Hunting for Mischief in the Bronx
Winter 2008 • Vol. XVI, Issue LIX
Aldo might have been the worst of them. But they were all bad. Sort of. Well, let’s say wild, instead. Yet all six of them came from loving Italian immigrant households in the Belmont section of the Bronx . . .
. . . and underneath their veneer of bravado they were good hearted boys. In addition to Aldo there was Angelo, Carlo, Carmine, Luigi and Sal. Together they comprised what was sometimes referred to as a “Borgata,” in Italo/American parlance a word meaning gangs of boys who run around creating mischief, or in some cases actually committing crimes, a term that struck dread in every mother’s heart.
They were all about seventeen years old, and during the summer they lived virtually in the streets, rising early in the morning, and running down the broad stairs of their walk-up tenements and out into the asphalt and cement kingdom of Arthur Avenue, not far from the protective shadow of the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
One hot July morning, Aldo and his five amici were looking for something different to do.
Jokingly, Carlo suggested that they go hunting.
“Yeah, let’s get out our rifles and go for deer.” Carmine played along.
“Like who has rifles.” Luigi added, with mock sadness.
“And who has deer?” Sal tossed in.
“Okay then everybody,” Aldo announced, “here’s a tough one for all of you: what’s the name of that huge place five blocks east of here on the other side of Southern Boulevard where they keep wild animals including deer? You have ten seconds to answer.”
“The Bronx Zoo!” Angelo shouted in two seconds, all aglow, proud of his knowledge of world geography.
“Very good, Angie.” said Aldo.
“But what’s the point, Aldo. We have nothing to shoot with?” Luigi said, stupidly conversationally just to have something to say, then realizing too late that he should have kept his mouth shut because Aldo would now have an excuse to get out his 45 caliber pistol and use it to shoot innocent fenced in deer at the zoo.
Fortunately, before Aldo could press forward, Luigi said “Wait, I have a better idea, let’s go sneak into the Windsor movie instead.” He scanned each of the amici lobbying their support.
“Great idea!” they agreed with sunshine enthusiasm. But it was only ten o’clock, much too early for the movies.
“Okay then, let’s compromise,” Aldo offered. “Here’s what we do. We go to the Botanical Gardens, grab some of their juicy show-off stones, and hunt for squirrels. After that we go to the movies. How’s that?”
Still relieved and grateful, they jumped at the idea.
And so the amici crossed over Fordham Road and Southern Boulevard and climbed over the spiked iron gates into the famous 250-acre Bronx Botanical Garden to go hunting for squirrels. From among the manicured outdoor gardens containing some of the world’s rarest and most exotic plants and flowers, the amici stripped a formidable arsenal of fist-sized pampered stones to prepare for the mother of all hunts.
After half an hour of failure, however, they realized that their marksmanship was no match for the elusive squirrels, and so they abandoned their absurd safari and proceeded to leave the majestic sanctuary and go sneak into the Windsor movie house.
But as they were climbing back over the gates, Aldo caught sight of a solitary squirrel resting on a tree branch about 20 feet away, and as a sort of farewell gesture, he pitched his last stone at the idyllic creature. “What were the odds…?” they would all say later, because, amazingly, his stone had struck the squirrel flush, and it fell to the ground dead. They all cheered Aldo for his fantastic shot. And so the great white hunter picked up his kill and put it in a plastic bag that he found on the street, and off they went about ten blocks west to the Windsor Theatre to see “Champion” starring Kirk Douglas.
Sneaking into the Windsor Theatre through a particular broken second storey fire exit door was their secret. It was so easy it almost took the “sneak” out of sneaking. And today the amici could have entered with a fife and drum corps and no one would have noticed.
Once inside, Aldo and the amici took over a string of seats in the first row center of the balcony, directly over the main orchestra seats below. But to their great dismay they suddenly realized that the day was Saturday, matinee day, when the Windsor put on its “live variety show” right before the presentation of the featured film. And oh how the amici hated those disgusting live shows! Routinely, their so-called “talent” stunk like garbage: singers with cracking voices, ventriloquists whose jaws opened and closed as conspicuously as those of Tyrannosaurus Rex; impersonators so bad that they made Edward G. Robinson morph into Carey Grant, and the so-called comedians with a repertoire of rancid jokes that called out for rock-filled flying tomatoes.
“Let’s get out of this sewer and go over to the Paradise.” Aldo said. They needed no persuasion, and like a conditioned reflex with oil they popped up to go.
“But wait!” Aldo called “Watch this first,“ and he took the dead squirrel out of the plastic bag, held it out over the balcony, and let it fall into the orchestra seats below.
The squirrel’s unexpected arrival caused massive hysteria. You would have thought that the gates of hell had opened and released flaming demons. All the lights in the theater went on. A man with a fur collar made of squirrel was shrieking insanely, grasping feverishly at his neck to disentangle its claws which had hooked into his skin through his shirt.
When at last he succeeded, instead of dropping the squirrel on the floor, the crazed moviegoer threw it into the air, and in turn the tree trunk colored carcass now slightly stained with blood, landed on someone else who appropriately screamed in holy dread, and in turn volley-balled the unwelcome horror into yet another cluster of terrified patrons, as fear ignited fear and panic spread throughout the entire downstairs section of the theater, including the musicians who unheroically did not pause to play “Amazing Grace”, but scooted to safety with their instruments behind the stage curtains.
To avoid the activities below, Aldo and his amici said “time to go”, and went back out through the same fire exit door that they had come in through, and headed off to the Loews Paradise Theatre, hopefully, harrumph, to a kinder, gentler place.
From the east or “uptown” side of the expansive Grand Concourse the amici gazed across to the “downtown” side at the Paradise theatre, “the jewel of the Bronx.”