The fog, somehow Enoch felt secure in its midst. He always seemed to himself a little distant, out of place. Still he played with others, stickball in the schoolyard, punchball, stoopball, roller hockey on the streets. But there was a space between all this and himself that he knew but couldn't fathom.
“Maybe it’s my name,” he thought, walking down narrow 208th Street to a corner candy store. “Enoch Jubal.” The Irish and Italian young people would call him “Jewboy” while the neighboring Jewish community ignored him - he didn’t go to temple. Actually, his Hungarian-born grandfather was a Catholic and his grandmother a Lutheran and Enoch was a communicant in the Catholic church. His grandfather had an Austrian name, Rothauer, but his drinking buddies called him “Rummy.” “Rummy Jewboy,” the young people would say, teasing maliciously, when Enoch let on about his grandfather’s nickname.
In the fog along the street, a pungent mist rose from the manhole covers in the road, sewer smell. “Enoch!,” a boy’s voice called. It was Barry, a Jewish friend he sometimes played with, though Barry's mother didn’t approve. Barry was up in a maple tree. “Where ya goin’?” “Down to Dinks.” Barry couldn’t go so he said, “OK.”
This was well before the Long Island Expressway cut a channel through his neighborhood and just a little later than World War II, which Enoch followed somewhat in the news from third grade on, remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt's Day of Infamy speech on the radio after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. He also remembered the atomic bomb's first tests at Alamagordo, New Mexico and Bikini Atoll and the question about whether a chain reaction would uncontrollably erupt throughout the world. He recalled too the brown B-47 bombers flying low overhead in Queens en route to the war, the blackouts, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, V-E day when the Allies finally defeated Hitler's armies and neighborhood people ran out into the night to celebrate with shouts, banging pots and pans, and V-J Day, when Japan surrendered. It was also before the so-called Korean conflict and President Harry Truman's decision to deny World War Ii hero General Douglas MacArthur's trenchant desire to pursue retreating North Korea invaders across the 38th Parallel.
Though by now beginning to fail in school, Enoch knew all this and more in his young years. Homework was out of tbe question for him in the three-rooms he shared with his mother, brother and grandparents, especially the times when his grandfather came home drunk. These times became worse after the war when his grandfather was out of work when his job ended as foreman at the Farmingdale plant that built P-47 fighter planes. It would be a couple of humiliating years before he'd find work again, this time as a machinist in the Lilly Tulip cup factory in Queens. Enoch's mother Stephany, was the mainstay support with her cartoon job at Paramount during that difficult time.
So Enoch felt separate in the fog on his walk to Dinks. When challenged by other boys to fight, he wouldn't, to the hoots of "chicken!" He wouldn't steal candy bars at Dinks either, though he liked to look at woman's bodies in magazine and comic pictures, feeling a surge between his legs. "You gonna buy one of those?" Jim Dinks would ask. "No, I want a candy bar," Enoch replied. He first felt that surge in the park when he was shinnying on the angled bars that held the swings upright. "Don't you dare ever do that again" his mother said when he told her about the feeling. He thought, "You should talk," knowing how she'd be propped up reading in a sheer nightgown in her chair bed while he and his brother went to bed on a fold-down sofa in the same room.
Coming out of Dinks, Enoch saw the fog was dissipating. If he could only disappear with it, he thought.
© 2009 Wes Rehberg