The Way We Were
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I began to realize what an old fossil I am when I see the bored looks on young people’s faces as I attempt to enthrall them with stories of yesteryear. My father used to do the same thing and I was just as bored back then. Now I would kill to go back and capture all his stories and write them down for posterity.. even the ones with questionable accuracy. Example: He told me of an uncle or cousin of his in Russia, who was supposed to hide at a rail crossing and assassinate Tsar Nicholas when he stopped there. Unfortunately the train sped by and my relative never got his place in history. I would have loved to refer to my great uncle or cousin as the assassin who changed the world. No such luck.
Yak Yak Yak!
My stories are not quite as enthralling. On a recent trip to Boston, I visited the Boston Globe Book Store where they sell all kinds of historical books and data about old Boston. I couldn’t wait to tell the clerks how I had worked in the old Sears Crescent Building when they had all those old book stalls and how I had also worked for Radio Shack on Washington Street when they had only one store. Wow was this exciting news to these 20-year-old clerks. " May I help someone here?"
I get a similar response when I tell my fellow employees how important it will be for them to invest in their 401K plans and build for the future. I tell them of how I got married when I was earning one hundred bucks a week. With that I bought a brand new home on a half acre of land and a new Olds Cutlass Convertible and still had enough left over to occasionally hire a baby sitter and go out to dinner. This made little impact. At that time, most women hadn’t entered the workforce yet so we did all this on one income. I give them the boring details of my $450 down payment on the house and the total cost of the new convertible at $2700.00. When I predict for them that a car may cost $100,000 by the time they reach my age, I get the same looks as I got in the Boston bookstore. "Please go away old man. We have important things to talk about. Smashing Pumpkins or something like that"
The horse’s ass!
Well I am just old enough to remember horse-drawn milk trucks. The center of the streets always showed proof that horses had indeed been by. We also had the proverbial junk man. I understand my grandfather belonged to this noble profession. He would travel the streets with a horse drawn wagon yelling "Rags & Bottles". If you had some to give him, you might get a few cents in return. I remember my father carrying me on his shoulders when I was very young shouting the same phrase.. "Rags & Bottles". Was he trying to tell me something?
Our neighborhood ‘iceman’ was an artist in my mind. How, with that skinny ice pick, he was able to cut such perfect squares, hoist them over his leather covered shoulder with those huge ice tongs and lug it up many flights of stairs to put in our "Ice Box" always amazed me. We had a four sided card that we would put in the front window which showed, depending on it’s position, the size of ice block you wanted that day. The same went for the guy who delivered kerosene to those still using that stuff.
An exciting day was when the coal truck came to deliver coal for our heating furnace. Even though we lived on the first floor of a typical Boston three-decker, the house was at the top of a hill requiring the delivery guys to walk up three flights of stairs with a bucket of coal over their shoulder, which they then dumped through a little window in our cellar to our coal bin. My father would shovel the coal into the furnace and if I was lucky, he would let me sift the ashes from the already burned coal. The ashes would eventually be used to throw on the ice in front of our house during the winter months to prevent us from slipping. By springtime the street was quite a mess, between the ashes and horse-do. My mother used the hot coals to make our silverware Kosher for Passover. Don’t ask me to explain this one. The landlord, Mr. Isaacs, who as most landlords then, lived in the building, soon got the latest marvel for his own apartment. An oil burner! It seemed so small and efficient compared to what we tenants had but it somehow also lacked the glamour. What fun could you have with an oil burner?
There was a man who came by on some sort of bicycle contraption that sharpened knives and scissors. My neighborhood, as did many others, had a guy who would walk the street with a clarinet playing Bei Mir Bist Du Schon. (By me, you are pretty) rough translation. I am not sure whether he or The Andrews Sisters made this song popular. My mother would usually roll up some change in a piece of paper and throw it down to the musician in the street as nearly everyone else did. I took clarinet lessons at the time and practiced Bei Mire Bist Du Shon all the time. Just In Case! I’ll bet I could still play it. Stock market be damned!
Back in those days, neighborhoods were really segregated right
up to street boundaries. Throughout most of my primary and secondary school days
I hardly ever saw a Christian. We had one in our school, Dickey Dailey. I
remember his name to this day. That is how outstanding it was to have anyone but
a Jewish classmate.
