Sunday, May 10, 2009

Glenwood Projects

I lived at 1736 Ralph Avenue from three to twenty-one. It was a six story building with five apartments on each floor, thirty apartments in all. There were forty building exactly like this in the Glenwood Projects, 1200 total families. Each family had approximately two children. There were at least 2500 kids in the projects and the homes surrounding the projects. I knew almost everyone of them. And because I was interested in people I knew them more than superficially.

This was a tremendous educational experience for me. I learned to deal with all types of personalities and temperaments. Every type you could imagine was represented in this mix. Brilliant musicians and aggressive bullies. Super athletes and flaming homosexuals. Beautiful women and deformed Mongoloids. There were seven foot giants and four foot midgets. There were those who died in Vietnam, in car crashes, from suicides, or fatal diseases. Some ended up in jail; many more who should have, but never got caught. There were those who dropped out of school in elementary school and others who ended up with PHDs. There were kind and generous kids, mean and selfish ones. There was someone who was talented in every possible activity you could consider; others whose sociopath proclivities were frightening. There were neurotics and psychotics, religious fanatics, and crusaders for all conceivable causes and movements.

My friend of fifty years, Campi, compiled some of the nicknames he remembered that might give you a flavor of the neighborhood:

Toes Fischer- (walked on his Toes)
Arnie the Gangster- (tough guy, or thought he was)
King Anthony- (ruled the lots around the projects)
Corny- (wore a Cornell sweatshirt)
Tuba- (professional gambler; announcer of all neighborhood sports events)
Ocky- (long arms flailing around)
Lennie the Beak- (obvious)
Tony the Bagel Man- (sold bagels; had sex with the project slut)
Mook- (hard core druggie)
Richie King (con man extraordinaire; worth a few blogs himself; real name forgotten)
Killer Cohen- (very gentle guy)
Stinky- (went out with my sister, became Hasidic Jew)
Clarabelle- (fired bullets over Campi's head while he was filming porno film)
Big Took and Little Took- (athletes and gamblers)
Iggy Rats, Piggy, and Puppy
Harry the Horse- (father a cop; became a fugitive, also worth a few blogs)
Buck, Bucky, and Ducky
Beef, Bull, Buffalo, Goose, Snake, Beaver (became wealthy, interested in Roman civilization)
The Mayor- (stayed in his room for two years smoking pot and taking LSD, produced an incredible painting that if ever discovered by a future generation would be revered as a religious masterpiece.)
Walter Stringbean (on the thin side)
Dingleberry (female impersonator at age ten)
Paula Pineapple (nice pineapples)
Shtunk- (became a life insurance exec, probably never revealed nickname)
Instructor- (suspected of pedophilia, probably in jail)
Junior Sirico -(tough guy, frightening, supposedly killed a woman, became Paulie on the Sopranos)

I could go on, but you get the drift. The main point is even in a small one square mile neighborhood, there were all types of people. Our world is made up of billions of individuals. We each are unique but in a fundamental way connected. I learned early on that it was easier to survive when you were more accepting of differences, when you could make fun of each other and not hold on to it the next day. There were those in the neighborhood who were dangerous and needed to be restrained or rehabilitated, but the overwhelming majority were just unique characters with there own views and idiosyncrasies.

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