Friday, July 25, 2014

A Sign From Above... the Orchard Inn Lives on!

We've all done nutty things
in our lives right??

C'mon... you know you have!

I usually don't
(oh just stop laughin' would'cha)

But I have to agree that this,
was a bit nutty, even for me!

A Sign From Above...
the Orchard Inn Lives on!

How many have you taken in your lifetime?

Signs that is.

I’m sure your garage is full of them.
Stop signs, one way signs, and most of all,
street signs! They were the best.

Sorry to burst your bubble...
but the holy heaven's won't be opening up,
bestowing unexplainable visions upon us
within this entry. Maybe next time.

Why do we collect them in the first place?

Because they’re cool, that’s why.

And you gotta figure that they’re
rightfully ours anyway.

With all the damn taxes that we pay, I’m sure some of our money went towards the making of those babies. So it’s only right that a couple of them end up with their rightful owners.

Probably one of the coolest stories I know, surrounding a street sign, was when I was

about sixteen or seventeen.

It was right before we were going to play another team in tackle football. No pads. You know, one of those neighborhood games.

One of the guys from our side, Ricky, got totally pissed off because he had to go to work and couldn’t play not even one snap of the ball.

So, right before the game, he ran up to that now infamous street corner from where I tossed my ice/rock ball at the bus, and proceeded to rip the Simonson Ave sign right off the pole,

with his bare hands.

That's the actual sign he ripped down and the corner and pole as well. Awesome right!

The actual Simonson Ave sign that Ricky tore down
The corner and pole where the sign was ripped from Simonson & Forest Ave
The corner and pole where the sign was ripped from Simonson & Forest Ave

Then, after he somehow did the deed, he ran back down Forest Ave to the corner of Van Name Ave where the Gas House field was.
(This was the very same route I took when I cut outta class at age 7... remember?)

Forest & Van Name Ave Staten Island, NY
Gas house property years later after most of the grounds were sold and sectioned off.
Gas house property years later after most of the grounds were sold and sectioned off.
Gas house property years later after most of the grounds were sold and sectioned off.

He then tossed the now bent and twisted sign over the fence and onto the field to give us inspiration in his absence. It was just so cool!

My only street sign adventure was no where near as exhilarating an experience. As a matter of fact, it was just one big headache!

It happened not too long after I got out of the Navy. I was hangin’ out with Billy. That’s right, the Billy, my Paris partner in crime.

Billy Scire on left, our awesome boss in the middle & Tommy Mondello on the right

So right off the bat,

there was a built in theme, which was,
Jim Morrison.

I remember drinkin’ all night, and drivin’ around Staten Island with the tape deck spilling over with Doors music.

Eventually, we got the brilliant idea to drive over to Morrison Ave, and take one of the street signs. It was easier said than done, though.

(That Morrison Ave link is a current google maps street view of Morrison Ave. We were there back in 1986 when there was only 2 signs that were yellow at the time!)

Especially for two drunken idiots.

Well, we found the street. We then slowly drove from corner to corner, to find the most isolated sign. And when we found just the right one, I pulled the car all the way up onto the curb

and grass as close to the pole as I could get.

Then, I gingerly poured myself out of the car, and climbed onto the hood. Tippy-toed myself as close to the sign as possible. I then grabbed it.

I began tugging on it with all of my might.

But that fucking thing didn’t budge.

How the hell did Ricky rip the Simonson Ave sign off the pole? Man, he must’ve really been pissed about not being able to play. LoL

Either that, or I'm just a fucking weakling!

We kept looking around to make sure no one was watching. Fat chance of that though,

being it was about 3 or 4 in the morning.

I tried pulling on it a couple more times,

but still nothing.

Finally, with a last ditch effort, in a move of pure drunken desperation, I leaped into the air towards the sign. Both hands came down on the top of it. But only the top bolt snapped, causing that fucking thing to come crashing down

on the top of my head like a guillotine.



Those things are way heavier than

you would think they are.

Oh, man, it was so funny.

I was knocked completely off the car

and onto the ground by the blow.

The metal sign was now clanging against the metal pole that it was bolted to

like a fuckin’ dinner bell.

I’m tellin’ ya, it was just a pathetic scene.

Thank goodness we didn’t do this kinda shit for a living, ya know, steal stuff. Because

we would have starved to death.

There wasn’t a single ounce of criminal blood coursing through either one of our veins. Playing completely by the rules, that was us! Put aside the fact that we were in the middle of stealing a fucking street sign. Being dumb, drunk & stupid... does not make you a criminal!

I don't think. Does it?????

I finally got to my feet, feeling slightly dazed after that crack to the skull. But we had’ta have that sign. We’ve come too far

to turn tail and run now.

