Leo KowalskiYou’ve lived in Williamsburg almost your entire life. How’s the neighborhood changed?
Oh boy, it’s lousy sir. Very lousy. They think they own the neighborhood.

Who's they?
They ride on the sidewalk. Bicycles all over the place. Motorcycles. Motorscooters. Whatever. They walk about with phones in their ears. Like a bunch of cattle.

Do you have a cellphone?
I have a phone, but I have a regular phone in the house. I don’t have this phone where you walk. Telephone man says they’re going to go deaf. It does something to your ear. I don’t know how true it is…

I heard they can give you brain cancer.
Yeah? Gives you brain cancer? You don’t have one do you?

I do have a cell phone. Pretty much everyone has one these days. It lets you go places and still make arrangements… but let’s go back to talking about the neighborhood.
Well, look at these lovebirds over here. On the corner smoochin’. You’re not supposed to do that. It’s a distress to the other people. And look at these people [walking by]. Two babies. Next time they’ll have three.

And you see what they got coming up the road here right now? You never seen this before. Carrying babies on their shoulders. I don’t say nuttin’. It’s none of my business.

What’s wrong with carrying a baby on your shoulders?
Suppose the baby falls off and cracks her skull open? And then what?

Has Williamsburg changed in positive ways?
It’s changed a lot. You got people that shouldn’t be here if I had anything to say about it. They got rings here and here. On the belly button. Maybe on the ass for all I know. I don’t know how they got here in the first place. They probably don’t even have a job. A lot of them walk on the street here and the girls put their hands in the boys pocket. Right in the back of their pocket! To see if they got any money.

And we never had these holes [in clothes] either. Never! Not when I first came over. One buys a hole and they all gotta. And then when they don’t have holes they’re carrying shopping bags.

Okay, maybe I should be asking you what you don’t like. What is it you don’t like about Williamsburg? Not just Williamsburg, but New York.
I don’t like the coloreds grabbing the white people when the white people should be sticking together. They want to mix chocolate milk.

Leo, you know, I’m probably going to put this in the interview because it’s important. I think attitudes have really changed over time. Many people of my generation, we don’t see any problem with people of different races being together. We see one world. God is many colors is what many people could say.
Yeah, but. I don’t like to see ‘em grabbing blond girls. Unless they’re crazy to go with ‘em. That’s their business. Now if you was with a nice blond girl and you had a child would you like to see her go with a colored guy?

If I was with a girl, I don’t think I would be happy to see her go with any guy. It wouldn’t matter the color or race. But, I want to understand here. Do you have a problem with black people or Chinese people or... or do you have a problem with different races mixing?
Yes. It’s not right. Let the white people go with white. Chinese people go with… well, I can’t stop them. A white guy grabs a Chinese girl, right… Chinese should go with Chinese, right?

Well I’ve personally had two girlfriends who were Asian. I loved them both. Korean and Fillipino.
If you like them that’s okay. I don’t have any grudge against these people. They can do anything they want. They can fall off a building for all I care. But I don’t like it when they go with the colored people. They should go with their own kind. It makes you sick to your stomach just looking at it.

Okay, I really want to understand this. You have your views. I know you just don’t like it. But I want to understand why.
I just don’t like what they’re doing a 100%. If I was married and I had a child who was a blond I wouldn’t like it. I say you go with your own kind of people otherwise you don’t come to my house.

You wake up tomorrow and you're black. All of a sudden people are treating you differently. They're suspicious of you every time you walk into a store? How would you feel?
I wouldn’t feel very good about it. But I couldn’t do nothing about it. I sure hope I never turn black though. I hope I stay the way I am.

Since we’re talking about race here, just for the record I want to point out that as we’ve been sitting here, a lot of people [of different races] have come by and it seems you talk to everybody the same.
If someone says “good morning” to me, I say “good morning.”

Okay, I’m just… you know what, let’s change… what’s your favorite thing about New York?
We never had gates on the wall when I first come. Now it’s like a dump.

Come on Leo, there’s gotta be something you like about New York. You’re telling me all the things you don’t like.
There’s a Chinese place I like over there. They do my clothes for free. And a soda place. That’s another good business. But when you want to buy candy, who ever heard of buying candy for three dollars a bar? I never heard of it. I say give ‘em a dollar.

Does it shock you how much the prices of everything have gone up?
Sure. Wouldn’t it shock you? Would you buy water for a dollar?

Mayor Bloomberg. What do you think of him?
He should give somebody else a chance. He’s rich. Give somebody else a job. He’s been in there four years. What, he wants to be in there another four years? Give somebody else a chance.

Maybe he thinks he can make New York City a better place.
He didn’t do it the first time did he? It’s bullshit. All bullshit. They’re going to schools to shake hands with babies.

