November 7, 2010

Rumble at the pizza joint - a gritty Levittown story

Click on photo of Meadowbrook Theater to enlarge

By Beth Cummings
Class of 1960

One night during my senior year at Division Avenue High School, my friend Katie (Island Trees High School) and I went to see a movie at the Meadowbrook Theater. I don't know the actual date this incident took place, but I see from IMDB that the movie we saw that evening was released in December 1959. Presumably it played at the Meadowbrook during that month or maybe in January 1960.

The movie was On the Beach, a chilling, tragic story that takes place after World War III has destroyed earth. As the movie begins, the entire population of earth is dead, except for a few survivors in Australia – the last habitable area of the planet – but the nuclear fallout is moving inexorably toward them and it will soon kill them too. The story deals with the characters' coming to terms with their imminent death. By the final frame, they and the planet are dead.

Katie and I hadn't realized it was going to be such a depressing, hopeless film, and we left the theater feeling stunned and miserable. We went straight over to the pizzeria, as much to clear our heads as to get a snack. On the way in, we noticed a bunch of the "rocks" from school hanging around outside – lots of preening, posturing, smoking, and basically looking cool (bored), but nothing that looked threatening.

The pizzeria was packed, but we managed to get the last available table, about halfway back and with a straight view of the front door. We were about halfway through eating when we heard some sort of commotion outside, then a lot of yelling. Suddenly the front door opened. One of the tough girls stepped in and matter-of-factly announced to the manager behind the counter, "Hey. There's a fight out here. Somebody got stabbed. You better call the police." And she calmly walked back out and closed the door.

The manager just stood there, shocked, for a second. Then, just as he collected his thoughts and turned to make the phone call, the girl stepped back in and said, just as flatly, "Hey. You better get an ambulance too."

Everybody in the place started whispering among themselves -- what would happen next? Katie and I were pretty sure that we were supposed to stay to give witness statements when the police came. At the same time, we knew that if our parents ever heard that we'd been present for this incident, we would be in parental protective custody for the rest of our lives and our folks would never let us go anywhere at night ever again. Plus (we justified) there were plenty of other kids there who'd seen everything we'd seen, so probably our witness statements wouldn't really be needed anyway.

Katie and I leapt from our table, bolted to the entrance and opened the door. One of the tough girls was standing just outside, and I remember stupidly whispering, "um....excuse me" to her. She shrugged and edged aside. I took one step and then froze. There, lying on the sidewalk right in front of me, was the guy who’d been stabbed, and the knife was still in him. The only way we could get out was to step over his legs (which we did, as respectfully as we could). Katie and I ran off into the dark as fast and as far as we could, and we never ever told our parents. I never did hear what happened – what the stabbing was about, who did it, whether anyone got arrested, or even whether the victim survived.

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