartenders live on tips; nobody can live on no tips. We tipped as good as we could afford to, we wanted to be allowed back.

Fighting in general was a given, no one of us boys could avoid it, and lots of the girls went at it too. Bloody fights were common, with a sprinkling of brutal stompings thrown in. One of the really frightening boys came over to a car full of my friends one time and told them to beat it, he didn’t want them hanging around in front of his house. Poor Richie I. was just stoned enough to ask the boy sarcastically what his problem was. In a flash he had been pulled out of the car, through the window, knocked to the street between the curb and the car and heel stomped more than a few times. Those were the good old days.

There were sex-driven aberrations, of course. We heard of a couple of instances, one an older brother and the other an older cousin, where some poor kid was forced to blow a family member, or where some teenage girl was donated to a crippled war-veteran relative. We showed uncharacteristic compassion on these occasions, forgoing the opportunity to tease the victim. We were stunned to silence in a sympathetic, “there but for fortune” kind of way.

On the site we conveniently forget the beatings and the rapes, and most of the drugs too. And people’s behavior is tidied up a bit too. Everyone in town loved Warren B., it’s true, and we all speak of him like a saint on the site. No one has mentioned, not even after I alluded to it, that he was the champion car thief of all time. He had a different car every night; if he was late for school he’d steal a car to cut his travel time, he’d swing by the bus stop and pick us up. He was famous for it, but now we just say what a swell guy he was, and he was too, I loved the guy and the cars had nothing to do with it, but he probably stole a thousand cars over the course of his career.

Believe me, growing up in College Point was quite the adventure. Now we are all having great fun reliving our shared history. It’s a little like a reunion of Blackbeard’s pirate crew, if they only joked about the bad food and the storms, and left out all the bloody bits.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Fred, you've nailed it! I'm printing this one out for my son to read someday, so he'll understand his old man. This is a keeper! I hope Jim H. reads it and incorporates it into a *really* interesting book about the true CP. This is CP's real history.

I write as a fellow College Point "survivor" and member of the MyFamily.com site you write about.
The "Memories of College Point" site is a bit like Garrison Keilor's "Lake Wobegon" stories but with a dark--totally unspoken--underside straight out of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet." Like Keillor's rose-colored memories of Lake Wobegon, his improbable memories of "Kids who were all well above average" applies to the kids of College Point too, or at least in our distorted memories. The good folk on the website believe that "Memories" should only be the good type, even if they weren't even close to the truth of what really happened... Girls disappeared and were never heard from again. (The ones who did return always came back after 8 or 9 months.) Bodies were found floating in the Airport Road swamp.
Overdosed kids sprawled under the trees in Chisolm Park. 13-year-old alcoholics, thugs, thieves, and "Youg Deliquents," too young for the "Juvenile Deliquent" classification were the norm.

Sounds like the Army straightened out some of them, or their own bad habits eventually did others in, unless they scored another kidney from somewhere. So there is karma. Living well is still the best revenge. So give up any repressed rage or hate, Fred. (Which is what depression is about, really.) We can take the boy out of "The Point," but we can never take The Point out of the boy. Sad.
-Ed S.

fred c said...

I know it's the old repressed rage, plus the odd traumatic fear experience. Too many times the "Fight or Flee" thing kicked in and you couldn't do either thing, you just had to stand there and wait for it to stop, for the adult to stop screaming and smacking you, or for the big, athletic shithead to get tired of pushing your head against the wall. I didn't have it so bad, I had friends, I had fun, and I went on to have a nice family. Not too many pieces left on the board now, but maybe still some interesting play before my king falls.

Thanks for the kind words, Ed.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I thought for sure with something so controversial as this you'd get more comments... where are all the CP-defenders from that site now? Best to let sleeping dogs lie, I guess.

fred c said...

I'm only glad that people remember the times we had and enjoy reminiscing. All things considered, I'm very happy and proud to have grown up in CP.

Although I was a little scared by Jimmy D's first response to my comment about him giving me shit in front of Bernie's. For all I know Connie Wolf lives in Bangkok and would love to come over and bust my head.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an old saying: "The mosquito trapped in the vinegar bottle thinks it is the sweetest place in the whole world."

Jim Haas said...

What's great about College Point is precisley that a lot of people who grew up there remember it very well, some fondly and others not. I've read more comments about nasty, mean-spirited nuns at St. Fidelis than I ever want to hear, then again, not a single one of the many that I knew was ever anything more than a good woman, but that's my memory and I'm sticking to it.

