“Hey, Normie, know what I’d really like to do tonight? Uh, that’s if you’re not busy. You’re not going steady or engaged or anything?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I am going steady… with Ava Gardner, and we do have a date tonight! But what the hell, for you, Pal, I’ll break it… What would you really like to do tonight’?
“The J!” Looking out the window, he saw Walter and the boys sanding the hull of the boat. “The kids still hang out at the J?”
“Yeah. And on a night like tonight looks like it’s going to be, there ought’a be a million broads around… That is kind’a what you had in mind, isn’t it?”
“Yeah! Of course!”
“Yeah! I kind’a thought.”
“Yeah, and you’ll never believe it, Normie, but what I want to do is to meet a good, old-fashioned Jewish broad.”
“Even if they do think their tits are made of gold?”
“Well,” Mitchell said hopefully, “maybe now that they’re older…”
“Don’t bet on it, Pal!”
“Yeah. Well, we’ll see.”
“Yeah. But don’t be too disappointed.”
“Yeah. So, what time should I pick you up?”
“Hey, any time. My folks’ll love seeing you!”
“Okay. See you about, uh, seven, seven-thirty?”
“Yeah. See you then, Mitch.”
In the kitchen, “Hey, Mom,” coming up behind Myra, putting his arms around her waist, “I got time for a shower?”
“Yes,” turning form the sink, “and straw is cheaper than hay.” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, Mom, I know! And ain’t ain’t in the dictionary.”
Having taken a shower, he dressed in Levi’s, a fresh T-shirt and his old, white-buck shoes. “Hi! Chow almost ready?”
At the sink again, looking at her eldest son in “civvies,” Nothing’s changed, Myra thought. It’s as if the last year and a half had never happened, and as if he had never left home.
After a slow, leisurely—three lox and bagel, with cream cheese, tomatoes and sweet onion sandwiches, type of—catch-up-on-news dinner, Mitchell went upstairs to find a shirt. But instead, opening the bottom drawer of his old dresser, removing the cranberry-colored cashmere sweater from its plastic bag, holding it against his face, feeling its buttery softness he thought, Susan, and he remembered Susan and, “Fuck it!” No longer the shrine of his lost love, now being just a beautiful sweater, he put it on.
On Saturday evenings, for as far back as Mitchell could remember, kids from the north and west sides had congregated at the Max Strauss Center, better known as the J, the J standing for the J.P.I., The Jewish Peoples Institute.
The J was the place to go if you didn’t have a date—if you didn’t mind people seeing that you didn’t have a date—and wanted to meet a girl or a guy that might be next week’s date; to renew old friendships, make new acquaintances, or just hang around.
As predicted by Norman, being a beautifully balmy spring night, there were, so it seemed, hundreds of teenage kids milling outside the building’s lobby, overflowing onto the wide steps leading to the the J’s large, concrete courtyard.
Having circled the congested block twice looking for a place to park, Norman and Mitchell arrived shortly after eight-fifteen, and were there for no more than a few minutes, when…
“You schmucks! Why didn’t you call and tell me you were in, Mitch? And you, you putz! Why didn’t you let me know he was coming home?”
“Lurey, you schmaggi, asshole,” Norman said, “I did, to see if you’d be here tonight, and left a message with Dolly.”
“Putz! Don’t ever do that again!”
“Jesus!” Glancing at Mitchell. “Look who’s calling who a putz! I shouldn’t ever do what?”
“Leave a message with my sister.” Looking at Mitchell, “She never gives me my calls!” and back at Norman, “I’m going to kill that little mieskite!”
“Yeah, Lurey! She’s ugly ’cause she looks like you. So, ’cause you’ve got a dummy for a sister, that’s my fault?”
“Fuck you, Parminter!”
“Mitchie, god-damnit,” shaking his hand briskly, “you look great! Uncle Sam sure seems to agree with you!”
Glad to see him, too, “Thanks, Ron. How’ve you been? What’s new?”
“The same. What could be new?” Jerking his thumb towards Norman. “Him’n’me’ll be through with Wright this year, and I’m trying to talk him into going to the U of I with me, but the schmuck’s talking about joining the Navy. Maybe you can talks some sense into him.”
Turning to Norman, “How come you didn’t say anything about this?”
“Well, I’m not really sure yet. It’s just that I haven’t any idea of what I want to do, so thought that maybe a few years away’ll give me time to figure it out.”
“Yeah, Normie, I know the feeling. But after all that R.O.T.C., how come the Navy?”
“I’ve looked into all of ’em, and the Navy seems to have more to offer, for me. But like I said, I haven’t really made up my mind.”
Looking around, “Hey, there’s someone I want to talk to. Be back in a minute… Hey, Irv!” Ron called, rushing to a hoody-looking guy with slicked back hair, wearing a black leather jacket.
“So, see anyone you know, Norm?”
“Nah, no one I know, but a few I sure wouldn’t mind knowing.”
