It was nothing like Eisenstaedt’s
Every year in August, when newspapers and magazines run Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph of that sailor and the girl in their passionate embrace, I remember my brush with history. I too 77 was in Times Square that day. But brush-off might be a better description of what happened to me.
I spent the morning of August 14,1945, at a city swimming pool in the Bronx. The war seemed to be going well, and at 16 years of age I was bursting with patriotism and hormones. The pool was a great place to ogle the girls, even though the bathing suits they wore then would be too tame for the cover of my AARP Bulletin today.
I was hanging out with my friends and a handful of girls when the loudspeaker announced that Japan had surrendered and everyone was celebrating in Times Square.
“Wow! This is really something!” I shouted. “Who wants to go downtown with me? Come on, what do you say?”
“I don’t believe this. No one wants to go to Times Square?”
Finally Mae, one of the younger girls, said, “I’ll go.” Even though we went to the same high school, I barely knew Mae. She was a freshman, about halfway to becoming a knockout, but guys like me, you know, sophomores, didn’t pay much attention to the new crop of kids. Yet that day was different. The war was over.
First I counted my money, because in those days the gentleman always paid for the lady. A buck and a half. Plenty.
The subway was filled with noisy revelers, but nothing prepared us for the scene in Times Square. Soldiers and sailors were climbing the lampposts, shouting, throwing their hats in the air. Everyone was hugging and kissing.
“Mae!” I exclaimed breathlessly, embracing her, “it’s over, the war is over!” I leaned forward to kiss her.
“I don’t kiss on the first date,” she said firmly. “We won’t have anything to look forward to.”
“But this isn’t a date,” I countered. “It’s an event, a celebration!”
“Please,” she said. “What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“How about a movie then?” I said, thinking fast. We were standing directly in front of the Criterion, and I hoped to lure her to the balcony. I don’t remember what was showing, but Cornel Wilde was the leading man. Nothing worked, not the balcony, not the darkness, not even the smoldering looks of Mr. Wilde. The film was nearly over before she let me put my arm around her shoulder.
When the movie let out, the tumult in Times Square was winding down, and we headed home. Ever the gentleman, I walked her to her door. She said she would see me around. I took the hint and didn’t try to kiss her.
I went home and plopped down on the couch. My unrequited ardor had made for an exhausting day.
“Why are you looking so tired?” my father asked when he got home from work. “You don’t do anything when you’re off from school.”
“I know, Papa.” I sighed. “But you gotta understand. War is hell.”