Depending on whom you ask, Brooklyn in the 1980s was either a violent, dirty, cesspool, or a wonderland filled with hilarious characters. For author John Khoury, it was both.
The Carroll Gardens native’s new book, “Go Sit on Your Own Stoop!” pays tribute to a time in Brooklyn’s history when danger lurked around every corner and neighborhood guys with names like “Jimmy The Mute,” “Frankie Parrot” and “Chunky Flappers” made up a colorful cast that gave the borough its patented character.
“Go Sit On Your Own Stoop!” is a coming-of-age story set on Henry Street in the 1970s — and being a classic bildungsroman, it prominently features the Triple Crown of Brooklyn life in the “Warriors” era: Mafia goons, local punks, and, of course, girls.
“Out-of-towners who’ve recently moved into Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope really have trouble believing and comprehending how dangerous, tough and dirty these neighborhoods were up until about 10 to 15 years ago,” Khoury writes in a chapter that recalls when his uncles got stomped after one of them flirted with the ex-girlfriend of a made man. “Brooklyn in the 1970s was a lot more nasty than romantic.”
Khoury, a broadcast operator for American Movie Classics, has since pulled up stakes for Long Island, but he was compelled to revisit his old neighborhood after years of enthralling friends with stories of his exploits.
“The stories were riveting to them,” he said. “The feedback was terrific.”
The book, whose title evokes what old ladies used to yell at him and his friends, doesn’t follow a conventional plot line or narrative arc; it is instead split into sections based around pivotal moments in Khoury’s life.
For example, there’s a chapter about his attempts to get a girl to make out with him, a section that also brings up the most exciting —and then most horrific — sexual experience of Khoury’s young life, when he sneaked a peak at a topless woman only to then recoil in agony as she plucked hairs from her nipples.
There is also a chapter about stickball, handball and whiffle ball that features a crazy neighborhood lady who tries to teach them “a lesson” by pouring boiling water on them from a second-story window. And it wouldn’t be a 1970s book without a chapter about 1977 — the year that “Saturday Night Fever” and Son of Sam remade the city.
As Khoury writes in that chapter, the craziest place in the borough for him was Bensonhurst.
“On July 4, the neighborhood ‘boys’ didn’t feel like lighting fireworks one at a time so instead they poured some gasoline and set the street on fire,” he writes. “There was literally a raging inferno in the street. ... It was an insane place to be, but it’s where I spent a lot of time as a kid.”
Khoury’s triumph is his ability to find humor in the face of violence and decay, and to craft charming vignettes that make it hard to not miss the days before Smith Street — once an uncrossable line of demarcation — became a go-to brunch spot with $4 coffee and three places serving croque monsieurs.
“I did not want to put something out that said, ‘This is when the neighborhood was the best,’ ” he said. “We can’t look at what Brooklyn is today and dismiss it. Every generation creates their magic. Just because it’s different from what you grew up with, doesn’t mean it’s any less magical.”
John Khoury at Brooklyn Farmacy [513 Henry St. between Sackett and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens, (718) 522-6260], Dec. 3, 11 am. For info, visit www.gosit
©2011 Community News Group