Friday, August 21, 2020

Lessons and Lies
 by Mitchell Waldman

In a Chicago suburb in 1975, Jewish teenager Robert Friedman tries to muster the courage to ask out his crush, Sandy Auerbach; by Mitchell Waldman.

It was the year the Nazis were threatening to march in Robert Friedman's hometown. It was another so-so year for the Cubs who hadn't won a World Series since 1908. And it was the year that Robert Friedman's interest in the Cubs was starting to be overshadowed by something else...


Robert was seventeen years old and had never been on a date. It wasn't that he wasn't interested in girls. It wasn't even that he couldn't imagine why any girl would go out with him, but instead that he didn't know if any girl on earth even knew he existed. Earth, for this purpose, being the country of the United States, State of Illinois, village of Skokie, and high school, Niles North High.

He didn't know how to act with girls, didn't know what to say to them, got flustered, sweaty palms, knocking knees, pink cheeks, just being around them. It was nuts. While other guys in the neighborhood were hanging around with all the local girls and taking them out on dates, then talking about their exploits in the park at night, smoking their cigarettes, strutting and spouting off about what base they got to with Martha Wasserman or Sharon Silverstein or Penny Moskowitz, he would sit with his hands jammed in his pockets smiling nervously at them, feigning to understand what it was all like. On the fringes of the group, while Steve Bittermyer and Ralph Goldman went on and on, showing what big men they were.

"We were at the drive-in, see," Bittermyer was saying. "You know about drive-ins, right?" The five other guys circling around them, as Bittermyer smoked his twig and bounced the basketball in the dark, broke out laughing.

"Yeah, drive-ins. Who doesn't know about drive-ins?"

"Well, anyway, Sharon spilled her drink on her blouse. And, like, I gotta tell ya, I almost think she did it on purpose. So, I say to her, "Why don't you just take it off and let it dry. Nobody'll see, it's dark out here. You don't want to be sitting soaking wet like that all night, do ya?' And she gives me this look, sorta like, I know what you're doing. But it was only for a second, and then she's got the little Miss Innocent face on again. So I say, 'Come on, we can get in the back, nobody'll see us back there for sure.' I mean, we were in my dad's Olds 98. It's like a boat, y'know? And Sharon, she says, 'Okay,' slides out of the car on her side and climbs in the back. And me, I slide in the back with her, and help her unbutton her shirt, and next thing you know, we're goin' at it - damn was she hot to trot - and in a matter of minutes I've got the shirt off and the bra off and I'm sitting there holding naked breast. God, is anything so glorious as naked breast?"


Then, all of the sudden, he turns to Robert. "Whattaya think of that, Friedman? Whattaya think that feels like?" And all the other guys started laughing again, only this time even harder. Robert didn't move, just stood there, until the story continued. Then he slipped back, slipped away, until he was halfway back to his house, not one of them even noticing, the echo of their ghostly laughter in the dark of the park, ringing in his ears. Sandy Auerbach had the most beautiful hair Robert Friedman had ever seen. It was golden like wheat and shimmered in the sunlight. It flowed down her back like a brilliant light waterfall.

Sandy Auerbach had the most beautiful blue eyes, the most beautiful smile, the most beautiful little pug nose, the most beautiful long legs and ass and breasts, and that smile, and her teeth and that hair - she was like a dream, and she infested his mind, he couldn't shake her out of it. Not that he'd had the courage to say anything to her, not even a word.

He would get to his psychology class early, rushing through the halls to get to room A-212 ahead of the crowd, just so he could be there to watch Sandy walk into the classroom with that long stroll and sway of hers, smiling and chewing her gum and walking and smelling... God, she smelled like a garden of lilacs, she smelled so good walking past him and taking her seat behind him. Occasionally he'd let the pencil roll off his desk and, bending down to get it, would glance back in her direction. Sometimes she'd wear this short black skirt and these long black boots.

When the teacher got in front of the class and started talking, it was all Robert could do to keep his mind on his words because all Robert could think of was Sandy Sandy Sandy, wondering what she was doing there behind him, crossing her legs, smiling, looking intently at the teacher, filing her nails... what?