So, one last time, I climbed back onto the car and grabbed that damn sign with both hands while Billy cheered me on. And I pulled on that bitch as though someone was trying to take

my last beer from me!

I pulled and yanked and pulled sumore...

until that fucker finally gave way.

We were victorious!

Morrison Ave now belonged to the people.

We were very proud idiots! But before we were too proud though, we quickly got back into the car, and got the hell outta there as fast as possible. We could be just as proud from five miles away. We didn’t need to stick around

there and gloat.

I still have the sign to this day. It was hangin’ up in my old garage at one point, of course. Now I think it's in my dad's shed? And every once in awhile, when I think about that thing nailed up there on the beams of my old garage, I get a strange sensation on the top of my head.

Morrison Ave street sign
Morrison Ave street sign

I wonder why?

Surely, that’s a memory that will stay with me forever. It has to. It’s physically embedded

into my thick, empty skull!

Now, although Morrison Ave was truly a momentous event, I have one other

that is by far the showstopper.

The cream of the crop.

The icing on the cake.

And yes... the cherry on top.

And that is the Orchard Inn sign.

My finest hour! LoL

You see, this was the name of the local bar that we all hungout in while waiting to grow up. This was where I bumped into everyone during my pizza delivery days at Bella Mama's.

Trust me, I’ll be right back!

Let me just give you a little background here, then maybe you’ll understand why

that sign had to come with me.

There was nothing really special about this joint. It was your typical neighborhood hole in the wall bar. A pinball machine, a video game,

and of course, a pool table!

A bartender that never, bought back any drinks. 

Hangin’ on the wall above the bathroom entrance was a TV that was always tuned

to some kind of sport.

But it wasn’t the place that made it special. After all, it was only a stupid building. What made it special was that we were there,

my friends and I.

It was a time to hangout.

A time to drink beers, and play sports.
A time before life’s responsibilities, tension,
and everyday bullshit had a chance
to sneak into our lives.

We all have an Orchard Inn in our past. Some of you hungout at the bowling alley, or maybe the corner store. Or, where ever you got together with your friends. It didn’t matter where. It was the when, and with whom, that mattered!

This was one of two main hangouts for me. And that’s why I get so sentimental over a stupid sign. It’s the memories behind it

that make it special.

The sign itself, well, it’s only a dumb sign. Metal and wood. But those memories that it stirs up inside of me, well, that’s what makes it so fuckin’ remarkable. If it could only talk!

(I’m such a big baby. I’m practically cryin’ on my keyboard while I’m writing this crap)

Okay, so how the hell did I end up

with the damn thing anyways?

Well actually, it all just happened with a snap decision. A spur of the moment type deal. There was nothing thought out, and there were certainly no plans drawn up for the big heist.

Unlike the biggest score of all time within our neighborhood which was of course...
the Frank-N-Stein heist of the mid 1970's!!
In fact that happened just across the street from the gas house football field at the very same corner of Van Name & Forest Ave.

Frank -N- Stein ad from Staten Island Advance from April 2, 1976
There's the monster in all his glory... right on Forest Ave next to the Moulin Rouge club. What a great neighborhood this was to grow up in!! This was Staten Island... 1976. I was a freshman in Port Richmond high school... awesome!

But back to the Orchard. The rescue happened one day when I was driving past the bar. I took one look at it and then a million memories rushed through my head. And I said to myself,
I gotta have that fuckin’ sign.
And that’s that.

But here’s the circumstances guiding the event. At the time, the neighborhood was going through a change. It was ten years ago that we used to hangout there. In fact, the bar had closed its doors for good, and within months
would no longer be a bar at all.

Someone had bought the building, and was converting it into a travel agency. Imagine that! My memories were now boarding a flight to nowhere. Over my dead fucking body they were!

Anyway, also at that very same time, my dad had just gone through some major surgery. And when that kinda shit happens,

nothing matters. Nothing at all!

So, I was in one of those kinda lost,

I don’t give a shit, moods.
Ya know what I mean?

Well, when I was driving by the bar this specific day, I just couldn’t believe that the Orchard Inn, my Orchard Inn, our Orchard Inn,

would be gone forever.

They had already begun construction on the inside. But the outside was still untouched.

So, I turned into the McDonald’s parking lot which was adjacent to the side and rear of the bar. I pulled the car around so it faced the long Orchard Inn sign on the side wall of the bar.

I got out to take one last look around
before it was all gone for good.

And as I was walking around, my emotions got the best of me, and I just said to myself…

... I can’t just let them make this place fuckin’ disappear forever! I’m takin’ that sign, and I don’t give a fuck what anybody says!

