Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mr. Duchnowski's Bean suppers

This is one of my favorite poems from my book of poetry and prose "A Little Something." You can learn more about this book and how to purchase it by clicking the link to the right of this page. Thanks. I hope you enjoy it.


The majority of my friends, and myself, spent the most of our young adult lives ... looking for love in all of the wrong places. I don’t think that we knew what we were doing. I don’t think that we realized that we were looking for love. But that is what we were doing. That is what we are all doing ... no matter how we express or try to deny it. That is what we are doing.
Mister Duchnowski was the dad of one of my bosom lifelong buddies. Every time that we saw him, he had the same advice for us. We had heard his advice so many times, that we knew his lecture by heart. We were always respectful to Mister D., but for the most part we thought of him as somewhat odd. I think that he knew what we thought, but he continued to give us the same speech nevertheless. There were times when we just laughed. We never took him seriously. We never really listened to his well intended lecture. And, we never followed his advice.
Today, Mister Duchnowski is no longer with us, but I can still see him smiling, his teeth back home on the bureau soaking in a glass, his stained, flat-topped golf cap stationed askew atop his wavy gray, and those Polish eyes sparkling sincerely and hopefully as he offered to us his best thought considerations with regards to our future love life. I still smile as I hear his voice, but now that I am the age that he was then, I have to think twice about what he was trying to say to us. I don’t think that we should have been laughing.
Here’s to you Mister D; and here’s Mister D to the all of you.


Listen to me ... listen to me!
You guys is entirely on the wrong track, ya see.

Skip the nightclubs, the booze, and the dim lights.
Take yourself down to a church bean supper one of these

The prettiest girls that you have ever seen,
Are right there in the line, spoonin’ out the beans.

I know, I know, you think that I’m old and outta my mind,
But believe me, at them ham and bean suppers
Are the prettiest girls that you’ll ever find.

You wouldn’t believe the girl last night
Slicin’ up the German rye.
It gave ten years back to my life
Just to see that sweet look in her eye.

And next to her, with the Polish Kielbasey,
Was an Italian girl by the name of Bonacarsee.

That dark hair and olive skin ... she could a been a movie star.
And there you guys are, down some dive or two bit bar.

What do you think you’re gonna meet down there?
You guys are missin’ it, I’m tellin’ ya ... but I don’t care.

My life’s over. It’s no matter to me.
But if it’s beautiful girls that you’re lookin’ for
Them bean suppers is where you oughta be.
That’s right! That’s right!

Oh yeah, you can laugh all you want,
But them church bean suppers
Are the places you guys oughta haunt.
The prettiest girls that I’ve ever seen,
Spoonin’ out pork ‘n beans like outta some dream.

You guys is just missin’ the boat.
Why it puts a lump right here in my throat
To think if I was you guy-es age,
I’ll tell ya, I wouldn’t be watchin’ some nude-y
Dancin’ in some cage.

I’d be down to one of them bean suppers, in a rush
Tryin’ to steal a smile or pinch a blush
From one of them lovelies with sauce on her apron,
And bread flour smearin’ her chest.

Take it from me, it’s at them bean suppers
Where the girls are the best.

You can leave it behind ... you can forget all the rest,
Try one of them church bean suppers

And then you tell me if them girls ain’t the best.
That’s right! That’s right!
You try one of them bean suppers some night.
Then you come back and tell me if old Mr. Duchnowski
Didn’t tell ya what’s right.

You just try one of them bean suppers some night
And see if what I tell you ain’t right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Noble Notes on Famous Folks

This is an excerpt from my book "Noble Notes on Famous Folks." For more information or to make a purchase click on the link at the right of this page.

Carl Bernstein

Executive Order No. 9835

I’ve just finished reading a book entitled “Loyalties, a Son’s Memoir” by Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame.

Carl Bernstein’s dad was a lawyer. He was interested in politics. He got involved in the Roosevelt administration and served on several prominent committees. He joined the military in World War II and went over to Europe to fight against Fascism and Nazism. When he returned to his home, it seems to me, he found more of the same waiting for him right here.

On March 21, 1947 Harry Truman passed executive order 9835. This order was to trigger the American Inquisition of the late 40’s and early 50’s - the McCarthy Era.
This law basically stated that anyone suspected of disloyalty could be summarily dismissed from their government job. You could be called before a commission on information provided anonymously. You had no right to a lawyer, no jury, no trial. You weren’t allowed to confront your accusers, or to even know who they were. No proof or specific evidence was required, but yet if the board found that you were suspect, you would be fired from your job, and labeled as a subversive. You might never find another job. You might have to move from your neighborhood, change your name, lie, hide and keep the knowledge of your appearance before this inquisition committee a secret for the rest of your life. And this all could happen to you because you were a member of some labor union, or an associate of a member of a labor union. Or you were a member of a club that petitioned for the rights of blacks or minorities in America; or you wrote something positive about the Soviet Union, or you associated with someone who did. You could lose your job, your career and the potential for your whole life’s efforts on the false accusation of an anonymous, jealous fellow worker; someone who may have had a cousin in line for your job.
Carl Bernstein’s dad was one of these people. He was bigger than an unjustly accused victim though. He was an outright champion of the victimized. As a lawyer, he took it upon himself to defend over five hundred of these people brought before Mister McCarthy and his team of government investigators until finally like, Clarence Darrow before him, he was brought to the firing line by his political rivals and enemies. He lost his status and position. He lost his Washington career. He lost his ability to practice law. He ended up opening up a Bendix coin-operated Laundromat in a black neighborhood, and that is how he earned his living from that time on.
This is quite a story, in itself, but there is more.

Carl Bernstein’s dad, a defender of the liberal left was confronted by the McCarthy champions of the right. Two of McCarthy’s prominent Knights were the infamous Roy Cohn, and Richard M. Nixon.

Richard M. Nixon, the man who was forced to resign from the highest government job in the land, who had his whole career ruined; who lived the rest of his life fending off accusations and denying his being labeled a crook, and a criminal - this man’s life, very much in the pattern of his late rival, Alfred Bernstein, was brought to this disgraceful position, at least in part, by the son of his victim, Carl Bernstein. The man whose life and career Richard M. Nixon had once helped to destroy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hobo-ing America

This is chapter 11 from my book Hobo-ing America. To find out more about this book or to purchace a copy just click on the Hobo-ing America link at the right on this page.

Bill and His Dog, Larry

Bill Jones was what they call in the South - a good old boy. He was a big man, very tall and very heavy. Bill was the only fellow that I ever met who could sit in the shade under an orange tree and without making a move, sweat profusely - no matter what the temperature.

As all good old boys, Bill drove a pickup truck, collected guns, lived in a double-wide, and knew the art of survival, Southern style.

He had a small fishing boat that he used to trot-line for catfish. He hunted, and had a freezer filled to the lid with venison, wild turkey, ducks, wild hog, turtle, rattlesnake meat, shellcracker, bluegill, catfish, and bags of shelled field peas. When he wasn’t contracting orange pickers, he could be found driving a tractor trailer or hauling and selling watermelons along side some main stretch of highway from the back of a rack truck.

He was a good old boy, surviving in any and whatever way he could manage. The only thing that Bill Jones didn’t have that all good old boys are supposed to have, was a dog. Instead of a dog, Bill had Larry.

Bill and Larry were virtually inseparable. Larry was a stray that Bill had picked up alongside of the road one day. Larry was homeless, jobless, food-less, skill-less, school-less, speechless, transportation-less, and hopeless. He could neither read nor write, and was not too handy in handling numbers either. The orange picking crew had a party when they discovered this. Bill finally developed a system of lines and crosses. Four vertical lines and one horizontal line passing through the four indicated a total of five bins.

