Yard Sales and Lost Patrols

Remembering A Lost Patrol (May 2009)


(Another in a series of observations about life in West Midwood as it is lived today…or maybe not)


What Linda Howell describes as the “almost annual” West Midwood Yard Sale took place on Sunday, April 26th, and what a sale it was. Record warmth bathed the neighborhood as bargain-hunters swarmed our streets from mid-morning to late afternoon to scoop up remnants from all our attics, garages and closets. Kudos to Marilyn Cuff, Robert Seidel, Loreli Coutts and others for organizing this event that helped to revive West Midwood’s sagging economy.

Virginia and I did some desultory wandering through the crowds but opted to hit the beach at Rockaway for most of the afternoon since our junk was so hideous, it would have scared off buyers from continuing down the block. We did manage to participate in a way by lending our tables to Henry and Anthony Finkel, which brought back memories of many yard sales of yore wherein Henry and our son James would spend hours selling Pokemon and Magic cards and then, experiencing sellers’ remorse, proceed to buy them back from other neighborhood kids at a net loss. But it was all great fun.

In response to a solicitation on West Midwood Online, the most bizarre yard sale story involved an elderly gentleman who asked more than one neighbor to use the bathroom. Once admitted, he would ensconce himself in the house and make numerous calls on his cell phone until the exasperated hosts would have to insist on his leaving.

By far the most expensive item on display that day was the Levy residence on Argyle Road where the late John & Janet Levy raised a family. The Sunday open house staged by Mary Kay Gallagher coincided with the yard sale and as I watched others wander in to take a look, I recalled big John Levy bounding across the street that September day 21 years ago to welcome us to the neighborhood and then signing me up to participate in the “Neighborhood Patrol” shortly thereafter. I also remembered Janet telling me about the son of the first owner of our house, reportedly a scion of the Wrigley gum fortune, who, in the 1950’s, she would see praying on his knees near the second floor bedroom window. And I also remembered that ice-cold Sunday when I squeezed into Alvin Burke’s car to attend the memorial service for John some 15 years ago.

I seem to recall sitting next to Dave Knapp at the service. Dave and I were “partners” in the anti-crime patrol organized by John. Although "patrol" might be too strong a word. We were given a walkie-talkie that weighed 10 pounds
and a flashing amber light we stuck on the roof of my old Datsun, powered by a chord we plugged into the cigarette lighter. Then we drove up and down every West Midwood street over and over again talking about all the things that men talk about if they’re stuck in a car together for three hours crawling along at 10mph, wishing they were home watching a ball game, ignoring furious tail-gaters anxious to pass them.

Dave, a gentle and generous man who passed away last year, talked a lot about his daughter and his beloved wife, Rivalee. One night, as Dave described his stint in the Army during the Korean War, a woman ran out in front of our car on Westminster Road yelling that somebody had tried to rob her.

“Call the base,” said Dave, as he calmed the woman.

I picked up the walkie-talkie.

“West Midwood to Base. Over.” Silence. I repeated my call. More silence.

I kept calling until finally, after what seemed like minutes, I heard:

“Base to West Midwood. Sorry. Was just chatting with some officers here at the
70th Precinct. What is your status? Over.”

I related we had just interrupted a robbery. The reply was swift and authoritative:

“West Midwood, call 911. Over”

“Base, this is West Midwood. Did you just tell me to call 911? Over.”

“Affirmative, West Midwood. Call 911. Over”

“Base, you sit within shouting distance of the desk sergeant at the 70 Precinct. Why don’t you just tell him to send a patrol car instead of my calling 911?”

No reply. Then: “West Midwood, you didn’t say ‘Over’. Over”.

My response as I recall cannot be repeated in a family newsletter but suffice it to say that I was being asked, in a time before any of us had cell phones, to find a pay phone and call 911 because there was no “linkage” between the community patrol and the police other than the base station for the walkie-talkie just happened to be located on the first floor of the 70 Precinct on Lawrence Avenue. I think we drove the lady home and she called 911 herself, by which time the attempted robber was probably already on parole for a subsequent crime.

After that, Dave and I used the walkie-talkie as a prop, occasionally faking conversations with the base (“West Midwood to Base, our vehicle is being pulled by a tractor beam into a huge circular craft hovering over the cut! Is it OK if you call 911 for us?”)

Ah, memories. Although we couldn’t help that woman on Westminster that night, Dave would always say: “That swirling light probably keeps some werewolves away, Joe.” That it did, Dave, old friend, that it did. Rest in peace.

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