REPORT A PROBLEM
I live in a different country now, but, hey, the USA itself is a different country now. So these snapshot memories of childhood places are more than an ocean away.
I'd wanted to write about all this for some time, but lacked an appropriate outlet or genre. A book of memoirs? Pretentious; overkill. An article? Structured how? Aimed at whom? And there's too much that's current to tie up a personal journal.
But a set of miniatures -- there's a genre. And '100words' is an intriguing adventure. There seem a lot of days in a month, but ... Here goes!
As a kid, I accepted the name without question. It's only now I've grown up, I realize it's wrong. The whole point of the shop was that
would fix it because
couldn't or didn't want to.
The shelves were crammed with appliances with cardboard tags attached with string.
But as well as doing repairs, Bill and his wife also sold wonderful stuff connected with model cars and airplanes. We'd go there for those plastic hot rod models, teensy bottles of paints and tubes of glue -- and best of all: those exquisite, meticulous Matchbox cars.
The Barber Shop
A few doors down from Bill's, a red and white pole twirled in front of a huge window. Through it, you could see 4 of those amazing chairs each with little wall-mounted bureaus and mirrors. And the bank of puffy tan-coloured leather, like some oversized bus bench, long enough for maybe 20 people to sit side-by-side, reading the tattered magazines and comicbooks.
I can't remember the barber's face, just squeezing my eyes as he snipped the front, then huge hands offering a glass bowl full of lollipops sealed in crinkly squares of cellophane.
Jack and Jerrie's
In all the films, soda counters are associated with drug stores. Not in our neighbourhood. Jack and Jerrie's was the only soda fountain around. They sold candy and newspapers up front, the soda counter further ahead and beer and liquor around to the left.
The owners were not particularly friendly with us kids -- I'm not sure I ever knew which guy was which. It was never a hangout, but there were phases of regularly ordering strange concoctions like chocolate root beers, swinging our arms in front of our chests to twist our bottoms on the rotating stools.
Joe's Deli (1)
A rectangular room, full of strange and wonderful things. You'd wait on a line that brought you slowly past the refridgerated case containing the pickles, meatballs and homemade salads, until you came alongside the small service counter and in front of the big case containing all the cold cuts.
I'd come with my mother's scrap paper list, and Jack, the big guy, would take it from me and make up the order. And while he was slicing the meats and folding them into that waxy paper, I'd wonder at shelves containing tinned snails and chocolate covered bees.
Joe's Deli (2)
Joe always had a neighborhood kid working there part-time. He looked for kids that he thought would benefit from the experience -- kids that were too shy and needed their act got together.
So I gave up my paper route and started work there.
Space was surprisingly cramped behind the counter -- to spoon some coleslaw into those little styrofoam containers, you had to stand just so.
The backroom had a homey kitchen feel despite the industrial-sized jars and equipment. Down the trapdoor I'd go after school Tuesdays to sweep the labyrinthian storage basement.
The Hardware Store
There was an aisle of paint cans with those thin metal half-hoop handles, and an astonishingly noisy machine that mixed the paint. That's about all I remember for sure. I do have an impression of the shelves being metal and assembled out of erector-set-like rods with holes for nuts and bolts.
One quiet afternoon at work, Joe sent me down to "buy a paper stretcher." But in an age of real products with names like "Janitor in a Drum", such pranks had lost some of their poignancy. I went -- none there -- I came back.
Heavy doors of thick glass and matte brass. And inside, as quiet and sombre as a cathedral. My mom would go to one of the stand-up desks and use a chained-up pen, then wait on a roped-out line to barter through glass & bars with a teller.
The only part of the bank I liked was the parking lot out back. The slope was gentle, but steep enough for our skateboards. I think it was Cliff who was the first to loop-the-loop: turning first back up against the slope, and then back down it.
The Allwood Movie Theatre
When I lived in Clifton, it was a typical neighbourhood moviehouse, complete with the little booth in front for the ticket-lady.
It wasn't the only place we went to see films -- there were places "on the highway". I never, to the best of my memory, took a date there, either.
The only films I'm certain I saw at the Allwood was the double-bill of Bond films: Dr No and To Russia with Love. Brian and Cliff and I emerged from the backdoors into the blinding sunlight running and shooting and karate chopping. Hi-YA!
On special occasions,but every special occasion, we'd go to the bakery for cakes or cookies or both.
My impression is of a palace of glass: solid glass front, and full of glass cases containing every imaginable cake and cookie. Take a number from the little toaster-shaped machine and watch all the women, serving, gently laying treasures in boxes they'd assemble from flat (one-handed, in one motion, like a film in reverse motion), then tying the parcel up with green and white striped string that hung from spools in containers suspended from the ceiling. What magic!
