Today we ask if predators even existed back in the 50s and 60s; we didn’t read about them in the news, we weren’t given games like “Don’t Talk to Strangers” or lectured on the same subject. There was no discussion of child abuse or those who would take advantage of children.
There were tough kids and tough blocks in the neighborhood and we were warned about those. You pretty much stayed off of 84th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam and most blocks between Amsterdam and Columbus in the 80s. But the worst that might happen was a mugging.
Assuming that there were aberrant clergy, they were not front page news nor discussed at Jewish dinner tables. The only ones I knew were nice people.
While I wrote about Levy Brothers and my thievery in a recent post (that was met by others with similar revelations) I have only told the following story three times in my life. Levy Brothers might have been a jumping off point for some pretty dark life events for other kids, mine still haunts me.
It would have been 1960 or 1961, I was 11 or 12. As usual I was seen in Levy Brothers on a close to daily basis. Wandering among the toys and games was less frequent than wandering among the paperbacks up at the front of the store. I apparently wasn’t the only one wandering there.
There was a man often lurking in the paperback section along with me. I don’t think adults thought about predators in those days either. I know I saw him more than once. He was old enough to drive but I couldn’t tell you how old. He spoke politely about the books I was interested in. Looking back, he was building trust.
One day he asked if I wanted to go for a ride in his car. I was too naive to sense any danger. We got in the car and chatted away.
Approaching the toll barrier on the George Washington Bridge is when I became what can only be described as hysterical. I was good at temper tantrums; fearful hysteria is a cousin of tantrums.
My recollection is that he turned the car around and took us back to Levy’s. I don’t think I ever saw him again. I didn’t tell anyone for decades.
I am either one of the luckiest people alive or something happened that is buried so deep I cannot find it.