Bad things happened there to be sure, always did and always will. On the MyFamily site I recently wrote about Billy Danos, a very intelligent Greek immigrant back in the 50's who may have been College Point's first heroin victim. He stuck a needle in his arm one night, died and was found the next morning in Chisholm Park. We used to play stickball together; that was a tragedy. Howie Huck got killed when a car driven by a heart attack victim crashed into him in front of the RKO Keiths in Flushing; a celebrated baseball coach was one day removed from his position of trust, and while the story may not have appeared in the paper, we knew why. Trust me, College Point kids, even back in the 50's, weren't stupid, and it wasn't Leave It to Beaver.

As for writing a "really" interesting book; if by really interesting it is meant write about human misery, I did write about the 24 men who died during the Civil War, and the 33 who were wounded and the few who did some time at Andersonville as POW’s; that was misery. The letters I included written by parents in search of information about their sons are heart wrenching to read even today.

Before he lost his business, the business that provided employment to many of our ancestors who built, owned or rented all those sturdy little houses that are now being razed and replaced by condos and whatnot, Poppenhusen lost most of his children to death, and those that survived helped destroy the business; now that was misery.

In the history of St. Fidelis, I wrote about the deaths of seven of my great grandparents' 10 children. There's also a suicide, a drunken brawl, the death of a father on one girl's wedding day and the accidental shooting of College Point's most famous WWI hero, Oscar Ammann; he didn't die in battle, he was just carrying on in a trench and got shot, quite by accident, by one of his friends.

As for the sordid, This Gunner at His Piece includes a child born out of wedlock, (how quaint) a vet who went out for groceries and never came back, (now that's a new one) a couple of suicides and a few others who got arrested. The seamy side of life is there; its just not trumpeted.

Poppenhusen's bio includes the marriage of one of his childhood friend to an ex-priest (in Germany and England, not College Point, sorry) financial chicanery, horrific personal attacks on the man himself not to mention charges of drinking on the job lodged against one of his sons following a disastrous train-wreck in which people died. You want reality?

Among the stories I didn’t include in any of my books was the one about a dead new born that washed up on the shores of Flushing Bay one morning in the late 1880’s. The story was lurid; it named names and some that might be familiar to old-timers. I decided also not to mention the drunken bouts I discovered during research along with many other family desertions of which I became aware, and the children whose lives were trashed as a result. Had I included these, would any of them been better books?

So now I'm researching and hoping to write about another time in the town's history, the early part of the 20th century and the WWI years. I'll try to keep it light but hopefully, "really" interesting.

Jim H

fred c said...

Thanks Jim, I'd love to read more of your stuff. I agree that it's best to keep it light, primarily, but I'd always include a little darkness, maybe off stage or in shadows, for context. It sounds like you do too. But it's certainly not good to get carried away with the negative, that doesn't help anybody.

I went to St. Fidelis with Stephan Hass and I knew his brother Hiliary, they of the flower shop Hass's, is that your family too? Nice to meet you either way.

Anonymous said...

It was kind of a tough neighborhood, too. Not big-city tough like the slums in "Los Olvidados" or "Pixote" or Hell's Kitchen in "Dead End," but still full of peril to a kid. Especially when I got a little older and developed some dangerous habits — like reading. I learned to walk around with the book covers hidden, so the sci-fi titles looked like schoolbooks. I would still get my ass kicked occasionally, no matter how careful I was. It would happen in the schoolyard, on a corner, or in somebody's backyard — before I knew it I was on the ground with some stringy delinquent straddling me, pounding his fists into my stomach.
These were working-class kids, and a lot of these guys ended up in Vietnam just a couple years later. In those days they were still doing the thing with the cigarettes — the pack held in place with a rolled-up T-shirt sleeve. Elvis was still important, still vital, at least to them. They wore their hair like Elvis, slicked back. They tore apart cars or motorcycles and undeneath their fingernails there was always a line of black. I called them greasers. They had names for me, too.
---Columbus, Ohio, circa 1963

Rory Cripps said...

I joined the "Memories Of College Point" site about two weeks ago and I, recently, posted (what I thought was)a relatively benign and innocuous discussion. Throughout the time (1954 through 1978) that I resided in "The Point", I was well aware that there existed, within some circles, an undercurrent of hostility and, perhaps, even a sheer meanness. However, those attitudes and emotions occur and manifest themselves virtually everywhere. With that said, though, I, in no way, expected the bizarre, ludicrous, and often hostile replies that my discussion elicited. For example, right off the bat, Kitty Genovese was mentioned in a couple of the replies, and I'm still trying to figure out how anyone, in their right mind, can see fit to apply the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese to my discussion.

It's nice to know that some of those that grew up in College Point have similar reading tastes to that of my own. Years ago, I was handed a copy of "A Confederacy Of Dunces" by a fellow College Pointer and it is still the saddest, and at the same time, funniest book that I've read. I've read most of Conrad's major works and I still have a forty-year-old dog-eared copy of Moby Dick on hand.

