Saturday, September 26, 2009


Years ago, Rocky Graziano, the former middleweight champion was on the Johnny Carson show. He talked about growing up on The Lower East Side and how he and Jake LaMotta, another figure who became a middleweight champion, were alike in that they grew up and stole anything with an "a" in front of it.

Carson looked a little perplexed, but Rocky quickly added in his lovable, punch-drunk patois, "yeah, a bike, a car, a truck, a lot."

Rocky further explained that if he learned to talk proper they wouldn't want him for those Breakstone yogurt commercials that equated the product and Rocky with "culture."

But it's the reference to the Lower East Side that would always get my attention. There was NEVER anyone on television it seemed who came from New York that bragged about being from anywhere north of 14th Street. You would think there were only schools south of 14th Street, because that's where everyone started. Or, if you went to school north of 14th Street, you were immediately disqualified from ever getting on television. It might be true. My father and others were only famous to their families.

My father came from Midtown! Never mind that he came from a cold-water walk-up flat, was delivered by a mid-wife who only days later would get the birth registered and who lost at least one younger brother to the Spanish influenza in 1918, Thirty-second and Second, hard by the Second Avenue El does not qualify you to brag of a hardscrabble upbringing.

The actual birthday date was a jump ball. It was May. It was 1915, but the date is fuzzy. It was sometime between May 20th and 25th. As a kid we always recognized it as whatever was a convenient day of the week that came in between those numbers. Close counts in horseshoes and birthdays.

I still laugh when I think of Rocky Graziano's story. I once saw him at a pizza parlor he owned in Kips Bay, 32nd and Second, (the El was long gone by then) believe it or not. He almost looked like he was jumping rope as he slid pies into the oven off the wooden palette as his footwork kept him bouncing behind the counter. He was non-stop motion. When you got your slice you thought maybe you should duck, but if there really was a punch coming you would have been way too late anyway. He was fun to watch.

So why on earth was I thinking about Rocky this morning and his story?

The papers today are full of Iran attack plans. You have to wonder if there's a military objective out there that is targeting everything with an "I" in front of it.

I raq...I ran...I owa.

You hope there's no confusion.

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