Growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, NY, and living in & around there for the first 37 years of my life, taught me a lot of things for which I’m grateful.
I wouldn’t have traded in that experience for anything in the world.
Yeah, there was always the risk that you wouldn’t make it “out of the neighborhood”, either alive or with your full faculties, but you sure did grow up quickly!
It’s a tough place to grow up. It can be pretty unforgiving, but it also helps you grow an extra thick skin. You don’t get easily offended by what life & others throw your way and you learn to roll with the punches.
As well as throw a few of your own…literally & figuratively.
You become street-smart. You can smell shit from a mile away. You speak & act in a very direct way.
And while everyone says that you have an accent & tawk funny…
I always found my upbringing to be an advantage of mine in business where things can get pretty cutthroat.
It’ll work to your disadvantage at times, too, as many people have major misconceptions about people from NYC…and you can’t get anymore NYC than being from Brooklyn.
Sorry to say, but I’ve encountered a number of people in my professional life that held my “being from NY” against me. Somewhat.
By law, I hadda be cutthroat. Nasty. Right?
I simply viewed it as ignorance or jealousy.
No, we’re not all nasty! We just talk fast & tend to get a little loud at times. And we’re usually in a hurry.
I remember having to hold private chats with some managers who relocated from NY to San Antonio to “please calm down”. You don’t need to figuratively carry a chip on your shoulder. You’re not battling constant traffic or risking your sanity taking public transportation just to get into work in the morning.
Just take it down a notch & chill.
Often times, the “Hurry up!” attitude that you needed to survive & thrive in NY is simply not needed (welcomed?) elsewhere & can often be viewed as “negative” or “hostile” by the natives.
I know I met a WHOLE bunch of passive-aggressiveness when I lived in Columbus, OH…and I’m NOT crucifying everyone or painting the entire place with one broad stroke.
“Passive-aggressive” is synonymous with back-stabbing, a form of “smiling to your face, but killing you behind your back”. I hate that stuff. If you have something to say or feel negatively about me, be enough of an adult to raise your objections to me directly.
It’s called feedback, constructive criticism, being open & honest.
(Yes, I know I’m gonna hear it from the people in Ohio & elsewhere now, or all midwesterners in general, that I’m exaggerating stuff & that actually I’m the one with misconceptions about them, but I guess I’ll read about it in their blogs, right?)
Anyway, amongst the many things about life that I learned from my upbringing, I also learned about the rules of the street.
Don’t be a rat. Snitches get stitches. At times, your loyalty to family & friends overrules everything else. (Yes, there are limits.)
Obey the rules of the house.
If things are operated in a certain way that is considered commonplace, just accept it & don’t upset the apple cart. If you wanna do things your own way, then go get your own place & post your own rules.
While right is might, there are many times when might is right. I’m sure everyone has run into these situations at work from time to time. Like my parents taught me (or, at least, tried to), sometimes it’s just better to shut your mouth.
(I never claimed to have followed all of my parents’ advice now…)
Leave well enough alone. Don’t always try to ruffle others’ feathers. Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. MYOB.
I have a couple of stories that help illustrate that point (at least, I think they do). Maybe I just like writing stuff…
Where I grew up in Brooklyn (Dyker Heights, nestled in between its more famous, Bensonhurst (“Welcome Back, Kotter”) & Bay Ridge (“Saturday Night Fever”), things were always pretty calm & quiet.
There was very little crime…ever…so much so, that if someone’s garage was broken into, that was major news for 5 years.
One of the reasons was some of the more “prominent” people who lived there.
Not movie stars. No famous politicians. Not a lot of sports superstars. But several bosses, captains, “made men”, etc. of major “crime families” called Dyker Heights home.
It was self-policed. And as the old saying goes, you don’t poop where you sleep.
Scattered through this neighborhood were several “social clubs” & “soccer clubs”. It was a heavily populated area of mostly Italian-Americans, though certainly not exclusively. You’d often find this phenomenon throughout NYC with its different clusters of ethnic neighborhoods.
At one of those social clubs, on 67 Street & 11 Ave, a whole lotta neighborhood men hung out. Whether or not business was being conducted was never rally proven, but it just wasn’t the place to start any trouble.
That would ultimately prove foolish.
Everyone understood who was who & like I said before, it was a case of MYOB. Don’t stick your nose, blah, blah, blah.
Well, one night, 2 police cars, with their lights flashing, pull up in front of the club.
There were guys sitting at folding tables on the sidewalk, just talking. Other guys were simply mulling around, chewing the fat.
4 young officers come out of the cop cars & head inside.
(I witnessed this going on as I was hanging out right across the street.)
About a minute or so later, the 4 policemen come rushing out, tails between their legs & immediately drive off
Apparently, my buddy Lenny’s Dad was hanging out there, playing cards in the back room.
BTW, Lenny’s Dad was a Lieutenant with the NYPD!
Word was that he gave the “flatfoots” absolute hell for entering the club!
It was the first & last time that ever happened.
