HOW I BECAME A POLITICAL PERSON

 

                

 

I have always been interested in politics on all levels of government. I have never run for political office, but have contemplated running for Governor here in Pennsylvania. My early contacts with politics come from my grandmother ( as so many thing do). She was an ardent socialist and attached to the Arbeiter Rieng, the Workman’s Circle. I am not sure how she managed to keep her connections going over the years, but it was not a major discussion in our home. Grandma’s view of world was certainly colored by her early years as part of the Russian Empire- the Cossacks, the Tsar and the early revolutionaries. I am not sure what her involvement was, but she could read and write in Yiddish and also in Russian, an unusual ability for a woman in those days. 

In some way grandma was able to instill in me a view of the political process that became very personal. Maybe it was the depression and FDR that gave her the impetus to speak about issues in a private way or her own set of experiences.

I do know that she loved Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am sure that she had no idea of his background or his disability. She spoke often of him as a good man and Eleanor Roosevelt as a good woman. We actually saw FDR in a motorcade on the lower east side of Manhattan before he died. I am not sure when that was, but it happened after we moved to Grandma’s apartment. When Roosevelt died, she was disconsolate. When Truman was announced as his successor, Grandma called him the “Tummler,” surely a corruption of his name. She was not very pleased with Truman and never really spoke of him.

Her hero was Fiorello LaGuardia, Mayor of New York City. La Guardia was both Italian on his father’s  and mother’s side, but mom was Irene Cohen Lozatto from Trieste. La Guardia appealed to many ethnic groups and was said to be able to speak 7 languages. Though I was too young to remember, I was told about how LaGuardia read the funnies to the kids on the radio when there was a newspaper strike. Grandma somehow got the idea that politics could be good to keep the Cossacks away from the shetl. There was a cross current of elected officials doing good things for little people ( Jews in particular). She attributed these characteristics to certain people- those she deemed good- among them Roosevelt, La Guardia and for some reason Henry Wallace.

Wallace had been Roosevelt’s Vice President, but his position vis a vis the Soviet Union and disagreements with Democratic Party officials, removed him from the ticket to be replaced by the  “Tummler,” in the 1944 election.

Wallace was running as a third party candidate on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948.. She could not support Truman, who she saw as an embittered litte man. Nor could she support that Goy with the mustache- Dewey. She believed in Wallace and what he stood for. There was a rally for Wallace on East Broadway in 1948 and I was able to get close to enough to where Henry Wallace was standing to actually touch his shoe. I was nine years old. I have been a political person since then.

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Movies and Morality

MOVIES AND MORALITY

To this day, I resent J.D. Salinger for not publishing anything beyond Franny and Zooey. It has always appeared to me that the withholding of new stories was some sort of universal rule breaking. If it is in you, why do you not bring it forward. Let us all see what is in your mind. You tempted us with all of those short stories, Catcher in the Rye and the Glass family and then you stopped. What would happen if I suddenly died tomorrow and would never read anything else by Salinger? I would not care to wait for his demise and then leave it to chance to have what he has obviously written be published. I would not have read any of it and that makes me sad.

This may also be a reason for me to tell you my own story. I believe that somehow there is someone out there who may find me selfish for not putting these things down on paper. There are now five little children, who just might want to see from whence they sprung and why they have such crazy thoughts just before they go to sleep. There are also those who would not want me to speak past the grave. There are also those who would know nothing of the history that has made us what we are.

Someone took me to the Loew’s Livonia. It must have been early in my life so that a bottle was inserted into my mouth while I watched a man with a do-rag, mustache and pirate’s garb fly across the screen with a sword in his hand. Since I was born in November of 1938, it must have happened within the first couple of years of my life. Although the years don’t match, I have since learned that the movie was probably The Black Pirate with Errol Flynn. I have a recollection of sitting on someone’s knee or lap or some other protruding part of a body and watching cannons firing on each other’s boats and lots of people jumping around on what must have been rigging.

There was great glee in the dark theatre. I knew that when I was that small. The various sounds, sights and smells have remained with me to this day. In a kind of Proustian remembrance, I can even today sit in a movie theatre and call back the memory of those times long gone when going to the movies was a glorious event.

