The General in Trump Land

“On a chill November day in 2010, a crowd of mourners gathered in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, America’s Valhalla. The highest-ranking U.S. military officer to lose a child in combat in the post-9/11 wars was there to bury his youngest son, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, killed in action in Afghanistan. Sitting at gravesite 9480 next to his son’s wife, watching her accept the folded flag with the thanks of a grateful nation, hearing the retort of the rifle salute and the sound of the bugler playing “Taps,” Gen. John Kelly was confronted with the same question that haunted the families of the more than 5,500 Americans killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was such unbearable sacrifice worth it?

At some point Kelly realized it was not for him to say. His son had already answered the question. “In his mind — and in his heart — he had decided somewhere between the day he was born at 2130, 5 September 1981 — and 0719, 9 November 2010 — that it was worth it to him to risk everything – even his own life — in the service of his country,” Kelly would later tell other Gold Star families. “So, in spite of the terrible emptiness that is in a corner of my heart and I now know will be there until I see him again, and the corners of the hearts of everyone who ever knew him, we are proud. So very proud.”

The quote is from an article by James Kitfield of Yahoo News.

Ever since that day, John Kelly has striven to keep from politicizing his son’s death or making too much of it based on his own stature. Just days later, he insisted that the loss of his son not be mentioned when he gave a moving speech commemorating two other Marines killed in combat. He has discouraged questions about his loss even as he rose from commander of U.S. Southern Command to the head of the Department of Homeland Security for the Trump administration and to White House chief of staff. When approached by the Washington Post for a profile in 2011, he revealed a source of his reticence in an email: “We are only one of the 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war. The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”

These last two weeks have seen our President,  a man who dodged the Vietnam draft in his youth exhibiting for everyone to see his total lack of empathy for anyone but himself.

Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump’s reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures was on display.

“After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he’d heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.

Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn’t know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump’s insensitive comments which the fallen soldier’s mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of “his generals” to clean up his mess.”

Everyone respects General Kelly; but he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a mess of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.

After giving a sincere account of how the military and military families handle such dreaded news, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that’s traditionally sacred in our society.

He mentioned the “sacredness of women” conveniently ignoring the fact that his boss bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” and Trump’s demeaning of John McCain’s service during the Vietnam war with his famous “I like guys who aren’t captured” quip.

Finally he decried the politicization of war dead when it was his boss who politicized the issue by turning a relevant question about the lack of White House response to the deaths in Niger for 12 days into a political attack on his predecessor.

“Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for “eavesdropping” on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson’s wife. Apparently he hadn’t bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.

Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.

Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.

After having his personal pain exposed in the current controversy, John Kelly said he visited Arlington National Cemetery to clear his head and “walk among the finest men and women on earth,” some of whom were following his orders at the time of their deaths. “I still hope as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, let’s not lose this maybe last thing held sacred in our society — a young man or woman going out and giving his or her life for our country,” Kelly said at the end of yesterday’s press conference. “Let’s try and somehow keep that sacred.”

Oh General!  Do you still not know why your son chose a career in the military?  Do you really have no clue?  Do you not see in the mirror each day as you shave? Do you still believe the death of your son, stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, was worth the sacrifice?

And what of those deaths in Niger?  Were they “worth it?”  Telling the widow while she is going to pick up the body of her dead husband at the airport that “He knew what he was getting into when he enlisted” is not evidence of sympathy or respect, especially from one who dodged the draft.

And General Kelly should not defend such a man.

During my military service I spent 14 months arranging for the notification of next of kin for Army soldiers residing in New York killed in Vietnam.  Fully one third of the KIA were conscripts – kids drafted off of the streets of cities or towns, given 8 weeks training and dropped on a hillside in Dak To.  The war consumed over 55,000 lives; way to many to get a call from the President.

When we showed up to make a notification we were hated by the populace.  A young man had been drafted off the street and now he was dead.  The people saw the uniform and the green Army staff car and knew someone in the neighborhood was no more.

And the dead were not “fallen;” they did not “give their lives” for their country.  They were killed; their lives taken from them.  Most would agree in retrospect that they were killed in an unjust and pointless war against a country now selling shirts in Target and furniture at Rooms to Go.

