12/51 to 9/52 #3: Snow
December 8, 1951
“Dad, you remember that girl I met today?”
“Do I remember Susan? You haven’t shut up about Susan since you met her. I’m almost sorry I encouraged it.”
“Would you believe…” smiling broadly, “that I’m on my way to her home to take her out for dessert… Okay to take the car?”
“How’s it look outside? Much snow there?”
Bending two slats, Mitchell looked through the Venetian blinds: snowflakes swirled in the glow of streetlights and there was about an inch of accumulation on the ground. “Nah, it’s fine out there, Dad.” If need be, on this night he’d walk through a blizzard to get to Susan.
Without looking up, “Okay, but take it easy.” Turning a page, “It could be getting pretty slippery out there.”
The streets were slippery, and what would normally take twenty to twenty-five minutes took over an hour.
Worried because of the growing accumulation of snow, and knowing that nothing short of an accident would keep him away, she had been standing by her bedroom window watching for him.
Headlights flickered as a slowly-moving car traversed the street, made a U-turn at the next cross street, came back, stopped and parked across the street. When the driver door opened, the dome light lit the car’s interior,
He’s here. Breathing a sigh of relief, Susan stood back, out of sight, watching as he crossed the street. “He’s here!”
“Okay,” in the living room, “he made it.” Mister Friedman said. “Now, will you please relax!”
“Yes, Daddy, now I will.” Going to the intercom by the door, Susan waited for the bell to ring.
It was a newer, two-story, yellow brick building. Inside there were two shiny brass mailboxes on either side of the marble-paneled foyer.
Standing in the foyer, composing himself, Mitchell unbuttoned his coat, straightened his shirt collar, looked at his reflection on the cover of the mailbox marked Friedman, took a deep breath and pushed the button.
After counting to five, Susan pushed the button, and…
It took five very long seconds until…
“Hello,” the voice on the intercom said.
Assuming… rather sure the voice belonged to Susan and not wanting to hear ‘Mitch who,’ “Hello,” he said. “It’s Mitch Lipensky.”
Knowing why he’d said ‘Mitch Lipensky,’ smiling, she pushed the button.
He heard the pop of the lock in the plate-glass security door.
Wiping his feet on the cocoa floor mat, opening the door, he began up the stairs. Half way up the first flight, the door on the west side of the first floor landing opened. Looking up, Mitchell stopped two steps short of the landing…
It had happened in the past: Mitchell would meet a girl and, being a guy, he would build the girl’s physical attributes to spectacular proportions in his mind and to some degree was usually disappointed upon seeing her the next time. Now, though, his heart began to pound, his breath catching in his throat he blinked and swallowed because Susan had not been built to unreal proportions in his mind at all and, if anything, she was even lovelier now than when they’d met. Barely able to speak, emotion clogging his throat, “Hi,” he whispered.
Crystals of melted snow sparkling in his dark-brown hair, his cold, flushed complexion caused his eyes to appear even greener and, her breath catching in her throat, Mitchell’s features were more alluring to Susan now than they had been when she had first seen him sitting across the counter… when she had silently prayed that somehow they would find a way to meet.
The two stood in the hall, Susan in her open doorway and Mitchell just steps below the landing, a distance of about four feet, and as an electric spark arcs from contact to contact, a deeply felt emotion arced from one to the other.
Jolted by his expression, realizing the depth of his feeling… realizing the depth of her feeling, attempting to smile, “Hi,” she answered back.
Mitchell saw a… kind of a look in Susan’s thin smile, but because it was far more than he remotely expected, having no idea what the look may have meant, “Uh,” thinking, Why’s it so hard for me to talk? “sorry I’m so late, but the streets are kind’a bad out there.”
“Yes, I, uh,” having a hard time speaking, too, “kind of figured that. Come on, they’re waiting to meet you.” Subconsciously wanting to touch him, to have him touch her, Susan reached to him.
Not expecting this, wanting to touch her, desperately wanting to touch her, reaching forward…
When Mitchell had been with Gina, but more so with Sally because he’d truly liked her—actually, at the time felt that he loved Sally—the first taste of the taste of the breast of both girls had caused a deep felt sensation of reverence.
