Some people fall in love with a car, or a motorcycle, or a boat. (But I digress.)
I was now a resident of suburban New Jersey. Brooklyn was just a memory, gone, but not forgotten—and, two years later, so were the Dodgers. However, unlike my brother, who remains faithful to “Dodger Blue,” I never rooted for the Dodgers again.
The first year that we lived in New Jersey, I had so many fist fights that I literally lost count. Most of them occurred as a result of being teased about being Italian, or from Brooklyn, or worse yet, about our clothing, which didn’t measure up to mainstream standards. My brother and I were never ones to back down from a fight, so we were constantly in scuffles, sometimes resulting in our being hauled down to the police station. I acquired a reputation with several officers for being a tough guy, and eventually developed friendships with several of them. In those days, we were taught that the police were our friends, and if we ever had a problem, we could always go to them for help (quite different from the prevailing attitude today).
Just as had been the case in Brooklyn, the library was located directly across the street from our house. I quickly became one of its more frequent visitors. In the summertime, the library would offer rewards (usually ice cream) to kids who would read a certain number of books. As I recall, you would receive a free ice cream for every ten books you read. I spent lazy afternoons, up in my hand-crafted “tree house” (two boards, nailed to a branch) engrossed in stories, while savoring the taste of my yet-to-be-earned ice cream. The library itself was an old wooden structure, painted white. The main floor contained all the books; the second floor was reserved for offices and records. The assistant librarian was a woman named Helen E. Waite, who was afflicted with a condition that made it very difficult for her to speak (looking back, it may have been a form of Cerebral Palsy). I confess that we children drove her to distraction with our antics, and if there were a way that I could go back in time, I would apologize to her for my own indiscretions.
The thing I most remember about that first summer was meeting Laurie, a high school or college student, who worked part-time at the library, typing catalog cards and other things on a big, black Underwood manual typewriter. She had a little cubbyhole of an office on the second floor, and I spent an inordinate amount of time hanging around, ostensibly keeping Laurie company. But all the while, I would be staring wide-eyed at the amazing contraption that plopped a printed letter onto the paper with a resounding “thwap!” every time her fingers struck a key. Amazing! It took most of the summer, but I eventually cajoled Laurie into letting me try my hand at that old typewriter. By the fall, I was in love—not with Laurie, but with the typewriter. It is a love affair that has lasted until this very day.
By the end of our first year in New Jersey, my brother and I had already been accepted, even embraced by our peers, and life had moved on— just as though there had never ever been a “Big Move.” But every now and then, I find myself thinking about that momentous day so very long ago that had such a profound effect on our lives—especially when I pass a good Chinese restaurant, and catch the faint aroma of onions, no, chow mein. Yes, I’m quite certain; it’s chow mein.
Thanks, Dad. I love you.
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