In this collection of anecdotes from a Brooklyn boyhood, author Ken Fischman recounts memorable escapades and awakenings. The product of a close-knit Jewish family and colorful ethnic neighborhood of aspiring middle-class Irish and Jewish residents, he waxes nostalgic about the “insular” community that made up his youthful world.
Readers will find descriptions of the author’s life familiar. Reminiscences include stoop ball, Coney Island, favorite delis, and the great Brooklyn Dodgers. He survives schoolyard bullies and “some beatings from some tough guys in my grade,” as well as summers with extended family in the Catskills. Summer camp jobs, innocent romances, and the arrival of WWII propel Fischman toward maturity. Prominent throughout his youth is his fascination for New York Jewish sports heroes and his own hero’s journey to the rank of Eagle Scout.
The importance of social standing is a dominant theme. When Fischman’s father loses two pharmacies during the Depression, the family is forced to abandon their opulent lifestyle in Queens for an apartment in Brooklyn. Class consciousness seems to drive Fischman, and he proudly writes about his education at Erasmus Hall High School and his “Ivy League pretentions.”
He yearns to improve his reputation and manages, to his own surprise, to gain recognition after beating up the schoolyard bully. Having grown six inches in one year, Fischman suddenly becomes popular, consistently picked first for neighborhood and school teams with his new tough-guy reputation.
Fischman writes effortlessly and with occasional humor about his missteps and naiveté, although the narrative is awkwardly interspersed with often-fuzzy photographs and jarring Wikipedia-like asides explaining historical events or cultural issues. He imparts no particular philosophy or wisdom in this straightforward chronicle, which makes for an uninspiring account overall. Indeed, there’s little in Fischman’s rather common life story that’s surprising or captivating for general readers.
Still, contemporaries of the author and readers looking for a snapshot of the life of a real “red-blooded American kid” will find this a pleasant read.
Also available as an ebook.