I have lived through from the time of A and B movies, serials, cowboy flicks, film noir, technicolor, Cinemascope, wide screen, 3-d, video cassettes dvds and blue ray. In all of those experiences I never forget the first times. Those were the times of movies for children mostly on Saturdays and some Sundays and serious movies during the week and on weekend nights. I am not sure why my mother and my older sister took me to a movie and at such a young age, but I did confirm it with my sister. She was not sure, but it had something to do with getting away from some of the stresses of every day life.

It would ever be thus with me. The movies, from Frankenstein to the The Matrix have always been escapist experiences. My imagination grew and developed helped along with the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the Thief of Baghdad, Paleface and Miss Tatlock’s Millions, Pinky and Gentlemen’s Agreement. I am sure that my mid 1960’s love of Star Trek and its morality stories were a direct result of my movie going.

I have always wanted to be a helper of one kind or another. Even during those war years, when I was a small boy, I had this feeling that others might need me. When I removed change from my grandmother’s purse, I had the notion that it was o.k. to spend some of it, but it was also necessary to share it with others. I am sure that I had no idea that my own family was in some need. We appeared to live comfortably, had food, went to the movies, got some candy once in a while and played with other children. Taking grandma’s change and walking down to the Bowery and giving it to bums laying on the street, or holding their hands out was the right thing to do.

The idea of tzedaka (charity) never occurred to me on a conscious level and does not to this day. Justice demands that we all share the bounty that we have gotten or worked for. That is how we separate ourselves from the lesser creatures. We share because we are human beings. There are no green stamps in heaven for giving a homeless person some money. There is only the right thing to do. After all, it does say so in the Bible.

The movies certainly took me to places that did not coincide with my normal life experiences. Cowboys and Indians, Brick Bradford on the Moon and Lash Larue certainly didn’t inhabit my world, but in some sense they did. Good guys win, bad guys lose and lots of people fight about it in the middle. Even those two paragons of slapstick, Laurel (skinny) and Hardy (fat) proceeded in their bumbling fashion to mostly just conclusions to their shtick. All of their shenanigans landed them in trouble, but the real bad guys, the evildoers, always seemed to get their comeuppance from these seemingly incompetent boobs. Whether in “Chumps at Oxford,” or “ The Foreign Legion,” the two of them encounter all the troubles they can handle, but the bad guys get blitzed. Charles Starrett, Roy and Gene, Cisco and Pancho, and Superman, gave those bad guys what for.

I grew up thinking that, even though the films were make believe, the truth was that right wins out, evil is destroyed.

COMIC BOOKS WITH LOUIE

“Luye, come drink yur milich.” That was the familiar sound one could hear when Louie Feingood was outside playing or in someone else’s apartment. Louie was about 7 or 8 years old when I was four. He was someone to look up to. He had straight hair mostly uncombed that lay across his eyes. To relieve monocular vision, he would sometimes shake his head and reveal a second eye.
He was a quick moving apparition who only slowed down to explain some thing to you. He as especially kind to me. He would invite me into his home, to a special room to look at his massive collection of comic books. You must remember that this was in 1942 and comic books were not that old. Superman was created in 1938 by two Jewish kids and the DC Empire had just begun.
Since I was three going on 4, Louie took it upon himself to read me some of the books- Batman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel and such. I was fascinated by the pictures and the wonderful action scenes.The works BAM, KABOOM, WHACK were emblazoned upon my small brain. Within a few short months I was able to read a number of the word clouds. By the time I lost contact with Louie, I was able to read most comics from cover to cover. I am not sure that Louie ever knew that he taught me to read.
I remember rainy days when we would sit in Louie’s room and devour the comic books, page by page. When I came to a word I did not know, I would turn to Louie and he would look away from his own book and tell me what it was. I always remembered the word, as long as he said it out loud.
As I said, I lost contact with Louie when I moved to my Grandmother’s apartment in Manhattan, at Clinton and Grand. The love of comics resurrected itself a few years ago, when I encountered a collection of 5000 Classic Comics Illustrated. I had not many a book report using those early versions of cliff notes. When I brought them home, my wife Carol must have thought I was crazy. What is a 70 year old man going to do with 5000 comic books. I had no answer. I did sell 5000 of them on Ebay and still treasure the rest of them in my office.
You never really lose those things that meant so much to you in your early life. If you miss them, see if they are around somewhere. It’s good for the continuity of your life.

