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Columns / Short Stories
Shep was always writing. . .

December 1970


The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski and her Friendly Neighborhood Sex Maniac

LUSTIKI! read the marquee in letters three feet high. Must be Lithuanian for lust, I mused, jogging from foot to foot to keep warm in the long line of Manhattan art film fanciers in front of the East Side's smart new Cinema 69, their ascetic faces flushed in anticipation of another evening of artful montages, elegant pans, gracefully executed dissolves. I glanced at the posters that rimmed the box office...

Later that night at Pulaski's, I waited my turn amid a crowd of ladies who milled around the meat counter, watching Pulaski as he weighed pork chops. He was famous for his two-pound thumb. "I said I didn't want 'em so fatty!" bellowed a hulking lady in a stocking cap. "Whaddaya want from me, lady? I don't grow the pigs!" An angry murmur arose among the throng as Pulaski held them at bay with his cleaver. Howie struggled past me with a sack of potatoes on his shoulder. "I hear you're goin' to the party," he said out of the side of his mouth as he hurried past. "How'd you know?" I threw after him. "I hear," he answered. Finally, as I picked up my sack of groceries, Howie leaned over the counter and said: "You're takin' Josie, eh? "Veil, good luck." He said it in a kind of voice that could mean anything. "Thanks," I answered in the same voice. He looked tired, as though he had worked 18 hours that day, which he had. Sure enough, I met Josie on the way home again. This time she hung on my arm and brushed up against me as we struggled home with the grocery sacks. "I hear you met Stosh." She spoke in a husky, throaty voice, not at all like her brother's. "He came over when I was polishing the car." "You'll like him." "Yeah, sure." "You'll like my uncles, too. They want to meet you." She snuggled closer as we sloshed through the slush. Somewhere a radio was playing White Christmas, with old Bing Crosby crooning away. We never really had a white Christmas in northern Indiana, since the snow came down already gray from the steel mills, but it was a nice thought. Once in a while we had a fall of rust-colored snow, and that could be kind of pretty once you got used to it. "Especially you'll like my Uncle Stanley." "Yeah, that'll be great." Inside my gut, those roaring waves of excitement crashed so loud that I didn't realize how sinister it was that all her uncles wanted to meet me. The street lights played over her magnificent cheekbones, her fantastic eyes, her coal-black hair. I felt hints of her body, round and soft, through her corduroy parka and my sheepskin coat. I clutched desperately to my bag of groceries. The great Atlantic salmon struggling thousands of miles upstream, leaping waterfalls, battling bears to mate is nothing compared to your average high school sophomore. The salmon dies in the attempt, and so, often, does the sophomore, in more ways than one. As we ambled through the gloom, I didn't have the slightest hint of what was coming; neither, I suppose, does the salmon. He just does what he has to do. So did I. "Hey," I said just before we got to her house. "Where is this party going to be?" She looked into my eyes with that gland-tingling look that can drive a man out of his skull-if he's lucky. "It's a surprise. You'll have fun." Instantly I pictured a mysterious, blue-lit den somewhere with writhing bodies and the distant thudding of orgiastic drums. Her smoldering gaze promised everything. I felt deep, down stirrings, and I was glad it was dark. A few snowflakes drifted down between us as we reached her doorstep. She closed her eyes in the dim light. I leaned forward. Our lips touched. My ears roared. Passion rushed in a mighty torrent through my veins. RRRRRRRIIIIPPPP! I felt my bag of groceries give way. I grabbed frantically at a carton of eggs as it hurtled to the sidewalk, followed by a bottle of ketchup and a jar of strawberry jam. Lightly she breathed, ''I'll see you tomorrow . . . darling." And was gone. Blindly I struggled amid the gray heaps of snow. I salvaged only a half pound of sliced bacon, one number-two can of carrots and a loaf of rye bread. All the rest was ruined or lost. But it was only the beginning. I was up at seven the next morning, nervous and excited. As I left for school after the usual oatmeal, I tried to catch a glimpse of Josie, but her house was dark and silent. All day at school the talk was about Zodnycki and what he had said about our ball club. Naturally, passions ran high. The Whiting Oilers had always been menacing, but with Zodnycki at the pivot and popping off like that, it was going to be a grudge match. I played it as cool as I could, pretending to be deeply involved in the game. It was a peculiar feeling, since I was normally a red-hot basketball nut and for the first time in my life something