THE GUYS SAY I'M LUCKY. That I got everything.
Theyre right. I am lucky.
Im the luckiest kid in the world.
Not everyones so lucky. I know this.
Take Dilly Lepkoff. Dilly pushes his cart past our store every day, rain or shine. Dilly, in his long apron, he calls, "Pickles! Pickles!" Just hearing his voice Im drooling, tasting the garlic and vinegar across my tongue. Those pickles of Dillys, they suck the inside of your cheeks together. They make the spit go crazy in your mouth.
So Dilly, he knows what hes doing with a pickle. But is he lucky? That all depends on what you call luck. He and his family, they been to Coney Island, which I have not. That makes him lucky in my book. But Dilly Lepkoff, hes still looking for a land of gold.
In the Michtom house we got golden land coming out our ears. Does that make me lucky? Ever since school let out I been asking Papa to go to Coney Island. And always the same answer. "Were too busy, Joseph. Maybe next month."
ON THE CORNER of Tompkins and Hancock, Mr. Kromers clarinet cracks its crazy jokes. Mr. Kromer plays that clarinet all day. He stands under the grocers awning in his gray checked vest and he plays good. Makes you smile. Makes your feet smile. I hear it, even when Im playing stickball with the guys halfway down Hancock. Even when Im planning how to sneak into Washington Park to watch the Superbas. I hear it. Mr. Kromer really knows how to stir up something with that clarinet.
But does that make him lucky? In Rus sia he played clarinet for important people. Now he plays on a street corner in Brooklyn and he keeps the clarinet case open for people to drop coins. Im not sure, but if you asked Mr. Kromer I dont think hed say hes so lucky.
Papa, hes lucky. He doesnt work for coins anymore. Were not greenies. Not anymore. Papa, hes been in America sixteen years.
"And I didnt have a penny when I got here."
"You had to have something, Papa. How could you live if youre dead broke."
"I lived, Joseph. Im here, am I not?" Papa says. "And I had nothing." Only he says "nuh- tink."
You get used to it. Everybody got an accent in Brooklyn. Everybody talks a little different. Papa says he doesnt hear a difference but I do. Same as I hear Mr. Kromers clarinet. You gotta listen.
I cant remember living anywhere but Brooklyn. Only here, above the store, in this crowded flat. Me, Mama, Papa. My kid sister, Emily. My little brother, Benjamin. I like coming home to this place. At least I used to like it. Back when we sold things like toys and cigars and paper, back before we turned the candy shop into a bear factory. Our novelty store with the big glass window, its always been like an open book. The whole block, like a row of glass books on a long cement shelf. Even though lately we dont fix up the display window, I guess I still like coming home to it.
Some kids, they never want to go home. This time last year I didnt get it. How could anyone not want to go home? I get it now.
Still, Im lucky. My life, its better than most guys have it. I got plenty to eat. I got Mama and Papa both. And they dont hit. So even though I cant turn around without bumping into someone, even though Im always tripping over the ladies who come in to sew, even though most of my time I spend inspecting, sorting, and packing bears, even though my parents dont have time anymore for me, my sister, my brother, even though the guys in the neighborhood act different with me now, I guess Im still lucky.
Excerpted from Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, Copyright © 2008 by Karen Hesse. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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