The World I Know: The Diary of a Southwest Philly Girl
By Celeste Harmer
Copyright 2017 Celeste Harmer
Cover image Copyright 2017 Google
I am deeply grateful to the following individuals who have contributed to my writing of this book:
Donna Casciello Mango, thank you for your assistance with the segments of my book that dealt with West Girls and with Italian Christmas traditions. Your unselfish help has made Janet’s experiences much more realistic and believable.
Brian Davey, thank you for relating to me your recollections of growing up in Southwest Philly, all of which helped to fill in the blanks of my own memories of the portion of my childhood that I spent there. Only another Southwest Philly native could have recalled our old neighborhood with the fondness and accuracy you have.
Steve Szabo, thank you for your wonderful videos you shot in both Southwest Philly and in Southeast Delco in the early 90s. They have been a tremendously helpful cultural reference that has greatly enhanced this book.
Dr. Tina Bizzarro, my advisor at Rosemont College, thank you for taking me seriously from the moment I announced my intention to write this book. Thank you also for your unflagging support of me in my undergrad educational journey that equipped me well to become an author.
Professor Tatiana Ripoll-Páez, thank you for being my favorite professor at Rosemont College and for teaching me your native language well! Thank you also for your encouragement as I wrote this book.
Professor Kim Parise, thank you for always being kind and inspiring. You support was a driving force in my ability to successfully complete my undergrad degree at Rosemont.
Many thanks to Cal Sharp of Caligraphicsdesign, http://caligraphics.net/index.php, for designing the book’s fabulous cover.
Thank you to my friends who have provided encouragement and support as I wrote this book. It means so much to me!
Most of all, thank you to my husband, Edward Ciccarone. In addition to providing his own recollections on his Southwest Philly childhood, which greatly enhanced this book, he also spent countless hours of his free time proofreading and suggesting useful corrections to the text. He has given me tireless support from the moment I conceived this book until its publication and even beyond to today. I love you!
This is a work of fiction. Except for historical events and the individuals associated with them, names, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
My name is Janet Elizabeth Kramer. I live at 6238 Reedland Street in the Elmwood section of Southwest Philadelphia. I’m seventeen years old and about to start my senior year at West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School. My parents are Peg and Bob Kramer. I have a brother, Joe, who is twelve; a sister, Carolyn, who is nine; and a cat named Petie.
My closest friends are Tina McNulty, Dawn Heller, Pam Lewis, and Shereen Carter. Tina and Dawn also live in Elmwood: Tina at 6530 Glenmore Avenue, and Dawn at 6535 Elmwood Avenue. Pam and Shereen don’t live in Elmwood or in Southwest Philly; they live on 63rd Street in West Philly.
My father works as a crane operator at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and my mother as a title clerk for Prime Star, an auto-finance company located in Center City Philadelphia. I work, too, as a salesgirl at Candy’s Closet, a clothing store at 66th Street and Woodland Avenue, or the Avenue, here in Elmwood. I’ve worked there for over a year, and my boss, Candy Feeney, is very good to me and gives me about fifteen to twenty hours of work a week.
What do I look like? I have light-brown hair, hazel eyes, pale skin, and am about five feet six inches tall. What do I like to do? I like to hang out with my friends, and I love listening to Top Forty music. My favorite musical artists are Duran Duran, the Power Station, and Madonna.
I’ll write to you every day during my senior year at West Girls. I strongly feel that this will be one of the most important years of my life.
Monday, September 2, 1985
Happy Labor Day! The unofficial last day of summer, and it was a blast! My block was converted into a play street. The police put up wooden horses at either end of the block, closing it to traffic, and the kids take the block over for the day by playing in the street. The police do this every so often during the nice weather and quite often on the Fourth of July and on Labor Day.
My grandparents, Tom and Ethel Donovan, live across the street from me at 6235 Reedland Street. They have lived there for years, ever since Mom was born, and I can’t remember a time when they weren’t close to me, both literally and figuratively. On play-street days, they sit in front of their house on beach chairs and watch us play, but today, they’re visiting Aunt Karen and her family, who live in South Jersey.
I set up a few cans of Cherry Coke, which is a delicious new soda Coca-Cola has just put out, and my boom box on the front steps and waited for Tina and Dawn. Joe and Carolyn grabbed a couple of pimple balls and ran toward the end of the block to play with kids their ages. Tina and Dawn arrived at eleven, and Tina was accompanied by her younger sister Missy. Missy, who’s Carolyn’s best friend, ran to the end of the street to join her in the pimple-ball game.
I flipped on 98 WCAU, our favorite Top Forty radio station, and “Cherish” by Kool and the Gang played. It’s a lovely song and is one of the best that has been released this summer.
“Hey, since we’re gonna be seniors, we should start the school year off with a bang,” I said as I sipped my Cherry Coke.
“Yeah? How?” Dawn asked.
“I dunno, let’s brainstorm for ideas,” I said.
“You don’t mean pulling a prank or something, do you?” Tina asked apprehensively.
“Oh no!” I assured her. “I mean, we should do something special.” Tina’s father is even stricter than mine, and she fears getting on his bad side.
“Like go into the ‘burbs?” Dawn asked.
“I dunno, maybe,” I said. “But I’m thinking of something different, something we’ve never done before.
Tina turned the dial to Power 99, Philly’s R and B station, after “Cherish” ended, and “Problčmes d'Amour” by Alexander Robotnick pulsed from the boom box.
“Since when did you start listening to 99?” I asked, surprised.
“A few months ago,” Tina said. “For a change of pace. Ninety-nine’s been playing this song a lot lately. It must be from Europe because they sing in French or something.”
It wasn’t a bad song. We danced to it, even though I’m a crappy dancer. “Okay, how will we ring in the school year?” I asked as I tried to move in time to the music.
“I dunno. I’m drawing a blank,” Dawn said.
A thought occurred to me. “Guys, how ‘bout we go to Warriors after class on the first day of school?” I suggested.
The Video Warriors Arcade, known simply as Warriors, is our neighborhood video arcade, located a few doors down from Candy’s Closet at 66th and the Avenue. It’s a rough place that draws a crowd of tough kids, a place of ill repute if there ever was one, yet Warriors is the bitchinest hangout in all Southwest Philly. We had never been there, and I thought it would be a great idea to go after class on the first day of school, which is this Thursday, to ring in the school year. This was brilliant!
“Problems d’amour” ended. Tina reached over to the boom box to flip back to 98, and “Take on Me” by A-ha lilted from it. “That sounds totally awesome, but my dad will beat my ass if he finds out I went there,” she fretted.
“Then we won’t tell him,” Dawn said mischievously.
“Okay, let’s do it,” I said. “We’ll go to Warriors right after school on Thursday, and we’ll bring Pam and Shereen with us. I’m sure they’ll want to go if we’re going.”
Suddenly Tina’s face turned blue and her eyes bulged as she gasped, “Winslow!!”
Tina was referring to Lisa Winslow, who lives across the street from me at 6239. We’ve gone through thirteen years of school with her, from kindergarten through all our years in grade school through all our high-school years, too. Mom insists we be nice to her because her mother died when she was little, and she’s an only child. We try, but it’s not easy because she’s a huge cling-on and the most annoying person we know.
Lisa bounded down her front steps and skipped over to us. Her brown hair was a huge, frizzy ball because of the humidity, and her blue eyes bulged in her eagerness to talk to us. As she moved, her fat rolls jiggled underneath her Live Aid T-shirt.
That shirt! Grrrrr! She was probably wearing it to spite me because I had to work that day and couldn’t go. But part of me is glad I wasn’t there because it was murderously hot, about one hundred degrees or close to it. She had gone with her cousins, as no one in Elmwood in her right mind would let Lisa tag along with her anywhere.
“Dag,” Dawn said softly under her breath, “what a pain in the ass.”
“Hey guys!” she greeted as she drew abreast of us. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing much,” I muttered.
“Can I chill wit’ yous?” she asked.
Dear God, could she have come at a more inopportune time? It was critical that she not catch wind of our Warriors plans, and we fervently prayed that she hadn’t overheard our conversation on her way over. Not only would she insist on coming to Warriors with us, she would also snitch us out to our parents, probably after the fact so that she could enjoy the trip to Warriors first. Lisa is a huge snitch, and she snitches out of either spite or to give herself a sense of empowerment, which she desperately lacks.
“We’re in the middle of something,” Dawn said abruptly.
“What?” Lisa demanded.
“Nothing,” I said. “We’d rather not talk about it.”
“Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits played. It was the only sound, as none of us was talking. We didn’t want to inadvertently tip our hand and reveal our plans.
“Fine!” she huffed. “Yous be that way. Yous are always, like, so secretive. I’ll talk to my friends on Wheeler.” She stormed off and strode briskly down the block and made a right at its end toward Wheeler Street. We dared not speak again until she was out of sight.
“Thank God!” Tina sighed. “I thought for sure we were screwed!”
“My ass she’s gonna see friends on Wheeler,” I snorted. “She doesn’t have a friend in the world. She’s just gonna wander aimlessly around the neighborhood.”
“Okay, fast, before she comes back, do we agree to go to Warriors after school on Thursday?” Dawn whispered.
Tina and I nodded our heads in the affirmative.
“Awesome!” Dawn said, smiling broadly. “It’s gonna be bitchin’!”
Lisa didn’t return, and we spent a few more hours talking and dancing. At three, Tina, Missy, and Dawn said their goodbyes and went home.
I called Pam and Shereen tonight to ask them if they want to come to Warriors with us on Thursday, and they’re in. I had to call them on the payphone outside Kotzin’s Drug Store at 63rd Street and Elmwood Avenue, which is around the corner from my house, because I couldn’t call them from my home phone. I’ll tell you one of these days why I had to do this.
Something monumental is going to happen at Warriors. I can feel it, and I’m psyched.
Tuesday, September 3, 1985
I worked from ten till three today, and we were busy with publics – that’s what we Catholic-school kids call kids who go to public school -- buying school clothes. I’ve often wondered what it feels like to be able to wear “normal” clothes to school, as I’ve gone to Catholic school all my life and have had to wear a uniform.
Joe and Carolyn attend Catholic school, too. They go to St. Barnabas School at 63rd Street and Buist Avenue and are about to start seventh and fourth grade, respectively, tomorrow. It’s our parish school, and I attended it, too, for all eight years of grade school. As far as our uniforms go, Mom buys them for us at Flynn and O’Hara every July before the back-to-school rush begins.
Tina and Dawn were working until nine tonight, and I was left to my own devices, which meant that all I could do was sit in the house and watch TV. Joe and Carolyn had ridden their bikes down to Finnegan’s Playground, and my parents were still at work, so I had the house to myself. Petie came from upstairs and sat next to me, which he likes to do when I watch TV. It totally sucks that we don’t have cable. There’s cable in the ‘burbs, but they have yet to run the wire into Philly. And not just into Southwest Philly, but into all of Philly.
Many of our neighbors have satellite dishes, which allow them to pick up the cable channels, but Mom and Dad don’t feel like splurging on one and spazz out every time I complain about it. In addition to not being able to watch MTV or HBO, I also can’t watch Prism, which is the local cable channel. It broadcasts Flyers and Sixers games, which I like to watch occasionally. Dawn’s family has a dish, and I watch lots of cable at her house to keep up with the latest videos on MTV and to watch movies and games on the other channels.
It especially sucks not having MTV; that’s the one cable channel I can’t live without. I’m forced to make do with Friday Night Videos if I can’t watch MTV at Dawn’s house.
I’ll end it here and spend the next few hours listening to my Walkman until I fall asleep.
Wednesday, September 4, 1985
Both my parents are native Southwest Philadelphians. My mother was born Margaret Mary Donovan in 1946. You already know that she grew up at 6235 Reedland Street and that her parents are Thomas and Ethel Donovan, who are my grandparents, of course. My mom has lived in St. Barney’s parish, and in this neighborhood, her whole life.
My father was born Robert James Kramer in 1941 and grew up at 5422 Pentridge Street in the Kingsessing section of Southwest Philly. His parents were Harry and Elizabeth Kramer, and he and his family were in Most Blessed Sacrament parish, or MBS.
My mother graduated from West Girls in 1964, and my dad from Mercy Technical High School in 1959. They were married in 1967, and I was born a year later.
Around this time, my Kramer grandparents moved from their home at 54th and Pentridge to the second-floor apartment at 6200 Reedland Street, which is on the corner at the beginning of my block. They didn’t last for too long there: Grandmom Betty suffered a stroke soon afterwards and died of its complications when I was three. Two and a half years later, Grandpop Harry died of a heart attack.
Mom and Dad say Grandpop Harry and Grandmom Betty never got over the heartache of having to leave their house in Kingsessing, and that their grief shortened their lives. The reason for their flight was that the black people who were moving into the neighborhood, according to Dad, were rapidly turning it into a ghetto. It also didn’t help that realtors sent letters to many Kingsessing residents urging them to sell their homes quickly before their property values dropped. I’ve heard these letters were just a scare tactic with no basis in fact, but they must have worked, as there was a mass exodus from that neighborhood within a few years.
I was so little when Grandmom Betty died that I never really knew her. The only memory I have of her is of her sitting up in her hospital bed, which had been set up in the living room of her apartment on Reedland Street. She had lost her speech because of her stroke, which perplexed me, for I had never met an adult who couldn’t talk. She motioned me to come forward and gave me a little camel-colored cardigan sweater as a gift. I still have this sweater packed away in a box of mementoes.
Grandpop Harry was a tall, skinny old man who wore a jeff cap on his balding head of faded red hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and smoked cigars. He was a real hoot and reminded me of a cartoon character. My memories of him are clearer because I was a little older at the time of his death, almost six. He’s been gone for more than a decade, yet his passing still saddens me.
Tina McNulty, Dawn Heller, Pam Lewis, and Shereen Carter are my gang. Tina and I go back as far as kindergarten at the T. G. Morton Elementary School. She has an older brother named Tommy, who is two years older than we are and graduated from West Philadelphia Catholic Boys High school, or West Boys. You already know her younger sister Missy, who is Carolyn’s best friend and a classmate of hers at St. Barney’s, too. Tina works as a shampoo girl at the Hairport, which is on the corner of 63rd and Reedland, half a block down from my house.
Dawn cast her lot with Tina and me during first grade at St. Barney’s, and we’ve been Elmwood’s version of the Three Musketeers ever since. She has two older sisters, Elaine and Fran. Elaine is seven years older than we are, and Fran is four years older. Both graduated from West Girls. Dawn works at St. Barney’s rectory answering the door and doing simple clerical jobs.
Pam and Shereen have been best friends since kindergarten and went through all eight years at St. Carthage School, which is in West Philly, together. Pam is an only child, and Shereen has a younger brother, Damon, who is going into eighth grade at St. Carthage. Tina, Dawn, and I met Pam and Shereen at the beginning of freshman year, and we’ve been a gang of five ever since.
I should back up and expand on this. I was the first to meet Pam and Shereen, and I met them during freshman-year lunch. Tina and Dawn had lunch at sixth period, and I had lunch at fifth, so I had to find someone to sit with. There were a few people from my parish at this lunch, but I didn’t want to sit with them because we didn’t get along.
There I was on the first full day of school, wandering around the caf like a little lost lamb, and I heard a voice say, “If you need a place to sit, you can sit with us.” It was Pam who had spoken, and Shereen was sitting next to her. I gratefully took the empty seat and introduced myself. We got to talking, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The thing is, I can’t bring them to my house, nor can Tina and Dawn bring them to their houses. This is because Pam and Shereen are black, and our parents consider interracial friendships to be taboo. Not only that, Pam and Shereen would get flack from neighbors, too, if we brought them to Elmwood. It’s sad, but it’s how people are here. We can be a gang of five only outside of Elmwood.
Because my parents don’t approve of my friendship with Pam and Shereen, I’m forced to call them from the payphone at Kotzin’s. Sometimes Mom will look the other way and let me call them from the house when Dad’s not home, but when he is, I must go to the payphone.
Tomorrow is a big day! The first day of school, and the day we go to Warriors.
Thursday, September 5, 1985
Our first day of school was a partial day that ran from ten till noon. Tina, Dawn, and I met at eight thirty this morning at the corner of 63rd and Elmwood, in front of T. G. Morton and across the street from Kotzin’s, to await the 36 trolley. Lisa Winslow often waits with us, but today, she was absent. Occasionally, her dad drives her to school, which must have been the case today. We certainly weren’t complaining.
The 36 takes us to City Hall, where we connect with the Market-Frankford Elevated Line, or the El, which takes us the rest of the way to school. Pam and Shereen wait for us at the 46th Street El station, which is the closest El station to the school, and we walk as a group to school from there. They board the El at 63rd Street in West Philly, so they travel to 46th Street from the opposite direction.
Soon after boarding the 36, we examined our rosters, which were mailed to us two weeks ago, and compared classes. I already knew who was and wasn’t in my lunch, as we had discussed it soon after our rosters arrived. Pam and I have the same lunch, fourth lunch, but none of the others is with us. Tina and Dawn have fifth lunch together, and Shereen is by herself in third lunch. She’ll probably find other people to sit with, though.
“I wonder when Ring Day is?” Tina asked, shouting over the trolley’s din. There must have been at least a hundred West kids on there.
“Shit, Ring Day. Don’t even talk to me about it. I have no idea who I’m bringing,” I moaned.
“Still in a tizzy over Matt?” Dawn asked, concern in her eyes.
“It was so grody what he did to me,” I said. “Right in the middle of the MacDade Mall parking lot, he dumped me. What the frig.” Matt is my ex-boyfriend. I’ll give you the details on him in a little bit.
“I heard he’s going out with some rich chick from Delco,” Tina said. Delco is what everyone calls Delaware County, which is the suburban region that borders Southwest Philly.
I sneered. “He’s climbing the social ladder and getting a girl from the better side of the tracks.” Delco is mostly blue-collar, like Southwest Philly, but there are a few exclusive neighborhoods there.
We got off the El at 46th Street at nine thirty. Pam and Shereen were there to greet us, and Tina, Dawn, and I screamed delightedly and exchanged hugs, for it had been almost three long months since we had last laid eyes on them.
“We’re seniors now!” Shereen laughed. “We’re gonna rule the school!”
“Class of ‘86, baby!” Pam added.
We walked up 46th Street, made a left on Chestnut Street, and came to our school at 45th and Chestnut. Guys from West Boys, which is our brother school at 49th Chestnut, passed us by. In their dress shirts, ties, dress pants, and dress shoes, they were as distinct as we girls were in our forest-green jumpers.
Before walking into my school, I gazed up at the twin towers that rose on both sides of the entrance, their cupolas dominating the roof of the school. Inside, above the majestic double staircases in the vestibule, hung a blue-and-gold banner, our school colors, that announced WEST IS BEST.
We reported to the auditorium for an assembly. Sister Catherine McDonald, our principal, gave a welcome speech in which she said that our senior year will be a sacred time in our lives, as we’re preparing to go out into the world carrying Christ’s message of love and acting as He would.
We reported to homeroom directly after the assembly. Sister Albert Mary is my homeroom teacher this year. We’re placed into our homerooms alphabetically, and Pam is in my homeroom, as I’m Kramer, and she’s Lewis. Academic calendars for the 1985-86 school year were distributed, and I immediately flipped mine open to make note of certain key events. The first I looked up was Ring Day, which will be Wednesday, November 27. That gives me two and a half months to line up a date.
Friday, October 11 will be Freshman Day, the day the freshmen get tormented by seniors. That will be fun! Seniors got me good on my Freshman Day and made me eat baby food; now it’s my turn for vengeance. Though honestly, I’ll probably end up being nice to the freshmen.
The prom will be on Friday, May 16. Yay!
Last but not least, graduation will be June 6!
We reported for classes, but since it was a two-hour day, each was only about ten minutes long. The teachers had only enough time to introduce themselves, distribute syllabi, and give out lists of supplies we would need for class. I’m taking Stenography again this year, so I need to buy a steno book.
At lunch, we decided where and with whom to sit. Pam and I teamed up with a sweet girl from her parish, Lareese Haines, as our lunch buddy.
Textbooks were also distributed, which I deposited faithfully in my locker at the end of the day. We keep the same locker for all four years, so I obviously didn’t have to hunt for it.
After school let out, we walked up to the El and took it to City Hall. From there we took the 11 trolley, jumped off at 66th and the Avenue, and walked into Warriors. One look at that crowd of burnout kids instantly turned our excitement to anxiety. They looked as if they carried weapons and had done time at juvie; we were waiting to get beaten up.
I must digress here to explain what a burnout is. A burnout is a young person who has a penchant for listening to heavy metal, consuming drugs and alcohol, chain smoking, getting laid, dropping out of school, and committing varying degrees of crime. This person is almost always from a poor, underprivileged, dysfunctional family. The excessive drugs and alcohol they consume have burnt them out, hence the name. Some people call them stoners, but my friends and I have always called them burnouts.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Tina whispered. “My dad is gonna kill me for being here!”
“Okay, we’ll be cool,” Shereen said as she led us through the room in a tight cluster. I was relieved that most of the kids were too busy playing arcade games to give us much notice. The ones who weren’t gave us up-and-down looks that I hoped wouldn’t escalate into exchanges of words or, worse, of blows.
We passed by a kid playing Ms. Pac-Man who was dressed in the typical burnout manner. For starters, he wore a gangster hat. Burnout guys are into these hats, which are broad-brimmed black hats decorated with white bands, like something a gangster from the 30s or 40s would wear. He had a gold stud in his left ear. According to burnouts, a left pierced ear means you’re cool, and right, you’re gay. His clothing consisted of a three-quarter-sleeved Ozzy concert shirt, blue jeans, and white, high-top Nike sneakers. A red bandana tied around his right thigh just above the knee rounded out his look.
Next to him stood two burnout girls who were wearing so much black eyeliner that their eyes were reduced to slits. They both had long, feathered hair and wore dangly earrings that almost brushed their shoulders. Their outfits were identical, too, consisting of form-fitting, zebra-striped tops, tight designer jeans with combs poking out of the back pockets, and Nikes like the guy’s. The girls looked up from the game briefly to give us cold, reptilian stares. We collectively jumped, fearing we would be their next meal. But they said nothing and resumed their concentration on the game.
Pam’s eye caught a kid our age who was playing a game of Donkey Kong. He wore a bucket-style Kangol hat, black-framed Gazelle glasses, a thick gold rope chain around his neck, a T-shirt with the Gucci logo, parachute pants, and adidas sneakers. “This is Curtis,” Pam said and made introductions all around. He was her neighbor’s cousin, and she was well acquainted with him from his frequent visits to her neighborhood.
As we stood talking to Curtis, I gazed around the room. The only light was that which radiated from the arcade machines, and some crappy heavy-metal song blasted from the jukebox. Cigarette smoke was everywhere, and I tried hard not to choke on it. I peered above a sea of feathered hair and gangster hats to latch onto a familiar face, but I didn’t recognize any of these kids. I was beginning to feel bored. I would suggest we leave as soon as we ended our conversation with Curtis.
That’s when I saw him. Standing in the back of the room, near the attendant’s window, was a guy who looked to be two or three years older than I was. He was Italian; everything about him spoke it. He had black hair puffed up into a pompadour; dark eyes set under thick, dark eyebrows; olive skin; and a long, pointed nose. He was tall, about six feet or so, and a gold Italian boot and a gold Italian horn dangled from a thick gold chain around his neck. He wore a short-sleeved white adidas shirt, jeans, and white Lottos.
A circle of burnout guys surrounded him. One of the burnouts took a wad of cash out of his back pocket and showed it to the Italian, who took a few slips of white paper out of his own back pocket. Obviously some kind of business transaction was in progress.
I felt as if I had been hit by a bolt of lightning, and I couldn’t stop staring at him. Yet for all that he was beautiful, there was something more than his beauty that struck me, but I was unable to define it.
Shereen pulled away from the conversation with Curtis and followed my gaze. “Check him out. He is looking fly!” she giggled.
“I’ve never seen anyone who looked so beautiful,” I said.
“Maybe you should talk to him,” Shereen suggested.
Now would be a good time to tell you about Matt Kane, the guy I complained about on the trolley this morning. He’s from 73rd and Dicks in the Eastwick section of Southwest Philly and from St. Irenaeus parish. He graduated from West Boys last year. It didn’t end all that well between us, which has put a real ding in my confidence to find another boyfriend.
He dumped me two months ago, after we had seen The Legend of Billie Jean at the theater at the MacDade Mall in Delco. We were halfway across the parking lot, and he said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just say it.” He launched into his story of how he had found someone he liked better and wanted to spend time with her instead, and blah, blah, blah…I told him that was fine, but it wasn’t.
“I hope we can still be friends,” he said as he dropped me off. Without saying goodbye, I stomped into my house and sulked for the rest of the day. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.
Thanks to Matt, I’m afraid to approach guys, as I don’t want to be stung by rejection again. But I badly wanted to talk the Italian and thought perhaps I should take a chance and do it. As I was contemplating the feasibility of this plan, the Italian abruptly looked up and stared directly at me.
I freaked. “Shereen, maybe we should go. Let’s tell the others.”
“But we haven’t been here that long,” she said.
Before I could respond, the girls whom I had seen at the Ms. Pac-Man machine descended upon us. “What are you West bitches doin’ here?” they snarled. Burnouts like to fight, especially with West kids, as they perceive them to be of a higher social order and resent them for it.
Pam’s conversation with Curtis had ended, and she, Tina, and Dawn gathered around Shereen and me, forming a united front.
“We were just leaving,” I said without batting an eye and walked briskly to the door with the gang right behind me. We didn’t stop and look back until we had walked two blocks down the Avenue. They hadn’t pursued us, and we collectively sighed our relief. I said a silent Hail Mary in gratitude, too.
“That was close,” Pam said.
“Yeah, let’s make that the first and last time we go there,” Dawn said.
“Agreed!” we replied in unison.
Pam and Shereen wanted to go home, and Tina, Dawn, and I waited with them for the next trolley. We saw them safely on it and said our goodbyes before heading back to our own homes.
He has been on my mind all day. I need to find out who he is and make him mine.
Friday, September 6, 1985
I’m proud to wear the West Girls uniform. It’s a forest-green, A-lined jumper worn with a Peter Pan blouse underneath. The blouse can be either long- or short-sleeved, and the available colors are yellow, green, and white. Because it’s still hot, I wore a short-sleeved yellow blouse today.
All the West Girls emblems are color-coded: white and pale green for freshman, maroon and gray for sophomores, blue and orange for juniors, and brown and yellow for seniors. I wear the senior emblem, and the colors represent the sunflower, our school flower.
Forest-green knee socks are part of the uniform, as are saddle shoes. Anyone with even a modicum of fashion sense bunches her socks down at her ankles; no one pulls socks up to her knees anymore. My saddle shoes are a brand called Clicks, which have a pointy toe and a hard, wedge-shaped heel. They’re the most popular brand of saddle shoe in our school. The nuns and teachers complain about them because of the clicking noise the heels make. I guess that’s how they got their name.
My West Girls uniform can get me into trouble, as you saw from yesterday’s encounter with the burnout chicks at Warriors. My uniform also antagonizes the Bridge Kids.
They're a gang of punks who loiter at the entrance of the crosswalk that spans the tracks at 66th Street and Glenmore Avenue. What sucks is that Tina lives on that block, and it’s almost impossible for me to go to her house without running into them. Should the Bridge Kids accost me, it becomes necessary for me to engage in battle. The battles have thus far been only in words; I'm hoping I never come to blows with any of them.
There are four of them: Tracey Gallagher, Michelle Tomlinson, Tim Murphy, and Ray Cole. Tracey and Michelle got kicked out of West Girls; Tim, West Boys; and Ray dropped out of John Bartram High School, which is Elmwood’s public high school. I probably don’t have to tell you that they are big-time burnouts.
This crew spends its days eating and drinking, consuming alcohol, and smoking cigarettes and marijuana joints. They get their jollies off harassing children, old people, and other perceived weaklings who have the misfortune to cross their path. If you want to use the footbridge, forget it. They're collectively worse than the troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Quite often they step out of line, and a neighbor on that street, often Tina’s father, will call the cops on them. The cops will chase them away, but they never fail to reappear like a plague.
Their outpost is littered with soda cans and bottles, snack-food wrappers, cigarette butts, and Budweiser cans and bottles. Dad says only black people trash neighborhoods, but I think he needs to come over to where the Bridge Kids hang out and see that that’s not the case. These miscreants produce enough trash to litter all of Elmwood, and they’re as noisy as hell, too, between talking loudly, arguing amongst themselves, harassing passersby, and blasting 94 WYSP, the local heavy-metal station, from their boom box.
They are there almost all day every day, from early in the morning till late at night. I think they leave the bridge to spend the wee hours of the night and morning at whatever dysfunctional homes they come from, but I can’t say for sure.
I’ve heard that one of the girls and one of the guys will pair up and go under the bridge to screw, especially at night.
I encountered them today while walking from my house to Tina’s to return the Duran Duran cassette I borrowed from her yesterday. Worse yet, this was after school, and I was still in my uniform. I tried to ignore my heart pounding like a drum and the bad taste rising from my throat into my mouth as I neared them.
They pounced on me in an instant. “You think you’re so special, don’t you, Kramer?” Tracey taunted as she extracted a box of Marlboros from her pocketbook. She and I are former classmates going as far back as our St. Barney’s days. Michelle and Tim are my former classmates as well and hate me almost as much as she does. I don’t know Ray very well, as he’s a former public. But he doesn’t talk much and is possibly the least annoying of the gang.
“That green jumper makes you look like an olive. A huge, fat olive,” Michelle taunted, braying like a donkey.
“Sucks for you, doesn’t it, that your days of wearing the green jumper are over,” I shot back. What followed was a volley of hateful, ugly words that I won’t repeat. I ignored them as I walked briskly to Tina’s house, but none of them followed me. I got the feeling that was because they were all cowards. Dad says thugs are the biggest cowards of all.
I rang the doorbell, and Tina answered. I gave her back her tape.
“Seen that foxy Italian again?” she asked. I have been pouring my heart out about him to the gang almost nonstop since yesterday.
“No,” I sighed, “I haven’t. He probably lives around here somewhere. I’m hoping to bump into him.”
“Let me know if you do. I gotta jam and eat dinner now. See you tomorrow.”
As I walked down her street on the way back to my house, I heard a beer can clatter behind me. I turned, and Tim Murphy guffawed. He had obviously thrown it at me. Punk!
My next-door neighbor Neddy is probably the most eccentric person on my street. His real name is Edmondo Fortunato, but everyone has always called him Neddy. He’s in his late thirties with a dark beard and mustache and long, straight dark hair that comes past his shoulders. Grandmom says he looks like Our Lord. He was a hippie back in the Sixties and has a penchant for playing psychedelic Sixties music, which I can sometimes hear through the walls of my house.
He lives with his mother Louise – his father passed away a few years ago -- and works at Scott Paper in Delco. Like Mom, he has lived his entire life on Reedland Street.
“How ya doing, Janet?” he asked me.
“I’m doing well,” I replied.
“How’s school going so far? Are you excited to be a senior?”
“It’s going well, and yes, I am.” I thought he was going to drag this out into one of those annoying what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life-after-graduation interrogations, but he merely told me to have a good one and disappeared into his house as I disappeared into mine.
Joe and Carolyn were doing homework at the dining-room table. I went upstairs to my bedroom – actually, my and Carolyn’s bedroom, because we share a room – and started mine. My parents’ instructions are that we start homework as soon as we get home, and they check to make sure we do it, too.
I turned on my boom box, and 98 was playing “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears. I started Spanish homework but was having a hard time concentrating on imperfect subjunctive verbs, for my head was filled with the beautiful Italian. If I weren’t so distrustful of guys and afraid to approach them, thanks to that ass wipe Matt, I’d seek him out, as he probably lives in the neighborhood. I pushed the Italian out of my head and concentrated on Spanish homework.
My bedroom is in the back of the house, and I can hear the 36 trolleys rolling up and down Elmwood Avenue. I paid attention to the five-thirty trolley because that’s the one that carries Mom from her job in Center City. Soon Dad would be coming home from work, too, but he commutes to and from his job via the family car.
I heard Mom enter our house through the back door a few minutes past five thirty, followed shortly by Dad. Mom made dinner, and we talked about the usual mundane topics at the dinner table: work, school, friends, etc. One of these days, I’ll give you the lowdown on the stuff we talk about during meals because Dad’s a real pistol.
Saturday, September 7, 1985
I worked from noon till seven. Grandmom and Pop Pop stopped in to see me while they were shopping on the Avenue, and I enjoyed their surprise visit.
We got a shipment of cute stirrup pants yesterday, and I had to buy a pair today. I must be careful because sometimes I blow entire paychecks on clothes. But Candy’s is the best clothing store in Southwest Philly, and our stuff is hard to resist.
Tina and Dawn were working tonight, too, so I had nothing to do when I came home at seven thirty. If we’re all off on a weekend night, we hang out on our street corners or maybe take public transit into Delco to visit the MacDade Mall and see a movie. All there was to do tonight was homework, which I did and then called it a night.
Sunday, September 8, 1985
“I heard your Ring Day is at the end of November,” Candy said as we were unpacking a box of leggings.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Well, Jason said he’ll go with you if you need a date for the Ring Dance.” Jason is her son, who’s a year younger than I am and a junior at West Boys. He’s a huge geek and has the worst acne I’ve ever seen, plus he’s into Dungeons and Dragons.
I wanted to gag, but I politely replied, “Thanks for the offer, but I have somebody lined up.” This, of course, was a lie, but I wanted to throw her off the trail lest she try to hook us up.
She didn’t bring up the topic again for the rest of the day, thank God, and at five, I clocked out and left. I didn’t go home but instead went to the bridge on 63rd Street, which is a few blocks around the corner from my house. It spans the SEPTA tracks, and ever since I was little, I have loved to watch the trains from this bridge. SEPTA trains aren’t the only ones that use these tracks: Amtrak trains and freight trains use them, too. Sometimes I see interesting trains. About a year ago, I saw a freight train that consisted of about two dozen Tropicana Orange Juice cars slowly move along those tracks.
The SEPTA trains only go as far as Marcus Hook in Delco, but the Amtraks and the freight trains go much farther: Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. Dad says those tracks are known as the Northeast Corridor.
I put my arm on top of the parapet, rested my head on it, and gazed down at the tracks. Anyone passing by would think I was watching for trains, and I was. But I was also thinking. Whoever he was, he had to be mine. Yet I knew nothing about him, not even his name, and I had no idea where to look for him.
I suspected he was from Elmwood, but it would be a needle-in-a-haystack search for him, considering Elmwood’s multitude of young people. For the first time since Matt had unceremoniously dumped me, something was beginning to bloom within me. It excited and frightened me at the same time.
I closed my eyes and saw the Italian beauty, and he seemed to be calling my name, even though I was sure he didn’t know it. An Amtrak sped below me, and in that instant, I could feel him. But that was crazy! The feel of him faded as quickly as it had come, and I walked to my house and announced to my parents that I was going up to Connell Park.
Connell Park is a block up from me at 64th and Reedland. Next to the bridge, it’s my favorite meditation spot in my neighborhood and the nicest park in Southwest Philly. It’s dominated by very tall trees that form a canopy over it, giving it an air of seclusion that’s rare in the city.
I sat on one of the swings. I thought back to the mounted cop who had been regularly stationed outside the park on the corner of 65th and Elmwood during the very early days of my childhood, before my siblings were born. On one occasion, I stared up at the horse, transfixed, for I had never seen an animal that huge. Grandmom was with me, and as she petted the horse’s head, she asked me if she could lift me up so that I could pet the horse, too. But I was frightened of him and said no.
I felt hands on my back push me higher. I panicked, fearing that one of the Bridge Kids had tracked me down and was trying to push me off the swing. I dragged my feet on the ground to halt my flight and turned to face my assailant. But it wasn’t a Bridge Kid; it was him. The Italian beauty.
“I’ve been searching for you for days,” he said. “I wish those girls hadn’t run you out of Warriors. I’ve been asking around about you, and today, I questioned this girl named Lisa, who lives on your street. She ID’d you. So, I knocked up at your house about twenty minutes ago, and your brother told me you were here.”
There was so much astounding information packed into that paragraph that it took me several seconds to digest it. He had been searching for me, so perhaps I hadn’t been crazy when I had heard him calling me on the bridge. And Winslow, of all people, ID’d me. I would be in her debt, for if she hadn’t done that, the Italian beauty might never have found me. And my brother Joe, who is usually a pain in my ass, kindly told him where I was. I was grateful to him, too.
He grabbed both my hands and pulled me up to stand. I couldn’t speak, and I was glad he spoke first. “My name is Anthony Mangino.”
I stomach flipped flopped, for this was the son of Giacomo “Jake the Snake” Mangino. Everyone in Elmwood, and in all Southwest Philly, either knows or knows of Jake the Snake. He’s a mob associate based in Elmwood, and Dad says he has his fingers in a lot of pies: numbers rackets, sports books, loan sharking, fencing stolen goods, and God knows what else.
It’s speculated that he may be a made member of the Scarfo organization, which is headed by Nicky Scarfo, Philly’s top mob boss. Jake wields a lot of clout, and his is a name that opens doors, literally and figuratively. I was scared and overwhelmed for having fallen in love with such a powerful man’s son, but in a good way.
“I’m Janet Kramer,” I croaked.
“Do you come here a lot?” he asked.
“Yes. I’ve been coming here since I was little. This is my favorite park.
“It’s a cute place, but why don’t we move this discussion to the Homestead. It can be our first date.”
The Homestead Inn at 63rd Street and Paschall Avenue is the place to go in Elmwood for beer and roast-beef sandwiches. “Yes, that would be wonderful,” I said. “Do you mind if I freshen up?”
“No problem,” he said. I stepped aside and drew a hairbrush and a travel-size bottle of Le Jardin perfume, my favorite perfume, from my pocketbook. I gave my hair a quick brushing and spritzed the perfume on my neck. I also swiped on some lipstick.