Now, the very touch of Susan’s hand caused that same deep felt sensation. Now, though, the sensation was not sexually motivated. The sensation of the mere feel of the touch of Susan’s hand was, to Mitchell, sacred, and to Mitchell love had but one meaning, and the meaning was synonymous with one word: Susan. And as if unable to believe that he was really there, really holding Susan’s hand, turning their hands so hers was knuckles up, he fought an all but uncontrollable urge to bring her hand to his lips… to kiss Susan’s hand.
Yet watching the rapt look on his face, Susan’s heart began to beat even faster, and she knew that if her parents were not just on the other side of the open door, even if this was their first moment alone, she would certainly be in his arms… Tightening the grip on his hand, “Mitchie,” she said softly, “the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can get out of here.” Pulling gently, she urged him up the remaining stairs.”
‘Mitchie.’ How sweet the word sounded coming from Susan’s lips. Looking up, “Yes,” swallowing, “guess we’d better.”
Hands held, they entered the Friedman living room.
Richly furnished, the floor of the large room was covered with plush, forest green, wall-to-wall carpeting. A sofa, a grouping of two wing chairs and an elegant glass-topped coffee table dominated the wall and the space facing the door.
Sitting on the sofa, watching as their daughter and the boy entered the room, a glance passed between Mister and Mrs. Friedman.
“Daddy, this is Mitchell.”
Nodding at his daughter, standing, “Mitchell,” Mister Friedman extended his hand.
Tall, about 6'3", he had dark, curly hair, dark-brown eyes and a ruddy complexion. An extremely handsome man, between he and his wife Mitchell could easily see where Susan got her good looks. Mister Friedman wore sharply pressed, gray wool slacks, a white, lamb’s wool sweater, and shiny black loafers and looked as though he’d stepped from the pages of Esquire… So unlike Walter, who usually lounged about the house in a pair of wrinkled wash pants and tattered deck shoes.
Shaking hands, “Mister Friedman, glad to meet you, Sir. He looked from Mister to Mrs. Friedman, who was wearing sharply pressed, black wool slacks, a gray silk blouse and white satin slippers… So unlike Myra, who usually lounged about the house in a formless, albeit cleanly pressed housedress. “Mrs. Friedman,” nodding to her, “it’s nice to see you again.” As before, Mitchell felt the way to soften the forthcoming inquisition was through the mother.
“Why don’t you kids sit down.” Mister Friedman motioned to the wing chairs on either side of the coffee table.
Mitchell sat on the chair to the right, Susan to the left.
“Mrs. Friedman, I’d like to tell you something.” Looking directly into her eyes, sincerely spoken, “You are the most beautiful lady I’ve ever met, and it’s hard to believe that anyone as pretty as you could be anyone’s mother, and that’s the honest to God truth. And I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate you giving Susan permission to…” glancing at Susan, “let me have your phone number, and I do want to thank you again.”
Obviously taken back by the sincerity of the compliment and his good manners, “Why thank you, Mitchell,” Mrs. Friedman replied. “That’s a very sweet thing to say.”
Clearing his throat, “Mitchell,” Mister Friedman said, “Susan tells us that you’re a senior at Niles.”
“You’ve been going there long?”
“We moved to Skokie in August, sir. This is my first semester.”
“Oh. Where were you before?” Removing the top of the crystal cigarette box on the coffee table, lifting the box, holding it towards her, Mister Friedman offered a cigarette to his wife, who took one. He then held the box towards Mitchell…
Who, though he desperately wanted a cigarette, “No, sir, thank you,” wisely declined.
“I went to Harrison before.”
“Oh?” Lifting the matching lighter, Mister Friedman lit his wife’s, then his own cigarette. “On the west side.” This said more as a statement than a question.
Drawing on the cigarette, “Taking any particular classes?”
Never doing more work in school than was absolutely necessary, “How do you mean, Mister Friedman?”
“Well, Mitchell, what are your long-term goals? What do you plan on majoring in, in college?”
Uh-Oh! Not expecting this type of questioning, waiting for his answer, three sets of eyes looked at him. Glancing at Susan, who was watching him intently, Oh, yeah! Uh-oh, indeed! Realizing that this could break it with her before it really got started, Mitchell remembered a suggestion that his father had made some time back regarding college and a career that he had rejected out of hand, but, “Photography!” he said.
“Photography? In college? What do you mean, Mitchell?”