I was like a sentimental psychopath at this point. Thank goodness no one fucked with me while I was doin’ this, because at this point, even I, pussy boy, who only made it through
one single practice when I signed up to play organized Pop Warner tackle football, would’ve kicked the snot outta someone.

Or, at least yelled at them really loud and threw my dripping mouthpiece at them!

Hahahahaha, oh shut up! LoL

So we can't all be fucking John Wayne!

Sorry... you douche bags!

So, I walked over to where the sign was hanging, to try and figure out a way to get it down

without killing myself.

Side of the Orchard Inn bar where sign once hung
Side of the Orchard Inn bar where sign once hung

Now, I had no real tools with me, and no way of reaching it, but I was going to get it! Somehow, I was going to get it. I didn’t know just how yet.

But then a different kind of sign appeared right before my very eyes. You see, I walked

to the front of the bar...

Front of what used to be the Orchard Inn bar. The sign was on right side wall facing McDonald's parking lot.

... and glanced across the street where some workers were rebuilding the old

Silvestri’s gas station.

Where Silvestri's service station once stood across Forest Ave from the Orchard
Where Silvestri's service station once stood across Forest Ave from the Orchard
Where Silvestri's service station once stood across Forest Ave from the Orchard

And what did I see standing there before me?

A fucking ladder!

I couldn't believe it.

I walked over to a nearby deli and purchased

a couple six-packs of beer.

Richmond Ave & Monsey Place down the block from PS22

No, not for me silly, for the guys who owned the ladder. Favors and signs from above my be wonderful things, but they ain’t free my friend! They ain't free!

So, I walked over to the guys and told them the whole story. I said that I needed the ladder for about thirty minutes, or so, and in return,

I would give them the beers.

And to my surprise, they actually let me

walk away with the damn thing.

It was pretty funny watching me cross Forest Ave, a very busy street, with a forty foot ladder tucked underneath my arm.

Well, I made it back to the sign. I set up the ladder, and then ran to the car to see what kind of tools, if any, that I had. Of course, the only thing I had was a pair of vise grips.

The vise grips I used to rescue the sign

And as it turned out, that’s all I would need.

So, I scoped everything out for a second, then went right to work. And I’m tellin’ ya, this thing turned out to be larger than I first anticipated.

It was about eighteen feet long, and three feet wide, when I came face to face with it.

Man, it was gigantic!

It was held onto the wall by about ten bolts

that were six inches in length.

Those are a few of the bolts I removed

And I’d say that it was maybe twelve to fifteen feet up from the ground. Alot higher
than it looked I'll tell you that!

Well, I just started at one end and began unscrewing those bolts with my trusty

pair of vise grips.

One by one they came out, ever so slowly.

Things were moving along nicely. I even had an audience by now. A local bum, with half'a bag of aluminum cans, had taken a break from his daily routine to watch a madman rescue a sign!

I finally got all of the bolts out, except for the two top corner ones. Now,

here came the tricky part.

Getting it down!

Especially with all of the electrical wiring

next to the left side of the sign.

I stood there and thought for a second,

then came up with the plan.

It was simple.

Loosen one of the bolts just a bit. Then go to the other side, and take that bolt out completely. Then, slowly maneuver the sign around the wires without fucking dying from electrocution, and let it slide down the ladder with me,
as I made my descent.

The loosened bolt at the other end acted like a pivot, or a hinge if you will. And bingo!

I had that mutha halfway home.

Next, I moved the ladder over to the other side. Unbolted that last bitch completely, and once again slid the sign down the ladder with me.

I’ve done it!

I got that muthafuckin’ sign down.

The Orchard Inn Bar sign from side of the bar
Orchard Inn sign
Orchard Inn sign

Even the bum clapped for me.

God forbid the dirty bastard would’ve offered to help me, but who needed him anyway.

I ran the ladder back over to the guys at the gas station, again crossing a busy Forest Ave,

and thanked them.

Now, it was time to try and put this gigantic thing on the roof of my car. Then tie it down somehow, and make it home without killing anyone

during the ride.

Unbelievably, I found some twine in the car trunk. I then daintily maneuvered that

sum-bitch onto the roof of the car.

I began tying it down, when all of a sudden, my foreman, the bum, had something to say.

Now, after the whole ordeal was practically over, did he decide to give me constructive criticism.

Ya know.

You hav’ta make sure you use the proper knot
on that, or it might come loose and fall off!

Was this fuckin’ guy kidding me, or what?

I quickly returned fire...

Oh why don’t you just shut the fuck up over there! Where the fuck were you before, you smelly prick, when I could’ve used you!

Leeme the fuck alone, will ya!

As you could tell, I was a little high-strung at this point, yelling at the poor bum, and all.

