Posts Tagged ‘brooklyn college life’


         She was the girl at the window in English class at Brooklyn College.

          She had her notebook open on her desk, and her pen lying on it, and she sat with her arms folded and her foot twisting and her wire-rimmed glasses perched on her nose, as she listened with the frowning smile of a Renaissance Madonna (she later said I had the profile on a Roman coin) to Professor Perluck talking about Faulkner and As I Lay Dying as we lay dying trying to make sense of it all.

          Don’t forget your paper is due on Monday, Perluck said, debonair as usual in his tweed blazer, but cutthroat as always, choosing to tell the class that a paper was due in days just when I finally showed up in class after weeks of doing more important things like roaming Manhattan to see the latest Bergman film (Scenes from a Marriage—as boring as the marriage) and spook the snobs at Gucci by strolling through their chrome-and-plate glass showroom on Fifth Avenue in my yellow earth shoes and bookcase from my father’s parochial school in Brooklyn. Your paper, Perluck added, twisting in the knife, is worth half your final grade (or some other obscene amount).

          And now even I, the non-conformist, was worried, and even I, the free-spirit, felt oppressed. I liked Brooklyn College too much (I liked the view from the library of the leaves in the fall and the world moving silently outside the window), but now I had to graduate, I couldn’t stay at Brooklyn College forever, and English was the subject that had to pull me through.

         Perluck, you did it again: What the hell paper were you talking about?

          I wasn’t sitting in my usual seat (against the wall in the back with the other deadheads—the guys who carried cigarettes to class rather than books and all the geeks with Brillo hair who read science fiction). Today, I was sitting somewhere in the middle row, near the window and the sunshine, with students who actually studied, and actually took notes, like the girl beside me with her notepad open, and wire-rim glasses on her nose, and the pout of a Renaissance Madonna.

          I leaned over and whispered to her, through the side of my mouth, I guess, because I imagined she took me for a bum from the back row: So what paper is he talking about?   

          And she turned on me the full effect of her Madonna scorn (and cheeks like ripe baking apples). And where have you been?

          Boy, did she know how to scorn.

          And, boy, did she have lovely eyes, like black plums in brandy.

          You got the notes? I rasped to her in my Bowery Boys voice.

          And she had lovely fingers, too, which she spread over the page of her notebook, as she shoved it towards me, and she wore a very sweet ring that girls sometimes wear, and her penmanship flowed over the page and stayed right on the line.

          I leaned over to read the notes, while Perluck droned and elegantly tapped out one of his many cigarettes, and the sun was shining in the window, and the leaves were waving in the trees like gestures in a modern dance, and it was a beautiful moment, and I couldn’t help myself and looked up at my Brooklyn Madonna and said, We can stay like this forever.

          And she looked down at me from the heights of her scorn (and beautiful cheekbones) and said in a quick riposte that would become her trademark (she had to get in the last word), Well, maybe for this period, but certainly not forever.

          But little do we know what life has in store while we’re busy making other plans, to paraphrase the late, great song.

          I had the impertinence to cut the class after that, she says, and then show up without a word of explanation and have the nerve, she says, to ask her to have coffee with me.

          And she agreed.

          And we went to SUBO (the Student Union building), and sat on the blue vinyl couches, and I told her the whole story of my life (she says in one breath), while Rodrigo’s Concerto De Aranjuez played on the PA, and we liked it so much I went back to the guy at the desk and kept adding it to the play list, and I probably drove the guy nuts (but he was one those anal audiovisual guys, anyway).

          And we hung out in the library and read the Greek American writer Harry Mark Petrakis to get into the mood and she ate my mother’s Greek butter cookies wrapped in tinfoil.

          And we hung out at Kosher King and she dipped her knish in ketchup with her elegant fingers like a Renaissance queen.

          And I went to her film studies class and saw Fantasia with her and teased her girlfriend Grace with the red fingernails, who made faces at me and raked her red fingernails at me menacingly. 