"Why don't you talk to her, you twerp?" Warren Feingold said, pulling his Saran-wrapped sandwich out of his paper lunch bag. "God, bologna again. Jesus, I told my mom I'm sick of bologna, but does she listen? What you got, Robert?"

"Tuna. Want to trade?"

"Yeah, sure." They swapped sandwiches and began unwrapping them.

"Mayo, she put mayo on it, too. Whatta I look like, a goy?"

"Maybe she was out of mustard."

"No, no, we're never out of mustard. My dad uses it for everything. His salami, his steak, his eggs. I think he even shaves with it. Believe me when I tell you if we were ever out of mustard, my dad would have a major fit like you wouldn't believe."

"I don't believe it," Robert said. Warren acted like he didn't hear him.

"So, what's the problem with this Auerbach chick? You think she's superhuman or something? Like a goddess? You drool all over her and get speechless like 'Ayyy ahhh uhhhh, Sand-eeeeee!'" He was making faces, his mouth all contorted like he was some sort of whacked out monster, like on the Friday night Creature Features.

"Come on, Robert, listen to me. She's just a G-I-R-L, girl. That's all. Nothing to be afraid of. Talk to her for Godssakes."

"Ha, yeah, right, tell me about it, Warren. How many girls have you been out with besides Rachel in your life? What've you been going out with her since you were two or something?"

"Yeah, well, I don't know. Maybe I'm getting tired of that. Maybe I'm thinking of searching out new frontiers. You know how when those guys landed on the moon and said 'One small step for man, one great leap for mankind?' I think Rachel may just be the one small step for Warren Feingold. I think I'm ready to leap."

Robert put down his sandwich and looked at Warren. "Really? When did this all happen?"

"It happened about 11 o'clock on Saturday night when I was dropping Rachel off at her house. We were parked there like usual, necking and whatnot, and I slipped my hand under her blouse and she clapped her hand on mine, just like we haven't been dating like forever. Like it's 1955 or something. Jesus, what happened to the sexual revolution and all that? I mean, come on. It's 1975, and I can't even feel my girlfriend's bare breast."

"Shit," Robert said.

"Yeah, shit is right. I'm sick of it." Warren sat there, looking down at his hands. Then, without warning, he shifted gears, turned to Robert and said, "So, are you gonna talk to her, ask her out, or what?" Robert glanced in the direction of the table where she sat - the cheerleaders' table. She was talking to three of the other girls across the table, smiling and gesticulating, two blond-haired, letter-jacketed football players standing close behind her. The guys were Shawn Davis, the quarterback, who she was going out with, and Ted Harris, his star receiver.

Robert turned back around to Warren and said, "Yeah, right. Talk to her. Like that's gonna happen, Warren. She's beautiful and popular and, and... look at me. Talking to her? I just don't see how that could ever happen."

At dinner that night, Robert was picking at his peas, while his older brother, Stuart, was kicking him under the table. "Knock it off," he whispered to Stuart, but Stuart just smiled and kicked him again, harder this time. Stuart the Tormenter. "What's the matter, Mr. Mope, don't like your peas?"

"Leave your brother alone, Stu," Mrs. Friedman said.

"Dora," his father said, "the boy is seventeen, he can fight his own battles." Stu grinned.

"Did you boys hear the news?" Mr. Friedman said, folding his newspaper and setting it aside.

The two of them looked up. Their father was shaking his head.

"Seems somebody painted a swastika on the side of the Belmont Theatre. Some wise guy kids probably from Evanston or the city, who knows. Probably shvartzes."

Robert cringed inside at the use of that word: shvartzes.

"Do you have to say that, Dad?"

"Say what, what did I say?"

"God. Shvartze. A little ironic... somebody's drawing swastikas and you're pointing fingers although you don't even know, and calling black people shvartzes. Do you see any irony there?"

"Irony, shmirony. I'm not a too-smart-for-his-own-good school boy like you with your hi-falutin' vocabulary. Just telling you who I think might have done it."

Robert sighed and looked at his mother, who didn't say a word and was looking down at her plate, moving pieces of steak around but not eating any of them. Then he looked at Stu, who was shoveling it in like there was no tomorrow.

"It is pretty disturbing," Mr. Friedman said, a hunk of meat pushing out his cheek. "We live in a town where half of us are Jewish and we still have to deal with this crap. Will it never end?"

