Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saturday on Ludlow

Mike, Duffy, and Sophie on Ludlow Ave.

Dear George,

Donna went to Nashville last weekend to visit her kids, so we took care of Sophie. I’m always glad when our dogs’ younger sister comes over. Having two sheepdogs in the house is fun, but three is like nirvana. Sophie is such a different personality – peppy, playful, always ready to go – and she perks up her brothers as well. I especially like taking the three dogs for a walk on Ludlow Avenue because they get so many reactions from passersby. Saturday was busy because it was the weekend for Streetscape, the arts festival in which Telford Street is blocked off and artists draw reproductions of famous paintings on the pavement in colored chalk. I put Mike, Duffy, and Sophie on three leashes hooked together, and we went out after lunch. Probably two dozen people told me how beautiful the dogs are, and I said, “Yeah, they’re great” to each one. A man with white hair and goatee took a photo of us with his zoom lens camera as we approached. A two-year-old came up with her mother and father and was utterly fearless in petting the dogs. Then a pair of ten- and eight-year-old boys joined in. We met two large poodles, a weimeraner, a little shaggy white dog, two huskies, an orange mutt, and some others I can’t even remember.

Streetscapes at Ludlow and Telford

When we got to the Roanoke Apartments, a tall woman and a man were having a yard sale on the patch of ground at the corner. It was mostly large items, e.g., a TV, a microwave, exercise equipment, an air conditioner furniture. The item that caught my eye was a Coleman camping stove. I reached over the fence to unlatch and open it up. It was old and had clearly seen better days – rusty, paint scratched off, blackened in spots. I have a camping wish list that I put together for yard sales, but a new stove isn’t on the list. Nonetheless, I’ve spent most of my life with Coleman Stoves and have a certain primal obsession about them. The tall woman said, “We’ll take whatever you offer on the stove.” That was tempting. I thought about offering three dollars. I was pretty sure she would take it. However, I already own two used Coleman stoves that I bought at yard sales, and last year I got rid of my third stove to scale back my inventory. I told the lady I already have two Coleman stoves. She said, “You know, sometimes you just want one more.” I nodded. She was clearly a kindred soul. “I’m going to think about it,” I told her, and I meant it since we’d be coming back that way.

Next-day leftovers from the Roanoke yard sale

As we crossed Ormond Ave. to the public library, I heard a voice behind me ask, “How much would you take for one of those dogs?” I turned, shook my head, and said something like, “No way.” It was a smiling, middle-aged, balding guy on a bicycle. The guy persisted, pushing his bicycle along with his feet. He said he’d give me $800 in cash. Right now. Cash. I shook my head. I did think about it for a second. “My wife would kill me,” I told the man. Then I wondered what Donna would think. I considered calling her in Nashville. For $800, you could buy two brand new sheepdogs. But then I decided she would be offended if I even mentioned such a possibility. The guy followed along behind me for quite a way on his bicycle, asking more questions like where you find a breeder, did I get these dogs around here, how much do Old English Sheepdogs cost, etc. I said $500, and he said that was a terrific deal. I agreed. He did seem genuinely interested in getting a sheepdog, but I couldn’t judge if he really had $800 to spare or not. I started walking a little faster. Finally the guy said goodbye, and that was the end of that potential transaction.

A gray-bearded street artist was set up outside the toy store, and he was busy doing a charcoal portrait of a young brunette woman in her mid to late twenties. The woman was rather pretty. I looked at her face, then at the artist’s depiction. It was a shock. I’d seen this artist many times, and he’s always seemed capable. But this time he was using black charcoal to highlight shadows on the woman’s face, her lips were distorted, and her eyes looked sunken into her head. I couldn’t imagine how the woman was going to react when she saw her unflattering picture. For a moment, I wondered if she had perhaps commissioned a portrait of herself as a ghoul. I wanted to stick around to see what happened when he showed it to her, but when you’re walking three sheepdogs you have certain responsibilities, and so I moved on. [Postcript: The artist was back at the same spot the next day, and he was exhibiting his finished portrait of the young woman. It looked like she didn’t buy it.]

