My Rise to Relative Obscurity Part 1


My Rise to Relative Obscurity

1924 - 1972

"Where do you think you're going?" Myrlene asks, as I head for the door.
"Are you crazy? You can't go out there tonight. Haven't you been hearing what the radio's been reporting? This is the coldest night ever recorded in New England. You'll be turned into an ice statue before you reach your house."
"I live only three doors away; I'll make it all right."
"No, you never will. You'll just have to sleep here tonight."
"Look, I'm a Boy Scout, an honor student in school and I go to church every Sunday, and I'm going home. Good night."
I open the door – WHOOSH! - and shut it immediately, my hand almost frozen to the doorknob. There's a blinding blizzard out there.
"You see, smarty, just like I told you: no human being can possibly go out tonight. Come upstairs, and I'll show you where you're going to sleep."
I follow Myrlene upstairs and into a room.
"This is your bed for tonight." Myrlene indicates the double bed in the room.
I go in, sit on the bed and wait for Myrlene to leave, but, smiling down at me, she remains standing at the door. Moments pass before I dare ask, "And where are you going to sleep?"
"On this bed; it's large enough for two."
"Impossible! I'm a Boy Scout, an honor student in school and I go to church every Sunday. I can never allow myself to sleep in the same bed with you.”
"But, Eddie, there's nowhere else in this house where you can sleep. My mother is sleeping in the only other bed."
"Why don't you sleep with her?"
"Her bed is too small."
"Then why can't I sleep on the couch downstairs?"
"On a night as cold as this, my mother and I have to share every available blanket. What's wrong with you, Eddie? You're not shy, are you?"
I'm unable to raise my eyes to her.
"Oh, you are shy. In that case, I'll undress in the bathroom, behind that door, while you undress here. As soon as you're snug in bed, you call me."
Myrlene leaves, and I quickly undress and slip into bed. But I don't call her, hoping she'll forget about me, or that the morning will arrive to save me. The door opens and Myrlene stomps into the room.
"Are you so shy you can’t to call me?" she says angrily, pulling back the bedcovers.
"Wait!" I warn, holding up my hand to stop her. “I'm a Boy Scout, an honor student in school and I go to church every Sunday, so I think it's best that you sleep on that side of the bed and I on this."
"Well, all right, if that's what you want.”
After lying for a few moments, Myrlene asks," Eddie, are you awake?"
"I'm freezing, aren't you?"
"Eddie, I have an idea: if we both move a bit closer to the center of the bed, we'll be warmer."
"No! I'm a Boy Scout, an honor student in school and I go to church every Sunday."
"But we must do something, Eddie, or we won't be able to sleep a wink. Please be sensible.”
We move closer to the center of the bed. We don’t lie there long before Myrlene again speaks out.
"Eddie, I'm still cold. I have another idea: if we both move smack into the center of the bed so that our bodies touch . . ."
"Never! I've told you already that I'm a Boy Scout, an honor . . ."
"Oh, Eddie, you've never been a Boy Scout - you can't even tie your shoelaces properly - and you've never been an honor student and you’ve never even been in a church. Look, my last suggestion was good, wasn't it? We were warmer when we moved closer to the center of the bed, weren't we? So why not do as I say now?"
We move to the center of the bed and allow our bodies to touch. Myrlene snuggles closer to me and lips approach my ear.
"Um, Eddie," she sighs. "And now I want you to put your hand where I pee."
In the morning, I find half my right hand frozen in the toilet bowl.

1924 - 1930
All is darkness. Gradually small spots of light appear in the darkness. The spots of light, becoming enlarged, increase in number. An indistinct white mass gradually emerges from the darkness and moves about, becoming brighter and more clearly defined. Black spots flutter upon the white form. A sound issues from it, a familiar sound, a sound associated with sucking - and with Mama. The white form moving about is Mama!
{I must have seen prior to this, but this was the first time I realized that I was seeing. My mind later pieced together that I’d been sitting on the floor and watching my mother in a white dress as she walked about in an adjoining room. The fluttering dark spots upon her dress were occasioned by the shadows of the leaves interrupting the flow of sunlight streaming in through the kitchen window.}

I’m in Papa’s arms as he and Mama stand with a group of people around a mat on the floor. A barebacked man pushes his way through the crowd and stands on the mat. Another barebacked man joins him on the mat. The people standing make a sound that makes me cry. Papa wants me to stop crying, but I can’t stop, and he hands me to Mama. She carries me home and leaves me with the nurse who watches over baby George.
{I know how old I was at the time because my brother George was born a year and eleven months after me. My mind later pieced together that my parents were about to watch my mother’s brother wrestle when some vibration in the atmosphere of the arena made me cry. I have no memory of Uncle George because he died just this time, but I do remember playing with the cups and belts he had won.}

Mama and Papa withdraw from the room, leaving me alone. I walk up and down the room contentedly. Suddenly, I see a dark form moving on the wall, and I scream. Mama and Papa rush in. Mama, behind me, inspects my diaper. She tells Papa happily that, yes, there is caca in my diaper.
{The sight of my shadow on the wall had literally scared the shit out of me.}

Mama puts a toy soldier in my hand while I’m in a surly mood, then leaves the room. I squeeze the soldier until it hurts my hand. Furious, I throw the soldier against the wall, smashing it, the pieces raining down upon the floor. Good, let Mama come and hit me now. I’m ready to be punished and not give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry.
Mama returns to the room and, kneeling, humbly scoops up the remains of the toy soldier. “What a bad temper my boy has today,” she says and leaves.
What have I done? Mama has placed her love in my hand and I’ve cast it from me. I don’t deserve to ever be given another gift. If anything should ever be given me, I will cherish it with all my being.

I awaken from a pleasant afternoon dream. In the dream, I once again had the lost book of trains I’d been so fond of. I like to look at locomotives more than I do airplanes or boats.
Mama comes home from shopping. She hands me a packet. I reach in and pull out the train book I had been dreaming of. I am very happy to have it once again.
But how had Mama known that I wanted that book? I don’t remember saying anything to her about that. And how was it that she had bought the book at the very time that I had been dreaming of having it again? Does Mama know my dreams? Or do my dreams see what Mama is doing? Do Mama and I have an unusual way of knowing each other?

From the back seat of the car, I look fondly at the back of Papa’s head as he drives. He has bought a gift for Mama. I look forward to seeing the happiness on Mama’s face when she gets Papa’s gift. I want so much to lean forward and put my arms around Papa’s head and hug it, but I don’t dare.
Why doesn’t Papa buy gifts for Mama more often? When I am big I will buy presents for her every day.

I stare at the nothingness between baby Isabel’s legs as she lies on her back in her bed. What has happened to her thing? Where has it gone? Has it fallen off? How will she do peepee without it?

Mama sits on the floor to teach George and me how to draw. She lifts one knee from the floor, and I see that she, like baby Isabel, also has nothing between her legs, except that her nothing is covered with dark hair.

I walk into the bathroom and surprise Papa with his pants down. I’m happy to see that he has something between his legs. But his something is big and dark and covered with veins, unlike my nice little pink one.
It seems that the ones with something between their legs wear pants, while those with nothing wear dresses.

Papa drives slowly along the road behind the beach. A man is pulling off his shirt beside a parked car, and to see his body covered with hair startles me. Why has such ugliness happened to him? I look at my smooth hairless arms and vow that I will never allow hair to appear on them.

I look down at George contemptuously, wondering how he can permit such a shameful thing to be done to him. I want to kick and punch him out of his docility. But I know that if I make so much as a menacing move toward him, he’ll cry out as though I’ve hit him, and Mama will come running to hit me.
Mama is so proud of George’s lovely curls, praising them day and night and even putting ribbons on his head. That is bad enough but when she puts a girl’s dress on him so that what he wears matches the ribbons on his head that is criminal. And naive George hasn’t made the slightest protest. That’s why I want to wake him up by kicking him. If Mama should ever put a dress on me, I’d tear it off, drop it on dogshit and stamp on it.

Papa walks by me with a boy I don’t know, and I return to my drawing. Mama screams, frightening me. I go to the kitchen to see what is happening. Mama is crying and cursing Papa and pointing at the boy’s head. Now, I see that the boy is George without his curls. Papa must have taken him to a barber. Mama continues to shout at Papa, using words I’ve not heard before. I wish Papa would tell her to be quiet, but all he does is mutter something under his breath and leave the house to go for a drive. I’m sure that for days and days Mama’s going to cry and curse every time she sees George’s head.

I’m awakened from my afternoon nap by Mama’s shouting at a lady visitor. How can Mama do this? Doesn’t she care that her words hurt the woman’s feelings? Doesn’t she see how difficult she is making it for the woman to like her? Why can’t she be like Papa who always talks pleasantly to people? It makes me feel so good when I hear Papa exchanging Merry Christmases and Happy New Years with his friends.

Papa doesn’t shout, but he is often unjust to me. This evening, Mama gathered up all the drawings George and I have made and handed them to him. He looked through one pile, then the other and asked, “Whose are these?” ‘‘Those are George’s,” Mama told him.
I waited to hear Papa praise my work, but he handed the drawings back to Mama and said, “I like George’s drawings best.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. Was Papa blind? How could he not see how superior my drawings were to George’s mere scribbles? How could George, two years younger than me, possibly draw better than me? Papa was being deliberately unfair. Or was he teaching me how to bear injustice?
“Let’s not look to the older one to amount to much,” Papa once told Mama while I was sitting beside him in the car. “Let’s place all our hopes on George.”
I vowed then to surpass George in everything we should ever do. Let Papa build his sandcastles on the seashore; I would be the angry wave that crashes down to demolishes all that he builds.
Perhaps Papa dislikes me because I always tell him when he’s made a wrong turn when we’re driving somewhere.
“Listen to Eddie; he never forgets the way,” Mama will say from the back seat.

In the back seat of the car with George beside me, I wait to see Papa disappear from view. As soon as he’s gone, I strike out at George and knock off his eyeglasses. He cries even before I’ve really hit him hard. Now, I begin to punch and kick him, and wrestle him to the floor of the car.
Why doesn’t he fight back? Why doesn’t he try to use all his strength to resist me? Why doesn’t he make an effort to see instead of relying on those glasses he wears?
I beat George until I see Papa coming. Quickly, I wipe away his tears, put his glasses back on and speak nicely to him, hoping to make him forget what I’ve done to him. But he’s also seen Papa coming, and he’s not going to stop crying. As soon as Papa enters the car, George blurts out all I’ve done to him, while I cower in the back seat, waiting to be struck by Papa’s hand. But, luckily, Papa seems too preoccupied to hear what George is trying to tell him.

1930 - 1937
Our first day in school, George and I sit next to each other in the front row. Mama has kept me at home until George is old enough to go to school with me because she doesn’t want us to become lonely away from home.
The teacher, standing before the class, says something which George and I don't understand. The only English we know are phrases such as “Good morning," "Good night" or "Merry Christmas". We’ve never played with any children other than our younger brothers and sister. Whenever we’ve gone from the house it has been in Papa’s car. We speak only Armenian, some Turkish and understand a little Greek.
Looking over my shoulder, I see that some of the children have raised their hands. I nudge George and signal to him that he should raise his hand as I am doing.
The teacher is going from desk to desk and looking at what is on each of them. Now she looks at George's desk and frowns. She frowns, too, when she looks at mine. Pursing her lips and nodding her head, she opens our boxes and empties them onto our desks. She picks up two irregular shaped pieces and shows us how they fit together. George and I have never seen such a game.

"What shall we sing, children?" the first grade teacher asks the class sitting around her in a semi-circle. “Does anyone wish to make a request? Yes, Angelo."
The children snicker, knowing what he's going to say.
" 'Silent Night'.” Angelo calls for his favorite song, and the children laugh to be singing “Silent Night” in the month of June.
As I sing, I feel a sudden sharp pain on my arm. Too shy to look at Patricia who sits beside me, I continue to sing. There's another sharp pain, this time on my side. Why is Patricia pinching me? I've never done anything to her, hardly even looked at her. Another pinch almost sends my voice up to a much higher note. Still afraid to look at her, I pretend to be singing. Again she pinches me. It seems she's not going to stop tormenting me. She pinches me so hard that it forces me look at her. My eyes beg her for mercy. Continuing to stare menacingly into my eyes and screwing up her face, Patricia pinches my arm.

Seeing all the books along the walls of the public library, I am encouraged to go to the woman sitting behind the counter.
"Yes, dear, may I help you?"
"Is it true I can take books home with me?"
"Yes, you may take any two books for two weeks. If you'll tell me your name, I'll prepare a borrower's card for you."
I can't believe my luck. What a wonderful discovery! Now I'll have something to do during my summer vacation when I'm not running to department stores to return things that Mama has bought or to pay the monthly bills. "Your mother trusts a little boy like you with all this money!" the cashiers often say.

"You not fool-it me!" Mama shouts at the young girl waiting on her in the large department store. "Dis not silk!"
"The label says it is."
"Label-bable, I don' believe-it label. I not pay-it dis price. How much you take-it?" Mama thinks she's bargaining in Istanbul.
"The price is marked on the item, madam."
"Shut up. I tol-it you I not pay-it dis price.”
I feel sorry for the girl. Even I know that she’s only a worker here. With my eyes alone, I try to convey to the girl that I’m sympathizing with her.
"So, wat is-it best price?"
"I'll call the manger."
"Yes, call-it manager."
The girl doesn't have to call the manager because he has already arrived.
"What seems to be the problem, madam?"
"I not pay-it dis price dis material. Dis not silk. Look, feel."
"It feels like silk to me."
"No, don' try cheat-it poor mother."
All activity in the store has stopped, as the shoppers gather closer to see what is going on.
"All right, madam, pay what you wish," the manager tells Mama.
Mama will probably ask me to return this item to the store in a day or two.

"The Lord is my shepherd . . ." the second grade teacher reads.
I look with disgust at the children bowing their heads.
" . . . down in green pastures . . ."
Why do they lower their heads so humbly?
" . . . the still waters . . ."
I would never bow my head to anyone.
" . . . though I walk through . . ."
"Hey, Ralph, Annie, Jack," I whisper to the children closest to me. "Look out the window. It's snowing!"
" . . . fear no evil . . ."
"Do you know what snowing is? It's God shitting on the world!"
" . . .comfort me . . ."
"And God's shit is white because he's so pure."
" . . .anointed my head with . . ."
"And when it rains, we know what God is doing, don’t we."
"Who's talking back there?" the teacher asks, looking up from her book. “Is that you again, Edward? I will see you after school."

“Come, Eddie, we’re going out for a picnic,” Mama says.
“I don’t want to go.’’
“You want to stay home alone?”
I like to be alone and fantasize that I am a hero of one kind or another: a fireman, a cowboy, a leader of a gang who fight against evildoers. My gang is made up of the children that I often see passing by my window. I don’t know many of them, but I’ve imagined a life for some of them. Of course, they all admire me very much. If I should become wounded in battle, all the boys will be very worried and crowd around the girls bending over me to treat my wound. And when I rise to my feet finally everyone cheers.
Or I imagine I'm the owner of the newest and largest movie house in town. It presents three feature films each day, has private viewing booths and charges the very lowest entrance price. The people are so grateful to have such a theater, that when they see my car coming they line the streets and cheer me as I’m driven past.

"What's in the bag?" asks the only other boy in the playground.
"Can I have a look?"
I open the top of the bag to allow him to look in.
"Hey, you got some real beauties, you know it.”
Hearing him praise my collection makes me feel proud..
"Let me hold the bag so I can see better."
I hand the bag to the boy. He looks into it, juggles the marbles about, takes a deep breath and begins to run, carrying my bag of marbles with him. Surely, he will turn back and return the marbles to me. But he doesn't seem to be coming back. He couldn't possibly be running away with the marbles, could he? But what’s to stop him, except his knowing that the marbles belong to me and that I will be very unhappy to lose them? I never imagined that anyone could do what that boy is doing.
Now, if I want my marbles back, I'll have to chase the boy, catch him, knock him to the ground and wrest the bag out of his hands. But, then, I will be the aggressor, while he will be the defender of the bag of marbles.

Myrlene and I go about town to see what's playing at all the movie theaters. Seeing the poster, I imagine what the movie is going to be, but when I see the it it's never as good as what I had thought it would be..
"Wanna bite, kids?" An old man, wearing dirty clothes, leans out of a doorway and holds out an apple.
"Run, Eddie!" Myrlene shouts, dashing away.
I run to catch up with her, and we go some distance before stopping.
"Why did you say to run, Myrlene?"
"Because that was the kind of bad man that my mother has told me to run away from.”
"Because they do terrible things to children when they catch them."
"What kind of terrible things?"
"Whatever you can think of.”

Watching a very funny movie Laurel and Hardy movie, I become aware of a weight on my thigh. The hand of the man sitting beside me is lying on my leg. I wait for him to remove it, but his hand inches toward the center of my lap instead. It’s impossible for me to pay attention to the movie now. His fingers begin to undo the buttons of my pants. Without turning my head, I glance at the man. He’s watching the movie and laughing quietly. He doesn’t seem to be aware of what his hand is doing. How insensitive older people are. His fingers are reaching into my pants and touching my underwear. Now, they are trying to touch my thing! Why do they want to touch that dirty thing I pee with?
I move in my seat as far from the man as possible his hand falls into the space I have made. Quickly, I button my pants and try to become interested again in the movie. But his hand is on me once more! And, again, it’s working its way toward my fly. I fold my hands together in my lap to block his hand, but his fingers try to creep under them.
I become brave enough to pick up his hand and drop it into his lap. There, now he knows that I don't want him to touch me.
But, again, his hand is on me! What's wrong with this man? He knows I don't want him to touch me, yet he continues to do so. He doesn't care at all about what I want.
The movie has ended. Many people are leaving. Good. I get up to look for a seat away from this man and find a nice safe place between two fat ladies eating popcorn.

I am the good guy, riding my horse.
I am the bad guy, hiding in wait.
I am the good guy, halting and raising my hand over my eyes to look into the distance.
I am the bad guy about to strike.
I am the good guy . . .
"Look out!" shout the children, warning the good guy.
I want to laugh when I see that my audience is taking the characters I’m portraying to be real, but I suppress my laughter so they will continue to believe in these characters. The audience is made up of my brothers George, Albert, Arthur and my sister Isabel, each of whom pay five cents every evening to watch me perform at The Roundup Theater located in my bedroom. Neighborhood children also come to watch the shows. I usually make up a comedy, a serial and a feature each evening and end by showing one reel of film. The audience prefers to watch me perform rather than watch a film.
The Roundup Theater came to be when my parents realized that the movie projector I had been begging them to buy me could actually be a godsend to them. Every evening, after feeding all the children except the latest baby, they would give each child five cents to give to me to enter my theater, then they would sit back and have a quiet dinner.

