At the time of this story, I was barely a post-teen and lacked a regular job or any semblance of a career, though I'd gone to college briefly. I was working in numerous dead-end jobs including a laundry, a mattress factory and a clothing distribution center. In the mid-1970s, low-skilled work was plentiful in Hudson County. Most of my high school alumni had landed jobs at Exxon, Texaco, or Colgate-Palmolive with the intention of growing old there, as did their fathers before them.
But I had higher ambitions-I had hopes of becoming a rock star! I played an average bass in a band with some friends at bars and clubs with names like Sting Lounge, Velvet Lounge, the Big Apple, and the Showboat. The only one who ever made it was a teenager who cut his hair, changed his name, and chartered a punk-rock-turned-pop band called Blondie.
There was Jake, a good drummer who could sing but became violent at times. Eventually we replaced him with Paul, who was an even better drummer and fit our style of music. Jeremy was a gifted songwriter whose original material carried the band. Finally, there was Lennie, a nice guy and a good guitar player with an even temper. Girls always came out to see the band, and it was pretty easy to score.
THAT'S HOW I MET ANGELA. She was different than the other girls who came to see the band. She wasn't sleeping around like so many others. Aside from her tendency to drink herself into stupors, she was the perfect girl for a serious relationship. She attended college in the evenings and held a regular job. She stood about 5'6" in heels, had curly, shoulder-length black hair, a shapely figure, dark complexion, and a lovely smile.
Though she was dating Lennie, she frequently tried to make conversation with me and made a point of saying that she had told her girlfriend about this really nice-looking guy in the band. I suspected a message in her statements, but she was mature and responsible and I found that frightening. Soon I got over my insecurity and we became friends. We talked on the phone and I found it really easy to be close to her. I knew for certain that something would happen sooner or later.
During this time, I went back to college to become a teacher, and she began to type my term papers. One Sunday evening, Lennie was at her house. He did not seem suspicious, though I wouldn't have been as gracious if another guy were spending that much time with my girlfriend. Lennie and I talked about the band, which was doing poorly. Shortly, he kissed Angela goodnight and left. When he kissed her, I felt envy but the feeling disappeared because I knew we would soon be alone.
WITHOUT SAYING A WORD, Angela led me to the basement and said that she wanted me to taste her Dad's homemade wine. We descended to a sub-cellar and she crawled through a small hole, beckoning me to follow. I felt excited because we were doing something mysterious and forbidden. Inside the alcove, there were barrels of wine. Angela and I sat down on the cool concrete, she pulled out two small glasses, and giggled as she poured from a bottle. Within minutes, I began to feel warm all over.
As we drank more and more wine, we talked about its sweet, strong taste. She said she wanted to tell me something very important that she had been thinking about for a long time. She hesitated and finally said, "I'm not in love with Lennie any longer." I listened intently as she said that there was someone else she cared for and thought she was falling in love with. I sat quietly and then she whispered softly, "That someone is you." I told her that I felt the same way and that I'd felt it for a long time. A rush of guilt hit me as I thought about Lennie, but I quickly disregarded the feeling and embraced and caressed her. We kissed passionately and my body began to tingle.
I quickly began to undress her. She offered no resistance and within moments we were naked. Seconds later, we were sprawled on the floor. We spent the next several hours on a small carpet and fell asleep holding each other tightly. When we tiptoed out, it was past two in the morning. The next day I felt elated but guilty about having been with my friend's girl. Angela called me that afternoon to swear me to secrecy.
That evening, at band practice I was not able to look at Lennie. I felt certain he would find out, but he did not seem suspicious. So Angela and I embarked on a series of wild adventures. We began meeting and making love at every chance. We would rendezvous after band practice and sneak off to the army pier in my 1970 Cadillac Eldorado. It became our personal honeymoon suite. The front seat was a living room built for pleasure. It was one of the few front-wheel drive vehicles of its time, and the forward placement of the transmission afforded a huge space. The view from the pier was absolutely beautiful as winter rolled into the Northeast and the car protected us from the elements. The Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty were mesmerizing, and the movement of the waves and the sound of the wind were musical. Angela and I made it on the front seat as the radio played and the heat blew a toasty fireplace.
