“Brooklyn Royalty” by Steve Slavin

1

As someone born and bred in the borough, I am well acquainted with Brooklyn royalty. In fact, only great modesty prevents me from even mentioning my own royal blood.

Brooklyn, of course, was once part of the British Empire, and many reminders can still be found. I grew up just a block from our neighborhood’s main shopping strip, Kings Highway. Just off the Highway is a well preserved pre-Revolutionary farmhouse, the Wycoff-Bennett mansion. In recent decades, it was owned by Annette and Stu Mont, who sometimes called their home the Wycoff-Bennett-Mont house.

Annette and I met at James Madison High School and became friendly again about twenty years ago. She invited me to monthly political meetings and occasional parties at her home. She and her husband had restored the house to look much as it did during colonial times. There were even numerous oil portraits of the home’s earlier residents, as well as furniture and farm implements dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

When new guests arrived, Annette graciously showed them around.  Sometimes I could not resist telling the more gullible among them that I too had descended from the Wycoffs or the Bennetts – or even both families.  Annette smiled when she overheard me, but she never bothered setting the record straight.

Another structure surviving from colonial times was a store on Montague Street, in historic Brooklyn Heights. If you looked in a Brooklyn phone book from the 1970s, you’d find a listing for King George Pizza. It’s still whispered that after their victory in the Battle of Brooklyn, scores of Redcoats stopped in for a celebratory slice, while Washington’s army escaped to New Jersey to fight another day.

2

Three members of the royal family lived in the neighborhood where I grew up. Two of them held court in Kelly Park – and I mean that both figuratively and literally.

When we were in elementary school, our classes lined up in the schoolyard each morning before entering the building. But in the event of rain or snow, we lined up in the cafeteria. One spring morning there was a tremendous downpour, with heavy showers predicted for the rest of the day.

A scholarly-looking kid named Marty Marks made his way around the cafeteria assuring us that the sun would come out that afternoon, and he would see us all in Kelly Park. And sure enough, he was as good as his word. And though there were still some puddles, the park was filled with kids playing stickball. Smiling benevolently, Marty made his rounds, accepting thanks and congratulations. He had accomplished the impossible! And so, to this day, Marty Marks is known as the King of Kelly Park.

I was also blessed to be acquainted with the Duchess, perhaps the best handball player that Kelly Park had ever known. We were both about sixteen at the time, and though I was very attracted to her, I never was able to get up the courage to ask her for a date.

One day, she had a bandage across the bridge of her nose. Some of the other kids asked her if she had walked into a wall. But she just smiled, and they were left to wonder what the big secret was.

It must have been a year or so later when I asked the Duchess about the bandage. She laughed. It turned out that some of the girls in our neighborhood had had expensive nose jobs and she was jealous.

“But why would you have a nose job? You have a beautiful nose!”

“Why thank you, Steve!”

“So, what was with the bandage?”

“I wore it so everyone would think I had had a nose job.”

“But why, if you didn’t need one?”

“I wanted everyone to think my parents could afford to pay for one.” I guess if you’re a duchess, you do need to keep up appearances.

3

Besides the Duchess and the King of Kelly Park, there was the Countess. A very thin, pale woman in her fifties, she lived directly above my friend, Arnie, on Homecrest Avenue, just a few blocks from Kelly Park. He told me that he would often hear her pacing the floor all night.

I guess that she was known as the Countess because of her haughty, aristocratic manner and her refusal to associate with anyone too far below her station. Her neighbors believed she was married to a European count that would one day be joining her. His castle would surely be several steps up from her furnished apartment.

And then one evening, the phone rang in Arnie’s family’s apartment. It was the Countess. She was almost breathless with excitement. She had time to utter just two sentences, “Abe is here! I made him some soup.”

Royalty is part of every Brooklynite’s DNA.  One of the stars on the Brooklyn Dodgers was their centerfielder, Duke Snider. He was known throughout the borough as “The Duke of Flatbush.”

