Authors: Emily Cheney Neville
I go over to Nick's house to show him the letter. I'd told him about Tom getting Cat out of the cellar and getting arrested, but Nick always acted like he didn't really believe it. So when he sees the letter, he has to admit Cat and I really got into something. Not everyone gets letters from guys who have been arrested.
One thing about Nick sort of gripes me. He has to think up all the plans. Anything I've done that he doesn't know about, he downgrades. Also, I always have to go to
house. He never comes to mine, except once in a coon's age when I have a new record I won't bring to his house because his machine stinks and he never buys a new needle.
It's not that I don't like his house. His mom is pretty nice, and boy, can she cook! Just an ordinary Saturday for lunch she makes pizza or real good spaghetti, and she has homemade cookies and nut cake sitting around after school. She also talks and waves her arms and shouts orders at us kids, but all good-natured-like, so we just kid her along and go on with what we're doing.
She's about the opposite of my mom. Pop does the shouting in our house, and except for the one hassle about bike-riding on Twelfth Avenue, Mom doesn't even tell me what to do much. She's quiet, and pretty often she doesn't feel good, so maybe I think more than most kids that I ought to do things her way without being told.
Also, my mom is always home and always ready to listen if you got something griping you, like when a teacher blames you for something you didn't do. Some kids I know, they have to phone a string of places to find their mother, and then she scolds them for interrupting her.
Mom likes to cook, and she gets up some good meals for holidays, but she doesn't go at it all the time, the way Nick's mother does. So maybe Nick doesn't come to my house because we haven't got all that good stuff sitting around. I don't think that's it, really, though. He just likes to be boss.
One day, a couple of weeks after we went to Coney, he does come along with me. We pick up a couple of cokes and pears at his pop's store.
Cat is sitting on my front stoop, and he jumps down and rubs between my legs and goes up the stairs ahead of us.
"See? He knows when school gets out then it's time to eat. That's why I like to come home," I tell Nick.
We say "Hi" to Mom, and I get out the cat food while Nick opens his coke. "You know those girls we ran into over on Coney Island?" he says.
"Well, I got the blonde's phone number, so Sunday when I was hacking around with nothing to do, I called her up."
"Yeah? What for?"
"You stupid or something? To talk. So she yacked away a good while, and finally I asked her why didn't she come over next Saturday, we could go to a movie or something."
"Yeah." I was working on my pear, a very juicy one.
"That all you can say? So she says, well, she might, if she can get her girl friend to come too, but she doesn't want to come alone, and her mother wouldn't let her anyway."
"Which one what?"
"Which girl friend?"
"Oh. You remember, the other one we were kidding around with at the beach, the redhead. So I said, O.K., I'd see if I could get you to come too. I said I'd call her back."
"Hmp. I don't know."
"What d'you mean, you don't know?"
"How do I know if I like that girl? I hardly even
to her. Anyway, it sounds like a date. I don't want a date. If they just happen to come over, I guess it's all right."
"So shall I tell them it's O.K. for Saturday?"
"It's nice you learned a new word."
"Do I have to pay for the girl at the movies?"
"Cheapskate. Maybe if you just stand around saying 'Hmm,' she'll buy her own. O.K.?"
"O.K. But this whole thing is your idea, and if it stinks it's going to be your fault."
"Boy, what an enthusiast! Come on, let's play a record and do the math."
Nick is better at math than I am, so I agree.
Saturday morning at ten o'clock Nick turns up at my house in a white shirt and slicked-down hair. Pop whistles. "On Saturday, yet! You got a girl or something?"
"Yessir!" says Nick, and he gives my T-shirt a dirty look. I go put a sweater over it and run a comb through my hair, but I'm hanged if I'll go out looking like this is a big deal.
"We're going to a movie down at the Academy," I tell my family.
"What's there?" Pop asks.
"A new horror show," says Nick. "And an old Disney."
