November 1st, 1947
It was raining in the Borough of Trees. A hard rain. The kind of rain that washes the grubby scum from the gutters of Bay Shore down to drown in the teeming, fetid waters of the East River. A crash of thunder woke me up as I was lying there, passed out on my kitchen table. The stub of the Chesterfield cigarette I vaguely remembered lighting was still hanging out of the corner of my mouth. It was wet and sticky, and I had no idea why, so I tried to push myself up into what I hoped would at least pass for 'sitting'. As I did, my head felt like it weighed fifty pounds, and there were explosions inside my skull as if there were a dozen grenades all going off in there at the same time. My eyeballs felt like a coupla fuzzy grapes, and my teeth felt like they were wearing little sweaters. Dirty sweaters.
My stomach was churning like there was a little acid factory inside, and everybody in it was working double overtime. Even so, I decided that it wouldn't even be worth the effort to puke, so I just slumped back in the stiff wooden chair, and held firmly onto its arms in a desperate attempt to keep the motions of the spinning room from throwing me onto the grimy kitchen floor. Once I had, I realized that my shirt and loosened tie were as wet and sticky as my cigarette was. I looked down and realized that when I passed out...however long ago that was...I'd knocked over the half-empty glass of Four Roses that I'd been drinking. It would've been a waste of perfectly good rot-gut whiskey if spilling it hadn't put out my smoldering cigarette. The last way that I would've wanted to end this miserable veil of tears of a day would've been having it set fire to the table, and burn down this shitty two room dump that I called home.
I figured that a little hair of the dog that'd practically bitten my head off would make me feel a little less like I'd had the crap beaten out of me. I grabbed the bottle in front of me and held the glass underneath to fill it. The little stream of whiskey inside it trickled out into the glass, before turning into a few weak droplets, and then stopped completely as the last of the bottle's dregs dribbled into it.
"Fuck" I said out loud, as I pushed the empty bottle across the table. It fell over onto the table with a deafening crash, and started to roll to the other side, but inside my pounding head it roared across the table like a passing freight train. When it started falling, there was a moment of blessed silence before it hit the floor; sounding like that same train that was screaming its way through my head was flying off of the tracks and crashing into a brick wall. There wasn't any doubt left in my alcohol-addled mind that there was only one thing I could do. It would require the monumental effort of my trying to stand up and walk, which was the last thing that I wanted to even attempt to do, but this was no longer a question of what I wanted to do. It was a question of what I needed to do.
I grabbed the sticky table with both hands and my aching legs pushed the chair back as I stood up. My head was swimming, and the whole world seemed to be tilted into some bizarre diagonal nightmare I was trapped in. I let go of the table and made the seemingly endless journey across the room to the door. I caught myself on the smaller table by the door as I got there, and shook my head, as if to clear it. As I did, I felt myself spinning, like I always did whenever I did that...which was pretty much all the time...and told myself, like I always did, that I shoulda known by now that that was gonna be a mistake. My drunken stupor and I found ourselves rushing down the Cyclone at Coney Island...but I was so used to it happening at this point that my dazed mind didn't even do that "roller coaster scream" that it used to, back in the day. I just mechanically grabbed the table as I felt the universe whirling around me. In my head, I told myself not to fall onto the floor...again...and happily, I didn't. Usually it was hit or miss, and this time I guess that I'd just gotten lucky and hit one outta the park.
I returned to reality a couple of seconds later, and remembered where I was, and where I was going; and how urgent it was that I got there. I rolled down my shirtsleeves and put on the trench coat that was half-hanging off the little table; where I always threw it when I came in. I took the dingy fedora off the doorknob and put it on my head as I began the odyssey down the six flights that led to the street. I didn't even bother to lock the apartment door as I left. Anybody who wanted to steal any of the worthless crap that I had in there was more than welcome to it.