else was sneaking in by the side door. "Hey, you want to sell your ticket?" Schwartz asked after school. "You got a date tonight, so what are you goin' to do with the ticket?" "I may sell, if the price is right," I lied, since I knew that I never would sell a ticket to one of the big games of the year, even if I couldn't use it. Just having the ticket meant something. "I know a guy who'll give you four bucks, in my biology class." "Nah, I'll hang on." Tickets cost students a dollar and a half, so four dollars wasn't much of a deal, and I wasn't going to sell anyway. "Well, you lucky fink, just don't catch anything I wouldn't catch, ha-ha!" Flick yelled out at me at the top of his lungs as I left the crowd on my way home. "Where you takin' her?" asked Schwartz as the December wind sighed through the telephone lines and the branches of the trees creaked under the load of ice they carried. Just before Christmas, it gets dark early in the afternoon on the Indiana plains. School had just let out and already it was almost dark. Two kids snuggled by, pulling a Christmas tree on a sled. "How 'bout the Dreamland Roller Rink?" Schwartz sarcastically suggested. "Girls love roller skating." I said nothing, just chucked a piece of ice in his direction and headed home. "How come you're not eating the creamed onions?" my mother asked at the supper table. "Uh ... I'll have some later," I answered. I didn't want any onions lousing up the plans I had in mind. Besides, I wasn't hungry. I was out for big game tonight, and food meant nothing. I went into the bathroom and carefully shaved, and as usual the mysterious Nicked Chin Law went into operation - a peculiar phenomenon that I was not yet familiar with but which later became part of my life. All men know of this and have pondered it. On the evening of every important date, the razor invariably bites deep, leaving rich geysers of spurting blood in its wake. I stuck bits of toilet paper all over my face, attempting to stanch the flow. They didn't help, so I splashed Aqua Velva on my raw jaws. My face sizzled like a halibut on the broiler. "Yer sure shavin' close for a basketball game," the old man tossed at me as he peered in the bathroom to see how much longer I'd be. He liked to finish the paper in there every night after supper. "I'll be right out," I said non-committally. "Well, just don't take all night," he said, rattling the editorial page. After the shave I doused myself with Bloode Of The Sheik, a spectacular cologne that my father had won on a punchboard and that came in a bottle shaped like an Arab riding on a glass horse. The label, in jade and gold, read: LOVE ELIXIR OF THE EAST...47% ALCOHOL. I sloshed it over my head and down my chest, and instantly an explosive aroma filled the bathroom and clouded the mirror. For a few seconds my head reeled out of control as the love elixir did its seductive work. I staggered out into the fresh air. The mixture of the cologne with Aqua Velva was irresistible. Meticulously I got dressed, making sure that my T-shirt and Jockey shorts were snowy, my mauve-colored Tony Martin roll-collar sport shirt tucked carefully into my best slacks, my tweed sports coat devoid of telltale dandruff. Everything had to be absolutely right. This was a historic night. Never again would I suffer the guilt of knowing that I had never really done much with a girl except smooch with her in the balcony of the Orpheum. I examined myself in the mirror in my room. A magnificent specimen of sophomoric manhood. Bits of toilet paper still clung to my chin. The rich exhalations of the mysterious East rose about me in a purple haze. I was loaded for bear. Slipping into my mackinaw, I clamped my green ear muffs on my head, wound my precious eight-foot purple-and-white scarf around my neck 36 times-purple and white being our school colors, a combination so adroitly selected as to make all acne-ridden complexions look leprous by day and absolutely necrotic in gymnasium lighting. Casually, yet with a touch of stealth, since the old man had been known to change his mind without warning, I picked up the car keys from the dining-room table. "Don't forget to fill the tank," he bellowed from the next room. I went out into the icy darkness and over to the garage. Tonight I had a date with an actual girl from East Chicago. An East Chicago Polish girl. At last, after a measly lifetime of basketball games and double features and French fries at the Red Rooster and Monopoly games with Schwartz and Flick, I was in the big time! I put the key into the ignition and the Olds started instantly, as if it, too, sensed impending ecstasy. Since Josie lived next door, it wasn't much of a drive over to her house, but I hummed happily all the way as waves of excitement coursed up and down to every nerve ending. The Olds had a gasoline heater that, when it was in the mood, was hotter than the hinges of hell. I flipped it on. Immediately a great flood of