"Is it really a new horror show?" I ask Nick, because I think I've seen every one that's been in town.
"Yup. Just opened.
The Gold Bug
. Some guy wrote it – I mean in a book once – but it's supposed to be great. Make the girls squeal anyway. I love that."
"Hmm." I just like horror shows anyway, whether girls squeal or not.
"You'll be the life of the party with that 'Hmm' routine."
party." I shrug.
"Well, you could at least
We hang around the subway kiosk on Fourteenth Street, where Nick said he'd meet them. After half an hour they finally show up.
It's nice and sunny, and we see a crowd bunched up over in Union Square, so we wander over. A shaggy-haired, bearded character is making a speech all about "They," the bad guys. A lot of sleepy bums are sitting around letting the speech roll off their ears.
"What is he, a nut or something?" the blonde asks.
"A Commie, maybe," I say. "They're always giving speeches down here. Willie Sutton, the bank robber, used to sit down here and listen, too. That's where somebody put the finger on him."
The girls look at each other and laugh like crazy, as if I'd said something real funny. I catch Nick's eye and glare. O.K., I
. After this I'll stick to "Hmm."
A beard who is listening to the speech turns and glares at us and says, "Shush!"
"Aw, go shave yourself!" says Nick, and the girls go off in more hoots. Nick starts herding them toward Fourteenth Street, and I follow along.
At the Academy Nick goes up to the ticket window, and the girls immediately fade out to go read the posters and snicker together. I can see they're not figuring to pay for any tickets, so I cough up for two.
Nick and I try to saunter up to the balcony the way we always do, but the girls are giggling and dropping their popcorn, so the matron spots us and motions. "Down here!" She flashes her light in our eyes, and I feel like a convict while we get packed in with all the kids in the under-sixteen section.
Nick goes in first, then the blonde, then the redhead and me. The minute things start getting scary, she tries to grab me, but I stick my hands in my pockets and say, "Aw, it's just a picture." She looks disgusted.
The next scary bit, she tries to hang onto her girl friend, but the blonde is already glued onto Nick. Redhead lets out a loud sigh, and I wish I hadn't ever got into this deal. I can't even enjoy the picture.
We suffer through the two pictures. The little kids make such a racket you can hardly hear, and the matron keeps shining the light in your eyes so you can't see. She shines it on the blonde, who is practically sitting in Nick's lap, and hisses at her to get back. I'm not going to do this again, ever.
We go out and Nick says, "Let's have a coke." He's walking along with the blonde, and instead of walking beside me the redhead tries to catch hold of his other arm. This sort of burns me up. I mean, I don't really
her, but I paid for her and everything.
Nick shakes her off and calls over his shoulder to me, "Come on, chicken, pull your own weight!"
The girls laugh, on cue as usual, and I begin getting really sore. Nick got me into this. The least he can do is shut up.
We walk into a soda bar, and I slap down thirty cents and say, "Two cokes, please."
"Hey, hey! The last of the big spenders!" says Nick. More laughter. I'd just as soon sock him right now, but I pick up my money and say, "O.K., wise guy, treat's on you." Nick shrugs and tosses down a buck as if he had hundreds of them.
The two girls drink their cokes and talk across Nick. I finish mine in two or three gulps, and finally we can walk them to the subway. Nick is gabbing away about how he'll come out to Coney one weekend, and I'm standing there with my hands in my pockets.
"Goo'bye, Bashful!" coos the redhead to me, and the two of them disappear, cackling, down the steps. I start across Fourteenth Street as soon as the light changes, without bothering to look if Nick is coming. He can go rot.
Along Union Square he's beside me, acting as if everything is peachy fine dandy. "That was a great show. Pretty good fun, huh?"
I just keep walking
"You sore or something?" he asks, as if he didn't know.
I keep on walking.
"O.K., be sore!" he snaps. Then he breaks into a falsetto: "Goo'bye, Bashful!"
