It takes two to make an unhappy marriage and my parents are those two. My father has just left my mother or been thrown out by her. (You can get even odds on either proposition.) With my older brother away at college, I am now the only male in the house – a house not favorably disposed toward males, especially males who look and act like our recently exiled father. When my mother looks at me, she sees him. She never tires of telling me this at length and at great volume. She hates him so my domestic situation is precarious at best.
One day, in the latest skirmish of our long-running feud, I punch my older sister in the stomach. She tried to kill me years before but I am now a husky 12-year-old. Is she a surrogate for my mother? My mother certainly thinks so and she throws me out of the house. At age twelve. Throws me out into New York City. At night. In December. Gives me one subway token and nothing else. No money. No food. Just the clothes on my back. Tells me to go live with my father. Then with my four weeping sisters beside her, she slams the vestibule door in my face. Dickens in Brooklyn.
I have no idea where my father is living but I know he is working nights in Macy’s for Christmas. (That Thanksgiving I spot him on TV holding one of the ropes to the Popeye balloon in Macy’s famous parade.) But, I don’t know if he is working tonight or in which department. And, Macy’s is “The World’s Largest Store.” That’s a lot of departments.
Somehow, I get to 34thstreet on the subway. Once there, I follow the signs to Macy’s. I don’t know there is such a thing as a Personnel Department so I ask everyone who looks like they work for Macy’s if they know my father. Somehow, I learn that he is “in Linoleum.” During Christmas season, “Linoleum” is as lively as a funeral parlor. Still, I have trouble finding someone to help me and trouble finding the nerve to ask that someone if my father is there. I’m embarrassed and I’m sure that my father will be angry with me for embarrassing him at work. But, I hope that he’ll calm down and we’ll move into a swank bachelor pad and take in some Yankee games and maybe even act together.
An elderly saleswoman wearing those “Frankenstein” orthopedic shoes tells me that my father isn’t working that night and she only has a daytime work number. “He should be here tomorrow night, sweetie. Ya know, Macy’s closes in ten minutes.” I hadn’t planned on this. My father isn’t there. Macy’s is closing. I can’t stay there. I can’t go home. I can’t roam the streets. I have no subway tokens or money to buy one so I can’t even sleep on the subway.
Somehow, I have to get back to Brooklyn. Somehow, I have to get back in the house. Somehow, she has to let me in. Doesn’t she?
I slink down into the 34th street subway station where to lessen my humiliation, I find a token booth far away from the eyes of the Christmas shoppers. I tell the clerk that I’ve lost my return token and plead to be let through the gate. Not a chance. So, I look for men with friendly faces and beg them for a token or even just a nickel to help buy one. (A nickel is nothing!) The men with friendly faces pretend not to see me.