|A Novel By Max Rabinowitz|
|In the Community Store I met a beautiful woman one day. She wasn't beautiful in the physical sense, but rather her inner self was attractive. To look at her one would think she was a patient. She wore sloppy clothes and had a sort of wild-eyed look in her eyes. Her name was Bonnie and she was a member of the B'nai B'rith, one of the groups who visited the hospital looking for patients they could help. I didn't know who she was at first and I avoided her, but Bonnie wasn't the type of woman you could ignore or avoid.
I put a quarter in the jukebox and pressed the three buttons I had memorized; C-2, E-6 & E-9. These were for Tonight Tonight by the Mellowkings, For Sentimental Reasons by the Cleftones and He Will Break Your Heart by Jerry Butler. There were plenty of good records in that machine, but these three were my favorites at the time.
I was listening closely as Butler did his thing when Bonnie walked over to the jukebox an accidentally, ha-ha-ha, bumped into it, causing the needle to scratch over the record, automatically rejecting it. I was forming my lips into "What the fuck is wrong with you?" but before I got it out the old lady smiled at me and apologized for bumping into the jukebox. She reached into a large pocket on the side of her dress and fished out a dollar bill. She told me to get change and play my record again. I took the dollar gingerly, wondering how that ugly old dame had money without someone taking it off her. There was money to be made and Max wanted it. Anyone could see that the old lady didn't have too much upstairs and I didn't think it would be too difficult for me to get my hands on whatever she had.
When I came back with the change I carefully gave her ninety cents and placed the other dime in the jukebox. I introduced myself as Clay Masten.
She introduced herself as Bonnie and then asked why I felt I had to use a false name. She knew my real name was Max and I was a patient in K Building, that I was sixteen years old, what my mother's name was, and everything else that was on record about me.
My mind whirled with thoughts of what was going on and just who the hell the old lady was. Mainly, I wanted to know how she knew so much about me!
She replied that she was the Secretary of the B'nai B'írth organization and, although she rarely visited the hospital herself, she had studied all the folders of the Jewish children. This was possible, since there were pictures of us all in our folders, but not very likely because there were hundreds of Jewish kids in that hospital. How could anyone memorize all that stuff? It just didn't seem to fit and I got the sneaking suspicion that she was there specifically to get at me.
I knew I had to fake her out quickly or else she would think I was some kind of an idiot who believed all that junk. I signaled to a guy I knew as Monk. After sauntered over, I asked Monk if he had ever met Bonnie. He replied that he hadn't, Monk wouldn't lie to me, he almost never lied to anyone, but especially not to me because I had a reputation for getting even with people who crossed me. My pay back was a mother-fucker!
I knew that Monk was Jewish, although few others did, because he didn't ever say very much about himself. Monk was aptly nicknamed. He was as close-mouthed as a real Monk.
I asked Bonnie to give me a quick run-down on Monk and she proceeded to do so; his real name, his mother's name, where he lived, and why he came to the hospital. I didn't even have to ask Monk if what she said was true because the look on his face told me the answer. Me and Monk excused ourselves and went over to the food counter. Something was very fishy indeed and we had to talk it over. We came up with a plan.
Monk would gather up five guys and bring them to the Community Store. Only four of them would be Jewish. The fifth would be a ringer and if Bonnie came up with information on him we would all know that she was a spotter for the court or the juvenile authorities. To be extra sure, one of the Jewish guys that Monk was supposed to locate was a black guy we all called Sambowitz. I was positive this plan would get her.
Me and Bonnie chatted about her work in the hospital, the work her organization was doing on the whole, with me continually asking dumb questions, mainly stalling for the time until Monk returned.
Eventually Monk showed up with the other five guys in tow. Without our asking, Bonnie ran off all she knew about those guys, even the fact that Sambowitz wasn't really born a Jew, but that his family had converted only a few years before. She also knew his real name was Samuel Johnston. The joker in the deck, Charlie Villelli, she spotted right off. She didn't know his name or anything else about him but when we tried to pawn him off as Jewish, with the name of Charles Villberg, She laughed and called it a very weak joke.
