Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 2012--Chapter 5: The Siegel Twins

Every time there was a Siegel family gathering, the Siegel Twins’ cousin Yetta would take them aside to tell them that they needed to do something about their breasts. 
Yetta was something of an authority on the subject, reportedly having a fully developed pair of her own by the time she was just twelve. And though when she served as the Twins breast advisor she was thirty-five and the mother of three, hers were still her best assets.
She would whisper to Rochelle and Rachel that unless they did something to improve them they would wind up marrying bus drivers and living in adjoining basement apartments just down the street from their parents.  Breasts were that important to their future.
Unfortunately I did not come by this knowledge firsthand.  
What I am reporting is from Mel Lipsky, the star of our school’s basketball team.  Though not much of a scholar (he never managed to master the 8-times table), Mel had an undefendable jump shot, an attribute that made him desirable, especially to girls, on more than the basketball court.  So desirable that the Twins invited him to spend afternoons with them pressed together in the confines of the classroom coat closet.   Since they too were not known for their academic prowess, Mel and the Twins were soul mates—well suited to spending flesh-filled time together squeezed in among the camphor-scented coats.
Though my classmates and I were eager to learn about what went on in the closet, Mel was sworn to secrecy and thus reluctant to share the physical details.  He was, though, willing to talk sympathetically about what cousin Yetta perceived to be the Twins’ anatomical problem. While in the closet, they confessed to him that they did not want to endure the same fate as their bust-deprived mother, who in fact was married to a bus driver.
And so, Mel reported, the Twins were desperate to do something about their situation.  He told us they had selected him to be of assistance, even though he was not showing any signs of interest or aptitude in either science or the medical arts.  Mel, however, did what he could to be helpful to Rochelle and Rachel.
Mel had a sister, Marcy, who herself was a prodigy in the bust department and advised Mel that the best thing the twins could do, besides spending afternoons in the closet with him, would be to brush their hair at least a half dozen times a day, stroking each side exactly one hundred times, while chanting, “I must, I must, I must improve my bust.”  This Marcy assured him would increase blood flow and thereby build needed muscle in the deficient areas. 
Mel duly passed this along and reported back to us that Rochelle and Rachel had already worn out two brushes each and that they, and he, were feeling optimistic—something measurable seemed to be happening.
Some weeks later, Mel told us that Marcy learned about a product called Bust Cream.  She saw an add for it on the back cover of True Romance magazine, ordered some via the mail-in coupon, had tried some--not because she needed it but in the interest of science--and could give it her enthusiastic endorsement.
The Siegel Twins, Mel said, secured some and, in his first slip into indiscretion (we were hoping for many more), told us that he himself was helping to administer it each afternoon in the closet. 
“So that was what I smelled,” said Herbie Fleishman, “And all along I thought it was moth balls.”
“You moron,” we chorused.
Shrugging, he said, “But I never smelled Bust Cream before.” 
“With a beak like yours you should be a specialist in smells.  You should know the difference between moth balls and Bust Cream,” Mel chided him, which elicited mocking guffaws from the frustrated rest of us. 
And as it turned out, Herbie Fleishman, who later to become Dr. J. Herbert Franklin, not only had that beak of his surgically straightened, but also became a famous ear, nose, and throat man.  As my mother said about him years later, “The biggest nose man on Park Avenue.”
Mel had so befriended and served the Siegel Twins that they invited him to accompany them to their second cousin Sarah’s Sweet Sixteen.  It was to be at the Club Elegante on Ocean Parkway.  A fancy place, which meant that Mel needed to get a suit because his parents wouldn’t be buying him one for six more months when he would be Bar Mitzvahed since by then he would likely be four inches taller at it wouldn’t fit. 
Fortunately, Mel was the same size as Heshy Perlmutter who offered to lend him his blue serge Bar Mitzvah suit, which, Mel said would be perfect since the Siegel Twins told him blue would go well with their gowns.  And don’t forget, Heshy reminded him, to buy two wristlet corsages.  Cymbidium Orchids were Heshy’s recommendation, implying that if he showed up with these, later in the evening the Twins would give him a full, up close update about the latest results of the brushing and creaming.
Mel said he would give us our own update about that update if we would chip in to help with the cost of the orchids. Which we eagerly did.  Since this made us parties to the affair, he promised to deliver that report first thing Sunday morning.  We made plans to meet at Krinsky’s Candy Store at 9:00 AM so we could learn the results of our investment. 
He was ten minutes late on Sunday morning but showed up, looking somewhat bleary eyed though still with the familiar athlete’s hop in his step.  Perhaps, we noticed, there was even more hop than usual, which suggested we would be getting our money’s worth.  
We ordered four Egg Creams and retreated to a private booth in the back of the store, leaning toward Mel who had set himself up in the middle of the banquette on one side of the table so the three of us had to squeeze into the bench facing him.  I could feel Heshy on my right and Herbie on my left trembling in anticipation—or was I, I wondered, the one causing all the vibrations?
Mel began with a detailed description of the nightclub.  He was awestruck, “You should see the mirrors and chandeliers. Rachel said they were made of real crystal. The chandeliers, I mean. Rochelle said they were just as big as the ones in French palaces.”
I snapped at him, “Who cares about the decorations. Get on, already, with what happened with the Siegel Twins and the you-know-what.”
“It was elegant, and,” he snorted, “that’s why they named it Club Elegante.  With an ‘e.’  Rochelle told me that’s French for elegant.”  Ignoring our desperately wanting to get to the real issues, he told us the chandeliers reminded him of the ones in Larry Ruby’s mother’s old dining room before they ran off to Florida.  “And instead of electric bulbs, the whole club,” he reported, “was lit by giant candles which where on top of what reminded me of huge Hanukkah Menorahs.  Even though, Rachel said, the place was owned by Italians.  And they had a live band which included four guys in tuxes, including one who could play the saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet.”
Heshy was confused, “All three at once?”
Mel ignored Heshy’s lack of musical knowledge and worldliness.
“But what about the Twins?” I asked, “Can we please get to them?”
“Hold your horses. I’m getting to that. But also there was their cousin Yetta. I’ve told you about her.”
“And?” we asked in chorus.
“Everyone was wearing gowns, like at a wedding.  I’m glad I had a nice suit.”
“There was a long table where they had little meat balls and tiny stuffed cabbages and there were waiters walking around with silver trays with Pigs In Blankets.  You know, those little hot dogs.  You could eat whatever you wanted.”
“The band played all night and everyone was dancing.”
He leaned forward, “The girls’ dresses were all strapless.”
We were at last getting closer to what we had anteed up to hear, “And the Siegel Twins, what about theirs?” 
“I think they were baby blue.  I’m a little color blind, but I think that’s why they wanted those orchids.”
“And did they like the flowers enough to . . . you know?  Let you see?”
Mel leaned further across the table so that our heads were inches apart.  “Let me put it to you this way—they were the only girls there who didn’t have to constantly pull up the tops of their dresses.”  He winked.  That was something else at which he excelled—winking.  Though we all practiced that art none of us could yet do more than look as if we were squinting myopically when attempting to emulate him.
He moved even closer toward us and lowered his voice another octave.  Here too he had advanced far beyond any of us—his voice had already changed and his whispering, like his winking, was yet another art form.  “I really need to tell you about the Twin’s cousin.  Yetta.”  
Again all at once, we said, “We forgot.  Who’s she again?”
“Their older cousin. You know, the one who told them about the brushing. She’s a woman.  With three kids.  He seemed distracted by thoughts of her.
“So what’s the big deal with her?  She sounds old.”
“She is but she still looks good.  In fact, very good.  Even better than the Twins.”  He shot us another movie star wink.
“Why are you spending so much time telling us about her?”   Avoiding sharing the details about his time with the Siegel Twins was making us edgy, causing us to feel we were not getting what we paid good money for.
Ignoring us again, he continued to tell the story his way. “Well, it got to be about 11:00 and the Twins had not yet let me check about their progress.  I was beginning to feel frustrated since I knew the band had been hired to play only until 11:30 and the party would be ending soon.  But just as I was about to give up on the Twins, Yetta came over and asked if I’d like to go out to the terrace with her for a smoke.  Now you know I don’t smoke because I have to stay in shape for basketball, but no girl or woman who looked like Yetta ever invited me for a cigarette on a nightclub terrace before so I went with her and let her light up one for each of us since I told her, yes, I’d like a smoke.  Inhaling it made me choke and cough but to cover up I told her I had a cold.   I don’t think she believed me.”
Mel had recaptured our interest.  We were thinking maybe we would finally hear something good.  “And?”
“She asked me what I thought about Rachel and Rochelle.  I told her I liked them.  She said, ‘That’s not what I‘m talking about.  You know what I mean.  They told me all about you and that coat closet and the cream your sister told them about.’  I couldn’t believe what she was saying, thinking she was going to get me into trouble for what I was doing to them.  Get me suspended from school or switched to another class.  I tried to tell Yetta that it wasn’t my fault; that the Twins were the ones who came up with the idea to meet in the closet every afternoon. 
“But Yetta stopped me before I could get any words out and said, ‘I know all about what they are up to and how they have been using you.’  I was stunned, though I must admit I didn’t mind being used by them in that way!” He grinned.
“’And how do you think they are doing?’ Yetta asked with a smile.  ‘What do you mean doing?’  I was so nervous that I wasn’t understanding her.  ‘You know, with my idea about their busts?’  Your idea?’ ‘Yes, I’m the one who told them they needed to do something about them.  So what do you think?’ she winked, ‘You know more about them than I do.  Have they gotten any bigger?’  ‘Uh, I’m not sure,’ I stammered not knowing what to say. ‘To tell you the truth I was supposed to find out tonight.’ 
“Yetta laughed at that one, saying, ‘Forget about that.  In fact, forget about them.  They’ve moved on.’  Moved on?’ I asked, becoming very confused.  Was she talking about their busts?
“‘Yes, thanks to me, and of course you, they told me they are now ready for Italians.’ 
“I was now totally puzzled, ‘Italians?  ‘Yes, Italians,’ Yetta said.  ‘For boyfriends.’  I was speechless. 
“Yetta then moved closer to me, took my hand, and guided it to her waist.  I could feel her hip beneath the satin of her gown. 
“She whispered, close to my ear, ‘And it’s also time for you to move on.’  She was smiling at me.  I could taste her perfume and inhaled the cigarette smoke she blew toward me.  ‘The Twins are ready for Italians.  And you, you Mel, are ready for a woman.’”

