Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tenement Dwellers

Lawrence – My Hometown

Chip of the old beer “bottle”

By Richard E. Noble

Lawrence and “frugality” are synonyms to me. Penuriousness and parsimony are so common that they should be considered as street names in my hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Cheap and penny pinching are complimentary adjectives in every Lawrencian’s handbook. They can call it what they want but it is all thriftiness and good old New England shopping in our book of proverbs.
Waste not, want not, charity begins at home and a penny saved, is a penny earned are simply statements of revealed, profound truth. I’m sure they must be in the Bible – if not the Bible, in Ben Franklin’s Almanac which is a close second to the Bible.
The only person in the world who can upset me with adjectives like cheap or tightwad is my wife. But whenever she does, she knows what she is in for.
The litany begins with the Maine lobster stuffed with real Alaskan king crab meat that I bought for her on our first real date at the big, fancy Fishermen’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I even took the car to the valet parking that evening back in 1972. That is the year 1972 when a dollar was a dollar and a fifty cent tip to the valet parking guy meant something.
Then we jump right up to my demand that we go all the way and buy a brand, new mobile home for $8,886 back in 1982 rather than buy a used mobile home for less than half that price.
The matching towel rack and toilet paper holder, made out of real wood, imported all the way from China as opposed to the plastic one that was on sale at K-Mart at the time is another glaring instance of my wild and crazy extravagant nature when it came to caring for my loved one(s).
Need I even mention my insistence on “all-beef” no-name brand hot dogs or my “demand” that we buy raisins at the Dollar General Discount Store to add to our no-name bran flakes? Come on now? Let’s not just throw around those derogatory adjectives without a little forethought here. I could go on and on but I think I have made my point.
But getting away from my tendency towards “conspicuous consumption” and my periods of extravagance in the name of love and responsibility and returning to the topic at hand – reasonable and thought-out conservative spending, I ask myself, “Where did I get such an educated economic nature?
I got it from my friends on the street corner, their parents, the local shop owners, the little red school house I attended, the good nuns and from vivid examples that took place right in my tiny kitchen on 32 Chelmsford St. in uptown/downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts. For example:
My dad returns to his bit of paradise at 32 Chelmsford St. with his six pack of Holihan’s Black Horse Ale under his arm. It has been a long day working as an attendant and assistant manager at the Merit gas station up on Broadway.
He was looking forward to a cold one, a bowl of cherry scented Edgeworth’s tobacco, and a quiet evening in front of the TV watching Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town featuring strongman, Joe Banomo, who is going to dead lift the entire Ed Sullivan Show – guests and staff, Ed and Edgar Bergen - included. All in all a pretty darn exciting evening.
He puts his Texaco style gas station attendant’s hat on top of the refrigerator. (We are the men from Texaco … we work from Maine to Mexico…) He deposits his beer in the refrigerator pulling the cold ones to the front and sliding the warmer ones to the rear. After bath (we had no shower in those days) and change of clothes, he returns to the refrigerator in a fresh pair of boxer shorts and a spiffy clean tank top T-shirt.
(Did I ever tell you the story about when my twelve year old sister was just learning to darn socks and hand sew, and she discovered that all of my dad’s boxer shorts were torn in the front?)
Well anyway, he pulls that first nice, cold Holihan’s Black Horse Ale off the shelf and saunters over to the sink. He grabs up his trusty bottle opener and pops off that first cap.
“Oh Damn,” he exclaims. “Will you look at this, Mary? I chipped the darn bottle top. What do I do now?”
“Well, Ernie, if I were you I would just dump that beer down the sink and get a fresh one. You don’t want to take the chance on swallowing a piece of glass.”
My dad leaned on the sink bracing himself with both hands and both arms, his head bowed in disgust. How could he have done such a thing? How many bottles of beer had he opened in his lifetime without a mishap – 47 million? Wow, this was a true tragedy. The silence was awesome. The struggling look, caused by the necessity to think, that this “accident” had precipitated was painful. He pondered. He made gruesome faces. He rubbed his chin and turned around in little circles. He came to rest with his backside to the counter where his beer with the chip of glass was sitting. He then lifted his head and stared up at the buzzing florescent kitchen light with the dangling turn-on string for a sign.
And then it happened. The pain vanished and a look of genuine genius swept down his face – from wrinkled brow to puckered chin. He ran to his bedroom and returned with a clean linen handkerchief. My mother was watching skeptically with her arms across her chest.
My dad got his favorite, large pilsner glass off the shelf and placed it on the sink counter. He snapped open his handkerchief like he was about to perform a magic act. He draped the handkerchief over the pilsner glass as if he were in the process of making it disappear. He grasped the glass along with the handkerchief – holding the handkerchief snug around the glass. He picked up his bottle of beer and then poured the beer into the glass, straining the beer through the handkerchief that was over the top of the glass acting like a filter. The glass filled up with beer and low and behold there was the shard of glass sitting on the taut handkerchief stretched over the rim of the glass.
Holy cow! What a stroke of genius.
My dad beamed. My mom frowned and shook her head negatively.
“What?” my dad bellowed.
“What?” my mother mocked. “You just wasted a 75 cent linen handkerchief to save a darn 25 cent bottle of beer. Great goin’ Albert Einstein.”
My dad’s beam of genius went from high to low to off. He shrugged, tossed the 75 cent handkerchief into the trash and headed to the parlor.
When my dad disappeared into the parlor with his miracle beer my mom went over and snatched the handkerchief from the trash and laughed. She looked down at me “Your father, the genius, doesn’t know about the invention of the washing machine either.”

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published six books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry portions of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle and Noble Notes on Famous Folks is history with a bit of humor.

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