We even had one black kid in our class.. John something. I remember a 2nd cousin of mine, Bunky, visiting my house after living in Atlanta for many years and exclaiming "You go to school with niggers?" Remember, it was the 1940s.
Teachers in the Boston school system were not permitted to be married. I am not really sure why but the result was a parochial school atmosphere with teachers who were totally devoted to teaching, and nothing else. They were tough, but somehow even managed to teach me something. I say that because I personally hated school from my first day in kindergarten to my graduation day. I never quite got used to having people tell me what to do. I was a "late" baby, born after my folk’s 25th wedding anniversary, and treated like a little prince every day of my life. Somehow the teachers were never informed of my particular needs. The only thing that I really enjoyed about school was being the proverbial voice from the back of the room. Not being a "student type" I still needed my share of attention. In the second grade when we were all asked to draw a picture of Santa Claus using our crayons, I realized that my Santa sucked. To enhance it, I drew a penis on him and had him making a tinkle (urinating). I did get my share of attention after that. My mother and sister had to come to the school and try to explain my perversions. When I look at the sexy 5th grade girls on their way to school now with their bare midriffs and halter tops, the boys with tank tops and pants deliberately made to drag on the ground and hang below their poopiks (Belly button en Englais), I really feel old fashioned. When I finally reached high school, we had to wear neckties to school each day. If you forgot your tie, you were required to rent one from "Buzzer" Keane, the French teacher. Ten cents per day as I recall. This was at Roxbury Memorial High School in Boston, where the building was separated by a firewall. Boys on one side, girls on the other and never the twain shall meet.. Unless you were lucky enough to be chosen as a messenger to the girls side. We all prayed for such a rare opportunity.
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Somehow when I see all these organized Little League and Pop Warner football teams in action, it seems that the kids are not having near as much fun as we of the older generation did. No one ever had a real new baseball. Oh, I suppose they were new at one time, but most times someone would show up with a ball taped over with electrical tape. An old magazine or garbage can cover would have made an excellent base. Getting enough kids together for two whole teams would have been almost impossible so we made up our own rules. So what if there were only two bases. We had fun. Playing "baseball against" was a no- brainer and could be played with two kids if necessary. Everyone had stairs in front of their buildings and the game consisted of smacking a little pink ball against these steps and trying to get it to go over your opponent’s head or to bounce before he caught it. Playing aggies or marbles, something I was never too good at, could occupy hours of time. A bag of "aggies" which included one or two large marbles called bozos cost a dime as I recall. I see those same things for sale at antique shows at several dollars for EACH marble! We used the much treasured baseball cards to slide across the sidewalk and try to get closer to the wall than your opponent did. If you did that you would win his cards. If you got a "leaner" you would win extra cards. It became an art form to wax and tape your cards to get that extra advantage. Had I known that these stupid things would become investments for the future I would have saved them and retired early.
You may not believe this but there was a time without television. Every kid listened to several radio shows that were musts. Superman, Dick Tracy, Tennessee Jed, The Lone Ranger, Date with Judy, Fibber McGee and Molly. There were days when schools were closed just because president Roosevelt was to speak on the radio. I recall my father taking me to the New York studio where a radio show called "The Sheriff" was being produced. From that time on, radio shows lost their appeal. All I could visualize from that point on were some people reading a script into a microphone and a sound effects man doing his stuff off to the side.
One of the presents I remember most as I was growing up was an Emerson portable radio given to me by my oldest brother. It weighed a ton, and had an "A" battery to light the tubes (no transistors then) and a "B" battery that weighed a few more pounds to provide the main power. Who cared as long as you could actually carry it with you to the beach or picnic? To this day, I think my own imagination rivaled anything that is being brought to me visually today. My father had been to the 1939 Worlds Fair and told me about seeing the first television in the RCA pavilion. I used to stare at the dial of our Stewart Warner radio and imagine that I was actually seeing the pictures that he described. Eventually, TV really did become a reality. The radio stores began leaving TV sets operating in their store windows at night. I would ride my scooter down our hill almost every night to watch this incredible new medium. Someday we might even have one of our own although that was several years away. In the mean time being the spoiled brat that I was, I convinced my father to buy me a movie projector because the twins down the street had one and now had more friends than I did. Once I got my projector, there was no problem getting kids to come to my house to watch cartoons. Boy was I popular.