That was all he had to report. Mel, no longer making eye contact, sagged in his seat, looking as if his animal vitality, which was so characteristic of him, had vanished. We couldn’t think of anything else to say or ask. 
After a moment, with no further explanation, he slipped out of the booth and left Krinsky's. Through
the front window we saw him, head down, as if into the wind, turn the corner onto East 56th Street.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30, 2012--Fact Checking Paul Ryan

I am far from naive when it comes to believing what I hear when it comes to political speechifying, but Paul Ryan last night at the Republican convention may have set the record for, well, lying.

Here, from the Associated Press of all places, are a few examples of his whoppers:

RYAN: "And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. ... So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama." 
THE FACTS: Ryan's claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction. And the cuts do not affect Medicare recipients directly, but rather reduce payments to hospitals, health insurance plans and other service providers.
In addition, Ryan's own plan to remake Medicare would squeeze the program's spending even more than the changes Obama made, shifting future retirees into a system in which they would get a fixed payment to shop for coverage among private insurance plans. Critics charge that would expose the elderly to more out-of-pocket costs.
RYAN: "The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal." 
THE FACTS: Ryan himself asked for stimulus funds shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ryan's pleas to federal agencies included letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grant money for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.
One of them, the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., received $20.3 million from the Energy Department to help homes and businesses improve energy efficiency, according to federal records. That company, he said in his letter, would build "sustainable demand for green jobs." Another eventual recipient, the Energy Center of Wisconsin, received about $365,000.
RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. "A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you . this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year." 
THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.
RYAN: Obama "created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing." 
THE FACTS: It's true that Obama hasn't heeded his commission's recommendations, but Ryan's not the best one to complain. He was a member of the commission and voted against its final report.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August 29, 2012--Way To Go Charlie!

