Billy and me – New Years Eve – 1959

coneyisland-1

New Year’s Eve, 1959. It was a mild winter evening in Brooklyn that year. A good night to be in Times Square…not that we were there. We locals always thought Times Square was for tourists.

Billy and me were walking the Coney Island boardwalk. Next year – 1960 – we would both turn 18, old enough for a driver’s license in New York City; this would be our last walking-around year.

John Kennedy was going to be President. I just knew it.  I grew up under Ike, and it seemed strange at first that he wasn’t going to be President anymore. When Pius XII died the year before, it also struck me as odd that we were going to have a new Pope. Pius was the only Pope I’d ever known.  I was burying the first of my childhood illusions. Nothing lasts forever.

Billy at my home – circa 1960

Billy and me were best of friends.  We were from the day we met; we had a lot in common. We went to the same school. We were the same age. We liked the same things.

And we were both poor; standing on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Bay 53rd street, looking up the block from my home

We lived around the corner from each other – I was on Bay 53rd street and Billy on Bay 54th.  Brooklyn old-timers will know those streets. They were directly across from Phil Pepper’s watermelon stand on Cropsey Avenue – dumpy little dirt “streets” that ended at the Coney Island creek. We each lived in a tiny little shoe box of a “bungalow” with two other siblings. Billy and I were the oldest in our respective families. I had two younger brothers and Billy had a younger sister and brother. Neither of us had our own room.

I took Billy’s younger sister to my senior prom.  I was only 16 when I graduated (I had skipped the 8th grade entirely – clever boy) and there wasn’t a 17 or 18 year old girl in high school who was going  to the prom with a 16 year old who was to0 young to drive  let alone go clubbing after the dance.  You can read about all about it here:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/toritto-a-life-in-pictures-5/

My family lived in a two-bedroom house. My brothers shared a tiny room with bunk beds and I slept in the living room on a Castro Convertible sofa (“Comfort, beauty and style!”).

Same with Billy.

My father was a hod carrier – an unskilled laborer at a construction site. Mostly he wheeled cement to brick layers who troweled it on for the next course of brick. Papa had an eighth grade education and epilepsy, but he kept a roof over our heads and food on our table all of his life. He worked himself to death at 56.

Billy’s dad worked at Davidson Pipe in Brooklyn on the night shift – for a few extra bucks. He hated the job, but it was all he knew and he too had a wife and three kids.

There was no money for college.   And no such thing as student loans.

I had graduated high school the previous May. I got a job in the mail room of what is now Citibank. I was making $52 a week delivering the mail around the bank at 20 Exchange Place. I had a white-collar job! I had to wear a suit, white shirt and tie everyday to perform this important function. Billy, who was my age but still in school was looking forward to graduating in May.  Like me he had no firm plans other than to find a job.

So on that New Year’s eve, sipping from our shared pint of Southern Comfort, Billy and I strolled the short distance from our homes to Coney Island. Nothing was going on at home, we had no dates, and we couldn’t go to sleep so long as someone was watching television in the living room. They would, of course, be watching Guy Lombardo. It was a beautiful night, and for us perhaps an omen of the good things to come. We were seventeen, young and strong and the whole world was open to us.

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After a couple of dozen clams at Nathan’s, it was up to the boardwalk. It was nearly empty of people. We walked and talked – next year we would get cars! Next New Year we would be able to drive. Freedom! Independence! Of course we would have to register for the draft. What kind of car will you be looking for? Convertible? Chevy? Ford? Who’s that girl I saw you with? How’s your cousin Ginny? I think she’s cute.

I was thinking of going to college. Or trying to go.  I was already tired of opening mail. City University was free if you could get in – it wasn’t open enrollment. I told Billy I was going to try the night school first.  Billy thought that was a good idea, but not for him. Billy had other dreams. Besides, no one from the upper Bay streets ever went to college.

We were drunk and full of hope that New Year’s eve. Growing up, girls, cars, booze, jobs and a new President.  We would get out of our dirt streets.

