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Shane in the Old Store

On a sunny but still very cool day in late March of 1958, my father Shane was in New York City.  He had just left his lawyer's office on Lexington Avenue and East 73rd Street and was on his way downtown.  Shane was in a cheerful mood, as he danced down the streets, playing his flute and singing to himself.  Shane was going to buy a birthday present for Cathy and he was looking in the store windows for just the right gift.

 

Shane walked all the way down to West 34th and said to himself, “Wow, Macy's!  I’ll find something great in Macy's.  Macy's is the largest department store in the world.”

 

Shane walked into Macy's, where he would surely find a special gift for Cathy.  He was in Macy's for hours, going up and down the escalators and checking out every department, but he couldn't find anything that caught his eye.  Shane wandered around Macy's until he finally got kicked out by the manager for making too much noise with his flute.

 

Shane continued on his way downtown.  He danced around New York City.  He was telling anyone who'd listen that he was on a wonderful journey through the city, searching for his wife’s birthday present.  Before long, He was all the way down to Delancey Street on the Lower East Side.  Shane had walked, danced and skipped over seventy-five blocks.

 

Shane walked down Delancey to Orchard Street.  As he turned down Orchard, he saw the side street was full of little stores and businesses.  Most were owned by Irish, Jewish or Italian immigrants, and were very small, so the merchants had their inventory out on the sidewalks and hanging from awnings and fire escapes.

 

“Wow,” Shane thought, “look at all those stores.  I know I'll find something great now.  I know a very different kind of gift for Cathy is hiding in one of these little shops.

 

As Shane walked down Orchard, he bought a pickle from one of the old wooden bowls that lined the street.  He looked around three or four shops before he came upon a tiny store.  As soon as he walked through the door, he knew this was where he'd find Cathy's gift.

 

The store was piled with clothes from floor to ceiling.  In the corner, Shane found an old fashioned, beaded flapper dress and a floppy flapper hat, with a large feather.  Wrapped around the dress was a red fox fur, with the tail and feet hanging down the sides.

 

“Wow,” Shane said, “this looks just like the dresses my mother wore when I was little.”

 

Shane put on the hat and threw the fox fur over his shoulder, as he blew his flute and continued to look though the store for Cathy's gift.

 

“May I help you young man?” a little old lady asked in a squeaky voice, as she walked out from a back room.

 

“Yes, I'm looking for a birthday present for my wife,” Shane said.  “I've been looking all morning and can't seem to find that something special I’d like to buy her.”  Shane took off the silly hat and fox fur and smiled.

 

The lady showed Shane a sweater in the showcase.  “I just got these sweaters this week.  They are the newest style on the market.

 

Shane looked over the sweater and said, “I think Cathy already has a nice sweater.

 

“Well, what about a set of pearls or a rhinestone ring?” asked the woman.

 

“No, thanks,” Shane said.  “Cathy doesn't wear much jewelry.”

 

The woman showed Shane dresses, hats, undergarments and coats, but none of them interested Shane.  He was about to leave and look elsewhere, when he saw something black and shiny in the middle of a pile at the back of the old store.  He walked over to the pile and pulled on the shiny black item until he got it loose.

 

“Wow, it's fantastic!  It’s great!  Wow, it's wonderful!  I love it!  This is the most beautiful thing I ever saw.  I know Cathy will love it, too.  How much does it cost?”

 

Shane said this all in one breath, as he held up a shiny black bathing suit.

 

It was one of the ugliest looking bathing suits you could imagine.  It was twenty years out of style and looked like a large girdle, with a built in bra.  It was made of  a black rubber-like fabric.  And it must have been at least a size twenty-two, while Cathy was a size six or seven.

 

But Shane thought it was great.

 

“Give me one dollar and it's yours,” the woman said, as she tried not to laugh.

 

Shane thanked the woman and gave her a dollar.  He then walked out of her little store, dancing and singing to himself, and blowing his flute.

 

Shane danced back uptown.  He wanted to get home as soon as possible with Cathy's wonderful birthday present.  He arrived at Penn Station just in time to get on the two forty-five Jersey Central train back to Point Pleasant.

 

By the time the train reached Red Bank, most of the other passengers had gotten off the train, and Shane was fast asleep and snoring loudly.  He slept all the way from Red Bank to Point Pleasant.  He started to roll over, when he heard the conductor call out Point Pleasant.  Shane jumped up and ran to the door, just as the conductor was about to close it, and ran out of the train.  He then realized he didn't have Cathy's gift with him, and started running after the moving train, yelling and kicking.