“Okay, I’m ready,” I said, and he took hold of my hand and led me away. I couldn’t believe this was happening: The Italian beauty found me, and we were going on a date! He looked foxy, too, with his hair puffed up and his gold necklace with the boot and the horn dangling from his neck, same as the first time I saw him a few days ago. He wore a Sergio Tacchini shirt, acid-washed jeans, and his Lottos. He looked too good to be true, and at last, he was mine.
“Have you really been looking all over for me?” I asked as we walked up 63rd Street.
“Yeah, ever since I saw you the other day at Warriors. Warriors, by the way, is my headquarters. I’m usually there if you’re ever looking for me.”
“Good to know, but I’m scared of that place, especially after I got chased out.”
He laughed. “Yeah, those bitches were something else, weren’t they? They think they have a chance with me, but no way. They’re nothing more than a couple of skanks.”
We were passing over the bridge on 63rd, where I had stood less than an hour earlier. Several pairs of beaten-up Nike sneakers dangled from the electrical wire above the street. I’ve never understood why people throw sneakers up on wires.
“Do you go to the Homestead a lot?” I asked.
“Yeah, every so often. I like their roast-beef sandwiches, and they have a lot of Frank songs on their jukebox.”
“Do you like Frank Sinatra?”
“Yeah, I do. What kind of music do you like?”
“Duran Duran, the Power Station, and Madonna are my favorites,” I said. “I like most of what they play on 98; I listen to it all the time.”
“My favorite radio station is Power 99. Next to Frank, I like the Gap Band; Earth, Wind, and Fire; Kool and the Gang; and Rick James.”
We reached the Homestead and walked into its murky interior. We were greeted by noisy bar patrons and “The Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra crooning from the jukebox. A waitress bustled forth and showed us to a booth. We sat down, and menus magically appeared.
“I’m just gonna get a roast beef,” he said. I scanned the menu and settled on a hamburger. The waitress reappeared, and we ordered our sandwiches and two Cokes. As soon as she left, he resumed our conversation with a line of questioning.
“Tell me about yourself. Where do you live? Do you go to West?” I gave him my life’s details: where I lived, where I went to school, where I worked, who my friends were.
“Ah!” he beamed broadly. “I live two blocks up from you at 62nd and Grays, in Little Italy.”
“Really?” I was amazed. “You only live two blocks away from me, yet I was unaware of your existence until a few days ago!”
“Yeah, funny how life works, huh?” he said. “What’s your parish? Mine is Loreto.” This is short for Our Lady of Loreto, a predominantly Italian parish. Its church and school are located on Anthony’s block.
“I’m from St. Barney’s.”
“I graduated from West Boys last year, 1984.”
“Did you know Tom McNulty? He’s my friend Tina’s older brother and graduated with you.”
“Yeah, I knew him pretty well. Nice guy.”
I wanted to ask about his father but didn’t think it was a good idea; I moved onto a safer topic instead. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“I have a sister named Carmella, who’s a junior at West Girls, and a brother named Louie, who’s a freshman at West Boys.” Anthony leaned forward, and my nostrils were filled with the scent of Polo cologne. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered.
I was in awe. No one has ever called me beautiful, and I was mesmerized by him as his gaze held mine. We finished our sandwiches quickly, and Anthony summoned the waitress for the check.
“The boss said to comp it for you, Ant,” she said, and he nodded and thanked her. I was impressed. He took a black leather wallet from his back pocket, flipped it open, and extracted at twenty-dollar bill. He placed it underneath his empty glass, and we rose.
We walked out the door holding hands. “I’ll walk you home. What’s your number?” he asked. I paused to take a pen and a scrap of paper from my pocketbook, and using my thigh to lean on, I wrote down my number and gave it to him. He recited his number, and I wrote it on another scrap of paper. As we walked along 63rd Street holding hands, I thought I had wandered into one of my dreams, and I was waiting to wake up at any moment. But the feel of his warm hand in mine told me this was real.
We paused on the bridge and gazed at the General Electric factory, which dominates the block of 67th and Elmwood and looms over its little kingdom of Elmwood like a castle. We kissed, and it was as if time stood still and there was only us in the world. Anthony escorted me to my house, and I found Joe and Carolyn in the living room watching MacGyver.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” I asked.
“Over at Grandmom and Pop Pop’s,” Carolyn replied.
“A guy was here looking for you,” Joe said.
“Yeah, I know,” I muttered as I ran upstairs to my room before Joe and Carolyn could interrogate me.
I’m going to sleep to dream happy dreams of Anthony. Goodnight!
Monday, September 9, 1985
I couldn’t wait to tell the gang that I had finally found and hooked up with the beautiful Italian, and I thought, why not invite Tina and Dawn to a homework session tomorrow after school at Campo’s and break the happy news there as a surprise? It’s a hoagie shop at 62nd Street and Grays Avenue, on the opposite corner from Our Lady of Loreto Church and a block down from Anthony’s house.
I would have scheduled this event for today, but Tina and Dawn had to work. Pam and Shereen I must exclude, because bringing them to Campo’s will ruffle feathers, but I resolved to tell Pam the happy news today at lunch, and she would surely tell Shereen. I would make them swear not to say anything to Tina and Dawn.
“Awesome!” Pam cried after my announcement. “I’m so happy for you.”
“You can tell Shereen, but please don’t yous say anything to Tina and Dawn. I’m going to break the news to them tomorrow after school when we get together at Campo’s. I’m sorry you and Shereen can’t come.”
Pam sighed. “Yeah, I know, and I don’t hold it against you.”
During the trolley ride home, it was all I could do to not say anything to Tina and Dawn about Anthony. As soon as the trolley pulled up to 63rd and Elmwood, I said goodbye to them and got off. They were getting off two blocks ahead at 65th Street.
I was broiling, so I unzipped my jumper and pulled down the top part to cool off a little. It was okay because the blouse was underneath. Mom flipped out on me on a hot day last year for coming home with my jumper half down, but I explained to her that there was no other escape for me to find relief from the heat.
From 63rd, I banged a right up the back alley and came in the house through the back door. On the fridge was a note from Mom addressed to me instructing me to go to Mattera’s to pick up a half dozen rolls for dinner. A five-dollar bill was magneted next to the note.
Mattera’s is a bakery on 62nd and Grays, Anthony’s block, and their rolls are to die for. Amoroso’s rolls are good but still not as good as Mattera’s rolls. The kids who go to Our Lady of Loreto School, which is across the street from Mattera’s, say it’s torture to smell those rolls baking during class. Pop Pop says when he dies, he wants someone to put a Mattera’s roll in his coffin. That’s how good they are.
Joe walked into the kitchen. “I’ll go to Mattera’s if you want.”
I laughed. “Yeah, right, nice try! If I send you, you’ll spend all this money on Big Foot.” Big Foot is a type of red, chewy candy that’s like Swedish Fish but is shaped like feet. Joe is addicted to the stuff.
“Yeah, well, I hear you got a boyfriend! He asked about you last night, and I told him where you were. And some friends of mine saw yous at the park and said yous were makin’ out!” he snapped.
“We weren’t making out. His name is Anthony Mangino, and he took me on a date to the Homestead. And don’t say anything to Mom and Dad about him; I’ll tell them myself.”
“Wow, is he related to Jake the Snake?”
“He’s his son.”
Joe raised his eyebrows and returned to his homework, and I took the five dollars and headed off to Mattera’s. As I walked, I thought how best to break the news about Anthony to Mom and Dad. I decided to tell Mom first, and she could pass the news to Dad.
I was nervous about Dad finding out about Anthony, as Dad isn’t too keen on Italians; he distrusts them almost as much as he distrusts blacks. I suspect once upon a time, he dated a girl who kicked him to the curb for an Italian, but I can’t prove this, and I’d rather not ask him.
I got the rolls at Mattera’s, and as I left the store, I gazed at the row houses that lined either side of Grays Avenue. I wondered which one was Anthony’s? But even if I knew, I would feel awkward about knocking up for him, since we had only just started dating.
Grays Avenue, or Little Italy, is the nicest street in Elmwood. The homes are adorned with wrought iron, statuary, brick pointing, stone, marble, outdoor post lamps, louvered bay windows, and patios. Venus de Milo rain lamps dangle from inside many front windows. I wish we could get one of these lamps for our front window, by my parents think they’re gaudy and won’t allow it.
I returned home and put the rolls on the kitchen counter. My parents were coming home soon; this would give me enough time to call Anthony. I ran upstairs to Mom and Dad’s bedroom to use their phone to conduct a conversation in private, away from Joe and Carolyn’s prying ears.
I dialed his number, and he picked up after two rings. “Hi, it’s me, Janet,” I said.
“Ciao, bella!” he said, and my stomach flip flopped. It’s so sexy hearing him talk in Italian. “How was your day at school?”
“Boring as usual. Hey, before I forget to tell you, my Ring Dance is on November 27. It’s a Wednesday night. I’d like to bring you.
“All right, I’d love to go with you,” he said. “I’ve never been to a West Girls Ring Dance.” He paused and said, “I want you to meet my family. What nights are good for you this week?”
My heart pounded. Anthony wouldn’t want to introduce me to his family if he wasn’t serious! “How about Saturday night? I’m working that day until five, but you can take me directly to your house afterwards.”
“Sounds like a plan. Saturday at five, then. Gotta run, bella. Talk to you later.”
Mom and Dad came home a few minutes later, and I helped Mom prepare meatball sandwiches for dinner. All throughout, I shot Joe and Carolyn stern looks to coerce them to keep their mouths shut, and they did.
After dinner, Dad went to the living room to watch Action News, Joe and Carolyn resumed their homework, and I helped Mom clean up. Once I ascertained that Dad, Joe, and Carolyn were occupied, I broached the topic of Anthony with Mom.
“Mom,” I said as I scraped food scraps from the plates and into the garbage disposal, “I have something to tell you.”
“I met a guy last week. His name is Anthony.”
“Where did you meet him?”
There was no way in hell I was going to tell Mom that I had met Anthony at Warriors; she would ground me for having set foot in there. “Up at the park. I was on the swing set, and he was there, and we got to talking.” That was close enough to the truth. “We’ve already had one date at the Homestead last night, but don’t worry, no liquor was involved.” My parents are strict about drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. If they catch me using any of them, the punishment will be severe.
Mom pushed her gold-framed glasses up her nose and ran her hand through her curly, shoulder-length brown hair. “Oh. Well, that’s all right. Your father and I trust you to do the right thing. What’s Anthony’s last name?”
Oh, dear God, here it comes! I thought. “Mangino. Anthony Mangino.”
Mom raised her eyebrows as Joe had done. “Jake the Snake’s kid?”
“Yep.” I stood there holding my breath, waiting for her to explode and forbid me to see him again. Instead, she sighed.
“Your father won’t be too happy to hear this. You know how he feels about Italians, and a mobster’s son will only infuriate him more.”
“But no one’s sure whether Jake’s a made guy, so he may not be mobster,” I said.
“Same difference. Well, be careful with Antnee, okay?” This is how many Philadelphians pronounce that name. “Guys like that are exciting and beautiful, but they can be dangerous, too. Your curfew on date nights is nine on school nights and eleven on weekend nights.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, grateful that she understood, or at least, that she hadn’t flipped out over the news. She’ll waste no time telling Dad, and I shudder to imagine what his reaction will be.
Tuesday, September 10, 1985
I couldn’t herd Tina and Dawn to Campo’s fast enough for our after-school homework session, as my happy news was ready to burst out of me! We ordered hoagies and sat in a booth to eat them. Tina and I took out our schoolbooks as Dawn got up and walked over to the jukebox. She fished through her uniform pocket for change, dumped it into the jukebox, and pressed a few buttons. “Oh Sheila” by Ready for the World started to play, and she returned to the booth.
The moment had come. “Okay, you guys,” I said, “I have big news.”
“You’re pregnant,” Tina said, totally deadpan.
“Like, gag me!” I gasped. “How would that ever have happened?”
Tina burst out laughing. “Psych! I’m just joshing with you!”
“You’re going out with Jason Feeney,” Dawn said. This is Candy’s son, the Dungeons and Dragons geek with the rampant acne.
“Duh, no!” I laughed.
“Okay, tell us already!” Tina begged.
I took a deep breath. “Okay, remember that fox we saw at Warriors last week on the first day of school? We bumped into each other at the park on Sunday and went on a date to the Homestead. His name is Anthony Mangino, and he and I are officially a couple!”
I expected delighted shrieks, but they stared at me, dumbstruck, like two deer in the headlights. I looked from one of them to the other several times, waiting for the joyous reaction. But it didn’t come.
“Holy crap, Jake the Snake’s kid?” Tina croaked.
“Yep, that’s him.”
“Wow,” was all Dawn could say.
“Well, aren’t yous happy for me?” I asked, a little hurt.
“Oh yeah, we are,” Tina assured. “It’s just that we’re shocked that you’ve attained such lofty heights. His dad is a pretty big wheel.”
“He is,” I admitted.
“I hate to tell you this, but a guy like Anthony probably has girls after him big time,” Dawn said. This made me die a little inside, for it was something I hadn’t thought of, and it made perfect sense. Recall the two burnout girls who chased me out of Warriors in a jealous rage.
“Yeah, probably,” I admitted, forcing myself to stay positive. “But he really seems to like me. In fact, he’s taking me to his house to meet his parents on Saturday night.”
“Wow, this is serious,” Tina said. “He wouldn’t do that if this wasn’t.”
“We’re so happy for you,” Dawn said, “really we are! Have you told Pam and Shereen?”
“Yeah, a few days ago. I had to tell them first because we couldn’t bring them here, but I made them swear to secrecy to not tell yous because I wanted to surprise yous.”
“Oh Sheila” was over, and Dawn got up and put on “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship. Dag, it’s a crappy song; I don’t know why she chose it. It will probably go down in history as the worst song of the Eighties. But I was too happy over my announcement to complain.
“Well,” Dawn said when she returned to the table, “I’m sure this solves your date dilEmily for the Ring Dance. You’re taking Anthony?”
“I sure am!” I said.
“I’m bringing Eddie Campbell. He lives on Tina’s street and goes to Bartram.”
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. “Ewww, a burnout?” Most of the Bartram kids where burnouts.
“No, he’s actually a decent, normal guy,” Dawn said.
We stopped talking and resumed our homework, ending the session at five. As we were leaving Campo’s, we saw a figure in a West Girls uniform running down 62nd Street and heading straight for us.
“Winslow!” we cried in unison. She reached us a minute later, panting and out of breath.
“Janet, it’s all over the neighborhood that you’re dating Anthony Mangino.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He came up to me on Sunday night and described you and asked if I knew you. And I told him, ‘Yeah, that’s Janet Kramer,’ and I told him where you lived. Did he find you?”
“Yeah, up at the park that night. Thank you for telling him about me. I had been hoping to find him.”
“How did yous meet?” she asked.
“Aww man, yous went to Warriors wit’out me?” she cried.
“Yeah, too bad,” Tina said.
“Well, people are talkin’ ‘bout yous. I just heard a bunch of St. Barney’s kids on a corner talkin’ ‘bout yous. It’s like yous are celebrities or something.”
I was certain this was because Joe and Carolyn had told their classmates about Anthony and me, who in turn had probably told every kid in St. Barney’s. It was as if Anthony were a celebrity, and I felt a tingle go through me.
Winslow departed, and Dawn said, “Wow, what do you make of that?”
“It’s pretty awesome,” I said. “In fact, it’s more than awesome. It’s totally bitchin’.”
“Totally!” Tina said.
I digested what Winslow had said later as I sat on the front porch. It was hard for me to get my head around my new-found celebrity status as Anthony’s girlfriend, especially since I thought I was condemned to languish unloved for the rest of my life after the way Matt had dissed me. I was about to go inside when I spotted two young girls in navy-blue St. Barney’s uniforms walking down my street. They looked to be Joe’s age; perhaps they were his classmates.
We locked eyes, and I heard one say to the other, “That must be her. She’s beautiful. No wonder he’s going out with her.”
Wednesday, September 11, 1985
Word of Anthony’s and my newly-formed relationship has fanned out from St. Barney’s to all the parishes in Elmwood and in Eastwick: St. Barnabas, Our Lady of Loreto, St. Mary of Czestochowa, Good Shepherd, St. Clement, St. Irenaeus, and St. Raphael.
“Where and when did yous meet?” “When will you see him again?” “Do you know how lucky you are?” were the questions that were fired at me left and right all day by the kids from these parishes. There was also talk concerning Jake the Snake’s dubious reputation, whether he was a made guy, and if Anthony would follow in his footsteps.
“I should be your publicity director!” Pam laughed after the third or fourth girl had approached me at lunch swooning over the news.
“This is probably the closest I’ll ever come to being a celebrity,” I said. “In another minute, I’ll start giving out autographs!”
As I was walking up 63rd Street after coming off the 36, I saw ANTHONY N JANET written on the sidewalk in white chalk and enclosed in a heart. The writing looked like Carolyn’s.
I tuned the TV to Channel 17 when I got home and watched Dancin’ on Air. I watch it every so often because I enjoy listening to the music, and sometimes bands perform, too.
At eight o’clock, 98 did the Hot Eight at Eight. This is a countdown of the eight most-requested songs of the day. As the lovely opening notes of “Cherish” came over the radio, the D.J. announced, “Number Five, ‘Cherish’ by Kool and the Gang. This goes out to Anthony and Janet in Southwest Philly!”
I was floored. Did Anthony make this request? But he didn’t listen to 98, and I hadn’t requested it. I could only wonder who did. Anthony and Janet fever had certainly seized hold of Southwest Philly!
I told him about the request during our phone conversation a short while later, and he laughed. “I don’t know, babe, that could have been anybody.”
“I feel like a celebrity,” I told him. “All day long people were coming up to me asking about you, even people from other parishes. It was insane!”
He laughed again. “Feels good to be a celebrity, huh? Are you ready for Saturday night? I can’t wait to show you off to my parents.”
“Yeah, I’m ready, and you might as well know I’m nervous.”
“Don’t be. I’ll let you get some sleep. Ciao, bella.”
I’m under the covers as I write this, Petie curled beside me and Carolyn already fast asleep. What a day. Talk to you tomorrow!
Thursday, September 12, 1985
Today was a lackluster day to balance the almost nauseatingly thrilling day I had yesterday. Candy asked me about Anthony; Jason apparently had told her. I think Candy’s disappointed because there’s now no chance of a hookup with Jason. Oh well!
Friday, September 13, 1985
Friday the Thirteenth! Yikes! I’m happy to report that no bad luck fell on me, but it did on someone else! It was raining this morning, and Dawn, Tina, and I were waiting for the trolley at 65th and Elmwood. Sometimes they come to wait with me at 63rd and Elmwood; other times, as a courtesy, I’ll walk down to 65th, which is near where they live, to wait with them. This way, neither they nor I get stuck doing all the walking. There are also other mornings when we meet each other halfway at 64th and Elmwood.
Winslow ran up to us, and we groaned, annoyed that she had walked down to 65th to cling onto us when it would have been easier for her to wait for the trolley down on 63rd. She was holding one of those clear plastic bubble umbrellas in one hand and juggling her schoolbooks in the other.
“How are yous doing?” she said. “I hope yous don’t mind if I wait here.” Well, of course we minded, but we didn’t have the nerve to tell her that.
“Janet, I think it’s rad that you and Antnee are a thing,” she said.
“Thanks. I love being a celebrity.”
“But since I was the one who told him about you, you should hook me up. See if he has a friend who needs a girlfriend.”
“Girl, you do your own hooking up!” Dawn snapped. “Janet’s not a matchmaker.”
“Fuck that, that’s not right, Kramer!” Winslow cried. “You owe me!”
“Bullshit!” Tina chimed in.
“Yeah, well how ‘bout I tell Antnee that you’re still going out with Matt?” she said slyly.
“You wouldn’t dare!” I said. “You totally suck if you’re thinking of doing that!”
“Try me,” she laughed vindictively. It was raining rather heavily, creating lakes in the potholes and in the dips of the street. As Winslow laughed maniacally, a truck barreled through the largest of these, which was in front of us, creating a giant tidal wave that Tina, Dawn, and I backed away from just in time.
Winslow, however, was too distracted to notice, and the wave hit her full force. She was drenched from head to toe, and her hair, which had been precisely teased, flopped like a pancake on top of her head.
“Yous shut up!” Winslow barked as we howled with laughter. She didn’t utter another word as the trolley pulled up and we climbed on it, and she didn’t sit with us, either. Totally awesome!
Saturday, September 14, 1985
I worked from noon till five today and was antsy the whole time. I probably don’t have to tell you why: This was the day I was to meet the Manginos. I dressed nicely, as Anthony was picking me up directly from work and taking me to his house. I wore an oversized, long-sleeved blue blouse belted at the waist, the stirrup pants I bought last week, and black ballerina flats. I sprayed extra Aqua Net in my hair this morning, for I didn’t want it to fall flat before tonight. Gold hoop earrings completed my look.
At five, I clocked out and waited outside for Anthony. He strolled up to me five minutes later and kissed me, and we walked hand in hand down the Avenue toward his home at 62nd and Grays. A car drove by playing “We Built This City.” It was obviously being broadcasted by 98 because in the middle of that song, when the traffic report is playing, 98 substitutes it with their own script, mentioning the Walt Whitman Bridge and “98, the station that rocks, the station that never stops.” The song still sucks; you can’t polish a turd.
“I’m so nervous,” I said as we crossed the Avenue at 62nd Street.
“Don’t be, bella. You’ll be fine.” We soon came to Grays, where we made a right, bypassing Campo’s and the Our Lady of Loreto Church and its school. My heart was in my throat as we passed the elaborate rowhouses of Grays, and we stopped at 6226.
It was a beautiful home with a brick façade, a green awning that shaded both the front window and the front door, and white-sided bay windows that projected from both the first and the second floors. Intricate white wrought iron adorned the front door, and white wrought-iron railings scaled the front steps.
Where all the houses in the neighborhood had a basement window in the front of the house, his had a door that led down to the basement. The area around the door was gated off with white wrought-iron railings. Next to the gate glowed an outdoor post lamp, and adding to the glow was an illuminated Venus de Milo oil lamp inside the house’s first-floor bay window.
He led me up the steps and through the front door. We entered an enclosed front porch with a loveseat to my right and two armchairs and a small gilt table to my far left. We passed through sliding-glass doors into the most opulent living room I have ever seen. I felt as if I were walking on a cloud thanks to the thick red shag carpeting. All the furniture was metallic-gold velvet protected with plastic slip covers. The lamps were Capodimonte, and the coffee table and end tables gilt, same as the table on the porch. The wallpaper was metallic gold with cream flocking. On a marble pillar in a corner stood a two-foot-high reproduction of Michelangelo’s David.
A big-screen TV, twice the size of my family’s, dominated another corner of the room, and on top of the TV was a VCR. My family’s home looks like an army barracks compared to this one.
A woman in her mid-forties came forth. She was short and stocky, with curly black hair, olive skin, dark eyes, and a large nose. “Mom, here she is,” Anthony announced as he drew me forward. “This is Janet.”
Mrs. Mangino hugged me. “It’s so good to meet you, Janet. Antnee has told me so much about you.” Turning to Anthony, she said, “She’s beautiful,” Turning back to me, she said, “My name is Pasqualina, but you can call me Lina.”
I smiled, thrilled that Anthony’s mother liked me. But I wanted to meet the fabled Jake. Anthony grabbed my hand again, walked me through an equally elaborate dining room, through a modern kitchen, and down to the basement.
The basement was as elaborate as the upstairs. It had been remodeled so that it was in three parts. The first part, in which we stood, was the rec room, which was the front part of the basement. The basement door I had seen outside led down to this room. It was furnished with a sofa and chairs, a big-screen TV, and a stereo. A door at the other end of this room led to the bedroom that dominated the middle section of the basement. Judging from the blue-and-white WC decals on its walls, which represented West Boys, I assumed it was Anthony’s. A door on the opposite side of the bedroom led into a full bathroom, and next to the bathroom was a door that led into a utility room that contained a washer and a dryer. The basement’s rear door was at the far end of the utility room.
“I thought Pop was here,” Anthony said. “We’ll wait for him.” We sat on the sofa and watched TV, and I think he was as anxious for his father to arrive as I was. As he flipped through the channels, we heard fumbling outside the front basement door. Anthony shut off the TV and sat at attention, and a moment later, Jake the Snake appeared.
He is of medium height, about three inches taller than I am, and of average build. He has black hair that curls back from his high forehead and up into a pompadour; olive skin; thick, dark eyebrows; dark eyes; and an aquiline nose. He wore a pair of thick-framed black Gazelle glasses and a black adidas track suit and white sneakers, and he looks to be the same age as Lina.
We both rose. “Pop, I want you to meet Janet Kramer.”
Jake’s dark eyes swept over me. I felt uncomfortable, thinking that he had judged me and determined me to be inadequate for his son. But he smiled broadly, showing even white teeth.
“Che bella ragazza! What a beautiful girl!” he exclaimed. “I’ve heard so much about you.” He kissed me on the cheek. I couldn’t believe that I had been kissed on the cheek by Jake the Snake!
“Let’s go upstairs,” he said. We followed him up the stairs and into the living room, where Lina had set snacks up for us.
I wanted Jake to tell me all about himself, as he’s a legend in Southwest Philly. But he drilled me with the routine questions of where I lived, where I went to school, and how many siblings I had without going into details about himself.
“My son worships you,” he said, “and I like you, too. I didn’t approve of the girls he was bringing home before he met you.” He shot Anthony a cold stare and sternly said, “I wish you’d stay the hell out of that goddamn Warriors. The girls there are sluts, and that place is bad news, too.”
Anthony rolled his eyes, his look saying he had heard this from his father many times. “Yeah, Pop, I know.”
Jake reached forward to grab a pizzelle and munch on it. “It’s about time you found yourself this good woman. That’s what you gotta do. Get the good woman first, and everything else will fall into place. Love her and pay attention to her. Don’t put her on the back burner while you pursue whatever else is on your agenda. Get her and make her happy first. And don’t waste your time on sluts. They’re nothing but trouble.”
“Yeah, Pop, got it.” He looked at me and said, “I hear this all the time.”
“Because you never listen to your father!” Lina said. “If you did, you’d have found this sweet girl long before now.”
My gosh, these people adored me. After the heartache I had endured from Matt, I was due this happiness. Anthony, Jake, and I talked about mundane stuff for an hour while Lina worked in the kitchen. Whatever she was cooking smelled divine.
“Dinner’s ready!” she announced as she emerged from the kitchen to set the dining-room table. The china was edged in gold, and the flatware was gold-plated. I’ve never seen anything like it.
We sat down as Lina served us. “Do you like chicken cacciatore, hon?” she asked.
“I’ve never had it,” I confessed.
Jake chuckled. “Oh, so you’re an Italian-food virgin, are you?”
“Well, sometimes my family has spaghetti and lasagna.”
He continued to chuckle. “Well, you’ll like cacciatore. This was my grandmother’s recipe.”
He was right, it was delicious. Lina brought out a tray of cannolis after dinner and passed them around. I took one and set it on the little dessert plate she had given me beforehand.
“These are from Durso’s,” she said, and I smiled. Durso’s is arguably the best bakery in Southwest Philly, and they’re in the neighborhood at 62nd and Elmwood. Whenever there is an occasion in my family that calls for cake or pastries, there’s never any question about where to buy them.
I gobbled the cannoli in three bites. There’s nothing like pastries from Durso’s; they tie with Mattera’s rolls as the food I would eat if I could only have one food for the rest of my life. Lina made hot tea for me and coffee for Jake and Anthony.
We returned to the living room to watch TV after we had eaten dessert. Jake put on Channel Six, and we watched The Fall Guy.
“Where’s Carmella and Louie?” Anthony asked.
“Carmella’s spending the weekend with friends in South Philly, and Louie’s helping out at the store tonight,” Lina replied.
The show ended at nine, and Anthony said, “I don’t want to keep you out too late, so I’ll walk you home now.” Jake, Lina, and I exchanged goobyes and good nights, and Anthony walked me back to my house.
He kissed me at my front steps. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said before walking off into the night. I happily ran up the steps and through the front door. Joe and Carolyn were watching Airwolf in the living room.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” I asked them. I told Mom last night that I was going to Anthony’s, and she was okay with it. I still haven’t told Dad about Anthony.
“Over Neddy’s,” Carolyn said.
“You were out with that dago again, weren’t you?” Joe said, almost accusingly and sounding just like Dad.
“He’s not a dago. He’s wonderful, and so are his parents.”
“Did Jake ask you to go with him on his next mob hit?”
“You say the gnarliest things. I won’t even answer that.”
I’m listening to a Madonna tape in my Walkman as I write this. Quite the day I’ve had!
Sunday, September 15, 1985
My family and I attended the eleven o’clock Mass at St. Barney’s. Joe is an altar boy and served the Mass. After Mass was over, we went to Dante’s, which is a florist on 63rd Street across the street from the church, and Dad bought a wreath for Grandmom Betty and Grandpop Harry’s grave. They’re buried at Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Delco, and he goes there about once a month to visit them.
Dad prepared breakfast after we got home. You haven’t lived until you’ve had one of Dad’s breakfasts; IHOP and Denny’s have nothing on him. He prepares home fries, scrapple, eggs any way you want them, Taylor Pork Roll – the works. Because Mom insists on healthy eating, she makes sure we each get a dish of fruit salad and a slice of whole-wheat toast as part of breakfast.
As Dad slathered ketchup on his scrapple, he said to Mom, “There’s a house that’s been vacant over on 61st Street for a while. You know what that means.”
“No, what does it mean?” Carolyn asked.
Dad shot her a look. “It means that spooks will move in there. That’s how it goes: a house in a neighborhood like ours goes vacant, and they horn in on it.”
I hate Dad’s racial tirades. He is fervent in his belief that all white people are saints, and all black people are out to perpetrate evil. I wanted to tell him that his thinking was flawed, that I’ve met white people who were evil and black people who were good, but I knew he would have none of it. I also didn’t like him talking that way in front of Joe and Carolyn, as they are young and impressionable.
“How do you know?” Mom asked.
“I heard it at the Wheeler yesterday.” The Wheeler Street Tavern is Dad’s favorite watering hole. It’s on the corner of 62nd and Wheeler, a block away from our house.
“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Mom said.
“Yeah, well, look at my neighborhood. Look what happened there.”
I’ve already told you that Dad is from Kingsessing and that white flight occurred there around the time I was born. I’ve heard the story of its downfall numerous times.
“Who knows?” Mom said. “Maybe decent people will move in.”
“Why did Kingsessing change?” Carolyn asked.
Here we go again, I thought, and I braced myself. “Because the spooks messed up North Philly and West Philly so bad and started crying that their neighborhoods were run down and that they needed a better place to live,” Dad explained. “Well, they were the ones who ruined their neighborhoods; it was no one’s fault but their own. So, they came into Kingsessing and brought it down, too.
“I wish I could take you kids back in time to see Kingsessing the way it was when I was a kid. It was even better than our neighborhood, and MBS was the biggest parish in the country. By biggest, I mean it had the most people. Each grade in the school had four classrooms. Kingsessing was gorgeous. We had a beautiful rowhome on Pentridge Street. My parents never got over losing it.”
“If the people loved Kingsessing so much,” I said, “they should have fought to keep it.”
“But the spooks came in and wrecked it,” Dad said. “No one could stay. And then realtors sent out letters telling everyone to sell before their property values dropped, and my parents got scared and sold quick. I’d love to visit my old neighborhood but don’t wanna to see the state it’s in now. I’d rather remember it as it was. My house was probably turned into a MOVE house!”
MOVE is a radical back-to-nature group. They lived in houses in West Philly, one of which was on Osage Avenue near Pam and Shereen’s neighborhood. The MOVE members lived in filth, accosted neighbors, and shouted propaganda on a bullhorn during all hours of the day. The neighbors grew weary of their antics and appealed to the city for help. On a warm morning this past May, police were sent to Osage Avenue to force the MOVE members to surrender. The standoff dragged out for the better part of that day.
The MOVE members refused to do so, and Mayor Goode ordered a bomb to be dropped on the house. All the homes on Osage Avenue, as well as the homes on the adjacent streets of Pine and Addison, were reduced to cinders during the ensuing conflagration, and many MOVE members perished in the blaze as well.
Pam, Shereen, and their families fled to relatives’ homes at the order to evacuate, as the police feared the worst. Fortunately, they and their homes emerged unscathed from the conflict.
As I thought of Pam and Shereen, I saw how unfair my father’s generalization was to them. “But not all black people are destructive!” I said. “I have black friends who are good people. Pam Lewis’s father is an accountant, and Shereen Carter’s dad is a credit analyst. They both make decent money. These girls are two of the nicest people at school. I don’t think we should make harsh judgments of people based on their skin color.”
I also wanted to say that not all black people lived in shabby houses, and that I knew this because I had visited Pam’s and Shereen’s attractive homes in West Philly and seen them for myself, but I caught myself there. Dad didn’t know I had been to Pam’s or to Shereen’s, and I wanted to keep it that way.
“I swear to Christ, Janet, sometimes I wonder if you’re my kid,” my father said as he punctured a fried egg and the yolk saturated everything on his plate. I think fried eggs are disgusting because of their runny yolks.
“It’s the Eighties, Dad,” I said. “Times are a-changin’.”
“Yeah, and I get the feeling things in this neighborhood are someday gonna change. It’s only a matter of time before the spooks creep down this way. That alone will do the neighborhood in. But to make matters worse, GE and Fels Naptha aren’t what they used to be. Those factories used to employ thousands. Now Fels sits there and rots, and GE is down to a skeleton crew. When big employers close or start cutting back, you can bet the neighborhoods around them will start to die off, too.”
Fels Naptha is an abandoned soap factory on Island Avenue where Main Street in Darby becomes Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philly. The company is still in business at other locations and continues to make its famous soap. My friends and I loved to explore the old Fels buildings in our younger years, and adjacent to them is the famous Fels Naptha smokestack, which can be seen for several miles outside Southwest Philly.
“Look, Dad, I’m sorry for what black people did to Kingsessing. But not all black people are bad. Pam and Shereen would take a bullet for me, and I met them in the first place because they reached out to me. I’ve never forgotten that kindness.”
Dad raised his coffee cup to his lips and before swigging it said, “Fine, have molonyama friends. I don’t care. You’re almost an adult.” He put down his cup and asked, “What’s this I hear about you dating Jake the Snake’s son? Everybody at the Wheeler was asking me about it. Your mother said you were at his house last night.”
At last he broached the topic. Joe and Carolyn’s ears perked up. Mom looked distracted.
“We’ve been dating for a week,” I said. “He introduced me to his parents last night. They’re wonderful people, Dad.”
“You mean his mother’s wonderful. His father is a snake in the grass. How else do you think he got his name?” he harrumphed.
“His dad was nice to me.”
“Of course he was. Those dagoes love light-skinned, non-Italian women. It’s rare that you see them with their own kind. He loved that you were a feather in his son’s cap.”
“Dad, please! You talk crazy!”
“Oh, do I? Just wait till Antnee pulls his happy horseshit. I’ll bet anything he’s following in his father’s footsteps.”
“Hey, Dad, it’s not so bad,” Joe said. “He could be your son-in-law someday.”
“Yous, out!” Dad yelled at Joe and Carolyn.
“Where are we going?” Carolyn asked.
“Go play outside. I’ll tell yous when you can come back in.”
Joe and Carolyn reluctantly got up from the table and walked out the front door. After they had left the house, Dad spoke again.
“Your mother says you’re smitten with this guy. I’ve told you to stay away from dagoes; they treat their women like shit. But since you love this guy, I won’t hold you back. Your mother enforced a curfew, and you gotta stick to it. One more thing: If he hurts you, you need to tell me, and I’ll deal with him.”
“I don’t think things will ever come to that between us, Dad,” I said.
“Regardless, tell me if he does anything to upset you.”
Dad got up from the table, walked to the front door, opened it, and told Joe and Carolyn to come back inside. I helped Mom clear the table. For the rest of the afternoon, Dad watched the Phillies game, and Joe and Carolyn played with their friends up at the park.
The time had come to introduce Anthony to Mom and Dad, and I brought up the topic when he called a few hours later. “I want to introduce you to my parents,” I told him.
“Sounds good to me,” he said. “My parents think you’re the greatest.”
How I wished I could say that my parents felt the same way about him! How could I tell him that Mom was iffy about him and Dad didn’t want me to be with him at all? “I think they’re nice, too,” I said lamely.
“Are you off tomorrow night?” he asked. “I could come over then to meet them.”
“Yes, tomorrow is good. Can you stop by at seven?”
“Okay, seven it is. I’ll let you go. Ciao, bella.”
Oh, dear God! Things are about to get real!
Monday, September 16, 1985
I came home from school today feeling edgy, as this was the day I was to introduce Anthony to Mom and Dad. I was especially nervous about the Dad aspect of the introduction.
As is Dad’s custom, he came into the house through the back door carrying the large, rectangular canvas satchel which he uses to transport his hard hat and his lunch. He hung the satchel on a hook by the door which is there for that purpose, took off his work boots, and put on bedroom slippers. I wondered if he was thinking about the upcoming meeting with Anthony and planning what he would say to him.
We were quiet at the dinner table. I think Mom and Dad were preoccupied with meeting Anthony; I’m sure most of my friends’ parents would feel the same way at the prospect of meeting Jake the Snake’s son. Joe and Carolyn moved to the dining room to work on homework while I helped Mom clean up dinner. Dad opened a bottle of Ortlieb’s beer, settled into his armchair in the living room, and put on Action News. It was just after six o’clock, and Anthony would be coming within the hour.
