2008-05-15 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

Of Block Parties & Flea Markets And The Lost Art Of Haggling
By Charles Rogers

By Charles Rogers

When Martha Jean Rosiello came into our office last week to give us the information on the 50th anniversary party for current and former staffers at P.S. 272, we were reminded of the times - not really too long ago - when the coming of spring and summer in Canarsie meant lots of parties, block parties, civic group parties and just partying around with neighbors.

For the most part, it seems that "them times are gone f'rever," as the saying goes.

Obviously, there are still a few; Ms. Rosiello's, for instance. But there was a time when you had trouble driving south down the numbered blocks here because you had to detour around the blocks that were hosting parties.

The camaraderie among neighbors was, to put it mildly, fantastic, with the smell of barbecued everything wafting through the air. If you were coming into JFK on a plane descending over Jamaica Bay, you could tell when you were over Canarsie as the plane banked to the left because of the glow of barbecue grills and, although you couldn't smell it, your brain would conjure the taste of grilled steak or hot dogs or hamburgers and you'd be frothing at the mouth as you embarked.

Ms. Rosiello was asked how the anniversary celebration, featuring just past administrators and teachers and other staffers - plus just a few students - came about.

Her answer: "I just thought it might be a good idea for a change. I remember how it used to be here and thought the people involved might like it."

So she went out and picked up a few things for a light lunch - nothing overly fancy, she said, but just enough to keep the friends and former fellow workers interested as they talked with each other about "old times."

Not too long in the past there were many similar get-togethers throughout the year, really. During the Christmas and Chanukah season every street looked like the Seddio house on East 93rd and Flatlands, and, yes, there are memories of carolers going from house to house during Christmas week. That's one you hardly see any more.

But back to the summer months: I was reminded recently by a man in his thirties of how, on a Satur-day, he and his teenage friends would hop on their bikes and "crash" block party after block party - amounting to "dozens in one night," he said - and grub food and soda while listening to a DJ's music. Yeah, they had D.J.s then too (it wasn't that long ago!).

Then there were the flea markets. They weren't just set up with vendors selling new goods as promo-tional gimmicks, like socks and handbags and costume jewelry. They were real flea markets, almost like a big garage sale, where you could get clothes (maybe worn once?) or toys that had been played with once and cast aside - but still in "like new" condition. You might've even been able to pick up a present for someone at a really cheap price; but only if you knew how to haggle. Hell, haggling was the name of the flea market game! It still is.

"How much is that?"

"Fi'e dollars."

"I'll give you three."

"Whadayou, nuts?"

"Awright, three-fifty."


"Here's four. I'll take it off your hands."

"Take it already off my hands."

That's haggling.

That's what they used to do practically every Sun-day during the summer down on Seaview Avenue next to the park between Remsen Avenue and down to about East 85th Street. It was a fun thing. And you got a lot of sun and you could take your dog with you and there was a guy with soda so you could cool off.

And when you left there, you could go over to the flea market behind the bank at Rockaway Parkway and Seaview. More haggling. More bargains.

When you left, you'd take a few side streets, where, if they weren't cleaning up remnants of Saturday night's block party, they would be having their own Continued on page 29

garage sales; always just a bunch of stuff they had left over from a spring cleanup in the basement. You don't see that around here too much any more....Once in awhile, but nuthin' like it useta be.

But there are people like Martha Jean Rosiello, who had the idea to throw a party on a Saturday afternoon to celebrate a special event. My suspicion is that she didn't have to have a special event for the party. She just remembered how neighbors, fellow workers and friends used to get together for block parties and flea markets and garage sales and all that and became real, uh, NEIGHBORS.

Hey! Whadya know? That's not a bad idea!

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