Episode Six: The Beginning
Those hot Chicago summer afternoons when kids and adults alike would open up fire hydrants and drench the streets until they shimmer like a mirage were the times Tommy felt most alive.
The noise of thousands of people talking, yelling, screaming, laughing and moaning filled the streets as the heat, humidity and fullness of the scents of summer wafted through the air. By this, his twenty-fourth year, it was also a reminder of the summers of his boyhood and the experiments of his adolescence.
The south side was the playground of Tommy and Frank’s youth. The sons of immigrants, they grew up fast but they grew up smart. Unlike others from their neighborhood who had taken the easy route and started boosting cars and running with the wise guys, Tommy’s father made sure his son stayed on the straight and narrow path by emphasizing schooling. He was also an outrageously patriotic American. There was a ban on anything but English when possible and trying American foods -- from hot dogs to corn flakes — anything to break the Italian stereotype.
Frank and Tommy had been friends since they both were in the crib, but where the Berlinis taught the high road, Frank learned the low road from his family. Frank’s uncle was one of the most powerful gangsters in the country, having gotten his start with Capone during prohibition. His Dad, while not part of that thing of theirs, ran part of the docks and was one of the silently complicit. Frank had seen too many cousins, uncles and friends get beaten or killed.
After the two found each other, they found outlet in sport, especially stick ball and basketball on hot summer days such as this. Both eventually grew to over six feet and when added to their above average grades, they both found athletic scholarships to college. Frank went off to tiny Evergreen State, Tommy to Fordham. Although they both had escaped to the bosom of respectable and traditional America, good Italian boys always stayed close to the neighborhood in the 1960s.
“Hey, Tommy, how have you been?” Frank said as he welcomed Tommy to a booth at the drug store-ice cream parlor they had spent many an afternoon.
“I couldn’t complain if I had the time, Frank.”
“How’s the job?”
“If you like checking to see if adult men are in bed by midnight and making sure their jocks are clean, the job is great.”
“Yea, but you are assistant general manager of a professional basketball team. Works on the ladies, at least,” Frank said wryly.
“The one I am interested in doesn’t really care.”
“Oh, so you are here for her. When you told me you were going to be in the neighborhood today I figured it was Susan that dragged you down here on a weekday.”
“She is something.”
“Now, now. So, how is the big insurance agent? Sold any big policies today?”
“No, but I had one die on me today. When they go, that leaves no more coming in and that is not good.”
“It’ll turn around soon. They say it takes at least five years to build a client base and rapport and you’ve been at it for what, three years?”
“This guy I work with landed a flock. That’s an entire church membership. He said in five years he’ll earn more than $1 million off of those folks. That ain’t bad at all.”
“Not bad at all. You could earn enough to buy the majority in that that new franchise in Phoenix and we could run a team. No more making hotel reservations and lugging equipment. What’s the odds on you landing a flock in the next six months?”
“Odds on the street are at 100 to 1, but at least they are taking bets. Its still possible.”
“Just because there are odds, it doesn’t mean anybody is fool enough to place a bet.”
“You always gotta be right, don’t you, you smart son of a bitch?”
“Frank, Frank, when one argues with you, one is usually in the right.”
“Very funny. Hilarious. Wise, yet a pain in the ass.”
“Well, I hate to be right again, but I got to get going. Susie doesn’t like me to be late even though she is never ready when I get there. You going to be out later?”
“Yea, I’m meeting up with some of the old boys tonight. Going to Sid’s, then maybe to the Blue Oyster. Why? Do you want to go out with the wolves tonight?”
After the ceremonial waiting and talking to Susie’s family, the couple ended up going to the double feature at the neighborhood movie theater. Tommy may have loved the heat but Susie wanted the air conditioning. Her hair barely made it through the walk to the theater, after all.
They whispered sweet nothings and cuddled almost all the way to intermission. Susie did most of the talking and Tommy most of the ogling. She was a real looker. Plump in all the right places and extremely elegant and refined. So much so that each inch of her body and every thread of her clothing were the very embodiment of the glory that is woman. She knew it and most of the time all she sought is to see her companions agape.
Tommy was more than happy to oblige. She was little more than desire for him as is most young love. He did think he would marry her one day, hopefully, but he knew not that the love he felt was little more than an extension of the lust he had felt the first time he laid eyes on her.