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

Monday, April 18, 2016

Great Coca-Cola Heist: The Broadway Musical

On the night of June 20th in 1956, just before I moved from Downingtown, an event occurred that seemed like magic. It flies in the face of what I have said about my honesty, because it was also dishonest. It didn’t occur to our little boy minds at the time that we were stealing. We thought we were brilliant.
The “we” of whom I speak was Dave Fidler, Stuart Meisel, Teddy Miller, Bill Brookover and myself. Ronald wasn’t along. There might have been another boy, perhaps Buddy Bruton (pictured right), who lived near Dave. The five or six of us got together in the loft over the Fidler’s garage. It was halfway between a sleepover and a campout. We had a mixture of blankets and sleeping bags strewn across the floor. There was a radio.
We sat and talked until late, when sometime around midnight somebody said, “I’m thirsty,” and we all decided we were thirsty too. We left the loft and hiked down the block. There was nobody else around and hardly any traffic on the Lincoln Highway. The street was pretty dark between the dim streetlamps and the shadowy tree branches blocking what light there was. We crossed over to the gas station on the corner.

By that hour the station had long closed, but there was a lit up Coca-Cola vending machine outside along the front. Here is how the machine worked. You dropped a dime in a slot and then pressed a lever down. There was a narrow windowed door along one side. You opened the door and there were all these round openings out of which protruded the necks of the sodas. A metal device held them captive, but when you dropped your money and pressed the lever, one of the bottles released for pulling free.
Teddy Miller knew the magic trick. How he knew, I couldn’t say.
We dropped a dime and Teddy pressed the lever, but not completely. He held it there a fraction of an inch from full cycle. The machine released one bottle with a large clicking sound and one of us pulled the bottle out. Teddy very gently raised the lever just slightly and pressed it down again, but not all the way. There was another click and another coke. Teddy accomplished this maneuver until every one of us had a soda on that one thin dime.

We ambled back to the garage, laughing and praising Teddy for his ingenuity. We would brag about that stunt, never giving a thought to being a little gang of thieves. That was the one time I got away with something like that and never went back and paid. One of us probably took the empties to some store and got the deposit, too.
We sat about drinking our ill-gotten gain and talked until one by one guys drifted off to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, my mind too charged up. I was very cozy in my make shift bed. It was peaceful and pleasant. The radio played all night. The station was playing Broadway scores, the whole albums without much interruption. I lay there listening.
“Poor Jud is daid./Poor Jud Fry is daid,” sang a baritone voice. It was Roger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! I fell in love with Broadway that night. I asked for the cast recording of Oklahoma! for my birthday and I got it. By the time I graduated high school my record collection was pretty much a history of Broadway from the late 1930s through the late 1950s.
My father took us to see “Oklahoma!” when the wide-screen film played in Philadelphia on November 3, 1956. Elmer Lentz and Dot Bernard went with us. They were very close friends of my dad’s. Elmer was also a truck driver and he and Dot had been going together for about 15 years. The film had been released during 1955 in Todd-AO, but only to limited presentations. It was later released to the general theater audiences in CinemaScope and this came around in late 1956. I had loved the score since we did the all-nighter in Dave Fidler’s garage. The cinematography of the movie was beautiful. Cinemascope had come to be as a film industry defense against Television. Todd-AO was another format  named after Mike Todd the producer. Cinema (1952) had been another attempt to hold back TV. 
"Oklahoma!" was the first of big splashy Hollywood productions dad took us to see in Philadelphia. It starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Dad took us to see “Carousel!” starring the same stars when it came out later in the year. “Carousel!” remains my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein play..

I bought the original cast album of Carousel! My next cast album would be “My Fair Lady” which had came out earlier that spring. After this I began collecting as many of the Broadway scores as I could. 