 

“Stop the train!  Stop the train!” he said, but the train didn't stop.  It went faster and faster.  Poor Shane ran down the railroad tracks as fast as he could, but he was no match for the speeding train.

 

Shane rushed across the street to the taxi station and yelled, “I need a cab immediately.”

 

The man at the desk called out a driver.  “Mr. O'Neill needs a ride.”

 

Shane jumped in the back seat of the checkered cab.

 

“1005 Rue Avenue?” the driver asked.

 

“No, No!” Shane said, “I need to go to the Bay Head train station.  Drive as fast as you can.  I have to catch that train that just left.”

 

When they arrived at the Bay Head station, the train was just about to leave and park for the night.  Shane ran up to the engineer and said, “Please let me take a look in the train.  I left something in it.”

 

“Go in and get,” the engineer said, “but make it snappy.  I need to get this train out of here so I can go home to dinner.”

 

Shane ran back into the train and through the cars until he found his bag.  He then ran back out and thanked the engineer.  Shane got back into the cab and said, “1005 Rue Avenue.  Home!”

 

Soon the cab pulled up in front of our house.  Shane paid and thanked the driver.  As Shane stepped out the door, I heard the driver say, “I think your wife is going to love it.”

 

Ted was in the front yard with his friend Billy, making boats out of old wood they had found around the yard.

 

“Hi, boys,” Shane said. “What are you making?”

 

“We’re making boats,” Billy said.

 

“Wow,” Shane said, “maybe when you’re done, we can take them down to the river to see if they float.”

 

I was on the front porch with my sister Maura, playing with paper dolls.  Shane came up and said, “I have a beautiful gift for your mother.  Do you know where she is?”

 

“She's in the kitchen,” Maura said, “washing Kathleen's hair.”

 

“Can’t you hear Kathleen's big mouth?” I said.

 

Kathleen screamed so loud when she got her hair washed that you could hear her all over Point Pleasant.

 

Shane and family, late 1950's

 

Shane walked in the house, with Maura and me right behind him.

 

“Hi, Cathy,” Shane said, as he walked into the kitchen.  “I have a surprise for you in this bag.”

 

He handed his wife the brown paper bag with the wonderful birthday present he had spent so long looking for.

 

“Thank you, Shane,” Cathy said.  “It was nice of you to remember my birthday.”

 

She handed crying little Kathleen to Shane, still full of soap, and opened the bagAs my mother took her gift out of the bag and held it up, she started laughing.  The built in bra of the shiny bathing suit was sticking straight out in the air!

 

I looked at Maura and smiled.  Maura was standing with her mouth wide open.

 

“Shane, where the hell did you get this?” my mother asked.  “It's the ugliest looking thing I’ve seen in my entire life!  What were you thinking?  Don't expect me to wear this.  I won't be caught dead in it.  My God, Shane, it's made for a fat lady.  Even your mother wouldn't wear something this ugly.  If I go to the beach in this bathing suit, I'll be the laughing stock of the town.”

 

Poor Shane didn't say a word.  He put Kathleen down on a chair, walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to his room, and went to bed.

 

“What is that?” I asked Maura.  “It looks like a rubber inner tube.”

 

Shane Gets Mad

 

A few hours later, Shane was in one of his nasty moods. It started with him wandering around his room, bitching and talking to himself. We all knew it wasn't good when Shane started with this behavior.

Shane got up at about eleven that night and took almost a whole bottle of Benzedrine pills and then drank a pot of strong black coffee. He then started wandering around the house like a ghost. He’d walk halfway down the stairs and stand there, staring into mid air. Then he'd go back to wandering the hallways. He did this over and over. Each time he came downstairs, he was wilder and wilder looking, with straggly hair and no teeth.  He was completely naked and wrapped in a gray wool blanket.  Then he went to his room and turned on his record player, blasting his jazz throughout the house. This went on for hours.

At about two in the morning, Shane came down to the kitchen and heated up some leftover spaghetti and meatballs.  He also made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk.  Shane took a few bites of the sandwich, and then left the kitchen, leaving everything on the table.  When he came back down to the kitchen twenty minutes later, he found three cats on the table, eating his food.  One of them was standing in the pot of spaghetti.

 

Shane swore at the cats.  He was so mad, he swept his long skinny arm across the table, sending spaghetti and meatballs flying through the air and all over the walls and floor.  He stormed out of the kitchen, bitching at Cathy, who was trying to sleep on the living room couch.