After being admonished by Bill a number of times and cheated by his fellow workers on numerous occasions, Larry learned the importance of these marks and adhered to the making of them with a strict self-imposed discipline. Despite all his short comings, as time went on, Larry became Bill’s right-hand man. If Bill was contracting oranges, Larry was driving the Goat; if Bill was selling watermelons, Larry was loading the truck and checking the load; if Bill was catching catfish, Larry was tending the line. If you saw Bill driving down the road in his pickup truck, you saw Larry sitting there shotgun, drinking his “Pessi.”

Larry also had a speech impediment. Pepsi was always Pessi. Larry spoke as if he had a hair lip - but he didn’t.

He looked pretty much like everyone else - but he wasn’t. He was a sad sack; the poor soul of the universe. He did whatever, and exactly as Bill told him, but not without question. Larry was the antithesis of Bill in nature and character. Bill was the capitalist, the businessman, the economic pragmatist. Larry was the peasant, the serf, the blue-collared, blue jean-ed worker of the world who saw only the idealistic.

Bill was shrewd and cunning. Larry was naive and simplicity itself. Bill was roundabout and diplomatic. Larry was to the point and childishly unsophisticated. If Bill said black, Larry said white. If Bill said right, Larry said wrong. What a pair!
Bill took care of Larry’s every need, and was rewarded with Larry’s sincerest loyalty. But this loyalty was certainly not blind or without questioning or criticism. These two went well past the tragic and comical, to the theatrically humorous - a real life Martin and Lewis or Abbot and Costello. Actually, they were more of a comedic country version of Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith.

I think that it all began with the ice water.

Old Bill, at first, brought out to the grove a five gallon cooler filled with ice water. He had it strapped to the back of his pickup truck. He even provided disposable drinking cups. This didn’t last too very long. It was only a matter of time before Bill’s capitalistic creativity came to the surface. After all, this “free” ice water business involved a lot of trouble, time, and money. Bill, one day, added to the ice water, cans of Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, and Hire’s root beer. He offered these to the crew for the current vending machine price.

Nobody seemed to have a problem with this except Larry who shook his head in disgust every time any crew member deposited fifty cents into Big Bill’s open palm. Finally after one particularly long sigh on Larry’s part, Bill turned to his constant companion and moaned pathetically; “Larry, what on earth are you groanin’ about, boy?”

“You only paid twenty-five cents for those sodas, Bill. Why are you makin’ everybody pay fifty cents?”

This was a question that bordered on the infantile or ludicrous to Bill. It was a question that deserved no answer. It was a question that not even his six year old boy had ever asked him. This was a question that was not what one would call stupid. It was not intelligent enough to be labeled stupid. Bill pulled out his handkerchief, wiped his brow, looked about the bed of the pickup truck and then into the eyes of the other listeners. He shook his head slowly back and forth asking the observers with this mocking gesture what one was supposed to do or say to a boy like this Larry.

“Larry, am I forcin’ anybody to buy this ice cold, twenty-five cent soda for fifty cents?”
“Do you see me pushin’ any man’s arm behind his back, or intimadatin’ anybody to buy these frosty, cold sodas for fifty cents?”
“Then tell me Larry, what in the hell is your problem boy? I wish you’d splain it to me boy, ‘cause I’d really like to know? Honest and truly, cross my heart and hope to die, I really, honest and truly, would like to know? If you can splain it to me, son, please do?”
“It just ain’t white.”
“It ain’t right, you say? What ain’t right?”
“It ain’t white to buy somthin’ for twenty-five cents and sell it for fifty cents.”
“Oh, it ain’t! Well maybe you and me best get back to town and get the po-lice onto that dang grocer who sold me this ten cent soda for a quarter. Or maybe we’d best have that man at the gas station arrested for sellin’ me that fifty cent gas for a dollar. Or how about the boy who sold me this twenty-five cent ice for seventy-nine cents?”
“You got the ice for free from Billy Bob. He always gives you things for free from the grocery store ‘cause you let him shoot your machinegun some times.” Everybody standing around the pickup truck laughed.
“Larry, what did I tell you about talkin’ about that machinegun boy?”
Larry rushed his hand up to his mouth in embarrassment. “I’m sorry Bill, it slipped out. I didn’t mean it. But that is how you got the ice.”
“Don’t you know Larry that a man can go to jail ifin he has a machinegun - which I do not!”
“You do so have a machinegun. You keep it in your trailer, right underneath your bed. You even let me shoot it once.”
“Larry,” Bill said, lowering his head, closing one sweaty eye, and staring very sternly in his hopeless little friend’s direction with the other. “I do not have a machinegun in my trailer under my bed. If I did and other folks knew about it, they could tell the po-lice about it and I could end up in jail. Do you understand what I am sayin’?”
“But …”
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYIN’?” Everybody around the pickup truck stood quietly, and stared at Larry.
“Oh, I get it. But you didn’t buy no ice.”
“Okay, so I got this ice for free. Where did I get this fifty dollar cooler, do you suppose?”
“You got it off the Power Company truck last year, when they left it on the ground in the I.G.A. supermarket parking lot by mistake. Don’t you remember? I told you that you shoulda followed that truck and give it back. And you said; ‘Larry, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’ and it looked to you that the Lord had just chosen to giveth to you and taketh from those rich S.O.B’s at the Power Company.”
“Alright, alright, so I don’t buy the ice and I didn’t buy the cooler, but don’t I get up two hours early every day, drive to town, and fill up my free cooler with free ice and store-boughten soda every day so that my pickin’ crew can have ice cold soda out in this steaming hot grove?”
“No, not exactly.”
“What do you mean, no, not exactly!? I don’t know how you can say that when you’re right there with me every dang morning!?”
“That’s right. I’m not only with you every morning, I’m the one who goes over to your trailer every morning, two and a half hours early and gets you out of bed. I’m the one who drives you to town and drops you off at the EAT so’s you can have your breakfast while I go over to the grocery store and fill up the cooler with ice and soda, and get gasoline put into the truck. And then I’m the one who picks you up after you’ve had your breakfast at the EAT, and drives you out here to the grove.”
“Okay, okay. But who gives you the money to go to the store and get the ice and fill up the pickup truck with gasoline and so on and so forth?”
“You do.”
“Well what?”
“Well, that’s somethin’, ain’t it!? (a long pause from Larry)...well ain’t it?!”
“I suppose. But it ain’t exactly like what you said.”
“Larry, you’re the nit-pickinest little man I ever met. And you know if I wanted to have this kind of conversation today, I couldda just stayed home and listened to my wife. You’re gonna make somebody a fine wife one day boy.”
“Well, I sure don’t wanna be your wife, she’s already got more to do than you could pay me for, I’ll tell you.”
“Oh really? You feelin’ sorry for my wife, Larry? I don’t hear her complainin’. She’s got a nice big double-wide. She’s got a freezer full of food. She’s got clothes on her back. Her kids is all taken cared for. She’s got her own auto-mo-bile. She got a brang new washin’ machine, and an electric dryer. That’s right Larry, an electric dryer - right INSIDE the house. Rain or shine, she’s got herself clean, dry clothes. Does she seem persecuted to you, Larry?”
“Well, she’s got a washer and dryer all right, but the washer’s been leakin’ all over the place because of the broke hose on the back that you never had time to fix. And that dryer, she’s afraid to use it because it lit on fire four times because of the way you hooked up the electric. And while you’re drivin’ this brand new pickup, she’s drivin’ that old junk box with the broken battery cables. Every time she starts it, she has to open up the hood and re-adjust the cables or it won’t crank; and it’s a standard shift, and the gears keep gettin’ jammed; and in town, in the middle of traffic, she has to open the hood and with a hammer and a screwdriver she has to unhook the linkage. And then she has got to take care of your five huntin’ dogs that you never have time for, and your six kids.”
“Now hold on there Larry, only five of them kids is my younguns. She come to me with one of them boys, you know?”
“Ya, I know. You tell her that fifty times a day. Everybody knows. The whole town knows.”
“Well, Larry, if I’m doin’ such a terrible job, maybe you just ought to take over. I think Essee’s likin’ you better ‘en me anyway. You always kissin’ up and suckin’ around, and no matter what, you always on her side.”
“That’s because she’s always right, and you’re always wrong.”
“Okay Larry - okay you win. I’m always wrong. I never do nothin’ right. I just come out here day after day, seven days a week, sweatin’ my lazy butt off, dealin’ with all the problems, and sufferin’ through the likes of you. I’m just a mean old son of a bitch, who don’t do nothin’, cheats everybody and takes all the money. Why anybody can see that I’m one of the richest mans that is. Why I got money just crawlin’ out my pockets. Don’t I Larry?” (silence) “Well, don’t I? Why everybody in the world is envin’ me. Why I bet Mister Rocket-feller would like to be livin’ in my double-wide, sleepin’ with old Essee, and drivin’ my new pickup truck. Why I can see him right now, rockin’ in that chair out on my back porch, gazing at the view out over my septic tank and sayin’ to hisself; ‘Why I’m just the richest man in the world. There ain’t nobody that’s got a better life than me.’ Can’t ya just see him Larry?” (more silence)

