Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 18: Wheels, Part 2

So I’m writing about cars and motorcycles, because I didn’t know any Jewish gangsters back then. Sorry. But first, an unrelated story. So I take a few liberties. When I used to go to the Pike St. shul during the High Holy Days, some of my friends attended the schul on Eldridge St. When I asked my grandfather about that schul, he didn’t say anything and just shook his head. Years later I heard a joke, that I guess summed it up:
A Jew was shipwrecked and spent 20 years alone on a deserted island. He was finally rescued, and as he was being led to the shoreline and the boat that would bring him back home, he told the boat captain that he wanted to show him something. He led the captain into the jungle to a small clearing. And there was a miniature schul, complete down to the smallest details—windows, seats, even a miniature ark with tiny Torahs inside. The captain was very impressed. This is fantastic, he said. I’ve never seen anything like it. Then the Jew said he wanted to show the captain one more thing before they embarked, and they both trekked deeper into the jungle to another clearing. And there was a second synagogue, exactly like the first, down to the smallest detail.
“What’s this?” asked the captain.
“This? This?” exclaimed the Jew. “This is the schul,” (and he spat--Ptooey!) “This is the schul I DON’T go to!”
Now that that’s out of my system, I’m going to tell you the Uncle Harry story that I promised you last time (remember?). It’s out of the timeline synch (I was out of KV and living in Sunnyside, Queens at the time), but so what? Uncle Harry had driven our then-new, used ’54 Buick back to KV for us. So that’s my excuse.
Harry I. Rothman was the principal at P. 87, and later P.S. 98, both in Manhattan. His wife, Miriam was a retired NYC school English teacher. Both very prim and proper and very well respected. But, Harry did have a good sense of humor. They lived in a doorman building on W. 81st St. off Central Park West. They did not own a car at the time, so we would pick them up in our Buick and take them to family functions in New Jersey.
I owned another car, at the time—an off- white ’34 Ford Sedan—just like the one in the “Bonnie and Clyde” movie—the car they got shot up in. My car was a real roach. It looked so-so on the outside, had no headliner inside, but had nice original Mohair seats. Instead of having a college decal on the rear window, I got individual letter decals and spelled out “Elmira Reform School,” on the rear window.
I somehow convinced my aunt and uncle to take them to a family function in this wreck. When I picked them up in front of their building, the doorman couldn’t believe it. Here was Harry and Miriam, dressed to the nines, climbing into this jalopy with “Elmira Reform School,” on the back window. Not the usual kind of ride for a well-respected public school principal to be seen in.
We got to the function OK. So it was a little bumpy. There was a threat of rain, and my Aunt Miriam carried an umbrella. Now, that ’34 Ford kind of leaked in the rain. It had a soft insert in the roof, and no matter how much goop I smeared on it, the roof still leaked. When we started back home, it started to rain, hard. And the roof leaked a little. Harry and Miriam were getting a little wet in the back seat, so Miriam opened up her umbrella inside the car. Beeg mistake! The top of the umbrella tore through the soft roof, and the roof now leaked a lot. Then the rain stopped and she closed the umbrella. It was hot, and the interior began to steam up, so I cranked open my driver’s window. While it wasn’t raining, there were still some huge puddles in the roadway. At one of those puddles, we passed a truck going in the opposite direction. The truck kicked up a wall of water, something like Niagara Falls, and it came through my open window like a tsunami. All the water went over my shoulder and I didn’t even get wet. But it all ended up in the back seat. I didn’t want to look, but I did hear strange noises coming from back there. Then, to add insult to injury, we hit some nasty bumps.
When we finally arrived back on West 81st St., the same doorman was still on duty. He had seen an elegantly dressed and poised couple enter into their chauffeured “limo” several hours earlier, but what emerged now from the rear compartment almost defied description. Two people thoroughly soaked and completely disheveled, looking for all the world like they had just stepped out of a Bendix washing machine.
The previous chapter of Cliff's KV notes

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