Village Stories We’d go to all the movies. Stevie, Howie…all of us Jewish Kids. We’d sit in the eighth row center…and throw candy at the screen. But Essie, the manager’s wife, had a big wooden stick, and she’d run down the aisle, and poke us with it. And sometimes she’d make us leave. But we hated the love films. And the newsreels. We liked the Tarzan movies the best…and the Westerns. The Durango Kid was our favorite cowboy. He always dressed in black. Stevie said that he once saw him riding down Main Street on a horse. And that he lived in our town…in a secret cave. One day we were in Hebrew School. And Stevie said that he had just eaten some unkosher food…a ham and bacon sandwich with mayonnaise. And that he had “changed.” And that he had forgotten everything “Jewish.” And he could only think now of pork…and barbequed spare ribs. Above our town was a cow pasture. We liked to play baseball up here. And one day we took up our bats and our gloves…but we didn’t have real bases. But Nat Fiegel had matches. He said we could burn some. But soon the fire started to spread. We slapped it with our jackets, but that didn’t work. So we ran yelling down the hill. And soon we could hear the fire sirens. And smell the smoke. And when we got to the highway, we could see the red flames. We thought we’d be arrested. But some drunks got blamed. Sometimes we watched the high school boys. They would sit on the movie steps and tell dirty jokes. They’d even smoke cigarettes. One day Old Man Fisk came over. He asked the boys if they gave a French girl a French kiss…where would they put their noses. And they all laughed. And we laughed too.
We loved playing “punch-ball.” We pretended we were big leaguers. We tipped our caps, and we adjusted our socks. We even caught like Willie Mays did. But the “gentile kids” made fun of us. They called punch-ball “Jew-ball.” And ran around like idiots. Our hideouts were in the “woods.” The “doctor’s office” was there…as well as the “Jesse James office.” And drunks slept under the trees. And once Teddy Stern crept over to one…and peed in his bottle. And the drunk drank it. And we almost puked. Mel’s cousin came to town. His name was “Lucky.” He told us how he killed baby birds. And how he ran over kittens with his bike. He said that Lucille Ball was his cousin. And he once saw her sitting on the toilet. He asked us what we did for kicks. But we didn’t know what to say. One day Stevie was home alone. Suddenly, he had an idea. He would make an “invention.” So, he took his mother’s perfumes and put a drop of each one in a water glass. Then he added something else: Tomato sauce! Then the glass began to wobble. And the glass began to shake. And a cloud rose out of the glass. And it swirled around the room. Then it shot toward the ceiling. And when it hit the ceiling, it exploded…and broke apart. And there, in the air, floating, were the letters of his name: S-T-E-V-I-E. Everybody had a bike. We’d go out early in the morning. We’d ride past the post office…and the trailer park. Then over the bridge that clanked. Then down to where the “big woods” started. Then, Herbie would cry out, “Attention troops…enemy advancing!” And around we’d whirl.
Freddie’s uncle lived in the woods. But Freddy’s father was worried. So he built him a shack…and put in a telephone. But his uncle hated phones. And on that very first day…it rang real loud. And his uncle picked it up. And a Chinese voice said, “Sir, your dly creaning is leady.” Stevie’s Uncle Ben was a famous checker player And he once played the checker champion of Germany. But the German was crazy…and only let him have one checker. But his uncle laughed. And in one incredible move…jumped all of the German’s men. And the German called him a swinehunt. And that was the start of World War Two. Mel showed us this book. It was all about “elephantitus.” First, your balls itched. Then they got big like grapefruits…then watermelons. Then, they sagged…and sank right to the ground. And you had to tape them to your legs. There was a “drunk” named “Futz.” He had a glass eye. And Stevie once teased him by calling him “Mr. One-eye.” And Futz came running at him. But Stevie punched him in his face. And Futz screamed. And his good eye fell out. Eli said that on the day of your Bar Mitzvah the rabbi shows up. And he has on his “scullcap” and “shawl.” And he’s carrying the Torah from the synagogue. Then he takes out a magnifying glass…and a pair of tweezers. Then he pulls down your pants…and says something “Jewish.” And if he finds some hairs there, he plucks one out. But if he doesn’t…he curses you. And you can’t have your Bar Mitzvah.