I walked out onto the stoop, and down to the sidewalk. The sheets of rain that were showering me were cold and wet, but for some reason, it seemed to make me feel a little better. I pushed up the collar of my trench coat, and pulled down my fedora more tightly on my head as I started walking down Bay Ridge Avenue. As I headed toward Fifth Avenue, I noticed that there was some kind of an eerie, cloudy, glow around each of the streetlights, like every bulb had some kinda foggy circle around it. Half of my mind was wondering about the weirdness of it all, and the other half didn't give a shit; and I realized that my head was as cloudy as the lightbulbs were. It was at that point that it dawned on me that I had to pee like a racehorse, and all I could concentrate on was making my way to Peckman's Liquor Store as fast as possible.
I hurried down Fifth Avenue as fast as I could. As I hustled down the street in the pouring rain, I thought to myself, not for the first time, how I was rushing down Fifth to pick up a fifth. I chuckled to myself the same as I always did, as stupid as the joke was. From where I was, I could see the marquee of the Alpine Theater, and I knew that I was almost there. I passed the theater, hurried across the street, and I'd reached 'the Promised Land'. The bells over the door jingled as I made my way in. I didn't even say hello to old man Peckman as I went right for the men's room at the back of the store. After getting myself the 'sweet relief' that I'd so desperately needed, I knew that it was time to get the other 'sweet relief' I'd come for in the first place. As I walked back out, Peckman reached behind him without even looking, and grabbed a bottle of Four Roses.
"The usual, Joe?" he asked as he rang me up.
"Now however did you figure that out, Phil?" I answered in a sarcastic tone.
He wasted my time with the same light, pointless conversation as he always did...was I voting for Truman...would the Giants win the pennant... blah, blah, blah. He finally put the bottle into a brown paper bag and handed it to me, as I handed him two bucks for it without his even having to ask. He took them and gave me back the twenty-three cents change he already had in his hand. It was a kinda ritual that he and I went through every time I came in, but at least it was short and sorta to the point.
As I got to the door I half-waved at him over my shoulder and headed back out into the street. I took me a moment to notice that the rain was stopping as I unscrewed the cap of the bottle. I took a jolt from it, and immediately felt a world better. I walked down Fifth...with my fifth...and took another deep swallow as I waited for the light to change. I was half-way across the street when I saw a couple coming rushing out of the theater. I could see that the girl was crying, and since the movie playing there was 'Miracle on 34th Street', I kinda figured it wasn't the picture that had her doing it.
I saw that they were yelling back and forth at each other, but I couldn't make out what they were saying through the rain. Maybe I couldn't hear them, but I could feel the girl's fury as she hauled back and slapped him across the face. He just screamed back at her even louder than before, and stomped off. He got into a car a few spots down, and I could hear his wheels screech as he drove off into the night as she ran out into the street and screamed something at him as he did.
Once I was across the street, I could see that the girl was Jenny, my landlord's daughter. I usually went outta my way to ignore pretty much everybody I could, but Jenny'd always made that pretty much impossible. I'd seen her on the stoop in front of the building reading her schoolbooks. I'd seen her out in front of the malt shop, smacking gum and laughing with her friends. Last summer I used to see her laying out on the roof in a bikini sunning herself when I went up there to hang out my laundry. Those were among the very few times that I'd actually started up a conversation with anyone, just so I'd have an excuse to stand there and 'enjoy the view'. No, Jenny was one girl who could distract any man. Well, any 'man' except for that poor schmuck of that now EX-boyfriend of hers.
Beauty or no, I made it my business to stay out of other people's business...Jenny's or anybody else's. I had enough problems of my own, and even though she was hotter than a two dollar pistol, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was get sucked into hers. I was gonna cross the street to the other side, to avoid exactly that, but the lights were against me. As I waited for them to change, I saw that she noticed me standing there. Once she had, I knew that there was no chance of my just pretending that I hadn't seen her and walking across. Realizing that there was no way that I could get out of talking to her, I just walked on toward where she was standing.
Jenny was standing there in the rain, looking in the direction that her date'd stormed off in. As she looked off in the distance, I noticed in the dim light outside the theater that she didn't have a coat on. She was soaked to the skin, and hugged her chest with her arms.
