In the introductions to the previous installments in this series of excerpts from a semi-autobiographical novel I had been working on but was forced to abandon, I explained how the work included a completely fictional origin story for my biological mother.
I also mentioned previously that after meeting my birth mother in 2012, I learned that her family, both maternal and paternal, was of eastern European Jewish decent going back many generations, but she had no idea what my biological father’s heritage might be, because she couldn’t remember his name after their one-night stand. Then, just a few years ago, a DNA test I had done revealed I was:
80% Ashkenazi Jewish
Well, of all of these excerpts I plan to post here at The Owl Journal, I’m most excited to share this one. After all, not everyone gets a chance to make up the story of their own conception!
So, what do ya say we find out how I might have ended up 20% Italian!
Schwartz’s Castkills Bungalow Resort, in 1963, was WAY past its prime, if ever it had a prime, and the founders and proprietors of the resort, several generations of just one of the Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York Schwartz families, were the only authority on the subject, so of course there was a prime!
Schwartz’s consisted of a compound of shabby shacks, covered in peeling paint, wood rot, lichen and moss, clustered around a small lake, more of a pond than a lake, each shack nestled amongst a mix of evergreen and deciduous that represented nearly the only good decision the Schwartzes ever made concerning the property, notable not for something they did to it, but what they did not do, namely refraining from cutting down any more trees than they absolutely needed to.
Elsewhere, there was a rusted, tetanus-spreading playground structure, a water-logged, slippery, algae-covered dock to which a dozen row boats of questionable sea-worthiness were tethered. Just past the entrance and the Welcome To Schwartz’s Catskills Resort sign stood a dilapidated office/snackbar, where guests checked in, and while in residence checked out items like ping-pong paddles and balls, oars and life preservers.
Schwartz’s attracted a somehow still-devoted community of regulars; working class Jews who could not afford The Concord or Grossingers, but for whom the natural surrounds provided an adequate respite from New York City’s legendarily sweltering concrete summers.
Another reason why the Schwartz’s clientele didn’t care so much about the state of the resort: a week or two in a shack by a pond was still vastly superior to no holiday at all, and besides, it was the worst-kept secret in the Catskills that many of the customers at the low-end resorts would slyly, so they thought, infiltrate the larger, posh resorts, nursing a drink or two well beyond any reasonable duration, lounging poolside or lakeside with actual paying guests whom they were at least marginally acquainted with. And, in the evenings, it was quite common for just about anyone who made the trip, from neighboring resorts or even the 90 miles from the city, to show up at the most popular establishments to see shows offering big bands, crooners, and comics, and drinks, drinks, drinks.
(Author’s Note: Vol. 2 of these Excerpts provides helpful pretext for the following.)
You wouldn’t immediately know, from a glance of an observation, that anything was brewing beneath the surface, as the Goldbergs — the Goldberg Plumbing Goldbergs, whom, like the Schwartz’s were also from Sheepshead Bay — pulled into Schwartz’s long gravel driveway on a sunny July Sunday.
“Now, Harold & Elaine, you both have been doing so well in school, we’re very proud of you, you’ve earned a nice, relaxing time here at Schwartz’s, but I want to know where you are at all times, understand? It’s not difficult. ‘Mom, I’m going out in one of the boats with so-and-so. Mom, I’m going to play Scrabble over at so-and-so’s bungalow. Mom, I’m going with so-and-so to get an ice cream.’ Got it?”
“Yes, Mom.” Replied the siblings in unison.
Elaine accompanied her family to Schwartz’s each summer, where, in exchange for free lodgings, her father, Saul, and her brother, Howard, worked on a backlog of plumbing repairs that Marv Schwartz delayed every year, much longer than he should have, until the Goldbergs arrived. The work typically kept Saul so busy — whereas Howard would be given lengthy breaks for leisure time with his sister and mother — that it was hardly a vacation at all for him, and yet he felt great pride, satisfaction, and purpose in being able to provide the holiday experience for his family each year.
For most of their many years at Schwartz’s, the Goldbergs’ arrival, for Howard and Elaine at least, was usually filled with great anticipation and excitement. While Howard assisted his father more than he preferred, both he and Elaine typically enjoyed many hours, often a considerable portion of each day and evening, either on their own or with the other sons and daughters on the premises.
