3rd & 14th

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I was probably almost ten and I was in the store on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 14th St. The store was literally on the Northeast corner with it’s front door actually on the diagonal. It was certainly a busy newsstand in better times. In the 30’s and 40’s it would have been a great location where there were intersecting bus and train lines. The third avenue el (evevated railway) still existed then. The el was torn down before I was born but people in the neighborhood still talked about it like it was there yesterday. Wish I had a picture of that doorway but I never took one. I never knew it would become one of the places I would remember.  I found an archive pic of the el.

This store had two things of interest to me. It sold ‘pinkies’ – a rubber ball that was pink in color – and it had the first pinball machine I’d ever seen. I was there for pinball that day, waiting at the back of the store while another boy played. As I leaned on the counter I elbowed his Yoo-Hoo and spilled it. He was a year or two older, black and at least two feet taller than me. As he turned and advanced on me, calling me an oaf (in so many words) and suggesting I should replace his drink I glanced around and saw no back door. I had money for pinball but nowhere near enough money for Yoo-Hoo. The store’s proprietor, an elderly grouch who reacted only to the threat of shoplifting, gazed out the window.

But on that day some star had risen for me and not for the big kid. Two Irish cops walked into the store and straight to the back without so much as exchanging a glance with the grouch and took hold of this boy. After a very few words, which had no context for me, the cops held the boy against the wall and gave him a lengthy beating not sparing his face or anything lower. Cornered at the back of the store, I waited. The grouch never moved or looked in our direction. When they were finished the cops pushed the boy out the front of the store and he limped away down 14th without a word. I would not have been surprised if it was my turn next but the cops left the store and strolled up third avenue. I made my escape without hesitation past the grouch, who still gazed out the window.

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