There was a rather absurdly titled popular song back in the 1950s, “The Duke of Earl.” Huh? There are dukes and there are earls. But wasn’t calling yourself the Duke of Earl a bit excessive? Why not go for something a little more refined like Countess, or Duchess, or perhaps even King?

4

Let the record show that until now, I have held off talking about my own royal connections. But I do prefer, at least on formal occasions, to be addressed as Steve Slavin, OBE. If you’re a Britisher, you would certainly be familiar with this title. It stands for Order of the British Empire. It was granted to me when I was just thirty years old, when I was spending a summer in Barbados.

There are tens of thousands of Bajans who have migrated from the island to Brooklyn, but I had done the reverse. Actually, I was there to research my doctoral dissertation, entitled, “The Economic Cost and Effectiveness of the Barbados Family Planning Association.”

It was while doing that research that the OBE was bestowed upon me. I had gotten to rub shoulders with many of the movers and shakers of the island, some of whom were benefactors of the BFPA. Among them was the Honorable Clyde Gollup–who held three important government positions simultaneously–and appeared to know nearly everyone. As we drove around Bridgetown, the capital, he waved at hundreds of different people, and they waved back.

“Clyde, is there anyone you don’t know?”

“Well Steve, surely you noticed we have a very small country.”

During my stay, I was introduced to Lady Adams, Sir Frank Knight, and dozens of other luminaries. While they were all quite gracious, I felt that my status as an impoverished graduate student put me at quite a social disadvantage.

Once I’d received my doctorate, of course, I’d have a recognizable title. But what could I use in the meanwhile? It didn’t take long for me to come up with Order of the British Empire, an honor that the Queen had been handing out quite generously. So from that day on, I introduced myself as Steve Slavin, OBE.

Did my ruse actually work? Well, it was pretty hard to tell, because everyone was so polite. If some had their doubts, they kept them to themselves. But then one day, the manager of the Barbados Family Planning Association referred to himself as “a Britisher.”

“Lionel,” I pointed out. “You’re a Bajan, not a Britisher.”

“Oh, is that true?” he replied. “And since when does the Queen grant OBEs to people from Brooklyn?”

5

Despite having rubbed elbows with Brooklyn royalty for so many years, I had never even heard of the Queen of Brooklyn. Then, one evening, I actually met her.

I didn’t realize straight off that she was a queen because we met at a Halloween party. She happened to be dressed like a queen, so I had no way of knowing that she was one.

How can you spot a queen? And what’s the difference between a queen and a mere princess? Their years of experience ruling their subjects? Maybe it’s that old noblesse oblige, if you get my drift.

Whatever it was, this lady had it! She simply expected everyone to wait on her. Indeed, she was, by far, the laziest person I had ever met. I mean, yeah, there were energetic queens like Elizabeth I and Victoria, but then there was Queen Sheila – Queen of Brooklyn.

Pushing fifty, Sheila confided that she never worked a day in her life. She got by, it seems, on a monthly “stipend” she received from her father, whom of course, she detested.

“You do take his money,” I pointed out.

“Trust me, Steve, it’s guilt money. The man has never done a thing for me in my entire life.” I was too polite to say anything about the “stipend.”

We never actually dated, but just had a few casual get-togethers. One of those times was having dinner at my friend Barbara’s house. After dinner, when Barbara was doing the dishes, Sheila offered to help. As theatrically as possible, I fell to the floor.

They both smiled as I lay there, doing my best to maintain an expression of great shock.

Then Barbara thanked Sheila for asking, but said she was almost finished. I told Sheila that I was truly amazed by her generous – and highly uncharacteristic offer.

“Well, I knew Barbara would say ‘no.’”

Another time, Sheila asked me to escort her to a wedding in Brighton Beach where a Russian woman she knew was getting married. She was looking forward to stealing the spotlight, as that certainly was her queenly due.

She wanted me to drive her to the wedding. No problem. But she also wanted me to wear a suit. I didn’t own one. So I would have to miss the wedding – and she would need to find someone else to drive her there–and, of course, to play a supporting role when she made her grand entrance.

