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"Hey, the war must be over," yelled a tall dark-haired boy as he dropped a baseball bat, raising a puff of dust on the worn gravel of the school yard. A wide grin, showing dimples, crossed his finely chiseled features as he whooped and jumped in the direction of the other three boys in the lineball game converging on the pitcher's mound. Stocky and bespectacled Jim Vogel, tall and sporting a few blemishes on his face, Sam Greenstein, short and pudgy Al Gordon and Victor Wayne, the tall wavy-haired boy who dropped the bat, clasped hands, hugging, jumping and screaming.
Japan's surrender had been anticipated for several days. On August 6th, the radio blared with the news that the Japanese city of Hiroshima was almost completely destroyed by a single, highly secret United States Atomic Bomb. Three days later another atom bomb hit Nagasaki with similar devastation. The world waited in horror after hearing the reports of the destruction caused by this powerful new weapon. That night President Truman, broadcasting on national and worldwide radio, issued an ultimatum to the Japanese to surrender unconditionally or accept the consequences of additional bombs on their cities.
On August 14th, Emperor Hirohito, of Japan, spoke to his nation and admitted defeat. Celebrations immediately erupted throughout the world.
Every kid in the school yard had stopped what they were doing. Swift pitching games ceased, the players gathering to jump and scream with the lineball players. Poker games in the secluded area near the school boiler room broke up as did the crap game, scrambling the gamblers as they picked up their bets. Hands slapped backs and boys of all ages shouted, jumped and ran in every direction. Loungers sprawling on the school stairs sprung to their feet, as small boys in short pants playing pinners, abandoned their rubber balls, and girls jumping rope stopped in mid-air, all running to join the crowds screaming and hugging one another.
Clouds of dust floated from the tamped-down gravel against the deep colored red brick of the school as kids rushed from one group to another and the crowd got larger.
Within minutes men, and women joined the gang of kids in the school yard, waving flags, banging pots, and cheering.
Vic, Sam, Al and Jim continued to pound each other on the back; laughing hysterically and screaming, "The war is over, the war is over!"
Mitzi Rubin, a thin blonde woman without a trace of makeup and hair tied, exposing her long sensuous neck, came running from her apartment down the street. Her baggy house dress and apron, damp from washing a load of laundry, clung to her legs. Smiling broadly with tears flowing and holding a four foot American flag in her slender hands, she climbed to the head of the steps near the south end of the campus. Looking toward the sky as if praying, she started to sing, in a strong clear voice, "God Bless America land that I love." Hearing her German accent, Vic Wayne stopped and smiled. The words coming from her sounded more meaningful he thought, especially when he remembered that she had been the only survivor in her family to escape from Germany before the war. By the time she reached the word "America," everyone in the large group that had gathered to watch her, joined in. Dragging out the final word, she waved the flag in a wide circle and the singers followed her, singing the song again. This time, even louder. Laughing hilariously at the singing and cheers, she continued to lead the expanding crowd in "The Star Spangled Banner." At the conclusion, she waved the flag to the hilarious delight and applause of the crowd. With the flag held high, she descended the steps. A parade followed her. Shouts erupted as people sang and loudly screamed other patriotic songs and phrases.
Passing Vic, she smiled and said, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you lately." His face flushed, remembering how he had met the lonely twenty-year-old wife of a soldier and the close friendship they formed the previous summer. He hadn't seen her since three months after he started going steady with Shirley Siegal. Waving, he mumbled, "Just been busy," and turned away; knowing she couldn't hear him over the din in the school yard. Her only response was raised eyebrows, a tilted head and a shrug.
Out of the corner of his eye, Vic spotted Shirley at a distance, talking and laughing with some girls, and remembered he was to meet her today at the school. He started in her direction and hesitated, noticing how she stood out in the crowd. Even at fourteen, she looked seductive. Her dark curly hair, accentuating her bright eyes and the way she moved always set her apart. Her hips, and legs, especially when viewed from behind, had the effect of making one eager to see what the rest of her looked like. Sighing he looked down, just feeling like he didn't want to be with her today, but last night she insisted on seeing him even though she knew he would be playing ball with his friends. Lately she seemed to always be around; he could never just be by himself or with the guys. Turning, he slapped Jim on the back. "C'mon let's go," he said, ducking away from where Shirley was standing. Jim pushed back his glasses with his forefinger, noticing his friend avoiding his girlfriend.
"What's up weren't you meeting Shirley today?"
"Let's get outta here, before she sees me".
Hurrying south from the school, the boys could hear radios playing through open windows on the warm August day, blaring "The White Cliffs of Dover", "God Bless America" and Sousa marches. "Oh beautiful for spacious skies," sang out from one, followed by Edward R. Murrow's voice, reporting from London, echoed loudly from a basement apartment close to the sidewalk. Further down the street, a prayer was heard from another radio, with a background of "Battle Hymn of the Republic", playing softly, as the solemnity of the moment struck.