But much to my surprise, I made it all the way home without incident!

And once there, after much begging, the rest of the members of the household agreed to let me hang it up on the front of our own garage.

Now, I didn’t say inside the garage. I said, in front of! We now had a brand new Orchard Inn, right there in our very own backyard.

It was beautiful, man!

The Orchard Inn reopens for business!!
Tommy & Joey Mondello enjoying the very first beers at the newly opened Orchard Inn Bar

I still have the sign to this very day. Only now, it’s wrapped up in canvas, and lying on the side of the garage. (Grown-up’s are no fun, man!)

Wrapped up Orchard sign on side of garage in Sayreville, New Jersey

But one day my friend Gregg and myself strapped it to the roof of the car and drove it down south about thirty miles via the Garden State Parkway, to a surprise birthday party for one of the guys who hungout at the bar, Jeff.

It was a big hit.

And it was here at this party that another friend, Carmen, came up with the great idea to have a reunion picnic.

The Orchard Inn Reunion Picnic!

Which worked out well for a few years.
Here's a pic of the group and the sign
at the first picnic in 2000.

First Orchard Inn Picnic & sign 2000 at Nansen's Lodge
First Orchard Inn Picnic & sign 2000 at Nansen's Lodge
First Orchard Inn Picnic & sign 2000 at Nansen's Lodge

The memories and war stories were flying all night long at Jeff's party. Everyone had a chance to make their mark and autograph it and took pictures with it as well. It was a very cool night.

Sign and gang at Jeff's party
Sign and gang at Jeff's party
Signing the Orchard sign at Jeff's party
Signing the Orchard sign at Jeff's party
Signing the Orchard sign at Jeff's party

You see...

the building,
the bar,
even the stupid sign itself means nothing,
if you don’t have the people and the memories
to go along with it!

Memories are pretty cool, aren’t they?

I can’t believe that I just wrote a story about signs. But yet, I can’t believe that you just read

a story about signs!

I don’t know which is worse!

HaHaHaHa, oh sorry!

Just an update...

the sign now resides at another friend's house as it was saved yet again. But it's still on Staten Island. So many many thanx go out to Joey for making the actual save. And also to Nicole, for "allowing"... Joey to keep the sign!
We love you both for
coming to the rescue of our
beloved Orchard Inn sign.


Here's Joey & the sign...
August 2018!
The Orchard Inn sign... alive and well... 2018!
Joey Lamberti... the sign saver... 2018! Thumbs up muthafucka!!!
Our Orchard Inn softball team shirt

A couple of us had a quick visit
with the sign...
June 13, 2020
The Orchard sign lives!! June 13, 2020. Tommy Mondello... Greg Ponciano... Joey Lamberti... Billy McDermott
Tommy Mondello
Greg Ponciano
Joey Lamberti
Billy McDermott
The sign still resides at
Joey's house on Staten Island!
He even re-framed it with all new wood
that's holding this thing together!!
Too good!

The Orchard Inn... Next Generation!!
And it continues...
Here we have Joey's son and his friends.
New memories yet to be made by this crew for sure!!
I absolutely love this photo : )

Another really cool update...

Check out Bernie Codd,
from the neighborhood,
in those 2 photo's below!

How amazing is that shirt huh!?
And you'll never guess where that stool
that he's sitting on came from.
Go ahead... guess!
That's right, it came from the Orchard Inn bar. Some of us, hell probably even ALL of us have sat on that stool at one time or another over the years that we hungout there!

Bernie received the stool
from the Carannante family.

Thanx Bern for for a fantastic update
and trip down Forest Ave!!

Bernie Codd wearing an old Orchard Inn tee-shirt and sitting on a bar stool from the bar itself!! 2015
Bernie Codd wearing an old Orchard Inn tee-shirt while standing outside of what used to be our hangout... The Orchard Inn bar. 2015

Another update...

Nicholas Gallo wearing the Orchard Inn color's 1986/87

A shout out to Nicholas Gallo...
shown here wearing the Orchard Inn colors back in 1989/90.

Nick was recently nominated for an Emmy within the media world AND...
will be getting married to his wonderful fiance' later this year 2019!!

Another update...

Can't believe it's quickly coming up
on the 20 year mark of the first picnic!
20 years has gone by way too fast huh!
Here's the bulletin I made up
for that first get together
September 2, 2000

Very fist bulletin for the very first Orchard Inn Reunion Picnic... September 2, 200... unbelievable!
Orchard Inn Reunion bulletin for the 2nd annual reunion... September 8, 2001
Orchard Inn Reunion bulletin for the 3rd annual reunion... September 14, 2002
Orchard Inn Reunion bulletin for the 4th annual reunion... September 13, 2003