Monday, April 13, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 16: That's Entertainment

image from shorpy
A nice change of pace from the playground, tossing stuff off the KV roof and generally being a nuisance whenever I had the chance, were the rides that came to Cherry St. The two I remember were the Whip and the Swing. They were like a miniature portable Coney Island. Each ride was attached to a truck. The Whip had maybe six cars that were pulled around an oval track by a chain. They went slow on the straights and whipped around the two ends of the oval. From a post-toddler’s perspective, it was pretty cool.
There were two Swing rides. One was mechanical; the other was pushed by hand. The Swing was U-shaped with 3-4 rows of seats on each side. It would rock back and forth. You got the best ride in the top row, but it was kind of scary because you rocked over so far, you felt like you were going to fall out of the seat. But even the wimpy bottom row gave a decent ride, so you could relax and enjoy without the fear in the top row.
Then there were the movies. KV had a basement room that showed 16mm sound films. It cost maybe 15 cents to see some black and white Farmer Gray flicks. Farmer Gray humor was the farmer and his goat spitting in each other’s face. I also remember seeing The Frank Sinatra war propaganda movie, “The House I Live In,” featuring Frankie boy singing the title song. It was a pretty boring movie, except for the war footage of a U.S. bomber knocking out a Japanese battleship. That was very cool. The KV movie would also attract kids from outside KV.
We didn’t go to the Loew’s Canal much, preferring the Tribune Theater. Our family would walk back and forth to the Tribune, my father being a bit on the tight side. My favorite flicks were the Randolph Scott westerns. Good action, and he had a cool accent.
Other fun things were the Cub Scouts—Troop 236 in the Educational Alliance on East Broadway. I don’t remember much of what I did, but I do remember that none of the adult scouts could demonstrate how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Actually, they used a string to spin a piece of wood in a small wooden base. The heat from the friction was supposed to ignite the fluffy tinder that was packed around the base. Finally, the honcho scout, with all the medals and badges and ribbons and such was able to do it.
Part of the Henry St. Settlement was Pete’s House, where there was a photo darkroom. My friend, Eugene Reiser had introduced me to photography, and also the darkroom facilities at Pete’s House. They used DeJur Enlargers, and one day Mr. DeJur himself showed up, French accent and all.
I also had a ChemCraft chemistry set, while Eugene had a Gilbert chemistry set. He’d show me stuff like burning powdered sulfur, that I’d duplicate with my own set. Forget the experiments that were printed in the chemistry set instruction book. We wanted to do stuff that violently fizzed, smoked and exploded. Eugene’s most impressive experiment was filling a test rube half full of nail polish remover, and heating it over the alcohol burner. The vapors would ignite and you’d have this neat flaming test tube. Very impressive. I couldn’t wait to try that at home.
The bottom shelf of our bathroom medicine cabinet contained my mother’s nail polish remover (acetone), so I was all set. My father was sitting in the living room reading the paper, while I was in my bedroom doing the mad scientist bit. Poof! The acetone ignited, with some pretty high flames.
I couldn’t wait to show my father this marvel of modern chemistry. Using ChemCrafts’ supplied test tube holder, I proudly carried the “Olympic Torch” into the living room. “Look Dad,” I said. And he did—just as the bottom of the test tube fell out, and the burning acetone setting the rug on fire. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was dumbfounded. That didn’t happen to Eugene.
But my father was quick, jumping up and stamping out the flames. I don’t remember what happened to me. Maybe I just blocked it out.
Eugene had a set of Lionel electric trains. I had American Flyer. We combined our sets to make a long run. But watching the trains going round and round got boring after a while. So we decided that train wrecks would be more fun. A head-on crash would be the easiest to engineer. Eugene put a small rubber ball on the tracks where the engines would bash into each other. The ball was supposed to prevent serious damage to the trains. The lighter Lionel was faster than the American Flyer, so Euge calculated where the ball should be placed to compensate for the speed difference. Worked like a charm. Crashes definitely were more interesting.
That Eugene—shoulda been a rocket scientist.
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