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Of Bees, the Weather and Splinters

As you all know, I’m kind of a weather freak with my own weather station on my shed, which gives me an hourly read of the temperature outside, barometric pressure, humidity, and dew point. It even records the sky all day, which I can play back the next day. It’s especially entertaining when storms howl around the house and strange clouds form as a result.

In addition to reading the National Weather Service’s forecast discussion from Upton every morning, I get my weather fix each day watching 7, Eyewitness News. Lee Goldberg is usually on. Every day they show the Manhattan skyline from a different camera and some days they show an aerial from the housing development I grew up in, diagonally across from Roosevelt Island. Toss a rock real hard and you may hit a building or two.

The Astoria Boulevard projects, where you can also see The Triborough Bridge close up and the Manhattan skyline from afar, was a tough place in the late 50s, early 60s; probably still is. I don’t even know what they call them nowadays.

As one of its “residents” in my formative years, 210 Astoria Boulevard, Apt. 5E, I saw a kid get beaned head-on by a hard ball, was chased by a bottle-toting bully and often hid in the barrel park from “The Sneaker Gang,” a band of thugs who stole sneakers from innocent kids and tossed them into the East River. Your mother, of course, believed none of this stuff. Before you can even form the words “some kids . . .” I’d feel the force of her hand across my skull and then the shame of walking barefoot for a month before my dad sprung for another pair of sneaks.

When we weren’t playing Skully, aka Skelzies, (a game of skill involving bottle caps and white chalk to draw the game board) or Crack-The-Top (a similar game of skill where the object was to crack an opponent’s new top)

we practiced entomology. We caught bees in jars. It was a show of macho to catch the largest bee and show it off to friends. My brother and I would keep these bees on our night table, their constant buzzing lulling us to sleep. Often, we would place ants in first, catch a Queen bee and spend an hour or two watching the ants tear the bee to pieces. It was educational, something you’d see today on TLC.

While catching these bees, we had to risk life and limb. If we were caught in the bushes or even on the grass by “Rocco,” the tough grounds superintendent, our parents would suffer the indignity of a personal visit and a rather large fine (duck! Here comes another whack in the head!) But the greatest danger of all was the huge thorns on the bushes. I don’t know where Rocco got his shrubbery, but it must have been from a Mars order catalog. These things were huge, ‘bout an inch or so long and incredibly sharp.

Because it was almost impossible to avoid getting impaled by these alien bushes, I became quite adept at extracting splinters from bodies. I perfected this art on myself, then graduated to my bee buddies, eventually carrying on the tradition when I had my own kids years later, miles and decades away from my beloved Astoria projects.

At home, I was the “splinter expert,” knowing exactly the tool needed for the surgery and the correct angle one’s body part had to be in for the procedure. I always got my splinter, and, proud to add, with very little discomfort to the other party. The secrets are proper soaking, a clean and lean needle and thin-edge tweezers. At the projects, we used pliers, but tweezers is all you need for these Earthly encumbrances.

I also carried on the tradition of performing this procedure on myself. Since I had grown up accustomed to walking barefoot a lot, I am pretty much barefoot all the time at home, even outside on the concrete, if I have to move my car, whatever. I don’t have time for shoes. Once, I extracted a dozen or so shards of glass from the ball of my foot. I made the kids watch.

These are some of the myriad of things I conjure up during my deep-thought moments.

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