“My dad owns one of the best commercial studios in Chicago, and I’m…” lying through his teeth, “planning on going to R.I.T.; that’s the Rochester Institute of Technology, uh, for photographic arts…”
“Rochester?” Susan asked. “In New York?”
“Well, yeah, R.I.T. is in New York, and it’s the best university for, uh, photographic arts in the world.” Adding, “It’s sponsored mostly by Eastman Kodak, you know.”
“I suppose one could make a decent living in photography,” Mrs. Friedman said. “Especially if one’s father owns the business. How long has your father been in it?”
“My folks bought the Park Studio right after the war. It was portraits at first, but my dad got tired of trying to make peoples’ daughters look like Shirley Temple, so he switched to commercial and moved the studio downtown. Matter of fact, we were the first studio in the city to do commercial, three-dimensional photography,” he said proudly.
“Jesus!” Taking a last drag on the cigarette, Mister Friedman ground it out in the matching crystal ashtray. “If I had to deal with a bunch of crazy parents that insisted that their daughters looked like Shirley Temple I’d go out of my mind.”
Thinking he was out of it, at least for the moment, “Or Elizabeth Taylor.” Looking at Susan, Mitchell forced a smile.
“How’s your grade average?” Mister Friedman asked.
“Susan’s went from A plus to an A last semester, but she’s working extra hard to bring it up again. Aren’t you, dear?”
Looking at her mother, “Yes, Mom,” Susan said, then turned expectantly to Mitchell.
From an A plus to a regular, old-fashioned A! Exaggerating slightly—well, lying through his teeth again—“I carry a B…” glancing at Susan, “plus average, but,” he added quickly, “that’s improving this semester also.” Seeing a look of disappointment on Susan’s face, “Switching schools and all, you know, kind of threw me off.”
This being a somewhat plausible answer, looking at each other, Eric and Rose Friedman nodded imperceptibly.
Rose did come from a wealthy North Shore family, and Eric Friedman was a graduate engineer. After the war, though, engineers were a glut on the job market, so, unable to find work in his chosen profession, needing a job, Eric went into the sale of printing presses.
Social status and a college education obviously meant a lot to Mister and Mrs. Friedman and, from what Mitchell could see, to their daughter, too.
“What do your folks do for entertainment?” Mister Friedman asked, meaning, Do your parents belong to any social or country clubs?
Ah-ha! He’d been waiting for a question that he could answer honestly, more or less. “My dad loves sailing and we’ve got a…” better not exaggerate too much, because, God willing, sooner or later Susan’ll see it and a sixteen-foot Snipe doesn’t exactly qualify as a yacht, “sailboat moored in Belmont Harbor, and we belong to the Columbia Yacht Club.”
Impressed, “Oh,” Mister Friedman asked, “do you know Commander Metzenberg? I sold him a printing press last year.”
He’s not out of Esquire! He sells printing presses! “Yes, sir. Last summer, his son, Karl, needed another man to crew on their yacht for the Chicago to Michigan City race, and I crewed for him.”
Once again the Friedmans looked at each other, and once again Rose and Eric imperceptibly nodded their heads. Unnoticed by Mitchell, catching the inflection of her parents’ body language, Susan smiled with relief.
“Well,” Mister Friedman stood, “it’s a shame Butchie’s asleep. We’d like him to meet you.”
Looking about, “Butchie? He’s your dog?”
“No, silly.” Going to his chair, Susan punched him playfully on the shoulder. “Butchie’s my baby brother.”
“Hey, I got some of those.”
“Dogs?” Mister Friedman asked jokingly.
“No, sir, baby brothers. How old is he?”
“Four.” Realizing she knew nothing about him—besides the fact that Mitchell was a B+ student, was going to college in New York state to learn to be a photographic…? artist, and that his wealthy parents owned a yacht—“How many brothers have you? Any sisters?” Susan asked.
Envisioning many happy hours spent with Susan babysitting Butchie, “Two brothers, no sisters.” he replied.
“If you kids want to go out for a while, it’s okay with me.” Mister Friedman looked at his wife. “Okay with you, honey?”
“The streets must be pretty bad by now. You said you’ll walk wherever you’re going?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’d rather walk anyway.”
