The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories
Little, Brown
Pete Hamill
“Up the Roof”

“Up the Roof” is from Pete Hamill’s collection The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories (Little Brown).  These stories about Brooklyn, the borough in which he was born and grew up, span thirty years of the Hamill’s career, and the collection features the previously unpublished, “Up the Roof.”


Hamill is a veteran New York journalist and novelist. He’s the author of numerous books, including Downtown: My Manhattan and the bestselling memoir A Drinking Life. His nine novels include Snow in August and Forever, both of which were New York Times bestsellers. Hamill began his journalistic career in 1960 at the New York Post.


Many of the stories in this collection were first published in the 1980s in the New York Daily News. These are stories of a New York almost lost but not forgotten. They read like messages from a vanished age, brimming with nostalgia, which Hamill has called the most common New York emotion.


Hamill said this about the Brooklyn in his stories.  When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, “Pistol Pack-in’ Mama” was the first record we ever owned. My brother Tommy and I bought it for a dime in a secondhand book-and-record shop on Pearl Street under the Myrtle Avenue E1, and we played it until the grooves were gone.


The week before we bought it, my mother had arrived home with an old wine-colored hand-cranked Victrola, complete with picture of faithful dog and master’s voice, and a packet of nail-like needles. It was given the place of honor in the living room.  We thought that phonograph was a bloody marvel.


We studied geography in school, of course, with all those roll-down maps of the world, those dull figures about copra production, the uses of sisal and, of course, the location of the Holy Land. But Brooklyn was not on those maps.  New York was, but to us, New York was some strange, exotic city across the river, where there were people who rooted for the Giants and the Yankees.


But Brooklyn was not there. The people who secretly ruled the earth did not recognize us, and we did not really recognize them. So to own a copy of that awful record was like establishing diplomatic relations with the rest of the world; “Pistol Packin’ Mama” had been a hit—broadcast from a million radios—and for me to have a copy of it, to hold it in our hands, to be able to play it at our leisure and not wait to hear it at the whim of those people who secretly ruled the earth—that was breaking out.


Source: New York Magazine.

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