Mom took the cellophane off a tray of cookies she had picked up from Durso’s on her way home from work and set it on the kitchen counter, and she produced from the fridge a vegetable-and-ranch-dressing platter and set it next to the cookies. She gave me a bag of potato chips, a bag of pretzels, and a bag of Wheat Thins and told me to pour some of each into a large plastic snack tray divided into three compartments. While I did that, she set up coffee in the coffeemaker to be brewed later and got out cans of Frank’s soda from the fridge. I grabbed a few glasses from the cabinet for the sodas.
We carried the snacks, cookies, vegetable tray, sodas, and glasses out to the living room and set them on the coffee table. I changed out of my uniform and into an oversized T-shirt, jeans, and ballerina flats. I ran a brush through my hair, put on lipstick, and gave myself a spritz of Le Jardin, too.
I sat on the sofa with Mom and forced myself to be still. Dad remained seated in his armchair watching the news. Joe and Carolyn were still busy with homework, and they would have drilled me about Anthony had Dad not shot them a stern look every few minutes to keep them quiet. The doorbell rang as the news ended, and I jumped up to answer it.
There Anthony was, dressed in a white Fila shirt with a black collar, jeans, and Lottos. He wore his usual gold chain with the boot and the horn, and he was enveloped in a cloud of Polo cologne. He held a small floral arrangement with a tag on it that indicated it had come from Dante’s.
He entered the living room. “Hello, Mrs. Kramer!” he said and gave Mom a kiss on the cheek. She seemed suitably impressed as he handed her the floral arrangement. “This is for you,” he told her. Mom placed it in the middle of the coffee table. Joe and Carolyn walked over to meet him and looked dazed, as if they were meeting a movie star.
I introduced them, and Mom said, “I want yous to go to Grandmom and Pop Pop’s.” They looked disappointed but did as they were told. I thought for sure Joe was going to say something off-color to Anthony, but he and Carolyn left the house without saying a word.
Dad turned off the TV, rose, and came forward. He extended his hand for Anthony to shake. “I’m Bob Kramer.”
Anthony took his hand and shook it firmly. “Anthony Mangino, and the pleasure is mine.” Mom, Anthony, and I sat on the sofa, and Dad sat by himself on the loveseat.
“Would you like coffee?” Mom asked Anthony. He said yes, and she went to the kitchen to brew him a cup, as well as cups for herself and Dad. I declined coffee and poured a can of Frank’s black-cherry Wishniak soda into a glass.
She came back a few minutes later with the coffee cups on a tray and passed them around. As she set up a sugar bowl and creamer, she said to Anthony, “Janet tells us yous have been dating.”
“Yes, for just over a week.”
“And yous met up at the park?” I shot Anthony a look to say yes because, as I mentioned a few days back when I first told Mom about Anthony, I didn’t want my parents to know I had been to Warriors. He got the hint and said, “Yes, at the park. Janet was on the swing, and we started talking, and then we went to the Homestead for our first date.” Anthony took an amaretto-flavored cookie from the tray and popped it into his mouth.
I couldn’t tell what Dad was thinking, and I dreaded what might come out of his mouth. He cleared his throat and said, “Antnee, I’m not gonna shit around here. I’m just gonna tell you how I feel so that there are no misunderstandings between us. Janet cares for you, and while we want her to be happy, we’re also worried about her.
“Your father is a big wheel. I hear things about him that I won’t go into ‘cause I don’t wanna start trouble. But me and Peg are afraid that this type of life could really hurt Janet. You know what I’m talking about.”
Anthony appeared to be calm. “Yes sir, I know where you’re going with this. Please know that my parents have already come to love Janet like a daughter. They raised me right, and I would never hurt or dishonor her.”
Mom seemed happy to hear this, but Dad had more to say. “I want you to know that Janet has been raised properly. I can only imagine what kind of women you took up with before she came into your life, and if you treat Janet as if she’s disposable, you’ll have me to deal with. Capisce?”
Mom, Anthony, and I were surprised to hear Dad say that word. “Yes sir, I understand what you’re saying, and I swear on my mother to always respect Janet.”
“All right, we’re straight.” Dad reached forward and grabbed a cookie as he slurped his coffee.
Mom broke the tension by asking, “Antnee, tell us about your family. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
Anthony answered that question as well as her other questions about how old he was, whether he had gone to West Boys, and where he lived. From that point on, the conversation was devoted to small talk about siblings, school, our neighborhood, and the Phillies.
An hour and a half passed, and we had run out of things to talk about. This seemed to be a good time to wrap it up, so Mom said, “Antnee, thanks for coming by. Me and Bob want Janet to be happy; please understand that.”
“I do, Mrs. Kramer,” he said as we all rose. We walked him to the door, and he said goodbye to Mom and Dad and a separate goodbye to me.
It had gone better than I had expected. Mom called Grandmom and Pop Pop’s and told them to send Joe and Carolyn back over. They chattered madly as soon as they thundered through the door.
“He was cool!” Carolyn gushed.
“Yeah, he was pretty awesome,” Joe agreed. “Did he talk about his dad?”
“We didn’t talk too much about that topic,” Dad said. “I want yous to finish your homework and go to bed.” They returned the schoolbooks they had abandoned on the dining-room table, and as I was about to go upstairs to get a late start on my own homework, Dad said to me, “We’ll be watching both of yous. He doesn’t seem like a bad sort, but that father of his worries us. He didn’t come out and say it, but we think he’s going to follow him into the life. You know what we mean.”
“Yeah, I know. Well, thanks for taking the time to sit down with him. Goodnight.”
“Dress You Up” by Madonna is playing on 98, and Petie is snuggled in my lap. I’m tired, too. Goodnight.
Tuesday, September 17, 1985
I regaled the gang with the details of Anthony’s visit. They were happy to hear that it had gone well and that Dad had managed to keep a civil tongue in his head, but Pam summed it up by observing, “I’m surprised your dad didn’t drop the D bomb on him!” That’s the truth! Dad wouldn’t have hesitated to call Anthony a dago had he, Dad, not been forced to walk a fine line last night.
Anthony called at seven. “Hey, do you want to come to our store?” he asked.
“Store? What store?”
“We own a store on the corner of 66th and Paschall. It’s my pop’s place. Me, Carmella, and Louie help out there sometimes.”
This must have been what Lina meant the night I was introduced to her and Jake, when she said Louie was helping at the store. “Yeah, that would be great. Come over; I’ll be ready when you get here.” I hung up and went to my bedroom to fix my hair and spray on Le Jardin. Anthony was at my front door ten minutes later.
“I didn’t know yous owned a store.”
“Yeah, as I said, it’s Pop’s place. He uses it as kind of an office. You might see him there tonight.”
We walked there in fifteen minutes. The sign proclaimed the store’s name as the Paschall Variety Store. It’s a corner store like many others in Elmwood and in Southwest Philly, a convenience store in which you can run in to buy candy, cigarettes, basic groceries, cold drinks, and play the Daily Number.
We entered, and to the left was Centipede, the arcade game. A burnout was playing, and he was so absorbed in the game that he was oblivious to our presence. Anthony walked me over to the counter. Behind it stood a kid who looked to be a few years younger than I was. He closely resembled Anthony and even sported the same pompadour and gold chain. “Janet, this is my brother Louie. Louie, this is Janet Kramer.”
“Hi! I’ve heard a lot about you,” Louie said.
“Good things, I hope,” I replied wittily.
“Of course! My friends are still talking about how awesome it is that Anthony has picked you as his woman. You’re famous!”
I laughed, not sure what to say, but still very pleased to hear it. I heard a loud curse and turned to see the burnout who was playing Centipede getting the GAME OVER screen. He sauntered up to the counter, handed Louie a dollar, and asked for quarters, which he collected before returning to Centipede to play another round.
From the open front door, I watched a white Monte Carlo SS park across the street. Its driver got out and walked toward the store. He entered, and Anthony boomed, “Meatball!” Turning to me, he said, “Janet, this is Salvatore Bellini, but everyone calls him Meatball. He’s been my best paisan since first grade. Meatball, this is Janet Kramer.”
Meatball politely told me how nice it was to meet me, and I could see why he’s called Meatball. He’s short, about my height, and everything about him is round. He has a round head with dark hair that’s parted and swept to the side; round, dark eyes; a dark mustache; and a very round, chubby body. He chatted with Anthony for a few minutes and then walked to a door in the rear of the store.
“You seen Carmella?” Anthony asked Louie.
“Nah, but I think she’s out with some friends. She may stop by.”
“I hope so,” Anthony said to me. “I want you to meet her.”
Anthony took a Diet Coke from the fridge and gave it to me to drink, and I gulped it thirstily. Power 99 was playing “La Di Da Di” by Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh on the boom box behind the counter. An occasional customer came in to make a purchase; most were burnouts buying cigarettes. I figured the store was probably doing a brisk business selling cigarettes to burnouts.
A gaggle of Italian girls walked in, yelling and laughing and making enough racket to wake the dead. They were coiffed and dressed identically with huge, teased black hair; gold hoop earrings; stacks of gold chains; long, tunic-length tops; leggings; and ballerina flats. They wore lots of black eyeliner and bright-red lipstick. One of the girls, who seemed to be the leader of the pack, separated from it and walked over to Anthony.
“Where you been?” he asked her. “I been waiting to introduce you to Janet. Janet, this is my sister Carmella. Carmella, this is Janet Kramer.”
Carmella looked me up and down and said, “I been hearing a lot about you. Everyone’s talkin’ ‘bout you ‘cause you’re datin’ my brother. It’s nice to meet you. Antnee says you go to West?”
“Yes, I’m a senior.”
“I’m a junior. Maybe we’ll bump into each other at school. Say hi if you do. Would you like to hang out with us some time?”
“That would be nice,” I said.
“Okay, then you can hang out wit’ us.” Having made that declaration, she asked Anthony, “Is Pop here? I gotta talk to him.”
“I think he’s in the back.” Carmella walked to the back of the store and through the far door, as Meatball had done. Her companions remained behind, and they and Louie flirted. The burnout playing Centipede used his last quarter and left the store.
Carmella reappeared a few minutes later. Gathering up her companions, she said to me, “I’ll be in touch wit’ you. We want you as one of us.” She herded them out the door, and their giggling faded into the night.
I asked where the bathroom was, and Anthony directed me to a door in the back of the store, which was adjacent to the door that Carmella and Meatball had walked through. I walked back to the bathroom and used it. As I was about to leave, I noticed a large chunk of plaster missing from one of the bathroom walls. A small hole, about the size of a dime, was in the middle of the vacant spot where the missing plaster had been.
I put my eye to the hole and stared into the room that the rear door of the store opened into. It was dimly lit, and along the walls were a few video-poker machines and slot machines. A statue of the Blessed Mother was set up on a pedestal in front of another wall. There were a few tables and chairs scattered about, and around one of the tables sat Jake and two other men.
They were sifting through several shoe boxes set up on the table, extracting money and slips of white paper from them. Off to the side stood Meatball, saying something I couldn’t hear. Whatever it was, it made Jake angry, for he said, “You tell that little shit to get back here with his box! Hunt him down; he’s too stupid to know how to get very far. Goddamn numbers runners, always bustin’ my balls…”
I was too frightened to hear more, and I fled the bathroom and rejoined Anthony. Dad wasn’t kidding when he said Anthony and Jake’s life could hurt me. I can get in a lot of trouble if I speak about what I saw in that room.
Meatball emerged from the back room, and Louie announced it was time to close the store. Anthony walked to the back room to bid his father and his friends a good night and to let them know the store was closed. Meatball offered to drive Louie, Anthony, and me home, since he lives at 63rd and Grays and would be able to easily do that.
The Paschall Variety is obviously a front for Jake’s nefarious activities, and I’m certain he kicks back some of the profits as tribute to the Scarfo organization. If I suspected Jake was involved in organized crime, I’m convinced of it now.
Wednesday, September 18, 1985
I gave Tina and Dawn all the details of last night at the store, omitting my account of what I had seen in the back room.
“I know that place,” Dawn said. “I didn’t know it was owned by Anthony’s family.”
“Carmella wants me to hang out with her and her friends,” I said.
“If you do, you have to give us the details,” Dawn said.
“Hey, we still need to meet this guy!” Tina said.
“How ‘bout I ask if I can bring yous to his house one of these nights? I’m sure he won’t mind.” Tina and Dawn assented to this. At 46th Street, I told Pam and Shereen about my night at the store and about Carmella’s invitation. Again, I said nothing about the exchange in the back room.
My next-door neighbor Neddy was talking with our neighbor Joe Panepinto as I was coming home from school. Joe Panepinto lives at the other end of the block and is also friendly with Dad and the rest of the family. Joe’s very short, probably an inch or two shorter than I am, with slicked-back black hair, olive skin, and large brown eyes that are always wide open, especially as he talks. He talks a lot, too, a mile a minute and very loudly.
Joe owns a plumbing business, Panepinto Plumbing, and he wears a dark-blue plumber’s jumpsuit with his name embroidered on a patch on the left side of his chest. His red van is always parked on Reedland Street during non-business hours, the name PANEPINTO PLUMBING splashed on either side. Underneath is the slogan FLUSH YOUR PROBLEMS AWAY.
Joe helped Dad install our powder room last year. I’m grateful for this, as our house was in desperate need of another bathroom. Joe is also called in to correct any plumbing problems that arise in our house.
The topic of their conversation was the upcoming World Series. “I think the Royals are gonna cinch it. They’re having one of the best decades of any expansion team. They’ve won a lot of division titles and a few pennants over the last ten years,” Joe said.
“I dunno, it seems as if luck rarely favors expansion teams, and I think the Cards will end up winning it,” Neddy told him.
They bickered back and forth, each presenting his theory why his favored team will win. I don’t like baseball and tune it out. I’m not a fan of any sport, really, even though I’ll watch the Flyers and the Sixers occasionally if I’m bored and if I’m at the home of someone who has cable.
“Hey, Tina and Dawn want to meet you,” I told Anthony tonight on the phone.
“That’s fine. Why don’t you bring them over tomorrow night? We can watch MTV in my rec room.”
“Cool!” I said. I’ll jump at any opportunity to watch MTV.
I called Tina and Dawn and told them all was a go for tomorrow night. Luckily, neither has to work.
I’ve been studying the test book for my driver’s license permit test from cover to cover. I’ll go down to the barracks on Island Avenue to take the test soon. Tina and Dawn said they’ll come with me for moral support and for safety, as the neighborhood down that way is kind of iffy.
Thursday, September 19, 1985
At seven, Tina, Dawn, and I showed up at Anthony’s and knocked on the front basement door, and he ushered us in. Tina and Dawn were awed, not only by the rec room’s fine décor but also because they were at the home of Jake the Snake. I made introductions, and Tina and Dawn were blown away by Anthony, I could tell. We sat on the leather sofa opposite the big-screen TV. Snacks and sodas had been placed on the coffee table, and we helped ourselves.
Anthony put on MTV, and “Invincible” by Pat Benatar was playing. For the rest of my life, I’ll get pissed whenever I hear that song. It’s the theme song from the movie The Legend of Billie Jean, which is the movie Matt and I had seen at the MacDade Mall right before he dumped me.
“Has anyone seen this movie?” Dawn asked. “It’s pretty decent.”
“Yeah, I have.” I said. I didn’t say I had seen it with Matt.
“I hate the way she cuts off her hair,” Tina said. “I liked it so much better when it was long.”
“It made her look like a lesbian,” Anthony said, and we all laughed.
The video ended, and J.J. Jackson announced the next video, “Never Surrender,” by Corey Hart.
“He’s cute,” Dawn said as the video started.
“Yeah, but he’s Canadian,” Tina pointed out.
“So? What does that have to do with anything?” Dawn asked.
“They talk funny there. They say ‘aboot’ instead of ‘about.’ Haven’t you ever noticed?” Tina said.
“No, I never have. He’s still cute, though. I wonder if he plays hockey?”
“Part-Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder was next. “All right!” Anthony said. “My man! That dude’s lucky. He’s got two hot chicks.” He was talking about the guy in the video, not about Stevie Wonder.
“I think this song is about having a side chick,” I said.
“Sure is!” Anthony said.
“But it looks as if his woman has a side guy,” Tina observed.
“Two can play the game of part-time lover,” I sang in synch with the chorus, and we laughed.
We watched videos for a few hours, and as Tina, Dawn, and I walked back to my house after the visit to Anthony’s had ended, Dawn said to me, “Janet, he’s a fox. You’re one fortunate woman. He’s possibly the most beautiful guy in Southwest Philly. If he wasn’t yours, I’d jump his bones.”
“I know,” I smiled. “I can’t wait to take him to the Ring Dance.”
“Hey,” Tina said, “I forgot to tell yous that I found a date for the Ring Dance. His name is Mike Simeon. He’s a junior at West Boys and is from St. Clement’s, and he lives at 69th and Theodore. His mom is one of the Hairport’s regulars. I was washing her hair the other day and got to talking to her about my lack of a date, and she suggested him. Long story short, I called him, and it’s a go. I met him the other night when she brought him in, and he’s cute.”
“That’s good,” I said. “It’s one less thing on your mind.”
“Maybe I can talk to Anthony about renting a limo for the Ring Dance,” I suggested.
They agreed that would be a great idea. We came to my house, said our goodbyes, and I went in. It was a good night.
Friday, September 20, 1985
Every West kid I know is crazy about the song “The Show” by Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick. We got so worked up while talking about it on the El on the way home that all one hundred of us, or however many there were – there were a lot of us – broke out into a rendition! We were singing perfectly in unison, and some kids were even beat boxing. We sounded pretty good, too! It was the most happening time I’ve ever had on public transit. That’s it for the day’s big news.
Saturday, September 21, 1985
I visited Grandmom and Pop Pop this afternoon. As we sat in the living room talking, we were interrupted by the booming words that galvanize most people on our street like Pavlov’s dogs: “Jersey tomatoes, two pounds for a dollar. Watermelons, a dollar each. Sweet Jersey corn, fifty cents an ear. Cherries, two dollars a pound.”
“The huckster!” I cried.
Grandmom grabbed her wallet and said, “I’m glad he’s here. I need produce, and he’s cheaper than Uncle Nick’s.” We raced out the door and down to the huckster as he was coming to a stop in the middle of our block. He’s a big, burly guy named Sal who has a mop of curly black hair and drives a beaten-up white station wagon loaded with fruits and vegetables. A loudspeaker is mounted on top of the station wagon, which was how we heard him coming.
When people want to buy, he stops, gets out, and opens the tailgate of the station wagon to reveal nature’s – or should I say, South Jersey’s – bounty. Customers weigh their purchases using a scale that dangles inside the station wagon above the tailgate.
Grandmom and I selected oranges, bananas, corn, spinach, and cherries. We weighed everything on the scale and paid for it. Once his customers had completed their purchases, he departed. The scale swung to and fro as the station wagon lumbered down the street, as if it were waving goodbye to us.
I left for work an hour later, about five o’clock, and worked till nine. Candy asked me how it was going with Anthony, and I said fine. I think she’s miffed because I haven’t hooked up with Jason.
Sunday, September 22, 1985
Anthony called as soon as I came home from Mass. “Hey, bella, wanna go to Delco?” he asked.
Delco is the place where Southwest Philadelphians can get their mall fix: The Bazaar of All Nations, the MacDade Mall, the Springfield Mall, and the Granite Run Mall are all there. The closest thing Southwest Philly has to a mall is the strip mall at Penrose Plaza, and they’re supposed to enhance it by adding a Clover onto it by the end of next year. There are also a variety of stores on the Avenue, but at present there is no enclosed shopping mall in Southwest Philly.
The only enclosed shopping mall in the city of Philadelphia is The Gallery at Market East, which is at Seventh and Market Streets in Center City. But I don’t go into town that often.
The Delco malls have movie theaters either in or near them, which adds to their allure, as there are also no movie theaters in Southwest Philly.
“Of course! Where would you like to go?” I asked.
“I was thinking of the Bazaar.”
“That sounds great!”
“Okay, I’ll be at your place in a few.”
I waited for him on the front porch. I heard a car revving powerfully up the street and saw a shiny red Iroc-Z slow to a stop in front of my house. Anthony was behind the wheel!
“Oh, my God!” I cried. “I didn’t know you had an Iroc!”
“My pop got this for me last month,” he said proudly.
I jumped into the front passenger seat. “How come I’ve never seen it before?”
“A friend of mine owns a garage up on the Avenue. I keep it there so it doesn’t get messed up. Parking on my street is tight anyway, so it’s just as well that I don’t park there. If I only need to travel a few blocks from one part of the neighborhood to another, it’s not a big deal to do it on foot.”
He drove to the end of my street and made a left onto 63rd. He popped a Gap Band cassette into the tape deck as we cruised toward Lindbergh Boulevard, and “L’il Red Funkin’ Hood” was the first song to play. Once at Lindbergh, he cut a hard right, and the Iroc took off like a rocket.
He took Lindbergh to Hook Road and made another right. He followed Hook Road into Delco, turning here and there through the little towns over that way. We reached the Bazaar in half an hour
As we walked through its front entrance, we were assaulted by the heavenly odor of cinnamon buns wafting from the nearby Amish bakery. For the rest of my life, never will I smell a cinnamon bun and not think of the Bazaar.
“What do you want to do first?” he asked.
“I dunno. I guess look around,” I said. We browsed all the stores, and there are a great many stores in the Bazaar: women’s clothing stores, men’s clothing stores, a hardware store, a record store, and even a store that sells electronic organs. From a gift shop, I bought a Lucite keychain with my name on it and a necklace with a tiny gold ring and an 86 dangling from it. We had to make a return trip to the record store because Anthony wanted to double check for an Earth, Wind, and Fire cassette he wanted, but they didn’t have it in stock.
We were hungry, and we ate in the Bazaar’s dark, atmospheric Italian restaurant. During dinner, I reached for Anthony’s hand and said, “Anthony, I love you.”
“I love you too, bella,” he said and leaned forward to give me a small kiss.
The Bazaar was going to close in an hour, and we left. Joe and his friends were standing in front of the house as Anthony dropped me off, and they were amazed at the sight of the Iroc.
“Whoa!” Joe said. “That car is decent!”
“It’s fresh!” his friend added.
Anthony and I said our goodbyes, and I was certain Joe and his friends would tell their classmates about Anthony’s sweet Iroc. Time for bed. Goodnight!
Monday, September 23, 1985
This morning while waiting for the 36, I told Tina and Dawn about my date with Anthony, the Iroc, and our trip to the Bazaar.
“That is outer limits!” Dawn said.
“Like, totally!” Tina said. “You have the awesomest guy in Southwest Philly!”
I smiled complacently. I reiterated the tale of Anthony, the Iroc, and the trip to the Bazaar to Pam and Shereen. They were as blown away as Dawn and Tina had been and agreed that Anthony was the best.
The phone rang while I was doing homework tonight, and it was for me. I assumed it was either Anthony or one of the gang; imagine my shock when it turned out to be Matt Kane!
“Uh, hi, Janet. What’s up?” he said.
“Matt, is this really you?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I just thought I’d call. I heard about you and Anthony Mangino.”
“Yeah, all of Southwest Philly knows about us. How’s your Delco girlfriend?” I was trying not to spazz out.
“I didn’t know you knew about her.”
“Yeah, a little bird whispered in my ear.”
“She’s okay.” I could hear “St. Elmo’s Fire” by John Parr playing in the background.
“I hope you don’t end up dumping her at the MacDade Mall like you did me. You’re a loser.” I hung up on him.
Anthony called me half an hour later, but I said nothing to him about Matt’s call. Do you believe Matt called me?? How grody is that?!?!
Tuesday, September 24, 1985
“What a dweeb,” Dawn said when I told her and the gang about Matt’s call. “I’ll bet anything his Delco girlfriend dumped him.”
“You’re a hundred times better off with Anthony,” Tina said.
“Yeah, obviously,” I replied.
“That’s so gnarly of him to call you after unceremoniously dumping you,” Shereen remarked. “Some people have nerve.”
“Big time,” Pam said.
Later today, as Tina, Dawn, and I were about to get off the 36, Dawn asked, “Who wants to go to Durso’s for something sweet? I’m PMSing and could use some chocolate.” Tina and I agreed that we could go for a sweet, too, and we got off at 62nd Street instead of 63rd and walked into Durso’s. Dawn got a chocolate cupcake, Tina an éclair, and I a cream puff. I love their cream puffs.
We ate our snacks as we walked down Elmwood Avenue under the sycamores. Their branches arch over the street, casting it in shade and creating a canopy of leaves that will soon turn to fall colors.
I have a Stenography test tomorrow, but since it’s one of my better subjects, I’m certain I’ll do well.
Wednesday, September 25, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I were waiting for the 36 this morning as Winslow descended upon us. On one of her calves, several inches above her bunched-up sock, were two bandages placed one above the other, obviously to cover a very large cut.
“Do you shave your legs with a machete?” I asked, and the others laughed.
“Aw, shut up, Kramer!” Winslow said. “I have better shit to worry about than your cocky mouth. I need a date for the Ring Dance.”
“How is it our problem if you scare all the guys away?” Dawn asked.
“Look, I’m stuck,” Winslow said with tears in her eyes. “I can’t find anyone, and the Ring Dance will be here before you know it.”
I silently scolded myself for busting on Winslow. I was indebted to her, for had she not ID’d me, Anthony would never have found me. I thought how disappointed Candy was that I didn’t want to take Jason to the Ring Dance, and a marvelous idea dawned on me.
“Okay, Lisa, don’t despair,” I told her. “My boss has a son who will probably take you. His name’s Jason Feeney. He lives at 73rd and Chelwynde in St. Irenaeus parish. He’s a junior at West Boys, and he seems like a nice guy. I’m sure he’ll go with you.” I took my memo book and a pen from my pocketbook and wrote Jason’s name and the Feeney residence phone number on a page of the book, tore it off, and gave it to her.
Winslow snatched the piece of paper eagerly. “Oh, my God, thanks, Janet! This is great!” My good deed for the day complete, the 36 rolled up, and we got on.
It was Installation Day at school, which is the day a ceremony is held on stage for all the presidents and officers of the school clubs in which they are given their ribbons or badges and are officially invested. I wanted to join locker personnel this year but couldn’t because of work; it would have been too much on my plate.
I did very well on the Steno test.
Tomorrow I go for my permit test after school at the state-police barracks on Island Avenue.
Thursday, September 26, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I took the 36 down to the Island Avenue state-police barracks after school. There was a long line for permit testing, but it moved quickly. I studied the test book while I waited, and when it was my turn, I said a quick prayer to St. Jude and jumped onto the testing machine.
Did I pass? I certainly did, and with a perfect score!!! I couldn’t believe it!! They will mail me my permit application, which I’ll receive in a few weeks.
I arrived home to find Mom and Dad in a tizzy. “Hurricane Gloria’s supposed to hit tomorrow,” Dad said. “We’re keeping you home from school even if it’s open.” Gloria was all Action News talked about, and they showed footage of store owners boarding up their windows.
“Should I stay home from work, too?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Mom said. “You’ll be in for the whole day.”
I called Candy at the store to find out what was happening. “We’ll be closed tomorrow, honey,” Candy said over the noise in the background. “Jason and Bob are boarding up the store’s windows.” Bob is her husband.
“Okay, stay safe,” I said. “See you on Saturday.”
I should have known the hurricane was close to coming because it was overcast and humid all day. After dinner, Mom said, “Change out of your uniform and into your play clothes. I need you to come to Uncle Nick’s with me.”
Mom does her big food shopping at the Acme at Penrose Plaza, but if she needs a few things in a hurry, she goes to Uncle Nick’s, which is a little supermarket around the corner at 62nd and Elmwood. I changed my clothes, went downstairs into the shed, and grabbed the shopping cart Mom keeps there for trips to Uncle Nick’s. The shed is what we call the room behind the kitchen that our house’s back door leads off of. Our washer and dryer, powder room, and pantry are there.
We walked over to Uncle Nick’s, stocked up on necessities, and got home as fast as we could, for the sky was growing very dark.
The good thing is that I have three tests tomorrow – Spanish, European Cultures, and Home Ec -- and Gloria will get me out of taking them! Yay!
Friday, September 27, 1985
This morning’s KYW News Radio broadcast announced that school was closed. We received a tremendous amount of rain, and there was lots of thunder and lightning, too. Carolyn, Petie, and I watched it from our bedroom window. We saw the rain fall sideways! We had never seen anything like it.
The trolleys on Elmwood Avenue stopped running. I didn’t make or receive any phone calls today from Anthony or from the gang, as the phone was out. We lost power for a little while, too.
The hurricane is over. I’m grateful to have gotten out of taking those tests!
Saturday, September 28, 1985
Today I heard “Communication” by the Power Station for the first time on 98. This is my favorite track from that album, and I’m so happy they’ve started playing it on the radio.
Tina, Dawn, and I watched MTV tonight at Dawn’s house, and we saw the video for A-Ha’s “Take on Me.” That video will never get old. I could watch it a million times and still be entertained.
Our major topic of discussion was my hooking Winslow up with Jason Feeney. “Maybe she’ll turn into a Dungeons and Dragons geek just like he is,” Dawn said.
“And maybe that will give her a life,” Tina said.
“Hey,” I said, “I owed her a favor for IDing me to Anthony. One good turn deserves another.”
Speaking of Anthony, I hope he and I can spend time together this weekend.
Sunday, September 29, 1985
I got a call from Anthony almost right as I walked in the door coming home from work tonight. “Ciao, bella,” he said. “What are you up to tonight?”
“Nothing much,” I said.
“How about coming over here and watching a movie?”
I told him I would be over after I ate dinner. He told me to come into his house via his front basement door, that I didn’t have to knock. Punky Brewster was coming on as I entered his basement at exactly seven o’clock. Anthony was seated on the sofa, and I took my place next to him and kissed him.
“I went up to Mike’s Video on the Avenue this afternoon and rented Ghostbusters,” he said.
“That’s great. I’ve never seen it. I think I’m the only person who hasn’t.”
Anthony got up and popped Ghostbusters into the VCR. I wanted to remind him that my curfew was nine, since it’s a school night. Mom and Dad are still strict about that. But I didn’t say anything because I assumed he knew, so I sat back and enjoyed the movie. We watched it until it ended around eight thirty, and he promptly took me home.
Mom and Dad have been okay with him so far. Dad hasn’t complained about him recently, which is a good thing.
Monday, September 30, 1985
I went for a haircut and a perm today at Anna DiBabbo’s salon at 64th and Grays. There are hairdressers on every other corner in my neighborhood, and I could go to anyone, but I go to Anna. Mom and Grandmom swear by her, and for good reason: She gives the best perms that don’t frizz or go wild as they grow out, and her haircuts are terrific, too.
I walked to Anna’s as soon as I stepped off the 36 after school. Tina and Dawn came with me, even though they didn’t need haircuts. Tina gets her hair cut on the cheap at the Hairport, and Dawn isn’t faithful to any one hair stylist and goes to all the salons in our neighborhood, although I think she’s partial to So Hair It Is.
We got to the salon shortly before four, which was my appointment time. There was a row of hair-drying bonnets to my right, each with an old lady under it. I think those bonnets are goofy, and I get so embarrassed when Anna makes me sit under one after she rolls my perm.
“Hi Janet!” Anna said when I came in. She’s in her fifties, heavy set, with long, curly reddish-brown hair, and she speaks with a slight Italian accent. “Sit in that last chair. I’ll be right over.” I took my place in the chair as Tina and Dawn sat in the waiting area and read Cosmopolitan together. The girl on the cover had huge teased hair and wore a gold, one-piece bathing suit with cutouts. Tina and Dawn admired both the hair and the bathing suit tremendously.
“So, what are we having done?” Anna asked as she draped a cape over me and adjusted my chair to the proper height.
“I’d like my piece trimmed and my length trimmed and permed,” I replied. The “piece” is the top of my head, which is cut into a row of short layers that are curled with a curling iron and teased. The rest of my hair, the long part, is permed into a loose body wave.
Anna took me over to a sink and washed my hair. Then she returned me to the chair and trimmed my piece and my bangs. She also took a little off the length so that it came to the top of my shoulders.
She rolled my perm after she finished the haircut. When all my hair was rolled, she applied setting lotion, swaddled my head in a towel, and sent me over to a bonnet. I sat under it for half an hour, and when time was up, she took me back to the sink to rinse out the setting lotion.
She returned me to the chair and applied neutralizer, let it sit for a few minutes, and removed the rods. Perfect, S-shaped curls sprang forth! Anna applied more neutralizer to my hair, gently massaged it, and let this second application sit for a few minutes, too. Then it was back to the sink for a final rinse.
She returned me to the chair a final time and blew my length dry with a diffuser to keep the curls from frizzing. She also dried, curled, and teased the piece. She announced I was done, and I looked like a million bucks!
She was about to remove my cape when one of her hair stylists rushed up to her and said, “Anna, I hate to tell you, but Julia is a no-show.”
I assumed Julia was a customer, and I’ve been going to Anna long enough to know that she hates no-shows more than anything. “Va fangool!” Anna cried as she extended her hand to give the evil-eye gesture, putting a curse on the unfortunate Julia. Tina, Dawn, and I laughed so hard!!
I thanked Anna, paid my bill, and left. “Your hair is, like, totally awesome!” Tina said, gently patting my newly-minted curls.
“Thanks,” I replied. “Anna is the best.”
“Joe’s probably jealous of her,” Tina said. Joe is her boss, the owner of the Hairport.
“I think Anna really is the best hairdresser in all of Southwest Philly,” Dawn said, and we agreed.
Anthony called tonight, and I broached the topic of him hooking us up with a limo for the Ring Dance. He says he knows someone who owns a limo-rental agency and can get us a limo on the cheap. I told him six couples were coming: Tina and Mike, Dawn and Eddie, Pam and Shereen and their dates, Winslow and Jason Feeney, and he and I. Ordinarily we wouldn’t take Winslow with us, but since she’s probably bringing Candy’s son to the Ring Dance, we can hardly leave her out in the cold. Anthony said he would pay for the limo. God, I love that man!
Tuesday, October 1, 1985
Winslow ran up to us as we were waiting for the 36 this morning. “I called Jason!” she trumpeted. “He said he’ll take me to the Ring Dance. I went to his house last night, and he’s great! His mom’s happy he’s taking me, too! Thanks for hooking us up!”
We were genuinely pleased to hear this. Granted, Winslow is annoying, but we were bummed that she was saddened over her lack of a Ring Dance date. I reasoned that if she and Jason were a couple, it would give her something to focus on and perhaps make her less of a cling-on.
As I was walking up my street on my way home from school, daydreaming about Anthony and the Ring Dance, I came crashing down, literally. There was a mound of dog doo that I didn’t see on the pavement in front of Neddy’s house, and I slid in it! As I fell, I scraped my hands and my right knee. The knee took the brunt of the abuse, and as I stood up, a rivulet of blood snaked from my knee, down the front of my calf, and into my bunched-up, forest-green sock.
I cried in a mixture of frustration and pain. The dog doo had come from the McGonigles’ dog Snickers. The McGonigles live next door to me at 6236. Neddy is 6240, to make that clearer. The McGonigles are the trashiest people on the block, with four obnoxious kids, all of whom are older than I am, and all of whom went to Bartram. Their father abandoned them years ago. Mrs. McGonigle is loud, dirty, and fat; my parents, especially Dad, can’t stand her.
Snickers is a brown-and-black mutt who likes to do only three things: hump other dogs, chase small children, and crap all over the neighborhood. He’s been chasing Carolyn for years, ever since she was a preschooler. That alone makes me hate him.
The McGonigle kids occasionally invite us to swim in their above-ground pool, but Mom and Dad won’t allow it; they’re afraid we’ll catch something. On one occasion last summer, Mrs. McGonigle was leaning against the side of the pool and apparently leaned a little too heavily because it gave way. A sea of water rushed out of the collapsed pool and flooded her back yard, ours, Neddy’s, several other yards, and the back alley as well. Everyone was pissed at her for that; Dad even called her a dirty bitch. It escalated into quite a fight, too!
“Hon, are you okay?” I looked up and saw Louise Fortunato, Neddy’s mom, standing at her front door. She’s a small, slight woman, a little shorter than I am, with gray hair and dark, oval-framed glasses. The smoke from her Virgina Slims cigarette encircled her head to create a wreath around it.
“Y-yeah,” I stammered, trying to hold back my tears. My hands and knee, but especially my knee, were hurting badly.
Louise looked at my knee and accurately assessed the situation. “Those goddamn McGonigles and their shitty-ass dog! I’ve had it! More than once I’ve slid in that dog’s shit! This is enough!” Louise marched out of her house and over to the McGonigles’ and pounded on the door until Mrs. McGonigle answered.
She shook her cigarette-holding hand in Mrs. McGonigle’s face and yelled, “I’m sick and tired of your dog shittin’ all over this street! Janet’s just hurt herself because of your damn dog!” Mrs. McGonigle yelled something unintelligible back at her, and Louise fired back with another angry comment.
I walked to my front door while their argument raged. I kicked off my crap-encrusted saddle shoe on the front porch and the other saddle shoe inside the house. I hobbled to the shed, got the first-aid kit, and tended to my wounds. I had to put two bandages on my knee, and I felt as if it were my punishment for having made fun of Winslow’s double bandages a few mornings ago.
I brought my shoe back into the house and scrubbed it in the stationary tub in the shed with a wire brush we keep there for these occasions. We step in Snickers’s doo a lot! I brushed off as much dog doo as I could, and next I scrubbed my shoe with a rag and soap. I put my shoe on the back porch to dry.
As Dad was coming home from work, he asked why my shoe was on the back porch. I told him.
“That’s it!” he exploded. He stormed down to the basement, rummaged around down there, and stomped back up the steps with a shovel. Anything involving my dad and a shovel was going to be crazy, and I followed him out the front door.
Dad walked over to the dog doo and scooped up the portion I hadn’t stepped in. Louise had returned to her house by this point. Dad walked to the McGonigles’ house and flung the dog doo onto their basement window. It hit the window with a loud SPLAT.