We're down in Florida on a mothercare visit. She is doing pretty well, all things considered, for a 104-year old. This has also given us an opportunity to catch up on Florida politics.

At breakfast this morning, a staunch and intelligent Republican told me that Governor Romney's selection of Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate means that, "Obama, for sure, will carry Florida. Here, it's all about Medicare. Ryan," Jack added, "is a worse choice than Sarah Palin, and I thought she was a political disaster."

In the meantime, former Republican governor, Charlie Crist, endorsed Barack Obama for reelection. When I heard that I thought I was hallucinating. But it's true. Here is his statement:

As America prepares to pick our president for the next four years — and as Florida prepares once again to play a decisive role — I'm confident that President Barack Obama is the right leader for our state and the nation. I applaud and share his vision of a future built by a strong and confident middle class in an economy that gives us the opportunity to reap prosperity through hard work and personal responsibility. It is a vision of the future proven right by our history.
And the president invested in our retirement security by strengthening Medicare. The $716 billion in savings his opponents decry today extended the life of the program by nearly a decade and are making sure taxpayer dollars aren't wasted in excessive payments to insurance companies or fraud and abuse. His opponents would end the Medicare guarantee by creating a voucher that would raise seniors' costs by thousands of dollars and bankrupt the program.

In the meantime, his successor, Rick Scott, is doing everything he can to disenfranchise as many low-income and minority voters as he can. If Jack is right, and I think he is, that's the only way Romney-Ryan can carry Florida. By stealing it just as George Bush did in 2000.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28, 2012--Isaac

We are in Florida on a mothercare visit. Hurricane Isaac, as well, has been in the area and we are intermittently losing power. Thus, like the Republicans in Tampa, this is as much as I am capable of doing today. I will return in fuller voice tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

August 27, 2012--What Happens in Galilee . . .

All of a sudden we are hearing in the news about guys running around butt naked.

Not just any guys but congressmen and royal princes.

Specifically, Kansas Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder and Prince Harry.

One was just fooling around and the other was having a come-to-Jesus moment.

On the off chance that you haven't been paying attention, let me fill you in first about the prince who's third in line to the British throne.

After behaving like an adult, showing up every day in jacket and tie at the recently concluded London Olympics, on occasion representing his grandmum, the over-encumbered 27-year-old Prince Harry, needed a little R&R.

Where better to jet off to than Las Vegas? Where what happened, unfortunately for Harry, didn't stay there. In the prince's case what went viral on the Internet were nude pictures of him playing strip billiards with a couple of nubile and equally naked babes.

If you must see the photos, they are available at the TMZ gossip website. They're sort of grainy but it's him all right and he looks pretty buff. As for the young women, well, it is Las Vegas after all.

Meanwhile at the Sea of Galilee, Congressman Yoder was romping around without his boxers.

It seems that he was on a evangelical-congressional junket with a dozen or so other GOP House members paid for by the lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And when they got to the site at the sea where it is believed Jesus walked on water, after downing a few shots of, I am assuming, sacramental wine, the good congressman stripped down and jumped into the water--presumably not walking on it--so he could, as he later put it, "swim where my Savior walked."

When the story came out he was called to task by the House Republican leadership and apologized, indicating it was the wrong thing to do since America is still a Puritan nation.

It will be interesting to see what the prince feels he needs to say, or is told to say. In his case, maybe nothing because Brits who were interviewed by the New York Times after the pictures circulated didn't seem to have a problem with his antics.

One said, "I think it's quite funny. I'm sure most people would like to be doing exactly the same thing."

Another chimed in--"He should be able to enjoy himself. If I was still a young man, I'd be doing it too."

Friday, August 24, 2012

August 24, 2012--Chapter 4: Larry the Fag

How else to put it--during the 1950s, and especially on my street in Brooklyn, it was not good to be known as the neighborhood “fag.”  

It was such a bad thing, in fact, that even before any of us knew what a fag really was, it was still not considered to be a good thing.  It might have been OK if nobody knew about it; but, if you did, it was thought to be dangerous because we feared it might be catching. Infectious like the croup or polio.

I need to take a step back and reveal what we thought we knew about sex and what we learned on those rare occasions when there would be awkward conversations with our parents about what they referred to as “the facts of life.” 

What we knew came from two distinct streams of information—from quick glimpses at books such as The Stork Didn’t Bring You (there was a dog-eared copy tucked away behind the Passover Haggadah in my Aunt Tanna’s apartment), and, much more exciting, from what we picked up on the street from the Italian kids who lived among us Jews.  The assumption being that they “did it” all the time. Whatever that “it” was.

The Stork Didn’t Bring You was full of what today would be considered euphemisms—about how if Mommy and Daddy “hugged” each other when they were sleeping, a “little fish” that came from Daddy would swim over to where Mommy was and then together with Mommy’s egg a Baby would move in to live in Mommy’s “stomach” where he grew bigger and bigger.  And then one day, after nine months, Mommy would go to the hospital and come home a week later with a Baby Brother or Baby Sister.  And, the book taught, the stork didn’t bring you--you were picked up at the hospital as from a store for babies.

From the Italians we learned that girls had holes where we had dicks, and that if you put your dick in that hole and peed in there you would make a girl get a baby.  We also learned that girls started out as something the Italians called “virgins,” which meant that no one yet had put their dicks in them because they had teeth down there and you couldn’t do it without getting your pecker bitten off.  If the girls didn’t want to be virgins anymore, they had to go to a special dentist to have those teeth pulled out.

