The candy store, our clubroom, our command post in the Bronx, was the forum where we struggled with adolescence. The year was 1946. Girls, in our sophisticated analysis, were still sitting in the last seat, in the last row of our pre-pubescent classroom.
Our National Pastime, baseball was replete with pathetic wartime replacements. Jerry, our baseball statistician, let us know that Snuffy Sternweiss who batted .309 last year couldn’t get a hit in our Sunday morning softball games.
While this cerebral discussion was going on, Herman came racing out of the phone booth to announce, “I just arranged five dates for you guys and myself.”
Jerry exploded, “Who asked you? We were talking about the misfits on the baseball field when you barged in with your dates.”
“No one asked me, but do you think you’ll hang out in this candy store until you’re fifty?”
I chimed in, “It’s better than going to the movies with a girl. And I would probably have to share a box of popcorn with her.”
“No movies. We’re going on a ferry for a Moonlight Ride up the Hudson.”
Peanzy couldn’t believe this. “A Moonlight Ride up the Hudson? A ferry? The last time I was in a rowboat in Crotona Park Lake I got seasick. What does it cost? I’m not going.”
Rock was less hostile. “Herman, who are these five beauties you collected?”
“My mother got the phone numbers from a woman who was buying a brisket at Brodsky, the butcher.”
Jerry chimed in, “I hope the girls’ meat is better than Brodsky’s.”
The boys had a hearty laugh.
“Go ahead and laugh. Sit in the candy store until your teeth fall out. Listen, these girls live on the west side of the Bronx. The crosstown bus will take us there. Don’t embarrass me. No sneakers, no T-shirts, and no dungarees.”
Jerry, Peanzy, Rock, and I decided this might be time to face the enemy and join Herman on a trial run.
To finalize his decision, Peanzy repeated, “How much is this Moonlight Ride?”
“Five dollars,” replied Herman.
“Five dollars? Those aren’t trolley transfers. You’re talking about real money. I’m not going.”
Herman saved the evening by offering to pay for Peanzy.
The crosstown bus had five apprehensive teenagers clustered at the rear of the bus.
“Hey guys,” whispered Peanzy. “What if we get dogs?” The boys hunched over in their seats to try and solve the dilemma when Jerry suggested they get off at the next stop and return home. The proposal was unanimous. Herman was furious. “What a bunch of rat-finks. I get you dates and you’re not man enough try it. Go home, go home to the candy store.”
I had to voice my piece. “OK, Herman, you won this battle, but next time, if there will be a next time, they better be beauties.”
I got off the bus, and after a few blunders found the building. A building with an elevator. Wow! A scissor-like cage slid in front of me. I felt like the canary in a coal mine.
Apartment 5D. Left? Right?
I buzzed and the door opened.
“Hi. I’m Della.” She had long, black hair and was pretty.
“Hello, I’m Danny.”
Della’s mother called out, “Della, bring in your friend.”
She speaks English without an accent, I thought. I better get out of here. Too late. Della’s mother came out of the kitchen with a wooden plate of cheeses, grapes, and a metal handle with a wire. What is this wire doing here? What are these cheeses? They’re not pot cheese or American cheese, but they are white. Where’s the cream cheese? Where’re the bagels? Ah, what do they know from bagels and cream cheese?
The entire living room was covered with green velvet carpeting. Ugh! It makes me itch. I liked our shiny, colorful oilcloth flooring.
“Where is the couple going tonight?” asked Della’s father.
“We’re going on a Moonlight Ride up the Hudson,” I replied.
“A ferry?” With a gravelly voice Della’s father burst out with, “I love to ride a ferry. Where music is so merry…”
How do I get out of here?
As Della and I left for the door, “Have a merry time!” her mother shouted.
Ha! That’s a good one.
Finally, we were off that velvet carpet and on to the street.
“Della, where’s the subway station?”
“Subway station?” She glared at me. “I thought we would take a…”
“The subway station, the station where the train stops,” I said sarcastically.
