As a six-year old boy there are a whole lot of rules that you must live by. I was pretty much a good little kid. Well, that’s what I would like to think. I did what I was told. But there was a limit. There was this one thing that I just couldn’t obey, let alone control the urge to pursue, and that was travel.
My mom would say to me, “You’re going to help mommy shop today” and that was always fun, because now I could walk on Grand Avenue, and see the Pets in Ledeux pet shop, gaze at the new bicycles in The Grand Bicycle shop, ride the mechanical horse outside the 5&10 cent store, and get bubble gum from the machine, along with picking out candy at Bohack supermarket that I wasn’t allowed to eat any of on the way home. Mom’s rule was to never eat before dinner.
My mother and father had their set of rules for me, and my grandfather and aunt who lived down stairs, had their own set of rules for me. Most of them I followed, some not so much, but close.
There was one that just didn’t sit well with me, and that was I could not leave Mazeau Street alone. This was fine for a baby, but I was six going on seven now, and I had to flex my wings, stretch my legs, see the world, but there would be a spanking, yelling, early to bed, no TV and I wouldn’t be allowed to ride my bike if I dared to disobey. This was a hard sentence to deal with, if I got caught.
One day my mom left me with my grandfather and aunt while she went off shopping and to the dentist. It was because of the dentist visit that she left me with them.
I was in my grandfather’s kitchen watching him make his famous beef stew, and man, o man, was it good. He always used red wine. Well, I got bored and told him that I was going to the garage to play soldiers in the sand. He was a masonry contractor, and did lots of work in and around Maspeth, so in the three-car garage and behind his truck was a huge pile of sand for me to play in. I must have been there a long time because I was starting to lose what little light I had back there, so I started my walk back to the house when my mom came running out of the back door and onto the terrace yelling, “Where were you?” and “Didn’t you hear us calling you?” I replied, “No, I was playing in the garage, and I told Grandpa.” Well, Grandpa forgot, and that’s when I realized that he forgets, and this could be something that I could work into my travel plans to not get caught, but this plan needed work, or the outcome could be devastating.
My mom had to have major dental work done and she would visit the dentist once, maybe twice, and sometimes three times a week for over a month, and that’s when I began testing my plan.
The first time I tried this, I told grandpa I would be in the garage playing just like the last time, after all, it worked before. I went to the garage and sat on my bike while thinking, “Can I do this, will I get caught?” and I made the choice to just do it. I walked my bicycle out while moving catlike to the front gate, when I realized the front gate made a metal to metal sound when opened or closed. I had to think fast, and it came to me. I had to open it slow and leave it open when I left. It worked, I made it out, I was free! I ran alongside my bike until I gained speed, then jumped on it and began to pedal the fastest I could. The excitement was overwhelming along with the fear of what I just did, and the mess of trouble I’d be in when I got caught, but I soon stopped thinking like that because I wasn’t gonna get caught, ‘cus I had the plan.
I pedaled so fast that I was at the end of Mazeau St, and at the steps of the L.I. Expressway overpass. I could hear and see the cars and trucks racing by at 75 miles per hour. In those days the speed limit was 75 and 80. I looked up at this incredibly large bridge. I had never seen so much concrete and steel before along with the roar of the traffic, and the warm wind from those vehicles moving in both directions, it felt like a summer storm in a scary movie.
I said to myself, “You’re here now, and what are you going to do?” I started walking my bike up the long cement steps to the beginning of the overpass. I got on my bike and started to ride to the middle of the bridge. I stopped and watched the cars and big rig trucks move under me. The sound was twice, maybe three times louder than before. The wind was much stronger, and warmer. It pushed me a little, along with my hair blowing in all directions. It took me awhile to get over the fear of being that high up and all that power moving at great speed below me, but I did, and realized that I was completely safe, and that’s when I was able to relax and smile because this was just amazing. There was nothing like this on Mazeau Street.
What time is it! how long have I been gone! What’s on the other side of this bridge? Should I move forward or save it for another day. If I get caught, I’ll never know.
I decided to get back home. I raced down the steps, and pedaled like there was no tomorrow, and that wasn’t too far from the truth.
I approached the unlatched front gate, and slowly moved inward. I carefully put down my kick stand and like a jewel thief latched the stupid noisy gate closed. I kept the stand down and again moved like a cat back to the garage with my bike.
There I was, in the garage and nobody knew I left. I couldn’t believe what I just did, and what I was a part of, but then it dawned on me. Do they know? How do I know if I’m in the clear?
I was frozen for a while, and my heart was racing with the thought of being caught. I had no choice. I had to walk in and see what would happen. I climbed the terrace steps and opened the back-kitchen door to see my grandfather and aunt both setting the table for grandpa’s fabulous beef stew. My grandpa looked at me and said, “Go washa you handa for din.” My aunt told me that my mom and I were eating here tonight because my mom would be in pain from the dentist, I said Ok and I’d wash upstairs. When I reached our upstairs apartment, and was alone, I just went berserk. I was laughing and jumping up and down, “I did it, I did it, I got away with it. Wow!”
Two, maybe three days had passed since that incredible journey and that was all I could think about. What was on the other side?
I was in the living room pounding my baseball glove, just to keep in shape, when my mom came in to say she was going out, and then to the dentist again. She made sure I understood to behave and to listen to grandpa and Aunt Stella until she came home. I told her I would, and hoped she wouldn’t be in pain, gave her a kiss, and she was on her way.