Today everyone is a hero; the military has been deified  as if they are the only patriots -because they volunteer and no longer face either serving or jail. Since they volunteer they “know what they’re getting into.”  General Kelly joined the Marines as a very young man – because his draft number came up.  He was a high school graduate with limited prospects.  He took a break in service to attend college to become an officer.  He had found a home.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” – Senator John McCain

Unless he wants to become the next Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the clearest mission for General Kelly now is to  ensure that he and his fellow Generals keep our sociopathic leader from nuclear codes – especially when he is having a bad day.

He can salvage his honor later when he writes the book; or his can salvage his honor now and simply resign.

 

 

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The Clothes Line

A  piece of fiction

Freddie and Philomena Bartolomeo lived in a small 1 bedroom second floor apartment in Brooklyn’s little Italy along with their two sons, Fredo and Nicola in 1950.  The place was small with four of them;  little Nicola still slept in the bed room with his parents while Fredo slept on a Castro convertible sofa.   “Comfort, beauty and style!”

The entire brown brick three story building was inhabited by Italians, mostly from small towns in Puglia, on the heel of the boot around where one might place the stirrup.  Now these folks had a well deserved reputation of speaking the worst Italian in Italy.  And their English, except for the boys, wasn’t much better.

They were doing ok in America.  Freddie was a stone mason and had regular work.  They even had a small television, a 12 inch RCA “Anniversary Model” with a metal cabinet three times as large as the screen.  It was prominently displayed in the kitchen for all to see.  The Bartolomeos were one of the first on the block to own a television.  Soon antennae began sprouting on all the Brooklyn rooftops.

What nobody in the building owned was a washing machine.  Once a week Philomena would get out her washboard and scrub the dirty clothes by hand in her double sink, hanging them out to dry on the clothes line which stretched from her back window directly across the courtyard to the brick wall on the opposite side.  All second and third floor apartments had a clothes line for their use.

Philomena would send her husband’s dress shirts to the local Chinese laundry and they would come back washed, pressed and starched.  Usually only wealthy families indulged in such luxury but without a washing machine Philomena had little choice.  She sent the dress shirts to “the chinks.”   Once she went into the laundry to pick up shirts, realized she forgot her ticket and frustrated, without batting an eye looked at the old man behind the counter  and exclaimed “I forgot my chink’s ticket!”  Life in the fifties.

Now directly above the Bartolomeo’s lived Silvio and Concetta Bruzzese, an older couple also from Puglia.  Their children had grown and they lived alone.

The families knew each other; went to the same Italian language services at St. Rosalia’s church on Sundays.  Fredo and Silvio were both members of the local Knights of Columbus lodge where virtually no one spoke English.

But the families did not get along.  Because of the washing and the clothes lines.

The Bruzzese clothes line stretched across the court yard directly above Philomena Bartolomeo’s clothes line.  So one laundry day Philomena finished her “whites” and hung them out on her clothes line to dry in the fresh air.

Seems the two families had the same “laundry day.”  Concetta also finished her scrubbing and hung out her “coloreds” of red and blue on her clothes line – directly over Philomena’s clothes.

Gravity being what it is, Concetta’s colored laundry dripped onto to Philomena’s, marking her precious whites with red and blue stains.

The curses in Italian began flying between the two women out of the open windows.  And continued in the hall outside of the apartment; and at the mailboxes.  They stopped speaking at church and at the Knights of Columbus.

“That (#$^$*)!  I’ma gonna go up there and kill her!”   When laundry day would roll around each week Fredo and Nicola would look at each other, roll their eyes and make themselves scarce.

Now this was not an uncommon problem in the neighborhood.  This happened all the time and was probably the cause of many a “vendetta” carried on for years, generation to generation.  And so it went on for years between the Bartolomeo and the Bruzzese, not unlike the Montagues and Capulets, until the Bartolomeo bought a new home and moved away.  They never saw Silvio and Concetta Bruzzese again.

They didn’t move far – but they moved up into a modest brick townhome in Bay Ridge.  Silvio got a new Knights of Columbus lodge and Philomena made sure she had a washer and dryer.   Their sons became successful in America finding opportunities they would never have had in the old country.