scorching air engulfed my feet and steamed the windows. Hot dog! Everything is going great! I pounded my mittens on the steering wheel in a frenzy as I eased out of the driveway and up to the curb in front of Josie's house. Life stretched before me, a vast unexplored continent of voluptuous abandon. With throttle wide open and a full head of steam, I hurled myself full tilt toward the unknown, little suspecting what lay ahead. For a full half minute I sat in the darkness, peering up at the porch through the frosted window of the Olds, composing my mind for the opening ploy. The heater roared. The car was richly warm and dark. Straightening my ear muffs, I swung out into the cold, leaving the engine running. There had been plenty of changes since the Bumpuses' day, I thought as I reached the front porch. Somehow the unmistakable aura of the Kentucky clodhoppers and their brood of deformed animal life had given way to the alien mystique of Mittel-europa. I knocked on the front door and waited. Inside, all was silence. I peered in through the heavy curtains that hung at the front windows. Pitch darkness in the parlor, where once the Bumpuses had spent their squalid hours amid pig and chicken, dog and mule. guitars twanging at all hours, hawking and snorting and squatting amid old Montgomery l,yard catalogs. I knocked again, louder. Something seemed to be moving inside. The door opened a tiny crack. "Who you vant?" A beady eye peered out at me. "Uh ... I come for Josie." Silence. The eyeball glinted piercingly in the street light. Finally: "Josie?" "Yeah. Me and Josie are going to a party." "You vait." The eye disappeared. I stood alone on the wind-swept porch. For a brief moment, I bad the wild urge to flee into the night. In fact, I was just ;1 bout to turn and make a break for it when the door opened to a larger crack and the same voice, possibly female, said, "You come in. She not ready." I found myself in the black parlor and was aware of dim, blocky shapes of furniture set with geometric precision about the room. A crucifix gleamed dully from atop an upright piano flanked by what looked like stone urns. I was led through the house and into the darkened kitchen. The overpowering aroma of Polish cooking engulfed me like an octopus. Coming from a family where Franco-American spaghetti was considered an exotic dish, this was enough to make me stagger slightly as I felt my way past the stove. The figure ahead moved steadily to the cellar door and we descended the steps. Fear clutched at my vitals. At that time I was deep in the works of Sax Rohmer, the illustrious author of The Hand of Fu Manchu, The Insidious Doctor Fu Manchu, beside which Ian Fleming and his insipid Dr. No pale to the pasteboard figures that they are. Well I knew that Dr. Petrie had been many times lured into sinister traps down just such a passageway as I was traversing now. live reached the first landing. If I was going to escape at all, it was now or never. But like D. Nayland Smith himself, I allowed myself to be lured into the spider web of foreign in trigue. For a moment, I was blinded by the bright light of the cellar. "You sit. You eat." For the first time I saw that my guide was a short, stocky woman wearing a black shawl over her head, her cheeks bright red with peasant health, her eyes a brilliant china blue. "Me josie's mother." A heavy-set man sat at a table, huge shoulders bulging under his uncomfortable-looking shirt. He wore suspenders, something I thought only firemen did. He had a handle-bar mustache of such magnificence and daring that he would have been an instant hit in any of today's hippie communes. His thin blond hair was parted in the middle. "You take Josie to party," he said, his voice heavy and blocklike, like chunks of iron ore clanking out on the table. I recognized instantly that I was in the presence of a first-class open-hearth worker. Polish steel men are legendary and, in fact , the Paul Bunyan of the Gary mills was a Pole. This could have been Joe Magerac himself, a man capable of personally rolling out hot ingots between the palms of his hands. I squatted at the table, surrounded by dishes loaded with boiled potatoes and slices of dark homemade Polish bread. Josie's mother, beaming, shoved a huge white plate of thick foreign china in front of me. "You like cabbage, yes?" Josie's father, as I suspected he was, dug into his own plate, a fine spray of juice rising about him as he tucked into his nightly meal. I looked down at my plate, and there before me was a mountainous, steaming portion of God knows what. "But I already had supper," I protested weakly. "You eat," she repeated, still beaming happily. There was no way out. But if this was what I had to do for a night of passion, it was worth it. Taking a deep breath, I took a bite. For a moment, the heady mixture of cabbage, spices and meat was a great, wet wad in my mouth, and then its haunting, incandescent succulence, inevitability