Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saint Frances, Chapter II

My last post expanded on the memories I have of my father, Tony. It seems only fair to give Mom equal time. I wrote briefly about her on 10/2/08 (see View "Saint Frances"), but wanted you to know her a little better. I referred to her as Saint Frances because to me she epitomized goodness. She didn’t go around making a show of helping others; it was just in her nature. In moving through life, she gave everybody consideration before she thought about her own wants and needs. She went out of her way to see the good in people. If you asked her: “Fran, what do you think about Hitler?” my mother’s reply would probably be: “I hear he was a good dancer!”

Like all good Saints, her life was not easy. She hated asking for help, and would personally do any job that needed doing, even if it meant less sleep or time for herself. I can’t remember her ever sitting down with a book. When television came into our home, she indulged herself by watching a few of her favorite shows. Fran loved to laugh, and would look forward to The Jack Benny Show, I Love Lucy, and The Danny Thomas Show. We would usually watch with her. Sitting on that couch laughing together was a simple act; who could have imagined it would bring back such warm memories.

Fran was “Alice Kramden” to my father’s Ralph. My Dad’s pet name for her was “Killjoy” because she often had to rain on some of his more impulsive schemes. Like Ralph, my father was always on the lookout for a tip on a hot stock or a fast horse. Of course, the minute Tony got on board, the stock cooled and the horse died! Mom did not enjoy this role, but soon realized that somebody in the family had to show some common sense. Tony teased her mercilessly about all the things she would not let him do, but probably if not for her squirreling away some secret cash, the bills would have gone unpaid.

Mom was the quintessential Italian mother without the negatives. She never tried “guilting” us into doing something; we knew this, and somehow her restraint caused us to do exactly as she wanted. She could take scraps of food normally thrown away and whip them into a meal to die for. Without being told, she knew when we were hurting. She wouldn’t speak directly to us about our problems; that wasn't her way. She would just make herself available to us in a quiet moment, and we would blurt out whatever was on our minds.

She never worked at a “job” until late in her life. God knows caring for three kids (four if you count my father) and also my grandmother Lucia (don’t ask) was enough of a job for anyone. I guess the extra money came in handy. I think just as important to Mom though was to feel needed. With her children grown, she got a job in a school cafeteria and really enjoyed going to work. She liked being around kids again. She also volunteered at a local nursing home. I had occasion to talk to the director of the home years after my mother worked there. She remarked that she remembered my mother well, and said she was one of the best volunteers they ever had. I can't say I was surprised.

Regretably, I did some dumb things growing up. I can imagine my poor mother making countless novenas praying for her directionless son. I think she would have been happy if I got a steady job selling tube socks out of my car trunk. When I finally straightened out, got a real job, and married my wife Jasmine (who my mother adored), probably no one was more surprised or pleased than Fran. The three grandchildren were a bonus; Mom doted on them and loved watching them grow up. To show you the type of person she was, whenever one of them had a birthday, Fran would always buy the other two a small gift so they wouldn’t feel left out of the celebration.

In the “me first” world we inhabit today, Saint Frances would stand out like a sore thumb. She always saw the glass half-full, made lemons into lemonade, and made you feel like there was no hurt in the world that in her quiet way, she couldn’t somehow make a little better. As if being the very soul of goodness on the inside wasn't enough, you can tell from the photo of her as a young girl that she was beautiful as well. Saint Frances was quite the complete package. I only wish I could have grown up to be more like her.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tony Boots, Chapter II

About six months ago I first wrote about my father (see 9/26/08 post "Tony Boots" View) but he was such a great character that I wanted you to know more about him. Like most men in the fifties, he hustled for a living, working two jobs to support us back when women rarely had outside jobs. Their full-time job was raising kids and managing a household with too little money. Tony was a sociable guy who worked hard, but loved to stop for a quick one at Sportsman's Cafe on Fulton Street or Grim's Bar on Broadway, owned by Bob Grim who pitched for the N.Y. Yankees from 1954 to 1958. Strangely, for a Brooklyn Italian, Tony enjoyed "cry-in-your-beer" country music by classic artists like Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard.