ONE NIGHT AFTER BAND PRACTICE, Angela and I headed for the pier. I always drove to the very end to get the best view. I liked to stay perpendicular to the edge because it allowed me to watch for the police. It was a regular nightly event, which began with kissing and undressing and ended with vicious lovemaking. The difference tonight was the extremely harsh weather. It was mid-January and it was less than 10 degrees and the wind seemed about 25 miles per hour. I could hear the wind howling and felt its chill as it hurled against the car and found its way through the tears in the weather stripping. The water that night was moving unusually fast, and there were raging whitecaps. I recall the disc jockey on WNEW-FM describing the weather conditions several times during his show. Scott Muni was the kind of DJ who could turn the simplest event into melodrama. It had to be after 10 because he had just gone off the air-"This is Scott Muni, Peace."
Then, for no apparent reason, the car lurched forward and was headed straight for the water! I didn't know it at the time but Angela's foot had come down on the shift during sex, sending it into drive. The car rolled about 15 feet, building up enough speed to send us into the icy water before it miraculously hit a bollard. It was not very secure, cracking at the base. I heard it go "ka-plunk" as it fell over and crashed into the water, quickly disappearing under the whitecaps, allowing the car to jump the wooden border. Luckily, the bollard had slowed the car down enough to suspend it above the water with half of it hanging off the pier. The wheels were still spinning and the car was teetering as though it would fall in at any second. I jumped up and could feel the car rocking. I feared that any sudden movement would cause the car to dislodge.
Angela was shaking wildly and I begged her not to move. My first thought was to throw the car into park but then it might jerk forward so I eased the lever into neutral and began to hear the wheels slow down. I thought for a moment that I might be able to put it in reverse and bring it back to safety but there was nothing for the wheels to grip, being suspended in mid-air. By now Angela was scrambling for her clothes. She was screaming that there was no way she was going in that water naked! Luckily, the car stayed put as she grabbed her clothes.
SLOWLY, I OPENED THE DRIVER'S DOOR, fearful that at any moment we would land in the icy water. I could see it raging below! I told Angela to crawl very slowly across the seat and then to jump onto the pier. It was only a short distance and she landed safely and hurried to put on her clothes. Now I leaned across the back seat and began to gather up my clothes. I threw my stuff to the pier and got ready. I could hear pieces of concrete cracking and hitting the water as I jumped and made it safely. I felt the wind hitting my bare skin as if I were being bitten and quickly put my clothes on.
Angela was running around with her hands over her face repeating, "Oh my God, oh my God, I could have died, I could have died!" She was shaking from the cold and shock. I became obsessed with thoughts of getting back to the main drag, walking to a phone booth and calling my older brother, Tony. He owned a tow truck and would be able to pull the car back. I looked around but no one was on the pier, and for once I wanted the police to show up. We were stranded about two miles from the main intersection at Caven Point Road. I knew there was a telephone booth there.
I told Angela we would have to walk, which caused her to become frantic. She was screaming again and saying that she was freezing to death. She asked why I couldn't back the car up, but I told her that the wheels were too far over the water and that there was nothing for it to grip. She was mortified at the thought of anyone finding out and was afraid that I would tell someone. I assured her that I wouldn't. I was not telling the truth, but at least we were alive and not in the frigid water.