I left Bay 53rd street for good in November 1963, when I joined the Army for four years. I had been going to night school at City University, but I was 21 and still living at home. The Army was the only “opportunity” for me to move away from dependency on  my father; to lessen his burden as he aged and be on my own.  Billy came to my going away party the night before I left for Ft. Dix.  We shook hands and said our grown-up farewells.  We weren’t kids anymore.

Four days into my Army enlistment President Kennedy was gunned down.  Ten months later I was on the Horn of Africa.

After joining the Army I never lived with my parents again.  I never went back to live in Brooklyn.  A month after enlisting I married the girl I loved and after discharge in 1967 finished college, raised two fine daughters and buried two sons.  Billy married, but never left Bay 54th street.  He never left those dirt streets.  Though we could rarely see each other due to time and distance, we remained friends all our days; until suddenly he was gone. He died a relatively young man, in his forties, of heart disease and diabetes; probably unable to afford decent health care.

Before I left New Jersey for my current residence in Florida, I went back to Bay 53rd street with my eldest daughter for one last look. I wanted my daughter to see where I spent my youth.

Both my old house and Billy’s are covered by the parking lot of a big box store. Part of our lives, the places we dreamed our dreams, buried along with Billy.

Others will walk in Coney Island this New Year’s eve, especially if its an unseasonably warm evening.

Drink a toast to Billy.  My best friend forever.

Happy New Year

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About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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11 Responses to Billy and me – New Years Eve – 1959

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Happy New Year to you and yours!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. beetleypete says:

    Nice to see you back, Frank. Hope you had some great family time. I always enjoy re-reading this post too. Happy New Year old friend.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Ostertag says:

    Nicely written. warm memories. Happy New Year, Frank

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful memories of Billy and years gone by. Thanks for sharing your stories. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jennasnanny04 says:

    Hapay New Year Frank. May you have good health and reasons to smile and have hope for our country. I’m trying, but as we expected, every day until January 20 ( and hopefully not after) will be a new hell as trump continues his vendetta against the American people. If only his zombies would realize they are also under attack and dying just like the Democrats. He cares for no one.
    Enough rambling….my purpose was to tell you that I finished reading Torittos Blog and I was moved beyond words. Thank you for sharing your life stories of love and loss. You are truly a wonderful writer and I am starting on the next book. Hope your family visit was wonderful and you are feeling well now.
    Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Hi nancy! Your comments are much appreciated. Usually no one reads Torittos Blog except family and friends. I think I earned enough from it to by my girls dinner.

      You’ll have to pardon this 78 year old codger for asking but have we crossed paths. I had an Aunt Nancy but she is long gone and Nancy is not a name you hear anymotr.

      Like

      • jennasnanny04 says:

        Frank, that’s so funny because, since we moved to Arizona, I am literally surrounded by Nancy’s!!
        Well, since I had lived in Holmdel, you never know if we met but I don’t think so. Do you remember Grand Union, the grocery store? They had a line of baked goods when I was born, called Nancy Lynn. I guess my Mom loved the line cause that’s what she named me! Lol.
        I grew up in Northern NJ but had cousins in Brighton Beach that we visited alot. And it was a short walk to Coney Island!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jennie says:

    I remember this post, Frank. One of my favorites! Happy New Year to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. toritto says:

    Jennasnanny04 – Well having lived in Middletown for a dozen years we were practically neighbors! My girls went to Middletown High and on to Rutgers and Monmouth. And yes I remember Grand Union; our local grocery was Stop and Shop on Route 35 opposite the Middletown Clown.
    🙂
    As for Arizona I have two cousins in Phoenix and have been out there several times during my retirement years. As for the book I penned it primarily for my daughters and my grandson who, like all other children have no inkling that their parents were once young.

    Best regards from Florida.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jennasnanny04 says:

    Let me know if you come to AZ again, we live up near Sedona but I know my husband ( and I) would welcome a meeting of minds. There are very few like minded people where we are. It gets old!!

    Liked by 1 person

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