Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Do You Feel Like Doing, Marty?

I was never a big Ernest Borgnine fan, partly because of the way he smacked poor Frank Sinatra around in "From Here to Eternity", but he was perfect for the role of Marty in the movie of the same name. Marty was based on a TV play by Paddy Chayefsky that originally ran on "Philco-Goodyear Playhouse". Borgnine played a lonely butcher who lives with his mother in the Bronx. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Marty is sitting around a neighborhood cafe with his friends trying to come with something interesting to do apart from their very familiar daily routine. His buddy Angie says: What do you feel like doing tonight? Marty: I don't know, Ange. What do you feel like doing? This scenario was so familiar because my friends and I spent many evenings on the stoop repeating these same lines.

Money was usually short in the days before we all had steady jobs. If we were really desperate, we would pool our money to pay for enough gas for a joyride, assuming one of the older guys could con his father into lending him the car. One of our favorite destinations was Idlewild (now Kennedy) airport, where we would park and just walk around the terminal. This was in the days when the Department of Homeland Security was way off in the future, and you were free to go pretty much anywhere, including down to the departure and arrival gates. Airline terminals were primitive then compared to the marble and glass affairs they have become. To get on the propeller-driven airplanes, you actually walked down on to the tarmac, and up a flight of steps to board.

Summertime was ideal for low-cost evenings. We often drove to Cross Bay Boulevard on the road to Howard Beach, where they had a recreational complex. It included a hot dog and burger joint called The Big Bow Wow, a miniature golf course, and a row of batting cages. Miniature golf was for date nights, but if we were stag, we headed straight for the batting cages. For a quarter, you could step into the cage and, using a metal bat, hit yellow, rubber-covered baseballs thrown by a pitching machine into the night sky. You could set the speed of the pitching machines, and being macho men, we always chose the fastest setting. While one guy was in the cage, the rest of us would gather behind the fence making humiliating remarks if the batter whiffed.

Another cheap night was going to the "Confraternity" dances sponsored by St. Fortunata's Church on Linden Boulevard. Many Catholic parishes held these dances, but for some reason, St. Fortunata's became the Copa Cabana of church dances. They were well-attended affairs, with girls in hip-hugging, brightly colored dresses and beehive hairdos, and guys in pegged pants and hair slicked back with Wildroot Creme Oil. Moreover, they attracted name bands, especially Latino groups headed by big names like Tito Puente. Contrary to what was shown in Saturday Night Fever, most guys couldn't dance like John Travolta, we were just desperate to meet girls.

If we didn't even have gas money, it was the stoop for us. We always sat on Tommy Dowd's stoop because it was on the corner near Rockaway Avenue, and we could see the people getting off the bus or exiting the subway station. We would either ridicule them or, if they were pretty girls, we would holler out can't miss pick-up lines like "Hey, marry me baby". If one of these young ladies ever came over (none ever did) we would probably have blushed a deep red before going into our Ralph Kramden impression ... hamina, hamina, hamina. We were harmless, and after a night of this merriment, we'd go into Tommy's house where his lovely Mom Lillian would give us tea and raisin bread toast. Very civilized.

Ernest Borgnine as Marty resonated with us because our lives paralleled Marty's. There was no e-Harmony, Facebook, MySpace, or other "dot com" social networks. Many of us attended all boys or all girls high schools, and had little opportunity to meet or socialize with the opposite sex. We stumbled through social interactions much like Marty until, if we were lucky, we met Miss or Mister Right. Sometimes I look around and it seems like young people today are so much more socially aware than we were. Of course the bad news is that you can no longer just send your daughter off to a dance secure in the knowledge that she will make it safely home. All in all, and no surprise here, I'll take the old ways.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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