Friday, April 30, 2010

First Crush by Jimmy Spinner

Jimmy Spinner is a good friend of mine and writes some real nice stuff about about growing up in Brooklyn. The following is a story he wrote for his students up in New England. Yeah, my friends teaching our young? How scary is that?

First Crush by Jimmy Spinner

Sometimes we just have to write about certain things. Something just keeps bubbling to the surface of our consciousness and begs to be written about. How many of us remember our first real crush? The total innocence of it? The unrequited love? The hopeless romantic in me looks back fondly on a more innocent Jim Spinner and a more innocent time, Brooklyn in the 1970’s…

The scene is Brooklyn in 1973, I’m a ten year old strolling up East 4th Street, with my Mets t-shirt on, some cut-off jeans shorts and some no-name black and white sneakers. I don’t know what kissing is, yet. I do however know what it looks like. I know this from watching The Brady Bunch or seeing teenagers making out on the street corners of our Brooklyn neighborhood. I do however know who I want to kiss. Rose Yannone. Her name needs a sentence all its own. Here I sit as a 43 year old looking back and I still love her. That’s a testament to the strength of a young boy’s crush and the beauty of Rose Yannone.

Let me tell you about Rose. Obviously, she’s Italian. She has shiny, and I do mean shiny, black hair, a great smile a la Marie Osmond with a few crooked teeth which just made her a little more “human” otherwise she’d be too perfect. If I’m ten in this story, and in 5th grade that makes Rose 14 and an 8th grader at Ditmas the local junior high school.

I have the hugest crush on Rose and I tell her about it often. I simply want her to know how much I love her. I’ll prove it to you. The girls on our block play assorted jump rope games one of which is “Strawberry Shortcake.” Basically it goes like this, the person, usually a girl, jumps rope while the crowd circled around her chants with the rhythm of the skipping rope, “Straw-berry Short-cake, cream-on top, tell me-the name of your sweetheart, is it-A-B-C…” and the jumper would continue to jump as the alphabet is repeated until they “mess up” and whatever letter the girls are saying at that moment, say P, would prompt a guess from the crowd and the requisite, “Ohhhhh, P is for Paul, you like Paul Reilly…..”

The girls jump rope in front of John Tracy’s house because the sidewalk widens right there. Where they are jumping is right next to our stickball court which for the most part is in the middle of our block. Rose is in the crowd of girls so I saunter over, and ask, “Hey can I try?” The response of the girls varies, Helen McNally, my age and a friend of mine complains, “Come on Jimmy, you don’t like to jump rope.” Annoyance from Theresa Festa, “You better just let him do it or he’s never going to go away.” A dare from Joanne Yannone, Rose’s sister “Oh let him try, he won’t be able to do it.” Now the gauntlet has been dropped, it’s an athletic challenge. The girls swing the rope, I time the rhythm, my head bopping, swap-swap-swap…I jump into the circle. “Straw-berry Short-cake, cream-on top, tell me-the name of your sweetheart, is it-A-B-C…” …..I smoothly make it all the way to R and I plant my feet firmly, I stop jumping on purpose and the girls squeal, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, R, it’s Rose, Jimmy likes Rose!!!!!” I shyly glance in her direction and walk back to our stickball game.

Remember that stage when you were still innocent enough that you didn’t care who knew if you had a crush on someone? You actually wanted them to know, you wanted the whole world to know? That’s the stage I’m at in this story.

When I’m by myself, tossing a spaldeen against the wooden steps of my front porch, I work on the assumption she is watching me from her second floor porch window a few doors down and across the street. You’ll have to excuse me but you remember that’s how egocentric we are at that age? With each grounder caroming off my stoop, I’m Buddy Harrelson, going deep in the hole to take a base hit away from a disappointed Johnny Bench. I’m Tommy Agee as I sprint to straight away center field to steal a sure home run away from Willie Stargell. I play these games in my head for hours, casually peaking over my shoulder occasionally, hoping Rose is sitting on her porch amazed at my athletic prowess. I realize now I was a 1970’s version of Tom Sawyer showing off for Becky Thatcher.

