Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Art of the KV Practical Joke

One great thing about living in Knickerbocker Village in the 70's and 80's was that there was never a dull moment. Something was always happening, for better, or for worse. People knew how to have fun, and as long as you didn't hurt anyone, at least not too badly, almost every thing was a go.
A favorite diversion of the people in KV, and the immediate surrounding area, was the art of the practical joke. Now practical jokes are a very tricky proposition. Some people could take a joke. Others could not. And some of those people who could not, were quite dangerous and could become hazardous to your health. Most importantly, if you were one of the practitioners of a practical joke, you had better well be able to take a joke, if one is perpetrated on you.
I was a member of both groups.
In the late 70's, I ran a car service and limousine service from the Bruno's Parking Lot, which I owned for 27 years on 31-35 Monroe Street. At the time, I had about a dozen men working for me, doing various shifts. All lived in Knickerbocker Village. We drove numerous people from Knickerbocker Village all around the five boroughs and to the airports. In fact, the people of KV were basically our only customers.
One day I received a phone call from the NY City Department of Parks. The person on the line told me that they had a work order to construct a bandstand in front of my parking lot for a politician running for office, who was born at 31 Monroe Street. He was going to give a campaign speech on the site. I forget who the politician was. Now this was entirely possible, since my lot was the site of three buildings that were leveled sometime in the 1940's.
I told the person from the Parks Department that as long as they didn't block my driveway, I didn't see it being a problem. He told me he'd call back with an exact time when they would construct the bandstand.
Soon after, the man called me back and told me it was a slight mistake. The politician was born on 31 Monroe Place in Brooklyn, not 31 Monroe Street in Manhattan. I said fine. No harm no foul.
But the word was out. Everyone who worked for me heard what had happened. I was the perfect patsy for a practical joke.
A few days later I received a call from an official-sounding person from the NY City Department of Parks, Gentrification Division. The man said they were looking to improve the appearance of Monroe Street and wanted to plant two trees there. I figured, maybe this wasn't such a bad idea. Trees on the block provided shade and would look kind of nice. Already, the management of KV had planted a few small trees on their side of the block. They looked nice.
Then the man said, "When is the best time to come? I have a diagram of your lot, and we'd like to plant two trees. One ten feet back from the sidewalk and another 30 feet back from the sidewalk. Directly in back of the first one.” Then he said the magic words, “Inside your parking lot.”
Well, I went slightly berserk. “Inside my parking lot?? What are you, nuts?? You can't plant two trees inside my parking lot. I park cars inside my parking lot.”
“Don't worry sir,” the man said. “We'll place rubber around the base of the the trees so you won't damage any cars.”
By now I'm ready for a straight jacket. I scream at him, “I don't care about the rubber. The trees will ruin my business. I'll have less room to park cars and I'll always have to maneuver around the freaking trees! I absolutely refuse to allow you to plant any trees in my parking lot. This is an outrage.”
The man calmly said, “Sir, have you ever heard of the term Eminent Domain?”
I said sure. “But how does Eminent Domain apply to my parking lot?”
He said, “Sir, according to Eminent Domain, the government can seize any personal property if we determine it is for the greater good of the people in the area. Sir, we don't want to seize your property. We just want to plant two trees. I don't see why you have a problem with that. You are being very selfish, sir.”
By now my head is spinning and all I can see are dollar signs flying out of my bank account. There are a couple of my car service drivers in my office, and I'm trying to explain to them what is going on. They don't understand it either.
This was happening right in the middle of a work day where I'm trying to run two businesses at the same time. My mind was racing. I was not thinking straight. Most sane people would have considered the possibility of a practical joke taking place. But not me. Not at that moment. I was irate.
So I scream a few curse words into the phone, a few threats about me hiring a lawyer, and finally, I bang down the phone. Mad as hell.
As I'm steaming, figuring out my next move, a few minutes later the phone rings again. I pick up the phone and hear several men laughing in the background. Someone finally says, “Joe Bruno, you are a moron and an idiot.” And then they hang up.
They sure got me. Got me good.
Now all I wanted was revenge.
By using the process of elimination, and knowing the personalities of people in Knickerbocker Village, I figured it was one of two men responsible. I settled on my good friend Anthony, who worked on Wall Street in the daytime, and for me at the car service a couple of nights a week, and on weekends. He lived in the G Building, 10 Monroe, 4th or 5th floor, facing the courtyard. I lived in the K building, 6th floor, also facing the courtyard.
I was thinking for a couple of days how to get even. Then one night I came home, and checked my mailbox in the K building. In with the mail was a flier advertising the “Grand Opening of a Chicken Delight” on Grand and Essex. In bold letter on the bottom of the flier it said, “WE DELIVER!”
I went home giddy with anticipation. I called Chicken Delight and asked if they delivered to Knickerbocker Village. They said they did. Great. I gave them Anthony's address in the G building and my phone number, in case they called back to check. This was in the late 1970's, where caller ID was a thing of the far future.
I said to Chicken Delight, “I'm having a party for 10 people. How much chicken do you think I should order?”
The man told me about 30 pieces, 3 pieces per person. I said OK. That's perfect. T hen he asked if would I like sides with the chicken. I said, “Of course. What kind of sides do you have? “ He told me mashed potatoes, french fries, rolls and butter, cole slaw etc...
I said, “OK send me enough for 10 people.”
He asked if I needed something to drink.” I said “Sure, do you have any beer?” He said no, only soda. Then added, “For 10 people, four 64-ounce bottles of Pepsi should be enough.”
I said, “Great. How much is this going to cost. And how long to deliver?” He said to give him 45 minutes to an hour, and that the bill was forty-something dollars. I asked if he had change for a hundred dollar bill. He assured me he did.
I hung up the phone, retrieved my binoculars and sat by my bedroom window, facing 10 Monroe Street.
In about an hour, I saw two men lugging numerous shopping bags of food and soda, down the steps from the entrance to the West Court. They made a left and made a bee line for the G Building. I was laughing so hard, I almost wet my pants. I figured the worse that could happen, I was out forty- something dollars and I would eat chicken for a few days. It was worth the fun I was having.
Five minutes later, I saw the two men emerge from the G building – empty handed!
Did Anthony actually accept the food? I never thought that was possible.
In minutes, my phone rang. It was Anthony.
“Joe Bruno, I have some extra chicken from Chicken Delight. Are you hungry??” Then he started cursing me out, laughing as hard as I was.
I said, “Why did you accept the order?”
He said, “Because I'm hungry and they have great chicken.”
“How did you know it was me?” I asked.
“You gave them your freaking phone number. That's how,” he said. “You moron!”
Well, I guess that proves nobody's perfect.
I told Anthony I was not hungry, and I advised him not to choke on the chicken bones.
What he said back to me cannot be published in a family blog.
More on Knickerbocker Village practical jokes at a later date. There are tons of them.