“Leave-it him ‘lone,” Mama calls out to the actress on the screen who is interested in a married man. “You know he has-it good wife his home.”
I shrink in my seat, no longer proud to be at the movies with Mama while George has to stay at home with Papa.
“Don’ listen-it her,” Mama advises the husband on the screen. “Leave-it dat cheap bum. Go home your wife.”
Members of the audience shush Mama.
“Oh, poo, I spit your painted face ugly like night is long.”
“Quiet for God’s sake, lady,” a man calls out.
“Mama, be quiet. You’re disturbing people.”
She glances at me blankly, then looks back at the screen.
“You, ugly as night is long.”
People in the audience move away from us.
I remember waking up in the back seat of Papa’s car one afternoon when I was too young to go to school and not finding him there. Looking out the window, I saw him talking with a young woman who was watching over children in the playground. When I saw Papa reach out to push back hair from the girl’s eyes I felt a slight twinge within me.
“Oh, good, cry, dirty woman. I so happy you sad,” Mama exults when the vamp’s fails to lure the husband.

On the screen, a man in a ramshackle house shoots a rifle out the window at the police, while a woman reloads a second rifle and hands it to him. The man is hit, but only stunned. The woman looks at his wound and, backing from him, she tears off the sleeve of her blouse to reveal a fleshy upper arm. The sight of that arm makes me want the couple to overcome the police so I’ll be able to see what they will do when they are left alone.
Sadly, they are defeated by the police.
Having a motion picture projector and knowing that a film will show the same scenes each time it is played, I remain in the theater to watch the film again, hoping against hope that the man and the woman will fend off the police this time.

"I saw Mrs. Mardikian this afternoon, and she told me that she met you in the street a few days ago," Mama tells me in Armenian.
"If I'd seen her, I would’ve crossed the street to avoid her," I say in English. Although my parents speak to me in Armenian, I always speak to them in English. Since being sent to school with barely any knowledge, I’ve come to dislike almost everything Armenian except my mother’s cooking. "I don't like to run into grownups. I look at their feet until they let me go off."
"Mrs. Mardikian thinks you are somewhat slow in the mind."
"She asked me where I was going, and I told her that I wasn’t going anywhere. 'How is your father?' she asked me next. ‘I don’t know, ’ I answered. ‘And your mother, how is she?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Is your mother at home now?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ”
"Good boy, don't tell them anything. They just want to stick their noses in our business. Eddie, always tell your friends that we are poor. And never take anything that their parents try to give you.”

Annie is dead, hit by a car. Annie, who used to whisper the correct answers in arithmetic to me; Annie who would huddle against the school during recess on cold days, her thin arms wrapped around her trembling body, is dead. How often I’d wanted to go and put my arms around her to make her warm, but didn’t dare to. She looked so beautiful and peaceful at the funeral parlor.
Maybe it would be nice to die and be with Annie and with God in heaven where it’s always sunny and never dark. Then, all my friends will feel sorry for me. But for how long?

I shrink when I see Mama walk into the classroom on parents' visiting day. I'm ashamed of the way she looks. She’s not dressed smartly and pretty like the mothers of the other children.
"Oh, Eddie, is that your mother?" asks Mildred.
"Yes," I answer weakly, unhappy that Mildred has guessed.
I don’t like to look at Mama do I like to see my own face with its sallow complexion and dark circles under the eyes. I want to have round rosy cheeks like most of the other boys.

Having been kept me after school for an hour, I walk alone through the schoolyard and suddenly see five or six boys from St. Mary’s school pass on the sidewalk before me. I stand still, hoping that they won’t notice me. But they do and, whooping wildly, they charge up to me and push me back against a wire fence.
"We gotcha, you rat.”
"We're gonna give you two black eyes, bastad.”
"And we're gonna bash in your nose.”
"Then we'll knock out all your teeth.”
I think of something I could do and instantly reject it, afraid that if I do it, they’ll really give it to me.
“After that we’re gonna rub your face in dog shit.”
Screwing up their faces and raising their fists, they move in on me.
Seeing that I have little to lose, I decide to do what I’d thought of doing.
"Stop!’ I command, holding up my right hand before their eyes. “If I touch you with this hand, you die!”
They stop and stare at my hand.
“Yeow!” they screech and dash away.
I'm amazed. They actually believed they would die if I touched them with this hand. They must have wanted to believe it. As I walk home, I regard my hand with a new fondness.
Not bad, I think, not bad at all.

While we’re having breakfast, the son of one of Papa’s tenants asks Papa to step outside. Soon, we hear crashing sounds coming from the back porch. I put my head out the back door to see what is happening. The man is hitting Papa again and again. I shut the door quickly.
“Mama, he’s beating Papa!”
"Help! He's killing my husband! Help!"
I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been so afraid.
Mama opens a windows and screams, “Somebody, help!"
"Open up! Open the door!" a man’s voice orders
"No! No!" Mama shrieks. "He wants to come in and kill the children and me."
"Open the door! Police.”
“Don believe him,” Mama shouts.
There is a very loud thump on the door. The wood begins to crack. Two more thumps and the tip of an axe blade appears through the crack.
Mama, holding her head with both her hands, screams.
"Stand back in there!"
The door falls apart. A number of men come in with Papa, his face swollen and bloody.
"Oh, my husband, what has he done to you? Why, why, why?"
"He'll be all right, Mrs. Been beat up bad is all.”
"Where is man beat-it mine husband?"
"Don't worry, he’s not going to bother you again. We're holding him and he’ll probably be sent to the mental hospital."

George, Albert, Arthur and Isabel all rush in together, carrying the shopping bags I've provided them with.
"Look, Eddie," they say, emptying their bags.
"You did real good," I say, inspecting the loot on the floor. "Did any of you have any trouble?"
"No, we did like you told us. We each went to a different store. The films were lying on top of the counters in the toy sections, like you said. And when no one was looking we scooped the films into our bags."
"Perfect. Now what I want you to do is to tell the kids in your classrooms that there's going to be a film festival in our cellar playroom next Friday after school. Only five cents to get in."
When I started The Roundup Theater my plan was to buy a new film as soon as I had saved enough from the money I collected at the door. But when I had that amount of money I thought that if I saved twice as much, I’d have both the film and the money. In the end, I found I could acquire the film without spending any money at all.

When Mama listens to the Saturday afternoon opera on the radio Papa has bought I go from room to room, upstairs and down, but find no escape from those dreadful sounds. But I don’t complain, because the radio has introduced me to popular songs, to adventure dramas and to baseball games.

A new baby is coming to our house. The doctor is already in Mama’s bedroom. I don’t know why he always comes when a baby arrives. Maybe, to accept the baby from the stork. Usually, we don’t see Mama for a few days after a baby has come, giving George and me a chance to fool around.
"Stop making such a racket, you two." Mama stands at our door, surprising us. Never before have we seen her on the day a baby has been born. "Do you want to kill Papa? I'm warning you, if he should die, I won't be able to support you. I'll have to put you all in an orphan home."

"Which movie are we going to?" George asks, walking along with me.
"I'm going to the Paramount; which one are you going to?"
"I'm going to the Paramount."
"The movies they show at the Paramount are too grownup for you. You should go to the Auditorium, where they show cowboy and adventure movies."
"No, I want to go to the Paramount."
"Okay, then, I'm going to the Warner."
"I think I'll go to the Warner, too."
"I thought you said you were going to the Paramount."
"But now I want to go to the Warner."
"Are you sure you want to go to the Warner?"
"Good, go there. I'm going to the Paramount."
"Me too, I'm going to the Paramount."
"Look," I say, stopping and looking at George with exasperation, "I don't want you always following me around. Make up your own mind for a change. Which movie are you going to?"
" I said the Paramount."
"Then go to the Paramount. I'm going to the Warner."
"I'm going where you go."
"No, you're not!"
"Mama said you should take me with you."
Mama said! Furious with him, I push George down onto his back, tear off his shoes, throw them into the bushes and run off to the Paramount.

George and I, in our beds, hear the doorbell ring downstairs and the sound of the front door being opened, then Mama’s scream.
"Papa's dead," I tell George, and he begins to cry.
But it's too late for me to cry; Papa is gone and no amount of crying is going to bring him back. I did all my crying and praying in the afternoon while Papa was unconscious and gasping for air in the room next to mine. I prayed until I felt my head was about to burst. I could not believe that Papa was dying. I had never thought of such a terrible thing happening to us. How could our family go on without him?
But all that crying and praying had not saved Papa. Exhausted, I lie back in my bed and wonder what will happen to us.

"Aieeeh!" Startled by Mama’s scream, I see her, rushing like a madwoman rush out of her bedroom to Papa's coffin in the living room. “You’re happy you’ve gotten away, yes. You couldn't wait to go. No more worries, no more responsibilities, for you now, yes. Going and leaving me with seven children. How do you expect me to take care of them? Oh, why did I ever marry and have children? I must have been mad. So, tell me, what I am to do now? Speak, God damn you, speak.
"And you, what kind of God are you to take him before you have taken me? I am the one who wanted always to die. So, why haven't you taken me? I curse you. You are no longer a God to me. How am I, with so little English, to manage in this country of Irishmen? Ah, what a lovely life you have given me: twelve years of washing dirty diapers and now this. Oh, thank you, thank you so much, cruel God."
Mama is so distraught that she can no longer take care of us. Our next door tenant makes all our meals.
Before leaving for school each day, I stop before the coffin and stare at Papa's face. Sometimes, it seems to move.

The Armenian priest finally brings to a close the funeral ceremony in our crowded living room. The people begin to file out. Mama takes my arm to walk out with me. As we are about to step over the threshold, she holds me back.
"Now you are the father of this family," she tells me, kissing my cheek.
Hooray! We’re not going to be sent to an orphanage!

Returned home from the burial, Mama and I sit at our table laden with food that the women who've stayed behind have prepared. It’s good to see Mama eating and drinking again, but I’m surprised to see her laughing and joking with the women. I never thought I’d see her happy again.

“For one year, there will be no holidays, no going to the movies, no listening to the radio,” Mama, wearing black, tells us.
That doesn’t bother me much because she has stored the radio in the closet behind the bureau in my bedroom, and I’ll be able to take it out at night and listen to it quietly.
Now that Papa is dead, I must be mindful of all that I do because he, along with God, can see and know everything about me.
It’s too bad Papa doesn’t like baseball, because he could be at all the big league games.

“You wanna ride, kid?”
I look up to see the milkman sitting in his wagon.
“Where you goin’?”
“Back to school.”
“Climb up.”
I hop up and sit beside the milkman.
“What grade you in?”
Suddenly, I’m aware of the horse’s bobbing backside before me, so close that I can touch it if I lean forward. Fascinated, I can’t look at anything else. I remember how aroused I would become when I saw the behind of a horse standing in a barnyard when Papa would drive us through the countryside. I was usually ashamed to be seen in our car, ducking from view whenever a faster car overtook us. But when there was a horses’ backside to be seen I’d want him to drive even slower or, better, to stop to allow me to have my fill of the sight of those rounded haunches, of those thighs tapering to thin ankles.
Today, I’m having my fill as never before.
The horse’s tail rises, revealing a black orifice. The opening spreads wide and allows brown stuff to emerge from within the horse and fall onto the street.
How lucky this milkman is to be able to sit all day behind this horse. Maybe I’ll become a milkman when I grow up.

“Hey, Eddie, you’re shoelace is undone,” Calvin informs me as we walk to school.
“Is it?”
“Well, aincha gonna tie it?”
“No, we’ll be late for school.”
“Shit, it only takes a minute to tie ‘em.”
“I know.”
“So, tie ‘em.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“Why not?”
“Okay, because I don’t know how to.”
“YOU DON”T KNOW HOW TO TIE YOUR SHOELACES!” As I h’d expected, Calvin broadcasts my ineptness to the other children on their way to school. “So, who ties ‘em for you?”
“My mother. And when she’s not around, any friendly-looking person I see.”
“That’s a real shame, you know it, Eddie? How come you never learned to tie ‘em?”
“I never tried to.”
“Stop, I’m gonna show you how to do ‘em.” Calvin kneels, and I lean forward to pretend I’m watching him. “First, you do like this, now like this, then like that and finished. Easy, huh?”
“Yeah, thanks for showing me.”
“Good, now you do ‘em,” he says, undoing the laces.
“Oh, Calvin, I’ll never learn how.”

“Eddie, you’re not gonna believe what I’m gonna tell you,” Calvin says. “It’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. You know that sissy Ronnie lives downstairs from me? Well, his mother - Haw-haw-haw.”
“His mother what?”
“His mother gives . . . No, I can’t stop laughing.”
I wait patiently for Calvin to pull himself together.
“His mother . . . she gives him . . . Haw-haw-haw.”
Calvin laughs so hard he falls back onto the lawn behind him.
“Is it really that funny?”
“Wait till you hear. His mother, that sissy’s mother, gives him his baths.”
“No!” I exclaim, holding onto my stomach and falling down beside Calvin to laugh. I don’t want him to find out that my mother gives me my baths.
How can she do to me what the whole world thinks is outrageous? Lucky I found out about this before anyone else did. The next time I have to take a bath, I’m going to tell my mother that I’m bathing myself..

“Where you go?” my mother asks, blocking the doorway.
“Out to play ball,” I tell her, ready to push her aside if she doesn’t get out of my way.
She pauses, looks into my eyes, then steps aside.
Now that my father is dead, I want more freedom for myself.

“Eddie, don’ believe they tell you in school about say-it what you believe,” my mother tells me. “They just want-it you open your mouth so they can know-it what you think. If you meet-it government big shot, keep-it your mouth shut, smile-it and go away.”

"Today, I'm going to sing," I announce, standing before my sixth grade class during the entertainment portion of the Friday afternoon Club Hour.
My classmates laugh. They think I'm joking. They know me as the one who performs one-man comedies, not as a singer.
But I've finally decided to find out if my voice sounds as good in school as it does in my room. When I sing at home it seems to me that I sound far better than any of my classmates who sing in school. But I’ve not dared to sing in school for many weeks, telling myself that I can't truly hear myself sing, that the acoustics in my room may be better than those in the schoolroom.
"Come on, Eddie, stop foolin' around and tell us a story."
"No, I'm going to sing."
“Aw, bull.”
"Quiet, children, and let Edward sing,” Mrs. Howe tells the class.
I begin to sing "A Stairway to the Stars" and my voice sounds as flawless as it does in my room. I sing with my eyes shut, and they are still shut when the song has ended.
The room is completely silent. There is no applause. I have failed.
"Do that again, Edward," I hear Mrs. Howe say.
From that moment on, I know I have become the star performer of the class.

"Well, Eddie."
"Well what, Mildred?" I ask, sitting before the class as vice-president of Club Time.
"Get up and sing."
"You sing, Mildred." I resent her expecting me to entertain.
"But you sing better than me, Eddie."
"I don't have any new songs to sing this week.”
"Sing some of the ones you've sung before."
"I never sing a song twice. Let someone else do something."
Although I had wished to be the best entertainer in the class, I, now that I have become the only entertainer, dislike being taken for granted by my classmates.
"If there is not going to be any entertainment, we will adjourn Club Time and finish the day with arithmetic," announces Mrs. Howe.
"Come on, Eddie, save us.” My classmates plead with me, but I ignore them.
"Stop begging him, children. Someone please make a motion to adjourn Club Time."
"Phooey on you, Eddie."
Having had my way, I know I'll be doing all the entertaining every Friday from now on. I love to sing for my classmates and for the high school students from upstairs who, their school day ending an hour before ours, crowd outside our classroom door on Friday afternoons to listen to me.
How I enjoy being the hero of the class.
“Eddie, all the girls are in love with you,” Calvin tells me. “You can have any one of them.”
“I don’t want any one of them. I want them all.”

1937 - 1940
I walk dispiritedly through the corridor of my junior high school which is in another part of town than my old elementary school. My former sixth grade companions are dispersed in various rooms in this school and in other junior highs in the city. I’m no longer the hero of my classroom; my voice has become deeper and darker, and there’s little hope of my becoming a singing star again. I have learned the bitter sadness of having lost the fame I had once enjoyed

As I beat George for not obeying me, I become aware that I’m deliberately building up my rage against him. My head is hot, and my skull seems to be closing in on my brain. All the anger I’m directing against George is actually hurting me, possibly permanently damaging my body. I stop hitting George, deciding not beat him, nor my other brothers and sisters, again.

"Eddie, someday you will marry a nice Armenian girl,” my mother tells me.
I resent her telling me what I’m going to do with my life.
"I'll marry anyone I want," I say, even though I'm sure I’m never going to marry.
"What!" she shouts. "You're going to marry some Irish bum, some English bum, some French bum, some American bum? No, you will marry a good Armenian girl who will stay with you when you're sick or having bad luck."
I recall a painting I had been very fond of. It was of Christ sitting in a chair and encircled by children, each wearing a different costume and with a different color of skin. And here is my mother contradicting all that the painting had conveyed.
"I'll marry anyone but an Armenian girl!"
"What! You don’t even know how to wipe your ass yet, and you're telling me what you're going to do? Get out of my sight! I don't want to see your stupid face."
This is the first time my mother and I have argued.

