I Got no Time for the Corner Boys
It was in June of 1965, when Virginia was preparing her Salutatorian commencement speech for her upcoming graduating class at Mainland Regional High School. It was certainly a time of fast cars and fast uncertain change as she recalled the most memorable events during her last four years spent there.
Actress Marilyn Monroe had died from an overdose of sleeping pills while a band of four British fellows; The Beatles, emerged to a host of screaming, giddy teen-aged American girls. The Cuban Missile Crises had the students practicing for air raid drills by crawling under their school desks while later that year Pope John XXIII had died.
Not a student could forget that cold and bitter November, when on Friday afternoon the school PA system announced the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The plea for Civil Rights was impacting various places throughout the nation with strong, determined leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X who was just assassinated earlier that year.
Times were certainly changing and fully impacting the lives of those about to graduate from that newly built, small High School in Linwood, NJ. A High School with classrooms that still had yet to educate an African American student. The ground war in Vietnam had just begun that March and many of the young men graduating that year were already recruited and packed for military basic training.
Virginia, a soft-toned, gentle girl who barely whispered in class was finding it difficult to write such a speech. She was scared out of her wits of the day that she had to deliver it. Being chosen as Salutatorian was the result of good grades at the direction of her father. She hadn’t signed up for College Preparatory Classes but had excelled in Business Courses. Earning a part-time after school job in the bookkeeping offices of the local Sears & Roebuck catalog center.
As a daughter of a Navy Officer and Christian English Mother a career was not a consideration for a young lady such as herself. Instead of college, Virginia was to attend finishing school that summer then continue her job at Sears until she found herself a decent husband.
“Ginny!” her mother called up the stairs, “Rosalie and her Mother are here. Are you ready to go pick out your graduation dress?”
With a sigh of relief Virginia tossed down her pencil replying, “Yes, Mother. I’ll be right down.”
“I’m so excited!” expressed Rosalie as Virginia climbed into the back seat of the car and sat down beside her. “Mom said I can pick out a pair of real heels. How about you Ginny? Are you allowed to get heels?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m so tall already you know,” squeaked Virginia as Rosalie's mother backed out of the driveway, “Plus flat pumps are easier to walk around in anyway.”
“You’re such a fuddy duddy, you know that? But I love you anyways,” chimed Rosalie. “Hey,” she whispered, “Jimmy and I Frenched kissed last night.”
“What’s that?” Virginia asked.
“You know,” Rosalie nodded twirling her tongue around her lips while rolling her eyes back. “Kissing with your tongue,” she whispered.
“Eeeeew! Those French folks are nasty. Is Jimmy French or something?” asked Virginia.
“No silly! Gosh, you wait and see. Your day will come and it’s not that bad. You’ll like it, I promise.” giggled Rosalie. “Oh, Jimmy wants to know if you’d be interested in double dating.”
“Let me guess,” Virginia snidely remarked, “He has a nasty, french kissing friend? No thanks!”
“What are you silly girls giggling about back there?” asked Virginia’s Mom. “Just think, you two will be graduating High School next Friday. Then it’s off to finishing school. You both better get control over that giggling, you know. Head Mistress Eliza-Jane will expect you both to be on your best manners.”
“Oh god!” gasped Rosalie, “Don’t tell me she’s still there!” she giggled.
Head Mistress Eliza-Jane was the dorm mother of St. Catherine’s Academy. It was toted as a school of charm to teach young girls proper etiquette and manners. They spent two whole weeks over the past few summers attending and mastering the fine skills of being socialite young ladies. It was an old English tradition that both the girls’ mother’s had to endure when they were teenagers during World War II. Head Mistress Eliza-Jane was old and just as mean as nails way back then as she was now.
“Mind your matters Miss Rosalie,” scolded her mother from the front seat. “I expect you to respect your elders no matter what.”
“Mind my manners Mom? Really?” joked Rosalie sarcastically. “You mean like you two had a part in spiking her nightly tea and sneaking out to the USO dance down in Atlantic City years ago?”
Virginia’s mother gasped, “Heavens to Betsy, Eleanor! Please tell me you didn’t tell your daughter about that! My word!!”
“Mom!” giggled Virginia, “Didn’t you meet Daddy at a USO dance?”
As she pulled up into a parking spot at the dress shop, Rosalie’s mom chuckled, “Yes Virginia, she did. All of us girls had our eyes fixed on that handsome young sailor from Kentucky. His southern charm and accent had us all fixated but the moment he glanced over our way, he couldn’t take his eyes off of your mother.”
Virginia’s mother blushed as the girls hurried out of the car and into the dress shop. “What are we going to do with these two girls?” she asked Eleanor. “They’re twice as wild and free as we were at their age.”
Placing her hand on her long-time friend’s shoulder, Eleanor comforted, “Don’t worry Edith, they’re both good girls. Good heads on their shoulder’s too. They’ll be fine.”
