Fat Junior also had an older brother. I never knew his name. I never met him. But at night, across the courtyard that separated our buildings, you could see him in the window studying.
Sometimes, I would stare at him through our kitchen window across the courtyard which separated the two houses. He never moved. Never flinched. To this day, he is the model of what I think a good student should be. I remember, years later, when I took the law boards and did o.k. thinking -- do you want to spend the rest of your life like Fat Junior's brother? Sitting in front of a window, late into the night, studying? My reply to myself was -- "No." So I have him to thank for steering me away from the Law.
If you looked down into the courtyard, you could see Frank the Super (we never seemed to know anyone's last names, people were just what they did) hauling the garbage out, or hauling coal in. And sometimes you'd see Francine the Super's Daughter coming home from school and going through the courtyard. We, my sister Jean and myself had a terrible hatred for Frank and Francine. I don't know why. At night, we would sneak into our kitchen which overlooked the courtyard and very quietly open the fridge, and then go to the kitchen window with an egg and drop it out. The next morning before going to school we would watch Frank come out and look up in our direction silently curse the demons that were plaguing him.
Throwing eggs was o.k. but you could only do it once in a while or my father would suspect something. Jean and I became more ambitious (and this is a good object lesson on the perils of ambition) and hatched a scheme to torment the Francine The Super's Daughter. The idea was to make her think that she had a secret admirer (she might have been ten years old at the time). An admirer who would of course not exist, and never show up. I think what appealed to us was the idea of controlling the fate of another human being (since we obviously couldn't control our own). So one day while my parents are away (which was often) we go into my father's little study and type out a love note. I don't remember what we said, but the idea was that there was a secret admirer who would like to meet Francine on the corner at some specific time. The fun part, or so we imagined, was that we could go by that corner and if Francine showed up, we could watch her wait and wait and wait.
Now this first part went according to plan. Francine did show up, and waited around a while and then left. But this hadn't given us very much satisfaction. So we decide to write another meeting note to Francine and write a similar note to my friend George telling him that Francine wanted to meet him. Now first of all, it's not a nice trick to play on your best friend. Second, this was just going too far and we sort of knew it. We dropped the two notes off outside each person's door and then waited at the appointed place to see what would happen. In fact what happened was that George's mother showed up and saw us waiting and with note in hand, and hopping mad dragged us up to my father to tell him what had done and why couldn't he keep a better watch on his own two kids, and that this was not the thing that nice kids do and also placing a lot of blame on my parents for raising such rotten kids. My parents were squirming during this bawling out but that squirming soon found an outlet.
My father also put two and two together and came up with missing eggs. This infuriated him more than the hoax. "Eggs cost money! I have to work for that money!" And the usual "Do you think that money grows on trees?" which is a stupid question since neither of us had ever seen such a thing but we didn't quite equate how getting revenge on Francine for no reason at all had anything to do with money. Nevertheless he sends us to our room (which we shared at that time) and told us he was going to think about this.
Jean and I immediately turnied on each other. She insisted (remember she's two years younger than me) that I should have known better, and it was all my idea. Actually, and to this day I believe it was her idea. But anyway, my father didn't take very long to think about it. In fact, I think he just took as much time as it took to put his jacket on. And into the room he storms saying that we're going to have to apologize to Frank the Super.
Apologize to Frank the Super? That was something we couldn't do. Frank the Super was sort of Zeus to us. A coal-covered he-man that hurled thunderbolts. He was always covered in coal dust, and worked by the furnace, and that was a dark scary room, the furnace room, half-filled with coal and pipes and things, and the furnace itself. I'm sure we thought there was a good chance he might actually toss us kids into the furnace.
So we squeal, "Daddy, no -- anything but that. Please don't make us go down there." My father grabs both of us by the wrist and pulls us towards the front door of our apartment and then continues to pull us through the lobby, onto the street, (I can still remember the other kids that were around watching this) -- and then down the stairs into the courtyard -- and to the iron door of the furnace room. My father always had an extremely strong grip. To this day, he can still open a stuck jar of pickles better than I can.
At this point I was pretty resigned and something terrible was sure to ensue. We hear a deep voice say, "Yeah" on the other side. "Oh Jesus, Frank's there. Oh God help us." The door opens slowly and Frank is in there shoveling coal. He's a big man, and has his shirt off, and indeed is covered in coal dust. He slams the furnace door shut with the end of his shovel and stands there looking puzzled to see us. And then he begins to tell my father that he's sorry that he didn't get a chance to fix the faucet yet, but that he'll get around to it. He's going on and on about the faucet and not being able to get the part he needs, and we're standing there trembling and he sees this and asks what's wrong?
"My kids have something to tell you," my father says. And we blurt out that it was us that threw the eggs, and wrote the phoney letters, and that we're really really sorry..." I guess by then we're both blubbering. And Frank says in a soft Italian accent, "Oh well, kids will be kids. Now don't you do that again."
No Frank. No we won't. Thank you for not tossing us into the furnace. In fact, Frank the Super turned out to be an o.k. guy. And Francine, who we later became friendly with told us that she knew all along it was some kind of trick, but she just wanted to see what it was all about.
And my father's dozen eggs now lasted a little longer.
I offer several Bronx photographs as
Note Cards here