One of my favorite songs from West Side Story is ‘Something’s Comin’. Listen to it on iTunes or just read the lyrics, it’s such a happy, optimistic tune. Ok, it’s a little poignant when we know the singer gets it from Chino and he dies in Maria’s arm, but, it’s still a happy song at the time of its singing.
All too often today we may feel something is coming but that it ain’t good. That’s a shame. Where did our optimism go? It wasn’t always like this. I can remember singing Something’s Comin….
It was Friday, the beginning of Labor Day weekend. It was Friday, September 3, 1971 and something good was coming my way.
I went to work as usual that morning. I took the six train from Parkchester, opted for the local so I could have a seat. I would change at 125th and get the four and take that to Grand Central. the subway was crowded despite the holiday approaching. The subway was hot and steamy and not without its unpleasant smells. Arriving at my destination around 8:30 I proceeded up the staircase passing by the nun who was begging for alms in her usual perch at the top of the stairs. I always thought if she were legit her time would be better spent praying or teaching or doing something other than sitting on her duff begging. I passed her by.
Coming out of the dark, dank subway and greeted by the bright heat of 42nd Street I made my way to 200 East 42nd, the P. Lorillard Co. and the mail room. Eddie was the early man that Friday and asked me if I would go across to the Lantern Coffee Shop to get the coffee and muffins. It was payday and my last day working at Lorillard so I said I would treat the boys to a little breakfast.
The Lantern had the best corn and blueberry muffins and they would grill them and just make them even better and I am sure healthier. I am not sure why but today the coffee and toasted corn muiffin tasted better than ever. Holiday weekends do tend to make things seem better.
The morning proceeded as most mornings had that summer. I made my run and delivered the mail to all the departments on the 5th and 4th floors. I talked to the secretaries who I liked and passed by the ones I didn’t…there weren’t many of those. It was a great job and a great company and I was starting to wonder if leaving was the right thing to do. But I felt something good was coming.
Returning to the mail room I just made the beginning of the entertainment hour as Eddy was in rare form busting everyone’s chops and regaling us with his lovemaking prowess as honed in the second world war while on hazardous duty in Australia. Eddy was a funny guy and we enjoyed the stories more than we beileved them. I started to doubt Eddy’s veracity when he told me his parish priest gave him the green light on adultery.
Morning gave rise to afternoon and payday was Blarney Stone Day. We were a great bunch of guys from various parts of the city. Melvin was from the South Bronx, Myron from East New York, Ray from Brownsville, and Charlie was from Scarsdale. We always went to the Blarney Stone on Fridays, even when it was not payday. At the Blarney Stone one could get a great roast beef sandwich, cold beer and Melvin could get three fingers of Johnny Walker red.
The conversation was always happy stuff. No one had a bad thing to say and it was rare that the laughter even took an intermission. This was 1971 and no one would admit it and men couldn’t really say it at this time but we all loved one another and I was made to feel that my presence would be sorely missed.
To put the finishing touch on our repast,Tiparillos for all.
We arrived back at the mail room, sorted the afternoon mail, and made our deliveries. I made my goodbyes to the secretaries. There was a kiss goodbye here and a hug there. The one girl I would really miss had already left the company but the ones still there were alright and I was very fond of them. But something’s comin.
Eddy had gone home but Wilbur, who was my real mentor and the guy who hired me, was a great guy. He was a taskmaster but he had a heart too. He asked me to make one out of the office delivery and to be on my way. I said my goodbyes to the guys…we didn’t hug in 1971.
Engrossed in Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock”, I almost missed my stop on the six. Fortunately I realized where I was just before the subway car doors closed. As I made my way down the stairs of the Parkchester station I made sure to go over to the Parkchester Pharmacy. It was my Mother’s birthday and I had to get something for Lizzie. She was sixty-four and I was going to play McCartney’s song on the subject but I needed a gift or two to commemorate the occasion. A nice perfume-scented soap collection and a bouquet of flowers later and I was all set. I was now weighed down by my gifts and the two cartons of Kent that I bought for Uncle James who would just love the heavily discounted cigarettes that he could re-sell at the standard price. I would drop the cigarettes off later. It was birthday time in Apartment six in 1261 Leland Avenue.
My mother was wearing a new apron for the occasion, no doubt a gift from my thoughtful father. The funny thing was, she never minded getting an apron for a gift and was always appreciative. It was 1971.
Getting home early was a blessing for us all. We had a nice early dinner, strawberry shortcake for dessert, and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday. The rest of the family, Michael and Margaret and their two boys, Maureen and Hank etal, Johnny and Mary etal, and Barbara and Jimmy etal would be all coming on Sunday. By the way, etal refers to my ever growing number of nieces and nephews.
After dinner I made my way to my room for a little nap and rock and roll. My parents were always amazed that I could sleep through the loudest of music. Today I even amazed myself as I soon fell asleep to the drum break of In-a-godda-da-vida.
Waking up after my nap around seven I got up and took a shower. I quickly got dressed and headed out with my two cartons of Kent in hand. I just made it before Uncle James was leaving his grocery store for the evening. I could have left the package with Otto, his night man, but I was glad to see Uncle James. We chatted a bit and he wished me well and annointed me with his “You’re a gentleman and a scholar and a good judge of bad whiskey” and I was off to meet my friends.
Al’s Wines and Liquors was our meeting place and the source of most of our merry making supplies. Cheap wine was our favorite way of making merry and Bali Hai was our favorite cheap wine. The store was well stocked this particular evening with an array of Bronx Boys that made you glad to be alive. In addition to our stand-in proprietors, Freddie and Eddy, PJ, Trent, Mike, Louie, and Andy were all on hand to help usher in the end of summer and the new school year.
I was going to be a senior and I was just getting going as a student. Typical. Just as I finally got what college was all about I was getting pushed out into the real world. I had to come up with something to forestall that eventuality. Something’s comin.
I walked into a real debate. Interestingly, it was not over wines but bars. Everyone had a different bar to recommend for our evening’s entertainment. I had an opinion on this matter, too, but right then I decided that it was more important to go to the bodega next store to get three Ballantines. I always liked a cold beer on a hot night and this particular bodega had the coldest beer in town.
I got back to the liqor store just in time. The decision on our destination made, our means of transportation was next. Only Freddy had a car and he didn’t want to drive. No one could blame him. We decided a cab was our best choice. Freddy and Eddie had to wait to close up the shop but they would meet us at the Castle Keep up on the corner of Tremont and Bruckner Boulevard. I was happy about going to the Castle Keep as I liked this place much more than our alternative, the Hollow Leg.
But that would change, somethin’s comin after all.
As we got out of our cab and entered the bar we all gasped as one. There was nobody there. When I say there was nobody there I mean aside from us, the bar tender and some guy keeled over in a corner table, there was nobody there. Certainly this would change. It was early and we were all sure that within no time pretty co-eds would be populating this very empty bar. We got up to the bar and got a beer. The beer stunk which did not make matters better. Finally we lost patience and got out of this hell. There was nothing else to do but go to the Hollow Leg. We weren’t going to spring for another cab and we could walk to the Hollow Leg. Freddy and Eddie would have to adjust.
We immediately had a good feeling about the Hollow Leg as we had to wait on a line to get in. The bar was packed and not just with guys. There was a sizable number of women of all body types and hair colors. We soon separated and the boys were on their own.
I made my way to the bar…don’t start counting the number of beers that were consumed as I remind you, this was 1971.
I came back from the bar only to catch the eye of a pretty girl sitting at the bar. Could this be the girl that I met last week at Manhattan College? If so, I wondered if it were even worth my while to pursue her. She was extremely pretty and I really liked her but she was extremely frustrating. On two occasions in the last four weeks this girl brought me to the edge of romance only to push me off its cliff. She liked me. She said so. Nevertheless, she refused to go out with m. Her father would not like me. Who gives a shit, I thought but did not say. I guess she did but that was infuriating to me. I wasn’t even upset about the notion that her father would find me unlikeable. I could live with that.
So, as I stood there bobbing and weaving as we used to do back in 1971, she kept smiling at me and gave me that ‘come hithter’ look. Something’s comin alright…another kick in the…
She kept up the smiling and I finally caved and started walking in her direction. Now it was dark and smokey, it was 1971. And how many beers had I consumed? Anyway, as I approached, I realized that she was not she. She was somebody else. A new girl. A nice girl. Something’s comin and here she was right in front of me in all her beauty, with long red hair and the bluest of eyes.
The rest, as they say, is history. Eileen and I started our life together that night in 1971.