Michael Waxman was nervous on his first day at Medford High School. He checked his face and hair one last time. The black curly locks on his head defied any part. His favorite Italian Uncle Stush had the same head of hair. Good. No zits today.I wonder if the kids at the bus stop will speak to me.
Waxman’s family had moved from Somerville, the adjacent town. He wouldn’t know any of the students carried over from the 9th grade of his Somerville Junior High School since there weren’t any who moved to Medford. The summer had been one of adaptation to the South Medford house and trying to socialize with a few kids in the neighborhood. Today, he waited at the bus stop with about a dozen other students. Waxman noticed a large teenager staring at him. The boy came over.
“You live on the corner of Walton Street, right?” The muscular teen wore a tight blue t-shirt and black chinos. A plain red crucifix tattoo was on the kid’s left forearm. He pointed at Waxman with his comb. “I seen you around the park down the street.”
“We moved in three-months ago. It’s my grandfather’s house. We live in the first floor.”
“I know the old guy. Pistacci, right? I knew the kids who lived there before. They were okay especially Frank and Betty.”
“They’re my cousins. They moved to Stoneham.”
“So what’s your name?”
“Michael. Michael Waxman. What’s yours?”
“Carli Santo. How come you’re not Italian? This is South Medford–Little Italy.”
“My father married Elizabeth Pistacci–my mother.”
“That you I hear playing the accordion?”
“Yeah, my grandfather got me into the accordion a few years ago.”
“You sound good. You can do me a favor.” He looked at the orange bus tracking the overhead twin power lines with its two slim metal poles. “Here comes the bus. I sit next to Rosa Dipoli so I’ll talk to you later.”
“What kind of favor?”
“I’ll talk to you later.” Santo pushed his way to the head of the line and leaped into the bus. He went to the back and stared at a boy sitting next to a black-haired nubile teen. The boy looked up and jumped out of the seat. Santo stared at him as he went forward looking for another place to sit.
“Hi, Carli.” Rosa smiled and shook her shoulders which shimmied her ample developing chest.
“Who was that?”
“No one. He was sitting there when I got on the bus.”
Waxman couldn’t find a seat and grabbed onto a vertical rail. He looked around the bus and made eye contact with Santo. He waved and nodded to him.
“Well… who’s the new guy?”
“Betty Pistacci’s cousin. They moved into her house when her family moved to Stoneham.”
“You’ll have to introduce me.”
Santo smiled and grabbed her lower jaw swinging it toward him. He planted a kiss flush on her lips. “Maybe. After I get to know him better.”
Waxman found his homeroom and sat at the seat labeled with his name on a 3-by-5 file card. The teacher called the role from her list. All the names started with “S” and went to “Z”. Half the names were Italian. He looked at his course schedule and when the bell rang he headed to the third floor of the south wing. A pretty blond about his height shuffled up to him.
“Hi. I’m Deborah Sterling. You’re new. I’m in your homeroom. Are you college course?”
“Yes. I moved from Somerville in June.”
“Where do you live?”
“South Medford–near Tufts Park and Tufts College.”
“South Medford? That’s Little Italy.”
“Where are you from?”
“West Medford. You have a Jewish name.”
“I’m Jewish.” He smiled and was enjoying her conversation.
“Me too. I mean most of us in West Medford are Jewish. How come you’re out with the Italians?”
“My mother was Italian. I live in one of my Italian grandfather’s houses.”
“Where are your Jewish relatives?”
“Oh. I know some girls from Revere–from BBG.”
“What’s BBG? I know girls from the Somerville BBG. It’s the B’nai Brith Girls–a Jewish sorority for high schoolers.”
“We never really stressed the Jewish side of the family–other than going to the Temple occasionally. Most of my relatives are Italian.”
“Aren’t you going to join AZA?”
“The boys’ fraternity. Oops. Here we are–geometry. I’ll talk to you later.”
Waxman went to his next class without Deborah Sterling. She renewed relations with other classmates who she hadn’t seen much during the summer. He listened to their talk about how much they grew and changed. He laughed at how the girls looked each other over checking out bust development and asking about having periods and who dated who at camp or whatever. He was glad he walked alone. Just before lunch Waxman went to his locker and stashed some books. As he closed the locker Sterling appeared with a muscular teen.
“Hey Michael, this is Wendell Golden. He’s in the college course and he’s one of us.”
“One of us?”
“Jewish. I told him about you. I have to run to lunch and meet some of the other girls. Bye.”