As things turned out, Sheila almost missed the wedding. She had made a blind date with someone she had met through a computer dating service. He was supposed to pick her up in front of her building, but he never showed up. So Queen Sheila had to call a cab and be further humiliated by having to make her grand entrance without an escort. Luckily, by the time she arrived, few of the guests were sober enough to take note of this embarrassing detail.

A few weeks later Sheila again needed me to give her a ride. She was having a medical emergency. Would I please drive her to the hospital?

“Of course,” I replied, “but wouldn’t it be better to call the EMS, since they’re trained for these occasions, and you might need medical attention on the way to the hospital?”

“No, Steve. I need you to take me. You’re the only one I trust.”

When I got to her apartment, I needed to half-support and half-carry her to my car.

“Which hospital should I take you to? The two closest are Community Hospital and Kings Highway Hospital.”

“Either one is fine.”

“OK, we’ll go to Community because their emergency entrance is more accessible.”

“Steve, I need you to change my will.”

“What?”

“I might die tonight. I need to cut my father out of my will.”

“Look, Sheila, I know you hate the man, but we can’t just stop now to change your will. First things first!”

No!”

“No? Are you nuts? I’m not going to stop the car now. I need to get you to the hospital as quickly as possible.”

I couldn’t believe we were having this argument. Then she amazed me.

“Can’t you do both?”

“No, Sheila! I can’t drive and alter your will at the same time.”

Then, to change the subject slightly, I asked her why she wanted to cut her father out of her will considering that he had given her every penny she had.

“It’s a matter of principle.”

“And what principle is that?”

“That he should have given me a lot more money. So is it fair that he ends up with still more of my money?”

Thankfully, at that very moment we pulled up at the hospital, and a couple of orderlies rushed out with a wheelchair.

I parked a few blocks away and went back to see her. A doctor had just finished examining her. She then had Sheila walk the length of the emergency room and back again.

Sheila seemed fine. The doctor told her that she could go home, and then asked, “Do you have any questions?”

“Yes, doctor. Do you know anything about wills?”

Steve Slavin

A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math
and economics books. Over the last seven years he has also published four volumes of short stories, but he expects the pace to slow somewhat over the next seven years.

“The Eagle and Mrs. B.” by Linda Romanowski

Many a Philadelphia area college student spent those post-Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas days working at one of the “Big Three” department stores in Center City: Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers, or John Wanamaker’s. Due to my mother’s influence, I thought working at Wanamaker’s was the best of all worlds. After all, who could resist the classy interior and exterior window displays, the jagged mountain range stroke of the owner’s signature on the side of the building, and the transportation proximity?

Two other striking figures claimed the store’s signature distinction: the Wanamaker eagle and the annual Christmas fountain and light show. The serene and imposing gilded bronze aviary statue was the focal point for gathering, for claiming  “lost parents,” and for bon voyages until next time.

Lifting one’s eyes to the sights, sounds, and waving fountain streams of the hourly Christmas performance stopped shoppers in their tracks and delighted the minds of wide-eyed youngsters who rarely cried during those few minutes of awe. My first recollection of seeing the aqua wonder made me fearful, thinking at any moment, the fountains would fall from their upper stage perch and drown the audience below, extinguishing the prancing lights in the process.

Not every pair of eyes welcomed this holiday diversion. My first Christmas working season in the children’s department in 1972 provided a novel view of the saleswomen employed at the makeup counters. The daily music grinding of “Frosty the Snowman” did nothing for their business. No cash registers rung in harmony with “O, Christmas Tree.” Gazers leaned on their pristine cosmetic display cases; their backs turned away from the porcelain faces of Estee Lauderettes, who resorted to makeup remover to erase the handprints and elbow marks on their precious encasements of promised beauty and glamour. No allure of scented bottled blossoms could overpower the lofty sounds and scenery above the audience. It must have been the bane of their existence, their dreams of pocket money ruined by lit-up distraction. One year, I counted viewing thirty-six performances of Rudolph’s very shiny unpowdered nose glowing across the ceiling.

