Love Among the Comic Books
©2020 Jean Anton
2862 West 24th Street does not exist anymore. Sixty years ago it was the address where I lived with my mother and two sisters. After some four decades or so, and being married with a child of my own, and living in another neighborhood of Brooklyn, after spending a few years abroad, I discovered that not only did that address not exist any more, but the whole neighborhood had become nearly unrecognizable. Of the few things even remotely familiar were the train station on Stillwell Avenue, Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, and the Parachute Jump.
Coney Island was the last stop on the Brooklyn/ Manhattan Trains line (BMT). Every summer thousands of people would pour out of the station onto Stillwell Avenue to find themselves a mere half block away from the glorious ocean.
Three long avenues ran parallel to the wide southeast facing island from the train station to the private community at Seagate: Surf Avenue, Mermaid Avenue and Neptune Avenue; names that always made me think of fairytales. West 24th Street, between Mermaid Avenue and Neptune Avenue, was a street of two-story, attached brick homes with covered porches that offered no privacy, but were, nevertheless, well used on hot summer days. Some of these homes were rentals. My mother rented the basement apartment of one of these ugly, but sturdy houses, i.e., 2862 West 24th Street. All summer long we spent our time either at the beach (which was only a block and a half away) or on the streets playing boxball, stoopball, or a type of street softball where the bases were bright yellow chalk boxes drawn right in the gutter. A stickball bat made from the handle of an old broom accompanied a fifteen-cent pink Spalding ball (which we prounouced “Spaldeen”). Best of all was when someone opened a fire hydrant and we’d get to cool off by running through the wild flow of water gushing in a slight arc over the street. We kids, about twenty of us, were between the ages of five and fourteen years old. After the hydrant was closed we waited in happy anticipation for the arrival of the ice cream ‘truck’ - a man in a white shirt and white trousers pedaling an over-sized tricycle rigged up with a portable freezer filled with dry ice and popsicles.
Throughout June, July and August we were allowed to play in the street even after dark. As the pink sun set and the moon began to rise the adults usually went inside to chat amongst themselves. Now, the children owned the street.
Shawn Norton and his family lived in the apartment above us. Over the years, he and I had become fast friends, and we were rarely apart. If one of us had to be somewhere else during the day, the other awaited, anxiously for the return. Soon it became evident to the other kids that Shawn and I liked each other. They began teasing us. We were ten years old. The ‘older’ kids began to ask us if we had kissed each other yet. We would blush, and retreat to the stoop to read comic books. We each had a sizeable collection, but Shawn’s was twice mine.
One evening we were going upstairs to Shawn’s apartment. He wanted to show me the latest Superman comic book that he had bought earlier in the day. Nicholas, a twelve-year old who was way to big for his age, shouted out to no one in particular, “Look, Shawn and Gigi are going upstairs together!” Bitsy, my older sister’s best friend said in that catty girlish way, “Are you going to kiss Gigi tonight, Shawn?” Everyone laughed and guffawed.
“Shut up!” I retorted, at which Nicholas laughed louder than anyone, causing the others to laugh harder and to point at us while making obnoxious kissy sounds.
“What’s the matter? Never been kissed before Gigi?” chided Bitsy.
I would not gratify that with a response. “Come on, Shawn, let’s go inside,” I said as I headed for the door. At that everyone seemed to lose interest, and got on with their games. I took a couple of steps toward the door when Shawn grabbed my hand.
“Do you want to kiss?” My eyes widened in amazement. Shawn’s face had a hint of a grin on it. Without showing any teeth, I returned the grin, adding a nearly undetectable nod. Three rather slow and uncomfortable seconds passed. Then, without giving it another thought we both leaned forward, and with our eyes wide open, we kissed each other on the lips, nose to nose – very quickly, both of us needing to get it over with as soon as possible. We giggled. Suddenly, and to our horror, Nicholas’ voice blared out like a truck horn, “SHAWN KISSED GIGI! SHAWN KISSED GIGI!” Everyone started laughing, and taunting us all over again. “KISS HER AGAIN!” I could feel my face go crimson.
“Come on,” said Shawn, pushing open the front door. We hurried into the safety of his family’s apartment. “Wait till you see the latest Superman comic; it’s really neat.” Once we were comfortably settled on Shawn’s bed amidst a bunch of comic books we pored over the Superman comic book as well as several others, until I heard my mother calling to me and my sisters to come inside. We did not speak of the kiss at all. However, if we were close before, now we had a real bond between us. We said good night and I went downstairs to dream the dreams of lovers as only a ten-year-old can.
The following summer the Norton’s announced that they were moving. I was stunned, especially since there was a very short interval between the time of their announcement and the time that they would leave West 24th Street forever. On that day as Shawn and I sat on the stoop, I told him I was sorry that I would not see him anymore. He just nodded.
Movers were getting the last of the Norton’s furniture into a large truck. Noreen, Shawn’s older sister popped her head out of a window, “Okay, Shawn, get in here and help us out.”
Shawn stood up, “Wait, I’ll be right back.”
I was glad to hear that. I did not want the moment to end. When he came back he was carrying a heavy box. He sat next to me and plopped the box on the ground. “This is for you.” I opened the box.
“But this is your comic book collection!”
“Noreen said there’s not enough room on the truck. It’s okay, I’ll get more when we get to our new house.”
At that moment, Shawn’s other older sister, Jackie, came out with Noreen, both lugging heavy boxes. “Say goodbye, Shawn, and get in the truck,” ordered Jackie.
We lingered over our good-byes.
“Come on!” Jackie scolded.
We said goodbye. Shawn got in the truck, and I stayed on the stoop. We never found another opportunity to kiss again after the first kiss. We never actually looked for one. The deed was done and we saw no need to do it again. As the truck driver started the engine and the truck inched slowly away from the curb, Shawn and I waved frantically to each other.
And then he was gone.