"So, they don't know who did it?" Robert asked.

"No, not really. It was there in the morning when the manager showed up. But someone said they might have seen somebody driving away from there last night. In an old Chevy with a bunch of shvartzes... excuse me..." he said, giving Robert a condescending look, "black boys in it, maybe."

"Maybe? Who saw them?"

"Not sure. It's all second hand news. Herb down at the drugstore said he knew a guy who'd heard about it... you know how that goes."

"Well, if nobody knows, nobody knows."

Stu dropped his fork on to his empty plate and said, "I don't know what the big deal is. It's just a bunch of lines on a wall. Big deal. They can paint over it."

No one said a word. The three of them just sat there, staring at Stu who gazed back and forth between their faces and then said, "What... What'd I say?"

There was talk of Nazis wanting to come march in the town that summer - American Nazis. Why, no one knew, except to stir things up. Quite a few Holocaust survivors had settled in this sleepy little village, this little suburb of Chicago, after World War II, most of them probably thinking that here they would be safe from all they had endured, safe in the heartland of America. But even though it annoyed Robert, he took little heed of all this, because his mind and heart were elsewhere, stuck on that image of beauty that he had formulated in his mind, who sat behind him in his psych class, and whose name was stuck on his tongue: Sandy Sandy Sandy... Sandy Auerbach.



"You're such a putz, you know what a putz is?" Warren said, as they walked to school the next day.

"Yeah, I know what a putz is. It's what your father calls you all the time."

"No shit. Hey, Robert, you got a cigarette? We could sneak a quick one before class. Come on. Oh, yeah, I forgot... you don't smoke. You're too square."

"Shit, Warren, you should hear how my dad coughs at the sink every night at dinner with his smoking. Everybody gets real quiet and he hacks away and it's enough to make me want to cough up my entire dinner. It's disgusting."

He looked at Robert and rolled his eyes. "God, Robert, one little smoke won't kill ya. You've got to loosen up a little. Maybe then Sandy what's-her-face would think you're cool, and you'd have the guts to say boo to her."

"Yeah, right."

"Come on, Rob. I know she's a smoker. She's out there in the parking lot every lunch period with her group puffing away like a pro. How'd you like to have those gorgeous succulent lips puffing away on you, huh?"

"Jesus, Warren, you're one perverted freak, you know that?"

"What's perverted about that? It's nature, dude. Loosen up, Robert, I'm telling you. It's for your own good." As they walked he took his cigarettes - a pack of Camels - out of his backpack, took one out and lit it up. "Come on, stud, one puff."

Warren stopped and stood by a tree, leaning against it.

"Okay, okay," Robert said, "if that'll make you shut up."

Warren passed him the cigarette and Robert put it between his lips. Then he took it out.


"No, genius, you've got to inhale, breathe in the smoke. Otherwise it doesn't count."

"Breathe it in. Okay, okay." Robert sucked the warm smoke into his lungs and immediately starting choking and coughing. Warren started laughing wildly and flailing his arms about like he'd just seen the funniest thing in his life, until Robert started to regain his breath and Warren said, "Well, that was great. God, are you a baby or what? Jesus, how are we ever gonna make you a man? Gimme the stick back anyway," Warren said, heading towards the school. Robert stood there for a moment, then followed behind him.



She walked in a minute after he got to his seat. His head was down. He was pretending to read his book. He thought he looked at her for a second. At least it looked like that out of the corner of his eye. Or was he wrong? God, what the hell was wrong with him anyway? He knew she was in a league beyond his. Not that he was in any league at all if he thought about it too long. Better not to think about it, no don't even go there, he told himself. Shit.

"Robert," he heard someone say. A voice from behind. It was her. She was saying his name. He didn't know what to do.

"Hey, Robert!" she said. He turned around with a lump in his throat and tried to smile. She was looking at him.

"Could you get my pencil for me, Robert?" she said, pouting, staring at him with those big brown eyes of hers. "I dropped it." He didn't move. "On the floor," she said.

He bent down to pick it up, feeling his face turn hot, and handed it back to her. Her hand touched his for a second, and she said, "Thank you."

