William Gralnick. Photo courtesy of William Gralnick
In my Flatbush neighborhood crime was unknown. Squirrels stole tulip bulbs. That was about it. One didn’t have to go too far afield to find neighborhoods that were pretty sketchy, but there was no leakage and why go looking for trouble? Then there was that day. Actually, for the record, it was night.
We all hung out on Avenue J where it intersected with East 14th Street (Rugby Road). Mostly we were evenly paired but not paired off. We either ate pizza or went to Juniors. We talked about the prattle of teenagers until one night we had something far more important to talk about.
One of our group was a beautiful girl who one summer went off to camp a pudgy kid with a radiant face and came back fit to be a Playboy bunny. All her parts had shifted, she had grown several inches, and she kept her radiant face. It was she who got the phone call.
She showed up that night looking none-to-radiant. She had something to share that she hadn’t even told her parents about. Someone was stalking her by phone. She had gotten three calls, the latest just before she was to leave her house for the group get-together. She was scared. They were breathy, low-voiced calls from a male who said he’d been watching her. He described what she wore on a given day. “I know where you live,” he whispered, “you’re on the second floor” …he added the address. In New York one didn’t get a driver’s license ‘til “18. We walked everywhere. She was so scared, she could hardly get her legs to move.
One of us was a football lineman, but he often didn’t rally with us. He spent his time with the team. However, his little sister was best friends with Miss Long Legs with Radiant Face. The rest of us were about perfectly ordinary. We were so ordinary that we felt the need to do something about it. We formed a high school fraternity. Our signature was a black ten-gallon cowboy hat, which some of us had to work very hard to get our parents to understand why they should buy one for us. Without understanding there would be no purchase. We had meetings. We were basically the same Avenue J kids but now with black cowboy hats. The calls meant we were going to have a meeting with a purpose. One of our “molls” had been threatened, what were we going to do to protect her.
Have you seen the Geico commercial that is a takeoff on the Texas Chain Saw Massacre? The teens are frantically trying to decide how to hide. One says call the police. One says get in the running car that happens to be sitting empty — obvious things. Their solution? Run into the shed and hide behind the chainsaws. Such seemed to be the gist of the conversation at the next fraternity meeting. And like the commercial, we rejected the obvious and picked the stupid. Bravado? Stupidity? Both?
The first suggestion was to call the police. The second selection was to tell her parents. The chosen solution was to lure him into a trap. What would Kojak concoct? We decided our sweet young thing would wait for the next call. She would say that he excited her, and she’d like to meet. We chose a spot where she could be in the center of us, and we could spread out at the four corners of an imaginary square so that at the appropriate moment we could rush this perv from four sides and… We’ll “and” was a little hazy. Scare him off with threats? Hold him and call the police (with what? No cell phone yet.) Beat him up? Right. Not quite us. Well anyway, we had most of it in order.
The next few days were hell. The phone call didn’t come. She was a wreck and by extension so were we. It didn’t come until it did. OMG! She played her part perfectly and met with the set. We arm ourselves with baseball bats, more for protecting ourselves than doing damage to our perpetrator. I also bought myself a Tootsie Roll Pop. Kojak had nothing on me.
Pardon me but I can’t resist this next line. “It was a dark and stormy night…” Our heroine was posted under a streetlight. We gladiators were posted at, well, …our posts. We arrived almost 45 minutes early. Afterall, we had to set up surveillance and eliminate any chance of tipping him off to our presence.. As the time ticked down to the appointed hour, the excitement rose, the adrenaline began to flow, and most of us felt like we were going to wet our pants. Then the imaginary clock struck the imaginary appointed hour. No one showed.
Not to panic. He could be hesitant. He could be doing his own surveillance. He might be placing his own warrior detail in strategic locations. He might be making our girl sweat. Fifteen minutes flew by. No Mr. Whispery Voice. Thirty minutes came much more slowly than the first fifteen. By the time the clock, which by set design should have been Big Ben in the square, chimed an hour past the appointed time, we realized no one was going to show. We collected ourselves, went back to one of the guys’ houses and down to the basement. We sat and ruminated. It wasn’t a late night; we were all exhausted from the tension of what never happened.
But never did he call again. We Knights of the high school fraternity had won. I unwrapped another Tootsie Pop.
Final thought? Who loves ya, baby?