Saturday, June 24, 2006

Witness




My friend Kathy and me, summer of 1960. (Please note: The pose was my mother's idea. I think she wanted us to look like a couple of Vargas girls. At five.)

I lived on a narrow side street in Brooklyn, very close to the corner of an extremely busy multi-lane thoroughfare. Because the Long Island Railroad ran under that big street, living in our house was very much like living under the Cyclone (ala Alvy Singer in "Annie Hall"). Every time the train would pass, all of the dishes and crystal in our china cabinet would rattle and chime like a gaudy symphony. We were so used to it that we'd giggle at the terrified look on a visitor's face when it happened.

Living so close to this busy street meant that almost nightly we'd hear the blaring horns, the screech of brakes and the shattering of glass that signaled yet another car crash. Everyone on the block (adults and children alike) would run outside to see what happened, like an urban night of NASCAR. The images are burned into my brain.. mangled fenders, a streak of blood, even the sight of a woman's knee with a hole scooped out after it slammed into her dashboard ignition key on impact.

One night, not too long after this picture was taken, I heard the telltale sounds of screeching and shattering, horns blaring, and ran outside as always. But this time, I was the first and only one. As I stood there, frozen, I spotted a little boy about my age who looked through me as he wandered in a daze among the steaming wreckage. Behind him a man was clawing his way along the ground and, as I watched, he stopped, collapsed, and died.

It felt like an eternity before others arrived, before the police cars screamed up, before my father took his place along the curb with the rest of the onlookers. What I remember most, though, was the inscription on the door of the car that ejected that doomed passenger: "Johnny Baby's Car Service. Ride with Safety."