Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 11: What's In Store

When you’re a hyper-active 8-year old, there are only so many things you can do inside an apartment (HG9 in this case) to keep yourself amused. The intercoms worked back then, and they were still the original black finish, , not having been painted over wall-color.. When I pushed the little black button, I got a live person on the other end, so I’d freak out and hang up. Or I would just pick up the earpiece and listen to the activity in the lobby. My pet project was trying to punch a hole in my bedroom floor so I could peek down out the occupants in HG8. Using a hammer and a screwdriver, I got through the parquet flooring but was stopped cold by the “hard stuff” underneath.
So the big deal was getting out of the apartment. And like most middle class folks, that meant shopping. I remember Macy’s and Gimbels with their creaky wooden escalators and the constant bonging bell. But let’s stick closer to home. The store we most frequented was Gogel’s grocery and deli off Madison on Catherine. George Gogel and his wife Tess worked behind the counters. It was a comparatively small store compared to Kremo, for example. I could never figure out why my mother and father selected a particular store when there was more than one of the same variety. Birnbaum had a Kosher butcher shop in the neighborhood, but for some reason my mother took her meat shopping business to Barney’s Kosher butcher on Suffolk off Delancey.
Barney was a short guy who made his ‘L’s” sound like “W’s” So you got wiver instead of liver. Barney had a tall partner, named Hy. They sold freshly killed chickens, and it was pretty cool to see them eviscerate the bird and all the neat stuff that was inside there.
But, back to Gogel’s. George was a client of my father (a lawyer), and the guy at Kremo was not. So that probably figured into the equation. George was a rotund, very pleasant guy, and his wife was equally pleasant. Even though the store was small, they seemed to have everything you asked for. It was cool seeing them use the reacher to pull down products off the higher shelves.
George wrote down the price of each item with the pencil that he kept behind his ear, on the classic brown paper bag. Everything was added up by hand. There was never an adding machine in the store, and the cash register just rang up the total. Gogel’s introduced me to real New York bagels and Italian bread. I was trusted to venture out to Gogel’s on my own, especially on Sunday mornings when my parents could count on a little uninterrupted time together.
Moving down Catherine to the corner of Monroe, was the Normandie Pharmacy. There were at least three pharmacies that I remember in the neighborhood. Normandie, Rich’s on Catherine and Madison and J. Savarese, which was the one we had our prescriptions filled at. I remember splitting an ice cream soda (one glass, two straws) with Linda Trichter when I was even younger. I probably got the idea from an Andy Hardy movie. I remember the adults in the store at the time thought it was “cute.”
Continuing down Catherine, there was Herman’s toy store. Kitty Herman was a classmate of my sister, Susan. Then there was the barber shop, where I got my first haircut. My mother saved a lock of my (then) platinum blonde hair. Al, the old guy, would cut my hair after putting me in a booster seat. I guess the first milestone in my life came when I graduated from the child seat into the adult chair (you’d think he’d give me a certificate or something). Al would strop his straight razor on the big leather strap attached to the chair, and he’d get hot lather from a small black machine. He used the razor to trim the hair on the back of my neck.
The slicked-back look was just coming into vogue, and it was referred to as a “DA” haircut. My father told me the DA stood for “duck’s ass.” My mother would always tell me to tell the barber “close on the sides and not too much off the top.” This day, when I entered the barber shop, I told Al that I wanted a DA haircut. He couldn’t take me, so he passed me off to his son, Pete. I remember Pete as much mellower that Al. Pete even escorted me back to the “H” building when I got lost exploring the KV basement one day. So anyhow, Al starts talking to Pete in Italian, which I don’t understand, but he throws in one phrase in English—“District Attorney” (DA) haircut. ‘Course I didn’t have the hair for that style, so Pete talked me out of it. Oh well, “close on the sides and not too much off the top.”
Moving up to Monroe St, and heading towards Market, there was St. Josephs, but being Jewish, I didn’t know much about it. But it was cool to look inside when the doors were open. Then there was Jimmy’s candy store. Jimmy was a guy maybe in his 40s, who wore glasses with one lens permanently fogged. He hand-packed Reid’s ice cream into square _- and pint containers. Good stuff, that Reid’s. Better than the packaged Breyer’s stuff at the Normandie. Jimmy had two gumball-type vending machines out front. One held tiny red Pistachios, and the other contained “Indian nuts” (pine nuts) as they were called. Unlike the Pistachios, the Indian nuts were sealed in a shell that you had to crack with your teeth—a lot of work, and you usually ended up with bits of shell in your mouth with the nut meat—not pleasant.
Further down on Monroe was a Chinese hand laundry that my father brought his shirts to. The place smelled almost like a bakery, and you got your shirts back with a wide blue paper band around it. This place had a bamboo lattice separating the customers from the workers. I couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t look sturdy enough to stop someone from busting through if they had a mind to. I guess they were paranoid.
Crossing Monroe St. to the KV side, there was the Gotham Cleaners, right near the K&K. The store was below street level, and you walked down a shot flight of stairs. Gotham’s door usually was open, and for some reason, I would throw stuff into the store, and then run when the owner came out to chase me and yell. I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t have anything against the guy. Maybe it was just something to do. And I did it, every chance I got. The owner was the only one working the front, and he’d run out like he was on a leash, going only so far—usually just to the top of the stairs before he turned back. This guy really had it in for me. Not that I could blame him
One day, after firing off a salvo or two of schmutz into the guy’s store, I was ready to take off as usual, when I was distracted by something going on across the street. I paused just long enough to feel this big hand clamp down hard on my shoulder. I knew it was the end. Retribution for my sins. My life flashed before me and I peed in my pants. I knew I was going to die right there.
Actually the Gotham guy didn’t kill me (otherwise all this would have been ghost-written—but you wouldn’t have known that). We had a little chat, and in return for sparing my life, I promised to take my “business” elsewhere.
The next chapter in Cliff's KV Notes
The previous chapter of Cliff's KV Notes

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