Not too long after this discussion old Bill decided all that brand name soda he was bringing out to the grove was simply costing him too much money. So instead of Pepsi, Coke, and Hire’s root beer, he started packing his cooler with the generic, no-name brand. None of the workers seemed to be overly upset, but Larry was outraged, and very shortly thereafter he had his own cooler, packed with ice, and filled to the brim with Pepsi cola. He wouldn’t take the free ice from Bill’s friend at the grocery store. He bought ice, and he refused to charge anybody one penny more than the exact cost that he paid for each can of Pepsi. Well, it wasn’t too long before Larry had driven poor Bill right out of the soda pop business. Bill didn’t even bother to bring his cooler out to the grove anymore. And Larry was sellin’ “Pessies” like hot cakes.

“Well, you makin’ a lot of money sellin’ your Pessies Larry? Why don’t you go out and buy a couple of more coolers; pack ‘em with three dollars worth of ice every day and start yourself up a little route, goin’ from grove to grove sellin’ everybody Pessies at twenty-five cents a can. Why it seems that you got a real good little business there Larry. How much money did you lose last week – twenty, thirty dollars? Real good idea you got there Larry.”
“I ain’t tryin’ to make no money, Bill.”
“Oh I can see that. You don’t have to tell me that, son. You know, the only thing that bothers me Larry, is why you want to stop me from makin’ money. Is it ‘cuse I’ve been so mean to you? I mean am I chargin’ you too much to live out back of my place?”
“You ... you don’t charge me anything Bill.”
“What? ... what was that? Did you all hear what Larry done said? Would you say that again one more time - and say it a little louder, I don’t think everybody heard that Larry?”
“I said that you don’t charge me nothin’ to live out back at your place.”
“And did I hep ya fix up that old tool shed - put a bed and electric in there?”
“Yeah, you did.”
“And did I take you down to the hardware, so’s you could buy the paint like you wanted?”
“Yes, yes you did Bill.”
“And did I hep ya pick out the radio that you liked so much?”
“Ahh huh?”
“And do I charge you anything to eat up at the house with me and Essee and the kids?”
“Nope; no you never do.”
“And do I let you use the pickup truck, whenever you want to - even though you got no damn driver’s license?”
“You … you sure do Bill.”
“Have I ever put a bite of food into my mouth, without offerin’ you a share?”
“No, you always offer Bill. You’re very good in that way.”
“Well thank you. Thank you very much Larry. I think that’s the first kind word you ever done spoke to me. But you know what I don’t understand? Why, if you like me so much, and I’m so good to you - why are you tryin’ to take the food from my younguns’ mouths?”
“I ain’t tryin’ to take no food from the kids Bill.”
“Ohhh, yes you are. Every time you sell one of them Pessies and I don’t sell none of my soda, you costin’ me money. And every time I lose a dime or a quarter or thirty-five cents that means that I have less money for the kids. That means fewer pieces of candy for the girls; that means fewer little toys for the boys; that means one less chicken leg on the dinner table. But I’ll tell you Larry, it’s all right with me. If that’s the way that you feel; if you think I am such a sorry individual, you go right ahead. And when the kids come to me cause they hungry, I’ll just send them out back to you. Maybe you’ll sell ‘em a Pessi for a quarter.”
“I wouldn’t make ‘em pay Bill. I’d give ‘em a Pessi for free.”
“Well, that’s real nice of you - you’re a real good man. I’m sure God will be proud of you. Now let me just go back to the devil where I belong.”

And that was the end of Larry’s Pessi business.

Larry had lived with Bill for a couple or three years before it happened. Larry woke up one morning with a very sharp pain in his skull. Bill said that it must have really been hurting Larry because of the claw marks Larry had dug into the ground as he tried to drag himself from the shed up to the house. When Bill found him he was already dead.

The next time we saw Bill, he told us the whole story.

It seems that Larry had a family that lived back up north in the woods somewhere. The reason Larry couldn’t read or write was because they had him declared retarded when he was still a little tike in order to get a check for his care from the government.

“The boy was a little slow, but he weren’t no retard,” Bill said. “So then one day Larry just upped and ran away. I judged that they was also not treatin’ him too very well. And old Larry didn’t like everybody around thinkin’ that he was a dummy. So he become one of them street kids. I don’t know how he got here to Florida, but you know when I met him I took a liken to him right off, and I put him to work. He was a good boy. I really liked him. Me and Essee put up the money for his funeral, you know. We felt everybody should have a funeral, and have somebody say somethin’ nice about him, before they put him into the ground.
“We got him a little box and hired a preacher. We even found out who his folks were and where they was from. We felt it was only fittin’ that we should invite ‘em. When they showed up at the wake son, you could tell right off who they was. They was the sorriest looking folks I ever did see. They hardly gave Larry a look ‘till one of them spotted that ring on his finger. It weren’t much of a ring, price wise, but it looked like somethin’. I think that old Larry paid twenty-five dollars for it at a yard sale one day. It probably really weren’t worth that much, but you know Larry. He weren’t one to be talkin’ anybody down on anything. I told him that he coulda gotten it for five or ten dollars if he woulda just bartered a bit. But no, he says he wants everybody to be happy. You know how he was. Everybody has got to be happy, even if old Larry has to pay extra.
“But no sooner did one of them relatives see that ring on dead Larry’s finger than he decides that it belongs to him. He goes over to the casket and starts in to tryin’ to pry it off old Larry’s finger. Well when I seed that, I went right over to that boy, and I says; Son, you had best leave that ring right there on Larry hand, if you know what’s good for you. But, he says ... ‘that’s my ring, Larry stoled it from me when he run away from home.’ I told him that he was a damn liar and that I had been with Larry when he bought that ring. So, he backs off. But then a little while later, the whole damn family comes over to me and starts in to tell me that before Larry gets put into the ground, they want all of his valuables put into a bag so’s they can take them on home with them. I tells ‘em that old Larry didn’t have no valuables, and that just about everything he had that was worth anythin’ was right there in that box with him. Well, they told me that they want that ring. And I told ‘em that ring belonged to Larry and that he was taken it with him to wherever ... wherever, he was goin’.
“Well you can bet that they didn’t like hearin’ that, but there weren’t nothin’ that they was going to do about it, I can tell you that.
“It was a nice funeral, and the preacher said some nice things. He didn’t even know Larry, but I’ll tell you what, he did pretty dang good. I really liked that Larry. He was tough on me, but he was a good old boy - maybe too good.
“They said he had a stroke - an aneurysm or somethin’. But he died pretty quick. He was into some real hard pain for a minute or two. You could see where he drug himself on the ground, clawin’ at the dirt tryin’ to pull himself up to the house.
“It was mighty hard for the kids and Essee - she and them younguns really had some feelin’s for that old boy. We had a whole lot of cryin’ goin’ on, let me tell ya - mighty bad time. I’m goin’ ta miss that boy. I’m sure gonna miss him.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Eastpointer

I Wanna be a Chef, Mommy!