Mrs. McGonigle saw what happened and burst through her front door. “What the hell are you doing?!” she screamed.
Dad very calmly replied, “It came out of your dog, so it’s yours, and I’m returning it to you.” A lot of yelling and screaming followed; I alternated between wanting to laugh and wanting to cower. The argument ended several minutes later as she slammed her door shut. I didn’t see her or her kids clean the crap off the basement window, and it’s probably still out there. Ewwww!
Wednesday, October 2, 1985
Pam, Lareese Haines, and I were eating lunch today when I heard the sharp hiss of my uniform jumper being unzipped. Unzipping jumpers is a goofy, good-natured prank the girls in my school play on each other. I guess you could say it’s the equivalent of guys giving noogies. Sometimes a girl will snap another girl’s bra strap, but usually, it’s the unzipping of the jumper.
It startled me, and I turned to face Mary Devlin, the nuttiest person in our senior class. We call her Crazy Mary Devlin. She’s from St. Clement parish, and I see her on public transit every day, talking a mile a minute and saying and doing all kinds of nutty things.
“How yous doing?” she asked as she plunked down on the empty seat next to me and pulled a pack of Gummy Bears from her uniform pocket.
“We’re fine,” Lareese replied.
“That’s great. Have yous got dates for the Ring Dance?”
“Yeah, we’re all squared away with that,” Pam said.
Mary extracted a Gummy Bear from the pack, licked it, and threw it at the clock on the wall. The Gummy Bear hit it dead center. Thank God Crazy Mary Devlin doesn’t carry a gun, I thought.
“Well, I’m still lookin’. Yo Kramer, you takin’ that Italian fox to the dance?”
“I sure am.”
“You’re a lucky duck. I’ve seen him; he’s smokin’ hot. I’d do him.” She took out another Gummy Bear, licked it, and threw it up on the ceiling directly above our heads.
“Mary, you’d better stop doing that,” I said. “If you get caught, we’re all going to have to haul ass down to Therese Dolores’s office. I don’t need the demerits; none of us do.” Sister Therese Dolores is the Dean of Students; in other words, the school disciplinarian, and she doesn’t take anyone’s crap. Most people in school make a concerted effort to avoid her at all costs.
“Okay, okay, take a chill pill!” she said, stuffing the pack of Gummy Bears back into her pocket. “Yo Kramer, do you know anyone who I can take to the Ring Dance?”
“No, sorry. I already hooked up Lisa Winslow with my boss’s son. I don’t feel like playing matchmaker again.”
“Fine, whatever. I’ll leave yous alone.” She got up and left.
“That girl’s illin,” Lareese remarked.
“Big time,” Pam said.
Candy said to me tonight, “I want to thank you for setting Jason up with Lisa. They’re really hitting it off, and best of all, Lisa has someone to take to the Ring Dance. And I’m glad Jason has a reason for getting out of the house. He spends all his free time inside playing Dungeons and Dragons and games on his Apple.”
I was pleased to hear this, for I’ve made two people happy. Three, counting Candy. Goodnight.
Thursday, October 3, 1985
Carmella Mangino, of all people, called me tonight. “Hey, are you still up to hang out wit’ us?” she asked.
“Are you free Saturday night?”
“I work till six.”
“Okay, how ‘bout me and my friends stop by your house around seven to pick you up, and we’ll walk over to Pizza Villa?”
“Okay, sounds great! See you Saturday at seven.”
My head began to spin, and for more reasons than one. First, this was Anthony’s sister, and I was under that much more pressure to make a good impression than if I were going out with someone I knew well. Second, I would be in the company of Italian girls. No one can touch the Italian kids for their sense of style. I would have to put my best effort into looking good so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.
I proceeded immediately to my closet. Since the weather’s still on the warm side, I chose a long-sleeved, tunic-length pink blouse and set it aside. I located a white tank top to wear under the blouse, and I added a pair of black leggings to the ensemble. I went to my belt rack and selected a wide black belt to wear around my waist. I sifted through my earring selection and decided on a pair of large gold hoops suspended from gold posts. I set all these items aside for Saturday night.
I’ll be walking on pins and needles for the next two days!
Friday, October 4, 1985
During our walk up 46th Street this morning, I regaled the gang with the details of my pending “date” with Carmella and her gang.
“Wow! That’s great!” Shereen said.
“Italian girls are a trip,” Dawn said. “But they’re as cool as anything. I think you’ll have a good time.”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure to give yous all the details. I hope I don’t make a dweeb out of myself,” I said.
“Nah, you’ll be fine,” Tina reassured.
I called Anthony from the payphone outside the caf before lunch today. It’s something I’ve recently started doing. “I’ll pick you up after school in the Iroc,” he said, “and I’ll take you to work, too.”
“That would be awesome!” I said. I couldn’t wait for everyone to see him and his Iroc! I got out of school at two forty-five, and there Anthony was sitting in the Iroc awaiting me. There were at least a dozen girls surrounding us, oohing and aahing over him and his car.
Since Pam and Shereen hadn’t met Anthony yet, I introduced them to him, and they seemed impressed.
“Wow!” Pam exclaimed. “You’re one lucky woman!”
I smiled broadly. “I know!”
Anthony revved the motor, and Shereen said, “The rest of us will go on without you. We don’t want to be third wheels, so you go with your man, and we’ll see you tomorrow.” We said our goodbyes as I climbed into the Iroc and deposited my books in the back seat.
I told him about the big event on Saturday night as we sped down Chestnut Street. “Yeah, Carmella told me,” he said. “She can’t wait to see you.”
“I’m so afraid she and her friends won’t like me. I’m not as beautiful as they are,” I said.
“Nah, don’t worry about that. You’re more beautiful than any of them,” he said, reaching over to touch my face. My heart flipped flopped.
Sleep will be impossible tonight, as tomorrow will weigh heavily on my mind. Goodnight.
Saturday, October 5, 1985
Don’t ask me how kept my mind on my job; I was a jittery mess all day. I got home around six fifteen, got a snack – nothing too big, because I wanted to save my appetite for Pizza Villa – went up to my room, and changed into the outfit I had set aside. I reteased my hair, sprayed on Le Jardin, and went downstairs to the living room to await Carmella and her friends.
They came at seven, and she made introductions before we set out. “Janet, this is Roseanna Mastroconi, Lisa Taraborelli, and Michelle Ferragano. Everyone, this is Janet Kramer, Anthony’s girlfriend.”
Hellos were exchanged, and we made our way over to Pizza Villa, which is at 67th Street and Dicks Avenue. Carmella walked with me in the front, keeping me close to her, while the others trailed behind us. She and I didn’t talk much during the eight-block walk, but the others chattered non-stop. We arrived at Pizza Villa in half an hour and took our seats at one of the booths. “Lay Your Hands” by the Thompson Twins was playing on 98 on a boom box behind the counter.
Carmella and I sat on one side of the booth, and the others on the other side. Carmella seemed intent on keeping me by her side. Was that Anthony’s directive or something she chose to do on her own? We grabbed the menus that were stacked at the end of the table and studied them.
“Why don’t we get a pizza?” Carmella suggested. “What kind of toppings do yous want?”
“I’m tired of pepperoni,” Roseanna said. “How do yous like green peppers?”
“How ‘bout green peppers and olives?” Lisa suggested.
“Okay, green peppers and olives,” Carmella said before rising to place the order at the counter. We selected sodas from the cooler after the order had been placed.
We returned to the booth and talked. I couldn’t help notice that Roseanna, Lisa, and Michelle were dressed in the same fashion as Carmella: huge, teased hair; long, tunic-style shirts; stacks of gold chains around their necks; gold hoop earrings dangling from their ears; leggings; and ballerina flats. I was relieved that I was dressed in a similar fashion and wasn’t standing out.
They asked me the usual questions of where I lived, what parish I was from, and what year I was in at West. They were impressed to hear that I worked at Candy’s Closet. “I love that store,” Michelle said softly. “Their clothes are so nice, and it saves me a trip into Delco to buy clothes.”
“Speaking of Delco, we have to hit one of the malls,” Carmella said. “I love the MacDade Mall because it has Famous Maid. They have the best clothes.”
“I like Famous Maid, too!” I said. “I can’t get enough of that place.”
“I love your perm,” Roseanna said to me.
“Thanks. I got it at Anna DiBabbo the other day.”
“Oh yeah?” Carmella said. “I go there too, sometimes, to get my mustache waxed.”
The pizza arrived, and we eagerly dug in. I was very hungry, as I hadn’t had a full meal since lunch several hours earlier.
“Carmella,” Lisa asked with a mouth full of pizza, “is your dad getting you that diamond ring for Christmas?”
“I hope so. I’ve been hintin’ at it,” Carmella said. I raised my eyebrows. It would be a cold day in hell before Dad bought me a diamond ring!
They started talking about their boyfriends. “Salvy didn’t get busted again, did he?” Roseanna asked Lisa.
“No, not this time. Last time, his father beat his ass so bad he couldn’t leave the house for a day. You shoulda seen how black and blue he was.”
“Georgie’s nonna beats him with a broom stick and curses at him in Italian when he gets in trouble,” Carmella said, laughing.
I took in the boyfriend talk as “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and The News played on the boom box. It’s from the movie Back to the Future, which I saw this past summer at the MacDade Mall with Tina and Dawn.
Dinner ended, and once again, Carmella was at my side while the others chattered behind us during the walk to my house. “We have to do this again, maybe go to the MacDade Mall and hit Famous Maid, capisce?” she asked as she escorted me to my door.
“Okay,” I said. “It was nice meeting yous!” I called down to the three on the pavement, and they responded in like fashion. I said a final goodbye to Carmella and went in for the night.
Joe and Carolyn were watching 227. “How’d your date with the princesses go?” Joe asked.
“They were very nice, and you shouldn’t talk about them like that,” I said.
“Were they pretty?” Carolyn asked. She always wants to know if people she doesn’t personally meet are pretty.
“Yes, very pretty,” I said. “They wear nice clothes and jewelry.”
“Do they got ankles like coffee cans?” Joe asked. “Dad says all Italian girls do.”
I rolled my eyes. “Joseph Thomas Kramer, you’re insufferable,” I said. Although to be honest, Carmella does have some pretty thick ankles, and I think Lisa Taraborelli does, too.
“What’s that mean?” he asked.
“Never mind,” I said. Mom and Dad were watching The Love Boat on the TV in their room. They asked me how my night out had gone, and I said it went well.
What a day this has been! I’ll be sure to let you know if I end up going to the MacDade Mall with Carmella and company.
Sunday, October 6, 1985
I went to Mass with my family; Joe was serving it. Dad was in his typical form at breakfast.
“How’s it goin’ with your dago boyfriend?” he asked as he dropped a few slices of Taylor Pork Roll onto his plate.
“It’s great,” I said. “We’re hitting it off really well, and his family likes me. In fact, I went out with his sister and her friends a few nights ago.”
“Hmmpf. Well, at least you’re stickin’ to your curfew. Me and your mother want to thank you for that.”
“Anthony’s a gentleman, Dad. You would like him if you got to know him better.”
“Those dagoes are all alike. I don’t trust them, but if you’re happy, and he’s treating you good, I won’t complain.”
“Honey, have you given any thought to what you’ll do after graduation?” Mom asked.
My stomach cramped. This is a discussion I’ve had with Mom and Dad many times. I told them I want to go to college to major in accounting, but they won’t hear of it. To add to this, my SAT scores aren’t where I want them to be. This is because the time I should spend at SAT prep is time that I must work to earn spending money. When I turned sixteen, Mom and Dad said I needed to get a job because they didn’t have the money to give me for clothes, nights out with friends, proms, etc. I’ve been working at Candy’s Closet for almost two years, and it’s hurting me a little academically, which in turn is hurting my SAT scores, which in turn will keep me out of my first-choice schools. It’s a vicious cycle I’m stuck in.
There is a way around this: to enroll at community college, which isn’t as picky about SAT scores, and from there transfer to a “real” college to finish my degree. I’ve mentioned this, but my parents didn’t go for it, even though community college is cheaper than “real” college. You’ll see why they didn’t go for it in a minute.
“I want to go to community college to major in accounting and then transfer to a four-year school to finish my Bachelor’s degree,” I said, knowing full well that I had told them this before and knowing full well they were opposed to the idea.
“Janet, me and your mother have told you before that you’re wasting your time goin’ to college,” Dad said, same as he said last time. “For one thing, you’re so smart that you can get ahead without a college degree. If you get a job at an office in town, you can climb the ladder to a management position, no degree needed. Look at your cousins; they all have jobs in offices that promote from within. Your cousin Susan got an office job three years ago right out of high school, just a job typing memos and letters, and she’s an assistant manager already. And she never got a college degree. That’s the route you need to go. College is a waste of time.”
“And,” Mom added, and I knew this was coming, too, “people like us don’t go to college.”
“What do you mean, people like us?” I asked. I knew full well what she meant, but I wanted to hear it again.
“C’mon, you know what I mean. Working-class people like us. College is for the people who live in those ritzy suburbs in Delco, not for Southwest Philly people who live in row houses and work at the Navy Yard. It’s all mucky-mucks in college. They’ll eat you alive.”
What Mom and Dad don’t know is that I’ve been studying an introductory accounting book for the past few months. I’ve had to, as they’ve steered me away from taking accounting classes in school. Mr. Lewis, Pam’s dad, who’s an accountant, gave it to me. It’s sad that my friend’s dad is supportive of my goal, but my own dad isn’t. I keep the book hidden behind shoe boxes in the back of my closet, and on the sly, I’ve been studying the double-entry accounting method and how to draw up balance sheets and income statements.
I can’t remember what I said next; I think I mumbled some half-assed promise to look for a job in a secretarial pool as soon as I graduated. It must have satisfied my parents, for they dropped the subject and asked Carolyn a question about school.
I called Tina and Dawn tonight and told them about my night out with Carmella and her gang. When I finished that conversation, I went to the payphone and relayed the same news to Pam and Shereen. I asked each of my friends if they were okay with Carmella including me in her gang, because I didn’t want them to think I was abandoning them, and they assured me they were. “Carmella’s pretty important,” Dawn said. “If she wants you to hang out with her, you shouldn’t say no.”
My permit application arrived yesterday, and I filled it out and mailed it in today. Soon I’ll have my learner’s permit and be that much closer to having a driver’s license!
Monday, October 7, 1985
I reiterated to the gang the story of my night out with Carmella as we walked down 46th Street after school. “Her friends are cool,” I said as I stuffed chocolate Tastykakes into my mouth. I hadn’t had a chance to eat them at lunch, and I ate them now.
“They must have been hard to keep up with,” Tina said, “with their hair and their clothes. Italian girls know how to dress. I would look so dowdy compared to them.”
“Yeah, I’ll admit, that was tough. But I think I looked okay.”
Later, when I was at home, Dad said to me, “Go to that dago place around the corner and pick up some ravioli. And then go to Mattera’s and pick up some dago bread.” The dago place around the corner is Talluto’s at 61st and Elmwood, which sells freshly-made Italian pasta products to carry out. I walked over there and bought a bag of frozen ravioli. As soon as that errand was finished, I went to Mattera’s and picked up a long loaf of Italian bread and carried both items home
For as much as Dad busts on Italians, he loves their food. “Gimme a hunk of that dago bread,” he said as soon as I got home. He tore off a small piece from the end and popped it into his mouth. Mom already had water boiling for the ravioli. She took the bag from me and dumped them in, and we soon had a delicious Italian dinner!
Anthony asked if I wanted to hang out at the store tomorrow night, and I said yes. It’s an in-service day for teachers, and I’m off from school.
Tuesday, October 8, 1985
I finished homework early so I could maximize my time at the store tonight. That place attracts burnouts like flies to one of Snickers’s poop pyramids. Burnouts smoke like nobody’s business and come in in droves to buy cigarettes. Or they come in to play Centipede. They’re very much into arcade games, even more so than non-burnout kids.
Most burnouts are insufferable because of their crappy attitudes, and I stay the hell away from them. But I’ve become friends with two very sweet burnout girls who often come to the store to buy cigarettes. Their names are Trish and Geri. They live on Hobson Street, which is a little side street off Paschall Avenue, four blocks down from the store.
Both are from broken homes, as their fathers abandoned their families when they, Trish and Geri, were very young. Trish has an older brother in jail, and Geri has an older sister who ran away from home five years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. Trish is a senior at Bartram, but Geri dropped out of Bartram because she must work full time to support her mother, who is disabled, and her three younger siblings. These girls deserve much better in life, and who knows if they’ll ever find it? They make me realize how lucky I am.
As if to underscore the burnout plight, while Trish, Geri, and I were talking, there was a group of burnout guys standing on an adjacent corner of Paschall Avenue drinking cans of Bud and blasting “King of Rock and Roll” by Ronnie James Dio from their boom box. I wondered how similar their circumstances were to Trish and Geri’s.
After Trish, Geri, and I had been talking for a few minutes, they said goodbye and left. Anthony came up from the back of the store and said, “Pop’s in the back room, and he wants to meet you and introduce you to his friends.” This was the inner sanctum I had surveilled a few weeks earlier and in which I had seen Jake and his cronies doing business. I was scared to go there for that reason. Meeting the cronies was a little scary, too.
But I allowed Anthony to lead me away to the back room, even though I would much rather have stayed up front. The two men I had espied previously were seated at the table, along with Jake. The playing cards and chips before them indicated they had been playing poker. In a corner of the room, a jukebox played “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra.
“Ah!” Jake smiled. He rose to give me a hug. Turning to his cronies, he made the introductions. “Gianetta (this is my name in Italian), allow me to introduce you to Ponfilo and Giovannibattista, but don’t bother remembering all that. Just call ‘em Pete and Johnny.” Pete and Johnny greeted me cordially, and I did likewise.
I thought this would be all we would exchange, and I waited for Anthony to take my hand and lead me out of the back room. Instead, Jake wrapped an arm around me, kissed me on the cheek, and beamed as he said, “La mia nuora!” Pete and Johnny beamed as well, saying words in Italian that I can’t remember, and lifting their hands in the air as some sort of indication of praise. I looked at Anthony, hoping for an explanation, but he just blushed and laughed as Jake patted him on the back. After a brief conversation in Italian with Jake and his friends, Anthony escorted me from the back room as I told Pete and Johnny it was nice meeting them.
As Anthony walked me home, I asked, “What did your father mean by what he called me?”
“I can’t tell you,” he replied soberly. “One of these days, I will. Just not now.”
I was alarmed. “Is it something bad?”
He laughed. “No, very far from it. But you’ll hear it soon enough.”
My couch-potato siblings were watching Riptide when I came home. They looked as if they wanted to talk, but I moved past them, up the stairs, and to my room. I lay on my bed and struggled to take it all in.
Time will reveal what Jake said to me tonight. His words are a mystery, but one thing isn’t: my fate is firmly tied to the Mangino family.
Wednesday, October 9, 1985
Anthony came to my house at six. We took a walk around the neighborhood, stopped on the 63rd Street bridge, and watched the sun set behind the GE building. Jake’s words from last night still haunted me, so I asked Anthony about them again.
“I can’t tell you yet,” he said.
“But why not? The suspense is killing me.”
“Because his words overwhelmed me; I’ve never heard him say them before. But I promise I’ll soon tell you what they mean. I need to wait for the right time and place, and I need to digest them. When I tell you what he said, you’ll understand why I’m so floored.”
“Are you sure it’s nothing bad?”
He laughed. “Yes, I’m positive. Don’t worry, bella. He said a wonderful thing; it’s just that it’s overwhelming. And I think it’s an order.”
I raised an eyebrow. Jake is the kind of guy whose orders are never disobeyed, and I was more curious than ever.
As the sun slipped completely behind GE, Anthony pulled me closer to him and kissed me. The kiss ended when the sun was completely gone and the blue-violet curtain of night had taken its place. We proceeded to his house and found Lina in the living room watching TV. We didn’t see Louie, Carmella, or Jake.
We sat next to her on the sofa, and she said, “Janet, me and Jake were thinking about us and Anthony and you and your parents goin’ out to dinner at Trieste. Maybe on an upcoming Saturday night? Whadaya think?”
Trieste is an Italian restaurant in Delco, and a lot of people in Southwest Philly rave about its food. How could I have even begun to answer that question? I was all for it, but the thought of putting Dad together with Anthony and his parents made me squeamish. Despite my misgivings, I told her it was a grand idea.
“Wonderful!” Lina beamed. “I’ll keep you posted with the date. Don’t forget to tell your parents.”
Well, I certainly won’t! This is going to be major!
Thursday, October 10, 1985
I had a boring day at school followed by a boring night at work. As soon as I came home, I told Mom and Dad about Lina’s plan for all of us to go to Trieste.
They were speechless; then Mom spoke up. “Well, okay. I think it’s a good idea that we meet Anthony’s parents. Don’t you, Bob?”
Dad had the same look on his face that Petie gets right before he hacks up a hairball. “Yeah, all right,” he said after he had found his voice. “I wanna meet these people. I especially wanna get up close and personal with that paisan father of his.”
“Oh, Dad, please don’t cause a scene!”
“Tell them any Saturday is good. We have no plans,” Mom said.
Dad said nothing more, and I went into the kitchen and made a snack. The phone rang, and I answered it. It was Carmella.
“Hey, did I call you too late?” she asked.
“No, we’re all still up.”
“Okay, good. Whatcha doin’ Saturday night?”
“I’m working until five.”
“Okay, good! You’re comin’ to the MacDade Mall with us.”
“Great! How are we getting there?”
“We’ll take the 11 trolley to Darby and then take the 113 bus out to the MacDade Mall. We’ll come back the same way.”
“Sounds great. Why don’t yous come to my work at five, and we’ll leave from there?”
“Okay, it’s a plan. Here’s my mom. She wants to talk to you.” I heard the juggling of the phone, and Lina got on the line. “Did you ask your parents about Trieste?” she asked.
“Yeah. They said any upcoming Saturday is good for them.”
“Okay, ask them if next Saturday the nineteenth is good.”
“Okay I will.”
“Bye, hon!” Lina said, and Carmella got back on the line. “Okay, Saturday night at the MacDade Mall it is. We’ll come get you at your work and hop on the 11 from there. See you then!”
I told Mom and Dad that Lina had set a date for the nineteenth. I’ll have to confirm this with Lina tomorrow.
Friday, October 11, 1985
Today was Freshman Day. Officially, it’s a welcome-to-West day of orientations and presentations for the freshmen. But we, the students, define it differently.
It begins with a freshman asking a senior about a week in advance of Freshman day to be her big sister. Next, the big sister prepares the traditional gift for her little sister: a baby bottle filled with candies and decorated with white and pale-green ribbons, which are the freshman colors.
A freshman from my parish, Marianne Boyd, approached me a few days ago and asked me to be her big sister. This morning, I gave Marianne a bottle filled with pale-green and white pastel mints and adorned with ribbons in the same colors. The bottles must be exchanged on public transit in the morning because if any of the teachers or admins catches us exchanging them at school, the bottles will be confiscated, and demerits will be issued. Celebrating Freshman Day in this way is forbidden, but we do it anyway.
“All right, little freshman!” Crazy Mary Devlin bellowed as I presented Marianne with her baby bottle on the 36 this morning. “Here we go!” She had baby pacifiers strung on long double strands of white and pale-green ribbons, and she dropped one over each freshman’s head and instructed them to put the pacifiers in their mouths. She next made them eat a spoonful of banana-flavored baby food. There was a lot of laughing and screaming going on; the spectators, who were West Girls upperclassmen and West Boys students, were hysterical, and so was I.
As much as I wanted to make Marianne eat baby food, I couldn’t, which is why I didn’t bring any with me. Anyway, Crazy Mary Devlin was performing that duty very well by herself.
After the freshmen had been served their baby food, Crazy Mary made them sing the alma mater in unison. Since they didn’t know it very well yet, the result sounded like a bunch of drunks stumbling out of the Wheeler Street Tavern at two in the morning.
As the song petered out to a close, Crazy Mary Devlin took brown and yellow window-writing markers from her pocketbook and walked to one of the trolley’s windows. On that window, she wrote an eight in brown and a six in yellow, the senior colors, making sure to write the six backwards so that it would be legible from outside the trolley. She jumped up on the seat, opened the transom, and shouted “Class of Eighty-Six!” while making the devil sign with her hand to vehicles and people passing by.
This was even better than the time we sang “The Show” on the El last month! The driver got so pissed off that he stopped the trolley, got out of his seat, and turned to yell, “You kids knock this shit off! I’m reporting you to your schools!” But we continued to carry on anyway.
At the 19th Street station, the driver again stopped the trolley and this time shouted, “Okay, everyone off!”
“But we’re not at 15th Street yet!” Tina protested. This is where we connect to the El.
“I don’t care! This is enough!”
“Ooohhh!” we said in mock fear. Laughing, we disembarked the trolley and walked the four blocks from 19th to 15th.
We told the freshman, before we got off the El, to put away their pacifiers and baby bottles lest they be confiscated. They’ll probably want to keep them as souvenirs. I still have the pacifier and the baby bottle from my Freshman Day; they’re packed away in a box of West mementoes.
I called Anthony tonight, and after chatting with him for a bit, I asked him to put Lina on the phone. She came on, and I said, “Everything’s a go for next Saturday the nineteenth.”
“Fabulous!” she said. “Why don’t you and your parents meet us there? Anthony and us will go in his car. How ‘bout seven?”
I told her that was fine, and she put Anthony back on the phone. “This should be an interesting dinner date,” I told him.
“Yeah, I’ll say. My parents are excited to meet yours.”
I wanted to say that Dad was in a tizzy over it, and that I feared he would be a loose cannon, but I held back. Anthony and his parents will have to find that out on their own.
Saturday, October 12, 1985
Carmella and her gang met me after work tonight. We walked down to the corner at 66th Street and caught the next 11 trolley. It took us to the Darby terminal in the town of Darby, which is in Delco. From there we hopped on the 113 bus, which took us down MacDade Boulevard and right to the MacDade Mall.
“Hey, are yous hungry?” Carmella asked us as soon as we got there, and we all said yes. Our first stop was to Italian Delight, and we ordered Sicilian pie.
The next stop was Famous Maid, my all-time favorite clothing store. Fashion Bug is in the MacDade Mall, too, and they also have nice stuff. But Famous Maid’s stuff is the very latest fashion, and I prefer to shop there.
Carmella pounced upon a pair of black stirrup pants that were hanging on a rack in the front of the store. “I wanna get these!” she said, and she did, along with a long, red V-necked cardigan sweater. I was browsing with no intention of buying until I saw a pair of totally awesome, black-and-gray, paisley-patterned stirrup pants. I bought them, along with a long, bright-pink V-necked sweater to wear with them.
We moved onto Crown Jewel. They sell solid-gold and silver jewelry as well as costume jewelry. Michelle wanted to buy a few charms for her charm ring, so we waited for her to do that.
We bypassed the cinema and saw that Commando was playing. “We should see a movie here sometime,” Carmella said, and we all agreed. We browsed a bit more and stopped at Carlton Shop, a men’s store, because Roseanna wanted to buy her dad a birthday present. I looked for something small for Anthony, but nothing jumped out at me.
At Wee Three Records, I bought the cassette Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday. Their song of the same name was a big hit this summer.
We finished our shopping and admired the mall’s lovely fountains with colored lights that reflected on the water. We left the mall around nine and returned to Elmwood on public, and Carmella and company walked me to my house.
I’m plugged into my Walkman and listening to the song “Winning the War,” which is a track from the ‘Til Tuesday cassette I bought tonight. I can’t understand why this song has never made it to the radio, as it’s the best on the album, even better than “Voices Carry.”
Sunday, October 13, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I hit the Avenue this afternoon to window shop and do lunch. We went to McDonald’s because they have just introduced a new sandwich called the McDLT. I think this is their way of competing with the Whopper because like the Whopper, it has lettuce and tomato.
The McDLT comes in a two-sectioned Styrofoam box. The hamburger patty and the bun are on one side, and the lettuce, tomato, and other cold items are on the other. You put it together to eat it, and it was pretty tasty.
I told them about the limo Anthony was renting for the Ring Dance. “It will pick all of us up at our houses,” I said. “Make sure your dates are there, too, because it’s only going to the girls’ houses.”
“I assume we’re bringing Winslow with us?” Dawn asked.
“Yeah, we have to because she’s dating my boss’s son,” I said.
“One of these days, all of us should meet to discuss this, including Winslow,” Tina said.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll arrange it for a day soon to come.”
I felt my bra strap snap! “Mary!” I gasped, very surprised to see Crazy Mary Devlin. “What are you doing here?”
“Just some shopping and lunch,” she said, taking the empty seat next to me. “I’m here with my mom and grandmom. What are you bitches up to?”
“Same as you,” I said. “We’re having a relaxing day off.”
“Are those things any good?” she indicated the McDLT.
“Yeah, they’re not too bad,” I said. “Try one sometime.”
She swiped one of my french fries, dabbed it into the adjacent puddle of ketchup, and popped it into her mouth. “Okay, I’ll have to do that. Here come my mom and grandmom, so I gotta jam. See yous at school!” She hopped out of the seat and joined her family.
“She’s such a nut,” Tina said after she had left.
We stayed on the Avenue for another hour or so before going home. Joe Panepinto was standing at Neddy’s front steps talking to him about baseball again. I don’t understand how anyone finds that sport exciting.
Well, I gotta run and do homework. Talk to you later!
Monday, October 14, 1985
“Now I can tell you what Pop said to you a few nights back at the store,” Anthony told me tonight as we chilled in his bedroom. I sat on the edge of the bed, and he lay on his back next to me with his arms bent and both hands under his head. The room was dark save for the scant illumination provided by a nightlight. A valet in a corner of his bedroom displayed his white West Boys school sweater, and on top of his bed’s bookcase headboard was his First Holy Communion picture. He wore a white suit and held his hands in prayer fashion in front of him. He had been a darling little boy with curly black hair and large, round brown eyes.
Everything hinged on this moment. “He said, ‘My daughter-in-law.’”
His words crashed over me like a tidal wave. To hear your boyfriend’s father wants him to marry you is overwhelming; but when that father is Jake the Snake, there are no words to describe the gravity of the revelation. I considered how solicitous Lina and Carmella were to me and factored that into the weight of Jake’s endorsement, and it was obvious that the Manginos wanted me as one of their own.
“Before we met, I would pick up sluts at Warriors,” Anthony confided. “I’d bring them in through the back door of this basement, bang ‘em here in my room, and set ‘em free out the back door, the same way I brought ‘em in. Remember those girls who chased you outta Warriors? I banged both of ‘em. That’s why they hated you. That’s the kind of life I led before you came along. And when I saw you for the first time, I knew I found my other half. You’re the best thing that’s ever come down my pike and the sweetest, purest thing in my life.
“I’m sorry for not telling you right away what Pop said. It overwhelmed me and scared me, but in a good way. My father is a powerful man. When he says something will be, it will be. You’re young and maybe not even thinking of marriage, but no one says no to him.”
Marriage was something I didn’t think anyone, and especially a man as powerful as Jake, would cut me out for. Now that Anthony had broached the topic, I wanted to marry him – very much.
“I love you more than I have ever loved anyone or anything in my life,” I told him. “I fell in love with you that day at Warriors, even though you were a stranger and I didn’t know the first thing about you. I want to marry you; I can’t picture life without you.”
He reached up to touch my face. “We’ll get married someday, in good time. It’s an overwhelming decision, so we’ll think about it before we act.”
He sat up to kiss me, and I said, “I’m excited about the dinner date at Trieste. But be warned that my dad will be a loose cannon.”
Anthony laughed. “Yeah, I’m sure Pop will have some zingers, too!”
Tonight’s revelation will make sleep impossible.
Tuesday, October 15, 1985
Today I did the good Catholic thing and went to Benediction in the school chapel during lunch. I should do this more often. After I had come home from school, I took Petie for his annual check-up and shots at Dr. Roblejo, his veterinarian, whose office is two blocks away at 63rd and Grays.
I didn’t tell the gang what Anthony said last night. I’m keeping it to myself. I have my reasons for doing this, even though ordinarily I would never keep secrets from my best friends.
P.S. My permit came in the mail today! Yay!
Wednesday, October 16, 1985
I hung out at Tina’s house tonight with her and Dawn. We did our homework and talked, mostly about the upcoming dinner date at Trieste.
“I would be so nervous to go to dinner with Jake the Snake,” Dawn said. We listened to her boom box on a low volume so we could concentrate on homework and talk easily; 98 played “Dress You Up” by Madonna.
“Yeah, I’m a little antsy about that, too,” I said. “To make matters worse, I don’t know if my father will be able to mind his tongue.”
“Aw man, your father’s gonna be a freakazoid!” Tina laughed. “I know him way too well!”
They asked how it went with my date with Carmella and her gang, and I said it went well. “I would like for all of us to hang out with them,” I said. “Yous, Pam, Shereen, and me. What do yous think?”
“Sounds good,” Dawn said. “Keep us posted.”
We wanted to stretch our legs after homework, so we took a walk around the neighborhood. It was a lovely night, and the weather’s starting to feel like fall. We brazenly walked down Tina’s street toward 66th Street and the footbridge, right into the maw of the Bridge Kids.
They were at their outpost drinking Bud and standing amid a pile of empty beer cans, their boom box blasting “Tears Are Falling” by KISS as they belted out an off-key chorus of the song at the tops of their lungs. They were too busy drinking and singing to harass us. We continued to Elmwood Avenue and walked down it for a few blocks. On several corners stood kids talking and playing boom boxes, and we said hi to the ones we knew. We stopped in Weber’s Deli at 68th and Elmwood, picked up a few snacks for school tomorrow, and returned to our homes.
The long walk has made me tired, and off to bed I go.
Thursday, October 17, 1985
I talked to Anthony after I had come home from work tonight about the upcoming dinner date at Trieste. We’re both excited and nervous about it.
Ninety-eight is playing a really good string of songs at the moment, so I’m going to pop a blank tape into my boom box and record a few. Later!
Friday, October 18, 1985
Winslow seems to be very happy in her new relationship with Jason Feeney. She exulted over him this morning on the way to school and after school on the way home, and Candy sang Winslow’s praises while I was at work tonight. To each her or his own. Jason Feeney isn’t exactly the type of dude I’d fawn over, and Winslow is far from exemplary, but that’s just my opinion.
Tomorrow’s the big dinner date at Trieste! God help me!
Saturday, October 19, 1985
I was nervous all day at work and had a hard time keeping my mind on my job; I’m sure I don’t have to tell you why. At five, I went home, got something small to eat, and got changed. I put on an oversized light-blue blouse, black stirrup pants, and black ballerina flats. I cinched a wide black belt around my waist and put on a pair of silver hoop earrings. As I dressed, I sang along to “I’m Going Down” by Bruce Springsteen; I thought it fit my circumstances! My hair was looking a little flat, so I reteased it and sprayed it with more Aqua Net. The finishing touch was a few spritzes of Le Jardin.
I went downstairs to wait for Mom and Dad to finish getting ready. Grandmom and Pop Pop showed up; they had come to babysit Joe and Carolyn. They said hello and kissed me, and Grandmom took a seat next to me on the sofa. Pop Pop headed straight for the dining room and got down on all fours in front of the liquor cabinet. He opened the door, moved the bottles to and fro, and produced a bottle of Windsor. Moving to the china closet, he took out a rocks glass and poured some of the whiskey into it. With his drink in hand, he took a seat with us on the sofa to watch TV.
Mom and Dad came down the staircase, and they were very dressed up. Dad wore a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes. It’s rare that I see him in anything other than a flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots. Mom wore a dress and heels. Her clothes and shoes looked even nicer than what she normally wears to work.
“Listen to Grandmom and Pop Pop,” Mom said sternly to Joe and Carolyn as she, Dad, and I headed out. “I don’t want to hear about any trouble.”
“And not too much of my liquor, all right, Tom?” Dad said to Pop Pop in what sounded like a joking tone, but I knew he was at least half serious. Every time Grandmom and Pop Pop come over, Pop Pop hits Dad’s stash of liquor heavily, and Dad gets pretty pissed over it.
We said our goodbyes and walked around the corner to 63rd Street, where my family’s car was parked. It’s a green station wagon with fake-wood siding and looks a lot like the station wagon from The Brady Bunch. I think it’s ugly and embarrassing, especially compared to Anthony’s Iroc.
We climbed into the family chariot and took off. I wanted to suggest that we pick up Anthony and his parents and go to Trieste as a group, since the station wagon could hold us all. But I knew Dad wouldn’t hear of it, so I kept my mouth shut.
Dad was silent during the drive to Delco, but I was sure there were a million things he wanted to say. Perhaps he was saving his spit and vinegar for the showdown with Jake. I got a little queasy at this thought.
We arrived at Trieste and parked in their rear parking lot. My heart started to pound; I had no idea what to expect from this night. We entered the restaurant and gave the name Mangino as the one for the reservation, but Anthony and his parents hadn’t arrived yet, so we waited for them on a bench by the bar.
Anthony met us at seven. He wore a white shirt with a skinny black tie, black pants, and black loafers, and his hair was fluffed up into its usual pompadour. I arose to kiss him on the cheek.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer,” Anthony greeted. Mom smiled and said hello back, but Dad just scowled. “Mom and Pop are right behind me,” Anthony said, “and the hostess is going to seat us.” Jake and Lina magically appeared with the hostess in tow, and she showed us to a large booth that was situated in a cozy nook a few feet away from the bar. We climbed in, Anthony in the innermost spot on one side with his parents, and my parents and I seated in the same fashion on the other.
Jake and Lina introduced themselves to Mom and Dad. “We’re so happy to meet yous,” Mom said.
Lina smiled broadly. “Same here,” she said. “Jake and I are very fond of Janet. We think she’s good for Anthony.”
