Maxwell Street: reminiscent of New York City’s lower east side and European and mid-eastern bazaars.
On any weekend, weather permitting, throngs of people from throughout the city would flock to Maxwell Street looking for a bargain, a deal, a “steal.” Anything of dubious, doubtful quality, new or used, could be bought on Maxwell Street. Hubcaps for any automobile, tires of any size, car radios and home radios; shoes, boots, socks and underwear for men, women and children; watches and jewelry made of “gold” and real gold; bookends, lamps, carpets, rugs—“Persian” and “Oriental,” and real Persian and Oriental. One might buy a record by anyone from Bing Crosby to Enrico Caruso… And when you got home and heard that that Bing’s voice had a click throughout, what the hell were you going to do? Travel all the way back to Maxwell Street to get your ten cents back? There was luggage, gloves, hats and all type of clothing, new and used… and etcetera’s and etcetera’s of all kinds, and by any description, in any of the multitude of languages spoken up and down Maxwell Street… Junk! Lots and lots of junk.
Peddlers sold from pushcarts that lined both sides of the narrow, cluttered street. But also, some of the more ambitious and/or affluent had been able to work their way off the curbs, into one or two of the small stores that were found on either side of the street, giving that person a full, seven-day-a-week business, rather than just a weekend business when the street was closed to cars and open to pedestrians and pushcarts only.
An old record of Dick Powell singing, “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech and a hell of an engineer,” wafted over the cold, windblown street.
A bit of flying grit stinging his eye, rubbing it with the knuckle of one hand as, “Hey! Men’s clothing here!” clasped in the other hand was a pair of blue gabardine trousers that he waved above his head as if a proudly held flag. “Hey! Men’s clothing here!” the boy yelled. “Top quality! Get your new and used top quality clothes at Sollies!” Trying to be heard above the tumultuous din of the jam-packed, constantly-flowing street, the boy’s voice would meld with those of a thousand other voices and become lost a few paces beyond the pushcart that sat on the curb opposite Joey Solomon’s father’s store.
The inscription, hand painted in heavy, black lettering on the plate glass window read: SOLOMON & SONS, FINE MEN’S CLOTHING, and beneath, in smaller script: New & Used.
If someone stopped to look at the jumble of second-hand slacks in the pushcart, or hesitated on his or her way past the pushcart, taking hold of his or her elbow, the boy had but one objective: to steer the man or woman through the SOLOMON & SONS doorway that was adjacent the five-foot-wide sidewalk.
“Hey, Mister! Need a new suit?” Not waiting for an answer, “Have I got a deal for you! Look…” cupping his mouth with his hand, the boy whispered, conspiratorially, directly into the man’s hairy ear, “we’re overloaded with new suits. They came in a couple’a days ago from… well, I can’t say where they’re from, Mister. You know how it is, but I wan’a tell you they came in from: uh, someplace real good!” Giving the impression that, maybe, just maybe, the suits may be “hot,” and don’t you know everybody wants to buy good quality hot merchandise at hot merchandise prices. “Look, Mister, I can’t say where we get our stuff.” Again speaking in a conspiratorial tone, “You know how it is, but…” glancing over his shoulder to be sure no one was listening, “I can tell you that if you bought one’a these suits at Carson’s or Field’s it’d cost you forty-five, fifty bucks.”
The man attempted to pull away.
“But here…” tightening his hold on the man’s elbow, “but here at Sollies,” cocking his head over his shoulder, “they’re only…” whispering the words, “twenty-five, thirty bucks!”
Moving back a step, still holding his elbow, taking the man with him, “An’ I swear to you Mister, you ain’t never seen such ho… uh, great suits. You don’t think I’d lie to you, do you, Mister?”
The man looked at the sincere sounding, good-looking young man and, obviously a newcomer to Maxwell Street, “No,” he said shaking his head negatively. “I guess not.”
“No! Darnn-tooten I wouldn’t lie to you! Come on!” Backing up another step, “Wait’ll you see ’em!” pulling the man closer to the door, bumping it open with his shoulder, “Don’t be bashful! Come on! I promise, you’ll love ’em!” With the man in tow, the two stepped over the threshold, into the overly warm, musty smelling store.
“Joey!” the boy called. “I got a gentleman here that wants to see one’a them new suits!”
Coming from behind a pipe rack bowed with the weight of fifty suits, “Mister,” Joey Solomon, the youngest of the “& sons,” said, “have I ever got a deal for you!”
