People and Places – Steve 2 – Born in Brooklyn

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Mark: So you were born in Brooklyn and you like did you go to high school there?
Steve: Correct.
Mark: And then you went to university?
Steve: University actually was in the Bronx.
Mark: Right. That was during the Vietnam war?
Steve: Yes. Ahm. Yeah.
Mark: And you worked at a high school during the Vietnam war?
Steve: Junior high school.
Mark: To avoid the draft. (laughs)
Steve: Correct.
Mark: You did not want to go to Vietnam and fight in the war?
Steve: Correct. That is for sure.
Mark: Yeah.
Steve: So I taught in a ghetto school in Brooklyn. That was in Brooklyn.
Mark: Right. What did you actually study like in your degree at university?
Steve: Literature English and American literature, I guess.
Mark: Which writers did you like?
Steve: Joyce, Beckett, Salinger, Melville.
Mark: That is right. You loved…. What is that story you like by Salinger?
Steve: The Catcher and the Rye.
Mark: The Catcher and the Rye.
Steve: Well it is a novel.
Mark: There is a saying. What is the name of the main character?
Steve: Holden Caulfield.
Mark: Holden Caulfield. And there is something that he always says that you used to say for a long time.
Steve: Is that right?
Mark: Yeah there is some sentence that…
Steve: You know I think you are thinking of “Bartleby the Scrivener“. “I’d prefer not to”.
Mark: That came later but earlier on it was Holden Caufield. I remember you saying to me once when we had lunch at Kerala, that earlier in life you used to say this thing that Holden Caulfield used to say or maybe it was something that Salinger used to say and later you changed it to Bartleby.
Steve: Is that right? It very well could have been.
Mark: So you taught at the school in the ghetto. Where was that?
Steve: A neighbourhood called Brownsville.
Mark: Brownsville. Which borough is that in?
Steve: In Brooklyn. The black ghetto in Brooklyn.
Mark: And then later, like, were you from a Jewish area or an Italian area?
Steve: At first a Jewish area and then… Actually when I was…You will find this interesting. You tapped into something here. When I was about six years old my parents moved. When my sister was born, when I was six years old or seven years, we moved from renting an apartment to buying a house a few blocks away.
Mark: Right.
Steve: But the house a few blocks away was no longer in the Jewish neighborhood. It was in an Irish Italian neighborhood. I was the only Jewish kid.
Mark: Right. Mixed it up a little bit.
Steve: ah from time to time I got picked on but I would not stress that.
Mark: When they say like a Jewish neighborhood or an Irish neighbourhood, how long is a neighbourhood. Like two blocks, three blocks?
Steve: No no. Could be much bigger.
Mark: Could be like big ones and small ones, I suppose.
Steve: Yeah.
Mark: Some times you see like in Sydney you might see a couple of streets with some Chinese stuff. You can call it a Chinese neighbourhood…
Steve: There is a Chinatown in New York City now.
Mark: Yeah a big one.
Steve: It was one of my favourite places always. Even before I thought of studying anything about Japan and China I was always fascinated with … Asia… Japan and China.
Mark: When you go travelling in little towns in Australia, the two cultures that got there first are the Chinese and the Italians.
Steve: Is that right?
Mark: There is nothing from the outside. The first that gets there; it will be either pizza or a Chinese restaurant.
Steve: Yeah America too. Every place has a Chinese restaurant.
Mark: Although Chinese food is pretty different from… chop suey is pretty different from the stuff you get in China or Taiwan.
Steve: Yeah but like in California and New York you can get just as good…authentic…
Mark: I had good Chinese food in San Francisco.
Steve: I was once driving across country recently and late at night … I ended up in…I was in Oklahoma somewhere and the highway sign says the next stop is Shawnee. I am thinking I know Shawnee. I know the name but I was tired. I got off there and found a motel. And there was a Chinese restaurant buffet style and the thing was they had a hundred different dishes to choose from.
Mark: M-hm
Steve: So there were these really really really fat Americans were going up big pile after big pile and they are fat and that is why they are fat and they were taking from a hundred different things … you know … picking this and picking this and I am sitting there… I took a modest thing myself. I did not want to stuff know
Mark: Mm.
Steve: And then I remembered Shawnee is the hometown of a notorious gangster called “Pretty Boy Floyd”. The song they sing about him ..
Mark: Pretty Boy Floyd?
Steve: Pretty Boy Floyd from Shawnee and of course it was..his being a bad guy was totally unjustified. It was the authorities fault. You know. They spoke rudely to his wife one Saturday afternoon.
Mark: They done him wrong.
Steve: They did indeed. They done him wrong. Whatever the specifics of it was and he had to lay that policeman down. That is how the song goes I think.
Mark: Shawnee is a town?
Steve: Shawnee is a town in Oklahoma.
Mark: Right. ok
Steve: Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Mark: It is an Indian tribe too, isn’t it?
Steve: Yeah. Yes.
Mark: Yeah.

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