December 27, 2018
BY HARRY PINCUS | I must admit to a good chortle as I watched Senator Chuck Schumer extract a tantrum from Donald Trump the other week. Our Senate minority leader managed to provoke the president into such a pique that his usual shade of orange turned into a version of pull-me-over red, just as he admitted that he was willing to “shut down the government” if “I don’t get what I want!” Yes, said The Donald, I will take full responsibility!
Since Chuck is from my old neighborhood, and his father Abe was our exterminator, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the trick that managed to turn our president into an overgrown infant hurling the most intemperate of admissions, thus proving once and for all that Trump is merely from the borough of Queens, but Chuck Schumer, alas, hails from the borough of Kings!
The writer had a revealing elevator conversation
with Chuck Schumer, above, whose father took
care of a situation for the writer.
Photo by U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Jeff McEvoy
As far as I could see, the first thing Senator Schumer did was to point a finger at the president, an old trick back in the neighborhood. THE FINGER! Well, just as in “The Sunshine Boys,” THE FINGER represents a major affront. After that, the senator cleaned up by leaning forward, like an old man cleansing his soul in the schvitz at the Brighton Beach Baths, and avoiding eye contact entirely. This drew Trump forward, and into his foolish admission. Alas, mission accomplished.
Schumer is a few years older than me, but was most likely still at Madison High School when my school, Wingate, battled them in tennis. There I was, the tenth man on the squad…though I still maintain that there were at least two others even worse than me! At any rate, Chuck Schumer was representing Madison in another arena, on the “It’s Academic” television quiz show. Only three of the brightest were chosen from each school, and in my case, all three were my friends and classmates, but I was nowhere near the top.
These days, I get street cred for just having attended Wingate, a midcentury banjo-like edifice situated across the street from the psychiatric building at Kings County Hospital, where Woody Guthrie was incarcerated. A few years after I graduated, the school was featured in a double-page spread in New York magazine called, “The Worst School in New York.” In the accompanying photo, it looked like every window had been knocked out and replaced with plywood! Now all I have to do is tell any youngster I meet in Brooklyn that I went to Wingate. It always elicits the same squeal of delight: “Yo, dude went to the ’Gate!” Another graduate, Barbara Levy, class of ’58, moved to California and became Barbara Boxer, the former senator.
I’ve always followed Chuck Schumer’s career with some interest, especially after his father Abe first came to exterminate our building in Soho on Sixth Ave. in the late ’70s. The city was overrun by cockroaches, but our building was especially infested, as my next-door neighbor, a well-known Downtown character, refused to kill any insects, claiming that the word “roach,” which he pronounced “roh-ach,” meant soul in Hebrew. I still don’t get it, as “nephesh” is the Hebrew word for soul. But, anyway, it meant business for Abe Schumer and Acme Exterminators.
I finally met the giant of the Senate a few years ago at a political event sponsored by the Downtown Independent Democrats on Bleecker St., during the lead-up to the 2016 elections.
At the D.I.D. get-together, I had spoken out forcefully on a foreign policy issue, after which I decided to take a break. So I left the room and waited by the place’s side entrance for the main event, which was Senator Schumer.
When a tall, familiar figure alighted from a car and came over, I introduced myself as a former customer of Abe’s, and followed him into the elevator.
“You knew Abe?” he asked.
“Yes, we always used Acme. I even have a letter from him. How is he?”
“He’s fine,” Chuck Schumer said. “He’s 92 now.”
I mentioned our similar backgrounds.
“You know,” the senator said, “people don’t understand it when I tell them that, in our house, DDT was the smell of love!”
I then asked him why he wasn’t supporting Bernie Sanders, another alumni of Madison High School.
“I like Bernie, and he’s a friend,” said my new friend Chuck. “But you have to understand that, if Hillary wins, I’ll be Senate majority leader. Imagine me, the son of Abe, who never finished high school, as Senate majority leader.”
When we got off of the elevator, a harsh light greeted us, and I pulled out the little camera I had brought. The senator looked very tired, his face lined, and his back stooped. He later apologized for having had a long day, something about a wedding or a bar mitzvah, but I wondered about what it must take to be a leader in the Senate.
He introduced me to everyone.
“This is my friend, Harry, who likes to take pictures!”
So here was my friend, in the Oval Office, talking to the son of the guy who owned Trump Village and Steeplechase, the beloved 19th-century amusement park near my father’s handball courts in Coney Island.
Just as Donald Trump proudly vowed to shut down the government — and then did — his father bought Steeplechase Park, then distributed bricks to his friends so that they could destroy the ancient glass pavilion.
Certainly, Chuck Schumer’s dad Abe, who turned the smell of DDT into love, wouldn’t have done that!
The letter from Chuck Schumer’s father, Abe, to the writer.