Freddie Bartolomeo died at the ripe old age of 93 with 6 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, all of whom would gather at the Bay Ridge home on Christmas’ past.  Philomena would pass away only a week later.  She could not imagine life without her Freddie.

Their children and grand-children gathered to plan a funeral and discussion turned to where to bury Freddie and Philomena.  Close-in burial plots had become scarce over the years as cemeteries filled up.  A gigantic new cemetery had opened up but it was way the hell out in Farmingdale, Long Island and this was a time when families visited the graves of the dead.  Nobody wanted to bury Freddie and Philomena in Farmingdale.

They would seek to acquire a plot in St. John’s cemetery, in Queens owned by the Catholic Church.  Grave sites there were tough but a nice donation to the church through the local Monsignor did the trick.  Freddie and Philomena were buried in St. Johns.

Three months later was to be the unveiling of the grave stone.  Yes, there was a time that a grave stone was erected and covered with cloth.  The family would gather at the cemetery and the stone marker unveiled in its presence.

The entire Bartolomeo clan was in attendance – Fredo and Nicola to the littlest great-grandchild.  After the unveiling, Fredo casually walked among the graves.  His mom and dad were buried at the base of a sloping hillside, close to the paved walkway.

The sky was a bright blue and the air was fresh as he thought of his parents.  Looking around as he walked, his mouth fell open and he hurried back to Nicola.

“You have got to see this!!”  he exclaimed to his brother.  “You won’t believe it!”

He led Nicola up the hill a bit to a gravestone directly above his parents grave.

Silvio and Concetta Bruzzese

Requiestat in Pace

They looked at each other and burst into laughter.  Finally gaining control of themselves, Fredo said with a boyish giggle “They say there are many rooms in the Father’s house!”

Nicola replied with a smirk “Just as long as they don’t live upstairs!”

Then again they were both sure that the heavenly house apartments all had washer/dryers.

 

 

 

Posted in short story, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Other People

You can grow up mean in little houses
without a single book, save the Bible
slaughtering pigs, kicking chickens
drowning kittens without a second thought.

Rusty coal stove in the living room
Poppa smelling of gasoline and oil
Momma strange and unpredictable
a quit school boy from cracker high.

Grow’d up broad shouldered
unread, uneducated
working a plastic injector machine
at a Rubber Maid factory.

Mutt faced sons and daughters of the Republic
in the dismal corners of our great land,
that American dream long forgotten
along with youthful hopes and dreams

“Fifteen hundred a monthHonor and Glory!
free room and board!”  look pretty damn good
compared to humpin big roll sod
across an ever expanding landscape of McMansions.

So yes! Volunteer! Defend us against the other
as once you played cowboys and Indians;
slopes and gooks, browns and blacks
now ragheads and camel jockeys.

Plastic toy armies, tortured with flame and steel
doing dark deeds in far away places, out of sight
in dusty back streets
on the farthest edges of Empire.

.

Inspired by Joe Bageant and Pete in Beetley

https://redflagflying.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/bred-for-meanness/

https://prolecenter.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/revenge-of-the-mutt-people/

 

Posted in Poetry | 3 Comments

But Mom! Dad! I’m Almost One!!

Why can’t I?  Please!

 I’m  old enough!

Come on!  Let me borrow the car!  Please!

What a day!!

.

 

 

Posted in family | 5 Comments

A Single Mother at Magic Kingdom

Fairy tales, witches
magic enchantments
dreams sailing on clear seas
the world of children mixed with wonder

Angelic eyes fill with a lovely shine;
the laughter of kids
freshening the air
dissipating sadness

Carousel music fills the square
where sweetness springs like hope eternal
softening the skin
recalling your first time

The colors of innocence point the way
the excitement of children
traveling through life
on calliope notes and angel’s wings

and alone with her thoughts, their mother smiled

We will go on after you
there will be life after you
but you can never undo
what you have done.

.

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“The Ideal German Soldier”

“The Ideal German Soldier” –  appearing on the front page of Berliner Tagsblatt newspaper, Sunday edition during the invasion of Poland – 1939.

Our soldier’s picture was taken by a Wehrmacht  photographer and  provided to the newspaper for publication.  It was the propaganda photo of the Aryan soldier; tall, blond hair blued eyed – superman.  There was only one problem.  He was a mischling – a “half  Jew, first degree.