Sirens and bells continued while the boys worked their way down Springfield. Reaching the first corner, Vic stopped, holding up his hand and shouted over the noise, "Hey let's go downtown; I bet it's wild there."
"Yeah let's go," they all agreed. Tugging at his drooping pants, stocky Jim Vogel led the way toward Lawrence Avenue to catch a ride.
It didn't take long for a bright red and yellow streetcar to come into view; moving toward the El station to downtown. Normally, the streetcars roared as they raced down the tracks, but this one was very crowded and the slow clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks could be heard. Sam and Vic trotted alongside the lazy pace of the creaking car and grabbed at the support handles on the open rear platform, holding out hands to help Jim and Al find spots to grab while standing on the jammed step.
The florid faced conductor, hat in hand, was using his sleeve to wipe away the sweat on his forehead, his other hand continuously pulled the cord on the clanging bell and waved anyone off that was attempting to pay the six cent fare. "Not today," he shouted, "the war is over."
At Kimball, the boys, along with about half the passengers got off to run into the station and board the Elevated train to the Loop. All of them, except Jim, were wearing scruffy bleached overalls, with striped short sleeved knit shirts that had seen better days.
Huffing up the stairs to the platform, Jim straightened his collar and rubbed at a large smudge on the front his shirt shouting, "my Mom would faint if she saw me going downtown dressed like this."
Between them they had less than three dollars, which they had counted up before boarding the street car. It didn't seem to matter today. The seats on the train filed quickly and several passengers stood in the aisle. Slowly, they left the station.
At, the first stop, Kedzie, the doors opened and another boisterous group pushed aboard. They were led by two men who ran in, clinked whiskey bottles and took swigs. A group of kids in summer playground clothes and several men in work clothes, stormed in, others in straw hats and ties and women in lightweight summer dresses followed. All were happy, shouting, singing and waving flags or blowing horns as they joined the lively crowd going deeper into the city.
By the time they reached Fullerton, the last stop before entering the year-old subway tunnel, the train had slowed, but didn't stop to take on more passengers. It was already too crowded. Entering the tunnel the roar of the wheels bouncing off the walls heard through the open windows, added to the noise of the shouts and singing. At Lake Street, the train screeched to a stop. Many of the passengers, including the boys, got off, leaving the sagging wicker covered seats of the old El car empty. With Vic leading the way, the four of them ran up the stairs to State Street. They were greeted with a mass of screaming people for as far as the eye could see.
Jim climbed onto the fence surrounding the subway station entrance and the others followed. From that vantage point, they were three to four feet higher than the street. Turning and twisting they looked in every direction without encountering any empty space in the huge, joyous mob. All traffic on the normally bustling street, had stopped. On top of a streetcar directly in front of them, a husky sailor without a hat was waving a flag. Another sailor had climbed a light pole and was singing "Anchors Away" at the top of his lungs. To the right and left, soldiers and sailors were being mobbed by women. Men were drinking bottles of whiskey which they shared with anyone wanting a taste. Two soldiers, each with a chest full of ribbons, were laughing and kissing women as they passed around large pitchers of beer. A sailor stripped to his undershirt handed Vic a bottle of beer, saying, "Drink up, kid, now you won't have to go to war!" Vic took a gulp as the laughing sailor motioned with his head to the others and said, "Give some to your pals, too."
A pretty blonde with a short pleated skirt that flared to reveal her pink panties and the dark, eyebrow-pencil line down the back of her bare legs, made to look like she was wearing hose, was jitterbugging with a soldier to the "Andrews Sisters", belting out "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B." Hundreds watched, clapping with hands over their heads as the music blasted from loudspeakers attached to the brightly lit canopy of the State and Lake Theater. The soldier's hat flew off as he swung the blonde around in a circle where a space had widened for the dancers. Squealing at the end of the dance, the blonde threw her arms around the soldier's neck and gave him a big smooch. The crowd hooted and applauded.
Two soldiers, a sailor wearing an Army cap and a marine with his shirt tail flying squirreled up a street car further down the street. Once on top, they joined hands and began singing, "The Caissons Go Rolling Along," as voices all around joined in they continued with the "Marine Hymn, Anchors Away and Air Corps," songs.
By seven o'clock, the mob began to thin. The boys had been there since about two and had eaten only a couple of sandwiches, along with two shared root beers, that had been given to them by a gray haired woman in a Red Cross Uniform.
Sam, tired of watching all the young women kissing the servicemen, walked up to a dark-haired girl who had just kissed a sailor, spun her around and pressed his lips on her mouth. Pushing him away, she squinted, made a sour face and laughed, "Easy, junior, you're too young."