"Eddie, get ready go cemetery," my mother says. "Today is day Papa die two years ago."
"I'm not going."
"Why you not want go?"
"I went last year, and I didn't see much point in staring at a mound of grass."
"You don’ want remember Papa?"
"I can remember him here."
"Same you say when you stop going church: you can pray God anywhere."
"God is everywhere, not only in churches.”
“But when woman come our house and ask-it you if you go church you tell-it her you go..”
“I was too young and shy and afraid of disappointing her. She was from a Baptist church, and you didn’t prevent me from going, even though you’re an Armenian Orthodox Christian.”
“It was Christian church.”
“I liked going to church in the beginning. Hearing stories about the saints truly inspired me. And it was good to feel that everyone else there was feeling just as inspired as I was. I felt like embracing the whole congregation. But, later, when I saw them laughing behind each others’ backs or arguing with one another I became discouraged and continued to go to church only to hear my friend Phillip tell me what happened in that Sunday’s comics. Papa didn’t buy newspapers, so I didn’t get to see the Sunday papers until our tenants gave them to us on the following Friday. When I lost interest in the comics I stopped going to church. I knew that God wouldn't mind. I'd been taught that God was more forgiving than anyone could imagine, and I could imagine Him forgiving me for not going to church.”
"So, wat important business you have-it dis afternoon you can’t go cemetery?"
"I want to play baseball."
"Baseball, baseball! Wat baseball do for you? Baseball put-it money your pocket, clothes your back, food your belly? No, only hole your pants. I am not rich woman I can afford-it buy pants for you every week."
"You could’ve bought me those baseball shoes I've been begging you for with all the money you’ve lost gambling."
“You shoul' be careful how you speak-it me. If you be bad on me, your children be bad on you."
"Am I bad to you?"
"Yes, very bad."
"Then, you must have been very bad to your parents."
"You shut up your mouth."
"Anyway, I'm never going to have children."
"No, you too selfish, black heart you."
"What does fuck mean?" I ask Calvin, even though I know he’s going to laugh at me.
"You must know what it means; you're running around shouting it all the time."
"Yeah, but I don't know what it is."
"Boy, are you dumb."
That, I expected.
"Fuck is when a guy sticks his dong into a girl's hole."
"Do you expect me to believe that? No one would ever do that."
"How you think you got born, then?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your father had to put his thing in your mother's hole and pump away or you wouldn't be here."
"My mother and father would never have done such a dirty thing. Never."
"So, you don't even know where babies come from."
"A doctor used to go into my mother's bedroom, and when he came out there’d be a new baby brother or sister. Then, my mother would stay in bed for a few days. But when I asked her where babies came from she'd always tell me the stork brought them."
"The stork!" Calvin spits. "And you believed her? I suppose you still believe in Santa Claus."
"Where do babies come from, then?"
"Right out of their mother's holes."
"Out of that dirty place! No, I can’t believe that. You're just handing me a lot of bullshit."
"Haven't you ever seen women with their bellies stickin' way out in front of them?"
"Well, that's where babies are before they’re born. Your mother had six kids after you, and you never once noticed her big belly? Where you been living all this time?"
"So, you want me to believe that I came out of the hole my mother pisses out of and that my father had to put his pisser into her hole before I could be born?"
"But why did my father have to put his thing in my mother?"
"So he could shoot jizz into her."
"Jizz? What’s that?"
"The stuff that comes out of a cock that makes babies."
"You sure are the biggest bullshit artist, Calvin."
"If you don't believe me, ask your mother."
"I will."

About to return to school after having had lunch, I decide that today is the day that I will ask my mother. Day after day for weeks, I’ve asked myself what Mama could possibly do if I should ask her. She could be disappointed with me for speaking of such things with her. I could take that. She could become very angry with me. That I could also take. She could slap me. I would be prepared for that, too. So good, I would ask her - tomorrow. But I would lose my resolve by the following morning. Today, however, I am determined.
I go downstairs, walk into the kitchen and find Mama standing on a chair to wash a window.
"Mama," I say, looking up at her.
"Ah, I'm going back to school."
"All right, go."
I leave the kitchen, go to the front door and stop.
You miserable coward, you've failed again. What are you afraid of? You've thought of all the things she could possibly do to you. Go back and get it over with.
I return to the kitchen.
"Mama, is it true that Papa had to put his pee-pee into your wee-wee and shake it before I could be born?"
There's not the slightest change in her expression as she looks down at me.
"Who tol'-it you that?"
"The boys at school."
"Don' play dose boys."
"But is it true what they say?"
"No is true."
"Please, Mama, don't be afraid to tell me if it's true."
"No, no is true."
I believe what Mama tells me. Like a knight bearing Mama's banner, I go to do battle with Calvin and with those who agree with him, even though some of those others don't even know Calvin. Could there be some great conspiracy in town to make a fool of me? Everyone I meet seems to agree with Calvin and no one with Mama, yet I still believe in Mama. Until I see two dogs doing what Calvin had said my father and mother had done. Later, I see kittens issuing from within a larger cat, and I know that Mama has betrayed me made a fool of me in the eyes of my playmates.
I will never trust her again.

“So, people get married and then they have children, right,” I say to Philip.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“But how do their bodies know they’re married?”
“They don’t.”
“So, how come they only have babies when they’re married?
“They don’t. They can have babies even if they’re not married. Those babies are called bastards.”
“Oh, that makes everything simple, doesn’t it.”

"Mae West goes to the dentist to get a cavity filled," Tykie tells me. "The dentist looks in her mouth and decides to give her gas. When she's knocked out, she starts to moan and groan and squirm in her seat, saying all kinds of horny things. Soon she spreads her legs and lifts them until her skirt slides up to her hips. Seeing this, the dentist gets so horny that he fills the wrong cavity."
Tykie stops and looks at me.
"Did that story give you a bone on, Eddie?"
"What's that?"
"It's when your prick gets hard. Haven't you noticed at the movies, when the guy and the girl start kissing you have to move around in your seat?"
"No . . .oh, yeah, why is that?"
"It's because your prick gets hard when you see the actors kissing. It means you’re ready to fuck, and you’ve got a bone on, like this." Tykie presses the front of his pants against his body.
"That's not your dong. You've got a pipe or something inside your pants."
"No, it's my prick. I'll show you. Look."
"Jesus, how did it get so big?" I ask, wondering how something so huge could possibly fit into a slim little girl. Such pain girls must experience when they’re fucked.
"Your prick gets big when you jerk off. Do you jerk off?"
"What's that?"
"You take your prick in your hand and pull on it. You do that until you get a thrill."
"What's a thrill?"
"One of the best feelings in life. That's why everyone loves to fuck."
"Sure. Now, show me your prick."
Shyly, I undo my fly and take out my tiny thing.
"Oh, you've got a nice little one." Tykie takes it between his fingers. "I wish mine were small like this again, so I wouldn't have to worry about it dipping into the water when I'm sitting on the crapper."
"If I pull on this, will it grow big like yours?"
"Sure, maybe even bigger?"

I pull on my thing almost every night and, though my thing has grown longer, I never feel a thrill. Perhaps I've been gripping it too tightly. I’ll hold it more gently and see what happens. Yes, that does feel better. There’s a new sensation in my throat, a new taste in my mouth, a buildup of tension, and then the release, the thrill, my thing spurting creamy stuff onto the floor.
I run downstairs to announce the news to George and to Vartan.

"Eddie, pick dogs for tonight," my mother says, tossing the sports page on the checkerboard between Vartan and me. "I go get dressed."
"Your mother's going to the track again tonight?" asks Vartan.
"She goes almost every night." I begin to mark the names of the greyhounds I hope will be winners. "If she wins money during the week on the dogs I pick, she gives me money to go to the Braves or the Red Sox games on Sunday."
“You must be doing good; you’re going to Boston every weekend.”
"Once I picked eight winners out of ten races."
"How do you know which dogs to pick?"
"I know the dogs by their names, and I try to guess what they're going to do."
"Does your mother always bet on your dogs?"
"No. I used to look in her purse first thing in the morning to see how much money was in it. Then, I’d stop at the corner store to check the race results in the newspaper to see how many of my dogs had won. And often I’d find less money in her purse than would have been there if she’d bet on my dogs. And One night she took me to the track, and on the first race she bet on a tip some guy gave her instead of on the dog I’d selected, and my dog won. She did the very same thing in the second race, betting on someone’s tip instead of on my winning dog. I asked her how I could go to the game on Sundays, if she didn’t bet on my winning dogs. Now I can go to the games as long as I choose winners.”

"Would you like to have a new father?" my mother asks me.
"No! Never!"
Why do we need a new father? Some stranger to come into our house to tell us what to do. No, I can’t accept that. I don’t want to be arguing constantly with someone I don’t know.
Okay, let her bring a new father into the family. I almost look forward to arguing with him. If he tries to tell me what to do, I’ll jump on him. "Who are you to give me orders?” I’ll ask. “You're not a blood member of this family. You're just an outsider, a stranger who's been brought into it. So, just mind your place."

"I'm not staying in this small town after I finish school," I tell my mother. "I’m going to live in a big city."
"What! You want to leave after I washed your diapers, wiped your ass and fed you all these years?” my mother says in Armenian. “If I had known this the day you were born, I would have dropped you in the toilet and flushed you out of my life. Oh, why did I ever have children? With no children, I could be having good times in nightclubs and beautiful beaches. This is the thanks I get after I’ve given you the best years my life.”
"And now you want me to give you the best years of mine.”
“You should remember that you can have many women in your life, but you can have only one mother.”
“Yes, but at least I can choose the women I have”.
“Shut your mouth.”
“Don’t worry, when I leave here and make a lot of money playing baseball I’ll build a nice house for you.”
"You’ll never be a baseball player. You’re not a Mason."

"Eddie, come down," I hear my mother call.
I go downstairs and into the living room where she’s waiting for me with Councilman O'Leary.
"You probably know why I am here, Eddie," the Councilman says. "Arthur Kelly has just told me that, after I had given him the money to pay you and Vartan for shoveling the snow from around my house, you boys snatched the money from his hand, shoved him back into a snow bank and ran off. Is that true?"
"Yeah, it's true."
"Why did you and Vartan do that to Arthur?"
"Because he promised us a dollar each to shovel snow from your sidewalk and driveway but, after we'd finished shoveling he said you’d given him only a dollar to share between the three of us. Vartan and I reminded him that he had promised us a dollar each, and he said that that was what he thought we were going to get. So, we told him to go back and ask you for the other two dollars, but he didn't want to do it. We told him that it was his duty to see you, but he acted like he was afraid to go to you. We begged and begged him but he wouldn't budge. So, we got fed up and snatched the dollar from his hand and divided it between the two of us."
"Why didn't you boys come to me with your grievances?"
"Why didn't you pay us what we were promised?"
"Shut-it your mouth!" Mama shouts. "This is gentleman you're speaking."
"That's all right, madam. These are difficult times in which to bring up children. Life has become fast, so fast. Now, Eddie, to shed new light on this matter, I wish to inform you that I had not offered Arthur more than one dollar to have snow shoveled from around my house."
"Only a lousy dollar to shovel all that snow?"
"I tol' you shut up! Please, gentleman, don' be angry on him."
"I'm not angry with him. I can understand his being upset over Arthur's having mislead him."
"So, are you here to collect Arthur's share of the dollar?"
Mama slaps my face.
"Please, madam, you needn't do that. I only wished to point out to Eddie that his and Vartan's treatment of Arthur Kelly had been unjustifiable. Please excuse me for taking up your time. Good afternoon."
"Shit mouth, don' you know he's big shot city hall who can raise taxes mine property?"

"Hey, Eddie!" Art Athens and Joe Costa approach me between our ninth grade classes.
"Joe and I know this older girl called May who's built like a brick shithouse and, boy, is she horny."
"Yeah, and does she know how to fuck!" Costa says. "There's nothin' she loves as much as gettin’ laid."
"She's always glad to see us when we come around."
"Yeah, especially when we bring someone new to meet her."
"So, you wanna get laid tonight, Eddie?" Art Athens asks.
"Yeah, sure!" I answer without hesitation, trying to conceal my fear with a display of manliness.
"Good, we’ll come by your place at seven, okay?”
"Yeah, sure."
"May's really gonna be happy to see you," Costa predicts. "And she'll think you're something special if you bring her a box of chocolates."
"I don't have money to buy chocolates," I say, hoping that this will disqualify me as a possible candidate for May's favors.
"That's all right, she’ll like you anyhow,” Athens says, dashing my hopes.

Seven o’clock and Athens and Costa haven’t come, and I hope they won’t. After seeing them this afternoon, I was so worried about what was going to happen in the evening that I was unable to focus my mind on my studies. An inexperienced me was going to be thrown into bed with a girl who knew all about sex. She’d quickly discover that I didn’t know the first thing about fucking and push me away and laugh in my face. Also, Athens and Costa would be there to see how inept I was. Why hadn’t I simply told them that I didn’t want to meet this May? Why don’t I have the balls to leave the house before they arrive?
"Hi, Eddie, you ready?" Shit, it’s them.
"Yeah," I say, stepping out to join Athens and Costa.
"Bet you were afraid we weren't gonna come," Athens says.
"Did you get chocolates?" asks Costa.
"I told you before that I don't have money to buy chocolates. If May must have chocolate, let's drop the whole thing."
"No, it's okay, Eddie, she'll be happy with the way you look and the way you make love. Art and I can tell you're a good fucker because you’re always quiet while the guys who aren’t getting’ any are bullshittin’ forever about broads and fuckin'.”
Wait till they learn the truth about me.
"Oh, there's something we forgot to tell you, Eddie," Athens says. "May's married to this big bruiser who weighs over two hundred and fifty pounds. If he gets a hold of you, he'll break you in two like a matchstick."
Oh, shit, to be killed for something I don't even want to do!
"But you don't have to worry, Eddie," Costa says. "Her husband's never home when we go to see her; he works the night shift at the GE."
I have a strong desire to break away from Athens and Costa and run for home. But they'll laugh at me if I do that. I could let a very slow-moving car bump me while we’re crossing the street and pretend that I'm too hurt to go on. But I don’t even have the guts to do that.
"This is May's place," Athens says, turning into a driveway beside a tenement with three stories.
We walk midway down the driveway, then stop to look up at the upper windows of the building.
"Call her, Athens."
"May! Yoo-hoo, May!" Athens calls, hands cupped about his mouth.
Nothing happens.
"Looks like she's not in," I say, anxious to leave.
"Oh, May!" Costa calls now. "Yoo-hoo, May."
There’s still no response. Suddenly, someone shouts! A door slams shut! There is the clamor of footsteps descending a staircase!
"Run for it!" Costa shouts. "It's her old man!"
We streak out of the driveway, Athens turning right, Costa turning left and I running straight up the street before me. Someone shouts behind me. I look back over my shoulder as I run and see a man with a big stick in his hand coming after me. I lower my head and run as fast as I can, confident that he’ll never be able to catch me.
"Eddie, stop!" The man calls. "Stop! Come back!"
He knows my name. I stop to look back. The man with the stick is Tykie! He's laughing and waving to me to come to him. Oh no, he's not going to trick me into coming to him. He knows he can't outrun me, so he’s trying another tactic. He must be pissed off because we interrupted his fuck with May.
I run to the end of the street, turn left, then right, into a backyard and crouch behind bushes. I hope there's no angry dog guarding this house. Otherwise, it seems a safe enough place to hide. My heart pounds, as I try to catch my breath.
"Eddie, hey, Eddie, where are you?" It’s Athens and Costa calling out. They’re laughing and giggling as they pass my hiding place. "Come on out, Eddie. Everything's okay."
They want me to fall into Tykie's hands! They want to watch him beat me! What a world this is with such monstrous beings in it.
Athens and Costa have gone down the street, so I’ll go up. I move out onto the sidewalk and head for home. On the steps of the public library across the street I see Tykie, waving his stick and laughing with a number of boys. I hunch down and hurry home.
"Tykie was here looking for you," my brother Albert informs me as soon as I come in.
Tykie’s come to my house to beat me! There's no getting away from him. He'll be waiting in some doorway to pounce on me when I go to school in the morning. What should I do? Leave town and live in Boston? But how do that when I have no money? Shit, why did I agree to go with Athens and Costa when I didn’t even want to?
Walking warily on the way to school in the morning, I whirl about every few steps to see if Tykie is suddenly behind me. I breathe easy when I reach the school safely.
Athens and Costa are waiting for me with big smiles.
"Hey, Eddie, we've never seen anyone run as fast as you did last night," laughs Costa.
"How can you laugh when you knew that Tykie was out to kill me?"
"You knew it was Tykie, and you still kept on running?" Athens asks.
"Sure, I thought he was angry because we had arrived while he was fucking May."
"You're such a dumb ass, Eddie," Costa says. "There's no girl called May. ‘Yoo-hoo, May is a game we play to scare the shit out of guys so they’ll drop their box of chocolates when they take off.”

"Eddie, I need-it money pay mine taxes. I not pay, we lose-it this house and have to go other side train tracks,” my mother says. “Mr. Miller need-it boy work-it his ice cream parlor dis summer. Seven days week, nine o'clock morning to nine o'clock night, ten dollars week and all ice cream you can eat. You seventeen now and . . ."
"Sixteen," I correct her. Whenever she asks me to do something she adds a year to my age, but whenever I ask to do some fun thing she subtracts a year.
“You help-it me?"
This is a very difficult moment for me. Here's my tiny mother asking me to help her. It's not easy for me to deny her. But out the window over her head, I see a beautiful sunny day with flowers and butterflies, an ideal day for baseball. And I recall what the man who delivered Coca-Cola and who’d once been a semi-pro ball player, told me one afternoon at the corner grocery store.
"Listen, kid, your youth is the most important time of your life, so don't ever let anyone talk you into giving it up to go to work before you're twenty-one years old. No one can force you to work before that age in Massachusetts."
I recall, too, what the two carpenters, who were looking out the window at my friends playing basketball in the yard of the Boys’ Club, had said.
"Look at those lucky kids, nothing to worry about except putting that ball through the hoop. What fools we were to quit school to go to work?"
"So, you help-it me?"
"I don't want to work."
"Why no?”
"I want to play baseball."
"Oh, baseball. You have-it all your life play baseball."
"No, Mama, I have all my life to work."

Every time I sit at the table to eat, my mother sits opposite me and studies me with eyes that accuse.
“How you can sit and eat with no shame, no guilt, the food your brother, two years younger than you, work-it with the sweat his face from nine o’clock morning to nine o’clock night everyday to bring home, so you, big shot can eat?
I look at her and calmly continue to eat. When I overheard her asking George if he would work at Mr. Miller’s place I prayed for him to refuse her even though I suspected he was too weak to do it. Not only did he agree to work, but he also handed his entire weekly paycheck to her and let her decide how much of the money he should have! Something I would never have done.
"Why you not say-it something?"
I continue to eat.
"Speak! Say something!"
"You sent George to work; I didn't."
"Get out! Go up your room! I don' want look-it your face."

1940 - 1943
Waiting for the broadcast of the Red Sox game, I look about my room and notice for the first time in a long while the table lamp which has on it the figure of a young woman standing beside the glass enclosure of a light bulb. That lamp has been in my room as far back as I can remember. I've always thought of it as being mine.
Mine. What does that mean? It means I can look at it whenever I'm in my room. And it means I can hold it in my hand. But no matter how hard I squeeze it, it will remain separate from me. The only way it would truly be mine is if I ate it. But then it would no longer exist. So, that's how empty is the concept that something is mine.
Only a few more minutes before the start of the Boston Red Sox game. But not one player on the team is from Boston. So, why do people who live in or around Boston feel happy when the Sox win and sad when they lose? Why do I? What difference does it make to me, standing in this body in this room, whether the Sox win or lose, whether or not Ted Williams or Jimmie Foxx hit homeruns? No difference whatsoever. The only thing that truly matters to me is what I do when I play baseball.