What do you think of Bush?
In one way I guess he’s all right, I guess, but sometimes I think he’s going overboard. Sending people over [to Iraq] to get killed. Look at this young fella over here. He joins the army and gets killed and then he can’t even see his baby. A new-born baby. He’s dead. He wants to send more over there too. I heard him last night. So they can “finish the job.” I don’t think the President’s doing the right thing.

How about Clinton?
I don’t know if he did it or not.

Monica Lewinsky?

He admitted it.
Oh, why didn’t they impeach him then?

They did. But should it really be the country’s business what he did behind closed doors?
Well, I think they all do it anyway, don’t you?

Yeah. No, not really. Not all of them…
He lied. They should impeach him the same day. But he’s making good money. They let him go.

Who did you think was the best President?
The best President we had was the guy that gave us social security to live on. Nobody else. Only him. The guy who was always smoking the cigarette…

He was the best. We got social security right off the bat.

Did your family suffer during the depression?
Well, we ate. We slept. Me and my brother had to go out and sell pencils and shoestrings to make a living. Go into the army I said to my brothers. I can’t because I’m too small. So they joined the army. One of them got killed.

What were you doing during the war?
That was a long time ago. I don’t remember. I was working on a farm upstate.

How about when Pearl Harbor happened. What was the mood? Do you remember that?
I turned the TV on and I just seen them coming down. Baadadadadadada. Boom. Boats blowing up like matchsticks with the sailors on them. I don’t know about anyone else but I didn’t feel too good about it. I thought “that’s a dirty trick to do.” There must be a gimmick to it. Sneaking over there the same day they were talking.

Same thing with these two buildings here. There’s something wrong here. Paying these guys to hijack the airplane to kill the people when they hit the two buildings, That was ridiculous. They were going to blow the President out of the White House.

How about the 1960’s? All those political figures getting assassinated. What did you think of that?
JFK should have had a bullet proof car. He had the car wide open and they were waiting for him. They killed him and then they killed his brother. I guess he had something to do with Cuba, right?

I didn’t think much of it, but what are you gonna do? Look, boyfriends get mad at girls and kill them too. So what’s the difference? Just last week four boys and four girls took dope and they’re dead. You see any sense to that? We never had all that stuff when I came here either.

You think the world’s getting worse?
It ain’t the world. It’s the damn people in it. They think they’re going to heaven because they blew up those two buildings. But they’re not going to heaven. They got paid.

Was it better 50 or 60 years ago?
It was good. But I got robbed too when I first [moved to this building]. They come off the roof. Broke my window. They went in there and raided everything I had in the apartment. Went into the refrigerator and helped themselves to sodas, cigarettes. I used to smoke. They took a little radio with a TV in it. They came down the stairs and nobody seen it.

Were you ever married?
Yes. Once. Anne Paczeski was her name.

Paczeski. How do you spell that?
Oh, I don’t know. That was a long time ago. When we got married it was Anne Kowalski. Married 17 years. I came back here [from a farm upstate] to have children. It didn’t work out. I took her to two or three doctors… She died 32 years ago. I rushed her to the hospital. She died in the hospital. Cancer and diabetics.

When we got married I didn’t have no job. So I had to work at a hospital. On Bushwick Avenue up here. I worked there about a year and a half. They closed it. They transferred me to Jamaica Hospital in Jamaica [Queens]. I had to take a subway every morning.

What did you do at the hospital?
I was an elevator operator. Up and down. Up and down. Taking people up. Sick people. Pregnant women. Taking ‘em up. Doctors and everything…

You must have seen some interesting things in that elevator…
No, I was busy. I was busy. I didn’t have time to fool around. You ain’t got time to talk. And these people, they gotta get on up there to visit their own people. The other thing is I had to watch out who gets on the elevator that didn’t belong on there. I wore a badge.

Anything about being an elevator operator most people don’t know?
You take people upstairs where they belong, but when you got a dead body you don’t take it on the first floor. You take it to the basement. People don’t want to see a person expired.

How do you think you made it to 92?
I’m always saying, God please take me. Because I can’t walk up the damn steps. I’m a diabetic. I have trouble walking. I gotta take pills and all that. I had cancer in my prostate. They had to take my balls off. It cost me 800 smackeroos.

I have some nice girlfriends. What more can I ask?

Do you have any friends who are older than you?

What’s the best thing about being 92?
I’d like to be 82, not 92. Then I could walk better. When you’re 92 everything goes to pot. My hands are like sandpaper. What do you do about that?

How about 72. What could you do then compared to 82?
At 72? Not much. Probably screw more. [laughing] My balls would be there.

Same thing.

[laughing] Same thing.

[laughing] Same thing. At 42 I had my wife to play with.

Same thing.

Same thing.

Come on Leo. Give me something to work with here.
At 22 I could have sex a lot.