It’s always interesting to come home again, even if you never really can “go home” again. The neighborhood I grew up in was mature when I was young, and it hasn’t much changed in the intervening decades. Oh, the storefronts have all been gentrified down in the commercial: The old deli is replaced by a bistro now, and where Howard Johnson’s used to stand we now have an office building. The cinema that used to show second run films that everyone had already seen has been gutted and replaced by a multiplex that shows limited release foreign films that no one ever goes to see.
It’s funny what you get used to, the things you take for granted. The commercial district is down in a sort of valley hard by the main highway running up into DC in one direction, and down to Richmond in the other. The housing around it was family proud but dirt poor. Not public housing, but not so very far removed from it either. As you climbed the hill towards my old house, the quality of the living quarters improved in perceptible steps, even if the quality of the people who lived there often did not. From the hard lots cheek by jowl to the highway you went up the hill into duplexes that had pretensions to townhouse status. Further on up there were detached single family dwellings of no great charm, all lights dim at night apart from the blue glow of a TV set in the family living room. Further on up the hill were houses that young professional families looked at with the kind of envy that comes from seeing something just out of reach. Our house was on the next level up after that, we were at the top of the hill.
I came from what I was told was at the time was a “middle class” family, although my dear sainted mother, God rest her soul, often took the trouble to add “upper” to that middle class, saying it in a kind of hopeful way, as if begging not to be contradicted. Both of my folks were poor as field mice during the depression, and you got the feeling that they never felt as though they had finally and completely arrived, never knew it would be OK, never really felt safe. I guess you wouldn’t either, if you remembered what it felt like to go to bed hungry night after night.
But they both worked hard for many years, and when I was a kid we lived as well as anyone did, lacked little of consequence, didn’t know anybody personally who had it any better than we did ourselves. You might hear about Rockerfellers and Kennedys, but they weren’t real people like we were. And we were at the top of the hill.
Marie lived about half way up the hill, or half way down, depending on your point of view I guess. In any event her duplex was perfectly half way between our own place and the folks down by the highway. She was 25 in the year that I was 16, and we worked together at the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream store – she was the assistant manager. The other teenagers said she only had the job because she was the girlfriend of the owner, who was a married man and something of a pig even if the rumors about him and Marie weren’t true. I was only 16 – I knew I didn’t know enough about the world to judge whether or not the things that people said about other people were true, and the weight to attach to them even if they were and so I decided that I just wouldn’t judge at all.
Sometimes I wish I was like that still.
Marie was fetching even if she wasn’t beautiful in any conventional sense. A pretty girl, she had heavily lidded eyes and an olive complexion, apple cheeks and an eternal pout. She had smoldering eyes, the kind that could look right through you, flash in anger and melt your heart all in a matter of moments. She was also rounded in all the appropriate places for such a little thing, and exuded the kind of femininity that could drive men to distraction even if they weren’t only 16. I think I mentioned that she was 25 – for those of you only now checking in, that meant that you could do the math in the summer of 1977 and conclude that she had come to full flower during the summer of love.
At age 16 I was as yet an uninitiate into the mysteries of the intimate feminine, and like most young men of my situation acutely aware of that fact at every waking moment. You couldn’t be in the workspace with Marie at night, without
I interrupt the tale here, we must to dinner. Shall we conclude it later?
Thanks for waiting. The rest is after the jump.
Continue reading The road not taken – completed