By Richard E. Noble

The rise of the restaurant, cooking and food service - fast and slow – has been the New American Industrial Revolution. Salad makers have replaced tool and die makers, bakers have replaced bricklayers, line cooks and expediters have replaced assembly line foreman and dock shippers - and for the most part all of these jobs have been replaced at half, a third or one quarter of the wages - no benefits or health insurance.
I have seen food service in America from just about every perspective. I have been in the killing tomato fields next to the illegal immigrants and a manager of million dollar fooderies in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Coral Gables and North Miami Beach. I have done every job in a restaurant from dishwasher and bartender to owner and operator.
There are opportunities for success in the restaurant business - but success in the restaurant business is not for the faint of heart.
When my niece told me that she was going to borrow a bunch of money to go to "Chef School," I gave her my advice. I told her to hold back on the borrowing and first get a little experience working in a restaurant. She had never worked anywhere - never mind in a restaurant.
I told her to go into any large chain restaurant in her area and ask for a management application. You could, in those days, go into any restaurant and apply to be the dishwasher or the manager. It was simply a matter of asking for the right application. I further told her to take a position in any chain that would accept her into their management program.
After she completed the training program she would probably know if the restaurant business was for her or not. She would not be in debt. She would not have wasted time studying something the college credit for which could not be used or transferred to any other area and while she was gaining this valuable insight, she would have been collecting a check instead of costing herself and her mother a fortune.
Naturally she thought that her old blue collar Uncle Dick was "old school." She could skip all the low level crap, go to chef school and start right at the top. She was going to go to her graduate study in Paris, she told me.
Today this little girl is in her mid-thirties and she is in so much debt that her blue collar Uncle Dick couldn't help her even if he wanted to. She is back to living with her mother 70 year old mother working part time and trying to get her masters degree in some established course of study.
After she graduated from "Chef School" as a part of the Placement Program she was sent to the McDonalds in Disney World. She was automatically enrolled in the Management Program and she worked the counter and assembled burgers.
When she told me about this I asked her if she had her tickets to Paris yet. She said no but she would get there eventually one way or another.
My niece is not married, and with her huge debt I don't know any boy in his right mind that would have her. She certainly couldn't afford to have a child - they cost money too.
When I think of her situation I become very annoyed and unhappy - but who can I blame?
She was just a little teenager and now she is in debt beyond recovery. And as I understand it her debt has been transferred to a private equity company and the interest at the moment seems to be growing faster than any of her possible income opportunities.
I can't really blame the chef school - she does know how to make cream sauce and bordelaise. She cooked me breakfast one time and the eggs were rich, creamy and delicious. Of course the kitchen was a total disaster. How can a person use fourteen pans to cook eight scrambled eggs and six breakfast sausages? She must have cut the clean-up class at the chef school.
I can't really blame the government for transferring her loan to an equity company - why should the taxpayers eat this disaster?
I can't blame her mother. She was a single parent and worked three jobs ever since she was a teenager.
I'm left with blaming a poor little teenage girl whose dreams were bigger than her abilities. I am told by some that she is getting exactly what she deserves.
But her life is ruined, it seems to me. And I really think that is a little more than even she deserves.

“The Eastpointer” is a series of selected columns from the Franklin Chronicle. It is available on or B&N. The author won a 1st place award for humor from the Florida Press Association in 2007 for this column. Click on the Eastpointer link at the right of this page to find out more.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Summer with Charlie

This is the first chapter of my book "A Summer with Charlie." I have probably sold more copies of this book than any other. It was recently published in Merrimack Valley Magazine along with a review by local journalist Christine Lewis and a short bio of the author. You can find out more about this book by clicking on the link at the right of this page. You can also order the book if you like.

1 Charlie Gets Liberty

“Rich?” my buddy Willie said in a whisper, slipping up next to me at the pool table. “That was Charlie, man.”
“Charlie Kareckas!”
“What’s he doing home from the Navy?”
“He’s dying, man. Didn’t you hear?”
“Dying? You’ve got to be kidding?”
“No man! He got some disease from workin’ them X-ray machines for the Navy.”
“How come he ain’t in some Navy hospital or something?”
“He’s gone, man. There ain’t no cure. So I guess the Navy just let him go and he’s back home at his mom and dad’s house until he croaks. They called me up to find out where all of us guys were hanging out now. I guess Charlie just sits around the parlor staring out the window and smoking cigarettes. Mr. and Mrs. K don’t know what the hell to do, I guess.”
“No joke?”
“No joke, man.”

I stared down at the pool table as I pretended to be racking up the balls. Chucky was home from the Navy. He was home to die.

Charlie’s home, and my home, was a mill town in the northeast corner of the State of Massachusetts. It was thick with people, rough and tumble, down and dirty. It was tough, blue-collar, working, immigrant folk from just about every country in the world. In fact, today it calls itself The Immigrant City. There aren’t too many places like it in the United States that I have ever seen. I have been all over the United States and I haven’t seen anything like it. I’m not saying that Lawrence is or was something great, I’m just saying that it is unique, a one of a kind. Seeing it once, though, would probably be enough for most folks. This is where Chucky and I were raised.

Robert Frost graduated from Lawrence High School which was just one block north of the “Y” (YMCA). I had to tell you all that. It’s the only fact that most of us know to brag on in old Lawrence.

Across from the Y was the Common. The Common was a city park. It had a baseball field, and a softball field, a wading pool and played host to many city events. I’ve since read that one-eyed Big Bill Haywood was there in 1912 for the famous Bread and Roses labor union strike. The largest labor union strike of the era, involving tens of thousands of workers. Supposedly that strike changed labor history and turned things around for the workingmen, women and children in America.

I always thought that it would be interesting to research that strike. Two of my grandparents were there and probably on different sides of the picket lines.
My grandmother on my mother’s side was a weaver, and my grandfather on my father’s side was a mill foreman at the Arlington Mills on Broadway. My grandmother worked at the Wood Mill.

The Wood Mill was the largest of its kind. It was built, owned and operated by a William Wood. My grandmother, the weaver, was Polish and my grandfather, the foreman, was Irish. My grandfather might have been standing, looking out a fourth floor window, slapping a club into his palm or wielding a shotgun, while staring down onto the street at my Polish grandmother marching and picketing with her newly arrived, poor, immigrant friends.

