To start this history from the beginning, go to the right hand column and click on June 2009 and then scroll down to Chapter One - Part One.
Look Again And My Uncle George
I was surprised that mother let me sell magazines again after living through my recovery from my fractured school. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to really understand the extent of a mother’s courage back in those days. Of course it took me several months before she agreed, and even then I had to promise that I would never cross a street again without looking both ways. I promised.
Every two weeks, I would sell two hundred magazines at ten cents a piece, earning $2.00 for myself. But I can honestly say it wasn’t the money that excited me. I turned most of that over to my mother anyway. I guess it was the fact that I could do it. Just like my brothers had done, I could go out on the streets of the city and sell two hundred Look magazines.
The first thing I would do was head for Broadway, which was about a half block from our house. Nevada, our street, was one block south of Alameda and that area of Broadway; this was where most of the business districts were located. I could go for miles in both directions, with small business areas every few blocks, some larger than others. If I went south I would go for four or five blocks and then go back north as far as 3rd Avenue sometimes.
There were times when I could hit all the cafes, bars, barbershops, and service stations in just a few short blocks, selling as many as 50 before I would have to head back home for more. There were times when I could get rid of another fifty before it got to be too late. The fact that the Weber and the Mayan movie theaters were also along that route was one factor setting me up for temptation. The other factor was my selling abilities. If there was a particular movie showing at either of these theaters that I wanted to see, I would plan my selling, working extra hard so that I could get rid of the first 50 and still have enough time go to a movie before I went back for another load. I added to my offense by telling my mother that I was just having trouble selling them. I remember the first movie I went to that cost me the price of the ticket as well the guilt I felt in deceiving my mother. The name of the first movie was Robert Mitchum’s first staring movie, “G.I. Joe.” It was story of Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent during World War Two. I suppose my sneaking off to go to movies was like most sins--the guilt wasn’t enough to stop me. I had to get caught, and that wasn’t until I had seen at least a dozen or so movies.
The usual routine, when I would come home, included me emptying my pockets so that my mother and I could keep track of the money. But on this one occasion I had forgotten to throw away my movie stub. What is interesting is that even when she saw the ticket, she didn’t realize what I had done. She picked up the ticket and jokingly said, “So this is where you’ve been all this time.” I will never forget the look on her face when I said, “Yes, Ma’am.” At first it was disbelief and then it was total disappointment. It made me feel bad enough that I can honestly say I never did that again. But, when I joined the Navy, I made up for what I missed by going to as many movies as possible when I went on liberty. But then, this is another story.
The area that had most of businesses was from Alameda to 2nd Avenue. When I was growing up we talked about going downtown and then there was down on Broadway where there was a Woolworth, J.C. Pennys, the two theaters and other various business. My Uncle George owned a barbershop almost directly across the street from the Mayan theater and it seemed like back in those days everybody knew everybody else, members of my family included.
Living on Nevada gave us certain things we didn’t have on Cherokee, and even though we didn’t dwell on it, we didn’t have luxuries. Even so, it was kind of fun adapting things to make things easier, like the string set up for controlling our bedroom light. It was nice to be able to be under the covers before we turned off the lights. When it was dark in our room, it was dark. It was the kind of dark where you couldn’t see your own hand when you were holding in front of your face. So you can imagine how scary it was for my brother Dave one night when I had a fever and I began singing in my sleep. Half away himself, he suddenly hear this quiet voice singing, “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.” I don’t remember if he allowed me to get to the part where the deer and the antelope play.
From time to time, I wonder if the next owner’s of this house were ever confused about some of the damage that I did to it. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he confronted me with the question, “Do you know what happened to the coal bin door?” At this point I suppose I ought to talk about the coal bin again. Back in those days most homes were heated by coal, so some of the newer homes included a small room for storing the coal. About once a month a truck would make a delivery of coal by opening window that served as a coal chute and, without going inside, they were able to dump the coal down in the bin inside. The coal bin was a dark, ugly room and in my logic had no reason to look good.
Anyway, my Dad asked about the door and my answer was, “What do you mean?” even though I knew exactly what he meant.
Obviously making every effort hold his temper, he said, “The door is covered with holes and I want to know how they got there.”
Like I said before, the coal bin was an ugly place, so I was wondering why he would care about what the door looked like. But I knew better than to share this logic with him or to even think about lying to him for that matter. So I said, “From my knife.”
His voice was a little louder when he said, “What knife?”
A few weeks before this confrontation, I had seen a movie that made a contribution to my fantasy world. And that, after all, was what we were really dealing with here. When something in a movie impressed me, I would do my best to find a way to act it out in some way. Like when I saw the movie, “The Desert Song,” I put a towel around my head so that could in back of me when I ran. Like the men in the movie, I yelled, “Ahh uh ah aw!” It sounded better than it looks on paper. But back to movie featuring the knife. In this recent movie one of the good guys had an extraordinary ability with a knife, but what impressed me even more was that he threw the knife underhand. Sometimes he would throw with such accuracy that he would pin the arm of a villain to the wall by sticking it through the shirtsleeve. I had the knife, but I didn’t have the bad guys to practice with. So I took an old long sleeved shirt and hung it on the coal bin door making sure that the arms were held out. This was my target, not make a lethal hit or even draw blood. The bull’s-eye for me was to get as close to the shirt as possible or into the shirt where he couldn’t move his arm to retaliate. It actually never crossed my mind about how much damage I was doing to the door. What was important to me was that I was getting pretty good at it, only making a killing blow once in a while. All of this is why my father asked me about the coal bin door.
I mentioned earlier that my uncle George owned a barbershop almost directly across from the Mayan movie theater. That was probably my favorite place to watch movies and all of this led to another event that stands out in my memory.
I’m not sure exactly when my Aunt Gladys became a Christian, but when it happened she attended at Sherman Street with us. This was very convenient for her because she lived on Sherman Street about three blocks north. The Church building was at 125 South Sherman and she lived at 17 Sherman. All of this played a part in the event I’m referring to. The movie, “Buffalo Bill” came to town and since one of my favorite actors, Joel McCrea was in it I was almost obsessed with wanting to see it. So my mother agreed to let me go on a Wednesday afternoon with the plan that I would go to my Aunt Gladys’ house after the movie and then ride to church with her that evening. Sounded like a good plan, except it involved my being able to remember. When I got out of the movie I discovered I had spent all of my money and didn’t have enough money to ride the streetcar home. Come to think of it, I think this happened when we were still living on Cherokee, which was not within walking distance. Then I remembered that my Uncle George was across the street so I went over to ask him for enough money to ride the streetcar, about ten cents I think. When I walked into his barbershop he was obviously glad to see me until I told him why I was there. Now that I’m older I can understand his reaction. At first he thought I just came to see him and when he found out I wanted to borrow money he was obviously very disappointed. Back then I didn’t understand why he got angry with me, but I do now. He gave me the money and I rode the streetcar home, happy with the world. It wasn’t until I walked in the door and my mother said, “What are you doing here?” that I remembered the plan. It’s interesting how that carelessness on my part had such an affect on my relationship with my uncle. He didn’t treat me badly, but his treatment was never the same as it had been. Like most young children, I had no idea just how much power I had to make an adult feel good or bad as the case may be. It makes me wonder how many other lives I affected simply because I just didn’t know.