I step off the Ferris Wheel, certain that I’ll never go up in one again. Vartan has scared me to death. When we were stopped at the very top of the wheel he began to rock our chair forward and back, higher and higher. I’d see only sky, then only the ground below through the framework of the wheel. One moment I was of afraid of being dumped out from the back of the chair and the next moment of being tilted out from the front. I prayed for Vartan to stop, but I said nothing because I didn’t want him to know that I was afraid. Each time the chair reached the lowest point of its journey, I wished for it to stop and to let us off, but it seemed it was never going to do so.
Now, as I walk about the fairgrounds, all the sounds seem to be coming to me from a distance. I feel I’m a ghost gliding from one place to another. I strike the side of my head, hoping to regain my hearing, but nothing happens.

The baseball flies over my head into a clump of bushes. I run to retrieve it, parting the bushes here and there, but I don’t see the ball.
“What you lookin’ for, kid?”
Startled, I look up to see an old tramp who must have come down the embankment from the railroad tracks.
"A baseball. It went in here somewhere."
"I'll help you look for it, okay?"
"It must be in here. It couldn't have disappeared."
"I see it! It's there, just in front of your right foot."
"Oh, yeah. Thanks."
"Hey, kid, you got time to stay behind these bushes and pull off with me?"
"No!" I say, frightened.
“Don’t be mad at me, kid.” He mistakes my fear for anger. “Pity me, son, I’ve never had a woman my whole life.”
"Yeah, okay," I say and return to the game.
That tramp said that he'd never had a woman in his life. I’ve never thought of it, but that could happen to me. I've always assumed that I’d fuck a girl someday. But for that to occur there would have to be an actual occasion with an actual girl. I see now that it’s possible that such an occasion may never arise. What girl is ever going to allow me to touch her with my hand? The hook, she’ll say, shrinking from me in horror. Like that old tramp, it’s likely that I’ll never have a woman my whole life.

I play "Knuckles" with my sister Leontine, ten years younger than I am.
"What you got?" I ask.
"Two queens and two nines."
"You win again," I say, handing her the deck of cards and holding out my knuckles.
Leontine strikes my knuckles five times with the edge of the card deck. She hands the cards back to me to deal another hand of poker.
"You want any cards?" I ask.
"Give me three."
"Three for you and one for me. Good, I have three jacks. Can you beat that?"
"No, I only have two fives," she says, and turns to lie on her belly with her bottom raised to me. Before hitting her on the ass with the cards, I pull aside her underpants to marvel at how girls are made.

As I’m about to go up to my room, my mother, naked, comes running down the stairs past me and into the kitchen. I can’t take my eyes off her undulating behind and her broad hips. I’d never suspected that such shapeliness lay concealed under her clothes.

"You were offside on that play!” I shout at Courtney who plays right end on the opposing football team.
"No, I wasn't!" he shouts back.
"Come on, Courtney, you know you were."
"No, I don't. You're just pissed off because we scored a touchdown."
I push Courtney as I've often done. There’s a sharp pain over my right eye. Courtney has dared to punch me! Infuriated, I move toward him, but he keeps me back by punching me on the head. He stands with his fists cocked, coolly looking into my eyes and waiting for my next move. It’s evident that he’s had boxing lessons. Frustrated, I charge toward him, but a blow to my cheek stops me.
"So you wanna go on with the game or not?" Courtney asks, seeing that I've dropped my arms and backed away.
"Yeah, let's play," I say, wiping away the blood from the cut above my eye.
I feel utterly humiliated to have been beaten in the presence of George and of the other boys by someone two years younger than I am.

“George. Hey, George.”
“Oh, hi, Officer McNulty.”
Shit, oh shit, his son plays on the American Legion baseball team with me.
“What are you doin’, workin’ this time of night, George?”
“The nine to six in the morning shift is the only one that gives me time to play baseball in the afternoons.”
“But you’re not old enough to work these hours, are you, George?”
“Ye-yeah,” I answer feebly.
Caught out by a cop. If I’m old enough to work the night shift in a restaurant, then I’m too old to play for the American Legion team. Now, Officer McNulty will check with the manager of the restaurant and learn that I’ve been using my younger brother’s name in order to be on the team.
“How come everyone calls you Eddie when your name is George?” the coach had asked me when I’d first joined the team.
“I guess because they think I play like Eddie Miller of the Braves,”
I’d said and he had accepted that.
But now, Officer McNulty will expose me. He’s a defender of the law, isn’t he? Yet he may not because, if he does, the team may have to forfeit all its games this season.

“There ain’t no god.”
"Hey, Bruce, you shouldn't joke like that."
"Who's joking? There's no god."
Although there's not a single cloud in the sky, I step back from Bruce, to avoid being scorched by the lightning bolt that may strike him.
"I'm seventeen years old and I've never heard anyone say anything like that."
"Where've you been?"
"But my mother, the teachers at school, the government, the movies, the radio, all say there's a God."
"That's all bullshit to keep ordinary people in line. The best way to control a citizen is to put a cop inside him; a god who sees everything he does and who knows everything he thinks. Otherwise, there'd have to be a cop to keep a watch on each citizen."
"But where'd you get the idea that there's no God?"
"From my family, from other people and from books. There are a lot of books in the library written by great thinkers and scientists who don't believe in any god."
"That’s not true."
“If you don't believe what I'm tellin' you, go to the library and check out those books."
"Wow! Say it again, Bruce."
"Say what again?"
"Say there's no god."
"There's no god."

"There's a girl I think a whole lot of," says Lonnie, who works in the restaurant with me. "Her name's Angie and she's . . ."
"Is she a Greek girl with dark curly hair?"
"Yes, do you know her?"
"She used to visit to my house with her mother. She's no good. She's a whore."
"What makes you say that?"
"I see her sometimes sitting in a car with a bunch of guys."
"So she's popular; does that make her a whore? Tell me, did you ever have sex with her?"
"Did you ever see anyone else have sex with her?"
"Then you should keep your filthy mouth shut. Don’t spread stories about people you know nothing about. If Angie were here now, would you call her a whore to her face?"
“I guess not."
"Then, don't call her one behind her back."
I feel so ashamed that I vow never to say an unkind word about anyone.

"Eddie, don' go houses dirty girls," my mother advises. “I know-it boy hurt-it so much every time he go pee he almost faint. You don' want dat happen-it you. You don’ want suffer all your life."

On the bus carrying the high school baseball team to an out-of-town game, I sit proudly beside Angelo, our star pitcher. I like when we play in neighboring cities because all our afternoon classes are cut. Our missing those classes doesn't seem to matter to the teachers. All my school grades improved automatically as soon as I became a member of the team, the teachers favoring the boys chosen to play. Even my mother was noticeably impressed when she first saw me in my school baseball uniform.
Angelo is picking his nose! And he's spreading the slime he's dug out onto the back of the seat before him. What's he doing? Inscribing his initials?

Walking into my bedroom, I seem to detect a blondness outside my window. I turn off the light in my room, so I won't be seen, and climb onto my bed to look out the window into the kitchen of the neighboring house. A pretty young girl with very blonde hair is sitting on a covered radiator and reading the Sunday comics. She's probably a baby-sitter. She's attractive, so I may as well watch her.
As she reads, she begins to pick her nose! I'm shocked, never imagining that pretty girls picked their noses. She inspects what she has picked – and puts it into her mouth!

The phone rings in the house next door, and I turn off the light and assume what has become my habitual post. The dark-haired wife and mother living there sits on the radiator facing me while speaking on the phone. She wears a negligee over her buxom form, and she has dark hose on her legs. This is a more promising sight than the last time I watched her.
Then, too, she had been on the phone, but standing with her side turned toward me. Soon, her right leg had stepped forward through the opening in her negligee and revealed an ample inner thigh. Her free hand had alighted on that thigh, her fingers gradually working themselves under the top of the hose she was wearing. Watching her hand as it slowly and sensually caressed her thigh, my cock, helped by my hand, spurt forth a great gob of jizz.
Show me something, please, I plead with the woman sitting before me. And, as though in answer to my plea, her knees part to reveal her rounded thighs, the tops of her hose stretched taut over them.
More, show me more.
Her head tilts back as she speaks and her hand falls between her thighs. The tip of a finger toys with the lips of her opening. The finger slides into her, slides out and in again. Who is she speak with that makes her so horny? Her husband, a lover, a girlfriend, the plumber, or is she always like this?
A child runs into the kitchen, but she doesn’t stop doing what she’s doing. She and I are masturbating in concert.
Oh fuck, she's hanging up. But, oh yes, she's staying to finish herself off. She's really going at it now, her head flung back, her legs fallen limp and her finger racing in and out of her. She frowns, grimaces and, biting her lip, she shudders. She's coming! And I'm coming with her!

I look into the kitchen next door and see two teenage girls, sisters probably, each wearing white bathrobes. A new family must have moved into that house. One girl is seated facing me and having her hair attended to by the other girl standing behind her. Nothing much can happen in this situation but, since I have nothing better to do, I may as well watch.
As I had expected, I’m not offered anything exciting to see for some time. But, now, the seated girl's legs begin to spread apart, her robe falls open and her hand falls between her thighs. And, while she speaks with the girl behind her, she begins to finger herself!
I can't believe it. It seems that, if I watch girls when they are alone, they are bound to show me something sooner or later.

"She's a cock teaser," the schoolboys say of a girl who doesn't put out. “She’s a whore,” they say of a girl who does.
So, it doesn’t matter whether she does or she doesn’t, a girl can't win. How unfair that is. If a girl ever makes it with me, I’ll certainly not tell the boys.

I walk into the afternoon classroom calculatedly late, wearing my new zoot suit. My classmates gasp, whistle and call out to me. It's the response I’ve been expecting, since they've never seen me wearing a suit or even a tie.
I decided to buy a zoot suit after I saw a magazine photo of a lineup of boys waiting for their physical exams at a military induction center. My eyes, along with the caption under the photo, singled out the black boy wearing peg pants, a long jacket with wide lapels and a pork-pie hat. He appeared to be more smartly dressed than the other boys. And I decided that a zoot suit might help me get closer to girls.
I was an enemy of love and of marriage. Let other guys marry, so I could make a mockery of their marriages by seducing their wives. But, I was no enemy of girls. I liked them and wished to talk to them, but all I could talk about was sports, and girls didn't know much about sports.
They liked to dance, but I wasn't interested in dancing. My sister Isabel had tried to teach me some steps once, but I'd not been able to get into it. The next best thing to dancing might be to learn about dance bands. Many nights before sleeping, I tuned in to dance bands broadcasting live from ballrooms across the country. And almost every Saturday morning, I went to the RKO theater in Boston to see a big name band on stage. And I discovered that girls didn't know much about dance bands, either.
And so, the zoot suit.

"Hey, Eddie, you wanna get blown this afternoon?" Jimmie Cox asks.
"Sure, why not?" I answer, even though I'm not keen on the idea.
"Okay, come with me."
"Where we goin'?"
"To Margie's place. You know Margie, one of the three girls who suck us guys off at the beach some nights."
"I know, she's the small one."
"Yeah, she's got the hots for me. This is her place.”
Margie opens the door before we knock.
Jimmie whispers something to her and takes her straight to the bed. I sit on the floor of her room, not knowing where to look.
"Come up here on the bed, Eddie," Jimmie calls. "Now, do Eddie, Margie."
"You heard me, do Eddie."
"Please don't ask me to do that, Jimmie."
"Just shut up and do what I say."
"Oh, Jimmie . . ."
"Hey, Jimmie," I say, "she doesn't have to do me if she doesn't want to."
"You shut up and lie down. Okay, Margie, you do Eddie before I get angry."
"But, Jimmie, I love you."
"If you love me, do what I say."
"You're breaking my heart, Jimmie."
"It'll get more broken if you don't do Eddie: you won’t be seeing me again."
"All right, Jimmie, you don’t leave me any choice."

“Why did I agree to come here?” I ask myself at the mammoth General Electric Company Party, even though I’m sure that anyone who is hep must be here tonight. I should have told George that I didn’t want to go when he told me he had a couple of complimentary tickets. Seeing a Central Square sharpie and his girlfriend win the Jitterbug Contest has been the one high point of the evening for me.
The Zoot Suit Contest has just begun. I join the crowd circling the contestants. One boy wears a zoot suit, but it’s not a very good one; another boy has on a zoot jacket over jeans, still another is wearing pants that don’t reach his ankles. There’s not a genuine zoot suiter in the lot.
Why don’t you go in there, then? asks a voice within me.
Who me?
Yes, why not you.
Hesitantly, I edge through the onlookers to join the contestants. I step before all those eyes looking on, and I’m instantly in my element. With my high peg pants and my draped jacket, with my hip walk head held high, and with my left hand with its palm held parallel to the floor making an occasional sign that everything’s cool, I’m deep into the role of the zoot suiter. A few older girls, standing and watching, spit at me as I strut past them. A smiling man is working his way through the crowd of onlookers as I continue my walk. The smiling man comes up to me, takes my hand and raises it high. I’ve won the Zoot Suit Contest! The prize a hundred dollar US War Bond.
I have become the king of the zoot suiters in my home town. I’ve never been this popular. Many pretty young girls are leaning forward in their seats and looking yearningly at me. They want me to ask them to dance or to just sit with them and talk.
“Congratulations, Eddie, you were terrific,” Stella says, coming up to me. “Will you walk me home?”
“In a little while,” I answer, not wishing to remove myself from all those admiring eyes.

"Hi, Eddie," Stella says, having approached me in Central Square.
"You just coming from the movie, Stella?"
"Uh-huh, it was a good one. Don't you ever go to movies?"
“I want to keep my eyes sharp for baseball."
"Walk me home, okay?"
"It's too early."
"It's already after ten."
Since Stella is a bit overweight, I'm not proud to be seen with her. I use her to learn how to kiss and touch a girl, so I'll know what to do when I'm with prettier girls.
Jimmie Cox comes up to us.
"What's doin' on the Square tonight?" he asks.
"You heard about your friend Al taking Margie to a dentist to have her teeth cleaned, and making her promise to stop sucking off guys?"
"Al ain't no friend of mine."
"No more? He used to be with you all the . . ."
I feel myself falling back against the plate glass window of the cigar store, my jaw pulsing with pain. I didn't even see Jimmie’s punch coming.
"That's for not watchin' your tongue," Jimmie says and stomps off.
"Oh, Eddie, are you hurt?" Stella puts an arm around me.
"Yeah, my jaw aches a bit."
"He shouldn't have hit you like that. He didn't even warn you."
"This wouldn’t have happened if I'd walked you home."
"Let's go now, Eddie."

1943 - 1945
The night before I am to go for my army physical exam, my mother appears just inside my bedroom door and looks mournfully at me.
"Please, Eddie, don't let dem take-it you.”
"Don't worry.” I hold up my hand. “They don't want me.”
"This is war wit’ Americans and Germans; we are only Armenians.”
There is absolutely nothing about being in the armed forces that appeals to me. I don't want to give up my zoot suit for a uniform, nor my longish hair for a military clip, nor my mother's Armenian cooking for bland army fare, nor my quiet bedroom for a barracks full of farting males. Nor do I wish to undergo the hardships of physical training, And I don’t want to kill anyone nor, worse, to be killed before I've begun to live.

On the train taking us draftees to Boston for our physical examinations, all I hear around me is:
"I wanna be in the marines.”
"The air force is what I'd like to get into.”
"For me, it's the navy.”
"The coast guard seems like a good deal.”
Am I the only one who wishes to be rejected? I'd better keep my mouth shut, if I don’t want my face smashed. This is how the first ape who realized he was a man must have felt. He didn’t run around shouting, “I’m a man, you fucking apes.”