Sometime in the autumn of 1955 my grandfather had his fall. He was a foreman at the Downingtown Iron Works. Part of his job was inspecting the welds in the large underground storage tanks built at the plant. He was at the top of a ladder inside the tank. I don’t know if he was ascending or descending, but his foot slipped and he fell to the bottom of the tank. He landed one foot first and suffered multiple fractures in that leg. An ambulance took him to the hospital. The doctors applied a cast that ran from his hip down to his foot. He was laid up at home for weeks, unable to work and having a good deal of pain. He had always been a drinker, but now he was consuming even more to dull the boredom and the pain.
Ronald had taken another job and without his bike we weren’t going up into the hills as often. I was spending a lot of afternoons and evening at Stuart Meisel’s. Stuart was always finding interesting things to do. One time he took me into the basement. It was like something out of a horror movie. There were dark narrow corridors and odd little rooms and bins going off these halls everywhere. It was a very creepy place. I only went down there one time.
Another time we were kind of exploring upstairs and we found this odd looking contraption. I have mentioned this before. It was an old fashioned Dictaphone, one that used wax cylinders to record. It worked by speaking into a hose. A needle reproduced your speech waves into the wax. You could then play it back.
This was better than those recording booths at the Farmers’ Market. It was free. We sat on the floor several nights singing and talking into this machine.  We began making up original songs after a while. I don’t have any of those songs and I don’t know if Stuart still has the recordings or any means to play them. But there was one song I did write down.
We use to sit in the parlor every Wednesday night at his place and watch “Disneyland”. Stuart’s father was always sitting in his favorite chair as well. Maxwell Meisel was very dignified. Walt Disney introduced “The Goofy Sports Story” this particular night. They were holding the Melbourne Olympics in the summer of 1956. I guess Walk Disney was keying off of the coming Games. “The Goofy Sports Story” had a narrator named Spyrus Olympopolus, who told how ancient games became the ones played in modern times. The character Goofy demonstrated the action. In several situations Goofy would yell, “Ya-ha-whoey,” such as when he went off a ski jump.

After the show Stuart and I went to the Dictaphone and began making up verses to a song.

Grandpa was driving down the mountain on an icy day,
When his car hit the curve, it began to sway.
Off of the road it found its way
And as he went over you could hear him say:
Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey!  Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey!”
And they lay him away that day.

Each verse we did would end with that same refrain, “Ya-ha-whoey! Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey! Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey!” with a variation on the last line.
This was the last verse:
A man went up to a scaffold real high,
A way to roofs simplify.
Got too near the edge, sweet old guy,
And as he slipped, you could hear his cry:
Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey!  Ya-ha-ya-ha-whoey!”
And they laid him away to lie.

We wrote this song on March 21, 1956.

I wrote a song on my own that summer and mailed it to a publishing house in New York. The tune was conceived as a Country and Western song, but I only had a rudimentary understanding of writing music. The Publishing House rewrote the music as a Pop Ballad that I didn’t think worked very well. Actually, even then I didn’t like anyone to edit my work. I called the song “My Little White Lamb” and Crown Music Company in New York published the sheet music in 1957. I retained the copyright. The old saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” inspired the song.

She came into my life

Like a little white lamb,

But she went out

Like a big roarin’ lion.
Why did she double-cross me
At the crossroads of life?
Why, oh why, did she leave me?

 My song was recorded a year or so later as a 45-RPM Extended Play by Ben Tate on Ronnie Records. It went straight from the recording studios to oblivion. Still, it was my first fully published work in the world at large rather than just locally in school.
I used both “Ya-ha-whoey” and “My Little White Lamb” in a play I wrote in 1959 to impress a girl, but we’ll speak of that later.

Stuart (who else) suggested we try out for Babe Ruth Baseball that March of 1956. Downingtown didn’t have a Little League program at the time. Organized baseball outside the high school consisted of the Babe Ruth program and American Legion ball. We were too young for the American Legion league, but Babe Ruth began at age 13. The Babe Ruth League was a name change in 1954 from “Little Bigger League”, which had been founded in 1951.

