Journal entry July 7
We moved from Brooklyn to Long Island today. To a town where every drive, court, and place is named after a girl, a bird, or some kind of shrub. Where kids play basketball in their driveways and softball in the street.
I did not want to move. I am fourteen years old. I do not like change.
“What about all my friends?”
“Don’t worry,” my parents say, “you’ll make another one.”
Another one? One? What’s that supposed to mean? Is it some kind of joke? If it is, I don’t think it’s very funny.
Our new house is on a curved “drive” with a dozen other four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath Colonials with varying degrees of multicolored shutters and front doors. And there they are – the kids in the street playing softball. I told you. We slowly cruise by them in my Dad’s Cadillac. They stare. I have a bad feeling.
A group of pubescent girls in tank tops and short shorts sit on the curb across the street and watch the movers unload our furniture. The nymphets. They notice my older brother, in his tie-dyed sleeveless t-shirt, suede vest and lovebeads, and sigh. They notice me and giggle.
My father asks me to take my two-year-old brother to the park in his stroller.
“Why do I have to walk him?”
“He’s not a dog,” says Dad. “Besides, you’re the responsible one in this family.”
I do not want to be responsible. I want to be irresponsible. Bad. An irresponsible, bad boy. And cool. Definitely cool. Like my older brother.
Instead, I push a stroller down the sloped driveway. The nymphets watch.
“Don’t forget the diapers,” my mother yells from behind me. I freeze. The nymphets giggle some more. I turn around, push the stroller back toward the house, and grit my teeth together so hard I’m afraid my jaw will crack.
“What? What’s the matter?” Mom says. She hands me a pack of newly laundered diapers.
I head back toward the nymphets like a man to the gallows.
“Don’t forget to clean his tushie if he makes. Use the A&D ointment.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the nymphets mouth “tushie?” and they die laughing. I continue walking. Don’t turn around, I tell myself. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around. I turn around. More laughter.
All the neighbors come out to say hi. They’re friendly and smiley and all, but I know what they’re thinking. Who’s the doofus with the stroller?
Except for Bobbie Koppleman.
Bobbie Koppleman is a cross between Mrs. Robinson and Laura Petrie. She isn’t like the other moms. For one thing, she wears dresses, not too short, just short enough to show off some leg. And high heels. Not too high, just high enough to provide a little wiggle as she sashays from her car to her front door with two bags of groceries from the A&P. I watch as she fiddles with her keys. She suddenly turns, catches my eye and smiles. I swear there’s a quick wink. It’s like she doesn’t see the stroller or the two-year-old, or the diapers. She sees me.
Journal entry July 8th
Our house is stifling. No air conditioning. How can you move into a new house in July without air conditioning?
“Don’t worry,” Dad says, “it’s like the country. We’ll open the front door, the back door, and a breeze will blow through the house.” We open all the doors and windows and all that blows through the ten room house is air from Africa.
I ride my bicycle back and forth along Scarlet Buckeye Drive, ignored by the kids who play basketball in their driveways and softball in the street. My older brother is somewhere in the neighborhood with his twelve new friends, eight of which are girls. A tan El Dorado slowly drives by with Bobbie Koppleman behind the wheel. I follow and park myself across the street from her house.
Bobbie removes two A&P bags. One rips and a box of Ding-Dongs (or was it Ho-Ho’s?) drops to the pavement. I pedal across the street and gallantly retrieve the wayward snacks. Bobbie thanks me, and I contribute the brilliant observation that Ding Dongs/Ho-Ho’s are my favorite.
Bobbie addresses me by name. She knows that I have two brothers and that I play the piano. Geez! Is nothing sacred? Is my entire life fodder for idle suburban gossip?
“It’s the suburbs sweetie,” she winks, reading my mind. “No secrets here.”
And then she does damndest thing. She extends her hand in that dainty kind of Queen Elizabeth way.
What do I do with it? Kiss it? Hold it? Shake it? (which I do).
“Let me help you with these, Mrs. Koppleman,” I say.
“Bobbie,” she says and opens the front door.
“Doesn’t the air conditioning feel grand?” Bobbie says as we walk into her house. I nod and think about Dad and us living like country folk in Death Valley across the street.