and Tightness hit me where I lived. My God, I had never eaten anything in my life that came anywhere near this; even the chili mac at the Red Rooster, which had seemed to me to be the ultimate in cuisine, wasn't in the same league with this incredible concoction. Across the table from me, Josie's father attacked his second platterful, washing it down with a stein of dark beer. As I wolfed the cabbage down, it was like some long-contained, dammed-up secret part of me had broken into the open and was on the hunt. As I ate I glanced around, noticed chairs, tables, couches, chests-a whole house in the basement. It was the first time in my life that I had met anyone who lived in the basement and kept the upstairs of their house, I later learned, for state occasions such as weddings, funerals and visits from the taxman. They had painted the furnace, which loomed at the far end of the basement like some multi-armed fairy-tale monster, a bright robin's-egg blue. All the furniture - the wooden tables and chairs and benches - was the same Easter-egg color. "Josie almost ready," her mother said, pressing a half-dozen Polish pickles on me. Gripped by an uncontrollable rapatcious hunger. I ate and ate, spurred on by the slurpings and fork scraping of Josie's father. "You have good time. You good boy. You like cabbage?" she asked, forking a potato scented with bay leaves onto my ,plate. "Cabbage good. I like." I was already talking like they did. A huge belch welled its way up from the dark hidden caves of my body. I couldn't control it. It rumbled deep in my throat like a passing freight train laden with smoked hams and late-fall turnips. My fellow eater burped amiably through his handle-bar mustache and gulped down another two liters of beer. "You good eater," he rumbled, and I hate to use that word because people are always "rumbling" things in bad books, but he Teally rumbled, the way only a Polish open-hearth worker can. "Pickle, potato good, too," I mumbled between bites, elbow-deep in cabbage juice and beating down an insane desire to lick the plate. The next moment, my eyeballs were straining at their moorings like two barrage balloons. Josie was with us. She had come down the stairs while I was in mid-burp and sucking a fugitive bit of cabbage from behind a back tooth. She wore a dirndl skirt, which at that time was a big deal among high school girls, but she wore a dirndl the way a tiger wears its skin. Her narrow waist flared suddenly into broad, sculptured peasant hips. Above a wide dirndl belt, her embroidery-laced puffed-sleeved blouse - stuffed fuller than the cabbage - billowed and rippled like the heavy white clouds that scud over Warsaw in the spring. It isn't often that a kid in the sophomore class has a date with an earth mother. It's hard to explain the combination of the basement, the blouse, the stuffed cabbage, the handle-bar mustache and the mysterious shrouded parlor furniture, but all of it made me feel that I was in some kind of exotic delirium. Was the cabbage drugged? Were these actually highly trained dacoits in the pay of a power-mad Oriental? Their eyes did look strange, not like Esther Jane Alberry's wholesome Sunday-school orbs. "Hi," was all she said, her voice rich and low like the waters of the Donau flowing beneath the ancient bridges of medieval Europe. "Hi," I answered, my rapier wit honed to its finest cutting edge. "I see my mother's been feeding you," she said, smiling in a way that made my socks itch deep inside my Thom McAn saddle shoes. "Yeah. It sure was good. Boy. Yessir." "Josie good cook," said her mother, clearing away the dishes and preparing to serve what appeared to be a plate of spectacular plum dumplings topped with sour cream. "She make cabbage." "Josie cooked the cabbage?" I said stupidly, struggling to get to my feet and finding, unaccountably, that I seemed to be carrying several cast-iron bowling balls under my waistband. "She make good wife one day." A claw gripped at my intestines. There was something in Mrs. Cosnowski's eye that I had never seen in tile eye of a mother before. I would learn to know that look well in later years. At the time, I thought it was just the cabbage clouding my eyesight. "Well, what do you say? Shall we go?" Josie asked lightly, touching my arm suggestively with the tips of her fingers. "You come next, we play pinochle." Her father stood up, towering above me like a stone god from Easter Island, his head bowed under the ceiling. Seated, he was a human being: standing, he became a monument of 6' 5" or 6' 6", wearing what must have been a size-75 shirt with probably a 22-inch neck. "I play pinochle good," I answered, which was the truth. W'e shook hands, or rather I stuck my tiny fist into the vise for a moment or two. My knuckles clattered and snapped. "Next time Josie fix whole meal. You like." Her mother seemed to think only of food. Josie put her coat on and we climbed the basement