The Billboards

     THE ROLLING STONES ’73 WORLD TOUR

It’s not quite accurate to say The Stones are back in the news as they’ve never left sight of us or us of them. But they’re off and rolling big time. The once and always rock and rollers. Years ago in l972 I worked on the mammoth New York Times Square billboard. A city block long marquee, since torn down. It was my first billboard gig, I did the MADE IN THE SHADE cover that was the first of a series to be added to the turbo eagle’s talons. Welcome back, boys.

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For four years in the 1970’s I was the world’s only female scaffold-climbing/pulling billboard painter. Oh what a life I (still) lead!

Billboard Painter, 25 Stories Above 42nd Street

Most of the jobs were hanging 10 to 25 stories up, swinging in the breeze above Times Square, New York City’s 42nd Street mecca. We did cigarettes and booze and Broadway openings. John Belushi’s “1944” , The Wiz with young Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones 1973 World Tour. A bottle of Dewars sinking into the Manhattan skyline sunset. You had to work fast, we mixed all our colors on the scaffold, pots of pigment, Japan drier, linseed oil and benzine. Eyes were painted with four inch brushes. The standard billboards were 30 X 60 feet. Big. Sweet.

Rolling Stones 1973 World Tour

Made In The Shade (David Bowie in Drag)

Sparhawk painted the album cover, about 20 – 4X8 sheets of masonite. Huge. The remarkable Paul Chan painted the turbo eagle.

I worked for ArtKraft-Strauss and Villepigue. The companies never wanted women in the business but I was good at faces and they hired me. I’d get fired every 30 days, then brought back in, kept me ineligible for the union. The last job was 25 stories up. The street temp was 18 degrees and it was a windy November and I decided they weren’t paying me enough for all that and quit. During those years, I moonlighted weekends tending bar in a stinky little artist and biker haunt called The Barnabus Rex on old West Broadway before it turned into SoHo. While all the patrons were filling out grant forms for Guggenheims I was spending 40 hours a week with a brush in my hand mastering paint and having a ball. I was snobbed for selling out, to Advertising! Lucky me.

Jazz’s Arcade on Main Street Coney Island

JAZZ, himself

I worked steady on summer weekends in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, painting carousel horses, signs with drippy ice cream cones, steamy french fries, rides and the haunted houses. I’ve always relished the bizarre. Coney Island is rich in it.

Sporty’s Dragon Cave, Coney Island

Old wood carved Coney Island carousel

The kids stole the horse’s tails and popped out the jewels on the bridles with their switchblades.

Mito, on the job. Lunaria’s fabulous daddy; Margarita’s hubby.

GO KARTS, the track

If Coney Island looks seedy in these poor old photographs, you’re not looking deep enough. There’s pure magic in every rusty nail and broken bottle. The Brooklyn crowd’s lit up, the color and motion are almost too much to bear, your brain’s caught fire. You slam your quarter in front of the man who will always be more and know more than you and you take your chance on winning.

Brooklyn Sign Painter

I did a lot of sign painting in my neighborhood, too. Here on a realtor’s front door, Atlantic Avenue. The bucket held the paint and brushes, that got emptied in front of the job, then the bucket held the painter. It was a good life.

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77 thoughts on “The Billboards

  1. Hi Barbara,

    You can add me to the list of friends that knew Meto and the Flores family. I grew-up with them, and our family would get together often. As I can recall, Meto was always the quiet one, and liked to draw. Bobby was always a handful, while Nelson was probably a good child, because I didn’t hear too much about him. The girls were and still are exceptional, very kind and sweet. Their mother Censa, had a good sense of humor and a great cook. I was mostly attached to Meto’s father (Felipe), as a child he took interest in me and would follow my progress through life. He would attend any sporting event I was involved with, and would always buy me a Hotdog/ Brown Cow drink after the game. I would hear it from him if I made an error, but mostly it was tongue in cheek. I knew he cared for me and would treat me as one of his son’s. I will miss him along with Censa, Wandy and Meto. I have connected with his daughter (Lu Nadia), and she connected me once again with the Flores family. My mom is still alive, and I have passed their information on to her, thought she would enjoy hearing from them. Never met Lu, but I’m confident she is a wonderful lady, mom and would make Meto a very proud dad/grandpa. Thank you for putting a smile on my face, and for keeping this wonderful story alive.

    • Like your childhood experience with Meto’s dad, we never fully know where someone’s expression of love will wind through our lives or how. I never never never expected to find any of Meto’s family or friends when I added those few words about him, writing about ‘my’ Coney Island.
      What’s interesting is that of all the hundreds of people in that time and place he stood out for me, indelible memory, an important man. What a family! That Meto came from such wonderfully caring people is thrilling to hear, that here was a man who learned so much from gentle attention and decency toward others, and then passed it on through his own family, and they through theirs. It’s a remarkable dynasty.