We had a secret hideout. It was near the school. We’d hide in the field…and make “grass apartments.” We’d lie on our backs…and sing radio commercials. And spit. And belch. And look up at the sky. And we’d watch birds. Stevie said the passenger pigeon was “extinct.” But he once saw one in a tree. And it looked at him. And he looked back. And it chirped out the word “help.” And a tear came out of its eye. But mostly we just lay there. We talked about baseball. “If Walter Johnson threw his fastest pitch, and Babe Ruth smashed it…how far would it go?” David said, “three miles.” Howie said, “to outer space.” But Stevie said, “The ball wouldn’t even move. It would just disintegrate.” There use to be silent films. They had no sound in them. Actors would just move their mouths. But people hated it. They needed noise. So they began screaming…and throwing candy at the screen. And that’s why sound films were invented. Once a man died. It was in New York City. He was walking under the Empire State Building…and a penny came flying down. And it landed right on his head. And it cut through his skull. And it split him in half. Once, Howie’s little sister was sick. She said that her neck hurt…but nobody believed her. But it was “meningitis.” Her back got stiff. And her eyes bulged out. And she couldn’t stop crying. And then she was dead. So Stevie went down to the funeral parlor. And snuck in. And he crept up to her coffin...and peeked inside. And he almost fainted. The real body wasn’t there! It was just a “store dummy.” A “wooden doll.” But he finally did see her…he said. Or at least her ghost. She was standing under a tree. And she waved. And she smiled at him. And as he came closer…she blew him a kiss. And he felt this icy breeze.
Mordecai Brown was a famous pitcher. He was Jewish. But he only had three fingers. And nobody could hit him. He’d throw the ball real easy, but halfway down, the ball would stop…and then disappear. But he missed his fingers. So he got an operation…for two new ones. And they were perfect. And he took his first wind-up. And threw his first pitch. But everyone started to scream. His two new fingers were stuck to the ball. There once was a little boy in our town. And one day his mother came over. And she put him on her lap. And she said, “Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up?” So, the boy thought, and thought. And said…”Mother, I want to be a cush-maker.” And his mother laughed. And she thought, “cush-maker? How cute. That must be baby talk.” Then the boy was sent to kindergarten. And his teacher came over. And she asked him what he wanted to be. And he said…in a very clear voice, “I want to be a cush-maker.” And his teacher smiled. For she thought he said, “Cushion-maker”…which showed great ambition. So she smiled again. And gave him an “A-plus.” And a gold star. And an “E” for “excellent.” And wrote “cushion-maker” in her book. And then the boy went to high school. And he was asked about his plans. And again he said: “I want to be a cush-maker.” And the teachers nodded. And pretended to understand. For they were all college graduates. And were supposed to know everything. Then, the boy got a scholarship. And he went to Harvard. And on the first day, he went in to the Dean’s office. And the Dean asked him what courses he wanted. And the boy said, “Give me anything…as long as I can be a cushmaker.” And the Dean was impressed. And enrolled him in engineering. And the years passed. And the boy did become an engineer. And he walked into a bank. And he asked to borrow three million dollars. And the head banker asked him why he wanted it. And the boy said: “to become a cushmaker.” And the banker liked his determination. And gave him all that he asked for.
And now, finally, the boy was ready. And so he hired the greatest builders in the world. And they built him a dish that was unbelievably gigantic, but paper thin…and as light as a feather. And the dish had hooks all over hit. And each hook held a chain. And each chain was fastened to a helicopter. “At last,” shouted the boy, “I can be a cush-maker!” And then the boy stood up. And he gave the signal. And the helicopters lifted the dish…and carried it high over to the ocean. And they let the dish go. And the dish glided. And the dish fell. And as it slipped into the water, it went…”cushhhhh!”
We’d go to all the movies. Stevie, Howie...all of us Jewish Kids. We’d sit in the eighth row center...and throw candy at the screen. But Ess...