For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

Tribute to a Bronx Cousin: Sheldon Metviner


by Morton Sinclair Wright

Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa.
Dum da da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum.

"Where's that guy who's been picking on you?" my cousin asked.

"He works across the street by that sign: J.D. Hausner, the bicycle shop, but don't bother," I said.

"I want you to go there and stand outside the store. I just want to see what he does," my cousin said.

He had come from Burnside Avenue in the Bronx to my neighborhood, 200th Street, also known as Bedford Park Boulevard - to watch when he heard about the bully, so I complied. It didn't take very long for the bully to come out from the dark shadows of the narrow bicycle store. He came right over to me like a hungry spider rushing to feast on fresh prey dangling in the web. He raised a big foot with his customary kick and shouted, "Get the hell outta here!"

Oh, he was a big bully all right; but my cousin, Sheldon, was just as big - maybe bigger - at least in my eyes. And anyone could see that Sheldon was also quite powerful.

This happened about fifty-nine years ago, but I remember it well. I was about fourteen-something. My hero cousin was about seventeen. I can see this event in slow motion: Sheldon hiding behind a parked car, the bully coming out of the shop, taking the bait: me, the decoy. The bully's foot going up in the air trying to kick me; Sheldon charging like a raging bull; his arms grabbing the bully around the waist from behind; the bear hug, squeezing the bully's stomach, bending him backward, lifting the guy in the air causing his feet to point skyward. Then, slam! He slammed the bully to the ground on Bedford Park Boulevard. I can still see the bully's astonished open mouth, the incredulity.

Shock quickly turned to fear when he saw Sheldon standing over him. My cousin said, "I see you enjoy picking on smaller guys. I don't think you should try that anymore!" Sheldon could have given him more, much more, but the gentle giant had made his point. The bully ran inside the shop. He never bothered me again. The whole thing lasted maybe a minute or two. It was so long ago, but I never forgot. And I'll bet the bully never forgot.

Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa.
Dum da da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum.

One day, Sheldon and I were walking down a rustic road past Webster Avenue, past French Charlie's Field, to a place known as Duck Pond, near The Botanical Gardens. Suddenly, a rather large turtle crossed our path. The rock I picked up was big and heavy. Why did I heave it at the turtle? I never really knew. Probably, I wanted to impress my older cousin. I cracked the turtle's shell; it leaked blood.

I see the gentle giant's shocked look of disgust. I can still hear his moans. "Ohhhh! - why did you do that? Ohhh!" He held his hand on his head. I didn't know. I was so ashamed. I didn't expect this reaction. This time I was the one who was surprised. Thanks to his reaction, my remorse lingers. My remorse lingers these past fifty plus years. The turtle! The turtle's blood, I spilled!

Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa.
Dum da da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum.

As a teenager, he enjoyed drumming. His fleeting fingers were always drumming on anything that made a sound: tables, walls, pots, and pans. He didn't concentrate on school much at Creston. My Aunt Mary was summoned by the teacher about his drumming on desks. He was not the best person to take to a library.

But Sheldon was good. Often, you'd see him cock his head down and to the side, trying to get closer to the sounds; you knew he was hearing and feeling the rhythm with intensity. He taught me a basic beat: two taps with the left hand - "Mama"; followed by two taps with the right hand - "Poppa." Then, when you increased the speed it became a drum roll. He would also use this beat to simulate the sound of a locomotive going faster and faster: Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa. And my cousin, the drummer, often added a few vocal sound effects imitating a famous old Bromo Seltzer radio commercial that used train engine, special effects mixed with the announcer's drawn out, "Fight Headaches Threeee Wayssss: Bromo Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer." You could almost see the train coming down the tracks faster and faster listening to his relentless drum beats and hearing the train whistle going "Whoooeeee" and "Choo Choo Choo Choo Choo Choo." Ah, you always felt good being around Sheldon. Always.

Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa.
Dum da da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum.

Sheldon finally got a real drum set; now he was drumming with sticks. And he was good. Good enough to play professionally with various bands at resorts and at affairs. Even after getting married and helping to raise three wonderful children, he continued playing on weekends to earn extra money for his family. It was hard loading and unloading and traveling with all that equipment, working late hours. He also worked very hard at his regular route job that took him all over the Bronx and Riverdale, rising very early in freezing weather, contending with the ice and snow in winter and summer's blistering heat.

His tastes were simple, his manner so carefree. Live and let live. Make people laugh. Make people happy. He's gone now. It was always comforting knowing he was around. Ah, the world would surely be a better place if people would only move to the love-rhythm of my cousin Sheldon's beat.

Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa, Mama Poppa.
Dum da da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum.




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