THE PARADE, is chapter 1 of a 13 chapter story.
Paul woke up to the beat of drums. Rat-tat-tat—rat-tat-tat—rat-tat-ta-te-ta-tat-tat-tat. It was the fourth of July. A marching band was already practicing in the school yard. “Oh, yeah, there is a parade today,” he thought, as he shuffled off to the bathroom. Back in his room he took off his pajamas. Paul always wore pajamas to bed. Most of his friends just slept in their underwear, but Paul’s mom kept his dresser drawer stocked with clean, ironed, folded pajamas. Short sleeve, short pant summer pajamas of seersucker, long sleeve, long pant fall and spring ones of cotton and thermal knit top and bottom for winter. He was glad that none of his friends ever saw him in his lame pajamas.
He put on a tee shirt, blue jeans and Ked’s high top sneakers and went downstairs for breakfast. His mom was at the stove pouring a cup of coffee, a lit cigarette dangling from her lips, her bee hive hairdo still wrapped in toilet paper. Every night she wrapped her hair in toilet paper before going to bed. Paul laughed to himself, remembering his mom telling him about her last appointment at the beauty parlor, when the hair dresser combed out a dead bee that got stuck in her hair.
Paul poured himself a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal with milk. He liked and disliked the cereal at the same time. It was very sweet and it had a strange after taste. He figured that he liked the TV commercial more than the cereal.
After breakfast he went out to “play” as his mother put it. “Go out and play,” she would yell. Play. What was there to play with on the streets of Queens in 1965? He was expected to stay away from the house all morning, maybe come back for lunch, maybe not. His mom didn’t seem to care where he was or what he was doing, but he had to be back by 4:45 because supper was always at 5:00 sharp.
Paul walked down the cracked, uneven sidewalk towards Grand Avenue, where the parade will be. There were huge trees along his block in those days. Oaks, sycamores, horse chestnuts, maples.Their roots lifted the side walk and cracked the curbs, but provided a dense cool shade and met over the street forming a tunnel of green leaves.
At the corner, he squinted in the hazy sunshine. It wasn’t noon yet and already the day was hot. The air, thick and humid. Police barracks were in place so that cars wouldn’t park along the route. There were some people standing under the awning of the the Five and Ten Cent Store, two mom’s with baby carriages, an old couple. Down the street he could see more people gathering, a few of the shopkeepers were standing in front of their stores, Mr. Brazinski, the butcher, in his stained white apron, waiting for the parade.
“Hey Paul!” It was Julian Walkowski, a big, broad kid with a crew cut who was in Paul’s class at St. Albert’s School. “Yotch,” Paul replied. Yotch is what all the guys called him. He was very sensitive about his first name. Any shortening of it, to Jules or Julie, would get you in a painful headlock. Yotch was with two other guys. Brian Miller, a short, red haired, freckle faced kid with chronic chapped lips, who liked to turn his eyelids inside out to freak you out and Frankie Perrino, a chubby, Italian kid with an olive complexion, sad, droopy, dark eyes and spiky black hair. The other two boys also went to Paul’s school. Brian was an altar boy as was Paul.
“Stupid parade,” said Paul.
“Yeah,” Yotch said. “So, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” he relied. “What do you want to do?”
“I got an idea,” said Brian, the freckle faced kid. “You guys got any money?” The boys pooled together a little over a dollar. “Cool, come on.” They crossed the avenue and went into the Bohack Supermarket. The cool air conditioning in the store was a relief from the muggy air on the street. Brian lead them through the aisles. He picked up two items, a bag of dried peas and a box of waxed paper straws. “Ha, ha, ha!” Frankie laughed. All the guys knew what they were going to do now. They paid the cashier, crossed back over the avenue, hopped a short fence into the shade behind S. E. Nickels’s, Five and Ten Cent Store. There was a half dead crab apple tree up against the back of the single story building. The boys climbed the tree unto the roof. They slowly and quietly inched forward making sure no none down in the store below would hear them. The tar on the roof was sticky from the heat and stuck to the bottom of their sneakers as they crept along.
The flat facade was brick capped with a concrete slab. It ran the length of the building and was about three feet high from the roof. Brian divvied up the straws and a pocket full of the dried peas to each of his comrades. The boys crouched behind the facade and waited. The marching band began to play. People moved to the curb. The parade began. The music grew louder.
“Ready?” Brian whispered.
Paul peeked out. He saw a convertible cadillac leading the parade. “WAIT!” he whispered back. “That’s my grandfather in the car!” Paul’s grandfather was a World War One veteran. There he was, as Grand Marshall of the parade, in his suit, with his medals pinned across his chest, his veteran’s cap on his head, smiling and waving to the crowd.
“Wait ‘till he passes.” The boys all nodded.
Behind the car was the P. S. 73 Marching Band. They let a few lines of the band go by, just to give some distance between Paul’s grandfather. “Okay—Fire!” Brian said. People swatted at their necks as if being bit by horse flies. Frankie began to laugh. “Shh!” Paul scolded. “They’ll hear us.” They waited a bit and then shot again. People were putting their hands up to protect their heads, looking up in the sky and to the right and left, not sure where these projectiles were coming from. Another volley struck the horn section of the band, a trombone player hit in the neck blew an off key note that sounded like the bellowing of a sick bull. Now all the boys were laughing uncontrollably at the mayhem they were causing below. They continued their barrage. An old lady on the other side of the street was pointing to the roof. Someone yelled, “HEY YOU KIDS! STOP THAT!” The boys only laughed harder.
Then, Yotch shouted,”RUN!” The boys turned around and saw a policeman climbing onto the roof. They dropped the straws and ran to the opposite corner of the roof and leaped four feet out to the high chain link fence that surrounded the school yard. In a flash, they climbed over the fence and half way down the other side they jumped to the ground. Instinctively they split in four directions. Each boy running towards a different exit from the school yard. Paul turned to see the policeman standing at the edge of the store roof. “I SAW YOU KIDS! I”LL GET YOU NEXT TIME1” he shouted. Paul wondered to himself, “I am not thirteen years old yet and I am running from the police. What’s with this? After all—my father is a policeman.”
Back home, just before dinner time, Paul walked through the back screen door into the kitchen. His mother was at the stove cooking and smoking a cigarette.
“Did you watch the parade? Did you see Dziadzi in the cadillac? He looked so proud. There were some nasty boys on the roof of the Five and Ten, shooting pees at the parade. The police had to come to chase them away. I don’t know about some of the kids these days. Where are their parents?” she said, as she took a pull on her cigarette. Paul didn’t say anything. He went up to his room and thumbed through a Sgt. Rock comic book, waiting to be called to supper.