Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell
Hangin’ Out and Makin’ Out
When I first walked through the marble portals of Franklin K. Lane High School, I only knew about a dozen of the 2,500 students streaming through the four-story building. As I raced from the basement swimming pool to Mrs. Einhorn’s fourth floor biology class with my damp ponytail swishing behind me, I didn’t have a second to think about Stanley or about making out. Reeking of chlorine, I’d slide into my seat and try to focus on amoebas and paramecia while my heart thudded against my ribs.
All day I scurried through the pea green hallways with their suffocating smell of chalk dust, cigarette smoke, sweat, sneakers and hair spray. Once in a great while someone smiled or said “Hi,” and I returned the favor. At three o’clock I’d crowd onto a bus where I rarely got a seat, and 45 minutes later, I’d be home.
Within minutes after I entered our apartment, I’d strip off my school clothes and slide into my tight boy’s dungarees. Then I’d grab a jelly doughnut or a cupcake and be out the door for the best part of my day - hangin’ out and makin’ out.
Hangin’ out with Helene, Edith, Tommy, Georgie and, of course, my boyfriend Stanley, didn’t involve doing, it just involved being. I didn’t have to try to look cute and perky like a “popular girl.” I was cute!
Stanley, with his olive complexion, black hair and broad shoulders, looked more like a man than a boy, older than his seventeen years. Sometimes Stanley and I would slip away to make out.
There were neighbors everywhere, hanging clothes on their clotheslines, calling out the windows for their kids to “get in here right now.” Even though making out was one of the prerogatives of going steady, parents were officially unaware of this behavior and we had to be careful to keep our private activities private.
Now I know you might be wondering why a manly 17-year-old with a beard he needed to shave every morning would be messing around with a 13-year-old girl. Or why my parents didn’t absolutely forbid me from being with him. I vaguely recall my mother having embarrassing talks with me about sex, about not letting anyone touch me, without specifically mentioning his name. And maybe his father talked with him about my being a good, innocent girl. If so, Stanley never mentioned it.
On Hemlock Street, where many eyes were watching, we never as much as held hands. Instead, Stanley would casually wander off down the alley next to Edith’s house and duck under the arbor where Mr. Parisi, Edith’s father, grew his grapes. A few minutes later, I would also stroll away.
Then Georgie, our designated lookout, would follow. Georgie was short for a boy, barely over five feet tall, so he didn’t have a girlfriend of his own. He’d stand a discreet distance from the arbor and smoke. If anyone — grandmother with clothes pins and a laundry basket or snooping younger brothers — if anyone approached, Georgie would give one long whistle, followed by two short ones.
The danger of discovery made our kisses sweeter than the sweetest raspberry-filled jelly doughnut. Sometimes Stanley held me so tight I had trouble breathing. And then we’d hear those three warning whistles and would pull apart from our sweaty, passionate embrace. I would collect a few sprigs of mint that were my “cover” for being in the Parisis’ backyard and wander back through the alley and across the street to start my hours of homework: biology, algebra, world history and other subjects as distant from my flesh-and-blood life as Tasmania.
As for Stanley, I guess he managed as best he could. He had more trouble calming down than I did, but a few minutes later he’d be hanging out once more, laughing and swapping stories with the rest of our Hemlock Street gang. I could see them from my bedroom window as I drew a near-perfect paramecium, with its nucleus and cilia.
Mrs. Einhorn always gave me an A for my lab drawings, but it was hard to concentrate on single cells when my lips were still swollen from kissing Stanley.
© Arlene Mandell, 2009
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