      Your surprise visit here brings tears to my eyes. Meto’s dad sounds so wonderful, how caring toward you. So many people in our lives help us grow up, don’t they. A sudden appearance around a corner of a heart that resonates with our own, even if it doesn’t last forever it somehow lasts forever inside us.
      Thank you so much for writing all you did. I hope the rest of the family gets to read it, Lunadia’s grandpa now honored here too. It’s very lovely. I feel proud to have helped record their history. Bless your heart for adding to it. The best to you always.

  2. Happy Birthday to my dearly missed Daddy. I miss you so much. My son, your namesake and first grandchild reminds me so much of you. I couldn’t be more proud.

    Barbara I hope all is well on your end. Thanx again for this forum. It means so much to so many.

    Love always.

    • Darling Lunaria, what a delight to be reminded of all of you on October 17th. I’d just written about Humphrey Bogart and The African Queen and am shocked by your words into realizing, well Charlie, the Bogart character, is very much like Meto…a guy to whom no rapids were too rough or task too great, full of love and fine character and able to manage anything with ingenuity.
      I too wish Meto was here with us in the flesh today. I am pleased as can be that he is present in our memories, and most surely will always be a guiding light to his family.
      Everything here is fine. I have turned into a gardener and having a splendid time with that and painting. Some day you will have to come visit.
      Much love to you and your son, to your whole big wonderful family. Happy Birthday sweet Meto.
      Barbara

  3. Dear Barbara,
    I just wanted to let you know that I thought the Coney Island DVD was quite good. It is a historical documentary. I enjoyed it.
    Yes, I purchased your cards through RedBubble. Yes, “Trevor’s Treasure Island” was one. I liked it as soon as I saw it on your blog. I also got “The Big Sur Mahalia Poppy” and my favorite one is “Big Sur Sunset, Pfieffer Beach”. I find it captivating. I love it!
    Thank you for your good wishes to me and to Lunaria and thank you for making life more beautiful!
    Love to you,
    Margarita

    • Dear Margarita, Really glad Luna Park did not disappoint.
      So touching to read this from you, thank you with all my heart. RedBubble does a beautiful job, and I’m very glad the cards pleased you. You got some good ones! The originals of two have sold, not yet Trevor’s Treasure Island.
      Stay in touch, thank you again, love to all,
      Barbara

  4. To All,

    Wow 17 years how time has slipped away from us. I have very very fond memories of Meto and family and it still puts a smile on my face. He is deeply missed but he is always with us in spirit. LOVE you Meto Always, Yana

  5. Hi Barbara,
    Today is 17 years ago that Meto passed away. I felt myself drawn to re-read this and it has comforted and warmed my soul.
    Barbara, I am suscribed to “The Hawks Perch” and I find your posts so very interesting. It’s a pleasure to keep abreast of you and your art work. I recently purchased several cards that I think are absolutely lovely!
    As Christmas gifts to myself and Lunaria, I purchased each of us a “Coney Island” DVD produced for American Experience on PBS. On the cover is a picture of the heart of Coney Island-“Luna Park”. I think today is a good day to watch it for the first time, so I’m going to put it on as soon as I sign off here.
    Here’s hoping 2013 will be a great year for you!
    Best warm wishes,
    Margarita

    • Dear Margarita,
      How touching to hear from you, send my love to Lunaria and the best of everything in the new year to you both. And it’s always good to think of Meto’s life. It’s such a lesson, isn’t it. I mean we just don’t grasp how much we mean to the people whose lives we touch. What can feel abstract or periferral can be so important.
      I remember Luna Park well, and old Steeplechase. It seems like Coney Island was kind of spared by Hurricane Sandy though so dramatically changed by time.
      Do you mean you purchased my cards? That’s so wonderful! From RedBubble, I’m guessing. I get emails from them with sales but have no idea who. Thank you! I think one you got was Trevor’s Treasure Island which I just finished and posted about a month ago, and your is the very first purchase. It was very heartwarming to me. And I’m so glad you like the blog and read the new stuff. I have a lot to say!
      I hope the Luna Park DVD is good and not some silly idea about the way it was. For all its seedy side, I still remember it in hot colors, electrified air, and endless adventure.
      Yana wrote and asked about NOISE, which I may get up steam to work on again, it’s not easy getting published.
      All my love to you and Lunaria, Margarita. And thank you for writing, for reminding me, for the wonderful and unexpected of the arrival of all your family in my life.
      Barbara

    • Stunned and delighted to hear from you! I happen to remember when you were born, Shelby, the wonderfully original name your parents chose.How is your dad? He was a wonderful friend and influence in my life, and an absolutely brilliant painter. Please let him know I send my warmest regards, and think of him all the time and the work he did when we were at ArtKraft Strauss. Are you an artist? I think you had siblings but I’m not sure. In any and all events, thank you so much for contacting me through this, and through all the mists of time.