."There's nothing wrong with your body, is there?” says the first doctor to examine me at the induction center. “You're tall, of medium . . .”
"What about this?” I dangle my hand before his eyes.
"Oh, I didn't see that. What happened?”
“I was born with this hand.”
“Let’s see what’s missing. Congenital absence of the second and fifth carpels and metacarpels of the right hand. I think you’re out, boy, Come with me.”
I follow him joyfully through the factory-like building within which naked young men are being examined like animals before the slaughter at a meat processing plant.
We stop at a desk occupied by a man who has a number of stripes on his uniform sleeve. The doctor shows him my hand. The seated man opens his desk drawer, pulls out a book and leafs through it until he finds the page he's looking for.
"It's written here that any man with two fingers missing from the right hand, one of those being the index finger, is ineligible for entry into the armed forces. Sorry, boy, we can't use you.”
Hooray! It's been as easy as I'd thought it would be..
“Wait just one moment,” says another officer, also with a number of stripes on his sleeve. “There's nothing wrong with this boy's hand. He was born with it. Shake hands with me, my boy.”
I put my hand in his, then say, “But I get pain in my hand.”
"What's the matter? Don't you want to join this man's army?”
"Are you kidding?”
His face turns pale, his eyes narrow ominously, and I sense that he's making a great effort not to smash my face. Not removing his eyes from mine and pointing down at my papers, he snarls, “Give this man limited service.”
Limited service means office work in the army. First, they give you papers to carry around and, before you know it, they've put a gun in your hand. All my high hopes have been gunned down by this fucker. Why did he have to be standing there just as I was about to be released?
Listlessly, I go through a number of examinations, until my hopes begin to rise again when I am to have my heart examined. Doctors have often told me that I have a fast heartbeat.
"Please sit,” this doctor tells me, nodding toward a wooden chair.
I sit and reach around behind me to take hold of the chair’s frame. I begin to strain, knowing that this will make my heart beat faster.
The doctor leans forward to place his stethoscope on me, then sits back.
"Are you of Indian descent?” he asks, probably trying to make me relax.
"No, my parents are Armenian,” I inform him, still straining.
Again he listens to my heart.
"Your heart is somewhat fast.”
"Yeah, I've been told that by my school doctors.”
I’ve seen on the papers that I've been carrying from doctor to doctor that my heart must be checked while I sit, stand and jump. I can hardly wait to jump for this guy.
"Do you want to go into the army?” he asks, nicely.
Should I tell him the truth? Or will he jump on me like that first bastard? No, I'd better not trust him. He’s probably going to reject me because of my heart, anyhow.
"Yes,” I lie.
He listens once again to my heart.
"Are you sure you want to go into the army?”
He's giving me another opportunity to opt out, but I'm afraid to change my story.
"Yes,” I lie again.
"Then, let’s see what I can do for you. Come with me.”
He leads me into an adjoining room in which there is a bed.
"Lie down for awhile,” he says, then begins to leave the room. “I'll be back in a moment”
Sitting, standing and jumping, and he's making me lie down! I'm being railroaded into the army. Lying on my back, I reach back, take hold of the bedposts and begin to stretch and strain. I stop just before he returns to the room. Leaning forward, he listens to my heart.
"It's still quite fast. You're sure you wish to be in the army?”
"If it's not going to be too dangerous for my heart,”
"You lie there a bit longer,” he says, and leaves again.
Again, I grab the bedposts to stretch and strain.
He returns and, before he listens to my heart, he says, “Don't breathe.”
I know that when I hold my breath my heartbeat slows down. I try to breathe quietly while he places his head on my chest and listens.
"I'm afraid I can only recommend limited service for you.”
Limited service again! Why couldn't he have flunked me?
Now, there are only the psychiatrists left for me to see. The only thing I know about them is what Jimmie Cox had told me: “They're the craziest bastards there. Tell 'em anything and they'll believe it.” But I don't even know what to tell them. One thing I do know is that I'm not going into the army. I'm ready to do anything not to go: make a run for it, take a banana boat, whatever.
I sit naked before a man in a suit wearing horned rim glasses. He runs various instruments over my body, checks my reflexes and then, holding up his hand, he moves it slowly from right to left before my eyes.
"Do you have many friends?” he asks.
"Yes.” Why does he ask me that question? It must be because of the way I looked at his hand?
"But,” I say before he can ask me another question, “if people want to make friends with me, they have to come to me; I never go to them.”
He's writing! I must be on to something. I’ve got to keep it up, to be absolutely alert, like a rat on a sinking ship.
"What about girls?” he asks.
"It's the same for them. If a girl wants to make friends with me, she has to come to me; I never go to her.”
He's writing again, even more this time. Keep it up, Eddie.
"What’s that?” he asks, pointing to a bandage just below my left hipbone.
Carrying a large pot of food before me in a restaurant kitchen, I had failed to see the knife blade protruding over the edge of a counter, and I had walked into it.
"It's a knife wound.”
"How did you get it?”
"I was walking through an alley, someone jumped me, we fought and he drew a knife and stabbed me.”
"What were you fighting about?”
"I don't know.”
"Who were you fighting with?”
"I don't know.”
"Do you mean to tell me that you had a fight and were stabbed with a knife, and you don't who you were fighting with or what you were fighting about?”
"Do you fight often?”
"No,” I answer, not wishing to give him the impression that I’d make a brave warrior.
"How many fights have you had this year?”
Uncertain about this fight thing, I say, “I don't remember.”
"What do you mean you don't remember? About how many fights have you had: two, three, four?”
I decide to gamble and say, “I've had nine fights in the last two weeks.”
He's writing again! Good, let him write about the boy who says he doesn't fight often but who's had nine fights in two weeks.
"How are you at making decisions, quick or slow?”
"That all depends. If I'm playing baseball and the ball comes to me, I have to decide quickly what to do with it. Otherwise, I take my time.
"You do, do you?” He doesn't seem pleased with my answer.
"Do you want to be in the army?”
There's that question again. I don't know what to tell him. I told the truth the first time and got limited service; I lied the second time and got limited service. There's nothing left for me to tell this guy but: “It doesn't matter to me one way or the other.”
“What do you mean it doesn't matter to you? You either want to go into the army or you don't want to go into the army.”
"If I go in, I'll make the best of it; and if I don't go in, I'll go to dances and movies and ballgames and make the best of that.”
"I see. Now, go stand in that corner until the other doctor calls you.”
There’s another one of them in the room, seated at a separate table. As I'm trying to decide whether to stand facing the room or with my back to it, the second analyst calls me and asks me to sit.
"Do you always look like that?” he asks.
He means do I always look at the world with such distrust.
"No, I usually have my hair combed,” I tell him and watch his jaw drop.
The two analysts, looking down at me as though I’m insensate, discuss my case. They write their decision on my papers and hand them to me. I don't unroll the papers to see what they've written while I'm in their presence. This means everything to me. Standing in the corridor, I take a deep breath, unroll the papers and read: ABSOLUTELY UNFIT FOR MILITARY SERVICE. COULD NEVER FOLLOW ORDERS.
Yowie! This is the happiest day of my life until now. As I pull on my zoot pants, I look forward to seeing Cab Calloway and his band at the RKO before going home to announce the great news to my family.

"You're here almost every night," remarks little Bobby Z, standing with me in Central Square "Are you practicing to be a sentinel before you're drafted into the army?"
"I've already been rejected."
"Oh, you're lucky."
"And you, what about you?"
"I'll only be a junior in high school. I don't have to worry about the draft for a couple of years. During my summer vacation I'm working in my brother’s record shop. Are you working?"
"I'm a draftsman at the GE."
"Where did you learn to do that?"
"I went to night school in Boston for a couple of years while I was in high school.”
"Do you play a musical instrument?"
"No, but I like to listen to dance bands on the radio. Last night I heard Count Basie."
"Count Basie! Was Lester Young on the band?"
"I don't know. They didn't say."
"Do you think Basie will be on again tonight?"
"Maybe. Do you have a radio?"
"No, only a record player."
"If you want, you can come to my house now to listen to what's on.”
"Lead the way, my friend."

"It seems that your brother George doesn't approve of me because I’m a Jew,” Bobby says, removing the record from the turntable and looking for something else to play.
"I was very hurt some years ago when George told me he’d just beat up a boy called Sammy because he Jewish. I couldn't believe that this was my little brother George speaking to me. I wondered where and why he had picked up the idea of hating Jews.”
"And you don't try to argue with George about this?"
"He knows how I feel about it. Anyway, it’s hard to argue people out of their beliefs.”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s listen to Billie singin’ with Lester backing her, okay?”
Bobbie has been introducing me to the music of Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman and of many others. It doesn’t sound bad to me, but it’s not as exciting as the Harry James Band.

"Not many of the records you have in your collection are available any longer, I see," I tell Bobby Z, as I pay for the eleven records I've bought in his brother's shop.
"No, the musicians' union strike is still on, so no new instrumental recordings can be made. And because of the war there's a shortage of vinyl, limiting the number of re-issues the record companies can make," Bobby explains, then goes into the back room of the shop, leaving my pile of records on the counter.
I quickly pick up the recording of "Two O'clock Jump" by the Harry James Band and slip it into my pile of records.
Bobby returns and, instead of putting my records into a bag, he counts them again.
"Did you want this one, too?" Bobby holds up the Harry James record.
"Yeah," I say weakly, chagrined at having been discovered trying to steal.
"That'll be seventy-nine cents more."
Bobby knows that I've tried to steal the record, yet he pretends not to have noticed.

"My boyfriend is the older of the of the two Nazarone brothers,” says Nancy, a girl I’m meeting for the first time at Myrlene’s house. ‘’Both brothers are Central Square sharpies, but my boyfriend is the sharpest of all the zoot suiters.”
For the first time this evening I begin to take an interest in this girl. I'm a Central Square sharpie, but I've never heard of any Nazarone brothers. And, since the night I won the zoot suit contest, many sharpies consider me to be the sharpest of them all. My younger brother George is also a sharpie.
"My boyfriend's a wonderful roller skater,” Nancy adds.
Well, that's not me. The one time I went to a roller skating rink, I spent more time on my ass than on my skates. Still, I'm curious to know who this Nazarone brother is she’s talking of.
“This boyfriend of yours, what does he look like?”
"Well, he's tall and he's dark and he's good looking,’’ Nancy answers. ‘’And he has only three fingers on his right hand.’’
The girl is talking about me, someone she's never met! I'm her fantasy lover. Also, she doesn’t see I’m a sharpie because I’m wearing a baseball jacket tonight.
Should I let her to continue cherishing her dream or should I wake her up?
Myrlene has already flashed me a meaningful look and changed the subject of conversation. I comply with Myrlene’s wish to drop the subject of Nancy’s boyfriend through chocolate cake and coffee, but when it’s time for us to leave, I can’t resist asking Nancy, “This Nazarone brother you're going with, does his hand look like this?’’

"I'm sick and tired of workin' in this place. I'm gonna look for work somewhere else."
"Yeah, me too. I hear there's a company in Melrose that's payin' much more than we're gittin' here in the GE."
Everyday I hear comments such as these from the older draftsman around me. I, too, would like to give up this job for one more exciting, such as singing in a nightclub, for instance. So, why don’t I?

"I want to quit my job,” I tell my department head.
"Why do you wanna do that?"
"Because I was supposed to get a raise after working here six months, and I didn’t get it.”
“Your work hasn't improved enough to warrant giving you a raise."
"I quit, then"
"Go upstairs and talk to the chief."
"You cannot leave your job," the chief tells me. "This is war-time and you're frozen to your job. Furthermore, the General Electric Company is not authorized to give you a release. And as you should know, without a release you will not be able to obtain work in the defense industry."
"So, who can give me a release?"
"Only the War Production Board."
"Where's that?"
"There's an office downtown."

"Why do you wish to leave your job?" an employee of the War Production Board asks.
"Because I earn only thirty-five dollars a week."
"That seems quite sufficient."
"Yes, but I have seven dependents: my four brothers, two sisters and my mother."
"I see. But the War Production Board is not authorized to grant you a release."
"But they told me at the GE that only you can give me a release."
"That is incorrect information."
"Then, who can give me a release?"
"Only the General Electric Company. I suggest you return to your desk there."

"We don't want you back at your old job,” the departmental chief tells me. “Go to the personnel office to have them assign you to a new job."

"After weeks of watching you punch in, read and punch out, and after many failed attempts to find a job that you are able to manage, at last we've found one you’ll be able to handle," the personnel manager tells me. "Go to building H. An assistant receiver is needed there.”

I stop reading to watch a large truck back up to the open door of building H and deliver a small package. I leap up to receive it, but the receiver, smiling, waves me back to my reading. I haven’t had to receive a single package since I’ve been on this job.
"Who’re you?" asks a man I’ve not seen before.
"I'm the assistant receiver."
"Oh, good, we've been needing one for a long time. What's your name?"
"Good meeting you, Eddie. I’m Frank, your boss, just back from my vacation. Now I'll tell you how I . . . What's wrong, Eddie? You look tired. Didn't you get enough sleep last night?"
"I got the usual amount," I say and, seizing the opening that’s been offered me, I add, "I play bass with a band in Boston every night, but I'm usually in bed by one or one-thirty."
"One or one-thirty! Listen, Eddie, I gotta have a man who's wide awake and on his toes for this job."
I have to restrain myself from laughing in his face.
"You go back to the personnel office."

"What did you tell that guy in building H?" the personnel manager asks.
"Nothing much."
"All right, go sit down."
So, I’m back to punching in, reading and punching out.

"At long last, Eddie, The General Electric Company has decided to let you go," the personnel manager informs me.
"I'm not going unless I get a release."
"Oh, don't you worry, you’re getting a release, all right."

“You should get a bass,” Bobbie tells me. “It’s an easy instrument to learn to play, and you’ll get lots of work because many musicians have been drafted. Since you’re unemployed, you have lots of time to practice.”
“Practice where? My mother doesn’t know I’m unemployed.”
“You’re three months without work, and she doesn’t know?”
“Each Friday, from the money I win from shooting pool and from collecting unemployment insurance, I give her the amount of money I usually give her.”
“But what do you do all day? Where do you go?”
“I hide in my room and read Isabel’s school books on philosophy. I’ve learned from Socrates that I’m a fop. Anyway, it’s safe hiding upstairs, because my mother rarely goes there. Once or twice I’ve had to hide under a bed when she’s come up. Seeing my unsuspecting mother’s legs walking around the bed, I’ve had to struggle to keep myself from bursting out in laughter. And I’ve had to assume the most contorted positions to avoid the mop my mother thrust under the bed.”
“So, you shoot pool only at night.”
“Yeah. After five in the afternoon, I put on my street clothes, tip-toe downstairs, slip out the front door, circle around to the cellar door and enter as though I’m coming home from work.”
“That sounds neat.”
“When I was first unemployed I used to leave the house as though I was going to work, walk around until the library opened, read until eleven when the poolroom opened, eat the lunch my mother had prepared, then shoot pool until five. But winter set in, and my shoes became soaked by the snow and the slush while I waited for the library to open, and that made me change my routine.”
“How long are you going to do this?”
After months of walking around pool tables on aching legs, of sweating to obtain a mental edge on an opponent, I find that shooting pool for a living is much more arduous than sitting at a draftsman's table. And so, utilizing my release from the GE, I’m going to look for a job as a draftsman.”

1945 - 1946
Before going out to meet Winkie for our weekly Sunday evening walk on the beach, I stand naked before a full-length mirror and regard my flaccid cock. How can I do anything with such an unresponsive member? What does Winkie expect of me? I’ve been told that she’s not a virgin, so is she waiting for me to throw her down on the sand and fall upon her? If that’s what she's expecting, she doesn't show it. She seems to be satisfied with our innocent encounters.
I'm not sure what she wants from life. One time, nodding toward a couple in the street, the husband carrying the baby, she says, "I never want to get stuck in such a situation." But a few weeks later, she tells me, "When I'm married I'm never going to bother to do my hair or try to make myself look pretty."

After a summer of Sunday evening walks, followed by an autumn of nights spent in my room listening to jazz records and innocent romancing, I see that it's up to me to make a move if I’m going to have sex with Winkie.
Sitting beside her, I put an arm around her and bend her back onto the bed. I kiss her again and again, my hand upon her knee, which is as far as I usually go. But, tonight, I push my hand up between her legs.
"Eddie, don't." She tries to twist out of my arm. “Let go of me.”
I hold her down until my hand reaches its goal.
Her resistance collapses. Her legs part.
"Now you know," she says, resignedly.
"Now I know what?"
"Now you know that I'm not a . . . virgin."
"But I knew that all along."
"How? Who said what about me?"
"I knew without anyone telling me."
"How did you know?"
"By the way you walk, the way you talk."
"And, so, I have to pay for the rest of my life for the mistake I made that one night."
Disengaging my arm, I move away from her.
"Is something wrong, Eddie?"
"I don't like liars."
"Have I lied to you?"
"Yes. Just now, telling me you’ve done it only once"
"But it's true, Eddie."
"No, it's not. No one does it only once."
"Why won't you believe me?”
"Why should I believe a liar? Look, there's no need for you to lie to me because I don’t care if you've done it hundreds of times."
" Hundreds of times! You think I’m a whore or something?"
"I'd like you better as a whore than as a liar."
"All right, Eddie, I did lie. It was more than once."
"Good. I'm glad you admit it."
"It was three times."
"Now you've substituted one lie for another. Can't you understand that I'm not interested in the exact number of times? Once is the same as a million times to me."
Yet, if Winkie should ask me how many times I've done it, would I be honest enough to admit that I've never done it?

Billie Holiday sounds in my room as Winkie, her eyes shut, lies on my bed. I gently lift her skirt up to her hips. I should pull down her underpants, but I don’t want to disturb her reverie. I undo my fly and allow my cock to spring forth. I position myself over her unresisting body. My cock inches upward between her thighs like a cannon in a military parade. My fingers pull aside the seat of her underpants. My cock thrusts forward - and meets a wall. It pushes forth again and is again met by a bony resistance. Her underpants slip from my fingers. I take hold of them and pull them to one side. Again my cock fails to find the entry point. Heat rises to my head. My cock, no longer a cannon, withers. There being no need to be on top of Winkie, I slide shamefully onto my knees beside the bed.
I wait with trepidation for her words of scorn.
"The great zoot suiter is nothing but a twenty year old virgin. He doesn’t even know how to put it in. Wait till they hear that in Central Square. You won't be able to show your face around town after that.”
But I hear no such words from Winkie. Opening my eyes, I look at her face and see tears coursing down through her pancake makeup.
"You don't love me," she sighs, a response I would never have expected.
Having come so close to making it with her, I jump at the opening she has given me.
"If we ever do it, you'll be mine and I'll be yours," I tell her.

"We've been lovers for months, and you still haven't told me when we're going to be married," Winkie says as she lies naked beside me.
"Married! Whoever said we were going to be married?"
" You did."
"The first time we tried to make love."
"Oh, that time. No, what I said was that if we ever did it, you'd be mine and I'd be yours. So, you're mine and I'm yours."
"You bastard, don't you touch me ever again," she says, moving away from me.
I lie still, then switch on the radio. The first symphony of Shostakovitch is being announced. Good, I may as well listen to it while Winkie fumes. A passage in the music makes me laugh.
"What's so funny?" she asks.
"It's nothing important."
"If it's not important, why won't you tell me what it is?"
"It has nothing to do with you."
"It has everything to do with me. You were laughing at me, I know."
"I wasn't even thinking of you."
"Yes, you were. That's why you're afraid to tell me why you were laughing.”
"Believe me, I wasn't laughing at you."
"Then tell me why you were laughing."
"All right, I'll tell you. I was laughing at men who can't resist women."
"Could you resist me?"
"Of course I could, anytime."
Winkie sits up and, rising above me, she cups her breasts before my eyes.
"Can you resist me now?"
"I'm doing it, aren't I?"
She lies beside me and, moaning softly, she tickles the inside of my ear with the tip of her tongue. Her hand caresses my breast, then pinches my nipple. She kisses my cheek, her hand gliding ever so lightly over my torso.
My cock is throbbingly erect, yet I'm resisting her admirably, showing her that all her efforts are having no effect upon me. But why shouldn't I fuck her? And let her see that I can't resist her? Never! Yet, why should I care what she thinks, as long as I know I'm able to resist her? No, I mustn't even seem to surrender to her. My resistance must remain firm. But I may never again have the opportunity to fuck. All I have to do is to resist her now, then fuck her tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come. No, I'll just fuck her, knowing that I can resist her.
Pushing Winkie down onto her back, I part her legs and enter her.
"You tricked me!"
"Do you want me to stop?"
"No, not now."

"Last night, I went out with my old boyfriend, who's home on leave from the army, and found out that I'm not in love with him any longer," Winkie tells me.
So, during all those torrid nights in bed with me, she's been thinking she’s in love with someone else.

"After school yesterday, I spent a portion of time at the domicile of my classmate who doubles as your consort and discovered her to be shallow but superficial," Bobby says, reporting his disapproval of Winkie. Yet, when he visits while she is with me he stays and stays, while we yearn for him to go and leave us alone.

As we walk side by side, Winkie takes hold of my arm and stops me.
"Why should we watch others make love in a movie when we can go to your room and make love ourselves?"
"Yeah, why should we?"
"You know something, Eddie, even if I were married and had ten kids and you happened to walk by, I'd drop everything and come running to you."
"Get the ten kids first and let’s see what happens.”

"Eddie, this summer I'm taking a job as a waitress in a resort hotel in Maine," Winkie announces, stunning me.
How can she leave when we're at the height of our passion? I’m certain that I wouldn’t want to leave her.
“When are you going?”
"Day after tomorrow. Kiss me here," she says, touching herself between her legs. "Good. Now it's sealed tight until I come back to you."

