Mickey Okker, after emigrating to Canada joins a socialist club and meets up with a young women at a holiday dance.
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Early in December I decided to attend the annual youth Chanukah dance at the United Jewish People's Order, a secular Jewish organization spawned by the American Worker's Circle which was organized at the beginning of the century by Eastern European immigrants who were concerned with economic and political justice and equality. The UJPO was affiliated with the Labour Progressive Party which was formed after the Communist Party was banned in Canada almost ten years ago. They managed to elect one Member of Parliament but he was later expelled on the trumped up charges of spying for the Soviets. No doubt, the charges were influenced by the rising anti-communist hysteria fuelled by Senator McCarthy south of the border. I took out a trial membership there shortly after arriving in town. I was attracted by their socialist ideals and focus on workers' rights. Uncle Issie told me that I had inherited his genetic socialist ideals. Ironically, the centre was located right across the street from the Christie Pits park, the site of the an antisemitic riot, nearly fifteen years past.
I arrived early and bought a ticket at the door, leaving my overcoat and hat with a strikingly pretty coat check girl. I was wearing a bespoke suit made the the week before at one of the many wholesale garment factories on Spadina Avenue. It was made from a light grey wool fabric with muted blue pinstripes fashioned in a broad-shouldered double breasted style with wide single pleated cuffed trousers. I reckoned it would be comfortable enough attire to dance in if I was lucky enough to find a willing partner. Uncharacteristic like, I also decided to buy a wide brimmed fedora. I wanted to look like Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca", my favourite movie. Maybe tonight, with a bit of luck, I might be able to find my Lauren Bacall on the dance floor!
The basement gym was decorated with blue and white crepe paper ribbons and cardboard dreidels hanging from the rafters. The piquant smell of fried latkes permeated the expansive room. Sadly, it reminded me of mama. No one could make potato pancakes like her! I had a sudden urge to cry but I managed to resist--I didn't want to be a killjoy. I longingly recalled the holidays back in Den Transtaat: our family gathered around the dining room table, watching the shadow of the menorah's candles flickering magically on the naked wall. Even after all the years gone by, my fond memories would often be sheared away by my family's horrifying ending, like a cruel and ruthless scythe, leaving me alone to struggle with another reopened wound.
Nate and I, for some cosmic reason we'll never know, were granted a lease on life, while our parents' and sisters' ashes nourished the soil under the Polish countryside. To me, Sobibor was a sober testament to our species monstrous capacity to engineer the most heinous of acts. Sadly, Nate and I were denied the solace of a physical monument--a place to pay respects to our family's shortened lives. The unfathomable reality of losing our entire family--two generations of Okkers--continued as a fitful intermittent source of pain, like an active volcano, erupting sporadically feeding my smouldering despondency.
I remember after the war, when any hopes of our family's survival were pulverized, Uncle Issie took me aside and hugged me so tight I thought I would suffocate. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. I remember vividly how he assured me that I had the temperament to carry on, despite what happened. He said It was my infectious sense of humour that kept me in tune with the travesties of the terribly flawed theatre we call life. Most important, he told me, was my willingness to talk out my feelings. But on the other hand, he worried about my brother. Nate was different. He had always been a serious and sullen lad, unable to share even the most bare scraps of his inner thoughts. Uncle Issie urged me to take special care of him. He feared that his nephew's guilt and pain would one day consume him.
I entered the gymnasium with a wary apprehension. I hadn't been to a dance since the time back in London and it was ages since I had any semblance of intimacy with the opposite sex. A group of musicians were tuning their instruments at the far end of the gym where a large stage was set up below the basketball net. One of them was performing a microphone sound check. Along the sidelines an elderly woman wearing a blue smock was unstacking bridge chairs.
I decided to take a fag break and get some fresh air--a welcome relief from the intolerable heat coming from the hall's kitchen. It was an unusually mild early evening, the culmination of a cloudless late December day, warm enough to disregard an overcoat. I lit a cigarette and sat down on a dry section of the entrance's steps. A taxi came to a full stop in front of me. Two girls, both stylishly dressed in similar dark fur trimmed overcoats, emerged from the open rear door, giggling with youthful exuberance. They sauntered on past me, close enough that I could smell alcohol on their breath. The shorter one brushed by my elbow. She turned towards me and smiled. She had a generous, pretty face with a smattering of freckles concentrated around the upper edges of her snub nose. Strands of auburn hair fell from her white cloche fur hat. Her companion, much taller and leaner, stumbled on a discarded cigarette package causing her to lunge forward against her friend, pushing both towards the door, both laughing heartily.