Replacing Mitchell’s hand with his own, appraising the man with his well-practiced eye, “What are you, a thirty-eight regular?” Joey asked, steering him to another weight-bowed pipe rack.
Going back to his place outside, “Hey! Sollies here!” the boy yelled, waving the two-legged flag. “New and used top quality men’s clothing here! Get your best deal at Sollies! Hey, Mister! Yeah, you! Hey, have I ever got a deal for you!”
December 26, 1949
Myra awoke with an almost forgotten, but completely familiar pain in her lower abdomen. Not sure when the pain started, she didn’t count, but waited till it subsided before, “Walt!” She pushed his shoulder, “Walter!” again, harder.
Lifting his head from the warmth of the pillow, “Wazzit?”
“Walt, the pains have started. I think it’s time.”
Silent a moment, then comprehending what she’d said. “You sure?” Suddenly fully awake. “Your water?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure, but, no, my water hasn’t broken yet.”
“How long do you think?”
“Probably at least a couple of hours, maybe more. Who knows? But I’d rather be waiting at the hospital than here.”
Throwing the blanket back, uncovering herself and her husband, sitting on the edge of the bed, Myra easily found her strategically-placed house slippers.
“Damn, it’s cold!” Shivering, Walter looked at the luminous face of the Baby Ben. “Two-twenty! Jesus, Myra, why can’t you go into labor at a sensible time, like say, seven p.m? That way dinner’s over and I’ve had time to read the paper. Or if it’s got to be at some ungodly time, then at least do it after five when we’ve got some heat up here.” Sliding from his inside position, his feet, “Christ, it’s cold!” touched the frigid floor.
“Walt, I’m going to wake Mitchie, to let him know we’re going.”
“Okay. You want to get into the toilet first?”
Laboriously lifting herself from the bed, finding the wall switch, Myra turned the light on.
Standing at the edge of the bed, pushing his arms through the sleeves of his bathrobe, though the fly of his pajamas was closed, Myra could not help but notice, “No, Walt, it looks like you’ve got to go more than me,” that her husband had an erection.
Glancing down, “Yeah, guess so,” he pulled the robe closed.
Turning lights on as she passed from room to room, Myra went from their room, opposite the bathroom, to Mitchell’s at the front of the apartment.
Shaking his shoulder, “Mitchie. Mitchie, honey,” till he lifted his sleep-creased face from the crevice of the pillow.
Opening his eyes, “Huh?” he closed them against the glare of the light. “Yeah, Mom?” Opening his eyes again, then closing them, he rubbed both with the palms of his hands. “What’s wrong?’ Turning onto his side, he looked at his mother, who was standing straight with her hands pushed against the small of her back, further accentuating the protrusion of her stomach.
“Mitchie, it’s time for me to go to the hospital.”
When Walter and Myra spoke of her pregnancy, they spoke in private, as though if they didn’t say anything to him about it he wouldn’t notice.
“Hospital?” Playing dumb. “You’ve got to go to the hospital? What for?”
Not sure if he’s serious, “You know, Mitchie; to have a baby.”
“A baby?” Propping his head in the palm of his hand, looking at his mother innocently, “You’re going to have another baby?” he asked.
“Come on, Mitchie, you know I’m going to have a baby!”
“How would I know, Mom? No one ever tells me nothin’!”
“Anything!” correcting him. “And I’m sure your father or I told you something!” Although Myra was sure she hadn’t. Suddenly, grasping her stomach, she sat on the edge of the bed.
Alarmed, “Mom, You okay?”
After a number of seconds, “Yes, Mitchie. It’s a labor pain and I’ll be fine in a minute. Her lips moving silently as she counted the seconds, closing her eyes against the pain, Myra’s face went white.
Waiting until she stopped counting, “No one ever told me anything, but somehow I guessed it.” He rubbed her stomach. “A watermelon seed, huh?”
Myra smiled. “Yeah, a watermelon seed.” Becoming serious again, “Mitchie, you go back to sleep now, but when you wake later make breakfast for yourself and Larry and drop him off at ma’s on your way to school. Dad’ll call you if anything happens before you leave in the morning.”
“What if you have the baby while I’m in school? I won’t know whether I have a new brother or a sister and if everything’s okay till I get home, and that’s hours away. Let me stay home today and take care of Larry here.”
“No! You can’t afford to miss any school! Just do like I tell you. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay! Only tell dad I’ll call at ma’s between classes to see if I have another brother or a sister, and for him to call just as soon as something happens.”
