SHORT STORY

 How Jerry Got Married
by Arthur Joel Katz

            Jerry was Artie's nephew, although in fact he was older than Artie.  Artie's sister, Hannah, had married Lefty Kaiser, who was some sort of a big politician across the bay in Staten Island.  After a while she got sore at Lefty and came home to live with her mother and father in Brooklyn.  That was before Artie was even born.  He was what you call a late child.  Anyway, when Artie was growing up, Jerry was more like an older brother to him than a nephew.  And Jerry made sure that Artie was brought up right.  After all, both of Artie's parents worked, and Jerry felt responsible.  He taught Artie to tell the truth no matter what, and Artie did.  Well, most of the time.

            Great guys must run in Artie's family.  Jerry certainly was one.  Some kids used to think he was square because he became an Eagle Scout and a Junior Assistant Scout Master.  At summer camp he was voted Best All Around Camper three years in a row.  He won the most points for his team in the color war every year he went.  In high school he won the 1937 George Henry Finkelstein medal for the student with the highest moral fiber.  And there was other stuff like that. 

            Every looker in school was always chasing Jerry.  I think their mothers were also hot for him.  The mothers figured he was going to be a doctor or something and make lots of money. The lookers, they didn't care.  They just wanted to go out with him.  Also, they knew that no matter how far they went, even all the way or around the world, he would never tell anybody.  Lots of the older guys would brag about how much they got.  Not Jerry.  He would just smile a little, when someone asked him, and say, "Oh, you know, that Sylvia's a nice girl," and that would be all they would get.

            With dames creaming for Jerry like that, you would think it would be impossible for him to get hooked up with a dogface like Lucretia Utzibella, but he did.  Artie thought it was his fault.

            We live on Sterling Street.  You know, near the Bond Bakery?  You can always tell when you get on our street.  The smell from the bakery, if you aren't used to it, will drive you crazy.  It's a good neighborhood, with a swell bunch of guys.  We play hockey on the street, and punch ball and baseball in the alleys, and the cops won't bother you if you don't break a window or anything and leave Old-Man Stewart alone.   Old-Man Stewart wanders up and down the street.  He used to be a fireman, but he's cracked now and every once in a while he chases some kid with his cane for nothing.  I guess Stewy's alright, except you gotta watch out not to whistle "It's a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," even by accident when he's around. 

            Sterling Street is near the park, too, and when it snows, there are good hills.  The only real bad thing about the street is the block below us.  The kids there, they'll beat the bejesus out of you if you walk down their block by yourself even if you're only going to the IRT stop on Nostrand Avenue.  Artie didn't know it then, but Lucretia Utzibella lived on that street.  Jerry didn't know it either until Artie, you might say, introduced them.

             Every Saturday afternoon we'd all go over to the Loew's Patio, which is a few blocks down on Flatbush Avenue, to catch the show.   They usually have a cartoon, a serial like "Flash Gordon" and a good double feature.  I seen all the good Errol Flynn and Jimmy Cagney pictures there.  Besides the pictures, they'd have a Ducky game between the serial and the show.  Ducky is something like Bingo, except you yell "Ducky" when you fill out a row.  We used to think it was pretty silly to yell "Ducky".  That was because none of the guys I used to go with ever won.   Whenever anybody else won, we'd all start yelling "quack, quack" and roll on the floor laughing, it was so funny.  The matron would come charging down the aisle with her flashlight yelling to shut up and threatening to throw us out.  We'd throw spitballs at her and then jump up and hide somewhere else in the theater until it got dark when the show went on.

             Anyway, the thing about Ducky was that they put all of next week's Ducky prizes out in the lobby, roped off.  Most of the prizes were a lot of junk.  You know, dishes, sweaters, candy and crap like that, but they'd always have a few games and sports stuff including a football or a glove or something.  We'd see the stuff on the way out of the pictures, and the manager was always standing there to make sure none of the kids hooked any of it.  And there was a good chance they would if he wasn't standing there because we were always working out elaborate plans to get away with a few things.

