Thursday, October 27, 2011


When me and Stevie were kids
In Junior High School
We were the best of friends
No matter that one of us
Was richer than the other
Or that one of us
Was so much poorer
Than the other
No matter that one of us
Lived in a private
Gated community
Called Sea Gate
And no matter
That one of us
Lived in a
Public housing project
Called Gravesend houses
We were the best of friends
Even though I envied him
For having both a mother and a father
Me and my mom lived alone
And even though my dad
Came home alive
From being a soldier
In the First World War
He was given a disability discharge
Due to his service connected
War wounds
So to make a long story
I always told people
Who wanted to know
That my father
Was killed
In the First World War
I was a little going away present
That dad gave to mom
Just before he died
When I was only ten months old

My mother never complained
At the hand that life had dealt her
She just played out her hand
And bet her chips
And kept her poker face on
As she stared down
Life’s many adversities

I’ll give her credit for this much
She knew when to hold em
And when to fold em
And I often watched her in awe
As she bluffed her way
Out of more than one
Sticky situation after another
Without having even so much
As a pair of deuces in her hand

One afternoon
After school
Stevie and I were goofing off
As usual
Not really sure
What we wanted to do
When out of the blue
Stevie asks me to tackle him
On the concrete pavement
In front of his house
You crazy or what I said
That’s concrete you’re standing on
We would both get skinned
Tackle me he repeated
In a way that was both
A challenge and a dare
Don’t be a pussy he said
Getting personal about the matter
I ain’t no pussy I said
Getting a little testy
About his tone and manner
So tackle me then
What are you afraid of
Nothing I said
Although I thought that
The whole idea was more than dumb
I understood that I was being challenged
But what was this challenge to be
A test of our friendship
A test of loyalty
A test of guts and courage
Over brains and good judgment
All of the above

I guess Stevie finally got tired of waiting
For me to make up my mind
He waved me off with a dismissive
Forget you he said
I should have known better than to ask

And with that I laid into him
Going full tilt
Knocking us both to the pavement
Until I could feel the stones
And bits of cut glass
Stinging my now damaged and badly scrapped
Elbows and knees
I could feel trickles of blood
Beginning to ooze out of
Various new bruises

Stevie laughed like crazy
Sonofabitch he said
Pushing me off his hurting body
Not caring that he had been hurt
Or damaged
Or that his clothes got torn

Why should he care after all
He was a rich kid
And he could always buy new clothes
Any time he wanted

Despite the fact that
The palm of my right hand
Was now cut and bleeding
I helped Stevie up
As bits of glass and dirt
Pushed deeper into the skin
As we pulled at each other
Until we were both
Once more fully erect
And standing on our own two feet

Stevie brushed himself off
Still shaking his head
And then he looked at me
Straight in the eye

You know he said
You are one crazy
Sonofabitch he said
While shaking my now
Possibly broken hand

Yeah I said
Disregarding the pain
So what does that make you?

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

At The Hop

Well, you can swing it you can groove it,
You can really start to move it, at the hop.
Where the jockey is the smoothest,
And the music is the coolest, at the hop.
All the cats and chicks can get their kicks at the hop.
Let's go!

(Eddie and the Dreamers)

I finally did get to go
To the fifth grade school dance
The closest thing to a “Hop”
Fifties style jamboree
That I ever did actually
Get to attend

By the time
The scheduled dance
Rolled around
I was able to scrape up
A borrowed suit
From my next door neighbor
Melvin Zeldin

The suit was about
Two sizes too big for me
And the trousers had to be folded
And refolded at the cuffs
To make them short enough
For me to wear

I had a recent buzz cut haircut
That made me look like
A refugee from some
Concentration camp
All that was missing
To complete the picture
Was a set of tattooed numbers
On my forearm

My prom date was to be
Judy Frasier
A red haired
Freckle faced
Little bit of Long Island crumpet
Whose face was scrubbed so clean
That her skin actually shined
Like our kitchen linoleum tiled floor

She was all white lace
And starch
I had to buy her a corsage
For her wrist that
Looked exactly like the ones
That all the other girls were wearing

I remember the two of us
Sitting side by side
In the back seat
Of my older brother’s
Our feet not yet able
To touch the floor

We didn’t dare speak to each other
Let alone look at one another
My hands were sweating and clammy cold
I guessed that Judy’s hands were the same
It really didn’t matter
As the very idea of actually holding hands
Was entirely out of the question
I suppose Judy suspected me of having cooties
And I had my suspicions about her
Cootie status as well

I had been given a few
Rudimentary dance lessons
At a local dance school
Just so that I would not make
A complete ass of myself
On the dance floor

We were taught the rudiments of
The fox trot and the box step waltz
On my own I had picked up
The basics of the cha cha cha
By watching American Band Stand on TV
Hosted by the legendary Dick Clark
I had no idea how Judy had learned to dance
And I wasn’t about to ask her

I had no idea why it was so important
To go the fifth grade dance hop
In the first place
I suppose it was meant
To socialize us kids
So that we did not become
Juvenile delinquents

My chances of becoming a juvenile delinquent
Were zero to none
As closely watched and supervised
As we kids were by
Mr. and Mrs. Admiral Bull Halsey
As I had come to refer to my
Foster parents
Who were my brother and sister in law
In real life

Judy Frasier was the daughter
Of the man who was rewiring our house
I suppose he just wanted to be sure
That his daughter would have a date
To the fifth grade hop
So that she would not have to be
A wall flower as the unpopular girls
Were called back then
Back then there was nothing worse
Than to be called a wallflower by your peers
It usually meant that you were a loser
And so socially inept
That no one
Would ever want to dance with you
There was no equivalent epithet
For lonely and homely looking boys

So Judy and I did our duty
To God and country
And to the fifth grade hop
By valiantly dancing the fox trop
And the box step waltz
While I waited to perform
My version of the cha cha cha
But my big chance never came
As the adult chaperones
Were not big fans
Of the cha cha cha
Considering it to be too
Risqué for fifth graders
And maybe they were right

Seems like anything
That we kids could think of
That in any way smacked of fun
Was considered by the grown ups
To be too risqué
For us fifth graders
Or for anyone else for that matter
Smoking was frowned upon
As was drinking
As was cussing
As was not going to church
If you were born a Christian
Or not going to synagogue
If you were born a Jew
And married couples
Very often slept in separate beds
Just like the make believe
Married couples on TV
Like Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore

All the school age boys had crew cuts
And all the school age girls had curls and long hair
That they brushed endlessly
For hours at a time as
Every one agreed that
Having well groomed hair
Was a social must

Both Judy and I were eternally grateful
When the fifth grade hop came to an end
And we could go back to our respective homes
And change into our pajamas
And have some chocolate milk and cookies
Before going to bed
Though I was very upset
That I had to miss
My favorite TV show Bonanza that night

I later heard that Judy
Was equally upset because she did not
Receive her expected good night kiss
That was entirely my fault
As I was so glad to be getting a reprieve from
Having to wear Melvin Zeldin’s borrowed
Itchy wool suit
That all thoughts
Of having to give Judy Frasier
Her good night kiss had
Completely skipped my mind

And I never did get another chance
To make it up to her

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011