"He didn't even give me a chance to get my coat..." she said to no one in particular, "I yelled at him to stop and give it to me, and the bastard didn't even let me get my damn coat." Then she looked at me with teary eyes, sniffled, and said, "Some birthday this turned out to be, huh?"
She started weeping and threw her arms around me. She was cold and wet, and I felt her shiver in my arms. Even though she was dripping wet, I could still smell her perfume, and somewhere in the back of my head, that I couldn't even remember the last time I held a girl in my arms...especially a girl who looked like Jenny.
"I can't believe he just left me standing here all alone. I just wish I didn't have to be alone tonight." She said in a soft, trembling voice. "I can't believe it's my twenty-first birthday, and I'm spending it standing out here in the rain, all by myself." She sniffled again, and hugged me even tighter.
I was standing there, holding a beautiful, vulnerable, heartbroken young girl in my arms. All she could think about was the fact that she'd broken up with her boyfriend on her birthday, and all I could think about was the fact that she'd confirmed to me that she was old enough for me to have. All I could think about was how much I wanted her. I was cold and wet and alone, too; and I wanted her so bad that I could taste it.
"You're not alone, Jenny..." I said as I ran my fingers through her long wet hair, "you're not alone while I'm here."
She smiled a weak smile, and thanked me, laying her head on my shoulder again. It was then that she smelled the whiskey on my breath, and saw the bag with the open bottle in it. At first I was worried that that would scare her away, but she looked at me with a weird look in her eyes. Then she put her hand on the bag.
"This is whiskey, right?" she asked with a playfully sarcastic tone.
"Yes it is...Four Roses...my personal favorite." I answered.
"Well...is this bottle for anyone?" she asked with a playful smile on her face, taking it from me.
"Not for anyone, my dear" I told her with a smile, "Just for you and me."
When I said that, she laughed, took a long drink from it. She looked almost scared as she started having a wide-eyed coughing fit.
"I thought this stuff was supposed to make you feel better...." She said, coughing again.
"No sweetheart..." I answered with a wry chuckle, "it's supposed to make you feel nothing." And with that we both laughed.
"Then it's just what the doctor ordered..." she laughed a positively infectious laugh that I couldn't help sharing with her, and took another swig. She looked deeply into my eyes, and I could see that she was feeling better...at least a little better.
"Baby..." I said, looking in hers, and pointing across the street at one of my favorite bars, "Let's go celebrate that birthday of yours in style."
She smiled broadly, happy that I was treating her like an adult. "Darn right, Joe...I've never even been inside a bar..." she beamed, "but tonight I'm gonna celebrate it in style." She paused for an instant, taking my hand in hers and giving it a soft squeeze, and said, "WE'RE gonna celebrate it in style."
She took another swig from my bottle, held my hand tighter, and actually led me across the street. Maybe she'd never been in a bar before, but she was certainly ready to put a change to that tonight. When we got to the other side, she took another, deeper swallow, handed the bottle back to me, and pulled the door open.
"C'mon Joe" Jenny said with a gleeful look in her eye, "Let's have ourselves a birthday party for two!"
I could hardly believe my luck! Jenny had broken up with her boyfriend, she'd been left out in the rain, and she wanted to prove to herself and everybody around her that she was a 'grown-up' now. I'd hit the trifecta, and was ready to cash in on my winnings.
She walked into the bar as I held the door open for her. ‘Rick’s Café Américain’ was one of my favorite bars around, mostly because it was only a few blocks from my apartment. It was a tacky little dive that was trying way too hard to carry off the whole ‘Casablanca’ theme, but failing miserably. Be that as it may, it had the advantage of being within walking distance for those nights when I’d had a few too many; which was more frequently than I liked to admit. Tonight it also had the added advantage of being right across the street from the Alpine Theater.
“Hello, Joe…whaddya say…whaddya know?” the bartender asked me as we came in.
“I know that I’d kill or die for a drink tonight, Rick” I answered him with a little grin, “PLEASE don’t let it come to that”.