“Get up and clean the house,” Shane said.  “It looks like a pig pen.  Your damn cats are taking over the house, pissing all over and eating my food.  I hate those nasty cats sneaking all over the house.”

“Stop blaming the cats,” Cathy yelled.  “You’re the one who destroyed the house.  You've broken almost every window in the house this past year alone.  You pulled all the wires out of the walls, and you took apart the stove and the refrigerator and hot water heater and the furnace.  What the hell is wrong with you, Shane?  I paid almost ten thousand dollars for this house and you’re destroying it!”

“This house is nothing but a garbage dump,” Shane yelled.

He bitched something under his breath and then picked up an iron and threw it at a window, shattering glass all over the floor.  He grunted and then went back to his room, leaving the huge mess for Cathy to clean up.

None of us could get any sleep that night, as Shane continued to play his loud jazz music.  If you had the nerve to tell him to lower it, he'd bitch and turn it even louder.  I put a pillow over my head and stuffed my ears with cotton, but it didn't help much.

“It's not fair,” Maura said.  “Why doesn't Shane care about anyone but himself?”

“I wish we had Grandpa Mack as our father,” I said, “or maybe Uncle Bob.  They don't act like Shane and keep people up all night.”

It was three in the morning and I had to be at school by eight.  No wonder I couldn't concentrate at school.  I never got any sleep.

Shane continued playing the loud music until there was a knock on our front door.  My mother opened the door and found a cop standing there, shining his flashlight in her eyes.

“Lady, do you know it's three forty-five?” he asked.  “What is going on here with all this loud music?  I got calls from your neighbors, complaining about all this noise coming from your house.  Don't you know I can take you off to jail for disturbing the peace?”

Shane, hearing the cop, turned off the record player and came to the door and said, “I’m sorry officer.  I didn't know it was so late.”

“Mr. O'Neill, this is your last warning, the cop said.  “If I have to come back, I'll haul your ass off to jail, and this time you'll stay there.”

Shane promise he'd keep the noise down and the cop left.

All was quiet and I finally fell asleep.  Shane must have fallen off to sleep too.

 

About an hour and a half later, I heard a loud crash and breaking glass coming from the staircase.  About ten minutes later, I heard another loud crash from the bottom of the stairs.

“What was that?” I asked Maura.  “It sounds like a bomb exploded in the house.”

“No,” Maura said, “I think that was Shane tripping over a cat and falling down the stairs.”

Shane was quiet for the rest of the night.  He must have been exhausted.  Maura and I fell back to sleep, but not for long.  It was soon seven o'clock and time to get up ready for school.

As I walked down the stairs, I saw broken records all over the floor and I had to climb over broken wood that had once been Shane's record player.

“Holy cow, Maura,” I said.  “Shane broke his record player and all his records!  That's what the crash was in the middle of the night.”

“Good,” Maura said.  “Now maybe we can get some peace and quiet around here.”

 

A Beautiful Summer Day


On a hot sunny day in early June, I was in the dining room with Maura and Kathleen, playing with our dolls, when my mother called out from the kitchen, “Maura!  Sheila!  Do you want to go the beach?  Get on your bathing suits and help get Kathleen ready.  Shane's going to take us all to the beach.”

“Are we going the river or the ocean?” I asked.

The river was where we usually went swimming and it was fun, but the ocean was wonderful.  We could run through the cold water and strong breaking waves, bury each other in the cool sand, or make a huge sandcastle.

“We’re going to the ocean,” Gakie said, “and after we go swimming we can go to the boardwalk and on the rides.”

We were all so excited.  We only got to go to the boardwalk a few times a year and hardly ever went to the ocean to swim.  Within minutes, Maura, Ted, Kathleen and I were dressed and ready to go.  We had inner tubes and a beach ball all ready blown up.  Now all we had to do was wait for Shane, who took a long time getting ready, like he always did.

After we had waited a half hour, Cathy called up and said, “Shane!  Hurry up!  How long can it take to get dressed?  All you have to do is throw on a pair of swim trunks.”

“OK, I'll be right down,” Shane said.  But a half hour later, Shane was still in his room, fooling around.

“By the time Shane gets ready and we walk to the beach, it will be dark out, I said to Maura.

Maura, Ted and I were tired of waiting for Shane.  We went outside to our backyard and started playing with our Slip ‘n Slide and the rubber inner tubes.  We were having so much fun, we forgot all about going to the ocean.

Finally, Cathy called us back into the house and said, “Shane is ready to go.”

I heard Shane singing, as he walked down the stairs.  He seemed to be in a happy mood.  I ran back outside to get one of the inner tubes.  But as I started to pick it up, I heard Maura cry out, “No way!  Forget it!  I’m not going!”

