Never Make A Left Turn
On Ocean Parkway


   Immigrants who arrived here and expected to find the streets paved with gold and didn't weren't so disappointed after all. They were happy to leave the rotten conditions, the bullying police and the hunger behind them. Once they rose from the sweatshops and began to prosper they were astounded by the variety of stuff they could buy, the height of luxury being the automobile.

   Because you knew you had made it when you bought your first car.

   Mr. Pruskin got his in l923. What they called a touring car, a Buick. True, it had no windows except the windshield from which stretched a sturdy material overhead all the way to the back. Two running boards, four doors, the engine and wheels completed the ideal open-air family car. If it rained, large coverings with centers of isinglass through which nobody could see had to be fitted outside, one protecting each passenger seat from the weather.

   Bulky Sol Pruskin, partner in a modest factory that manufactured handkerchiefs, socks, and diapers, owned a small house in the middle of a long block of such identical dwellings that some nights he had to count his way home. His wife Dora, a nervous, ample woman who wore corsets, had three children and a samovar, which she cherished. Pruskin ruled his family with a restrained iron hand which had started to rust a little since he had moved into the new neighborhood.

   He drove his recently acquired automobile in a serious and cautious manner since he was still getting the hang of it. He had assigned his wife the job of keeping an eye on the various dashboard dials to warn him if the water was overheating, the gas getting low, the oil pressure failing, or the mileage meter not moving. Before he would pull away from the curb every member of the family watched out the sides and back to make sure nothing was coming. Talking was prohibited while he drove lest it distract him (especially from coordinating the shifting of the gears with the pressing down on the clutch into first, second, and third). Any grinding of the gears sparked a panic lest, as his instructor had warned him, it might rip the engine apart. He never parked unless half the block in front of him was empty so he could pull up. He hadnıt yet mastered backing in.

   Pruskin, a bit taller than average, a bit uptight, was also a bit of a chance taker. He had plunged into various businesses as opportunities presented themselves. He almost had control of the language, although his spelling was phonetic, and he had insured the future by voting for Warren G. Harding (later rumored to have been poisoned by his wife) and the entire Republican ticket, donating a twenty-five dollar contribution towards its success. His automobile, though he was in awe of it, elevated him in his own eyes. After a couple of tours of the local environs, Pruskin responded to the pleas of his children to take them to Coney Island. The project roused a slight sweat in him, as he would be encountering his first real batch of traffic. He had that morning wiped off the car with the recommended cloths and had it shining. He tested the horn to check the battery and flashed on the lights although it was noon.

   "Donıt slam the doors," he called to the family as they came out. He had driven from the garage, around the corner in back of the house, in order to give his neighbors a look, but nobody was about. His two pre-teenage daughters, Myra and Sandra and their nine-year-old brother, Jason, climbed into the back. Jason slammed the door.

   "You want the car to fall apart?" his father cried. "One more time, Jason, and you stay home! Now sit quiet and don't touch the outside of the car with your fingers." He paused, looked at his wife, took a breath and turned on the ignition. To his great satisfaction the car started. The girls applauded.

   "Shhh!" said Mrs. Pruskin. The automobile slowly rolled into the road. "It's moving," she said.
   "What's moving?" her husband asked in a note of alarm.
   "The mileage."
   "It's supposed to move," he said, annoyed.
   "It's a half a mile from our house to the corner," she said.
   "That's ridiculous! How could it be a half a mile? It's a tenth of a mile, maybe. You get everything wrong - we won't know where we are."
   Pruskin drove on. It was a fine June day, everything in leaf, the traffic easy, and the sewers odorless.
   "Blow the horn, papa!" Jason called.
   "Jason!" his mother said, sharply.
   "It's all right," Pruskin said, delighted. "I'll blow." He tooted the horn. The girls applauded.
   "Again, papa!" Jason cried.
   "Once is enough," Mrs. Pruskin said.

   "I'll go by Ocean Parkway," Pruskin said, "It's a beautiful wide street. You'll see houses like you never saw." They drove in that direction, reached the Parkway and turned into the boulevard coursing slowly down it, admiring the scenery and the homes on either side when a cacophony of horns behind them began.

   "Why are they blowing like that, Sol?" his wife asked.
   "Speeders," replied Pruskin. "They'll kill somebody yet. Don't they know there's a speed limit here? They'll wear out their tires in no time. Wait. Wait! I have to get to the middle. I have to make a turn." Pruskin successfully accomplished the maneuver and gained the center lane as they approached the intersection.

