In the Fiftieis even pennies had value. In Sam's Candy Store stood a case with sliding glass doors, where penny candies were displayed... marshmallow peanuts, wax lips, licorice pipes, Mary Janes, candy cigarettes, wax bottles filled with sweet liquid, Bazooka Bubble Gum, those long paper strips with rows of colored candy dots and so many others. We would stand there trying to decide how to invest our penny, while Sam watched us like a hawk. Gum ball and peanut vending machines also took pennies, and they looked very cool in "penny loafers" if you were lucky enough to own a pair.
A nickel was more of a middle-class investment. It would buy any one of fifty candy bars like Three Musketeers, Clark Bar, Baby Ruth, or Mounds...all about twice the size they are today. Five cents got you a whole pack of baseball cards that smelled like the bubble gum they were packed with. You could spring for a fountain Coke or a Lime Rickey, a Dixie Cup Ice Cream with pictures of celebrities on the inside lid. Down in the subway, before they had to be removed due to vandalism, were soda vending machines that dispensed five flavors at the push of a button. If you were lucky, the cup would drop down before the seltzer and flavored syrup came out.
John D. Rockefeller used to give shiny new dimes to kids because he knew their value in "boy currency". For a dime you got any of the dozens of colorful comic books arrayed on Sam’s shelves, the ice cream of your choice from the Bungalow Bar truck, a shoe shine at my grandfather’s store on Rockaway Avenue, a 3-pack of Yankee Doodles, a Mission pineapple soda ice cold from the red ice chest, a ride on the subway, or a phone call in one of those great old wooden phone booths. You could dine on a Sabrett's Hot Dog, one of Mom's Knishes hot off the cart, and for dessert, shaved ices with your choice of flavored syrups.
The most precious coin was the elusive quarter. There was a subway grating outside the Cactus Pool Room on Fulton Street. Sometimes one of the boys would accidentally drop a quarter down the grating where it beckoned from twenty feet below street level. When it was spotted, we swung into action. Somebody would borrow a padlock from home. We would shinny under a car to get a gob of axle grease to coat the bottom of the padlock. Then, after tying a length of string to the top of the padlock, we would go fishing for the quarter in the subway grate. It was hard and dirtywork, but success meant candy bars for everyone.
Did we feel sorry for ourselves for being so poor that we had to resort to such tactics for a lousy candy bar? Never. We were having too much fun. We knew how to amuse ourselves without bothering an adult to entertain us. God, how I loved being a kid in 1950s
Brooklyn. You may disagree, but in my mind, there was no better childhood anywhere.
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