“My Jimmy has a friend named Marty. A real nice fellow and cute as a button. Blond hair and gorgeous blue eyes. You’d really like him. He seems just your type.” chimed Rosalie as she shuffled through a few dresses on the rack.
“So I take it he’s boring, just like me, huh?” Virginia joked as she held up a bright red mini-skirt to her hips.
“That’s adorable Ginny! Is there one in my size?” Rosalie asked.
“Yup, there’s a few. We should sneak back here and buy one before we get sent off to St. Catherine’s. You know all the other girls are going to have these this year.” whispered Virginia.
“Really? You think?” Rosalie whispered back. “I can’t see how in the name of carnations a girl can sit or live in something that short. Their Hoo-Hoos will be showing.”
“May I help you girls?” asked the nosy old Saleslady who snuck up behind them.
Quickly stuffing the red skirt on the rack Virginia nodded, “Yes.. um.. Ma’am. We’re here to pick out our graduation dresses.”
“Follow me girls, we had a large shipment arrive yesterday and I’m sure you’ll find something a little more decent, shall I say?” the saleslady huffed as she stomped over to a rack of crisp white dresses.
Rosalie immediately found the dress that she wanted. White, of course, with lace trim around the hem and sleeves. It was almost exactly like the one she saw in the Sears Catalog when she visited Virginia at work a month back. Virginia however, was stumped. All of the dresses were white and they all seemed the same to her. She pulled out a collared version with a straight hem. “Eeeew, put that ugly thing back on the rack,” squealed Rosalie. “What are you a nurse or something?” she giggled.
“Oh dear,” the saleslady chimed in and motioned to Rosalie, “I don’t believe these dresses will fit you young lady. Your breast are entirely too big. When was the last time you came in for a bra fitting dear?” she inquired while handing Rosalie’s coveted dress to Virginia and gently pushing Rosalie over to the fitting room area.
Rosalie shot Virginia a look of dread and despair as Virginia tried her best not to let out a giggle. Just a few short years ago their mother’s brought them to this very same shop for their first bra fitting by this prudish, old saleslady. Her and Rosalie stood there topless in just their underpants in the cold fitting room just as they were told to do. Nervous and full of anxiety they watched one another get practically molested by the saleslady and her measuring tape. She poked, twisted, tweaked and wrote down the measurements before she handed down the dreaded breast size verdict. Despite the uncomfortable feel-up by the saleslady; Rosalie was ecstatic to hear that she was going straight into a B-cup. “Giving you a little room to grow.” the saleslady smiled and proudly said as if she was congratulating Rosalie on her accomplished tit size.
Virginia wasn’t so lucky back then, as the saleslady shook her head despairingly and handed her a Double A training bra. “You know my dear, they say if you play with your breasts it will encourage them to grow faster. Perhaps you may want to consider helping yourself along.” The young, clueless Virginia stood there mouth agape as the saleslady turned her towards the mirror to look at herself. With her gnarly old cold hands she grabbed each of Virginia’s nipples and tugged them forward. Holding them out and counting to four and repeating the dastardly act again and again while sing-songing, “One, two, three, four - make your titties grow some more.” Virginia saw her face flushed in embarrassment while she stared into the mirror. She also saw her good friend Rosalie’s reflection, red in the face also but only because she was trying so hard not to burst out laughing.
Yes, the training bra incident was most definitely the most embarrassing moment in young Virginia’s life thus far; but her imagination went wild thinking about what could be going on in the fitting room between Rosalie and the saleslady now. She looked at the Rosalie’s choice of dress that the saleslady rudely stuffed in her hand and decided, that she kind of liked it too. The saleslady was right, there was no way Rosalie could squeeze her fat titted self into a form fitted dress as this. She’d do far better with a skirt and shirt set.
On the western side of New Jersey, across the river from Philadelphia; a young teen was outside washing out paint brushes with turpentine. As he wiped the sweat from his brow he noticed a used ‘57 Ford Fairlane 500 Town Vic for sale across the street for $400. He would be turning 16 in just a few short weeks and finally able to drive his own car.
As Marty stood there half daydreaming about the Town Vic and half dizzy from the turpentine fumes, a crowd of six teenagers were heard coming around the corner.
“Well, well, well,” the oldest boy chided, “Looky what we have here. Looks like Jew-boy Morris here got himself a fancy little job.”
Marty turned around ignoring them and went back to work rinsing off the brushes, rollers and paint pan. These guys were the very reason he dropped out of school. These and all the rest of them from the riverside projects who integrated the halls of Woodrow Wilson High School after Camden’s new black mayor toted desegregation.
“Yo! Jew-boy! Shows some respect when Tyrone be talking at you.” said one of them, while he shoved up on Marty’s arm.
