Adolescent boys are by nature like happy puppies. They are in the full bloom of youth with none of the responsibilities that come with adulthood. Life is all ball games, candy bars, and sneaking cigarettes lifted from their father's pack. They have boundless energy, unbridled curiosity and short memories. Grudges are forgotten long before they can darken the soul, and every new day is bursting with promise. They travel in groups seeking new adventures and knowledge. Everything is shared including wildly incorrect information about life and love. Then one day, that testosterone that has been simmering below the surface bubbles over, and the brain, up until now the organ in charge of decision-making, now takes a back seat to the all-powerful Captain Johnson. Boys' behavior from then on is no longer in their control. Thoughts of women rule their every waking moment.
The icky girls, who heretofore were to be teased, ridiculed and scorned, were suddenly persons of interest. Developmentally and socially, girls are well ahead of boys at this age, so we never had a chance. They already knew the power they held over us and we were doomed. We began "allowing" them to hang around on the stoop with us. Being social dinosaurs we didn't know exactly how to interact with them. A punch in the arm might be the closest we could come to a display of affection. Nobody ever really got to first base much less second despite the wildly exaggerated stories of romantic conquests. Usually we just struck out with the bats on our shoulders. Since the local girls were yielding nothing on the s-e-x front, we turned our imaginations elsewhere.
There was a strikingly good looking older woman who lived on the block that caught our interest. Most of the young women in our neighborhood were married early unless they just could not attract a mate. That was certainly not the problem for this gorgeous woman who went by the absurdly unsexy name of Tillie. She was probably in her early thirties with raven hair and green eyes. She was a working woman who dressed well, but not so well as to hide the kind of figure that men stopped to admire...kind of like Joan on "Mad Men". Every afternoon Tillie came up from the subway stop at Rockaway Avenue and walked down Somers Street to her house. We would wait on Tommy Dowd's stoop on the corner for her to walk by. After a while she began to smile and wave at us. I'm sure she considered this just a friendly gesture, but every guy on that stoop imagined that wave was an invitation meant just for him.
Tillie had a parade of beaus who called on her with regularity. Most looked like they had just returned from auditioning for the role of Boston Blackie, a popular private detective of the time who sported a pencil-thin mustache. They wore pleated slacks and silk sport shirts and drove nice cars. We hated them of course because of what we imagined they were doing with Tillie behind closed doors. Sometimes as we walked past her house at night, we would look up at the lighted window hoping to see anything, even a silhouette on the shade, but to no avail. We had to be content with our regular afternoon sightings and the fantasies they spawned.
Summer was optimal Tillie viewing weather. She would wear these backless sun dresses that got our hormones trembling. Once a week she wore a devil-red number with matching red high heels and a red and white sun hat. If any of us spotted her coming up the subway steps in that outfit, the word got spread in a hurry, and attendance on the stoop rose accordingly. If she had been shopping and was carrying packages, we would trip over each other with offers of help while less attractive neighborhood women struggled with their bundles. One of our lovelorn number (Vinnie) claimed Tillie invited him in one day for a glass of lemonade. Whether true or not, this brush with intimacy gave us hope. Every so often someone would say: "Tell us the lemonade story" and Vinnie would begin to recite the tale like an old man surrounded by his grandchildren.
One day Tillie just stopped showing up. Nobody knows if she got married and moved away or left for another reason. We missed her but life went on. I wonder if it would please her to know she was the last thing a lot of young boys thought about before dropping off to sleep. Probably not.
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