Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Sundays from Hell

This innocent home was on a tree-covered street in Floral Park, New York.  For those who do not know specific East Coast locations, that's on the border of Nassau County and Queens out on Long Island.

Look friendly enough?  Not when you're done with today's reading.  Amityville had nothing on this horror.  

These were my Sundays from Hell.

Back when I was a kid, the day the Lord rested was also the time where you and your family went to visit other friends or relatives.  It was the day when you called on them.  If it was somebody within the family, it wasn't an issue.  But, in those days, your parents had friends and they got tossed into the regular visiting rotation.  This worked out great for the adults.  It was a virtual disaster for the kids, who were frequently thrown together to play for the afternoon and evening while the grown-ups boozed it up and smoked it down in the kitchen.  

Usually, those kids had nothing in common.  And had to painfully endure the day.  Forced friendships that felt incredibly non-organic.  You would never ever be friends with these tykes in school or on your block.  But, for an annoying several hours on that occasional Sunday, you had to be the best of chums.

Like them or not.

PS, in this house, I did not.  But that didn't stop Mom and Dad from visiting their friends, Joe and Dotty.  Oh, wait, Uncle Joe and Aunt Dotty, even though there wasn't a speck of matching DNA with them.  And me being figuratively chained to their kids, Roseanne, Joseph, and Denise.  Oh, wait, there were a few others.  Aunt Dotty always seemed to have one in the oven and I don't mean a Virginia Ham.  This was a very good Catholic family that had no clue what birth control was.

Meanwhile, as you will see below, these outings were meant to be days of fun.  My father would drag along his Argus Technicolor slide camera to immortalize the merriment in snapshots.  So there are tons of photos in my archives of me at this torture chamber.  With a smile that was likely would have been painted in by Photoshop years later.

Just looking at these pictures again make me want to utter the same question I always had when we ventured out to Floral Park.

Can we go home now?

In retrospect, I have no idea how my folks knew Dotty and Joe.  Were they friends from childhood?  Or work?  Or how they simply hit it off after enduring a fender bender on Jericho Turnpike?  I have no clue and will never know.  One of the many questions that I never asked.  Probably because I was too busy asking when we could get into the car and head back to Mount Vernon, New York.
Here you see Dotty and Joe with my mom.  Dotty looks a little bit like I did on those days.  My anguish was due to boredom.  Hers was likely to having been knocked up for the seventeenth or eighteenth time.  As for her hubby, he creeped me out like no other.  As I think about him, he could have easily been one of Tony Soprano's most trusted captains.  He probably worked in a factory, but I can also imagine him shaking down some poor schmuck over some stolen power tools.  I even could give him a gang-like name.

"No Fingers" Joe.

That's because he had none on one hand.  Well, he was missing three of them.  I asked my dad once how this happened.  

"There was an accident."

No more elaboration.  Was it a car smash-up?  Had he gotten too close to the meat carver in the local deli?  Or perhaps Dotty had whacked them off when an amorous Joe realized that his wife had been non-pregnant for three hours and couldn't live with that concept?

Whatever the case, I always wound up sitting next to the fingerless hand at the dinner table.  And did all I could not to look at it.

I mean, in this photo, even my own mother looks like she is trying to divert her attention from Joe's powerless claw.  Looking back at it all, I realize these Sunday visits were the equivalent of a David Lynch movie.

Luckily, I got to roam away from the table and spend time with Joe and Dotty's two oldest kids, Roseanne and Joseph.
Yeah, God help me.  These two were big into TV's Romper Room.  They wore the
hats and rode the stick horses that the kids on the show did.  Meanwhile, I had zero in common with these urchins and longed for a car ride home.

You see, beyond the Romper Room, they were also big devotees of religion, thanks to their Catholic school upbringing.  This home was a veritable extension of the Vatican.  There were crosses and holograms of Jesus hanging all over the house, including one where Christ kept nodding at you when you peed in the guest bathroom.

Okay, I didn't have a problem with other kids and their religion.  Heck, most of my closest friends in the neighborhood were Italian and went to Catholic school.  But, the youngsters in this house really WENT TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL.  And lived it every moment of their lives.  Every visit I endured at their home became a sort of religious inquisition.

"How come you don't go to Catholic school?"

Um, because I'm a Lutheran.

"What's that?"

I had paid attention in Sunday school.  I knew that Martin Luther had rebelled against some of the formalities of the Catholic faith and had devised 95 theses that were hung on doors all around town.  Or something like that.  I explained it all to Roseanne and Joseph.

"You're going to Hell."

Who says?

"My teacher, Sister Mary Something or Other."

From time to time, I had listened to this from one of the clowns on my block.  But, here, there was almost glee that I was destined to an afterlife of exceedingly hot temperatures.  So, in the living room, I would be subjected to a sing-song chorus of....

"Lenny's going to Hell.  Lenny's going to Hell."

If I sought relief in the dining room, the very moment I would enter is when Joe was making a point in the conversation.  And raising his fingerless hand.


It would be worse when we visited in the summer.  They had what passed for a backyard pool.  And there my condemnation would have the added feature of water.
Here's a rare moment where these kids weren't trying to drown me and hasten my already-scheduled trip to a fiery destination.

These days, parents would step in like boxing referees and stop the bleeding.  Back then, kids were kids and parents adopted the same stance that Franklin Roosevelt had taken regarding Europe in the 1930s.  

They'll figure it out for themselves.

Of course, the folks would, from time to time, pop out of the house to make sure they were using all the available film in their cameras.  Photo opportunities of an execution.  
Thanks, Dad, for this unfortunate moment in my time.

I remember one visit to Floral Park State Prison where I was particularly bored and bedraggled.  I sought solace by going out to my dad's Buick and I simply sat alone in the front seat.  Perhaps I thought it would magically transport me to my safe home.

It was a hot day as I sat behind the steering wheel and pretended to drive far, far away from Stumpy and his horrible kids.  I wanted some fresh air, so I rolled down the window.  Yep, this was the days before electric controls.  Then I decided to roll up the window. 

Roll down. 

Roll up. 

Roll down. 

Roll up.

On the last roll up, my right hand was where it shouldn't be.

I rolled the window up on my fingers. And suddenly had no clue how to extricate myself from this mess. I had only one resource.

I screamed.

And screamed.

And screamed.

Unfortunately, everybody in Stumpy's house had gone out to the backyard.
I was stuck for probably no more than five minutes. But, it seemed like days before anybody heard me. My dad and Stumpy came running out of the backyard. The Jaws of Life were not needed. My dad simply got into the car and lowered the window. And I got one of the standard childhood reprimands.

"Stop touching things."


I was more embarrassed than in pain. I looked up at Stumpy who had a huge grin on his face. He found humor in it all.

"If you're not careful, you're going to wind up like me!"

Joe held his non-hand up in front of my eyes. It was like Frankenstein had popped out of the bushes in a horror movie. I wanted to scream all over again. But simply recoiled in silence. I looked longingly at my father.

Dinner last night:  Assorted Chinese dishes at Genghis Cohen.


Anonymous said...

Too funny. Did you make the swim suit section of HL Green's Spring Sale ad? We all had similar forced visits but none as entertaining as yours.

Anonymous said...

Sunday was go to Dad's house for me, complete with second wife and her two kids who called my father "Dad." Yeah, that was fun.