by Bob Jandoli
As this month’s Sharing Sentimental Journeys story unfolds, you will understand why I titled it “Beautiful Children”
I was about fourteen years old, and just beginning to appreciate girls. Something major was happening inside of me…well, you know the rest. I was starting to “hang out” at the corner candy store (Salerno’s in the West Orange valley). Booths, jukebox, little dancing area in the back, pin ball machine: the whole nine yards. It was your typical 1950’s-style teenage spot. Anyway, I was sitting with about five or six other boys, when our friend Vinnie walked in. He came right over to us and said “Guys, I need a favor”
(Uh oh!! Never start off a conversation with that).
He continued: “My mother asked me if I could get a bunch of you guys to go with me to my cousin’s (who was a girl) party tomorrow night. She feels bad because no boys will be there, they were invited, but replied no because there was a basketball tournament taking place that night. She lives in Montclair” We all said “Yeah, sure, we’d be nuts not to go.’’ The only boys with over a dozen girls. We jumped at the invite. Saturday night rolled around and I was dressed to the nines! The feather-weights, the sharkskin pants, my new Italian knit – and to top it off, I splashed about a half a bottle of “Canoe” all over my body.
We all met at the candy store and after two bus rides and a mile walk we got there. It was one of those fancy (remember, this is around 1962) high rises, with a doorman and everything. We stepped onto the elevator and went up to the fourth floor. We must have looked like ‘The Dead-End Kids” to the tenants of this “swanky” hotel. The six of us approached the door and stood there for what seemed like a lifetime. Our sexual libidos were rising. We looked like a s.w.a.t. team waiting to break down the door and prey on everyone inside. Little did we know that on the other side of that door were over a dozen young girls waiting for us to knock. It was like a “Mexican Standoff”. What a bunch of naïve idiots!! Lol! When the door opened, there stood twelve of the most unattractive girls we ever saw. Then we realized, there was no basketball tournament. We knew right away we were suckered into this party. So we walked in and each one of the girls must have seen the disappointment on our faces. How rude of us. Although I was mad, I felt bad and immediately broke the ice and started talking to the girl who I found to be the friendliest. Her name was Lisa. There were records playing and a lot of good Italian food. So we stayed and it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. But my friends became restless and after about an hour-and-a-half they wanted to leave. I saw the look on the girls’ faces and started really feeling bad. I turned to Vinnie and told him I was staying and I’ll get a ride home somehow. I hung around till 11:00, talking and having a good time with Lisa.
When I left she walked me to the elevator and I asked her for her phone number, but I had no intentions of calling her. How could I go out with a girl that was not attractive? My friends would laugh at me. What an asshole I was. She ran back into the apartment and came running out with her number on a piece of paper, then kissed me goodbye. (Closed mouth of course, she was Catholic!).
The next day was Sunday and I stayed home and watched the Yankee game with my father and brothers: a tradition back then. As the game played out on tv I thought about Lisa, then called her and asked her for a date next Friday night. I don’t think the phone rang more than one ring when she answered, like she was waiting for my call. I took her out three or four times, only to the movies, and only in Montclair. On the fourth date she asked me why we never went into West Orange to hang out with my friends. I made up some kind of an excuse and kissed her goodbye and, you guessed it, I never called her again. I was young and stupid. She was such a nice girl and I thought about her for years, but I moved on with my life and my teenage years. The rest of my life was a blessing.
Thirty-plus years later, I was about forty-five and just divorced. I went to an antique auction in Dover, NJ. A friend of mine was the auctioneer. I got there late and as I walked in, he said over the microphone “Let’s all welcome Bobby Jandoli from West Orange”. He was a real ball-buster. I sat in the back and after about fifteen minutes, a woman, in her mid-forties sat next to me, turned and said “I’m sorry, you may not remember me….” I stopped her with: “Lisa, right?” Wow, more than thirty years later she looked great! We sat and talked for a while and then her husband joined us. They informed me that, together, they owned a liquidating business and most of the furniture at the auction was supplied by them. When she said goodbye and was ready to leave, I grabbed her hand and whispered to her “I’m sorry Lisa, so sorry”. She responded: “For what Bobby? You were wonderful and made me feel great.” Maybe she forgot about the way I ended our little relationship, those thirty-plus years ago. Guess I’ll never know. But we exchanged numbers and through the years I’ve kept in touch and see her and her husband every year at Lead East, the 1950’s car show in Parsippany, NJ. They are two of the most beautiful people I know.
In closing: I want to say that I became a much better person realizing all of us are beautiful. When I overcame the superficial thing, I was able to see the reality and heart and soul of a girl like Lisa. So ladies, when I speak to you I will always strive to be nice, All I see is beauty. Please understand I mean no disrespect. I see no “un-attractive” people in my life anymore. Even in mean and hateful people. They’re not ugly, they’re scared, they are always on the defense. Love them, they’ll love you back. Remember I am not your judge, and you are not mine. My religious beliefs are that there is only one JUDGE. Only He will judge us, and will always watch over us, because we are all HIS BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN.