Welcome to Arlene's Scratch Paper, a website of my writing, photography, and videos!
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Monday, April 27, 2015
Bridging Our Stories: Edith Prentiss
Meet EDITH PRENTISS, New York City's champion for people with disabilities. She lives in Washington Heights and was recently interviewed for the New York Public Library's Uptown Oral History project, Bridging Our Stories.
Edith talks about her experiences as a social worker with Holocaust survivors living uptown, why it is so important to be a visible and vocal voice for people with disabilities, and the upcoming Disability Pride Parade.
IN CONVERSATION with MILTON A. TINGLING for the NYPL's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories:
A longtime resident of Washington Heights, Milton Tingling currently serves as New York County Clerk. He's the man whose signature appears at the bottom of the your jury duty summons. The first African-American to hold this position, he succeeded Norman Goodman who retired after 45 years.
As a State Supreme Court Justice, Milton Tingling struck down Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on large sized sodas. In this comprehensive interview, he talks about growing up as the son of a judge and public school teacher, his former "careers" as a cab driver and MTA token booth clerk, the impact of growing up in Washington Heights, and as an "exclusive," what kind of soda he drinks.
RAISING THE DEAD: Meet Eric K. Washington, Uptown's brilliant historian and tour guide who is interviewed forNYPL The New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories. In this conversation, Eric talks about transitions - the folks living in the neighborhood, those buried in Trinity Cemetery, and the impact of gentrification. He talks about neighborhood boundaries and how porous they can be and the ghosts of former neighbors who once lived in his apartment building, boxing heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and famed saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/eric-k-washington-vvsbny
W. C. Heinz, simply called Bill by friends, family, and colleagues, was perhaps the lesser known of a literary cannon of sports journalists: A. J. Liebling, Red Smith, John Lardner, and Grantland Rice, but the most influential. A craftsman of the written word whose use of detail plucked the reader into the middle of a story whether he was writing about boxing (The Professional), football (Run to Daylight with Vince Lombardi), the war from the frontlines or a surgeon during the Korean War (he wrote the novel M*A*S*H under the pseudonym Richard Hooker), Heinz brought a descriptive, personal feel to his writing, influencing generations of writers, journalists and novelists, including David Halberstam and Jimmy Breslin. Ernest Hemingway wrote that “The Professional is the only good novel about a fighter I've ever read."
Bill Heinz and boxing trainer Ray Arcel remained close friends since the days when Heinz began pounding the keys of his Remington (one loaned to Hemingway) 50 years ago. Arcel, the legendary trainer of more 2,000 fighters and over a dozen world champions, handled so many of Joe Louis’ opponents he given the nickname “The Meat Wagon.” Two years before his death in 1994, Arcel and his wife, Stephanie (Steve or as Bill referred to her, Stevie), suggested that I write to their old friend. The advice from a master whose keen eye for detail and reflective modesty holds its own as a standard for writers. Bill Heinz died at the age of 93 on February 27, 2008.
Postscript: Stephanie Arcel, who died in 2014, would have loved this new book, The Top of His Game, by Bill Littlefield, and I have no doubt that copies purchased for friends would send this book into a second or even a third printing. To commemorate the book, I've added this postscript and two photos - one of a small collection of Bill's books, ones that have been read to pieces when I covered boxing and after - and the newest collection. Thankfully, he and his work have not been forgotten and hopefully, he'll pick up a few more followers along the way.
July 17, 1992
Dear Arlene Schulman,
Naturally I'm pleased that you find something of substance in the product I have been turning out of this Remington portable since 1932. I don't know what help any advice from me will be, but I'll try by the numbers (which relieves me of the task of building those paragraph bridges which are so important in giving a piece of writing its flow).
1. It has been said that writing is like painting, I guess--can't be taught, but can be learned. Hemingway said he learned by reading the greats he admired and studying what they did to create the emotion, or emotions, that moved him. In other words, the science precedes the art.
In my own growth process I derived much from reading John O'Hara's short stories for dialogue, and Hemingway for scene setting, the placement of the characters in it and, of course, the dialogue that identified and distinguished them.
2. Writing is show-and-tell, and "show," when possible, is far preferable than "tell." Anything anyone tells is suspect, while if the readers is brought to believe he has seen and heard it himself, he is a believer forever. Too many writers get between the subject and the reader, so whenever possible the writer should get out of the way.