I hated to admit it, but that old lady convinced me that she was what she said she was. I figured she had one of those minds that could absorb a zillion facts and never get one confused or mixed-up.
She offered to buy us all a coke and that's one thing we didn't ever turn down. When she paid for the sodas I gawked at the roll of bills, which reminded me again of my main goal. I knew I couldn't steal the money off her, since she knew my real name but I still thought I could con at least a good part of it out of her.
Monk and the other guys drifted off after awhile and I put my first scheme into action. I told her I needed some books to read and that they would cost more money than I could afford. When she offered to go with me to the book store and buy them I shied off. I didn't really want any damn books! I wanted the money. Not one to drag my feet, I immediately launched a second hustle.
"There is this guy, Bonnie, who is a good friend of mine. He isn't Jewish or anything like that, but we are really close and he needs some help. He's locked in all day because he lost his Honor Card and so he can't come to the Store and get decent food. I'd like to be able to buy him some stuff, hamburgers and all that, but I don't have the dough."
Net profit on the "Old Friend in Trouble" scheme was zero. I took a deep breath and launched my ace in the hole.
"Well, Bonnie, you know all about me and my family, right? Then you must know that the only one in my entire family who gives a damn about me is one of my sisters. Well, I'd like to get her a little something to show her that I care too, you know?" I almost slipped and said it was my sister's birthday, but then I remembered how much the old lady already knew and figured she would know it was a lie.
"I saw this real nice pendant that I'd like to get her, sorta shaped like a heart and all. The price was twenty-four dollars and I've saved half of that, so all I need is the other half. Can you help me out?"
Net profit on the Old "Buy Her a Locket" scheme was zero. Bonnie laughed and told me she had heard the locket spiel a dozen times in various versions. "Look Max," she said finally, "If you want a few dollars, why don't you just ask for them? Give it a try sometime, okay?"
"Yeah Bonnie, I can see that you're right. How about letting me have five bucks?"
I blew my stack! The old lady had chumped me off!
"What the hell? You said to ask didn't you? How can you stand there and tell me no after that build-up?"
"Just to show you that I can play games, too."
To hell with that old lady! I wasn't about to waste my time with Bonnie, but before I could make my exit she smiled at me and gave me five bucks.
Bonnie came around regularly after that. I always asked her for dough. Sometimes she gave it and other times she ignored my request altogether. There was no pattern and eventually I gave up trying to figure one out. She always had a good word for me though and I gradually began to like her anyway, despite the fact that she was old and ugly.
One Sunday she had a surprise for me. After the usual "hellos" she told me she had an idea I might like. Then she asked me if I would like to come to her house for a weekend.
Hell, I'd have walked through a lion's den with pork chop panties on for five minutes away from that place. I didn't know what her motives were, but I really didn't care much. I didn't know if I could handle any sexual encounter. If that was what she had in mind but I was sure I could get around that if it came up. The only important thing was to get out; everything else was minute.
We went back to K Building and talked to my social worker. I was kinda worried that Mrs. Weisenstein would make mention of my previous leave with one of the B'nai B'rith people but she didn't and I heaved a sigh of relief when Bonnie and I left the office.
I had no idea that Bonnie already knew about my one month excursion, including JoAnne's part. I only found out later just how many connections Bonnie had and the vast amount of information she had stored inside her uncanny head. When I did find out I was very impressed because she never told anyone on the hospital staff what she knew. She could have gotten us all in trouble and I had to appreciate the fact that she didn't.
On the following Friday afternoon Bonnie picked me up in a 1960 Ford wagon. It is hard to describe just how it felt to watch the gates and grounds of the hospital fade into the background as we rode away, but the feelings were heavy. People from the outside world usually shunned us and even though Bonnie was a member of one of the do-gooder organizations, there's a big difference between throwing a party for a bunch of ten-year-old kids and taking a fully-grown individual into your own home.