Growing up, I never heard one word about unions or strikes. I never heard of the Bread and Roses Strike, or Big Bill Haywood, or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn or Mother Jones. Nor did I hear about the deaths of strikers that were caused by the authorities and then blamed on the strike leaders. A little Italian girl by the name of Anna LoPizzo was shot and killed by police and a fifteen year old Syrian boy by the name of John Ramy was bayoneted by the militia and eventually died in a Lawrence hospital. They framed two of the union leaders for the murders. Smiling Joe Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti were in jail for over a year and finally absolved of the trumped up murder charges brought against them by the state.

My friends and I never discussed any of this. The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 is the most documented labor/management disaster in union history, yet I never heard mention of it in or out of any of my Lawrence school houses. I don’t know if the town was ashamed of it, or it was my Catholic, “support the State and keep the peace” education. Maybe there were such hard feelings over it that everyone just refused to talk about it. So there you go - history in action.

Big Bill Haywood stood up on the bandstand at the Common and gave his famous, or infamous, clenched-fist, unity speech. Each finger standing alone was destructible, but once the hand was closed into a fist and united, the fingers could now defend themselves like a club - today’s black power salute.

Dwight David Eisenhower appeared in the Common in 1952 on his first run for the presidency. Between Lawrence, Lowell and Haverhill you probably had several million eligible voters. I don’t remember Ike being there at the Common. I would have been nine or ten at the time. I could have been there in the crowd for all I know.
“Hey Charlie, you feel like losing a game of pool, do yah?”

I had just walked into the YMCA. The gang from the old Corner had migrated to the lobby at the Y. I didn’t even know what the letters YMCA represented. I really didn’t care. The important thing was that for fifty cents I was now an associate member of the YMCA. Being an associate member entitled me to complete and unadulterated access to the Y lobby and its multiple and various facilities. This included a free seat in the “peanut gallery” for TV viewing; access to two official-sized pool tables; visiting privileges to the public reading room; and permission to use one of their chess boards, checker boards, or decks of bicycle playing cards. It was really the best deal for a winter quarters that our street gang had ever stumbled upon. A nice warm lobby with all of the above mentioned amenities, plus vending machines that sold hot chocolate, coffee, potato chips, crackers, Coca-Cola and a whole array of other goodies. I don’t know which one of the guys had discovered the associate membership to the Y lobby, but this was the berries. This was the closest we had ever come to being treated as adults in our entire career. It was great; coatracks and everything. Just like real people and not street hooligans or roughnecks. That’s what my mother used to call me and my buddies ... roughnecks. “Where are you and your roughneck buddies going tonight? Don’t let the cops catch you. STAY OUT OF TROUBLE!” Yah, yah, yah.

I heard a familiar voice call out my name, but my quick scoping out of the peanut gallery revealed no recognizable candidates. I proceeded across the lobby and over to one of the pool tables. I put my quarter in the machine apparatus, shoved in the sliding doohickey thing and then started racking up the balls.

The peanut gallery was always dark, so that you could see the TV which was elevated high up on a wall. If you wanted to change the station on the TV, you had to drag one of the folding or straight-backed chairs over, and climb up onto it. Of course, you had better ask the crowd in the peanut gallery before you ever made such an attempt, if you didn’t want to get lynched.

I saw a smile spread under the porkpie hat over in the dim, poorly lit corner.
“Well,” Charlie said rising up from his chair. “I suppose that this will be embarrassing. It has been so long since I’ve shot a game of pool.”
“Oh my god, will you listen to this? The overseas, international billiards champion of the entire US Fleet and it’s going to be embarrassing? Yah right! Don’t give me any of that Willie Mosconi hype. I know better.”

Charlie was laughing now. By the time he got to the table, I had the balls all racked.

“You break ‘em, hustler,” I said with a grin.
Charlie picked himself a cue and rolled it around the table. After three or four cue sticks bumped their way over the felt, he grabbed up the last one and laughed.
“That’s a good one. You can probably shoot around corners with that sucker.”
“Yah, right.”

Charlie didn’t look like Charlie anymore. His face was all puffed up. He was a little chubby. He wasn’t the lean, mean, fighting machine that he was when he had joined the Navy. If Willie hadn’t come up to me and pointed him out, I certainly wouldn’t have recognized him. He didn’t look sickly though. He still pranced like a young colt with his leather healed loafers clicking on the hardwood floor. He always dressed well; neat and clean, not fancy. Charlie was a sharp looking guy - neat, trim, good looking. He used to slick back his hair and puff a big wave up in the front, as we all did. We all looked like Elvis in those days.

Charlie had been a member of the “corner gang” since the early days. Myself and John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr. were the organizers of the original Corner Gang. We were on our way home from the St. Rita’s grammar school in route number four when we got the bright idea.

The “routes” were the organized and patrolled or supervised pathways to our various neighborhood homes, orchestrated and devised by the Good Nuns. The Good Nuns, the Sisters of Notre Dame, had everything under control. The nuns were sweethearts I know, but I still don’t think that I had a nun in any grade who was unable to press her own body weight in the gym. I never saw a nun with a tattoo, though. I walked home in route number four because it was the shortest route. It was only one block long, and it ended at Nell’s Variety Store. I don’t know what brought up the idea of starting a Corner Gang, but we thought that we would like to start one. John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr. thought that starting a gang would be easy.

“Just start hanging around the same place at the same time everyday, and pretty soon you will have a gang,” he suggested. I didn’t believe it but I always hated going home so I suggested that we give it a try. John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr., commonly known as Jack, was agreeable to the idea. So everyday after school we went into Nell’s, got a bag of Granite State Potato Chips in the sealed fresh aluminum bag and a bottle of C & J (Curran and Joyce) Orange Phosphate, or Lime Rickey and we were in business. We would just sit outside on the steps of the store, or on the sidewalk or the steps leading up to the upstairs apartments and just wait. At supper time we would go home and eat quickly and then run right back. I remember thinking at that time that this was the most exciting thing. I couldn’t wait to get back to the Corner after supper each day. It was like fishing. How many bites would we get today and then could we hook them?

It was only a matter of weeks before we had a gang. First came Dolan, who lived just around the corner; then Costello, who lived right across the street from St. Rita’s; then Cusack, then Comier, then Charlie who also took route four; then Vinnie Whaley; then Mike Torla who was a friend of Jimmy Costello. It wasn’t long before there were fifteen or twenty of us out there every afternoon and evening. It wasn’t long before we were a part of the local police department’s regular routine also.

“Okay, let’s move it. Come on, come on. Don’t you little bastards have a home to go to, anyway?”
“You know officer, now that you mention it, you look a little like Dolan. You ever spent any time on Hampshire Street, sir? What do you think Dolan?”
“Daddy, daddy, oh please, can I go home with you tonight?”
“Get movin’ you little shits. If we have to get out of this cruiser you guys will be in big trouble.”
“Yah like what are you gonna do ... arrest us?”
“That’s it. Let’s get ‘em Billy.”
“ALL RIGHT! They’re gonna arrest us! SHOTGUN!”
“No no, I’m riding shotgun. You got to ride shotgun last time.”

The cops were a regular thing. It was a joke. This was a Catholic tenement-house city, with ten damn kids on every floor. The Police didn’t know what to do with us. They tried to keep us moving from one place or from one corner to another. But whatever corner we migrated to, the neighbors didn’t want us there either. But the truth was that most of the cops were just like us. They were Irish Catholic or sons of immigrants. They each had six or seven brothers and sisters, and they grew up in the streets or hanging out on the street corners just like we were. They mostly just laughed at us and told us to take a walk and give the poor people living in the surrounding tenement houses a break. We used to go on walks all over the neighborhood, but invariably ended right back where we started; sitting on the steps at Nell’s Variety.