He turned around in his seat quickly. He heard girls laughing behind him. His face was red, his palms were sweaty, and his heart was racing. He was going to die. He was seventeen years old and he was going to die, keel right over in his psych class. What would his parents say? He felt bad for them, but in other ways thought it would serve them right. Did they have even a clue of who he was? Did they care?

He sat through the class, not hearing a word Mr. Dewar said. The minutes ticked in slow motion on the clock over the teacher's head. Finally, years, decades later, it seemed, the bell finally rang. Robert scribbled down the assignment Mr. Dewar had written on the board and then closed his assignment book and shoved it and his psych book into his backpack. As he was doing so, he saw a leg, an immobile bare leg standing next to him. He looked up. There, right beside him, stood Sandy Auerbach, holding her books close to her chest and smiling down at him. "Bye, Robert," she said. "I hope you have a pleasant rest of the day." He started to say something, but she'd already slipped on her shades, and strolled out of the classroom, three other girls following close behind her like an entourage, chattering and giggling and glancing back at Robert with wide smiles on their faces.



"So, she said goodbye to you. Big fuckin' deal."

"Big fuckin' deal? That's all you can say?"

Warren pulled his Saran-wrapped sandwich out of his bag and opened it up. "Oh, God. Not pickle loaf again. The stuff makes me gag. My mom knows it, but she's mad at me, or she never pays attention to me, or something, either one, take your pick. I'll take anything over that shit. Whatta you got?"

"Peanut butter and jelly."

"Shit, I'll take it."

"Okay," Robert said, handing over his sandwich and making the exchange. There was nothing he hated more than PB and J. "So, about Sandy..."

Warren looked right at Robert then with a smug grin on his face. "Yeah, you heard me, Robert. Read my lips: Big... fuckin' deal. She's playing with you, you know that, don't ya? Playing you for a fool cause she knows you're hot for her."

"Oh, Jesus, thanks a lot. That's all it could possibly be, Warren, right? She couldn't actually like me or anything. That would be too difficult to believe, wouldn't it? I guess I'm just not good enough for her, is that what you're telling me?"

Warren put the remainder of his sandwich back down on the plastic wrap, sighed, and looked over at Robert. "No, dumb fuck. God, you really are a dumb fuck sometimes. You're too good for her."



In the next few days something strange happened. Sandy Auerbach not only looked at Robert when she walked into class, but she actually starting saying "Hi" to him, and, after that, would stop to chat with him before class. Where did he live, she wanted to know, what did he like to do, she'd ask, always beaming at him with that brilliant smile of hers.

In the cafeteria the next day Robert and Warren were eating their sandwiches, not saying much, when a fracas broke out at the cheerleaders' table and the regular din of cafeteria suddenly died down. It was Sandy Auerbach and Shawn Davis going at it. She was screaming at him - it was kind of hard to hear too much from the distance - but he heard her tell him to go to hell and say that she never wanted to see him again. And there was something about a blonde bimbo. Then he was yelling back at her and storming off with his group of jacket jocks.

Warren didn't even look up. He just kept chewing his sandwich and taking slugs from his milk carton.

"What do you think that was all about?" Robert asked.

"Well," Warren said, "apparently there was this big party over the weekend and Davis got shit-faced and wound up with some blonde from South High and your love goddess found him with her. That's the Reader's Digest version."

"How the hell do you know that?"

Warren looked over at Robert, with a crooked grin. "I have my ways, pal, believe me. So, now's your big chance, stud..."

"My big chance?"

Just then a pudgy, pasty-faced girl with black-framed glasses, dressed in a pink dress and white bobby socks walked up behind them with her tray.

"Anyone sitting here?" she asked, pointing at the chair across from them. Robert looked at Warren, who was looking at the table in front of him.

"No, Rach, sit down if you want," Warren said.

She moved around the table and sat across from Warren, getting herself settled, throwing quick nervous glances at him. Then she looked at Robert, trying to compose herself and smile. It didn't work too well. The smile quickly faded.

"So, how's it going, Robby? Who you have the hots for this week?"

Robert threw a glance at Warren, who rolled his eyes.

"Uh, not sure what you mean, Rachel. You know me," he said. "Stud of the universe." He laughed. "Ha... ha."

"Hmm. Yes." She smiled again and then turned sour, giving him the evil eye like... like what? It was his fault that Warren was thinking of dumping her? Whatever.