However, in stark contrast to Elaine’s hopes and dreams for this vacation, their time at Schwartz’s started out excruciatingly disappointing and desperately dull and boring. She missed the stimulation and freedom of her time at Harold’s clubhouse, she found the other girls her age at Schwartz’s to be terribly uninteresting and prudish, and worst of all, the boys were slim in number and almost uniformly unattractive.
Saul Goldberg was focused on work during the day, and even a considerable number of evenings, because pipes and fixtures inconveniently do not require daylight in order to leak or burst. On evenings when no work presented itself, Saul would either play poker with other older men or bridge with his wife and a rotating lineup of other couples, reading books about the two great World Wars, or occasionally taking in a show somewhere nearby.
Ida Goldberg, the Goldberg matriarch, was nearly joined at the hip with the other wives and mothers for the bulk of her time at Schwartz’s, playing marathon games of Mah Jong, in addition to cards, tanning, burning, peeling, tanning, etc., etc., sipping ridiculously weak Tom Collinses in order to stretch the supply of gin as far as possible. As if there was such a thing as professional gossiping, Ida and her summer resort friends always seemed to be in intensive training for the world championship, working each other into frenzied repeating crescendos, beginning with absurd token whispers about medical conditions, unemployment, match-making, or infidelities, replete with insidious rumors and smears of a gradually increasing magnitude, and punctuated with a broad repertoire of sneers, eye-rolling, giggling, angry outbursts, and occasional weeping.
The summer at Schwartz’s after Elaine graduated from high school was loaded, a powder keg precariously close to an open flame. Elaine’s pump had been primed by a solid year of hanging out with Howard and his guy friends, talking about boys and girls getting together and all that that entailed, developing a taste for alcohol and Rock ‘n’ Roll music and the many lurid images that consequently took root, flourished, and bloomed. She’d become even more skilled than her brother in safely sneaking around behind her parents’ backs. She kissed some boys, she allowed them to kiss her, allowed their hands to wander to zones above and below, and she’d become familiar with the feeling of erections bulging through jeans, poking her through clothing, she felt the pulsing of a penis in her hand, and the spastic contractions that would eventually overwhelm the boys and leave a sticky residue in her palm.
But, she hadn’t gone “all the way,” as the saying went in those days, and the two weeks in the Catskills that summer of 1963 was beckoning, a rite of passage that she longed for, but which she’d held off on, preferring to reserve the honors for someone special, and certainly not a Sheepshead Bay boy who would very likely blow her cover. By some miracle and a combination of wit, threats, and blackmail, she’d prevented acquiring a reputation as loose and easy, and she meant to keep it that way. She’d accomplished too much to fail now.
A central feature of the long con she’d been playing on Saul and Ida was the maintenance, at all times in their presence, of a subdued, worn-down, and defeated affect. No complaining, no outward appearance of rebellion of any kind, she even took to always wearing her least flattering clothing, of keeping her hairstyle as plain as possible, and around the house always with her face in a book, and rarely watching television. She liked to think of it as the old maid librarian approach, and she maintained an excellent grade point average in school, if not valedictorian-worthy, close.
And he shook it like a hurricane
He shook it like to make it break
And he shook it like a holy roller, baby
With his soul at stake
With his soul at stake
~Gillian Welch, from Elvis Presley Blues
The second Saturday night of their vacation was the Goldberg’s annual evening out at Grossinger’s, one of the elite Catskills resorts, where they’d indulge in their one splurge of the entire year, the legendary Grossinger’s variety show, featuring a live big band, song and dance routines, crooners, and comedians. Saul and Ida were enamored of the whole experience, the chance to have even a few hours in such a “classy joint,” as the Goldbergs always referred to it, and the music and humor typical of the shows was seemingly fixed outside of time, appealing to the post-WWII generation, with only subtle and sparse derisive nods to the evolving sense and sensibilities emerging in the early 1960s.
Elaine and Harold were always bored stiff throughout most of the program, longing to be able to order drinks like all the adults in the room, longing for some Rock ‘n’ Roll music, and so they hardly anticipated a radically different act appearing that night: Paulie Roma, The Italian Elvis!
Jarringly for the adults in the room, the Italian Elvis followed an elaborate musical showpiece, with a Hawaiian theme, all flowers and hula and slide guitar, and then Paulie Roma was followed by a comedian who spent nearly the first half of his act pillorying the Italian Elvis and youth culture in general.