3. Back to role models: A half century ago I used to ski, and found that when I followed the instructor down the slope my form flowed much better than when I was on my own. I think that in trying to find one's own style, one should find in one's reading the style, or styles, with which one feels most comfortable, and then follow that as I followed the ski instructor. Of course, at the beginning, one will be just an imitator until gradually one's own self emerges in one's own style. Critics like to sneer at this, but the French impressionist painters all borrowed from one another and learned from one another in finding their own way.
4. When, at the end of WWII, Milton Gross was given a sports column by The New York Post, he asked Red Smith for advice. Red said: "Be there." Being there means not only being in attendance, but with eyes and ears at the ready. Too many writers don't really look or really listen. Look and listen for the distinguishing ingredient. Many years ago Stevie Arcel, in talking about "The Professional" mentioned (in the opening chapter) the flower pots on the tenement fire escapes, the yellowed leaves of the Easter lillies and the pink foil still around the pots a long time after the shouldn't be there any longer. She said: "That tells the whole story of tenement life." Of course. That's why I put it there. Now, Stevie may be the only reader who caught that, but I caught it and every good writes first for himself or herself.
5. The space problem: I know what you're going through, and I don't know any answer except to write as tight and right as you can. Even now, when every couple of years or so and I do a piece for The New York Times sports section, they'll call and say: "We've got to take out six lines." My reaction, although I can't say it, is: "Take it out of the white space around the goddamn drawing." So, you see?
6. Grammatical note: The proper verb form is to "try to" and not "try and." Anyone who ever tried and put it in the past tense got a sentence like this. Don't feel badly. Some of the highest priced heads talking heads on TV make the same error. Somewhere here I've got three or four single-spaced typed pages of grammatical errors made on the networks by their reporters, anchor people and commentators. When I was doing an occasional piece for TV Guide I sent them the casualty lists and asked for suggestions as to how it might be made into a piece. They said their readers wouldn't care. The point was that they didn't care.
7. Sometimes the dice come 7 and here I am. In closing, I can only say that whatever I have to say is in my work, and if you can find Once They Heard the Cheers you'll find a lot of "how-to" there. To you and your work I send my
Mr. Reynolds, who is 91, spoke about he helped transform Isham Park from a garbage strewn dump into the beautiful park it is today; the life and loss of his son, Port Authority Police officer Bruce Reynolds, during 9/11; the cultivation of neighborhood teens and Bruce's Garden; his experiences with racism in the community; his life as a social worker and performer; and how he hopes to be remembered.
Listen to Dave reminisce about growing up on Cooper Street in Inwood, playing basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), his friendship with writer Jim Carroll (The Basketball Diaries), the influence of his Irish-born parents and the community, and tales from the world-famous restaurant, Coogan's.
The New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories, kicked off its project with an interview with Washington Heights' very own Obie Bing. Obie spoke about the migration of his parents and grandparents from the south, growing up in Washington Heights where he still lives, and the tremendous impact the neighborhood has made on him. And for you sports fans, Obie is a first cousin of Hall of Fame basketball player Dave Bing (Detroit Pistons, Washington Bullets, and Boston Celtics). The photograph was taken by me. The calendar was produced by my friends, Steve Simon and Vivian Ducat, to benefit the Riverside Oval Association. This year's calendar includes a photograph of the apartment building that Obie grew up in. To listen, click on this link which will take you to the interview: http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/obie-bing-8jg2qv
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, February 8, 2015, 12:29 AM
When gunshots rang out like the Wild West and Washington Heights was the murder, cocaine and heroin capital of the city, there was one place where fights ended someplace other than the morgue.
In an unassuming apartment building on W. 163rd St. between Broadway and St. Nicholas Ave. was the Westside Gym. For 55 years, a narrow, crumpled stairway led to Artemio Colon, known as “Poppa,” who opened the basement gym in 1959 with two boxing rings and a dream.
When time took its toll and the old man wasn’t able to navigate the steps, his son Artemio Jr. kept the operation going.
The gym closed last July, with little notice, a symbol of the marching gentrification in this neighborhood and throughout New York City.
"I trained a lot of people," said Colon, now 93, who still lives around the corner, across the street from an elm tree that predates the Revolutionary War. “They didn’t listen to their mother or nobody. But they listened to me.”