"Well... I really think I've got to be going. I forgot I've got some trig to finish up before next period. You both have a really wonderful lunch."

As he got up to leave Warren grabbed his arm. There was a pleading look on his face. Then he let go. "Talk to you later, man. Remember what I said."

"Huh?"

"You know."

"Oh. Yeah, that. You can't be serious. Later."



He didn't really know how it happened. He was just walking out of class and there she was strolling beside him, her books held against her chest, smiling at him, making small talk. It felt like he'd been thrust smack dab in the middle of an episode of The Twilight Zone. She was asking him about what he was taking and what he wanted to do and where he might go to college, with those big brown eyes, and that radiant smile. And then came the killer, the thing that really made him think he was dreaming. "There's a dance this Friday. Do you like dances?"

He blushed. He didn't know what to say. He'd never actually been to a dance.

"Uhh, sure, of course," he said. "Who doesn't?"

She moved closer to him then so he was almost pressed against the lockers. He could smell the sweet lilac scent of her perfume.

"I have a little favor to ask of you, Robert."

"You do?" he said, and attempted to smile at her, though his heart felt like it was going to beat right through the walls of his chest.

"Yes," she said. "I do." She pouted and stared him right in the eyes. He didn't move. He didn't breathe. "I don't have a date for the dance and I'd really like to go."

"You would?"

"Yes," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder, "I would." He was staring down at that hand, at her long fingers with the bright pink nails. "And..." she said, moving her hand toward his chin, and propping it up so that he was inches from her lips, her cheeks, her eyes. "I want you to take me."

"Me?" was all that came out of his mouth. He almost laughed but contained himself. "Me," he said again. "You want me to take you to the dance." He smiled at her, wondering what the joke was.

"Yes," she said, smiling wider, then moving closer to him, so he felt her breath on his ear. "And you know what? I won't take no for an answer. Because I always get my way."

Then she pecked him on the cheek, scribbled her phone number on a piece of notebook paper which she pressed into his hand, then sauntered down the hall, waving over her shoulder and saying, "Toodles. Call me."

And Robert Friedman was left standing in the hallway, students moving hurriedly past him, rushing to their next classes. The bell rang but he didn't move. He just stared down at the numbers scribbled on that little scrap of paper.



"Okay, let me get this straight," Warren said, as they were walking out of the building. "She just came up to you in the hallway after class and asked you to take her to the dance. No way, man. Have you been smoking some of that funny stuff that I don't know about? And if so, how come you've been hoarding it all to yourself?"

"Honest to God. I swear on my mother's grave."

"Your mother's not dead, doofus."

"That's beside the point."

"Oh my God, this is fuckin' unbelievable. But get this. Between the two of us."

"The two of us? Why's that?"

"Last night Rachel gave it up."

"Gave it up? What, you got to feel her up?"

"No, smartass, read my lips. She gave it up."

"Wow. She gave it up. So, now I'm probably like the only virgin left in school, I guess, huh?"

Suddenly Warren stopped, popped a cigarette into his mouth and stared off into the distance.

"So, you should be happy, right?"

He gave Robert a look, took a drag of the cigarette, and exhaled slowly. "I was, I should be. I don't know. Only one problem. It's like we're engaged or something now. I'm not exactly sure."

"You're not exactly sure?"

"I mean, I said things, during... I don't know what the fuck I said. That's how it is, stud. Take it from me, Rob, remaining a virgin may not be the worst thing in the world that could ever happen to you." He was shaking his head looking up at the clouds. It looked like it might rain and it looked like Warren might start crying at any moment, too.



His parents were downstairs in the basement watching The Carol Burnett Show on the big color television. His brother was upstairs listening to his records and probably peeking at his Playboys, stroking himself. Robert quietly picked up a chair from the kitchen table, and brought it to the stove, stood on the chair and opened the cupboard above it, where he knew his mother kept a bottle of cooking wine. He took the bottle out, got off the chair and carefully poured himself a glass of the red stuff. Manischevitz with the Star of David on the label.

