Author's note: The version of the song being used for this story's purpose is not the long-standing version sung by Frank Sinatra among others. It is a slightly more modern doo-wop version done by many groups- the particular arrangement is by the Five Discs, and the song, if you are interested in hearing it, can be found on YouTube.
Hurry Up! Hurry Up!
Let's Fall In Love
Hurry Up! Hurry Up!
Let's Fall In Love
Let's Fall In Love,
Why Shouldn't we fall in love?
Our Hearts Are Made For It,
Let's Take a Chance,
Why be afraid of it?
Let's close our eyes,
And make our own paradise,
Little we know of it,
Still we can try,
To make a go of it.
We might have been made for each other,
To be or not to be? Let our hearts discover!
Let's fall in love!
Why shouldn't we fall in love?
Here at the eighth grade,
While we are young,
Let's fall in love!
Hurry Up! Hurry Up!
Let's fall in love!
It was a long time ago. I was a young boy, and the year was 1964. I was in Junior High School. It was a cold winter. A cold, cold winter. Snow fell from the sky like no tomorrow, and it was an unusual time. Out west, the time of love, peace, happiness, and too much fucking pot was starting to really come into full bloom. But that wasn't here.
Here was New York City, Manhattan. A Jewish ghetto on the Lower East Side. No, it isn't as bad as it was 60 something years ago. Living conditions have improved some. My mom worked at home, and my dad was a wholesale clothing salesman who wasn't home very often. My parents were smart enough to stay the fuck out of that nasty, and then new, concept known as the suburbs.
We lived in a three bedroom apartment, then. My sisters Rachel and Sarah shared one of them. My brothers Saul, Jacob, and I all shared the second. My parents shared the third, of course. Maybe five kids seems like a lot, but my neighbors had 12, so I don't think we were too bad off.
My parents weren't black-hat religious, but they believed, and we were raised to believe with them. Not two months ago, I had been Bar Mitzvahed. That means that, in the eyes of the community, I was a man. In our community, men were men, women were women, and men became men when they had partaken in the Bar Mitzvah. Which made me ... a man.
As a man, I was expected to do certain things. First of all, I was expected to partake in the religious responsibilities that came with being one. Second of all, I was expected to watch over the younger members of my family when my mother was unable to do so. Third of all, I was expected to find a job and bring much needed money into the family coffers. Fourth, I was expected to continue my education so that I could get a college degree, and my doctorate.
Because, as we all know, while science tells us that a child is a living, breathing individual soul with rights at the moment of conception. But my mother, like all Jewish mothers, knew the truth. A child becomes a living breathing human being with rights when they graduate from Medical school, or, if they are a dunce, law school.
This might seem foreign to you, but it was the way I was brought up. It wasn't so much that my parents hoped I would be a doctor. No, I was going to graduate from high school in the top of my class. I was going to attend NYU, but only if I failed to get into Columbia. And I was then going to go to medical school, so I could make enough money to support my then-to-retire parents in the manner to which they had become accustomed. This was not up for debate.
Oh, I forgot the fifth responsibility. I was to be found WAS TO BE FOUND- a woman who I was to marry and bear grandchildren with, starting with when we got married in five years time.
Yes, I was expected to do all this. If I could manage to eat, sleep, and use the facilities in addition, that meant I had good time management.
So, as soon as the ceremony had been complete, and the small, family, celebration that had gone along with it, I was ordered to find work.
Since I didn't find work within a week of the order being given, my parents had set me up in a job with an older jeweler named Benjamin Epstein. Mr. Epstein to me. I may be a man, but he was still my elder and my boss. I was responsible for assisting him, and he was a kind man, so in addition to my assisting him, he taught me the business.
Now, please keep in mind, this didn't mean my parents didn't care about me. They loved me dearly, and my father worked himself ragged trying to provide for us. My mother was a wonderful cook who kept a clean and bright house. She taught us all well, and raised us properly. Perhaps she would be called abusive now.
But I don't think that when I experimented with arson when I was five years old, it was abusive of her to spank my ass so hard I couldn't sit for a few days. Sometimes a child needs to have it explained to them that they should not do that again. Very thoroughly. Lest they not understand and do it again.
Mr. Epstein was, as I said, a nice man. Among the things he did that was nice was to give me a lunch hour, and allow my lunch, which was to be had at Levine's Deli up the street, to be paid for on a tab billed to him. He also taught me so much about the business that I ended up starting a business working with jewelry when I got older.
Anyway, it was at one of these lunches that our story begins. I was sitting at the counter enjoying - what else? - a Corned Beef, Pastrami, and mustard on rye bread. I was washing this down with a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. Excuse me being a stereotype.