I’m aware of Rose’s outfits and I have my favorites. There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry describes a girl from his childhood who wore an amazing orange dress and to this day he tells Kramer he has “memory burn.” That’s what I have with Rose’s white turtleneck. I swear this shirt had special powers. Her breasts were amazing to begin with but you put them in this virginal white turtleneck they were positively magnetic. I witnessed this shirt make men walk into lamp posts and oncoming traffic. This shirt actually turned my dad into a flirt. I swear the one and only time I saw him flirt with a girl was because of Rose’s white top but that’s a story for another time. I don’t know what she wore with it, skirt, pants, shorts, who knows? That’s how amazing the top was.

So this is the Rose I was in love with. And who could blame a ten year old? I don’t know what she does to me, I just know that I act goofy when she’s around and as I said, I don’t care. I pine for Rose. I know where she is whenever I’m playing street games with my friends. I know who her friends are. I am vaguely aware of her schedule. Here in the year 2006 this might seem like stalking but this was a more innocent time for me and for the world. I have to be aware of her schedule to maximize my time, and that brings me to the crux of the story.

It’s Wednesday in mid June and Brooklyn is getting hot. Summer is hovering like the heat waves above the car roofs baking in the sun. We know it’s coming, the time when the heat radiates off of everything, when the asphalt of East 4th Street is so liquid it takes barely a few minutes to carve your initials into the street. And a breeze might be our only respite. But this summer the Yannone’s have a pool in their backyard. They share it with their next door neighbors, The Tracy’s, whose son John happens to be just about my best friend.

We called John Tweety, and Tweety as unrealistic as it seems to me, is not as smitten with Rose Yannone as I am. Incomprehensible I know. But he is a normal red blooded American boy and a good friend so he goes along with most of my plans and the various contrivances I use to get Rose’s attention. So this particular Wednesday my wheels are turning. I have a plan.

Wednesdays are half days for those of us who attend Immaculate Heart of Mary, the local Catholic school. We get out early so the kids of our neighborhood who attend public school can attend “religious instruction” or CCD. Given that, Tweety and I are home well before our public school counterparts. And as the bible says, idle minds are the devil’s playground or something like that. So I clue Tweety in on my plan…

“Tweety, hot enough to go swimming today?”
“You bet, wanna get our suits on?”
“Not yet I don’t.”
“Not yet? What gives? It’s freakin’ hot, let’s go!”
“Can’t, I have a plan.’
“A plan?”
“Yeh, listen, this is the plan…”

We sit on Tweety’s stoop, a brick staircase leading to the second floor apartment the Tracy’s rent above Mr. and Mrs. Miller. Tweety and I are half-heartedly playing “stoop ball” where each player bounces the ball off of the brick steps and gathers points for each time a ball is caught but the game is as unimportant now, as it was to me then. I am glancing up the block, in the direction of Beverly Road, the direction we usually walk home from school, but today the kids of East 4th Street who take religious instruction at our school will be walking that route. Including Rose Yannone. I know it’s hot. And I know it’s been a long day for my sweetheart. She’s going to need a dip in her pool as soon as she gets home.

Nervously, John and I make small talk.
John “Who are the Mets playing tonight?”
Jimmy “Phillies.”
John “Nah, they played the Phillies last night.”
Jimmy “Phillies, I’m telling you.”
John “You don’t know what you’re talking about, they already played three games at Shea against the Phillies. I think they’re on the road, at San Diego or something like that.”
Jimmy “Maybe you’re right.”
John “Course I am.”
Jimmy “That means the game’s not on until 10 tonight.”
John “Have to listen on the radio under the covers.”

I’m really not into the conversation, preoccupied as I am with Rose’s imminent arrival. I keep looking down the block. Tweety is absolutely destroying me in stoop ball and I don’t care which is rare as I can be a competitive little snit. Finally, I spy her coming up the block with Helen McNally, they stop to chat in front of the McNally’s house a few doors down. I pick up the ball and just sit there trying to look nonchalant. “Come on. What is taking so long?!” Paul McNally, who just happens to be Rose’s age, comes out of his house. This is not good, I think. Now they begin talking and I am about to burst. Finally, she says her good byes. A smile and a hair flip and she’s heading toward us. Slowly. I am trying to look busy, picking at an ant in the little mortar between the bricks. Looking up, Rose is in front of me. She gives Tweety and I cursory hello as she walks by. “Hi Rose.” We both say in unison, a little too loud and a little too friendly, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She knows I love her and she’s still sweet to me, she never toys with me and that makes me love her even more. She walks into the front gate of her house, up the steps to the porch, says hello to fat Aunt Anna in her house dress, enveloping a poor little old folding chair. Then she’s in the house.

