Bleaker Street

I was jolted to see that a precious piece of my son's childhood is now surrounded by a forbidding plywood fence. Inside the fence, a parking lot has been bulldozed, and before long, an apartment house will stand on that lot.

I pitched a million Wiffle balls to Rafael on that lot, back in the day. My stepchildren, Catherine and James, also loved it. Space is precious when you've got children in the city, and the parking lot at St. Luke's in Greenwich Village was our special space.

It's gone, baby, gone.

After wiffle ball, we used to love going for ice cream cones at Moon Dog on Bleecker Street. That's long gone, replaced by one of those antiseptic designer stores that have infested Bleecker. They sure are pretty, but they always seem to be empty.

Bleecker Street has become Bleaker Street.

I know, I know -- there's nothing more boring than a rapidly aging white guy bemoaning the way things are changing for the worse, so I'll try to make this brief.

I miss the open-air fruit and vegetable shop that stood at Bleecker and Carmine. Those guys had the best Jersey tomatoes, summer after summer.

I miss the old Italian widows who roamed up and down Bleecker on crooked legs, dragging two-wheeled shopping carts full of eggplants and celery. They were the scourge of their landlords, living well into their '90s in rent-controlled apartments.

And they were wonderfully vicious. One of them once poked my hip in a grocery store.

"You're tall," she snarled accusingly. "Reach me that box of prunes."

"Sure thing, lady."

I miss Zito's bread store on Bleecker -- big, bald Charlie Zito behind the counter, dispensing loaves and advice in equal measures.

Charlie to old lady: "How are ya?"

Old lady: "My hip hurts."

Charlie: "Have a few scotches, you'll be dancin.' "

Another time Charlie got into an argument with a customer over whose family came from a better part of Italy. It ended with Charlie chasing the customer out into the street, shouting: "We taught you how to eat with a knife and a fork!"

Most of all, I miss Joe Junior's diner on Sixth Avenue -- the great burgers, the overcooked vegetables, the playful battles between the crazy Greek owners and the Puerto Rican fry cooks.

Maybe that's what's really in danger of extinction here: banter. Senseless, pointless, wonderful banter, the kind that makes you chuckle and helps you forget the fact that one day, we're all going to die.

Okay, I'm done bemoaning the demise of the Village. Hell, the old-timers were already doing that when I first moved into the neighborhood, 34 years ago.

I just got a little freaked out by the sight of our old wiffle ball field taking two behind the ear, and the way developers have taken that famous Joni Mitchell song one lyric beyond.

Oh yeah. They've un-paved paradise, and they're putting up an apartment building.

Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." His website is