This was our main candy shop, the counter spread itself out in front of a kid like a canopy full of all sorts of candy bars and other sweets. Here, too, is where most of our trading cards came from. But perhaps most importantly, the Carousel was the main source of our comic books.
The12-cent monthly or bimonthly books were in a long wooden rack near the floor, magazines above them and newspapers in piles on the floor. The 25-cent "annuals" were in spinning wire racks nearby. If in doubt, always go for the Batman annual.
Agme Bros. Deli
I can't remember ever buying the meats or cheeses or sandwiches from this, "the other" deli. It was a long room, almost a corridor, and at the far end was the one area of interest -- my only reason for going in. Unlike at Joe's, Agme's pickles were out in the customer area. There were barrels and tongs, and we used to fish around for just the right one. We'd drop our quarry into waxed paper bags badly printed in green ink with the words "A Pickle for a Nickle". But I'm pretty sure we paid 15 cents.
The Stationery Store
It's weird -- I
stationery stores now; love to linger over pens and textures of papers, tiny notepads and systems for organizing everything. But our neighbourhood stationery store then seemed almost totally without interest. All I remember is the smell of yellow legal pads the time I ventured in to buy the deluxe Extra Fine Point Bic pens (the ones with white barrels, discontinued years ago) for my sisters one Christmas.
I think at least part of the economic boom associated with computers was that memory chips and sound cards are considerably more interesting than typewriter ribbons.
The A & P
Small by today's standards, the A & P was nevertheless our supermarket. I remember going with Mom sometimes; remember the neat aisles, the strange machine to grind coffee beans for you there in the aisle, the distinctive lettering on the coffee bags. Was this my first interest in typography?
I knew we shopped there but never troubled myself to notice whether there was a regular pattern. I think for most of my childhood my mother went when she needed to, and walked the 10 or 15 minutes home with a big paper bag or two in her arms.
School No. 9
My daughter thinks it peculiar that I spent 7 years in a school that didn't even have a name. It seemed logical enough to me at the time. Only a few teachers were memorable characters: one for breaking her hip, another for being male, a third for incompetence.
Of the school itself, I best remember echoing stairwells; cartoon characters painted on the basement walls, where we'd sit on benches at long tables to eat lunch; flipping baseball cards on the playground: "match" or "dismatch"; math at the blackboard; and, of course, artwork on the walls and windows.
We lived on the main road, although it wasn't a highway, traffic was steady, but not constant and not usually heavy. It was wide, wide enough to be a two-land highway, but there were broad islands of grass in the middle.
Somehow, Cliff got a hold of some cardboard coasters. We found out by accident that if you dropped one in the road, a car running it over would create a vacuum that would lift the coaster up and set it rolling down the street for a spell. We each decorated one, and spend days racing them.
New Briar Lane
Until they sold the land to property developers, there was a small working farm up at the end of this sidestreet. There were kids living there, but the wrong ages and I never got to know them or any others on the street. So other than walking the dog around the block, I never had much reason to walk on New Briar Lane.
On the other hand, we frequently utilized the end nearest our house as an alternative backyard. It was our main site for badminton -- an imaginary net marked by a crack in the road's pavement.
I had my first fight on Summit Road before Steven Ceva moved. His brother belted me in the stomach. I'd never had the wind knocked out of me before. The novelty of the experience stunned me more than any pain.
I got to know other kids there because they were Steve's neighbours. Next door lived four kids were named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fifth (a girl) was not named Acts.
There was another kid whose backyard wall we used for a Beatles puppetshow. I remember hiding behind the wall shaking a puppet, singing "All My Lovin'".
Although a block away, I knew Windsor Road better than the closer sidestreets. That's because, among others, Cliff and Freddy lived here.
The street itself was the site of many games: a favourite football stadium and the battlefield of some of the most hotly disputed battles ever fought with plastic firearms.
It seems amazing that we coped with the ambiguities in competition. For instance, after an incomplete football pass, how did we agree where the ball should be replaced? Playing armies, there were squabbles about "I got you," "No you didn't!" It's surprising anyone ever consented to "die."
When I was little, this was the first street that was beyond home territory. I have a really strong memory of walking down it with a sachel full of old comic books that I was selling. Why that moment should stick in my head is quite beyond me; I can't even remember the context of selling them -- going door-to-door? Bizarre.
The dreaded Dean lived on this street. He was an older kid and a bit of a bully. A few of us once formed a club in which we spied on Dean: secret codes -- the works!
My Paper Route
I guess I carried about 45 papers in a full bag. I never threw the papers from a bike -- hardly ever used the bike at all, in fact. Many people wanted the paper in a certain place -- inside the screen door, in the mailbox -- and it never occurred to me to say no.