We lived on Somers Street in a three-story house, with the mandatory stoop for sitting out on summer nights. The house was like most of the row houses built in those days. (They only started calling them "brownstones" when the prices began going up.) It was comfortable enough, but beginning to show its age. Tony was arguably the least handy guy who ever lived. Fixing things was not his thing and he knew it. He kept a tool box strictly for show. It held the most motley collection of hand-me-down tools you ever saw. For my mother's sake, he would occasionally give in and try to fix something, but without much success. My wife complains about my cursing when I'm in the middle of a job. Maybe Tony couldn't fix things, but he could curse with the best of them, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

He did have a gift that compensated for his lack of skill with his hands: the gift of gab. If something needed fixing or plastering or painting, he would ask our next-door neighbor, Frank, to "help" him. It was like the scene from Tom Sawyer when Tom charmed the neighborhood kids into whitewashing the picket fence while he watched. Frank painted while Tony helped, mostly by handing things to Frank and drinking his favorite beer, Piel's. Frank was a sweetheart of a man, soft-spoken, big in stature and big-hearted, who never hesitated to lend a hand. Neighbors knew each other, and kept an eye on each other's kids. I have great neighbors, but it's not quite the same.

My father could be a very persuasive guy. Here's an example. Tony liked the ponies. He was no better at picking horses than he was at picking stocks, but he enjoyed slipping out to the track to watch them run, and then tear up his losing tickets. My mother never quite appreciated this pastime, since any money put on a long-shot daily double came out of her grocery funds. Looking back, I can understand the need for a little recreation for a two-job father, but then I never had to feed a family of five on an already stretched budget. To illustrate Tony's powers of persuasion, when it came time for us to sell our house on Somers Street, he was able to convince Mom to move to Ozone Park, Queens, just two short blocks from Aqueduct Race Track.

Tony's working two jobs didn't give us much time for quality father-son activities. His leisure time was limited and he enjoyed relaxing when he didn't have to work. I understood perfectly...I didn't need to go into therapy to deal with "abandonment" issues. I had my friends and was busy playing and enjoying myself. He would play catch with me, or "hit the penny", a sidewalk game played with the now iconic "Spaldeen" high bounce ball. Once he tried teaching me to ride a two-wheeler on a girl's bike that I inherited from my cousin Joan. (Again, no problem with "gender confusion" issues to share with a shrink; a bike was a bike and I was glad to have it.) I remember Dad, in his everyday uniform of jacket and tie, running alongside me as I pedaled through Callahan-Kelly Park, and holding on to the back of the seat so I wouldn't kill myself. Luckily I learned fast; I don't think Tony had many more laps left in him!

Like most fathers in those days, he showed me how to be a man by example. We never had long talks about right and wrong; he never explained the facts of life to me; and he gave me the freedom to choose what to do with my life. Don't get me wrong, I know he influenced me in certain directions, but he did it by the way he lived. He showed me the value of work and the need to love and provide for your family, but I think Tony's greatest gift to me was his ready sense of humor. At family gatherings he would tell the same stale Henny Youngman or Myron Cohen jokes, and laugh at the punch lines as if he was hearing them for the first time.

When Dad passed in 1982, he was far too young at age 72. Surprisingly, I could not cry at the time or all during the wake and the funeral, but about a year after his death, out of nowhere, I sat down a cried like a baby. I wish my kids could have got to know him better. In a way, that's one of the reasons I write this blog...to keep alive the memories of the people and places that had such an impact on me growing up. I still have one of Tony's screwdrivers in my tool box. It was old and chipped when he had it, but it makes me think of him whenever I use it, and that's reason enough to keep it.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Thanks for the Memories

"The victim staggered like a drunk, blood spraying from the ragged wound in the neck where the recently severed head used to be. I stood transfixed in horror, not knowing whether to run or hide. Would I be the next victim?" A scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 12? No, just my mother buying a chicken. Back in the days when Frank Perdue was just a gleam in his father's eye, chickens were purchased fresh killed at the "chicken market".

If I remember correctly, the market was at the intersection of Pacific Street and East New York Avenue in a run down section of our neighborhood. It was a seedy looking building badly in need of repair. The place stank of burned chicken feathers (that's how they removed the feathers from the dead bird) and your ears were assaulted by the raucous sounds of chickens squawking their heads off as it dawned on them that, well, their heads were about to come off. The doomed chickens were kept in pens barely tall enough for them to stand. The customer walked up to this poultry death row, picked out a bird, and the dead-eyed executioner, white apron covered in blood, did the rest. At my insanity hearing, when they try to trace back to the traumatic event in my childhood that first unhinged my mind, the chicken market would be a good place to start.