My family went to a little shanty Irish place for the summer called Oak Island, a small section of Revere Massachusetts, where the Jews came to enjoy the summer heat and the Irish lived all year long. I realized then that I might actually be a minority. The Irish kids took great pleasure in beating up the Jewish kids. They would parade down the street throwing rotten fruit and eggs at the Jewish houses and singing anti-Semitic songs. Yes this was in America, not Germany. I distinctly remember walking over a railroad bridge that we crossed to get to the beach and seeing painted on the road the V for victory sign V...- followed by "NO JEWS ALLOWED". I recall one particular evening when the police were called because one of our neighbors had apparently gone bezerk. The real story was that a Jewish GI who had just come back from combat in Europe learned that the Irish kids had beaten up his kid brother. He did go bezerk, yelling "Is this what I fought the Germans for?" and some expletives to boot. It took years until I got some understanding of why they hated us so much and even now I am not quite sure why. Click on small photo to enlarge
. Of course we Jews were easy pickins for the Irish kids. None of us were taught or encouraged to fight. I honestly believed at that time that it was wrong to even fight back. I changed one day when some Irish kids began making fun of a stupid army fatigue hat that my mother made me wear one rainy day. I guess I viewed it as an insult to my mother so I went after one of the kids. I closed my eyes and just began swinging wildly at him. By the time I opened my eyes again, he was moaning in pain on the ground with his buddies trying to drag him away and threatening to get even with me someday. They never did! Some years later, in the seventh grade, I remember walking home with some Irish kids that I had become friendly with and being told that I had somehow killed Christ. Maybe that was the kid moaning on the ground, but that was the closest I came to killing someone. At least I now knew why they were angry.
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My first car was a 1946 Chrysler Windsor. This was in 1952. Six years old, yet to me, this was a golden chariot. I washed and waxed it almost every week, especially if I had a date. My first job out of high school was at a gas station or service station, as they were known then. As soon as the boss would leave, I would move my car onto the ramp and grease and oil every part that I could see. It was probably the best lubricated car in the country at that time. It had, as most cars of its day, no power steering, brakes, or anything power for that matter. The transmission was Fluid Drive, an invention by Chrysler that allowed you to shift into gear only once using the clutch. To shift from low to high gear, you would take your foot off the gas pedal and wait for a telltale clunk that would indicate the car had shifted. Hardly the car to use for drag racing although I foolishly did try on occasion and of course lost. As I recall, the car cost about $900.00. My father cashed in one of his insurance policies to pay for it, as it would in reality be the family car, even though I was the only driver.
The gas stations were also something else back then. It is hard to imagine now pulling up to the pump after driving over the rubber hose that rang a bell inside to tell the mechanic that someone needed service. They would rush out to your car, fill your tank, clean your windshield, check your oil, water, and air in your tires and do anything they could to get you to come back and buy gas at 19 cents a gallon. The comparison now to a non-English speaking clerk behind a bulletproof window accepting your cash or credit card is sometimes too much for an old timer like me to absorb. I still think about those "Men From Texaco", on the Milton Berle Show who " Worked from Maine to Mexico and checked the oil, wiped the glass etc. etc."
I couldn’t leave out this part. I still marvel at the huge condom displays that I see in virtually every drugstore, supermarket and discount store. They are sold in a host of sizes, styles, thickness’, sensitivity etc. One can peruse a plethora of condoms, and then check out your purchase along with your after shave lotion, toothpaste, etc. Now step back to the 50’s with me for a moment. First of all, it was obligatory that every male, on reaching puberty, carry a condom in his wallet, "just in case". Eventually this unused, for most of us, condom would leave a telltale circle embedded in the wallet forever. God only knows how much protection this decaying condom would give if we ever got to actually use it. It was necessary to make the initial purchase at some time however. This was no easy task. I remember browsing for some time in a drugstore far from where I lived, waiting until there was no one else in the store and hopefully a male attendant in the pharmaceutical department. That is where they were sold from a discreet draw hidden from public view. I recall one particular time when I went to purchase a package of three. That was how they were normally sold. The over-anxious clerk attempted to sell me on the advantages of buying a pack of twelve (12 years supply back then). In the meantime other customers had begun to gather. Rather than remain in the store any longer, I bought the box of twelve and exited the store in a hurry.
