Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cars, Dreams of the Future and Our Secret Lives: The Soap Opera Continues

I don't want my head to be broken,
It’s the only one I got.
Darlin’, please be careful,
I know you’ve beared a lot.
Please, don’t break my head,
                                    I beg of you!

I don’t want my blood a-drippin’.
You know I’d hate to die,
And that’s what bound to happen
If your temper gets too high.
Darlin’, please don’t get so high,
I beg of you!

Hold my hand and promise,
You won’t make it black and blue,
Even if I know you hate me,
Hate me through and through.

Little girl, you got me miserable,
Must you shoot me too?
Please don’t take advantage
Of my bruises blue.
Darlin’, please, please don’t do,
                        I beg-g-g of you-u-u!

                                                            LEM 1957

On July 13, 1957 Elvis Presley released a single of the song “Don’t”, which quickly hit number one on “Billboard”. The B-side of that record was “I Beg of You”, which went to number 8 on the charts. I parodied “I Beg of You”, which is what I was about to say to the Trooper when I went back for my second driving test. "Please, sir, most wonderful state trooper, let me pass, I beg of you!" I guess “Don’t” would have fit the bill as well. “I don’t want to fail again!”
Surprise, surprise, they didn’t even make me take the written test again. I had a gentler examiner on this examination, one of encouraging words and gentle persuasion, and there was no scraping of any curbs on the 3-point turn. I passed easily. This meant freedom. I drove home or more correctly, floated home on cloud nine. As we pulled down the lane to behind our house my father, who had gone with me that day, said, “Go on and put it in the garage.”
He got out and opened the garage door on the right side for me. I pulled around to face the opening. I drove straight in, gently bouncing over the garage curbing and rammed the left front fender directly into the support beam. What an inglorious finish to my glorious day! This was the first dent in my car.

Yes, that’s right, you read me correctly, I said my car, the dream of every sixteen-year-old boy, his own car.
I was very conflicted about this.
When my grandfather died in February I inherited his car. Having someone you have loved die is not how you want to get that first car, yet you really, really, really do want that first car. I alternated between the joy of having it and the guilt of how it happened.
It was a Royal Blue 1954 straight-six Ford coupe. This was to put me at a slight disadvantage in a world where most guys drove V-8s, but if that were to be the worst thing I ever had to deal with I would have been very lucky indeed. Having a car and my driver’s license meant I was no longer trapped in Bucktown. I wasn’t dependent on my parents for wheels. I could go where I wanted when I wanted, provided if I could afford the gas. In 1957 I could almost fill the tank on two dollars because you could get gas at places like the Downingtown Farmers Market for less than nineteen cents a gallon.

The first solo trip I made was to West Chester, Pennsylvania, county seat of Chester County. I stopped in Downingtown and picked up Stuart and Ronald along my way. I drove to the town center and parked on West Market Street between Darlington and Church Streets Pictured left is across from where I parked that day.).
West Chester was full of stores in those days, rather than restaurants. There was a newsstand right across from where I parked and a Woolworths on Gay Street a block away. The main street running north-south is High Street; the main street running east-west is Gay. The riddle goes, where can you come in high and go out gay? Why, West Chester, of course! (Photo right of Gay Street and of Woolworth on the corner of Gay and High are from the Chester County Historical Society.)

We went to the newsstand and then walked around town a bit.
We returned to my car and there was a little yellow envelope beneath the windshield wiper, my first ticket. I had neglected to put money in the parking meter. How different were those days. There was no fine. I simply had to put a quarter in the envelope and drop it in a box at the end of the block. Forget to drop your quarter in a parking kiosk in Philadelphia these days and you’ll come back to a $35 fine.
During that summer I often drove to Downingtown to play baseball at Stuart’s with him and  our friend, Ronald, and then drive the main drag of Pottstown with Richard in the evenings. Stuart, Ronald and I would meet at Meisel’s and throw the baseball around. We would see who could make the most acrobatic catches. Each of us would throw the ball high enough to make the other guys run and dive for it. (The Photo of we handsome fellows in 1957, l. to r: me, Stu and Ron.)

A lot of times I would come down on Friday and takes us three to the Downingtown Farmers Market. We’d play out favorite pinball machines again or wander down the long corridors looking at the merchandise for sale. One favorite stop was at Trexler’s Records Stall where you could buy 45 RPM songs cheap. He had these open bins and we’d spend many minutes flipping through looking for something we liked. That was the whole purpose of shopping the Farmers market, the deals.

There was a new booth that opened that summer. It sold paperback books and magazines on the cheap. I don’t know how Trexler was able to cut his costs, but having been in the magazine business, I know how the magazine guy did it. His magazines had a third of the covers cut off. Retailers returned unsold magazines at the end of the month to the printer for rebate. They cut off a section of the cover. This indicated the magazine was to be recycled (ground back to pulp) and not sold. This guy somehow got hold of these recycled magazines before destruction. He was either paying somebody a low rate under the table to supply him or he was stealing them. No wonder he could sell them so cheaply.
The guy who owned the stand looked like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. I didn’t know that then, of course, since the movie didn’t come out until 1969, but it is how he looked, minus the limp. He was short with greasy slicked back black hair.

He had slotted racks erected around the sides of the booth, except the front which was open along the aisle. There were some bins of paperback books filling up the central floor space. Magazines were displayed in the rack slots, except on the one side.  There was a curtain held up by clothesline hiding this side of his space. It had a small opening on the left toward the back of the stand. I was browsing near this opening and peeking in I saw it was a whole other stall. I also noticed the racks behind that curtain contained men’s magazines. I edged closer. I had never heard of the magazines I could see beyond the flap. I kind of slipped one leg slightly through the opening despite a large sign saying, “No one under 21 admitted.”