Okay, I knew that his real name was ‘Jimmy’. Jimmy Richards. Pretty much everybody did, but he always wanted people to call him ‘Rick’. It was that whole ‘Casablanca’ thing. He even wore a cheesy white jacket and black bow tie. He talked like a really lousy Humphrey Bogart impersonator working at an off-off-off-Broadway comedy club to try to complete the effect. As far as I was concerned, as long as he kept the liquor flowing freely and the conversation brief, I couldn’t care less if he wanted me to call him ‘Ilsa’ and sounded like a garbage can full of alley cats in a hailstorm.
Once we were inside, I finally had the chance to get a good look at Jenny. She looked even better in person than she had in my memory. Her eyes were a deep, beautiful brown. A ‘doe-eyed’ brown, I guess you’d call it. Her long blonde hair was done up in an adorable pony tail, and she had a set of full, pouty lips that were just begging to be kissed. Her legs were long and sexy, and her supple breasts were like a pair of sweet delicious apples, waiting to be tasted and savored.
Jenny’s white silk shirt was soaked to her chest, and her bra was showing through it. Even though we were inside, out of the rain, her nipples still looked like she had little stacks of dimes in there. Her plaid skirt came down to a couple of inches above her knees, and was clinging to her legs like butter on bread. Her wet clothes were wrapping her so tightly that I could see every contour of her tempting young body. Just looking at her started that old familiar tingling between my legs. All I could do to hide that fact was to take off my trench coat, hold it in front of me, and sit down at the bar. I patted the bar stool next to me, and she sat there, looking into my eyes as if she wanted my approval as she did.
She undid her soggy ponytail, shook it out, and flipped it back over her shoulder like Rita Hayworth did in that ‘Gilda’ movie that I watched when it came out last year. Jenny and Rita, one and the same. How could I not be aroused? How could any man?
“I don’t even need to ask what you want, Joe…” ‘Rick’ began, “but what about you, young lady? What’s your pleasure?”
Jenny turned to me, her head down, and looked up at me with those amazing eyes, and shyly and softly said “what’s my pleasure, Joe?”
“Today’s Jenny’s birthday Rick…” I said to him with an air of indifferent authority, implying that I was the one who made all the decisions for her, “let’s give her a White Russian with a little bit of rum in it.”
“It’s your birthday, huh?” he began, “a White Russian with rum it is…” and added a cheery “first round’s on the house!” He gave me a sly wink, so he could obviously tell why I brought her there, and why I was plying her with drinks. That wink also told me that he was gonna make her drinks a little stronger than usual.
About half an hour, and two White Russians later, Jenny was clearly feeling no pain. She wasn’t exactly drunk…not yet at least. She was just…I guess you’d call it ‘playful’…uninhibited…whatever. Whatever you’d call it; I could tell that she was up for fun…and that fun was gonna be with me.
All of a sudden, she noticed the jukebox. She was still looking across the room at it when she jumped off the bar stool, put her open hand out, and asked me for a dime. There was a tone to her voice that indicated that we weren’t there as ‘the elder neighbor consoling his neighbor’, and we weren’t there as ‘friends’. That one request came out like she had no doubt at all that I’d be handing her one. As far as Jenny was concerned, we were on a date.
I reached in my pocket and gave her a few dimes, and she looked at me like a kid on Christmas morning. She bounded over to the jukebox and started put them in, one after the other, as she picked out a medley of songs. As Perry Como started singing ‘I Wonder who’s Kissing her Now’, she ran over to me, grabbed me by the hand, and yanked me off of the barstool.
“C’mon, Joe…” she said in an excited voice, “Let’s dance!” She didn’t have to ask my twice.
