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Phyllis Koestenbaum


I often, nearly, follow in my brother Byron's footsteps so when I am in high
school I get hay fever almost as bad as his, like my IQ, 7 points lower. Uncle
Joe wheezes from hay fever and my mother and father say hay fever can become
asthma so Byron gets shots and, following his cure, I get shots. My parents
like to get something for nothing so I go to Dr. Sherman, the Abraham Lincoln
High School doctor, his office the front part of his residence, in Bensonhurst,
where Abe Rothenberg, my Lincoln Log 4th page co-editor, cross-eyed like me,
has moved. My father takes me to be tested and Dr. Sherman is astonished at
the size of the swellings on my back from the scratches of ragweed and goldenrod,
beautiful weeds that flourish even in Brooklyn. I saw Van Johnson at Grand Gentral
Station. Blond Dr. Sherman reminds me of red-haired Van Johnson. After seeing
Charles Laughton in a movie with a stagecoach I developed a crush on corpulent
Charles Laughton - because he was corpulent. Uncle Morris, my father's brother,
has red hair. My mother calls him "chazar": pig. My father, thin in his
sepia courtship photos, has gained weight. I take the Kings Highway bus, thinking
ahead to Dr. Sherman's pushing up my sweater, rolling up the sleeves of my
long-sleeve blouse, swabbing my arm, carefully administering the shot. Maybe
Dr. Sherman thinks I am pretty. I am a junior in high school and I haven't had a
single date. My aunts, my mother's rude sisters, keep asking me if I'm going with
anyone. My mother, in the kitchen warming up pot roast, feels the skin around my
hot, swollen upper arm and gasps a little, her gasp for possibility of serious,
maybe fatal, disease. She says to set the table - I'm not hungry but it's 6, we eat
supper at 6. Friday nights she and my father go to the movies, usually the Avalon
on Kings Highway, on the left-hand side of the street, two blocks past Ocean
Avenue, or the Kingsway, at the corner of Kings Highway and Coney Island
Avenue. I prefer the Elm on Avenue M, where I can sit in a side row by myself
eating a Chunky bar or jujubes, entering the black and white dramas with no
resemblance to my life, free of my circumstances for three hours. On Avenue
M, where we take the BMT local, there used to be a movie studio with MGM -
I could be imagining this - on a sign on the fence surrounding the block-long
weedy vacant lot.

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