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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Winter Snows of Radicalization

Yes, that is me in my black cowboy hat shoveling the walk in front of the house on Cobbs Street. Look out now, life matters began to pile up faster than the flakes outside. So yippee, let’s scoop!
Snow storms hit from mid-December to the end of 1966. The white stuff pretty much socked us in. Winter kept hitting us andSanta delivered a big blow on Christmas Eve so by Christmas Day couldn’t move my car. We were snowbound. A week before, when there wasn’t yet a blizzard, I had come home in the dark of evening and walked up from the bus stop on the street parallel to us. It was a slight upgrade and a bit slippery and halfway up I went face down. I lay looking straight at the ice and snow below me and then buried in the white I saw some green. I found some twenty dollar bills snuggled down in the freeze thing to keep warm. Wasn't this a fortunate fall. I would keep those bills warm in my pocket. I went the rest of the way home with a smile on my face.
But everything about that white Christmas wasn’t worth dreaming about. Mr. Bing Crosby could you shut it down it for a while? I'm dreaming you'd shut up.
Now lets be brutally honest. We did not live in the preferred sections of Drexel Hill with its large, stone Tudor homes. We lived in the more humble blue-collar, just-making-it-by worker’s abodes; twin homes and narrow streets with back alleys lined by dented trash cans. Those trash cans were now overflowing.  With the snows came certain inconveniences for everyone, but the Township did plow out those fancier streets and those people’s trash and garbage did get picked up. Not so much along our more modest patch. Somehow the plows couldn’t meander down our way and because the streets weren’t plowed, neither could the garbage trucks meander our way either. Soon we were buried in snow and garbage.
Everyone was frozen in. To get to anywhere we had to hike down to one of the main thoroughfares and catch a bus to 69th Street where the stores were or where an El Train could be taken into the city. My wife was setting off for some last minute Christmas shopping in 69th Street. She had not stepped far from our house, only a couple of lot lengths, when flop, she fell down.
It was an ordinance of the township that a homeowner clear the pavements before any domicile within 24 hours of the end of any snow fall. Yes, that was clearly the law and it keep my shovel, and me, from drying out. Where she fell was the only house on our block that shoveling had not occurred, not only not within 24 hours, but never, ever.  When my wife went a-wandering nearly a week had pasted since that particular storm. Where she skidded was now packed down ice. You know how unshoveled snow can become as people slough through it. Tramp! Trap! Tramp! Pack1 Pack! Pack! It was not a matter of ignorance of township rules on the part of the homeowner neither. He was without excuse.  He was the Republican Committeeman for our Ward in that very solidly (at the time) Republican district. Wild cacti were more common in those days than a stray Democrat within the district.
Now take note, this was the beginning of the radicalization of myself, my swing to all things left and the baby steps into the dark side.
I was angry about this uncleaned sidewalk. If I had fallen, no big deal, maybe I’d found more money, but this was my wife who fell. This was the women who announced near the end of October that she was pregnant for a fourth time. This was a woman with a history of problems when preggers, mainly losing the babies halfway through the term. A fall could not be taken lightly.

Still I may have let it go by, being the sort of laid back fellow that I am,  if not for the Christmas incident. What was the Christmas incident, you ask? I will tell you gladly.
During Christmas week the high temperatures stalled out in the low 20s. It began snowing again at 2 AM on Christmas Eve and wouldn’t stop. I think even Santa got stuck. Eight tiny reindeer on the roof spinning their hooves, ho ho ho! We had a white on white Christmas and were snowed in. I could not dig the car out, besides the roads were in terrible shape.  My mother considered it a blue Christmas because Lois and I couldn’t make it to Bucktown that year as tradition dictated. Christmas was delayed a day.
On the 26th my father came down, professional driver that he was, and picked us up. We headed around the block. At that time traffic flowed in the opposite direction on Cobbs than it does today.  The unplowed streets made driving tricky. Dad turned up Bond Ave toward Penn. One week earlier the stop sign on Bond at Penn had been knocked over and was still not replaced. My dad did not know there was a stop on Bond, so he continued straight into the intersection and we almost collided with a car coming down Penn.
It was the combination of these things that led to the confrontation. The missing stop sign, the unplowed streets, the overflowing garbage, and my wife’s fall on the Republican Committee Man’s sidewalk. Lois’s relatives, several of whom also lived on Cobbs were also incensed by the township government ignoring the needs in our neighborhood all the time in favor of the more money endowed a few blocks south. They might have a lot of dough, but our snow was just as cold and deep as theirs. Lois' cousin Margie (On right) began rallying the street and she suggested we all write letters to the township counsel and tell them what we thought of them, with a civil tongue, of course.