          And I convinced my Madonna to take an astronomy class with me because, I said, famously, The teacher just gives you the answers. But the teacher who gave you the answers didn’t teach the class that semester, and in his place in front of the class stood a robotic little man with a trim beard and glasses that glinted who droned out his lecture notes like the man from space and like all men from space had only one name: Cromy. Nobody in Cromy’s class had any clue what he said about the hot gases of stars (which he apparently brought with him from space), so my Brooklyn Madonna and I spent most of the class doodling in our binders and she did a wonderful caricature of the student nearby with several chins dribbling down his chest. She also took a memorable stab at one of the questions on a Cromy multiple choice: What happens if you fall into a black hole? I had no clue, but she was a Brooklyn Madonna who cut to the chase. Your eyes turn blue, she chose, in one of Cromy’s rare forays into whimsy and grading on a curve. Hey, she shrugged afterwards, it was so dumb I thought it might be true.

          She also joined me in my writing class, where the teacher, Mr. Goodman, regularly trashed out his students (You have no talent. Why are you taking my class?). She even took one of his classes herself and she couldn’t write a scene for a playwriting assignment one night so I wrote it for her and Goodman said to her in class the next day, You didn’t write this. It’s too good. He wrote it for you, he said, pointing at me. She feigned mock outrage and got the whole class on her side and Mr. Goodman—unheard of—to back down a little. She was good.

           She also visited my poetry class, where Mr. Merrick walked in with his plant and deposited it on his desk before class, as usual, and then he called on her with a question and she ignored him, so he pointed to her again. Who me? she said finally. Yes, you, he said. I was looking at you. And she riposted smartly, I didn’t see your eyeballs move.

          She came with me to Boylan for a special ceremony to honor student journalists and I got honorable mention and the Samuel J. Casten memorial award. But I was a proud genius and pissed it was only honorable mention and I wouldn’t be consoled, but I enjoyed that she tried to console me as we strolled the pond with the scum-green water behind the library, where  her French teacher, Monsieur Travers, being a Frenchman, had once offered her a dry leaf.

          That’s near where we sat on a bench one day and I dared her to hurdle the nearby hedge, and to my astonishment she got up and hurdled it in perfect form, with one leg sticking out and her ponytail flying, and now I think I was in love.    

          I even convinced the good girl to cut class and go with me to the city where we sat at the Met and stared at the Rembrandts, and the guard came over and said, No making love.

           We were?

          And we were sitting outside the conference room at Brooklyn College when the president of the college came out of a meeting and saw us and he came over and said, And I thought love was dead.

          It was?

          She invited me over to her house for some hoops and we took the bus down Flatbush Avenue and strolled along her street on a beautiful sunny day. We shot hoops in her backyard and she drilled them, while I missed most of mine. She made hot chocolate afterwards at the kitchen counter in her blue jeans and maroon top, and when her mother came in with the groceries she greeted me in the trilly voice she normally reserved for guests, but I felt right at home.

          So you want to get married? I said to her one day as we sat in SUBO, probably listening to Rodrigo and hoping we had ditched Paul, the Jewish guy who called himself Pablo and thought we should double-date.

          But, it seems, we were past that.

          Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

          The Brooklyn Madonna and I got married after college and she was the loveliest of brides and we have a picture of her lifting her veil in the limo and sipping a Carvel shake through a straw on her way to church.

          And one morning after we got married, we chased down the Nostrand Avenue bus we took to work, and when we got on we recognized the tweed blazer and saw, of all people, Professor Perluck heading off to Brooklyn College to torture more students with Faulkner.

          He acknowledged us surprisingly (our courtship in his class had given him some grief), and surprisingly he was pretty affable and pleasant, at least without a book in his hand.

          So how are you guys doing? he said to us finally.

          And I think we both grinned, and we might have nodded happily, me with my Roman coin profile standing next to my Brooklyn Madonna.


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