I let him have it before he's hardly got his mouth closed. He hits me back in the stomach and hooks one of his ankles around mine so we both fall down. It goes from bad to worse. He gets me by the hair and bangs my head on the sidewalk, so I twist and bite his hand. We're gouging and scratching and biting and kicking, because we're both so mad we can hardly see, and anyway no one ever taught us those Queensberry rules. There's no point in going into all the gory details. Finally two guys haul us apart. I have hold of Nick's shirt and it rips. Good. He's half crying, and he twists away from the guy that grabbed him and screams some things at me before darting across the avenue.
I'm standing panting and sobbing, and the guy holding me says, "You oughta be ashamed. Now go on home."
"Aw, you and your big mouth," I say, still mad enough to feel reckless. He throws a fake punch, but he's not really interested. He goes his way and I go mine.
I must look pretty bad because a lot of people on the street shake their heads at me. I walk in the door at home, expecting the worst, but fortunately Mom is out. Pop just whistles through his teeth.
"That must have been quite a horror picture!" he says.
By the next weekend I no longer look like a fugitive from a riot. All week in school Nick and I get asked whether we got hit by a swinging door; then the fellows notice the two of us aren't speaking to each other, and they sort of sheer off the subject. Come Saturday, I sit on the stoop and wonder, what now? There are plenty of other kids in school I like, but they mostly live over in the project – Stuyvesant Town, that is. I've never bothered to hunt them up weekends because Nick's so much nearer.
Summer is coming on, though, and I've got to have someone to hang around with. This is the last Saturday before Memorial Day. Getting time for beaches and stuff. I suppose Nick and I might get together again, but not if he's going to be nuts about girls all the time.
A guy stops in front of the stoop, and Cat half opens his eyes in the sun and squints at him. The guy says, "You Dave Mitchell?"
"Huh? Yeah." I look up, surprised. I don't exactly recognize the guy, never having seen him in a clear light before. But from the voice I know it's Tom.
"Oh, hi!" I say. "Here's Cat. He's pretty handsome in daylight."
"Yeah, he looks all right, but what happened to you?"
"Me and a friend of mine got in a fight."
"With some other guys or what?"
"Nah. We had a fight with each other."
"Um, that's bad." Tom sits down and has sense enough to see there isn't anymore to say on that subject. "I start work Memorial Day when the beaches open. Working in a filling station on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn."
"Gee, that's a long way off. You going to live over there?"
"Yeah, they're going to get me a room in a Y in Brooklyn." Tom stretches restlessly and goes on: "I suppose you get sick of school and all, but it's rotten having nothing to do. I'd be ready to go nuts if I didn't get a job. I can't wait to start."
I think of asking him doesn't he have a home or something to go back to, but somehow I don't like to.
"Like today," Tom says. "I'd like to go somewhere. Do something. Got any ideas?"
"Um. I was sort of trying to think up something myself. Movies?"
Tom shakes himself. "No. I want to walk, or run, or throw something."
"There's a big park – sort of a woods – up near the Bronx. A kid told me about it. He said he found an Indian arrowhead there, but I bet he didn't. Inwood Park, it's called."
"How do you get there?"
"Subway, I guess."
"Let's go!" Tom stands up and wriggles his shoulders like he's Superman ready to take off.
"O.K. Wait a minute. I'll go tell Mom. Should I get some sandwiches?"
Tom looks surprised. "Sure, fine, if she doesn't mind."
I'm not worried about getting Mom to make sandwiches because she always likes to fix a little food for me. The thing is, ever since my fight with Nick, she's been clucking around me like the mother hen. Maybe she figures I got in some gang fight, so she keeps asking me where I'm going and who with. Also, I guess she noticed I don't go to Nick's after school anymore. I come right home. So she asks me do I feel all right. You can't win. Right now, I can see she's going to begin asking who is Tom and where did I meet him. It occurs to me there's an easy way to take care of this.