She ran out the back door past me, through the yard and into the barn, slamming the door behind her.  Then I heard Ted laughing uncontrollably.

“What the hell's got into them,” I thought.

 

I ran into the living room and there was Shane.

“Hi, Sheila,” he said.  He was dancing and blowing on a flute, ready to go the beach.  And he had on that ugly bathing suit he had bought Cathy!

What a sight he was.  The built in bra made it look like he had huge breasts, sticking straight out in the air from his hairy chest.  His skinny, hairy legs stuck out the bottom, and the bathing suit hung loosely around his skinny bottom.  He looked like the ugliest woman in the world.

I thought about walking through town with Shane dressed like that and told Gakie, “I'm not going either.”

“Yes you are,” my mother said, “and so is Maura.  I have a headache, so I can't go.  You and Maura will have to go with Shane to take care of Kathleen.  You know Shane.  He'd let Kathleen wander off and get lost, or worse, go into the water by herself.”

My mother conveniently got a headache when she saw Shane.  She didn't want to be caught dead with him in that silly bathing suit either.

Gakie called Maura back into the house and said, “You all have to go to the beach with Shane.  He's in a happy mood, so please let’s try to keep him that way.”

We all knew if we put up too much of a fuss, Shane might get into one of his nasty moods.  As much as Maura, Ted and I didn't want to be seen walking through the streets of Point Pleasant with Shane dressed like that, we were more terrified of getting him into one of his bad moods.  So off we went, behind Shane and Kathleen, on the long walk to the beach.

As we walked down the streets, Shane sang and danced with little Kathleen sitting on his shoulders.  What a sight we must have been.  Maura, Ted, and I tried to pretend we didn't know him.

 

 

As we turned the corner onto Borden Avenue, where Maura's friend Kelly lived, Shane yelled, “Kelly!  Maura wants to know if you would like to go to the beach with us.  Are you home?”

Maura stopped dead in her tracks.  She wanted to vanish into thin air.

“Shut up, Shane,” Ted said.  “Barry's going to hear you.”

Barry was Kelly's little brother and a friend of Ted's.

I laughed, and then Ted said to me, “If Barry comes out and sees Shane dressed in that woman’s bathing suit, he will tell every kid in the entire school and I'll have to beat them all up.”

“Almost every kid in school already hates me,” I said, “and if any of them see me with Shane, I'll be hated even more.

Lucky for all of us, no one was home at Kelly's house.

Everyone who passed stared and gave us strange looks.  They laughed or ran away when they saw Shane coming.  We passed a fat lady, who kept staring at us.

“Why don't you take a picture?  It will last longer,” Ted said, as he stuck out his tongue and crossed his fingers at her.

She walked slowly  towards us, swinging her index finger at Ted.

“Get out of my face, you big fat pig,” Ted said.

I was laughing so hard I almost fell over.

“You people belong in a zoo,” the lady said.  “You little brats have no respect at all.”

As Ted and I kept laughing, the lady said, “God is going to strike you all dead and you will all go straight to hell and burn!”

“You’re the one who came from the zoo, you old beast!” I said.

Shane, Ted and I were all laughing, as the lady stormed off.  But poor Maura was still trying to hide.  If there had been a rock anywhere near, she'd have been under it.

As we approached Arnold Avenue, Shane was singing “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” to Kathleen, as he was spinning his inner tube.  It looked like fun, so I started spinning my inner tube too.  Ted was singing a song he made up about the rude woman and bouncing his beach ball.

We were having such a good time, we forgot all about how Shane looked, until Maura yelled, “Cut that out!  You’re drawing attention to us.  People will all know we’re with him.”

Ted and I stopped playing and singing, and joined Maura, as we hung our heads down and tried not to be seen.

It was very hot and humid that day, and everyone in town was heading for the beach.  People were stopping their cars to take a better look at Shane in that ugly bathing suit. Maura, Ted and I were sure that kids we knew had seen us and that every kid in town would know about Shane's bathing suit.

 

Sheila at the beach, 1958

We crossed Ocean Avenue, walked up the rickety wooden boardwalk, and stepped on the sand to enter the beach.  I was horrified to see FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE, WITH TEN THOUSAND EYES, all staring at us!

The only good thing was that most of them were summer people from New York, who didn't know us.  And, thank god, not one kid from school saw us that day.

 

Good Times and Bad Times

 

© Copyright 2008 Sheila O’Neill. All rights reserved.

 

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