*****

Every college student on Wanamaker’s holiday payroll hoped to work for the main floor supervisor, Mrs. B., known for her kindness. She was a smartly dressed, middle-aged Jewish lady, brownish-black hair coiffed to perfection, with no-nonsense eyeglasses attached to a pearl chain that hung elegantly around her neck. Her high-heeled pumps that coordinated with every outfit gave her an acceptable height, appearing taller than she was. Her trim figure clicked in tandem with her stride. Mrs. B. took the time to acquaint herself with several of us. One afternoon, during the height of the Christmas rush, she announced that she would retain us for the week after Christmas. We were delighted, as it meant money for next semester’s textbooks would be less of an issue. All we needed to do was follow her instructions without variation.

When we punched in on the time clock on December 26th, Mrs. B. led us to an unfamiliar store area, one at a time. We were placed separately in obscure areas of dressing rooms and stock areas, out of the view of the “suits” who might sniff through the aisles looking for post-holiday imperfections. There were close calls, but none of us were spotted. Had we been “caught,” we would say we were Christmas shopping to maintain our ruse. During that week, Mrs. B. was ubiquitous, her eagle eyes surpassing that stony sculpture’s glance on the first floor. We functioned seamlessly as the suits paraded the aisles, praising Mrs. B. for her diligence and attention to detail. I’ll always wonder if the Wanamaker eagle suspected her and kept the secret, among all the others, under its ornate-clad feathers.

Linda M. Romanowski is a graduate of Rosemont College, in 1975 with a BA in Psychology and Elementary Education, and this past May as an MFA graduate in Creative Non-fiction. She was assistant editor of Non-fiction for Rathalla magazine, Rosemont’s literary publication. Her Italian heritage-based thesis, “Final Touchstones”, earned with distinction, is scheduled for publication by Sunbury Press within the coming months. Several of the essays from her pending book were published on City Key, Ovunque Siamo and the Mario Lanza Institute Facebook page. She recently reviewed Ellen Stone’s poetry book “What is in the Blood” for the online Philadelphia Stories 2021 Fall issue. Her poem, “Seen In Translation” was selected for inclusion in the Moonstone Arts Center Protest 2021-100 Thousand Poets for Change.

“Notre Dame” by Patrick Vitullo

Was its best face seen from
the Quai de la Tournelle,
Pont de L’Archeveche,
or Square Jean XXIII?
Whether the proboscis of facade
or the gothic grey body worded
and etched from the bookseller’s stalls
on the Quai de Montebello,
every look was different.
 
An arch of neck brought one up
its twin towers and shunned down 
the spouting gaff of gargoyles.
Its rose window bloomed before the Seine
while pigeons peripatetic gathered
en masse before a statue of Charlemagne.
 
A man bedecked in the
beauty of his language
asked for francs, a baguette,
and then, when none were offered, 
simply said, bonjour.
 
Like the countenance of its people,
that lean church beveled 
its spire to the sky.
As Emmanuel tolled
solemnly the moment when
Christ died, the Elysian arms of 
Our Lady buttressed 
the man’s tired hands.
And all Paris
foamed in the wake of a bateau-mouche.
 
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Patrick Vitullo is a writer, poet, essayist, and world traveler who lives in Havertown, PA. He was awarded the 1979 John T. Fredericks Prize in Literary Criticism by the University of Notre Dame where he graduated with a B.A. in liberal arts. He also has a law degree from Villanova University and limits his law practice to representation of injured workers. Patrick has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Antigonish Review. 

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Two Poems by Danny P. Barbare

The City of Charleston, SC

I like the old city. It fills me full
   of ghost.
How the horses still clop on the
   cobblestone.
A clipper ship floats in the harbor
   as if it has cross and bones
when the only lantern seems to
   be
   the moon
as steps draw nearer, between the
the shadows and the Spanish moss.