I know first-hand much of the "heart of darkness" and "the horror" that existed in College Point. But for the most part, my experience of growing up in "The Point" was a positive one. Indeed, most of those that I associated with were intelligent and good people who went about their daily lives and didn't make a spectacle of themselves. And for some reason (perhaps I was just lucky)throughout the twenty four years that I resided in "The Point", I never once got beat up nor did I beat anyone up.

Anonymous said...

Fred, Just a little story from me, Joe Dunn. I was about 14 years old when I went into Bernie's candy store down the block from the monument. I had heard all the stories about the infamous "Barrel Boys" and in they walked. I was scared to death. The one I remembered the most is a fellow by the name of Steve Tyber (sp?). White t-shirt pack of rolled up cigaretts in his right arm. He began to push me around and harrass me for the spare change I had for my baseball cards. Thank God for the old man, Bernie, who helped me get out of the store while he made the tough guys stay in. Now understand at the time I was about 5'3" 110lbs soaking wet. The Barrel Boys looked to me, like giants. Now fast forward 20 years later. I'm working for the phone company, it's 1978 and I come into the company garage. One of my co-workers walked over to me and said "Hey Joe, Here's one of your guys from your neighborhood, Steve Tyber." I felt enraged because it brought me back to that day at the candy store. However, now I'm 6' tall, 230 lbs., looking over at Steve who was 150 lbs soaking wet. Now here was my decision: Do I become a "Barrel Boy" and start pushing him around the garage? No. I became the mature person that I am today. I said hello to Stevie. Told all the guys in the garage about how he pushed me around way back then. We all had a good laugh that day. But in the back of my mind, I really did want to smack him on the back of his head (LOL). That is not one of my fonder memories of College Point. Thanks for reading, Joe Dunn. PS I missed your postings on the College Point Website. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

Crapps, you little fucking whiner, if I had known you in The Point I would have ripped off your encephalic head and shit down your neck! God help the poor suckers who have the misfortune of living around you now.

-E. S.

fred c said...

Oh, if you'd known me back then you would have appreciated my generous, fun loving nature, we would have gotten along fine.

On the other point:

1. If you were much tougher than me I'd have just let you stomp me,you had earned the right, no use in making it worse, fighting back; but if I thought you were close to me in the pecking order, my feelings would be offended, and I'd have sincerly tried to kill you; and

2. You had to be careful; I had some monstrously tough friends who valued my good nature and didn't like it when I got pushed around.

Anonymous said...

To Mr. E.S., AKA Phil Nolan: I have no doubt that if you "knew me" in the "Point" you would have attempted to do those things to me. That's just the kind of guy that you were, and I'm sure still are. But what you and your ilk, apparently didn't realize then (and perhaps now)is that once you cross the line, as it were, you will be in a world of hurt. I see that at one point, you were a "Barrel Boy". Once a "Barrel Boy" forever a "Barrel Boy" . . .HA!

Anonymous said...

CP's legacy--anonymous people, acting more than a bit ridiculous in the face of old age, bitter to the end, defending the indefensible. Oh yes, it was a Wonderful Life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fred,
I am not trying to keep my head in the sand regarding all the bad things that went on in College Point. The main reason for the site though is to remember the fun things that we did when we were growing up. The town doesn't look much like the town that I grew up in any more.
Anyone and everyone knew that bad things happened in town. But the bad stuff always makes the news, and bad situations sometimes are exacerbated when they are rehashed over and over again. Old wounds are ripped open again. So if I seem like I'm seeing the town through rosy colored glasses, perhaps I am. I didn't experience the bad stuff. Of course my folks didn't let me out of their site either, so nothing bad happened.
I just think it makes people feel good to remember what was good about the town. Just call me a Pollyanna. I've been gone from town since 1969.
One of your administrators from MCP

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you put this stuff on Memories of College Point?

Boy I feel sorry for you. It sounds like you had a terrible life in C.P., getting beat up and terrorized by teachers. I don't know where you went to school or who you hung around with, but I never knew a drug addict in that town. Heroin? Never heard of it.

Maybe I had a sheltered life, but I didn't go looking for trouble and if I saw it, I went the other way.

After reading your blog, I felt the need for a shower. Yuk

Anonymous said...