High school girls were not having sex back then, as I understand they do now. Getting your hand under a girls sweater, and ‘feeling her up’ was a major accomplishment and would be worthy of many hours of bragging the next day. The girls who actually allowed such behaviors became known as sluts, and of course everybody wanted to date them. (Sorry girls!) God, I would love to see some of the old ladies now that were the sluts of their day. Or perhaps, I wouldn’t!
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I made the mistake not long ago of asking one of my grown children if they were going out on a date one particular evening. I might as well have been speaking Aramaic to them. Apparently there is no such thing as a date in today’s lexicon. Hanging out, getting laid, etc., may be understandable but date??? In my day (ages ago) we did have dates. We actually called a girl and asked if she would like to go to a movie (hopefully a drive-in), bowling or whatever. If you were Jewish, you tried hardest for the forbidden fruit… A shiksa or non-Jewish girl. The theory was that you could at least get to second or possibly third base with them and you didn’t have to buy Chinese food or pay for a movie to get there. Some guys swear by the rule. I just enjoyed doing something that my parents didn’t approve of.
I finally learned to dance, which took me slightly out of the nerd category. I was a big hit at mixers, dances and at the few ballrooms that existed in those days. One was the Totem Pole in Newton and the other the King Phillips Ballroom in Wrentham Mass. Had I realized what a big hit being able to dance was, I would have learned much earlier. For some reason, very few guys ever learned or had the chutzpah to dance. I envy all the Latin guys that I have met in Miami. They all dance, fat, skinny, tall, short, ugly, handsome, but they all shake their booties once the Salsa starts. Not so for us Anglos.
To this day, I feel awkward walking next to a female on the sidewalk if I am not on the outside lane. Who knows but that a carriage may splash as its horses galloped by which I am told is the logic for this. I open doors for everyone but my wife who somehow always manages to get to the door before I do. Perhaps I walk too slowly.
There were geographic differences between girls of the 50s. I dated several girls from New York City and they always seemed so much more worldly, sophisticated, and sexual than I was. They must have thought I was an awful nerd and perhaps they were right.
I dated for a short time the Old Gold dancing Cigarette Girl. Beautiful legs! Her mother told me that they were insured for $10,000. A lot of bucks at that time. I also got to go out with a former Miss West Virginia. She had never been to a big city before and had heard through the grapevine that I was Jewish. Shortly after she got into my car she asked in her beautiful southern accent, " Are You a Jew?" I replied in the affirmative to which she added." What’s a Jew?" I did my best to answer with as brief a reply as possible. She then exclaimed that she had gone for a long walk that day and "Found herself in the middle of a ‘Jewville’ and was so scared she didn’t know what to do". The ‘Jewville’ was a street called Shirley Avenue in Revere Mass., which at that time was exclusively Jewish. It is now Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian and whatever else, but definitely not ‘Jewville’.
I always loved meeting new girls and began to pride myself on my ability to meet them. My friends were often in awe of this. I thought nothing of stopping my car in front of a house where I spotted an attractive young lady, going right up to her mother and asking for a proper introduction. The mothers were usually impressed by this, as were the girls. It worked wonders. The trouble was that every time I saw a new one, the old ones didn’t seem quite so attractive. It is funny the things that can make a girl attractive. My older brothers and sisters always advised me that it was just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor one. I did meet a girl whose last name happened to be the same as the owner of a huge supermarket chain in the Boston Area. Some friends (??) told me that she indeed was the daughter of one of the richest families in town. On our first date I brought up the subject of her father only to learn that he was a mail carrier for the post office. Although this particular young lady was not really unattractive, somehow she lost her glow at that moment. I have always been ashamed of myself for thinking that way. I blame my older brothers and sisters for that.
When I see young people smoking today, it drives me nuts! There is little doubt that it will eventually kill you, yet they all say, "I'm cutting down" or "I can quit whenever I want too" Yeah, Sure! I started smoking when I was 12. All the kids that I admired and thought were tough or cool like Lenny Cutler, smoked. My father smoked 4 packs of unfiltered Pall-Malls every day of his life. He died at 84 more from loneliness than any form of heart or lung disease. I guess he was just lucky. I was a pack-a-day smoker and eventually learned to love it, especially rolling that pack of Luckys up in the sleeve of my T-shirt. Every movie you went too had actors and actresses (they were different then) smoking in either the sexiest way or tough guy manner. There wasn't a war movie made that didn't have some dying GI asking that a cigarette be placed in his mouth before he expired. How could any self-respecting guy not want to smoke? I quit on the day that the Surgeon General announced that smoking was a proven link to heart disease. That was enough for me. It wasn't easy, but I eventually did it. If only I had the same restraint for cashews, Pistachio nuts, ice cream and deserts, I would be gorgeous. Really!
