I’m reading, more accurately re-reading, one of Herman Wouk’d novels, “Inside, Outside” and at the beginning the narrator tells of how his father proposed to his mother, who lived in Brooklyn, while he lived in the Bronx. This meant that father-to-be had to go by two subways, the IRT and then the BMT, to see his bride-to-be. This touched a chord. In an earlier story I wrote about a girl I’d met in London while I was on leave from the Army in Germany. We kept up a correspondence when I returned to New York City but she was in Washington D.C. She was also from a wealthy family and I was struggling to exist on the meager salary of my first job. As was inevitable, she met someone from another wealthy family and that was the end of it. The next girl I had an extended relationship was named M----- H----- and she lived in Brooklyn while I still lived with my parents in the Bronx.
I ended my story about the girl I met in London by writing I left New York for California, got a job there, married, had three sons, retired and took up writing. So the reader knows that eventually nothing came out of my Bronx/Brooklyn romance. What impelled me to write about the London girl was one vivid memory. I’d met her on the ferry going from France to England. (I have no idea how I got to that ferry). Then, on my first day in London I was looking into a book store window, saw a reflection, turned around and there she was. As I wrote, a Hollywood meeting.
I’m impelled to write about M--- because, when reading Wouk’s book, I again had one vivid memory. But first, how did I meet a girl from Brooklyn? I’d been out of the Army and back in the Bronx for a few months. I’d gotten a job with an ad agency in Manhattan with that meager starting salary. My cousin Ben, son of my Uncle Harry, known as the button king in my family, was having a party in the basement of their house in Brooklyn to celebrate his acceptance into law school . I was invited but didn’t want to go. Who wanted to make that long subway ride to far-off Brooklyn? My mother is the one who insisted I go. She wanted nothing more than her son, the advertising man, to meet a girl, preferably of course a nice Jewish girl. She made it appear as if my not going to the party would be an affront to Uncle Harry and we didn’t want to offend the one rich person in our family. After countless arguments I gave in and went.
The party was as I’d expected. Of course, outside of my cousin, I knew nobody there. The guys all seemed to be on their way to becoming lawyers or doctors and their only interest was in making a lot of money. When they learned I worked for an ad agency they immediately lost interest in me. The guys and the girls were in separate groups until my cousin put some records on the phonograph and they started to dance. I didn’t know how to dance so that left me out of it. In between the dancing, I managed a few words with a brown-haired pleasant-looking girl who seemed nice. But she lived in Brooklyn, even further out than my cousin.
The next week cousin Ben called and told me the brown-haired pleasant-looking girl has asked him about me. He gave me her phone number and urged me to call her. After a few days I took the plunge and called. Yes, she remembered me; I was the advertising man. We made a date for the following Saturday. So that’s how I began my long-distance romance with M--- H--- and that Saturday made the long subway rides to her house for the first time..
As I’ve said, the reader knows that the long-distance subway romance didn’t end well so I’ll just summarize its course until I get to that vivid memory. M--- H--- had just graduated Hunter College and was going to be a teacher. So she met all the criteria my mother had of the nice Jewish girl I was to marry. We saw each other almost every weekend during the next few months. We usually went into Manhattan to see a movie and have dinner. In good weather, we sometimes went to Central Park, wandered around the zoo or sat by the lake. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and also to the Museum of Modern Art. When I returned her home to Brooklyn, late, we’d sit on the living room sofa and do what was called necking during those prehistoric times. We went no further; her parents were asleep (or maybe staying awake) in the next room. Then I’d make the long subway ride back to the Bronx. Luckily, again in those prehistoric times, it was safe to ride the subways that late at night. It was a nice low-key long-distance romance.
On this Saturday in June M--- met me downtown to go to a Broadway matinee. My ad agency, which had yet to give me a raise, had given some of us tickets. I met M--- at Times Square and when we saw each other her face lit up with a smile. When M--- smiled she looked, I thought, almost pretty. I forget what play it was but we had good seats in the orchestra, close to the stage. It was the first time I’d seen a Broadway play when not sitting up in the balcony. After, we went to an inexpensive restaurant I’d found. When we rode the subway back to Brooklyn I held her hand and some old women looked at us and smiled. At her house, we kissed with more intensity than usual. I left feeling happy. On the long ride back I considered. Of course, we wouldn’t marry for a while, maybe two or three years. I’d get that raise. We’d save our money. When we had enough there’d be the wedding. We’d find a house maybe somewhere in Queens or Long Island. When I left the subway and emerged into the street it was still warm and the air was somehow fragrant. I almost skipped back to the Bronx apartment and when I went to bed I was smiling. That’s how I remember that day.
What actually happened was that I never did get that raise. The ad agency lost its biggest client and there were rumors it would fold.. M---‘s mother said she always knew advertising wasn’t a solid profession. She was probably right. Winter came and New York was cold, dark & miserable. The subway rides to Brooklyn got longer and longer. When I left for California M--- and my mother both cried.
I haven’t thought of that time in New York and of M--- H--- for a long time and if it wasn’t for reading Herman Wouk’s book wouldn’t have thought about it now. As I read what I’ve written, a pretty sad story, but it did leave one bright memory. And that leaves me all the sadder.
Author’s Note: the story about the London girl is “Helen Engells” and is on Storystar.