Our “Aryan” soldier was Private Werner Goldberg, a baptized Lutheran born of a Jewish father and a German Christian mother.  He never thought of himself as a Jew; his father didn’t practice the religion, he looked like everyone else and he was thoroughly assimilated.

Now I’m not the first to write about Pvt. Goldberg.  Others have as well.  I posted about him previously on a site that no longer exists and my long ago post was erased from the either of the internet.

It is an interesting story of struggle and survival when one’s world is suddenly turned upside down.  So bear with me.

Werner Goldberg was born on October 3, 1919. His father had grown in in the Jewish community of Konigsberg but when he fell in love with a Christian girl he had himself baptized into the Lutheran faith so as to be acceptable to her family.  It seemed to make little difference to him as apparently he was not particularly devout.

After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the senior Goldberg lost his position under the Nazi law of April 1933, Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which expelled Jews from the German Civil Service.

In 1935 came the Nuremberg Laws – “The Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor.”  The  Nazi’s had a problem; if you want to oppress a group you have to be able to define who’s in the the group.

What is a Jew?  Nuremberg attempted to define who could be oppressed.

Firstly, if you were practicing Judaism, you were self identified and by definition a Jew.  But suppose you were a practicing Christian?  The Nuremberg Laws attempted to define a new “race” – if you had three Jewish grandparents, you were a Jew.  It made no difference if none of your Jewish grandparents identified as Jews.  It made no difference if they had converted a half century ago.  They were Jews and so were you if you had three in your family three.

The Nuremberg Laws created two new “racial” categories: the half-Jew (Mischling first degree), and the quarter –Jew (Mischling second degree). A half-Jew had two Jewish grandparents; a quarter –Jew had one. Since Nazi racial policy declared anyone of the Jewish religion a full Jew regardless of ancestry, most Mischlinge were by definition Christians.

“Nazis were confused about Mischlings, since they were both Jewish and German. Adolf Eichmann acknowledged that the unclear racial position of Mischling temporarily protected them. For the Nazis, Mischling were also half or three-quarters German, and thus 50 percent or 75 percent “valuable.”

Now let’s not get too high and mighty about our own racial attitudes.  In my lifetime I have heard the words quadroon and octoroon used about someone with a black grand parent or great grand parent.  As a kid, if you had one drop of black blood, you were black.

In practice Mischling’s German citizenship was stripped away. They were denied access to certain universities for advanced degrees including medicine and law. They were denied access to recreational facilities and civilian jobs. Mischlings were denied positions of authority over Aryans. They were excluded from some churches, even though they were baptized Christians. They were socially ostracized.

Goldberg had to leave school in 1935 and became an apprentice at Schneller und Schmeider, a clothing company jointly owned by a Jew and a non-Jew, where many of his colleagues were Jews or mischlinge. Goldberg’s maternal uncle joined the Nazi party and refused to be seen with the Goldberg family again, even avoiding Goldberg’s mother.

At the beginning of 1938 Goldberg served a six-month term in the Reich Labor Service whose uniform, as Goldberg later recalled, “had a swastika on an armband.”  On December 1, 1938 Goldberg joined the German Army which was still accepting mischlinge  at the time.  He need to prove he was a worthy German.  He took part in the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, serving alongside childhood friend Karl Wolf, whose father was now a high-ranking SS officer.

It was during this time period that his picture appeared in the Berliner Tagsblatt and also began appearing on recruitment posters.

In 1940 following the Armistice with France, Goldberg was expelled from the army under Hitler’s order of April 8, 1940 which stated that all 1st degree Mischlinge were to be expelled from the military.  Hitler probably saved his life.  Guess the Fuehrer figured he had won the war and no longer needed half-Jews.

He returned to his old company, which had changed it’s name in order the drop the Jewish name and  played an increasingly more responsible role within the company, obtaining contracts for uniforms from the army and the navy.   He also attended the Reich Board of Labor Studies School where he was one of 4 out of 80 students who passed the test to become a  teacher. He then became a Labor Studies Board lecturer on the clothing business, and delivered lectures to organizations and company directors, even publishing an article in the weekly trade publications.

