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REMEMBERING BROOKLYN

Greazy Gus writes from Las Vegas

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My mid-day mail, which arrives about 1:30 p.m. daily, usually brings a batch of unwanted credit cards promising big deals. But among the correspondence one afternoon was a letter from an old pal, Greazy Gus. Greazy was at one time the leader of the East 98th Street group of kids who were my playmates from the day I moved to East 98th Street. I recall the exact day that we arrived there from the Bronx. The Daily Forward, pop’s favorite newspaper, advertised a good deal if you bought one of the new bungalows on East 98th Street in Canarsie. The house could be bought for $5,000 and a mortgage could be arranged where you could pay only the interest monthly. It was like cheap rent, but you could never pay off the cost of the house. Cheap rent was the motivation for all the parents who bought on East 98th Street. When we arrived at the new house, it was like going to heaven compared to the old apartment on Stebbine Avenue in the Bronx. Everything was new and clean, not a roach in sight. Living without roaches was a dream come true. The next plus was the kids on the block. Now my brother and I could have new friends, not like the ones in the Bronx who were always getting into trouble. I remember the day that I was arrested by a cop who caught me using a slug in a gum machine. Slugs were easy to get. The drugstore also developed roll film and disregarded the rollers on which the film came. The rollers had metal rings on the end. When flattened they could be used in candy machines. We were very busy in back of the drugstore flattening the metal ends so that they would not get stuck in the machines and they could be used to satisfy our hunger for candy and gum, which was too expensive to buy in those days of scarce money. The one drawback in Canarsie was that there was no drugstore developing film and the goodies had to be bought from the candy store. It seems hard to believe that the candy store owner could survive on the penny candies sold there. In those days no one hesitated to pick up a penny that might be lying in the street, and there were few of those. Today the letter from Greazy came reminding me of the big feud on East 98th Street. All the guys were ga-ga over luscious Rhonda, who lived on our block. In our early years, we had paid no heed to what the girls on the block looked like. They looked like boys except that they wore dresses. As time passed and we became teens, the girls began to look like girls and when we played hide and seek, we got a little familiar with the differences. In the dark we could “accidentally” cop a feel in areas that were off-limits to us as a rule. Greazy Gus broke the off-limits provision during the game when not only did he touch a breast, but he also kissed her on the lips. This was a bold move. He bragged about it when we met under the streetlight to plan our activities. Rhonda began to blossom and look inviting in all the right places. This started the guys vying for her attention, but Rhonda, aware of her attributes, began to date guys from Brownsville. Their guys were sophisticated compared to the country bumpkins from Canarsie. Most of the guys in our crowd never thought they could date the voluptuous and good-looking Rhonda. We thought she was far above us and out of reach. Not so with Greazy Gus. Greazy was taller and better looking than any of us on the block and he made an attempt to date Rhonda. At first Greazy met with rejection, but he persisted and one day, Rhonda noticed Greazy’s muscled body on the beach. This brought about a change and Greazy became Rhonda’s steady. But before long, the romance between Rhonda and Greazy hit a snag. Whatever broke them up remained a mystery, but we forgot all about Rhonda when her family moved to California, where Rhonda planned to get into the movies. Now after almost a lifetime, we all were senior citizens and suffering certain ailments. The old gang of East 98th Street kids were now members of senior centers. Greazy Gus had to be different. After World War II, Greazy moved out West, a dream he had as a kid. The difference was that he did not move to what he called “Kalarado.” As a kid, he was known as Greazy Gus for Kalarado. What made him choose Las Vegas instead of Colorado was an unexplained mystery, but now Greazy has destined to live out his life in Las Vegas, where he ended up in a nursing home. In his long letter to me, he told me an amazing story. During a bingo game in the nursing home, he sat next to a familiar-looking elderly lady who kept looking at him intently. At last they both realized that they knew each other in the past. Fate and coincidence brought Rhonda and Greazy to the same nursing home. Rhonda and Greazy began to talk about old times. Rhonda had found Vegas more suited to her talents and she performed there for many years. There is a time limit for showgirls in Vegas, and she finally settled down with the daughter fathered by Greazy just before her family moved to California. Greazy had never known he had a daughter. Being so close together in the same environment, they once again felt that old feeling they had for each other, and Greazy was a happy old geezer who somehow still looked handsome for his age. Greazy was sought after by the still romance-inclined elderly ladies of the nursing home. One night he was caught in the act with a friend of Rhonda’s. This tee’d off Rhonda, who considered herself the most desirable female resident of the nursing home. She broke it off again with Greazy Gus. And from that letter, I gathered Greazy’s on-again and off-again romance with Rhonda had not changed.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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