I decided to take on Rocco’s pizza in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve been painting his two pizzerias for a long time. This year he added a third and fortunately it only has two small windows.
I knew I was in for a long day but by the time I finished the third set of windows I broke my all-time record for number of hours spent painting in one day. I started at 10:30am and didn’t pack up my paints until 11pm that night. That doesn’t include driving time and it didn’t help that it was damp and drizzly all day. However, I love this kind of work. It is what most painters strive for-to get paid to paint.
(Here is how it looks with just the drawing and after I add color.)
Bedford-Stuyvesant is notoriously known as the “hood” in Brooklyn. A very rough neighborhood plagued by poverty, gangs and stolen lives. Yet in this same neighborhood there are grass roots community organizations and caring parents and grandparents who are bringing up great kids despite these obstacles. People like JZ and Shawn-P-Ditty Combs grew up here. Rumor has it that P-Ditty eats pizza at Rocco’s when he’s “street.”
One of the most memorable times I painted his windows was ten years ago. Back then my children were very small with my youngest being only seven months old. The day I started painting his windows I didn’t finish by evening so I had to come back the next day-which was a Saturday. The only problem was I didn’t have any available babysitters so I brought all three of my kids with me. I set the two boys up with pizza, drinks and coloring books and put the baby on the table in her car seat.
While they ate and entertained themselves I hopped up on ladders and hurriedly colored in the images I drew the day before. People from the neighborhood came in and out all day and at one point a curious little boy, all of three or four years old, could not resist this strange site in this local pizzeria.
Then, as little inquisitive little kids do, he walked away from his mother while she wasn’t looking and slowly made his way over to the table where these three little white kids were sitting. He began to touch the little blond white baby in the car seat. I saw him the whole time and thought how cute was that! He was being very gentle and touching her hands and the soft blankets that surrounded her when all of a sudden a loud yell came from his mother, “Get away from that baby! What you doing! Get back over here!!?”
I came down from my painting perch and said, “It’s ok he’s being very good. Come back you can touch her.” His mom let him come back over to the table and we touched the little white baby in the car seat together. Then he skipped back over to his mom with a big smile on his face. Curiosity satisfied.
When I told my mother this story she told me how years ago, way back in the late sixties when I was just a toddler, that a young African-American woman came knocking on her door selling magazines to help pay her college fees.
At that time we lived in a typical all white suburb of Omaha. My father was a rookie policeman and race riots were occurring in the downtown area. My mother was a city girl from Chicago and I think her more liberal upbringing was definitely a factor in how she welcomed this woman into her home.
As this dark skinned woman with big curly hair sat at our kitchen table beside my mother, all of my wide-eyed curious little siblings and I felt safe enough to inch our way out from behind our mother’s back and touch this strange woman’s hair. When my mother scolded us for crossing that boundary the young woman said, “It’s ok, they can touch my hair,” and with that mother ordered a magazine while each of us satisfied our curiosity by getting to touch her hair! It’s strange how my mom and I experienced similar things with our small children decades apart.
I could go on about other very interesting stories with Rocco, the neighborhood and the goings on of his pizzerias but instead I will delight you with more pictures and prepare for tomorrow’s window painting back in Brooklyn. This time I am going to be in Williamsburg. Stay tuned for other posts.