In December 1942, Goldberg’s father was admitted to the Bavaria Hospital. The Gestapo however raided the hospital and sent him to a Jewish hospital which had been requisitioned by the Gestapo for use as prison, from which Jews were taken and sent to Auschwitz . On Christmas Eve, gambling that the guards would be drunk or absent, Goldberg put on his old Wehrmacht uniform, bravely entered and took his father from the hospital.

The elder Goldberg was soon back in the hands of the Gestapo and in April 1943 was summoned for deportation, but Werner told him not to show up and he was, with  Werner’s continuing assistance, again saved. He became the only member of Goldberg’s family (aside from Werner himself) to survive the war.

The photo of the  “ideal German soldier” appeared in  one of the most important liberal German newspapers of its time.  Prior to the Nazis taking power on in  1933 the newspaper was particularly critical and hostile to their program. It was immediately seized by the Propaganda Ministry.  However, in September 1933, special permission was granted by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to release the paper from any obligation to reprint Nazi propaganda in order to help portray an image of a free German press internationally.

Did the editors of the paper know that Werner Goldberg was mischlinge?  Were they intentionally tweeking the nose of Joseph Goebbels?  Who knows.  Fact is they were shut down for good shortly thereafter.

Goldberg died in Berlin on September 28, 2004, aged 84; he was survived by his wife Gertrud  and three children.

As the Nazi’s seized power, existence for the Jew and the Mischling became more threatening, more tenuous. For the full Jew, little could be done in the “racist” mania of authoritarian Germany. The Mischling faced a paradox. “During the war, many felt torn between the desire to belong, regain some of their lost pride, and protect themselves and their families through military service and the realization that to do so, they had to serve Hitler.”

Wehrmacht service, in the early years of the war, protected them from the Gestapo.   The grouping of the Mischling with the Jew logically should have created a common link of sympathy and mutual support between the Mischling and the Jew. It did not.

Most Mischlings did not identify with the Jewish community. Many had grown up as baptized Christians and some were themselves very anti-Semitic. They preferred to think of themselves as normal, as part of the whole of German fabric, as part of the “Volk”.  Most were always trying to prove themselves as “Germans” while the Aryans looked upon them with suspicion, waiting for the “impure blood” to reveal itself.

Hermann Goering had said it was he who decided who was a Jew or not. The reality, the decision as to who ultimately was a Jew could only be granted by Adolf Hitler. Hitler reviewed each situation personally. With the stroke of his pen formerly classified Mischlings were cleared of any Jewish taint. They could and did advance to high administrative and military positions.

Two Field Marshals, 15 Generals, 2 full Generals, 8 Lieutenant Generals, and 5 Major Generals.  Former Mischling, now Aryans by will of the Fuehrer,  were Nazi party members – 4 were full Jews, 15 were half Jews and 7 were quarter Jews.

It’s always who you know isn’t it?

Field Marshall Erhard Milch – Mischling 1st class

 

General Helmut Wilberg – Mischling 1st class

Commander Paul Ascher – Mischling 1st class.

 

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Child Labor in the Fifties – (smiley face)

Once upon a time, during the reign of the Divine Tiberias, a.k.a the fifties, young boys got Summer jobs. Now I’m sure some kids still do; it’s just that the kids seem older now than they were then. And the kind of jobs available to kids is not nearly as broad. Indeed many no longer exist.

I got my first “job” when I was 13 years old on Zio Antonio’s fruit and vegetable truck. Zio, as he was affectionately known traveled a couple of routes through the Brooklyn neighborhoods bringing fresh fruits and veggies right to the front door of the ladies.

He would load up the truck at the markets early in the morning buying exactly what he knew he could sell that day. There was no place to store anything unsold; besides, fresh meant today’s fresh, not tomorrow’s, The truck was open in the rear with a canvas roof covering the produce, which was arranged on a slanted board so it was all plainly visible to the housewives standing along side.

He would come home from the markets, pick me up and out we would go.

The ladies would hear us coming through their open windows. Cowbells and vegetable truck lullabies.

“Escarole! Get your fresh ‘scarole!! Tomato! Jersey tomato fresh from the farms!!” Broccolli! Peaches!!  Zucchini!  We have fresh Zucchini!  Strawberries! Get ‘em while their fresh! Strawberries!!”