steps, groped our way through the darkened parlor and were out on the porch, Mrs. Cosnowski clucking behind us in her native tongue. At last we were in the Olds, warm and redolent with muffler fumes. I felt Josie's hand resting on my arm as I shoved the car into first gear. I had no idea where we were going. "They liked you," Josie said, her hand squeezing my arm affectionately as she snuggled closer. "Yeah, they were sure great." I wanted to ask her about the basement scene, but I figured what the hell, live and let live. "Did you really cook that cabbage?" I asked, struggling with the defroster. She said nothing, but her grip on my arm tightened perceptively. It's sad to relate that I was so ignorant in those days that I didn't even suspect a thing at that point. Of course, I suppose a mouse spotting a piece of cheese on the top of that funny little dingus with the springs figures that the cheese just happened to be there. "Gee, I'm glad you got the car," she sighed. What was she trying to tell me? I detected a double meaning in every syllable, every intake of breath. "Yeah, my old man lets me have it any time I want." This, of course, was a bald-faced lie. If I had gotten the car every time I wanted it, the old man would have had to walk to work, which was five miles away. "Well, heh-heh-heh. Where to? Let's get over to that party." "Turn right on California and I'll let you know when to turn next." "Who's throwing this party?" "Ooh, look at the Santa Claus." She ignored the question, peering through the clouded window at a hulking electrical Santa in a store window who seemed to be alternately hitting croquet balls and picking his nose, his white cotton beard bobbing obscenely. A covey of tiny biplanes hung from wires. Colored lights flashed off and on as he labored atop a plastic-foam snowbank, surrounded by frogs dressed as musicians, playing, for some reason known only to God, The Anvil Chorus, which boomed out of loud-speakers above the window. We drove on. My anticipation over the approaching party was almost uncontainable. I'd always heard about great parties that other guys went to. They always described them in the clinical detail of a sex manual. I had even pretended to have been to a few myself, which, of course, like most of my life, was a sham and a fraud. The parties I had been to consisted mostly of shoving, standing around and drinking Cokes, turning up or turning down the record player and constantly going out for more potato chips. This pulsating creature next to me, so full of life and stuffed cabbage, obviously offered far more than potato chips. The Olds banged along as it always did, bottoming familiarly in and out of potholes. "Turn right!" she said suddenly. Her hand clutched sensually at my arm as I wheeled the Olds in to a lumbering right turn, clunking over the rutted ice. I couldn't figure out where she was taking me. I didn't know anybody from school who lived in this neighborhood. We rolled past the Ever Rest Funeral Parlor And Furniture Store, its green-and-red neon sign glowing bleakly onto the snow: WE CARE. CREDIT TERMS ARRANGED. "Tell me when," I said, trying to sound like Robert Cummings. "Turn left here." Like most girls, she gave directions in retrospect, invariably telling you to turn just after you've almost passed the street. I spun the wheel wildly. A scurrying panel truck bounced in and out of the ruts, trying to avoid me. I caught a brief glimpse of a swarthy face mouthing obscenities. We crawled up a darkened street. "OK. You can park here." Cars were parked on both sides of the street and in a parking lot on my left. I eased into a slot. For a brief moment, I squeezed her hand in the dark, and her lips brushed my ear. Then we were out in the cold and going up some kind of gravel walk between snow-covered shrubbery. I could see in the darkness a great stone-turreted building. I thought, God Almighty, I've hit the jackpot! I could see the headline: "ORGY AT WEALTHY HOME. TEENAGERS ARRESTED." I saw other people going in a side entrance, and brief flashes of light from within. We stood now in the gloom cast by a vast stone facade. Gargoyles leered from black nooks wearing tiny caps of crusted ice. Josie's eyes gleamed with an exalted light. NO! I thought, it CAN'T be! It was. The heavy wooden door swung open and we stepped into the vestibule of St. Ignatius R.C. Church. A throng of pious merrymakers eddied somberly around me. I had been euchred beyond human depravity. I had been tricked in to a church Christmas party, something I had avoided like the plague for all of my atheistic years. "Ah, my son, we haven't met you, have we?" A bald priest wearing gold-rimmed glasses leaped forward, taking my hand and clinging to it for a long, agonizing moment. "Ah, I see you're with our little Josephine. Ah, yes, I remember her baptism, and now she's a grown lady and bringing her young man here for us to meet. WeII, we'll grow to know each other well, my son, and ..." Her young man! 