"…some nights the man in the moon blushes for shame when he sails over Times Square west of forty second street…"
“That’s silly!” I smirked at the man’s voice droning out of the radio.
“Hush!” Daddy’s finger went over his lips. “That’s Judge Owen McGivern. He’s important. Listen.” I whispered,
“But he’s silly. I know there’s no man in the moon, and I’m only eight.”
Daddy waved me away and leaned into the radio, listening harder.
Mommy called, “Janie, we need to get ready.”
I hurried to her, happy and excited. We were going to a Broadway musical -- my favorite thing in the whole wide world. Best of all, this was a story about gypsies, so everyone would be wearing bright costumes with lots of gold jewelry AND the star was Ethel Merman. We had records of her in other musicals: Call Me Madam, and Annie Get Your Gun. Mommy told me that one was about Annie Oakley. My favorite TV show was Annie Oakley, but there was no singing on the TV show, just cowgirls and horses.
Mommy tied stiff green bows on the ends of my pigtails, matching the green velvet of my party dress. The day before, I had watched our colored maid Daisy iron those ribbons. Daisy was the only colored woman I knew. Colored men worked in the basement, but I never spoke to them. They wore plain uniform dungarees, not handsome dress uniforms like our Irish doormen. Daisy ironed a lot and sometimes hummed pretty tunes. She told me she used to iron hair ribbons for her daughter when she was little, but now she was grown up and didn't wear them anymore. Daisy's dark skin was smooth and pretty, and I wondered what her daughter looked like. One time, I almost asked her daughter's name, but didn't. Mommy never asked Daisy about her family, so I didn’t think I should either. I didn't want to be rude.
I thought again about the voice on the radio. “Mommy, why did the man on the radio say Times Square was a bad place? I love it.”
Mommy took a deep breath. “Well, that was the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court. I think he said, ‘west of forty-second street,’ that’s not where the Broadway theatres are.” She finished the second bow and straightened the seams running up the backs of my tights.
“Oh, that’s where we wait for the number 10 bus… where those other theatres are. The nasty ones.”
She smiled, “That’s right.”
"But we went to church when Grandma was here, and the church was right there, almost at 8th Avenue."
She rolled her eyes, "Oh yes, your Grandmother has to go to mass every day no matter where she is, even Times Square in the middle of a snow storm. Holy Cross was the nearest, so that's where we went."
"How come they built a church in a bad place?"
Mommy shrugged, "Well, the place was nice when the church was built. I think most of the land was cow pastures. The ugly stuff was built around the church, later on."
I swished my full skirt. "Everyone was really nice there, especially the nuns. The pictures of really old nuns, from a hundred years ago, were neat. They sewed army uniforms. Would I like to be a nun?"
She burst out laughing. "My junior fashion plate? No! Definitely not."
A few minutes later, we were wrapped in winter coats, standing outside our apartment house on Central Park West. The blue-eyed doorman quickly haled a taxi, and I was thrilled when a red and white checker cab pulled up. It was my favorite kind, with two round, jump-seats in front of the long back seat. I could easily have sat on the long seat, between Mommy and Daddy, but it was lots more fun pulling down my own little seat and riding backwards. Jump seats were also slippy, and it was felt like a carnival ride every time we turned a corner.
Daddy told the cab driver, “Imperial Theatre, 45th Street between 7th & 8th.” The driver nodded, pulled down the meter flag, and $.25 stuck up. As he drove away, I turned back and front watching the meter click, adding five cents every little while. Reaching into my coat pocket, I felt my crisp emergency dollar bill. I knew that if I was ever lost, a one dollar taxi ride could bring me safely home. When we arrived at the theatre, Daddy gave the driver a dollar. "Keep the change."
Daddy held our tickets and handed them to a uniformed usher. I noticed the price, $6.90. Wow! Each ticket cost almost $7.00. That was a fortune.