“So, what’s the deal, you out of the Navy for good now, or just home on leave or something?” Small talk. I knew all the answers but you have to say something.
“I’m gonna be around for awhile,” Charlie offered, while inspecting the pool table for a good shot.
“Lucky us.”
“Yah, lucky you guys.”

The guys who hung out on the Corner were more like family than acquaintances or even buddies. We all knew one another better than we knew our own family members. We sat there everyday, day after day, talking our personal stuff and our personal problems.
Charlie wasn’t one to be confessing a lot of personal stuff. He was busy, busy, busy. He was always just coming or just going. He was a year or two older than me and Jack and some of the others. He liked playing cards, shooting pool, and pitching pennies. He was a listener, and a laugher. He was the tease-ee rather than the tease-er. He loved getting razzed, or being the subject of a joke, but he never told any himself, and he didn’t tease others. He was the kind of kid who beamed when you called out his name or bumped into him someplace downtown. He loved to be recognized. He loved being a part of the Corner Gang. He played in all of the activities. He was an independent type. He had his own car when we got bigger.
He had his own cigarettes. He never bummed a cigarette. And he didn’t indulge those who did. He always had his own money. He never talked or complained about his mother or father or his sisters or brothers. In fact, I don’t know if he had a sister. I know he had a younger brother.

Charlie was up the Corner all the time, he was one of the guys. He skipped out of the senior prom to come down to Walter’s Variety to get a pack of cigarettes. Walter’s was one corner up from Nell’s and it was our latest refuge and hangout. Everybody loved that one. A dapper dude in a tux, smoking a cigarette, and reading comic books at Walter’s Variety on senior prom night. Walter loved it. He thought that was the greatest. Charlie was a pisser. He was no class clown, but he did unexpected things. Charlie was really so straight and conventional that when he did something out of the ordinary, it really stood out and made you giggle. When you were with Charlie, you always did the talking. I don’t ever remember Charlie voicing an opinion on anything. He was easy to be with. He was easy to be around. He was very easy to like. It would not be easy to watch him die.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Baker's Dozen

By Richard E. Noble

This story has been published twice. This is one short story from my book of short stories, "A Baker's Dozen." You can order a copy of this book by simply clicking on the "A Baker's Dozen" link at the right on this page. Thanks.

Cain and Bernard’s
We stumbled into Cain and Bernard's early – me and Big Jim. Big Jim was not called Big Jim because of his extraordinary height but because of his phenomenal girth. He was an enormous little man who was almost as high off the floor standing up as he was lying down – which was not so unusual a happenstance. He was a good man – old enough to be my father and I respected and admired him in just such a fashion.
A wide shaft of sunlight coming over the mill-top across the street – Broadway – struggled through the colorful, flashing neon beer lights and the soot encrusted window above the stained curtain. It illuminated an infinity of dust particles which represented the least of the health hazards composing the hundred year old nostalgic tradition of good old Cain and Bernard's – the neighborhood mill worker’s retreat.
Cain and Bernard's was even at this modern date one of the last places on earth where a workingman could get a shot of Coronet or Seagram's 7 and a beer for fifty cents. And that is important because who wants to be carrying home with him at the end of a long day – and night – a pocketful of damn nickels and dimes. My god, what a pain in the ass.

This was the third morning in a row that Big Jim had dragged me over here. We were supposed to be working on my new shop. I was opening a small specialty butcher shop in my old neighborhood. It was a pretty big deal to me. No one in the family had ever been successfully self-employed – as far as I knew. Supposedly, I had a grandfather on my mother's side who had a not-so-successful cobbler shop back in the Depression days. My father talked all through my early childhood about that big break that was going to come his way one day. But it never happened. When he died he was working as a gas station assistant manager. The gas station only had two employees – my father and his boss, the manager. Nevertheless, my dad was quite proud of that achievement. To be honest at the age of twelve or thirteen, I thought it was quite an achievement too.

Big Jim was a Master Plumber. He was the dad of one of my closest childhood buddies. Big Jim had been the "main man" on many huge construction projects. He knew his plumbing. But at this stage of the game he was old, retired and, shall we say, overly celebratory.

In my neighborhood everybody was inclined to alcohol. I drank considerably myself. I had been drinking on the sly since the age of twelve. I never thought of it as a problem. It went hand in hand with cigarette smoking, swearing and hanging out. I started that bad smoking habit at about that same age I started drinking.
I had gotten Jim out of bed very early, about 7 a.m. This was per the advice of Big Jim's son, "... and whatever you do, don't take the old man for an eye-opener. Take him directly to the job site, or it is over."

That was good advice, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy because of two reasons … one being Jim and the other being me.

My problem was respect. I had always had a great respect and admiration for the heroes of my neighborhood community. Just as I respected my friends and pals who hung out on the various street corners, I respected their moms and dads. They were the heroes who had rescued us in our disputes. They had stood up for us to the other neighbors, to the bullies from across the way, or from adults who were so inclined and to the cops and whoever. On top of that, when you had a guy like Big Jim who was a boss and a "Master" plumber and who was well known in the "professional" working community, how could a kid like me be telling this man what to do?

Jim would say: "Dickey boy, I'm a little shaky this morning. I just need a little eye-opener and something to steady these trembles. I promise you Laddie we'll get this job done today, before the afternoon is done."

What could I say?

We had been sitting on these same two barstools now for the last three days, from 7 in the morning until nearly 10 o'clock each night. We had been living on a diet of boiled eggs and pickled pigs feet while snacking on cashews, Slim Jims and Granite State potato chips. I had never been so constantly and unremittingly drunk in my entire career, not to mention the halitosis and gas that would kill a stray cat at one hundred yards. Even belching was self-abusive.

How could an intelligent, urbane man of letters like myself do this, you are probably asking yourself. Well that is a good question. And to be truthful it was because of my innate intellectualism that I was able to get caught up in this scenario.

I was the proud graduate of a local junior collage. I had been studying; psychology, sociology, philosophy, history, creative writing and dabbling in genealogy. This barroom experience fit in perfectly with all of my previous studies. So you might say that this was all research for my eventual thesis.

Jim was, of course, a psychological as well as sociological study and a challenge. The challenge was how was I going to finesse Jim down to my shop – all the while maintaining the proper degree of respect and formality, without violating our respective status within the class structure. This was deep.

Jim, there is no doubt, represented a father figure to me. I loved and respected my father. If he had lived I would have liked nothing better than to have his respect and camaraderie and been able to sit on a barstool next to him at a historically significant establishment like Cain and Bernard's. This was significant. If Jim were my father this experience would definitely have been a "right of passage." This was big, I’m telling you! Big stuff.

Then there is what has since been named the "Hey Norm" syndrome from the TV series Cheers. "You want to go to that place where everyone knows your name." Oh yes.
Now on the first day at Cain and Bernard's, no one knew who the hell I was. But by the end of that first day, I was a celebrity.

It went like this.