             We all belonged to a gang called the Brooklyn Nights.  It wasn't really a real gang, I mean, we didn't do bad things or anything like that.  Every day, after school, we'd meet in Artie's cellar.  There was a ping pong table down there, and a round table left over from when Artie's dad used to play poker, and we'd sit around the table and decide what we'd do.  It really depended on the weather  Almost every kid on the block belonged to the Nights except for a wimpy kid called Benny Leonard.

            Everyone was on Benny because there was a fighter by the same name and this kid was no fighter.  His mother was always dressing him up and warning him not to get dirty.  If he scraped his shin, you'd have thought he was bleeding to death to listen to his mother.  And another thing, he was always scared shitless to do anything because his father was a judge.  His mother was always telling him that he had to uphold the family honor.  So he was the kid who would tell if we let the air out of somebody's tires or smoked or made up stories about girls. 

             Benny was desperate to join the Nights.  We talked about it several times around the round table.  Everybody agreed that Benny was a wimp, but some kids thought we should make nice to Benny, after all he had nobody to play with except girls if he didn't belong to the Nights, and besides, he had money.  His allowance was five dollars a week.  Mine was fifty cents, so you can see the difference.  Maybe he'd spring for a new Spauldeen if we'd let him play.

             Anyway, it was Merle who came up with the idea.  Merle came up with ideas quite often, some of them darn dangerous like the time we nearly had a fire when he blew up the firecrackers he was trying to make with Artie's chemistry set.  This time we were sitting around trying to figure out how to get a new football when Merle thought up the idea of swiping the one at the Ducky stand in the Patio.  After the show, when everyone was leaving, one of the guys would hit the manager with a spit ball, and the manager would chase him.  Our guy would get out the back of the movie through a fire door.  In the meantime, another guy would take the football and lateral it through the front door to another one of our guys who'd then run like a scooter with the ball.  The only problem was that the guy who passed the ball was likely to get caught.

            Then Merle came up with an even more brilliant idea, if you can believe that.  He said that if Benny wanted to join the Nights, he'd have to take a test, and the test would be that he would be the one to pass the football.  Merle was sure that they wouldn't nab Benny because Benny looked so well dressed and like such a momma's boy.  Benny was so anxious to join, he agreed to the test.

            On Saturday we all went over to the Patio.  As usual, the Ducky prizes were displayed in the lobby, and right down front was the football.  We all walked by pretending not to notice.  Benny was so nervous he practically peed in his pants.  During the second feature Benny wanted to leave, but Philly, who was a big kid, was sitting at the end of the row and wouldn't let him out.  Benny was going to call out for the matron, but Merle, who was on the other side of him, poked him in the ribs and Benny shut up.

            According to the plan, Max Klein, who was a dead shot with a spit ball fired from a straw, would stand in the exit as the crowd came out.  He would wait until Benny got next to the football.  Artie would stand at the end of the lobby, near the box office, to catch the ball.  Philly would be between Artie and Benny, acting innocent.  If somebody chased us, Philly would accidentally get in the way.  The others were to go outside the theater and wait.

            Everyone was in place.  Mr. Utzibella, the theater manager, was standing next to the Ducky prizes as usually.  Artie gave Max a sign, and bango, Max hits Utzibella right in the cheek with a spit ball.  Utzibella takes off after Max.  Benny just stood there.  We were all shouting at him to pass the ball.  Finally, he did, but he was so nervous that he hit the statue on the fountain in the middle of the lobby and the ball bounced into the water.  Benny stood right by the Ducky prizes like he was nailed to the spot, so Artie ran into the lobby to get the ball.  Then we had a little bad luck.  Utzibella slipped trying to chase Max and landed on the ground.  He looked back at the Ducky display and right away figured out what was happening.  Artie got the ball out of the fountain and ran like hell, but Benny still didn't move, and Utzibella grabbed Benny and shoved him into his office.  He didn't even try to chase us.