When we learned about the teeth, we hung around Dr. Glick’s office to see if he was that kind of dentist.  Unfortunately, though we took turns staking out his office, we never saw any girls we knew going in there to have those extractions.  Just to get X-rays and fillings.
But when we heard that the neighborhood shoemaker, John Innusi, was going to get married, even though he just got to America from Italy and didn’t speak much English, we thought that if he didn’t know about those teeth he had better get his Maria to Dr. Glick before they got married because otherwise he would have his dick bitten off when he tried to stick it in her hole. 
At our urging, he did make an appointment for her with Dr. Glick and accompanied her there a few weeks before the wedding. But when he returned to his store, where we were eagerly awaiting a firsthand report, he refused to even make eye contact.  In fact, he never again spoke to any of us.  And when we would come into his store to get a used rubber heel to play Heels with, he would pick up his largest hammer and chase us down the street and around the corner, screaming in incomprehensible Sicilian.
And so, armed with all of this basic knowledge about sex, amalgamating what we read in The Stork with what we were told by the Italians, we were ready for the next stage in our sexual education.
Larry Ruby’s dog Sludge was very helpful in this regard.
Larry was the only rich kid on the block, which meant that his parents owned a house and didn’t have to rent out the basement to help pay their heating bills.  They also bought a new Buick every year, while those other families who had cars, far from most, hondled for theirs in New Jersey, near the Lodi Traffic Circle, which was noted for its many used car lots.  The clunkers they would buy there often died halfway across the George Washington Bridge, and those that survived the interstate trip rarely were still running a year later. 
We never figured out what Larry’s father did for a living, but we did know he went to whatever he did at about two in the afternoon and reportedly returned home about two in the morning.  Though they lived in the neighborhood for at least ten years, I saw him only twice.  Both times he needed a shave.  Whenever we were over at Larry’s house he was said to be up on the third floor sleeping.
Since they had a house all to themselves, they also were the only ones on the block to have a dog.  Sludge was unusual for a number of reasons—first , as the only dog nearby, he was a biological curiosity.  We knew about dogs from comic books and from the one they had in the neighborhood firehouse, but we had limited experience with any dog in the flesh.  And Sludge was, if anything, all about flesh. 
He was famous for licking his dick compulsively and dry-humping your leg as soon as you came in the front door.  He would wrap his incredibly strong front legs around your thigh--you couldn’t pry him loose, not that we tried very hard since what he was up to was so fascinating--and hump away until he made your pants wet with some sticky stuff that came out of his dick that wasn’t pee.  And when he was done he would resume his licking, clearly doing what had to be done to prepare for his next humping
Only Larry knew what this was about, telling us it was a version of what his father sometimes did to his mother up on the third floor when he wasn’t working.  Try as we could, it was hard to imagine how Mr. Ruby could wrap his legs around Mrs. Ruby’s leg and hump it until it made it wet.  But Larry was a year older than we and his family owned a house of their own and a new Buick and thus we assumed he knew what he was talking about.  But still, it was hard to form a picture in our minds of what his father and mother were doing upstairs while we were in school.
Larry played a role in our sex education in yet another way.  His father had a darkroom in the basement that he would allow Larry to use to develop and print photographs.  There was to be sure the virtual miracle of the photographic process itself, how images would form in that black-lit room, seemingly as if by magic, from the bottom of those trays.  But beyond that alchemy, often, when we came over, and squeezed into the darkroom with him, the images that would emerge from that chemical soup were grainy pictures of what looked like women.  Naked women.
You need to know that the closest we ever came to seeing naked women were from the brassiere ads in the Sears Catalog or from pictures of mud-smeared pigmies in National Geographic.   So when Larry would finish printing one of his magical pictures we would run from the darkroom, with the paper still dripping fixative, out to where the light was bright enough to enable us to peer through the graininess to, above all, see how the tits were attached to the women’s chests.  A revelation to us, in our anatomical innocence, was that they did not hang like sacks from a slot in women’s chests but rather seemed to be attached around their entire circumference.  The pictures weren’t clear enough to learn much more, that we hoped would come later; but what we saw there was intoxicating, and caused my dick to get hard.
Given all the pictures of the naked women that Larry was developing, though none emerged in any sharper focus than any of the others, we began to figure out that his father’s business must somehow be related to those wondrous images.  We didn’t yet have a name for that sort of work, or a sense of how he might make money from such things, but we were aware enough even at that early and naïve age to understand that the Rubys’ material well-being was somehow related to what that darkroom could produce.
So when one day Larry called to say that his parents were away and that he had something very special to show us, it was not much of an effort to get Heshy Perlmutter, Mel Lipsky, and me over there before he could hang up the phone.
We arrived breathless.  Smiling slyly, Larry asked if we wanted to play cards.  Just playing cards didn’t seem to require us to rush to his house because his parents were away. And with Sludge locked in the basement—we could hear him whimpering--that suggested something more than a game of Go Fish was on Larry’s mind; and so, with wildly beating hearts, speaking for all of us, Heshy said, “Sure.  Why not.”
Larry had us sit around his mother’s bridge table and pulled a pack of playing cards out of his back pocket.  He shuffled them theatrically and then, with the cards face down, dealt each of us in turn five, announcing we would play poker.  Strip Poker. 
In truth, neither Heshy nor Mel nor I knew how to play poker, but we had heard about Strip Poker on the street and thus, titillated, nodded, “OK.” 
So Larry said, “Before you pick up the cards,” knowing how little we knew about the world, “let me tell you about Five Card Stud.”  And he did--about how two pair beat one pair; what a straight was and a flush.  And how before a game each of us had to ante up something and how the one with the best hand at the end of game would win all that was in the pot. 
Then before he would allow us to pick up the cards he told us that for Strip Poker you anted up clothes.  With that, he pulled off his shirt and put it in the middle of the table, telling us we had to do the same.  Which we, after exchanging glances and shrugs, did.  He told us he’d talk us through the first hand until we got the hang of it. And then instructed us to pick up our cards.  We did as we were told.
On each of those cards were pictures of naked people. 
Not just naked people, which would have been excitement enough, but rather pictures of naked women and naked men in various poses.  Poses that reminded us of the things Sludge did to himself, and to us.
Our mouths literally hung open. None of us was breathing. Just gasping for air.
Watching us with evident pleasure, Larry told us they were called French Cards. 
I glanced at one, afraid to stare, fearing I would go blind or be bewitched and turned into a crazy person who would have to spend the rest of my life confined to the Kings County Insane Asylum. But still I could see that in the pictures all the men were naked except for black socks, most with garters, and hid their faces behind sunglasses. The women wore nothing at all.
After we managed to calm ourselves down, we got the hang of poker pretty quickly, enough to get Heshy and Mel and me down to our underwear in less than 15 minutes.  Larry was obviously experienced enough with Five Card Stud to not only have gathered virtually all of our clothes to his side of the table but also to have remained fully clothed.
Then he paused to look deeply at each of us in turn and said, “It’s getting hot in here,” and with that quickly took off all his clothes and slid them into the pot in the middle of the table.  Announcing that he was anteing everything he had for one final Winner-Take-All hand. 
This meant that we as well would have to ante what we were left with--just our Jockey shorts.  Which we did. 
He dealt the cards slowly, savoring the slow pace and how we were shivering in anticipation of what might be in store for us.
As usual he won and pulled everything across the table, enfolding all of our clothes in his naked arms. 
The game was over with Larry the big winner, but with all four of us as naked as the men on the cards. Though we too hadn’t taken off our socks.
Leering, Larry then said, “Let’s play a different game, also using the cards.” 
We were sufficiently compromised and excited that we continued to trust him and again nodded our heads in unison.  He said, “Let’s take the cards with us into the living room.”  Which we did. 
He placed all 52 face down on the rug and swished them about so as to mix them.  He then told Heshy to pick one, any one, which Heshy did. 
Larry said, “Hold it up so we all can see.”  Which Heshy did. 
It was a picture of a French women doing something with her mouth to the French guy’s dick.  
Larry said, “OK Heshy, you be the guy and I’ll be the girl.  Let’s act out what they are doing in the picture.”
And with that he bent over toward Heshy in a version of what the woman was doing to the man.  Heshy jumped back before Larry could get close enough to touch him and scrambled away, looking for his clothing.
Larry next turned to Mel and asked if he wanted to pick a card.  Which he did though his hands were shaking. 
It too was of a man and woman, this time in a position quite similar to the one Sludge assumed when he wrapped his paws around your leg.  To simulate this picture, Larry turned his naked back to Mel, bent over, and instructed him to play the man.  He would again be the woman. 
Mel as if in a trance began to approach Larry, but before he got to touching distance he too ran from the living room.
That then left just Larry and me. 
He told me to pick a card from the pile.  Which I, as if hypnotized, did. 
It showed a man and woman facing each other, apparently about to do what the Italian kids said men did to women. 
Larry, once more playing the woman, his favored part, waved me toward him.  I closed the distance between us slowly.
But unlike Mel and Heshy I didn’t run away.