  6. That’s thrilling. yes yes, can’t wait to see. Yes, lots of cats.
    There is likely some way for to post pictures with your comments but it’s beyond my understanding. If you email pictures to me I can put them up. hawk@thehawksperch.com will reach me. How incredibly fine all this is, Lucretia. This is growing like Topsy. And please tell Jazz I would absolutely love to hear from him.

    • The memory of your cats stand out to me. I remember standing in the room with all your cats (not sure which sex they were, I remember you separated them by the sex) but it was the room furthest from the front door in your apartment near your kitchen ( I think ) and you had the radio playing for them. When I came in the room they all went nuts & surrounded me with love & talked up a storm… I thought that was the cutest. I also remember my dad & I picked you up in our mustard yellow station wagon with the wood trim on it & we drove you with either 1 or 2 monkeys somewhere. I cant remember where we went. But all I could remember was that they were “stinky” but cute. LOL

      • Your memory and reality pretty much match. Too funny and amazing to read. It was not an apartment but my old 2-story carriage house on Bond Street in downtown Brooklyn. The studio was downstairs and the living upstairs and yes many rescued animals, great in number, color, size, and variety, and all very dear. I’m glad you recall their enthusiastic welcome, and yes they got classical music played to them. I did have a monkey for awhile.
        Your dad, Jazz, always had amazing cars. Thanks for reminding me about the yellow station wagon woodie, my God. He had a powder blue Cadillac convertible too, I think.
        SO good to hear from you, Lucretia.

  7. Hello !!!! I have TONS & TONS of old CI picture albums. It will take me quite some time to go through them all. Each time I do, it always bring tears to my eyes remembering the old days. Once I do get them, how would I post them on here…?

  8. Well hello ladies. How amazeing is this? That we should all find one another. W0W. Lucretia I’m excited to see all the old CI pics you have and like Barbara would love for your father to get in the mix to add whatever he can to this living memory of our shared and overlapping pasts. I think this is all just so wonderful. ❤ to you both.

  9. Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers out there past and present. I love and miss my Daddy so much. To see that this thread has touched the heart of strangers is no surprise. My Father did so with so many durring his life time and is clearlyy still doing more of the same. He had an endearing way about him that made him unforgettable in the best kind of way. Thank you Barbara for remembering him and giving us all this forum to do the same togeher. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Dear LuNadia, Bless your heart, the grown up one in you now and the strong heart of the little girl of long ago whose daddy’s hand, holding her hand, led her to discovering all the wonders of the world. Much love to Meto and all his family, all his ancestors, for his fine example, his ways that touched so many for so long.

  10. What a gem you have captured here in cyberspace! Even though I never got to CI when I spent the summer in NYC, I feel as if I know it and its citizens! I’ve got to get to your Gallery while the days are still long!

    • Thanks, Kate.
      How I’d love a visit from you! I still have a few paintings in the gallery of Coney Island scenes, what a place. And of course a lot more, all the inspiration of Big Sur and central coast, its hills and flowers. That new room you painted MUST need a painting in it!

  11. Wow! I don’t know any of you but I am breathless and misty-eyed just reading this long thread. How wonderful that the Internet has allowed you to share these precious & nearly lost memories! A life boldly and passionately lived jumps joyously out from every sentence.

    • How delightful you plowed through all of this, and finding your comment had me reading much of it again, too. Isn’t it something, these times we live in, that a child’s memory could unfold so much in so many and such long years later. It’s never true that our thoughts, words, gestures don’t matter. Thanks, Oopsjohn. You’ve had quite a life, too. Roaming the states and seeing the geography from high and low places.Your description of flight over the Grand Canyon and all your photographs were really splendid to read and see.

  12. What a wonderful story! I was captivated as a read how the medium such as the internet has connected family and friends from the past and made a simple benign memory such as painted feet a catalyst for a life time. Wonderful writing all of you and thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks once more. Boy but I was completely bowled over by the torrent of memories and new friends that little photograph produced and the connection so long ago to a very special human being. We never really know the extent we affect other people’s lives, do we. It’s one of the miracles of our time on earth. I’m so pleased you found this and took the time to be a part of it.

  13. Hello Barbara,
    My name is Paula. I originally read this page on October 10, and was moved to tears just as I am as I re-read it today. Incredible is hardly the word for this true story of the spirit of love that lives through Meto and has now connected you to this wonderful Flores family and so many others! The way that this reunion came about is amazing, indeed! Lunaria’s mother, Margarita, is my dear friend, my sister of the heart, with whom I worked for many years until her retirement. I am so happy she shared this with me. It is a testament to the spirit of goodness that never dies, and to a life well lived. Although I feel as if I did, I never got to meet Meto in person. I only had the pleasure of speaking with him once briefly on the telephone, but even that brief memory is one of a joyful, loving, welcoming soul who teased me as if we were old friends as he called his wife to the phone. I have experienced Meto’s spirit through his daughters and his extended family who shared their Christmases with me and my two kids simply on Margarita’s say so. I fell in love with the entire Flores family. Big, loud, colorful. beautiful, brilliant and welcoming.
    Barbara, you are an incredible and gifted lady who has led a fascinating life! Please do continue to pursue getting NOISE published, You write beautifully, and yours is a story that needs to be told. It is the real deal.
    The best to you!

