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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Jersey Cheeseburgers - Part Two

Englewood, New Jersey - 1958.


Last week, Ruby and Sophie took off on an adventure to New Jersey. (See part one for details.) They find themselves in a coffee shop/luncheonette and order some food. But the other kids in the restaurant don’t seem to like Beats.

     The girls who are watching us are all giggly and I can feel my stomach tightening. I try to ignore the boy who’s walking over to me but I can feel what’s coming, and I don’t know how to stop it. All I know is it’s going to be bad.

     The boy just stops and stands there, without saying anything, and I stare at my plate without moving. His friends at the booth behind us are hooting and hollering. “There’s your Susie!” one calls. Finally the boy says, “Hey. Wanna dance?”

    I don’t even bother to answer. Gwen the waitress brings me a Coke, but then she turns around and goes behind the counter. So, no help there.

     “What’s her name?” says one of the boys. “I don’t know,” says the boy sitting next to me.

     “She looks like a spick,” his friend calls out, and I can feel myself blushing. The other guys laugh and the one sitting next to me says, “And a Beatnik. Are you?”

     Sophie’s shaking her head but I decide to answer him. “Yeah.”

     He raises his eyebrows and the guys at the booth ooh and ah. I turn my head to look at him, slowly. “Why don’t you go home to momma, little boy?”

     BIG mistake. Now they’re really hooting. Gwen calls out, “Leave her alone!” which of course makes them even louder.

     “Hey chickie, gonna make me?” the boy says. I sip my Coke without answering. When the older waitress brings out their drinks and tells them to behave themselves, they get all googly eyed and pretend to be scared.

    Then one of the girls at the other table puts some coins in the juke box and “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” comes on. I used to like that song but not right now.

The boy at the counter points to me and they all start laughing. Two girls start dancing, and then two of the Dwight School guys join in. This makes the boy next to me try even harder to get me to dance.

     “Hey, chickie,” he says. “Don’t you want to swing? Aren’t you some cool-cat’s little spick-chick?” 

     I think I know why he’s saying that. Gary Daddy-o’s family is Italian and the Tabitas come from Sicily. I’m dark like them, so people think I’m either Spanish or Italian. This guy obviously hates Spanish people cause spick is a nasty word.

     I jump off the stool and move to another. So does he. Gwen tells him to go back to his seat but he ignores her. Then the woman next to Gwen leans her face into him and tells him to leave the counter. She does it harsh enough so he gets up and moves away.

     Gwen moves her head up close to me and whispers, “Sorry.” Sophie says we better be going.

     I don’t know why nobody’s saying anything to her but for some reason it’s like she’s invisible to them. But as soon as they realize we’re about to leave, the action starts.

One of the boys blows his straw at Sophie and me, and then another one follows. Before you know it there are like, ten straws being blown in our direction from everywhere. And everyone’s hooting and laughing like they’re at a circus.

     Gwen is yelling for them to stop but I’m not going to say anything. I know if I move or yell or anything it will just make them worse. Sophie’s just standing there, staring at the ground.
     
     But I’m not about to let them win. I walk over to the booth where all the boys are, laughing and eating ice cream. I decide to just stand there, staring down at them. This makes them stop laughing and look at me. I hold their eyes for a while ‘cause I don’t want them to think they can scare me. But I also don’t want to fight.

Then they all start chanting.

     “Beatnik!” “Beatnik!” “Beatnik!” “Spick!”

     And even though I don’t want to, I start hating these boys, and the girls too, with their ponytails and bobby sox.

     So I lean over and push the biggest boy’s ice cream cone into his chin.  “So glad to meet you,” I say, smooshing the chocolate onto his face like a big brown beard.  “Now you’re Spick and Span.” 


     I know it sounds dumb ‘cause that’s a floor washing soap. But since they like the word spick so much I thought I’d give it right back to them. Now the boy’s face looks all gooey and surprised.

   While I’m talking I start backing away, since I know he’s going to come after me. I’m almost at the counter when he grabs my arm, and I kick him as hard as I can. He twists my arm behind my back and I double over. It hurts like crazy but I force myself to stay quiet ‘cause the last thing I’m going to do is let him know that. Sophie starts pounding him on the back while one of the bobby-soxers screams. That brings the lady behind the counter out with a spatula.

     “Let GO of her,” she says. The boy doesn’t seem to hear so the lady pokes him. “Do you hear me?” she says.

     Gwen rushes over with a big spray bottle full of water, and once he sees that, the boy lets me go.

     There’s no songs playing any more and no one’s talking. The lady makes the boys pay up and leave, and then looks around at all the girls. They start pooling their money to pay the check and I can hear them whispering. I sit down, rubbing my arm as Sophie kneels in front of me.

     “Are you all right?  she says.

     The next thing I know Gwen is rushing over with some ice. She makes me sit down and puts some on my arm— but I tell her I’m fine and we need to be leaving. Gwen asks us to wait until we’re sure the boys are all gone, and Sophie agrees with her. While we wait, Gwen and the cook make us take along two free ice cream cones.

     We leave about half hour later and take the bus back to the city. I don’t know if Sophie tells her mom, but I decide I’m not going back to New Jersey any time soon.

     Suburbs are just, you know. The opposite of cool. I will say this for them, though.
    
     They have really good cheeseburgers.