                                                  *    *    *   

Some weeks later, Heshy and Mel and I met in front of Larry’s house, thinking we could get him to come out and play Heels.  It was a game at which we excelled and where we often took advantage of Larry’s lack of skill.  We were hoping to retaliate for having done so poorly at Five Card Stud and wanted to clean him out of his baseball playing cards—the currency for which we gambled when playing Heels.
His house looked empty.  We went up to the stoop and rang the front door bell.  Repeatedly.  There was no answer, just the sound of chimes echoing in a deserted vestibule.
The next day stories swept the neighborhood about how the Rubys had moved out quickly and silently the night before, under cover of darkness.  Some thought that they had gone to Miami. 
Others claimed that Mr. Ruby had been arrested and was in jail for some reason having to do with his business.  No one knew what that might be. 
Heshy’s father, Mr. Perly, who was a Communist, was convinced that he had cheated on his taxes. "Capitalist!" he spat.  
Mel’s father, Mr. Lipsky, who drove a taxi, said maybe he was a Bookie and was hiding from one of the Italians who had won a lot of money betting on the horses. 
Or even better, I thought, maybe Larry's father had murdered someone.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23, 2012--"Progressing a Positive Agenda"

We have finally heard what Sarah Palin thinks about Congressman Todd Akin. 

She told her employer, Fox News, that she too thinks he should quit the Missouri Senate race. But not like other Republicans because his comments about "legitimate rape" were offensive or outrageous, but because the former Alaska governor claims he's not extreme enough. He's too "status quo," says Palin, "and the status quo has got to go."

I think that even rhymes! 
As someone who left office halfway through her first term, she know about quitting and has some unsolicited advice for Akin:
Todd Akin has said he's not going to drop out, and bless his heart, I don't want to pile on Todd Akin, because in some respects I understand what he was trying to say here, in standing on principle that he doesn't want to be perceived as a quitter, but you gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. Believe me, I've walked before, and I know when you have to hold that mantle and then hand it to someone else in order to progress a positive agenda. That's what I had to do in Alaska.
Oh, how I miss her. She's so fun and has such a way with the English language.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012--"She's Uptight"

Even Republicans know that what Missouri congressman Todd Akin said about "legitimate rape" is stupid.

Not the concept that there is legitimate as opposed to illegitimate rape--about that there is general GOP agreement--but they know that his comments are politically stupid and that's why they are belatedly trying to get him to drop out of the race.

Not only might this distinction of his (and theirs) cause Missouri voters to hold their noses and vote to reelect Senator Claire McCaskill (and thereby make it easier for Democrats to cling to their majority in the Senate), but woman nationally might see the true nature of the Republican war on women--especially with Akin ally Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket--that enough of them will hold their noses and vote to reelect Barack Obama.

Politically the two giddiest people in America right now are Senator McCaskill and President Obama. Rep. Akin's aberrations--and the attention they bring to Ryan who cosponsored "personhood" legislation with Akin that would make all abortions, even of one-cell fetuses, the equivalent of murder--these extremist views will help both Obama's and McCaskill's campaigns.

In case you have been in a media-free location for the last few days, Akin, who was asked about his opposition to abortion even in the case where pregnancies are caused by incest and rape, spoke about how in the instances when rape was "legitimate" (in contrast, I suppose, to those times when women bring rape upon themselves) it would not be necessary for those "legitimately" raped women to need abortions because, when one is raped that way hormonal things happen that make rape victims impervious to becoming pregnant. Therefore, Q.E.D., no need for any abortions.