    • Hello Paula! This is a total wonderment, sort of otherworldly and past describing. Thank you for adding so much to Meto’s family story; for your kind words of encouragement to me. I’m very touched by your coming in for a landing here. I’m beginning to feel as if there’s a signal, a Meto-generated beam of light gone up into the ether and all these winged hearts are flying over and flying in. Like Meto saying, Hey, I feel the need for some earthling love, then making it happen. You’ve extended and broadened this thoroughly moving reunion. Bless your heart, isn’t it fabulous how we all affect and change other people’s lives. Worth remembering.

  14. Barbara I spent the evening at CI today. I found the place we have in common. It is so very different all these years later of coarse but still I recognized it. It is now an eatery/ museum/ freak show attraction. Only in CI would you ever find such a combination. I will send potos soon. ❤

    • This is so incredible and so funny to read, Lunaria. What a place, what a place, what a perpetual riot. Eatery, museum, and freak show combined. What did the customers look like? There for the thrill of it, I suppose, wired and happy. It also sounds very Brooklyn. I dunno, there are places in the universe like none other and Coney Island remains worlds apart from normalcy, a big part of its charm. I’m glad you went there and are reporting this delightful news from the essentially unaltered front lines. I wish I still had some bits and parts of all those signs. I carried the old GoKart Track sign around with me for awhile but it was cumbersome, three or four feet by seven feet on metal. For a long time I was also painting out at Nellie Bly Park which was about a mile or two before Coney. It was all so fascinating. I love remembering that I was treated as something special by the tough kids and gangs in Coney Island because I had a skill, I could paint pictures. There was never graffiti on my work, never, not even years later. I’d see it all over the fronts of buildings and it would stop at the edges of my pictures. I’d get some kid walking up next to me and watching me paint, and he’d say in Brooklynese:
      You the oddist, right?
      Right, I’m the artist.
      And despite fear I was about to be murdered they were never dangerous toward me, more protective; there’d be this kind of wondrous aura of respect.
      I would love to see the pictures you’ve taken, and to post them here with your permission. Very touching for you to have returned into my life and remain this link through the misty eons, all that magic airstream connecting us still.

  15. Barbara,

    Awesomeness and greatness !!! Thanks again and again for all of this and having the LOVING JOYFUL MEMORIES come back so clear as a bright sunny day. Meto at his best again. Barbara Thank you for sending the picture to Luna that is Lu Nadia’s nick name, I am sure she will cherish it always. BTW, you mentioned getting hundred of hits since connecting with Luna, is this from others that knew Meto? Do you still live in NYC?
    Barbara NOISE is screaming to be published, you should go for it sweetie !!!

    Always New Found Friend (ANFF)
    Yana

    • Dear Yana, it’s entirely my pleasure. I mean, imagine how this feels to me for the connection to an old friend in Coney Island expanding into hundreds of people and their memories. It is still startling and wonderful, and thank you ALL for responding.
      I normally get about 20-40 hits a day on the billboards and Coney Island posts. They come from all over the globe. But since Lunaria’s first visit that’s tripled and more. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Big Sur, California. It’s on the central coast south of San Francisco and north of LA. Look up some pictures on the internet and you’ll see what I mean. And thank you all, Mito’s family and Mito’s fan club, for this really fabulous shared experience. I picture Mito knowing, and laughing with happiness about it all.

  16. Barbara there is no greater compliment you could give me or anyone of us than the one above. And know this Barbara any friend of my fathers is family of ours. You had a friend in him and now you have his family. From coast to coast and all through these years Love Love Love. 🙂

  17. Barbara I recieved the photo today with your card and lovely artwork. The sentiment inside is not one I have ever really pondered before. It’s strange to think of my father as younger than me and know that in ust a few short years he always will be. Thank you again for all of the above and more. Do keep us all up to speed aboute NOISE and share what ever else you wish. <3:)

  18. Barbara Yes do so, I strongly encourage YOU to get NOISE published!
    You and we are the living proof of NOISE… Yana

    • Thank you Yana! I need your encouragement, and I think the world needs now more than ever hopeful stories about real people who live unconventional lives….and live them well!

  19. Lu Nadia & Barbara

    Luna You are so very welcome sweetie. Barbara Thank You for connecting with Luna or vise versa and/or Meto’s spirit, as he always did when he was on earth, keeping us all together as a family.
    Every so often and more often lately, my inner soul visits memory lane of all the fond times we had and memories we share.
    And then this CONNECTING going back to Coney Island is really LOVING home sweet home memories WOW!!! Coney Island that was some of Meto’s real true great times and he shared that with his family and friends. Meto has lots of family and friends he had no enemies and no one was a stranger to Meto, that was just another one of his many gifts and qualities he possessed.
    Well said Reunion ! Thank You Meto my LOVING brother for never leaving our Atmosphere!!

