Saturday, August 8, 2015


Everything took second place to bowling: diabetes, school, other sports, even women. But shit, I had women, too, and I don’t mean those high school cheer leading, sorority-minded, mindless idiots that other mindless idiots courted, spending far too much time trying to find the key to unlock their panties. Those girls wouldn’t spit on my shadow. I was not on the football team, the basketball team, and I was not Ivy League born-and-bred or bound. I had women who knew how to wait, knew what I wanted, knew how to give it to me and didn’t have to be home for dinner. And they never expected, let alone asked, me to pick them up and meet their families. Being Jewish and growing up in a Jewish community exposed me to homes with Jewish daughters. I heard the rap and detected their hidden agendas: WASP beauty pageants, nose-jobs, silverware patterns, early marriages, and husbands planted early as well. The girls I were attracted to were not driven to higher education, so they could become teachers or social workers uplifting the poor or championing some ghetto youth while complaining to their husbands that the “nigger” maid was stealing again. No, Jewish girls of a certain type, I thought, simply did not interest me. The truth, however, was much more complicated than that. I was years away from Harry Crews’ The Gypsy’s Curse: “Find a cunt that fits you and you’ll never be the same.”

Amy, Cookie, Sharon and Corinne. All Jewish. All beautiful. All fuckin’ crazy. All were in love with Italians, except Corinne who was in love with a Jewish dropout. It was Corinne who I lusted after, who I tried to stay close to, who I said to myself, “If this fuckin’ loser of hers ever drops her, or winds up dead, I’ll make my move.”
Anyway, we had more laughs over who was in jail, who was going to jail, who was getting out of jail, whose cum stains were on whose dress and whose parents were apoplectic over their choice of mate rather than go to ethics class. And when Tommy got his first car, a new Chevy 357 Super Sport, white with red leather bucket seats, four on the floor, school was history. We would breakfast at some pancake house out by the JFK airport and bet on how many stacks The Count (he looked like Dracula) could eat; fifty-six was his record. Then we’d drive around awhile, smoke, and hit Nathan’s in Coney Island (where else?) for lunch. The Count’s frankfurter high was twenty and change. The next stop was Dukes to see whether or not he’d tap dance on one of his tables, or watch, if somebody good was shooting or just to play rotation awhile, smoke some more, go the alley to bowl a few lines...or just drift. How I loved to drift! Everyday, it was fifty-fifty if we’d wind up in school. But by this time, being seniors, we had friends in the main office or in our classes who would cover for us, pull our attendance cards, give us our homework assignments or steal the test beforehand. I think we spent more energy cutting classes and scheming than going to them. I’d still make it to the classes I enjoyed, but that was it. And when push came to shove I had the ability to buckle down and study for a test or write a paper at the last minute.

I discovered something else while drifting in Tommy’s car, the Eighth St. Bookstore. One day, being bored with our usual routine, I said to Tommy, “Let’s drive into the City.” New York City was never referred to by name. It was just, “the City.” It did seem a world away, not just across a bridge or through a tunnel. We decided upon Greenwich Village, and drove there. Soon we discovered the street of commerce, Eighth Street. Today it’s simply crass commercialism with each store looking alike and selling nearly the same merchandise. We parked and began to walk a block with more pedestrian traffic than I had ever seen. Each store looked different and unique. The Bigelow Pharmacy, which looked like an old movie theater with antique floors and balustrades, served food. There were clothing stores that were just at the vanguard of what would become the psychedelic era. A store sold beautifully carved pipes of different woods and ivory, pipe tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, and there in the case, rolling papers like Eunice had had. There was The Bon Soir, a nightclub that was situated in the basement, and where Streisand got her start. Also on the block was the Art Students League, Orange Julius, and, in a recess, was a window filled with books. Just books. Those working on a raised platform looked like the kind of people who read and talked about books. I can’t explain it any better than that. After some protest from my friends, I walked in and explored.
The shelves downstairs and upstairs was stacked with books. And there, on racks, were these little books called, “the Pocket Poets Series.” Facing me on this rack was Ginsberg’s Howl. I opened it and read a few sentences and, though I had never thought much about poetry, this grabbed me. I bought it for 50 cents, new. Also, I saw a copy on a table of Selby’s, Last Exit to Brooklyn. I bought that as well. I was never the same again. There are certain monsters of literature that have altered me in profound ways: Ginsberg, Selby, Celine, Pound, Pynchon, Crews, Roth, Morrison, Bukowski, and more who keep you going, restore your faith, patch-up your pockmarked soul. They made me feel not as alone; they made me “think” instead of “feel.” Reading made it easier at home as well, not any more pleasant, just easier.

