Return to “The Alley.”

Just last week Rob posted an entry entitled “The Alley”. That piece brought back some memories for me that had become lost in the clouds of time; I had not thought about that alley in the back of our apartment on West 12th Street in many, many years. If you have not read Rob’s recollections on that Alley, please do. You will find it fun and entertaining.

As he mentioned in his post, the alley in question ran along the backside of our apartment building. On the other side of the alley, facing our building, were other apartment buildings. My entry today will focus on the apartment building across the alley. The back of that building facing the back of our building.

As was pointed out by Rob, these apartments were long and narrow, fondly called railroad apartments. One would enter the front door and face a long, narrow hallway with rooms off to the left side of the hall. (Another fun entry to read is one entitled “The Hall”)

The very first room that one encountered on the left when entering the front door was my childhood bedroom. This recollection travels back a good distance in time to when I was about seven years old. Rob was less than a year old.

If you have been following Cobblestone Dreams for any length of time whatsoever, you know that I was afraid of my own shadow for most of my childhood. Having my bedroom at the end of that long, and what I considered, scary hallway didn’t help matters at all. Most nights found me hunkered down under all the covers I could muster.

The night in question was a hot, humid summer night in New York. We, like many others, did not have air conditioning. That was still very much considered a luxury. I am speaking of window units, not central air, which was pretty much unheard of in these city apartments. We had a fan or two, but they were designated for the living area for the entire family. Windows were kept open as much as possible to allow for what Dad called a “cross breeze”. Bedrooms were simply hot and uncomfortable.

Such was this night. I have no recollection of the exact time but am pretty certain it was late. I was in bed trying to fall asleep. Keeping safe under layers of covers was out of the question in such uncomfortable heat. Muffled sounds of the late night city made their way through the open window in my bedroom. The distance between the rear of our building and the back of the building behind us was not that long. The alley was very long but fairly narrow. Obviously, we were not the only folks who had our windows open. Most of the other apartments in surrounding buildings did as well, creating a wide and distinct symphony of sounds. Window fans humming, muffled voices from other apartments, the static sound of distant radios and televisions, the occasional late night cry of a baby and of course, the “conversations” of the feral cats Rob spoke of.

At about the same moment that I finally convinced myself that these blended sounds were actually comforting, I heard the very loud sound of two adult men.
From here on, my recollection is a combination of my first-hand account and Dads second-hand account which he relayed to us countless times in the future.

So, I hear two loud voices coming somewhere from the building behind us. The voices were angry and I took notice. Dad took notice as well. He came down the hall and appeared in my room sounding concerned. He told me to get out of bed and go to the living room with Mom. This hero didn’t have to be told twice. Before he could finish his sentence, I was racing down the hall to moms protective arms. From this point, Dads account takes over. Apparently, he had heard the voices as well from the kitchen where he was making himself and mom late night cup of coffee…. a strange tradition they shared for as long as I can remember.

While I was cringing in fear (from what, I had no idea) in moms arms, dad was on the phone with the police department. He told them that he had clearly heard one man threaten the other in an apartment behind our building. The man had quite loudly told the other he was going to kill him, and the argument was escalating quickly, so they had better get a squad car or two over here pronto.

In what seemed like just a few minutes I heard sirens and the sound of cars squealing to a stop in front of our apartment. There was a loud knock on our door and dad went to answer it. Later we found out that he had gone outside with the arriving police to point out where the voices were coming from that had prompted his call.

It seemed as though he was gone forever, especially to a frightened seven-year-old. Mom kept telling me it was going to be all right and not to be afraid. That never worked with me… it still doesn’t. To this day when someone says “ everything is going to be alright..”, I worry more.

After dad had pointed out the apartment where the threatening voices were coming from, the cops took over and did their thing.

It was only well after the fact that I learned what actually went down that night.
The cops went to the apartment in question and demanded entry, which was readily granted by the two young men in the apartment. Yes, there had been loud and threatening words spoken between them. However, they were just being rehearsed by the two men for a potential acting gig. They were both young actors trying to get a start in the vibrant New York scene. Their story quickly checked out with the police and calm was restored to West 12 Street.

Dad loved retelling the story over the years because, in hindsight, it was pretty damned humorous. More so, because Dad was always pretty impressed with the fact that he had called the cops on Jack Klugman and Burt Reynolds. The two unknown and broke actors who shared an apartment behind ours, across “The Alley”.

Don.

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