He put the cap on the bottle and started to drink the glass's contents. Awful, sour, syrupy stuff. But he needed it, he needed something to get the courage - he couldn't just call Sandy Auerbach. He drank the whole glass down, choking on the stuff. He stood still, listening for the sounds of his father and mother downstairs. He vaguely heard his mother's voice like a dull distant echo and heard his father coughing, so he figured he was still safe. At the sink, he turned the water on and filled the bottle back up with enough water that his mother wouldn't know that any was missing. Then he placed the bottle back in the cupboard, feeling a little light-headed as he stepped down off the chair.

He pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of the front pocket of his jeans, picked up the yellow wall phone, and dialed her number. The wine was beginning to do its magic - he didn't feel nervous anymore, only slightly sick to his stomach.

He dialed her number and listened to the metallic buzzing ring on the other end, until someone picked up and said, "Hullo?"

"Sandy?"

"No, just a minute," a man's voice said. "Who's this?"

"Uh... uh... just Robert, Rob. It's just Rob calling you can tell her... from school."

"Just Rob."

"Yes."

"Okay, hold on."

He heard the man - her father he imagined - yelling up to her: "Sandra, phone!" and her answering back, asking who it was, and his reply - "Some guy who says his name is Just Rob." Then, a moment later, she picked up.

"Hello, Just Rob."

"Uh, Hi... Sandy." He paused, caught his breath, didn't know what else to say. She laughed. He felt even more awkward.

"Are we just going to breathe at one another?" she asked.

"Sorry... I..."

"Relax, Rob. What are you so nervous about?"

What could he tell her? That she was so beautiful and popular and he was this inadequate little worm of a person, barely visible in high school. In fact, he had almost made a career in school of blending in with the walls, slipping by unnoticed in the halls. He was the guy who looked familiar but who no one could quite remember.

"So, how are you doing, Rob? Not going to chicken out on our date, Saturday night, are you?"

"Uh, no, no, I'm sorry. I'm such a..."

"Such a what?"

"Nothing, I'm sorry... I..."

"Would you do me a favor, Rob? Or do you like to be called Robert?"

"No, Rob is fine."

"Okay, Rob. Listen to me. You're a very nice guy and I find you very attractive and you don't have to feel so self-conscious."

"I'm sorry."

"And that's another thing. You're going to have to stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Stop saying you're sorry all the time!"

"Okay, okay... I'm... I mean I'm not..."

"So I'll see you on Saturday?" she asked. "At about eight? You know where I live? Do you have a pen and paper?"

He scrambled for pen and paper and scribbled down her address. Then he managed to get off the phone without saying anything else stupid, the butterflies in his stomach circling around, his heart racing like a revving engine. He stood there for a moment, staring at the phone, feeling somewhat optimistic, thinking, Maybe this is the start of something, the start of a life of some sort, for him, for Robert Friedman.



The night of the dance was hot, hotter than he remembered a day in May to be. He'd gotten the keys to his mom's car. His parents had been beaming when he'd told them that he was taking a girl to a dance. His mother had cried out "Our little boy is growing up!" and his father had slapped him on the back, full of fatherly pride, telling Rob stories of his boyhood, the old Why-when-I-was-your-age stories that Robert just barely avoided by telling them both what a lot of homework he had that night.

After his shower, he slid on a flowery purple shirt and some black bell bottoms, fixed his hair in the mirror with the blow dryer, getting the longish ends of his wavy out-of-control hair to curl under in back. Standing there primping in front of the mirror, pouting, practicing smiles, despite the overwhelming nervousness, the sickish feeling in his stomach. Just thinking about it.


He was taking Sandra Auerbach to a school dance. What the fuck. What planet had he landed on?

His mother tried to kiss him as he left, then licked her fingers and pulled a strand of hair off his forehead.

"Jesus, Mom," he said. I just got it right, and now you're messing it up again!"

"Have fun, Son," his father said, looking up from the television in the living room for a second.

"I will, Dad," he said.

"And, one more thing..."

Oh, shit, Robert thought, he better not be wanting to give me some birds and the bees lecture here. I don't have time for that. But it wasn't that.

"Be careful with the damned car."

"Okay, Dad. I will. I promise."



He had the radio blasting. Creedence Clearwater Revival singing Fortunate Son. Following the directions he'd carefully written down to Sandra's house. A left on Bayview. All the way down to Lexington Avenue, then right onto her street, Fairview. Then driving slowly up to her house, 218 Fairview. It was a big two story with gothic white pillars out front, a huge lawn, and a two car garage. He was from the other side of town, where having a driveway and a small patch of grass was standard.

