November 21, 2010
Random memories of a glorious Levittown and environs youth
By Ken Taylor
A special treat was when we walked (WALKED!) to Jolly Roger in Bethpage for hot dogs or a brisket of beef sandwich, and all the pickles you wanted, then over to Nunley's Happy Land to ride the carousel and play the games. If we had any change left, we would go across the street and hit some baseballs from an automatic pitching machine. Everyone was terrible at that, except Bobby Lombardi. (his nickname was "Lumpy"). Bobby became one of Long Island's best fast-pitch softball players.
Speaking of the carousel at Nunley's, I worked on it for two years. I had worked in the kitchen of Jolly Roger's when I was 13 years old. After several years I asked for a raise of 10 cents an hour all the way up to 60 cents an hour, and they said no, so I said I quit and they said bye. I walked next door and picked up a job working the carousel. The "Gold Ring" was fixed. I could pick whoever I wanted to get the gold ring. The regular rings went into one slot on the arm and the gold ring went into another slot that was spring loaded. When I pushed the special button, the gold ring was pushed in front of the other rings. Piece of cake.
From there I worked at Downey Flake Donuts. I made the donuts. In those days, the law was that you could not keep donuts overnight. They had to be tossed into the dumpster each night. We gave them away to volunteers from Mid-Island Hospital and the 8th Precinct (Donuts = Cops, I became a cop.) Anyway we always had left over donuts that had to go into that dumpster. My first night about 11 pm, I was walking to the dumpster with the donuts while eating one too, when I heard like a hissing and chattering sound. Then I saw about a hundred little red eyes glimmering in the dark. My boss yelled out to me, "Don't worry, the rats just want the donuts, they won't bother you." He said "Just walk slowly to the dumpster and drop them in and walk slowly back to me."
I walked so very slowly to the dumpster, and the noise level increased, and I saw the rats as they closed in. I dropped the donuts into the dumpster, and took one step back and started to turn around, when a coat of brown fur climbed up the side and into the dumpster. My adrenaline kicked in, and I made it back to the store a hundred feet away in two big steps. I have to admit that after a week or so, I became good friends with the rats, and would put the donuts on the ground next to the dumpster to save them the trip into it. They would wait until I was a few feet away, and devour the donuts in a minute or so, then disappear into the night. They never bothered me, and I thank them for their courtesy.
I got fired from Downey Flake Donuts because a hard-nosed customer came in and demanded a fresh jelly donut, and "Not one of those leftover from yesterday." I wanted to tell him the rat story and how we don't have leftovers, but I decided instead to load up a jelly donut with triple the amount of jelly pumped into it. When he bit into it, it exploded all over him, and I lost my job. It was funny and worth it.
Climbing the Azalea Road water tower with a six pack of beer and the guys and just sitting there for hours. Beautiful.
Playing stickball behind the North Village Green. A home run was across Parkside Drive.
I think I am starting to ramble a bit.
Friday nights was always at the Levittown Roller Rink. Couples only, ladies only, and of course the famous "All Skate". I can't remember anyone ever getting hurt there. Want to try it now?
After the roller rink, it was over to the Embassy Diner, for a group order of large French fries, a bottle of catsup, and bowls of those great New York pickles, including the bowls we took from the other tables when no one was looking.
Sometimes, a group would go to the Freeport stock car races and watch Bruno Brakey and George Brunnhoelzl fight each other in the finals. This was the same setup as professional wrestling. It was staged and set in advance as to who would win each week. We loved every bit of it.
Collecting money and then piling four or five people in the trunk of the car and going to the Westbury drive-in movie. Sitting on the roof or front hood of the car to watch the movie, and breaking the driver's window as you ripped the speaker and wires off as you started to drive away. And don't forget the awful crap they sold at the refreshment stand. Enjoyed every moment of it.
It was an easier time in our lives. You could be out at 4 A.M. and be walking home, and not even think of someone bothering you. Levittown was one big family with nice people, willing to help you with anything you needed, because you would do the same for them. I miss that feeling. I am glad our kids experienced the tail end of all that as they grew up on Pinetree Lane. And to the day we moved to North Carolina, we never locked our doors.
Ken Taylor graduated from Levittown Memorial High School in 1959. He and his wife, Barbara Wittenberg (Division Avenue class of 1960) have been the inspiration and muscle behind the DAHS reunions. Check out Ken's November 1, 2010 blog post: Do you remember "The Natives", denizens of the North Village Green?