It was over fifty-five years ago, and I can still remember an incident, embarrassing, slapstick, and now even humorous. One day in the life of a young college student, who has a terrific friend – she is like family, a sister, my mother’s other adopted daughter. We are still friends. Her family and I became acquainted with each other because Fran and I attended the same college near her home in Queens. Often before or after class, I would run over to Fran’s home, which was convenient since it was only six blocks from the college campus.
I supported my mother while working my way through college. Fran and Katherine, her mother, were kind to me, often feeding me, and sometimes Katherine created odd jobs around their house, like painting, so I had extra money for everyday expenses. On weekdays, I worked in a junkyard in Willets Point in the morning, late afternoon, and early evening, then attended college after work. Working in the junkyard in Willets Point, euphemistically speaking, at a recycling scrap metal corporation, rather than a scrap metal junkyard, where I loaded and unloaded trucks. It was dirty, challenging work, and unrewarding.
I convinced myself it was for the environment, but I knew better. It was just a dirty job. Working like a mule in the junkyard motivated me to do well in school to have a better life and a better future.
One day, I was running late for school. So, I went to college straight from work, dirty and tired. I smelled of burnt copper wire, burning rubber, battery acid, dirt, and scrap metal. No one wanted to sit near me in school. Eight students sneered at me. After class, I drove to Fran’s home in my old run-down Chevy 2, the one I purchased from a local junkyard in Willets Point for twenty-five dollars.
Fran’s home was five blocks away from the college campus. They had an air-conditioner, and it was hot. I was hungry, dirty, and tired. I just wanted to cool off. So, off to Fran’s house I went.
Fran’s mother, Katherine, answered the doorbell. When she saw me, she yelled, “You are filthy. Please do not come up the carpeted stairs unless you remove your muddy shoes. Do not sit down or touch anything. You must take a shower! Please, give me your clothes. Here is my husband’s robe. I will throw your dirty clothes in the washer.” When I came out of the shower, I was wearing her husband’s robe. Katherine gave me a pair of slippers, too. She made coffee and a sandwich as she always did for Fran and me. Katherine treated me like her son.
I assumed Fran would be home any minute and thought no more about sitting at the dining room table having an early dinner with Katherine. When the doorbell rang, in came Fran’s father, Al, Katherine’s husband, who I might add was a professional Feather Weight Prizefighter, whom I had never met. “What are you doing in my robe?!” he yelled, “Sitting in my chair, wearing my slippers. In my robe, having coffee with my wife!” He looked like he was going to kill me. So, I ran downstairs like a bat out of hell as Katherine and Al started to argue. I drove away as quickly as possible. I had to stop near the college campus. I had to catch my breath and compose myself, as I was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm.
As I started to drive away, a hitchhiking student, a trend at the time, asked if I was going to Flushing. I said yes. Hop in. He did. As I was driving, the robe slipped and opened. The young student screamed something that was not politically correct, I tried to explain, and when I stopped for the light, he jumped out of my car quickly. I could hear the expletives loud and clear as I drove away bewildered.
I drove home, upset and shaking because of this incident. The poor college student must have thought I was sick, whatever! Going back home, the weather was hot; I knew a dozen people in my neighborhood were sitting outside because they could not afford an air conditioner; the people in my hood were sitting on the porch and steps to catch a breeze. I wondered to myself how I was going to pass all these people sitting on the stoop! One of them sitting on the porch was Angie B. She had a big mouth like a radio broadcaster.
I said to myself, what do I do now? I had to go to the bathroom. Uncomfortable being in such a position and now desperate, I ran up the stairs without saying a word. So, I ran through the gauntlet, up the stairs, passing all my neighbors.
A month later, I still heard about my strange encounter from the gossip of the neighbors. For the next two months, people would look at me, laugh, would wonder. So, when I asked Serena, a neighborhood girl from Corona, out on a date, her father, an Italian-American, protested loudly, “My daughter is not going out with someone who runs into his home like a mad dog in another man’s robe!”