(This essay will appear in the author’s forthcoming book, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Notes from Brooklyn” which will see the light of your electronic readers in 2018 or sooner.”)
I never knew “Cockeye’s” name (he was so-called because he was wickedly cross-eyed) nor am I sure that his brother’s name was Joe. It was a long ago, very. They were the corner drug store pharmacists in a world before political correctness in a world rarely found in America anymore. It wasn’t just that they knew the names of their customers. No. They knew family histories, who was sick, who filed that totally unjustified or totally justified (depending on which family they were talking to) law suit. They remembered to ask if the scabs from the bicycle accident your kid had were healed, or that you needed a roof repair and to tell you that their brother-in-law’s 2nd cousin twice removed was the person to call.
It was a neighborhood 6 city blocks in length and 1 ½ in width. Every necessity a person needed in the 1950’s and early 60’s could pretty much be found in the neighborhood. Rarely did one drive to the store, one usually walked and carried “it,” whatever it might be, home, often with children in tow acting as grocery Sherpas. Nor did anyone ever say they were going “to the stores” even though I can’t ever remember just going to or being sent to just one of them. Well I can, but that will come later.
Within the “I” that was the boundary of my growing up years there was: the bar (“The Leprechaun, of course”), the bank, the vegetable man (not store, but man), the butcher, the baker (no candle-stick maker), the grocery, actually two, Bohack’s (for Jews and other ethnics) on Foster Avenue and the A&P at the other end, Avenue H (for Gentiles), both of which featured sawdust on the floor and grocers in full length aprons, the hardware store, Teitle’s, also run by brothers, one named Alvin both of whom seemed to see quite well, the notions store (I still don’t get why such stores were called that), which was called “Mrs. Goldstein’s” not “The Notion’s Store”), a candy store that like all New York candy stores sold a little candy and lots of other things, mostly uneatable and even unchewable like “Spaldeens” the pink, rubber balls that were the staple of our lives, and of course had a soda fountain. The candy store had a name, I’m sure, but as a destination it was “Lou and Al’s,” two army veterans who opened it up and ran it as a safe-haven in a rough spot for kids like me. Gang members’ money was welcome, but one didn’t fool around with Lou, Al or their patrons and for almost all of my recollection there was never any shop-lifting or vandalism, until the day it went up in flames. Local suspicion? Insurance fire. It was Brooklyn, remember?
It was only when my parents were on vacation and my grandma came to stay with my brother and me that I ever went to one store instead of several. Grandma was the last of the great penny-pinchers. She bought only what was needed and only bought it a moment or two before it was needed–like stockings and there-in is a Notion’s Store story.
Grandma was an amputee; she had a leg removed because of cancer. Talk about advancement in medicine. The cancer was on her heel and they amputated her leg almost to the hip! But it worked. She lived until 97. Because she had one leg she wore only one nylon stocking. Because of the wing nut and bolt on her wooden crutches, when we was not being careful or had to bring the crutches close in to get through a small space, she would put a tear in the one she was wearing. “Nylons” as they were called, never stockings or Nylon stockings, were sold however in boxes of two. She was a stubborn and certain woman my grandma, so on her command off I would go to Mrs. Goldstein with instructions to buy one nylon stocking and back I would come with the answer that if Mrs. G. only sold one she’d have no use for the other and back I would go then to buy the box of two. Why didn’t grandma pack an extra? ‘don’t know. Nor was she the type that you asked such things.
But back to Cockeye. How he got through pharmacy school was a mystery re-enforced every time I went to pick up a prescription. In order to double-check that he was giving me the right bag, he’d hold it up at about a 45 degree angle to his shoulder so he could read it. My assumption was that his brother did the pill counting and liquid pouring, or so I hoped. It was decades until it dawned on me that it must have been a huge challenge and therefore a great triumph for him to have gotten through school. But that was the age of the obvious, about 9 or 10; I didn’t see nuances yet and the revelation about getting through school with such a disability was yet years away.
Cock-eye was the garrulous one. He loved to chat up the customers. You just had to know where to stand otherwise you couldn’t quite be sure you were the one he was talking to. Joe, on the other hand, was “just there” the studious manager carefully over-seeing things making sure that small visitors, hard to see over the counter, kept their hands where they were supposed to be and left the candy and such where it was supposed to be.
And so it was back then. Waldorf Court, my street, was its own little “Lake Wobegon.” And like Garrison Keillor might say had he been from my neighborhood, “It was always a quiet week on the block where all the men were handsome, the woman beautiful, and the children above average.”
That was about as true then for the neighborhood as it is now for anyplace, including Lake Wobegon….
Check my book, “Mirth, Wind, and Ire” only 2.99 smashwords.com/books/view/692523