I picked up one of the magazines and thumbed the pages. I saw nude women in various poses and almost no text. I was engrossed when a voice spoke behind me.
“Interesting, eh, kid?”
I slapped the magazine back into its slot and turned about trying to flee.  “Ratso” was blocking my exit.
“You like what ya see, do ya, kid?” he asked.
I was speechless.
“Look,” he said. “I can see you ain’t no twenty-one.” (No, I was barely 16.) “But you look like a nice kid. If I was to sell you that magazine, you wouldn’t tell no one where you got it, now would you?”
I shook my head no.
I bought three of “those” magazines.
They were digest size, mostly printed in Europe, especially Sweden. In the front they claimed to be for the artist or professional photographer to study the human form in varied lighting. One magazine was even titled, “Artist and Models” or something similar. The “artist models” in these publications looked hard-bitten. My guess is they were strippers or prostitutes.

I didn’t particularly care about their day jobs. I just wanted to look at the pictures
It was easy enough to smuggle these magazines into my bedroom where I had found a perfect hiding place. One wall of my room was made up of closets, plus the entry door. There was a large clothes closet next to a linen closet (pictured left). There was a shelf in the clothes closet with this opening that went back beyond the wall overtop of the linen closet. I stuffed my magazines in there and no one ever discovered them, this secret cache was the secret place for my secret life.
There was another secret still remaining. Although these publications displayed these women fully nude in provocative poses one essential part of the anatomy remained airbrushed out.

Ron and Stu and I talked about many things together. We talked about money. We spoke of how much we wished to make someday and how much seemed out of reach. Oh, if we could ever reach the princely sum of $100 a week. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? We would have it made. Ten thousand dollars a year was unreachable, which is what the really successful top executives made. That $10,000 was a lofty sum for most people in the mid-fifties. Its equivalent value today is $85,697.
Our dream of making  $100 a week would have been a salary of $44,463 annually in today’s dollars. We thought we would have it made in the shade at that sum. Well, that is under my current income and it doesn’t buy as much shade as we once thought. The most I ever earned in one year was around $75,000, which was getting close to that unreachable $85,697 and I was far from ever becoming a top executive. Actually in equivalence to today’s value, that $75,000 would be $105,403 now, so I guess I did suppress our teenage dreams.
You must keep in mind when we dreamed these goals in 1957 the average United States salary was $3,700 a year or $71.15 a week, or about $1.80 per hour, which would be $609.77 a week, or approximately $15.25 an hour,  in 2016.
We talked of a lot of things, jobs, marriage, death, cabbages and kings.  What we would become in life was a popular discussion. Stu once talked of being a doctor, Ron of designing rooms and women’s clothes and I of winning the Nobel Prize. Would I win it in what, science or literature or both?
Somehow we all ended up working in banks.
We all had a desire to be writers, but we didn’t really discuss that then.
I never had another friendship close to what I had with Ronald and Stuart. That bond was something special we shared. I could talk about more with them, be more open with them, dream more dreams with them than anyone, except my future wife. But friends and spouses are different parts of your life. There are things I would tell my friends I would not my wife and things I would share with my wife and not with friends. There are things I would not share with either.
In 2011 I wrote a poem for “Poetry Vortex” entitled “Painters and Poets”.

Edward Hopper lived in my world,
He and Andrew Wyeth, too.
Stark, dark and bare to the bones.
No pretentious guile within them,
Just lonely truth in the shadows.

Nighthawks and Yellow Labs
Cornered in expectations.
Naked women with corn silk hair
Or questioning eyes,
In poses of expressionless emotion.

Every person is a solitary figure
In the geometry of the city
Or the vastness of the country field.
Rooms are claustrophobic prisons
Streets are exit-less exiles of night.
John Donne was not right at all.
Every man is an island
That can never be explored.
Our shoreline might touch the sea of humanity
But our heart is a jungle impenetrable.

Like the ladies in the window light,
The woman of the “Morning Sun”
Staring straight into the view
Or the one of “Lovers” turned away
Every man’s mind is a mystery.

Illustrations:  “Morning Sun” by Edward Hopper
“Lovers” by Andrew Wyeth

“Poetry Vortex”
February 2011
Dallas Kirk Gantt, editor

Our secret lives are parts of us we keep hid from the world. No one knows the real “I”, except God and I, and maybe even the “I” is in the dark about some of itself. What we really think in our minds is a mystery. Everyone we touch in life knows only a part of us, some more, some less, but only what we allow. As close as Ron and Stu and I were, we didn’t know all our secrets. I doubt they knew how much I had become obsessed with my fantasy world of lust and pirate ladies.
Ronald had his secrets we didn’t know. He didn’t reveal his Homosexuality to us. He walked around with the burden of knowing and not feeling free to share. I wish he had, but I also don’t like playing the “if game”. I really don’t know how Stu or I might have reacted back in the sexually repressive 1950s to such a revelation. What would have been their reaction if I had said then, “You know what, fellows? I like to go back in Stuart’s woods and run about naked.”
I don’t know what Stuart’s secrets were. I certainly didn’t know at the time how much he was persecuted at Downingtown High School by teachers because of his religion.

I don’t even know what their reaction is to my secrets 60 years after the fact. I said when I began this opus I would be as honest as I could. That requires telling you my secret sins. On the dartboard of the Seven Deadly Sins I landed on Lust. I believe every person has a secret life and favorite deadly sin. Perhaps mine was not as bad as some of the other six. I was not a predator or an aggressor forcing my lusts on anyone else. My secret life was also very private. I kept it in that little space behind my walls.

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