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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Life Stories

Scenes from a Life
• Martin Green - Part 1

It was the Depression year of 1939 but Arnold, eight years old, didn’t know they were poor. 


Every morning Arnold’s father, a plumber, got up early, hoisted his heavy toolbox, which Arnold could hardly move, up to his shoulder and went to the union hall.  Sometimes he got a job; at other times he didn’t.  Arnold’s father also did jobs for the landlord of their Bronx tenement.  Arnold’s mother always had food on the table for him and a snack when he got home from school.

     After having his snack Arnold would go down to the street and play with the other kids his age on the block.  They played the New York street games-boxball, slugball, curves, stoopball and off-the-point.  The older kids played stickball.  Arnold was small for his age and wore glasses but he had good coordination and was pretty good at the street games so he was accepted into the gang.  Once or twice at school one of the bigger kids tried to bully him but big Kissel, the leader of his gang, was always there to protect him.

     Arnold liked playing in the street but what he liked best was reading.  His mother would take him to the library and he’d take out three or four books.  At night, after finishing his homework, quickly because he was also smart, he’s curl up in a living room chair under the lamp with a piece of rye bread and read a book.  The book would take him into another world, one of excitement and adventure.  In that cone of light from the lamp he was insulated from everything.  He was safe.

     It was 1952.  Arnold had graduated college.  The Korean War was going on; called a “Police Action” then, the “Forgotten War” after.  Arnold had gone to the army induction center in lower Manhattan.  He was near-sighted, had flat feet and had dislocated a knee playing handball while in high school but was inducted anyway.  Arnold felt that anyone who could walk into the place would be inducted.   

     Arnold and a couple of dozen of other young men were piled into a bus and driven for what seemed hours until they came to an Army camp in New Jersey called Camp Kilmer.    Arnold knew that Joyce Kilmer had written a poem called “Trees” and thought it was ironic as Camp Kilmer was treeless, dusty and dismal.  After they’d dismounted from the bus a fat sergeant had herded them to a mess hall where they’d had a meal of what Arnold could only identify as slop.  Now they were in a barracks and Arnold lay in his bunk bed, thinking how scratchy the Army blanket was. 

     Suddenly someone cried out a curse.  A minute later someone else also cried out a curse.  There followed a chorus curses, like a mound of dirt being piled up.  Arnold couldn’t help thinking that just yesterday he’d been in his bed at home, his bookcase full of books, and now look at where he was.  He knew he’d soon go to some other Army camp for basic training.  After that, what?  He might wind up in Korea and who knows, he might wind up dead.

     As it happened, after basic, Arnold went to clerk-typist school and then was sent, not to Korea to battle the Commies, but to Germany to hold back the Russians.  He was discharged, still alive, after two years.  

     It was 1962.  Arnold was waiting to see a doctor, a urologist.    He’d been having trouble urinating.  First, there was the obligatory wait in the outside waiting room.  Then there was the wait in the little cubicle after having been told to take his clothes off.  Finally, just when Arnold was about to look out and ask if they’d forgotten him the doctor arrived.  He was in his scrubs and explained he’d just come from surgery.  The doctor was a large man with a loud, confident voice.  Arnold told him about his problem and the doctor nodded and said, Pretty common for a man his age.

     Then he led Arnold into another room, which Arnold was to think of as the torture chamber.  When the procedure was through the doctor told him he had some scarring, which didn’t sound good, and that he’d recommend prostate surgery, something commonly referred to as a rotor rooter.  Someone would call and a date would be set.  Arnold put his clothes back on and left.  Then he remembered.  He turned back and found the doctor in his office.  He asked the doctor if he had cancer.  The doctor looked as if this preposterous and told him, No, it was an enlarged prostate, not cancer.

     The surgery was successful and Arnold didn’t have urinary troubles again.  Later on, he was probably one of the few persons in his retirement community who didn’t have to get up at night to go to the bathroom.

     The year was 2021.  The month was August.  The Covid pandemic that had upended everyone’s life had been with them for almost a year and a half.  Arnold and his wife Ellen had returned from their local supermarket.  They’d both worn masks because their doctor had recommended they do so.  At their ages they were the most vulnerable to the virus.  Some of the other people in the supermarket were wearing masks; most weren’t.

     Now Arnold, tired from unloading their purchases, sat in his living room chair reading from his iPad.  Ellen was in the kitchen, putting everything away in their proper places.  It was a dark day.  The sky was smoky from one of the wildfires burning in California.  Arnold turned on the lamp.

     The article he was reading was about the virus.  The vaccinations that he and Ellen had had earlier that year would protect them, the article said, but it wasn’t 100 percent effective.  Some people would get Covid; these were known as “breakthrough” cases.  These people would most likely be older ones, like him and Ellen.  Most of these cases would be mild but there’d be some deaths, again most likely to older people.   

     As he’d become older, Arnold’s mind often turned to memories of the past.  Now he suddenly had an image in his mind of himself as a boy, sitting in the living room chair under the lamp, eating a slice of rye bread and reading a book.  It was a time when, under the arc of the lamp light, he’d felt safe.

© Martin Green 9.1.21

Observations on the Worst and Best of Times
Martin Green in California - January 1st 2021

I think us oldsters have a perspective on things that younger people may not

The Wrong Stop
Martin Green

It was a typical gray dismal raw New York City spring morning.  Jenkins stood, crammed with dozens of other blank-faced people, in the subway car headed for his office downtown. 

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