Photo of Joey and Arlene seated on runningboard of 1940s car

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Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell

Deeply in Love


It was the sultry summer of '54. In a few months I would enter my sophomore year at Franklin K. Lane High School at 13, almost two years younger than most other sophomores.

In late June, He moved in across the street. With his musical southern accent, courtesy of years spent in Chattanooga, Tennessee, liquid brown eyes, barrel chest and manly swagger, I imagined him the Rhett Butler to my Scarlett O’Hara. Except that he paid absolutely no attention to me. And I had no Tara-like mansion to showcase my latent charms.

Stanley on Hemlock Street posing next to 40s car with visor over windshield

What we did have was togetherness. We were together every night, chaperoned by our parents and dozens of neighbors, sitting on folding chairs and the hard brick of the stoops. Back then no one had air conditioners. After supper our apartments were like steam rooms, so the street became one big living room.

Every night I waited and watched this exciting addition to Hemlock Street, learning he was 17 and would attend Brooklyn Tech in the fall. He was affectionate, hugging his Mama in public, and praising her special recipe of spaghetti with ketchup and butter. Our Italian neighbors rolled their eyes in horror. By the end of July my parents were friends with his parents and my brother was friends with his brother, but he still hadn’t acknowledged my existence.

In August I enlisted my friend Helene, who wore lipstick over her lip line and tweezed her eyebrows, to sashay down the street with me, headed for the corner candy store, where we’d harmonize the profound words to “Earth Angel” — “will you be mi-ine” and practice looking alluring.

One night Stanley followed us, or maybe he just happened to show up five minutes later. I was pretending to admire Tommy Stagnitto’s biceps. Tommy was a skinny guy with a nose three sizes too big for his face. Helene mouthed the words “Don’t turn around.”

He said “Hi, Sugar” with his cute Southern drawl. I could feel his warm breath on my neck. I turned slowly and looked up at him, trying to keep my expression neutral, as if this was the most ordinary moment in my whole entire life.

“What kind of ice cream do you want?” he asked.

“A cherry vanilla cone with chocolate sprinkles,” I answered. Then I wondered whether coffee ice cream would have sounded more grown up.

Tommy said something about how many lifts and reps he did. “Nobody cares,” Helene snapped, looking past him as a certain boy she thought she was in love with neared the corner.

Then He came out of the candy store with my cone and two scoops of butter pecan for himself. “Bye Tommy,” I said graciously because he was leaning against the gum ball machine with a pitiful expression.

We strolled down Hemlock Street, licking our ice cream cones, until we reached the end of the block where all the neighbors acted like they didn’t notice we were together.

© Arlene Mandell, 2009

 
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Welcome to Hemlock StreetBlock PartyBuilding the Ferris WheelCrossing Pitkin AvenueThe KissInvisible BabyAunt Minnie's Second WeddingMurder Inc.A Real Italian DinnerSleeping with Nettie SachsDuke Snider Breaks Our HeartsCherries in the SnowMy Thirteenth SpringNo Room of My Own • Deeply in Love • Hangin' Out and Makin' OutResolutions Made and Broken