I am reluctant to mention this next unpleasant childhood memory because it involves me attending an afternoon movie at the Colonial Theater on a day I was supposed to be in school. (My children are chiding me for the admissions of a misspent youth I've already made in this blog.) Anyhow, I was "playing hooky" from high school and sat alone in the dark watching some mid-week B-movie. A man walked down the aisle, and although the theater was nearly empty, entered my row and sat down next to me. I was puzzled of course, but not at all prepared for what happened next. This creep placed his hand on my knee. In a blink I was on my feet and running fast for the door. What annoyed me most was missing the end of the movie.

While attending summer day camp one year, I fractured my left wrist during a high jump competition. I had to go to Kings County Hospital (the medical equivalent of the Roach Motel) to have a hard cast put on from my wrist to my upper arm. The injury happened at the beginning of summer vacation, and required me to wear this itchy cast through the middle of August. What a nightmare: no swimming, no ball playing, and trying to take showers without getting the cast wet. In early August, my family had an outing at some place I can’t recall, but I do remember they had a beautiful swimming pool. Watching my cousins splash around on a hot day was more than I could bear. I grabbed an inner tube and floated around the pool as best I could, despite my mother’s protests for me to get out. Unfortunately it was too late. The upper part of the cast got wet and soft, and after visiting the doctor, I had to have a new cast put on and wear it through mid-September. A bummer of a summer.

Mike the butcher had a shop on Rockaway Avenue. His daughter Immaculata (nicknamed "Sis") was one of the girls we tolerated in our all-male, stoop sitting club. Mike was a short, amiable man with no neck and very few teeth. His shop had refrigerated, glass-front counters where his wares would be displayed. Like most butcher shops, the floor was covered with sawdust. Mike had a large, refrigerated back room. Sometimes he would open the big doors and I could see the carcasses of cows, sheep and pigs hanging. Mike would haul one out, lay it on a butcher block table, and start sawing and hacking it into chops, roasts and steaks. This revolted me, and should have turned me into a vegetarian. Happily it did not, and I love a good steak whenever I can get it.

My grandparents lived on Hull Street. My mother would walk us over some afternoons before my grandmother died and the house was sold. I enjoyed these visits since my good friend Rich lived right across the street. What I didn't enjoy was Grandma's basement. I was used to basements (or cellars as we called them) since I played often in our own cellar, especially when it was too cold or wet to go outside. I avoided Grandma's cellar though because it was creepy. Like poor people everywhere, to save on the electric bill, they used candles for light down there. The flickering candlelight cast shadows on walls covered with jars of unknown Italian "delicacies" and soda bottles filled with homemade wine. There was junk everywhere...my grandmother was the "handyman" in the family and could do carpentry, plumbing and general fix-it stuff. No spare bit of wood or metal was ever thrown away. I think they filmed the climax scene from "Psycho" down there. The only thing missing was the skeletal remains of Norman Bates' mother.

I have mostly pleasant memories from my Brooklyn childhood, but every once in a while I get a flash of recollection reminding me of the things that made me fraidy-scared.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Transit Tales

As a kid growing up, my father never owned a car until I conned him into it in 1961. (See 11/18/08 post: "I'm Still Here Lord" View ). Consequently, I was very familiar with the public transportation system of subways, elevated trains, buses, and yes you youngsters, trolleys. We were near the Rockaway Avenue stop on the Independent A train that took us to downtown Brooklyn or to Manhattan. I can still remember the pre-token days when the fare was a nickel and you put your coin into the turnstile. Not many fare beaters back then...why risk a kick in the ass from the cop on the platform for a lousy five cents.

We also used the elevated "Broadway line" which had a manned entrance at one end where you could pay your fare, and an unmanned exit stairway at the other end which became our unofficial entrance. Some kindly soul had taken a crowbar to the iron bars that blocked access to the platform such that the bars were pried apart just enough for a skinny kid to fit a leg through first, followed by head, torso and finally, the other leg. It was risky to be sure, and didn't work when we got bigger, but for a few years anyway, we could save our nickels for those Three Musketeers Bars that were twice the size of today's.