CHINESE FOOD

CHINESE FOOD

How can you tell that you are in a Jewish neighborhood, goes an old joke- there are lots of Italian and Chinese Restaurants. Not bad for a wizened bromide and certainly it has the ring of truth. There have always been Chinese restaurants in my life- from the Pageant on the corner of Delancey and Houston to Ho Wah’s and Chef Wong. My 65th birthday party was even held in a Chinese Restaurant ( thanks to my wife, who knows my needs). My 70th birthday was catered by Chef Wong, in person.

Somehow, the idea of Chinese food is pandemic around the world. Go to London, Paris, Bruges, the Hague and you will find them. It has always been my feeling that these restaurants, large or small, grubby or gourmet, are all run by the same people. No, this is not a politically incorrect statement, but an observation over 60 years. The Pageant in New York in 1944 had the exact same teacups as those as Kan’s Restaurant in San Francisco in 1965. The Oriental Garden in Cheltenham had the same décor as the small place in Niagra Falls in 1969. It cannot be a coincidence that General’s Tso’s , or General Chow’s delectables are made the same way all over the world, whether in Penn State or in London.

Why Grandma allowed us to go to these traef (unkosher) places to eat, is still a mystery to me. I once asked Grandma why this was so, when I was about 8 years old. She said that the Chinese were very clean people. That was enough for me. Any rationale that would continue to allow me to eat my egg drop soup, shrimp with lobster sauce and egg roll was o.k.

For many ethnics, food is comfort. “Here Maria, take a cup of tea and some cake. It will make you feel better.” In a telling description about the spirit of Jewish history- They tried to kill us, we got away, now let’s eat, we may get some clue as to my own background. There is little pillaging and rapacious behavior in Jewish History, but many atrocities and much food ( even in the old testament). In all of the rules that the bible asks us to follow, the overwhelming majority of them relate to food. How do we reward our priests- with the most unblemished animals, prime grains and the purists of oils. Is this where the food predeliction comes from? Maybe!

The death of a relative is a signal for entire families to begin cooking and preparing for the shivah ( mourning period of seven days). In visiting a home where someone has just died, there is more food per square inch sitting on the tables than you might find in a small supermarket. The deceased’s whole life could be judged by the quality of the food at his home after he/she dies.

A SHORT PIECE ON CARD FLIPPING

Card flipping is an art. If you are a professional, you can win every time with any size of card. You must be careful to allow for size of card, windage, surface, smoothness or card, distance of your hand to the ground and a number of other variables. In the mid 1940’s there were two basic sized cards- the baseball type ( now grown familiar), and the large movie star/western star card. You could flip either of these using the same technique. You hold the card in the palm of your hand and with a swift downward motion and a bend at the knee, flip the card onto the ground. If you hold the card the right way, you can match the card thrown by your opponent every time.
After a while, in your expertise, you will become anathema to all other players. It is similar to poker players who constantly win. Who wants to play against them?

 

                                                               A SPAULDEEN

 

I’m not sure if the Spaulding Company even makes these addictive spheroids any more. They were pink, about palm size of a sixth grader and able to bounce higher than a tall building. They had the name Spaulding in script stamped on them somewhere near the seam. The ball could be used for anything- stickball, handball, stoopball, punchball, hit the penny, boxball, dodgeball, wallball, and just plain catch.

 

There were never enough Spauldeens in any house in my neighborhood or school. This all- purpose toy always seemed to get lost in a closet, down an elevator shaft, a sewer or into the garbage. So, one had to go to the candy store, or office supply store (yes it was there too) and hunt around till you found one. I believe that the little dickens cost about ten or fifteen cents, which was a tub of money for this little boy. I don’t really think that I got an allowance, but I do know that I had some change in my pocket. I will admit today that I took money from mom’s tip money when I counted it. I even took coins from Grandma’s small black change purse and gave most of it to the bums on the Bowery and the rest to satisfy my candy and sports cravings.

 

Somehow having a Spauldeen in your pocket was comforting. You never knew when a game of chance or some sports contest might arise on the plains of Marathon, or in Hester Park. In one incarnation, on some warm Spring day, some of us from Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva, in full garb of yarmulkas and Tsitsis would hustle over to the playground to choose up sides for a good old fashioned game of punch ball.