Street artist awaiting his next client

At the fire station on the corner of Clifton and Ludlow I saw a familiar face sitting on the bus stop bench. It was a woman named Miranda who used to work at Kellers and who is a long-time admirer of the sheepdogs. She hadn’t seen the dogs for ages because she moved downtown to the YWCA for financial reasons. She said her I-phone had crashed, and she’s been very upset because she lost her picture of Mike and Duffy. I promised to e-mail her some new ones, and she was relieved and grateful. Afterwards it occurred to me that, since I had my camera in my pocket, I should have just taken a picture of Miranda with the dogs but I was too late.

Jefferson Ave. looking west

We walked up Jefferson along the edge of Burnet Woods park. After a long block, we crossed the street and started heading back. Down the block who did I run into but my nephew Chris who was walking his dog, Calvin. Chris and his wife Karrie moved to Cincinnati from Portland, Oregon, about two weeks ago and found an apartment in Clifton, next to Dewey’s Pizza. We’ve never had any extended family members live close to Cincinnati in all the years we’ve been here, so that’s an exciting prospect. Karrie and Chris had paid their first visit the night before to Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati institution. Chris had had a Cheese Coney, and Karrie had a plain hot dog. They’re sort of slowly working their way up to a Five-Way (chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, beans). Calvin, who’s a mix of a Dalmatian and an Australian Shepherd, seems like a very sweet dog, and he and the sheepdogs sniffed at one another. It’s the third time in three days that I’ve run into Chris and Calvin on the street, so we will probably have a lot more dog and human encounters in coming months.

Streetscape artists at work

Streetscape was going on just past the Esquire Theater, and the dogs and I stopped by to check out the artists’ progress. Somebody in charge politely asked me to keep the dogs away from the painting area in the street, and I complied, though it was harder to see the art from the sidewalk. The drawings were large and quite splendid. As we were leaving, I noticed a big sign that said “Absolutely No Dogs.” That didn’t seem very Clifton-like. They prohibit drugs and weapons at the Clifton plaza across the street, but they don’t have large signs saying, “Absolutely No Drugs” or “Absolutely No Weapons.” I couldn’t imagine what sort of bad experiences they’d had. I thought that humans were probably a greater hazard to the art than dogs were. I did feel nervous that we had inadvertently violated the no-dog rule, but there’d been a couple of other errant dogs on the sidewalk with us too.

Absolutely No Dogs!

On our way back we passed by the Roanoke again. The yard salers were starting to pack up, but the Coleman Stove was still sitting there. I looked at it again and felt certain that, since they were closing up, they would accept a two dollar offer. As beat up as it was, I figured the stove would probably work. It’s hard to explain how much conflict I felt. I walked away. Then I walked back. Then I walked away, then walked back again. The woman selling the stove didn’t recognize me and didn’t say anything. If she’d said, “Just buy it,” I’m sure I would have. Finally rationality won out over desire, and I used all my mental will power to force my feet to keep moving. I had an unpleasant, constricted feeling in my chest that didn’t subside till we were well down the street.

Near the CVS Pharmacy corner I saw a sign advertising a garage sale on Whitfield Ave. The dogs have been to hundreds of yard and garage sales over the years, so we checked this one out too. Two gray-haired women were selling miscellaneous household objects at reasonable prices. The item that caught my eye was a GM clock radio. Katja likes to listen to NPR when we go camping, and I had added “Radio” to my yard sale camping equipment list after our recent trip. The tag on t he radio said “$5, Works Well.” I turned it on and tested the reception for 91.7, WVXU. It sounded great – clear, loud. crisp. I thought to myself that Katja would probably be more interested in camping if I had a radio like this. I didn’t bother to bargain. For $5, it was already a good deal. I was happy with the outcome -- I would definitely rather have a good radio than a third Coleman stove.