When the Westside Gym opened its doors, Robert F. Wagner served as mayor and a subway token cost 15 cents. In the grand tradition of neighborhood boxing gyms, guys from the Heights packed its subterranean warren of gray rooms, hitting the heavy bag, sparring, lifting weights and learning the ropes.
Artemio Colon, now 93 (r.), landed in New York in 1946 and trained under famed boxing sage Cus D’Amato. Colon (pictured in the 1980s, l.) opened his own gym in 1959, and built it into a staple in Washington Heights.
It didn’t matter whether they won or lost. It took them away from the lure of gangs, drugs and misbehavior, taught them discipline and gave them the sense that there were options.
When the boxing business was booming, there were several active neighborhood gyms in every borough. Connie’s Gym on 125th St., Brooklyn’s Red Hook Boxing Club and the Bronx’s Jerome Boxing Club were among the casualties of waning interest and higher rents. There’s nothing like the Westside Gym in Manhattan any longer.
“Community gyms help kids in the neighborhood,” said Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “They are not a place where pros go. These mom-and-pop gyms are stabilizing centers in disruptive areas.”
When the tidal wave of drugs and murders disrupted the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s, Colon provided a place where young men could find a safe corner.
“It was a little scary,” recalled Anthony James, a two-time Daily News Golden Gloves winner who trained there during the 1980s. “Guys were always selling drugs on that block out in the open, and people were always getting shot. Washington Heights was definitely out of control. But, he added, “If you were with the gym, no one bothered you.”
The diminutive Colon barred drug dealers, gang members, and other unsavory characters.
“No drugs in the gym,” Colon said firmly. “We never deal with them. I kept the street clean in front and let no one hang out. Even the kids never played ball here. No barbecuing. You have to move.”
The gym was considered sacred. Outsiders never intruded. Even the NYPD knew not to expect any trouble.
“I don’t recall any problems there,” said Deputy Inspector Wilson Aramboles, who covered Washington Heights as an anti-crime officer in the early 1990s. “The gym made a little dent in crime back then.”
NYPD Captain Ernest Morales, one of hundreds who trained at the Westside Gym said it “represented what it meant to fight your way out of poverty to fulfill the American Dream,” a safe haven for generations of children in the rough-and-tumble tracts.
If you were with the gym, no one bothered you.
Fighters and neighbors alike still mourn the fact that Colon had to close his sanctum down.
With crime in the city down overall, it’s difficult to determine what impact, if any, the gym’s loss will have. There were only two murders last year in the 33rd Precinct, which covers the neighborhood.
But if the major crimes are harder to detect, so are the men (and later, a few women) who walked down the block with a singular purpose.
“Everyone has gone to Planet Fitness,” James said. “Boxing is not what it used to be. We all get old. Colon can’t do it forever.”
Silverglade, who oversaw the moving of Gleason’s Gym from 30th St. in Manhattan to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1984 due to rising rent, said it’s gotten harder and harder for gyms to stay on their feet.
“Insurance is extremely expensive,” he said. “Rents are going up. The cost of training is going up. At one time, there were a lot of bootleg shows and gyms could run shows and make a small profit. Now, there are so many rules and regulations combined with the economy make it difficult for small gyms to survive.”
Gleason’s, like the Times Square Gym, had a heavy roster of professional fighters training and sparring but added fitness training, women’s boxing, and white collar boxing some time ago.
“If I was relying on actual boxers, I would never be able to survive,” Silverglade said. “The big fitness chains are in competition with the boxing clubs. As people are getting older they don’t remember the value of boxing. They go into Equinox and the other new places. And the gym owners,” he added, “are getting older. I’m here at five in the morning and I leave at seven at night. And we don’t have those trainers like Artie Colon and Ray Arcel around anymore.”
Colon landed in New York City in 1946, just after World War II and ahead of the the “great migration” of Puerto Ricans who arrived in New York City a decade later.
Armed with an eighth-grade education and a wiry physique honed in the tobacco and sugar cane fields, the 25-year-old found work as a cook at Luchow’s, a famous German restaurant on 14th Street, as a tailor and then, finally, as a building superintendent.
Everyone has gone to Planet Fitness; boxing is not what it used to be.
He discovered the Gramercy Gym and trained under Cus D’Amato, the mentor of world champions Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres and, later, Mike Tyson.