Back in the fifties there were trolley cars still running along Rockaway Avenue. They were later replaced by buses. My friend Rich's father Jim was a trolley car driver until a horrible accident involving failed brakes on the Williamsburg Bridge hastened his entry into the garment cutting trade. The trolley ran on tracks to Pitkin Avenue, a long strip of retail stores, restaurants and movie houses that we flocked to in the days before malls. (See 10/20/08 post: "Who Needs Rodeo Drive" View). When I rode with my friends, we sometimes just jumped on the back of the trolley to save the fare. Pretty dangerous in streets crowded with traffic you say? My answer in two words: Musketeers Bars.

When I got older, I took the A train to the Lafayette Avenue stop where my high school, Brooklyn Tech was located. The school gave us transit passes that we were supposed to show to the agent on duty who would then let us on to the station platform for free instead of paying at the turnstile. One year I lost my transit pass, and not wanting to tell my parents, I put those mechanical drawing classes I was taking at Tech to good use by hand lettering a forged pass. I was so pleased with the results of my work when day after day the station agents just waved me through. I realize now that being New York City transit employees, they would have waved a freakin' elephant through as long as they didn't have to look up from their newspaper! By the way, I was able to make a little money forging passes for other kids who had lost theirs. Shameful, you say. I say: Musketeers Bars.

The last chapter in my "transit tales" was written in my last year in high school. At Tech we all took a common curriculum in our first two years, and then selected a specialized curriculum for the last two years depending on our interests. When my turn came to choose, I wanted Commercial Art since I thought that's where my talent lay. Unfortunately there were not enough kids choosing that specialty that year, so I wound up in the Aeronautical Engineering group. I hated it, and by my senior year I was cutting classes regularly. Not proud of this, but there it is.

One way to kill the time I was supposed to be in school was to take the bus from the Broadway Junction stop near Truxton Street all the way to 168th Street in Jamaica, Queens. The bus stopped every few blocks, so the ride took more than an hour. At the end of the line I would simply board the next bus out for the return trip. I got to know some of the drivers, who never bothered me, I guess because I looked older than I was. I was pretty confused at this point in my life, but luckily, after working a series of so-so-jobs after high school, I got a big push in the right direction.

My young wife Jasmine encouraged me to get my Bachelor's and Master's degrees at night, and took on the responsibility for raising our children since I would often not get home from classes until late in the evening. She never complained, never made me feel guilty, just gently nudged me along until it was done. The degrees opened up new opportunities for me, and whatever I accomplished in life would never have been possible without her support. After nearly 43 years of marriage, she is still my inspiration.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hey Kids, What Time Is It?

My granddaughter Ava loves to play, and will wear you out going from game to game with the inexhaustable energy of a six-year old. When she does get tired, she will sit for a while watching her favorite TV shows. Over the years we've seen her go from the likes of Barney and The Wiggles to more "mature" shows like Disney's Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Naturally, when she decides to rest, we all plop down beside her, grateful for the break and happy to watch anything she wants so long as we're sitting down. After a while, you find yourself actually enjoying these shows. They are engaging visually, always have positive story lines, and are extremely adept at helping kids learn. Ava has much better vocabulary and reading skills at age six than 1950's kids ever dreamed of. The quality of modern children's programming got me thinking about the "kiddy" shows I watched growing up when television was in its infancy.

The earliest kid show I can remember was called "Junior Frolics", hosted by "Uncle Fred" Sayles. This low-budget extravaganza aired locally on channel 13 from 1949 to 1958. The thing I remember most is the horrible cartoons they showed like Felix The Cat, Koko The Clown, Farmer Grey and Terrytoons, some of which were so old that there was no sound. Uncle Fred would provide a running commentary on what was happening, as if dropping an anvil on someone's head was so deep that we couldn't possibly understand it. Here's a sample of what passed for kiddy entertainment in the dark days of television.
YouTube - Felix the Cat in Hollywood (1923)

"Hey Kids, What Time Is It?" "It's Howdy Doody Time" we all yelled! "The Howdy Doody Show" was one of the best children's shows in television, and ran from 1947 to 1960. The show featured buckskin-clad Buffalo Bob Smith and a cast of marionettes including Howdy, Phineas T. Bluster, Flub-a-dub and Dilly Dally. Smith treated the marionettes as if they were real, and as a result, so did the children of America. There were also live characters, like the (now stereotypical) native Americans, Chief Thunderthud and Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and of course Clarabelle the Clown, played by Bob Keeshan who went on to fame as Captain Kangaroo. NBC shrewdly used the popularity of the show to sell television sets to American parents, and demonstrated the revenue potential of the new medium to advertisers. If you remember the show, you might enjoy this clip.
YouTube - Puppet Playtime-Howdy Doody intro

