Larry And Paul are my cousins, Paul being my age, Larry two years older. Paul's best friend in grade school and high school was ... George Petaki ... who later became governor of the State of New York. (I must have met George many times because I spent as many weekends at my cousins' place as I could, but I'm drawing a complete blank.)
My cousins' father was George, a Vienna-trained Ear, Nose and Throat doctor who fled his native Hungary during the late 30s, came to this country, and ended up marrying my mother's sister. Till the day of his death forty years later George spoke rapid fire English with an accent as thick as that of his countryman Edward Teller.
Yet by the early fifties George spoke good colloquial English. And by the early sixties he had become the equivalent of a native speaker, making up jokes like the following ... "I've invented two new prescription drugs for Catholic priests" he said to me one day. "Really, Uncle George? What are they?"
Larry and Paul were born into that happy house. Larry became a ham radio equipment builder and operator at the age of nine, as I recall. To this day, having spent many hours in his room listening to him on the air, I know his call letters as well as I know my own name -- K2TIO. (A ham friend recently looked it up and found that his license is still active.)
Larry was a good kid but Paul was always getting him in trouble ...
Like the time they took my Aunt Ruth's zinc laundry tub out onto the back lawn, filled it with water, strapped an M-80 to a brick, lit the fuse, and dropped the brick into the tub. When the M-80 went off, there was a huge gusher of water, and the tub split its sides not just along the main seam but also somewhere else. I know this story is true because I was there.
But here's something I only heard about, because I was at home in NYC when it happened ...
Larry had purchased a used US Army mortar shell from a war surplus store. The shell had, of course, been emptied of its explosives, and the primer had been removed, and the back of the cavity had been plugged with lead.
No problem, not for my cousins. Egged on by Paul, Larry drilled out the lead plug. Then, working cooperatively, they filled the mortar shell with the heads of wooden matches -- from many boxes of matches -- hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of match heads.
Then they build a simple X-frame launcher, stuck an M-80 fuze into the back of the drilled-out hole, leaned the mortar shell against the X-frame, and aimed it toward downtown Peekskill, about half a mile away and three hundred feet lower. And then they lit the fuse ...
Well, by some miracle the mortar shell did not explode. Instead it rocketed up off the launcher and was last seen flying a beautiful parabolic arc toward downtown, with the stabilization fins doing a perfect job. The odd thing is, nothing was reported either on the radio or in the newspaper. As far as the good people of Peekskill were concerned, nothing at all had happened.
Today I'm horrified by what they did, yet as I write this the incident has me snickering and chortling just as much as when I first heard the story.
Edited by xxmikexx