As crazy as this sounds, let's turn to the science to see if maybe, somehow Akin is right about this.

In fact, over a number of decades this "contraceptive" assertion about what happens during "forcible rape" (what Akin-Ryan call "legitimate rape") has been bandied about by anti-abortion activists.

From a careful article in Tuesday's New York Times, here is the scientific controversy in a nutshell (pun intended). 

Note--since some of what follows is quite explicit, keep it away from young children and non-consenting adults:

Dr. John C. Willke, a general practitioner with obstetric training and a former president of the National Right to Life Committee, was an early proponent of this view, articulating it in a book originally published in 1985 and again in a 1999 article. He reiterated it in an interview Monday.“This is a traumatic thing—she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” 
Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.” 
Leading experts on reproductive health, however, dismissed this logic. 
“There are no words for this—it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. 
Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that “to suggest that there’s some biological reason why women couldn’t get pregnant during a rape is absurd.” 
Mr. Akin’s statement did have supporters. Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, defended Mr. Akin on his program “Focal Point,” citing “John Willke, who is an M.D. by the way—a lot of these ignoramuses on Twitter are not.” 
He read from Dr. Willke's 1999 article, which described what is “certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s physical trauma.”He continued with the article: “To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.” 
Mr. Fischer concluded: “In other words, ladies and gentleman, Todd Akin was exactly right.” 
Representative Ron Paul, an obstetrician who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination, was asked about the issue Monday. “Rep. Paul has no comment,” a spokeswoman said by e-mail. 
Dr. Willke, who is 87, asserted Monday that “way under 1 percent” of rape victims become pregnant, not just because of female biology but because about half of rapists “do not deposit sperm in the vagina.” That, Dr. Willke said, is because many rapists have “a preference for rectal intercourse over vaginal”; experience “premature ejaculation," which is a major factor”; or “some of these guys just plain aren’t fertile.” 
But several experts said there is no solid data on such issues. A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, generally considered one of the few peer-reviewed research efforts on this subject, estimated that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy. “Yeah, there are all sorts of hormones, including ones that cause your heart to beat fast when you’re frightened,” said Dr. Greene. But he added, “I’m not aware of any data that says that reduces a woman’s risk of getting pregnant.” 
As for the contention that a rape victim’s fallopian tubes tighten, Dr. Grimes, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “That’s nonsense. Everything is working. The tube is very small anyway and sperm are very tiny—they’re excellent swimmers.”
So there you have it--the science and the pseudoscience.
A few questions remain--what about incest? Does the female body prevent pregnancies when father's have sex with their daughters? And even if "only" one percent of "legitimate" rapes cause pregnancy, does that mean that Republicans still would not allow abortions in those circumstances?
I ask because Republicans have just added a plank to their upcoming presidential campaign platform that calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions, even for pregnancies caused by incest and rape.
I know faux-libertarian Ron Paul would again have no comment, but what about V.P. candidate Paul Ryan? I think we know his views. And as for Mitt Romney? We know what he used to say a mere few years ago when he held various moderate views. But what would he say now that he is pandering to the Tea Party? Sadly, I think we know. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21, 2012--Bureaucracy

"Why is it," I asked, "that all bureaucracies which are theoretically designed to make things work efficiently and fairly, over time, seem to do the opposite?" We were having coffee with friends at the cafe. "What causes this to happen?"

"I thought political subjects are off limits on Monday mornings." This with a wink from a friend.

"I'm not making a political statement," I quickly said, hoping he was just fooling with me--but I wanted to be sure. "Look, haven't we all been saying [we had been] that this is a problem at all governmental levels--local, state, and federal--and that even bureaucracies within companies can be just as bad and infuriating as the one at the motor vehicle bureau?" Everyone nodded. "So what's the story?" I continued, "Why does this always seem to happen?"

"For example," Ted said, "They'll never get around to fixing the Harrington Meeting House Road. This winter when the snowplows get to it they'll scrape out all the old asphalt and it will revert to being a dirt road."

"Or the school buses won't be able to drive on it," Pete chimed in, "It will be that unsafe."

"So, what's holding it up?" Rona asked. "Which bureaucracy?"

"I thought the work was approved," Ted said, "The paperwork's all done."

Pete offered, "It's what Steve's saying. The bureaucracy, that's the problem. That's what's holding things up."

"But if it has all the approvals," Ted wanted to know, "they should get started before the winter comes."

"You're missing my point," Pete said. "It's not about paperwork or even the regulations. And you know what I think about them." He made a face.

"So what is it then?" I asked. "I thought we were talking about bureaucracies."

"We are," Pete said, with building annoyance. 

"Now you've got me confused," I said. "If the paperwork's done and all the bureaucratic ducks are in a row," I intentionally used a Mainer idiom, "why is the problem bureaucratic?"

"It's about the money."

"Keep going. I'm still not following you."

"The money's all there. Or at least it should be."


"And the bureaucracy's in the way."

"By burying the project in paperwork or with arbitrary rules or . . . ?"

"Nope. Not any of that." Pete was by then diverting his eyes.

"So what is it? You seem reluctant to say."

"Well, I know your politics and today's politics-free Monday." I was glad to see him smile.

"We can make an exception," Rona said.

"It's that Section 8."

"I thought that was for psychiatric discharges from the army. You know, what Corporal Klinger from MASH was always trying to get by wearing dresses." Everyone laughed at that.

"Not that Section 8," Peter persisted. "Though it could be."


"Because it's crazy."

"In what way?"

"It's the one about housing."

"Again, I'm not following you." I said truthfully.

"You know what happens to your gas taxes don;t you? The federal part."

"I think it goes into a highway trust fund, or something like that."

"It's supposed to and the money's supposed to be there for highway projects. Maybe even to fix up Harrington Road."

"And, are you saying, that because of government bureaucracy," back to that, "they won't release the money?"

"No, what I'm saying is that according to Section 8 the money gets diverted to things like housing."

"Government housing? Subsidized housing for low-income people?"

"That's what I'm saying. You can look it up. Section 8." I nodded to indicate I would. "And you know what else is going on?"