Big talk and after the promises to do this, little action.  Nobody wrote, except one person.
Yeah, I wrote my letter and I took to task that township government for their failures, their neglect of our streets and public safety, of the garbage haul favoritism, and not least of all the Committeeman who didn’t shovel his walk in compliance with township regulations him and his cronies help make. I’d hoped the weight of several similar letters would have some positive effect because I still believed government was run of the people, by the people and for the people.
There were no similar letters. My friends and neighbors and relatives had chickened out on writing their complaints and I was left standing alone. Margie was an administrator for one of the large prestigious Philadelphia law firms; you'd though she would write, especially since it was her idea. She didn't. 

One night a few days after the letter was mailed, there was aloud knock on our front door. I flung open the door to see what was the matter. Out pawing the porch was the Republican Committeeman from up the street. He burst angrily into our living room and waggled a finger beneath my nose.
“Who do you think you are?” he said.
He then threatened to punch me in the nose, that must have been his idea of political clout. Ah, my letter must have had some effect!
“I shoveled my walk,” he yelled.
“No, no you didn’t and my wife fell on it. I mean, my wife is a high risk pregnancy and she could have had a miscarriage because you failed to shovel.”
“You…” he blustered, “you don’t even know where I live.”
“Yes, I do. Come on.”
I led him outside and up the street to his house. I stopped in the middle of his still ice-packed sidewalk and pointed to his porch.
"Like to borrow a shovel?" I asked.
He said nothing. His face seemed about to explode and then he stomped up his front steps, entered his house and slammed the door behind.  I'm lucky the snow on the roof didn't tumble down upon me from the vibration. I went back home.
I immediately wrote another letter to the Township Powers-what-be complaining about the confrontation and the threat to my nose. I expected some kind of action and sure enough I got it, if somewhat indirectly.
Lois’ Aunt Sally (left) who lived up the street and whose estranged alcoholic husband, who for awhile lived in their garage and had the habit of shooting off a cannon on occasion, now worked for the sanitation department on a patronage job, called her up blubbering.  He ordered her to tell her (something or other, you can fill in the missing adjectives) nephew-in-law better not write any more (more choice descriptives) letters or the Township was going to fire him and then he wouldn’t have the money to pay her the support money. Well, hey yeah, I was actually ready to write a letter of complain about this blackmail, I was ready to go to the public press, I was ready to carry on the war, but the whole family was begging me to write no more. So, I acquiesced and no more letters.
 My turn to the left and beyond had begun and this would not be my last disillusionment with the government.

(The photo on the right was taken in June 1966, my family at The Warehouse Restaurant in Manayunk celebrating all our June anniversaries. Clockwise: me, my grandmother Esther. my father Bill, my mother Mildred and Lois; sometimes a blond that year.)

But the snows of December and Christmas were not the only things that befell me in 1966. After my breakdown I was bounced about a bit in Atlantic’s mailroom, eventually being given my old job back in Addressograph almost exactly a year, June 1966,  from when I first thought I had escaped it. That was back in July of 1965. Dave Claypoole left Atlantic in the fall and returned to school full time. Ed left at year-end for the same reason, beginning college full time that January, I believe at La Salle. I was left behind having this nightmare that I would forever cut plates and stamp envelopes. It was beginning to look as if those dolts from the Pennsylvania Labor Bureau who came to our school in my senior year might have been correct.
 I was destined to be a machine operator.

To replace Ed, we hired a young fellow named Bob Kane and he and I proved to be pretty compatible. He became my new confidant. He was working his way through evening college, just as I was and he had ambitions to be a writer someday, just as I did. But Bob wasn’t working all day and then plopping down at a typewriter to create stories and adding to a growing collection of rejection letters, as I was. He was actually involved in the craft. He was Editor of the Philadelphia Community College newspaper, called (how imaginative) “The Communicator”.

In April, Atlantic finally came through on their promise of giving me a true Level 6 job I was moved up several floors to Accounts Receivable as a Ledger Clerk. Bob Kane got the my vacated Group Leader position in Addressograph. (He held the position through the summer, then he too left Atlantic to become a full time student.)