'We'll grow to know each other well! What is this? Our little Josephine stood at my side, her arm linked in mine, eyes shining. "Yes, Father, he could hardly wait to get here." I looked her full in the face, expecting to see a wink, some sign that she was kidding, but no! A look of benign piety glowed on her magnificent face. I began to feel like a worm in the apple, a butterfly on the pin. The crowd moved forward, the priest greeting newcomers and pointing me out. I heard snatches of conversation: "Josie's young man," "My, one minute they're babies and the next you're marrying them..." Heavy men with mustaches and ladies with shawls beamed at me. Hundreds of little kids bumped and milled at my knees. From somewhere in the bowels of the church, I heard a deep steady thumping. We moved on in the great throng, downstairs, through corridors, the thumping growing louder. Again I was seized by a paroxysm of fear, some instinct telling me to flee before it was too late. And then it was too late. We were in a huge room heavy with the scent of sweating bodies and Polish cooking. The heavy, rhythmic thumping made the floors jar, the walls shudder. Sweat coursed down my shoulder blades. Josie grasped my hand. "Darling, do you dance?" I was known as a particularly tenacious dancer in my somewhat limited set, but I had never seen anything like this. On a stand on one side of the room, dressed in suspenders, funny pants, embroidered shirts and plumed derbies, were Frankie Yankovic and His Polka All-Stars, thumping out the Dawn Patrol Polka, a particularly insistent and violent example of the genre. I was yanked almost off my feet by a single powerful motion of Josie's left arm. Her beautiful feet thumped the floor maniacally. I bobbed up and down like a yo-yo on a tight string. Elbows jabbed me in the ribs, deep and hard. I caught brief images of sweating faces, clumping feet. Frankie Yankovic and His All-Stars-led by Frankie himself, playing a mother-of-pearl accordion-rose to thunderous heights that would have made cole slaw out of the most powerful electronic rock groups. Every third beat, feet rose and fell like great balls of concrete. For some unaccountable reason, I discovered I was a consummate polka dancer. The polka is a true soul dance. You don't learn it; it engulfs you and sweeps you on in a flood of braying cornets and tootling clarinets and the thundering syncopation of bass drums and cymbals. The drummer, a heavy-set Pole, squatted like a toad amid his equipment, operating with the machinelike precision of a pile driver. I bounced and sweated, Josie clinging and hopping, ducking and bobbing as one born to the beat. As we danced she seemed to grow progressively more alien and foreign. In the midst of the 23rd chorus of the Stars and Stripes Polka, as we swirled past a group of shawled ladies standing like vultures along the wall, I caught a glimpse of a pale, harassed, hawk-like face. We swirled around the floor again like a merry-go-round out of control. Deedle deedle BOOM Boom deedIe deed Ie BOOM Boom! The drummer's heavy foot rose and fell like an air hammer, booming out the bass notes. Again I saw that white, pinched face staring directly at me like some despairing ghost. It was Howie. Howie! Our eyes met. He was trying to tell me something. I saw a round little fat girl clinging to his elbow and around them, like so many toadstools around a rock, three other short, squat children, noses running, some crying, some yelling, all with the look of .Howie around the eyes. Old Howie, who could handle a basketball like Bob Cousy. Howie, who had worked 18 hours a day at Pulaski's, lugging potatoes and weighing salami, ever since he married his Polish girlfriend. It was then that I knew I had to get out of there fast. Josie was wearing some kind of perfume that must have been brewed by the Devil himself. The more she danced, the headier it became; but I was impervious to its siren lure, for every time we spun around, I saw Howie standing there like a dead man among the shawled women with his round little wife and his brood. Frankie Yankovic did a rippling riff on his squeeze-box to signal a brief break in the gymnastics. Even though I was in top shape and had been playing basketball, football and Indian wrestling for months on end, I was wheezing badly. The sweat had run down my armpits and soaked my new Jockey shorts. ''I'm so glad we came. You're going to like the Father. He's a wonderful man." "Uh ... yeah." I saw large numbers of the celebrants pushing their way into the next room, where there seemed to be some sort of table set up. ''I'll get us a drink or something, OK?" Josie was now in confidential conversation with a girlfriend. They appeared to be talking about me. Her girlfriend nodded in what looked suspiciously like approval. "Uh ... I'll get a couple of Cokes. And one for your friend." Josie smiled. Like a greased pig, I