The City at Christmas (Greenville, SC)

These buildings are a little
   smaller
the sidewalks no longer run
nor the lights so many and
   magical
but I know they are there
somewhere in the
moonlight’s little coat.

Danny P. Barbare resides in the upstate of the Carolinas. His poems have recently appeared in Blue Unicorn and Ethel. And his poetry has been nominated for Best of Net by Assisi Online Journal. He has been published locally, nationally, and abroad.

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“Fourteen” by Joshua Ginsberg

Saw New York again last night
reflected, distorted
just like it never was as a kid,
inverted through a droplet
on the edge of an icicle
hanging off her balcony.
Suspended there for a frozen breath
before falling, shattering like a snow globe
spilling out its magic
into the slush and dirty tire tracks
over uneven cement three stories down.
On that day of crisp red brick against
a sky-blue no earthly painter can mix,
when she snapped a perfect picture
of our shared inexperience,
diffuse light gentle over smooth alabaster
and her lips an uber-clever citykid smile
that concealed everything I didn’t understand;
didn’t need to yet.

The world has kept busy
these thirty years since,
wrinkling and rending flags and flesh
planting planes in the side of buildings,
clawing endless pits – future home
of all tomorrow’s monuments.
Still through its stained fingers slip
one photo
of me and that girl
with the heart-shaped face.

Joshua Ginsberg is a writer, entrepreneur, and curiosity seeker who relocated from Chicago to Tampa Bay in 2016. He is the author of “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” (Reedy Press, 2020), and his poetry, fiction, and non-fiction has appeared in various print and digital publications. He maintains a blog, Terra Incognita Americanus and has been a business proposal and resume writer for over 10 years. He currently resides in Tampa’s Town and Country neighborhood with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

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“Downtown, California” by Matthew J. Andrews

On streets placed as precisely as floor tiles
in the shadow of soaring office towers,

the zombies roam,

shuffling their feet in stunted, uneven steps,
staring blankly, eyes fixed firmly in the past,

muttering unintelligibly.

With reclaimed treasures stacked in shopping carts
and claims staked under stone doorway arches,

they live as ghosts

while the wind-whipping flag animates the
extinct bear and blood-red stripe

serpentines.

Matthew Andrews

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer who lives in Modesto, California. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review, Funicular MagazineRed Rock ReviewSojournersAmethyst ReviewKissing Dynamite, and Deep Wild Journal, among others. He can be contacted at matthewjandrews.com.

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“Empty Venue/Full House” by Linda Romanowski

Performance played to an empty hall
live audience deprived they played on,
our lives depended on it.

The question begged of Orchestral performance,
who would hear their sound in an empty venue?
Their Facebook page unleashed a virus of its own
virtual seating unlimited, Livestream untethered.
The Fifth and Sixth symphonies of Beethoven,
the Fifth called “Fate,” four notes that changed the world.
They say those prime first notes came from bird’s singing
while Ludwig van inhabited Deaf’s door.

No time to lose, musicians dispatched mastery,
bound to inject perfection to its core
their bodies concentrated, driven, focused
to bring that bastard, Covid, to its knees.
At the Fifth, 4th movement, Livestream comments
exploded upward, hidden keyboards volleyed.

Multitudes heard the silver lining of sound.

The rushing notes as cells divided fast
beat that sucker to its knees,
bowed heads to Beethoven’s 5:4,
they played that most beloved, breathing gem,
played like penicillin bows, strings, elbows gliding,
brass kicked ass, feet stomped, pedals struck timpani,
racing, throbbing veins pounding an enemy.
Fingers smiled, pulled the trigger, rushing notes pulsing
thunder through the bloodstream, headed for each
tip of Covid’s crown.

Relentless notes, the antigen, music antibody gone viral-
Beethoven vaccine, set to vanquish the Invader.