 

When we trod upon the black tar surface, we chose up sides. The two best players would get a chance to pick their teams one at a time. So perhaps there might be 10 or twelve of us. The big hitters would choose from the rest. I was usually not one of the most gifted, but I did get chosen in the first or second round. Some of the less sturdy of us were left.Such as, do I have to choose Louie, he can’t even hit the ball without bouncing it first.Yes, you have to take Louie. I even have to take David, so you have to take Louie.

 

The game always began with the definition of the rules. They were extremely involved. You could not do about 35 things, and you could only do about 5. If the ball went over the fence, depending on where it went over, it was either an out or a home run. You could not advance a base if the other team had full control of the Spauldeen. If you left the base before someone hit the ball with his mighty fist, you were automatically out. The arguments that ensued usually took more time than the game itself. I am sure that this is true with all small boys. I have seen it in schools over 40 years and with my own children and grandchildren. It really is part of the game.

 

To digress for a moment- In my high school days, I played sandlot basketball with some good ballplayers. Most of them were high school and college players, with some old time pros thrown in. I remember an argument about a particular play. An All American ball player from St. John’s University was so frosted that he could not get his point across, that he took the basketball and left, leaving a group of about 20 people looking at each other in disbelief. None of us had another basketball. So, we all went home, some in our cars and some on our bicycles. Little boys and big boys too get involved with the rules, sometimes more than with the game.

 

It’s a beautiful Spring day. The sides have been chosen and I am the second chosen by the best punch ball player in the school, Eliezer. He is a tall boy with lots of ringlets streaming down the sides of his face. Even in sixth grade, you can tell that he will soon have a dark beard sometime in the near future. He chooses me and puts me on first base, the most important fielding position on the team. The other players are strewn all over the place. There is even one of our group standing on the other side of the fence, ready to catch a long bomber.

 

I am thrilled to be placed at first base. It’s the busiest spot on the field. It is also the most notorious. If you happen to drop a ball that is whizzed over to you from a distance of no more than 30 feet and more likely 15, you are removed to a much less prestigious position far from the action. I hold my ground that day and drop only one thrown ball from about five feet away. Izzy Feingold makes a diving stab at a ground ball and practically decapitates me from about five feet away. All clap at Izzy’s acrobatics, and understand that I could not have caught the ball.

 

As with small boys on a hot afternoon, we fail to take into account the time needed to complete the game. It comes to an abrupt halt when someone looks over at the Forwards building and notices that it is already one o’clock. The score by this time is in our favor and the losers bow their heads and gather their egos to come back and compete some other time.  We trudge back to Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva on Henry Street. I glance over at the other kids walking with me, ringlets (Payis) wet with perspiration, shirts and tsitis outside our pants,or in some cases knickers and marvel at the good fortune that the Spaulding Company has bestowed upon us.

Jean Jacques Crawb-Musings

AUNT RUTH AND UNCLE JOE

They are both dead now- Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe. She died in Harrisburg Hospital holding onto Carol and me. She had sung You Are My Sunshine to her doctor only two hours before. She had even encouraged the doctors and the nurses to sing along with her. She told each of them how nice they looked and then asked us for confirmation. It was a strange feeling seeing her literally expire while watching those monitors of her biorhythms rise and fall and finally flatten out. We both cried and looked at each other. Aunt Ruth was gone, but we were there to help her leave.

Uncle Joe died three years earlier. We got a call from Mac, Joe’s brother, that he had expired in their apartment in the WABASSE cooperative in Coney Island. Aunt Ruth had no idea that he was dead. She had called Mac and Evelyn, his wife, with a question about why Joe was sleeping so much. Carol and I got into our car and got to their apartment in record time. We took over the last remnants of a life that was left to a world not really interested in the meager existence of two such kind and regular people.

Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe lived on the beach at Coney Island. They occupied a space, four by ten in the sand on Bay 23rd St. If you just looked up at the Washington Bath clock and follow your eyes down toward the beach, you would have seen them. I still see them planting their rented umbrella and chairs in the grey brown mixture that passed for working class beaches in the 1940’s. You had to come early to get the prime spots, not too close to the water, as the tide would wash away your place, or too near the boardwalk where the undesirables hung out and couples kissed and did other bad things.

An eight year old boy, me, takes off his pants and shirt and runs at open throttle to the water to test the temperature and check the waves. It was summertime and I was given over to the kindest people that I have ever known, for two weeks. I would never forget those times and the debt of gratitude that I owed my aunt and uncle.