    LOVE YOU ALWAYS Yana

    • All of this is joyful. You’ve reminded me of a good friend, and now I’m meeting the whole family. And I’ve never been so encouraged to keep working on getting my novel NOISE published. Nothing really right has ever been written about the effect of these places or the adventures inside them. Or the big hearts of people like Mito who work the games and rides. It’s a movie crying out to be made.

  20. Titi Yana what you said about daddy is so so perfectly true. And Barbara’s response to you further describes what an awesome soul daddy was. I am so glad that my long forgotten memory has brought him back to us in a way no less real than before he passed. Barbara thank you endlessly for unleashing my memory and helping to revive my fathers spirit. ♥♥♥♥

  21. Wow this is quiet amazing! I knew/know the great man, I am Diana aka Yana as he always called me growing up. He is one of my 4 older brothers and his LOVE & MEMORIES go on FOREVER and until we meet AGAIN BROTHER METO.
    I can not find the words to describe, I am so touch from this. Meto the loving genuine truth of the man he was and still is, he has resurface to us all again in spirit and letting us know he still holds the same joy as he did on earth. To hear & see that all who knew Meto would say the very same thing. His legacy does live on and again, Thank You All for the beautiful heart felt memories I will always cherish.
    Love & Always Yana

    • Hello dear Yana! This is the most thrilling ride since the Wonder Wheel! that’s led to a tribute to Mito — unexpected and exactly right. Delighted to hear from you, from his daughter and wife, now his sister! I never forgot Mito. Every one of us has the chance to change the world as these memories prove. What are the right words? Mito could kind of draw off your poisons and make you wonder why you were so angry and unhappy in the first place. The people who kept coming back like me were needing some kind of release from lives they felt stuck in or born to. And in that place, everything was different and everything was possible. Coney Island was a miserable hodgepodge of soaring variety. And of all the bright shining lights that lit the way…one was your brother who cared about people. Every ride and game made you look up or fly into endless sky, away from the mess at ground level. Carnivals have sprung up through the world since the beginning of time. We need them. I think the movie about all this still needs to be made, and it makes me think again about my novel NOISE. Boy but that drew me back into that time and I could finally describe its stunning impact. Thanks so very much for adding to it, for your confirming memories of one man who long ago touched us all.

  22. Dear Barbara,
    Wow, you certainly can express yourself!! Your words are so moving. Your life is and has been so very interesting. I’m sorry your honey ended his life. In the portrait you painted of him you captured every word you used to describe him. You said that he and Meto were good. So are you!

    • Thank you for all you said, Margarita. I will always have these quickly tapped emotions of Coney Island in me, and I can’t thank you enough such fabulous memories to share. There must be millions of people who feel the exciting energy of such places, and Coney was supremo. I want to make the movie.

  23. Dear Barbara,
    I want to thank you for the above dialogue between you and my daughter Lunaria. I have read and re-read it and I have been moved to tears each time. It has flooded me with joyful memories and emotions. Meto was my first husband. We were married in 1972 and were together until he passed away in 1996.
    It was so special of you to convey to Lunaria that she had a great start with Meto. He was a loving and devoted father to her and to our three other daughters as well. I’m truly sorry that he is not here to be a grandfather to our six grandchildren.
    Through your unfolding recollections of Meto you reveal the true essence of who he was. You knew him better than so many people that were much closer and more involved in our lives. I guess it can be more difficult for some to get past the negativities and see the whole person beyond. For those that were able to they saw the picture of Meto that you painted with your words above. You are a true artist!!
    I have printed this out and will treasure it always.
    Warmest wishes,
    Margarita