“Mitchell, Mrs. Friedman and myself think you seem like a rather nice young man, and even if your approach in meeting my daughter was unorthodox…” Orthodox? Conservative? Reform? Being rather liberal in the practice of their Judaic beliefs, Eric fleeting wondered how staunch the Lipenskys might be. “…I understand the reason you did it, and, to be honest, I admire your chutzpa. So, so long as it’s okay with Susan, it’s okay with Mrs. Friedman and myself if you two kids see each other.” Sensing, He’s not going to be just another boy. And, Even if he’s not going to be a doctor, lawyer or—at the very least—a C.P.A., maybe we can get the boy to change his mind. And if not, he could be a good catch anyway. “But,” he said, “don’t give us any reason to be sorry that we made this decision. Okay?”
“No, sir!” Looking directly into the older man’s eyes, “I promise you won’t be sorry!”
“And bring that B+ average up to an A, okay?”
Answered a bit less enthusiastically, “Yes, sir.”
Susan wore a fur-lined black leather coat along with fuzzy, white knit mittens and a matching hat that tied beneath her chin. Looking at her as they walked down the stairs, Jesus, he thought, fighting the urge to take her into his arms and kiss her, she’s so beautiful! And still could not believe that he was really there, with Susan.
Outside, the temperature was still barely below freezing and snow still fell, but there was no wind, and even though the vapor of their breath was visible, they were not cold.
“Your parents are nice people, but God, for a minute there I thought they were going to burn me at the stake.”
“Kind of reminded you of the Spanish Inquisition, huh?”
“Yeah, it sure did.”
They walked slowly, hesitantly. Their hips touched frequently and Mitchell’s bare hand often, “accidentally,” brushed Susan’s mittened hand. Walking on the outside, as they came to a curb he took hold of her elbow, then, reaching the other side of the street or alley, reluctantly releasing her elbow, Susan’s arm would fall back to her side.
Content to be together, at this close proximity, neither had spoken, but now, “Mitchie,” looking at him over her shoulder, “did you tell them… did you tell my parents everything?”
Oh, God! He desperately wanted to tell her the truth about himself, about the type of student he really was, but was positive that if he did it would put a strain on—if not completely sever—their barely-budding relationship, especially now that he had lied about just about everything to her parents.
This whole thing was so improbable: Going shopping with his parents; he never went shopping with his parents. His father wanting coffee just at that time, just across the street from Walgreen’s. Mrs. Friedman and her daughter coming into Walgreen’s just at that time, too. And finding the courage to talk to her. And she’d listened to him! And now, By God, he was here, with her! And, he was sure—although having no idea just how much she did—Mitchell was sure that Susan liked him also. And the thought that, It is! That, It must be God! That, God wanted me to meet Susan! Why else? How else could this have happened? Earlier, as it was happening, he’d responded to Mister Friedman’s questions—with the exception of the size of Walter’s boat—without thinking beyond the moment, but now, Work! The inkling of a thought coming to him. Maybe, if I work my ass off, maybe I still have time to buckle down. Maybe I can go to Rochester to take an entrance exam. Maybe, if I work my ass off, maybe I can make it! At that moment Mitchell decided: If college is that important to Susan! If that’s what she wants, then damnit! I will do it!
“Well,” he said, “I did stretch the truth,” holding his thumb and forefinger a fraction apart, “just a little.”
“Mitchell,” Stopping, turning, she looked at him. “It’s important that I know, right now! What did you stretch the truth about?”
Looking at her, “Uh,” swallowing, “the boat.”
“The boat? You mean you don’t have a boat?”
“Oh, yeah,” forcing a chuckle, “we’ve got a boat alright, but I think, maybe, your folks got the wrong impression because maybe I made it seem like it’s a yacht, and it’s not quite… well, yeah, it’s my dads yacht, but even so, it’s only sixteen feet long.”
No doubt about it, Susan did like Mitchell; she liked him more than she, at the moment, comprehended or would admit to. If his family were rich—which they well may be—and if they did have a yacht, a real yacht, it would certainly be icing on the cake. She was disappointed, but, beginning to walk again, “Okay, Mitchie, if that’s the worst thing you, uh, stretched the truth about, it’s okay…”
The plume of vapor from his mouth evidenced a sigh of relief.
“…but I did think that maybe we’d be able to go sailing off to Tahiti or someplace,” attempting to make a joke of her disappointment.
“Yeah,” looking at her wistfully, “that would be nice!”
Beginning to walk again, when their hands brushed, he took hold of hers, and was gratefully reassured when he felt her fingers curl about his.
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)