Life With Father

by Larry Teren

Prologue:
Think 1960s, first floor of a two-flat apartment building. It’s summer time and central air is an unheard expression. There are two ways to cool off- go to a show- I mean, movie theater (pronounced by Uncle Henry as thee ay a ter) or take a ride in our pistachio green colored 1964 Rambler with air conditioning. This, of course, limits opportunities of convenience. I mean, what if it’s a sweltering 88 at 9pm on a Wednesday night? No way are we stuffing into the Rambler for a ride.

Scene 1:
Dad to Ma: “Honey, we’re buying a fan.”

Ma: “We have one now and it doesn’t do much. Anyway- can we afford a new one?”

Dad: “I’m tired of the complaints. We’re gonna buy a big fan that fits in the window in the front parlor. And Sam told me that if you put it in reverse and close all the bedroom doors at night, it cools off the house. It sucks all the hot air out. It’s better than suffering.”

Ma: “Well, if you think it’s gonna work, it’s better than what we have.”

I know what you are thinking- how is this going to help anyone sleeping in a bedroom with the door closed and no ventilation? Personally, I don’t care because – I forgot to mention- I’m the odd one out in our four sibling family of three sisters and me. I sleep in the dining room at the other end of the long hallway that connects to the living room and the front parlor.

This budding teenager gets used to being rocked to sleep at night listening to the hum of a large fan going in reverse. I’m convinced that at some point if I get out of bed and walk in the hallway, I’ll be sucked into the front room.

Does the reverse flow help? I’ll put it this way- the next summer dad buys a window slotted air conditioning unit for my parents’ bedroom. Needless to say, we all take turns huddling in the bedroom at any given time. Suddenly, going on freezing car rides no longer is needed. Besides, with the onset of a changing neighborhood, and the airing of NBC Night at the Movies on television, going to the show is not on the list of things to do.

Redux
It isn’t easy living in a three bedroom apartment with two parents, four kids plus now a newborn baby and only one washroom. It almost demands that we get up in the morning at staggered times and take care of our business as quickly as possible. And hope that a family member doesn’t have issues that causes one to dread going in next. It also means using the washroom during the day even when you don’t need to- just because.

Retro
How many times did any of us hear those words of deep angst while taking a bath- “Open up, I gotta go.” It would mean pulling the shower curtain and having to listen to a symphony not meant for anyone but the music maker himself. Especially when a certain person would add the sensual element of smell to go with sound. In fact, forty years later I still had to convince myself it was okay to use the washroom in my own place with no one around with the door open.

Dad’s favorite expression when he would walk past the bathroom after its use was, “throw the walls out!” and then would proceed to fan the door back and forth for at least thirty seconds. Like that was going to provide instant relief.

We knew the bathroom would be in lock down if Dad ambled by with a rolled up newspaper in hand and say to no one in particular, “if anyone calls, tell them I’m in my office.” Our rallying cry whenever or wherever a noxious drift came upon us was- “Throw the walls out!”

Epilogue
Dad being an insurance salesman looked at anyone and everyone as a prospect. Never too shy to make a pitch. His home was not only his castle but his branch office. He worked the phone at night talking to customers servicing their accounts as well as soliciting new business. A kid had to be careful when he or she picked up the phone in the kitchen in case Dad was on it in the bedroom. We got so good with the light touch to taking the receiver off the hook that we could have grown up to be wire tappers.

None of his kids picked up his graceful phone manners. Maybe it’s because it took a special quality to learn to accept rejection or be on the wrong side of an argument. That reminds me- did I tell you about the time Dad returned a toilet seat after using it for a couple of days?

A Doctor’s Last Will

By Larry Teren

1963- November A young black man in his 20’s walked into a doctor’s office on Madison Street about three blocks east of the old Chicago Stadium. The fellow asked to see Dr. Howard Gless (fictional name). The receptionist pointed to the appointment ledger book and asked him to sign in. He wrote down “Jackson”. There were about a half dozen other patients in the waiting room when she led him go to the examination room.

The nurse didn’t show any concern about this patient as Dr. Gless had been listed by the Illinois Public Aid commission as being one of ten doctors who received the largest income from Illinois for treating relief recipients. In fact, his income for tending to welfare patients for the past twenty months had been more that $31,000. That would be like making over $350,000 in 2016.    Continue reading “A Doctor’s Last Will”

No Cotton Picking Solution Urban Crime

By Larry Teren

News Item: Chicago has 1000 shootings for 2016

Considering it is not yet four months into the year 2016, that means an average of nine people a day are shot in Chicago. Granted, not all die but who’s quibbling with a technicality? How did we get to this situation? It all started with John Daniel Rust and the automatic cotton picker.

During the 1930s, Mr. Rust showed that a device that could pick cotton would eliminate the need of humans to toil long hours to do the same work. However, he was not a good businessman and his company eventually went bankrupt. International Harvester Corporation of Chicago took up the mantle with a better instrument and by 1942 had an efficient working model. The lack of steel availability, however, put its distribution into the market place on hold until after World War Two.

Mr. Rust did get back into the business and ended up making a lot of money for himself and investors but it was now a more crowded field. And this little cotton-picking device possibly single-handedly changed the entire scope of American Society post World War II.  Continue reading “No Cotton Picking Solution Urban Crime”

Unphotographic Memories

by Larry Teren

Recently I gave Ma an assignment to find my grade school class pictures. Doing a great job, she handed over to me a manila folder containing items I had not seen in  more than fifty years:  my kindergarten class group photo, the diploma that certified I was ready for first grade and another handful of grammar school class pictures. One important element,  though,  was missing- my memory.