I had a set of cardboard tags on a large metal ring. Customers' details were written on the tag, and around its three edges was printed the dates of the Saturdays throughout the year. I'd use a hole-punch to remove the weeks paid.
The Park (1)
A small playground, but, since it was ours, I still think of it as "standard"; others are large. There was a metal-link fence all around, extra tall on the side facing the highway. The gate opened onto Windsor Rd., and the water fountain was right at the entrance: a concrete barrel-like thing, filled with gravel, and a pipe & drinking unit sticking out of it.
The whole thing was paved with asphalt, and besides equipment we had a basketball court. The hoops had chain nets that rattled & rung in a satisfying way if you sunk a basket.
The Park (2)
On both sides of the paved playground, there were green areas. The Summit Road side was full of randomly-spaced trees and my dad would bring the dog there and let him run off of the leash.
The area on the other side also had trees, but with a larger open space in the middle. Drop a coat as second base and you had a serviceable baseball field. Some foul balls would escape into the highway, providing an enjoyable distraction in itself, as we waited for the cars to the knock the ball back to the verge.
Mt Prospect Park
If you went "up" our sidestreets to get to our park, I suppose it's only logical that we considered ourselves to be going "down" those sidestreets across the main road. Deep, deep down Chelsea Road and the streets back there, we found that you finally arrive at another, bigger, park called Mt Prospect.
It had a vast open green space, so big we couldn't imagine playing any game across it. But the playground area wasn't too intimidating. On the grassy hill down to the sidewalk, we'd lay down, arms flat against chests, and whirl down -- totally uncontrollably.
Brookdale was in the next town. You had to get there by car; it was almost another country. We kids thought Mt Prospect was big; Brookdale Park was like 6 or 7 assorted Mt Prospects put together! It was big enough to get lost in. I had no experience of such a big park.
For one birthday Cliff's father took us to Brookdale Park and played with us. He taught us this great game involving hitting a small stick with a bigger one, then counting the jumps needed to get to where it landed. That day was unforgetable.
Later, they built the new library on an overgrown plot of land that we used to call "the woods." There were trees, of course, but it seems funny to me now to refer to something bordered by sidewalk on 3 sides with so wild a name as "woods."
Once, two of us found a secret place. We buried comic books and a few candies there, digging up some wild onions in the process -- what a discovery! We were puzzled and displeased when, a day or two later, we returned to find the candies missing and the comics damp.
Having friends over to play at my house virtually always meant playing in the basement. But with all the room and stuff down there, we managed to build lots of different "set-up"s.
Undoubtedly the best were the Star Trek ones: buttons, lights and levers made out of scrabble pieces, checkers and wooden blocks; card tables for the helmsman and navigator, the unconnected Lionel train controls for the science officer and my father's desk chair for the captain's control chair. He never seemed to mind the buttons and switches I drew on the wooden arms in crayon.
It was cool that Brian's bedroom was on the ground floor. His backyard had a great low concrete wall across the back, a nice shape for running Matchbox cars along.
But what really made Brian's house special was the vast, almost entirely unused, basement. The floor was covered in linoleum, nice and slippery in socks. There were supporting columns you could hook an arm around to change direction quickly as you skidded along. And best of all, at the rear, you could go up a few steps and emerge through a metal submarine-like hatch into the backyard.
Now that I think of it, we seem to have spent a lot of time at Cliff's. We snapped together plastic traintracks down his slanted driveway for our cars to roll down. We took turns satirizing TV commercials for each other in his backyard. We spent hours in his basement with compasses and coloured pencils, drawing cars, especially dragsters.
A few times, he had sleepovers in a big tent his father would put up in a corner of the garden. Clowning around with flashlights, I tried hypnotizing him. He pretended that it worked and I was completely fooled.
Location, location, location. From Freddie's driveway, you could throw a softball to the end of Windsor Road and the park.
I remember being in his basement the first time that I heard the long version of the Doors' "Light My Fire" on an FM radio. The song seemed to go on and on! I had thought all rock music lasted exactly 2 minutes and 34 seconds. My listening habits were never the same after that.
Strangely, my other memory of his house also concerns music: the week we ran an ultra low-power radio station from his garage.
The "Stereo Sunset" Garage
I confess. It was me christened the band: "Stereo Sunset". My friend Greg had a toy electric organ, and Freddie put together a drum kit out of cardboard boxes. I don't remember the name of the kids who owned the mandolins we used as guitars and the garage we gave our show in.
I had the opening solo in our best song. "My" mandolin just happened to be tuned exactly right.
Plink, plank, plunk. "Who's that I see walkin' in these woods?" Plink, plank, plunk. "It's little red riding hood!" After that, every musician for himself!
The Tip Jar