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The Only Real Cities in America: A Remembrance

Lou Charloff
July 30, 2013

by Lou Charloff

6C290F8F-E49E-4682-B96C-5A89AFE8464AThe 8- and 9-year-old kids who were the members of my gang knew very well how lucky we were to be growing up in the Bronx. We understood that the Bronx and Manhattan were the two only real cities in America. We had heard about the other towns and knew the names of Albany, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. But they were only small towns, what the grownups called the suburbs, and the people who lived in those towns were all stupid.

We, however, lived on St. Lawrence Ave. which was a very nice street. It had trees and was filled with two-family houses. The owners all lived downstairs and rented the upstairs apartments to tenants. And the street was inhabited exclusively by Jews.

We’re talking about a time when very few people owned cars, so there was very little traffic, nor were there enough parked cars to interfere with our street games. They were great games. We played punchball, stickball, stoopball, kick the can, red rover come over, johnnie on the pony one two tree, immies, mumbledy-peg, and that game with greatest name of all, ringelevio. Any kid who called that game prisoner’s base obviously lived in one of those suburbs and was stupid.We kids had the world figured out quite well. We knew, for example, that everybody’s parents spoke with a foreign accent. We understood also that the population consisted primarily of two groups, the Italians and the Jews. And we had very little contact with one another.

Having a rather analytical mind, I once told the members of my gang that, although unlikely, it was possible for there to be an Italian Jew. My friends looked at me, agreed unanimously that I must be crazy and that settled that.

One block away from our street was Beach Avenue, a street filled with single-family houses and gardens. Its population was completely Italian. As I have said, we had very little contact with each other except once each year, on the Fourth of July, when we kids walked over to Beach Avenue and sat down on the curb opposite the house and garden owned by the man with the fireworks. He always used his garden to set off a wonderful display of fireworks. When the show was over, we cheered and applauded and then went back to St. Lawrence Avenue and stayed there until the next year.

In addition to the Italian and Jewish portions of the world’s population, there was a third group, considerably smaller. This consisted of schoolteachers, who were very special in spite of their small numbers. Firstly, schoolteachers knew everything. Secondly, even when they had children of their own, schoolteachers didn’t speak with a foreign accent. We never had this little mystery figured out.

An even smaller group were movie actors and baseball players. They, however, were not real people. The actors existed only in movie theaters and the ballplayers played baseball only on the radio.

As I have said, all the kids in our gang were Jewish and lived on our block. There was, however, one exception. One member of the gang was a girl who lived two blocks away and who was Italian. I don’t really remember her at all. I do, however, remember her name, the most beautiful name I have ever heard: Felicia Sarcinella. Felicia Sarcinella. It’s a name that I will remember until the day I die.

Well, it’s time for me to wrap it up and so I will say goodnight to you all. And a very special goodnight to Felicia Sarcinella, wherever you are.

Lou Charloff, 91, is featured in Old Jews Telling Jokes, both the website and the book.