On the science-fiction front we had "Captain Video and His Video Rangers", which premiered in June 1949 on the DuMont Network. Despite horribly amateurish production values and mundane scripts, Captain Video went on to be the longest running science fiction show in early television. His adversaries included such notable villains as Clumsy McGee, (played by Arnold Stang as an inept Martian), and Norgola (played by Ernest Borgnine of all people) who turned the sun's energy into magnetic forces. Young viewers were also encouraged to join the Video Rangers Club (which I did) and to buy Captain Video merchandise, including helmets, toy rockets, games, and records. (which I didn't, despite pestering my mother to death). For all you Video Rangers out there, open this link and move the scroll bar about half-way through to see a clip of our hero.
YouTube - (1949) Captain Video and his Video Rangers 3/3

A classic kid show of the 1950's was the "Our Gang Comedies", (also known as "The Little Rascals."), a series of short comedy films about a group of poor neighborhood children and the adventures they had together. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, Our Gang was produced at the Roach movie studio starting in 1922 and lasted into the mid-fifties with episodes made for television. Our Gang also notably put boys, girls, whites and blacks together in a group as equals, something that had never been done before in cinema, but was commonplace after the success of Our Gang. A sad footnote to this show was the inglorious and sometimes violent end that came to many of its child stars including poor Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) who was shot to death in 1959 over a fifty dollar debt. Slip into your time traveler suit, I think I hear that famous theme song.
YouTube - Our Gang/Little Rascals

"The Sandy Becker Show" was a favorite of mine. In between cartoon shorts, Sandy entertained his preschool-aged audience with puppets Geeba Geeba (an elderly man), Marvin Mouse, Henry Headline (who offered kid-friendly items of news) and others, along with Becker’s real family dog, Schatzie. Becker became the first host of the long-running "Wonderama", which originally aired for six hours straight on Sunday. Sandy was an extremely likeable guy with a wry sense of humor that often broke out of the "kiddy" format with an irreverent remark clearly intended for adults. He never got the wider audience his talent warranted, and the frustration of spending too much time in the company of kids resulted in the wicked but very funny set of outtakes from his show as seen here.
YouTube - Sandy Becker Show Outtakes

Like children everywhere, my grandchild takes TV for granted, after all, it was always there waiting to entertain her at the push of a button. As kids in the fifties, we saw television as something just short of supernatural. Neighbors would gather fascinated in the homes of the lucky few who had sets to watch the small screens with the spotty reception. It didn't matter how poorly produced the shows were, or that they were few in number and broadcast in black and white, TV was a phenomenon!


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just for Fun, Fifties Style

As we get older, the joy of being a kid gradually recedes, and we are forced to shoulder the responsibilities that come with adulthood. This is the natural order of things, but sometimes we forget how carefree we once were. Kids don’t need a reason for doing something as long as it’s fun! The older you get the harder it becomes to do things just for fun. My wife tells me I've stopped seeing the humor in things and maybe she's right. I wasn't always so crabby; just to prove it, here are some of the things I did as a kid just for the hell of it:

We would have contests to see who could hold their breath the longest. There is a trick to this that involves filling your lungs with air and letting it leak out slowly. This technique prolongs the time required before you need to breathe in by slowly releasing the pressure on your lungs to let the air out all at once. Unless you intend to become a pearl diver, this skill has no practical application, but it is fun.

How about closing your eyes and then pressing your knuckles against your eye lids to produce patterns of dots and light. This was certainly a cheaper and less dangerous hallucinogen than LSD. The only problem is that it took time for your eyes to adjust after doing this for a while, so no roller skating or bike riding right after your “psychedelic trip”.