Ruthie was the youngest of the Bernstein children. When she came over in 1921 she was probably about seven years old. She was the baby of the family, and according to my mother, the one who got the piano lessons and was able to finish high school. Her life was made difficult because of her complexion which was pock marked from severe childhood acne and inept doctors. She nevertheless grew up to be a positive human being and a great influence on her nephew. She met Uncle Joe at one of those social clubs that abounded in New York to get young Jewish people to meet under supervision. When she married Joe Fleischer he was handsome, warm and the epitome of Joe Lunchbox. He had been in an orphanage, along with his brothers, for most of his early life. Joe was a special and accepting person. However, he was not the choice of Grandma Frieda. She wanted something better for Ruth and made her thoughts clear to Joe. His reaction was to have violent bouts of sniffing in her presence. Her answer in Yiddish was “ Why do you sniff all the time?”

After my dad died in 1943, Ruth and Joe became my temporary parents during those two weeks in the summer. You could always tell Aunt Ruth by the amount of food that sat in four Macy’s shopping bags at her side. The beach chairs and umbrellas surrounded her. The umbrella was there so that if it rained you would have someplace to hide. Uncle Joe was that rather tall gentleman with an index finger in each of his ears( adjusting his earplugs (he once had a punctured eardrum, which kept him out of the service.) I can still see them silhouetted against the blue morning skies discussing the plans for the day.

Since they had no children, Ruth and Joe lavished all of their frustrated parental instincts on one small nephew, me. The summer was a grand time for us all as we traveled the elevated train to Coney Island past all of the strange smells of oil and candy corn, past Luna Park into the final resting station of Coney Island. From about ages 5 through 11, I stayed with them just before school started and after I had spent 4, and sometimes 8 weeks at Camp Deal, in New Jersey. By the time camp was over I was ready to go to Brooklyn and be with my aunt and uncle.

They lived in a small apartment at 1780 76th Street in the ——- section of Brooklyn. The small kitchen, living room and bedroom seemed so grand to me compared to the tenement that I lived in for the rest of the year. I was treated like Freddie Bartholemew in some of the Lord Fauntelroy movies. There was no request that I could make that would not be answered.. Delectables like Joyvah Halvah, rock candy, marmalade bars, cookies, danish and dots on paper and Charlotte Russes were staples. I am sure that if I told my mother or grandmother that I was eating such treats, they would have been aghast and agog.

When I was in my minority, about age 7, I even slept in the same bed as Ruth and Joe As I began to grow too large, I was relegated to a folding bed in the living room. On hot nights we would go up to the roof, sometimes called the roof garden, and look at the fireworks coming from Coney Island. Hard to imagine that I once stood in wonderment at that colorful display. I somehow have become jaded to all that I looked forward to when I was a kid.

The greatest joys in their lives were the beach and food, and for pure orgasmic joy, a combination of the two. For ecstasy, nothing could compare to the morning of the packing for the beach. The entire refrigerator seemed to be emptied onto the kitchen table in full view of all the participants. Uncle Joe and Aunt Ruth would then discard all of the non-portable items and ritually pack the rest of the feast into the Macy’s shopping bags. They packed for ten people, expecting that their friends might just drop by at the beach. Unfortunately, their friends also brought food with them, leaving 26 lbs. of food for two large adults and one small boy.

We rode the elevated subway to Coney Island, getting off at the stop with all of the amusements and food vendors. We would stroll past the edifice of Nathan’s hot dog stand amidst the odor of hot franks and root beer. Aunt Ruth’s comment that one could probably get ptomaine poisoning from so much as touching one of those hot dogs, made the odors no less alluring. I could almost see Uncle Joe’s appetite countenance appearing as he seemed to be agreeing with me. We never did get one of those dogs.

Uncle Joe’s desire for food overstepped every known barrier. Dinner at the Fleischer’s always consisted of 2 courses. Each of the courses was a full meal with appetizers, salad, a main course and dessert. The final course was always Alka Seltzer placed on the table after the second dessert course. Dessert was usually homemade cake created by Uncle Joe. He had three specialties- nut cake, machine oil cake and sour cream cake. Other than some extra ingredients, they all looked and tasted the same. At each meal, between Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe and this 7 or 8 year old, we consumed two of the cakes. By the next meal, all three cakes were gone. I had always imagined that Uncle Joe’s voracious appetite came from his days in the orphanage. In later years, in speaking with Joe’s brothers Mac and Jack, it was confirmed that all three had insatiable desires for food.

