Those Were The Days, My Friends…


William A. Gralnick

I grew up on the NYC subways. They took me on dates, to work from Flatbush, Brooklyn to East New York Brooklyn, and to the Long Island Railroad to see my steady girl friend. There were always odd things going on. I remember well the blind man and his red accordion, donation cup attached, managing to walk. play, and negotiate the doors and platforms that connected the cars. There were the occasional drunks panhandling. Women got felt up, children threw up, old people fell down when they didn’t have a good grip on the pole and the train went screeching around a curve. People were pick-pocketed. An occasional gang fight happened under the side walks. Every-so-often there would be a signal malfunction that caused one train to run into another.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho It’s Off to Work…

When a car was empty enough, kids would fool around, kids like me. My friend had discovered in a Cracker Jacks box, a delicacy to which I am still addicted, what was described as a bird whistle. It was a little half moon piece of something with frilled edges. You put it in the front of your mouth, fringe-forward, and according to the instructions could imitate birds by blowing air over it. A likely story. The sound it did make was much more mouse-like than bird-like. Therein lay the kennel of an idea. We boarded the subway going somewhere, and the kernel popped into a full-blown idea. Bob would start making noises with it and say loudly, very loudly, to me, “OMG, DID YOU HEAR THAT? THERE’S A MOUSE UNDER ONE OF THOSE SEATS.

A playroom on tracks

Now, playing his best Inspector Jacques Clouseau imitation, he searched under our bench. Then he chose another empty bench, squeaking away. “THERE”S ONE HERE TOO!” It was not much of a stretch to believe that there could be mice around us. Thankful everyone was that he didn’t say rat. The subway stations were dirty; sometimes you could see the rats and mice feeding sumptuously on the manna dropped on the tracks by those waiting for their train . They had enough of what they were eating and just tossed it into the home of the third rail. Emboldened by this and people beginning to react, Bob ratcheted up the search by choosing a bench upon which was seated an elderly woman.. “Excuse me ma’am. I think there’s a mouse under your seat.” She screamed, bolted from her seat, and fled to the next car. G-d takes care of drunks and children, it is said. No one alerted the Transit Police. We pulled this stunt several times with resulting glee and success.

Rush Hour–when mischief reigns

The city did have its panics. There was the Son of Sam, He didn’t kill anyone on subways, but who knew he wouldn’t until he was caught. There was George Metesky, the Mad Bomber, who planted pipe bombs, instead of mice, under subway car benches and blew people’s legs off. But life was stable enough so the following could happen and cause pretty much no reaction, something that today would be unthinkable.

I was captain of the Midwood HS riflery team. I don’t remember if we practiced weekly or bi-weekly. Whatever it was, it required taking the subway to a school, Brooklyn Tech, which for some reason had a riflery range. Because one couldn’t drive until age 18, because many families were still one car families, and because we left from school, we had to carry our guns to school along with our books, leave them in our lockers, walk them to the subway station. Then we exited the station, onto the street, and walked to “Tech.” From Midwood to Tech, on the subway, sat between five and seven teenagers holding rifles. True they were in carry cases, but they were unmistakable. You could not hide a long gun in a violin case like you saw Tommy guns hidden in the gangster movies.

Paper was our only target

True it was the Cold War. True we had “Take Cover!” drills and dove under our classroom seats. But there had been no 911. There was no such thing as a Homeland Security Department and international terrorism until the Munich Olympics and certainly no such thing as domestic terrorism except maybe in the twisted mind of “commie-hunting” Senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin. And there were no shooters with smoke bombs and 9mm glocks with extended magazines. The only extended magazines we had were special issues of Life, Look, or the Saturday Evening Post.

Yes, friends, those were the days.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, author and Blogger, Bill Gralnick wrote, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.”

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