A girl walked in. I knew her from school. She was a little older than me, and she had already been hooked up with Mark Chazen. Her name was Rebecca, I don't recall the last name. Weisenstein? I think so. But this was the first time I looked at her outside of school. She didn't wear the glasses that hid her animated and very emotive face. She was one of the brightest girls in my class.
I was also one of the brightest kids in my class. So much so that I was actually at the top of the class in a class full of people who were all bull-whip driven by their insane Jewish parents to be at the top of their class. So much so that I actually had the chance at becoming the doctor my parents wanted me to be.
Anyway, this was interesting, because, even in her ankle-length skirt and loose-fitting blouse, she was stunningly beautiful. She had a very animated and happy face. Her eyes glowed. She smiled a lot. I was smitten.
The problem is, as I said, we lived in a world where marriages were arranged, and she was already hooked up to be with someone, and that someone wasn't me. But a man can dream. And I dreamed. Not just dreamed- acted.
"Hi," I said, smiling at her in a friendly and interested way.
"Hi," she said, looking at me with interest, "Aren't you Ari Freidman?"
"Yes, I am indeed," I said, smiling, "We are in several classes together."
"I know," she said, her smile lighting up my heart.
"I never noticed," I said, "I am sad to say, that you are so beautiful, however."
She blushed, and turned away. She, as I said, belonged to somebody else.
After receiving the meat she ordered, she left the store, presumably for home.
It was a brief encounter, only a few minutes long. Words of import had not even been exchanged. Except for one thing I had fallen in love. And it was a love that continued to grow as I paid more and more attention to her. I had been hooked up with a somewhat dull kvetch of a girl named Megan Lowenthal. She didn't seem to particularly like me, and I sure as fuck didn't like her. But our parents had decided that this made a great deal of sense. Or possibly cents. I'm not sure which.
Probably, nothing would have happened. It is highly likely nothing would have happened. But faith, or in my mind, God, intervened, about a year and a half later.
The date was November 9th, 1965. A few days before, some idiot set an automatic trip relay for a voltage line leading from Sir Adam Beck Niagara Generating Station #2. At 5:16 PM, a surge from Robert Moses Generator in Lewiston caused that relay to trip. The resulting redistribution of power caused a cascading systems failure that resulted in one of the largest blackouts in history up to that point.
At 5:27, I was riding in a largely empty subway train that I had boarded at Prospect Ave, known internally as Coney Island 458N because it was an N-train that had departed Coney Island station at 4:58. Rebecca had boarded the same train, in my car, at Atlantic Ave. The chances were one in a billion, or one in a trillion, that we'd even be in the same car together on all the thousands of cars running through the city, all the hundreds of trains, that were running now at only a few minute headways for the evening rush hour.
The train was empty because it was running a reverse peak move, operating out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan, and because, due to the odd location of the stairs leading closest to our homes, we had picked the front-most car of the train, which is rarely crowded.
Rebecca was sitting directly across from me when the power went out. At that point there were three people in the car, one of which was the train's driver.
And it was at that point, practically in the middle of the Montague Street Tunnel, when the lights went out, and the train came to a halt.
And I charged across the car to get to her. I wrapped my arms around her and held her. We hadn't developed the friendship, but the feelings that had been growing in me with regard to her were manifesting themselves.
Oddly, she threw her arms around me, too, and started crying on my shoulder.
"Ari," she said, "Its not just me, is it?"
"No, its not just you, Rebecca."
"Becky," she said.
"When I dream about you, you always call me Becky."
We sat there holding each other. A train breaking down and its power going out was not that abnormal. Nobody knew what was going on, though. The fact that the dispatch wasn't getting through to the train was the scariest part. The fact that a million rescuers hadn't descended on us after two hours, that clinched it. Something was rotten in Denmark, and it wasn't just our train.
We were blocking the fucking Montague Street Tunnel. If the system was up and running, we'd be a tremendous roadblock in the busiest transit system on earth. How busy? The B, B Express, D, N, and Q trains all operate through this tunnel on three minute headways at this hour. That means that in a period of three minutes, this tunnel would be seeing five trains coming through here, in each direction. A train every 40 seconds. Keeping in mind that it takes about 20 seconds for a train to pass any given point, that means that about half the time, a train is present.
And just to keep that figure in perspective, the average rush hour peak-direction train on the system is carrying 2000 people. If we simply took the trains back to their terminals and counted that, our train was probably standing in the way of the movement of over a hundred thousand people.