    • Dear Margarita, wife of Mito, mom of Lunaria, my God, wonderful to meet you. This is wonderful.
      Coney Island was incredibly important to me. I’d been going out there a long time to paint signs and rides and murals. I was just beginning to understand people, ones who could hurt and ones who did good, corruption and decency, and all the variables. Coney Island was a formative experience.
      I’d been painting billboards in Times Square, tending bar on weekends, started producing a radio show on WOR, got into the NYC mayoral campaign, went on to do press for Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. I was going between Queens and Washington DC, surrounded by political glitterati. These were supposed to be at the top of their game, running the country with decency and honor. They turned out to be a seedy lot of self-indulgent criminals. I’d still go to Coney Island on weekends to paint, and never tell anyone. It was a furnace blast of truth and reality for me. It cleansed me. Early spring in ’78 I’d had a major overdose of politics and quit cold, left a note in my typewriter and booked. The first place I went to was Coney Island. In two weeks I met and fell head over heels for a wildcatter from Louisiana. He left the Gulf after his six month shift and headed for Brooklyn’s neon lights and flashing dance. I’d never met anybody like him in my life. He was uncontained wildness, original, brilliant, did the work of six men and hardly slept. He was all sugar and soft drawl, cornbread and dragonflies, a body to die for, and fabulously insane. He loved Coney and he loved me and I moved into his little Airstream trailer right on the Go Kart track in the middle of murder and mayhem, deafening disco, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, sirens, ambulances, cops on horseback, firetrucks, explosions, gangs and guns and knives and screaming life. It was fantastic. And Mito was my honey’s friend. I’m writing this out because you said I understood Mito. I’d just walked out on people who were supposed to be the best America had, our governing body! And found them putrid. But in Coney Island, well I knew in two minutes Mito had character and decency. Like my sweetie who could do anything with motors and cars and construction, solve problems in a second with workers and prevent disasters. I’d look at my baby, all wild electric, then look at Mito, half Texican, half Buddha, and know I was not in danger. What they both were was good.
      There were a lot of real bad ones out there, and I could spot them too, and as I said I was desperate to understand how what was supposed to be so right could be so wrong, and all the supposed wrong of that seedy carnival world was unbelievably right. God but I was confused by all of it. In some ways, Mito being there saved me. I think he did that with people. Kind of threw a rope to you if you were drowning. Nothing obvious or showy. Just kind of a beacon of sanity. Funny isn’t it. What I learned was that externals and appearances don’t amount to beans. I mean here was this couple of acres at the last land in Brooklyn where the Atlantic licks the asphalt; where there are monuments to fear called The Hell Hole and Cyclone and Wax Museum and Dragon Cave and Wild Mouse; where the boulevards are filled with thrown out and thrown up food and piss and broken glass; where fights start out of nothing and end in blood or death; where laughter and bright prizes and dancing and noisy games glitter from every corner and the air is filled with fantastic smells of delicious food. And all those dark alleys turn out to be the lit up corners of honesty, of reality.
      I followed my sweetheart to Shreveport at the end of the summer, the state fair for two weeks. I never saw him again. A few years later his sister called me from Texas to tell me he’d killed himself. He was headed to that. He could handle anything but his own demons.
      Two months after Shreveport I was doing research and writing news for CBS in Manhattan. Wowie, what a transformation. I never told any of them about Coney Island but for my best friend Chris Borgen, who was about the most divine human being this planet ever produced. He understood life.
      Mito was part of a serious education for me about human behavior. He stood out. Like most of the carnies drawn into that world he treasured genuine experience, taking risks, the unusual. The glitz and commotion, danger, hard work and wild air, well that was a plus.
      Coney Island isn’t so much the end of the world as it is the center of the world. There’s more real to it than it ever gets credit for. It’s why millions went there. It’s the same reason the outer space bar scene in Star Wars is one of the most popular few minutes on film.
      Coney Island enriched my life in ways I can never fully add up.
      Thanks, Margarita and Lunaria for bringing it all back.
      And thanks Mito, great to see you again,

  24. !! woww !! I am in tears reading this ( it took me bk to my dad who passed also n as a child EVERY WKND he wld take me to CONEY ISLAND; i LOVE my dad dearly n miss him so) MIETO was like a big brother to me his parents where my GOD PARENTS so i grew up in there house; they consider me as there lil sister; I MUST say this is a BEAUTIFUL TRUE STORY; I loved MIETO n ALL the family soo much; THANKS 4R SHAREING

    • Dear Yvonne, how amazing! I’m sure Lunaria will see this too, and be as touched as I am by the recollections of that incredible time and place. I am thoroughly delighted to hear from you. I’m so sorry your dad is gone, too. And understand how Mito and his family would have, every one of them, such big open hearts. Thank you for adding even more to the incredible earlier messages between myself and Lunaria, and her unexpected appearance in my life….again!
      I’m so glad that all of this had meaning for you.
      So very glad.

      • This sto is getting around in our family. Everyone leaving messages here, on my FB page or thier own FB pages. In the end it is the same for everyone . . . Happy tears. ❤ to you Barbara for helping us to remember our Mito so wonderfully. 🙂

      • Im so HAPPY for ur response; This has been a BEAUTIFUL thing; It is a big family n lots of loveing friends; My brother MEITO was very GOOD hearted n LOVED his famaly; He will always b remembered and have a speical place in all our hearts; He Loved children and was very good with them. He was a funny man and a sweet soul; I must thank you BARBARA N LUNARIA 4R keeping his memory alive

        • I hope when Lunaria gets the picture I sent she can do a better job of copying it than I did here, Mito’s expression is very clear, he was probably in his late twenties AND talking to kids. I am so glad for my own experiences with Coney Island, and knowing Mito then, his big family now. None of it’s an accident, but I’d never dreamed it would blossom into this. I’ve had maybe four hundred hits on my “Billboards” since meeting Lunaria a few days ago. I’m sure most of them are Mito-connected! Thanks to all of you for the memories.

    • You’ve got your dad’s wonderful smile. It’s warm and mischievous at the same time, anticipating the delight of being alive. Part of what makes you beautiful.
      Email sent.

