September 28, 2014

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Robert Maschio

Last Man in Brooklyn

There used to be these things on TV called Soap Operas. Many people watched them, faithfully, mostly women, who were home during the day, raising kids and running the house. When I first started pursuing work as an actor in the early 90’s, I had a friend who was a Casting Assistant for one of those Soap Operas called Another World. So once a week (or whenever they might be shooting a Bar Scene), I got to work on the show. That’s right, at 22 years old, I was a featured background actor playing the role of “Bartender” on Another World!

 

Now aside from the $100 a day that “job” occasionally gave me, I really only liked going to work on Another World  because the show was filmed at JC Studios, deep in the heart of Midwood, Brooklyn. The Studio was only a 5 minute walk from where my then 80-something year old Grandpa lived. That meant that once a week, I jumped on a subway in Manhattan, travelled an hour to work on Another World, then after work, I walked over to visit my Grandpa in Bay Parkway, Brooklyn.

I usually found him sitting in a lawn chair in the back of the alley next to the brownstone where he had lived for the last 50 years, with his neighbor Minnie, also in her 80’s. They sat facing the street and watched as people walked by. I remember how his face lit up when I walked down that alley and he first recognized it was one of his grandsons. He had a little garden back there, where he grew tomatoes, peppers, squash, he even had a fig tree. We would sit and he would tell me all about his garden and the squirrel that would come around and eat the tomatoes. He had a 2 dollar BB gun and he occasionally shot at that squirrel, mostly to scare it away, but it always came back, probably sensing he didn’t really want to kill it.

 

My Grandpa smoked cigarettes. He started when he was 13 years old and he was still smoking 70 years later. On one visit, I noticed he had a dark circle on his lower lip where that cigarette sat for 70 years. I told him to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Yep, I was telling a man who probably hadn’t seen a doctor since the Korean War to go see a doctor. I believe he said to me, “they can scratch my ass.” But I kept after him, week after week, and finally he went to see a doctor. Sure enough the doctor told my Grandpa he had skin cancer. And sure enough, my Grandpa told the Doctor to “scratch my ass,” and he left.

The next week, after pantomiming Bartender stuff for a few hours on Another World, I walked over to visit my grandpa, to see how the doctor’s appointment went. He had what looked like a crater where the cancer spot had been. It looked terrible. Apparently when he came home from the doctor’s office, he took a pocket knife, cut out the cancer and flicked it away. I then noticed he had simply moved the cigarette that had dangled from that spot on his lip for 70 years, to the other side of his mouth…

After about 3 months of working on Another World, I asked the Casting Office if I might say a line the next time I came to set, something like “that’s one’s on me,” or “we’re closed, come back tomorrow,” but no one liked that idea, nor did they like the idea that I spoke up at all, and shortly thereafter my role as “Bartender” on Another World went away.

I was upset, mostly because I looked forward to visiting my Grandpa, and every time I said goodbye to him I thought it might be the last time. So I kept going back to visit, I didn’t need a reason or excuse or a fake part on a soap opera to come. I could just check in with him from time to time to see how he was doing, how those tomatoes were coming along and if that squirrel was still tormenting him. I hoped it was – chasing it away gave him something to do. You see, aside from his neighbor Minnie, there was no one left. His wife (my Grandma) had passed away, his kids moved away and had their own families, he outlived all the neighbors on that once thriving, close knit block of Brooklyn. He was the last of his generation, the last of an era, as far as I was concerned, he was the last man in Brooklyn.

Eventually, as his health declined further, and after some resistance, my Aunt moved him out to their home in the suburbs of Long Island, to be closer to his family. He lived there, simply and peacefully, just as he had done while in Brooklyn, until he passed away a year later. He was 89 years old. He died from...emphysema.

A year later Another World  was cancelled. It ran for 35 years.

End note:

JC Studios kept going, eventually it became home to another long running Soap Opera called As the World Turns. And about 10 years later, with my career on the upswing, I was offered a big part on the show! So one summer I went back to Brooklyn. I rented a modest apartment a few blocks from the Studio, and over the course of a month, I appeared in 25 episodes. I did 8, 9, sometimes 10 scenes a day. I had so many lines...

And every day after work, when I walked back to my place, I thought, if only I could keep walking, just a few more blocks, and visit my Grandpa. If only he were still there. That would have made it special.

As the World Turns  was cancelled in 2010. It ran for 54 years.

Brooklyn is a very hip place to live these days, let this story serve as a little history of this place and of those who once lived there.

 

 


3 Comments

Keirsten
Keirsten

October 02, 2014

“Simply and peacefully” One day I lost the key to my car in the now Trader Joe’s parking lot. I called home: me: mom could bring me spare key? Mom: ummmm not right now..your grandfather complained about my cooking (I’m sure he used profanity) and he’s up making pasta fagioli.
He was simple and in a way his cursing was, perhaps, peaceful…to me it was. I am so happy we all have these distinct and individual memories of him- the common threads being our family and, of course, his colorful language. He is missed deeply but their legacy embodied on 60th and in us continues…

Asuma
Asuma

September 29, 2014

I still think about my late grandparents almost every day, so I can relate to your story. It would be special, wouldn’t it, if we could see them just one more time. I wonder how Minnie is doing though, to be the very last woman in Brooklyn.

Rosella Weigand
Rosella Weigand

September 29, 2014

Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your world with us, Robert. It’s great that you got to spend precious time with your grandpa & how your visits with him coincide with your early acting days. We all get our starts somewhere; yours just happened to be near the right place at the right time. :)

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