Mt time with Bob proved very opportune for me. It was to be the key to my own ambitions as a scrivener. It was to lead to a whole new group of friends and to further radicalization. Loop was born.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Trails of Life Go Up and Down

On New Year’s 1966, my mother and grandmother came down to visit. This had been a tradition ever since Lois and I married. They would come visit to see our tree and what presents we got about a week after Christmas. We went out to eat this time, going to a Diner-Restaurant in Broomall, Pa. right along the West Chester Pike, called Country Squire. It was very popular and very good then.
They may still be good for it is still in business; I’ll have to try it again sometime. It would be worth going just for their homemade banana cream pie. They had the best deserts. But I digress and it is making me hungry.

We were celebrating a new year and a new beginning, and why not? You know when walking through the trails of Brandywine Creek State Park, there are ups and downs. You may be down in a gully, stumbling over fallen trees and other obstacles, but you keep going.You are on a rough narrow trail going up and up and up through the trees thinking you'll never see sky again when suddenly you are on top of the mount. You can see from where you came, you can see the sky, breathe fresh air, hear the buzzing and tweets in the forest below you. And you hike on and the trail is easier. You barely notice that the trail is on a slight decline, perhaps part of the reason it is easier, but slowly the trail begins to grow harsher and the surroundings darker. You are about to cross through another gorge.

This is exactly how life is, gorges and mounts. Some days you are in the valley; other days atop the world. I’d just spent a couple years tripping over vines and fallen logs. I hadn’t taken much notice, but the end of the last year was an upward trail. I was actually getting near the top where I would see a new path to follow in the year ahead. I was getting near the peak on March 3 when I finally got moved out of that mailroom. I was made a Ledger Clark in Accounts Receivable. It wasn’t really a promotion. I was still a Level 6, but who cared, I was back in a clerical department where opportunity existed.

I sure didn’t know anything about accounting or bookkeeping when I took this job. I would know a lot by the time I got around to studying this field in college. Atlantic Refining dominated the oil and gas market along the East coast in close competition with Sun Oil Co (Sunoco) of Newtown Square and Gulf, the Mellon Family's oil company headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of course, overshadowing all was Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, known by its initials, S. O.
Despite many nearby giants, Atlantic really viewed Esso as its main rival. I never forgot a promotional meeting we had. Esso (today known as Exxon), the speaker claimed, had not originally intended the tiger to be their symbol. Instead they were going to use a bee. That is until somebody decided the Esso Bee might not work well.

If you worked as an accountant or bookkeeper in a small company, as I eventually would, almost everything regarding the financial records would fall into your lap. You might not be making the investment decisions, but you most likely were tracking and noting each jot and tittle of the business. You would maintain a number of journals and ledgers in your work and among these would be a ledger of accounts receivable, where you would show each customer, what they owed and what they paid.
Atlantic was much too large for such a system. They had thousands and thousands of customers and vendors that owed them money, way too many for some poor clerk, such as Bob Crotchet  to sit about on his high stool and make jot of each transaction. You really needed a computer, but desktop computers did not yet exist. There were ten-key adding machines and comptroller machines on many a desk, but no smart device such as Compaq yet. An apple was something you might bring in your lunch bag, but you couldn’t do any calculations on it.

Ah, but there was a computer. It was this mysterious giant box lurking in a cold room somewhere on the sixth floor. It sucked in the impulses from many, many keypunched cards and returned updated cards. The processing of all these cards was done by the TAB Operations Unit of the company. Irony abounds, because it was for a TAB Operator job I had initially applied.  Furthermore, this unit existed on the 6th floor. A TAB Operator's job level was a 6. I was turned down for a starting job there because Atlantic didn’t start new hires at Level 6. Now here I was a Level 6 Ledger Clerk being fed my daily work by this very TAB Operation Unit.
My Ledger Clerk duties were relatively simply. I would receive big batches of punched cards at different times during the day. I would sort these by the Customer Number stamped upon the top and file them into trays stacked in cabinets surrounding out workspace. I always knew a good education would come in handy...oh, wait. I knew my alphabet before I ever began even Kindergarten.
A secondary duty was sorting mail. Mail would arrive about four times a day. Mailboys (there were no Mailgirls, remember) would dump mail in a central location and all we Ledger Clerks would go to a centrally located table and sort the bundles down into mail by region.  We also went to that centrally located table to do the bank deliveries. Big mail sacks would come in a couple times a day from a Post Office Box (called  lockbox). These would be payments, usually a check or checks. We would again sort by region, run adding machine tapes to make certain the total received agreed to a summary sheet supplied by the banks and then send the payments on for processing, which meant getting them punched on cards. At the end of the day we would assemble for a last time and match the reports from the Ledgermen to the Summaries from the Banks and hope the final tallies equaled. If there was an unbalance situation, then we had to stay and find the difference.
Sorting and match, I was good at this. I had been fast and accurate when doing burner oil tickets in Sales Accounting. I had been so with cutting and sorting plates in Addressograph. I was good at this in Accounts Receivable. I think sorting was my destiny.
I felt very confident by April and started saying we needed a new car. I was at my parents on April 3 saying "I think I need a new car" and on April 4 I was at the insurance agent, a former science teacher, names James “Bugsy: Moyer saying "I bought a new car" and buying insurance on a new 1966 VW Beetle. On the 8 th I stopped at my parents and gave my mom and grandmother a ride. I was careful to pick a night when my father would be on the road. Oh, he was unhappy with me. I had dared to buy a foreign car; not just any foreign car either, but a Nazi Automobile. This was Hitler’s car; he had ordered it up.  My father believed we should not buy anything not “Made in the USA”. We should especially not buy anything our enemies made (some people could never let go of World War II). The only thing I could have done worse was buy some “Japmobile”. His words, not mine.