    • Lunaria, another Coney Island child visitor has dropped in who knew your family! See Yvonne’s message.
      I mailed a card with Mito’s photograph to you on Friday night. You’ll have it soon.

  25. Lu Nadia! (bad eyesight, I’m so embarrassed I’ve gotten your name wrong til now!)I just found and added a couple of photographs, including the one I so clearly remember of your dad, Mito. The original photograph is more clear and better than the picture I took. I’d love for you to have the original, if you’d like. Email me with a mailing address for you on my email hawk@hawksperch.com, and I’ll pop it in the post to you. What really touching, fabulous memories you’ve inspired!
    Best to you all………………

  26. I would love to keep in touch. I’m lookin forward to whatever photos you may have of my dad. I think it is amazeing to have traveled full circle right back to the moment that made our hearts smile. 🙂

  27. I just wanted to add how touching this exchange has been for me too. This was a memory long forgotten untill I stumbled across your page earlier today. As I read this page the memory unfolded itself in my minds eye with a fierce vividity. All at once there I was again holding my fathers hand, tossing my head as far back as I could, looking straight up at your dangling, dirty, pretty feet smeared with the paint of a dozen different bright colors as you sat painting on the scaffolding, hearing my father laugh. I don’t know how I coud have ever forgotten such a joyous moment. With tears in my eyes I thank you for helping me to rediscover it. 🙂

    • I have a photograph of Mito somewhere, he’s leaning against one of the game counters out on the Midway I think, it’s going to take me some doing to find it but I will and I’ll post it.
      You write beautifully, by the way. Is it your profession?
      You know, most likely, that one of the early Coney Island places was called Luna Park, maybe part of Steeplechase, surrounded by pixilated air. As soon as I saw your name it seemed beautifully connected and exactly right, and would have fit the touch of poet in your dad. For most of the people — or maybe for only a handful who spent time in Coney Island — the place was all magic, and a kind of never found elsewhere total freedom. There was absolutely nothing to match it. It was rough and dirty and dangerous too. But most of all, it was thrilling. You walked off the train (or ran) onto those sticky smell-filled boulevards with the ocean lit all blue and silver just beyond white sand and all pretense dropped, off everyone. It was so real in it’s mysterious embrace, more real than any life anyone lived anywhere else.
      You have done wonders for me to bring all this back. I wrote a novel about Coney Island, called NOISE. Some of the chapters are on this blog. I wrote it in 2001 and tried for a few years to find a publisher then gave up. But it’s a fabulous story about a mystical land that no longer exists except for it’s ghosts. And here I am, one of them, to you, the child who delighted in the happy barefoot wild-haired painter. You darling. You’ve made my day and week and year,
      Please stay in touch. I hope your life is truly fabulous. You had a great start with Mito. He’d have been a loving father to you. If he’s still here with us, please give him my best wishes and let him know I remembered him so well.

      • I would love to see whatever photos you have of him. He passed in 97 and has been dearly missed since. He was the nucleus and powerhouse of our family. Only now a decade + after his passing with the grandchildren he never knew growing up is his long absent warmth and energy begining to be felt again through everything about each grandchild that is so much like him.
        He started following the carnie when he was a young teenager in th early 60s. He had so many colorful stories about his travels. When we settled in Texas he became very involved with the Texas state fair each year. It’s the biggest best state fair in the country. For 10 years before he passed he was a school bus driver for special needs children. They all loved him dearly because he treated them with respect and dignity. He has been missed by so many.
        I am a single mother to a teenage son named after my father. I live a very low key simple life. Whenever I go back home to NY I revisit the memories of my past. This next time around you know what memory I’m looking forward to revisiting. Do keep in touch. 🙂

        • Dear Lunaria, so touching all this. I’ve been elated and moved all day from your contact. I told a friend here about it and he said there was a reason you showed up at the scaffold where I was painting way back then, over three decades ago! and was your earliest memory, and Coney Island, and that we should find each other now. You sure brought it all back to me, in detail! I’ll look for the photograph. I think it should be added to the pictures I have here of Coney Island, too.
          I’m so sorry your dad, Mito has gone and that I didn’t have the chance to say hello to him again. It must be so heartwarming that he meant so much to so many people and that fine legacy keeps reaching you. I remembered that about him, that he was one of the very few in a hard-boiled crowd of ruffians who had a real humanity to him. He was very street smart, but it kept him brave, not tough. He liked life.
          Yes, please stay in touch. If you want to write to me on my email it’s hawk@hawksperch.com. I’d love to hear from you again, here or there.
          Best warm wishes to you,
          Barbara

