Monday, September 17, 2012

By POP-ular Demand, Heee's Back!

They Do

        One thing led to quite a few others and, much to my discredit, I interrupted the story of Joe and Julie.  Thankfully - for us all - reality has been but in it's place tonight - elsewhere - and in response to the jolt of realization delivered via email of just how many lives Joe had touched, he rules - again.
        You see, I was having some glum-chum-news days; I gave in to "coping" with the present (in other words caved); left Joe in the thee-ay-ter and robbed my readers of the slice of Americana they'd all settled in to enjoy.  But THEY weren't having it.  Such was the outpouring of messages from old school chums of mine, my brother's, the fam - about how well they remembered him (when THEY had the chance) and about the stories of him and Mom (when THEY didn't) that, feeling slapped 'up side the face', I decided, present company WILL be excepted, and WE will continue.
        As they were living, then, Joe and Julie were heading 'for the chapel' - Stella, post-depression poverty, and overall lack of interest in their decision to become Mr. and Mrs., on September 3, 1936, they gave each to the other for better or worse.  They decided to toast those who wished them well and those who didn't could go to hell.
        Not having money for a real photographer, they always displayed the framed and matted remembrance of their stint as best man and maid of honor, preserved properly by Mom's big brother, Uncle Paul.  (You see Julie in her flowing gown at the top, left of today's edition.)  That he was asked by 'Big Paul' to be best man was really 'big' for Joe.  I never found it odd.  Growing up, Uncle Paul had the bucks and the gas station and a new caddy every year but he obviously liked and respected the guy his kid sister had picked (or the 'hood would have been talking about ole 'Joey Blue Eyes' in memoriam.)
        Joe had his precious, steady job with the American Chicle Company - who brought us Dentyne, Chiclets and Sen-Sen - and eventually made Joe the supervisor of the printing department.  He received an award for NEVER missing a shift OR being late after he'd given them thirty-four years of his lower middle class, happy and secure life.  A handsome gold square Bulova watch, it was, and a gold bracelet for Mom with a company logo charm.  He drove mostly Plymouths until they died but they always had a wax job that would make any self-respecting caddy cry.
        On Saturdays, he played 'serious' handball with the guys.  (Most he's been War buddies and they played  LOT of baseball over there in Germany - when they were not getting shot at.  Bet you didn't know that.  And his teammates were both his personal friends AND four of Mom's "ET-talian" cousins (good friends of his as well).  The reason they wound up together, Mom told us, is they (all the eligible young men in Greenpoint) all left the same day.  There was a huge parade down Manhattan Avenue of guys marching off, eyes straight ahead, while the sidewalks were lined with crying, waving Moms, wives, kids and sweethearts.  Mom was a number 2 and a number 4.  Anyway, the way it worked out - alphabetically and numerically, when they all got to the induction center, the guy in charge walked down the lined formation and with his index finger, poked each guy's chest, saying "Army, Navy, Marines" and somehow all Joe's buddies got Army and stayed together 'over there'.)
        Anyway, Saturday we watched the young
Turks' whale those tiny, very hard black ball into a concrete wall - until somebody missed.  Then they started over again.  (Not far from THOSE courts, the old men - like Mom's Pop - played 'Botchie' Ball.  They used a black ball that was larger and rolled strategically along a path of racetrack coal chips, aimed at pins.  The game was MUCH slower but the commentary compensated with its excited shouts and happy jeers.)
        Sundays belonged to God in the morning and baseball in the afternoon.  Our complex of four city parks named for an Irishman, McKaren, had five regulation sized baseball fields.  So if we weren't having the time of our lives at Ebbetts Field, we could be found watching our dads play at McKaren's.  (Once a month, the late Sunday afternoon was reserved for the ritual of "Waxing and Polishing" whatever jalopy Dad was driving.  This ritual HAD to be performed in the afternoon shade.  Remembering THESE hours gives me a longing for the excitement of watching paint dry.
        But somehow, Joe and Julie - whatever the season or reason - made these outdoor 'doings' adventures. I never mattered if it was snowing or if, in summer, we had been to Rockaway in the sun all day and, if we were really lucky, got to go on some rides at night only to come home beet red, get swabbed with Noxzema to put out the fires on our red skin and fall blissfully to sleep (no AC) with a cool breeze sweeping in to wash over us as we lay on cool, clean sheets that still smelled of the fresh air and sunshine that had prepared them to be 'spa quality'.  No. It never mattered if we had walked the nine long blocks ro go to the ice cream parlor with Mom and Dad in the evening for that 'surprize' cone or sundae, them nine blocks back to our five flight walk-up, railroad apartment. 
        You see, NONE of what some kids today might call trite or dull or 'ho-hum' because we were with Joe and Julie and safe and together and passed other kids with their folks, feeling good too.  The very 'routine-ness' made it so special.  The fact that we didn't ALWAYS get to do these things as SPECIAL when we did.