“What’s the goatee for?” asks Bonnie from behind his record counter.
“Because it looks good on me, and because it protects the skin on my chin when I eat pussy.”
“You eat that filthy stuff.”
“The pussy I eat isn’t filthy. Did Bobbie tell you I got a string bass?
“Yes, he said something about it.”
“Now, Bonnie, how can I score some charge?"
Bonnie regards me closely. “The cats here don't think you're cool enough to be turned on, Eddie. They're afraid you wouldn't be able to handle it."
"Why do they think that?"
"For one thing, you were rejected for military service on a mental."
"Come on, I told you how I fooled those doctors."
"You didn't fool them all that much, Eddie. They're educated men and they detected something unstable in you."

"When you shaving?" my mother wants to know.
"I don't know."
"Why you don' know? Why you want-it hair your face?"
"I like the way I look with a beard."
"You look like crazy man. Everybody laugh on you."
"The other day I saw another guy with one."
"Nother crazy like you. No shame, no care for family."
"Oh, why does Eddie have to have a beard and three fingers?" laments my sister Isabel.
"You hear-it your sister? You not care you bring-it shame your sisters, your brothers, your mother?"
"It's not my fault that you’re all hurt by my having a beard."
"You're going lose-it your job.”
"I'm not going to shave just to keep a dumb job."
"No, you want be bum in street, no money, no home, no respect. Why you want make-it me so unhappy, why?"

The other couple wander off into the dark, leaving me alone with the girl built twice as broad as me. This is what I get for agreeing to help that stranger stuck with two girls.
"It's such a romantic night, isn't it?" says the girl, as we sit on a bench facing the sea.
"You think so?" I say, drawing her close to me and kissing her, my tongue invading her mouth.
What am I doing? Why am I kissing her? Trying to prove to her that I'm a real hep guy?
"Shall we go down to those bushes on the sand?" I ask, surprising myself.
"Oh, yes, let's do."
What am I getting myself into? Why am I being so perverse? I know that I would never want to fuck this girl, so why am I leading her on?
Sitting on the sand beside her, I begin to unbutton her blouse.
"Wait," she says, pushing aside my hands and instantly whirling out of her blouse and bra.
Lying on my belly beside her, I kiss her. Lying on her back, she tries to work her body under mine, but my toes are sunk deep into the sand to prevent her from doing so.
How long can this go on? Are we to spend the rest of the night like this? While these questions occur to me, I kiss her breasts and allow my hand to probe between her thighs.
"Oh, no one's ever done that to me,” she says. “Lots of men have touched me up here, but no one's ever touched me down there."
"In that case, I wouldn't want to be the first to do it," I say, rising to my feet and brushing the sand off me.
Although we talk amicably as we begin to walk back to town, I suspect that she is cursing me under her breath.

"Hey, you!" a woman calls to me from across the street, then she runs over to stand before me and laugh in my face.
"You're crazy, you," she says, fingering my beard. "Crazy."
I look down at her calmly, as if to ask who is the one acting like a crazy person at this moment? Actually, her behavior is not all that bizarre; my beard seems to provoke all kinds of weird responses. .

"Here, you must read this," Bobby hands me a book. "And when you've finished reading it please return it to the public library."
" `Crime and Punishment'. What is it, a story or a factual report?"
"It's an extraordinary novel by Feodor Dostoyevski, one of the greatest writers of all time."
I resent Bobby's foisting this book on me. For months now, he's been trying to persuade me to read the writings of Freud and of Marx.
"It's truly admirable that you're devoting so much time to your bass practice, my friend, but you must be sure to stop practicing as soon as your fingers reveal signs of tiring. Then, you may put down the bass and read a chapter from the book. Practice then read, practice then read, until the day is done."
I'm not telling Bobby that I'm going to return this book unread to the library. But, on the other hand, Bobby is a good friend trying to introduce me to something that he thinks will be a turn-on. He’s already introduced me to so much great jazz and classical music. So, perhaps, there’s something in this book as great in its way as there is in music. Okay, I'll read this one book, return it to the library and be finished with reading for all time.

VJ Day. All the shops are shut. Central Square is thronged with celebrants. Traffic is reduced to a crippled pace.
As I watch the revelry, I notice a smiling young couple regarding me. Finally, the young man steps up to me.
"Excuse me, do you mind to kiss my girlfriend?"
"I'd be out of my mind if I minded doing that."
As I kiss the girl, a number of other girls line up to be kissed by the bearded man.

"Hello, Eddie," Mrs. Zenakis says, coming into the room, followed by my mother. "You are practicing your music, I see."
"Oooff," she exclaims, noticing my beard when she comes closer. "Ugly, ugly, ugly. Shave off that dirty thing. No girl will ever want to kiss you."
My mother regards me with new eyes, and I'm certain that she'll not again criticize me for having a beard.

"I'm glad to hear you had a good time working this summer, Winkie."
"Yes, but I missed you so much, Eddie. Did you miss me?"
"I didn’t have time to miss anyone. I’ve been reading like crazy. Bobby gave me a book I was going to read only because he thought I should, but I couldn’t put it down once I got into it. When I finished reading it I rushed to the library, got myself a library card, and I’ve been reading ever since.”
"Really. Aside from that, what else did you do? Make love to lots of girls?"
"No, I'll show you. Wait here a moment.”
Leaving the bedroom, I go to the closet in an adjoining room to take out my bass and, carrying it to the door of my room, I strike a booming note.
"Oh, you've got your bass at last, Eddie. I'm so happy for you."
But I fail to detect any happiness in her voice.

"You're much too old to become a musician," Winkie tells me. "Most musicians began to play when they were seven or eight years old."
"When I am married my wife will polish my bass every day," my bass teacher has told me.
And here is Winkie who, instead of supporting me, is doing her best to discourage me.

"After you learn to play that thing, you'll travel and make love to girls all over the country."
"Listen, Winkie, I won't be phoning to meet you any longer. I’ll be home practicing every night, so you can come here whenever you feel like it."

As I bow a scale, Winkie, having come from behind me, grasps the neck of the bass, leans toward me and sings, "Gimme a little kiss, will ya, huh."
I’m so annoyed with her that I can’t bear to look at her.
"From now on, I won't be walking you home when you leave here."

"Just let me finish my lesson, and I'll be with you," I tell Winkie who is kneeling before my bass and looking up at me.
I begin practicing again, and she plucks the lower end of the bass strings. Losing my patience, I push her back from the bass and return to my lesson. Lying on her back, she looks up at me for some time, then rises, gathers together her belongings and walks out of the house.

Although I've tried my best to discourage Winkie from coming to see me, when she fails to come or to phone for three weeks my life suddenly seems desolate. Unable to bear the emptiness any longer, I phone her.
"Hello, Winkie, are you all right? I haven't heard from you for some time and I was worried.”
"You didn't expect to hear from me, did you?"
"Listen, I'm thinking of going to the coast to see if I can find work playing bass in the movie studios. You want to come with me?"
"You're crazy if you think you can become a studio musician after playing for only six months. But, anyway, I want to see you. Can I come over now?"
"Yes, I'll be here."

"Well, you see, Eddie, there happens to be another now," Winkie tells me. “And he's willing to give me everything I want: marriage, a home and children. You're not willing to give me any of these things, are you, Eddie?"
"No. You'd better take what he’s offering."
"But I want to have what you give me, too."
"The sex, you mean?"
"You want to have sex with me after you’re married?"
"No, it's either him or me."
"Then, you give me no choice," she says, rising and preparing to leave. "Goodbye, Eddie."
As she crosses the room, I fall to my knees, take hold of her legs and try to pull her down to the floor. She kicks me away.
"You're disgusting. I thought we could be friends, but I see now that's not possible with you."
She walks out.
She has offered me all that I’ve thought I wanted - to have sex with the wife of another man - and I’ve rejected it.

Have lost my lover and my job, and I fall into despondency deeper than I’ve ever known. Wasted, all the effort I’ve expended trying to introduce Winkie to great music and literature. Now, I’ll have to begin again with someone new. But will there be a someone new? Possibly not. The outlook seems bleak. How do people manage to go on without love in their lives?
Love? Did I love Winkie? No. Then why am I so depressed? What is it that I’m missing? The sex, yes, but also her attentiveness, her admiration of me. It’s like having been popular, then losing that popularity.
Still, there is so much great music I have yet to hear to, so many wonderful books I should read, but will they be enough to lift me out of my misery?

1946 - 1948
Gus Dixon walks into Bonnie's record shop, stops to look me over before he sidles up to me.
"I'm Gus Dixon."
"I know. I saw you playing trombone in Artie Shaw's band once, and I’ve been seeing you around town lately.”
"I'd like to talk with you. Let's go in back."
Gus and I go to the back of the shop and crowd into a toilet meant for one.
"Let's smell your beard," he says, leaning close to sniff. "Who you been eating today?"
"You wouldn't know her," I answer, even though I've not been with anyone.
"You know where we can turn on, Beard?"
"How about my place; it's not far from here."
"Is it cool?"
"Yeah, sure."
Gus assumes that I'm a head. He doesn't know that I've only had a few ineffectual puffs once at a Count Basie dance.
I'm so worried about what may happen to me when I smoke that I don’t really hear what Gus is saying as we walk to my house. Will I pass out? I've never been unconscious, and that prospect frightens me. I’ve never been drunk and never wanted to be. My mother used to draw me close to her whenever she saw a drunk coming our way on the street. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.
In my living room, Gus takes out a joint and lights it. I watch closely to the way he smokes, so I'll know what to do when it's my turn to smoke.
"Here, Beard." He passes the joint to me.
As best as I can, I try to smoke the way I saw Gus smoke. When I pass the joint back to him, Gus leans close to look into my eyes. Why is he doing that? Is he waiting to see me pass out or to flip out?
"So, you play bass, huh?" He nods toward my instrument.
"I'm just learning."
"You have sounds too. You have any Bird?"
"You want to hear ‘Koko’?"
"Gone, Beard."
I've passed the test! Gus hasn't discovered that I'm a novice smoker. And I haven’t passed out or gone mad.
But I haven't gotten high, either.

"Wait here for me, Beard. I'll be back in a few minutes," Gus says, stepping out of the car. "Man, it's cold tonight."
Those last words of his resounding in my head, I giggle to myself as I look out at the deserted winter boardwalk. I begin to feel my feet. They're cold, but in a very peculiar way. I've never experienced cold quite like this. Hey, this is how cold must feel when you're high. I must be feeling high at last. For months, I've been smoking with my friends and pretending I'm high, but it seems that I no longer have to pretend. Have I been high before tonight and not realized it? It's possible.

When I read in Lundberg's "America's Sixty Families" that even Supreme Court Judges have been corrupt I feel that I have nothing to rely on, no white government pillar to lean back against for security. And when I read "The Communist Manifesto" of Karl Marx, I’m amazed by the courage of this one man to pit himself against the most powerful nations on earth.
But a dictatorship of the workers does not appeal to me. I abhor work begrudging every moment I've wasted as a wage earner. My aim is to get through life doing what I want to do. No, I don't aspire to marry into money as some of my friends do, but when I hear of artists or writers who are supported by their girlfriends I feel envious. If only that would happen to me, but I doubtf that it ever will.

"Last night Serge Chaloff and I decide that it might be a great idea to get Beard together with Pat Rainey," Gus tells the heads gathered in my cellar playroom. "You all know who Pat Rainey is: the young singer who's famous from coast to coast for giving up head to jazz musicians. So, we drive to the club in Boston where Pat's singing and when she looks over Serge's shoulder and sees Beard her eyes light up and she asks Serge, `Who's that?' `That's Beard,' Serge tells her, ‘and tonight he's gonna get you.' Well, she seems real glad about that, so we arrange to meet her at her place after she finishes her gig.
"At twelve-thirty we're parked outside her father's big house, waiting for her signal that everything’s cool. An upstairs light blinks on and off, and that's our signal to go to the cellar door. Pat lets us in and warns us to be quiet because her father’s sleeping upstairs. In the cellar, there's only a mattress on the floor and a dim orange light.
"We talk and smoke some charge for awhile, then Pat pulls up her skirt, lies down on the mattress and tells Beard to get with it. And, man, you should of seen him get into action. Once he got his face into her pussy, he never came up for air. Serge and I were walking round and round that mattress, holding on to our cocks and saying, `Look at Beard go.' When it was over Pat takes Beard by the hand and says she wants to talk to him alone for a minute. Later, she gives us all head and we split."

I’m so enthralled by Sigmund Freud’s writings on sexuality in children before the age of five, that I can’t put the book down even for a moment to tell my brothers Arthur and Harry to stop shooting their air rifles at the children playing in the yard next door. Long forgotten incidents from my childhood come flooding back as I read.
I recall how I would laboriously pull back the skin of my penis to remove the smelly white stuff collected under its head. The head of my little dick had been so sensitive that I’d often have to pull back my fingers as soon as they touched it. In time, it became less sensitive and the skin pulled back more readily.
And I remember how I would intensify the pleasure of shitting by withdrawing the turd into me before it could fall, releasing it partially and withdrawing it again and again, faster and faster, the pleasure increasing, until the turd fell away and brought the game to an end.
I recall, too, the afternoon I rode the merry-go-round and began to feel a very pleasant sensation in my very bottom. The sensation intensified when the horse rose and weakened when it descended, the pleasure rising to a higher peak with each succeeding ascent but falling away on the following descent. I rode and rode that horse, wanting to see where those peaks of pleasure were leading. I spread myself wide over the saddle, wider, as though I wanted to draw the horse up my ass.
Later, during our afternoon naps, I’d sometimes ask George to get on all fours and let me ride him around on the bed. But I was never able to recapture the pleasure I’d experienced on the merry-go-round horse. At other times, I’d ask him to be a farmer, while I’d be the cow he had to milk.
And I recall the afternoon I was playing on the floor with my fire truck, while my mother and her friend sat and talked above me. I looked up and found myself directly before the woman's spread knees, her skirt taut across them. When I saw where the woman's stockings ended and her flesh bulged out from each leg to touch, I was overcome by an overpowering desire. I looked up to see if the woman and my mother were watching me, then returned my gaze to the wondrous view under the woman's skirt. I craved to push my head under that skirt and nuzzle my face into the soft flesh of her thighs, but I was afraid of doing it.
Later, in bed for my afternoon nap, the image of what I had seen under the woman’s skirt firmly in my mind, I crawled over the pillow and the bed sheet, imagining that they were the woman’s flesh. As long as I retained the image that they were, the strange feeling within me grew. When the image slipped from my mind the feeling faded. Again and again, I recaptured that image and was unable to retain it. I imagined the woman lying in my bed with her legs raised high permitting me to place my head between her thighs like a nut in a nutcracker. I thought of her legs converging and engulfing my face in soft flesh, making my body quiver on the threshold of an unknown sensation. All this intensity of sensation could not be for nothing, I’d thought. Something had to follow it, but what?
I thought of waking George to ask him what it was I was experiencing. But ask him how, with what words? No, it was impossible for me to put what I was feeling into words. And, besides, George was two years younger than I was, so how could he have already experienced what I was experiencing for the first time?
I was certain that there had to be a resolution to all that rising intensity and that the answer lay with the ones who wore dresses. Someday, I would learn all. Assured of that, I lay back to sleep.

On the night after having read Freud, I wake from the longest and the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. It's in two parts.
The first part began with me about to step into a bathtub and become annoyed when I saw there was no soap. I hurried downstairs to get a bar. I was stepping into the kitchen, when I discovered my sister Isabel talking with a black girl near the sink. I stopped, thought of retreating, buy decided not to, as the girls had already seen me and would think me to be ridiculously shy if I backed away. I walked boldly into the kitchen by the girls and, squatting, opened a cabinet and pretended to look for the bar of soap which was lying just before me. I wished to give my sister and her friend time to withdraw discreetly from the kitchen. But, smiling down at me as they talked, they remained where they were. There was little left for me to do but to pick up the soap and to walk out as nonchalantly as I’d walked in.
To seem even more nonchalant, I stopped at the sink beside the girls and drew a glass of water. Glass in hand, I said something flippant over my shoulder to the black girl. In an instant, we were in each other's arms. As we kissed, our knees buckled and we tumbled to the floor. As my face drew close to her cheek, the last thing I saw before I shut my eyes was the brown of her skin. My hand, probing between her legs, came upon something rigid that should not have been there. I opened my eyes and saw white skin. Backing away, I found that it was my brother Arthur lying beneath me and staring intently over my shoulder. Following his gaze, I saw the silhouette of a man in the second floor window of the house next door. He must have been standing on a chair, because he was looking down at us from the opened upper half of his window. The ceiling light behind his head made it impossible to see him clearly. He held something up to his eye, took aim, then cast it out the window. Tiny objects began to fall onto our kitchen floor. The man was sending BB pellets through our open kitchen window.
In the second part of the dream, I was sitting in a packed theater. Onstage, a man was hitting with mallets a skeleton lying on a table before him. He was playing the skeleton as though it was a vibraphone. The audience was rocking madly. The man hit the skeleton with such force that one of its lower legs fell onto the floorboards, and I felt sad for the skeleton.
"You see, you were all sex when you were alive, but now you're dead and you're nothing," a man, wearing a hat and sitting in the front row, jeered into a microphone. "All sex before and now nothing.”
On the screen, there appeared the image of a sensitive young man who sat naked on the floor, his arms clasping his legs to his breast. He was motionless save for the blinking of his eyes. His image began to recede slowly as many colored dotted lines encircled him.
"He's returning to his mother's womb," remarked someone in the audience.
From the wings sprang an older man, wearing black tails and large white gloves. He danced before the projected image of the sensitive young man, singing raucously and clapping his gloved hands. His shadow on the screen behind him mimicked his gross movements, while his dancing form intercepted the colors intended for the screen, making him appear even more grotesque than he was. When I perceived that this gross old man and the sensitive young man on the screen were one and the same person, I became saddened.
Hearing a female voice, I turned in my seat and saw a girl who had remarkable hair and hands coming down the aisle. But that's all there was to her: just a head waddling in on a pair of hands.
I leaned forward and stared at the show, hoping that by doing so the bodiless girl would overlook the unoccupied seat beside me. But, just as I had feared, she noticed the seat and climbed onto it. I judiciously avoided looking at her but, tilting her head up to me, she tried to gain my attention. Unable to cope with this, I rose and fled up the aisle.
In the lobby, I stopped to speak with the white haired manager of the theater sitting at a desk. He did not respond to my colorful account of how I had avoided being inducted into the armed forces. Without looking up from his desktop, he scratched his earlobe, a gesture I interpreted as a signal to his henchmen to apprehend me. Seeming not to hurry, I left the theater quickly.
Outside, people were rushing to avoid an impending rainstorm. Large raindrops could be heard splattering onto the tarmac in a nearby street. I hurried to reach home. Soon, I came to a divide in the path. The shorter one on the right was overhung by ominous black clouds, while the longer path to the left was sunny and skirted a lake. But where this path curved around the lake, a man stood with a dog on a leash. I decided I would go the darker but shorter way. But the sight of the dark clouds held me back. I remained undecided for some time, then chose the longer sunny way.
Nearing the man with the dog, I began to trot gingerly in the hope of getting past the man before he noticed me. When I reached the bend in the path, however, I could not resist glancing at him. He was a young man with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Glowering at me, he leaned forward and unleashed the dog. The dog, freed, charged toward me. I kicked out to keep it at bay, but this only increased its fury. Backing away from the dog, I felt my heel hit the concrete rim of the lake. I was trapped between my two worst fears: of being bitten by a dog and of drowning. And though I was unable to swim, I decided that it would be better to drown than to be torn apart by the jaws of the dog. I let myself fall back into the lake. I was happily surprised to find myself floating safely on my back. But, looking up, I saw the dog's underbelly in the air above me. It was jumping into the water after me!
This was more than I could bear; and I woke up, happy to find that it had all been just a dream.

