By Dan Rivoli
In Yorkville, there are buildings, street corners and landmarks that cause Thomas Pryor to launch into a story about his childhood in the neighborhood or relay a bit of trivia.
In passing P.S. 158 on York Avenue and East 78th Street, he points out the preserved boot- wipes students would use before entering the school. He then launches into an anecdote about how his grandparents met at P.S. 158 as students.
Pryor, 56-year-old blogger, writer and storyteller, treats these personal landmarks as points of entry into historic Upper East Side living going as far back as his grandparents" childhood.
He documents his memories of growing up in the neighborhood on his blog, Yorkville: Stoop to Nuts, and his recently launched hour-long Internet radio show on Centanni Broadcasting Network that airs every Tuesday at 9 p.m. On the program, he invites other storytellers and musicians to trade tales from their lives.
He broadcasts the show from Giovanna"s Restaurant on Lexington Avenue and East 100th Street. On his first show, Pryor interviewed his uncle Mickey Fiorillo about life in Yorkville after the U.S. jumped into World War II.
Even the recent death of â€œVoice of the Yankees Bob Sheppard triggered a story from Pryor, a die-hard Yankees fan. He reminisced about how loudly his father watched television. To drown out the noise, he would think about Sheppard introducing the players.
For 30 years, Pryor managed affordable housing programs for the city.
â€œI just never had the time to write stories, said Pryor, who majored in English at Hunter College. â€œI never thought I was a good writer. I kind of struggled with grammar and style in school.
In 2002, he joined writing workshops and took classes. After crafting a batch of stories, some were published in Mr. Beller"s Neighborhood, a collection of New York City writing.
His stories about going to sports games for New York teams, picking up groceries at the corner store on York Avenue and hanging out in Central Park are slices of New York City life.
But Pryor"s stories about meeting a major league pitcher, putting your mother in a headlock for good luck at a football game, or fearing your father"s wrath for losing a pair of his slacks could be relatable to someone from Keillor"s Lake Wobegon.
â€œI"m writing about stuff that ends up being universal for not only people from Yorkville but in most New York neighborhoods as well as Boston or Philly… any place where there are stoops, Pryor said. â€œThe thing I enjoy most is when somebody comes up to me and tells me that my story reminded them of something they loved in their childhood.
Bruce Springsteen and the J. Geil"s Band inspired him to try storytelling as well. But his family gave him his encyclopedic knowledge of Yorkville.
â€œMy grandparents and my father in particular were storytellers and they gave me a lot of information, Pryor said. â€œ[My father] walked the streets with me, showed me buildings.
He pinpoints his family"s roots in Yorkville back to 1896, when his paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Italy to York Avenue and East 75th Street.
His grandmother, Ann Pryor Rode, was a local district leader at the Cherokee Democratic Club and known as the First Lady of Yorkville.
With such deep roots in the neighborhood, Pryor inherited a small museum"s worth of artifacts and photographs from that era.
â€œI had a couple thousand photographs that go back to 1906, Pryor said. â€œI am a visual person, and photos trigger a lot of my stories.
Pryor already has 75 stories, 44 of which he is planning to include in a book.
For a writer that fondly recalls growing up in this neighborhood, he appreciates his ever-changing neighborhood. His neighbors are now people whose families come from everywhere but Yorkville.
â€œThe thing about Yorkville that I enjoy the most is the marriage of the old with the new, he said, â€œand how many people come into the neighborhood and fall in love with it who have not been lifetime New Yorkers.
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