I recently visited my older brother (86 Years old). His TV was playing rather loudly, something my wife accuses me of doing already. I asked where the remote control was to turn the volume down. Surprise!! He didn’t have one. Never felt the need. Yikes. I had to think back to a time when I actually had to get off my butt to change the channel or adjust the volume or the rabbit ears. Of course we only had 3 or 4 channels back then. Cable was yet to be available. Amazingly, wrestling was the big hit back in the 50’s. Frank Sexton was the champion and there were guys like Gorgeous George, The Swedish Angel, Ivan Rasputin and a host of others. It was as silly then as it is now but I find it mind boggling that it continues to be the most watched single category on television today. It scares me to think that the same people who watch this stuff now also vote for presidents and other officials. The really big shows were Milton Berle on Tuesday night, Arthur Godfrey.. "How-aya, how-aya, how-aya. What passed for top-flight entertainment back then would hardly be worth watching now but we were content. At home, we finally got a mineral oil magnifier which we put in front of our 10" set allowing us, when no-one else was watching, to pull the magnifier out to full magnification and blow the distorted picture up to almost 16". It was heaven. Everyone knew his or her TV repairman on a first name basis. The TVs of that era were constantly breaking down and needed repairs and adjustments. Think about it.. When was the last time you actually called a TV repairman?
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In the early 50s, they still had the mandatory draft. Every male over the age of eighteen was eligible and would eventually get called to serve two years. I became impatient waiting for my call. I wanted to buy a car, new clothes etc. etc. but was afraid that I would get called and it would all be for naught. I decided to volunteer for the draft.. In other words, have my name moved up on the list so that I could get it over with and not have to come home every night and check the mailbox. I had mixed emotions about doing that. Because of a hip injury that I had as a child, I felt sure that I would probably be rejected. If not, I could look forward to lots of fun, shooting guns just like the guys in WW II did, camping in the woods, hiking through mountain ranges and who knows what other adventures the army would offer. Some friends that had been in the service just prior to that time gave me lots of advice, which came in handy later on One of these bits of advice was to always wear your best dress uniform in the barracks, the theory being that when the sergeants came looking for work details, they would not choose anyone who could kill an hour or so changing into fatigues for work. On my very first day at Fort Dix in New Jersey, the farthest I had ever been from home, the loudspeaker blurted out. " All those in fatigues fall out into the company area. I dutifully went and got into formation. The result: I was taken to a huge hall of some sort and told by the big black sergeant to mop the wooden floor. I put my hands into the scalding hot water and immediately withdrew them. The sergeant asked" Whassa-matter wid you boy? Ain’t you never washed no floors before?" I tried to explain that I was a nice Jewish boy who had a mother that did such things. He was most sympathetic and forced my hands into the water and told me that when I was through there he had other floors for me to practice on.
One of the other tips I was given was to secure a bunk on the upper floor of the barracks and as far from the stairwell as possible. It worked. Most times the sergeants would open the door and grab the nearest recruits for their work details. I quickly learned all the army lingo. The morning announcement from our platoon leader " Drop your c--ks and grab your socks!" "Hurry up and wait" "This is my rifle. This is my gun. My rifle's for shooting. My gun is for fun." (You figure out where we were pointing as we said this.) No one had told me about KP in the army. All the war stories I had seen with John Wayne never showed him or anyone scrubbing large pots for hours only to have a mess sergeant come along and tell you to do them over again because they were still greasy. Years later when I saw the Goldie Hawn movie "Private Benjamin" I realized that I had a similar problem. Somehow the army did not conform to my preconceived standards. I tried to get them to change but like my wife they were adamant about doing things their way. At least it prepared me for marriage. Shooting guns (oops.. rifles and pistols) was fun but according to the army we had to disassemble and clean them after each use. That wasn’t too bad but once I got assigned to tank training and eventually became a tank commander, I had to also clean my own tank after each use. That wasn’t too bad either until one day when my driver went into a mud trench and instead of using the brake handle to avoid slipping backwards, he opened the emergency escape hatch on the bottom of the tank. All the mud from the trench oozed up into the tank. I had the pleasure, as tank commander, of cleaning it that night.
