Here are several excerpts revolving around the not inconsiderable cast of Cream Sam Summer in the fascinating neighborhood of Kingsbridge in the Bronx, 1978:
Ann Burke is a petite old widow who has been in the neighborhood forever. She is pleasant enough, I suppose, but there has always been something of the night about her—at least as far as I’m concerned. She reminds me a little too much of the Joker—Batman’s nemesis—with her trademark bright red lipstick, pasty complexion, and wavy, wig-like hairdo. A raspy voice, the consequence of both a phenomenal smoking and drinking habit, further enhances the woman’s peculiarity. On more than a few occasions, Mrs. Burke has been spotted stumbling home in the wee small hours of the morning.
This peculiar looking little man could be recognized the proverbial mile away. Always clad in neatly pressed white dress shirts, pleated black trousers, and perfectly shined shoes, he roams the area by day and often by night as well. Whenever I encounter him on the street, I valiantly endeavor not to stare at him, but am almost always unsuccessful. His local handle is “Hunchback,” or just plain “Hunch,” and he always notices my unwanted glances. In fact, he meets my stares with stares of his own. Actually, I think they would be better described as chilling glares, and I don’t enjoy being in their line of fire.
Red Kern, on the other hand, is a familiar face in this sliver of the Northwest Bronx. Just about everybody knows him. A notorious packrat, the concrete sidewalls of the family’s sloping front driveway are perpetually lined with his most recent street finds. He once amassed a diverse assortment of discarded glass containers—everything from beer and soda bottles to mayonnaise and cold cream jars. Red envisioned making “piggybanks” out of them someday. On another occasion, the man gathered together wood scraps of every conceivable shape and size that he plucked from neighbors’ garbage cans. He spoke often of his grand plans to build an extra room to the house—his room—in the driveway. Construction hasn’t begun.
When we were much younger, Richie Ragusa, “Johnny B” Bauer, and I christened Red “Cream Sam”—a sub-nickname of sorts to his more popularly known one. The three of us had gotten into the habit of parking our bicycles in his driveway during the warm months of summer. Red was always ready with a good yarn, opinion, or outlandish philosophical discourse on the meaning of life. He frequently spoke of the existence of these rare culinary delights—at least that’s what I think they were supposed to be—called “Cream Sams.” Red said time and again that we would just love these “Kingsbridge Caviars,” and he always promised to get us some real soon.
The Wheel is situated directly opposite the McDonald’s parking lot with a bird’s-eye view of the elevated subway tracks on Broadway, where the Number 1 train—the Seventh Avenue local—barrels back and forth day and night from here in the Northwest Bronx to lower Manhattan. We’ve christened the individual who owns the place the “Man-Lady,” because distinguishing the proprietor’s gender is not a slam-dunk. When all is said and done, though, the Man-Lady is the latter. She wears what I call “maintenance man pants,” stylish “Vince Lombardi glasses,” and has a considerable rear end that accentuates her sartorial tastes. The Man-Lady walks with a pronounced limp, too, which adds further color to her incomparable persona.