Since I grew up in Ozone Park and am now raising my own child in Astoria, I consider Queens to be the perfect borough for families — and consider myself very lucky.
Growing up, I was exposed to what life should be all about. I waited in the summer evenings for Mister Softee to pull up to my corner for an ice cream cone. There were fun block parties and bazaars. Playing stickball in the street or stoop ball in front of a neighbor’s house was a pleasant routine in the summer, and snowball fights with friends were an essential part of winter. I experienced a historical blackout and huge snow blizzards, watched my city’s sports teams win championships, and went to both catholic school (Nativity B.V.M., where the sister of baseball’s Joe Torre, Sister Marguerite Torre, was my principal) and public school (John Adams High School, where I currently teach English and journalism).
I knew what it was like to get from Point A to Point B by whatever means available: by way of a car with my father, or by bus, train, taxi, bicycle, roller skates, or on foot. I knew what it was like to play on an actual baseball field, as an outfielder in the Ozone-Howard Little League. (The trophies are very dusty, but still stand tall.) And, I still remember all the trips to the UA movie theater on the corner of Crossbay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue — especially when I went with my cousin Rossella, who visited all the way from Italy, to see “Jaws III” in 3-D.
I remember feeling so grown up when I made my own money — a couple of bucks shoveling some an elderly lady’s sidewalk and driveway for two hours was not a bad gig.
Trick-or-treating in the neighborhood was always a treat. Attending midnight mass at Nativity church was special every time, and the skies on Fourth of July were consistently bright and noisy.
That was “the life” then, and, although times have changed so much (remember how great it was to say that you were the proud owner of an Atari video game system?), life in Queens still has tons to offer — especially when it comes to creating new memories.
I married my wife, Giovanna, in 2003, in Astoria, and we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy, Matthew Thomas, in 2006. We chose “Thomas” in honor of a cousin who gave his life as a firefighter on 9/11.
The most amazing things (among the trillion) that have come along since I’ve become a father are the opportunities that Matthew’s existence has given me to relive so many of those memories I have as a child, and to do so in the very same place where I experienced them — Queens.
Astoria is a wonderland with so much diversity, so much vivacity and, yes, there are still street fairs where you can buy zeppoles and let your child enjoy a pony ride.
Here in Astoria, Matthew, Giovanna and I can hop on the N train for a 15-minute ride to a small, quaint little town called Manhattan. A MetroCard and our feet get us from our home to the 7 train, which brings us to Citifield — although those trips have certainly dwindled since the 1986 Mets are no longer playing in 2011. Mister Softee still comes around (Matthew hears the truck’s song coming from miles away), and we recently saw the movie “Gnomeo and Juliet” in 3-D! Matthew also helps me — “Papa” — shovel the snow, when he’s not hitting me with snowballs.
The other day, Giovanna and I watched the movie, “Coming to America.” Not only is it still a hilarious film, but it’s very intelligent, too. When Eddie Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem, is looking to find true love and happiness, he gets a globe and spins it to decide where he should travel to. It stops at North America. But where in the U.S.? Well, it is decided, either Los Angeles or New York. Finally, Prince Akeem’s sidekick, Semi, played by Arsenio Hall, asks, “Where can one find a woman fit for a king?” Looking randomly at a map of New York, they find their answer — Queens.