We usually sat in the center mezzanine, so I was thrilled when we were led around the side of the mezzanine, into a small private box. There were four regular chairs, not fold-down theatre seats. I sat closest to the rail and looked straight down into the orchestra pit. A lady in a black dress was tuning a big harp. Shiny brass kettle drums and lots of smaller drums were in the corner. A minute later, other players, all dressed in black, carried musical instruments into the pit. Some looked under the stage and joked with people hidden underneath. Mommy gave me a program. The cover had Ethel Merman and the word Gypsy. I had seen other plays, and knew the names of the actors were just past the center page. That day, I skipped past the actors, and found the names of the orchestra players. I counted 39 names, but I could only see about 20 players. The rest must have been squished under the stage. I caught my breath when the huge stage curtain waved, and I could just make out two men pushing something tall through the backstage wing. I guessed it was part of a gypsy caravan.
The lights dimmed, the overture played, and I was in heaven. The curtain rose and I expected to see dancing gypsies. Instead, there were little kids on stage, some as young as me, singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. It was great, but I was jealous. I wanted to do that. The story was also great, but I was still waiting for gypsies. After a while, I heard Ethel Merman sing,
“Funny, you’re a man who goes traveling, rather than settling down. Funny, 'cause I'd love to go traveling, small world, isn’t it?”
Oh! They were gypsies because the traveled all the time, not because of their clothes.
In the last act, the character Louise was grown up and went to work in a strip club. It made me think of the cheap looking theatres on 8th Avenue, near our bus stop. The strippers in the show were really funny. One played a trumpet, another was a funny ballerina with butterfly wings, and the third was covered with electric lights. When it was Louise's turn, she changed her clothes a lot and ended up in her underwear.
After the play, we left the theatre with a million-other people. Daddy took about ten seconds to look for a taxi, then shook his head. I was glad. It was cold, but still light, and I was really curious to look at the dirty-looking theatre next to our 8th Avenue bus stop. I'd seen it before and always laughed at the sign, Live Girls! Who would want to see dead girls? T
here was always a bunch of people standing near a side entrance, smoking. I'd never looked at them hard, but did now. The women wore lots of makeup and had really big hair. White women laughed with colored women like they were friends. A couple of rough looking men also talked with the women. Suddenly, I had to find out if these women were strippers, like I'd seen in the play. Without remembering to ask if it was okay, I ran over to a woman with cocoa colored skin and big yellow hair. "Excuse me, but we just saw the play Gypsy. Have you seen it?"
The woman looked at me kind of funny. "No kid, not at those prices." The others nodded and rolled their eyes.
I remembered the $6.90 tickets. "Oh, yeah. It was really expensive. But there were strippers, and they were really funny."
A fat red-haired woman smirked, "Really funny strippers, huh? How about that." The others looked bored or laughed with her.
I was desperate to be taken seriously. "They traveled all the time, like gypsies. Do you travel all the time?"
The women with cocoa colored skin and yellow hair laughed a little. "I used to. Now I've got a kid in school, so I stay put."
I was thrilled. "You have a kid?"
"Yeah, a little girl like you -- Emmy."
"Janie! Come back here!" Daddy grabbed my arm. Smiling nervously and carefully watching the men and women, he pulled me away. "I'm sorry my daughter was bothering you." He gave me a quarter and lifted me onto the bus. I showed the driver my quarter. He gave me back a dime, and I dropped my quarter into the money slot. I gave Daddy the dime, and snuggled between him and Mommy on a green cushioned seat.
As the bus pulled away, I turned and looked out the window. The woman with the cocoa colored skin waved. I waved back as the bus pulled away. I whispered, "Emmy."
Mommy looked at me sort of funny. "Who's Emmy?" "That lady's daughter. She told me she used to travel like a gypsy, but didn't anymore because she had a little girl like me, and her name was Emmy."
Daddy laughed a little. "You learned all that in a couple of minutes?"
"I never asked Daisy her daughter's name. Do you think she'd mind, if I asked?"
Mommy looked surprised. "Of course not. Why would she mind?"
I bit my lip with excitement. Tomorrow, I would ask Daisy about her daughter. I wanted to know everything about her. This was going to be so cool.