WE BEGAN WALKING INTO THE WINTRY NIGHT, the wind clawing at us relentlessly. We weren't dressed for the cold, having had every intention of staying in the warm car. I held Angela close to shield her from the cold. We walked for what seemed like hours and hadn't left the pier yet when the possibility of freezing to death occurred to me, but I reacted better than I had ever dreamed. The instinct to survive took precedence over my thin blood. Eventually, I could see the outline of the dilapidated shack at the beginning of the pier. I knew that we had about another mile to go. We stopped when we got to the shack and used it to block the wind for a few moments but then quickly moved on. As we reached the road, away from the water, the wind died down. We walked for a very long time and finally, just ahead, I could see the dim light from the phone booth. Angela, who had been walking with her head down, looked up and our pace quickened. Within seconds we were running for the flimsy structure.
I could no longer feel my fingers or toes and was sure that if we stayed out much longer we would become frostbitten. Luckily, I had some change in my pocket and dropped a dime into the slot. I frantically dialed my brother's number and prayed for him to answer. "Please pick up, please pick up!" What if he didn't answer? We couldn't call Angela's house, I couldn't call any friends, and I didn't want to call the police. As these thoughts raced through my head, I heard a familiar voice on the other end.
"Hello?" My brother sounded as though he'd been asleep.
"Thank God," I screamed. "Please, Tony, you've gotta help us."
"I was on the army pier and the car almost went in the water!"
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. We're just freezing to death here."
"How did that happen?"
I told him that I made a U-turn and lost control of the car and it hit a bollard.
"Who are you with?"
"My friend Angela."
"Where are you exactly?"
"We're in the phone booth where Chapel Avenue crosses Caven Point Road. Do you know where I mean?"
"Yeah, sure I do. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I'm going to need the tow truck," I said.
"I know. Hang in there."
Angela sighed with enormous relief when I told her that my brother was coming to get us. I had no idea how long it had taken us to walk from the pier. I could no longer feel my extremities as we huddled together in that phone booth.
"Please God, get him here quick," I prayed.
I LOOKED AT MY WATCH; it was almost 11:15. I had lost track of time. We were out in the biting cold for over an hour, but it felt like much more.
In what seemed to be only minutes, my brother pulled up, looking worried. We leaped into the truck, desperately seeking heat. Tony asked if we were alright, then quickly headed toward the pier. We had been in the cold a long time and it would take some time to thaw. Within a few minutes, we got to the spot where the car was suspended over the water. It was no longer there! Nowhere to be found! Angela looked shocked and my brother confused. I thought for a second that we might be in the wrong spot, and then I saw that a huge chunk of concrete where the car had been had caved in and was broken into jagged pieces. The car had fallen into the water! Tony suggested that we go home and deal with this in the morning. I had no car, or insurance to cover the loss.
WE HEADED TOWARD HOME. My brother stopped first at Angela's house and I walked her to the door, reassuring her that everything was alright and that no one would find out. I hugged her for a moment, kissed her goodnight and ran back to the truck. I could not fall asleep all night. I'd lost my car and almost my life.
The next day, I had to explain to my brother what had happened. We decided to report the car stolen, and he promised to keep it a secret. I went back to the pier at low tide but could not see my Eldorado. It may have floated away in the strong current before sinking. We never found out what became of the car. It may have been recovered when the pier was torn down or could still be at the bottom, covered by many feet of mud.
I suppose I will never know. A week later, I found a Coupe DeVille at a great price and put the incident behind me. My brother chided me about it right up until he was in the hospital dying from liver cancer, but he never told anyone, not even my brother Frank. I never told anyone until long after Lennie and Angela had split up. I told my Mom the real story many years later, and of course she said that she had always suspected the truth.
I was too scared to go down to the army pier with another girl after that night. Angela never slept with me again. The incident proved to be a turning point and the end of our affair.
We all went our separate ways. Lennie was picked up by a top New Jersey rock 'n' roll act, Paul got married, Jeremy joined a band playing original songs, and, as that other songwriter said, the times really were a-changin'.
Angela continued to look for the man of her dreams, and I became a teacher, but I will go to my death wondering-what if we had gone down with my Eldorado that night?