On a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, my mother cruised down the street in a stolen Cadillac. In the middle of Park Avenue she stopped the car and got out, leaning back to balance her protruding belly. My father, who was following behind in another car, pulled up alongside her.
“What are you doing?” he asked quietly, keeping his cool. She had helped him transport other stolen vehicles without a hitch.
“I can’t today, Jerry. I don’t know why,” she replied, getting into the passenger seat beside him and leaving the Caddy behind.
I happened to be inside her nicotine and caffeine-filled body, about 8 months into my development.
A month later, on May 15th 1955, when she went into labor, she and my father jumped into another stolen baby blue 1953 Cadillac and headed to Manhattan General Hospital. Signing my mother in as Irma Schneider, my father waited for me to be born. Usually a very frugal man — he hung his dental floss by the light bulb to dry it out and reuse it — he paid for her to have the finest room in the hospital, complete (I’m told) with French Provincial furniture. I entered the world 4 pounds, premature, and shriveled due to my mother’s intense cigarette smoking. They named me Gail Margaret Schneider.
The hospital required a baby to be 5 pounds to be released. But Dad had me released immediately, against medical advice. Instead of being transferred to an incubator, I was placed in a shoe box and driven off in a 1946 Plymouth with no windshield. Our first stop was Sunnyside where my Grandmother checked me out, and then home to Far Rockaway. When my father brought me into the house, my two sisters peeked into the shoe box, stunned to see a baby that could fit in the palm of ones hand. Since crib openings would have been too wide for me I was moved from the shoe box into a drawer.
At 18, my father Jerry Schneider had met Irma in Brooklyn, on a blind date. She was a knockout — beautiful hair, and fabulous legs. Irma had been living with her family on a Long Island chicken farm but preferred to stay with her grandmother in Brooklyn, where there was more social life.
Irma got pregnant the first night they slept together. They were both young and didn’t know what to do about it. Finally, she told her sister, Sylvia, who phoned Jerry at the local candy store. No one had a phone in their house in my Dad’s neighborhood. One of the neighborhood kids ran and told my father there was a call for him. He gave the boy a few pennies and headed to the candy store.
“Do you know Irma’s condition?” Sylvia asked.
“What are you gonna do about it?”
There was a long silence.
“I guess we have to get married.”
A week later, while rebuilding an engine at the gas station where he worked, Jerry suddenly announced, “I’ve got to leave. I’m getting married tomorrow. I’ll finish the engine when I get back.” His friends burst into laughter. They didn’t believe him.
Everyone knew if you wanted to get married in a hurry, the Marriage Mill in Maryland was the place to go.
That night Jerry drove Irma and Sylvia to Elkton, Maryland in his 1933 Dodge and rented two rooms in a motel. It was a rough night. For the first and only time in his life, Jerry bought a bottle of whiskey and got drunk.
In the morning they went to get the marriage license. Because a man had to be 21 and a woman only 18, Irma had to apply for the license. The minister who married them, Reverend Lampert, was eating a salami sandwich during the ceremony while mustard dripped down his tie. In a few moments it was over, and Lampert asked for $10 for the ceremony.
Sylvia yelled, “For this nothing ceremony? It’s only worth five!” At that they returned to New York, where Jerry finished work on the engine he had left the day before.
A few weeks later they had a proper family wedding and reception on the farm. But neither of them was prepared for married life, a child, or a future together. Jerry made a living at what he did best — he was a gifted car mechanic.
He was pumping gas at his Mobil Station when an attractive blond woman pulled in. She was petite and small breasted. Her father had helped her buy a car, and she had been told to use Mobil premium gas only. As she cruised up in her 1949 Pontiac, my Dad had a premonition. Though he was an atheist, he felt he had known Margie in another life. He felt a very strong attraction for her that had trouble surrounding it. He thought he should stay far away from her. But she continued to come in to buy premium gas.
One day Margie asked him to join her at the local luncheonette for a cup of coffee. She told him, “I knew if I didn’t ask you out first, you would never ask me.” Jerry was five feet eight inches tall, a handsome man with curly brown hair and bright blue eyes. He was also a very quiet guy and she did all of the talking. Her name was Margie and she worked in downtown Manhattan as an operator for the Telephone Company. “All the operators have a great time listening in on other people’s conversations,” she confided. “You hear some pretty juicy things but my favorite is listening in on romantic phone calls. Those are the best.”
Margie was aggressive, outgoing, and extremely talkative — exactly the opposite of Irma. Anyone would know immediately from her looks she was not a Jewish woman. This too was attractive to my father. When Margie wasn’t at work she would hang around the gas station from the moment it opened until the closed sign was turned over. Before long, they were sleeping together.
Jerry and Irma had an unusually open and honest relationship. He didn’t lie about what was going on between him and Margie. In a way, the involvement with Margie relieved Irma of the responsibilities of marriage that had been thrust upon her. Irma dressed Jerry for his dates with Margie. They even discussed the possibility of all three of them living together. But while Irma and Jerry were open to the idea, Margie was insanely jealous at the thought of it.
What hurt Irma most was that Jerry was gradually spending less and less time at home with her and the kids. They had two little girls now. No one else knew that Dad was not sleeping at home regularly.
All Jerry’s time between work hours was spent with Margie. He stopped going home altogether, with Irma alone raising the girls. In order to move in with Margie and keep her family contented, he set up phony matrimony papers, and they had a “wedding” in Margie’s mother’s living room.
After six months of this charade, Jerry received a phone call from Irma. “Jerry, your parents were here today and they noticed you had not been sleeping in the bed. They started asking me all kinds of questions, and I didn’t know how to answer them. You better come home and straighten this out. Jerry, I can’t handle the pressure.”
“All right.” Jerry said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be by there tomorrow.”
He went home for one night to see Irma and the kids, which drove Margie crazy with jealousy. She ended the relationship that night. It was 1953. Their affair had lasted three years.
This is a peek at a larger memoir. The other stories already on Medium can be found here. If you enjoy what you’ve read, clap generously! Feel free to contact me at ghayssen at sonic.net.