        And, even when Julie was NOT as amused as we, could put on a show at night that made anything on TV or in the movies seem like 'nothin'.  That's becaause we had a WHITE METAL kitchen table top and HE had shoes with real taps on them (made them last longer, he said) and could leap up onto the table top and go into a soft shoe that led into a 'Bolger rendition' of "Make 'Em Laugh" with the same finesse and ease as Ray hikself.  And we'd laugh.  (And Mpom would pretend she didn't - busying herself cutting the aquare 'Saturday Night Special' pizza she'd just made from scratch into generous portions.
        Sometimes, on Sunday afternoons, if it was raining and there weren't any games, our grandparents and Aunts and Uncles came over (with hungry, play-wound-up cousins) and it was impromptu party time. (Once, my Uncle Julian - the 'non-brother' (brother-in-law) who was NOT too athletic - or liked by the uncles and Granpa - thought it would be funny to see if we kids could do chin-ups on the heavy, carved wood rod that supported the drapes that separated the parlor from the bedrooms.  When it was my turn, the already groaning rod (or was that Mom?) just loudly cracked, spilling me and the carefully-ironed drapes to the floor.  'Jullian' thought it was funny.  He was laughing alone.
        But Joe saved the day.  He ordered my brother to set up the card table (the men ALWAYS played poker after dinner while the ladies cleaned up and sang songs with us kids.)  Just before the poker thing got started, seeing the obvious pain in his Julie's eyes as she bravely tried to ignore Julian's 'prank' and her hard-earned, now-broken carved wood rod, decided to let us kids have one ride each down the dumb waiter.
        We went nuts with excitement (the dumbwaiter was this closet-like affair that happened to be located right outside our apartment door.  The renters used it to carefuklly place wrapped trash or items to be stored in assigned basement stalls, to transport the items on a shelf-with-pulley system located behind the community 'closet door'. So, when not in use by neighboring rentors, Dad would put each kid in turn on the shelf, close the door and let it free-fall ALMOST to the basement when he'd yank the heavy rope, jerking the 'rider' to a 'bungee-type- stop landin g when Granpa (having been cued to get to the basement) would open the door and lift out the happy, squeeling kid - all the while belting out some bouncy Polish tune so we'd know he was there.  We LOVED the whole dumbwaiter-ride' thing.  Mom wasn't a fan but forgot about the curtain rod.
        It was during a poker game on a Sunday night that I bheard the men talking about my brazen request (MANY years later) to go to college.  Granpa was gone.  Jpoe's kids were, naturally the oldest.  My brother, Vince was attending NYU and that was OK with the uncles.  But.  Julian thought it was ceazy to send a GIRL to college. 
        "What for, Joe?  She'll just get knocked up and yo'll have wasted a wad."  And then he laughed because he thought he said something funny.  I was too busy crying to even ask my brother what was so funny.
        "Don't think so, Yuletche."  (That was a Polish nickname for Julian that SOUINDED dangerously close to the Polish word for 'jackass'.)  Uncle Julian stopped laughing and started to cough on his cigarette smoke.  (Another of his 'princely habits - the other two being scotch and occasional poen films I MUCH later found out he'd take my Aunt Dorothy to in Jersey.)
        "I'm with Joe on that," my Dad's youngest brother, Stash, said.
        "Geez.  I hope my Barbara never puts me in THAT position," adding nothing but offering commentary was Dad's next oldest brother Walter ("Vwadge")
        So four years later, when I was a senior at Georgetown and it was winter and everybody wore herringbone Chesterfield coats with black velvet collars and after a late lunch mine was missing from the coat racks, I panicked (and froze waiting for my parents' next vist down).  I had decided Dad would take the coat deal better and soften the blow of Mom's "How-could-you-be-so-careless-with-a-coat-we-couldn't-afford in-the-first-place speech.  So, I drove with him to get them checked into their motel while Mom hung out completely entertained by my ftiends at the dorm. I haltingly told him there was something I had to tell him and it wasn't good.  Before I could get on with my confession, he pulled the Plymouth carefully over to the shoulder of Rock Creek Parkway, stopped the vehicle safely and turned off the ignition. 
        "Do you have a flat?," I ask.  (HOW could I have inherited the 'dumb ass gene' from Uncle Julian?  Pray, tell me.)
        "Just give it to me straight, Kid," he said.
        "You're pregnant, right?"
        "Geee-zus,"  spat all-educated moi.
        ""I'll handle Mom," he continued gently.
        "How DARE you," shouted the now-who's-got-the-edge yours truly.
        "My damned COAT was stolen," profanity punctuating the pain.
        "Thank GOD!"  And ole Joe grabbed his little girl in a bear hug.
        Of course I stiffened just a soul-stabbed smidge before letting the poor guy off, shedding a few conspiratorially-relieved tears.  He took us to Blackie's to celebrate and tell Mom that night where I went to the Powder Room and she to pieces.   By the time I returned, Mom had vented her rage over the monetary gauging and poor Joe sat slathering butter on a hot roll in famished/celebratory anticipation of his comfort food.
        I PROMISE to matriculate him to Poppy tomorrow - RIGHT after you hear the Robert-Mitchum-look-alike story that was still being recalled at our forty fifth reunion last year.  For now, "To sleep; perchance to dream."
Later, Lorane. . . .
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