The waitress came to take our drink order. Anthony and I ordered sodas, and our parents ordered mixed drinks.
“Yeah, I know my daughter is good for your son,” Dad said as soon as she was out of earshot. But I’m not so sure he’s good for her.” Oh, my God, I thought, this is how it’s going to start.
“What do you mean?” Jake demanded.
“Look, Jake, I know who you are. I know what you do. I had real second thoughts about Janet dating your son because I know he’s following in your footsteps. I told her that if she loved him, fine, I would give my blessing. But I also told her that I wasn’t going to stand back and let him hurt her.”
“Mr. Kramer, I would never hurt Janet,” Anthony swore.
“Is that so?” Dad asked. The waitress appeared with our drinks, and our conversation ceased. We gave her our order; she took it quickly and departed. Dad resumed.
“You Italians treat your women like shit, and I don’t want Janet falling into a rat hole of abuse. You gotta understand somethin’, kid: Janet ain’t some cheap lay. She’s my daughter. You give her a hard time, you’re gonna answer to me. Understand?”
Jake spoke up. “Mr. Kramer, Anthony understands that, and I can assure you he treats your daughter with respect. Not only that, our family loves her. We are very happy that she has joined us.”
“The Manginos are so good to me, Dad, all of them,” I insisted.
“I’ve been telling Janet all her life to stay away from Italians. They bring nothing but trouble,” Dad said, as if I hadn’t spoken. I could tell Jake was getting pissed. Mom, Lina, and Anthony all looked as if they wanted to be anywhere but there.
“Mr. Kramer, my family loves and respects Janet. She has brought a lot of happiness to us and a lot of good to my son,” Jake insisted.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s brought a lot of happiness to yous. Me and Peg raised her right,” Dad shot back.
Jake would have probably lunged across the table and stabbed Dad at this juncture if he could have. Dad was really working Jake up; I could tell.
“I didn’t wanna say this, but do you know how I refer to Janet?” Jake asked as he pushed his Gazelles up the bridge of his nose. “I call her my daughter-in-law, my nuora. Does that give you any indication of the respect me and my family have for her?”
A pall fell over the table. Anthony and I turned white. Lina had an I-told-you-so look on her face. Mom looked as if she didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Dad looked at me. “Is this true?”
“Yeah, it is,” I said in a weak voice.
“And you,” he snapped at Anthony. “What do you have to say about this?”
“I love your daughter, Mr. Kramer,” Anthony said. “More than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life.”
“Of course, what Janet and Anthony end up doing is their choice, and Lina and I will respect them for it, but we can’t lie when we say we want her as part of our family,” Jake added.
“Great,” Dad muttered. “A mafia bride.”
“What did you say?” Jake demanded.
“I didn’t say nuttin’,” Dad said. A few minutes later, our food appeared, and we ate. I was starving.
My eggplant parmigiana was delicious, probably the best eggplant parmigiana I’ve ever had. Jake, Lina, and Anthony each ordered rice pudding for dessert, and Mom, Dad, and I each ordered chocolate-mousse cake. I ordered tea, and everyone else, coffee. Jake also ordered a shot of Sambuca.
“Look, Mr. Kramer, please don’t be offended by anything I’ve said,” Jake implored. “I want Janet as my daughter-in-law, but that’s just me talkin’. As I said, the ultimate decision rests with Janet and Anthony.” He drank his Sambuca in one quick toss.
Dad looked defeated, so Mom chimed in: “This is a heavy thing you’re telling us, Mr. Mangino. It’s also a huge decision for our kids to make.”
“Jake, call me Jake,” he insisted. Dad was still speechless.
Trieste’s owner bustled forward, and beaming effusively, he said, “Jake, it’s on the house.”
“Nah, Tony, gimme the check,” Jake insisted. Tony signaled to the waitress, and she dropped the check on our table.
Jake grabbed the check. “Let’s at least do halfs,” Dad said.
“No, it’s on me.”
“We’ll give the tip,” Mom offered.
“Again, on me,” Jake said. From his back pocket, he produced a thick wad of bills held in place with a gold money clip that bore the letters GTM; I assumed they were his initials. He flipped open the wad and slid several twenties off the top. I noticed the sum included a generous tip. The waitress came to collect the check, and he told her to keep it all.
We said our goodbyes as we left Trieste, and Anthony said he would call me. During the drive home, Dad asked, “So, Jake calls you his daughter-in-law?”
“Yeah,” I said, almost in a whisper.
“You never told me and your mother that.”
“I didn’t think he was serious,” I lied.
“Yep,” Dad said with a sigh. “A mafia bride.” Dad was going to have a grand story to tell his cronies at the Wheeler that would undoubtedly spread all over Elmwood.
Everyone was watching The Love Boat when we came home. As soon as Grandmom and Pop Pop left, Dad checked the bottles in the liquor cabinet and swore at the amount of liquor that had been emptied from each.
“Your goddamn father!” he yelled at Mom.
Joe laughed. “Pop Pop is a lush! Hey, can we stay down here and watch Magnum, P.I.? It’s on next.”
“Yeah, all right,” Mom assented. I don’t think she cared what they did, as she seemed distracted by tonight’s events.
I wonder how Mom and Dad feel about me marrying into the Mangino family. If they’re upset by it, they’re not saying.
Sunday, October 20, 1985
At the dinner table, Dad regaled the family with a replay of the dinner at Trieste.
“I went toe-to-toe with that greaseball!” he boasted. “He’ll know not to give me a hard time, and so will his son if he’s thinking about playing games with Janet.”
“Were they nice?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Mom said, “Anthony’s mother is a nice lady, but Jake -- ”
“I’ll never trust that father of his,” Dad thundered. “Those greaseballs are nothing but trouble.” I waited for Dad to say something about Jake’s desire to have me as a daughter-in-law, but he didn’t. He may have thought it would be too much for Joe and Carolyn to process, and perhaps for himself to process as well.
I called Anthony after dinner, and he confirmed that the limo will be ours for the Ring Dance. I told him I’d gather the gang together to finalize plans for that night. We must agree to meet one day soon to do this.
Monday, October 21, 1985
“Jason’s totally awesome!” Winslow gushed as she, Tina, Dawn, and I waited for the 36 this morning. “I went to his house last night and played games on his computer. Thank you so much for setting us up!”
“No problem,” I said.
“How’d it go with dinner at Trieste?” Dawn asked.
“Exactly as I feared: my dad was a real spazz. He even got into a little spat with Jake.” I glossed over the daughter-in-law part that had started all the trouble and told them the spat was about Dad calling Jake on being a mobster.
“Dag!” Tina exclaimed. “Your dad was cruisin’ for a bruisin’!”
While I had Tina, Dawn, and Winslow present, I told them I wanted everyone to meet tomorrow after school at the Paschalville Library at 69th and Woodland to discuss our plans for the Ring Dance.
“Anthony’s getting the limo, so we have to work out how and when everyone’s getting picked up,” I added.
They agreed to meet at the library tomorrow. When we caught up with Pam and Shereen, we apprised them of this plan, and they agreed to be present at the library as well.
In other news, Joe has started his new job as a paperboy delivering the Southwest Globe Times. It’s Southwest Philly’s newspaper, and he delivers it once a week.
Tuesday, October 22, 1985
We met at the library after school to discuss the limo arrangement for the Ring Dance. We could talk freely without distracting others because we were in a private study room. Here is what we worked out:
First, the limo will stop at Anthony’s house to pick him up before coming to Reedland Street to pick up Winslow, Jason, and me. From there, it will pick up Tina and her date at her house, and then it will go to Dawn’s house to pick up her and her date. Finally, it will drive to 63rd Street in West Philly to pick up Pam, Shereen, and their dates before heading off to the Ring Dance, which will be held in our school’s auditorium.
“Everybody make sure your date is at your house when the limo comes. The Ring Dance starts at eight, and we want to be there no later than that. So be ready for the limo between seven and seven thirty,” I said.
With the limo business settled, we got busy doing homework. Might as well do homework while you’re in a library, right? I studied for tomorrow’s European Cultures exam. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, October 23, 1985
While the five of us were walking down 46th Street after school, Shereen said, “Hey, I have an awesome idea! Why don’t we go shopping for Ring Dance dresses at the Springfield Mall someday soon?”
The Springfield Mall is in Delco, and it’s a great mall, full of lots of cool clothing stores. None of us could think of a better place to go shopping for the Ring Dance, and we eagerly agreed to this plan. We figured out a day that would work for everyone, and the only day that Tina, Dawn, and I had off from work together was next Wednesday, October 30.
“Okay,” Pam said. “Next Wednesday it is. This is going to rock!”
It’s always a treat to hit the malls in Delco, and I never leave the Springfield Mall disappointed. I’m totally psyched to go!
I think I did reasonably well on the European Cultures exam.
Thursday, October 24, 1985
I bought tickets today at the Activities Office for the Ring Dance. All I need is the outfit, and I’m set.
I bumped into Carmella in the hallway between sixth and seventh period. “Whatcha doin’ Saturday night?” she asked.
“I work till five but am free afterwards.”
“Okay, cool, would you like to go with us to see a movie at the MacDade Mall? Krush Groove is playing, and we wanna see it.”
“Okay, yeah,” I said. “Hey, this is only a suggestion, and you don’t have to say yes. How would you feel if I brought my friends along? I have four girlfriends that I’m very close with. The whole gang of us could go to the movie and have a really good time.”
Carmella considered it for a moment before replying, “Yeah, that would be cool. How about you have them meet you at your work when you finish? Me and my gang will be there, too. We’ll all hop on the 11 from there.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan,” I said as we rushed off to our classes. During the walk down 46th Street after school, I told everyone about Carmella’s plan for Saturday night.
“I’m down with that,” Pam said. “I’d like to meet Carmella and her friends.”
“Yeah, I think it’ll be fun,” Dawn added. Tina and Shereen gave their consent as well.
Fun! We will go as a group of nine to the MacDade Mall on Saturday!
Friday, October 25, 1985
Anthony said Carmella’s very excited about tomorrow night’s excursion. I wonder if she’s told her friends I’m going to be her sister-in-law?
I heard Arcadia’s new song, “Election Day,” as I set aside my outfit for tomorrow night. Arcadia is a Duran Duran spin-off group consisting of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor. The song’s pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with Carmella and her friends, but each time I’m with them, I’m under constant pressure to dress my best to keep up with them. They’re difficult to emulate and impossible to outshine!
Saturday, October 26, 1985
The whole gang was waiting for me outside the store at five: Tina, Dawn, Pam, Shereen, Carmella, Roseanna, Lisa, and Michelle. Introductions had been made before I came out of work, so we all went directly down to the corner and made small talk until the next trolley rolled up.
I was looking fly in my denim jacket, hot-pink T shirt, two-toned jeans, and white sneakers. I had spent an extra-long time earlier today teasing my hair as high as it would go, as I knew Carmella and her gang would have huge teases going on.
Within an hour, we got off the 113 bus at the MacDade Mall. The movie was set to start at seven, and since we had time to kill, we headed into the mall to have pizza at Italian Delight.
Carmella was anxious to see the movie. “It’s got Run D.M.C., the Fat Boys, Sheila E., and LL Cool Jay in it!” she informed us happily.
“I didn’t know it was about rap and hip-hop music,” I said.
“It is, but don’t worry, I think you’ll like it,” Pam said. I liked Sheila E., but I wasn’t very familiar with the other artists, so I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. However, I wasn’t going to complain. Everyone was happy and getting on very well, and I didn’t want to ruin the mood.
After we had finished our pizza, we headed down to the cinema, bought our tickets, and seated ourselves in the theater. The movie ended about two hours later, and I had enjoyed it!
“Hey, is anyone hungry again?” Shereen asked. “There’s a Pizza Hut across the street. How about we go over there and get breadsticks?”
We agreed this was a fine idea, and we feasted on Pizza Hut breadsticks. They were great! It was the first time I had them.
We left Pizza Hut at ten and hopped on the next 113 going to the Darby Terminal. It wasn’t safe for Pam and Shereen to commute to their homes in West Philly at night on public transit, so Pam’s father was coming to the Darby Terminal to pick them up. The rest of us waited with them.
When he arrived, we said our goodbyes to Pam and Shereen and waited for the next trolley to take us into Southwest Philly. We got off at 63rd and Woodland, and everyone walked me to my house before bidding me goodnight and walking to their houses.
Everything went perfectly tonight, and I’m glad that both Carmella’s friends and mine get along so well. In her honor, I’m listening to Power 99, and they’re playing “Can You Rock It Like This” by Run DMC. It was in Krush Groove.
P.S. The clocks go back tonight for the end of Daylight Savings!
Sunday, October 27, 1985
“Do yous remember the Whip?” I asked my parents during dinner tonight.
“Yeah, sure do,” Mom said. “You loved that thing.”
The Whip was an amusement ride that traveled the neighborhood on a flatbed truck. It was just like the Whip rides you see at amusement parks, only it was kiddie-sized.
“Yeah, and I remember that long stick of bubble gum they gave you after you got off,” I said.
“How come they don’t have the Whip anymore?” Carolyn asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno.”
I miss the Whip. I would often beg my parents to let me ride it multiple times; usually they said yes. I loved the bubble gum, too. It smelled and tasted like that bubble gum you get in trading cards. I’m transported to those childhood rides on the Whip each time I smell trading-card bubblegum.
I fell behind on homework because of this busy weekend, so I must leave to get started on it. Goodnight!
Monday, October 28, 1985
Anthony asked if I wanted to hang out at the store tomorrow night, and I said yes. I’m listening to Voices Carry on my Walkman. The whole album is awesome; too bad they only play “Voices Carry” on the radio. They’re missing out on a world of good songs.
I’m bogged down with homework and must end it here.
Tuesday, October 29, 1985
Anthony stopped up for me at seven. Since Daylight Savings had ended, it was totally dark and pretty creepy, too. I had managed to finish all my homework by the time he arrived, and I could relax and enjoy my night. We talked during the walk to the store, about nothing special. He was glad to hear I had had a good time with Carmella and all our friends.
We encountered a cluster of burnouts at the Centipede machine when we reached the store. Trish and Geri were among them, and we made small talk.
Louie was working the counter; this time he had the boom box tuned to 98, which was playing “You Belong to the City” by Glenn Frey. This song is an anthem for all the kids in Southwest Philly; we all belong to the city.
Anthony stood in the back of the store talking to Meatball. They shortly left together and walked across the street to Meatball’s Monte Carlo. Trish and Geri left, too. I was a spectator to a burnout who got the high score on Centipede as his friends cheered him on. I felt awkward, as I knew none of these people and was waiting to get my ass kicked for being the only non-burnout in the crowd.
A guy wearing a Metallica shirt pulled a joint out of his back pocket and held it up to a guy wearing a Megadeath shirt, silently asking him if he wanted to hit it with him. The Megadeath guy nodded his head, and they exited the store, probably to go behind the building and do their thing. The others continued to watch the burnout play Centipede.
I was getting tired of standing around, and I left the store and walked across the street to Meatball’s car. The trunk was open, and he and Anthony were examining something inside it.
They started as I drew close to them. I peeked into the trunk, which was loaded with about two dozen new boom boxes.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Where did you get those?”
Meatball looked flustered. “They fell off the back of a truck,” he mumbled.
“Bella, why don’t you wait for me at the store?” Anthony said. “Have a soda.”
I could tell they didn’t want me around, and instead of acting like a baby about it, I said okay and returned to the store. I took a can of Frank’s black-cherry wishniak from the cooler and sipped it as I waited for Anthony to come back, and I sang along to “Perfect Way” by Scritti Politti, which was now playing on the boom box. The burnouts remained clustered around Centipede.
The Monte Carlo sped by the store and down Paschall Avenue as Anthony returned. He smiled and kissed me, and I was relieved that he wasn’t angry at me for intruding on him and Meatball. We chatted with Louie for a little bit before Anthony took me home.
“We’re going to the Springfield Mall tomorrow to shop for dresses for the Ring Dance,” I told him. “Is there anything special you’d like me to wear? I’m strapped for ideas.”
He smiled. “Whatever you wear will be beautiful, so the choice is yours.”
Tomorrow will be exciting! I haven’t been to the Springfield Mall in a while.
Wednesday, October 30, 1985
As soon as school ended, we took the El into the 69th Street Terminal. We jumped onto the Media trolley and twenty minutes later got off at that dazzling shopping mecca, the Springfield Mall.
As we walked up the hill towards the mall, Shereen took a can of Aqua Net out of her pocketbook and passed it around so we could do last-minute teases to our hair. We were representing West Girls, and it was important that we look cool.
“Let’s go to Wanamaker’s!” Pam said. “I hear they have the nicest dresses.
“Bamberger’s is good, too,” Dawn said. “Their Juniors department has really cute stuff.”
“Man, this is one awful trudge up a hill,” Tina remarked.
“Don’t worry,” I laughed, “this will keep us in shape for the Ring Dance.”
We crossed the rear parking lot and entered the mall through an entrance on the lower level. It was around three thirty, giving us plenty of time to shop and eat dinner at Friendly’s.
“Cute!” Shereen exclaimed as she inspected a pair of pale-pink stirrup pants on a rack at Marianne. “These would match my pink sweater.”
“Wanna buy them?” I asked. “We’ll wait.”
“No, that’s okay. I want to Ring Dance shop.”
We moved to the upper level and stopped to window shop at a store called Pearl of the East, which sells home furnishings from Asia.
“That ebony carved screen is beautiful,” Pam sighed. “I’d love to have that in my bedroom, but there’s no way I can afford it.”
“Hello!” chirped a woman’s voice, and we turned to see a couple in their early fifties. “We’re tourists from Washington State, and we’re here in Pennsylvania visiting family. You all look great in your uniforms! We’ve never seen anything like them. Do you mind if we take your picture?”
“Sure, no problem,” I said.
“My gosh, you Philadelphians, the way you talk!” her husband said, but he meant it to be kind, and we laughed.
“How about all of you stand in front of this store’s window?” the lady suggested, and we assembled in a row with Pearl of the East’s merchandise creating a lovely backdrop. The lady pulled out her Polaroid camera from her tote bag and snapped a picture.
“This is great!” she gushed as the picture popped out of the camera and the grayness slowly gave way to the image of the five of us. “I’ll call this shot ‘Philadelphia Schoolgirls.’ Thanks, girls! Let me take a picture for each of you as a thank you.” She took five more shots and gave one to each of us.
“Thanks again!” her husband said as they walked away.
“You’re welcome!” Pam called back. “Eat lots of cheesesteaks while you’re here!”
We made our way over to Baker’s, which is the best shoe store in the mall. I eyed up a pair of iridescent, mother-of-pearl pumps with a white-lace overlay that were displayed in the front window.
“Wow, they’re fab!” I exclaimed. “They’re too dressy for the Ring Dance, but they might work for the prom.”
“They’re great,” said a girl standing next to me. She wore a navy-blue uniform jumper and her friend one like it in gray. The only thing that was identical about the uniforms were the emblems, which were green and white. These were girls from Archbishop Prendergast High School in Delco. It’s an all-girls school just like West Girls. Everyone calls it Prendie.
“Yes, they are,” I agreed. “You guys are switching to a new uniform, is that true?” I asked, pointing at her friend in gray.
“Yeah, this the year they phase out the blue uniform,” the girl in gray said. “Starting this year, all freshman have to wear the gray uniform. I could have stuck with the blue, since I’m a junior, but I wanted a change of pace.”
Something caught my eye, and I looked over at the front entrance of the mall. Walking briskly forward was a young woman dressed in military fatigues and toting a gun. Since Halloween is tomorrow, I didn’t think much of her getup. That is, I didn’t think much of her getup until I noticed she was firing live bullets from that gun.
All hell broke loose, with mall patrons screaming and shoving to get away from her. The Prendie girls ran screaming away as the shooter made a left into the mall and continued to fire more bullets, one of them piercing Pearl of the East’s window. I let out a huge scream, aware that the five of us had stood at that exact spot merely a few minutes earlier.
This lunatic strode through the mall and blasted away at mall patrons as they ran for their lives. I grabbed Shereen’s hand, and she grabbed Tina’s, and so on as we formed a human chain and unceremoniously ran through Baker’s as their customers and employees hit the floor. We raced, all of us screaming, toward the rear door of the store, which opened into a stockroom. At the rear of the stockroom was another door, this one opening into a service hallway.
We ran half out of our minds down the service hallway with no clue where we were or how we’d escape. We found a flight of steps and bolted down them to a service hallway on the lower level. We ran down that hallway, too, and soon located an exit that took us outside to the back of the mall. We ran across the same rear parking lot we had crossed less than an hour earlier as the shrieks of police and ambulance sirens pierced our ears. We bolted down the hill toward the trolley stop, and when we reached it, all of us were crying and out of breath.
“Oh…my…God!” Dawn shrieked. “I saw people getting shot!”
“Do you think she’ll come after us here?” Tina asked as soon as she regained her composure.
“I don’t think so,” I said, trying to hold myself together. “The cops probably have her by now. My God, this is awful!”
We were upset that we couldn’t call our parents. Doing so would have meant going to the nearest payphone, which was at the mall, and we certainly weren’t about to go back there. All we could do was wait for the next trolley, board it, and then call them as soon as we reached the terminal.
After the longest ten minutes of our lives, the trolley arrived. A solid-gold DeLorean sent by the Blessed Mother herself could not have been more welcome. We half-walked, half-stumbled aboard. The riders saw how upset and disheveled we were, and they asked if we were all right.
“We’re okay,” Shereen said between sobs, “but there’s been a shooting in the mall!”
An uproar ensued. “Hold on!” cried a guy in his late twenties who had a Walkman. “Let me tune into to KYW and find out what’s going on.” He put on his headphones and was silent for a few minutes as he tuned in and digested what the news-radio station was broadcasting.
He took off his headphones and said, “Yeah, there’s been a shooting, all right. Two people have been killed, and there are a lot more wounded. Terrible!”
“That could have been us!” Dawn wailed. “We were lucky we were able to escape!”
“I hope those Prendie girls and the tourists made it out of there okay,” Pam said.
“Me, too,” Tina said.
As soon as we got to the terminal, we rushed to the payphones and called our parents. Mom was still at work, and I called her there. “I just heard about the shooting now! Are you okay?” she cried.
“Yeah, we made it out as soon as the shooting started,” I reassured her. “We’re all okay.
“Wait where you are at the terminal. Your father just got off work. He’ll pick you up and take you home.”
All our parents told us to wait for them at the terminal, and within half an hour, they arrived to retrieve us. We exchanged hugs and goodbyes before climbing anxiously into our parents’ cars and heading for our homes.
“Thank God you’re okay!” my father said. He reached over to give me a hug and held me close for a few seconds.
“Yeah, I’m okay physically, but I’m rattled mentally,” I said.
“Let me and your mother know if you need anything. You can even go to one of those therapists if you want to,” he said.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll be okay.”
We were home in twenty minutes. Joe and Carolyn voiced their concern as soon as I walked through the door, but I told them I was okay. Mom ran out of the kitchen and hugged me. “I’m so grateful! Thank the Blessed Mother you’re safe and sound!”
Grandmom called a few minutes later. “Thank God you’re all right!” she cried. “Pop Pop and I were so worried!”
Dad put on Action News. The shooter was a deranged young woman named Sylvia Seegrist, from the town of Springfield in Delco. They said she had gone off her meds and that insanity had driven her to commit the crime.
“Crazy ass,” Dad remarked. “They’re gonna lock her away in a looney bin and throw away the key.”
“Praise the Madonna that you’re okay!” Anthony cried during his phone call. “I heard it was some nutjob dressed like G.I. Joe, and she started shooting random people.”
“Yeah, I saw her. She looked nuts all right. I watched her put a bullet hole in the window of a store we had been standing in front of a few minutes earlier.”
“Marone! Yous coulda been killed!”
“Yeah, I know. Looks as if our guardian angels were working overtime to keep us safe.”
“Mom is saying a rosary in gratitude for your safety.”
“Awww! Tell her I said thanks.”
“All right, gotta go. Call me tomorrow, all right?”
“Will do. Love you.”
“Love you too, bella. I’m so happy you’re safe!”
Mom made dinner, and I asked her, “Is it okay if I eat in my room? I want to be alone.” I didn’t feel like discussing the shooting in detail. I needed time by myself.
“Of course, honey!” she said. I took my dinner up to my room and ate there, the familiar surroundings making me feel much happier and safer. After I had eaten, I finished my paper on Hannibal for European Cultures class, as it’s due tomorrow.
I looked at the picture the tourists had taken of us. Perhaps someday I’ll show it to my grandchildren and tell them that it was taken in the Springfield Mall in the Eighties, moments before the horrible shooting began. I wonder if people will have forgotten it by then.
A lot of people who live in Delco think even the nicer parts of Southwest Philly, such as Elmwood, are battlegrounds, and that you risk getting shot every time you step outside your house. The irony is that I was almost shot in a mall in an affluent Delco suburb. Go figure.
Thursday, October 31, 1985
During breakfast this morning, my family demanded an instant replay of the shooting, and I told them everything that had happened: How we went to the mall straight from school, had our picture taken by the tourists, talked to the Prendie girls, noticed their new uniform, and how I was aware of the exact moment I had seen Sylvia Seegrist come firing into the mall. I showed them the picture of us, too.
I ended by telling them that we had fled through Baker’s and out of the mall via the service hallway. “That was smart,” Mom said. “If yous had run through the mall, yous coulda been killed!”
Our homeroom teachers quietly asked each of us if we were okay and if we needed counseling. We assured them we were okay and didn’t need counseling.
Word quickly circulated through school that we had been in the mall at the time of the shooting and survived. Pam and I were approached during lunch by many people pumping us for details. We felt like heroes.
“I heard they had to send in a SWAT team to take her out,” Crazy Mary Devlin said.
“No,” I replied, “I think the cops came and got
“My dad said that some guy shopping in the mall wrestled her to the
ground and managed to pull the gun out of her hands,” Lareese added.
“I heard that some little kid was killed,” a girl at the next table chimed
in. “How sad!”
Obviously, Halloween was today, and I stayed home and gave out candy. Joe said this will be the last time he goes out for Halloween, and he went as Hulk Hogan. Carolyn went as Jem. Mom had prepared a hundred goody bags, and they had all been distributed by the end of the night.
Anthony again said how grateful he was that I had made it out of the mall okay. We discussed a possible dinner date at the Homestead one of these days, maybe as a double date with Meatball and his girlfriend Dee Dee.
Friday, November 1, 1985
I was off from school because of All Saints Day, which is a holy day of obligation. This means you must go to Mass regardless of which day of the week the holiday falls on, even if it isn’t a Sunday. I went to Mass this morning, and I worked from five till nine tonight.
This afternoon around four thirty, Dad (he’s been on the early shift lately, so he’s been coming home at four instead of between five and six) was standing in front of our house talking to Joe Panepinto and Neddy. They looked serious and even a little distraught, and at first, I thought someone had died. I heard Dad say, “I heard they moved in yesterday.” But I didn’t stick around to hear more because I was in a rush to get to work. I wonder what was up? Perhaps I’ll find out tomorrow.
Saturday, November 2, 1985
The SAT was held at school. I should have taken it again, but Mom and Dad persist in talking me out of college. Anyway, as I’ve said, community college is lax when it comes to taking the SAT, and it looks as if that’s where I’m headed even if I do go to college. But I die a little inside each time SATs come and I don’t retest.
I forgot to tell you that Tina, Dawn, and I are going shopping for Ring Dance dresses at the MacDade Mall tomorrow, since Sylvia Seegrist so rudely interrupted our shopping the other day!
Sunday, November 3, 1985
Dawn’s dad drove us to the MacDade Mall after Mass. Today was a lovely fall day, too, very crisp and sunny, and the trees are many different colors.
Once at the mall, we headed directly to Famous Maid and found lovely dresses there. Mine is red with a subtle brocade print, V neckline, three-quarter sleeves puffed at the shoulders, and a pencil skirt. It’s fabulous, and it was on sale for twenty dollars!
If you’re wondering why Pam and Shereen weren’t with us, it was because Pam’s mom had bought a dress for her, and Shereen’s mom wanted to take her dress shopping this week. Otherwise, we would have included them in today’s excursion.
Afterwards, we hit Italian Delight for their delicious Sicilian pizza. Then Dawn called her dad from a payphone to come for us. A ride up and back; imagine that!!
Petie is snuggled beside me in bed, and I’ll be able to go to sleep early for a change.
Monday, November 4, 1985
“I have an idea,” Tina said as we stepped off the 36 after school. “Let’s race! The first one to make it to the end of the bridge wins.”
I had no idea what had gotten into us, as we haven’t raced since we were little kids, but we agreed and spontaneously ran up 63rd Street, juggling our schoolbooks and pocketbooks and laughing all the way. It was around four o’clock and already starting to grow a little dark, the sun dipping toward the GE building in preparation to set behind it.
Tina crossed the bridge first and pumped her fist in the air. “That was great!” she said as Dawn and I caught up to her, giggling and out of breath. “We haven’t done that in so long!”
“And we’re getting good exercise that will keep us in shape for the Ring Dance!” Dawn laughed.
I walked Tina and Dawn home and returned to the bridge. I leaned my arm on the parapet and watched a freight train pass slowly by. When it cleared the bridge, I went home.
As I turned the corner of 63rd Street and onto my block, I saw something odd. Tucked inside every house’s door was a piece of white paper fluttering in the breeze. I couldn’t imagine why flyers had been distributed, and I ran to my house and grabbed the one from my door.
The blood drained from my face as I read the flyer, and a hand of fear gripped my heart. It was a typed manifesto, which had apparently been copied and distributed to probably all the homes in Elmwood. I have it in front of me, and here’s what it says:
Residents of Elmwood:
Change is coming to our neighborhood. It threatens to hurt us,
our children, and our property values. Many of you have relocated to Elmwood from other areas in Southwest Philly that have declined in the hope of living out your lives in a clean, peaceful, safe neighborhood. Those of you who have known the trauma of leaving the home you love to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe will understand where we are coming from.
The terror that plagued us in our old neighborhoods has come to
Elmwood. We are sure we don’t have to convince you that we must
band together to keep this horror out of our area. With continued diligence,
Elmwood will remain the clean, safe neighborhood it has always been.
Elmwood has much going for it. Our location close to Delco
gives us quick access to many malls and attractions, among them the Springfield Mall, Granite Run Mall, MacDade Mall, Bazaar of All Nations, and others. Abundant public transportation provides quick
and safe access to Center City and other destinations along SEPTA’s lines. Our neighborhoods are showplaces, and our schools are some of the best in Philly and turn out intelligent, well-rounded students.
We want to ensure that Elmwood remains clean and safe for
future generations. It’s up to you to keep our area from declining!
The Concerned Citizens of Elmwood
Mom and Dad were still at work (Dad has been switched back to the later shift), and Joe and Carolyn were at meetings, for altar boys and for Girl Scouts, respectively. I left the manifesto on the dining-room table, certain that my family would see it and make a ruckus over it, and went up to lay on my bed.
Certain things were making sense. I recalled that Sunday breakfast a few months back when Dad had talked ominously about a vacant house on 61st Street, as well as the conversation Dad had with Neddy and Joe Panepinto a few days ago in which Dad said, “I heard they moved in yesterday.”
They are blacks. Blacks have moved into that house on 61st Street, and Elmwood is in an uproar because of it.
My family members came home one by one. When I heard Dad yelling unintelligibly, I knew he had read the manifesto.
I didn’t want to, but I got out of bed and crept downstairs. “Did you see this?” Dad asked me, waving the manifesto like a flag.
“Yeah, I saw it. As soon as I got home from school.”
“This is what I been talkin’ about,” he said. “Joe and Neddy told me the other day that they heard that those molonyams moved in last week, right into that house on 61st Street. Son of a bitch!”
“What are you getting so upset for?” Carolyn demanded.
“You don’t get it, honey. Blacks ruined my neighborhood in Kingsessing, ruined all of Kingsessing, too. I can’t go back there ever again, not unless I wear a flak jacket and carry an uzi.”
“What’s a flak jacket and an uzi?” she asked.
“You know, like Rambo,” Joe said, to which Carolyn said, “Oooh!”
Mom got busy making dinner as Dad regaled her with his additional thoughts on the latest news, and I had a feeling he was going to be at the forefront of this movement against the newcomers on 61st Street. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
We sat down to our dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I hadn’t spoken since I had come downstairs. Dad noticed and barked, “Why are you so quiet?”
“Dad, to be honest, I don’t think we should judge the black people who have moved here. We should give them a chance.”
“Jesus Christ, you ain’t no child of mine!” he snapped. “But you run around with those molonyama friends of yours, so why am I even surprised that you feel the way you do?”
I chose to ignore his insulting reference to Pam and Shereen. “But maybe they’re good, hardworking people like us who pay all their bills and keep a nice house.”
“Hmmpf. I’ll take you on a trip to my old neighborhood, and you can see how good those people maintain their homes. Every house in Kingsessing is a falling-down shit heap. I don’t even wanna know what my old house looks like.”
If the blacks who came into Dad’s old neighborhood ruined it, I don’t know what to say about that. I wanted to tell Dad that not all white people were clean and decent, and not all black people were slovenly and dishonest. Pam and Shereen are proof of that, and I think their dads make more money than he does. But I didn’t go down that road.
I wished I could tell Dad that if he wanted proof that white people were slovenly, he should visit the neighborhoods across the tracks where burnouts live; they’re full of unmaintained homes and dirty-looking people. And let’s not forget the Bridge Kids and the McGonigles and how slovenly they are.
I can’t argue with Dad about this. He’ll maintain his stance on black people until the day he dies.
I returned to my room after dinner. I didn’t call Anthony or any of my friends, as I didn’t feel like talking. Around eight o’clock, Mom and Dad went to their room to watch Scarecrow and Mrs. King while Joe and Carolyn watched TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes downstairs.
I don’t understand why the people who have moved onto 61st Street are being harassed. Just because they’re black doesn’t mean they’re going to destroy the neighborhood. Why can’t they live their lives without the narrow-minded among us in Elmwood lashing out at them? It’s horribly unfair.
Tuesday, November 5, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I were solemn this morning as we waited for the 36. Each of us had received the manifesto in her front door, and we were beyond words to describe how we felt.
“My dad’s all fired up,” said Winslow, who joined us on the corner a few minutes after we had arrived. “He said what happened to his neighborhood in Kingsessing could happen here.”
“Yeah, my dad has the same complaint. He’s from Kingsessing, too,” I said.
“We should tell Pam and Shereen,” Dawn said.
“Good idea,” I said. “I’d rather they hear the terrible news from us than from someone they don’t know well who could hurt them.”
On the trolley, everyone was talking about the manifesto, which was proof that it had been distributed all over Elmwood. Even the kids who lived in Eastwick, which hadn’t been bombarded with the manifesto, knew about it.
Everyone had an opinion. Some kids echoed the bigoted sentiments of their parents, claiming, “Yeah, we’ll chase them out for good!” Other kids were as somber as we were. They were probably the ones who, like us, had black friends.
We gave Pam and Shereen the horrible news when we met them at 46th Street, holding back tears as we did. They were aghast, and Pam cried, “It’s Philadelphia in 1985, and I don’t believe people are carrying on like this! What is this, Alabama in the 1950s?” she snapped. “This is disgusting!”
“I don’t understand why we can’t all live together peacefully. My parents had neighbors of all colors when they were growing up,” Shereen said. Her parents are from the Meadows, which was the informal name for Eastwick during its pre-development days. The Meadows was lauded for its integrated neighborhoods, which is why there remains a certain degree of integration in Eastwick today.
“Look,” I said to Pam and Shereen, “I don’t want yous to think this has anything to do with Tina, Dawn, and me. We’re as upset about this as yous are. The only reason we’re telling yous is because we want to give yous the bad news before someone else does, someone who might hurt yous with it.”
Pam smiled. “We know that, and thanks for your concern. We know yous aren’t bigoted and nasty, else we never would have become friends with yous. Let’s stop talking about this and head over to school.”
News of the manifesto was all over school. Sister Catherine, our principal, was prompted to make the following announcement: “It has come to the administration’s attention that some students are living in neighborhoods that have recently developed racial tensions. This is to remind you that such views are not Christian and are not in keeping with the example Jesus set for us. Any tensions that are brought to this school and acted upon will carry serious consequences.”
Anthony had received the manifesto, too. Before he could go into detailed thought on it, I said, “I want to see you. It’s been a while, and I’ve been upset over what’s happened lately.”
He came for me, and we headed over to his house. We sat in the rec room, and he tuned the stereo to 98. “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister played.
“It’s so awful, Anthony,” I said as we cuddled on the sofa, referring to yesterday’s horrible event.
“Yeah, my whole street was talking about it last night,” he said. “Pop’s all fired up, too. I hate to tell you this, but he wants to go to that house and retaliate, shoot a few bullets through their windows.”
I closed my eyes and shuddered. “Jesus, has the whole world gone crazy?”
“It’s okay, bella. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“It’s not that. I’m upset because so many people in Elmwood are carrying on in this horrific way. How am I supposed to do nothing when I have friends I love dearly who are black? This could just as easily happen to them.”
Anthony had no answer for this. “Never” by Heart came on next. I love that song and would have sung along to it had I not been distraught.
“Please tell me you’re not going to hurt those people,” I said. “Your friends might retaliate, and you probably can’t control that. But please don’t you hurt them.”
“All right,” he sighed. “I promise. But I’m just gonna say this: Black people ruin neighborhoods. It’s a fact.”
“I don’t know what to say about that,” I said. “But I don’t think all black people are bad. My dad said the same thing to me yesterday, and I didn’t have an answer for him, either.”
I’m a seventeen-year-old girl; what can I do in this crisis? Can I possibly deter anyone from whatever deviltry they have planned for the people on 61st Street? No, I can’t. Furthermore, what power do I have to stop a perfect storm of violence and protests? None.
