November 1, 2010
Do you remember "The Natives", denizens of the North Village Green?
click on photo of the Taylors to enlarge
By Ken Taylor
In the late 1950s, there was a group of kids who hung out at Levittown's North Village Green. They were referred to as "The Natives."
The term "Natives" came from Chuck Kelly ("Kelly the Cop") who walked a beat from the North Village Green up Wolcott Road, to Hempstead Turnpike and it ended at Caruso's on Hempstead Turnpike.
Caruso's had a Friday night special: Shrimp Cocktail, Salad, Soup, Main course mostly pasta dishes, Dessert, Coffee, all for $3.95)
One night on the way out of Caruso's, Vic Lawson picked up the gum-ball machine in the vestibule, and started to carry it back to the North Village Green. He dropped it on Wolcott Road, and the gum balls went everywhere.
We joined the group who hung out on the Green, and about 10 minutes later we saw Kelly the cop coming down Wolcott Road to the Green. As was our custom, everyone climbed up in the trees to hide. Kelly came into the grass area and yelled out, "You are all like a bunch of Natives, but I'll find you and someone will pay for the gum-ball machine!"
We later found out that he knew all along where we were hiding, and he was friendly to all of us most of the time.
There were two groups that hung out at the Green. Our group was younger and hung out away from the older group.
There was me, Vic Lawson, Bobby Lombardi (Bobby had a tryout with a big league baseball team, but on the day he was to be picked up, he decided not to go. Jimmy Dunn, Doug Duffy, Al Williams, Pat Buhr, Ira Nerzig, Buddy Weston, George Vine, my future wife Barbara Wittenberg, Alice Buhr, Ruth Pincus, Gail Liestman, Sandy Hertz, Ed "Kookie" Byrne and his brother Tommy, among others.
In the North Village Green drugstore there was Morty, and Irv who ran the store, and Artie Hertz, who was behind the counter and made the best egg creams. He also loved to push his false teeth out to the girls or someone new. It was disgusting, but so very funny. One time when he did it, the egg cream came up through my nose. You had to be there.
In the deli, there was Joe the Deli owner, and his partner Abe. Vic and I tortured these guys no end. One night as I was breaking their chops, a hand grabbed me from behind, and a cop named Guy Hammersmith dragged me out the back door, and after giving me some well deserved "punishment" deposited me in the big dumpster. He said, "I don't want to see you on the Green for two weeks". I guess this was the first occurrence of a "Time Out". And I didn't dare go near the Green for those 14 days.
On nice summer nights, we would get four guys together, and each would put up a quarter to buy four gallons of gas (24 cents a gallon at the Village Green gas station) for Eddie Byrne, who had a candy apple red 1956 Chevy Impala convertible. We would drive around East Meadow, Westbury and Levittown, but we never went near the South Village Green. That was where the bad guys hung out, and a fight would always ensue). When the gas gauge was back at the point before we put the gas in, the ride was over.
Kookie was later convicted of murdering his father-in-law. After 15 years in prison, he was released and within a month was involved in a hostage situation on the New York Thruway. Eddie ended up in a New York State mental hospital, and is still there as far as can be determined. Sad.
Swimming in the closed North Village Green pool was a regular occurrence. Many of the Natives would go over the fence about 11 pm for a half hour, because this was the time when the police would change shifts, and the foot post for the Green changed behind Caruso's, so we knew that we had a least a half hour to 45 minutes to enjoy the water, naked of course. That was the thrill. We would spend all day at the pool when we weren't playing ball.
Every Sunday night there was a "Water Aquacade Show" at a pool. Each week it was at a different pool. There were diving exhibitions, clown diving, and a race between a clown and a very good swimmer.
The race was from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool. When they shot the gun off the swimmer would take off like a shot. The clown would flounder about in the shallow end, then when the swimmer was half-way through, the clown would reach down and pick up a hidden rope that was laying on the bottom, get a good grip and raise his hand as a signal. The other end of the rope went to the deep end, then on the concrete behind the diving board, through an open door, and out on the grass and attached to the bumper of a car.
When the signal was given, the driver stepped on the gas, and all hell broke loose. The clown went from zero to 30 miles per hour in seconds. A water plume erupted around him, as he was dragged towards the deep end wall. About 150 feet behind the building, there was a red flag, and when the car was at the flag the driver slammed on the brakes. This allowed the clown being dragged to slow down, and he came within a foot of the wall, and he always won the race by a few feet.
Of course if the car went too far past the flag, the clown ended up either slammed against the pool wall, or was dragged up on to the pavement and grated like cheese. That happened only once, but he wasn't hurt, because in those days we were young and stupid, and flexible.
One more thing, I was the clown and it never occurred to me how dangerous this was, because it was so much fun to do.
Speaking of dangerous, the finale of every Sunday show was "The Pyramid". We had about 10 clown divers, and we always ended with a pyramid on the high board. It was similar to "Johnny on the Pony". One clown would stand on the end of the high board, and three would bend in behind him. Then any clown left would run up and climb on the backs of the three clowns, and then the last clown left would run up the pyramid and try to get on the shoulders of the standing clown. Then everyone pushed forward and we all went into the water in one big pile. We didn't realize how stupid and dangerous this part was, but again it was so much fun. And no one ever got badly hurt.
On Wednesday nights, "Bob Durlacher and his Texas Two Step Band" would play at each Village Green through the summer. He would set up on the roof of the pool pump room near the parking spaces, and everyone spent the night square dancing. Sometimes he would be at the old Mays Department Store on Hempstead Turnpike.
The "Natives" always seemed to have something interesting to do together and mostly it was good, clean fun.
Editor's note: Most of the kids mentioned in this story, except its author and his friend Vic Lawson, attended Division Avenue High School. Ken and Vic graduated from Levittown Memorial High School in 1959. Ken and Barbara live in Hallandale Beach, Florida in the winter and Cherryville, North Carolina in the summer. Ken retired from the Nassau County Police Department in 1995. In addition, he retired in 2001 from the New York Air National Guard as a Master Sergeant and 1st Sergeant of a Communications Outfit.
Barbara Wittenberg Taylor retired as head teller of Chase Bank in East Meadow (Newbridge and Hempstead Turnpike) in 1996. She started with Seaman's Bank, until Chase bought it out. She loves retirement and planning events, as many of us know. Ken and Barbara are the driving force behind the Division Avenue class of 1960 reunions. The Taylors will be at the Key West mini-reunion February 1-3.