“Sure! Of course he’ll call, just as soon as there’s something to say. And bite your tongue, you’re going to have a sister! Two boys are enough!” She patted his leg, was about to stand, but first leaned over and kissed his forehead. “No matter what, I’ll talk to tonight, okay?”
“Yeah, sure, Mom. Take it easy, and I hope it’s a girl, too.”
“Bubby, it’s me, Mitchell.”
“Yes, mein kind,” it’s the third time he’d called, “I know.”
“Did my dad call yet?”
“Yes, Mitchella, he just…”
“What she have?” he asked excitedly. “Everything okay?”
“Stop, listen to me! Walter, your father, he called to tell she didn’t have the baby yet, but that…”
“She didn’t have the baby yet? Jesus Christ! How long’s it taken for a lady to have a kid?”
“…Everything is okay, and it’s just taking a little longer this time, and you should leave Larry here tonight and if you want you should sleep here tonight, too, if your father’s not home.”
“Not home? You mean it could take all day?”
“Nu, Mitchella, sometimes having a baby does take all day; sometimes even longer.”
“Okay, Bubby,” he sighed. “I’ll call again later.”
“Mrs. Lipensky.” The nurse leaned over the bed. “Myra!”
Waking, her eyes opening, she stared at the ceiling, then lowered and with effort focused on the white-clad woman standing alongside the bed.
“Oh, thirsty,” Myra whispered.
Cranking the head of the bed up, the nurse held a glass with an angled glass straw to her lips.
Myra leaned forward, inhaled a few drops, then let her head fall back onto the pillow.
“Mrs. Lipensky, you have a new baby.”
“Baby?” Remembering, blinking her eyes, coming further out of the anesthesia, “Oh, yes!” Her eyes suddenly becoming animated, her pale face contorting with happy anticipation, “My baby, what is it?”
A bit surprised at the “what is it” question rather than the “how is it” question, “You have the most beautiful, healthy…”
Her smile fading, Myra closed her eyes, tightly.
Her eyes remaining closed, she began to cry.
“Mrs. Lipensky, would you like to see your baby now?”
“Mrs. Lipensky, would you care to hold your baby?”
Still, no answer… then, weakly, barely audible, “No.”
“No,” Myra said, “I do not want to hold my baby.”
Watching for him, “Mitchella!” Jennie called from her porch the moment she saw him enter the yard.
Waving, “She have it?” he called back.
“Yes! A boy! You have another brother!”
Fleeting thinking, A sister would be nice. But it was just a fleeting thought and, “Hooray,” he shouted, “I got another brother!”
“Myra, the baby’s ab-so-lut-ely beautiful!”
Turning from her husband, Myra stared at the wall.
“You know how newborns are, uh, all wrinkly. Well, he isn’t. His complexion is like peaches and cream.”
Waiting, Walter hoped his wife would respond… “And his hair! Are you sure it wasn’t the milkman what done it?”
“He’s got the curliest, most beautiful blonde hair you’ve ever seen.”
Still no response.
“Every doctor and nurse in the hospital are going to see him, and they all say he’s the most beautiful baby they’ve ever seen… Myra, please!”
“It should have been a girl.”
Spoken softly, “What did you say?”
Turning from the wall, looking at her husband, “It should have been a girl!” Myra repeated, louder. “A daughter! I want a daughter!” Verging on hysteria, “It should have been a girl!” Crying, “I already have two boys! It’s not fair! I want a daughter!”
Swallowing, blinking back his own tears, not because he had another son, but for his wife’s anguish. Waiting a minute, “Myra,” he said, “we’ve only picked girls’ names. We’ve got to give the hospital a name for the birth certificate.”
Once again, no response.
“Honey, please! What should I tell them? What do you want to name…” reluctant to say “him.”
“I don’t care.”
“What do you mean, you don’t care?” His empathy turning to anger, “Enough already, Myra!” Trying to contain his growing anger, “What name should I give them?”
“I told you, Walter, I don’t care! You name… it anything you want!”
“Anything I want, eh! You really don’t give a damn, eh?”
“Right!” she shot back angrily. “You can have the privilege of naming your third son! You name it!”
Thirty-six hours later, Myra’s stubbornness had worn thin and she allowed herself to be coerced by her mother, sister and husband into seeing her baby for the first time.
As soon as the infant was placed into her arms, as soon as the tip of the receiving blanket was pulled back revealing his cherub-like face, “Oh, my God!” Myra said, “He’s beautiful!” and absolute motherly love took over.
But for the baby, the damage had been done, and not knowing it was his father that named him, he never fully forgave his mother, although, really, it was her fault he was named…
Morton Humphrey Lipensky.