Wednesday, November 6, 1985
Joe Panepinto and Neddy came over tonight to hang out with Dad. They sat in our basement listening to cassettes, talking, and drinking Ortlieb’s beer. Dad had brought his Elvis cassettes, Neddy his of Jefferson Airplane and the Doors, and Joe Panepinto his of Frank Sinatra. They put their beers, the cassettes, the tape player, and an ashtray on one of the ends of our ping-pong table and set up their chairs around it. Joe Panepinto and Dad smoked Marlboros; Neddy didn’t smoke at all.
I sat at the top of the steps and eavesdropped. This is something I’d never do, but I wanted to hear what they were talking about.
“Unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Dad said as Elvis crooned. “It’s gonna be Kingsessing all over again. All I want is a decent neighborhood that I can raise my kids in.”
“Kramer, you ain’t alone,” Joe Panepinto said, and judging by how fast he was beginning to talk, I could tell he was getting that crazy look in his eye that he always gets before he launches into a wild story. “People all over Elmwood are up in arms. Some of ‘em have even retaliated against them molonyams. Jerry from the Wheeler was telling me that he broke some of their windows last night.”
“Jesus, really?” Neddy asked, astounded.
“Yeah, he really did. And I shouldn’t be telling yous, but I will: I shot a few BB’s through their front window last night.” He punctuated that remark with a sinister laugh.
“Holy shit!” Dad exclaimed. “I’m surprised they didn’t shoot back at you. Did they?”
“Nah, I think they were too scared to come out. They didn’t say or do nothin’ to me.”
“I wonder who typed up those flyers?” Neddy mused.
“I dunno. I heard a lot of culprits named while I was at the Wheeler last night,” Joe Panepinto said. “My friend Jerry thinks it’s his wife or one of her friends. No one knows, really.”
“What’s gonna happen next?” Dad wondered.
“Probably more attacks against those people,” Neddy speculated. “There’s no telling where this will end. Question is, for how long will they stay on 61st Street?”
I had heard enough and returned to my room. This is a dark time, and I think things will get worse before they get better.
Thursday, November 7, 1985
Candy was in a tizzy over the manifesto. “They didn’t distribute them down my way,” she said. I think I may have told you she lives at 73rd and Chelwynde in Eastwick. I’m not sure how integrated her neighborhood is, but even if it isn’t, perhaps the fact that it’s in Eastwick makes it neutral territory and therefore exempt from deluges of printed, racially-subversive manifestoes.
“Everyone I know is upset,” I said. “Some people, like my dad, are all for keeping the new people out. Me, I wish everyone would get along.”
A young woman in her mid-twenties with two small children came up to us and cast a quick look around. Seeing she was safe, she said, “I’ve lived in three other neighborhoods before this one, and they were all black and run down. I have nothing against these new people on 61st Street. I live two houses down from them, and they seem decent. My worry is that the low-income blacks will start moving into Elmwood and ruining it.” That`s the concern, not that they`re black. Low-income come here and they tend to destroy their neighborhood.”1a
“Yeah, I hear that a lot, too,” Candy said as she helped me straighten a rounder of new winter sweaters. “My neighborhood’s okay. My immediate area’s white, but there are neighborhoods a few blocks away that are mixed, and the people seem to be happy there.”
“I dunno what to think,” the young woman said. “My husband’s on the warpath and is threatening to shoot out their windows.”
Perhaps one of these days, I can do some recon and visit the people on 61st Street. If not to talk to them, then to at least see what’s going on there on a visual level.
Friday, November 8, 1985
“Okay, we’re all set to double date with Meatball and Dee Dee,” Anthony said during our lunchtime phone call. “Are you off next Friday night?”
“I am,” I said.
“Cool. We’ll meet them at the Homestead at seven that night.”
“Sounds fine,” I replied.
Candy and my co-workers talked all night about the newcomers on 61st Street, and I feel that the situation is going to escalate very soon.
Saturday, November 9, 1985
Before going to work at four, I stopped in the Hairport to say hi to Tina. It’s cool that she works so close to my house. I kept my ears open for the patrons’ talk about the newcomers, but I didn’t hear anything.
There was ongoing talk about the newcomers in work. Darlene, one of my co-workers, said to Candy and me, “My son told me a friend of his threw a soda bottle through their front window.”
“Did they come out?” Candy asked.
“Nah, they stayed put. I heard they seem really afraid and don’t leave the house that often. I heard someone’s been shooting a BB gun at their windows, too.”
I wanted to say the shooter was Joe Panepinto, but I didn’t. Other people were probably shooting BBs, too, and it would have been dangerous for me to finger Joe without proof.
“God, such turmoil in this neighborhood,” Candy sighed. “It used to be so peaceful here. I wish that peace would come back.”
I wanted to tell her I felt the same way.
Sunday, November 10, 1985
More talk about the newcomers; every day, more talk about them. It was the hot topic yet again at work today. At the dinner table, Joe had this to say:
“Check it out! My friend Mark’s older brother threw a rock through the back window of their house,” he chortled. “Hey, can I buy a BB gun? I want to shoot at their windows.”
“You most certainly will not!” Mom sternly told him. “Number one, you’re not going to instigate anyone; number two, you’re not going to play with guns; number three, I heard the police have been guarding that house ever since all the trouble began. That’s all me and your father need is for you to get dragged home by the cops.”
“Aw, man,” Joe muttered sullenly before stuffing a hunk of meatloaf into his mouth.
“That’s all anyone at my work talks about, the blacks on 61st Street,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s all I hear at the Wheeler,” Dad said.
I wanted to again say that not all black people were bad, but I was tired of going through it with Dad. After dinner, Anthony called me, and we talked mostly about the upcoming date at the Homestead.
I’ve decided tomorrow after school, I’ll knock on the newcomers’ door and introduce myself, see what’s going on with them, and tell them I’m okay with them being here.
Monday, November 11, 1985
I was nervous on the way home from school as I planned my visit to the newcomers’ residence. On the trolley home, I told Dawn and Tina I had to get off a block early to pick up pastries at Durso’s for my mother. I bought half a dozen cream puffs; I love Durso’s cream puffs and was sure the newcomers would, too.
My box of cream puffs in hand, I walked down to their house at 2548 61st Street. My heart was thumping the whole time, and though my legs felt like lead, I forced myself to raise them to climb up the steps and walk to the front door.
I knocked, then waited. There was no answer. I was contemplating leaving when the door opened about three inches, and an anxious, frightened eye peered at me.
“Yes?” a woman’s voice quavered.
I smiled. “Hi, my name is Janet Kramer. I live a few blocks away at 62nd and Reedland. I’ve heard you’re getting a lot of guff from people, but I thought I’d say hello and give you a little something.” I held up the white bakery box in my hands.
There was no response from the woman, but a few seconds later, the door slowly opened wider, and I could see all of her. She wasn’t that old, perhaps ten years older than I was. She was neatly dressed in a white blouse, black skirt, and black high-heeled pumps. She smiled unsteadily and said, “Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Would you like to come in?”
“Okay,” I said, and she allowed me into the house. There was a tan sofa and a matching chair in the living room, which was paneled and had a dropped ceiling. She directed me to sit on the sofa, and I put the box on the coffee table.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked. “I have some brewed iced tea.”
I told her that would be fine, and she walked into the kitchen to get it. Her absence gave me the opportunity to further survey the living room, and that’s when I saw the results of the hostility these people had endured: The large hole in the window, which had probably been caused by the soda bottle Darlene had mentioned, was boarded up with paneling, and the adjacent BB-gun holes that peppered the window were stuffed with wads of newspaper.1b
She came back with the iced tea and set it on the coffee table. “Thank you for the gift. Is it from Durso’s?” I nodded my head. “I’ve heard they’re very good, but I’m too afraid to walk over there to shop. I know we’ll enjoy this,” she said.
She sat a few feet down from me on the sofa. “My name’s Marie Wilson. My husband’s name is Carl, and my daughter’s name is Laura. He’s at work, and she’s upstairs in her room. She doesn’t like to come downstairs, not with all the trouble,” she said, waving her hand at the damaged window.
I thirstily gulped my iced tea and set it down after I had been quenched. “I’m sorry about that; it’s so shameful. I don’t understand why people would carry on that way. You and your family don’t strike me as a threat.”
Marie smiled wanly. “Thank you. All we want is to live here happily, same as everybody else. We’ve always wanted to own a house, and we fell in love with this one, so we bought it. We’re not trying to cause trouble by being here. I wish someone had warned us before we moved in. It would have given us a chance to change our minds,” she sighed.
I wanted to cry for this good woman. She and her husband were no different from my parents, who work hard to keep our little row house on Reedland Street and to pay the bills.
I heard a noise on the staircase and saw a little girl, who looked to be about seven, slowly creep down it. She silently moved to her mother’s side and gazed at me with large, frightened eyes. Marie smiled. “This is Laura. Laura, this nice girl’s name is Janet. She came to say hello. Don’t worry, she’s a good person and won’t hurt us.”
Laura looked me over and, pointing to my uniform asked, “What school is that?”
“I go to West Catholic,” I told her. “It’s a big high school on Chestnut Street in West Philly.”
“My grandma lives in West Philly,” she informed me with a slight smile. I smiled back.
“Will your husband mind my being here?” I asked.
“No, not at all, and anyway, he’s working the night shift and won’t be home till later tonight,” she said. We chatted for a bit longer as Laura sat quietly with us.
It was growing a dark, and dinnertime was soon. I said, “I must be going. It was nice meeting you, Marie, and nice meeting you, too, Laura. I’m here if yous need anything.” They smiled and saw me to the door, and I walked quickly home.
“Where were you?” Mom demanded the second I stepped through the front door. “You’re always home by now.”
“Tina, Dawn, and I were hanging out at the Deli Roma with some kids from St. Clement’s,” I said, inventing the story as quickly as I spoke.
“Well, help me set the table,” Mom said. I said nothing to my family about the visit with Marie and Laura. I may say nothing to anyone about it, not even to the gang.
Tuesday, November 12, 1985
I came home from work around nine thirty – Mom picked me up and drove me home, same as she always does on the nights I work – and Joe Panepinto and Neddy were sitting in the living room talking to Dad. I could tell they were talking about big news, as Joe Panepinto looked agitated.
“Sonofabitch, I don’t believe it’s happening again!” Joe said.
“What is? What’s going on?” I asked.
“A zebra couple moved in at 64th and Buist,” Neddy said.
“What?” I asked.
“An interracial couple,” Dad explained. “They just bought a house at 64th and Buist.”
“There’s some blockbusting bullshit going on,” Joe Panepinto added with disgust.
“It’s Kingsessing all over again,” Dad said gloomily. “Pretty soon, we’ll be getting calls from realtors telling us to sell our houses before property values drop. And people are probably gonna sell out. Just like Kingsessing.”
“I heard that the house was owned by the VA, and this couple had the winning bid,” Neddy told them.
Joe Panepinto laughed obscenely. “Looks like I’m gonna have to take out a few more windows!”
The drama continues to escalate in Elmwood.
P.S. I saw on Action News tonight that Pelle Lindbergh, the Flyers’ goalie, has died from injuries he sustained in a car accident on Sunday. How very sad.
Wednesday, November 13, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I were sullen as we waited for the 36 this morning. They had heard the news about 64th and Buist, too.
“I don’t want to tell Pam and Shereen,” Tina said.
“Me neither,” said Dawn. “I’m sure what’s going on here has upset them enough. There’s no use in hurting them more.”
Winslow appeared out of thin air. “Hey, have yous heard the news?”
“Yep,” I sighed. “I’m sick of people arguing and complaining about it. I want my peaceful neighborhood back.”
We met Pam and Shereen at 46th Street, and our downcast expressions betrayed us. “What’s up with yous?” Pam asked. “Did someone die?”
“We’d rather not talk about it,” I said.
“What’s this, secrets?” Shereen asked. “I thought we told each other everything.”
Since they were probably going to pry it out of us, I blurted, “Elmwood’s in an upheaval again. We found out that an interracial couple bought a house at 64th and Buist.”
Pam rolled her eyes. “Man, we should have known. Here we go again with this Alabama crap.”
Before the start of European Cultures class, some white girls from Southwest Philly harassed some black girls from West Philly about the racial tensions in Elmwood. “We’re gonna come down there and fuck yous all up!” snarled one of the West Philly girls after she had fielded an insult from one of the Southwest Philly girls.
“Look, not everyone in Southwest Philly feels that way,” I shot back as I tried to defuse the situation. The Southwest Philly girls laughed snidely over the trouble they had caused and looked as if they wanted to start more.
“Girls!” Sister Mary Austin shrilled above our shouting voices as she entered the classroom. “That will be enough, and it’s a demerit for each of you for fighting!” We groaned in unison, especially those of us like me who had been no part of the argument. We said our morning prayer and got cracking on the test, which I studied for all this week.
Anthony and I ate at Campo’s after work, and we talked about the developments in the neighborhood. “When I came home last night, Dad and Neddy and Joe Panepinto were buzzing about the interracial couple who just bought a house at 64th and Buist,” I told him.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Anthony said. “Pop was complaining about it, too.
“This whole neighborhood’s gone crazy, and if you ask me, it’s only just begun.”
“You’re right,” he agreed with a sigh. “There’s no telling what will happen next, what with how agitated everyone is.”
We walked over to the 63rd Street Bridge after dinner and surveyed our neighborhood. No one taking in this scene of streetlight-illuminated streets and tidy rowhomes could imagine the turmoil that bubbled beneath its peaceful veneer.
“I’m tired of everyone spazzing out over the newcomers,” I said. “Why does it matter? They’re normal, hard-working people like you and me. Can’t we let them be? All I want is for Elmwood to be a happy place again.”
“I know, bella,” Anthony sighed as he held me. “Someday it will be, and only God knows what will happen between now and then.”
Thursday, November 14, 1985
“I heard the husband was in the Air Force and the wife is foreign,” Candy said as she and I set up a rack of earrings. She was talking about the newcomers at 64th and Buist. “I think they have kids, too, but I don’t know how many.”
“Everyone’s getting more and more pissed,” I said. “Yesterday in school, some white girls from Southwest Philly started a fight with some black girls from West Philly over the racial tensions. I want the craziness to stop.”
Candy sighed. “It’s nuts. At least it’s peaceful down where I am. Stuff like that doesn’t seem to matter as much in Eastwick.”
At least I have the upcoming double date with Meatball and Dee Dee to keep my mind off the drama. I need the entertainment.
Friday, November 15, 1985
Anthony and I met Meatball and Dee Dee outside the Homestead at seven tonight. I bought a new outfit from Candy’s Closet last night for the occasion: a long, dark-blue cardigan sweater, white blouse, and dark-blue stirrup pants. I wore dangly metallic-blue earrings and black ballerina flats as well. Anthony wore a black pullover, his gold chain with the Italian boot and the Italian horn, black pants, and black loafers.
“Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin was playing on the jukebox as we strolled into the Homestead. There was a full crowd at the bar, and many tables were full, too. A waitress bustled up to us and seated us at a booth. We climbed in, and Anthony introduced me to Dee Dee.
She’s the same age as he and Meatball and is a short, round Italian girl with large brown eyes and short, dark-brown hair. Dee Dee’s last name is Fabrizio; she graduated from West Girls last year, 1984. She told me she works at an office in Center City.
“For how long have you and Meatball been going out?” I asked.
“About six months. Meat’s the greatest!”
“Ant! How ya doin’?” was the greeting from several who passed by our table. It seemed as if everyone knew Anthony, and they treated him as if he were a celebrity. A waitress came to us to take our drink order, and we ordered sodas.
The newcomers were the hot topic. “I live on Dewey Street near 61st and Elmwood, around the corner from the black couple,” Dee Dee said. “My neighbors like to throw rocks at the back of their house.”
“It’s a sad situation,” Meatball said. “I have nothing against these people, but because of them, the floodgates will open, and the low-income blacks will pour in.”
“Blacks trash neighborhoods,” Anthony said. “It’s a fact.”
The waitress returned with our drinks and took our food order. I ordered a meatball sandwich. We resumed our conversation after she had left.
“All I want is for our neighborhood to be happy again,” I said. “I have black friends, and I would be very upset if they were going through this.”
“Yeah, well, not all blacks are bad. I had black friends in school, too, but let’s face it: when blacks come, the ghetto trash is sure to follow,” Meatball replied.
Many people at the bar were talking about the newcomers, too. One guy overheard us and told us, “I used to own that house on 61st Street. This is an all-white neighborhood, and people are prejudiced. They’re afraid other people will be moving out and more blacks will be moving in. That’s what usually happens.”2
The woman sitting next to him turned to face us. She had short brown hair and a permanent scowl on her face, a look I see on the faces of a lot of Elmwood women who lead hard lives. Her earrings were large gold stars that looked as if they had done time as Christmas-tree ornaments.
They introduced themselves as Joe and Mary. Resuming the thread of the conversation, Joe said, “I heard that that black couple bid less for the house than some whites in Elmwood who wanted to buy it. The VA repo’d it from the guy that owned it before, conducted a sale, and awarded the house to the blacks, even though they bid lower for it.”
Mary chimed in. “I heard the black couple offered eleven grand for the house, even though a white couple offered fourteen grand.”
“I’m thinking some realtors are putting these people here to bust up the neighborhood. They know that we whites are gonna move out, and that’s when these realtors are expecting to make their profit,” Joe added.
“That’s what I’m hearing from my pop,” Anthony said, and Joe and Mary were impressed.
“I’m expecting your father to be vocal about this,” Mary said. “I don’t think he’s gonna take this bulllshit lying down.”
Anthony laughed. “You’re right. He’s been complaining a lot about it.”
“Do you know that a motorcycle gang lived in that house at 64th and Buist?” Mary asked. “The one where the interracial couple lives. I used to date one of those bikers.”
“No, we didn’t!” Dee Dee exclaimed. “That’s very interesting!”
“Yeah, they had a doghouse in the front yard with a swastika on it. True story,” she said. “Now an interracial couple lives there. Ain’t that a trip?”
“We gotta flush these people out. I don’t trust ‘em,” Joe said.
Everyone ranted about the need to get the newcomers out of the neighborhood. I wanted to protest but was afraid that they would turn on me like a pack of hyenas. Perhaps even Anthony would resent me for my differing opinion.
We got up to leave after we had finished our meals and Anthony had paid the check. “Nice meeting yous,” Anthony said to Joe and Mary as they said the same and resumed their previous positions at the bar.
“What do yous want to do now?” Anthony asked.
“How about we go to my house to play ping pong?” I suggested, and that’s what we did. It was a terrific game, and Dee Dee was the best player of us all. We listened to the radio during the game, and 98 played a new song called “Party All the Time” by Eddie Murphy with Rick James singing backup. It was appropriate for tonight!
Saturday, November 16, 1985
I heard that the interracial couple is moving into their house tomorrow. I want to see them and hopefully talk to them, too. I may not be able to do anything about the animosity in this neighborhood, but I can at least be civil.
I heard the most amazing song on 98. It was called “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. It sounds unlike anything else on the radio, very eerie and otherworldly. I hope to hear it again.
Sunday, November 17, 1985
After Mass and Sunday breakfast, I wandered down to the 6400 block of Buist Avenue. I had the whole day to devote to my mission, as Anthony had to help at the store and Tina and Dawn were working.
I stood in front of the Deli Roma, which is on the corner adjacent to the house, to observe. Men were unloading boxes and furniture from the rental truck parked in front of the house, but I didn’t see the couple. After a few minutes, the men locked the front door, climbed inside the truck, and drove away.
The Bridge Kids came along as soon as the truck had gone. They walked up Buist toward me, turned left onto 64th Street, and turned right into the driveway behind that row of houses. I ran across the street and followed them, fearing they were up to no good. Tim Murphy was carrying an ax. Dear mother of God, an ax!
I caught up to them as soon as they reached the back of the house and stood many feet behind them; I don’t think they saw me. Tim laid blows into the basement door with the ax before handing it over to Ray Cole, who added some of his blows to the door. Tracey Gallagher and Michelle Tomlison giggled all the while. Once the door had been hacked apart, Ray pushed it aside, and they entered. I wasn’t far behind them. I entered, ran through the dark basement, up the staircase, and into the kitchen.
I arrived in time to see Ray plant several ax blows into the cabinets above the kitchen sink. Michelle picked up a clock radio and threw it against a wall as hard as she could, and it smashed into a thousand pieces. She and Tracey cackled.
“What the fuck are you doin’ here, Kramer?” Michelle demanded, noticing me at last. “If you rat us out, your ass is grass.”
“This is wrong! Yous shouldn’t be doing this!” I said.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong!” Tim yelled as he approached me and jabbed a finger in my face. “These fuckin’ niggers comin’ to shit up this neighborhood. We’re sending them the message that they need to pack up and get the fuck out. They ain’t gonna listen any other way.”
“Yo, if you’re here, join us,” Ray suggested.
“Yous are totally gnarly,” I said as Tracey and Michelle cackled again. I think they would have cheerfully beaten the crap out of me, but they were focused on their mischief and moved into the living room. A sofa, an armchair, two end tables, and two lamps had been set up. Unopened boxes were scattered throughout the living room as well as the dining room. Ray swung the ax in an arc and shattered the lamps, and the others whooped with glee.
I used my arms to shield my face from the shards of glass, ceramic, and metal that were flying in all directions. “Fuckin’ A!” Ray bellowed. “Let’s go back downstairs!” They stampeded down to the basement, and I followed. I wanted to stop them, but what could I do? I was one person, powerless to halt their diabolical intent. Someone flipped on the light; how convenient for them that the electricity had been turned on. Tim took the ax once again and smashed and hacked the water heater and most of the pipes.
He turned to Tracey and asked, “Yo, you got that thing?” Tracey produced a bottle from her large pocketbook. I smelled gasoline and saw that there was a gasoline-soaked rag protruding from the bottle. She handed the bottle to Tim, who placed it on the cement floor. He extracted a lighter from his back pocket and touched the flame to the tip of the rag. The rag caught fire, and they bolted out the back door with me right behind them.
I turned to look back but saw that the flame had somehow gone out. The Bridge Kids raced ahead of me and down the driveway towards 64th Street. I walked slowly, tears burning behind my eyelids.
I walked over to the Deli Roma and bought a can of Frank’s black-cherry wishniak soda, sipping it as I made my way to St. Barney’s schoolyard directly across the street and sat on the curb. I felt horrible for the interracial couple and horrible for the ruined house they were going to come home to.
I rose and went up to Connell Park and chilled there for a while. I didn’t feel like going home yet. I wanted to see what was going on at 6402, so I returned.
The rental truck was back. Across the street stood the Bridge Kids surrounded by a gang of about a dozen or so burnouts. The song “Sleeping Bag” by ZZ Top jangled from a boom box, its peppy beat providing an incongruous soundtrack for this hostile gathering.
At last I saw the interracial couple. They were carrying boxes into the house, and the men I had seen earlier were carrying furniture. The couple tried to look calm, but you could tell they were upset.
“Nigger! You’ve got it comin’!”3 Tracey Gallagher screamed.
“You’d better move!”4 One of the guys in the crowd yelled out.
A rock was thrown at the side of the rental truck, hitting it with a thud. The crowd laughed, but I was aghast. I had seen enough for one day and went home. No one asked me where I had been when I sat down to dinner, and I can’t remember what we talked about at the dinner table.
Joe and Carolyn flipped on the TV and watched Silver Spoons as I went up to my room to finish my weekend homework. I’m plugged into my Walkman and listening to Madonna’s Like a Virgin cassette, trying to get all the horrible crap I witnessed today out of my head.
Monday, November 18, 1985
While we waited for the 36 this morning, I regaled Dawn and Tina with what I had witnessed yesterday at 6402.
“Please, you guys, don’t tell anyone what I told you,” I implored. “I’ll get into a lot of trouble with my parents, and the Bridge Kids will beat my ass. Please keep this to yourselves.”
“No problem, will do,” Tina assured me.
“Oh shit,” Dawn said, “here comes Winslow. Zip it!”
We clammed up as Winslow sauntered over to us. “Hey, have yous heard the news?”
“What news this time? There’s been so much going on lately,” I said with a groan.
“My dad heard that they’re having a meeting tonight in Loreto’s auditorium. It will be about the newcomers. We’re going. Yous should be there, too.”
“We have to work,” Dawn said, speaking for both herself and for Tina. “But our parents will probably be there.”
“I’m off,” I said. “I want to go. My parents will probably go, too, and so will Anthony and his family.”
“Me and my family are going,” Anthony said as we discussed the meeting during our lunchtime phone call. “You comin’?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there, and I’m sure my family will want to go, too.”
“We’ll go as a group,” he suggested. “Me and my family will meet yours at your house.”
Anthony, Jake, Lina, and Carmella came at seven tonight for my family and me. Louie had to watch the store and couldn’t come. “It’s so good to see yous again,” Lina said to my parents. Mom smiled and said “Same here,” while Dad gave her a brief smile. I waited for words to be exchanged between Dad and Jake, or for Joe to make a tactless comment to Jake, but I think the gravity of the situation weighed heavily upon us and made us all very sullen.
I was astounded to see at least a hundred people at the Loreto auditorium, and more were pouring through the door. Already present were Grandmom and Pop Pop, Mr. Winslow, Mr. and Mrs. McNulty, Mr. and Mrs. Heller, Neddy and Louise, Joe Panepinto, Mrs. McGonigle, and many other adults I see in the neighborhood on a regular basis. A lot of my friends were there, too: Winslow, Meatball, Dee Dee, Carmella’s gang of friends, and many other high-school-aged and grade-school-aged kids from my parish and from other Southwest Philly parishes.
“I thought this was going to be a small town-hall meeting,” Mom said as we took our seats.
“I hope they give us some answers,” Dad said. Meatball, Dee Dee, and Carmella’s gang saw us, moved from their seats on the other side of the auditorium, and sat in the row behind us, as there were no more empty seats in our row.
“We’re gonna talk about the molonyams,” Jake said. “Somebody needs to tell us what the hell is going on with the VA giving houses to underbidders and the realtors trying to blockbust the neighborhood.”
“Are you shittin’ me?” Dad asked, astounded.
“Yeah, I’m serious. We already got one phone call from a realtor telling us to sell before our property value dropped.”
“Fuck,” Dad muttered, even though he took pains not to say that word around us kids.
A man seated at a table at the front of the auditorium called the meeting to order. Several hundred people had gathered by now, and he gave a signal for them to hush. He identified himself as a Veterans Administration official and identified the other members of the panel seated with him: a police inspector, who sat to his left; and to the police inspector’s left, the pastor of the Woodland Avenue United Presbyterian Church.
“Residents of Elmwood, thank you for joining us tonight and showing your concern for the issues at hand,” the VA official began. “I am here at the behest of Mayor Goode to address the talk that has been circulating that both the black and the interracial couple who have moved to Elmwood were awarded houses by the VA even though both were low bidders. The VA has investigated this matter, and the allegation is false. Both couples were the high bidders. And both couples paid the full down payment for their homes.”
There were mutterings from the crowd, and Jake stood up. “I heard that the houses were sold to these people after people right here in Elmwood bid on them!” he cried as dozens of voices added their protests to his.
“Sir, that is a completely unfounded rumor!” the VA official insisted, and the protesting voices rose again.
“I don’t believe what you say about down payments,” a woman yelled after the din had died down. “I heard that the couple on 61st Street got their house with no down! That’s unreal! Everyone here spent their life’s savings on their down payment. Why do these blacks get a house with no down? Isn’t it bad enough that they leech off every government handout?”
More yelling and hollering followed this, and it was even louder than the previous uproar. It was on the verge of getting ugly, and the police inspector shouted into his microphone for everyone to settle down. Anthony squeezed my hand, as if to assure me I would be okay.
The uproar ended, and the pastor calmly said to the VA official, “Everyone’s afraid because somebody's giving away houses to someone we don't know. What you have here is a situation where the people simply want some straight answers.”5
“The answer is that the couples have purchased their homes fair and square from the VA,” the official insisted. “The talk you all hear about underbidding and no down payments is all rumor.”
A woman in her late twenties, who was seated several rows ahead of us, said, “I used to live in the 2500 block of 61st Street with my parents before I got married, right down the street from where the black couple is. People are scared of blacks. Once a black family moves in, their tolerance is so low because of what they have seen and what they fear. It's almost an innate fear of blacks."6
A woman sitting across from her added, "It's been four neighborhoods I've been chased out of. I really don't want to move again. I've been here thirteen years, and I don't want to move again."7
Dad was boiling with the lid on tight, and at last he exploded. “Do yous know that there’s blockbusting going on?” he demanded of the panel. “Some of us have already gotten calls from realtors telling us to sell our homes before our property values drop because of the blacks moving in.”
Another uproar followed Dad’s words. The police inspector again shouted for the crowd to be silent, but his words had no effect. After several minutes, the uproar faded, and the police inspector said, “A human relations commission will investigate these allegations of blockbusting. Please, ladies and gentlemen, let the authorities handle this. Getting agitated will not solve anything!”
“That’s it!” shouted a man in the front row. “I live at 64th and Buist, on the same block as the interracial couple. The city ain’t gonna do shit for us. It’s up to us to speak up and take our neighborhood back!” Shouts and cheers followed his words. “We’re gonna protest! It’s our only option!”
“We’ll have a peaceful demonstration on Wednesday night,” his wife added. “No violence or bloodshed will be involved. We’ll show up, and our very presence will make our feelings known.”
Everyone in the auditorium applauded, and many vowed to participate in the demonstration. The VA official talked about the dangers of such a demonstration and how the police will be sure to show up to squelch it. His words had no effect, as many in the crowd vowed to demonstrate and even made plans for it. The VA official adjourned the meeting, but he could scarcely be heard over the brouhaha.
Anthony walked me home as he and I followed behind our families. After Grandmom and Pop Pop had returned to their house, and my family to mine, Anthony and I spoke. Jake, Lina, and Carmella lingered.
“How awful,” I said. “Do you think people will really demonstrate?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “People around here are nuts.”
“I’m scared,” I admitted.
“Don’t be, bella. I’m here to protect you.”
What I didn’t tell him was that I was scared not only for my own safety but also for the safety of Marie and her family as well as for the safety of the people at 6402 Buist Avenue. I resolved to say a decade of the rosary for the safety of the two families as soon as I got the chance.
Tuesday, November 19, 1985
We seniors were measured for our caps and gowns, which brings us that much closer to graduation!
The phone rang as soon as I got home from school. Since I was home alone, I answered it.
“Hello, this is Williamson Realty,” a man’s voice said. “Are you the lady of the house?”
“I’m sorry, my parents aren’t home,” I replied. “May I take a message?”
“We’re calling in regards to the changes that have been taking place in your neighborhood,” he said. “We’d like to know if your parents are willing to sell their home before its value drops. Could you please take down our number so we can assist them?”
I hung up on him, which I never do to callers. I flashed back to what Jake said last night, about getting a call from a realtor urging him to sell. I wondered how many of our neighbors were getting these calls.
I told my parents about the phone call. Though they made no comments, their faces spoke a thousand words, the words I’ve been saying for days: Elmwood needs to be a happy place again.
Wednesday, November 20, 1985
Tina, Dawn, and I discussed the recent happenings on our way to school this morning: The Loreto town-hall meeting, the call I received yesterday from the realtor, and the other topics that have been setting Elmwood afire these past few weeks. We resolved not tell Pam and Shereen about the meeting or about the realtors’ calls. We didn’t know how to explain them in a way that wouldn’t hurt or enrage them.
“It’s going to get worse,” I said. “A demonstration’s supposed to happen tonight. And if it does, I don’t want to see it. Things are scary enough as it is.”
On the El on the way home, I heard the boys from both St. Barney’s and Loreto say that Brother Gallagher, their principal, had ordered all the boys from their parishes into the auditorium to talk to them about tonight’s scheduled demonstration. He told them he didn’t want them there.
Once I was home, I took off my uniform and was about to put on pajamas when I heard a commotion downstairs. Dad had come home, and he was ranting. I threw on my bathrobe and crept to the top of the staircase to hear him better.
“I just got back from the Wheeler,” he told Mom, “and I heard that there really is gonna be a demonstration outside the blacks’ house on 61st Street.”
My heart jumped into my throat. “If you’re planning on going, don’t,” Mom said. “It could get ugly.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Dad said. “I’m gonna stay home.”
“I heard people say at that meeting that they were going to demonstrate,” Mom said. “It looks as if it’s going to happen.”
I went back to my room and sat on the edge of my bed. I was shaking and wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. I felt awful for Marie and her family, and even more awful that I could do nothing to stop the pending onslaught. The demonstration would be like a bad car accident: Something I shouldn’t look at but would want to anyway. I considered going for that reason, plus I was concerned for the safety of both Marie and her family.
While I was trying to calm my chaotic thoughts, and decide on whether to go to the demonstration, the phone rang. I picked up the extension in Mom and Dad’s room; it was Anthony.
“There’s gonna be a demonstration at that house on 61st Street,” he told me. “I wanna go. You should come with me.”
That decided me. “Okay,” I complied.
“I heard it’s gonna be around seven, so I’ll come for you then, and we’ll walk over there.” He said goodbye and hung up. I returned to my room, took off my bathrobe, and put on a white T shirt, a pair of acid-washed jeans, bunched a pair of thick black socks over the cuffs of the jeans, and put on black sneakers. I pulled on a thick acrylic pullover in a red-and-black checkered print to keep me warm.
The demonstration was cause célčbre at the dinner table. I ate mechanically, my mind elsewhere.
“Mom and Dad, can I go to the demonstration?” Joe asked.
“No!” Mom barked. “Most definitely not. It could get ugly, and you could get hurt. You’re staying home.”
I certainly didn’t want to tell Mom that’s where I was headed. After dinner, I told her Anthony and I were going to the Homestead to meet up with friends.
“Okay, but stay away from that demo,” she said. “There’s no telling what’s going to happen there.”
I lied like a three-dollar toupee and assured her I would. Anthony knocked up at seven, and we made our way over to 61st Street. I was both shocked and horrified at the number of people already present: There were at least several hundred, about as many as had attended the Loreto meeting. Many were adults; most were young people in their teens to mid-twenties. I saw the Bridge Kids standing close to the front of the crowd. I’m sure they were chomping at the bit, ready to inflict whatever damage they could on the house.
I saw a familiar-looking man. It took me a few seconds to realize he was Brother Gallagher, and he was almost unrecognizable in lay clothing. “Gentlemen, go home. There’s no reason for you to be here,” he admonished two boys from his school, and they quietly departed. I scanned the crowd for Sister Catherine, my school’s principal, but didn’t see her. I was relieved.
We pushed our way through the crowd; because Anthony is who he is, people let us pass. I held tightly onto his hand, as I most certainly didn’t want to be separated from him in this melee. Eventually we made our way to the front and had an unobstructed view of the house. There were half a dozen men standing in front of it; I heard from someone in the crowd that they were plainclothes officers from the police civil-affairs unit guarding the house. I looked down the street and saw several mounted police officers on red alert.
The crowd muttered and yelled things I couldn’t understand, as everyone was saying something different. But soon the noise took the form of words and grew into a chant: “We want them out! We want them out!”8 Vans from the news channels Three, Six, and Ten were present, their cameras pointed at the chanting crowd. One of the newscasters walked up to a guy and tried to interview him; the guy barked, “Ah, just get the fuck outta here!”
A man inside the house came to the window and peered out. The crowd roared, and he moved away from the window. I assumed he was Carl, Marie’s husband. I wondered where Marie and Laura were, and I worried for all of them.
One of the Bridge Kids, I think it was Tim Murphy but am not sure, flung a Budweiser bottle at the front of the house. It shattered against the brick façade and into a million pieces. The chant now changed, this time to “Move, move, move!” Anthony wrapped his arm protectively around me, especially as people edged closer to us.
A woman burst from the crowd, her gold hoop earrings shaking fiercely as she yelled at the officers, “This was blockbusting! I’m going to tell you something: You can’t protect this house forever!”9 Those within earshot roared their approval as she slipped back into the crowd.
We stood in the crowd for two hours and then left to go to Campo’s for something to eat. We returned after we had finished our meal; it was close to ten o’clock, and the crowd was beginning to disperse.
“This ain’t over!” a burnout kid vowed. “We’ll be at 64th and Buist tomorrow night!” Others yelled in agreement and vowed to be present.
As far as I could tell, no arrests were made, and the demo ended peacefully. As we were walking to my house, I asked Anthony, “Are you going to the demo tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, I am. Maybe you should go with me.” I agreed.
I’m exhausted as I write this, but I must get it all down. Someday this will have historic importance.
Thursday, November 21, 1985
We didn’t want to tell Pam and Shereen about the demonstration, and it turned out we didn’t have to: They had seen it on TV. The demo had been the big story on all last night’s news broadcasts.
“It’s unbelievable,” Pam said as we walked up 46th Street on our way to school.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m so ashamed.”
“Look, we know it’s not your fault,” Shereen said. “People are messed up. We know yous are cool.”
Knowing that Pam and Shereen didn’t hold Tina, Dawn, and me accountable for the turmoil made me feel better. The day quickly passed, and I’m happy to report that I can now take dictation very quickly in Stenography. It’s another reason Mom and Dad want me to become a secretary, but you know what my feelings are on that, so I won’t repeat them.
Anthony knocked up for me around seven with Carmella and Louie in tow. I wanted Tina and Dawn to come with us, and we walked over to Tina’s house to collect her first.
She answered the door as soon as we knocked. “I heard about this demo from the Bridge Kids,” she said. “My parents wouldn’t let me go to last night’s demo. Let’s get Dawn.” Dawn was eager to go, as she had to work last night and was forced to miss that demo.
The six of us walked down to 64th and Buist. A large crowd had already gathered, but it wasn’t quite as large as last night’s. Most of the attendees were young people in our age group, and there were a lot of burnouts, just as there were last night. The Bridge Kids were present. They were stationed close to the front of the crowd and standing guard over a supply of rocks and beer bottles.
