Chapter 13 – Lost in NYC
Lost in NYC
Bela slid Henry over on the big slippery leather chair and sat on what was left of it. Half of her tuchas was on the seat and the other half wasn’t. She smiled at him but didn’t seem very happy. She dropped her bag on the red rug and plopped her hands in her lap. Henry looked around the busy hotel lobby.
She said, “My Sunday date, young and handsome, how did I get so lucky?” You couldn’t believe everything grown-ups said. “But that’s all right, because my Milton is playing on his boat, and I don’t swim.” Henry wasn’t sure if she was talking to him until she said, “Do you swim, yet?” He shook his head. “That means No?” He nodded. “Good. That gets us out of a bunch of things we’d rather not do.”
Now she looked around the lobby while he watched her. “Your Mother and I grew up on the same block in Brooklyn. Did you know that?” Henry nodded, he’d been told a million times. “We played hopscotch and jumped rope, and other things children your age do.” Except that boys don’t play hopscotch or jump rope. He wanted to tell her that, but it felt like the words would get stuck. “Your mother and I have been best friends our whole life. I guess that would be lives. Along with Cousin Skippy, who isn’t really your cousin but became your cousin, sort of, when she married Ben Kleiner, who is your cousin. Skippy’s real name is Anne. She’s a famous model. Was until she got too old. Now she is a famous designer of ladies clothes. Did you know that, Henry?”
He nodded. He’d been told all of that at least a million times, maybe a jillion. He was tired of sitting in the lobby. He wanted to go outside and do something. But Bela seemed nervous, like she didn’t know what to do with him.
“Do you know what your Mother is doing? Her and Skippy? Maybe it’s she and Skippy.” They mean the same thing, don’t they? “Do you know?”
He shook his head.
“They’re on a date. A double date. Your mother has eyes for the drummer in the hotel orchestra. Good-looking guy with a great personality. His name is Irv. I forget his last name, but he stays on the stage and tells jokes when the other musicians go on break. He’s very funny. Terrific dialect jokes.” She laughed even though there was no joke to laugh at.
“Do you know what dialect jokes are?” Henry shook his head. He had wanted to ask, but he couldn’t. “It’s like in English but with a Yiddish accent. Real thick, like on the Lower East Side. Irv sticks in some Yiddish words, like tuchas or schlemiel. Tuchas is what you sit on.”
Henry knew tuchas and schlemiel. Tuchas means ass, and schlemiel means somebody who is unlucky and can’t do things right. Father called a lot of people schlemiel.
“And Skippy, she has a thing, a little thing because she’s still married to Ben, happily I might add, for the alto sax player. So, they’re on a double date, first Radio City Music Hall, then dinner at someplace fancy schmancy, while I, Mrs. Married Lady, gets to go out with my favorite little fellow. You! Aren’t we both lucky? But foist, I gotta go to the terlet. You wanna go, too?”
Henry shook his head.
“Well, I gotta go real bad.” Henry shrugged. “I don’t want you telling me you gotta go while we’re in the taxi. All right?” He shook his head again. “Okay, so I’m off to the Ladies and you’re gonna stay right here, right? Good, ‘cause I really gotta pee, and you’re getting too big to be dragged into the Ladies. So stay right here.” She picked up her bag and stood and walked away a little and turned and pointed at him and said, “Right here, right?”
Henry nodded again. He liked Bela and Cousin Skippy, except when Mother said they could “keep him and let her have her own life.” He didn’t know what that meant, but he knew what giving him away meant. They had a dog once, Bucky. Mother and Father gave him away. It didn’t seem to bother Jacob, so Henry tried to be a big boy about it and didn’t say anything to anyone, even Jacob.
He heard a crash and lots of yelling and people in the lobby were moving like a big ocean wave toward the door to see what happened. Henry wanted to see, too, so he crawled out of the chair and went with them. People were crowded in the doorway and pushing, all trying to see the street. They were asking each other questions and there were lots of different answers.
