For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

Hero for A Day

by Mel Moskowitz


t was a Friday in June of 1960, and unknown to me, I was to become a hero, at least forthe day. We were going to the Rockaways, where my friends and I had rented an apartment. We had planned to use it every weekend of that summer. Before leaving, we had a quick dinner at Luhr’s Ice Cream Parlor on University Avenue. Dinner consisted of the usual hamburger, fries and a chocolate malted. This was considered a good, nutritious meal at the time.

My friend’s car was parked across the street near the Park Plaza movie theater. It was a new 1960 Pontiac, loaned to him by his father. After dinner, we raced across the avenue, jumping over the benches on the median which were the social center of the neighborhood, where adults gossiped and talked about current events. The younger groups made their plans for the weekends and made new friends there. We got into his car and began to travel down University Avenue.

We were heading towards Alexander’s on Fordham Road when I noticed the Hebrew Institute and the Church nearby and started to think about how these two institutions helped people in need.. Even in our middle-class neighborhood, people often needed a little help to sustain them until they could help themselves. The route we took down University Avenue had a lot of interesting features . There were many magnificent churches; Toleletine Church on the corner of Fordham Road and University Avenue was one. We drove past NYU’s uptown campus and its beautiful Hall Of Fame.

After buying a few items at Alexander’s, we headed to the Major Deegan Expressway and entered the highway at the Fordham Road entrance. The evening was warm and I was admiring the beautiful blue sky and was thinking that this could be the beginning of a wonderful summer. As we were coming out of a curve, we approached 161st Street and could see Yankee Stadium on the left. I couldn’t help but think about all the greats who played there and were still playing there: DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Ruth, and currently Mantle and Maris . This was the year Maris would hit 61 homers and break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers hit in one year. As a matter of fact, Mantle would hit 52 homers that year and if he hadn’t been sidelined with injuries, maybe he would have accomplished the feat of breaking the record also.

We passed the stadium when I noticed a car towing a jeep with people inside. It had a chain attached to its front bumper, and all of a sudden, I heard a bang. The chain broke, and my heart started to race as the jeep cut in front of us and hit the curb. It went over, spilling its occupants onto the roadway.

We came to an abrupt halt and got out of our car. My friends started yelling, “We’re going for help!” and ran in the opposite direction. To this day, I can’t understand why they ran in the opposite direction and left me alone. I quickly went to the overturned jeep. My body was shaking with fear, as I didn’t know what to expect. Some of its occupants were stunned and sitting on the curb. Then I heard yelling coming from under the jeep. “I can’t stand the pain. Please get me out. I’m stuck!”

I knew it was up to me to get this fellow out of harm’s way. I yelled, “Don’t worry. Take a deep breath, and on the count of three, try to get out!” Then I called out, “One, two, THREE!” and did the best I could to lift the jeep up. As I lifted, the young man began to slither out from under it, but then yelled, “My leg is pinned.” I let the jeep down slowly and kept talking to him. I said, “Don’t worry. I will help you get out.” Not too far from the road, I saw some men hanging out on a stoop, and I yelled to them for help. When they arrived, I saw that they were Hispanic, so I told them in Spanish, “On the count of three we will lift the jeep up.”

“Uno, dos, TRES!” I yelled, “Get out!” The young man dragged himself out and before I knew it two ambulances pulled up and the medics rushed to his aid. There was a doctor on the scene and also a Priest who had been passing by.

The young man called out to me and asked, “What hospital should I go to? Morrisania or Lincoln?”

I replied, “Morrisania” and before I knew it, he was gone. I thought, it is all over and now we can continue to the Rockaways.

By nightfall I had almost completely forgotten about this incident and my day to be a hero was left behind as we enjoyed our summer weekend at the ocean.

A few weeks later, it was another Friday night and I was having dinner locally at a Park Plaza restaurant. I usually ate dinner with my parents on the Sabbath, but they were out of town, so I decided to eat at the bar and grill on University Avenue and Tenney Place. I was eating my dinner when someone tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Hi friend. I want to talk to you.” My heart started beating rapidly, as I thought I must have offended someone by looking at him the wrong way. I turned around, and this guy says to me, “Buddy, I want to thank you.”

“Oh no!” I said to my frightened self. “Now you really must have done something wrong....” I felt uneasy, but turned around again, faced him and said, “Yes friend, can I help you?”

He responded, “I want to thank you for saving my life.”

He told me that he was the guy under the jeep. I couldn’t believe this, as there were three million people in the Bronx and here I am, face to face with the guy I rescued. He shook my hand and said, “Thanks again,” and asked if I would sign the cast on his leg, as this was the only thing that happened to him as a result of the accident .

After I signed the cast he said, “Now I will have something to remember you by.”

He departed from the bar and that was the last I ever saw of him. Meeting this young fellow again reminded me that I had been a hero for a day.

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