How I got into tank school was beyond me. I had always heard that the new army needed trained technical men. By that time, I had a general class ham radio license which meant that I knew quite a bit about electronics, radio communications and Morse code. For sure I would be sent to radio school in Fort Monmouth New Jersey. Well the few guys who were in my basic training company who drove tractors for construction firms went to radio school. My mechanical aptitude just happened to fit what the army needed at that time. Tankers. Once I completed my basic tank training, I thought for sure I would go to beautiful Hawaii as most of my buddies did. Uh Uh. I was SO GOOD at tanks that they decided to keep me at Fort Knox to train the next group of future tankers. As a bonus, I got my own tank " Charlie 53" As a kid, and perhaps now, I would have loved to own my own M-48 tank but at that particular time I was not too thrilled.
I really wanted to go to radio school. I figured that as long as I was giving up two years of my life, I might as well learn something that would pay off when I got discharged. I went to the army personnel office and learned that I had the highest grades that they had seen up to that time in the radio and electronics part of the multitude of tests that they gave you when you first came in. But my scores in mechanical stuff were also high. He informed me that as long as I had what was called a ‘picket fence’ on my physical profile, in other words, nothing physically wrong with me, that I would always be in a combat type of assignment. I wrote letters to everyone I could think of.. Congressmen, Senators, ex-army guys, anyone who might help. The only advice I could get was to change my physical profile.. Find something wrong with me. Then it came back to me; My hip injury, that was supposed to keep me out of the army from the beginning. I asked for a doctor’s appointment to have them check out the slight discomfort I was feeling in my hip every time I jumped off my tank. After the first appointment the doctor couldn’t see any problem but suggested that I come back if it bothered me again. What the hell. It meant another day away from the tanks. I would rather spend the time in a hospital waiting room than crawling around a greasy muddy tank. On the way to the hospital I saw an army general's car approaching from some distance away. You always knew it was a general because they had stars on their front license plates. We were supposed to salute the car as they passed. I wanted to wait until he was close enough so that he would be sure to see my snappy salute. Instead the car turned off, several hundred yards in front of me. When I reached the point where the general’s car had turned off, the driver backed the car up in front of me. The general rolled down his window at which time I saluted him. He said. "That’s better. Why didn’t you salute before?" I tried explaining that I was about to when his car turned away. He took my name, rank and serial number and sped off. I thought for sure that was the end of it. After all, this was General Disney, head of the whole damned Fort Knox. Surely he had more important things to do. Wrong again. When I got back to my company area that night, my company commander called me in and read Article 15 to me. He advised me that I was hereby subject to military courts-martial and that he personally had been summoned to the general’s office for a dressing down on his poor training of recruits. I offered to accompany him and try again to explain, but he thought I best leave it alone. The company commander had to gather the entire company once again for a stern lecture on saluting general’s cars. It’s amazing that we actually won any wars. Maybe that’s why. At one point I had scored very high on the aptitude test for officers candidate school. They tried to convince me to attend and become an officer in the US Army. The only kicker was that I would have to add the time spent at the school, about six months, to my enlistment time. At that time, I felt "no way!" They could have guaranteed me a generalship and I would have declined.
On my last visit to the Ft. Knox hospital, I was kept waiting for an inordinate amount of time. When lunchtime approached, I asked the desk clerk when I was going to see the doctor. His reply.. Oh, you’re being discharged. Come back tomorrow for your papers. The next day, the orthopedic doctor whom I visited told me that I never should have been accepted for military service to begin with and that I would be honorably discharged. You can not imagine the joy in my heart. All I expected at best was a transfer to radio school and now I was to be set free. By this time I had gotten to hate the army and everything about it. It took about thirty days to process me out during which time I was forbidden to do virtually anything including stand at attention or wait in the mess line. I got a perverse feeling of revenge when an officer would come into the barracks and everyone would jump to attention except me. Wow!!
