Worse even than being cut off from hot pastrami sandwiches for four years was having to go to an all-boys' high school. For the whole time you never saw a girl. We felt sorry for those guys because they were just the years when nothing seemed more important. The song, "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life At Last I Found Thee" said it in one line. All our spare time was spent looking for them and searching for the mystery.

   Our girls were, naturally, from the neighborhood, not what you would call movie star material, but okay. I mean, not imported quality like say a Greta Garbo, more the wholesome home-made type, like say, blintzes. And they didn't know any more what the mystery was than we did, although everybody was chasing it. In the end a hunk of it blew right up in our faces in a way nobody saw in advance.

   Frankie was getting closest to catching on, or thought he was. He was the first to discover soul kissing, and when he did he called a meeting right away. That Saturday night we took our dates to Stretch's sisterąs house to baby sit for her and practice soul kissing until she came home. It was also the first night this Betty Boop showed up. We were all experimenting with the mystery, which of course included a little necking. Betty Boop wouldn't so much as dance close, let alone kiss, with or without her soul. Hold hands is all she would do. The best looking cookie there, her makeup made the rest of them amateurs. Her lips were firecracker red, her figure zoftik. Her eyes were a come-on baby blue with eye shadow. She knew how to put it on, all right. Including her name which was not really Betty Boop. But she looked and sounded like the character in the cartoon, cute as hell, that everybody called her that. Neither was she from around our block but had a friend here who took her along.

   "Oh, I don't do that!" she chirps when her date only wants to put his arm around her. Stretch walked her back to her friendąs house one night and tried to kiss her. She socked him with her fist and broke his glasses. Everybody but Frankie soon gave up. Maybe it was her perfume. Frankie went for strong smelling girls. She wore stuff that could have come out of an opium den. She wouldnąt go to the movies either. She said we didn't go to the movies to see the movie but to sit in the darkest part of the balcony for only one purpose. She was wrong. We saw the movie, too.

   Frankie, the local Sinatra, tried everything. He sang to her, took her to the ice cream parlor for double chocolate sundaes with extra whipped cream and sprinkles, and when she made it a point to tell him what perfume she wore he went out and bought her a small bottle of it. That alone set him back two dollars and twenty-five cents. He was wearing himself to a frazzle.

   "She ain't even gonna kiss her husband," Petey told him. But nothing would shake him. He had a swelled head about it and kept trying different schemes to make her give in. He bet Lenny three dollars heąd do it by the end of the summer. About the middle of August he came up with his last sure-fire plan. For a couple of days he wouldnąt tell us what it was until we finally got it out of him.

"Coney Island," he said. "I'm gonna take her to Coney Island."

At first we laughed. Then he explained it. "The rides," he said.

   We knew what he meant. Steeplechase especially had some wild rides that threw you as close as a sheet and a blanket. On one of them a whole crowd got spun around in a huge wooden bowl with what's called centrifugal force until bodies were falling all over each other, stuck together. Then there were the roller coasters and a lot of other stuff. Steeplechase Park had fifty rides on one ticket. We thought it was worth a try especially since she'd never been there and was dying to go. The next Saturday the whole bunch of us went. It wasn't easy. She inspected every ride before she'd get on. After a few of the simple ones, like the Ferris Wheel and a Drive-Ur-Self car ride, Frankie headed for the Horse Race. The Horse Race was something else. Six merry-go-round horses lined up racetrack style, each mounted on its own single track a couple of feet off the ground and running for about half a mile, the horses slid with some speed over their rails to the finish line. Two riders rode each horse. It wasn't the ride Frankie apparently had in mind but what happened after it, because the exit from the ride led the unsuspecting riders on to a stage. The stage jutted out into an auditorium filled with customers of the park, a free show. A couple of dwarfs dressed in clown costumes hopped about on the stage carrying electric prods. They didn't give you much of a shock, but they made you jump. The popcorn-eating crowd yelled and waited for the big moment. That came when the dwarfs prodded the people to the blowers, spots on the floor under which unseen pipes blew up powerful jets of air catching whoever was standing over them in their blasts. The dwarfs controlled the blowers.

   It was one of the hottest, muggiest days of the summer, the kind only Brooklyn can produce. We started to get on the horses. At first Betty Boop refused to ride on the front part of the saddle because her partner behind would have to put his arms around her. Instead, she rode on the back and put her arms around him. The starting bell clanged and the horses were off skimming over the rails, everybody screaming and laughing, swinging the turns as we went speeding to the finish. Excited and shouting with the thrill of the ride we slid off the horses and were funneled into the exit that wound up on the stage. Betty Boop drew the immediate attention of the dwarfs. She stopped short, surprised. Surprised to be on the stage. Surprised by the dwarfs. Surprised by the howling audience. She slid away from the dwarf prodding her, to escape the shock, waltzing this way and that until he had her over the pipe. Suddenly, with a loud hiss, it blasted off. Her dress flew up over her head. She didn't have a thing on underneath. The crowd went wild. The rest of us, bunched up, fell all over each other and the dwarfs began to prod us toward the real exit as we scrambled to our feet. Outside, we stumbled about trying to control ourselves. When we did, Betty Boop was gone. We never saw her again.

-Al Geto

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Buckhammer's Last Chance | Once You Know, You're Stuck With It

Here We Come, Ready or Not! | Aaron

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Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life | The Nervous Young Man

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Copyright © August 3, 2000-

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