As the streetcar traveled south he was surprised at the change and deterioration of each following neighborhood. Well-maintained apartment buildings changed to hulking, dirty tenements. Once thriving neighborhood storefront businesses give way to dirty, steel-barred storefront windows and doors. White faces changed to black faces.
Girl With Green Teeth: 1 0f 6
May 28 and June 18, 1949
“Yeah, hello!” In a false-sounding, deeply masculine voice, “This the La’pish’ky residence?”
“Lipensky! Yeah, it is!”
“Is there a, uh, Mitchell La’pish’ky there?”
“This is Mitchell Lipensky!”
“The Mitchell La’pish’ky?”
“Yes!” Now knowing it’s a gag, “Who’s this?” he asked.
“Mitchell La’pish’ky? The Jewish peeeg!”
“My God, Frankie!”
“Hey, ya big shit! Your hand busted? You can’t pick up the phone an’ call me once in a while?”
“Yeah, I know, sorry. So what’j’ya been doin’ with yourself? How’d you like high school? Jesus, Frankie, you’re gonna be a junior!”
“No. The Catholic school my folks sent me to didn’t have half semesters, so I was put back an’ graduated same as you.”
“That’s tough, bein’ put back that way.”
“Nah, didn’t mind all that much. So, what’j’ya been doing’?”
“I had my Bar Mitzvah… what? Jesus, almost two years ago, and I’m going to Harrison! When the hell’s the last time we talked to each other?”
“When I called you!”
“Okay already, I’m sorry! I promise, I’ll call next time! Okay?”
“Okay, you dick, I’ll forgive ya… this time! I think the last time we talked was right after you got that stupid ring.”
“My Captain ring.” He laughed. “It never did work.”
“So, Mitch, tell me, you still ‘cherry’? Ya ever get laid?” Frank laughed, too. “Ever even get to see a cunt?”
Not too sure of what cherry meant, and no, he hadn’t been laid, and had no more of an idea then, than when he’d been nine, of what a cunt looked like, and so said nothing.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought! Know what?” Without waiting for an answer, “It’s ’bout time I got’j’ya fucked. Look, why don’t’j’ya talk to your folks an’ see if you can visit here for a couple’a days after school’s out? You remember that girl I tol’j’ya ’bout?”
He thought a moment. “Oh, yeah! The one that wants to see what a Jewish dick looks like.”
“Yeah! An’ seein’ as you’re the biggest Jewish dick I know!”
“Fuck you, Rizzo!”
“No, I been fucked, now we’re gonna get you fucked. Anyway, for years now, Gina keeps askin’ when she’s gonna meet my ugly Jewish pal, Mitchell. Shit! She ain’t even met’j’ya an’ she’s got the hots for ya! You get your folks to let’j’ya come an’ I promise, you’ll get screwed, blewed an’ tattooed!”
“You sure, Frank?” Becoming excited. “No shit! You mean it? Uh, whats’er’name…?”
“Yeah, Gina! She told you this?”
“It’s a sure thing! I wouldn’t lie to my best pal.”
Quiet as Frank’s words sunk in, both, “the sure thing,” and Frank still considering him as his best pal… “Okay, school’s out in a couple’a weeks, an’ I’ll ask my mom’n’dad if I can go see you soon’s it’s over. I’m pretty sure they’ll say okay, an’ I’ll give you a call and let you know when, for sure. Okay?”
“Yeah, that sounds great. Hey, I got an idea. You still got that Captain ring?”
“Yeah, someplace. Why? I tol’j’ya it don’t work.”
“It don’t gotta work. You bring it an’ I’ll tell you why when I see you.”
“Okay, if I can find it, I’ll bring it.” For some reason, though, no matter how Frank assured him, Gina sounded too good to be true . “But you’re sure now, about Gina?”
“Mitch, I told’j’ya, if nothin’ else, she wants to see what a circumcised dick looks like.”
Mitchell laughed. “You guys ain’t got none’a your own?”
“Yeah, we got lots’a pricks in my neighborhood, but none of ’em been whacked off like yours… You still got my number?”
“Whacked off, huh? Same old Frankie. Yeah, if it ain’t been changed, I got it filed under Dago.”
“Okay, then I’ll be talkin’t’ya in a couple’a weeks.”
