Friday, February 27, 2015

A Memory Piece and Some Small Poems

The Good Luck Chinese Restaurant was two blocks away from our elementary school. Every Tuesday at lunchtime my sister and I left our friends and their Dr. Kildare lunch boxes behind, as we ran down Tremont Avenue to meet Dad in the last red-leather booth on the left. He worked for the New York City Welfare Department, and although his bosses expected him to trek up and down the streets making sure no poor people had anything nice in their apartments, the way he saw it “A man’s gotta eat, no?”
The owner of the restaurant loved my father. Every owner of every restaurant we ever ate in loved my father. People in the restaurant business appreciate a fat man with a stuffed wallet.
My father did all the ordering. An extra bowl of crispy noodles and more duck sauce right away. 3 egg rolls. An order of spare ribs. Pork fried rice. Sweet and sour pork. Shrimp in lobster sauce. Beef with cashews. 3 pots of tea. Sure, a bowl of white rice, too. Make that fortune cookies and almond cookies. And keep filling the water glasses.

My sister and I liked the soup. We ate the spare ribs if Dad cut hunks of meat off the bones for us. We dug into our eggrolls, scooped out the vegetables — which we scrupulously avoided — and devoured the fried casings. Sweet and sour pork, yum. But we stayed away from the pineapple chunks and the occasional cherry.

Dad ate everything else. The shrimp, the beef, the white rice, the fried rice, the cashews, the ribs, more rice, tea, sweet and sour pork, more tea, the eggroll insides, more rice, more noodles, more ribs.  

And when there was nothing left on the silver dishes he’d look over at our plates and ask, “Are you finished with that kids?" And when we said yes, we were finished, he smooshed all the leftovers from our plates onto his plate. 
Sometimes, after the meal, Dad couldn’t move from the booth. He’d smile a greasy smile at us, whisk a glob of lobster sauce from his goatee, tell us to be good girls, and watch as we ran down the dimly lit aisle of the Good Luck Chinese, out into the healthy daylight, and back to P. S. 6.

Then he’d close his eyes and take a little nap. 

The people who lived under the elevated tracks in the poorer sections of the Bronx were safe from the watchful eyes of the State — my dad was happily sitting down on the job.

=== === ===

Some Small Poems:

dusk arrives
crows depart
the one remaining candle flickers —
on the other side of the window
a man scrapes snow and ice from his car —
other than that
the street is quiet

a vase of purple tulips
a room with a view —
sister crow flies by

a full cupboard
mugs & bowls & small china plates
i choose the chipped cup

now it is easier
to just accept

i envy other people's 

moving from chair to couch
and back again
turning one lamp off
another lamp on
a bulb goes out
and before I can replace it
another bulb
in another room
goes out —

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Beatles Arrived

This is what I heard on the Writer's Almanac this morning:
"On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time." Oh yes, I do remember.

The Beatles arrived, and brought a certain madness with them. The kind that catapulted me up onto the couch, tossing my head as though it wasn't attached to the rest of my body, screeching so loudly I almost drowned out the TV. The Ed Sullivan show. On that night it was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life. Even better than Shari Lewis.
"Get down from there before you get hurt," my mother said. My grandfather said I was acting meshuga. Grandma, eyes on the screen, couldn't believe it — "Look at them, they have hair like girls. Are you positive they are boys? I'm not so positive."
Soon all the girls had Beatles lunch boxes. We never spoke of Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey again. It was Beatles, Beatles all the time.
In the cafeteria you'd sit at the table with whoever's lunch box matched yours. Like a club. Or a gang. A Beatles gang. 
My best friend Madeline had a Paul lunchbox. I had George. 
We couldn't eat together any more.
The whole world was changing.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Seven Minutes in Heaven

Alan Allen is a new boy in our class. Yes, that’s his real name. I figure his parents hated him as soon as he was born and that’s why they did that to him. In my opinion, parents should have their heads examined.
He isn’t a total gross-out or anything, I’m pretty sure he brushes his teeth, and he doesn’t wear white socks and loafers, which I hate when a boy wears those, but still, nobody asked me if I wanted to be his partner at Debbie Katz’s birthday party and I don’t think that was right.
When I got to Debbie’s house everyone already had a partner except for Alan Allen, and the whole thing was so unfair but I didn’t say anything because then everyone would just have said
it’s too late to change things now. I can read their minds before they even open up their mouths.
So this is how it went: Robert Silverman and Rachel Dubin were sitting together, which I expected, because they went to the same sleep-away camp and Rhonda Glick went there too, and she says they were going steady in camp, so everybody knows they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, even though Rachel tries to deny it. 

Debbie got Roger Gelber, but I’m positive he just went with her because it was her party. He’s the cutest boy in our class and I know for a fact that he really likes AnneMarie Flynn, but Debbie didn’t invite AnneMarie. And Bessie Levine and Howard Melcher were partners, which was a big relief to me because Howard's always sneezing, he's allergic to the world, and I wouldn't want him to get any of his boogers on me. 

So then Debbie Katz spins the bottle, because it’s her birthday and it's her house, and it lands on me, so Alan Allen and I had to go into Debbie Katz’s parents’ bedroom for Seven Minutes in Heaven, which is where you’re supposed to kiss on the lips for seven whole minutes without stopping.
Now before you start to think something happened I want to tell you this: nothing happened. Honest to God, we didn’t do a thing. I sat on the edge of Debbie Katz’s parents’ bed and I folded my hands in my lap and I stared at the little lamp on Debbie Katz’s father’s desk, and I don’t know what Alan Allen was doing but he sure wasn’t kissing me on the lips for seven minutes. I think I might have been holding my breath the entire time because I got this terrible headache and I got sort of sweaty, too.
Then, after a hundred years, Debbie Katz knocks on the bedroom door and she says, “Come on out, lovebirds,“ and Alan Allen and I go back to her living room. But just before we go in, Alan Allen grabs my hand and smiles, so then I smile too, and when we walk in the room all the boys begin to yell things and stamp their feet, even Roger Gelber who’s usually more mature than the rest of them, and Bessie Levine goes "Ellen Shapiro, you didn’t."  And of course I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. 
So now everybody thinks we did, and Alan Allen got to be a real popular boy in my class all of a sudden and I’m even more popular than I was before, which makes me so mad because it’s like I’m being forced to live a lie, but if I stop being friends with Debbie and the rest of them, there won’t be anyone left to be friends with except AnneMarie Flynn and Paula Gleason, and they hate me. 

So I’m going to go to Bessie Levine's party with Alan Allen next Friday night, now that the entire class thinks we’re going steady, but no matter what happens I am definitely not going to marry him. Because Ellen Allen is such a dumb name you could die from it. And I think Alan Allen may be the kind of person who would want to name his kid Alan Allen Junior.  And then I’d just have to divorce him because I don’t think parents should do something that could maybe ruin their child's life forever, do you?