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God Bless You Miss Ehrenberg

By Steven Katz
Published in ART TIMES June 2014

Miss Ehrenberg had flaming, red-dyed hair. She was our seventh grade typing teacher. She never was successful in teaching me to type, as evidenced by my two-finger hunt and peck that is tapping this out full of errors at about twenty words per minute. But I don't think she cared much about our typing. She taught us about life. She told us about her travels. She said outrageous things, like the fact that certain teachers went on dates with other certain teachers.

One Monday she floated into class and she was waving a pair of tickets. She told the class that she was thinking of two numbers. She had us raise our hands and take turns to see which kids would guess her lucky numbers. Laura, the sweet but quiet girl with the short brown hair and the gingham dress with the always-sharpened set of three number two pencils sitting in the groove at the top of her desk picked the first correct number. Me and Elliot and the other rowdy seventh grade boys (is that a redundant phrase?) started oohing and moaning to get Ehrenberg's attention. My turn came and I said "a hundred." She gave me the ticket.

Then she told us, "Now Laura and Steven; these two tickets that you have won are for the Broadway Musical, Fiddler on The Roof. It stars Herschel Bernardi. I don't know if he is going to be as wonderful as Zero Mostel, but Herschel Bernardi is a really great actor, and he might be every bit as good, but even if he isn't, what you are holding in your hands are your tickets to Broadway. Tell your parents to make sure you get there and dress appropriately. This is Broadway. The tickets are good seats and they are for this Friday night at 8pm.”

I am thirteen. I am not in Elementary School anymore. I don’t need my parents to take me anywhere anymore. I know that if I go to Laura’s house at 6pm, with some flowers that I will buy with my paper route money that I get from delivering the NY Post six days a week, we can take the Q75 bus to the E or the F train and get off at 42nd Street, we should get to the theater by 7:30. And this will be a date. I know what Fiddler on the Roof is because we have the record album at home. I can sing the words to Sunrise Sunset because they played it at my bar mitzvah party when I danced with my mom and she cried. And I know if I Were a Rich Man, because I love that song, especially the part about one stair going up and one stair going down, and another going no where at all, just for show. Really, can you imagine being so rich and caring so little about spending money that you would build a stairway in your house going no where at all, but just for show? This is all great and everything but mostly I am already plotting how I am going to kiss Laura. Will it be in the middle of the show, near the beginning, or at the end? Will my arm creep up so quietly around the back of her chair that she won’t notice until it is around her shoulder. Will she let me keep it there? Will it fall asleep? Will I blow in her ear? Oh, I cannot even think about this. Maybe I won’t try to kiss her until it is time to say good night. That way if she doesn’t want me to it won’t mess up the whole date. Date, holy cow, this is a date. I have been to the movies before with girls, but that was always a whole gang of kids, never just two of us. I wonder if she is scared. I am definitely not scared. Where will I keep this ticket? I will put it in my wallet with my bus pass and my paper route money. Today is Monday. These tickets are for Friday. Should I talk to Laura at lunchtime? Forget about that. I need to get out into the yard and be the first or second kid out at the handball court so I can win that and then shoot some hoops. I can talk to her after school. Oh boy, I think this might be something, this Broadway thing.

I forgot to talk to her yesterday. I did manage to win at handball, and shoot some hoops, but today I will tell her that I will pick her up at 6pm. Then we, oh Jeez, will her mother and father be at the door to check me out? Have they heard about me? Do they know that I am the same kid that beat up 34 different kids when we were in the third grade? Do they know that I played Spin The Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven with Laura in their very own basement while they were out on a Saturday night date when we were in the sixth grade? Hmm, maybe I should just have her meet me at the bus stop? No, that is the coward’s way out. I will wear my real tie that my Dad taught me how to make a Windsor knot with, and her father will notice that, and my tweedy-looking sports jacket and her parents won’t even know I am the same kid, and even if they do they will know by my outfit that I am grown-up now, not a big bully anymore. I will look and smell so great with my Dad’s Old Spice on that they would even let me marry Laura.

It worked. Not the marrying part of course. But now we have taken the bus and the E Train. We got off at Times Square. Holy Macaroni. I could not believe the mobs of people. There were those guys playing three-card Monte – I showed Laura how they have these fake players who lose on purpose, and these lookouts for the cops on the surrounding corners. Then there were the crazy preacher guys standing on milk crates yelling their brains out. We found the theatre. We got in. The lights go out. The curtain goes up. My jaw really dropped. THIS is Broadway. I cried and I laughed. I did not make a move on Laura. I totally forgot. This is what I want to do. This is what I will be doing for the rest of my life. I will be on that stage. I will be up there when some kids like us are sitting down here with their jaws in their laps. How could anyone possibly want to do anything else? What would be the point of settling for anything less? Might as well just kill yourself, jump in front of the E train like Marty did. I am going to be an actor. Who cares if Laura kisses me tonight? I will have girls waiting for me at the stage door, swooning for my autograph. I wonder what she is thinking. Who cares? God bless you Miss Ehrenberg, wherever you are.

(Steven Katz lives in Kailua, HI)