Golden held out his hand. “Wendell Golden. Call me Dell. Never call me Wendy.”
“Deborah told me about something called AZZ and BBG.” They walked slowly to the lunchroom.
“Everyone calls her Deb. AZA not AZZ. We meet every Sunday morning in a converted garage behind the Temple.” Golden patted his pushed back dark brown hair. Every hair was in place.
“What’s AZA stand for?”
“It stands for the Hebrew letters Aleph Zadik Aleph. It started out as a Jewish youth organization in Nebraska in 1922. There are about 45 of us from sophomores to seniors. It’s like a fraternity. I’m a pledge–all sophomores and new guys are pledges. The only way to learn about it is to experience it. You’re invited this Sunday as my guest. We can be pledges together. My friend Bibsy will drive us–he’s a senior.”
They could hear the din of the eating, animated students as they approached the corridor with the lunchroom sign arrow pointing to their right.
“Hey. What do we have here? Two Jew boys.” A dark-complexion student wearing a lavender silk roll-collar shirt and white-saddle-stitched black pants signaled his two cronies to face Waxman and Golden.
“What do you want Ganelli? Why don’t you go eat with your friends from South Medford?” Golden tightened his muscular arms. He looked at Waxman’s lanky frame and flashed back to Ganelli.
“I think you two should pay the admission fee to the lunchroom. It’s fifty cents apiece for Jew boys.” Ganelli signaled his two pals to complete an arc facing Golden and Waxman.
“You’re gonna have to take it from us and the first one near me gets a broken nose which will cost more than fifty-cents to fix.” Golden squared off facing Ganelli.
“Maybe we should pay them and get on with lunch.” Waxman looked at the other two facing him. Two on me and one on Golden. Fuck this.
“No. I’m gonna like rearranging your face Ganelli. It’ll be worth a few lumps.”
Ganelli looked at his cronies. “Petro, you take the new guy. Two of us can smoosh the Golden Jew Boy.”
“I think not.” A deep voice boomed as Santo turned the corner and ran into them.
“Stay out of this Carli.” Ganelli pointed with his right index finger.
Santo stared at Ganelli with his clenched fists on his hips. “I think not.”
“You siding with the Jew boys?” Ganelli began perspiring.
“Hey, you meet Michael? He lives down the street from me. He’s Frankie Pistacci’s cousin. And Dell here works out with me at the gym. They’re my friends. You pick a fight with my friends and you pick a fight with me.” Santo moved next to Golden.
“Okay. It’s three-against-three now.” Golden took a step closer to Ganelli.
Ganelli saw his two buddies start to look around and twitch with uncertainty. “Okay. Okay. I won’t forget this Santo.”
“I know you won’t.” Santo moved in front of Golden and brought his fist square onto Ganelli’s nose. A slight “crack” was followed by a gush of bright red blood. “Go down to the school nurse and report a fire-door rammed you in the face.” He turned to Waxman and Golden. “Let me know if they bother you again. They give Italians like me a bad image.”
Waxman and Golden headed to the lunchroom.
“Hey Michael, you owe me two favors now,” Santo yelled and disappeared down a side corridor.
“Two favors? You know Carli Santo?”
“I live near him. I don’t know about any favors.”
“Just watch out. You don’t want or need to be beholden to those wops. That’s why we have AZA. Do you know why Santo smashed Ganelli’s nose?” Golden grabbed a food tray from the stack.
“Because if he didn’t, the AZA would retaliate against those greaseballs. He didn’t want to start a war. Santo is a good guy to have on your side.”
Waxman moved down the food line. “How long is the AZA meeting on Sunday morning?”
“We meet from nine to twelve. The BBG meets in the afternoon. You know what BBG stands for?”
“Deb told me–B’nai Brith Girls.”
“In AZA we call them the Big Bad Girls–BBG.”
Edmund Sorelli loved school because it was much better than home. He did well in school and going to Boston Latin High School was a dream come true. He tiptoed to the bathroom, showered and dressed in the school uniform. The uniform was another thing he liked. He became like every other boy. He cleaned the two sets of clothes himself as well as doing the rest of the laundry. He tied a Windsor knot on the blue and red-striped necktie and peeked into his mother’s room. Her nurse uniform was hung on the door. A seal-like snore from the man in his mother’s bed covered any noise he was making. Sorelli had seen this guy before. Maybe two-months ago. He wasn’t a bad guy but his mother treated him like shit. She treated every man like shit. She treats me like shit–the fucking whore.
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