She pulled me close, and we started dancing. As we began moving back and forth, she looked me in the eyes, her face about two inches from my own, and softly said “Joe, thank you so much! This is the best night of my life!” and then she moved in and kissed me. This wasn’t just a kiss; either...it was a passionate kiss. In fact it was much more than that. This was the kind of kiss that a girl gave to a guy she actually cared about. This was the kiss that a girlfriend gave to her boyfriend. As strange as it was to understand, in Jenny’s head, and in Jenny’s heart, we were a ‘couple’. Stranger still, in that one kiss, I started to feel the same way. This beautiful, sensitive young girl wasn’t going to be any ‘one night stand’. She couldn’t be. This was the start of something more than that. It was more than that, and I didn’t care that it was. This was a girl I could actually start to have real feelings for. Twenty one year old Jenny was falling for 30 year old me. It was like the nine years between us weren't there, and it was the most natural thing in the world.
Her head was resting against my shoulder, and she was nuzzling my neck. Her lips began to cover it with soft, sweet kisses; and I felt like I was in a dream. The song ended, she pulled her head from my shoulder, and we shared a longer, deeper kiss. In this one night, we’d gone from neighbors who hardly knew each other to a couple that’d been together for what already seemed like a lifetime. As Vaughn Monroe started crooning ‘I Wish I Didn’t Love You So’, we both pulled each other close and began dancing again. This time, it was beyond feeling natural, like we both knew that it was meant to be. By the time the Andrews Sisters were singing ‘Near You’ we were definitely a couple. We were the only two people in the world, and it felt better than good…for both of us. In a matter of less than an hour, it seemed like we’d been together forever. It felt ‘right’.
Another couple…the only other one in the bar, came over and started dancing. I could see just by looking at them that our dancing was why they were dancing. They looked like they’d been together forever, and were just going through the motions. Both of us knew that they didn’t feel the same way that we did; and we both started walking back to the bar.
As we sat, Jenny asked for another drink, and one for me. That tied it. ‘Joe’ and ‘Jenny’ had become ‘Joe and Jenny’. We started drinking, but without the same ‘urgency’. She wasn’t the twenty one year old girl who was in a bar for the first time, and I wasn’t the older neighbor who was just trying to bed her. We were ‘Joe and Jenny’, out for a night on the town; such as it was.
As we sat there, the other couple was dancing to ‘Ole Buttermilk Sky’, and we were just sharing light conversation about pretty much nothing at all. Then Nat King Cole started singing ‘I Love You for Sentimental Reasons’, and we both got up to dance again without a word about it. We were an ‘us’, and we both knew what we wanted to do without having to discuss it anymore. We had that ‘hive mind’ thing that came with years of being together going on, and we had it almost immediately. We were two people, but we still knew what both of us wanted to do, and when we wanted to do it. It felt amazing.
As we danced, that fourth drink of hers had made Jenny more ‘romantic’, but it also made her more passionate. She was getting in touch with the woman who she’d become…and she was doing it because of me. She was doing it with me.
She held me even closer than she had the last time, and as we danced, we both moved in for a long, passionate kiss. A kiss that was a harbinger of things to come. I felt the fires of passion burning within me again…this time with gusto. I was overcome with an emotional onslaught that my body was almost completely absorbed by. I slid my hands down until they rested on that perfect butt of hers, and pulled her closer to me as we began kissing again. I knew that she could feel my passionate, lustful excitement as it grew 'down below' in my pants as we did. She moved her lips near my ear and whispered the magic words that both of us wanted to hear.
“Joe, I want you.” She said in a soft whisper, “I want you to be the one.” She kissed my neck again, and purred, “I want you to be my first. I want you to be my first, my last, and every one in between.”
Then she slid her hands down my own back, put her supple young hands on my own butt, and gave it a firm squeeze. Then she pulled us even closer together, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she knew the effect that she was having on me, as she moved her lips closer to my ear and whispered,
“…and I think that your little soldier is ready to ‘go out on maneuvers’ too.” She giggled an adorable little giggle, and gave my earlobe a playful little bite and said “let’s get out of here”.
As soon as we got outside, I put me trench coat over her shoulders, and she turned and kissed me again. We reveled in that kiss for what seemed like an eternity, and then she took my hand in hers, and headed back up the street toward my apartment. I didn’t even think of it as the crappy little dump that it was. As far as I was concerned…we were headed for “The Promised Land”.