            We stopped at the candy store to figure out what to do.  Most of the guys were for just taking off and leaving Benny to his fate.  But Merle thought that Benny would cry all over the place and probably would tell on us.  What we had to do was rescue Benny.  There's no way, Artie said, but maybe we could work out an exchange.  One of us could give himself up if Utzibella would let Benny go.  Our guy wouldn't fink on anybody.  Everybody thought the plan was great but the problem was which one of us would it be.  Since Utzibella had already seen Artie running with the football, he said he would go, but they would have to let him take the football back.  And that was the way it happened.

            By the time Artie got back to the Patio, Benny had cried all over his white shirt and one of his knickers had fallen.  When Artie came up, he started to cry even more.  He cried all through the deal Artie worked out with Utzibella.  Artie explained that he was the head of the gang, that we had just talked Benny into passing the football for the fun of it, and that we all felt bad about it.  He also gave Utzibella back the football.   Utzibella was impressed.  Actually, he was glad to have an excuse to let Benny go.  Benny was both a pain in the ass with his crying and a problem for Utzibella who didn't want to have to futz with a judge's son.

            After Benny left, Utzibella sat Artie down in the office and asked him where he lived and his parents' name and like that.  He was going to call his mother.  Artie explained that she worked and that the only one who might be home was his nephew, Jerry Lavin.  By the time Artie explained that Jerry was actually older than him, a light came on in Utzibella's eyes. 

            "Is that the Jerry Lavin who plays for Erasmus?" he asked.

            "Yeah," Artie said. 

            "My daughter Lucretia really thinks he's great," said Utzibella. “Maybe he could take her to a concert?"

            Holy shit, Artie thought.  Lucretia, a concert, but all he said was, "well maybe." 

            "I've got two tickets for the Brooklyn Philharmonic for Friday night," Utzibella went on.  "If you can get Jerry to take my daughter, we'll forget the whole thing.  Just don't steal any more Ducky prizes.  Okay?"

            "Okay," Artie said.  "I'll try." 

            "Never mind try," he said.  "Do it.  She's a nice girl.  Take a look," he said, pointing at her picture in his office. 

            She was standing there in the picture in some kind of white dress, like she just got married, although she was not that old.  She had a long black hair and a nose to match.  Jerry's never going to do it, Artie thought to himself.  Artie agrees that she's a real looker and Utzibella lets him go, making him promise to come back next Saturday after the matinee.

            Artie didn't see Jerry until late Sunday morning.  Jerry slept late because of his Saturday night date.  Artie had waited up for him until 11 o'clock when his mom made him turn off the radio.  She said it would be alright if he wanted to keep the light on to read, but she didn't want him wasting time on radio.  Actually, Artie was starting on a new Baseball Joe adventure, but before Joe joined the Dodgers, he fell asleep.

            Anyway, Jerry was having his Wheaties about ten o'clock when Artie came into the kitchen.

            "How things going Unc?" he said. 

            Jerry liked to kid Artie about being his uncle and all.

            "Not too good," Artie said. 

            "Gee, Unc, that's not like you," Jerry said.  "Anything I can do?" 

            "Kinda," Artie said.

            He couldn't quite tell him the story straight out but Jerry wears such a white hat that he pushed him into it.  After it all came out, Jerry sat there for a minute.

            "Well, Unc, you're in luck.  Sarah and I just broke up last night.  You know,  I've never been to the Brooklyn Philharmonic," he said.   "What's her name?" 

            Artie gulped.  It took him a long time to get it out.

            "Lucretia Utzibella, and I gotta tell you, Jerry, she's got one heck of a long nose."

            "You really need this one?" he said. 

            "Listen," Artie said, "it's alright.  Forget it."

            There was a silence for a minute.  Finally Jerry said, "What the hell, Unc, I'll give it a try.  Maybe you'll owe me."

            "I sure will," Artie said.

            Well, Jerry went on the date the following Saturday.  Artie didn't see him because Jerry was playing an away game against Evander Childs and had to get up early to meet the team at the subway.  When we got to the movies that afternoon, Utzibella looked happy and even gave Artie a free Pepsi.  He said he could forget the whole Ducky thing.  When Artie finally got to talk to Jerry, all he would say was that Lucretia was a nice girl.