"Man, that's a great love letter," Mort says, when I've finished reading it to the gang assembled in the cellar playroom. "Who's it to, anyhow?"
"You wouldn't know."
"I'd like to be able to write a letter like that to my girl," says Crosky.
"Hey, Beard, did you do that English essay for me?" asks Carl.
"It's right here. Read it and see if you like it."
"I'll read it later. Here's a couple dollars, one for the essay and one I owe you for a haircut."
"Can I get a hit on the sunlamp, Beard?" Crosky asks.
"Yeah, go ahead."
"I got an idea, Beard: you write a letter like that for me to give to my girlfriend, and I'll pay you for it," Dave says.
"Come on, man, she'll know it doesn't come from you. You're too stupid to write a letter like that."
"That don't matter. People buy greeting cards, don't they? Look, I'll invite you out for drinks tonight so you can meet her. You’ll be so turned on by her, you’ll write her a great letter. I'll pick you up around eight, okay?"
"Yeah, okay, that's cool."
"Hey, here's the Horse," Mort says as Gus walks in.
"How come you never told me your mother's got a water-pipe, Beard?" Gus asks.
"I just found out about it myself a couple of days ago."
"Does she use it?"
"Yeah, sometimes she smokes some herbs she says are good for her throat."
"You sure she's not smoking some good old Turkish hash?" asks Crosky.
"I'd know the smell, wouldn't I?"
"She's from Istanbul, so she probably recognizes the smell of what we're smoking." Mort says.
“Only she doesn't know that it's illegal to smoke this stuff in this country," Crosky says.
“Sometimes, when she walks into a smoke-filled room after you guys have left, she'll say, ‘My, what strong tobacco you boys smoke.’ “
"That's great," says Crosky. "Where is she? At the racetrack again?"
"Yeah, she's quite addicted," I say. “She’s probably blowing my legacy.”
"Hey, Beard, when you gonna score some charge?" asks Mort. "You take enough money from us to be able to buy some."
"Beard figures that he's got the hangout, the water pipe and the sounds, so he doesn’t need to score," Crosky observes.

"Beard, I'm here to ask you to do us all a big favor," Gus Dixon says. "I'm sure Buzzy here will back me."
"Back you on what?" I ask.
"For the benefit of all the cats who like to hang out with you, I think you should shave off your beard."
"Yeah, why should I do that?"
"Because that beard's too uncool, man. That time I took you with me to score from my connection, he froze. When I saw him later he put me down for bringing you around to his place, telling me that you were too hot to be seen with."
"Yeah, he's so cool he's in jail."
"He can't help it if his ole lady turned him in."
"She looked so cool he didn't realize how hot she was.”
"This is all beside the point I'm trying to make, which is: will you shave off your beard?"
"I still don't see why I should."
"Because we all like to be with you, but that beard's making it difficult for us to be seen with you. We don't want the Feds tuning in on us."
"If you think you're endangering yourselves by being with me, then don't come around. It doesn’t matter to me if I don’t see any of you again."
"Those are mighty harsh words, Beard."
"They may sound more harsh than I mean them to be, Gus."
"What's so important about havin' a beard?" Buzzy asks. "You probably look much better without it."
"Anyway, I have to cut," Gus says. "Think about what I've been telling you, Beard. What are you going to do, Buzz?"
"If he wants to go, I'm taking Eddie to Boston to meet some of the cats from the Woody Herman band."
"Yeah, I'd like to go."

Buzzy knocks on the door of the hotel room and announces who he is. The door opens and a number of men, standing in the room, turn to look at us.
"Hey, man, that beard is too fucking much," some of the men say, coming up to me.
"All afternoon my friends have been trying to talk me into getting rid of it.”
"Don't listen to them, man. Don't ever cut it off."
I look at Buzzy and shrug.

"I'm sick of these balling chicks, man," I overhear one member of the Herman band say to another. "I just want to settle down with a nice home-type girl."
"I'm with you," the other agrees. "It's much nicer to have a girl who's happy to cook for you and to take care of you."
Hearing them, I recoil. The only girls I want are balling chicks.
“You will only have-it second-hand woman your life,” my mother had told me, and it’s true. I have no eyes for virgins.

Having heard an old Armenian man singing to his wife as he lay with his head in her lap on a park bench, I’m inspired to mail Winkie a small bottle each of "Wood Hue" and of "Aphrodesia", two colognes favored by the Woody Herman musicians.

"Are you Eddie?" asks a young man I've not met, standing on my front porch.
"Yeah, that’s me."
"You sent this, right?" Removing the top of the box in his hand, he reveals the two bottles of cologne I had mailed to Winkie.
She’s turned my gift over to him, the bitch.
"I sent a number of those. Who are these from?"
"You know who they're from." He throws the box at me. "Come outside."
"Wait just a minute." I leave him to search the house for a weapon. The only thing that seems to be handy is the heavy cigarette lighter on the living room table. If I hold it in my hand and hit him over the head with it, I might be able to knock him out or even kill him. In Massachusetts, it's not illegal to kill an intruder. The cigarette lighter in my hand, I return to the front door.
"You come in."
"No, you step out."
Stalemated, we stare at one another.
"Leave us alone, you son of a bitch, or I'll kill you."
"You kill who, bastad?" shouts my mother, coming out from behind me. "Get out my property before I turn-it hose on you, you bum. "
"Awff," he mutters and leaves.
"Why he want kill you?"
"Some misunderstanding about gambling."
A gambling dispute she can accept, but not one over a girl.
"Don't gamble-it that kind of boy."
"Don’t worry, I won't.”
My mother leaves and I become assailed by terrifying thoughts. How unfair of him, bigger than I am, to threaten me. I have no chance in a fight against him. I've already been told that he's put a couple of people in the hospital with concussions. Now, I'll be afraid to leave the house, expecting him to be lying in wait for me.
Perhaps I should carry a knife. But then, if we fight and I kill him, I'll go to jail for doing something I didn’t really want to do. And if he should wrest the knife out of my hand, I’ll be killed – and for what? For that bitch Winkie.
To die before I've even begun to live. I've never even thought of my own death. I’ve always thought other people die, never me.
"I saw Winkie a little while ago," my brother Albert says, coming to my room.
"Oh, yeah, where'd you see her?"
"Just now, sitting in a car parked just across the street."
That bloodthirsty cunt, waiting calmly to see my blood flow as I’m battered by her new lover.

"Man, we're actually gonna see Charley Parker playing live in Symphony Hall," Mort says. "Every cat in and around Boston's gonna be there."
"And every Fed in town's gonna be there, too, digging the audience," Crosky says.
"So, what're they gonna do, search everybody?"
"You think it's cool to take a few sticks with us?"
"Sure, why not?"
I hear a scream in my head. I imagine I'm looking down on a jungle so dense the treetops prevent my seeing the lone man, screaming as he is being pursued by a horde of black hunters.
"Hey, Beard."
"Get with it, we're going."

"I think I see your neighbors' venetian blinds moving," Gus Dixon says from the driver's seat of his parked car, the musicians in his band passing the waterpipe around for the last time. "That horny mother and her sexy daughter could be diggin' us."
I look across the street.
"No, Gus, the street lamp between us and their window is making an optical illusion that those blinds are moving."
"I guess you're right, Beard. What would they be doin' up at two in the morning?"
"Okay, see you guys," I say, tucking the waterpipe under my suit jacket and getting out of the car.
I walk to my door beneath the window of my neighbors, and I imagine the mother and her lovely daughter looking out to see me in my smart suit coming home stoned. "That Eddie sure is a wild guy," they’re saying with approval.
I enter the house through the cellar door and return the water pipe to its usual niche. I start to go up the stairs to my room.
I undress quickly and go to the bathroom to clean up. Washing my hands, I look in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes. "You're zonked right out of your mind," I say admiringly to my image.
I lean closer to the mirror to examine my eyes. To be so bloodshot there must be a great number of broken blood vessels. The water flowing down the drain is my life flowing away. My heart begins to pound like a bass drum in a parade. The light blacks out with each boom of my heart. Panicked, I douse water onto the back of my neck. I wonder if I'm going be able to make it safely to my bed. Getting down on my hands and knees, I crawl to my room.
I lie on my back in bed, hoping to become calm. Now my sexy neighbors are no longer admiring me. "He's a dope fiend!" they're screeching. "Call the police." Clank! The prison doors shut after me. "Look what shame you have bring-it your father’s good name," my mother laments.
No, I can't take any more.
I rush to my window, open it, kneel to take in fresh air and look up at the stars. How calm, how serene, they seem so many hundreds of light years away. The light takes so long to reach here that some of them no longer exist. From up there, the earth can't be seen and doesn’t seem to exist. And I'm less than a speck on this earth. So, what is my problem?
Calmed, I return to my bed and lie down. Immediately, my heart resumes its pounding. “You only have to think of a having a heart attack, and you'll have one,” someone had once told me. No, I mustn't think of that. I mustn’t think of the broken veins in my eyes. I mustn’t think of veins bursting in my head to allow blood to gush out from my nose and mouth. That pain in my stomach; what is it? Do I have an ulcer? That pain below; are my appendix about to burst? Are my lungs cancerous? Wherever on my body my attention settles there seems to be pain. And I'm sensitive to the existence of all this pain only when I'm stoned. I may be very ill and not be aware of that I am.
No, I must stop thinking! I return to the window to look up at the stars again. How quickly I become relaxed when I look away from myself. Ready to get back to bed, I rise and gingerly return to my sheets and hope that I’ll be able to sleep. Counting sheep is supposed to help you fall asleep. How to do that? I look at the wall at the foot of my bed and imagine that I see a stone barrier. Something luminous leaps over the barrier. One. Another luminous something jumps over it. Two. But they are not sheep; they are rabbits. RABBITS MULTIPLY QUICKLY! Hundreds of luminous rabbits hop about on the walls of my room.
I rush back to my window to become calm again. When I no longer see rabbits in my room I return to bed and lie very still.
KANGAROO springs to my mind, and a luminous kangaroo leaps about on the wall, and another, then many. No, this is more than I can take.
I’ll jackoff to see if that will dissolve my panic.

"Here, take a hit, Beard," Mort says, holding the nozzle of the waterpipe to my lips, as I play bass to the jazz sounding from the speakers.
Without missing a beat, I inhale deeply, hold the smoke and blow it out. But now, I can't seem to keep time to the music on the record. I'm playing either ahead of, or behind, the beat. Someone laughs. Is he laughing at my playing? My heart begins to race. I’d better lay aside the bass and sit down on the floor to rest my heart. I must listen to the music and not to my heart. Listen to Charlie Parker play. What an imagination, what a genius! The bass player swings, too. “You're kidding yourself if you think you'll ever be able to play as well as that,” says a scornful voice in my head. And where is Charley Parker now? In Camarillo, an insane asylum in California. This is the music of madmen, and I aspire to be a madman.
“There's a very thin line between sanity and insanity,” Bobby had once told me. When this record ends I'll roll onto the floor over that thin line. "Eddie's finally flipped it," my friends will giggle. The white wagon will come. The men in white will lead me, gibbering, to the wagon. My sexy neighbors will peer at me through their curtains and say, "We always suspected that there was something wrong with that boy." Shut up, don’t think about shit like that.
“You'll never be the man your father was,” Myrlene's mother had once told me, surprising me, because I’d never thought of my father as being a success. Sure, he had made money in real estate, and I’ve never thought of making money, only of having fun. In that sense, Myrlene's mother had been right: I would never be the man my father was. I regard the viewpoint of artists only as being valid; never those of businessmen. But what if the artists are wrong and the businessmen right? Believing as I do, I may end up an old man sleeping on newspapers in railway stations, unwanted and unloved.
Someday I will die. It could be on a nice sunny day like today, with birds chirping and butterflies flitting about. It could be today, this afternoon, THIS VERY MOMENT! No, don’t think of that. I'm like a rat climbing up the side of a coal pit, not thinking of . . . I’ll reach the top safely if I don’t think of, don’t think of . . . of what? Of dying. Yahhh! I fall back to the bottom of the pit.
Look at my friends; they look like two dimensional cartoon characters. Is there anything within them? Do they ever think that they will die? “Your friends, all no good bums like you,” my mother has said. She’s right; not one of them is educated, talented or successful. I’ll feel better when they leave.
But I feel no better after they have gone. I go up to my room and open the book I’d been reading with interest before my friends arrived, but the words now seem meaningless. All of life seems meaningless.
I look out my window at the people scurrying about down there. They're going here, going there, thinking there's some meaning to all their activity. Whatever meaning there is to anything in life is invented by the mind, like the rules for shooting pool or for behaving properly. Follow the rules and succeed, and you’ll feel you’ve accomplished something. Apart from those rules, there is no meaning to life. There is only hunger, pain, fatigue.
Some of the people out there think they are Catholic, Protestant or Jew, American, Canadian or French. But no child is born a Christian or Jew, an American or German. These are only concepts instilled into the mind of the child by its parents and church, its school and government. Looking down on the earth from a great height, oceans and land may be seen, but where France ends and Germany begins is not evident. All nations and all religions are only fictions created by the mind. And people are willing to die for, to kill for, these fictions. This world is a madhouse, and I’m surrounded by madmen.
Oh, if I come down, I’ll never smoke pot again. How often I’ve promised myself that, only to fail to follow through on it. If someone passes me a joint tomorrow, will I have the courage to reject it? Faking I’m smoking by retaining the smoke in my mouth before expelling it, doesn’t help at all. I get smashed even when I don’t inhale.

My brother Harry and his friend Johnny come into the room and, smiling and giggling, they watch me bow my bass.
"What's with you guys?" I ask, stopping to look at them.
I return to my lesson but, disconcerted by their fidgeting, I have to stop practicing again.
"Don't you two have anything else to do?"
"Can we ask you something?" asks Harry.
"Go ahead."
"What to come mean?"
"That's the thrill you get at the end when you're fucking or jacking off. You ever had that?"
"But you've had hard-ons, right?"
"What's that?"
While talking, I've been standing with my body pressed against the side of my bass and worked up a hard-on.
"I'll show you," I say, stepping back from the bass and pressing my pants taut over the front of my pants.
"That's not your thing," Johnny says. "You've got a stick or something inside your pants."
"No, I haven't. I’ll show you?" I pull out my cock.
"Jeez, what happened to it?" asks Johnny.
"It just grew, that's all. Yours will too if you pull on it. Then you may find out what it is to come.”
As I speak, I think of Socrates and the other Greeks and their love of young boys. Also, I recall that Andre Gide had asked who it was that young boys admired and answered that it was adventurers, sports stars, movie heroes and such; all of them men.
"You boys want to come up to my room and see if you can get to come?"
"Not me," my brother says, backing away.
"I want to," Johnny says.
"Okay, let's go upstairs."
In my room, I lie on the bed and tell Johnny to stand by its side.
"Take out your thing," I say, uncovering mine.
He does as I say, and I take his little appendage in my hand.
"Now bend down, Johnny, and put my dick in your mouth."
"Are you crazy? I would never do that."
"I thought you said you wanted to feel a thrill."
"Yeah, but I don't want to put your dirty thing in my mouth."
"I can see that you've never been in a gang."
"Whaddaya mean?”
"To become a member of a gang, you have to suck cocks."
"Did you suck them?"
"I was in a gang once, wasn't I?" I lie. The closest I’d come to someone else’s prick had been on those occasions when I’d inspected George's pubic hair which had sprouted before mine. "Look, how your dick's become harder just talking about it."
"Has it?"
"There's a good chance that you're going to come for the first time this afternoon. The first time is the best of all. You'll never forget it."
"I won't?"
"Yeah, so just take my prick in your mouth and see what happens."
Johnny leans down toward my prick, then backs away abruptly.
"It's dirty!" he says, pointing.
"That's just a piece of thread from my underpants," I say, brushing it away.
"Wow, Johnny, did you notice how big and hard your thing got when you leaned close to mine?"
"Did it?" Johnny says, then slowly lowers his head to my erection.
"It stinks!" he says, jerking back again.
"No, it doesn't. I just washed it. Look, Johnny, if you don't want to put it in your mouth, just lick it like it’s an ice cream cone."
Johnny leans down, hesitates, screws up his face and takes a very quick lick.
"It tastes bad!"
"I think you almost came when you licked it."
Johnny leans down and licks. He winces, then licks and licks again.
"You know something, Eddie?" he says, smiling up at me. "I like it."
"I thought you would."
Johnny licks and sucks, but it becomes evident that nothing much is going to happen.
"That's enough for today, Johnny. We'll try again some other time."
After Johnny leaves, I lie back and anticipate what my friends are going to say when I tell them of this incident. “You're too much, Beard. You not only have a girl you're making it with but a young boy as well.”

"And how old is this boy?" Marxist Max asks me.
"About twelve or thirteen, I guess."
"And where does he live?"
"Just over the wall behind this house."
"And you never considered the dire consequences that would befall you if this boy should tell his mother of what went on in your room this afternoon?"
"You mean that I could go to jail for doing what seemed to be a totally insignificant event at the time?"
"Yes, you could be jailed or be beaten severely by the neighborhood toughs."
"How did Socrates and those guys get away with what they were doing?"
"That was in a different country and at a different time. And those Greeks claimed to love their boys. Do you love Johnny?"
“Of course I don’t.”
“You desired him only?”
"No, it wasn't even that.”
"What was it, then?"
"I thought it would be a wild thing to do, something my friends would be impressed with.”