Brother Gallagher was there, admonishing two more of his students to go home. Realizing the danger Louie was in, as he’s a West Boys student, we hid him behind us. I hoped Brother Gallagher wouldn’t recognize Tina, Dawn and me and say something to us; he didn’t.
Once again, Anthony pushed his way to the front, all of us following him. There was so much noise that it was useless for us to talk to each other. All we could do was take in what was happening and keep it to ourselves for future discussion. Same as last night, plainclothes civil-affairs officers were standing guard in front of the house while mounted cops were stationed farther down the block.
Next to us stood two men engaged in a conversation. One gave his name as Bob and said he was the executive director of the Southwest Task Force; I’ve never heard of it and didn’t know it existed until tonight. The other man’s name was Rich. Rich said, “I’m here to demonstrate to make the point that we have a tight-knit neighborhood that is being surrounded by a black sea.” He pointed to the house and said, “Here comes a stream. And what follows a stream? A river, and then an ocean."10
“Move! Move! Move!”11 the chant began, then changed to a litany of “Nigger, get out!”12 Louie, noticing a rock at his feet, picked it up and hurled it at the house. It squarely hit the front door and put a dent in it.
Carmella shrieked as Anthony bellowed, “Louie, what the fuck are you doin’?”
“I feel the same way everybody here does,” he said. “I want them out, too.”
“Look, knock your shit off. I ain’t stickin’ up for you if you get into a fight,” Anthony warned.
The yelling and chanting continued. We stayed close together, as none of us wanted to separate from our group and be at the mercy of these awful people. I saw movement on the fringes of the crowd: Workers from the Deli Roma were passing out cups of free coffee to whomever wanted it.
Once again, a man inside the house came to the window, peered out, and stepped away, followed by a mighty roar from the crowd.
“Nigger, go home!” screamed a burnout chick next to me. She had fluffy, feathered hair and wore a black Spandex top under her fitted black jacket. The burnout guys next to her lit cigarettes as others tossed empty Bud cans into 6402’s small front yard. The crowd took up her words and chanted them.
A man emerged from an adjacent house and demanded of one of the plainclothes officers, “Do these people have a permit to demonstrate in front of this house?”
“Sir, we’re trying to disperse the crowd,” the officer replied, yet the cops weren’t doing a thing to stop this. The man looked horrified.
“Hey, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go live with these niggers?” a burnout guy in a Metallica shirt yelled at him. A cry of agreement was taken up by that part of the crowd as they pelted the poor man with Bud cans. He fled back to his home.
We stood there until almost ten thirty, listening to chants and epithets, smelling cigarette smoke and Budweiser, and becoming more and more irritated by the burnouts’ words and actions. The crowd began to disperse, and we returned to my house. I made it there safely, kissed Anthony goodnight, and said goodbye to everyone else.
I realize Ring Day is less than a week away, and I’ve let the past week’s chaos overshadow this happy event.
Friday, November 22, 1985
The demonstrations were all the talk on the trolley and in school this morning. Pam and Shereen, as well as everyone else, had seen last night’s demo on the news. “It’s like Selma, or Nazi Germany, in your neighborhood,” Shereen said, and I was forced to agree.
5 DAYS TILL RING DAY trumpeted the large chalk letters on the blackboard in homeroom, a jubilant counterpoint to the angst I’ve been living through these past few days. We’ve been counting down to Ring Day for the past month, and it’s all any of the seniors has been talking about. In celebration of the big day, we’re wearing metallic-gold wire rings with blue pompoms on them, fun little replicas of our real rings.
It’s a good thing I’ve already bought my dress and made arrangements for the limo, else the chaos in Elmwood would have sidetracked all my thoughts and plans for Ring Day.
Tonight, Candy and I talked to a customer named Toni, who lives near the interracial couple. “There are a lot of people around here that feel bad for them. People who don't want to come out and say it because the next thing you know, they end up arguing with neighbors, and their whole block is upset.”13
“I feel the same way,” I told her. “And you’re right: You can’t voice your sympathy else you piss everyone off.”
A cold rain began today, and I think winter will be here once it’s over.
Saturday, November 23, 1985
I visited both 2548 61st Street and 6402 Buist Avenue after work. I wanted to see what was going on; perhaps I shouldn’t have been curious, but I was. Outside each house, plainclothes cops were sitting in unmarked cars and keeping watch. Everything was quiet in both neighborhoods, too.
During my visit to 6402, I saw several burnouts in a car on Buist Avenue shouting, “Get them out! We don’t want them!”14 at the house as they drove by it. I was furious. Why can’t these goddamn burnouts stay out of trouble for once and let innocent people live?!
Dad waved a newspaper at me as soon as I walked in the door. “You gotta read this Inkwire after dinner,” he said. That’s how he pronounces “inquirer,” meaning The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the city’s newspapers.
“Why? What’s happening?”
“Wilson Goode’s imposed a state of emergency in this neighborhood.”
Mom had made shepherd’s pie for dinner. As we ate, I mentioned the state of emergency.
“You gotta read the article,” Mom said. “It’s too much to describe. But in a nutshell, Goode’s declared a state of emergency and prohibited large gatherings of people near those houses.”
“But is it okay to go behind those houses and throw rocks at their windows? No one will see you back there. My friends do it,” Joe said.
“No, and I don’t wanna catch you doin’ that!” Dad barked.
I hurried through dinner and took the newspaper up to my bedroom. Dad had circled the article’s page number so I could find it easily, and I opened to it right away. As Mom and Dad had said, Mayor Goode has declared a state of emergency in response to the demonstrations, and he wants the state of emergency to remain in effect for at least two weeks. It’s going to cover Elmwood Avenue between 60th and 70th Streets and go as far down as Lindbergh Boulevard.
The state of emergency prohibits groups of four or more people from congregating in the crisis area, unless they’re waiting for public transit, going to Mass, or entering or leaving a building. In short, you can’t loiter in that area anymore. I need to keep this in mind if I plan on hanging out with my friends. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that my house lies around the corner from this crisis area and that Dawn’s house at 65th and Elmwood lies directly in it. Mayor Goode says arrests will be made if people fail to leave the area when told to do so by the cops.
I called Tina, Dawn, and Anthony and told them what I had read, and we resolved to use caution in the crisis area. While I had each of them on the phone, I confirmed Ring Day plans. Everything is a go!
I put on a coat and walked to the payphone to call Pam and Shereen. The cold and rain continue, and they echo Elmwood’s current mood. I reiterated to them plans for the Ring Dance, and they said they and their dates would be ready when the limo came for them. I didn’t tell them about the state of emergency, for I was unsure how they’d take it. I said goodbye, hung up, and returned home to have a cup of hot chocolate and a good snuggle with Petie.
Sunday, November 24, 1985
This morning, as my family and I exited St. Barney’s after Mass, I noticed a middle-aged man placing business cards under the windshield wipers of the cars parked on Buist Avenue. Buist is in the heart of the crisis area, and 6402, the interracial couple’s house, is a block down from St. Barney’s. I let my family move ahead as I approached and questioned him.
“Hey mister, whatcha doin’?” I asked.
He shot me a cold look with piercing eyes that froze me to the spot where I stood. “Little girl, redbirds don't mix with bluebirds," he said in a New England accent, "and some birds have more sense than some people."15 He moved to the next car and placed a card under its wiper.
I pulled a card off one of the cars and read it. The card gave the man’s name and stated he was a member of the Klu Klux Klan.
I quickly placed the card back under the car’s wiper and walked away. Holy crap, I thought, I was talking to a Klansman! I got out of there fast before he could talk to me again, and I caught up with my family.
I called Anthony after I got home from work. “Are you serious?” he asked incredulously when I told him about my run-in with the Klansman. “I read in the paper today that Goode is calling this neighborhood a ‘ticking time bomb,’16 and man, he ain’t kiddin’!”
“That was one scary dude,” I said.
“Hey, how would you like to go to the Granite Run Mall on Black Friday to do some Christmas shopping? We can even see a movie while we’re out there.”
“Yes!” I cried with delight. “I haven’t been to Granite Run in a while.” The Granite Run Mall is a huge mall somewhere out in Delco, a few miles down Baltimore Pike from the Springfield Mall.
“Okay, let’s do it. I can pick you up that afternoon, and we’ll spend the whole day at Granite Run.”
“I work till four, so you can pick me up from there.”
I have Black Friday to look forward to this week, in addition to Ring Day!
Monday, November 25, 1985
I told Tina and Dawn about my run-in with the Klansman while we waited for the 36 this morning, and they were as astounded as Anthony had been.
“Shit, Winslow!” Tina hissed as we clammed up. Although Winslow has become less annoying and less snitchy since she hooked up with Jason Feeney, we’re still distrustful of her. She ambled up to us, I LOVE JASON written all over her schoolbooks. “Hey, my dad said he heard that the state of emergency’s been extended to six weeks. Man, this neighborhood’s in deep shit.”
“Wow, six weeks!” I gasped. I had read in the paper that it was two weeks.
“Nothing like living under martial law,” Dawn observed drily.
“Hey, is it okay for us to be out here?” Winslow wondered.
“Yeah, we’re safe because we’re just waiting for public,” Tina said.
In homeroom, I was given the honor of changing the number on the blackboard to 2 DAYS TILL RING DAY.
Tuesday, November 26, 1985
I wandered down to 64th and Buist after school with half an intention to visit 6402. I saw an unmarked cop car sitting across the street from the house and I debated if I should knock up.
A black car was parked parallel to the house and several cars away from the unmarked cop car. The man behind the wheel produced what looked like a BB gun and took aim at 6402. He pulled the trigger, and I heard a BB bounce off the front yard’s fence with a shrill “ping.” I couldn’t believe he had the audacity to do that with a cop parked a few cars away from him. I decided it wasn’t safe to proceed and walked home. I’ll have to visit another day.
Ring Day is tomorrow!!!!
Wednesday, November 27, 1985
Ring Day started with the Ring Mass, which was held at St. Francis De Sales church in West Philly. Mom and Dad, who had both taken the day off, drove me there and attended the Mass, too. During Mass, the priest blessed the rings, and Sister Catherine presented them to each of us. Had we not been in church, we would have been screaming in excitement!
The ring is a square blue stone in a gold setting, and my full name is engraved inside the band. I’m going to have everybody turn it at least once until I get up to eighty-six turns, and the last turn will be Anthony’s.
The whole gang of us went to lunch with our parents after Mass. We decided on a restaurant in Center City called Mace’s Crossing and had a great time. My parents took some great Polaroids of the five of us, including a group shot of us extending happy, ring-bearing hands outside the church.
You’re probably wondering how Mom and Dad acted around Pam, Shereen, and their parents. They were actually civil, especially Dad. I think he was afraid of starting a scene, since the group was large and we were in public, so he kept his mouth shut.
I got home around three o’clock and got ready for the Ring Dance. I ironed my dress, got showered, and did my makeup and hair as nicely as I could. The dance would begin in the school auditorium at eight, and I had told everyone to be ready by seven for the limo’s arrival. It would get to my house a little earlier, so I made sure I was ready.
At six thirty, I nervously sat in the living room with Mom and Dad as Mom made sure the Polaroid camera was loaded with film. We went outside to meet the black stretch limo when it pulled up. Anthony climbed out, looking gorgeous in a black suit, white shirt, and skinny black tie. He kissed me on the cheek and slid a corsage onto my wrist as my nostrils filled with the scent of Polo cologne.
Jake and Lina were next to emerge, and I laughed as Jake brandished a Polaroid camera and said, “Get ready for pictures!” Jake, Lina, and my parents snapped a succession of pictures of Anthony and me.
Candy and Jason arrived a few minutes later, said hello to all of us, and proceeded to Winslow’s house. Mr. Winslow took lots of pictures of us, too. At the conclusion of the picture-taking, we said goodbye to our parents, who wished us a fun and safe night. We climbed into the limo and drove to Tina’s house on Glenmore Avenue.
“Wow, this is, like, awesome!” Winslow said. We were seated on a long, velour-covered bench strewn with throw pillows. Directly opposite us was a wet bar stocked with crystal champagne glasses that hung upside down over the bar. She flicked a nearby switch and watched the moon roof open and close.
We collected Tina and her date Mike, and the limo headed over to Dawn’s to collect her and her date Eddie. With four couples present, the limo pulled away from Dawn’s house and headed off to West Philly to pick up Pam and Shereen. Pam’s date was Michael Calvert, who’s a senior at West Boys and is from St. Carthage. Shereen’s date was Devon Taylor, also a senior at West Boys, and is from Transfiguration parish.
“I’m going to take pictures for all of you!” Mrs. Carter said as she assembled us into a group. She snapped twelve individual Polaroids, one for each of us to keep. It was a wonderful thing for her to do.
We said goodbye to the parents and climbed into the limo, and it took off for West Girls. We were crammed in like sardines but didn’t care, for we were laughing and giggling and having the time of our lives, as it was the first time any of us had ridden in a limo.
“Oooh, the stereo!” Pam said while we were admiring and turning our rings. “What station do we wanna listen to?” Half of us wanted to listen to 98; the other half to 99. Those who wanted to listen to 99 won. We sang “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam at the tops of our lungs. It was a very popular song this past summer and still gets a lot of airplay.
As the limo pulled up to the school auditorium and we disembarked, we saw many of our classmates, including Crazy Mary Devlin. She looks goofy at school, as our uniforms don’t flatter any of us, but she looked stunning tonight in a cobalt-blue dress with a wrap bodice and shoulder pads. She even wore matching cobalt-blue pumps.
“Mary!” I cried. “You look awesome! That dress rocks!”
“Thanks!” she said. “This is my date Mark.” Mark and I exchanged “nice to meet you”s, and my friends and I moved into the gym behind Mary and Mark.
The gym was decorated in gold and pale-blue crepe-paper streamers, our school colors. There was a huge replica of a West ring, which was made from blue-and-yellow bunches of crepe paper. The hole of the ring was large enough to stand in, and couples were doing that as they were having their pictures taken.
Each of us took turns standing inside the ring with our dates as we took pictures of each other. When it came my and Anthony’s turn, the yearbook photographer leapt out and snapped our picture! I hope that shot makes it into the yearbook!
We moved through the receiving line, which was made up of the members of our school’s administration as well as a few teachers, too. What a hassle it was to remember all their names, and God help us if we didn’t, for we had to introduce our dates to each member of the receiving line!
The D.J. kicked off the dance by playing the song “So Many Men” by Miquel Brown, which is a terrific jam! I hear it at every dance I go to. As “Shout” was played, Anthony tapped Jason, Mike, Eddie, Michael, and Devon each on the shoulder and said, “Let’s do it!” In unison, they dropped to the floor on their backs and did the worm! It was just like that scene from the toga party in the movie Animal House.
“Shout” ended, and the D.J. announced he would slow it down, and the lovely, familiar opening notes of “Cherish” floated over the crowd. Anthony held me close, and I never wanted that moment to end.
The Ring Dance ended at midnight. Anthony said we could have the limo for as long as we wanted, and we decided to go to the Denny’s on Baltimore Pike in Delco for a late-night repast.
What a terrific day! Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and that should be a good day, too!
Thursday, November 28, 1985
I pulled my ring out of my jewelry box first thing this morning to admire it. I truly feel like a West girl now that I have it! I helped Mom bake a chocolate cake to bring to Grandmom and Pop Pop’s, as dinner was to be held at their house.
We walked over to Grandmom and Pop Pop’s around two this afternoon. Our relatives arrived shortly after we did: Aunt Karen, who is my mom’s sister, and her husband Steve and their kids, my cousins Christopher and Renee; and Uncle Danny, who is my mom’s brother, with his wife Cindy and their daughter, my cousin Nicole.
Everybody admired my ring and oohed and aahed over the Polaroids Mom and Dad had taken last night. “Your dress was so pretty!” Aunt Cindy exclaimed, and everyone agreed. Everyone also turned my ring. So far, I’m up to fifty-seven turns.
Dinner was wonderful, and I said grace. I loved the stuffing: Grandmom used small pieces of cut-up toast instead of bread cubes, a recipe she got from Grandmom Betty. For dessert, we had the homemade chocolate cake that Mom and I had made, as well as pumpkin pie, coconut-custard pie, and cheesecake.
My family and I said goodbye at seven and walked back to our house. I called Anthony as soon as I could.
“How about we hang out at my house?” he suggested, and I agreed. He came over a few minutes later to walk me to his house. His family was in the living room watching The Cosby Show as he walked me through the front door.
Lina asked me, “Hon, would you like some lasagna?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I’m stuffed.”
“I’ll give you some to take home” she said.
Jake leered at me and said, “Hey, Gianetta, I’ll bet yous didn’t have any Italian food for dinner!”
“No, we didn’t,” I said.
“Yeah, your old man woulda probably had a shitter,” he chortled.
“Hey, you should hang out with me and my friends again someday soon,” Carmella said. “Maybe in Delco. I don’t feel safe hanging out with groups of people here in Elmwood now that they have this state of emergency goin’ on.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
The Manginos and I watched TV until Cheers went off at nine-thirty. I yawned and told Anthony I wanted to go home. Lina got up and went to the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a slab of lasagna on a Chinet dish covered over with tinfoil.
I thanked her for the lasagna, bid everyone goodnight, and went home accompanied by Anthony. Joe and Carolyn were in the basement playing ping pong, and my parents were in the living room watching Simon and Simon.
“What’s that?” Dad asked, motioning to the platter I carried.
“Lina gave me some lasagna. I’m sure it’s delicious, too!” I said.
“Goddamn dagoes eatin’ lasagna on Thanksgiving,” Dad grumbled as I walked to the kitchen and put the lasagna in the fridge.
I’m thinking of the totally awesome day I’m going to have tomorrow, even though I’m working from ten till four.
Friday, November 29, 1985
It was crazy busy in work with Black Friday shoppers. Many put clothes on layaway for Christmas, which meant I had to make innumerable trips to the stockroom to store their selections for safekeeping.
Anthony picked me up from work. As he floored the Iroc down Lindbergh Boulevard on our way to Delco, I popped my ‘Til Tuesday cassette into the tape deck and quietly sang along to “Winning the War.” I eventually tired of listening to it, so I put on 99 and heard “Bumpin’ Gum People” by The Gap Band. We kept 99 on for the rest of the drive into Delco.
We reached the Granite Run Mall in half an hour. It’s shaped like a Y and has two levels and three anchor stores: Sears, J. C. Penney, and Stern’s, and there are more stores than you can shake a stick at. I could easily spend an entire day there. Ups and Downs is my favorite clothing store in Granite Run; I can’t go to that mall without buying something there.
We were swept into the throng of Black Friday shoppers upon entering; it was a magical, happy, Christmasy gathering. Santa was set up in the center court of the lower level, and a very long line stretched from him and down through the mall. I couldn’t buy anything for Anthony, as he was with me, but I shopped for other people.
Here is a list of what I bought: A Peaches and Cream Barbie doll for Carolyn and the game Boggle for Joe, both at Kaybee Toys; a bathrobe for Mom and a sweater for Dad, both at Sears; gift certificates at Claire’s, the mall’s best jewelry store, for each member of the gang; and a set of colored drinking glasses for Jake and Lina at Penney’s. And because I felt I deserved a Christmas present, too, I bought a long, knee-length black sweater at Ups and Downs.
Anthony shopped for his family and friends, too. As we were putting our purchases in the trunk, he asked if I was hungry, and I said yes.
“How about we go to Rustler?” he asked, and back to the mall we went and had a great dinner. For dessert, I got a chocolate cone covered in chocolate jimmies at Baskin-Robbins.
We browsed through the mall as we ate our ice cream, and we also played a few rounds of Ms. Pac-Man at Aladdin’s Castle. When we grew tired of the arcade games, Anthony asked, “Do you want to see a movie over at the cinema? Rocky IV is playing.”
“Sure!” I said. Since he reminded me, we returned to Kaybee, and I bought a few packs of Rocky IV trading cards for Joe and Carolyn. We left the mall and drove over to the AMC Cinema, which is next to it. The movie was great! We headed back to Southwest Philly after the movie had ended around ten.
Joe and Carolyn were watching Miami Vice as I came into the house. I put the packs of trading cards on the coffee table, and they yelled with delight. “Thank you so much!” Carolyn said as she voraciously tore a pack open and stuffed the included stick of bubble gum into her mouth. I was reminded of the Whip as I smelled the bubble gum.
Mom and Dad were in their room watching Falcon Crest, and I crept in and told them I was home before going to my room and putting the presents in my closet.
What a happy week this has been! I think it’s to compensate for the horrors of last week!
Saturday, November 30, 1985
Today was a cold, drizzly day that was fit for staying indoors with a cup of hot chocolate. Despite the lousy weather, I thought I would pay a visit to 6402 Buist, as I didn’t have to be in work until five and had the time on my hands to do it.
Around one o’clock, a strange sight greeted me as I walked down Buist: A group of about two dozen people was marching in the street right in front of St. Barney’s chanting "Asian, Latin, black and white, smash racism, we must unite!"17 as they waved banners and signs bearing this and other anti-racism sentiments. People were watching the procession from their homes, and clusters of people were watching from the sidewalk as well.
I ran up to the marchers and asked one of them, “Who are you? What’s this all about?”
“We’re from the Germantown chapter of the International Committee Against Racism,” he told me, “and we’re here because of all the trouble that broke out in this neighborhood last week.” He was forced to move on with the group and couldn’t say any more.
They’re stirring the shit pot, and it was getting peaceful around here, too! I thought.
The onlookers, being typical outspoken Southwest Philadelphians, voiced their comments. “Niggers, spicks, and chinks!” a voice called out, referring to the racial mix of the group. “Get atta here! We don’t need your shit!”
I followed the procession as it moved down Buist Avenue and made a left onto 63rd Street. The procession and I came toward the intersection of 63rd and Elmwood, right around the corner from my house, and there was another, even more surprising sight: A group of about a dozen people was marching on 63rd coming toward the procession from the opposite direction.
I ran up to one of the marchers in the second group. “Are yous from the same group?” I questioned her.
“We sure are,” she replied. “We’re coming back from a rally up at 62nd and Woodland.”
The two groups blended together at Elmwood Avenue amid much yelling, chanting, and cheering. Onlookers on this block heckled the protestors, as the onlookers on Buist had done. I stood on the corner in front of Kotzin’s and took it all in.
I felt a chill go down my spine as I looked over to the opposite corner. There, in front of the Prichard Memorial Lutheran Church, stood the reptilian-looking Klansman I saw distributing his business cards last week, with two equally reptilian-looking men standing beside him. The Klansman and his associates chatted with nearby onlookers and handed leaflets to them, too. I hoped he wouldn’t look my way, notice me, and confront me.
At that moment, several paddy wagons raced down 63rd, and a swarm of cops jumped out of them to gather up and handcuff the protesters. Despite the melee, each protester climbed into a paddy wagon without putting up a fight. While the protesters were being rounded up, a cop approached the Klansmen and his associates and told them to leave.
“Oh, you’ll be seeing us again,”18 the Klansman said with a sinister grin before walking away with his associates. With the protesters having been carted away and the Klansmen run off, there was nothing else to see, so I left, too.
I had a peculiar feeling as I walked up 63rd towards my house, and I turned around. There on the corner in front of Kotzin’s, where I had been standing a minute earlier, stood a man wearing a pointed white hood with cutouts for his eyes, a Klansman’s hood. I hadn’t noticed him while I stood on that corner; he must have shown up very recently. He felt my gaze because he sharply turned his head in my direction to stare back at me. My heart jumped into my throat, and I ran home.
I don’t know who that man was; maybe he lives around here, maybe he doesn’t. All I know is that I hope I never see him again, or that Klansman or his associates.
My plan to visit 6402 had been thwarted once more. I worked from five till nine, grateful that the rush of Christmas shoppers helped keep my mind off what I saw earlier today.
Sunday, December 1, 1985
Once again, literature had been placed on the cars on Buist. We didn’t see who had circulated it. My family noticed as we were leaving Mass, and we took a leaflet off a car and read it. It said, "Hey, neighbor! Is this Philly or Johannesburg?"19
“My God, the craziness in this neighborhood won’t stop,” Mom said. I silently resolved to visit 6402 tomorrow come hell or high water.
We talked about the protest and the arrests as we walked home. “I heard some of those people were from out of town,” Dad said. “The whole country must know about the crap that’s going on here.”
I worked from two till six. Mom drove me home, and when we arrived at our house, I was delighted to see that it had been decorated for Christmas! Colored lights lined the inside perimeter of our front window, which also displayed a large nativity scene. There were also colored lights in each of the three bay windows on the second floor; those are my parents’ bedroom’s windows. More colored lights were wrapped around the railings. Our house looked so Christmasy!
The McGonigles, probably spurred by our decorating, had decorated their house, too, and it looked like Christmas gone wrong. Strings of lights dangled lifelessly from the insides of all the windows, and the railings were bedecked in triple strands of lights. And if all that wasn’t enough, the front porch was dominated by a pair of three-foot-high, illuminated plastic choir boys in white robes, which flanked either side of a nativity of the same type.
“Dear God!” Mom cried as we got out of the car. “I’m gonna throw up! I’ve never seen anything so horrible.”
“Your house looks like shit!” Dad yelled at Mrs. McGonigle. “Take some of it down; it’s making my house look bad!”
“Ah, shut the hell up!” Mrs. McGonigle yelled through her partially-opened door as Snickers squeezed through the opening and bolted down onto the pavement. Dad wasn’t paying attention to him, and since it was dark, he couldn’t see the pile of crap Snickers had deposited right by his foot. Snickers immediately bolted down the street as soon as he had dropped his load, knowing that what would happen next would be bad, and it was.
“Jesus Christ!” Dad yelled as he put his foot into the dog doo, loud enough for all of Elmwood to hear. He got so pissed that he took off his crap-covered shoe and flung it at the McGonigles’ front door. Mrs. McGonigle quickly shut the door as the shoe flew into it and left a large dent in its aluminum lower half.
“Bob! Calm down!” Mom implored, but Dad ignored her.
“Goddamn bitch,” Dad muttered, as he walked up to the McGonigles’ door to retrieve his shoe before stomping into our house, Mom following closely behind him. I laughed until my stomach hurt.
Just another day on Reedland Street!
Monday, December 2, 1985
The sun has emerged after days of rain, heralding winter, because it was bitterly cold today.
As I had done for my visit with Marie, I hopped off the trolley at Durso’s on the way home from school and bought a half dozen cream puffs. After I had made my purchase, I proceeded directly to 6402 and knocked on its door. It was answered by a lady with short blonde hair who eyed me warily.
“Hello! My name is Janet Kramer. I live a few blocks away at 62nd and Reedland. I know people around here have been giving you guff, but I thought I’d drop by to say hi and give a little gift.” That was pretty much what I had said to Marie, and as I had done with Marie, I held up the box of cream puffs as I spoke.
She hesitated for a moment, then opened the door and ushered me inside. The house was exactly as I remembered it from my last visit there with the Bridge Kids. The lamps they had broken had been replaced by new ones. I could smell kerosene from a nearby space heater; I assumed the house still didn’t have heat thanks to the Bridge Kids’ destruction of the pipes and the water heater. The living-room windows’ blinds were tightly closed, and over the blinds, a set of heavy drapes were tacked to the window frames.
Stacked against the wall were many unpacked boxes, and wires sprouted from the ceiling in place of a light fixture.
“Hello,” the lady greeted me shyly. “Thank you for coming, and thank you for your gift. My name is Connie Foster.” We heard footsteps on the stairs, and a man, whom I assumed was her husband, came down into the living room. “This is my husband George.”
He smiled broadly. “Hello!” he said.
Connie handed George the bakery box and said to him, “This nice girl’s name is Janet Kramer. She bought us cream puffs from Durso’s, that bakery over on Elmwood Avenue. Could you please put these in the refrigerator?” George complied as Connie directed me to sit on the sofa.
“Would you like anything to drink?” Connie asked.
“No thank you, I’m fine. How are things? Is there still trouble?”
“It’s been pretty quiet here lately, now that the cops are watching over us. I don’t understand why people are treating us this way. They don’t have to talk to us if they don’t like us. Just leave us alone.”
“We used to live in a rental house in University City,” George said. “But we wanted to own our own home. We researched the Veteran Administration’s listings of houses and found this place. We put a down payment on the house, and the VA qualified us for a loan to buy it. One of our neighbors said that we’ll depreciate the home values. I’m convinced that’s not true.”
“What a rude bitch,” I said.
“It hasn’t been all bad, though,” Connie added. “A few neighbors have stopped by to tell us they’re sorry. One lady brought cookies and a fruit basket, and her son volunteered to help us with the electrical work.”
The mention of the work the house needed sent a pang through me. My heart ached that I had been present when the Bridge Kids vandalized this house, but how could I tell Connie and George that? What could I have done to stop it? It was best to say nothing.
“So, you have children?” I asked.
“We have two children, Emily and Georgie,” Connie said. “George works as bank clerk, and sometimes he worries about the time his job takes away from us. But so far, physically, we’ve been safe.”
“What made you decide to come to Elmwood?”
“I used to come up here to shop when I lived in University City, and I thought this was a cute neighborhood. It’s very family-oriented, and kids can play sports. I wanted that life for my family. But I’m afraid to leave my house, afraid someone will hurt me,” Connie said fearfully.
“I don’t get it,” George sighed. “Such bigotry in this day and age. I thought people had gotten over that.”
The conversation was winding down, and I rose and said goodbye. “Thank you for coming,” Connie said with a warm smile. “There’s been a lot of bad here, but also a lot of good, and you’re a part of that.”
“Goodbye, and thanks for coming,” George said as he showed me to the door. I rushed home, once again giving Mom the Deli Roma excuse when she asked me where I had been. No one knows I’ve visited the two couples who have unwittingly brought so much drama to Elmwood, and that’s how it will stay.
Tuesday, December 3, 1985
My visit with the Fosters yesterday put Marie in my mind, and I visited her house after school. Everything seemed peaceful; I couldn’t tell if any unmarked cop cars were guarding the house or not, and I didn’t look for any.
But like the first time I tried to visit the Fosters, there was a crazy man in a car shooting a BB gun at the house, and he succeeded in putting a hole in the front living-room window. God, it sucks that those poor people must live like that.
We put up our Christmas tree tonight, and it looks lovely! We had so much fun decorating it, and I loved setting Grandmom Betty and Grandpop Harry’s nativity set underneath it.
Wednesday, December 4, 1985
As I was making copies on the copier at Southwest Auto Tags at 63rd and Dicks Avenue after school, I looked across the street at the Mike’s Gulf gas station and saw something I had never seen before. Propped on the sidewalk was a large yellow sign with the words PRIDE IS SOUTHWEST PHILLY splashed across it in green script writing. I guess people are proud that they’ve stood up for this neighborhood; at least, that’s what I suspect the demonstrators are saying, and they’ve put it in writing.
I mentioned the sign to Candy while I was at work. “That’s something,” she remarked. “I have to go down there and see it.”
I told Anthony about the sign, and we walked down to 63rd and Dicks so I could show it to him. “Marone,” he swore when he saw it. “I wonder whose idea this was?” I wondered if any more signs would appear in the neighborhood.
In other news, Anthony gave my ring its eighty-sixth turn tonight!
Thursday, December 5, 1985
Carmella came up to me while I was at my locker before lunch. She was chewing gum and not even being discreet about it; chewing gum is a huge no-no in our school. “Hey, whatcha doin’ on Sunday?” she asked.
“Nothing. I’m off the whole day.”
“All right, we’re taking you to the MacDade Mall with us. Roseanna’s dad will drive all of us there in his van. We’ll pick you up at your house at two.”
“Great! I’ll see yous then,” I said.
I’m grateful to have a chance to do more Christmas shopping because I ran out of money when I was at Granite Run last week. While I’m at the MacDade, I’ll shop for Anthony, Louie, Carmella, and Grandmom and Pop Pop.
Friday, December 6, 1985
Mom and Dad had a night out in Delco and saw a movie, Agnes of God, at the MacDade Mall. Grandmom and Pop Pop babysat Joe and Carolyn. Everyone was watching Benson when I came home from work.
“Me and my friends saw that sign by Mike’s Gulf,” Joe told me. “They put it up because of the spooks.”
“Joseph!” Grandmom yelled. “I don’t want to hear that talk again!”
“Sorry!” Joe said, his face turning red.
“I saw it, too. I guess people are proud for standing up for this neighborhood,” I said.
Because my Spanish grades have been so high, I’m being inducted into the National Spanish Honor Society next Friday. I’m sorry for not making this big news, but you’ll understand, considering all that’s been happening this past month.
Saturday, December 7, 1985
I was determined to see Marie again, and I stopped by her house before work. My heart sank at the scene that greeted me: A moving truck was parked in front of the house, and men were moving furniture and boxes from the house and into the truck.
“Marie!” I cried as she came out of the house carrying a large box. She put the box down as I raced over to hug her.
“I’m so happy to see you!” she said. “I thought I was going to leave without having the chance to say goodbye.”
“Why are you moving?” I asked, feeling tears prick behind my eyelids.
“Baby doll, we can’t stay. It’s getting really bad here for us. Laura is too afraid to go near any of the windows because people won’t stop shooting BBs at the house. She’s with my parents. She never wants to come back here.”
“Where are you going?”
“To Germantown. The VA is letting us trade this house for a VA house up there.”
A young man carrying a box emerged from the house. He put it down and walked over to me. “Hi, my name’s Carl. Marie says you’ve been real nice to us. Sorry I wasn’t home last time you were here. Thanks for being neighborly.”
“You’re welcome, and it’s nice to meet you, even though this is goodbye,” I said as I shook his hand.
Marie hugged me again. “I won’t forget how kind you’ve been to us,” she said. “You’re one of the few people here who didn’t treat us like dirt. We’re going to miss you.”
“Same here. I’m sorry you can’t stay.”
“We are, too. We love this house, but it’s too dangerous for us to stay here. We’re moving on and hoping we’ll be happier somewhere else.”
I said goodbye to Marie and Carl a final time. I held back tears all night while I worked and tried not to think of them, but images of their forlorn faces kept popping into my head.
Dawn called after I had come home. “Hey, come over to my house. Me and Tina are going to watch MTV.”
Watching MTV was the last thing I felt like doing; I would much rather have crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep. But I said okay, and they stopped up after dinner, and off I went to Dawn’s. I got to see the video for “Be Near Me,” the terrific new song by the British band ABC, and that perked me up a little bit.
The song “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie is the theme song from the new movie White Nights. It’s been receiving a lot of airplay lately, and for me, it’s symbolic of Marie and Carl and how I’ll probably never see them again.
I’ll go to bed tonight and dream of a world in which they can live wherever they want in peace.
Sunday, December 8, 1985
Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. Since it falls on today, which is Sunday, it’s a two-for-one deal, meaning I don’t have to go to Mass on a separate day for the holy day! Yay! I love when that happens.
At two o’ clock, Carmella and her friends pulled up in a brown van with Roseanna Mastroconi’s dad behind the wheel. I climbed in, and we took off for the promised land of totally awesome shopping: Delco. The parking lot was packed when we arrived at the MacDade Mall. “I’m happy I’m just dropping yous off and don’t have to look for a spot,” Mr. Mastroconi said as he pulled up to the main entrance. We thanked him and climbed out of the van. “Call me when yous are ready to come home, and I’ll be here,” he told Roseanna.
We said our goodbyes and gleefully ran into the mall. Santa Claus was on the center stage, and there was a line for him that went all the way down to Kmart. I probably don’t have to tell you how crowded it was. Normally crowds give me anxiety, but I was having too much fun to feel anxious.
We had Christmas shopping to do, so we bought whatever we needed from one store before proceeding in a linear fashion through the other stores in the mall. I bought a gift certificate for Carmella while we were in Famous Maid. I told her it was for a pollyanna at school so I wouldn’t ruin her surprise.
At the Carlton Shop, which is a men’s clothing store, we completed our shopping for our fathers, brothers, and boyfriends. I bought Anthony a black pullover shirt, kind of like a sweatshirt but dressier, and a bottle of Pierre Cardin cologne. Even though Polo is his favorite cologne, I think he’ll give this a whirl. I also bought a skinny red necktie for Louie; skinny ties are all the rage for guys, and he can probably wear it to school.
We came to a kiosk that made decorative license plates, and I bought a plate for Anthony that’s red with his name in metallic gold letters; I think it will look cool on the Iroc.
I bought for Aunt Karen a gold necklace with a faux alexandrite, June’s birthstone, at Crown Jewel. It’s a very interesting stone that looks red and purple at the same time. At Kmart, I bought an afghan for Grandmom and Pop Pop and two scented jar candles: one for Aunt Karen and another for Uncle Danny.
We munched on Italian Delight’s delicious Sicilian pie for dinner. “Now what?” I asked between bites of my pizza.
“Do yous want to see a movie? Spies Like Us will start at the cinema in another hour or so,” Michelle suggested.
We agreed, and after we had eaten our pizza, we headed down to the cinema. It was a cute movie, and its theme song of the same name has made it into the Top Forty.
It was eight o’clock, and we were ready to jam. Roseanna located a payphone and called her dad to let him know we were ready to be picked up. He arrived half an hour later and whisked us back to our beloved Elmwood.
Now it’s off to bed. Nighty night!
Monday, December 9, 1985
Mom said to me as I was leaving for school this morning, “Tell Anthony he’s invited for dinner tomorrow night. We’re having cream-chipped beef.”
“Okay, I will. Is Dad okay with this?”
“Yeah, he says he’ll be all right.”
I gave Anthony the invitation during our lunchtime phone call. “Great,” he said. “I like cream-chipped beef. I’ll be there.”
I received a pleasant surprise in work tonight: Connie Foster came in to shop!
“Hello, Mrs. Foster!” I said, and she smiled warmly.
“Hello, dear. I’m here to do a bit of Christmas shopping. You have such lovely things!”