"Hey Big Jim!" a burly tradesman type would bellow. "You're up bright and early this morning. What the hell you up to?"
"That's good! That's very good. A man has to keep busy. What you working on?"
"I'm working on the boy here's butcher shop. You know Richard here, don’t-cha?"
"I don't think that I have ever had the pleasure."
"Oh sure you do. You knew Ernie Noble didn't-cha."
"Well, of course, I knew Ernie Noble. I knew his grandfather too. He was my foreman at the old Arlington Mill for nearly twenty years. A hell of a guy he was too; let me tell you."
"That's right! That's right. Well this here is Ernie's youngest boy. He's a good buddy of my youngest son, Jackie."
"Is that right? Well I'll be damned," the man says extending his large meaty hand to me across the front of Big Jim along the bar rail. "It certainly is a pleasure. I knew your dad well. Didn't he marry Gertrude O'Mally, Jimmy?"
"No, no no no. O'Rouke married Gertrude O'Mally. You remember Timmy O'Rouke?"
"Of course, of course! Then who was it that Ernie Noble married? What is your mother's maiden name, Richie?" the tradesman asks, leaning forward over the bar and directing his question and intense bright blue, but somewhat bloodshot, eyes directly to me.
"My mother's maiden name was Mary Essick."
"Oh my god! My god, my god, my god! You are not going to believe this Richie, but I used to date one of your mother's sisters. Her name was Anna. You have an aunt named Anna don't-cha?"
"Yes I do."
"Oh my god, my god, my god. Can you believe it Jim?" Jim laughs uproariously as if we had all just been struck with some sort of divine insight.
"Well, I used to date one of his father's sisters," the bald headed bartender interrupts. "Your dad was Ernie right?"
"That's right."
"Well then he had a brother Vinnie and another David, did he not?"
"He did."
"And they had a number of sisters: Dorothy, Ruth, Betty, and Carrie. Am I right?" the bartender asked as if he had just recited by heart the entire Gettysburg Address.
"You are absolutely right," I acknowledged as if he had just won the 64,000 Dollar Question. Everyone roared with laughter.
"Well I dated Ruthie. She was a beautiful girl let me tell you."
"Oh yes, I remember her," says the tradesman with a sparkle in his eye.

It was but seven o'clock in the morning and already I was in the middle of a "good" time.

This type conversation would go on and on until we had gone through all of my aunts and uncles and a myriad of cousins, first, second and third. We followed the intermarrying from street to street and then block to block. It was the most amazing thing I had ever witnessed. I really didn't know if all of the genealogical meandering were accurate or not, but they did. God forbid if somebody had somebody marrying the wrong sister.

And then somebody new would stumble in through the front door, letting in a flash of light that was nearly blinding. Everyone would rush a palm to their forehead to shade their eyes and the whole thing would start over from scratch.

"You know who this boy is? Why it's Ernie Noble's youngest!"

"You don't mean "the" Ernie Noble who sailed half way around the world with me during the war, do you?"

"The very one!"

"Oh my god, my god, my god, my god. Who would ever have believed that someday I would be right here in Cain and Bernard's with the youngest son of Ernie Noble! This is an honor and a pleasure lad, let me tell you. Did you know that I once dated your mother's sister before she married that bus driver?"

By the end of that first day I was beginning to wonder about the moral character of my mother and all my aunts. Was there anybody in this town who hadn't dated one of them? My God, my god, my god!

On the second morning when Jim said that he needed a little eye-opener, I was in total agreement. I felt like a full bucket of week old garbage and all the toothpaste and mouthwash in the world couldn't take away the pickled pig’s feet and boiled eggs that were still fighting for their life in my stomach. I don't think that those type foods ever digest, they just ferment. Whatever was happening in my small and large intestines was beyond my colon's capacity. The occasional eruptions caused me to vacate wherever it was that I happened to be at that moment. I couldn't imagine going through the rest of my day with nothing better than this to look forward to.

So an eye-opener at Cain and Bernard's it was, but just one, damnit!

I almost had Jim ready to leave when he suggested that we both had better get something onto our stomachs before we got into all this work we had ahead of us. It sounded great to me. I anticipated a platter full of scrambled eggs with a mound of bacon and some fried potatoes. But the next thing that I knew I was swallowing two raw eggs that were in the bottom of a short beer glass which had been disguised with several dashes of tobacco sauce and following them down with a double shot of Coronet Brandy. Next we sat quietly sipping on a small glass of tomato juice while nipping at a water glass filled with vodka … a Cain and Bernard's breakfast special.
Believe it or not I was feeling much better.

When the alarm rang at six o'clock on that third day, I began to wonder how anybody could continue to live in this condition. An even bigger question was why would anyone want to live in this condition! I felt very, very bad, extremely poor. My hands were shaking, my whole body was jittery, my stomach was queasy, and my bowels were out of control. I could not estimate when they grumbled whether this was merely an expression of discontent or a serious accusation. But I was a good Catholic, trained and hardened by the Stations of the Cross to understand, tolerate and endure suffering. I would get Jim up this third morning and we would be "plumbing" at the future Noble's Butcher Shop and Deli – first in a future chain of J. C. Penny type individual butcher shop franchises all over America. This would be just the start, if I could ever get it started.

By three o'clock that afternoon I sat steering down at the napkin on the bar in front of me. How could a human being survive on a diet of pickled fat? Who had invented pickled fat? It was a great idea though. Put a jar of pickled fat on the counter go away for a hundred years, come back, open up the jar and eat lunch. A bag of potato chips and a mound of pickled fat and what more could a damn alcoholic ask for? The pickled pig’s knuckles had more meat than the actual pickled pig’s foot. And it was a damn pig's foot, there was no mistaking that. They weren't just being cute calling it a pickled pig's foot. It was a foot all right, hoof, toenails and all.

I had come to the conclusion that Big Jim and these other men actually lived here at Cain and Bernard's. And Mr. Cain or Bernard, or whoever this bald headed guy was, lived here also. Some of them would actually take sleep breaks at the bar … or at a booth, or in a corner on the floor. If one of the regulars didn't show up one morning there was a real concern among the other members of the fraternity.

Friday was the biggest day of the week. That was when Gussie Royle came in. Gussie Royle was the Coronet Brandy and Seagram’s 7 salesman. All the while that he waited at the end of the bar for Mr. Cain to get his liquor order together, he bought everybody drinks.

Gussie looked like W. C. Fields, nose and all. He was extremely polite and always jovial. Everybody loved him. At one time or another every one of the patrons would migrate over to his side, throw an arm over Mr. Royle's shoulder and congratulate him for something. It didn't matter what it was. The greeting would always end with a roar of laughter and a slap on Gussie's back. I thought to myself at the time, if a man had an automobile, he could follow Gussie Royle from bar to bar and be drunk for free for the rest of his life. Certainly when Mr. Royle came into Cain and Bernard's every Friday and it was free drinks for an hour or so, this was a touch of Irish Paradise. Could heaven, if it really existed, be any grander than this?

The next day was Saturday and of course Big Jim being a strong union man, he didn't work on weekends. So everything was off until Monday.

When I told my buddy Jack, Jim's youngest, about the trouble that I was having with his dad, he came up with the perfect solution.

That Monday when I got Jim up off the floor of his bedroom where he had his three mattresses stacked – Jim was too big for any bed and after he had his two inch thick pancake and we were in the car he said, "Dickey boy, I swear to god, this morning it will be just one little eye-opener. No all day affair. One quickie and you and I are out of there and onto this job. Today we are going to do it, son." I reached under the seat and pulled out two bottles, one Coronet and one Seagram’s.

"We will have our eye-opener down at Noble's future butcher shop," I told him with a big grin.

Jim sat there momentarily in shock. His eyes darted back and forth between the booze bottles and me. I had thrown him a pitch that he hadn't expected.

"But Dickey boy, there’s one thing wrong," Jimmy said with a difficult, not-defeated-just-yet smirk.

"What's that Jim?"

"You got no beer chaser. A shot of Coronet Brandy without a beer chaser is like a donut without a cup of coffee; it's like eggs without bacon; it's like corned beef without cabbage."

"Don't worry Jimmy boy; I've got it all covered. I've got a whole case of Holihan’s sitting in a cooler full of ice right down the shop. We have one eye-opener and a short glass of Holihan’s and we start plumbing."

