Jan

15

 In the late 19th century, trolley and train service to Coney Island made it the premier amusement park in the world. Millions of people rode the vehicles for a nickel and it became a middle class retreat from the hot concrete and buildings of the city. Three race tracks held big stakes races, and two hotels with 800 suites (the Brighton Beach Hotel and Manhattan Beach Hotel) were opened to cater to those who wished to partake of the gambling and amusements. The hotels were still there when I lived, and like many old hotels of that era, like the Sagamoor and the Berkeley, they lived on until the depression before going belly up.

The boardwalk was built in early 20th century and the sides were lined with solariums and bath houses. Handball was played in each of the bath houses, and Artie was one of the best in the 30s. No equipment was needed and it fit the depression era.

 Artie was very handsome and was the pick up man for the girls walking on the boardwalk. But as he pointed out, he'd meet them and stop them, and then he'd have to turn them over to his friends because he never had a nickel for the coffee. I once had to admit when I was 30 and the National squash champ and supposedly a millionaire from my well publicized merger business that I couldn't go out for dinner with a friend because I couldn't afford it.

The teens played football on the sand in the winter at coney island. And Artie was very good at all aspects. But he got his nose broken 18 times because they didn't wear a helmet in those days, and he was younger and better than any of the players. He had his arm broken many times, and that ruined his handball game and he became a B+ player. But amazingly he could still hit the off the wall shot and pass a football like the old days.

His father Martie thought he was the greatest of all time in everything and when the coach at Brooklyn College dared to take him out of a football game for 5 minutes, he sent him a blistering letter which the coach read to all the players. He was called All American from that time.

 A day with Artie for me started at 8 am when we would drive to the tennis courts with our permits to sign up for a court. As we went there, Artie would bemoan that every car ahead of us was getting there first to sign up so we wouldn't get a court until noon. He had a group that he played doubles with, and he had the most perfect service swing I have ever seen, but he was not overly accurate. After the games, I would sneak in about 5 minutes of hitting the ball back over the net between games. But I preferred to watch the semi pro football and baseball games that they held at the big park.

I loved watching him play however, and eventually my uncle challenged me to a game of tennis. And I was able to beat him at 8 even though he was 5 years older than me, and a very good handball player already.

After the game, we would walk 10 blocks to get an iced watermelon from a stand and then walk to Nathans for some moo goo gai pan and a mazola-based french fries that they still use. Then we'd walk to the fenced off checker area on west 5th street, where I'd watch 100 checker players, including Tom Wiswell play games.

 Brooklyn has always had the best checker players, and people like Boland who weighed 500 pounds, would have their families save for them and finance them because they were geniuses. Many of the greats were gassed during the first world way and died. Now they still have the same fenced off area, but there is not one checker player left. They're all Russian chess players. Next to it they built a bandstand, and the last time I went there Franki Valli was playing before 50,000 for free. And I waited to hear him. But he didn't start until 1 am, and I left because I had to bring A. back to his mother.

West 5th street always had many handball hustle games going, and my uncle was the best player. He played dozens of money games against Stevie Sandler, who always had an angle whether stolen typewriters or a dumped game at his finger tips.

I played paddles there rather than concentrating on tennis as my parents begged me. And I became the best. I invited a honey to see me play in a tournament in my first year in college thinking that it would be a breeze. But my first round was against a Howie Hammer and to my chagrin he beat me 21-17.

I was a horse's ass in those days, very self centered, and absorbed with my great success and publicity in squash. I wish I had spent more time in reflection and learning. But people mistakenly thought later on that because I was so good at squash, that I could be good at trading. I wasn't and am still trying to improve and make up for the defects in my training and persona.


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