"I'm eager to hear but I'm not sure that what you're describing has to do with anything bureaucratic. Which is OK since there's no requirement that we stick to the subject. Or, for that matter, any subject."

"That pretty much describes us," Ted interjected, this time with an even more obvious wink.

"Well, since you asked," Pete clearly wanted to get to his bottom line, "It's really about, about, you know  . . ." he was stammering but finally said, "It's about the colored."

Sensing where this was headed, I had trouble controlling my voice, "The what?" I almost shouted. The couple in the next booth turned to see what was going on.

"I told you we shouldn't go there," Pete said.

"We didn't go there," I corrected him, now under better control. "We were innocently talking about bureaucracy, something I thought we all pretty much agreed about, and you're the one who made this political, if I can call what you're suggesting political."

"Who's getting the money? I mean, who's getting the free housing?"

"First of all , it's not free, but subsidized, and second, it's not . . ."

"You can call it what you will. I'll call it giving my tax money to people who don't work."

"Poor people are the ones who . . ."

"Who, as I was saying--and I know it's not politically correct--but . . ."

"It sure isn't correct. Not just politically but in other ways as well." The people in the other booth were enjoying this.

"And who are most of your poor people?"

"If they're mine, they're also yours."

"Coloreds, that's who. These are just the facts. You can look that up too."

Rona had paid our check and was getting up to leave. Ted and Pete also slid out of their seats. Nothing more was said and without any goodbyes we went our separate ways.

In the car on the way home Rona said, "We just witnessed the hard truth about what's really going on with Tea Party followers and other very conservative Americans. It's people of color who are making them angry--they feel that their money is being used to pay for housing for people of color, for college scholarships for them--Pell grants--for food stamps, for medical care. While they themselves are struggling. And, when they look at who's in the White House it makes them crazy."

At home I did some reading about the federal Highway Trust Fund, especially what was being said by conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute.

They make the case that, yes, there are funds being diverted from federal highway projects to local road projects in individual member's congressional districts. Mainly through hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks. Earmarks equally distributed among progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans.

There is no evidence whatsoever that any gasoline tax money is used for anything other than various modes of transportation, including for Amtrak, subways, and even bike paths. Maybe that shouldn't be, but that's the most abusive thing that might be said about the uses of Fund money.

And, the Section 8 Pete was referring to--as if it was the "bureaucratic" justification for diverting funds to "the coloreds"--turns out most likely to be Section 8 of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution that permits the federal government to "establish Post Offices and post Roads."

That Section 8. And, yes, everything else imputed to it is crazy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

August 20, 2012--Aetna and Me

Aetna is my medical insurer. I recently learned that they are lowering their reimbursement rates so that a routine test I had last year for which they paid $300, for this year they will cover only $150 of the total bill. When I called to protest, they told me that this was because the average cost of that test in New York City has been reduced enough to justify this. If you believe that . . .

And now I received the following letter from them:

Your plan is getting a rebate from Aetna. (Bold type in the original.)

"Really?" I asked Rona who was reading the letter out loud. "They'll be sending me a refund check?"

"Don't get your hopes up, the letter says that your plan, as opposed to you, is getting the rebate."


"Because, they say"--

Sometimes our medical costs are higher than we projected. Sometimes they are lower. Under the health care reform law, plans must spend a minimum on medical costs and quality improvement activities. When our costs are less than the minimum, we pay rebates, regardless of the amount.

"Huh? I am totally confused. Is this because . . . ?"

"It's because, as they say, of the 'health care reform law.'"

"The Affordable Care Act? Obamacare?"

"None other."

"Read that again. Are they saying, as they put it, that their medical costs are lower than allowed by Obamacare for so-called quality improvement activities, they are sending out checks?"

"Again, not to you; but to your former employer who continues to provide your coverage."

"I get it. They are spending more than the 15 percent the law allows for administrative expenses and of course profit and so they have to do this rebating. In fact it has nothing to do with 'quality improvement activities,' whatever that means."

"That would be my read," Rona said.

"I thought that maybe they are having to do this since they are clearly spending much, much less on health care reimbursements, as the amount they are paying for my blood tests would suggest."

"Though the doctor didn't reduce what he charged and you had to write him a check to cover the difference."

"All true. But one more thing," I said, "There are many people who pay for their own coverage. If they have a policy with Aetna I assume they will get a personal rebate check. I wonder if to them Aetna's letter will give credit to President Obama for getting legislation passed that requires this."

"Dream on. Though I don't know why the Obama people aren't taking political credit for this. It might overcome some of the intentional misinformation about the Affordable Care Act being put out there by Romney and Ryan and motivate more people to see the direct benefit of Obamacare to them and their families."

"I agree. I still don't know why they have been so inept at this. Taking credit for doing a good thing."

"In the meantime, I'll bet we see more shenanigans from Aetna. They must hate having to do this."

Friday, August 17, 2012

August 17, 2012--Chapter 3: Henry Cross

Biologically, for six years I was an only child.   

At the time, even what we now call the “working poor” could afford to have help in the house—a Cleaning Girl.  My mother was no exception.  It wasn’t that she was aspiring to become a fancy lady; it was more a practical necessity.  She was an elementary school teacher and had a small child at home—me—who needed to be taken care of while she worked.  Thus, because they were available and affordable, she hired help.  Though there were a series of Cleaning Girls who came and went, none worked for us longer or more loyally than Bessie Cross.

Bessie was originally from Alabama.  Even I called her Bessie, while she addressed my mother as Miss Rae and me, I am ashamed to admit, as Master Lloyd.  Her parents had been the children of slaves and as a little girl she had worked in the cotton fields.  Among my favorite stories were those about her days as a field hand and how she picked cotton and filled up long, long bags, pulling them between the rows of cotton plants.  And how when a bag was full, she emptied it into a big container and received a quarter.  This seemed like all the money in the world to me and picking cotton sounded like something that would be fun to do.  While a lot of my friends on East 56th Street thought being a firemen would be even better, sliding down the brass pole, riding in the truck with the sirens going full blast, I still hoped one day to be able to go to Alabama with Bessie and pick cotton. 