“Boxing made me what I am,” Colon said. “I traveled all around the world. Cus taught me how to box, how to take care of myself. He was like a father to me. Whatever I knew in boxing, he teach me.”
Later, while running his own gym and shuttling fighters to matches around the city, Colon served as the super of the gym’s building. So long as floors were mopped, the repairs made, the boiler fixed, the gym was his.
The block is quieter now; it’s as if the gym has been erased. The steps down to the basement have been straightened, and the sign removed. The space is being converted into yet more apartments, and a building across the street is now a high-priced co-op, which neighbors call the “white building” because only white people, they say, can afford to live there.
Dario Rosario, 78, who mopped up blood in the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center emergency room night after night during the '80s and '90s, has lived at the corner of 163rd and St. Nicholas since 1967. He misses the gym. “That's the only thing we had here,” he said. “Now they are smoking marijuana in front of the building.”
The Westside Gym is gone, relegated to memory and the history books like so many long-standing icons, another lost piece of the city’s vanishing lore.
“That’s the way life is,” Colon said. “I feel sad. A lot of people miss the gym. That’s the way it goes.”
Some of the city’s storied neighborhood gyms that have been KO’d by factors including higher rents, skyrocketing insurance rates and operating expenses, and the proliferation of health clubs.
DAS Boxing Center
Jefferson Boxing Club
Empire Sporting Club at the Gramercy Gym
Times Square Gym
New York City Gladiators
Boxing Club Zaragoza
Boxing Gym Aaron Davis
Lost Battalion Hall
Cowboys Boxing Club
Rhino Fight Team
Brighton Boxing Club
Evolution Boxing Club
Kid Kelly’s Boxing Gym
Sunset Park Boxing Center
Sometimes people bond over the smallest things.
Sitting behind his captain’s desk covered with files, complaint reports, and official NYPD notifications along with my Timberland boots perched at the edge, Steve Bonano and I discovered that we had the same sophisticated culinary palate. It was uncanny. We both dined at the same establishment but at different branches and knew the menu as intimately as the chef. We ate there more than we cared to admit, which likely accounted for his slightly chubby physique and as I call myself, svelte with a twist.
“I always order at Taco Bell” my sentence began and Steve chimed in at the same time. “Combo number three!”
We both laughed and exclaimed, “Three tacos and a soda!”
Each time we saw each other we called out “Combo number three!” I can still hear his laugh.
Many people knew him better than I did. My time was spent sitting in his office chatting about life on the job. During my two years embedded in the 23rd Precinct for my book project,23rd Precinct: The Job, I learned the rhythm, personalities, politics, intelligence, and eccentricities of the men and women who worked there. The blue wall is kind of a strange thing because from the inside, everyone has an opinion. And sometimes more than one.
The politics inside of every precinct and the New York City Police Department can be more demanding or draining than the work outside in the streets. Not everyone likes each other and some are fearful of the man or woman standing next to them, the fear that someone wasn’t street smart no matter where they grew up or wasn’t particularly adept at police tactics or had a temper or that a mistake could cost them everything and anything, including their lives. As an observer, I often wondered how people managed to get through the day. But they did with the hope that a split second decision would be the right one.
By the time I met Steve, his career as a street cop and undercover cop on the streets of the Bronx confiscating guns was behind him and he moved steadily up the police ladder, from sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy inspector, inspector, to deputy chief. He earned a Masters degree from Harvard University; was awarded the Combat Cross, NYPD's second highest medal; commanded the elite Emergency Services Unit; and flew a helicopter in the NYPD’s Aviation Unit. He served for 30 years. Steve loved working for the Police Department and somehow never seemed to be scalded by sarcasm or weariness, but with intelligence, warmth, and enthusiasm.
I remember him like series of snapshots, when you see people in a fixed point in time and then they are gone.
A licensed helicopter pilot, Steve spoke about flying seriously ill children to different hospitals for medical treatment. Others worried about how green the grass was. But to Steve, other lives mattered.
An eBay purchase of mine included a Speed Graphic camera, one of those old cameras that you see in black and white movies, but I couldn’t figure out how it worked. Steve had the solution. His father, he said, was a camera buff so he called him up, made the introduction and instructed me to call him. Tony Bonano, who lived in the Bronx and worked as a physicist, showed up in front of my building several days later, a tall, thin, elegant man who knew exactly how that camera worked. He set up a portable stool in front of my building and taught me how to shoot like a pro. We walked around the neighborhood, teacher and pupil, and took photographs of trees and buildings. I will never forget that.