            Jerry left for college that winter.  He had skipped a half grade somewhere along the line and Syracuse had offered him a football scholarship.  Actually, quite a few schools had, but he liked Syracuse because their coach, Ozzie Solom, had invented a formation where the center faced the backfield at the start of the play.  Jerry said the center got hit in the ass a lot, but it sure gave the backfield a lot of movement.   He'd be in from college every now and then and Artie more or less forgot about Lucretia.

            One day Artie came home to find his sister Hannah there with  his mom and dad.  Hannah had a letter in her hand.  Artie's father was pacing up and down the kitchen giving them what Artie had come to know as his in charge look.  They all looked white as sheets.  Artie asked what's the matter, but they told him that he should go to his room.  So Artie left, but he sneaked down the hall to listen.

            Hannah was saying that she's a nice girl but they're too young and his mother was saying that Jerry had to convert.  His father was saying that religion is the opiate of the people, whatever that meant, and it didn't matter what form of opiate they took.  If Jerry didn't care, why should they?  And as far as being young, well Hannah had married when she was sixteen and he had married mom when she was seventeen, the same age as Lucy.

            "How will they eat?" Hannah said. 

            "Read the letter, Hannah, read," Artie's dad said.  "She's going to give piano lessons." 

            "That's nice," his mother said. 

            "He's so young," Hannah said again.  "And he's going to be a doctor."

            "Let me ask you something," Artie's dad said, "can you afford to make him a doctor?"

            "No."

            "Well, she will.  You can bet on it."

            There was a pause and Artie could hear Hannah crying.

            "Don't cry, Hannah," his mother said.  "It will be alright."  His mother was always sure that everything would be alright.

            Finally, Hannah said, "okay" and suddenly there was a lot of mazeltoving and his mom called for Artie to come in.  When he did, Hannah said that Jerry was going to marry Lucy. 

            "Who's Lucy?" Artie said. 

            "Come on, Artie," Hannah said through her tears.  "You were practically the shotgun."

            You could have knocked him down with a feather.

            "She's so ugly," Artie said.

            "Huh," his father said, "look who's a judge of women."

            Artie saw Jerry only once before the event.  He was playing stoop baseball with some of the Nights when Jerry came up behind him.

            "How you doing, Unc?" Jerry said. 

            "Jerry," Artie said.  "How come you're home?" 

            "Got to rent a suit for the wedding."

            "Jerry," Artie said, "I gotta talk to you."

            Artie told the guys he'd be back and Jerry and Artie went around behind the house in the backyard next to the garage.

            "I'm sorry, Jerry," Artie said.  "You didn't have to do it for me, really."

            Jerry smiled and tried to make him feel good.

            "Unc," he said, "don't you worry.  I didn't do it for you, I did it for me.  It's the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me." 

            Artie didn't believe him.  He felt terrible anyhow.  It was all his fault that Jerry was marrying that meiskeit.

            It wasn't until the wedding that Artie realized how wrong he was.  He had never been to a Catholic Church before and he was very nervous.  There were all these statues, especially one of Jesus on the cross.  He'd often been called a Christ killer and had gotten into all sorts of fights about it, and here he was with Christ Himself staring down on him.  He almost felt guilty.  And then, suddenly, the organ played "Here Comes the Bride" and there was Lucretia holding on to Mr. Utzibella's arm.  He was dressed in, are you ready for this, a butler's suit.  Lucretia, she had on a long white dress, not like the one in the picture, that dragged on the ground, her long black hair falling over her shoulders.  She had one hell of a figure, like Linda Darnell or somebody.  She still had a long nose, but she was smiling and she reminded Artie of one of those Italian pictures he had seen in the Brooklyn Museum.  Gee, he thought, she's really beautiful.

            Jerry, too, was smiling.  After the ceremony, when Jerry kissed her,  Artie thought he'd never a guy so happy in his whole life.  And, finally, he smiled himself.  After all, it was his fault.

END

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