Feeling a tap on his shoulder, he turned around.
She was thin, weighing about a hundred-twenty pounds, and tall, at least 5'7". She wore Levi’s, a blue Ship’n’Shore blouse, and a red club jacket. The girl had curly black hair that was pulled back, emphasizing a sharp widow’s peak and bound closely to the scalp giving her a ponytail that hung to just below her shoulders. She had dark-brown, almond-shaped eyes and well defined eyebrows. Her complexion clear and dark, the girl had an oval-shaped face with a small mouth and a straight, slightly hooked nose, giving her, if not a totally beautiful face, then most certainly a lovely, classically Semitic aspect.
Looking slightly familiar, Mitchell’s eyebrows knotted as he tried to place her… but couldn’t.
Seeing the look on his face, turning to Norman, nodding, confusing the boys all the more, “Hi, Normie.”
Having no idea who she was, or how she knew them, “Uh,” nodding his head, “hi,” Norman said.
Smiling mysteriously, bringing her full attention back to Mitchell, “You truly don’t remember me, do you?”
Sensing that he, really, was not going to be an essential component of this conversation, “Mitch, I’ll be over with Lurey.” Looking at the girl, “And whoever you are,” Norman said, backing away, “it’s been nice seeing you, again.”
Alone—at least as alone as it was possible to be within a crowd of hundreds—standing quietly, each studied the other’s face.
“Well,” breaking the silence, “the last time we saw each other…” Stopping, the girl thought a second. “No, that wasn’t the last time we saw each other. But the last time we did see each other you didn’t pay any attention to me. As a matter of fact, you were pretty darn rude.”
“Rude? Come on! I’d never be rude to a girl as pretty as you.”
“Obviously you didn’t think I was very pretty then… Tell you what, I’ll give you a hint: I’ve never seen you without Norman.”
Staring at her… trying to remember.
“The first time we met you walked me home… almost, until you found out that I wasn’t quite thirteen. And the second time you and Norman were on the beach in Union Pier, and each time I saw you…”
Union Pier? The words Union Pier sending the pages of his memory ruffling backwards, “Oh, God, that was…”
“…I called you a big jerk, and told you to drop dead.”
Having a recollection of a warm night and soft music, and of a girl with fireflies reflected in her dark eyes… and also, a soul-touching kiss. “Yeah! You’re, uh…?”
“Marsha, Marcie Goldman.” Seeing a look of remembrance in his eyes, “You remember me now, don’t you?”
“Yeah! Sure I do!” Stepping back, looking at her, “Marcie, my God, you grew up great!”
Oddly, although this girl was the absolute opposite of the stocky, big-busted, Coca-Cola, All-American, girl next door type of girl that he’d always been attracted to, for some incomprehensible reason, She’s beautiful! he thought, and for the first time since…? For the first time since Susan, looking at a girl—looking at this girl—made Mitchell’s eyes feel good. And meaning it, not meant as just flattery, the words coming without thought, “You’re beautiful!”
The words, You’re beautiful! echoing in her mind, her heart jumped, thinking, Yeah, you, too, Mitchell. At a loss for words—which for her was highly unusual—having to say something, “Thank you.”
“So, what are you now: seventeen, eighteen?”
“Mitchie,” smiling, “don’t you know by now that you’re never supposed to ask a lady her age?” Calculating his age at between nineteen and twenty, thinking, perfect, “You go to college?” she asked.
“No. I’m in the service. The Coast Guard.”
“Really? Are you stationed here, in Chicago?”
“No. At a lifeboat station outside of New York City, at a place called Far Rockaway… How’s about you? You in college? Or…” hesitating, “still in high school.”
“Boy, are you ever nosey! Okay. I’m seventeen. I’ll be eighteen in October. I am still in high school, at Roosevelt, and will be graduating in June… That okay?” She smiled, “or are you going to send me home alone, again?”
Seventeen. Okay! Yeah, he thought, seventeen’s just fine! “And if I remember right, I didn’t send you home alone. You told me to drop dead, and ran home on your own.”
“Mitch! Hey, Mitch!”
Reluctantly turning from Marsha, “Yeah, Ron?”
“Come on over here!” Motioning urgently. “There’s something we got to talk to you about.”
“Marcy,” turning back, “excuse me a minute. Don’t go away now. I’ll be right back.”
“Yeah,” said impatiently, clearly annoyed at being pulled away from Marsha. “What’s so damned important?”
“Mitch Lipensky, meet Irv Steinberg… Irv, Mitch.”
“Yeah,” offering his hand, “hi, Irv.”
“Mitch, Irv knows a guy that’s got a whore at his place and she’s only charging two bucks a fuck. And Irv says there ain’t supposed to be too many guys there.”
“A whore?” He glanced at Marsha, who was talking to a couple of girls.
Though wanting to have intercourse for as far back as he could remember, Mitchell had never wanted—had never even considered—having intercourse with a prostitute. “So?”
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)