My street – 13th Avenue at 66th street Brooklyn in the late 1940s I lived in the buildings on the extreme left with the triangular roof lines above the awnings.
The heat baked the concrete streets of Brooklyn that Summer in ‘55. We didn’t have no trees. Well, ok maybe one. In front of the apartment building where Louie the Red lived. Sad looking tree it was too but a tree nonetheless.
Louie was a red head. I guess today we would call him a ginger. Poor Louie. White skin perpetually red, freckles and red hair. What a sight. Out of place in our Italian neighborhood of swarthy guys. Well almost all Italian except for Betty the Greek and her two wild sons. Betty wasn’t married. We all knew that from listening in when the grandmas talked. And Josie Baxter who owned the sweet shop where momma would buy Pall Mall and where Daddy would place a bet on a horse once in a while with Hennie the bookie.
I was twelve that Summer and would officially be a teen when we went back to school day after Labor Day. We would usually gather together, me and the guys, outside the radio man’s repair shop. We couldn’t wait to get out of our sweltering apartments. No air in those days. Folks maybe had a little fan “cooling” them off. People with a few bucks had window fans proudly announcing to the neighborhood “We have a window fan!”. I mean, you could see it from the street so everyone knew.
On more than a few nights that Summer I slept on the fire escape, crawling out my bedroom window on the top floor of our three story building in my underwear. I would sit on the fire escape with my back against the bricks and sleep closer to the stars disturbed only now and then by a distant police siren. I always came back inside before momma caught me.
Besides the usual yo-yo, stick ball, marbles, skates and carpet gun season we’d hang outside the screen door at the radio man’s shop listening to the Dodgers. Sometimes if we had some money we’d all head down to Ebbett’s Field on the subway and spend the day in the bleachers rooting for our bums. This was gonna be our year. We said that every year.
Radio man always had the door open so we could hear the radio sounds coming through the screen door. Songs about yellow roses in Texas or waltz dancing in Tennessee. None of it meant anything. Not relevant as we might say today.
So me, Tino, Doondy, Vinnie, Patsy, Nickie Sconzo, Fredo and Louie the Red would hang around the shop on those days when we had nothing to do or it was too hot to do anything else and radio man would sometimes show us how he fixed the radios. Wires and tubes. Soldering irons. Make ‘em play like new. Sometimes he even had a fan to fix or a Victrola.
Sweet Connie came over to the radio shop a couple of times a week. Connie was married to Charlie the sailor who was off defending us against the commies while Connie lived with Charlie’s mother.
Connie always made me feel funny all over. She took away my speech and made my throat feel dry like sand paper. Especially when she would say “Hello Frankie boy!” in front of the guys.
“Hellooooooo Frankie boooyyyyy!” went the guys and I would blush and look down at my sneakers. Connie would smile at my blush and walk on by into radio man’s shop.
And during those hot Summer nights, especially on the fire escape I found myself thinking about Connie and she made me feel funny all over but I didn’t know why. And every time she saw me she would say hello to me and to no other and I would blush.
That Summer passed and soon the cooler days meant going back to school. I was a teenager now. After school and on weekends the gang still hung around the radio store until one day I heard the sound.
A song about a heartbreak hotel and a lonely street drifting through the open door. Not about cherry pink and apple blossom white. Or love a many splendored thing. About taking a walk down lonely street. I heard the sound and I knew, I just knew nothing would ever be the same.
“Did you hear Frankie boy?”
Connie ran away with the radio man!!
My sweet Connie, married to Charlie the sailor who was off defending us against commies and radio man, who had a wife and three kids ran off together! The grandmas were really talking now.
The radio store was closed for good, the cold wind blew the leaves off Louie’s tree and I never saw my Sweet Connie again.
I thought about her that Winter as I listened to the new sounds on my portable radio in my bedroom. She still made me feel funny all over but now I knew why.
I wondered if she knew all along, as she made me blush, that she was the first.
After a while I came to know that she did.
It was a very good year. I discovered the new sound and I lost my innocence.
And the Dodgers won the World Series.