   "Be careful, Sol. It's very busy here," she said.
   "I see, I see," he said. "Don't bother me." He began to perspire a little as he faced the problem of crossing against the traffic and prepared to make the turn as soon as the situation permitted. He gripped the wheel fiercely, waited, sweated, saw his chance, spun the wheel and stepped on the gas, the car lurching into the right angle and traversing the intersection. Two shrill blasts on a police whistle followed him into the cross street. Startled, he jammed on his brakes. Everybody pitched forward. The whistle blasted its earsplitting scream again.

   "Move! Move!" a loud, husky voice cried. "Pull over!"
   Pruskin, his hands wet, shifted into the wrong gear. The car stalled. Uncertain what to do, he turned off the motor.
   "Hey, you!" the voice cried. "Yer blockin' the road!"
   Pruskin started the motor. It burped then caught. He shifted into first. The car rolled to the curb.
   "Sol!" whispered Mrs. Pruskin. "It's a policeman! In a uniform!"
   "Nobody say anything!" Pruskin commanded, his heart racing. A mountain of flesh in an officer's regalia and cap advanced on him.
   "Lemme see yer license," he ordered.
   "My license?" Pruskin repeated, hypnotized by the brass buttons.
   The cop turned a grinning glance at the slowly passing cars nosing past the scene as if to share with them the news that he had in hand an idiot without a license. "Y'mean ya donıt have a license?" he demanded.
   "My car license?" Pruskin asked, shaking.
   "No, yer weddin' license!" the cop said.
   "My wedding license?" Pruskin cried, amazed.
   "No, yer dog license," the cop growled, angrily.
   "We don't have a dog," Pruskin said, weakly.
   "Don't be a wiseguy, mister!" the officer warned him. Then, more officially, he said, "Do you or don't you have a license to operate this vehicle?"
   "I have! I have!" Pruskin cried, hurriedly searching his pockets.
   "Get out of the car," the cop ordered.
   "Out from the car? But I have my wife and children here..."
   "Get out of the car."
   Pruskin slowly emerged. He stood there, his mouth open, waiting to be shot.
   "Show me yer license," the cop said. Pruskin shambled through his pocket, drew out his wallet, found the license and handed it over. The cop glanced at it, poked his head into the car, tipped his hat to Mrs. Pruskin, peered judiciously around, then straightened up. "Get back in the car," he said. Pruskin quickly obliged.
   "Excuse me, please, captain," he said.
   "Captain? Who you callin' captain?" the cop demanded.
   "Youıre not a captain?" Pruskin asked, apologetically.    "I know that trick, mister. You think by callin' me captain you're gettin' on the good side of me, hmm?"
   "No, I didn't..."
   "A lot of people try that kind of stuff"
   "They do?"
   "Some people even pull out money..."
   "How much?"
   "How much?" the officer cried. "How much? You want me to tell you how much?" he yelled, red in the face.
   "No... Yes..."
   "You tryin' to suck me into askin' you for a bribe, mister? Is that it?"
   "Who, me?"
   "Yes, you!"
   "Not me! I'm not!"
   "Just shut up. Iım gettin' you a ticket. And be glad you're only gettin' one!"
   "A ticket?"
   "A summons for offense AX17 accordin' to the code of the State of New York: for failure to thrust your arm out full length, to bend that arm up at right angles and down, outstretched again to indicate the prescribed act of makin' a warnin' signal prior to executin' a left turn."

   The officer wrote out the ticket in a bold hand, then passed it over to the wrongdoer. He removed his cap, wiped his brow and glanced at the children in the back seat. "I got four of my own," he said. Looking at Pruskin he added, "I had to do it. It's the law. That's the way it is. But you seem all right, a gentle type person..."
   "No, I'm Jewish," Pruskin admitted, hesitantly.
   They didn't go to Coney Island but straight home. As soon as he entered the house Pruskin ran to the telephone and called his lawyer.
   "I have to report to the court next Wednesday at nine o'clock in the morning," he cried. "Can they put me in jail?"
   "What happened? Did you suggest giving the cop a bribe?" his lawyer chuckled.
   "No. He suggested it."
   "Well, maybe we can put him in jail." The lawyer said.

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Copyright İ August 3, 2000-


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