...."Boychik! --already flirting with the dames, eh! And the nights just started!" I recognized my good mate Carl Levinson's voice calling out somewhere in the thickening fog. He emerged from the mist striding idly towards me. Not one to pay much attention to style or fashion, he was attired in an ill fitting brown, full length herringbone wool overcoat and a green khaki cap in the style worn by Vladimir Lenin, slightly tilted to one side. We had met shortly after I joined the organization and became quick friends. Carl was a grad student at the University of Toronto, hoping to get a doctorate in social anthropology, eventually leading to a professorship. He told me that his old man, a life member of the UJPO, was a high ranking union manager for the Toronto local of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Carl would tell me about the stories he heard from his father whom he affectionately called "comrade," about the female textile workers going on strike for ten weeks in 1931 to protest poor wages and conditions.
With a theatrical greeting, he tipped his socialist inspired cap forward towards me. "Jeez, I could smell them latkes from Bloor Street! So how's our floor hockey team's star player doing this fine evening?" I replied with an exaggerated frown. "Sod off, Levinson! You bloody well know I haven't scored a goal since October." "Don't flip your wig, Okker! Save your energy for the dollies tonight. If it's anything like last year's dance, we'll be like kids in a candy store, our pockets weighed down with loot!" "I don't know Carl--I'm not exactly a Fred Astaire on the dance floor!" He put his arm around my shoulder. "Listen pal--you got an accent that will make the broads go ape! The girls here love Englishman--they think they're really sexy--like in the movies." "Jesus, Carl, I keep telling you--I'm not English. I'm a bleeding Dutchman! And it's well known that the Dutch aren't exactly renowned for their sentimentality and romantic grace. Also, I didn't exactly inherit the aesthetic genes that my brother Nate did." "Broads don't care so much about looks like us guys do!", Carl shot back. He took out his wallet and opened the well used pocket where he kept his bills. "This, my Dutch Englishman, or whatever the hell you are, is what makes their hearts flutter!" I laughed. "So I guess Carl, we better start thinking about how we're going to get rich, eh mate!" "Is that swell looking cookie working the coat check tonight?" I nodded. "Then let's go and have a gander!", he enthused, a salacious grin shaping his gaunt, tired-looking face.
When we reached the gym, the band was starting to play "Stardust". Carl informed me that "Lenny Freedman and the Silhouettes" were well known, having played the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit around the city for many years. Couples were already on the gym floor, slow dancing, the girls' heads resting teasingly on their partner's shoulders. The remainder of unattached singles, were congregated on the sides of the gym, standing idly by the refreshment tables, drinking and eating skittishly, apprehensively watching the competition and surveying the inventory, all the while trying to appear comfortably at ease while fearing a public and solitary humiliation of cold hard rejection.
Across the gym, I already had the freckled girl from the cab in my sights. She was dressed in one of those trendy poodle dresses: a pink cotton candy coloured wide pleated dress with the image of a black poodle and an attached white coiling leash. Bridging her dress and white full sleeved button-up blouse was a wide indigo coloured leather belt. Only the last button of her blouse was buttoned, revealing an ample cleavage. A matching indigo scarf was tied loosely around her neck. Her persona was fashionably complemented by a pair of black and white oxford saddle shoes. Her hair, in a ponytail, was tightly secured by a red ruffled bow. I took a few anxious breaths and mentally practiced the five crucial words I hoped she would embrace: "Would you care to dance?" I inhaled one final time and purposely crossed the floor.
With the grace of good fortune (and a flask full of rye whiskey), we both ended up as exclusive dance partners for the entire night! She told me her name was Golda Sharp. I immediately recognized the "Sharp" name. The Sharp slipper line was very popular in all the city's local shops and they advertised widely in the newspapers and radio. Sure enough, it was her father's business. She said she hated her name which was inherited from her maternal grandmother. Golda complained that it was old fashioned and out of step with the more popular names of the day. She told me that nearly everyone called her "Goldie," with the exception of her step-mother who insisted on calling her "Golda", strictly for spite. Her biological mother had died of pneumonia when she was in first grade. It was during the Depression when her family was struggling to earn a living from the small womenswear shop they owned near the university campus. She remembered her mother and her being escorted by her dad to the nearby McCaul Street shul on sabbath nights, dressed up in the latest fashions from the shop, attracting the congregants' curiosity. After the rabbi's sermon, her father, a natural born salesman, would stand outside the temple handing out business cards, disregarding his wife's considerable embarrassment.
Her father met her step-mother at the end of the war when he still had the shop near the university. He had been exempt from serving because of his poor vision and flat feet. Goldie's step-mom who worked as a secretary at the university, often explored her future husband's shop during her lunch hour. Her father was an engineering professor at the university where he spent the most of the war contracted out by the Department of Defence on some kind of secret research mission related to the war effort. The professor had invested money in a variety of real estate ventures, buying up residential properties and empty parcels of land throughout the city. Before the war his wife had run off with a rich real estate investor from Vancouver who she met through her husband's business dealings.