Bobby, my brother, was fast becoming a “basketball legend” in Seagate and so there was a discernible shift in my parental landscape. My father naturally gravitated toward him. Bobby was also a good student. My brother would go on to play ball in junior high and high school and, before dropping-out, a semester in college. He, too, had begun to experiment with drugs while in high school and was unable to escape their hold and so, by the time he entered college he could not adjust to the rigor of both academia and independence. When he announced that he wanted to dropout one night at the dinner table my father, without missing a beat, said he had to come to work with him the next morning in his supermarket. I voiced no dissent. I was old enough and smart enough, and had been through enough already at that time to know what the deal was. I still remained silent. In fact, I was more than a bit envious of their newly formed bond, even though I knew it was wrong--for both of them--and spelled eventual disaster. After such knowledge, what forgiveness. But at that time, he kept his act undercover while mine was doing a St. Vitus dance before my parents’ eyes and I thought I had enough to do keeping my own “act” together.
My folks handled their fear well: “Bowling alley bum!” “Gangster!” “Bastard!” “You’re going to put me in an early grave,” my mother said.
“You’re no fuckin’ good,” my father chimed in. They both watched my friends, a year ahead of me, go off to college to “make something of themselves.” They conceded that “there was something wrong with me” but they just didn’t know what that “something” was. New York University conducted a battery of psychological tests, providing a printout of the results: the subject’s goals, tendencies, strong and weak suits, and areas of interest. It cost a hundred bucks. They sent me. I took them.
The tests proved conclusively: “I have the potential if...” My study habits were too low to be graded. I was suited to anything from an English teacher to a minister, which my parents would have settled for, anything but a “bowling alley bum.” The next step, the interpreter of the tests said, was to find the right shrink for “the cure.” A bad case of “the clap” would have been easier to treat and less painful.

My first shrink was located across the street from Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We stared at each other for the first forty-five minutes. He then asked, “What are you thinking about?” I didn’t want to tell the prick. “Well, Norman?”
“Well, what?” I replied.
He smiled that little tight smile that showed no teeth, no mirth, no delight, no edge. “What are you...?”
“That you’re a fuckin’ idiot.”
He paused. “Good, good, very good. Well, it seems that’s all the time we have today, but I think we made a good start. See you next week, same time,” he smiled.
Next week was a carbon copy. I couldn’t see myself there the following week and told him so. “Well, if that’s your decision, Norman.” I got up and left, with 30 minutes still on his meter.
My second shrink was located a few blocks from the first one, but resembled him not at all. We got along fine. He was into sailboats and Jaguar cars and we spoke and laughed about that and more. I confided in him. I blamed my mother for just about everything that had gone wrong in my life. He called me an “idiot.” I began to understand. We tried to put things in some kind of perspective. My life, nonsensical to me up until then, began to take shape. I developed a degree of insight into my behavior and assumed responsibility for my actions, but after a few months, when my parents couldn’t see any “visible” proof of my recovery, they terminated treatment. I still bowled, smoked Lucky’s, and seemingly drifted without any clear purpose in life. My folks, being very literal people, wanted to see something they could, well, see.
Their money wasn’t totally wasted. College loomed on the horizon for me. What else was there to do? I knew that neither the American Diabetes Association nor my folks were going to sponsor me for ten grand in the Professional Bowlers Association. However, the New York State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation would pay for college costs since I was diabetic, which made my father very happy. However, with a seventy-seven average there wasn’t any Ivy League schools I could get into. Before applying to schools, there was one thing I had to do, get out of high school.
I failed chemistry and had to go to summer school in order to graduate. Needless to say, I did not go to my high school graduation. My father had just bought another supermarket, this one in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn on Union Street. It was directly across from Crazy Joey Gallo’s social club. My pop used to have espresso with him and I, with Carl, would go into a bar on Fifth Avenue, listen to The Drifters on the juke, and have a few belts of rye whiskey. I dreamt I got a sixty-seven on the chemistry Regents, and I did. I’ve been looking to dream magic numbers ever since.
That summer, I fell in love with Corinne. As I said, I watched her in high school. She lived a few blocks from me in Seagate. She was tall, and her eyes were a cat’s green. She had long chestnut hair, high cheekbones, long graceful fingers, a body that would have made a priest kick in a stained glass window, and she was smart, very smart. She had been accepted to Brooklyn College at a time when you had to have excellent grades to get into a city school. She wanted to major in Russian. But try as I might, I couldn’t pry her away from Marty, this Jewish dropout who happened to be handsome, athletic, and stupid. She was on the cusp of cutting him loose and I, being as manipulative as I was, encouraged that, for her betterment, of course. I wanted to stay close to her, wanted to protect and nurture the possibility of what might happen next. Usually, when I met with rejection of any kind I was quick to say, “Fuck it,” and be gone. But not this time. This time, I waited; I waited like an animal would wait. It didn’t happen between us for almost another year. But when it did...
Toward the latter part of the summer, I finally got off my ass and started applying to the colleges within my immediate area. Kingsborough Community College, which had just been built out of what looked like cheap corrugated tin and resembled a trailer park at the end of Manhattan Beach in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, accepted me. Their admission requirements: a pulse beat and blood.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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