I went downstairs and told gramps that I would be playing in the lot (which was just a dirt field, and the backs of houses that surrounded it). Grandpa said, “Ok, but you comma when I a wiss,” which meant whistle. Ok Gramps, and off I went to the bridge.
This time I wasn’t racing, just a brisk steady pedal, until I came to 57th Drive and heard chickens. I remembered gramps talking about chickens, a farm, and fresh eggs, could this be it? I pedaled up the block and sure enough there it was, a chicken farm. I rolled up to the front, and a man was there, he said, “Hello, son, what can I do for you?” I asked if I could see the chickens. He answered with a smirk, “Sure, but leave the bike here.” As we moved toward the back, and stepping through the hay straws covering the floor, the smell got worse and worse. I thought I would lose it, but I didn’t, and then I saw rows and rows of chickens in cages, with the loudest sound of clucking that I was sure I’d go deaf, along with feathers flying everywhere, I turned to the right and noticed in the cage of chickens was an egg. I shouted “Mr, look, an egg!” He laughed and said, “It’s yours.” I asked if I could get it later because I had things to do, and I just really wanted away from that horrible smell. The man was nice, and told me it would be here when I returned.
Here I was again, at the middle of the bridge. I stopped for a while to watch the traffic, and out of nowhere I got this burst of energy to continue over to the other side.
Well, there I was. I was now on the other side, but Mazeau Street was gone. I was at the corners of 58th road and 71th Street, Hmm. I then realized that Mazeau was just a tiny little street, a street that was my whole world, and it stopped at the bridge.
I had to choose, which one, 58th or 71st. I chose 71st because I’d seen it on the other side. I pedaled down the street noticing that the houses looked a lot like the other side, ’til I came upon Eliot Avenue and another choice, either a left or right. I went left. There was something different here. Eliot Ave had bits of Grand Ave here and there, along with more space. It had a small overpass bridge that went over what looked like a jungle. The streets seemed wider, and houses weren’t so close. I could feel a breeze.
I came to 76th St. and for some strange reason made a right. When I came to the end, there it was, as if it were pulling me there. Juniper Valley Park. I didn’t know the name then, but it was the biggest park I had ever seen, all I had on Mazeau was the lot.
The park was too big for me to see everything, but I did see the running track, the baseball field, and that was enough for now. I started back the same way, when I ran into a kid and his younger sister at the corner of Eliot and 76th. The boy yelled, “When is Mr. Softee coming by?” I stopped and told him that I wasn’t from here, and that park was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. He told me of a cemetery that was even bigger, and if I went left on Eliot to 69th St I would see it. I said thanks, and rolled on. I had to go that way anyway. I was thinking, Mazeau St was so tiny, even 69th St made it over to this side.
While cruisin’ down Eliot I got to 71st St, and the Mr. Softee truck was there. I was in luck. There were only a few kids there, and I needed a quick ice cream. I ate my fast melting soft chocolate cone with chocolate sprinkles while walking my bike, when I realized mom’s rule, no eating before dinner, and holy cow! what time was it? I dropped the cone, and used the sugar rush to power ride me home.
I was now back on Mazeau and thru our noisy metal gate heading for the garage, when I heard my father from the upstairs window say, “Get up here, Mister!” Oh, man o man, I got caught. I could hear my grandfather yelling in Italian, and the sharp screeching voice of my Aunt Stella also yelling.
I wasn’t going through the back kitchen door to deal with those two, so I chose the front door, like a man willing to face the music, but my shoulders started to drop as I climbed the stairs, and heard my mom yelling with cotton in her mouth, “Wait ‘til I get my hands on you, young man!” I got to the top and I was quicker than mom. I slipped past her and ran into the living room to see my father lying on the couch watching TV. I stopped for a brief second, then realized mom was inches away, so I ran to dad, and jumped behind him for safety. What was I thinking, they both wanted to tan my hide! I made it behind dad, and mom was towering over, when dad held his arm up, and told her to go away. Mom didn’t like that one bit and started to yell at him, but dad just waived his arm and said, “Go, I’ll take care of this.”
“I’ll take care of this” played in my head, and it was quiet for a while, until dad sat up and made me sit next to him. The speech he gave me, with no yelling, about what I did and what could have happened, along with how much they both loved me, how grandpa and Aunt Stella were so upset thinking of what happened to Mike, Jr. next door several months ago, being hit by a car and getting a broken arm and leg. I felt really bad.
My dad walked me down stairs to my aunt and grandpa and said, “Tell them you’re sorry, and you won’t ever betray their trust again.” I did, and hugged them both. My mom got down on one knee and hugged me saying how much she loved me, and didn’t want anything to happen to me.
Well, that was powerful for me, and both mom and dad realized that just one tiny block wasn’t enough for a growing boy, so my dad on Saturdays would take me and some friends to Juniper Valley Park. Sometimes my mom would come with lunch for us. One day they took me to the cemetery with flowers for someone they knew. It was huge.
We always had a great time, and always went to Carvel at the end of the day.
I realized as I got older, that Mazeau Street wasn’t a tiny street at all. It was the street where I grew up. The street where we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. The street where I learned to ride without training wheels. It was the street where I learned about, love, travel, responsibility, family, and trust. The street that will hold countless memories forever. (And it has a cool name.)