It was a short walk to the station. There was an endless flight of vertical steps to reach the platform. I glided up the steps as if they were on a horizontal plane. When I reached the top, I turned. Della was gasping for air near the bottom of the stairway. This girl was in terrible shape. Would she survive the incline? Who would want to live with a woman who walks around an apartment wheezing for air? If she hit a ground ball, she’d probably be tagged out by the catcher.
The subway car was almost empty. I sat down and Della edged near me. She practically sat on me.
Why is she sitting so close to me? There’s plenty of room in this car. What did I do to invite this? What do I do now? Herman gets us dates. Who asked him? I’ll grind this one out, but it’s the last time Herman suggests anything to us.
Della and I arrived at the Day Line pier. Peanzy, Jerry, Rock, and Herman were already online to buy tickets. All the boys and their dates walked up the gangplank to be greeted by a band serenading a few couples on the dance floor. When Della began to hum to the music, I became rattled. I better steer her to the upper deck. I’d never danced with anyone in my life.
The ferry left the port. The boys cleverly moved to the far end of the upper deck, far from the band. No dancing, now what? Conversation Placing two elbows against the railing, I casually leaned back. How do I begin my clever discussion? Ah, here’s a good one:
“My geometry teacher places all the students who do not answer correctly in the last row and calls that row Dumbbell’s Alley.” She didn’t find that funny. She thought it was cruel. “Football is back in high school. I think I’ll try out.”
As I expected, she replied, “Aren’t you too small, and isn’t it dangerous? I go to an all-girls high school. We don’t have football.”
I turned and leaned over the railing to watch the lights glimmer from the shoreline. Della closed in on me. Uh oh. What now?
Timidly, I said, “Let’s sit down.”
No sooner did I made contact with the canvas, then Della boldly deposited herself on top of me. I was immobilized. What could I do? What could I touch? What couldn’t I touch? Is there something sophisticated I could say like, “Do you know that the Hudson River is an estuary?” No, that would be stupid. Terror paralyzed my tongue. My heart pounded, my fingers shrunk into my palms.
Since both of us were of the same species, I expected a small, firm rear end like mine. Instead, what I felt was a flaccid mass overflowing my thighs. This is a sick girl I decided. She was gasping while climbing the steps and has a mushy ass that expands so quickly.
I summoned my friends to the restroom for a critical debriefing. Peanzy was there talcuming his sweaty neck and the collar of his navy-blue shirt. He called out, “Hey guys. This stuff is great!”
From one of the nearby stalls came an angry, “And yerr not paying ferr it, are you?”
We quickly left for a more cordial environment. Rock was the first to report. “Could you believe it? She doesn’t know that the Giants play in the Polo Grounds?”
“I believe it. She looks like she never played ball in her life. If I married her, I would do what my uncle did.”
“What was that?”
“He went out for a pack of cigarettes.”
“What brand?” Jerry asked.
“It’s not the brand, stupid. He never returned.”
I added, “Mine has a soft ass and is totally out of shape. I don’t need an invalid.”
Herman was the only satisfied passenger. “Mine is not bad. I’m going to call her again.”
A thorough assessment of the evening brought us to the conclusion that these girls merited no further attention from such a suave bunch of guys.
It was well past our bedtime. After accompanying the girls’ home, the boys decided that tomorrow there will be a further analysis in the candy store.
This was my first date. “Let’s sit down” kept taking encores as the weeks had passed. I was sure that Della wasn’t impressed with me. Why should she be? I was yet to be awakened from my arrested development.
Daniel Wolfe is an 88-year-old decorated veteran from the Korean War. With the aid of the GI Bill, he was graduated from the City College of New York. Daniel has written three memoirs and a children’s book:
Seabury Place: A Bronx Memoir
Cold Ground’s Been My Bed: A Korean War Memoir
Coming Home: A Soldier Returns From Korea
Trees are not Umbrellas: A children’s story.
Learn more at www.danielwolfebooks.com.