“How’s it going?”
“Better now that the police are guarding us all the time,” she said. “I wish the neighbors could see that we’re good people, just like they are, and accept us.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I hope things get better for yous.”
“Thanks, I hope so, too,” she said. She walked off to look at a rounder of brightly-colored tunic sweaters and chose a few to buy.
Homework is done, and off to bed I go. Goodnight!
Tuesday, December 10, 1985
I stopped at Dante’s after school, bought a red rose, and walked to Marie’s vacant house. Checking first to make sure I wasn’t being watched, I walked up to the front door, which bore a PROPERTY OF THE VETERANS’ ADMINISTRATION, NO TRESPASSING sign. I laid the rose before the door. It was my silent tribute to these good people who had been mercilessly and wrongly persecuted. I said a quick Hail Mary for them, too, and got out of there as fast as I could.
I also made a visit to the Foster residence to see what was going on there. As Connie had told me last night, there was an unmarked cop car keeping vigil across the street. The curtains on the front window of the house remained tightly drawn. I wondered if they had put up a tree; too bad they couldn’t open the curtains so the neighborhood could see it.
I was astounded to see a man and a woman, accompanied by a camera crew, stationed at the Deli Roma. They attempted to interview a few customers who were exiting the corner store, but the customers refused to talk and marched past them. It’s a no-brainer as to what the reporters were trying to get information about.
Mom asked me to help her make dinner. I put together a tossed salad while Mom cooked the cream-chipped beef and sliced and fried a brick of scrapple. I was nervous, fearing how Dad and Anthony would interact. Mom and I were setting the table when just before six, the doorbell rang.
Dad turned off Action News as I let Anthony into the house. He carried a white bakery box, and I knew it was something delicious from Durso’s. “Hello, Mr. Kramer, good to see you,” Anthony greeted. Dad gave a brief smile and rose to move to the kitchen. He took his seat at the table; Joe and Carolyn were already there. I gave Anthony a kiss, walked him into the kitchen, took the Durso’s box from him and put it on the counter, and seated him in the chair next to mine. Joe and Carolyn were seated opposite us, and Mom and Dad were seated at either end.
While Anthony talked to Joe and Carolyn, I put a plate with a large stack of toast in the middle of the dinner table as Mom set down a porcelain tureen containing the cream-chipped beef and a large ladle. She placed a plate of scrapple and a bottle of ketchup next to the tureen as I placed the large bowl of salad on the other side of it.
Petie entered the kitchen and wound himself around Anthony’s legs. Anthony smiled and reached down to scratch him on the head. Mom and I took our seats, and we served ourselves, passing the bowls and platters around like they did on The Waltons. My mouth watered as I ladled the cream-chipped beef on top of the two slices of toast on my plate.
“Do you like cream-chipped beef?” Dad asked Anthony as he, Dad, tossed a piece of scrapple onto the small plate which was there for that purpose.
“Yes, very much,” Anthony replied.
“I guess you eat all that Italian food,” Dad remarked, and Joe and Carolyn giggled.
“That was delicious lasagna your mother sent home with Janet on Thanksgiving,” Mom said. “We all enjoyed it.”
“Thank you. That’s my nonna’s recipe.”
Dad rolled his eyes a little at this. I hoped he would keep a civil tongue in his head during the meal.
“Hey, is your dad in the mob?” Joe asked.
“Joseph!” Mom yelled. “That is not proper to ask!”
Anthony smiled. “That’s okay. My dad dabbles in a lot of business ventures.”
Dad made a derisive noise. “Yeah, I’ll bet he does.”
“Where’s your Iroc?” Carolyn asked. “Did you drive it here?”
“No, it’s in a garage on the Avenue. I only drive it when I have somewhere far to go.”
“That car’s cool to the max,” Carolyn said.
“I saw reporters trying to interview people at the Deli Roma today,” I said. “It looks as if the turmoil around here is still the big news.”
“Yeah, well, I heard them spooks over on 61st Street have moved out,” Dad said. “I wonder who’s gonna move into that house next?”
I wished I could have told them about my goodbye to Marie and Carl on their moving day, but Dad would have flipped out had I revealed that. I wondered how they were doing in their new house in Germantown.
After we had eaten seconds of the cream-chipped beef and finished the brick of scrapple and the salad, Mom brought out the goody from Durso’s: lemon cake. Even though we were stuffed, we made room for it. You always make room for Durso’s! Mom served coffee for herself, Dad, and Anthony, and I made hot tea for myself. She cut a large hunk of the cake and put it on a wrapped plate for Anthony to take home.
Joe and Carolyn ran into the living room and put on Channel Six. They watched game shows to kill time until Who’s the Boss? came on at eight.
“Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer,” Anthony said as he was preparing to leave. “Dinner was wonderful.”
“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you over again,” Mom said. Dad didn’t say anything about Anthony coming for dinner again. I saw Anthony to the door and kissed him goodbye.
Mom and Dad went up to their room to watch Trapper John, M.D., and I went up to mine to do homework. Dinner had gone better than I expected, and I sent up a prayer of gratitude for Dad holding his tongue in check.
Tomorrow is a busy day of school and work, and I’m going to bed. Goodnight!
Wednesday, December 11, 1985
We discussed the presents our parents may buy us for Christmas while we were walking up to the El after school.
“I asked for that screen we saw at Pearl of the East,” Pam said. “My parents weren’t solid about it, but I think it will happen.”
“I want a vanity table, but my parents seem iffy,” Shereen said. “We’ll see.”
I thought about the diamond ring Carmella wants and wondered if Jake will buy it for her. Can you imagine your father buying you a diamond ring? That’s still so amazing to me.
I told my parents to get me a Famous Maid gift certificate. I like to make things easy for people.
Thursday, December 12, 1985
Horrible, horrible night. I hung out at the store with Anthony. That was the good part, but things devolved after that.
He closed and locked the store at eight thirty. He had to visit a friend of his named Sal who lives down on Theodore Street, which coincidentally is very close to Marie’s former home. He and Sal stood on the front steps of Sal’s house talking while I waited down on the sidewalk. Anthony joined me on the sidewalk to walk me home after Sal had returned inside his house.
We passed the corner of Theodore and Millick Streets and saw four burnout guys smoking, drinking Bud, and blasting “Fear No Evil” by Grim Reaper on their boom box. “Are they allowed to stand there?” Anthony asked. “I thought groups of four or more weren’t allowed to congregate in this area.”
“No, they’re not. I’m surprised the cops haven’t come along to chase them away,” I said.
“What a bunch of losers,” Anthony muttered. “Shining examples of Southwest Philly manhood right there.”
We heard one of them shout, “Yo, check it out! Let’s fuck up the niggers’ house on 61st! So what if they ain’t livin’ there no more. We gotta send a message!”
We both turned white. Dear God, what were these miscreants about to do?
His compatriots cheered in agreement. They tossed empty Bud cans into the gutter, turned off the boom box, and marched up Millick laughing and talking loudly.
“Shit,” Anthony whispered. We walked over to 61st Street as fast as we could and stood across the street from Marie’s former house, obscuring ourselves behind a sycamore tree and waiting silently. The burnouts ambled down the street, one of them toting a jug of gasoline. My heart pounded violently, and Anthony pulled me closer to him. We watched them walk down to the corner and make a right onto Buist Avenue, ostensibly to access the back alley.
“They’re probably going to break in through the back door,” I said. We waited for something to happen; several minutes later, we saw shadows moving behind the front windows of the house. My heart began to beat louder.
As an orange glow slowly illuminated the windows, the burnouts kicked down and raced out the front door. “Move! Run!” one of them yelled, and they bolted down 61st to Buist and fled into the night. Within minutes, flames were shooting out the front windows.
Two doors away, a man walked out onto his front porch. He saw the flames, ran back into his house, and yelled, “Get the baby and get out!”33 A moment later, a woman rushed out the door holding a baby, and the man grabbed her by the arm and hustled her down onto the sidewalk. Neighbors came to their front porches to watch the fire, and we heard the scream of a firetruck’s siren getting closer.
A crowd formed around us, and we felt more secure as we slipped into the anonymity it provided. The firetruck raced up to the house and extinguished the blaze in about fifteen minutes. The firefighters brought out a lot of charred debris from the house. It looked like personal possessions; perhaps Marie and her family had left a few things behind with the intention of coming back later to pick them up.
I was thankful no one had been inside. The crowd melted away, and the people on their front porches returned inside.
“Man, drama never ends in this neighborhood,” Anthony said as we walked away.
“Yeah, and I’m glad no one was hurt,” I said.
Anthony’s right: The drama will probably never end in Elmwood.
Friday, December 13, 1985
The fire was the big talk this morning. Winslow said, “I thought it was gonna be Osage Avenue all over again!” She was referring to the street on which the MOVE house was in West Philly. That street, and two adjacent streets, went up in flames; I may have mentioned this a few months ago.
“You’re right,” Dawn agreed. “You’re absolutely right!” I, too, realized that if the firefighters hadn’t shown up when they did, 61st Street could have indeed become an inferno like Osage Avenue.
We had the induction Mass for National Spanish Honor Society during third period. It was nice to get out class for a day! I’m thrilled to be a member of an honor society and equally thrilled that my assiduous studying has paid off! We, the inductees, sang a song in Spanish during the Mass, and we messed it up so bad; it was the funniest thing.
I received a red-and-gold club pin to wear on my uniform, and I will do so proudly.
The talk at work tonight, among both employees and customers, was all about the fire. When will this neighborhood quiet down for good?
Saturday, December 14, 1985
I stopped by Marie’s former home before work today because I wanted to see in daylight the extent of the damage the fire had inflicted. The front is stained a fire-charred black, and the windows are sealed with plastic and boards.34 I walked up to the front door, and at the far end of the porch was the rose I had put there a few days earlier, now the worse for the wear after having been trampled by heavy feet and wilted by the cold. The destruction underscored the fact that Marie and her family were gone for good, and I’m sure they would be distressed to see the damage that has been inflicted on this house.
I had an uneventful day at work that kept me busy with Christmas shoppers.
Sunday, December 15, 1985
“Hey, would you like to go to Mass at Loreto with me and my family?” Anthony asked me over the phone this morning.
“Sure!” I said, and since I was off from work today, I could give him the whole day. During the many years I’ve lived in Elmwood, I’ve never been to Mass at Loreto. It has a lot to do with the fact that Dad refuses to go to “some dago church.”
I asked Mom and Dad if it would be okay for me to go to Mass at Loreto. “Yeah, sure, go to Mass at that dago church,” Dad said.
Anthony stopped up for me at ten thirty, and we attended the eleven o’clock Mass. It was a lovely Mass, and Loreto is unlike any church I’ve seen. It’s designed in an Art Deco style, and high above the entrance, on its steeple, is a mural of the Blessed Mother surrounded by angels and airplanes. I asked Anthony about it.
“Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of everyone who flies on planes: pilots, airmen, aviators, and passengers. That why you see planes up there.” I never knew that!
As we debated on where to eat after Mass, he said, “Why don’t we go to Denny’s on Baltimore Pike in Delco, and while we’re down there, we’ll see a matinee at the Clifton Heights cinema.” I was fine with this, and we walked up to the Avenue and got the Iroc. During the drive to Delco, he put on 99, and they played “I Miss You” by Klymaxx. It’s such a sweet, sad song, and they play it a lot on 98, too.
“What movie would you like to see?” he asked.
“How about White Nights?” I asked. “I really want to see Baryshnikov.”
“Sounds good. We’ll see if it’s playing at the Clifton Heights.”
We had a terrific breakfast of strawberry pancakes at Denny’s. After it had ended, we drove a few blocks down Baltimore Pike to the Clifton Heights cinema, which is next to the Bazaar of All Nations. White Nights was playing, and it was great! Baryshnikov can dance, and Gregory Hines isn’t too shabby, either! We walked over to the Bazaar to browse after the movie had ended, and it was crazy with Christmas shoppers. Because the smell was too good to resist, we bought a couple of cinnamon buns and devoured them. Mmmmm!
“Let’s go back to Southwest,” he said as we were leaving the Bazaar. “I’m going to take you driving behind Penrose Plaza. You need to go for your driver’s test one of these days, so you’d better start practicing.”
I was jolted when he said this, not so much over the fact that I was going to get behind the wheel of a car for the first time in my life but because with all that’s been happening in my world lately, my driver’s test had been the last thing on my mind.
“Okay, sure,” I said. We climbed in the Iroc and took off for Southwest Philly. Anthony told me to put whatever I wanted on the radio, and I tuned in to 98 and heard “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds.
Penrose Plaza is at the intersection of Lindbergh Boulevard and Island Avenue. It’s a relatively new shopping center, built when I was in grade school in the late 70s. They’re supposed to open a Clover there at the end of next year, and it’s currently under construction. We drove to the rear of the shopping center and parked. Anthony and I got out and switched places.
He gave me a brief rundown of all the functions on the instrument panel: where the knobs for the wipers, lights, and high beams were; where the hazard lights were; and how to operate the air conditioning and the heat. He also explained which pedal was the gas and which was the brake and showed me how to switch from park to drive to reverse on the gearshift. I was glad to hear that the Iroc had an automatic transmission because I didn’t feel like learning to drive stick.
He showed me how to hold the steering wheel properly, positioning my hands and ten o’clock and two o’clock, and he took the key out of the ignition and had me put it back in as I kept my foot on the brake pedal. “That’s something you always want to do when you’re starting up or turning off the car or switching gears: keep your foot on the brake pedal. Just in case the car should jump out of gear,” he advised.
He told me to start the car while keeping my foot on the brake. Next, he directed me to slide the gearshift down to Drive and very lightly press down on the gas pedal, and we were moving! He had me stop and put the car in reverse and back up. I performed this sequence multiple times. When Anthony was satisfied that I had it down pat, he told me to do a few serpentine turns.
“You did great!” he praised as our driving session ended. “Next time, we’ll practice parallel parking.” We switched places again, and Anthony drove me back to my house.
I’m looking forward to cool dreams tonight of driving the Iroc!
Monday, December 16, 1985
“Hey, I almost forgot to tell you: my parents are gonna have a New Year’s Eve party at our house,” Anthony told me when I called him from school today. “You can bring your friends, and they can bring anyone they want.” I told him this was great, and I passed the word to Tina and Dawn after school. “You guys can bring your favorite men,” I said, referring to Mike and Eddie, the guys they had brought to the Ring Dance. They promised to come with their dates in tow.
Anthony and I hung out at the store tonight with Louie, and as I was rocking out to “Emergency” by Kool and the Gang, four burnouts walked in. They looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen them. They were young guys in their early- to mid-twenties, except for one who looked to be about my age. He wore a white painter’s cap, and black, drawn-on checkerboards adorned both of his tattered sneakers in imitation of the ones Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli wore in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. They bought cigarettes and asked for a few dollars in quarters for Centipede.
The youngest one dropped a quarter in the slot and started a new game. Aside from their disconcertingly familiar appearance, all was normal. Burnouts come in that store on the regular to buy cigarettes and to play Centipede, and their presence shouldn’t have unsettled me. But it did.
“Yeah, I dumped the whole gallon of gasoline in that living room, and Georgie lit the match!” one of them boasted as he watched the kid play, and another, who must have been Georgie, laughed.
“Yeah,” Georgie added, “it was fuckin’ awesome to kick that back door down, too. I know we sent a message to those niggers and any niggers who want to move into our neighborhood.”
The kid cursed. “Man, Jimmy,” the companion who hadn’t yet spoken complained, “you’re gettin’ your fuckin’ ass kicked on that thing. Why the fuck did you buy three dollars in quarters to blow on this machine, huh?”
“Man, shut the fuck up, Vinnie, and just smoke your cigarette. You sound like my mother,” the kid said as GAME OVER flashed on the screen and he reached into his pocket for another quarter. As he started a new game, his friends began to talk once more about their role in setting a fire.
Yeah, that fire, the one that had been set on Marie’s former home. Anthony, Louie, and I exchanged looks of horror. I debated whether to call the police but decided not to. Burnouts are no one to mess with; I feared if I were to rat them out, they’d come after me. Or they could send their evil girlfriends to track me down and hurt me.
“Those assholes are gonna get themselves pinched,” Anthony whispered in disgust. “Don’t say or do anything. The cop’s will get ‘em soon enough, those stunads.”
The kid used his last quarter, and he and his friends walked out of the store and across to the adjacent corner to mingle with that group of burnouts that hangs out there. They were drinking Bud and blasting “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica from a boom box. They offered beer to the kid and his friends, and they eagerly gulped it down.
“Assholes,” Louie said.
“Me and Janet saw those dudes drinking down in Sal’s neighborhood right before that fire,” Anthony said. “Just wait till the cops get ‘em. Sooner or later, they will, especially if they keep bragging like that.”
Let’s wait and see if/when the authorities catch up with those thugs. I’m studying hard for three tests tomorrow: English, Stenography, and European Cultures
Tuesday, December 17, 1985
“Why don’t we celebrate Christmas vacation on Friday after school lets out?” Shereen suggested. “How about we go to Gepetto’s at Penrose Plaza for lunch?”
We thought this was a fine idea, and it will give me something to look forward to. Gepetto’s has great pizza, and while we’re out there, we can shop, because the stores there are good, too.
I stopped at Kotzin’s to buy breath mints and gum after school. On a magazine rack next to the counter was People. Baryshnikov was on the front cover, and White Nights was the featured story, so I had to buy it.
I started to read it as soon as I got home. I opened directly to page 143, and the headline jumped out at me like a slap in the face: “A Plucky Couple Fights for Their New Home as Racism Stirs Their Philadelphia Neighborhood.”35 There it was: Connie and George’s story as told to People magazine. I clung to the article’s every word as I read it; it was essentially a repeat of what they had told me the day I visited them.
I showed the article to Mom and Dad. Mom skimmed through it and said, “Well, Elmwood’s now nationally famous, or should I say infamous.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if newspapers in other cities are running stories about what’s going on here,” Dad said. “I’m sure they are if People is.”
The eyes of the entire world are on our little world of Elmwood. Its days of obscurity are gone.
Wednesday, December 18, 1985
I walked down to Metro Video at 61st and Buist after school to rent the movie Romancing the Stone. This is where my family goes to rent movies. Romancing the Stone was in the cinemas in the summer of last year, but I never got around to seeing it and very much wanted to. I like its theme song, which is sung by Eddie Grant of “Electric Avenue” fame and was played a lot on the radio around the time of the movie’s release. I’m hoping I can watch it by the end of this weekend.
Another busy night at work. Working in retail has made me hate Christmas, and it used to be my favorite season.
Thursday, December 19, 1985
I’m psyched because tomorrow we’re taking our sojourn to Gepetto’s. What a terrific start to what I know will be a terrific Christmas vacation.
I’ve reread the People article about Connie and George numerous times over the past two days. I remain blown away that a national publication has chosen to put my corner of Southwest Philly in the spotlight. I’ll probably never stop being amazed by Elmwood’s burst of fame.
There’s nothing much to report from today, so goodnight.
Friday, December 20, 1985
What a day I had! First, there was a Mass in the auditorium attended by the whole school. It was followed by a Christmas concert with performances from both the chorus and the orchestra. At noon, we were free to go!
We walked down 46th Street to the El and got off at City Hall to board the 36. We took it to Island Avenue and got off in front of Penrose Plaza, the same place where Anthony holds my driving lessons. We were starving, so we went directly to Gepetto’s for pizza.
While at Gepetto’s, we exchanged Christmas gifts. I gave each member of the gang her Claire’s gift certificate, and I received nice gifts in return: Dawn and Tina each bought me a Famous Maid gift certificate; Pam a tiny, heart-shaped porcelain trinket box; and Shereen a pair of dangly silver earrings with pale-pink stones. They’ll perfectly match the pink sweater I bought on Black Friday!
We browsed all the stores. I bought the new Stevie Nicks cassette, Rock a Little at Sound Odyssey. A song from this album, “Talk to Me,” has been playing a lot on 98, and it rocks! I bought a cute pair of white ballerina flats at Fayva and can’t wait to wear them! I bought a pair of black knee-high boots there, too, because I need a pair for winter.
We boarded the 36 at four o’clock. Before Tina, Dawn, and I got off at 63rd and Elmwood, we exchanged goodbyes and Merry Chirstmases with Pam and Shereen. They were staying on until 15th Street, where they would connect with the El, which would take them back to West Philly. We won’t see those guys again until after the new year!
Anthony came to pick me up from work tonight. “Hey, do you feel like going out? I’ll understand if you’re tired and don’t want to.”
“No, I’m okay. Where are we going?”
“Have you ever been to the MacDade House? They’re having a dance tonight, and a cover band, too.”
The MacDade House is a dance club in Delco on MacDade Boulevard a few blocks down from the MacDade Mall. “Okay, sure,” I said. “But I have to go home and get changed,” I explained, as I was still in my uniform.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll drop you off at home and come back in half an hour. Meatball and Dee Dee will meet us there.”
I took off my uniform as soon as I got home and pulled on a black turtleneck. I placed a red, knee-length cardigan sweater over it and put on black leggings and the new boots I bought earlier today. I also reteased my hair and put on a pair of red hoop earrings.
Meatball and Dee Dee met us in the MacDade House parking lot. As soon as they saw us, they turned off the car and got out to walk with us to the front door.
What a scene greeted us! The place was loaded with burnouts, and I wondered how many of them were from Southwest Philly. The cover band, a heavy-metal affair called Stations of the Cross, was belting out a rendition of “Sanctuary” by Iron Maiden.
“Wow, this isn’t what I thought,” Anthony yelled over the noise. “I was hoping to find a better-dressed crowd and a D.J. playing Kool and the Gang or something like that.”
“Oh well, let’s try to have fun anyway,” Meatball suggested good-naturedly. We bought a few sodas and drank them as we sat at a table and watched the burnouts thrash to the music.
“I can’t dance to this,” Dee Dee said, disappointed.
All we could do was sit and talk, or I should say yell, as the music was so loud. The band launched into their version of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest as a familiar-looking burnout in a gangster hat approached Anthony. This was the same guy I had seen a few months earlier at Warriors, on the day Anthony and I met.
He and Anthony discussed an upcoming football pool. The band next belted out “Sleeping Bag” by ZZ Top as a girl came to the side of Mr. Gangster Hat. She had a mountain of dark-blonde feathered hair and wore gold hoop earrings, a tight red Spandex top, tight designer jeans, and high-heeled black boots. She was probably his girlfriend, judging by the way she was tugging on his hand, and I got the feeling she wanted to dance with him.
“All right, Ant, talk to ya later,” he said as his girlfriend led him away into the crowd on the dance floor.
“These guys are pretty good, even if they’re a metal band,” I said.
“Yeah, they’re okay,” Anthony said. “Not my style, though. I like R and B.”
When “Sleeping Bag” ended, a girl came up to the microphone, and the band picked off the opening notes of “Never” by Heart. We applauded, for we love this song, and the girl was a good singer.
We departed after that song had ended. I was relieved to go home, as I was beginning to peter out from a very long day. I’m listening to Rock a Little on my Walkman, and I love “I Can’t Wait.” It rocks, even more than “Talk to Me” does. I’m sure 98 will start playing it soon.
Saturday, December 21, 1985
I worked today from noon till six. Ordinarily I’d want to go out afterwards, but I was tired, so instead I finally watched Romancing the Stone. It was a cute movie, and I could understand the Spanish that was spoken! Cool beans!
I’ll leave you so I can listen to Rock a Little before I go to bed. I love that album!
Sunday, December 22, 1985
Today was a cold day that just barely hit thirty-two degrees. Dad spent the afternoon watching the Eagles game, which he does every Sunday during football season, and getting worked up to the point where he screamed and cried. I have no interest in football.
It’s panic time at work, and people are buying practically anything to fulfill the demands of their Christmas lists. A lot of people are buying gift certificates, which is the smart thing to do regardless.
My brain was fried by the time I got home, but lest I forget it was Christmas, there was the McGonigles’ garishly-decorated house to remind me. Despite Dad’s pleas, Mrs. McGonigle refuses to tone down her decorations, and her house continues to look like Christmas gone wrong.
Anthony called after dinner and asked if I wanted to come to his house to watch MTV. I said yes, and while I was hanging out there, I got lucky and saw the video for “Talk to Me.” Stevie Nicks is so cool!
Monday, December 23, 1985
How decadent to sleep late on a Monday morning – till eight o’clock! I worked from noon till seven, and Candy gave me a Christmas bonus of one hundred dollars and thanked me for all my hard work this year.
Anthony and I hung out at the store for a few hours. I asked him to give me hints about what he’s getting me for Christmas, but he wouldn’t, saying it was better to wait and find out.
I’m going over his house tomorrow night to exchange gifts. His family is having the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is the traditional Italian repast served on Christmas Eve. It should be a fun night!
Tuesday, December 24, 1985
Merry Christmas Eve! I worked from ten till four today and am relieved that I have made it through another Christmas season at Candy’s Closet. As soon as I got home, I got a call from Anthony. “Hey bella,” he said when I answered. “When can I pick you up?”
“Give me half an hour to get ready,” I said.
I loaded Anthony’s and his family’s gifts into two large shopping bags and told Mom and Dad I was going to his house. They were okay with it, as my family doesn’t do much on Christmas Eve, and anyway, Seven Fish was not to be passed up! Nor was the opportunity to see Anthony and his family.
Little Italy looks spectacular! Christmas lights have been hung high above the street for several blocks of Grays Avenue, and every house is beautifully decorated. Anthony’s is no exception. Lights are wrapped around the house’s wrought iron fencing, and in the front window, illuminated by a spotlight, is a beautiful nativity set that Anthony said was hand-carved and imported from Italy.
“Buono Natale!” Jake said as Anthony and I entered the house and he kissed me on the cheek. Lina, Carmella, and Louie were there, too. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra was playing on the stereo, and the house smelled delicious! The dining-room table was piled with food, all kinds of food, including the Seven Fish!
Anthony took my bags from me and placed them under the tree. He led me to a little old lady with curly white hair and thick glasses seated in a corner of the living room sipping a cup of espresso and introduced her to me. “Janet, this is Nonna.” Turning to Nonna, he said, “Nonna, questo č Gianetta.”
Nonna set down her espresso cup and peered closely at me. “Bellissima!” she said as she rose and kissed me on the cheek.
I smiled and said hello to her. Anthony led me over to the table to see the delicious things that had been spread out there. The Seven Fish were in the center, and he explained them to me. There was captione, which was eel; shrimp; bacalao, which was codfish; flounder, scallops, smelts, calamari, and clams. Actually, eight; the clams were added as an extra.
Surrounding the fish were many other delicious offerings: a tray of lunchmeats and sliced cheeses, a large bowl filled with Mattera’s rolls, pickles, condiments, crock pots of meatballs in red gravy and hot roast beef in brown gravy, bowls of potato and macaroni salads, a bowl of coleslaw, and a snack tray filled with pretzels and potato chips. An array of goodies from Durso’s was offered for dessert: canolis, cream puffs, tiramisu, pizzelles, and a huge platter of small cookies. A small table-top freezer held cartons of both spumoni and Neapolitan ice cream. To drink was Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Franks’s black-cherry wishniak soda! Frank’s cream soda was there, too, which is my second-favorite flavor.
I was hungry when I had arrived and was even more so now from the bounty spread before me. Anthony encouraged me to eat, and I grabbed a plate and loaded up! Everything was delicious, including all the Seven Fish, even the types of fish I had never eaten before.
I shamelessly moved on to dessert, taking healthy slabs of both the spumoni and the neapolitan ice cream. God, I really need to go on a diet come the new year!
After we had stuffed ourselves, Jake said, “Now it’s time for the gifts!” He walked over to the stereo and flipped over the Frank Sinatra cassette. He pressed the play button, and “Let It Snow” began to play.
We began the exchanging of gifts, and I’m happy to report that Jake and Lina loved their drinking glasses, Carmella was pleased with her Famous Maid gift certificate, and Louie liked his skinny red tie.
“Ant, you gotta have this. It can’t wait till tomorrow morning,” Louie said as he fished a small package wrapped in gold foil out from under the Christmas tree and handed it to Anthony. Anthony opened it, and inside was a pair of Miami Vice-style sunglasses like the kind Don Johnson wears. “Cool!” I exclaimed as Anthony put them on to model for us.
“Thanks, Louie,” Anthony said as he carefully took them off and put them back in their box. “I can’t wait to wear them down the shore.”
Carmella and Louie gave me my presents. Coincidentally, Carmella had bought me a Famous Maid gift certificate! That brings my total to three, including the ones Tina and Dawn have already given me. I can never have enough Famous Maid gift certificates!
Louie gave me a cute gift set of cream-colored earmuffs and a matching scarf. I prefer earmuffs because hats mess up my hair.
I thanked Carmella and Louie for their gifts, and it was time for Anthony and me to exchange ours. I insisted on giving him his first. He exclaimed with delight at the black pullover and the Pierre Cardin, and I was relieved, for I didn’t know if they were to his taste.
“I’ve always wanted to try this cologne, and the pullover is terrific,” he said as he kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks, bella.”
I handed him the license plate and watched as he unwrapped it. His eyes widened in delight, and he held it up for his family to admire. “This is great! I’ll put it on the Iroc as soon as I can.”
He gave me my presents. The first was a Le Jardin gift set, then came a gift bag containing several cans of Body Flowers, my favorite body spray. Next followed a pair of acid-washed jeans; a white, V-necked pullover; and a metallic-gold belt. These were followed by a small box containing about a dozen pairs of earrings in many colors that he had purchased at Crown Jewel at the MacDade Mall, according to the name on the box.
He gave me another small box, this one containing two cassettes. One was Madonna’s first album, the one that has the songs “Holiday” and “Borderline.” It’s been out for two years, and for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to buying it. The other was Arcadia’s So Red the Rose.
“Anthony, this is all too much,” I protested.
“But I haven’t even given you the best gift! I saved it for last,” he said. I was feeling cheesy and cheap about the inexpensive gifts I had given him, and I wished he hadn’t been so extravagant with me. He extracted a long, slender, metallic-gold box from a small drawer in a nearby side table and handed it to me.
I opened it, and within was a long, thin gold chain from which dangled a gold dog tag with my name punched into it. Lots of girls in Elmwood wear these dogtags; they’re especially popular among the Italian girls. Carmella has one, too. I have always wanted one but have never been able to afford it. Now one is mine.
He attached it around my neck and kissed me. “Merry Christmas, bella,” he said, as his family cooed and crooned their approval.
As my mind was reeling over Anthony’s generosity, Jake went into the same drawer Anthony had and extracted another metallic-gold box, much smaller than the one the necklace had been presented in.
He handed it to me and said, “Gianetta, this is from me and Lina and my mother.” I opened the lid of the box and pulled out a black-velvet ring box. I flipped up the box’s lid, and cradled within was a yellow-gold ring set with a marquise-cut ruby flanked on either side by a seed pearl.
I was speechless, and what Jake said next made me even more so: “My mother’s father bought it for her years ago in Sicily. It’s yours now. You’re going to be my nuora someday.”
I was numb with the mixture of emotions that raced through me as Anthony slid the ring onto the ring finger of my left hand and his family cheered and applauded. He hugged and kissed me, and I gave hugs to Nonna, Jake, and Lina in gratitude.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the ring; that Anthony put it on my left hand was telling. I made a mental note to switch it to my right hand before I got home; I didn’t think it was wise to tip off Mom and Dad, especially Dad.
After all the gifts had been exchanged, guests showed up. Meatball and Dee Dee came, as did Carmella’s gang of friends and a few of Louie’s friends, too. A handful of relatives from Jake’s and Lina’s families put in an appearance as well.
Carmella and her gang were blown away by the ruby ring. “Does it mean what I think it does?” Carmella asked slyly.
I replied sheepishly, “Yeah, it does.”
Squeals of glee followed, and I received numerous hugs. “I’m gonna love having you as my sister-in-law!” Carmella said.
We spent the next hour talking and laughing, with Jake providing most of the entertainment by telling jokes and funny stories as Frank Sinatra’s Christmas songs filled the house. I thanked everyone for my presents as I left and wished them all Merry Christmas.
As Anthony walked me home, I told him, “Anthony, I can’t keep this ring. It should go to Carmella, or maybe to another granddaughter.”
“It belongs to you,” he said firmly. “Carmella’s got a boatload of jewelry, including valuable stuff from Nonna, so don’t worry. Nonna really wanted you to have it.”
“Please thank her again for me. No one has ever given me anything so valuable.”
“I will,” he said as we came to my house. He kissed me goodnight and wished me Buono Natale. As soon as he was gone, I switched places with my school ring and the ruby ring, putting my school ring on my left hand and the ruby ring on my right.
My family was watching Moonlighting. The Christmas tree was illuminated, but no gifts had been placed under it yet. The stockings were already filled with stocking stuffers. Mom and Dad would allow us to open them but would make us wait until morning to open our gifts.
“How was it at Anthony’s?” Mom asked.
“Great!” I said. “They had Seven Fish.”
“Did you get a lot of nice presents?” Dad asked.
“Yep! Anthony gave me a lot of stuff,” I held up my shopping bag of gifts, “and this dogtag.” I pulled it out of my sweater so my family could admire it.
“Best of all,” I said, “Jake and Lina gave me this ring. It’s a family heirloom, but Anthony’s grandmother wanted me to have it.” I extended my right hand, and my family crowded around it to get a better look.
“Wow! That’s beautiful!” Carolyn exclaimed.
“Yes, it’s very pretty,” Mom said. “How nice of them to give that to you.”
Dad looked as if he wanted to say something but held back. Could he have surmised the reason I had been given the ring?
“Well, yous can open the stocking stuffers if you want,” Mom said to us, and we raced to our stockings. My stocking contained chocolate coins, which I’ve enjoyed since I was little; a few plastic bracelets; roll-on perfume; a Christmas sweater pin; and a bottle of red nail polish.
We watched TV for a few hours and talked about our planned visit to Grandmom and Pop Pop’s tomorrow after Mass. The whole family will be there, same as Thanksgiving. I put my family’s presents under the tree after they had gone to bed. This has been quite a Christmas Eve!
Wednesday, December 25, 1985
Merry Christmas! Joe, Carolyn, and I were up at eight. We thundered down the steps like a herd of elephants the moment we woke up. I tore into my gifts, and here’s what I got from Santa: blue-and gold legwarmers, which are exactly what I need for wearing to school in this weather; a curling iron, which is another necessity, as the one I have is beginning to crap out; a pair of solid-gold hoop earrings, and my, isn’t this the Christmas for gold jewelry!; a pair of black-leather gloves lined in faux fur; a storage case for my cassettes; a makeup mirror; an electric razor; a makeup kit; and a throw pillow for my bed with a cat on it that looks just like Petie. I didn’t get the Famous Maid gift certificate, but it didn’t matter; I was happy with all my gifts.
Joe loved his Boggle, and Carolyn her Barbie, which were the gifts I had bought them. Mom and Dad came down to open their gifts. Mom loved the bathrobe I bought her, and Dad the sweater.
Petie received gifts, too: a few toy mice and a pouch filled with catnip. He especially liked the pouch and played with it all morning.
We got showered and dressed and headed over to church for the eleven o’clock Mass, which Joe was serving. The church was packed, and it was a good thing we had gotten there early, else we wouldn’t have found seats. We bumped into Tina, Dawn, and their families after Mass and talked with them for a few minutes in front of the church. Dad made another of his fabulous Sunday breakfasts when we came home.
We headed over to Grandmom and Pop Pop’s at two. “Hey Dad,” Carolyn asked as we crossed the street, “what did you and Mom get Grandmom and Pop Pop for Christmas?”
“My whole goddamn liquor cabinet, that’s what!” Dad said. He was referring to Pop Pop’s penchant for raiding this cabinet every time he comes to our house.
Grandmom and Pop Pop gave us hugs and kisses as soon as we walked in the door, and Mom and I put their presents under their tree. We ate lunch as soon as Aunt Karen and Uncle Danny and their families arrived. There was a buffet spread out on the dining-room table much like the one that was at Anthony’s last night, but of course, without the Seven Fish.
We exchanged gifts after lunch. Grandmom and Pop Pop loved their afghan and Aunt Karen and Uncle Danny their scented candles. I gave Aunt Karen her alexandrite necklace last because it was a very special godmother gift, and she loved it!
This was my take: a pink sweatshirt with cats on it and a gold-and-amethyst bracelet from Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve, an amethyst necklace from Grandmom and Pop Pop, and amethyst earrings from Uncle Danny and Aunt Cindy. I think the reason everyone got me amethyst jewelry is because it’s my birthstone, plus I’ll turn 18 in February, so it’s a special year.
Dad gave Grandmom and Pop Pop bottles of both Canadian Club and Windsor, so he wasn’t completely joking about giving them his liquor cabinet. Mom bought them a cake dish with matching dessert plates, as well as clothes for each of them.
Christopher, Renee, and Nicole went outside to play with Joe and Carolyn, and I stayed in and talked to the adults. “Show everyone the ring Anthony gave you,” Mom said, and I did. They were all impressed.
“They had Seven Fish at their house, too,” Dad said. “Them dagoes really like to celebrate.”
I called Anthony shortly after I had come home at seven. He was entertaining relatives from South Philly, and I kept our conversation brief. I called Tina and asked what she was up to. She had just come home from her grandparents’ house, and I asked her if she wanted to come over to play ping pong. She said yes and headed over. I called Dawn next and extended the invitation to her, too, and she agreed to come as well. They were blown away by the ring.
During a pause in the ping-pong game, I double checked to make sure no one was eavesdropping on the basement stairs and drew them aside. I lowered my voice and said, “Keep this to yourselves, but this is an engaged-to-be-engaged ring,” I said.
Their eyes grew big, and they were speechless. Ninety-eight was playing “It’s Only Love” by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner, and it was the only noise in the room. Tina gasped, “Oh my God. Do you know