Marty was just about to turn around and deck him one, when suddenly the boys started to haul ass down the street. His nose stung from the smell of sulfur as he heard the familiar scratch, whoosh of a lighted match. “If them nigger boys had a lick of sense they’d set your stupid ass on fire boy.” a gruff voice grumbled from above. “Christ to hell boy, you smell like a goddamn gas rag. How much turp you wastin’ now? You’re gonna kill this lady’s grass, you fool.”
“Sorry Dad,” Marty apologized, “I promise to be more careful next time.”
“Well just makes sure you rinse the grass down well. It’ll burn itself yellow in five minutes if you don’t and the lady of this house will make a fuss.” said Marty’s father. “We’re ‘bout finished up here and we’ll call it a day.” he stated as he flicked his cigarette butt into the lady’s flower bed and walked back into the house.
Marty squirted the nasty butt with the hose in fear that it would catch the mulch on fire. If there’s one thing I hate more than niggers it’s those damn cigarettes thought Marty. Both of his parents smoked like chimneys and everything he owned was stained yellow and reeked of those nasty things. Even his baby sister’s golden yellow hair smelled like an ashtray when she’d climb on her big brother’s lap before suppertime.
Girls who smoke was a big turn off to Marty, yet the old movies and westerns were showing ladies smoking more and more these days. Marilyn Monroe had the hottest set of tits around and her poster hung on the inside of his closet door for years. That was, until he saw her puffing away on that fancy long cigarette in her latest movie. The movie sucked he thought, but that just made it suck even more as he remembered tearing her poster down and defacing her puckering lips with a moustache and beard. In his mind, kissing a woman who smoked was just as bad as kissing a man.
As he packed up the brushes in the back of his dad’s old Chevy his eyes caught glimpse of the old Ford again across the street. $400 was a whole two weeks away as his Dad only paid him $100 a week. This was Marty’s second week working with his dad and he already had $185 saved. Surely the car would be sold to someone else by then.
The screen door slammed as his father skipped down the steps and over to the truck. “Well son, it’s time to get paid. All packed up here?” his father asked. “Lets head down to Roscoe’s and cash this check and get your daddy some beer.” he said while lighting another cigarette.
With a turn of the key the old Chevy rumbled back to life spewing a cloud of blue grey exhaust out of it’s backside. The radio squeal tuned into a static filled news report on the war in Vietnam. The North and South were at it again and had both suffered massive losses in this battle. It seemed like just yesterday President Johnson was more concerned over civil rights and the happenings in Cuba than he was with this small country half way around the world.
Marty wondered about his Uncle David and what he thought about all of this war mess. Uncle David served the US Army a few years back and in 1962 he was stationed down at Ft. Bragg, NC. His enlistment was almost up when they suspended his discharge indefinitely back in 1962 due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. His new wife was pregnant and he was looking forward to a normal civilian life with his new family when this had to happen. He was with the core of engineers STRAC (Skilled, tough, ready, around-the-clock) unit attached to the 82nd Airborne. They sat for weeks ready to roll with heavy construction equipment at a moments notice.
In March Uncle David received notice that his first son was born at Womack Army Hospital just a few short miles over on base. He wondered for weeks afterward if he’d ever get to go back home when his discharge orders finally arrived that April. He shared with Marty how wonderful the Army was for him and the skills that he learned. Yet oddly, Marty was left with the impression that Uncle Dave couldn’t wait to be discharged either. This left Marty wondering if maybe he should consider enlisting instead of working for his father.
His father downshifted and the old Chevy stalled as it coasted into the bumpy, unpaved parking lot of Roscoe’s Bar. The hinges of the passenger door shrieked like a pterodactyl as Marty opened the door to get out. Parked neatly in a row were four brand new motorcycles which meant they weren’t going to get home any time soon. Randy and the boys were at the bar and when they all got to talking and carrying on, chances are they’ll stay until last call.
It was the usual Friday night routine as Marty’s father bellied up to the bar and lit another Salem. Caroline, the bartender saw him coming and had a frosted mug of Schlitz straight off the tap and ready for him just as he sat down. She smiled at Marty and said, “Hey young man, the usual?” Marty nodded yes as she pulled out another frosty mug and a bottle of birch beer.
With her worn but gentle hands, cold from the mugs she just poured; she brushed Marty’s bangs aside and whispered, “Look at those handsome blue eyes. You’re going to break some young lady’s heart someday with those.”
“Leave the boy alone Caroline.” gruffed Marty’s Dad. “He ain’t got no time for cherry poppin’. Get your hot ass on over here and cash this check for me so I can send him home to his Momma.” he commanded as Caroline shuffled over to the cash register.
“Dad?” Marty awkwardly asked, “Would it be okay if I play a few rounds of pinball before I got to go?”
“Boy, I don’t know what it is about that flashy bell and whistle machine that gets your fancy going, but if you want to waste your hard earned money on shit like that you just go right on ahead.” his father chided.
“Thanks Dad!” smiled Marty as he skipped over to the pinball machines with his frosty mug of birch beer.