Goldie said her father and her step-mom's father got along famously, attached by their mutual love for boxing and ice hockey. After her father remarried, his father-in-law told him about a vacant slipper factory he owned on Peter Street. The man who leased out the place had bailed out just weeks prior after he got stuck with a huge gambling debt--rumours floated about that he was involved with the Buffalo Cosa Nostra. The professor offered the factory rent free to her father if he kept up the costs for the building maintenance. He readily accepted the offer, reemployed the manager as well as most of the former workers, and started manufacturing a new line of slippers under the "Sharp" name.
We occasionally left the dance floor for food and drink. Goldie, who was friends with the recreation manager, was able to secure a key to a small storage room near the gym where she and her girlfriend stored their purses and valuables. After our first break she grabbed two empty glasses from the punch table, took my hand, and led me towards the small room. She opened a large leather handbag and nimbly removed a thin silver flask. She gave me a sly wink. "My old man has a swanky bar in the basement--it's one of the benefits of his weekend card games with his dumb friends. It comes in handy sometimes!" She poured a generous shot into each glass. We returned to the gym and filled our glasses with fruit punch.
The rye loosened our tongues. She asked me about my "charming English accent." I told her about growing up in Amsterdam and living in London during the War. I spoke about my love of reading and Uncle Izzie's bookshop. She said she never read any "real" books after dropping out of high school. Her "reading" consisted of fashion and gossip magazines, Louella Parsons, and Ann Landers in the local papers. She told me that she had an obsession with the lives of Hollywood movie stars. I began to sing the jingle from the radio ad for her father's business played incessantly on all the stations. "Don't look dull. Don't feel dull. Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp in Sharp's slippers!" "Everyone wears Sharp's" I said. My brother has a pair at home. I'm a sock only guy, myself!", I laughed. "Well, papa's starting to sell socks as well now", she replied. "Maybe I'll get you a pair!"
Later in the evening I looked around for Carl. I realized I hadn't seen him since much earlier, talking to a group of dancers. The band had just begun their last break before the finale. Goldie took my hand and led me back to the storage room. I grabbed two glasses from the punch table. There was a large chesterfield in the corner of the room. We sat down. She waved away the glasses, removed the half-filled flask, and took a less than graceful swig of the liquor. She handed me the flask and within a few minutes we finished the remainder. She adjusted the bow in her hair and gave me a flirtatious smile. The booze was drowning the last dregs of my reserve. We ogled each other like two ravenous wolves leering at their prey.
Our initial kisses were awkward and greedy. I hadn't been intimate with a girl since shortly before leaving for Canada, over a year ago. My fingers moved frantically towards her blouse. Our kisses became deeper, tongues writhing in a desperate frenzy. I unhooked her bra and caressed her full breasts. I felt her nipples hardening. I reached under her dress and lifted her petticoat with my other hand. Her panties were damp. I eased a finger into her warm wet cleft. Goldie broke the cadence of our heavy breathing with a high pitched whimper. I began to push deeper, my finger eagerly exploring. She was pulsating. Goldie lifted her head and breathlessly whispered: "Jesus--let's get this show on the road. It's rubber time lover boy!" I removed my finger. "Aren't they in your purse?", I asked with hopeful desire. "You're kidding me!" she groaned. "I'm not", I replied, my lust beginning to deflate like the air from a soon-to-be spent balloon. "What boy going to a dance doesn't stuff a goddamn pack of rubbers in his wallet--hell, even the goddamn ugly drips who have the same chance of getting some action with a dame as you have of getting a goddam knighthood from King George, pack away some Ramses!" "I can do the "Catholic thing" I pleaded. "Ya, pretty innovative for a Yid! ", she responded. "I swear I'll be careful!" She sat up and gave me the look of a school teacher who knows her student is giving her the whitewash. "Last summer I fell for that line with a boy who I thought I trusted and ended up in a fix. Pop had to drive me all the way across the border to see a doctor he knew--it cost him a goddamn mint! For me, it meant giving up a month's allowance and being stuck in the house for two weeks--so lay off the jive Einstein!"
Goldie stood up, hands on her hips, shaking her head and looking down at me like she was attempting to solve a calculus equation. Okay Don Juan, let's not waste an empty locked room. Lay down Romeo and I'll give you MY version of a Dutch treat. She pulled down my zipper and began to massage my dick, slowly at first, and then with quicker strokes. "How is that my little horny katchke?" "Quack, quack!" I blurted. I looked up at her pretty mouth, hoping that she would improvise the "treat" to a new pleasurable level. She must have read my mind. "Don't get any thoughts in your head wise guy! I may be adventurous but I don't do what you're pining for, you goddamn pervert! Boys are filthy swine! Do I know where its been--what it's done. She continued stroking. "Jesus H. Christ!" she shouted. You've hit the fuckin' ceiling, boychik! How long has it been since you've had some fun with a girl, you poor pathetic boy?" "A long time!", I gasped.