“Yeah, Frankie. Talk to you soon’s I know… Bye.”
“So long, Mitchie.”
June 18, 1949
“Got your hankie?”
As though calling on God to help him, lifting his eyes to the ceiling, he patted his back pocket. “Yeah, Mom, I got my hankie!”
Patting his left front pocket, hearing a muted jingle, nodding his head, “Yeah!”
“Mom, I’m fifteen!”
“Going to be fifteen!” she corrected.
“Okay! Going to be fifteen—in two months! Mom, I ain’t a baby no more!”
“Ain’t, ain’t in the dictionary.” she corrected again. “And you’re not a baby anymore! Do you have your money?”
Patting his right front pocket, “Yeah, I got my money.”
Reaching in his pocket, removing five one-dollar bills and 75 cents in change, holding the bills and change forward for her to see, “Okay?”
“Okay.” Nodding at the canvas bag on the bed, “And what are you taking to wear?”
He thought a moment. “Two undershirts and underpants, and two hankies and two shirts and my new khaki pants… Okay?”
“Don’t be fresh! You know I’m still not too happy about you going and for two cents…”
“Mom, I ain’t seen Frankie in almost five years!”
“I know you haven’t seen Frankie in almost five years! Why couldn’t he come here to visit? I’m sure this is a much nicer neighborhood than where he lives.”
“Mom, that’s your opinion, an’ besides, I didn’t invite him here and he did invite me there!”
“I know! I know! Got your toothbrush?”
“Yeah,” sighing, looking skyward again, “I got my toothbrush! Mom, I got everything I’m going to need! I’m only going for two days!”
Regarding her eldest son, Myra fleetingly wondered, Good Lord, where have the years gone?
Regarding his mother, Mitchell noticed a bulge beneath her housedress and wondered, Another watermelon seed?Nah, it couldn’t be!
Besides his two years at Baylor, outside of a week’s visit to his aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh the summer before, this was the first time he’d left home alone. When he went to Pittsburgh, Myra and Walter had put him on the train in Chicago and he was met in Pittsburgh by his uncle Jerry, Jerry’s second wife, Meg, and her son, Bob, and was never really on his own.
But this was completely different: To go to a tough, gentile neighborhood that was a world apart from his?
Myra was apprehensive about this trip, and rightfully so. In her eyes Mitchell was an innocent boy and, to her knowledge, had never faced true anti-Semitism. Oh, yes, she thought, there’d been that anti-Semite dictator at Baylor,but that was so subtle he probably never really felt it.Myra was sure he’d heard, if not been called the names: sheeny, kike, Christ-killer. That was the main reason she’d been against Harrison as his choice of high school. But, to her knowledge, even that had turned out okay. Maybe it’s because Mitchell is so big for his age? But, No, she reasoned, his size would only make him more of a target. That’s why Jews live together. That’s one of the reasons we live here. After all, there is strength in numbers. But maybe it’s not all that bad anymore, and maybe there are more Jewish kids in Harrison than I thought.
When Mitchell had asked Myra if he could visit Frank, fully expecting Walter to say no, she gave him “Mother’s Standard Answer Number One”: “Go ask your Father.”
“Dad,” he’d asked, “do you remember my friend Frank Rizzo?”
Sitting in his chair in the front room, reading the paper, Walter put his cigarette in the ashtray and looked at his son. “Frank Rizzo? Yes, I do. Nice boy, for an Italian.”
“I talked to him last week and he asked if I could visit him for a couple’a days when school’s out.”
Giving “Father’s Standard Reply Number One”: “Did you ask your Mother?”
“Yeah, Dad, I did, and she said it’s alright with her if it’s alright with you.”
Slightly surprised, “She did, huh? Where’s your friend live?”
“Oh, somewhere around California and 63rd.”
“The south side. That’s not such a great neighborhood there.”
Knowing what his father was thinking, so long as he’d told one lie, he figured he might as well tell another. “Dad, Frank says that it’s not so bad there, and that he has lots of Jewish friends there.”
“Really! Know what, Mitchell? It may not be such a bad idea after all. It might even be a good experience for you, being in a different neighborhood. After all, you can’t live here forever. You’ve got to meet different kinds of people sometime. Yes, I do think it’s a good idea that you visit your friend!”
“It’s okay then, if I tell mom you said it’s okay?”
Flapping the paper forward, “Uh-hu.” dismissing his son, he’d lifted it in front of his face.
“Dad say’s he thinks it’ll be a good experience for me to be with other people for a change, an’ it’s all right with him.”
“You know, Mitchie,” taking her son by the shoulders, looking directly at him, “if I treat you like a baby, even though we have Larry,” stopping, she considered if she should tell him, but decided against it, “you’re still my baby and I’m always going to worry about you. Do you understand me?” Not waiting for an answer, “You know how to get there?”
“Yes, Mom.” Pulling back, looking into her eyes, “I know how to get there! Stop worrying; it’s easy!”
Forcing a smile, “Okay,” she stared at him a long moment. “And you will call me when you get there!”
“Yeah, Mom. I will! I’ll call you from Frankie’s.”
Holding the curtain aside, Myra stood at the front room window watching Mitchell as he waited on the safety island for an eastbound streetcar.
She heard the clanging before seeing it.
The streetcar came to a stop.
He stepped into the car’s vestibule, and as though knowing that she was watching from the window, without turning, lifting his arm, Mitchell waved his hand
The conductor stamped on the steel button.
Myra heard the faint clang-clang.
The car moved across Homan Avenue, and out of sight.
Sighing, she let the curtain drop into place.
He’d traveled north on California Avenue many times. The dentist’s office and Grandma and Grandpa Lipensky’s house was along the north-bound route, but the furthest south he’d ever gone was twenty-second street.
As the streetcar traveled south he was surprised at the change and deterioration of each following neighborhood. Well-maintained apartment buildings changed to hulking, dirty tenements. Once thriving neighborhood storefront businesses give way to dirty, steel-barred storefront windows and doors. White faces changed to black faces. People stood on street corners, or sat in the shade on door-stoops, or walked singularly, or in pairs or groups, just like the people in his neighborhood, yet they seemed so different… so foreign.
Not accustomed to Negroes, even though they did nothing in any way threatening, still, he was glad to be behind the window of this moving streetcar, and though it was the eighteenth of June and the temperature was 78 degrees, he shivered. Mitchell had no idea why he was afraid. He’d never even met a Negro seemed to be so… Not at all like Charlie Chan’s chauffeur in the movies or Jack Benny’s “Rochester” on the radio. Uncle Al told shvartzer jokes all the time, but looking through the fly-specked window of this fast moving streetcar as it passed from corner to corner, he saw nothing funny and was very glad to be in here, and not out there.
Becoming cleaner, the stores, buildings and streets changed again and the black faces once again become white faces.
“Sixty-third Street!” The conductor called, “Sixty-third Street, next stop!”
Mitchell stood, went to the rear platform and waited till the streetcar came to a complete stop before he stepped off, onto the safety island… into a “different” place.
Standing in the wash of the departing streetcar he felt the humid wind and the air seemed hotter here than it was there—hotter now than it was before.
As he stepped from the safety island, a speck of blowing grit stung his left eye. Rubbing it, he walked from the street onto the sidewalk.
Along and around the corners of California and Sixty-third streets were dozens of intermixed shabby and somewhat better maintained stores.
Across the street, green and orange tissue-paper wrappers mixed with paper scraps and dust twisted along the gutter in a dwarf-sized cyclone.
Names on the plate glass windows of storefronts were unfamiliar to Mitchell’s eyes and memory: Vesuvio Bakery and Ristorante. Sicelia Cheese Co., Gesseppi Grocery and Olive Oil. Some were completely unpronounceable words in a gold scroll that was hand-painted on dirty, fly-speckled windows.
Looking from corner to corner he felt a sense of dread, but at the same time a feeling of adventure, as though when he’d stepped off the streetcar he’d stepped into a strange, foreign land. Even the air here smelled different…
Reader Reviews for
"Girl With Green Teeth: 1 of 6; Caution, Language"
Great story. Mitchell going through shwartzers land would have been like Sausalito's natives being acquainted with NJ's Hampton's aristocracy.
Talking about it, we didn't had a Jewish boy or girl around, and one must remember the Golden Gate wasn't there yet, so our contact with Frisco crowd was minimal and we had Oakland between us.