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It’s Not In the Bag

by Larry Teren

It wasn’t in the bag. Really. I’ll explain- in August, 2015, a certain suburban board of trustees decided to go west coast on its residents and nearby patrons. West Coast is double speak for enacting wacky laws that small time legislators feel will improve the quality of our lives better in the long run. In this situation, it had to do with not allowing retail outlets that have at least 10,000 square feet the right to dispense cheap plastic bags for carrying the product to the car and then the house. You know what I mean- the small bags you hang onto for a week or so and then conveniently place as liners in the small wastebaskets in various rooms of your abode. You see, even though these bags are actually being re-used (and in my dictionary, that also means recycled), the local authorities believed that too many were being dispensed and not deteriorating soon enough.

One of the stores- a grocery emporium, decided to replace these thin bags with one that is slightly larger and sturdier. They said that the bag may be re-used up to ninety-nine times. They gave them out freely so those who didn’t want to buy an even sturdier bag for much longer re-use could avoid spending a couple of bucks.

Still paying attention? For the record, I bought one of the real sturdy bags and it lasted about seven uses before ripping at the stitchings. I complained at the service desk and they gave me a replacement bag fearing I would otherwise make a scene. Me? C’mon! The replacement bag lasted three uses before ripping at the same stitchings. Ergo, I elected at that point and on to only use the free semi-sturdy bags.

I was able to collect two of these tougher portable storage devices and made a habit of bringing them into the store for the up to 99 more uses. The checkout clerks would first thank me for remembering to bring my own bags and save them having to keep handing out new ones. But last week, I went into the store with only one of the bags. I had no more than a dozen items at the checkout counter. The lady dutifully rang them up and put all but one of the items into the one bag I had brought (for which she thanked me). The last item was sitting on the counter, bag-less. She then looked at the area behind me and motioned for the next person to come up. I asked why she didn’t put the item in a second bag. She replied-

“I can’t. There is only one item. We cannot waste another of these nicer bags on just one item.”

Me: “So, take an item out of the first bag and pair it with the last item and now you can put it in another bag.”

She: “Sorry, I can’t but I can give you a paper bag if you like.”

I told her I was not interested in paper bags. Otherwise, I’d expect her to total up the bill using a pencil she kept secured over her ear writing chicken scratchings on the bag. But since we were in the 21st Century, and she had grabbed my money instantaneously from my bank after I keyed in a special code, I was entitled to two semi-sturdy bags.

Naturally, she won the debate and I ceremoniously placed the last item in the one and only bag which was the bag I brought with in the first place. Progress. Yeah, sure.

 

Semi-Tough Guys

By Larry Teren
theo bikel
Theodore Bikel loved to tell stories. One was about the famous harmonica player Larry Adler. Adler told him that when he was about 15 or 16 he was already beginning to develop a reputation as a talented musician. He was in Chicago performing his first show at a night club. After the show, there was a fancy party to celebrate a successful evening. Larry, being too young, had a soft drink.

A man came up to him and said, “you’re terrific- where you from?” Larry replied he was from Baltimore. The fellow then told him that he sounded Jewish and asked if he was. Larry nodded in agreement. The man continued, “you go to shul (synagogue)?” Larry admitted that he rarely went.

Continue reading “Semi-Tough Guys”

Loud Mouth Hero

By Larry Teren

joe_e_brown

Joe E. Brown is not the first person you think of when asked to name a Hollywood star who did heroic actions during WWII. There is Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier during the war. Next up is James Stewart who led bombing runs and attained the rank of Major for his effort. Clark Gable was a gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. Stewart and Gable were tall, dark and handsome leading men. Joe E. Brown was a frail screen comedian. But Brown took everything he did seriously. Continue reading “Loud Mouth Hero”

The Real Lion King

by Larry Teren

John Henry Patterson was the real lion king. No one else came anywhere close to his exploits  Yes, there were others who bagged more lions. Colonel Patterson, however, went after and killed two nine feet long, three and.john_henry_patterson one half feet high feline animals who were taking turns digesting close to one hundred fifty humans in 1898. But this was not his life-changing moment. That would come more than fifteen years later.
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Cranberry Pecan Mix

by Larry Teren

The circular plastic container read in big, bold letters “Cranberry Pecan Mix” on the front. On the back, the ingredients panel read: “golden raisins, dried cranberries, almonds, apricots and pecans”.

There was a dash of sulfur dioxide, sugar and palm oil to give it additional taste and consistency.

Now, where I come from it would be more aptly labeled Raisin Cranberry Mix, or Raisin Almond. After all, the higher the sequence in the list of ingredients, the greater the dominance of that item in the ingredients, right? Continue reading “Cranberry Pecan Mix”

The Real Ernie Banks

By Larry Teren

The first name of Ernest was written on his birth certificate but we all called him Ernie. Few were blessed with the distinction of everyone hearing a nickname and knowing right away whom was meant. Ernie had reached that special honor fifty years earlier. Now he was just used to being old and dealing with it. The past glories were warm memories but didn’t do much to make life any easier. It didn’t matter how famous or beloved he was when he reached eighty and its health issues. The adjustments to pain and lower expectations to the joy of living were a daily challenge once the alarm clock sounded. Continue reading “The Real Ernie Banks”