Yes, I was a bookish boy. And I was a baseball boy, first baseman and outfield in the Park Hill Little League. That’s why, when I was 9 years old and discovered the majestic old main branch of the Yonkers, N.Y., Public Library, at the corner of North Broadway and Nepperhan, I naturally gravitated to shelves where I was soon afflicted with my first reading addiction: a series of old, 1950s-vintage sports biographies of New York City baseball stars for the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants.
The Dodgers and Giants were long-gone to the West Coast, but these books had stayed behind. I read biographies of famous Yankees like Yogi and Whitey, as well as Monte Irvin, Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider (I still remember that he owned an AVOCADO FARM in California), Whitey Lockman…the list goes on, and I’m sure it still brings a twinge to the heavy hearts of jilted fans of the “Jints” and “Dem Bums” of those exotic mythical lands called Coogan’s Bluff and Flatbush.
I devoured each and every one of several dozen sports biographies. Then I moved on the books about the history of Yonkers, which fascinated me then and still does now, with its Dutch origins and its hardscrabble industrial past, with its waves of immigrants and its majestic setting on the Hudson River, my City of Seven Hills, with its glories and its tragedies, where my ancestors are buried, my City of Gracious Living.
And then I discovered the library’s fiction section — thousands of novels! — and my whole world changed.
Last week I had the pleasure and honor of giving a reading at the main branch of the Yonkers Public Library, offering excerpts from my novella “Rip,” signing copies, answering questions about my writing, and meeting some very nice people.
It’s not the library I grew up with, a majestic granite structure, built with Carnegie money, which was torn down for a highway expansion. The new main branch is a shiny new four- or- five-story state-of-the-art facility, complete with huge windows offering stunning views of the Hudson River and its Palisades.
But my visit still conjured memories of dark winter afternoons when I’d leave the library with an armload of books, heading home for supper, walking a few blocks up Nepperhan past the Polish Community Center to Elm Street, then trudging four blocks up steep Nodine Hill, the city water tower looming at the crest of the steep incline, passing grocery stores and dry cleaners and pizza places and the hardware store and the bread bakery, until my books and I reached Oliver Avenue and home.
I made that walk and carried books away from that old library so many times that I really can remember every step along the way — but not once, I’m certain, did it ever occur to me that I might write books, that people in my hometown might want to hear me read from my books, ask me about how I wrote them, ask me to sign copies…I never imagined that someday one of my books would reside on a shelf at the Yonkers Public Library…Maybe even now there’s someone walking home with an armful of books on a dark winter afternoon, and maybe one of those books is mine.