Yes we did have movie theaters in the 40s and 50s. They were single screen places and some were magnificent in their design and décor. One, The Oriental Theatre in Mattapan, a suburb of Boston, was truly exceptional. It even had moving clouds passing overhead and the most incredible oriental architecture, but only one screen. They all played double features (two movies) plus the newsreels and other short subjects. Going to the movies was an all day affair. In the downtown Boston theaters they often had full fledged stage shows featuring, such great bands as Harry James, The Dorsey Brothers and others. Some of the local theatres gave out dishes just for attending. If you went often enough, you ended up with a full set. My mother and many like her got virtually all their dishes from going to the movies. Our drinking glasses came from either jars of cottage cheese or Yahrzeit (Jewish ceremonial remembrance) candles. Why throw them away? Morality was different then. I remember one particular movie that I stood in line for hours to see in 1953… "The Moon Is Blue" with William Holden. David Niven, and Maggie McNamara. It was "Banned in Boston" by the Catholic Archdiocese which made it an instant hit. I always suspected that the church was on the take because every movie that they banned became an instant winner. This particular movie was banned because it "hinted at seduction" and used the word "virgin" No nudity or four letter words.. merely a hint at seduction. Things have changed!
The drive-ins were many things to many people. For families, it was a place where you could take a bunch of kids to, hide them in the trunk, and only pay for the visible adults. For young hormone raging teenagers, it was a place to go and make out. I never did well in drive-ins. On one occasion when I had a particularly great date who I had a crush on for some time, I managed to dump the ketchup from my French fries all over myself. Needless to say, the romance was gone from that evening.
There was no crime in the olden days, or at least it seemed
that way. I remember one time when my brother in law was living in our apartment
until he and my sister were ready to move to their own. One warm evening, they
left their window open and someone reached in and stole a pair of pants that
were left hanging over a chair. Everyone in the neighborhood talked about it for
weeks. I still remember a woman disappearing from somewhere near Boston. I think
the name was Joan Fisch or something like that. It was in the headlines for
weeks and weeks. Just the other day, here in Miami, there were at least 4 bodies
found in various parts of the city, and most barely made it to the main news
section. Big deal! A few more missing people or canal-bodies showing up.
I actually remember a time when no homes or cars had burglar alarms. As a matter of fact few businesses had them. Banks were protected, but that is about all. We did have a hook and eye thing-a-ma-jig to keep the screen doors from blowing open in the wind. This was our security. It was not inconceivable to go to the movies on your bicycle, leave your bike outside and find it still there after the movie. Some of us had a form of bike lock that fit through the spokes, but we seldom used them. People didn’t steal anything back then. Drugs existed but we didn’t know about them. I had heard a story that circulated in our family that one or both of my older brothers, who were musicians at the time may have been busted for having some marijuana and may have even spent a night in jail. Things like that weren’t talked about, so I never really got all the facts.
Black people were just that.. Black people. We called them Negroes at that time and never thought too much about them. We knew that they were poorer than we were, hard to imagine, but they were. Black neighborhoods were the places that you went to when you wanted to hear Jazz. It seemed that all the Jazz clubs were in the black neighborhoods. No one feared going there and no one feared seeing black people walking on your street as we do now. Most of the neighborhoods that I lived in as a kid in the Boston suburb of Dorchester eventually became black areas and of course by now, high crime areas. I took my children to visit my ‘roots’ in Dorchester. Every home that I had lived in had by now burned down. The little shops and stores where my family had shopped were now all shuttered with metal security bars or also burned down. The beautiful Oriental Theater that I described earlier was now an electrical supply warehouse. What a shame. I guess you can really never go back. Most people thought I was nuts for merely driving through these neighborhoods. There is an excellent book written about the transition. "The Death of an American Jewish Community by Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon. Published by The Free Press. I suggest you read it.
My Father came to this country (the U.S.A.) in 1900 and went to
work for the George James Leather Company. He worked there unto
approximately 1960. We used to kid him about getting a steady job. That is the
way things were back then. You went to work for a company and stayed there
forever. When I look at resumes now and someone has held a job for two years,
they are considered steady.
