For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites
Thanksgiving and School Spirit
oliday seasons bring back great memories of times past for me. Many of these go back to the 1950's and growing up in Brooklyn. I must admit that I have great memories of the '60s and of my kids and grandkids but I find a certain comfort in memories of the '50s. Maybe it was because of it being an age of innocence. Maybe it's because I've found an audience that shares them.
Just a day or so ago, I was talking with an old friend, Paul Quinn, on the west coast who went to St. John's Prep with me in the late '50's. In a reminiscing mood and with the time of year being what it is the conversation got around to talking about the annual Thanksgiving Day football game between St. John's Prep and Brooklyn Prep.
His memory was a lot better than mine and he was able to speak more of the details as to who won and lost but all I remember was that Brooklyn Prep seemed to squeak out a win over the Redmen (now a very politically incorrect expression) at the event.
I vaguely recalled the 1956 game in Ebbets Field with a crowd reported to be about 10,000. I couldn't recall the 1957 game at all but what I did recall was the 1958 and 1959 games at Brooklyn College for special reasons.
For whatever the madness, some school friends of mine decided that getting into the Brooklyn College field wouldn't be too difficult and that it would be awe inspiring for us to paint the goalposts bright red in honor of St. John's Prep. We were sure that when our players saw the red goalposts they would be inspired and kick the asses of the BP boys up and down the field.
Since we were "good" boys, taught to observe the law and to respect property, we decided to use water-based red paint on the goalposts so it would come off with a good rain or hosing. We weren't looking to cause damage or send a lasting message. In today's world we would definitely be against tagging.
On Thanksgiving Day eve, four of us met at Garfield's at Church and Flatbush Avenues and took the bus down to the Junction. From there it was a short walk to the field. Mind you, we were carrying two gallon cans of paint and we were sure no one would think anything about it. We reasoned that if stopped we would simply say we were going to help a friend paint a room in his house.
When we got to the field and climbed the fence to get inside, we scurried to a spot in the shadows where we would not be seen. One of the braver of our lot, Robert Broderick (Forgive me Bob for letting the story out after all these years.) ran to the goalposts to get a better look at them before we did our Michelangelo imitation. In no time flat he was back with his hands covered with BLUE PAINT!
Those dastardly Brooklyn Prep pansies had:
1.gotten there first and painted the goalposts and,
2.used a resilient oil-based paint that our water-based paint was useless against and,
3.managed to find a way to get Bob's hands marked so that it looked like he did the painting and was trying to blame it on the Brooklyn Prep-sters.
Sitting in the shadows, we plotted (plodded actually) our next steps. We had nothing to wipe off the blue paint from the goalposts so we could put our glorious red on. Carefully analyzing the situation and considering the possibilities, we observed that the Brooklyn Prep pukes had neglected to paint the cross member on the goal posts and therein was our opportunity. We could have our red colors high above the BP Blue. Seizing the opportunity, we broke into two teams. Broderick would stand on Brennan's shoulders to paint one end and Strudowski would stand on mine for the other end.
Who could say we weren't the smartest kids in the borough?
We jumped into action, assumed our positions and, got to painting the crossbar. We were so very pleased with ourselves.
About a minute into our tasking, we saw a police spotlight shining into the field and we realized we were about to experience premature withdrawal.
Strudowski jumped down and we both laid flat on the ground. Brennan pulled out from under Broderick and hit the ground also. Broderick, unfortunately, wrapped his arms around the goalpost's upright and slid down.
Lucky for us the police didn't see anything and just continued on their rounds.
The four of us decided that we had done the best we could, left our red paint and brushes, and escaped from the field.
When we got out, we had a chance to look at ourselves. Brennan and I had blue paint on our hands from holding onto the goalposts while others stood on our shoulders to paint. Strudowski showed some red paint marks that he was able to rub off. Broderick had a problem, though. From sliding down the goalpost he had blue paint on his pants and all the way up the front of his jacket. It gets better…from laying face-down on the ground he had dried grass clippings and dirt embedded in the paint. It was not a pretty sight at all.
We decided to walk home along East 19th Street rather than to open ourselves to the stares of unbelievers on the avenues who would not understand the mission impossible we had undertaken. I can't say that we failed…I can only say that we didn't fully succeed.
At the game the next day we could barely make out any red markings on the goalposts but we knew we had tried and that the story had not yet been fully written.
For the 1959 game we were older and wiser…but maybe not any smarter. We were gonna get there earlier, use high gloss enamel red paint, use gloves, and have an exit strategy. We were gonna succeed in our last year at St. John's Prep.
As we walked around the outside of the Brooklyn College field we could see that the goalposts had not been painted blue. This was good.
When we got onto the field we huddled in the shadows, gaining courage. Strudowski volunteered to run out and check the goal posts to see that they hadn't been just painted. As he reached the goalposts and stretched out his hand to check the paint, campus police car lights and sirens came on, and he was snagged.
He looked over toward us but just stood there. After ten minutes he was put into the car and driven away. The three of us were scared. We just huddled in the shadows hoping the police couldn't hear the pounding of our hearts.
After about another ten minutes waiting, just as we thought it would be safe to get out of there, we saw six guys climb the fence and get onto the field. Without any delay the campus police car lights and sirens came on again and the six were nabbed. All I could hear was one cop say to another "Blue paint". Brooklyn Prep was snagged.
After the six were driven away, we got out of the field as quickly as we could.
Brennan called Strudowski's house and his Mom said he was out with some friends. He wished her a Happy Thanksgiving.
Lacking good alternatives, we went to Garfield's and spent three hours drinking coffee, finishing off huge pieces of Danish and wondering what we should do.
We decided that IF we were found out, we would fess up that we had planned to paint the goalposts and that the four of us were involved. Each one of us called our homes to see if there had been any "contacts" that we needed to know about. There weren't.
The next day, at the game, Strudowski was there with his Dad. When we went to see him he seemed obviously shaken.
His Dad took us aside and lectured us that though he was an SJP alumnus and he knew about school spirit, we shouldn't have left a friend to take our rap, that his son would not implicate us, that his son was suspended for three days from school, and that we should, as friends, do whatever we could to help him out.
Another part of Strudowski's "sentence" was that he had to do garbage pick-up duty at Brooklyn College through March and he had to do one hour of SJP detention each day through graduation in June.
We expressed that we were sorry for letting Sturdowski down and that we would help out. We went on our way scared to make prolonged eye contact.
We did help out with the garbage pick-up at Brooklyn College and each one of us seemed able to get to detention, some of the time, to be with Strudowski.
Strudowski never gave any one of us up though he was pressured to. He argued that it wouldn't be right to be a snitch and that while he wasn't alone at the field that night we was willing to do the punishment for all of us.
Broderick attended St. John's University and became a cop. Brennan went to Brooklyn College and then to NYU Law. Strudowski went to Dartmouth and then to the west coast to help organize farm and migrant laborers. I went to SJU, then to NYU-GBA and pursued other degrees and designations.
Beyond this, I don't know what happened to them. I can't believe that any pursued any type of a career in painting.
It sure would be good to hear from them again.
To them and you I wish the peace and joy of family and friends wherever they may be.