Everyone in earshot roared and Jim almost lost his glasses as he scooted away, managing a pinch on the thigh of a tubby young redhead.
Al Gordon signaled the boys to watch as he quickly felt the breast of a young woman wearing a bright red dress. Winking, he bumped into another girl grabbing a handful of her ample behind and quickly ran, getting lost in the crowd.
Vic, with Jim following walked down a block and stood in a doorway taking in the sights and tried to make eye contact with a group of girls about their age that were close by. The girls ignored them and turned away. One in particular, a tall brunette with a bright smile finally turned back. Vic looked directly at her, as she walked over to him.
"What you looking at, good looking?" she said loudly, flinging her arms around his shoulders and kissing him on the mouth. Her friends screamed as she held on for a second and then they all ran off. Vic laughed as he wiped away the lipstick. Wide-eyed Jim slapped him on the back. "Leave it to you, Wayne," he grinned. "All the women go for you."
Turning back, they looked for Al and Sam. Twenty minutes later, without any luck, they gave up and retreated down into the subway. On the platform, three black kids with a sax, trumpet and drum, circled a hat on the ground holding coins and a few dollars as soldiers and sailors danced to the music with girls and women of all ages. Most of the men watching the dancers were swaying drunk or halfway under the influence. Others waved bottles or passed them around while the women with them were laughing hysterically at the show. A few of the ladies looked like they had been drinking, too.
Jim stood quietly, wiping his glasses on his shirt tail and scrunching up his eyes, trying not to miss anything. Vic, a small smile on his face, stood tapping his foot and clapping to the beat of the music. The crowd wound down as the whooshing sound of a slowing train approached; drowning out a loud rendition of Glenn Miller's "In The Mood." Jim motioned with a flick of his head that it was time to board a train home. Once again, no one was collecting fares, and they stood in the crowded train almost all the way back to Albany Park.
Across from the end of the Ravenswood line at Kimball, they boarded a westbound streetcar. Vic jumped off the back platform at Central Park with a wave to Jim and started walking toward Monticello. Humming the Marine Hymn, his head was still reeling from all he had witnessed downtown. He remembered how Pa described the excitement at the end of the First World War. Now he too, would have something to tell his kids years from now.
He spotted Shirley on the corner of Monticello and Lawrence, a half a block from his house Turning and tucking at her blouse, she was fluffing her hair and looking at her reflection in the large plate glass window of Korb's Delicatessen. Spotting him, her hands went to her hips and as he got closer he could see her lips drawn tightly. He tried to be casual as he approached; he could tell she was mad.
"Where ya been?" she wanted to know, "I've been at your house and even your mother didn't know where you were. Don't you care that I've been waiting here for over an hour," she hissed, spitting out the words. "And weren't we supposed to see each other at the school this afternoon."
Coming closer, he ran his hand through his mussed hair. Stopping, he stuffed one hand into his back pocket and shrugged as if he didn't understand. "Oh yeah, I forgot with the war ending and all. I went downtown with the guys."
"What about me?" she answered, through her tightly clenched teeth. "Lately, you're always forgetting or too busy or something."
"Hey, cool it Shirley," he said, shifting from one foot to the other. "I just forgot. Don't make such a big deal about it. Besides, I don't have to report to you."
"You don't care. Everybody else is more important than me. You're always with Sam or Jim or I don't know who," she scolded, standing her ground, her hands still on her hips.
He saw her eyes narrowing and her lips pull tighter as she waited for his response.
"Oh come on, stop that crap. You know I gotta work and yeah, I get together with my friends. And sometimes we play ball or do things."
"Yeah, I bet." She sniffled. "I know you got another girlfriend."
"Oh, cut it out. How can I have another girlfriend? You never let me alone. Everywhere I go, you're keeping tabs on me. You're always asking the guys where I am and wanting to know everything about me. And I told you to stop calling me at home. My Ma doesn't like it."
"Look Victor, I just care about you but you treat me like dirt. If you only knew how you hurt me. The other boys treat their girlfriends nicer. You're always too busy." Her voice rose. "Look what you did today. The war is over; I thought you'd want to be with me, so we could celebrate together. Instead, you ran downtown with your friends and didn't even think about me".
"Hey Shirley, cut it out. You act like we're married. I can't take this crap anymore. Maybe we should just forget about it."
She burst into tears and moved toward him. He backed away, turning his palms up.
"In fact, you know what?" he said, shaking his head. "I've had it. Let's just take it easy for a while. Maybe it's time for you to find someone else."
Excerpted from Albany Park by Myles (Mickey) Golde Copyright © 2012 by Myles (Mickey) Golde. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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