Thousands of Yannicks conducted, fencing cell demons
to their jugulars, punched air in time to thwart destruction
chapped washed hands listened,
slammed favorite air instruments
pounded surfaces in kitchens, dens, cars.

Upraised thumbs, floating fireworks, streamed up screen,
signs of relief, healing, momentary pause
encores of hearts and bravos soared.

The most moving of all movements
no movements at all,
when the Philadelphia orchestra stood and faced
their empty venue hall.

Linda Romanowski, a resident of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, traces her roots to South and Northwest Philadelphia. Linda obtained her BA from Rosemont in Psychology and Elementary Education. She is currently enrolled in Rosemont’s MFA Creative Non-Fiction Program. Her primary focus is portraying her Italian heritage experience.

Since 2017, Linda has served as a reviewer for “Rathalla” magazine. Her essay, “Pot It’s Not,” was published in City Key in 2018. This year, she is a poetry reviewer for “Philadelphia Stories” for the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize.

In 2019, Linda and her husband, Ken, participated in the Rosemont College Global Studies Program at the Sant’ Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy. Her blog appeared on Rosemont’s Facebook page and was published in RoCo, Rosemont’s online publication.

In 2015, Linda received the Bonnie Hilferty Freney ’64 Memorial Award for volunteer service to Rosemont and currently serves as president of the college’s alumni board.

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“Carrol Avenue” by Joshua Ginsberg

You never promised
to make me a writer or an artist;
only that you would beat me like one –
backbreaking barbacking
reeking of beer and dragging ass home
just in time to curse the sunrise;
you hardened me to the clatter of the L,
showed me who serves
the best Chicken Vesuvio,
taught me to drink bourbon neat, and
where to find a stone mermaid
carved by the shore of Lake Michigan.
Whispered to me all the dirty things
you never told Sandburg.
On days so cold I thought I might shatter
you slid a warm sly smile into my pocket
waiting for a cab at Chicago and Milwaukee
while I read the inscription at the base
of Nelson Algren Fountain.
You lowered me down below the streets,
entombed so deep under
prairie style terracotta and concrete
that sunlight’s just a myth, where
you stole my teeth and wallet, left me
drained and dreaming, straining in the dark
to see through two bruised and swollen slits;

but it was there in the shadow of the bricks
of that rat’s nest palace of filth,
that at last you spread wide
your tarnished gold wings
and blessed me with
your secret face.

Joshua Ginsberg is a writer, entrepreneur, and curiosity seeker who relocated from Chicago to Tampa Bay in 2016. He is the author of “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” (Reedy Press, 2020), and his poetry, fiction, and non-fiction has appeared in various print and digital publications. He maintains a blog, Terra Incognita Americanus and has been a business proposal and resume writer for over 10 years. He currently resides in Tampa’s Town and Country neighborhood with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

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“Swimming in Montevideo” by Steve Carr

Swimming, my arms slice through the water, one arm, and then the next. Over and over. My fingers are held firmly together, and pointed, like the head of a spear. My shoulders swivel from side to side, twisting my torso. My muscles are like pulled taffy, pliable, twisting, elastic. A continuous flow of power – an electric current of physical, bodily, energy – courses through my legs. They are scissors cutting the water. My feet are fins, paddles, webbed-like, kicking and churning up the water, leaving a continuous splashed trail of bubbles in my wake. The water is cool. It slides over the smoothness of my flesh. I shed it like ever-changing layers of liquid skin.

Continue reading “Swimming in Montevideo” by Steve Carr

“Man Sold Separately” by Danielle Keiko Eyer

It was one of those houses that had been dumped on the side of the street, meticulously equidistant from the houses on either side. It was one of those houses where the hot water never ran out in the winter and the air conditioner never broke down in the summer. The neighbours in the similarly-shaped houses shared gossip and borrowed cups of flour and pretended to like each other until the door closed and the lock clicked and their sincere thoughts came to light. It was a neighbourhood with the level of superficiality typically found in the suburbs.

Continue reading “Man Sold Separately” by Danielle Keiko Eyer