One morning some years later, I'm walking home and I see Johnny, grown big now, coming my way. Suddenly, I recall that afternoon in my room and wonder if he also recalls it - and resents it. I think of turning about and slipping down a side street to avoid being seen by him, but it’s too late for that; he's probably seen me already. The only thing to do is to walk on. As we draw closer to one another, I'm relieved to see that Johnny is smiling at me and has an ice cream cone in his hand.
"Hi, Eddie," he greets, as he comes up to me.
"Hi, Johnny."
As he passes me, he turns and, extending the ice cream cone toward me, he says, "You wanna suck, Eddie?"
"No thanks, Johnny," I laugh.

“When you’re going work?" my mother asks. "Other women say me, ‘My son making money doing dis, my son doing dat. Wat your son is doing?' I can only say dem, ‘He’s studying.’
" ‘Still studying?’ Dey almost laugh-it my face. You bring-it shame on me, you lazy bum. I can't look-it face other women. When dey come dis house I want you hide-it your room upstairs and don' make boom-boom till dey go. You hear-it me?"
"Yeah, I hear you."
"Why you do boom-boom? Boom-boom put-it money your pocket, clothes your back, shoes your feet? No, nothing."

"So, you go make boom-boom some other place," my mother says from across the dinner table.
"I'll be playing in a hotel in Florida for three months. It'll be good to get away from the winter here."
"You told-it everyone you going but you not tell-it your mother," she says, rising and coming around to stand behind my chair.
"I knew that sooner or later someone would tell you."
"You happy you leave here, huh, you black heart."
Whack! There’s a sharp pain on my left ear. She has hit me as hard as she can with her open hand.

I walk up the street leading to my house. Suddenly, I stop to ask myself what I am doing here. Why have I come? What madness has induced me to return to this place? There is absolutely no reason for me to be here. Now, because of my thoughtlessness, I have to go through all the bother of buying a ticket to fly out. I must have been out of my mind to create this needless hassle for myself.
I wake up in a bed far from home. Wonderful! I haven't gone home at all. I’ve only been dreaming the kind of dream that makes you believe that you are where you dream you are. There is almost nothing better than waking up from such dreams.

Crosky's azure eyes gleam diabolically up at me as I play on the bandstand. Is he waiting to see me crack up, or merely gauging the effects his grass is having on me? Does he sense how shaky I am?
I'm so exposed up here above the audience. If Winkie's boyfriend should come in, he'd have no trouble at all to take hold of me, pull me off the bandstand and wail into me. My head feels numb, my body trembles, and I feel I'm about to fall forward onto my face, bringing the bass crashing down with me.
I must concentrate on my playing. How adroitly my fingers move over the bass strings. They couldn't do this when I first played. But will they be able to maintain this furious tempo? No, I mustn’t think of my fingers, not think of myself. But how not to think?

"You buy for me Mothers' Day present, Eddie?" Gus Dixon's mother says, accepting my gift box of chocolate. "I don't think even my son buy me anything."
Nor have I bought anything for my mother. I've given Gus’ mother a gift is because I wish to retain my job as the house bass player in her bar.

"Dis is not coffee house," my mother shouts, charging into the living room where my friends are gathered. "Look my chairs, my Persian rug."
"So, all right, we'll roll up the rug and sit on the floor," I say.
"Smoke, ashes, dirty shoes. Get out! Go out dis house!"
No one moves. They all remain seated, smiling at her.
"Wat's wrong dese boys? Dey don' know English? Dey don’ hear I want dem out my house?"
My friends don't even begin to rise.
"All right, I fix-it you bums," she says and leaves the room.
"Your mother's too much, Beard."
"Yeah, man, what a great performance."
They think that she's been putting on an act.
“Just this afternoon, while I was delivering bread, I met your mother and she was so friendly.”
“Yeah, because she saw you were working,” I explain.
"Hello, police," my mother's voice comes from another room.
My friends are all on their feet, pocketing their dope and paraphernalia.
"See you, Beard."
"Hey, sit down, you guys," I laugh. "She doesn't even know how to dial the phone."
No one listens. They all rush out.
"Dey gone, huh, dose bums Why you bring-it dem here? Why you don’ meet-it dem outside in gutter? Wat you learn-it dem? How to sit and smoke, only."
"They’re just friends."
"Friends! Why you need-it friends? Your money is your only friend. You have money, you have plenty friends."
"I have no money and I have friends."
"What kind of friends you have? How you can be happy, how you can sing, no money your pocket, no steady job? You speak-it phone dirty American girl and you so happy. You shoul' be shamed yourself."

“Sam, I just talked with Carey, and he told me that from now on the band is going to work seven nights a week for sixty-five dollars. I told him that was crazy because we’re working six nights a week at ten dollars a night and to work the seventh night for five dollars was beyond belief. If anything, we should be getting five dollars more, not less, for the seventh night. I told him to renegotiate the matter with you, but he refused, even after I reminded him that he is the leader of the band and it’s his duty to speak with you. So, I’ve come to see you myself. You’re an old Marxist, Sam, and you know that what you offered Carey is not correct. Now that you’re the proprietor of The Bowery on Salisbury Beach, you’ve forgotten all your socialist principles?”
“These are rich Harvard kids, Eddie, who don’t know the true value of money.”
“That’s no reason for you to take advantage of them. Besides, only Carey and Dick are Harvard boys. I’m not and neither are the other two guys in the band. So, do right by us, Sam. Give us at least seventy-five dollars a week.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll dd. I’ll give you seventy-five, while the others can take what I offered.”
“That’s still not right, Sam. We should all get the same amount.”
“All right, seventy for each of you. That’s the best I can do.”
“Seventy-five, Sam.”
“Seventy, take it or leave it.”
“I guess we’ll have to take it.”

"I wonder if you'd do something for me, Eddie," says Carey.
"Do what for you?"
"Can you tell my girlfriend to leave?"
"You can't be serious. What right do I have to tell her to go? She'll laugh in my face. There are some things in life that you have to do yourself, Carey. Anyhow, why do you want Betty to go?"
"There are so many great looking girls coming to the club every night I'd like to go out with."
“So, go out with them. Don’t let Betty stand in your way. Tell me, how come a handsome guy like you got entangled with a cornball like Betty? Man, the other day she was trying to get our kid trumpeter interested in some sweet, but dumb, little farm girl. I almost vomited listening to her romantic drivel."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, but Betty helped me out financially some time ago, so I feel obligated to her."
"Feel obligated to her? How, by having her cook and wash for the band and sleep with you? Anyway, you’re no longer feeling obligated to her. So, if you don’t have the courage to tell her to leave, simply go out with the girls you feel like going out with."

"Please, boys, I'm not feeling well tonight. Can you quietly go to bed?" Betty pleads with the members of the band, minus Carey, when we’re back from our gig.
She’s been feeling ill ever since Carey’s not been coming home after work.
"Thank you, boys. Good night, Eddie; good night, Lenny; good night, Dick," Betty goodnights us from her bedroom.
"Good night, Betty," we call back.
I can't resist adding a falsetto, “Good night, Lenny,” followed by a baritone, “Good night, Dick.” They goodnight me in return, and we continue to goodnight each other until we fall asleep..

"Betty's dying!" announces the landlady's son, running up to Carey, Dick and me on the beach. "She's swallowed all the pills she got from the doctor. Come right away."
"Well, Eddie, what shall we do?” asks Carey. “Shall we go back to the house or shall we go for a swim first?"
"Let's go for a swim and give Betty time to die."
"Excellent idea.”
After swimming, the three of us walk leisurely back to the band's cottage. We walk in and find that Betty is not dying in bed as we’d expected, but pacing back and forth on the back porch and reciting her woes to the landlady.
Dick walks into and out of the bathroom.
"The pills are at the bottom of the crapper," he tells us. "She didn't even think to flush them out."
"The dumb bitch," Carey observes.
I sit on my bed in the kitchen and begin to eat a raw carrot.
Betty, apparently having heard that we have returned, comes into the kitchen.
"So, you boys are back at last. You took your good time, even though you'd been told that my life was endangered. You're all so heartless, so ungrateful. I do everything for you; cook your food, wash your clothes, and what do I get in return? Nothing, no appreciation whatsoever."
"Why don't you knock it off, Betty?" I say, taking a bite from the carrot.
"Don't you speak to me, Eddie. You've never been a member of this family." That’s true: after eating one meal of overcooked hamburger, I’d decided to become a raw fruit and vegetable man like Andy, one of the performers at The Bowery.
"Yeah, but I live here, and I have to listen to your shit."
Carey and Dick, giggling, withdraw to the next room, leaving Betty to me.
"I'm tired of the games you're playing with us. You're not sick; you’re just heartbroken. Okay, you're suffering, so keep your suffering to yourself. Don't dump your woes on us. We come home from work and want to have a little ball, and you tell us to be quiet because you're sick. Today, Carey, Dick and I are having fun on the beach, and you send out this message that you're dying. We come back and find that you're not dying at all but singing the blues to the landlady out on the back porch."
"I am dying. I took all the pills I got from the doctor."
"You see, that's the kind of bullshit I'm talking about. You didn't take any pills; they're all lying at the bottom of the toilet bowl."
Betty picks up the clothes iron and holds it aloft as though she's about to throw it at me.
"Look at yourself," I say, taking another bite from the carrot. "Anyone seeing you like that would say you're fucking crazy."
Betty looks at the iron in her hand as though she’s surprised to find it there and, looking back at me, she lowers it.
"If you don't stop this, I'll leave," she threatens.
"Leave!" I say, pointing the carrot at her bedroom door.
Betty looks toward the next room in the hope that Carey will ask her to stay, but he and Dick are too busy giggling.
Betty, sobbing, dashes into her room.

"The reason I've called this meeting is to tell you boys not to play jazz in the club from tonight on," Sam tells us. "Andy, here, has just read in Variety that bebop is dead."
"Of course Andy would say that," Carey says. "He knows his Harpo Marx act appeals only to the older people coming to the club, while our music brings in the younger jazz-lovers. And he's afraid more people are coming to see us than to see him."
"That may be so, Carey, but it doesn't alter the fact that I’m in agreement with Andy," says Sam. "So, I want you guys to play nice smooth melodic music: ballads, Latin numbers, things like that."
"But, Sam, we're a bop band," Carey argues.
"I don't care what you are. This is my club and I'm hiring you guys to play the music I want played. I want to hear great melodies. I don't mind if you play `Stardust' all night long."
"But, Sam . . ."
"Is that all, Sam," I say, interrupting Dick.
"Yeah, that's all, Eddie. You can go, if you want."
"But, Sam, you're not being . . ."
I walk away, leaving Carey and Dick to argue it out with Sam.

"So, Nature Boy, what do you think of what we heard this afternoon from Sam?" Dick asks, coming out onto the back porch where I'm feasting on raw vegetables.
"I don't think anything about it."
"What about jazz, man, jazz?"
"Well, you guys don't play that much jazz, anyway."
"You're a traitor, Eddie, a traitor to the cause of bebop."
"Look, I'm here to work this gig for the summer."
"I've lost all my respect for you."

"Let's see, what shall we play for our second number?" ponders Carey on the bandstand. "Oh, it all comes back to me now. We'll do `Stardust' again, only slower this time."
As we play, I look to the opposite side of the club and see Sam leaning on the bar and glowering at the band.
"I've become so fond of `Stardust' that we just must play it again," Carey says, kicking off the tempo.
"Stop the music!" Sam shouts, having suddenly appeared before the bandstand. "Outside, you monkeys."
We file out to sit on the railing in front of the club.
"You fucking Harvard smart-asses, you think you can screw me around with your sulking antics? Well, you can't. After you finish playing tonight, you pack up and go. And don't forget to collect what I owe you."
Carey and Dick have nothing to say after they've managed to deprive me of my summer job with their “dedication” to be-bop.
"Eddie," Sam says, approaching me. "You think you can find a couple of musicians to replace these two brats?"
"I think so, if I can get to Boston tomorrow."
"Andy'll drive you in."

"Stop this draggy music," Sam shouts in my ear while we’re playing a samba. "Get lively. Play jazz."
"The revenue people are trying to give me a hard time," Sam tells me during intermission. "They want me to pay entertainment tax for the hour from seven to eight because they say my customers are dancing during that hour. What I want you guys to do for that hour is to play so fast that nobody can dance. If they try to dance half-time to the music, just put down your instruments and take a break."

"We've been waiting all day to hear you guys play," Carey tells me, he and Dick having returned to the beach after an absence of a few weeks. Although they've spent almost the whole day with me, I haven't told them what's been happening at the club.
"So you've come to sneer at us," I say, rising to go on the bandstand.
"Or to shed tears for you, perhaps."
As soon as everyone is ready, the band kicks off at breakneck speed. I can't resist glancing down at Carey and Dick. A look of sheer disbelief covers their faces. I don’t bother to look at them again while we play out the hour with one fast number after another. When the set comes to an end I rejoin them at their table.
"Good work, Eddie," Carey says. "You stole the band from us, and then you proceeded to turn Sam around."
"I didn't steal the band from you. If you recall, you threw the band away. And, besides, this is not my band. It has no leader."

"Hey, man, can you lay a little bread on me?" asks Gail, walking with me to my gig with the L&M big band.
I have money, but I'm not sure I want to give it to her. Did she come to my room to make it with me because she liked me or because she wanted to hit on me for money? Does she truly need it or is she just treating me as she would one of her Johns? I dislike being tight, but I dislike even more to be taken for a trick..
"Look, Gail, if you really need bread, why don't you come with our band when we leave for Indiana tomorrow? You can make plenty turning tricks with the boys in the band."
"You think so?"
"With a body like yours, no man could resist you. Don't worry, many of them will go for you."
"Something for me to think about, huh?"

"Today we went to a record store in town," Danny, the lead alto sax man, tells us. "While we're there, the fat owner of the shop invites us upstairs and shows us this deck of Canadian playing cards with photos of sex scenes on their back."
"Yeah, and while we're looking at the cards, he touches us with the backs of his fingers to see if we have hard-ons," says Leo, the second alto "When we’re down in his shop again he gives us whatever we want: reeds, score paper, anything at all. And before we leave, he invites us to his place tonight after we've finished playing. Anyone want to come along with us? How about you, Eddie, do you need bass strings?"
"Not that badly."

"Uncle George and his young friend James took turns sucking us dry last night," Leo reports the following day.
"And they didn't expect us to do anything to them," adds Danny. "We're seeing them again tonight. Who wants to come with us."
Listening to Danny and Leo, I ask myself why the thought of meeting Uncle George repels me. Why am I so reluctant to try this new experience? Is it the fear of what the other members of the band will think of me? But no one seems to be criticizing Danny and Leo.
"I think I'll come along with you guys tonight," says Johnny, the tenor sax man.
"I guess I'll come, too," I say.

That night, as Uncle George or his young friend work on me, I find that my pleasure is enhanced when I imagine that I'm a starlet giving myself to a director in order to obtain a role in a motion picture. Or, better yet, that I’m Winkie surrendering to her lover.

"I don't feel like going back to Boston with the band for that two week break," I tell Johnny.
"Neither do I."
"I have an idea: let's ask Uncle George if we can stay with him and his wife until the band returns."
"Yeah, I'm for that."

Since both Uncle George and his wife work, Johnny and I have their house during the day. We practice, play duos, discuss music and listen to records.
Every evening after dinner, Uncle George will say, "Tonight, Johnny will sleep with me, Eddie will sleep with James and you, my dear, will sleep alone." The following evening the men will change partners, but Matilda will always sleep alone..
"Hey, Uncle George, do you ever have sex with your wife?" Johnny had asked.
"Matilda is as innocent as the day she was born," had been Uncle George’s prim reply.

I look up from the music I'm writing for the band and see Johnny stumble into the cottage we share with Danny and Leo. He burps, then sits in a chair away me.
"Look at Eddie, always working, always learning, always getting ahead," he says, looking at me through the large mirror on the wall beside his left shoulder.
"You don't have to feel guilty about having had a good time tonight, Johnny."
"Fuck you."
I return to my writing while Johnny continues to fume. Now, lying back in his chair, he vomits on his suit and onto the floor before him. Cursing, he sits back again. The rising, he walk through the vomit to go upstairs.
"Aren't you going to clean up the mess you've made, Johnny?" I ask.
"I leave that for you to lick up," he sneers and continues his ascent.
My eyes becoming tired, I go up to lie in my bed.
"Look at Sleeping Ugly, resting after his hard day's toil,” Johnny says, glaring down at me. “Oh, and look at his bag which he never empties, just pulling out what he needs. Let's see what he's hiding in it."
Johnny unzips my bag, picks it up and dumps its contents onto my bedcovers. Without saying a word, I return things to the bag and lie back again. Johnny empties it onto my bed again. I decide to let it be.
"Look, he's going to sleep under all this junk. We can't permit Eddie to sleep in such discomfort. Let's take his blanket off and see what's under it."
Johnny pulls the covers off me.
"There's nothing much there, is there?"
I pull the covers back over me. He yanks them off and throws them across the room, scattering my belongings. I lie back and do nothing.
"So, nothing disturbs our Eddie, does it? So, we may as well take his mattress out from under him and throw it out the window."
Johnny leans down and takes hold of my mattress. I kick out and send him sprawling upon his back. Instantly, I leap upon my bed and wait for him. He charges back but I kick him away before he’s able to touch me. Back he comes and I kick him away again..
Although Johnny is much bigger than I am, I'm surprised to find that I'm not afraid. Actually, I have to be so alert that there's no time to be afraid.
Johnny takes hold of my arm, but I twist it out of his hands.
"He's slippery as a fucking snake."
He comes for me, but I kick him so hard that a fine spray of his sweat falls upon me.
Danny and Leo, awake now, are laughing in the other room, apparently unaware that Johnny means to hurt me.
Johnny takes hold of me around my waist and, swinging me off the bed, he hurls me deep into the room. I charge back at him as he kneels before my mattress, the back of his neck a deep crimson. I take hold of his hair, pull him back from the mattress and jump back onto it. He grips my arm but can’t maintain his hold. He comes at me, and I kick him away. He gets his arms around my body, pulls me off the bed and, standing behind me, he begins to press his arms tighter around me.
"I'm going to squeeze the life out of you."
There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. But, looking down, I see the underside of one his wrists pressing on my body, and I lean forward to bite into it. Johnny continues to exert pressure on my body until he shouts out suddenly and pushes me away.
"You're a fucking animal!" he says, holding out his bleeding wrist
"Yeah, and the next time you try to fuck with me, I'll bite into your neck and rip out your jugular vein."