IN THE SIXTH grade Jackie Di Gerardi and I were inseparable buddies. Jackie was a lean kid with mischievous dark eyes and sandy brown hair chopped back in a crew cut. His family lived on the fifth floor of our building that was part of Bay Haven, a humongous apartment complex within walking distance of the narrow, murky channel separating Brooklyn and Staten Island.
One afternoon I waited for Jackie in front of our building. The two of us had planned to head over to Tony’s candy store for some of Tony’s “Best in Brooklyn” egg creams: a frothy combination of milk and chocolate syrup, topped off with a blast of seltzer. Jackie showed up lugging a phone book under each arm. Every year the phone company delivered a stack of white- and yellow-pages to the lobbies of each building in Bay Haven.
“Where you goin’ with those?” I said. “I thought we were goin’ to Tony’s.”
He dropped one of the books at my feet and held the other with both hands. “How much you wanna bet I can rip this book in half?”
“C’mon. Stop pullin’ my chain. I’m dyin’ for an egg cream.”
“I’m serious. How much you wanna bet?”
“Okay—betcha a thousand dollars.”
“No,” he said, “how much you wanna bet?”
“Okay—a hundred bucks. I’ll betcha a hundred bucks.”
“Ya see? You think I’m jokin’, right?”
“C’mon, Jackie. Nobody can rip a phone book in half, not even Superman.”