'Kramer' author writes memoir of Bronx boyhood
Before Brooklyn became a hipster haven with pricey real estate and the Bronx became the poster child for urban blight, neighborhood life in those outer boroughs was pretty much the same.
That's the recollection of Avery Corman, who grew up in the Bronx during the 1940s and '50s and went on to write novels that became the basis for the hit movies “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Oh God!” In a later novel, “The Old Neighborhood,” the hard-driving protagonist reconnects with his childhood neighborhood in the Bronx, rediscovers his roots and finds inner peace and contentment.
Now, Corman has returned to that same nostalgia-laden turf, this time with a charming and lyrical memoir, “My Old Neighborhood Remembered,” about his Bronx boyhood in a nontraditional working-class household with a divorced mother, an older sister and an aunt and uncle, both of them deaf mutes.
With few organized activities and no hovering parents to schedule them, kids took to the streets to create their own fun. It was a world of punchball, Johnny-on-a-pony, Ringolevio and, of course, stickball, in which players would keep an eye out for an approaching police car and roll the bat under a parked car before a cop could confiscate it.
An iconic element of street life was the local candy store, a neighborhood hangout where youngsters might sip an egg cream while reading a comic book off the rack. They could buy a notebook and a protractor for school, or a Spaldeen, the pink rubber ball used for stickball.
With television in its infancy, movie theaters were everywhere. None was more ornate than the famously baroque Loew's Paradise, a 3,855-seat landmark on the Grand Concourse, a short walk from Corman's apartment. Stern-faced matrons dressed in white and armed with flashlights patrolled the children's section, ready to pounce on kids who might commit infractions such as noisily humming through their candy boxes.
As Corman progressed through grade school, junior high and high school, his mother worked her way up from a $14-a-week stock clerk at Alexander's, the big department store that was essentially a discount operation but “offered the illusion of upscale shopping.” She eventually became a buyer at J.W. Mays in Brooklyn.
The author goes on to describe the mystery of his father's disappearance, the impact of college-basketball scandals that implicated Bronx sports heroes and the travails of Hebrew school in preparation for his bar mitzvah.
After high school, Corman studied business at New York University but failed to land his dream job as a copywriter on Madison Avenue. It was the start of the “Mad Men” era and agencies tended to exclude Jews, other “ethnics” and applicants with degrees from non-Ivy League colleges.
People tend to romanticize their childhood, but the post-World War II Bronx was a time and place that conveyed a sense of community and vitality to those who grew up there. Many have moved on but still carry fond memories that Corman's quick read is sure to evoke.
Jerry Harkavy is a staff writer for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.