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Jewish Geography of the Bronx, c.1951

The pulp paperback cover to the right (published no more than a year after the hardback original) is not as much a come-on as it looks, although Florence Goodman, the girlfriend of the narrator Bob Engel, would not wear such a come-and-get-me dress and assume such a posture, being a “nice Jewish girl” from the Bronx circa 1950. Nor would Bob, a nice Jewish boy (with a spanking fetish) have the street corner tough guy posture. Florence is only five feet tall, “cute,” his “baby.” Her girlfriends call her “our crokie doll,” and her mom admits she needs a “fine man who won’t take her guff” and will “turn her upside down every once in a while.” Filtered through the “Jewish geography” of the Bronx—weekend dances (“rat races”), the park at 161st Street (the “Bronx Country Club”), the cafeterias, the cheaper rooming houses at the shore or in the Catskills—the mating ritual takes its course. It is replete with a “slave morality”: self-deception, a need to strike poses and hide what one really wants, fear of derision from manipulative people higher in the pecking order than oneself, guilt, and loneliness. Joe Weiss cannot reach the level of Wil Eisner’s “Cookalein”; perhaps the only comparison would be that their intended audience was one that the critic Dwight Macdonald denigrated as an indiscriminate and undiscriminating “mass.” But working in pulp and comic strips, both Weiss and Eisner had the freedom to record atmospheric detail and social observation without filters. The rougher the better, and more honest.

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