(“Flatfoot” refers to a policeman on the beat.)
When I was about 12 or so, we were allowed to shoot pool at different establishments in the neighborhoods, including bars, as long as we paid for the game (25¢ per), behaved & weren’t loud.
It was always at the discretion of the owner & we respected that.
One day during the summer, my buddies & I, about 4 or 5 of us in total, were playing pool in the back of a local bar on 13th Avenue. There were a bunch of Italian-speaking guys sitting at the bar & we had already asked the bartender if it was OK for us to play.
He told us, “Sure, no problem!”
We played amongst ourselves & each guy would place their quarters on the edge of the table to signify who was waiting for the next game & in what order.
It was commonplace that the winner of the last game “owned the table”. He chooses exactly what game gets played, e.g., straight pool, 8-ball, etc. & faces the next challenger.
Whoever wins that game then decides what happens going forward.
As things worked out, I was on a roll. I had won about 5 games in a row, playing 8-ball, & so I awaited the next challenger.
Up walks one of the older guys who was sitting at the bar.
He tells me in Italian (I can’t speak it, but I can understand a lot as my Nan & Pop always spoke Italian as well as my parents whenever they didn’t want us kids listening into to their conversation) that he wants to play with his friend.
I explained how things worked, that you need to place your quarter down to “get into line” & that you would first have to play the last winner to “take over the table”.
He fully understood what I was saying, telling me “No, no! Get away!” and trying to grab the pool cue out of my hand.
I wasn’t gonna allow it.
The next thing I know, I feel this thud on the back of my head as I fall to my knees.
The bartender (who I later found out was also the owner) had smashed a pool cue stick over my head!
From behind me.
I was pretty much in a daze now & this huge bump appeared on the back/top of my head.
Now the bartender is cursing at me in Italian.
I HAD DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG!!!
I wasn’t being disrespectful. I was not yelling at his friend nor threatening anyone. This blast over my head came out of nowhere & to hit me from behind, when I didn’t do anything to deserve it, was way over the top.
(I fully realize that everyone’s saying to themselves now, “Yeah, Mike, but there are always 2 sides to a story. I’m sure you did or said something that merited…”)
I swear to you that I didn’t do, nor say, anything to provoke that man to hit me.
And from behind with a pool stick, no less!
(It was way worse than the time that kid threw a brick & hit me in the head. At least, he claimed that was an accident!
Yes, he suffered an accident a few days later, though I didn’t use a brick.)
My friends helped me up & brought me back home, about 3 blocks away.
It so happened that my Dad was on vacation & sitting in his normal spot at the kitchen counter, smoking a cigarette, when they brought me inside.
“Mr. LoRusso, the guy hit him with a pool stick in the head! Mike wasn’t doing anything!”
My Dad was a pretty cool character. Rarely got mad. Always handed stuff with a cool head.
He once sliced off a piece of his fingertip with the table saw & simply wrapped his hand in a towel & drove himself to the hospital.
BTW, I’m typing this story on what would’ve been his 91st birthday! (That was back on 6/11/19.)
My Dad asked me for my version of exactly what happened & I told him…just like I told you guys here (but without all the side notes & hyperbole).
He checked me over quickly & asked me how I felt.
I said OK, although my head was really hurting. I refused to cry.
“Come with me!”
He grabbed ahold of my hand (he had these monster hands, like 5 giant bratwursts tied together…so large that he couldn’t wear leather gloves, just the stupid woolen ones!) & led me out the door.
Once, I coulda sworn I’d seen homeless people living in the thumb hole in his bowling ball!
My buddies followed right behind.
Along the way, he asked me again what happened & who said what, who did what. I told him what the guy said & that he tried to grab my stick from me. I also told him that the bartender didn’t say anything & that I didn’t even know I was hit until I got up & saw him with a pool cue in his hand & heard him cursing me.
He asked my friends if that was exactly what happened & they all agreed.
Upon entering the bar, I pointed out the bartender as my Dad had asked me. I also said that the other guy was playing pool…at MY table!
My Dad walked over to the side of the bar & lifted up the part of the bar surface like a toll bridge. He walked straight over to the bartender who had moved as far away as possible.
He asked the bartender something in Italian, then looked over at me.
He then said something to all the men sitting at the bar, wagging his finger at them. Then he got really up & close with the bartender.
At one point, after the bartender said something back to him, he grabbed the guy by his shirt, with that gigantic paw of his, lifting him off the ground & up against the bottles sitting on back of the bar.
No one moved. No one said a word. I was actually afraid that if my Dad hit him, he would kill him…instantly.
I actually kinda wished that he did, except the actual killing part.
He put the man down, then shoved his finger right in his face as he finished saying his piece.
He was talking Italian to him the entire time to ensure that he & his buddies clearly understood every single word.
He then led me & my friends out of the bar and told all of us never to step foot in that place again. In fact, he said, “I don’t ever wanna see any of you kids on that block again.
Not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I thought it was a cool story anyway.
Once again, thank you so much for listening!