Jim sat in silence. He was not terribly happy about this course of events. I wish that I could tell you that I had thought up the Holihan’s but it was my buddy Jack who had warned me about what his father would probably say and how I should anticipate.

By eight o'clock that morning we were working. We were drilling holes in the old hardwood floor and screwing things here and there. We were bending copper pipe with a blow torch and sweating joints with melted lead. It felt great. I don't know which made me happier, getting my shop started or outsmarting Big Jim. You know if you aspire to be a businessman you have to learn how to outsmart people. That's a part of it. I was learning.

At one point Big Jim was lying on his belly on the floor attempting to sweat a joint or something when he says to me, his temporary apprentice, "Dickey boy, there's two ways we can do this. We can do it the right way or we can do it the wrong way. The right way is going to take too much damn time and effort and the wrong way will have us out of here in no time flat. So screw 'em; we'll do it the wrong way."

"But Jim when you say "screw 'em," the "them" that you are screwing in this particular case is me. I'm paying for this. I'm the boss and the apprentice in this case. And if I may have a vote on this, I would rather we do it the right way than screw myself."

Jim, who when lying on his stomach, resembled a giant beach ball rolling about precariously on its axis as opposed to a pile of loose material in a sprawling sack, rolled onto his back and looked up at me with those little blue leprechaun eyes. He thought that what I had said was very funny and he began bouncing with joy. "So you're the boss here," he said. "We'll then we can't be screwin' the boss on this job, can we?"

"Not a good idea," I said laughing along. "No, no ... that's not a good idea."

When me and Big Jim had plumbed all the sinks and washbasins and sweated all the copper tubing on the Freon lines between the walk-in cooler, the meat cases and the compressors downstairs, I mentioned to Jim my need of an experienced electrician to hook up this old “warehouse” and make it look like a modern butcher shop as opposed to a 700 sq. ft. walk-in closet. He said, "Don't worry about a thing Dickey boy. I've got just the man for the job. I'll tell him to drop by and talk to you."

It was then that I met Adolph "the one-eyed Dutchman." Adolpf was a certified, card carrying retired member of the electrician's Local 713. He did most of his drinking at the Builders and Trade Club which was just a few doors down from Cain and Bernard's.

The Dutchman was pretty much Big Jim all over again. But I knew he was a Master Electrician by the way he would just fearlessly wet his fingers and touch the live circuits to see if they had "juice." A guy had to know what he was doing to get away with that. For the most part the Dutchman had been successful. He had a few twitches and an uncontrollable thirty second shrug, but other than that and, of course, the two "dead" fingers on his right hand, he was good to go.

But with the innate, natural wisdom of a "corner" kid I was finally able to capture the one eyed Dutchman and get him to perform a little electric-ing. He cost me a bit more than Big Jim had cost me. He was a little trickier. To tell you the truth I think that he and Jim had compared notes before Jim sent him over. He was on to me from the start. But eventually I was writing him his last check, most of which was for parts, he claimed with a wink. "You know that I would never screw the son of a son of the old neighborhood."

Of course, I knew that. Why all these people loved me. They were like "family." I'll tell you about my family some other time.

So the pluming and the electric were done. There were a few minor problems though. For example, if I entered the shop when it was dark outside, I had to carry a flashlight with me. You see the switch that turned on the lights in the main room was not the switch that was beside the entrance door. The switch by the entrance door turned the light on in the bathroom in the back. Conversely, the switch in the bathroom in the back turned the light on in the main room. I could tell you why it was like that but it would be difficult for any of you to grasp … seeing how most of you probably don't know much about "electric."

Several of the knobs on the sinks were reversed, the hot being the cold and the cold being the hot. And one or two of them turned counter clockwise as opposed to the usual and traditional clockwise, but nothing all that important.

You know though, to become a successful businessman you have to learn to overcome obstacles and deal with the "laboring" mentality. So I always figured that as long as I learned something from all of these experiences I was on the road to success.
In this case, I learned that pickled eggs and pigs feet can be a lethal combination. I learned that a drunk at rest tends to remain at rest and a drunk in motion can be painful. I learned that there are certain types of liqueur that "bite" and those types that don't. Coronet Brandy, for example, "bites" whereas Chevas Regal is as smooth as a baby's ass. This of course makes Coronet Brandy the better buy because when you're going to pay good workingman money for something you want to be able to taste it. My god if "smooth" is what you want, have a glass of milk!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Alan Greenspan Had My Job

The Eastpointer

Alan Greenspan Had My Job

By Richard E. Noble

This is an excerpt from my book "The Eastpointer." It won a 1st place humor award from the Florida Press Association in 2007. Click on the link at the right of this page for more information.

My editor has advised me that my Eastpointer column should be concerned with local people and local problems or at least have some tie-in to the local community. Soo...
I once knew an oysterman who looked exactly like Alan Greenspan. And speaking of Alan Greenspan, I have several Eastpointer type observations to offer.

Being a student of economic thought and theory, I have been listening to Alan Greenspan give his lectures on TV for years and I even purchased two or three of his past publications. My analysis of Mr. Greenspan has always been: What in the world is that man talking about?

I would sit in front of the TV and make a call for silence in the room each and every time Mr. Greenspan would appear on the TV giving his economic address to the Congress. I would listen to every word assiduously, determined to get “The Message” from the Prophet.

After he would finish, my wife would ask, Richard what did he say? My usual answer went something like this: Well, he said that the economy is good and bad and that it has a tendency to go up and down; those who can afford to wait should and those who can’t shouldn’t; he said that we should all be concerned and worried but that we should retain our faith in the fundamentals of economic thought and not panic; he said that some people will probably benefit and that other people probably won’t.

“And what has all of that got to do with the price of tea in China?”

Well, actually he did mention the price of tea in China and he said that it may go up but that there were extraneous forces that indicated that the possibility of a downward trend due to tea coming from Nairobi could possibly be an influence giving some concern to Chinese tea exporters but Americans who drink primarily black tea which comes from the lower regions of Botswana really have no need to be overly concerned - but of course Britain is an entirely other story.

“So basically he said nothing?”


Now recently Mr. Greenspan has appeared on TV to tell the nation that for his entire stay at the Federal Reserve he has in effect said nothing. He admitted that over the years he has purposely said nothing because for him to say something would have put the onus of responsibility for the future world economy on his shoulders. He admitted that he said nothing for all of these years intentionally.

Now, in response to questions about his job at the Federal Reserve he explained that as head of the Federal Reserve he tried his best to do as little as possible since he is an avid believer in the Laissez Faire philosophy.

So basically as head of the Federal Reserve he did and said nothing and now he has just written a book that is selling by the millions explaining why he did nothing and how his doing and saying nothing has benefited the nation and the world.

I have come to the conclusion that this man had my job. I mean that is the job that I have always dreamed of. Alan Greenspan made big bucks for doing this job where he did and said nothing by his own admission. But he actually earned nothing when compared to what he would have made if he had remained in private enterprise where I imagine he would have had to do and possibly say something. But, of course, he can’t tell us what he would have said and done if he had remained in private enterprise because his revelation of such information would change the course of the economic world.

Where do I apply for that position? I can do that. And I could do it well. I am sure of it. Every place and position that I have ever held in my life others have accused me or said flat-out that I was doing nothing and that what I had to say about what I was doing amounted to nothing whatsoever.

I certainly have the resume’ to fulfill the position as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of America following the Alan Greenspan guidelines. I have no doubt about it. I can do and say nothing with the best of God’s creatures - just give me the chance and stand back and watch me not do anything. Actually, just keep reading this column and see if you can point out where anything that I have ever said has ever accomplished more than nothing whatsoever. Clearly the proof is in the pudding.