Uncle Joe’s immediate preparedness at any time of the day or night for any victual was his hallmark. Grandma Frieda said that although cleaning one’s plate was a Jewish trait ( I have since found out that it is also old world, ethnic and depression mentality), Uncle Joe was suspect because of his never ending desire for more plates. There seemed to be no end whatsoever to Uncle Joe’s desires. At a time he might humbly refuse an individual portion of a course so that it might appear that he was in restraint of his craving. However, he would more than compensate by remaining at the table after the meal to help in cleaning up and to down a few choice snacks.

We arrived at the beach at about 9 o’clock,. . . when the water was clean. I was then allowed to dip myself for about ten minutes. Aunt Ruth would then come charging into the water, to her ankles, declare that I was turning blue, and then spirit me back to our place in the sand.

I would never swim more than those ten minutes during the day. I was instructed to eat my large beef tomato, my hard boiled egg, my quarter of a fried chicken, my four cups of juice, my three pieces of fruit and my cake. I was then ordered to wait one and one half hours before being allowed to swim. By that hour it was once again time for a large meat loaf sandwich, some loose lettuce, another beef tomato, some cookies and fruit. This cycle was repeated two more times during the day until five o’clock, at which time we left.

I must admit that the one and one half hour rest periods were very interesting. It was at this time that I was treated to the sight of Mae and Jack, my aunt and uncle’s closest friends. Mae was about my aunt’s age ( about 104 years old I thought at the time), rather sallow complexioned and scrunched in at the cheek. Jack was sort of a nodule of a man who might have felt at home attached to some inanimate object such as a chair. His face bore the marks of his own appetite- he drank the oil from the sardine cans and discarded the sardines.. He was a placid little man who wore a rubber swim cap on his head and ears. Jack claimed to be an expert swimmer, and from what I could see, from an eight year old’s vantage point, this is what he was.

Jack was able to float atop the water on his back with his head resting on an inflated rubber pillow. This I divined as expertise. No sight could be more comforting than to see this small smudge of a man resting on that vast expanse of water, blowing a thin stream of water through his teeth into the air. Then one day I was sad. Jack was resting comfortably on the water, when a small wave slipped past the Coney Island jetties and overturned Jack’s body. He was about fifty feet from shore when this tragedy occurred. He screamed three times for Uncle Joe to come and help him. Alas, Uncle Joe was wearing his earplugs and could not hear him. I made some frantic hand signals to Uncle Joe, and the big man swam toward Jack, stood him up in the water(Jack was never aware of the water’s depth since he floated on top), and shook him. Jack composed himself, adjusted his rubber cap, walked towards the shore and began to recount the first telling of the legend of Joe’s rescue of Jack.

While the benign figure of dour Jack rested on the ochre-colored water of Coney Island, the saronged body of Mae slowly sifted hundreds of pounds of grey-blue beach sand. Mae was a thrifty person..The word thrifty denotes her philosophical, as well as her physical modes of operation.. She made no attempt to rationalize her sifting through the sand for money or other forgotten objects. Her main beach function was four or five hours of searching the sand with a flour sifter for lost valuables. She prided herself on her findings, calculated at about one dollar a day. She would promptly place this money into a napkin, probably to distinguish it from other caches she had found, and dumped it into her purse.

To say that Mae did not use this money in a carefree way, is to give a false report. Mae used this money in the innumerable card games that became a great tradition between my aunt and uncle and their good friends Mae and Jack. The beginning of the great card game tradition is lost in those pages of history that are glued together by some food substance that has been deposited on it during a careless meal. The only game that they played was poker. The stakes were one penny and two for a raise. Bluffing was considered to be an attribute of cardsharks. The games began with an explanation of the rules, to wit; one pair was the least that you could get, two pair was a good hand, three of a kind was better than one pair, but not as good as two pair, a straight was complicated and required extra time to figure out, a flush was all of one suit and the rest we could argue about.

