Departures and Distractions
Each time I am met with the aroma of a laundromat I am transported back in time to the fall of 1976, when I was around 12 years old.
The school bus would pick me up on the corner of East 4th and Kings Highway in Brooklyn, New York. On that corner there was a laundry mat. (It’s still there today, although ownership has been changed several times)
That is where l would wait for the bus which would bring me to Ahi Ezer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway, on the rare occasions my father wouldn’t drive me in the morning.
I would walk from our apartment on east 2nd Street, and turn right on Kings Highway and walk towards East 4th Street.
Next to the laundromat on the floor, was a vent that would shoot out warm air and white smoke as it would collide with the cold winter air.
As the months passed and weather would turn cold, I would stand on top of that vent to keep warm. There were some really cold windy days when the vent had no effect whatsoever. But more often than not, it would do it’s job.
In January, a new student joined me at the bus stop. She was an 8th grader. Most of the 8th graders wouldn’t acknowledge me. She did.
Of course, within 2 or 3 seconds I was intrigued. She was adorable, brown eyes, long blonde hair with a brown derby cap. She had a brown scarf and a light beige coat.
“Is this the bus stop for Ahi Ezer?”
I was caught by surprise and it took several seconds for my brain to respond. My voice had not caught up so I just nodded yes 3 or 4 times.
“Are you ok?” She asked
“Yeah, sorry, you just scared, I mean surprised me.”
It was a chilly day and I was standing on the vent. She stared at me.
“Why are you standing in the smoke?”
“Try it, come there is room for you.” The other kid who was picked up with me, David was coming and I hated when he would stand with me or even within several feet from me. He had a piece of snot that covered his left nostril. It began in November and finally disappeared in March. He would sneeze frequently, but that snot just held firm as if affixed with crazy glue.
She walked over and stood on the smoke vent.
“Ooh you are right this is great. I feel instantly warm and the smell is so nice.”
David came bouncing over, several books falling from his arm while the other arm carried his open backpack.
“You have,” she began to motion to him about his snot but I stopped her.
“Let it go, it’s an appendage he grows every winter.”
I was wearing a backpack with several patches. One was “The Six Million Dollar man, the Mets, the Jets and an Elton John one from the cover of his ” Goodbye yellow brick road”album.
“Do you like Elton?”
“Yes, do you?”
This became our subject in common which would begin most conversations.
We quickly became good friends who would talk on the phone for hours after school. I would get really upset when one of my family members would use the phone and not get off until late. I was the youngest so I got less priority than they did.
One day in late May, she was walking down my block when I saw her.
“I wanted to talk to you and your phone line is always busy.”
“I know it sucks. Is everything ok?”
“My grandmother is sick and we are leaving for Mexico tomorrow morning. I won’t be back for graduation we are just going to stay there for the summer.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“I just wanted to let you know so you don’t think I didn’t care. You made my being the new kid in school easier for me. I wanted to tell you thank you for being my friend.”
“We can still be friends next year even if I am in a different school.” She said
“Yeah, sure of course.”
“Thank you.” She gave me a kiss on my cheek and walked away.
I knew September would come and our friendship would not continue. This was in 1977, we had no idea that June what would happen in that summer which would change our lives.
I was thrown into a deep funk that May. Although she thanked me, it was me who should’ve thanked her. She was my only real friend. I was more of a loner and she understood the invisible boundaries I had put up and knew exactly how to maneuver around them. No one else had a clue and she was my first real friend. In June more departures, the Mets traded my two favorite players, Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman.
Then the 44 caliber killer dominated the newspapers and our whole lives, the temperature seemed to be 100 degrees each day and the night provided little or no respite.
There was a blackout which led to rioting, looting.
On August 10th they caught the son of Sam and there was a sigh of relief.
The heat continued and the fire hydrants were opened, we had barbecues in Manhattan Beach, fried chicken and cotton candy from Coney Island.
My birthday was August 13th so I felt a little positive about the summer until another departure. Then on August 16th, Elvis Presley died.
The last week in August, I received a postcard from my friend. It was a picture of pyramids and she wrote on the back of it. “Missing standing on that vent with you and talking about Elton! New York sounds scary, please take care of yourself!” It was dated July 10th.
No return address and no hint as to when she would be back. If there were 60 days that summer, I can say that I walked down her block 60 times hoping to see her even though I know I wouldn’t.
School began in September and it was an empty bus ride each morning. I would think of her each day and smile. I didn’t call her because she didn’t call me and now she was in high school. Why would she want to talk to me or be my friend.
In October I received another post card from her. This one dated August 10th. I hope you have a great birthday. She was staying in Mexico and it was ok because she had a lot of cousins her age with friends and she had become part of a group of girls who were good friends.
I was happy for her.
Sad for me.
So this was how our story would end? Who knew at the time? There was no home computers let alone social media. No cell phones and no return address on the post cards she had sent me. There was no way for me to contact her, no way I would walk down her street and see her smiling at me. All I had was the memory of the bus stop and the bus rides, phone calls lasting into the late nites and that kiss on my cheek which still felt fresh.
It’s not the end of our story, just the end of this chapter. I will see if she will permit me to use her name in the coming posts. Maybe you care maybe you don’t.
I don’t know what made me tell this story. Could be one of my sentimental journeys I take myself on from time to time. It’s a defense mechanism which distracts me from whatever situation I find myself in at the time. Just reminders that although my life may seem hard and lonely, this is simply a step towards something which will be even better than I could imagine.