Friday, December 26, 2008

Thrills & Spills

Len Klein
Memory Sketch #16
Thursday, June 14, 2001

My Uncle Irving was my mother’s real, flesh and blood, brother. I know it gets confusing, it certainly did for me when I was growing up, so confusing in fact I simply gave up on deciphering family relationships for most of my life. Because of the perplexing family relations that I lived with, there was one thing I was totally intolerant of; my mother’s attempt to present her best friend, Ida, as Aunt Ida. I absolutely flipped my wig, and screamed at her that I would never call someone from outside the family by a family name. It was just too much to deal with; it seemed completely unfair to me, and I never did it.

The two little siblings, Irene and Irving Lutsky, my mother and her older brother, hadn’t grown up together for very long. When their mother died, they were separated: Irving stayed with their father, Louie, and my mother, who was then about four years old, was sent to live with her grandparents, Zaide and Bubbe (Solomon and Rebecca). That’s where she was brought up with Uncle Jack, who was just a little older than she was, and whom she came to call brother. In later years, both Jack and Irving would change their family name from Lutsky to Luth, in the hope that the more Americanized name would be better for business. From what I could see, it didn’t have any noticeable effect on anything, except to make me more confused.

When Uncle Irving would come over to our house (we always called our apartment our house), it was always a special time because he liked to do some things with us that no one else did. He would lift me up so that my body was parallel to the floor, and holding me at arms length he would “fly me around” in circles. I held my arms out like wings and he would swing me up and down as he flew me around; it really felt as though I was flying. Later on, he did the same for Arnie, while I watched and laughed with excitement. The experience of being ‘flown’ that way was incredibly thrilling and I loved it. It was also a little scary; it felt like when you are flying in your dreams with thrills and screams. I always looked forward to Uncle Irving’s visits.

Uncle Irving would also pull me up head-over-heels by having me bend forward and put my hands between my legs. He’d grab my hands and pull me straight up and I’d flip over. Well, I’ll tell you, I wasn’t too fond of that. It was Arnie who really loved the flip-over and was always ready for more. At the time I had no idea that my fear was largely due to my loss of orientation when I flipped over. Years later, in High School, when trying to learn the back handspring, the loss of orientation sent me crashing down on my neck and I sustained serious injuries. Despite my being able to do a front handspring, I never even got close to doing the back. When I tried to learn springboard diving, the best I could do was to manage a few forward somersaulting dives, but twists and back dives eluded me. The culmination of my aerial disorientation was when, at the age of 28, I smashed my head on the pipe supports of a trampoline, and Dan and Buz, who were with me that evening, had to rush me to the hospital. Luckily, the serious injuries, which required careful stitching around my left eye, and extra careful surgery to reconstruct my nose, were not life threatening.

The first baseball game I ever went to was when Uncle Irving took Dan and me to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Uncle Irving filled us in on all the plays and rules that we were unfamiliar with, while we watched the Saint Louis Cardinals defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although my interest in baseball was at best sporadic, I remember feeling disappointed that the hometown team, the Brooklyn Dodgers did not win. The game itself, I found very slow with long periods of inactivity, so that it was hard to stay interested. Of course, I liked the ballpark franks and drinks, which eased the waiting. When, in later years, I was in the Air Force stationed just outside of Saint Louis, I went to my second baseball game there. As luck would have it, I once again watched the Cardinals defeat the Dodgers. To this day, those remain the only two baseball games I have ever been to.

In Brooklyn, not too far from where we lived, on Eastern Parkway there was a popular sports arena. My Uncle Irving took me there on a night that they had a complete boxing card. It was very crowded, smoky, and everyone was talking and yelling. During the introductions to each match, we would pick our choice to win. I always picked the bigger guy and was very surprised to see that they usually lost. This was something that Uncle Irving seemed to know about, since he always smiled when I made my pick. Except for the smoke, I really enjoyed myself, but I never again went to see live boxing. The major fights were broadcast on the radio, and we all listened to them. Then came TV.

My Uncle Jack was one of the early owners of a small TV set, and he invited my father to come over when there were fights on Friday night. My Dad and I would walk the Friday night mile to Uncle Jack’s; he lived near the Premier Theater, which was on Pitkin Avenue in East New York, so it was a bit of a hike. My Dad always walked too fast for me and in trying to keep up, I would develop terrible shin splints, not that I knew the term in those days, but I did know the pain running down the front of my lower legs. It was awful, but I never said anything about it to him. I just kept it to myself, as if it was some kind of personal failure to be in pain while trying to keep up with my Dad.

When we settled down in the little room that Uncle Jack had made into his TV room, and began to watch the fights, my father usually fell asleep. He loved the fights, but after working a full day, often in the cold, eating dinner, walking the mile, and sitting in the warm room, he just could not prevent sleep from overtaking him. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop him from going to Jack to see the fights.

Later on it would be one of the main reasons for getting a television of our own, that Dad could watch the Friday night fights at home. When we got our first set, it was placed in my parents bedroom on the bureau opposite the door. This meant that it was kind of high for viewing, but it really was the only place for it. We put chairs by the foot of the bed and along one side, and even a little out the door when we had guests, so that we could all view the set. I remember that was the arrangement during the final baseball games of the season and, of course, for the World Series.


Irving & Irene's mother was Lena Lutsky nee Belinki/Belinsky. She committed suicide a few days after Irene's fist birthday. For more information see this link.

Lena with baby Irving ca. 1910-1

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