Azoy Gait Es!
When I was fifteen, my father moved us from New York to Illinois because it was the only way he could be a bank manager. "The outpost," he called the Chicago branch, but the money was good, and my mother wanted a big house with new appliances. I wasn't keen on the idea at all, but a few months after we moved, I met Carolyn Allen, and she became my world.
Carolyn, the smartest girl I'd ever met, was slim--but not skinny--with long, blonde hair and green eyes. She liked baseball and could discuss everything from the World Series to national politics, which I cared nothing about, but I was happy to hear Carolyn talk about anything.
I kept Carolyn a secret from my parents as long as I could. They had a tough enough time with my obsessions over Grace Kelly and Brigette Bardot.
"Bardot, Schmardot!" my father shrugged his shoulders and threw his palms into the air when he saw the movie poster in my bedroom. You like 'em blonde? What's wrong with Judy Holliday? She's cute and funny. You want a beauty? What's wrong with Natalie Wood?"
Then my mother would chime in: "Miss Natalie Wood changed her name. Don't forget that!"
"Gantseh megillah. What's the big deal? She wanted to get a job. You blame her for that?"
My parents, fearing the worst about my cultural identity, always translated the Yiddish for me.
When the school had a dance, I had to tell my parents that I wanted to ask a date. My father was always trying to throw me together with Esther Greenberg, his accountant's daughter, and he began making plans for us to get together with the Greenbergs for dinner so I could ask Esther to the dance.
"Uh, Dad, I already have someone to ask."
"So, my son Ben does well with the girls. No surprise. Who is she?"
I gave him Carolyn's name, and his eyes narrowed. By this time, my mother was in the room; they did their routine as a pair.
"This Carolyn, she's pretty, I bet?"
My mother's question was heavily coded, but I had long ago learned to break the code.
"Yes, Mom. Blonde and beautiful."
"This isn't a movie star poster on your wall."
"I know, Dad. She's a girl I like a lot. She's nice, and pretty, and she's really smart."
"Esther's not smart enough for you?"
I hated this part. This was when I had to defend my sweetheart against thousands of years of culture I didn't really care about one way or the other.
"Answer your father, go on."
"Look, I met Carolyn in this biology class, you know, the one I told you about. You can't take it unless your grades are really good. Like mine."
"Now he wants Madame Curie!" My father rolled his eyes at my mother, who just pursed her lips and shook her head.
I asked Carolyn to the dance, and she accepted. That same day, we sat together in Biology. Our teacher, Mrs. Franklin, was into the second day of an especially boring lecture on the history of cytology. I wrote in my notebook: Miss Carolyn Allen,then crossed it out and wrote Mrs. Ben Greene.
"So who are they, Ben?" I suddenly heard Mrs. Franklin's voice.
"Perhaps you could pay attention in class, Ben, and write whatever you're writing during lunch. If that's not asking too much."
I looked at Carolyn out of the corner of my eye. She was smiling.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Franklin."
"Fine, but you still need to answer the question. Who are Schleiden and Schwann?"
I wasn't sure why she was asking me this, but the answer jumped out of my mouth like a toad escaping a fire.
"They're the guys who open for Sid Caesar every summer at the Avon Lodge!"
Her eyes widened and her lips parted.
"So maybe it's Milton Berle?"
A girl giggled. Mrs. Franklin composed herself, then asked if anyone else would care to discuss the fathers of cytology.
I'd never liked going to the Catskills, and now it had ruined my life. For years, my mother had schlepped us off to a bungalow in Woodridge every summer and forced me to eat Jell-O salad and play croquet. On weekends, my father would drive over, and we would see the Borscht Belt comics. Only my father didn't allow us to say "Borscht Belt" because he thought it was degrading.
Carolyn told me she couldn't go to the dance with me, that she realized she had a "prior engagement."
"No you don't," I told her. "But I need to know--is this your parents, or is this you?"
She cried, and I felt like a bully. But, just as I thought, it was her parents.
"You told them?"
"No, Ben, Mrs. Franklin did. My father saw your picture and said he'd have never known from looking at you, or even from your name."
I took Esther Greenberg to the dance, which pleased my parents to no end. I told my father that I had lost the only real girlfriend I'd ever had, that I was eating lunch alone, and that the teachers acted very polite toward me, but went out of their way not to call on me in class.
"So? So you grow up and become a doctor or a banker, make barrels of money, have a beautiful wife and healthy children, and then they'll wish they were your friends!"
I told my mother.
"Azoy gait es! That's how it goes," and she pinched my cheek.
We never discussed it again.
And not to be a k'vatsh, but when I think of that day in Biology--and I think of it often--I wonder how I could have been stupid enough to have lost Carolyn. Schleiden and Schwann! It was Schleigel and Schwenck, and they never played the Avon; they opened for Alan King at Kutsher's.
A deigeh hob ich. I should worry, no?
About the author:
Diane E. Dees is a pscyhotherapist and writer in Covington, Louisiana. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in many publications, including The Raven Chronicles, The Dead Mule, Thema, and Southern Ocean Review. She is a columnist for Moondance and a regular contributor to freezerbox.com. Diane and her husband, Orvin, are the webmasters of www.princesscafe.com, the world's only virtual rock and roll restaurant. Diane's blog is at www.dedspace.blogspot.com.