We tried out in Kerr Park. I don’t know if Stuart played on any team that year or not. I cancelled out because my parents announced we had to move that spring and I didn’t think I’d be able to play anyway.

I had an altercation with Mr. Paltrone at school that spring, too. I had been in his bands since Fourth Grade. The Junior High Band had its Spring Concert and it went well. The only problem was after we left the auditorium stage a number of band members were angry. They felt Mr. Paltrone took all the credit for the performance. He was up on stage bowing over and over and a lot of the band members didn’t think he gave enough credit to us.
Members were saying we should do something to show our displeasure and then someone suggested we should all quit band. That grew into a revolt with everyone shouting we should quit and that would show Mr. Paltone. Let’s see how good his concerts are if all the band members quitted he has no band to lead. Everybody was going to resign from band.

Guess who was the only band member to actually do it?

This was not to be the last time I stood alone against injustice while others backed down.

My parents rented the house at 417 Washington Ave. They had no immediate plans for going elsewhere, but the landlord notified them on March 17 that his daughter was getting married that summer and he wanted the house for her. They were told they had to vacate the house by May 1. My parents didn’t want to move back in with my mother’s parents again so began looking for a new home. They decided they had enough money saved up to buy a place of their own if the price was low enough.
My dad found a place for sale near Pottstown, Pennsylvania by a man named Seibolt. The 
house was in the Village of Bucktown, about fifteen miles north up Route 100 (five miles south of Pottstown). They drove up there and bought this ranch house with three and a half acres of land on April 15, 1956. They moved to the new home when their lease was up at 417 on May First. They didn’t want to take me out of my current school with only a month and a half to go so I moved in with my grandparents. I was back in my old bedroom at 424 Washington and everything became the reverse of what it used to be.
Once upon a time my parents would drop me at my grandparents on a Friday until the Sunday evening to be rid of me for the weekend; now I was picked up at my grandparents every Friday eve and deposited at the new home for the weekend.
My father changed employers again about this same time. He left Atkinson Trucking and began hauling for A. Duie Pyle. I always wondered why that man went by his middle name (his first name is Alexander, by the way). Every time I heard it I thought, “A dewy pile of…” You may fill in the blank anyway you please. This time, though, changing employers wasn’t the reason for the move. The change of employer didn’t change his weekly schedule one whit. He still left early Monday Morning, had his midweek stop at home and then got back on Friday night.

Although I had quit band, Mr. Ifert, who was the Senior High Music Director, came recruiting me for Senior High Band. He wanted to convert me from trumpet to French Horn. He said Mr. Paltrone told him I was a good trumpeter. No one ever told either man I skipped the tough notes. The switch made sense to mr. Ifert. The French Horn was a brass instrument with three valves, just bigger than a trumpet. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, but it was a mote point. My folks told me we were moving by the time Mr. Ifert (pictured right) came around. I wouldn’t be in Downingtown Senior High next year anyway.
Mr. Ifert was another person with an unfortunate name, especially for a teacher. Ifert was one letter away from a more denigrating name. I think you can figure it out.

I was hoping I could move with my parents and go to a new school like right away. I couldn’t wait to get out of Downingtown Junior High School. At the same time I was apprehensive about starting over in a new school, meeting new kids. It was a case of “the Devil you know verses the Devil you don’t.” I was miserable and I was scared I was going to flunk. Now with the move I couldn’t even escape into my fantasy play. My grandmother and grandfather never went out. One or the other was home all the time. I couldn’t be running through their house in little homemade loincloths or snipped apart underwear.
I notified Babe Ruth Baseball to drop me from consideration. I let the collection lady, Mrs. Lindermann, know I would have to give up the paper route in June. I quit the MYF and Boy Scouts. I also thought about my few friends after school ended. Would it be like Billy Smith all other again? Would I move north and we would never see each other again?
Could my life get any worse?

Certainly it could.

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