My Climb to the Top of the Bottom

Catchy title for a book eh?

The other day my youngest daughter explained this title to a friend of hers, but her friend didn’t understand what it meant.  They had a conversation about it and my thinking is that if you can get two Grade 8 girls to talk about something like that – instead of the typical interests of girls that age – then you’re doing well.

The title is the brainchild of Sal Cataldo, the author of this book.  I am privileged to be the editor for My Climb to the Top of the Bottom.  Sal is 86 years old and an inspiration to everyone by showing that you can’t be too old to write a book.

Sal grew up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard neighborhood in the 1940s and early 1950s and this is his story.  The book takes you from when he was born in 1935 up to 1953 when he was drafted into the Korean War.  Sal has great recall and shared many poignant memories with me about his life and neighborhood, many of which found their way onto the pages of this book.  Sal expresses himself in an incomparable way.  When I first met him in 2011, I quickly found out he had an appealing way of articulating himself.  In one moment I would feel a flash of hot anger when Sal described a wrong; in another moment I would laugh at an amusing story and in yet another, a twinge of sadness would come over me.  Keep in mind all these feelings I experienced were from reading Sal’s experiences.  To state the obvious, these are not my experiences.  Imagine how Sal would feel these emotions much more intensely, having been the one who lived through them.

Sal was a member of the Sand Street Angels gang from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and there are a couple of chapters devoted to the Angels.  However, Sal’s story isn’t just about the Angels.  This book goes into his family, home, relationships with adults in the neighborhood, the police and wise guys.  Click here for a list of chapters.  If you want a coming-of-age story in mid 20th century Brooklyn, this book is for you.  But even if you didn’t come here looking for a coming-of-age story in mid 20th century, this book is still for you.  Why?  Because whatever country, state, city or century, decade or year you come from, the human ordeal is common to all of us.  Yes, our experiences are different, but our feelings and emotions are the bond we share.

My Climb to the Top of the Bottom book cover

My Climb to the Top of the Bottom book cover

It took Sal and I over a year to finish this book.  Actually, come to think of it, that’s not true.  Technically, we’ve been working on it since we met in 2011.  Since the day we met, I saved every email Sal sent me – over 2,500 of them!  For this book I went through every single one of Sal’s emails to me and harvested the important stories, grafting them into the book.  In addition to that, Sal and I communicated constantly and furiously from July 2020 to August 2021.  He shared new stories with me and I asked follow-up questions and clarifications that would make a normal person dizzy.  But Sal is far from normal, and that’s a good thing.  He is one of those people in life who you will never meet again.  So, together Sal and I honed, polished and crafted.  This is the end product.

My sister Sarah was also a critical cog in this process.  She built some exquisite scratch-built dioramas of Sal’s neighborhood and they figure prominently on the pages of this book.  Click here to see an example of one of her dioramas.  Not only that, she also helped with formatting the book.  I can see her now, sitting at my desk, her fingers a’whirring and a’tapping on the keyboard, fixing headers and footers and probably wondering how her big brother could be so daft and clueless.  Watching her work, I felt relieved, thankful and indebted all at the same time.  But most importantly, she designed the handsome cover you see above.  I couldn’t have done it without her.

My mother also played a very important role by proofreading the book from cover to cover.  My mom has been proofreading my work and gritting her teeth in the process since high school in the early 90s, when I gave her flak every time she checked over my English essays.  Why she agreed to proofread not only this book, but also The Thief and the Widow and Brooklyn Rumble is a riddle to me.  I guess the answer to that riddle is the mystery of the love of a mother who wants the best for her children.  The book is that much better with her editing skills.  Thank-you Mom (now, should I capitalize “mom,” or not?  Hmmm, I can never remember that one for some reason; I guess I will have to ask you ha!).

Sal was a dream to work with.  His work ethic was like that of the hard-hat/lunch bucket, blue-collar crowd that his neighborhood modeled for him when he was a boy.  He didn’t blink once with all my questions and constant requests for clarification.  Now, maybe he had a few choice words for me under his breath (I say this in jest of course), but I never noticed.  Sal trusted me with the book structure and creative direction and never complained.  He gave me so much respect which gave me the confidence to edit with joy.  But make no mistake, this book is about Sal Cataldo and I told him many times that he was the captain of the ship and that any suggestion I made he could nix at any time.  This is his story and I didn’t want to get in the way.

Lastly, I want to thank Sal’s entire family for their love for their husband, father and uncle.  Their love for Sal was the oxygen he needed to write this book.  I specifically want to give credit to his wife Lee and daughter Nancy who were important parts of this process too, encouraging Sal along the way.  Thank-you Lee and Nancy.

When I first published Brooklyn Rumble  in 2018, I sold it through this website.  However, since then, I found out how to list the book on Amazon.  In that same vein, My Climb to the Top of the Bottom is also available on Amazon.  Click here and order your copy while supplies last.  I hope you find it as good a read as Sal’s friend Burt Young (of Hollywood fame) did.  He endorsed the book with these words:

Sal Cataldo is an old friend of mine, a good man.  He’s a good father, a family man.  He is quiet and strong and handles life pretty well.  His writings are like his life: rich and wonderful.

– Burt Young, Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor in Rocky.

Sal, it’s been an honor working with you.  We make an incredible team.

Sal Cataldo holding his copy of My Climb to the Top of the Bottom