Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Mayor of President Street

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Anyone who walked President Street between Hicks and Columbia during the spring and summer couldn't miss Joe Licata, and if you walked that stretch regularly, Joe certainly didn't ignore you. A retired postal worker, Joe was a perennial fixture in the micro-neighborhood this side of the BQE, who loved people nearly as much as he loved the rottweilers (first Cleo, then Sheba) that lazed loyally by his side and behind the cast iron railing of his stoop.

I was shocked to find out yesterday that Joe had died. Shocked because Joe was one of the heartiest septuagenarians I had ever met. If he wasn't hanging out on that stoop under a giant umbrella reading a thick history of World War II, he was out on the golf course walking all 18 holes and perfecting his farmer's tan. A South Brooklyn George Hamilton. For Joe liked HEAT to an extent I've rarely seen in a native New Yorker. That long guttural groan heard between June and September over how miserable the city felt was a giant sigh of relief for Joe.

For the last decade I bid farewell to Joe most summer mornings and greeted him good evening on the return commute to my apartment two doors down from his brownstone. He has to be my most sustained neighborhood relationship here. I am sure I was not the only President Street resident whose habits he good naturedly ignored or chuckled at, witnessing those million and one trips to the bodega to buy the essentials: ice cream and beer. He wasn't a gossip--though he certainly knew when I broke up with a girlfriend or sublet to a new roommate--absorbing but not judging the ebb and flow of our block. The angriest I ever heard Joe was on the subject of the double parking that went on during street sweeping days. God forbid you boxed in his beat up red sedan with a Lexis.

I always knew Joe was an obsessive reader, but after he learned I bought Freebird three years ago, the floodgates opened. He had especially diverse tastes from military history to science, legal thrillers to the classics. He would offer his opinion on the state of literature today and bemoan the level of coverage in the New York Times Book Review. Then he would retreat to his basement alcove and bring out a bag of books for donation. In return he asked me to hunt down Arthurian novels or a new work on quantum physics that would add nicely to his collection. "Now get home and enjoy your dinner," he would end. "Boy, this July is the coldest I can recall."

Joe Licata provided the sort of constancy that can help mask the knowledge that we live in a city of incessant change. His death is a tough pill to swallow on President Street. But it is fitting that he got the most out of all those summers and didn't succumb while standing watch with his beloved Sheba. I couldn't agree with you more, Joe. This winter sucks. We will miss you enormously.

Services for Joe will take place on Monday and Tuesday of this week at Raccuglia Funeral Home on Court Street. Call (718) 855-7737 for the hours of the wake.
--Peter Miller

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