Shocking Conditions



            After the 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression festered in Brooklyn’s Red Hook as well as the rest of the United States.  An area sarcastically called Hoover City was located near the shipyards, where unemployed individuals and families lived in makeshift shacks of discarded lumber, sheet metal and tin. The Irish ruled in the police departments and the public schools.  The cops on the beat and in patrol cars were Irish., as was the public school principal and the teachers in Public School 30. The Irish owned the active barrooms.   Machinists and tool makers were mainly Germans, while Irish shipyard workers and stevedores were slowly being replaced by Italians. There may have been a few from other European nations, but no Blacks.  There were four Jewish families living in Red Hook.  They each owned a business; a laundry, liquor store, dry goods store, and hardware store. An unwritten truce permitted then to work together, most of the time.  There were many desperate applicants for jobs. Daily, stevedores and shipyard workers would line up, hoping they would be chosen to work that day.


            My father owned a laundry on Conover Street.  Over the laundry were two apartments, consisting of a living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen with a wood and coal burning cast-iron stove.  In winter, the stove served as the only source of heat for the entire apartment..  There was no hot water, only cold water.  A toilet was located in the first and second floor hallways. Until a few years earlier, the apartment dwellers and the laundry workers shared a two seat out house in the yard.  Electric lights were also new and replaced gaslights in 1928. We lived in an apartment over the laundry. The Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, and ships arriving or leaving upper New York Bay and the East or Hudson Rivers, could be seen from our combination kitchen and dining room. 


                        At night, a folding iron gate was opened across the front of the laundry, blocking the entrance and the steel ramp used in lieu of steps into the store.  The ramp permitted the passage of pushcarts and small wagons from the sidewalk into the laundry.  Only the doorway to the apartments was not blocked by the iron gate. Almost daily, in the morning, when the gate was folded back, the ramp and entrance had to be washed of urine and, also at times, of vomit.  Bigotry existed between the different ethnic groups, but they seemed to unite in their bigotry against Jews. The doorway to the two apartments above the laundry were never violated, undoubtedly because an Irish Catholic family lived in the top floor apartment.


            At night, Mike’s Bar was a cacophony of loud voices, and often drunken brawlers staggered out to fight and bloody each other.  It was during the night that the laundry entrance was desecrated.  I was determined to stop this filthy practice.  Nights in a row, I entered the darkened laundry store to sit unobserved near the store window.  Four nights in a row I found the main culprit was Bill Monigan, and his friend Tom O’Dwyer.  My father had laundry problems and confrontations with both of them in the past.




Shocking Conditions



            While helping my friend Tommy in his father’s auto repair shop, or working weekends around Roosevelt Field. I developed a plan to use electricity as a shocking solution to the defiling of the laundry.  I gathered or borrowed; assorted wires and clips, a 6 volt battery,  a 20,000 volt coil, a magneto, and an airplane engine inertia electric starter  I waited in the darkened store, and my chance came on payday, on Friday when the stevedores and dock workers flocked to the bar for liquid refreshments. Under the door I slid an insulated wire and clipped the bare end to the iron gate.  Another wire with a bared end made contact with the iron plate. I placed wood wedges under the lower end of the plate to insulate it from grounding. From my place near the window, I could  control the battery, coil, and inertia electric engine starter, and I could pass current through either or both the gate and iron plate.


            Bill Monigan, and his friend Tom O’Dwyer, walked unsteadily down the street. Bill stopped and came to the store front, unbuttoned his fly and said to his bleary eyed friend, “Come on. Let’s piss on the kike.” 


            Holding his hose he urinated, waving the urine spray back and forth. Then with the wire from the charged, high-voltage coil, I contacted the wire running to the iron gate.  A twenty thousand volt shock raced up the conductive urine stream.  Bill’s eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets, his breath exploded from his lungs, his mouth opened so wide that I thought he would dislocate his jaw.  He fell to his knees,  his stupefied mind did not know what happened.  He grabbed the gate and started to pull himself erect.  Then I sent a quick series of high voltage electric shock to the gate.  He could not let go of the gate, and his body shook in spasms while spurts of urine spewed with each shock wave.  I stopped the electric shock treatment and watched him collapse onto the iron ramp.  He rose to his hands and knees, mumbling and cursing incoherently. 


            His friend, Tom, watched in amazement at Bill’s antics, and came to help him.  It was hard for me not to burst out in loud laughter at what would happen next as I churned up the inertia electric engine starter.  The iron plate was wet with urine made a good conductor to Bill’s hands and knees.  When Tom reached to help Bill to his feet,  I touched the wire from the inertia starter to the iron plate.  I impact of the initial fifty thousand volt current raced through Bill and the full impact hit Tom.  He screamed and tore loose from Bill. staggering he hurried down the street. Then the full current hit Bill again.  His back humped up like a frightened cat, vomit burst from his mouth. I stopped the current flow. He must have emptied his bowels, because as he crawled away in his hands and knees, he left a splattered brown trail.