  28. No I am not Lucretcia although I think I may have played with her. My name is Lunaria. My father was Milton Flores, known as Mito pronounced MeeToe. He worked on and off for many years at CI. This had to have happened before I was five. I remember it was warm, sunny and windy. I’m guessing this was 76 or 77 sometime?. Am I right.? I was just three or four years old then. Like I said ‘one of my 1st memories’. We left NY for good the year I turned five. From then on I spent every summer there visiting family. I still go every other year. I’ll be out there at the end of this month and I intend to go to CI. The above is my only memory of ever having been there. I did some googleing and stumbled upon your page. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would be talking to those painted feet myself one day. The following is My FB address: http://www.facebook.com/ms.lunaria . If you scroll through my profile pics (there are not many) you’ll find two of my father. Maybe you’ll recognize him. Let me know. So pleased to have made your aquaintance. 🙂

    • Lunaria! This is too incredible for words. Of course I remember Mito. I can still see his face as clearly as if we’d spoken five minutes ago. I not only remember him from Coney Island, but later I worked with him in Shreveport at the County Fair, had to be around October, Coney Island was closing up and everybody who could followed the weather and crowds. Maybe 1977, sounds about right. I remember he came from Texas and missed it a lot and was going back there.
      Mito was very bright, he had wonderful liveliness to him, enjoyed life and loved his family. I’m sorry that I don’t remember you in detail yet, but I do remember a pretty and bright child about knee-high to Mito and with his same happiness. By God what memories. Your dad was a very hard worker, thin and wiry and strong and someone to count on in a pinch. I think he could do about anything, electrical, cars, motors, construction, all the things needed all the time. He was more a straight arrow than many CI folks, he had a solid morality to him, and still knew how to have a good time. I’m so glad you found me here. This is incredible.
      Love to you across all these years from
      the painted feet of Coney Island.

  29. When I was a girl my farther was a carnie at CI. I had one of my first and most cherished memories there. One day he took me to work with him. Above the entrance hung a pretty young lady with long wild windy hair on a scaffold painting the name of the arcade JAZZ’S. I remember looking up and seeing only the bare painted feet of the artist. My father made small talk with the her. I don’t know what he said but she flung a bit of dirty paint water from her brush his way. They shared a laugh and then my father and I headed inside. I know I spent a day and evening with him at work playing all the games for free and winning a prize every time but all I really remember are those giant letters, wild hair, painted feet and my fathers laugh. If that was you thank you for that cherished memory. 🙂

    • Are you Jazz’s daughter???? Is this Lucretia?
      This has got to be one of the most stunning letters I’ve ever gotten. Yes yes yes, that was me. Yes, standing up on the scaffold, likely wild hair and bare feet, too. Likely tossing paint! It was a nerve-wracking place to paint signs and impossible to be there without the 24 hour crowds which may have built up during the day and night but were never small, was that Mermaid Avenue? Some main drag… Incredibly busy and a wildly buzzed crowd always around all the scaffold pipes (on wheels) pulled and jogged by wise-guys and kids.
      This is more touching than I can say. Thank you for your memories, and that I am included in them with such joy. You bring it all back to me. Some of the most thrilling times of my life were in that seedy strange wonderland of Coney Island. I remember Jazz and his beautiful daughter so clearly. If you are his child, please write again, let me know. If you were the child of another CI carnie, please let me know, too. The Bread and Puppet Theatre was across the street, a little further down. What a place, what years. Imagine sharing such a history of long ago and far away. Thank you for writing, thank you so very much.

      • Hi Barbara
        This is Lucretia, yes Jazz’s daughter. I am amazed I was even remembered as it was soooooooo long ago.

        To Lunaria, I think I remember you too. I think your dad or perhaps one of his brothers may have worked for my dad back in the day….

        I am going to go & check out the old pic’s of everyone from the arcade back then.

        Catch me on facebook & we can chat would be great to catch up & reminisce
        https://www.facebook.com/lucretia.austin

        • Too incredible, my God it’s even more of an event than it’s already been. Yes, sweetie, ages ago. I am so glad you found me, us, all of Coney Island remembered here. Too delighted to speak. How are you and what are you up to, please write more. I’ve tried to find Jazz on the internet, can you tell him about this blog, or my way to find him…I hope he’s well he was a terrific friend. Best to you in all ways dear girl. Love from me.

      • Yes Barbara, I too remember the day I saw you painting my dads sign. It was all fuzzy back then but I remember always hearing about you. Are you also the lady that had all the cats…? If so, I totally remember you & your apartment. My dad is not on the internet. He HATES computers…LOL Age is catching up with him & he is just taking it easy now. That picture you have of my dad is so super old. I am going to find time to go through all my old pictures I have & perhaps send you a few. Are you on facebook? send me your email if not. I just connected with Lunaria on there…I was saying to her “All I remember is hanging out at the Eldorado with Scotty & the bumper car boys, Sandy & Shiela, Astroland & the Cyclone, under the “L” & at Nathans on weekends & then once summer came my dad would bring me with him to work everyday. I thought it would be nice to contact people that grew up or hung out in the same places I did. I lost touch with all my old friends from CI. & have no idea where they are now.” I would love to know what some of them are up to now. Boy has Coney Island ever changed….I was down quite a few years ago & was glad to see some of the old timers still around.
        KIT Barb

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