People scoffed at the Beetle. Where were the pedals?. "Did it run on gerbil power? Did we have to get out and push it up the hills? Sometimes it ran a bit slow up those Pennsylvania hills, but it always made it up them. Lois and I had our struggles, too, with the hills of life, but we always made it up them.
I liked the blasted car.
There were some humorous instances with the VW Bug. One time I came out of my father-in-law’s house and there was this stranger sitting on the road surface behind my Beetle. (It was a blue, by the way 00 see the photo.) He had the hood up and appeared to be tinkering with the engine (which were in the rear of Beetles). I walked up behind him, leaned over his shoulder and asked, “What are you doing?”
He picked up another tool and said, “I’m checking out my sister’s car. She’s been having some problems with it lately.”
“That’s nice of you,” I said, “but by the way,  this is my car.”
He was very flustered and apologetic. I told him not to worry about it, all these VWs looked alike, honest mistake. I said to Lois afterwards, “Maybe I should have let him tune it up before telling him anything.”
Another time Lois was out in the thing and she picked up some coffee at a deli. She was coming back on State Road when the person ahead stopped suddenly for a changing light and she had to slam on the brakes. When she did, the coffee cups began to flip out of the cup holders and she reached to grab them, let her foot up, and slammed into the other guy’s vehicle. No one was hurt and his car didn’t have any damage so they just went their separate ways, but the VW had a large dent in the front fender. Lois drove home, went straight into the garage on the back alley and the next day she got a rubber mallet and pounded the dent out. I would have never known if a couple weeks later she didn’t confess it to me.

Once she was out driving and as she crossed the Trolley Tracks along Garrett Road the car stalled. She couldn’t get it started. There she was stuck broadside across the Trolley Tracks. On the corner was a pizza shop with a number of its usual local loiters hanging outside. Four of these men walked over, picked up the VW and carried it off the tracks. Then they helped her get it started.
We were coming home one night, very late. Cruising up West Chester Pike. We had arrived somewhere around the Riddle Creek State Park. The whole area was deserted and dark, except for two eyes staring at me from the middle of the road ahead. It was a very stately Buck standing in the lanes. It wasn’t moving. I pressed hard on the brakes and all would have been well as I came to a stop just short of this animal. But like that infamous rolling rock, the deer did not remain frozen in place. Just as I stopped, it leapt forward, rolled up on the front hood and then rolled down out of sight

 I bolted from the car to see if it were hurt, but there was no sign of the beast. Apparently it had simply rolled up that rounded slant that was the front end of a Beetle and off again, picked it self up, dusted it self off and took off for places unknown. I drove on and at Newtown Square I spied a police car in a gas station. I went in and told the officers of the deer and then we went home. I am sure that deer was fine, but my VW suffered a huge dent in the truck lid (which is actually the front of that car.) This one Lois couldn’t hammer out.
It wasn't always humorous, such as the time that car nearly got us killed, murdered...but that is a tale for later, not now.
Other than a few hitches with the car, life was zinging along on a smooth path, but remember those easy path of often headed downhill. One of the speed bumps ahead was we had to take Lois’ grandmother, Zoe Schnell Rabb, to the hospital to have her breast removed.
And of yeah, on October 30 we spent the evening at my parents, until 11:00 PM. Lois was announcing she was pregnant for the fourth time.

Happy Halloween!