Thanks for the Use of the Hall

by John Delach

This is about Queens, the fourth borough in terms of prestige. Finishing next to last stinks but being the laughing stock is reserved for last place and, at least, Queens’s residents don’t have to endure the abuse and ridicule directed at the residents of Staten Island.


Staten Island will always be the least respected, least understood or cared about borough in New York City. The sophisticated, pretty, moneyed, self-absorbed young elites who populate and socialize the Manhattan night-scene scorn all the outer boroughs and Jersey traffickers. They divisively dismiss them as rabble: “The Bridge &Tunnel (B&T) crowd.” Staten Islanders don’t even qualify to be so distained even though they’ve had their bridge since 1965; pity!


Queens is next to last in prestige on the NYC social food-chain and will also always remain so. It has none of the grit, character, drama or clout of Brooklyn or The Bronx. In fact if not for its two airports, (JFK and LGA,) or the fact that you must drive through Queens or ride the LIRR to reach the promised land of super-wealthy East-End Long Island, few would care if Queens slipped back into the sea.


(The thought occurs: If technology had advanced  just a bit further along in 1925 when Fitzgerald published, “The Great Gatsby,” poor Jay would have avoided his downfall by helicoptering over the hellacious Flushing Meadows ash dumpsite; pity!)


We have the Mets, two world’s fairs – although the 1964-65 Fair was cheapened by the line in, “Men in Black:” Why else did you think we put a world’s fair in Queens?


Mary Ann and I met at the fair on June 6, 1964 and we returned there on out first date. I actually took her to the top of the towers where the alien space ship was cleverly hidden in the movie…who knew?


We also had Jimmy Breslin. His recent demise has awakened the joy we natives treasure for the fourth borough. One that stood out for me came from a letter to the editor about the late, Ed Lowe, a beloved columnist at Newsday. Early in Ed’s career, he received a congratulartory phone call from Breslin.


Bill Mason described the event in his letter: “Ed got up from his desk and walked very slowly over to mine. His eyes were wide open and his mouth was pretty much the same way. He seemed to be in a trance.


‘That was Jimmy Breslin,’ Lowe said. ‘Jimmy Breslin telephoned me.’


“Apparently, Breslin had read an article by Lowe and called him out of the blue. Lowe said Breslin told him, ‘Kid, you just remember to stay out of Queens. That’s my territory.”


Breslin got Queens and his pen gave life to minor characters, small-time hustlers, grifters and wannabees who populated the perpetually darkened streets under the elevated lines along Jamaica Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue, 31st Street and Liberty Avenue. He understood Glendale, Sunnyside, Cypress Hills, Corona, Maspeth, Flushing and South Ozone Park.


Breslin gave us Fat Thomas, Klein the lawyer, Shelly, the bail bondsman, Marvin, the torch and Un Occhio, the mob boss.


He got The Pastrami King and the Queens Boulevard Courthouse scene. He got ex-borough president, Donald Manes, who ran unopposed across party lines multiple times before committing suicide following a municipal scandal that Breslin first broke. He christened Queens’ D/A, Brown, “Duck-down Brown,” for hiding behind his desk when then a judge during a shoot-out in his court room. Breslin said this about the blood feud between union boss, Mike Quill and mayor John Lindsay: “John Lindsay looks at Quill and sees the past and Mike Quill looks at Lindsay and sees the Church of England.”


Breslin understood the mentality of holding functions in halls. Church halls, VFW halls, Knights of Columbus, Masons and American Legion halls. If it were a social event, we called it a racket. Local married couples dressed in their best, took tables for ten or twelve, brought their own bottle of Seagram’s or Canadian Club for their tables and bought set-ups from the sponsor to cover the nut.


He covered endless events held in halls, political and social, triumphs and tragedy, weddings, funerals celebrations and protests. If you knew Queens, you knew halls; folding chairs and portable tables that the organizing committee set-up and dismantled.


Jimmy Breslin got it. He ended his run at Newsday with this sign off in his final column:


“Thanks for the use of the hall.”