Each game was preceded by an explanation of the fines for talking, which was generally levied against Uncle Joe, although Aunt Ruth did the interrupting. She was the enforcer of the rules. The dealer then dealt out his/her choice of poker games. If the game was five card deuces wild, a cataclysmic argument would ensue relative to the merits of a real hand and a phony one with deuces. If the game was seven card hi-lo, a foreign expert would be called in to determine who the winners were, and in fact, how much each of them had won. The results of these contests were generally that Uncle Joe would lose all of his pennies, while Aunt Ruth won substantial amounts. Mae and Jack would announce that they had no urge to ever play again because it took too much time out from their sifting and floating.

I would generally have some time during the afternoon to run across some bodies on the sand to the skee ball emporium on the boardwalk. I was allowed to play this frivolous game at five cents a throw because the concession was run by an honest Chinese gentleman. With other games, grandma would have found fault, not only with the obvious gambling aspects, but of the ancestry of the proprietor of the establishment. With this diversion, she found no fault, so Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe permitted it. As with Chinese restaurants, skee ball run by a Chinese person was o.k.

After getting twenty five cents worth of nickels, I would survey the several alleys to determine the previous lowest score which appeared in a window above each alley. My rationale was that a low playing alley would be ready for some high scores. I carefully deposited my nickel into the aged machine, pulled the lever back and extracted nine worn wooden balls into the play slot. Lining my eye up with the center, I released the first ball along the wall of the alley with a deft spin. The ball hummed unevenly as it approached the jump off point. If my aim was satisfactory the ball would hit the jointure of the corner and the rise in the alley and jump directly into the fifty point slot.

Perfection was never achieved. The Chinese proprietor counseled me on the efficacy of delivering the ball straight down the alley, rather than releasing the ball to the side. His advice went unheeded as I became expert in what was later to become a kind of illegal spitball pitch at all skee ball centers.

With each game completion, I was eligible for a coupon which could be redeemed for eye opening prizes. The higher your score, the more coupons you got. If you got a maximum of 450 points you got twenty five coupons, a glorious sum. I was never able to overcome my need for instant gratification. I cashed in my coupons immediately for such prizes as chinese fans, spauldeen rubber balls, and the thumb torture apparatus. ( in which both thumbs were inserted with no way of extricating oneself). Aunt Ruth was always amazed at the number of items with which I returned. She puzzled over the thumb torture, feigned use of the fan and generally made a fuss over her nephew’s ability in the sports field.

If there is a mortal exhaustion, it can be no more in degree than the going home from the beach. By this time of the day, the crowds had become a shifting, moving wave of humanity in line trying to go to the only men’s and ladies rooms within a mile’s walk. Although changing one’s clothes on the beach was a strictly forbidden part of the huge signposts everywhere, there were no restrictions at the comfort station. Attendants looked the other way as old women with tiny children and those with incontinent bladders attacked the few stalls in the rest rooms.

Many of the small children became sexually aware in these small cubby holes. The mechanics of dressing in such surroundings required a knowledge of ballet, aerodynamics and football. Obviously, those with wider ranges of experience could master the jumping into the stall, standing on the commode, wiping one’s feet while at the same time putting on the outer clothing, relieving oneself and making your way out of the noisy place.

Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe decried the indignities of this mode of dressing and did what was then called daring. After seeing that most of the people were gone or looking in other directions, Aunt Ruth would produce a towel from some compartment in her Macy’s shopping bag. She would unfold it, revealing a towel large enough to completely obscure the vision of enemy reconnaissance planes. Uncle Joe was then instructed to place a towel around me, while I removed my still dry bathing suit, dusted the sand from my body and put on my underwear and outer garments. By this time, anyone who had not noticed us before was staring blankly at the sight of a man holding a towel at arms length in a circular pattern with some obvious movement coming from inside the towel’s center.

Uncle Joe and Aunt Ruth would then bid good by to their friends, dust themselves off and put their clothes directly on their bathing suits. The cleaning of the feet and the dusting of all other items was the function of the boardwalk itself.

The long trudge to the elevated subway platform was punctuated by Uncle Joe’s reminiscences about the day’s happenings, mostly the bill of fare and how it compared to other beach days. The train was impacted with people in various states of debilitation. From one end of the subway car to the other, children were sleeping on suitcases, bags and other beach accessories. Sugared popcorn was the odor of the cars, as Uncle Joe bemoaned the misdeed of not getting a small snack before boarding the train. The train waited interminably for the completion of its packing and lurched forward meekly as it progressed down the track to 1780 76th street and my aunt and uncle’s home.