Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

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.
Me.
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.

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