What I most remember, though, is something kind of silly. Somewhere I had picked up one of those wooden paddles with a rubber ball attached to an elastic string that we all played with when we were kids. We were sitting in Steve's office and I pulled it out of my bag. He was impressed. After a few hits and misses with the ball hitting me in the eye, I surrendered it to Steve who stood up from his desk in uniform. With the glee of a ten-year-old, he proceeded to smack the ball around the office.
“Great stress reliever!” he called out.
After about 30 minutes, I excused myself for an appointed ride on patrol with two partners on the four-to-twelve.
“I’ll leave you to your fun,” I said. “But I gotta get to work.”
“Me, too,” he said.
I waved goodbye, walked to the end of the hallway and turned around. There he was, still hitting that small red rubber ball with the paddle.
Around the end of the 1990s or so, Steve moved up to the 34th Precinct, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood. I was working on another book project and we ran into each other from time to time.
“Combo number three!” we called out and reminisced about the paddle and ball.
“That was great,” he said, and I promised to bring him another one. I must have forgotten because I never did.
Steve left the NYPD to become head of security with Barclay’s Arena in Brooklyn and I thought this would be a chance to reunite after catching a boxing match or two. But he never had the opportunity to enjoy his life after the NYPD. He was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer thought to be a result of the many days he spent working at Ground Zero after 9/11.
While he was undergoing medical treatment last year, I sent him a wooden paddle with a red ball and a note in a small Tiffany shopping bag. The note advised him that we were unlikely to be a bone marrow match since he is of Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry and mine is Greek, Russian, and Austrian. But, stranger things have happened and if he happened to get a craving for combo number three. . .
Steve Bonano died today, Friday, January 16. He was 53. His wedding date was a week away.
He is the third person I know from the 23rd Precinct who is no longer with us: Sergeant Kevin O’Rourke was killed in Afghanistan in 2012, a man known for his equanimity and problem solving skills; and Officer Kay Carroll who died of breast cancer in 2013. She was one of the first women on patrol, who talked about rolling around with suspects in the gutters of Brooklyn, wearing the policewoman’s uniform of a skirt, blouse, stockings, and pocketbook and then being taunted in the stationhouse for the crime of being a woman.
I think of the lives they touched, including my own; the impact they've had as pieces of this city’s history; and the promise of what they could have been.
In Steve’s honor, I considered stopping at a local Taco Bell and ordering combo number three.
Not the same anymore.
You never know who you’ll meet in
Gotham or where they’re from, be it an exotic locale like Hong Kong or Buenos Aires
or Paris or, well, Madison, Wis., which was a first for me. And then there’s
Cut and Shoot, Tex.
“Only one I know!” proclaimed the
colleague who introduced us.
“Back when I grew up, there were
only 20 people living in that town,” the native of Cut and Shoot said. “I’m so
happy not to be there. I love New York City.”
Well, I looked it up. The population
of Cut and Shoot is now over 1,000, which is just about the size of a few
apartment buildings on the Upper West Side. She told me how the town acquired
“Well, it’s Texas,” she said.
Apparently, Cut and Shoot is named
after some disagreement among residents back in 1912 — the reason differs
depending on the source, she added — but got its name when a young boy at the
scene of the brouhaha announced: “I’m going to cut around the corner and shoot
through the bushes in a minute.” No cutting or shooting occurred that day.
I gave this some thought.
“If the town were being settled
now,” I surmised, “in this era of technology, perhaps it could be called Cut
Welcome to my website!
As a writer, editor, journalist, photographer, filmmaker, and teacher, my published books include the award winning The Prizefighters: An Intimate Look at Champions and Contenders; 23rd Precinct: The Job; and Cop on the Beat. I'm a proud member of PEN, the literary organization; The Newswomen's Club of New York; Society of Silurians; The Author's Guild; and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, I currently reside on the island of Manhattan in Inwood.
Do enjoy my work. Please note that all writing, photographic images, and films appearing on this website or anywhere else are copyrighted and may not be reprinted or reproduced without expressed written consent. Copyright 2015 Arlene Schulman. All rights reserved. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.