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Flatbush Flashback

Smiling Naturally: Parkside Avenue, 1962

 

There's a scene in Bobby in Naziland that describes how my mother took the photo that many decades later ended up on the book's cover. "Smile naturally!" she yelled at me in exasperation as she aimed the camera. "You always photograph horribly!"

 

I was four years old.

 

In the above photo, taken in March 1962, I was nine and a half—old enough that I can now see the first hints of the adult I turned into. I also seem to finally have learned to smile naturally—at least this once.

 

What I'm doing at mid-afternoon (judging by the shadow), posing for a picture at the edge of Prospect Park, across the street from 121 Parkside Avenue, between Parade Place and St. Paul's Place (here's the 1940 tax photo of the street and here's a recent shot from Google maps), I've no idea. Nor do I know why I'm wearing my gray blazer and dress pants rather than "dungarees," or why I'm crouching rather than standing up. My best guess is that it's the weekend and I was on my way to a family gathering that required me to wear nice clothes. The only other time I got dressed up was for Friday assembly at school, but if that had been where I was coming from, I'd have been wearing a white shirt and tie, and it would have been later in the afternoon.

 

The real mystery of the photo is how I'd managed to make myself smile naturally. Perhaps it was my innate method-acting abilities. I don't remember this as an especially happy time—just another ordinary school year in early-1960s Flatbush. I was in fourth grade, and to set the photo in a historical context, the previous month, as I describe in Bobby in Naziland, John Glenn had become the first American astronaut to orbit the earth; I'd stayed home from school to watch it on TV.

 

But I doubt that's what I was thinking about here. Somehow, I was able to move the correct facial muscles, and my mother clicked the shutter at just the right moment, thereby creating the illusion of long-ago happiness.

 

You can see other Flatbush photos from the Bobby in Naziland era here, here, here, and here. There will be more.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Prospect Park, 1959

 

The above photo was taken in the autumn of 1959 by the lake in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, near Parkside Avenue, behind the Peristyle, or Greek Shelter, as it's more commonly known. I'm 7 years old and my father, Irwin Rosen, is 36. The excerpt from Bobby in Naziland in the caption comes from a scene in chapter one, where a gang of teenagers steals my new fishing rod. That took place two years later, in the summer of 1961.

 

The fishing pole I'm holding in the photo is a toy; the one I'd receive for my birthday was real. The fishing spot I describe in the book is the peninsula jutting out in the background.

 

I didn't have this photo when I was writing Bobby in Naziland. I wish I had. There are a lot of memory-jogging things going on here that you can see better if you enlarge it. On the collar of my favorite jacket (I'd forgotten about the jacket) there are two disks, authentic U.S. Army pins. One shows two crossed rifles, the infantry symbol; the other says "U.S." My uncle gave me the pins, too, as well as a pair of captain's bars that I wore on the shoulders of this jacket, though you can't see them here. Maybe he hadn't given them to me yet.

 

My uncle was a private in the peacetime army, happily doing his time between Korea and Vietnam. He was stationed in Germany, at the same time as Elvis, though not in the same unit. Before being shipped overseas, he was posted at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, and would often come to visit when he had a weekend pass. He'd always bring me some kind of trinket that he'd picked up in the PX, like those pins that I loved—because he knew I was fascinated by everything having to do with the military. (I discuss this in the book.)

 

In the "Fragments of My Father" chapter, I write that my father wore "heavy black work boots" in his candy store. This is incorrect. He wore the black ripple-sole shoes he's wearing in the photo. If you look closely you can see the ripple soles.

 

The memory might be unreliable but these photos aren't.

 

You can see other photos from the lost world of Flatbush here, here, and here. There will be more.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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