Harold and Elaine, on the other hand, lit up with an animating energy they didn’t think was possible in that setting. Harold, rarely a confident young man, upon seeing other young couples rushing to the dance floor, ran over to Louise Bernstein, whom he knew he wasn’t really that interested in, but whom he’d observed many times happened to be a very good dancer.
Elaine, meanwhile — as Paulie Roma gyrated on stage, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing “Hound Dog” — felt a stirring of her blood and hormones that had been largely absent thus far during the vacation. Paulie was a stereotypical Italian greaser, wearing a leather jacket, hair slicked back into a classic pompadour, and oozing testosterone from every pore. The music was loud and brash, the oldest in the audience could be seen with their fingers in their ears or practically running for the door for a cigarette break.
As the Italian Elvis’ set continued — “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” brought it down for a slow dance with “Love Me Tender,” and then ending with the raucous “That’s Alright” — Elaine’s mind was racing, working up how she could possibly hook up with this guy. The best she could probably wring out of her parents was an unaccompanied visit to the restroom, and that certainly didn’t give her much time, but she saw no alternative, she’d have to run, she’d have to suffer the interrogation for taking longer than seemed reasonable when she returned. It was, she decided, worth it. She decided that The Italian Elvis would claim her virginity.
She remembered something from several years prior, as she and her family were walking to their car, seeing on the side of the building that housed the ballroom, several of the entertainers, still in their costumes, sitting on a stoop and smoking cigarettes. And it was this memory on which she placed all her hope. As soon as Paulie was done with his set, Elaine announced that she was going to the bathroom. She walked slowly toward the exit of the ballroom, and once in the lobby she bolted out the front door and around to the side of the building.
Elaine was surging with a wave of anticipation and that now-familiar thrill of risk she’d began enjoying over the past year. But, there was also something new to her, there was this manic determination to make this moment happen, to cross over the threshold into womanhood, from which she could never technically, biologically return. That whom she would cross this threshold with barely mattered, that he only met her aesthetic needs, didn’t give her any pause. It just didn’t matter.
However, every second did matter, the wait excruciating, her awareness of how long she’d been away from the family table elevating her anxiety, thoughts of her plan failing filled her with despair, and just as she was about to abort, the side door burst open, and there was Paulie Roma, his leather jacket slung over his shoulder, his shirt drenched in sweat, and only barely having made eye contact with Elaine, she pounced, literally, leaping at him, landing in his arms, her legs clinched around his waist, her mouth pressed hard against his.
To her ecstatic delight, Paulie resisted nothing. In fact, he separated from her long enough to grab her hand and raced with her around to the back of the building, which abutted a patch of woods. They plunged through the trees, about 20 yards in, out of sight from anyone who might be nearby. Paulie pinned Elaine up against a mature oak tree, reached under her skirt, and almost violently pulled down her panties, while Elaine’s hands busily worked on his belt buckle and the button fly of his jeans. Paulie did the rest of the work, pulling down his pants and underwear, his erection springing out, larger and more intimidating than Elaine expected. He lifted her back up, his hands under her thighs, and he penetrated her with one, well aimed thrust.
Elaine also hadn’t expected the initial piercing pain of his entry, and yet she experienced it, oddly, as a new kind of pleasure, which was gone as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by the rhythm of Paulie entering, retreating, entering, retreating. In her head she synced up this rhythm with “Hound Dog,” experiencing that song and that driving rock beat like she never had before. And just as the song was repeating, as she felt his pleasure mixing with hers, their breathing becoming deeper and deeper, she felt Paulie’s body tense up, felt him deeper inside her than she thought possible, and he let out a throaty moan, like some kind of wild animal, and just like that, it was over.
With no time to spare, no time for pleasantries or making plans to see each other again, Elaine, in a mad rush, pulled up her panties, brushed herself off, and ran away, hearing Paulie call out, “Wait! Where’re you going? Come back!”
As she ran, Elaine felt Paulie’ semen ooze from her, wetting her panties, but she had no time to actually go to the very bathroom that she’s said she was going to in the first place. Storming through the front door of the ballroom, collecting herself for one brief moment, taming her hair by coming it back with her fingers, she walked toward her family’s table, avoiding eye contact, and only barely able to restrain her heavy breathing as she took her seat.
Her parents, red with rage, shouted in unison, “Where the HELL have you been?!”