He says, “Follow me.” He turns and we go into a room, we go into the next room, we go into the next room, we turn right, we go into this next room, we turn left and we’re in the room, with about twenty people all sitting there drinking from glasses that have leaves and things sticking out of them. Over in the corner with three other girls is Pearl.
She says, “Oh, come in. Everybody, here, I’d like you to meet Jean Shepherd. Jean, this is Mr. so-and-so, etc.” Men with white hair. Poor people don’t have white hair. It just sort of gets cruddy. A man says, “Are you one of the Shepherds from Cleveland?”
I’m thinking of Cleveland Street where we live. I say, “Yes, I am.”
“I know your uncle.” I’m thinking of my drunken Uncle Carl.
Five minutes later we are out on the driveway and “the car” is picking us up. Ten minutes later we are in the Orpheum. I am sitting next to Pearl. We sit for one hour and seventy minutes while Fred Astaire dances on top of pianos while Ginger Rogers looks out at us and the music plays.
And I’m sitting. When a kid takes another kid to the movies he grabs her hand. I sit as far away as I can. And Pearl is sitting there. About two-thirds of the way through the picture, she takes my hand. Pearl takes my hand! My hand is sweating, of course. It feels like it’s covered with chocolate and I haven’t blown my nose neatly. I’m sitting there and she’s holding my hand. The movie ends and she squeezes it.
We get up, we wade through the Baby Ruth wrappers, we get out, all the other kids are getting out—and I am walking with Pearl. I am hypnotized. And sitting in front of the movie house is the Buick. We get in the back seat. We drive home on Beacon Street, up the driveway, and she says, “Charles will take you home. I had a wonderful time.”
“Yeah, so did I.”
I sit back in the darkness and the chauffer says, “Where do you live?”
I say, “Do you know where Cleveland Street is?” This guy lives on Cleveland Street—I can tell by the way his neck sits in the collar.
He says, “Yeah.” He turns around and we go down over Kennedy and finally we get to Cleveland Street. He says, “Where do you live?”
I say, “2907.”
“Oh yeah, I know where it is.”
We get there and he stops. He sits there. I have to open the door for myself. He says, “Okay, kid, ‘night,” and he’s off. That big Buick with the big rear end and the snotty red lights heads back for Beacon Street.
I stand there. It’s now ten-forty-five. I am at least an hour late. I go up the steps and into the house, my old man’s shirt sweated through, hanging like a rag, the tie is hanging down. I walk in and they’re sitting there, all dressed up. My dad has his new sports shirt on, my mother has a dress on. The radio is playing. My mother has dusted the day bed and everything is clean and neat. My fielder’s mitt has been picked up.
My mother says, “Did you have a good time, Jean?”
Now I am “Jean.” I say, “Yes.”
The old man says, “Did you meet Mr. Johnson?”
I say, “Yes. Yes. I met Mr. Philips from Cleveland, too.”
My father says, “You mean Mr. Philips from Youngstown Sheet and Tube?” These are legendary names, like meeting Mickey Mantle to my father. Names that appear in the financial pages.
“Yes, I met Mr. Philips, too.”
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
I say, “Yes.” I head into the bathroom and I’m tearing off the sweaty shirt and all of a sudden the old man opens the door. He says, “Did ya?”
I say, “Did I what?”
He says, “I guess you didn’t.”
One more Pearl to come.