During the summer of 1960, the summer of Kennedy and Nixon’s coronations, the Daily News ran an article on the 30th
anniversary of Judge Joseph F. Crater’s strange and mysterious disappearance on Aug. 6th
1930. He looks like my Uncle Louie I told Howard as we sat in his tiny bedroom and perused the article. “He looks stupid to me, how did this guy become an assoc. justice of the New York Supreme Court?” he asked. “Well the News says that he was corrupt so I guess that helped.” “But oh my God what if my Uncle Louie is really judge Crater. “Don’t be stupid Ira, how can that be? Howard said. We were both 12 years old, and we were about to enter our teen years. I was totally taken with Kennedy and started to wear a big Kennedy button everywhere I went. Howard decided that he preferred Nixon and this admission on his part led to many 12-year-old arguments between us. But for a while that hot summer we were taken with the still missing judge Crater. “His nickname was Good Time Joe” I said my mouth full of a tuna fish sandwich that Howard’s grandmother Molly had made for us. We were sitting at the table in their large kitchen that was almost identical to my kitchen except his was neater.
There was an airshaft between our apartments with 3 windows overlooking it. Two in the kitchen and one in the living room. Howard’s apartment was on the top floor and my apartment was on the first, and the airshaft was our way of communicating. We had no computers or email, or cell phones. We didn’t even have color television and our supply of music came over our little plastic Japanese transistor radios that we carried with us everywhere or our creaky small hi-fi sets. This airshaft also carried up my parent’s horrible loud and violent arguments so all our neighbors to my shame heard it all. All the fights, the cursing, the breaking of dishes, and furniture. They heard it all. As we were finishing our sandwiches and ice tea I could hear them at it again. We went on eating as if nothing was happening. “Howard I’m about to wash the kitchen floor so why don’t you and Ira go into your bedroom and continue reading the newspaper in there.” I was so grateful for this bit of kindness and understanding that his grandmother showed me. A small dynamo of a woman, she really ran the house and the family. What Molly said went. She lived with Howard and his family for many years and she really was the matriarch of the family. I thought Howard’s father henpecked but at least he didn’t hit and yell at Howard’s mother the way my father did. Howard got up from the table and I followed him sad and ashamed into his tiny bedroom that was also my bedroom in our apartment. “Did I ever tell you about the time that my brother took me to see “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at the Albee and for weeks after that I really thought that my brother wasn’t really my brother and my mother wasn’t really my mother? I asked Howard just to break the silence that now hung in the air. He started to laugh and giggle so loudly that Molly knocked on the door to see if everything was all right. I could always count on Howard and my other friend Marco to laugh at my stories. I loved Marco but Howard and him didn’t get along too well so the three of us never really spent much time together. “How’s your head? He asked me. I had a big Band-Aid on my forehead. “Better” I said. The week before I was watching the Republican convention on tv. in the hot steamy afternoon with all the lights off and I heard Howard calling me through the air shaft. I got up too fast as I raced to answer his call at the living room window, and passed out falling into our big old Philco television, breaking it and cutting my forehead. Howard oblivious to the fact that I had just fallen into the tv just kept on talking about going to the movies to see “Bells Are Ringing.” After I picked myself up out of the television I called my mother at my father’s luncheonette where she was filing in for the vacationing waitress. “You fell into what?” “Oh Ira are you Ok? All my father cared about was that we no longer had a television. Suddenly sitting on his bed with the article on Judge Crater in my hands I said that I think we should give out awards named after Judge Crater. At first he looked at me like I was nuts, but then he got curious and between laughing he asked what kind of awards. Well since Judge Crater is such a joke I think they should be for comedy, like an award for our favorite comedy tv show, book, movie or tv performer and the award for someone we know who makes us laugh or someone who we make fun of. “Oh like a teacher or neighbor” he asked. “Yes yes I screamed that’s it. The Judge Crater Awards was born and for two summers starting with that summer of 1960 we got together and honored our favorites. The competition was most fierce for the neighborhood personality award. I made two programs listing all the nominees in each category and we borrowed Howard’s father’s big old tape recorder to document the ceremony. I wanted to invite Marco to be part of the Judge Crater awards, but Howard said no. So there we were two crazy bored 12 year olds meeting in Howard’s bedroom and giving out awards for silly people or people who were thought were silly. There was Esther the wife of the guy who owed the candy store across the street, several Librarians, my upstairs neighbor, the crazy lady and her obese son, the battling couple next door who gave my parents a run for the money and some others that I can’t recall. The night of the ceremony we made so much noise and laughed so loud that several times, Howard’s father told us to keep it down. We picked the winners by chance. We wrote their names on pieces of paper threw them in a bowl and took turns announcing the winners. Unfortunately all the Judge Crater memorabilia went up in smoke years later in a fire at Howard’s little hovel of an apartment in the yet to be gentrified area of Brooklyn known as Park Slope. This was the last of our imaginative childhood silliness and to this day we occasionally speak fondly of our judge Crater.