“Grab a seat at the bar,” she says.
Sure enough the Koppleman’s have a bar – the real deal with booze and mirrors and shot glasses. Not like my house with plastic on the living room sofa.
“What can I get you to drink?” she calls from the kitchen. I feel like Hugh Hefner on an episode of “Playboy After Dark.”
“Whatever you’re having,” I say loudly in my best Dean Martin.
Bobbie glides into the room with two drinks and stops by the stereo where she uses her pinkie to flick the “on” switch. The music is loud. I twitch.
“Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Yeah!” she growls.
Bobbie hands me my drink.
“Hawaiian Punch on the rocks for the gentleman.” I’m disappointed it’s not something stronger, but it could’ve been worse – Hi-C or Yoo-Hoo.
“To neighbors,” she toasts.
Bobbie rattles off some former address where she used to live, some place on the upper east side of Manhattan. So what do I do? I tell her we also lived on the upper east side of Manhattan (a lie!) and I come up with some address that probably doesn’t even exist and she jumps up and says that we lived a “hop, skip and a jump” away from each other.
God help me, I don’t know why I said it, it’s just that when she looked at me all excited about Manhattan, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was from Coney Island, Brooklyn, and that I lived a “hop, skip and a jump” from the bearded lady sideshow and the Cyclone roller coaster ride.
Bobbie tells me that her husband, Stanley (or is it Sidney?) thinks the city is a toilet and that’s why they moved to the suburbs. Hooterville, she calls it. I tell her I disagree with Stanley (or Sidney), and we toast to disagreeing with Stanley/Sidney. And then I go kind of nuts. Here’s what I remember:
Bobbie: “God, I miss Central Park!”
Me: “Played baseball there all the time.”
Baseball? Now I’m regaling her with tales of my non-existent athletic prowess.
Bobbie: “You know what I miss most? Strolling up Fifth Avenue on a spring day.”
Me: “I miss the Planetarium.”
My mouth was like a runaway train.
Bobbie: “I miss the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art!”
Me: “I miss the Museum of Natural History!”
Bobbie: “Foie Gras at Lutéce!”
That’s French for goose liver.
Bobbie: “You know what? I think we’re kindred spirits you and I.”
That’s Spanish for “compatible.” Two can play this game.
Bobbie: “Yes, simpatico. Muy simpatico.”
At this point she touches my glass ever so gently with hers.
Bobbie sips whatever she’s drinking and I slurp my Hawaiian Punch and nobody says anything for a few seconds, which feels like a lot longer to me. Her mood changes, I can see it on her face. She sighs and stares at the white shag carpet. So I do the gentlemanly thing, not wanting to wear out my welcome.
“I’d better be going,” I say, standing.
“Do you have to?” Bobbie asks, and I nod and mumble something about dinner.
Bobbie walks me to the front door and reaches for my Hawaiian Punch before I leave with it. She tells me she enjoyed our chat and to stop by any time, and I wonder if that means tomorrow? the day after? next week? I’ll have to think about this.
The nymphets sit on the curb directly across the street. Bobbie has closed the door but they don’t see that.
“Thanks for the drink, Bobbie,” I call out deliberately. “We’ll have to do it again.”
The nymphets stare. Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of them incredulously mouth the word, “Bobbie?” I walk past them without turning, the rhythmic beat of The Four Seasons iconic “Walk Like A Man” pulsating in my head. That’s right ladies, take a look, take a long look. You had your chance.
I stride inside our Colonial sauna, head held high.
“Where have you been?” Mom asks.
“At Bobbie’s,” I answer, and the minute I say her name, I can sense that I’ve made a mistake. It sounds, well, kinda dirty, like I shouldn’t be saying it to my Mom.
“I mean, Mrs. Koppleman, I mean,” I overcorrect.
“I know who you mean,” Mom says in way that makes me think that everyone in the neighborhood knows who I mean. “What were you doing over there?”
“Talking.” I shrug.
“Talking? What could you possibly have in common with a middle-aged woman?
“I don’t know,” I reason with my on-going non-committal I-do-this-all-the-time attitude. “You’re a middle-aged woman and we have stuff in common.”
Mom doesn’t like my tone. “Don’t be a smart-ass.”
