My friend Jessica and I did some kinda sneaky things. For example, I used to put my slacks in my coat pocket when we went to weekly dances at the Firehouse. When we got there I would take off my skirt and change into the slacks until it was close to time to be picked up. What the reason for this little subterfuge was I really don’t remember unless it was a rebellion against the societal dictate demanding that ladies be ladies? (snort) I also took my socks off at the bus stop, and brushed out my teased hair on the way home.
My friend had a bedroom in what was essentially the attic. There we opened her window and smoked our Salems or Newports, blowing the smoke out the window. I forgot to mention there was a door at the bottom of the narrow stairway which helped keep the smoke contained. We had no idea that a smoking parent could smell it on us from 8 feet away, while a non-smoking parent could smell it from the neighbor’s house.
I learned two things during this short period of time. The first thing was how good chocolate kisses could be with menthols. Or how good menthols could be with chocolate kisses. I’m not sure which is more accurate, but I’m thinking it’s the latter statement. The second thing I discovered was just how cat-footed Jessica’s mother could be. She was more than half-way up those creaky steps to the attic when Jessica thought she heard something and got up to check. We (internally) freaked out, but her mom just stood there laughing at us. “I knew you were smoking up here! Who do you think you are fooling?” She was laughing and wagging her finger at us. “You stupid girls.Go ahead and smoke yourselves to death.” There were a few Yiddish and Polish words thrown in that I am glad I didn’t understand. The posture and context were enough to give me a rough idea.
Now, what does all this have to do with New York? I’m getting there, I’m getting there. Don’t rush me! I don’t do all that well under pressure. Jessie’s mom as a widowed woman in the 60’s worked hard to enough money to supplement what her husband had left the family. She did temp jobs in office positions, and for a time sold jewelry. She made periodic visits to the City to buy jewelry which she brought home to sell. I have no idea how or where she sold it. That didn’t matter to me in those egocentric years. What did matter was going with her on a buying trip. We drove most of the way and then took a train or an el or a subway or all three – yeah, yeah, an el and a subway are both trains – into Manhattan. The mother would take her younger daughter into the shop with her, and Jessica and I hung out on the street doing some mild flirting with almost any young guy on the street. I say ‘mild’ flirting because we were just practicing for when we knew more about what to do when we caught one of those fish. Of course the fishing netted mostly eels and piranhas three times our age. Some were sleek and slimy, some were dirty old predators, all were scary to us.
We rejoined Jessie’s mother and sister for dinner. Afterward, we split up again. They went to see a movie – It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – while we, having already forgotten how scary it could be out there, went to dance at a place called The Cheetah. Oh, heaven! What a wonderful place to be! Music and dancing, dancing, dancing, a breather and then some more. I remember the cushioned sofas or some kind of seating and small round tables set in front of them. When it was time to leave to meet the rest of the family out front we hurried from the far side toward the front door. The strobe lights chose that moment to expose us to blinding, pulsating light which caused my to lose most of my vision and most of my ability to walk a straight line. The next thing I knew I had run into one of those little tables and gone ass end over teakettle and was on the floor on the other side and trying to be a big girl and not cry. The people around me who had seen this happen in brief flashes, one of whom was Jessica, were looking concerned as they laughed their butts off. I would have done the same thing if I had seen it happen to someone else, but this was ME, MY dignity, MY leg, and after we had hobbled and hopped to the women’s room where we could see, MY blood and MY stockings.
Meanwhile, back on the street, impatience was growing, temper was rising, as we were late meeting the movie-goers. By the time I was able to walk and the bleeding was slowed down, Jessie’s mother was steaming. Even the torn and still bleeding shin were not enough to stop the steam cloud from forming. And so we left to catch a train. Jessie’s sister gloated as she walked beside her mother. After all, she wasn’t the one in trouble, we were, and the stream of vituperative and unknown words flowing from that little woman was down-right embarrassing. Jess and I walked slowly, partly because of my leg, and partly to distance ourselves from the crazy babbling lady with a bag. By the time we got to the train station, the crazy lady had run out of steam so we were able to sit with her on the train. When we reached the car she was even sympathetic about my injury. Soon afterward we were back to as much peace as can be found between mothers and teen-age daughters.
I still have a pitted scar on my from over forty-five years ago, and I still smile when I think of that day.