The International Writers Magazine: Surviving Family with Martin Green
Arnold was walking through his old neighborhood in the Bronx. Back in his parents’ apartment it was frantic, his mother scurrying around, furniture being rearranged, food being placed on tables; it was as if the President was coming for a visit.
Actually, it was the family --- the aunts and uncles and a few cousins --- who were coming that afternoon. Arnold had been married two months before, in San Francisco, with only a few friends attending. He and Ellen had waited until September before flying to New York, to avoid the summer heat and humidity, and this was going to be her introduction to Arnold’s family. He had no idea how it would go.
The neighborhood had changed, new stores, most of the old stores gone, but the little park he remembered was still there. A few old men were sitting on benches, wrapped in coats even though it was a warm day. Arnold found an empty bench and sat down. In a way, he thought, he’d escaped from New York and his parents by going West just as he was now escaping from the apartment. He’d told his parents very little about Ellen until the wedding, knowing that any mention that he was seeing a girl would bring a barrage of questions from his mother. As it turned out, his mother “loved” Ellen from the start, as why wouldn’t she. Ellen was slim and pretty, with a soft Southern voice, unlike the flat nasal voices of the girls Arnold had known in New York. His father, as Arnold had known he would be, was also smitten by Ellen, but he’d have liked anyone Arnold brought home.
When was the last time he’d seen the family? He guessed it was just before he’d left New York, when he’d gone to his cousin Ben’s wedding in a Manhattan hotel, fancy-schmancy, as one of his aunts had said. Ben’s father Sol, known as the button king, had spared no expense. Everyone in the family was there. Arnold’s father Joe was the oldest of seven children. He had two brothers, Uncle Murray, the salesman, and Uncle Al, the pharmacist, and four sisters, Lily, Francis and Myra, whom Arnold thought of as the three fat aunts, and Jean, the thin aunt, who was married to Sol.
After the traditional Jewish wedding, in which the bride, who was a hefty girl, was carried around in a chair, the crowd swirled around, talking loudly, commenting on the bride, speculating on how much the fancy-schmancy affair had cost, exchanging the latest family gossip. Arnold tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible, but, as he’d known was inevitable, one by one the aunts, uncles and cousins found him and demanded to know what he was doing now. As it happened, the ad agency where he’d been working had gone under a few weeks before so he was unemployed. He was looking for a new job but not too hard as the idea had already formed that he was leaving New York and going to California. He’d already contacted a friend of his from the Army who’d always been singing the praises of San Francisco and who now urged him to make the move. Arnold could stay with him until he found something.
“So, you’re out of work?” said his Aunt Lily, the oldest of his father’s sisters. “What about unemployment insurance?”
“I haven’t thought about it. It hasn’t been too long and I got a month’s severance.”
“Look into it,” she ordered.
“How come they let you go?: asked his Aunt Francis, the next oldest.
“Well, they didn’t exactly let me go. The whole place folded so everyone was, I guess, let go.”
“Huh! Some place, to go out of business just like that.”
“Well. we lost our biggest client, you see, and after that we couldn’t survive.”
“The bosses, they must be terrible businessmen.”
She was probably right about that, thought Arnold..
“So, you’re looking for another job, right?” asked his Aunt Francis.
“Advertising, what kind of business is that? What about your Uncle Sol? I’m sure he could find a place for you.”
“Uh, I don’t really want to go into the button business.” He’d worked one summer when he was in high school in the button place and his memories of it weren’t the greatest.
“You should get into sales,” said his Uncle Murray. “Then you’ll always have a job. “They always need people who can sell.”
“Uh, I’ll think about that.” Actually, he wasn’t sure that he could sell anything.
“Your father told me you might go out to California,” said his Uncle Al. “You should do it. Get out of this crummy city. I wish I could, but you know.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
A few cousins also found him, all doctors or lawyer, and told him he should have gone into a profession and not into advertising. He said they were probably right. He was glad when the bride and groom finally left and the wedding was over and they could go back home.
Sitting on a bench in the Bronx almost five years later he could clearly picture all of his relatives at that wedding and they seemed to be clustered about him, yelling, “You’re a failure. Get a job. Get a job.” He looked at his watch and saw it was time to get back and face the music.
Three hours later, the relatives left one by one. They’d done a good job consuming all the food his Mother had put out. He wouldn’t have thought an army could have eaten it all, but they’d managed. They all told him how much they loved Ellen. “She’s so slim,” his fat aunts told him. “Like a model.” “She’s beautiful.” “I like the way she talks, so soft, with that Southern accent.” “I don’t know how you got a girl like that. She’s a princess. You’d better be good to her.”
He accepted their compliments on behalf of Ellen and assured them he’d be good to her. His Uncle Murray said he was glad he’d landed on his feet. His Uncle Al asked about life in California and what the weather was like there. His cousin Ben came over and told him he was a lucky guy to have snagged someone like Ellen. Ben’s wife Ruby was in another part of the room, eating something from a plate heaped with food. Arnold thought she’d put on a few pounds since their wedding. Ben asked what Arnold’s plans were. Arnold said that after the New York they’d be going to visit Ellen’s family in the South, then they’d start looking for a house when they were back in California. Ben said that he and Ruby were still living in an apartment because houses were so expensive in the New York area. Arnold had made a good move.
Later that night when they were in bed Arnold said to Ellen, “Well, you survived the onslaught.”
She laughed. “I like your family. Your aunts are pretty funny. They all think highly of you.”
Arnold suddenly felt very tired. When he thought about the day he realized that yes, the family did think highly of him now. He wasn’t the unemployed bum he’d been at his cousin’s wedding. He’d gone to a strange land and gotten a job and had won a princess. Now all he had to do was survive the next leg of their trip, going to the Deep South. He’d be a Yankee in Dixie. He wondered how Ellen’s family would feel about that.
© Martin Green
My Nice Brother
He was slow in getting promoted at his office. He was too nice to engage in office politics.
Steve Carson didn’t look like a horrible boss. He was a tall, good-looking man in his early fifties, just beginning to show his age despite a rigorous exercise regimen.
Caw. Caw. Caw. Arnold was jolted out of his doze. A crow in his back yard?
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