They wouldn't be trying to get us out of here- no, they'd be moving heaven and earth to get us out of the way. They weren't. Therefore, the train was not a roadblock. Therefore, the road had no traffic. The traffic wasn't moving. The City that never sleeps must have stopped.
Those were the thoughts that were going through my head.
And with that fear gripping my stomach- you have to remember this was 1965. Russia nuking the City would have produced a similar situation. It was utterly terrifying. I was scared, but was trying to remain strong for the girl I was holding on to.
As the hours wore on, we started talking. I ended up spilling my guts about how much I hated the whiney, stupid, obnoxious, self-centered, kvetch known as Megan Fucking Lowenthal. The idea of spending ten minutes with her was loathsome. The rest of my life living with her made suicide an appealing prospect.
To my surprise, Becky felt the same way about Mark Chazen, except he was seemingly even worse. First of all, he apparently had some kind of vision deficiency, because he not only thought Becky wasn't the most beautiful thing on two legs, but was, in fact, somewhat ugly. He felt that a woman's place was in the home, preferably groveling before her man. Women were stupid. They didn't belong in the workforce. Period, end of discussion. He felt they were for making things, namely babies and dinner.
This insight into Mark made me feel like kicking his ass into next Tuesday.
To me, the woman, as an object, well ... Your honor, I object!
Yes, yes, I felt Becky was very physically attractive if we looked at her totally that way. But it was her personality that gave that attractiveness life. She was intelligent, funny, amusing, and interesting to talk to. She was warm, and independent. She wanted to work for a living and make something of herself. If she had been mine, I wouldn't have worshipped her.
A woman is not an object to put up on a pedestal and worship. But I'd have done one better. I would have respected her. I would have treated her like she was my equal. A capable provider. I would love her, not because she is a woman, but because she is a wonderful person worthy of that love.
The more we talked about it, the more I hated the system I had grown up understand to be the way of the world. And this was New York Fucking City. My parents didn't manage to shield me from the fact that this was not the way of the world. When we turned 18, raspberry on you, asswipe motherfuckers.
As we were both talking, we seemed to, at exactly the same moment, ask the question:
"Why do we have to put up with this?"
Then we looked at each other. We looked deep into each other's soul. And we knew the answer.
It wasn't a good system. When you are 13, you get shoved into a life with another person. Your parents start chanting: Hurry up! Fall in love! Why can't you fall in love? Your hearts are made for it, take a chance, why be afraid? You might have been meant for each other.
I mean, technically, we could object if the person was truly incompatible with us. I think that was good intentioned planning of another time. But the reality is, if I had objected, I would have been shunned. She would have been marked out as little better than a whore.
Ghandi once said, "I like your Christ, but I don't like your Christians." Well, I love my god. His followers, not so much.
He also said, of Western Civilization, that he felt "it would be a very good idea." But I digress.
But we asked ourselves: Why shouldn't WE fall in love? Our hearts are made for it. So let's take a chance. Why be afraid of it? We might have been made for each other, to be or not to be. So lets close our eyes to this, and make our own paradise. Little we know of it, why shouldn't WE try to make a go of it?
And so a plan was hatched. We couldn't openly rebel against our parents. For the next three and a half years, we'd be living a lie, pretending to go along with them. But on my 18th birthday, it would be time for us to raise our fists in the air, and gently extend our middle fingers.
No, you horny bastards. We didn't have sex in the dark subway car. But we did sleep together. The power didn't come back on in the Montague Street Tunnel until 7AM, and it was nearly 9 before they started to move the train. We fell asleep in each others arms, and when we woke up in the morning, the deal was sealed and we were in love.
We saw each other in school, and we made a point to create a group friendship between Mark, Megan, Rebecca, and myself. That gave us the opportunity to converse between us, and to plan, without raising too much suspicion.
For quite some time, everything went along smoothly. We made our plans, and they were foolproof. I put a percentage of the money that I made away. I came to trust Mr. Epstein. Beyond trust, we became friends, to the point where I started to call him Ben, at least when there were no customers around.
So one day, I confided my plans to him. And he was willing to keep the secret, and even help us. How did he help us? The primary one was that he let me know I was getting a pay cut. I so informed my parents, who were not happy.
But in reality, he actually gave me a small raise. Which allowed me to put away money every week. Normally, all of it went to the family. I started carefully squirreling money away- although I put it in Mr. Epstein's safe. I didn't want my parents to find it.
Things went according to plan for two full years. The money I was hiding away grew to nearly $1000. Which was real money back then. Becky and I fell more and more in love, which made it increasingly hard to hide it. It was all working perfectly. Until the Chazens scheduled the wedding. The problem? It was only two weeks after Becky's 18th birthday. Which means before my 18th birthday.
