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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


This column is dedicated to my good friend Dr. Rock Positano, the greatest foot doctor in the world, and his new book “Street Smarts,” which will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2022.

The street smart wise guys of Avenue U didn’t read the New York Times.

Of the 30 or 40 16-year-olds in the neighborhood, I was one of the few who had seen the inside of the Kings Highway Library.

My friends read the sports pages of the Daily News and the Daily Mirror.

And they devoured every word of the Morning Telegraph – the racing newspaper.

A single copy of the Telegraph was handed down in the neighborhood like the Book of Mormon in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It was where a 16-year-old could learn street smart statistics and street smart history.

“Hey, look at this horse. He only wins when the odds are 9 to 1 or better, and then they ship him to another track and he loses until the odds are right again.”

Then there was street smart genealogy.

“Yo. Look, this horse’s grandfather came in third in the Kentucky Derby and he’s the class in the race, the rest are dogs.”

And let me point out the lesson in analytics you learn by going to the track or the trotters just for the last race.

They let you in free for the last race and the track is filled with people who have lost all day long and are betting long shots in the last race to try to get even.

Meanwhile, you bet the horse who was going to be the favorite (and he has a 60% chance of winning), and on the last race, since everyone is betting on the long shots, the favorite goes off on the best odds, 3 to 1 instead of even money.

And don’t for a second underestimate the effect our street smart high school, Lafayette, had on our lives.

Lafayette wasn’t like any other high school in Brooklyn.

There was a world of difference between Avenue J, which was upper middle class, and Avenue U, where parents scraped every day to make a living.

The kids who went to Midwood and Madison were under pressure to be lawyers, successful businessmen, doctors and dentists like their parents.

The parents of the kids who went to Lafayette put no pressure on them. They just wanted them to survive.

Every single person who went to Lafayette came out with street smarts that stayed with them and served them well every day of their life.

Lafayette High School is part of my street smart DNA. It’s my youth. I can hear the music, the Penguins singing, “Earth angel, earth angel, will you be mine.” Or the incredibly untalented Johnny Ray scratching, “If your sweetheart sends a letter of goodbye, it’s no secret, you’ll feel better if you c-r-r-r-r-r-y.”

Walking in the halls of Lafayette in those days, it was as if you’d stepped onto the set of “Grease.” The halls were filled with black-leather-jacketed would-be tough guys singing, “Life could be a dream (sh-boom), if I could take you up in paradise up above (sh-boom).”

There was a magic in Brooklyn in those days.

It was Lafayette that graduated a kid named Fred Wilpon, who went on to become a New York leader and he owned the New York Mets when they became world champions.

OK, another kid there then, named Frankie, is now part of the witness-protection program. He admits he whacked eight or nine other mobsters.

But another Lafayette grad is Sandy Koufax – arguably the greatest pitcher in history and one of the nicest people in the world.

Lafayette was always a tough, street smart school with a low graduation rate. I know. I barely made it out, with a 59 average. I cut classes; I shot craps in front of the school.

And, yes, I accidentally knocked over the principal, Mr. Grady, when I was running away as he broke up one of our crap games.

(One of others in that crap game became a successful doctor. Two others are successful businessmen. One is a retired policeman; another, a retired fireman. Six of the other seven turned out fine. The seventh, I’ve heard, served some time.)

Those of us who stayed at Lafayette, besides Wilpon and Koufax, included Larry King, John Franco, Bob Aspromonte, Vic Damone, Larry Merchant, Maurice Sendak, Peter Max, Paul Sorvino and billionaire hedge-fund founder Michael Steinhardt.

But sadly, these days, there’s our most famous Lafayette graduate, for whom street smarts did little good: Jeffrey Epstein.

He never got over lusting over those beautiful, but decidedly underage, 16-year-old Lafayette cheerleaders.

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