Friday, March 14, 2008
Place: Chattanooga, TN
Somebody must have given Mom a damn good reason to take a carload of kids to the State Fair. She didn’t like taking her own children anywhere. This was years before Mom discovered she was going blind. She was a nervous driver under any conditions. She had a bad habit of slamming on the brakes at the slightest provocation. In 1964, we never wore rear seat belts, so each time Mom slammed on the brakes, any child sitting behind her tumbled to the floor. My siblings and I were used to it, but the other kids giggled and rolled their eyes.
Along for the ride to the State Fair that day were two Cohen boys, two Stein boys and three Dubrow kids; my brother, my sister and me. Seven children between the ages of ten and seven, my brother, David, being the oldest. and me being the youngest, crammed into one station wagon.
We all lived on the same sleepy suburban cul-de-sac. Every house on our street was home to a Jewish family. It was our own self-imposed middle class ghetto. No matter what city you lived in, Jewish neighborhoods like ours were always nicknamed “Little Israel” by both the people living there and by the people who came to visit.
The station wagon Mom drove that day was a metallic blue Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a raised roof and tinted glass side panels. It had three rows of seats. The last seat was smaller and faced backwards. The seat was too small and narrow for adults, but perfect for children. I guess the car designers figured the kids who sat in that last back seat would have more to look at if they faced the back window. My siblings and I liked it because our parents in the front seat couldn’t see the obscene gestures we made at the cars following us.
Mom took seven children to the State Fair on a perfect August day. The hottest days were behind us and school was still a month away. I don’t remember much about the fair. I have vague images of the sun shining brightly, eating cotton candy, avoiding the scary rides, and Mom reminding us to stay close together so we didn’t get lost.
On the way home, Mom stopped at an Eckerd’s Drug Store. She probably had an errand to do and figured it was foolish to waste the entire day on chauffeuring children without getting something constructive done. She went into the store and seven kids piled out of the station wagon after her. I knew this drug store. I made a beeline for the comic book spinner rack.
The closer I got to the comic books, the further the rest of the world receded. I searched through the rows, past teenage romance comics, horror comics, and Archie comics until I found a Super Hero comic book. Taking the comic book out of the rack and opening the pages was like entering a bubble where nothing else existed.
I dimly remember one of the Cohen boys poking his head inside my bubble to tell me to put the comic book down because we were about to leave. I shrugged and went back into comic book world. I wasn’t worried because I knew Mom would never leave without me. When it came truly, positively, this is the last time I’m telling you, time to leave, she would come find me and drag me out of the store.
I read three comic books from cover to cover before I realized that the six other kids, Mom, and the Vista Cruiser were gone.
I had been left behind. Stranded at the Eckerd’s Drug Store.
I ran out of the store and searched the parking lot. I searched the road in hopes that they hadn’t gotten too far away. Maybe they had only made it to the traffic light and I could still catch up. I looked all around, but they weren’t just gone; they were long gone.
How could they have left me? Didn’t anybody notice that I wasn’t in the car? How could Mom leave me behind? Didn’t her maternal instincts tell her that something was missing from the back seat? What about my brother and sister? Didn’t they notice? Actually, that wasn’t fair. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if they were missing.
Someone in that car did know I was missing and said nothing. The Cohen boy who warned me that they were leaving knew I had been left behind.
I sat on the sidewalk in front of the store and sobbed. I had been abandoned. I was never going to see my family again. I was going to have to live in the Eckerd’s Drug Store. I didn’t want to live in the Eckerd’s Drug Store. I knew the people who worked there didn’t like me. I saw how they glared at me for reading their comic books without buying any. I was doomed.
I don’t know how long I had been huddled on the curb before a woman came out of the store and noticed me crying. I wasn’t crying loudly, just a steady blubber with occasional hiccups. The woman had a kind face framed by white hair. She was overdressed for the weather. She wore a skirt and jacket with a matching hat. Even though at the time all adults towered over me, I could tell she was a small woman.
“Why are you crying, little boy?” she asked.
“My mom left me,” I explained.
The nice woman asked me my name. She knew my father and called his office. She told him where to find me. She told me not to worry, I would be home in no time, and then she went on her way.
I was still sitting on the curb when Dad arrived. Here was where I began to get some inkling of how the perspective of a seven-year-old was different from an adult’s. I got in the car with Dad. He drove for two blocks, turned left into a parking lot and there was his dentist’s office. I thought I had been at some remote location and I was only two blocks from my Dad’s office. Once inside, Dad called Mom.
“Dot, where’s Mickey?” Dad asked Mom.
“Oh, he’s outside playing,” she said.
“No,” Dad said, “he’s not. He’s here with me.”
Dad didn’t take me home right away. He had more work to do before he could call it a day. I sat in his waiting room until he was ready to go.
Dad was a children’s dentist so he had beat up comic books and old Highlights in his waiting room. I tried to read the comic books, but too many pages were missing. I didn’t care much for the Highlights because they was so predictable. No matter what, Goofus lost and the ass-kissing Gallant was the hero.
Dad and I got home just after the sun had gone down. I was worn out. I’d had an emotional day. When I walked in the door, Mom smiled mischievously and said, “Oh there you are. I’ve been calling you to come in for hours.”
Everybody had a good laugh, except me. I went to my room, sat at my desk and drew. I used the same small polished wood desk with three drawers on the side and a sheet of clear glass over the top that my older brother used before me and that my little brother would use after me. I spent hours at that desk, filling reams of blue-line notebook paper and stacks of writing tablets with the adventures of super heroes that I had invented.
I created teams of characters who fought side-by-side against darkness and evil. There were the Night Searchers, all of whom wore black and operated under the cover of night. There was the Desert Patrol, a multi-ethnic group of men who traveled the Earth saving people in trouble. There was Maxwell and his Gang. I’m not sure what they did. Maybe they rode around in a van and solved mysteries.
I never wrote down their adventures. Instead, I would draw a fight scene or the group posing together, ready for action, and then I would tell their stories to myself.
My super heroes always watched each other’s backs. They were willing to die for each other. No matter how dangerous the situation, they would have never in a million years have left a member of their team behind.