When I found this out, I was desolate. Totally. I was standing behind the counter at work, and managed to convince a customer that I wasn't that interested in servicing them. Mr. Epstein- Ben- replaced me with somebody else and called me into the back room.
"Ari, you look like your mother took your favorite puppy," he told me, "My best worker, you are, but acting like this you can not."
"I'm sorry, Ben."
"Its not like you to be like this. A reason there must be."
"There is one, yes," I replied.
I explained to him about Rebecca and her marriage.
"Ah," he said, "Have you considered her leaving before you?"
In the immortal words of Gru from Despicable Me, "Lightbulb."
Next time I could get her alone, we discussed plans. Mr. Epstein helped by finding her a job with a jeweler he knew in Buffalo, a cousin of his that had also ran away from the closed-community outlook. He owned the building that his shop was in and rented the apartment to her- us, really- as well.
On the day of her 18th Birthday, I got off from work, and she met me in front of her building, a single suitcase being what she was willing to risk taking with her. We walked to the East Broadway subway stop, and walked down the stairs. I carried her suitcase.
We road the train to Broadway-Lafayette, and then changed trains at Bleeker St. We road the train to Grand Central Terminal. We looked at each other sadly. It really was an unfortunate comment on our lives that she had to sneak away in order to live her life in the manner she wished to. Namely with me.
At Grand Central, I bought her a ticket to Buffalo on train number 25, New York Central's Twentieth Century Limited in coach. It cost $20.70. There was no need for a round trip ticket. She wouldn't be back. It was a large chunk of change. I gave her $400 out of the money I had saved. She was to use that to pay for rent and to live for the next few months.
An announcement was made: "New York Central announces boarding for the Twentieth Century Limited on Track 34. All streamliner extra fare limited stopping Croton-Harmon, Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Englewood, and Chicago. All Aboard."
I walked her to the entrance to Track 34, where she walked out of my life for several months down the famous red carpet.
She arrived in Buffalo fine. She took the job, and made some money, and told me life was going quite well.
It was three months of almighty hell. She didn't call me. She didn't write me, either. She wrote Ben, enclosing letters to me in them. The waiting is the hardest part.
Emotionally this was very difficult. I didn't like the system that my parents subscribed to, that Becky's parents subscribed to. But they were my parents- our parents. And everyday, I remembered that I was betraying them. That we were betraying them.
Becky's disappearance created an incredible scandal within the community. Her parents were worried sick, utterly sick, which is why she sent them a letter from Grand Central telling them that she was alright- she just didn't jive with the life they had laid out for her.
They demonized her, of course. It was simply unacceptable for a woman to have a mind of her own. It wasn't acceptable to have a mind of your own being a child, either.
Still, I put up with it until two days after my 18th birthday. My wedding to Megan "The Shrew" Lowenthal was to be in but a week. I went to work, as usual that day. Mr. Epstein welcomed me to work, handed me all the money I had saved, and what he called a wedding gift- a ticket on the flagship train of the Erie-Lackawanna, the Pheobe Snow to Salamanca, NY, where I was to take a connecting bus to Buffalo.
I had slowly been bringing a decent amount of my stuff to his store. I packed that all into the bag he gave me. I shook hands with the man, tears swelling up in my eyes, thanking him profusely for helping us. I then took a bus across the city to the Erie-Lackawanna's ferry dock at Barclay Street, and boarded a large ferry.
The trip across the river was brief, and we docked at a huge indoor ferry slip. I walked from the boat to the increasingly decrepit remnants of Erie-Lackawanna's Hoboken terminal. I sat on a bench and waited. Eventually announcements started to be made:
"Now boarding on track 7 is the streamliner train number one, the Phoebe Snow with service to Scranton, Binghamton, Elmira, Youngstown, and Chicago. Sleeper, diner, and lounge service. Serving all intermediate points: Newark, Brick Church, Summit, Dover, and Blairstown, New Jersey; East Stroudsburg, Cresco, Pocono Summit, and Scranton, Pennsylvania; Binghamton, Endicott, Owego, Waverly, Elmira, Corning, Hornell, Wellsville, Cuba, Olean, Salamanca, and Jamestown, New York; Corry, Union City, Cambridge Springs, Meadville, Greenville, and Sharon, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Niles, Warren, Kent, Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, Galion, Marion, Lima, and Ohio City, Ohio; Decatur, Huntington, Rochester, North Judson, Crown Point, and Hammond, Indiana, Engelwood, and Chicago, Illinois. All Aboard the Phoebe Snow track 7."