Journal Entry – July 10
It’s been three days since I’ve seen Bobbie Koppleman. This morning I lie in bed for a few minutes planning a course of action for our next tete-a-tete (that’s French for “a private conversation between two persons”).
Then I pull up my window shade and look across the street.
I race downstairs in my underwear.
Mom is ironing in the kitchen.
“What? What is it? What’s the matter?”
I pull her to the front of the house. She complains I’m hurting her arm.
I unlock the front door.
We look across the street at the black paint on the Kopplemen’s white two car garage:
BOBBIE YOU FUCKING WHORE.
“Close the door!”
“But why – ”
“Close the door, now!”
I’m slow to move and mom slams it shut.
She wags her finger at me. Her orders are direct and to the point.
“Stay out of it, don’t go over there, mind your own business.”
I sit in my room at the window and wait. About ten o’clock the front door opens and Bobbie Koppleman walks outside with a can of paint remover and a cloth. She wears a white dress and heels, no dumpy shorts for her. And when she starts to scrub she leans over with that butt of hers high in the air as if to say to the neighborhood you know what you can do.
Within the hour Bobbie Koppleman runs out of paint remover and goes back inside. All that is left is YOU FUCK and it stays that way for the rest of the day.
Journal Entry – July 17
I haven’t seen Bobbie Koppleman in a week. I ride my bicycle all day around our neighborhood and then farther west to where Beauty Berry Place intersects Rhododendron Drive and Carlotta Court, hoping to see her El Dorado, hoping to help sweep up another Ding Dong/Ho-Ho from her driveway. I linger in front of the Koppleman house and then quickly ride circles around their driveway, slamming on the brakes, hoping the noise will bring her to the front door.
The Koppleman garage is clean except for some black smudges. (Note: If you put your nose real close to the garage door you can make out the work FUCK – I know, I tried it). I eavesdrop all the time and hear snatches of my parents’ conversations: “another man,” “affair,” “neighbor.”
One morning a FOR SALE sign appears on the front lawn. Bobbie and Stanley/Sidney Koppleman are gone.
Journal Entry – August 15
A new family moved into the Koppleman house last week, the Gloubermans. Or is it the Goobermans? I don’t know; I call them the Goobers. The first thing they did was put up a basketball hoop over the driveway for their five or six kids who all look alike. Mr. Goober drives a Pontiac Bonneville and wears a pocket protector for his pens. Mrs. Goober is named Gladys and drives a Rambler station wagon. She wear culottes and sandals, yells at the kids through the screen door, and asked me to stop riding my bicycle back and forth in front of their house so many times because it unnerves the family poodle.
Journal Entry – September 5
First day. Ninth grade. Freshman year.
I still haven’t found out all the facts, just bits and pieces of suburban rumor. But I don’t mind because whatever Bobbie Koppleman did or didn’t do, the truth is that when I was with her, I wasn’t the doofus with the stroller changing diapers. I was the bon vivant (that’s French for “one who lives well”) who, for a brief moment in time (very brief, like twenty minutes) almost took a walk on the wild side.
In my mind, I was a cool, bad boy.
And I guess that’s what we look for, isn’t it? Those moments when we see ourselves through the eyes of someone who looks beyond the diapers and the stroller. We look for our twenty minutes.
Today I stand in the doorway of my new junior high in my carefully ironed white shirt from Macy’s and tan trousers recently worn to my cousin’s sweet sixteen and a new pair of Hush Puppy shoes. I hope ninth grade is better than eighth (the pits) and nowhere near the nightmare of seventh.
The homeroom bell rings and my classmates rush by me. I wonder if they see the new me, the cool me. The way Bobbie Koppleman saw me. I’m “Hef,” in his black suit and half boots with the zipper on the side, a pipe in one hand, a cocktail in the other. Maybe they can. Maybe those kids who play basketball in their driveways and softball in the street will say hey, who do you have for second period English? or come sit with us at lunch, or I’ll let you copy my Algebra notes. Maybe they’ll do all of that.
“Move it, turd!” is what they say, pushing me out of the way.
You know what? I had my twenty minutes.
And that’s enough to keep me going until sophomore year.
Author Robert Weinberger (full biography)