My first job was at the age of 13 or 14. Lenny Cutler and I went to Revere Beach Boulevard, a popular amusement park in Massachusetts, looking for a job with one of the concessions there. I was lucky and got a job at a pepper-steak stand. I lasted one whole day before the owner kicked my butt out. My mother, bless her heart got me another job working for her fruit peddler. I would start each day around 5 AM riding my bicycle to the garage where he stored his fruit truck. We would then drive to the Boston Fruit Market, I would load the truck, and we would head back to Revere to peddle his wares. On the way back there was no room in the truck for me so I hung on to the running board (remember those). It was scary, driving through the Sumner Tunnel, holding on for dear life until we got to destination where I would begin shouting " FRESH FRUIT" as loud as I could. I learned some valuable business lessons from this experience. I once spilled one of those little baskets of blueberries out of its crate. My boss went ballistic, screaming and cursing at me. I tried to explain that it was only one lousy box of blueberries, but he answered that the one box represented the profit for the entire crate. I quickly learned about gross and net profit although I did not know it at the time. I finally quit after about 7 weeks of doing this, all for ten bucks a week. I even committed my first and last criminal act when I quit. I stole two cucumbers and brought them home to my mother who scolded me for that and also for being so lazy as to give up a good job for twenty five cents an hour.
It is hard in these modern times, where virtually every teenager has their own cell phone and when it is impossible to finish a meal in a restaurant without someone's phone sounding out the William Tell Overture or some other sound effect to imagine telephone life in the 'olden days'. Firstly, all you had to remember for a phone number was the location and 4 digits. The first phone number that I remember was Bluehills 6448. We had a four party line, meaning that we shared that particular phone line with three other parties. Most times when you picked up the phone to make a call, one of the other parties was using the phone. It was natural to insist on using the line because you had an urgent call to make. If not you could just pass the time listening in on their conversations. There were some rich folk who had what we called 'private lines'. That was class! When we went to our summer place in Oak Island we had no phone at all for some time. Instead we used the pay phone at the little Italian man's grocery store across the street, for making and receiving calls. When a call came through for us, he would open his front door and yell " one-a-six-a-steen", which was our street number (116). The neighbors did the same thing. Eventually we were rich enough to have a summer phone. It had no dial. You picked up the handset and waited for an operator to say "Number pleeuuzz". A long distance call outgoing or incoming was an event. My brother, who lived in Cincinnati at the time, would call several times a year. We would each take turns talking for a very brief period. No one had extension phones. You would shout into the phone because the connections were never too good. Some people still talk louder on long distance calls and virtually everyone insists on shouting into their cell phones without realizing that speaking in a normal voice works just fine.
It was just twenty-one years ago, that I ordered my first calculator from Alexanders, a now defunct company in New York. It cost $99.95 and actually multiplied, divided and added. It had to plug in of course and there was no printout. I was thrilled and spent many hours doing complex multiplications just to see it work. What a bargain! It was just a few years later that they were giving away pocket versions of these gadgets when you got a fill-up at a gas station.
Years before that I embarked on what I remember as one of my most interesting and challenging hobbies, Ham Radio. I got interested in radio because of my father telling me about his first crystal radio set. With a little of his help, I built my own crystal set and marveled at how by touching a little spring wire called a cat's whisker, to a certain part of a galena crystal I could actually hear radio stations. I pursued this hobby until I eventually got a Ham Radio license and built my first radio transmitter using a Diamond Brand Cream Cheese box as a chassis. I sent out my first "CQ".. The letters standing for I Seek You.. Similar to today’s computer Jargon. I then had to tune all around the dial until I heard someone, in Morse code, answering my call. You can not imagine the thrill when someone 5 or 6 miles away answered me. I went on from there to building and buying more sophisticated equipment until I was able to use voice in talking to other Hams. There were times when atmospheric conditions were such that you could speak to people thousands of miles away. I even reached the level of building my own mobile transmitter and talking to people right from my car. In that time it was considered quite a prestigious thing to do. Compare this to every Tom, Dick and Sally, cruising down the expressway now, with a cell phone stuck to their ear talking about who knows what. I eventually lost interest in this hobby and took up girls instead
Despite all the time I spent on this hobby, I still have no idea how I can be sitting in a room or outdoors and be surrounded by millions of radio and TV waves that can be picked up by simply having the right apparatus. By the same token, I still do not understand girls (women) yet either. Both my wife and daughter are sure that I am from Mars, and not Venus!
My hobby is now computers. I got almost the same thrill as my first Ham contact, when I was able to get an image of myself up on the web. It took me weeks, using HTML code which was all that was available at that time. Now of course, there are dandy programs to help you do this. Owning and using a computer is very much like a typical marriage. There are times that I really love my computer and times that I would like to heave it out a second story window. Anyone married for some time will understand that feeling.