I have to say I am very suprised that anyone who lived (or lives) in College Point can actually be oblivious to the astronomical percentage of alcoholics! Come on, seriously? I've lived there from 1976 to 1996 my entire childhood and teenage years. I was introduced to alcohol at 14, drank every weekend. Hung with a 40 something drug/alcohol addict via a boyfriend who let all the ids come to him and get trashed. My dad lived on beer and coffee along with most of the other guys he hung out with.I believe in College Point beer was on the food pyramid (at the top). I remember a child that was found murdered in the swamps in between the yacht club an the condos by mcneil park. I believe his name was Christian and it was around the same time of Adam Walsh. Also being in a small town everyone had their place and you could not get out of your "social rung" unless you got out of the town. I have plenty of great memories don't get me wrong, but I moved so my kids wouldn't get stuck, and thats what happens if you stay there, you get stuck, like quick sand.

Rory Cripps said...

I haven't read this post for awhile and I just had to re-comment: JEEZ! The Manhattan Skyline is in clear view of "The Point". Indeed, Mid-Town Manhattan is a relatively short distance from The Point. With that said, I don't understand how anyone can feel trapped, so to speak, in College Point. I and many of my friends used to spend alot of time in the city and the outlying areas. I don't recall any of them that felt trapped. I have probably seen more nasty stuff go on in College Point, and ruined lives, during the time that I resided there ('54-'78)than have many of you that seem to think that The Point was just the vilest place on the face of the earth. How much do you want to bet? Would you like to compare stories with me? How many kids did you know that over-dosed on Smack or pills, or hung themselves, or beat someone's head in with a rock? Do you think that I'm just blowing smoke? HA! I lived it and I survived. Throughout the years, I've resided in various parts of New York as well as in California and Florida. I've even been to Redondo Beach on many occasions . . . and I found it to be a FREAK SHOW. And I've seen plenty of good neighborhoods as well as bad neighborhoods. Some of the negative comments, as those comments pertain to The Point, are exaggerations and paint the town, with one broad brush-stroke, out to be something that it's not.

Anonymous said...

The Rican
I grew up in C. P. from 51 to 76 and man we had a great childhood and yes pleanty of fights at the College Point Lounge some did drugs yes mostly pot and beer was the main thing also fights were common their on friday's snd saturdays .Quinns Inn was another on pleant of fights and boy did we drink and not ashamed of it .The best part was Julies sweet shop on 14th ave on the corner .We had a good croud their John d, bob r,
marty K,john W ,Tali v and many more I could name I miss CP If I could turn back the hands of time like I tell my sons I would do it cause that was a time that know lid today or ever will experiance.Time did go quick but I am glad I am finnaly Finding old friends .God luck to the rest who didn't have a good time in College Point.PS I think the fights are what made the best part of us as we were growing up and knowing the people we new.

fred c said...

Almost a year later this post still generates comments! Thanks to The Rican for a great addition.

I'm not sure if we were aquainted. I think the only Puerto Rican that I knew in CP was Richie L's mom!

Anonymous said...

Hay Fred, Here is another topic that has never been touched on. There were no gay people in da Point when I was growing up? But after 35 years there seem to have been quite a few back then. 15 years ago my X informed me that she was gay, Being a girl from the da Point, go figure? How can you compete against another women? Anyway, like after so many fights in da Point I picked my self up and got back in the race. The "Memories site" is just loaded with people wanting to vent after all these years, and If you say something that might be consider bad! you will be reprimanded by the site administrator. Hay Long Live phil Nolan LOL. Joe D.

Anonymous said...

It's someone named "Ellie the Rican"

Anonymous said...

Joe, you would drive any woman lezbo, CP or not. No surprise there.

Anonymous said...

E.S., maybe so, But my "Point " was growing up in da Point you never heard talk about Gay people and on the "Memories" site you still don't? Oh and by the way, on June 25th I will be married 15 years and there is no signs of her changing to the other side. But your postings always make me LOL.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the Anti-Semitism.

Anonymous said...

college point could have been one big a.a. meeting

Michael Dooley said...

Born CP 1948, left 1965. Plenty of fond memories, sure, but yes: “Blue Velvet.” The drunks, the drugs, the beatings, the secret sex. Fred’s traffic comments reminded me that the only time I ever witnessed someone die. Heading home from St. Fidelis after 3, about to cross College Pt. Blvd. I watched a St. Agnes girl being dragged in the street under the passenger side tire of a car recklessly swerving southward. She was screaming until she wasn’t, when the car stopped near the curb right in front of me. I never heard any details beyond that the driver had passed out behind the wheel.

fred c said...

Yeah, Blue Velvet, levels within levels and before long you're in the dirt. C.P. was a mess, and in the trapped years it was really horrible. (Age four to fourteen, roughly.) After that we had access to a ton of free things to do at all times, great things, things that other kids out in the stix somewhere could only dream about. So there's that. But the apprenticeship was murder.