A game I played mostly with my next door neighbor, Robert, was called mumbly peg. Robert rarely played with the rest of the kids because he was "different". Frail, pale, bookish and nervous, with thick round glasses, Robert was the kind of boy that other boys delighted in bullying. I wasn't so noble as to play with him out of pity. Robert had a beautiful pen knife that was a necessity for the game of mumbly peg. Each boy in turn would hold the knife in his palm and then quickly jerk his hand and flip the knife to make it stick in the ground. You scored points by the way the knife landed. Robert's mother was named Helen, and she was a cool, slim English beauty so different than the other "ethnic" mothers on the block. Think of Jane Wyatt in "Father Knows Best" and you'll have an idea what she looked like. I know she appreciated the time I spent with her son, and I very much wanted to please her.
(See 10/4/08 post: "Neighborhood Character: The Gildersleeves" View ).

This one was probably a guy thing. It required the placement of the left hand under the right armpit and then vigorously flapping down the right arm. The action produced a rude sound that duplicated that of someone passing gas. This activity was better when practiced in a silent, group setting…a quiet classroom was perfect.

Another guy pastime (girls were too refined) was spitting contests. These were of two types: distance and accuracy, and each required unique skills. The distance contest was simply a measure of how far one could spit, and only needed a good set of lungs and a knowledge of which way the wind was blowing. The accuracy contest involved setting a penny on the ground beneath a tall stoop, climbing to the top step of the stoop, and taking turns to see who could spit closest to the penny. The winner got to keep the coin unless there was a direct hit, at which point no one was interested in claiming the prize.

Money was tight, and this next activity was done not so much for fun as profit. There were a lot of subways in the neighborhood, and some of the underground structures were empty spaces covered by grid-like metal gratings. People would drop things that fell through the gratings and could not be easily retrieved. We would take a common metal padlock and cover the bottom with chewed bubble gum or a bit of axle grease borrowed from under a nearby car. We would then tie a long string to the top of the padlock, lower it into the grate and hover it over the spot where someone had dropped a coin. We would then drop the padlock onto the coin, and if luck was with us, the coin would stick to the padlock and be fished out. VoilĂ , candy money!

These dopey little games amused us in a time before thousand-dollar video game systems were needed to hold a kid’s attention for a couple of minutes. There were no adults to oversee our entertainment, and so we had to fend for ourselves finding things to do that were fun and cost nothing.

Most parents today would hyperventilate at the thought of their little "Precious" fishing dirty coins out of a subway grate. Maybe they should be more concerned about the endless hours Precious spends in front of mindless, often violent video games, or in Internet chat rooms.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Get a Job, Sha Na Na Na, Sha Na Na Na Na Na

I will always remember my first job. While I carefully weighed career paths worthy of a promising a fourteen-year old, my father found a job for me. He marched me down to the corner and rang the bell of a nondescript storefront with no identifying sign. A man who looked like a Hobbit straight out of Tolkien's imagination answered the ring and invited us in. He introduced himself to me simply as "Mel". I couldn't help notice that Mel walked with a pronounced limp that gave him a rolling gate.

Mel asked me whether I could work a few hours a day after school without my grades being affected. I said I could, and after instructing me to report at 4 pm the next day, he hired me for the princely wage of $1.00 an hour. As we walked out it dawned on me that I had no idea what Mel hired me for. I found out the next day that Mel's business was engraving sets of fancy cocktail glasses with people's initials. My job would be to pack the glasses for shipment to his cocktail-drinking customers, whom I imagined all looked like Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.

The "shipping department" was a beat-up, wooden table in a corner of the factory with big bales of straw-like stuff called excelsior that was used to pack fragile materials before some genius invented bubble wrap. The main benefit of the job was the collection of eye-catching pinup calendars Mel had hanging on the walls. While gawking at them, it was all I could do to avoid taping my hands together instead of the boxes. The calendars were probably my greatest incentive for showing up to work every day.

Mel turned out to be a quiet, decent man who was a very talented engraver. I did the job for a while, but before long, even the calendars couldn't overcome the mind numbing boredom of packing glasses every day, so I gave Mel my notice. He was really nice about it and even gave me some glasses to take home. They had someone else's initials on them, but still, it was a big step up the glassware ladder for us since we usually drank out of Welch's jelly glasses.

No matter how well off a family is, young people should learn the value of a dollar early in life. Besides teaching me how to pack glasses, that job helped me understand that when I asked my father for ten dollars, it meant the family would have to do without something that week. Starting with my next job, I always gave my mother something out of my earnings for the house. The news story last week of the New Jersey brat who was suing her parents to pay her college tuition is the reason why kids with the entitlement mentality need to learn that there is no money fairy.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association