He parked the car in their long driveway and walked up the wide, winding steps. As he moved, the underground sprinklers started up and started swishing in circles on the green, weedless lawn. He stood in front of the door and took a deep breath before pushing the bell, thinking he'd done it now, there was no chance of backing out.

No one came to the door. In fact, there didn't appear to be any lights on in the house at all.

He pushed the bell again.

In a few minutes, the door swung open and an older man with an unshaven face, and wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt, pulled open the door. His eyes were half-closed like he'd been sleeping. "Who... what are you?" he asked.

"I'm here to see Sandy. We have a date."

The man scratched his head and laughed. "A date? I think you got your numbers or gals or dates mixed up young fella. She went to a dance with her boyfriend, Shawn. You know Shawn, don't ya? The high school quarterback. Set all kind of records? Everybody knows Shawn."

Robert just stood there, the wind flown out of him.

"So, she's not here?" he said after a moment.

"No, they left about ten minutes ago."

"Oh," he said. Then he turned around and started walking back down the sidewalk.

"You're not one of us, are you?"

Robert stopped then and turned back around to look at the man.

"What? What do you mean?"

The man just stood there smiling, his teeth gleaming in the night, before he said, "Never mind," then closed the door and turned out the front light, leaving Robert standing there in the dark, wondering.



He would not come out of his room the rest of the weekend and dreaded the coming of Monday morning. It was hard enough facing his parents when he'd come home that night, but Monday was torturous.

He avoided the cafeteria, couldn't face Warren's inquisition. "So, how was the date, big guy?" He couldn't face anything, so he spent the hour in the back of the library, pretending to do his homework, hiding out.

And when the one o'clock bell rang, and he had to walk into that room, she was already there, sitting in the seat behind him, pretending he didn't exist again, just like it had been before. He didn't hear a word of the teacher's lecture. And, when the bell rang at the end of class he put his head down and stared down into his book bag until he knew she had passed. Then he followed her out of the classroom as she walked with two of her friends, the three of them strolling down the hallway like they owned it, their books held tight to their chests, the three of them laughing and fluttering about. He was conscious of the way they strutted, the way the boys watched them and smiled at them. Suddenly he was aware of everything as he walked behind them, following them, following her. And he noticed how he had somehow returned to the status of invisible person. Wondering what it was all about. Feeling the rage building up inside of him. Then she stopped at her locker, opened up the lock and her two friends said their goodbyes.

And he stood behind her as she put her books on the shelf, waiting for her to face him.

She turned around and smiled at him with that phony smile of hers, and said "Excuse me," but he stood there in her way.

"No."

"No, what?" she said.

"Just... no." She didn't say a word, a look of fear on her face for a moment. "Why?" he said. "I need to know why."

The look of fear turned into a cold stare then, as she snarled at him, "You don't really think I would ever go out with you, do you? You don't think I would ever go out with a Jew?"

He stood there, staring at her, not saying a word, feeling the ice, the hatred in her eyes. Feeling it, letting it sink into his soul, but not backing off, not giving ground.

Just then there was a voice behind him. "This creep giving you trouble, Babe?"

He turned around. It was Shawn Davis. Robert didn't move, but Shawn shoved him hard and Robert fell to the floor. Other students gathered around, pointing and talking. He saw him, he saw her then, the whole scene seeming to be in slow motion, the two of them laughing, the others circling around pointing at him on the floor, and his eyes following it all, the way she closed her locker and he threw his arm around her and the two of them walked off together. And that last thing he saw, that very final thing - the tattoo on his arm just below the sleeve of his T-shirt. The tattoo of the Swastika wrapped around the shoulder of Sandra Auerbach.

2 comments:

  1. Sad and believable. All too often we're disappointed to discover people are not who we thought they were. Especially crushing when that person is someone you admired. Very well-written, very thought-provoking.

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  2. Very gripping and clearly told tale. The teenage character of Robert is weaved into the seventies theme and the events of the time. He's caught up in his adolescence, on the surface of things, but gets whirled into the zeitgeist. I liked the character of his friend Warren, and the subplot there. Warren wasn't as innocent as Robert, he knew the score.

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