An East Side childhood, by the book

| 27 Oct 2014 | 12:06

    By Catherine Roberts
    Reading from his new book, author Thomas Pryor was so engrossed in his story about listening to a Giants game as a kid that he gestured with both his hands, and his book snapped shut. He lost his place in the reading.
    It didn’t matter, he told his audience at the Yorkville Barnes & Noble Friday night. He left the book closed and finished telling the story.
    Though he was surrounded by storytellers growing up, Pryor, wo is 60, didn’t write his first story until age 49. Now he’s a full-time writer and storyteller, and Pryor said that publishing “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys: Tales of a Scrappy New York Boyhood,” his new memoir about growing up in Yorkville, marks the next phase of his writing career.
    Before he became a writer (he’s been published in Our Town, among other outlets), Pryor said he spent about a decade as primary caretaker for his mother, father, grandmother and brother.
    “The last one of them died in ‘03,” he said. “I was lost because I was so used to taking care of people, and I had no one to take care of. My daughter was 15, she could easily have taken care of me, and I didn’t know what to do.”
    A friend suggested Pryor take a week-long writing workshop in Vancouver. He said in the five days, he wrote five stories.
    His first stories were about his childhood, he said, because he grew up hearing stories.
    “I was surrounded by people who liked to talk about the past,” he said.
    Walking around Yorkville, Pryor has a story about most anything in sight. The Best Buy at East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, for instance: “That building right there, that was RKO,” he said.
    RKO 86th Street Threatre was one of several neighborhood movie theaters.
    “It was so big, and when we played tag,” he said, “you could hide in the urinal.”
    “We could stay in the RKO for seven or eight hours,” he said.
    Pryor said that although he’s thrilled with his book’s publication, he thinks it’s time for a change.
    “Tonight is like an Irish wake for me,” he said. “It’s time to stop writing about myself as a youth in Yorkville.”
    Pryor is also an avid photographer and always carries a point-and-shoot camera.
    He has previously published his photos in a book, “River to River: New York Scenes from a Bicycle.”
    Now he plans to write about the process of taking pictures.
    “When I’m shooting I’m not dwelling in the past,” he said.
    He said his father also used to bike around New York City taking photos.
    It’s sometimes not until months later, Pryor said, when he’s organizing his photos, that he realizes his father took a similar shot.
    “I see the two together,” he said, “and that’s when I want to write.”
    When his father was taking photographs, Pryor said, “He wasn’t frustrated, he wasn’t telling me what to do, he wasn’t not taking care of himself.”
    “I want to write about the freedom of that moment,” he said.
    Before his reading and book signing on Friday for “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys,” Pryor compared himself to other writers his age.
    “Most 60-year-old writers, most of what’s going on right now for me would be old hat,” he said. “But for me it’s exciting.”
    “It kind of fits the spirit of the book,” he said, “that my enthusiasm’s like I am 12.”