It's 1958 and I'm heading to the beach. This is not a kiddy trip to the beach with mommy telling you when to eat, when to go in the water, when to get off the rides...no no, this is an unescorted, guys only, maybe-we'll-meet-some-hot-Jewish-girls trip to the beach. I can't wait to smell that first blast of salty ocean air as we step onto the elevated subway platform at Brighton Beach. My preparations have been flawless, like James Bond packing his tux and custom-made silencer for an encounter with Goldfinger. The objective of the trip is to meet girls, and that required equipment, cover stories and of course false papers so you could prove you were 18. The latter also made it easier to prove you were who you said you were when when you lied about being Jewish. It rarely came to this, but a good beach gigolo never takes chances.
We never carried a bag of any kind since, for some reason known only to testosterone-charged teen-aged boys, this was considered "faggy." Everything we needed would be carried in a manly, rolled-up beach towel. Bathing suit (check); long, tapered comb (check); bottle of Wildroot Creme Oil to slick back my D.A. hairstyle after coming out of the water (check); Coppertone suntan lotion (check); tiny transistor radio that, if you were lucky, got one station under ideal weather conditions (check); and if you were feeling extra lucky, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum to take care of that salami breath. Lunch was a problem. We hated carrying bag lunches onto the beach because it just didn't look cool. Would James Dean whip a pepper and egg sandwich out of an oil-stained brown paper bag? But neither did we have the money to buy lunch on the boardwalk, so the compromise was to take lunch from home and eat it on the subway.
Once at our destination (Brighton Beach, Bay 5 where the hot Jewish girls hung out) we rolled out out the beach towel, stepped out of out clothes, and revealed our rippling muscles to the world. OK, maybe they didn't ripple but they did twitch a little. After fiddling with the radio dial until we got something that wasn't static, we then covered ourselves in suntan oil and lay out on that towel like a Cajun Crusted Tilapia until we were done on one side. Burn, flip over and repeat...you could literally smell your skin cooking in that broiling sun. This insane activity was deemed "healthful" in the horribly misinformed 50s, and today I have to listen to my dermatologist lecture me every time I visit. You were happy to hear the approach of the Good Humor man so you could buy a fifteen- cent Humorette (orange or lime creamsicle) to cool off.
At some point we would go on scouting trips to visit the blankets in our search area for young ladies who might be interested in having some company. The search area was the distance you could walk on the burning hot sand without squealing like a girl for relief. A highly prized skill that might expand your search zone was the ability to step on the corners of people's beach blankets as you threaded your way through the minefield of people eating sandy baloney sandwiches washed down with jugs of Kool-Aid. We would use our cheesy but battle-tested pick-up lines like: "Hey Johnny, I think I'm in love" or, “I’m having a terrible day, and it always makes me happy to see a beautiful girl smile." Nobody was more surprised than us when one of these terrible lines actually worked.
For the record, those rumors about hot Jewish girls proved to be totally unfounded. They were no hotter than the average Christian girl, but that urban myth spread around the high school locker room like wild fire, unfairly elevating our pathetic hopes. We spent many fruitless days searching for girls who "looked Jewish." I've since learned that there is a sure-fire way to tell, but I found out too late to improve our scoring odds. You ask them what they plan to make for dinner and if the answer is "reservations", bingo, hello Shiela. I once took a Jewish girl home to meet my mother. Mom was Italian and a firm believer in the sentiment expressed in that song from West Side Story, "Stick to Your Own Kind". She was polite to my date, but she looked threateningly at me with Luca Brasi eyes.
Now, thanks to all my reckless sunbathing on the beaches of Brooklyn, I had to have some sun damage spots removed from the top of my bald head. If it was up to my doctor, with her SPF85 sunblock and wide brimmed hats, I'd go out on the golf course looking like Miss Marple. I never did find that hot Jewish girl, but I did manage to trick a pretty special Italian girl into marrying me. Mom was so proud.
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