In retrospect, I now know that the look on Bessie’s face when I shared these aspirations with her was of caring understanding.  She loved me too much to want me to know about slavery or sharecropping or picking cotton for a quarter a hundred-weight in a stifling hot field in August in Alabama.  She knew that time itself would fill in those gaps in my awareness.   And when that happened, it, among other things, would signal the end of childhood. 

Then one day her son Henry arrived.  He had been living with his Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer just a block or two from our apartment.  But they were getting old and infirm and could no longer care for him so my parents offered to have Henry move in with us, sleeping on a small cot set up next to mine.  He was two years older than I and knew so much more than I about the world, and most important was willing to share some of it with me.  I was happy to think about him as a wiser older brother. 

My parents took special pleasure from the reaction of others when we would, on occasion, eat out.  When someone at a nearby table would stare more than was appropriate, even during those less tolerant times, my father would say, in a voice that filled the room, “This is Lloyd, my white son.  And this is Henry, my colored son.”  That would quiet the place in an instant and allow us to eat in peace our Chicken Chow Mein, Pork Fried Rice, and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.   These were the only times I ever saw Henry smile.  His life had made him very serious.  As it would mine.

Since there was no TV or other such distractions we spent most of our time in the street.  And because we didn’t have very much, street games required pretty much what we had—nothing.  Just a broom handle for stickball (the sewers in the street or the rear wheels of cars served as home plate and the bases).  A Spaldeen was enough to get a day-long punch ball game going and Johnny On the Pony required even less, just a wall to lean on and a fat kid to serve as the pillow.  A used rubber shoe heel was a piece of playground equipment, all we needed to play, what else, Heels.  And if we managed to come up with marbles, we would dig a small hole in the dirt for the shim and could spend hours then playing Pot.  

We were inventive creatures.  In school we learned that Ben Franklin said that “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  I suppose we were being trained to be entrepreneurs, or just how to make something out of little.

In the street games that required real skill, Henry was an asset and highly sought after.  As we choose up sides, he was always the first to be selected.  Especially for punch or stickball.    Henry, when he connected, could punch a ball nearly two sewers.  My specialty, in contrast, was slapping sharp, less than half-sewer grounders that when well executed eluded the fielders.  This made us a good team, these complementary abilities, and a winning side usually included both of us. 

After a sweaty afternoon of ball games all of us would gather on the stoop of one of our families’ houses and the mothers would bring out quarts of cold milk and home baked cookies.  Or, if we were really fortunate, there would be iced bottles of Coca Cola and glasses of black cherry soda made fresh on the spot from thick pourings of Hoffman’s Syrup and Seltzer water squirted from a siphon bottle.  Pretty dreamy days, particularly if a soon-to-be pubescent sister would join us. 

These days and years rolled into one long memory.  We were growing fast.  Very fast—one of America’s promises was that the sons and daughters would turn out to be taller than their immigrant parents; and most of us were fulfilling that dream.  Heshy Perlmutter was not only growing taller by the month but he was magically sprouting whiskers on his face and course hair in damp, unmentionable places, earning the nickname all envied--Big Dick.

By then I had a younger brother and that meant there was no room any longer in our cramped apartment for Henry and that he needed to live with Bessie, his mother.  But he visited regularly and stayed overnight frequently, sleeping on the sofa, particularly if East 56th Street was scheduled to engage in an inter-block stickball competition.  Henry was our only hope of victory and thus was welcomed and secreted onto our team as a ringer.

And while staying with us, he and I would visit his Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer, now quite ancient.  To me they looked as old as those Armenians who were frequently pictured in National Geographic as the earth’s oldest living humans.

They lived in the basement of the one apartment house in the neighborhood, among the coal bins and hot water boilers.  The “walls” of their “rooms” were made from the cardboard sides of discarded icebox cartons hung on clothes lines strung between the basement's columns.  In turn for not having to pay rent, they were required to haul up to the street ash cans full of cinders that were the residue from the building’s coal-fired burners.  A job well beyond their capabilities, and thus Henry, with me as his tag-along, did that for them.  In turn they would tell stories of their lives in the rural South 50 years earlier.  Stories that began to make picking cotton sound to me like anything but fun.  Thus, as my neighborhood friends, I too began to think about becoming a fireman.

Those afternoons with Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer were among the happiest of my life.  It is not just a gauzy memory of an innocent reality when I was full of hope and optimism, when anything felt possible and my body always did what I wanted it to.  They were truly generous and loving.  Wise with years.  And in spite of what they had seen and experienced, they were without anger or bitterness.  They had become my aunt and uncle as much as Henry had become my parents’ son.

One Saturday we managed to eek out a late-inning victory in a stickball game with the hated team of Italians from around the corner.  Henry drove in the winning run with a two-and-a-half-sewer blast.  We had never beaten them before so we were in the mood to celebrate back on our East 56th Street.

It was a hot day and we looked forward to cooling off at Melvin Shapiro’s house.  With arms around each other we returned to our street in triumph, receiving the cheers and congratulations of our families who were sitting out on their stoops seeking to catch a cooling breeze.

Melvin went ahead to make sure everything was ready.  The milk.  The icy sodas.  The cookies.  But before we got there he came running back and pulled me aside.  He needed to tell me something urgent. 

Not looking directly at me, he mumbled that his parents said that though it was OK for me to come over, but because his 16-year-old sister was there, Henry wouldn’t be allowed to join us.  I thought I misunderstood; but when he repeated what he had been instructed to say, I then knew what this was about.  And so did Henry. 

I did not need to tell him.  Without a glance he and I turned and left. 

*   *   *

Though I had often thought about Henry and attempted to find him—Bessie had moved back to Alabama—as the months and years passed, I got distracted by school and friends and plans and in truth he drifted away from these thoughts and even from my memories.  Then one day, it was right before Mothers Day, I was in another part of Brooklyn and stopped at a Barton’s shop to buy some chocolates.

In the back room of the store, stacking boxes, was a Negro man.  When he looked up we recognized each other, but before I could say his name he disappeared among the boxes and, though I lingered, did not return.