Henry pushed between people. They moved out of his way, then closed behind him. It was like being in a dark forest, except for all the perfume and sweat. He kept pushing and slipping through until he felt the cool outside air. Some light came through on his left, so he pushed toward it until he broke through the people, all of them trying to see something in the street.
One lady came out of the forest, crying, followed by a man. She stopped and bent over. The man tried to straighten her up. Henry thought she was hurt until she said, “Oh, that poor child. He couldn’t have been more than five or six.”
Henry stepped toward the street, but he was banged from behind and knocked down. Two men jumped over him. One looked back and said, “Sorry, kid. You okay?” But he and the other man pushed into the people forest and disappeared before he could answer.
Henry rolled to his knees and stood and looked at his hands because they burned. They were scratched, with white lines and little dots of blood, but they hurt worse when Miss Lenahan smacked them with her ruler.
The forest was moving now, people talking and shaking their heads. “Why haven’t they gotten here?” a lady said. “The ambulance, the police. What’s this world coming to?”
“It’s Midtown Manhattan, Selma. What do you expect?” a man said. “I don’t even hear a siren. What for do we pay Texas?”
Henry knew about Texas. Miss Lenahan made them draw a picture of Texas. He used a purple crayon. Then she made them draw a cow inside Texas and an oil well. But he didn’t remember anything about having to pay Texas.
Horns honked and he heard a siren from far away. A man said, “Let’s go, we’re late,” then bumped into Henry and said, “Watch out, kid. Everybody, let’s go, we’re late.” The forest broke apart. A big black car was sideways in the street. He didn’t want to see ‘That poor child’ who was as old as him, so he followed the group that was late. They came to a corner and stopped. Henry stopped with them, looking at his burning hands. “Oh, look,” a woman said. “His hands are hurt. Who do you belong to?”
“Where is she? Are you staying at the hotel?”
“Come on, we’re late,” the man said. “Rothschild’s doesn’t hold reservations.” The lady looked down at him like she was sad, but she ran across the street yelling, “Wait for me, you jerk.”
A whole bunch of yellow cars went by. He only saw them in the city, and a lot of people must like the color. They were called taxis and they stopped and took people where they wanted to go if you gave them money when you got out. They liked to beep a lot and the drivers liked to say bad words out the window. Trucks went by and beeped and smelled bad and squealed like a pig he once saw at a county fair on Long Island.
He raised an arm and tried to snap his fingers like Mother and Father did when they wanted a yellow taxi to stop, or one with the black and white squares. But people were passing him and the yellow taxis couldn’t see him.
So Henry stepped off the curb and onto the street, which is where Father stood when he wanted a taxi to stop. A lady almost tripped over him but didn’t seem to mind, because she kept going. He stepped out past a parked car where the taxis could see him. He raised an arm again and tried to snap his fingers but couldn’t like Father did, but the taxi drivers couldn’t hear it anyway, even when Father did it, which didn’t stop him from doing it.
Then he was flying into the air and crushed by scratchy blue that had round yellow buttons and sweat and cigarette smells, which he could smell even though he could hardly breathe. He kicked and squirmed but flew again into the air on his back, hearing, “Ho, boyo, where ya tink yer goin’?”
All he could say was, “Yellow,” because he didn’t know where to go once he got into a taxi. Then he was held up into the air above the people going by. He was looking down onto their moving hats and into the big pink face of a policeman with a blue cap with a silver badge on the front.
“Put me down!” He kicked at the big blue arms. Father didn’t like cops, but Mother thought they were okay in their place.
“Where was ya goin’?, little imp like you. Ya coulda caused another traffic mess like the one we been cleanin’ up down the street. We got us a epideemic of kiddy suicides. You any kin to that other poor dumb bunny?”
“Oh, thank God, thank God!” a woman yelled. It sounded like Bela. Henry saw her pushing through the crowd toward him and the big cop. She looked very angry, like Mother would be when she heard about it.