Off we go. Up the stairs, two at a time, past the kitchen, the bathroom, down the hallway and into Tweety’s room, which I should add for those of you who are slow on the uptake happens to be right across the alley from Rose Yannone’s bedroom. And that’s my devious plan, a stakeout. The plan, as I explained to Tweety is, “It’s hot, Rose has had a hard day at school, she’s sweaty and she has a pool! What do you think she’s going to do when she gets home?”
“We can’t.”
“Oh yes we can. And we will.”
“We’ll get in trouble.”
“Who will know? Your mom’s not home? Your sister’s at my house.”
“I don’t think we should.”
“As long as we’re quiet, nobody will ever know.”

So, we’re sitting there, two ten year old boys, on either side of the narrow window, peering out between the window and the white shade. Both of us, whispering, eyes glued on Rose’s bedroom across the alleyway a mere 40 feet away. Watching, watching and whispering, as if she could hear us.

“Where is she?”
“What do you think is taking so long?
“Fuck if I know.” We liked to curse if no one else was around, trying out our new words.
Suddenly, we spy Rose in the kitchen, talking to her mother, a much smaller version of Aunt Anna, but in the uniform of these Italian housewives, the nondescript flowered “housedress.’ Rose goes to the fridge, she grabs something to drink. “Come on already!” I complain. The suspense is killing me. And it’s hot. I decide to get something to drink, my Attention Deficit Disorder kicking in. The Tracy’s have just gotten one of those newfangled Fridges with the ice and ice water dispensed right from the door. It’s too much for me to resist. I scamper to the kitchen, grab a plastic cup from the cabinet and help myself to some of the best, coldest water I have ever had. “Ahhhhh.” I decide on a second cup when I hear Tweety, “Spinner, Spinner, get in here she’s fucking naked.” The cup and the water crash to the floor as I run through the ice water. I turn the corner quickly, scoot to my knees, burning them on the shag carpet and take up my place at the corner of the window. And there SHE is. Walking around her girly, pink room. Naked? Not quite, but all of the important stuff is there for an innocent ten year old boy. And we stare. Roundness. And Voluptuousness. And she looks at herself in the mirror. Who can blame her? I think, she’s amazing. She walks to her closet, she removes her bathing suit. She walks TOWARDS us. And places the bathing suit on the bed. And then she stops. She’s looking right at us. Panic! She’s paralyzed. And so are we. I still don’t know how she saw us. I imagine from her angle Tweety’s bedroom window was a white shade with two saucer-sized eyes on either side. Suddenly I feel bad, really bad for her. She’s stuck. Vulnerable. She wants to cover up. But has nothing handy. She can pull her blinds but in order to do that she actually has to walk toward the window. She has nothing handy. Finally, she yells, “Jimmy and John!” She lunges for her pillow, “Ahhhhh, I’m going to tell your mothers.” Eventually, she pulls the blinds. I imagine, she sat there on the bed, embarrassed, out of breath, maybe her mom came in from the kitchen to see what was wrong. I don’t know, we hightailed it out of there.

For the next few days, as painful as it was for me, I avoided Rose. I kept looking to see if she was coming to my house to tell my mother. Tweety and I watched, intensely, whenever Rose had conversations with his mom Rita, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. Eventually, after sweating it out for a week or so, we exhaled. We realized she wasn’t going to tell our moms.

About a week later in Tweety’s bedroom, sitting within close proximity to the guilty window the conversation goes something like this…
“So, Tweety, why do you think she didn’t tell?”
“She’s probably too embarrassed herself.” he muses.
“Could be, or maybe she figured it was just harmless. Maybe she was flattered?” I venture, always the romantic. Either way, until now, Tweety, Rose and myself are the only one’s who knew about that fateful Wednesday.

Jimmy Spinner


Anonymous said...


Eileen Wilson Marrow said...

I'm laughing my ass off!! I'm crying! You and Ron Lopez have made my day! Maybe my year! I was the little girl staring out my window..watching all this go love with all the boys....the "older boys". Rose was my babysitter. Such great memories! Thank you. Keep em' coming! Eileen Wilson