Before Bill Cosby did his routine about Fat Albert, there was an Irish kid that lived in the building adjacent to mine that we called Fat Junior. It wasn’t one of those clever nicknames where you called a short kid Big Benny. Fat Junior (no idea what his real name was, maybe Clifford?) wasn’t so much fat as he was big and strong.
He was the neighborhood bully. (For the record, he had a sister named Fat Linda. )
My daily routine began when Fat Junior saw me going to school. As soon as he saw me his face lit up and he gleefully ran at me, and launched himself at me knocking me down on the sidewalk.
Step two: he’d sit on me, and slap me around: Give? D’ya give? I’m not sure why he enjoyed slapping me around every morning, but I don’t think it was personal. If I wasn’t around he’d find someone else to sit on.
One bright day, maybe I was eight years old, dad bought me a Gilbert chemistry set. He had a scientific bent. Albert Einstein was one of his heros. I was no Einstein. Whatever scientific kits my dad gave me were turned into weapons. If I had the ingredients poison gas would have been on the agenda. Luckily the internet was in the future.
Bu the chemistry set had an alcohol fueled burner and I remember heating each chemical in a metal spoon. Some of them burned green. Some bubbled and filled my room with noxious odors. It wasn’t my idea to heat these chemicals. According to the five page manual there was something to be learned by heating these chemicals. What, I still don’t know.
What I did learn was that heating sulphur not only gave a beautiful bluish flame but an incredibly sharp odor. And it gave me the idea of capturing that sharpness in a bottle. And soon there was a plan to get one of my mom’s perfume bottles, empty it (sorry mom I didn’t know it was that expensive one) and fill it with burnt sulphur vapor.
If you took a good whiff it felt like a knife was stuck up your nose. It really hurt.
Junior: What ya got there, homo?
That was what boys called each other in the 50s. I don’t think I even knew what a homo was. You just didn’t want to be called one.
Me: Take a whiff of this. And I sprayed him in the right nostril with eau de sulphur. He screamed as if he’d been stabbed, and a few drops of blood dripped from his nose.
He surprised me. Instead of swinging at me, he turned, was he crying? And ran back into his house. Mama! Mama! I’m bleeding.
From thereon and through the 2nd grade I never left the house without that perfume atomizer.
30 years later I ran into Junior outside Alexander’s on Fordham Road. He was in a suit and working as a paralegal. I don’t remember what I was doing. But we sat on nearby benches and laughed about the old days, especially the1636 perfume bottle.