darted off through the doorway, threading my way through the crowd like a halfback on an off-tackle slant. I edged past a table where nuns were selling gingerbread men and cider. Again I caught a glimpse of Howie, who looked more harassed than ever as he handed doughnuts around to his crowd of kids. It was a sight that chilled the marrow. I worked my way up a stairway against a stream of people who were working their way down. I was in the vestibule, moving like a shadow. And now I was at the door. Suddenly, without warning, a heavy weight descended on my left shoulder from behind. For an instant, I thought I was having a paralytic stroke brought on by too much dancing. Some immense force spun me counterclockwise. A great hulking form blocked out the rest of the room from my vision. "Uh ... hi, Stosh." He looked at me with a kind of joyous hunger flickering in his beady eyes, the way a Kansas City lineman must look when he's closing in on Joe Namath. "Yuh havin' a good time wit' Josie?" he asked rhetorically. "Yeah! Sure! Great!" It was then I became aware that he was not alone. He had a friend with him. He looked vaguely familiar. "This is Josie's fella." He introduced me. "I want you to meet Uncle Stanley." "Pleasta meetcha," the stranger muttered, sticking out a gigantic mitt. Something in that voice rang a bell. Good Lord, no! It was the steel puddler from the Buick! He looked at me with cool, malevolent eyes, and then I remembered that brilliant conversation in the back seat of that wreck he drove, about scoring and all that! Uncle Stanley looked down at me and for a second or two I hoped he didn't recognize me. "Howya doin', kid?" The way he said it, I knew he knew, and it didn't sound good. "Hey, Stosh, where's Josie? I wanna talk to her." Uncle Stanley sounded like he meant it. They both turned to look for Josephine. I saw my chance and took it. Like a flash, I was out the door. Behind me I could hear the Polka All-Stars going into high gear for the second set. I darted across the crusted ice, catching a fleeting impression of the door slamming open against the wall behind me as Stosh, all his magnificent killer instincts turned up to full, lumbered into the backfield. I knew I'd have to come back for the car later. Around a concrete wall I shot, Stosh huffing behind me, through a hedge, across a street, down an alley, through a used-car lot, past the Ever Rest Funeral Parlor And Furniture Store, down another alley and then a long, dark street. Stosh moved surprisingly well for a giant, but after what seemed hours, he finally gave up the chase. I continued to run, blindly, hysterically, sensing that I was running not from just Stosh or Stanley but from what happened to Howie, from the doughnuts, the toadstools, the ladies with the shawls - all of it! I found myself in a familiar neighborhood. There was another huge building with thousands of cars and gleaming yellow lights. The Civic Center! The Whiting Oilers! The big game! I ran up the long concrete steps, gasping for breath, fumbled through my wallet at the turnstile and found my ticket. "What quarter is it?" I asked the doorman. "Just beginning the third." "What's the score?" "Sixty-five-sixty-three. Whiting." From deep inside the arena I heard great roars. I was safe! Back home! I struggled to my reserved seat: Seat 6, Row G, Section 21. At last I found it. Empty. Inviting. Waiting for me. The great scoreboard with its flashing yellow and red lights loomed reassuringly overhead. Next to me was Schwartz. We had bought our tickets together. And on the other side of him was Flick. My chest was heaving and sweat poured down my face. A five-mile run in the snow brings roses to the cheeks. "Boy, that must have been some date!" Schwartz stared at me admiringly. A hooting roar came from the crowd. Flick hollered: "Zodnycki canned another one! Look at that bastard hit them hook shotsl" Oblivious, Schwartz dug his elbow in my ribs. "How was she?" "Fantastic! Unbelievable! There's no way I can tell you about it. Them Polish girls are somethin' else!" That night a legend was born. I stood tall among my peers. Naturally, I've left many of the details hazy and embellished others, but that's the way you do in life. Suffice it to say that I never saw Josie much after that. It's not easy to see much of someone when you wear sunglasses to school and sneak home every night after dark through the cellar window.

Additional Comments:
This story was reprinted in the book "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories And Other Disasters" under the shortened title: The Star Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski and was the basis for the movie "The Star Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski"

Copyright: 1970 Playboy Magazine

Where Shep Made Reference To This Subject

December 1970
Playboy - Cover

December 1970
December 1970 - Playboy - Pic

December 1970
December 1970 - Playboy - Playbill