I got pretty good at the songs. Out would come the ladies and their daughters, home for the Summer from school.

“Hi Frankie boy! How are you today?” “I’m fine Mrs. M. What can I get you?” “Two pounds of peaches please Frankie”. I weighed. Zio took the money.

And then came thirteen year old love. She was the daughter of Mrs. M; her name was Gaetana, which is a tough one to translate. She too was 13. She had breasts. God did she have breasts.

She would whisper out of mom’s earshot; “Hi Frankie” “Hi Gay! How are you? “I’m fine. Are you going to the roller rink Saturday night?” “Oh yes Gay.”

Her mother would then spot her talking to the fruit truck boy and give her a little push toward the front door. Gay would look over her shoulder and on Saturday night during the “couples” skate I would roller skate with Gay in her little skating outfit at the rink and summer by the Ravenhall Pool with her in her bathing suit,  the envy of every boy who ever dreamed of breasts.

After the day was over, I would hose down and sweep the truck and get it ready for the next day. All for a couple of bucks and a free lunch. Hey, a couple of bucks got you into Ebitts Field in those days.   I would give half of my earnings to my mom.

Zio, bless his heart, would distribute anything he hadn’t sold to the neighborhood poor, including my mother.

The following Summer I got a job at the grocery market. It was bigger than the local grocer but much smaller than the super markets to come.

I bagged. I put stuff on shelves. I swept; but mainly I delivered groceries on a bicycle.

It was a Schwinn with balloon tires and a big basket in front. Housewives would shop and if they bought five or six bags of groceries they had no way to get them home. Many did not own cars or couldn’t drive. Usually a family only owned one car anyway and the husband would take it to work. That’s the way it was in my house.

So the grocer hired me to deliver the goods on a bike.

Now before I could start this job I had to get “working papers”. Anyone under 16 who had a real job had to get papers. It required a trip to the Department of Health and a physical exam.  I didn’t need them for Zio but I needed them for the grocer.

Yes. A physical exam.

Thinking back, the place was a perv’s dream, filled with boys under 16 standing in their tighiy whities waiting for an “exam”. “Drop your pants. Turn your head to the right. Cough. Turn you head to the left. Cough”. Looking for hernias. Right.

Now there were lots of kids with head lice but getting your young and growing junk checked out does seem a bit much. Life in the fifties.

After getting my papers I started delivering groceries – sometimes to bored housewives virtually locked up in dingy apartments.  I was someone to talk to – kind of like the pool boy of the ’50s.

And of course the time came.  “Would you like to come in for a cold drink Frankie?”.

Absolutely. “The Summer Wind Came Rolling in………..”.

Loew's Oriental Theatre exterior

The Oriental – now a Marshall’s Dept. Store

In my fifteenth Summer I got the best job of my youth. I was a movie usher at the Loew’s Oriental on 86th street in Brooklyn.  You’ve seen 86th street if you’ve seen “Saturday Night Fever”.  It’s the street John Travolta is walking down during the opening credits.

I got a maroon uniform and a flash light. Since I was under 16 I was not allowed by law to work after 6 P.M. I was always on “days” and “weekends”.

The theater was usually half empty during the week days; on Saturday the kid’s matinees jammed the place up. On hot days it would be more crowded. The theater was air-conditioned while nobody had air conditioning at home.

And I got to see the movies for free, which was great except that you got to see them over and over – at least for a week anyway.

I first saw Marlene Dietrich in “Witness for the Prosecution” that Summer and “High School Confidential”, which was all about juvenile delinquents and “mary jane”. And HSC had rock and roll music!   Jerry Lee Lewis!   And Mamie Van Doren!! Geez.  Mamie Van Doren.  Shocking.

That Summer of innocence passed and soon, at 16  I graduated high school and took a job in the mail room of the First National City Bank of New York. I was white collar! Real life had begun.  My father began treating me like a man.

When the hot breezes of Summer blow I can still see the vegetable truck, Gaetana’s breasts, the cold drinks, Marlene Dietrich and Mamie V. D.  And I can still hear Jerry Lee Lewis sing.  I’m listening to him now.  He married his 13 year old cousin when he was 23.

Tsk tsk.

,

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