My friend Alfrie LoBrutto and I were walking down Second Avenue when we both saw a ten dollar bill on the ground. Alfrie immediately pounced on it and I yelled out, "Hagzies!"
Al asked what that meant, and I said it meant he had to split the sawbuck with me. He smiled and said, "Don't worry, Sonny; I was going to split it with you anyway.”
You didn't have to remind him to take the high road - he traveled it. We both spent a lot of time together from the riverfront to the rooftops. One wintry day we were on the roof with the pigeons, cleaning the snow off the coop, and we saw a young cop standing on the corner. By his rigid erect posture we concluded he was full of himself and could use a little deflation by way of a 29th Street snowball, which consists of a beach-ball-sized snowball packed around a center of ice.
We made our way to the corner roof, lined him up in our sights and dropped the bomb on him. A perfect hit! Now, instead of a flatfoot, he looked like “Bigfoot.” He charged into the building but was no match for two inner-city utes (did I say “youths“?), especially because in the row of roofs that was our escape route, there was one low roof right before the last high roof that we'd leave a rope dangling down from so we could pull ourselves up to that last roof. Having done just that, we saw him right behind us in hot pursuit. He hung from the ledge and jumped down to the low roof.
As soon as the cop's feet touched the ground, Al and I ran over and pulled up the rope. Then there's a moment...when this rookie realizes two things...he's trapped, and we know it!
We're bombarding him with snowballs as he zig-zagged in slow motion because of a foot of snow. Laughing our asses off, we dropped the rope down and ran like hell down the stairs of the last roof on the avenue. Thank God none of the birds on the roof were stool pigeons!
"On the roof is peaceful as can be..."–
that's a line in a song called "Up on the Roof" by the Drifters. On some warm summer nights we'd sleep on the roof, and in the winter we'd huddle in the "shanty" with some neighborhood girls. The shanty was a wooden shack we built to keep warm–
sort of our log cabin on Tar Beach.
Al LoBrutto, Eddie Schultz, Johnny Kennedy and myself were some of the kids known as "chasers.” Basically what a chaser does is help out the owner of the coop. Al chased for his brother Petey on Second Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. Eddie chased for Johnny Volastro on 29th and Second Avenue; Johnny chased for Lynch on Second Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets, and I chased for Richie Agnello on Second Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets.
Richie Agnello was a sweetheart of a guy who was a housewrecker - no, not someone who fools around with married women. A lot of neighborhood guys got work demolishing old buildings before cranes and implosions took over.
Men who flew pigeons had their own little society and customs. It was customary to bring coffee up to anyone's roof you were visiting. If someone caught one of your birds, you could get it back, depending on the type of "catch" you had with him. There was a "quarter catch", a "half-dollar catch" and a "kill catch.” Naturally, the "quarter catch" was with the guys you were cool with, and the "kill catch," where you were supposed to actually kill the other guy's birds, were with your enemies.
One day the guy who flew pigeons directly across the street from me, "Guinea Tom," caught one of my favorite birds, a copperhead tiplet. He hated Richie, so we had a "kill catch.” Tom looked across at me and said he was going to release the bird because I wasn't the one he had a beef with. He released the copperhead into the air and the bird flew across the Avenue and landed on my coop - then tipped over on all sides.
"Guinea Tom" had chopped off the bird's claws before releasing him leaving just two skinny stubs. Vowing to kill this heartless bastard, I started asking around for a gun. Richie heard about it and talked me out of it, but the next time I caught one of Tom's birds I pushed the birds head back in between its wings, held up the bird in front of him and acted like I pulled its head off. Obviously, the roof wasn't always "peaceful as can be...."
From Disorganized Crime, by Sonny Patini, privately published. For more information contact him at email@example.com.
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