Whitfield Ave. yard sale house

When we got home, Katja was in the kitchen. I plugged in my new radio and turned on WVXU. Katja thought it sounded very good. She didn’t think we needed a new radio just for camping, but I said it was good to have one we could store with our equipment so it would always be available. The dogs were excited from our walk, and they crowded around Katja, probably maneuvering to get a hoped-for treat. I went upstairs to watch the LSU football game. The dogs and I had had a successful walk, and I was already looking forward to our next outing.



Friday, September 23, 2011

Cincy TV in the Golden Age

Midwestern Hayride, WLWT

Dear George,

We’ve always been TV addicts of sorts, so, when we moved to Cincinnati in 1966, we soon became fans of local programming. Just the other day the Cincinnati Enquirer featured an article about the early Cincinnati radio and TV hit, The Midwestern Hayride. Not only had we watched the Hayride back in the old days, but we were pleased to discover that the article mentioned Freddie Langdon, our friend Donna’s dad. Freddie Langdon was the world-class fiddler for the Hayride's country music group, The Hometowners. Langdon also appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show and sang backup for James Brown at King Records in Cincinnati. Dean Richards and then Kenny Price were hosts of the Hayride. Performers who guested or were regulars on the show included Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Bonnie Lou, Tex Ritter, Barbara Mandrell, Waylon Jennings, Merle Travis, Homer and Jethro, Johnny Cash, and many other country stars.

The Hometowners: Buddy Ross, accordion; Kenny Price, guitar; Freddie Langdon, fiddle; Joy Near, bass

Cincinnati, primarily via powerhouse station WLWT, was the nation’s largest producer of live television outside of New York City in the 1950’s and 1960’s, broadcasting up to 24 live programs. The most popular show when we arrived was Ruth Lyons' 50/50 Club. It had started on WLW Radio as The 50 Club, so named because 50 women were invited to each broadcast. When the audience was expanded to 100 people, it was renamed the 50/50 Club. Ruth Lyons is credited with having invented the daytime TV talk show, essentially the Oprah Winfrey of her day. She concealed her microphone in a bouquet of flowers, and she and the audience wore white gloves while they sang "The Waving Song" and waved to the viewers at home. Ruth's guests included Arthur Godfrey, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Bill Cosby, and many other celebrities. The show was so popular that there was a three-year waiting period for audience tickets. The Ruth Lyons Christmas Fund, begun in 1939, has raised tens of millions of dollars and still provides toys to hospitalized children in Cincinnati.

Ruth Lyons 50/50 Club (back: Ruby Wright, bandleader Cliff Lash, Bonnie Lou; front: Bob Braun, Ruth Lyons, newscaster Peter Grant)

Ruth Lyons retired because of illness in 1967, and the 50-50 ‘Club was replaced by The Bob Braun Show on WLWT. We saw a lot of Bob Braun over the years. In addition to becoming one of the best-known TV personalities in Cincinnati, Braun enjoyed careers in radio, singing, and acting (e.g., Diehard 2 with Bruce Willis). His daily 90-minute show became the top-rated live TV program in the Midwest and featured regulars Rob Reider, Mary Ellen Tanner, and Nancy James, as well as numerous celebrity guests, e.g., Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Phyllis Diller, and Presidents Ford, Reagan, Carter, and George H. W. Bush. Mayor Roxanne Qualls declared a “Bob Braun in Cincinnati Day” in June of 1997.

Bob Braun Show (Rob Reider, Colleen Sharp, Bob Braun, Nancy James, Gwen Conley)

Katja’s favorite daytime program (and mine too) was the Paul Dixon Show which aired at 9 a.m. weekdays. We always watched it if we were home in the morning. “Paul Baby” Dixon had come to Cincinnati as a newscaster in the late 1940’s, co-hosted a local music show for several years, and, after a stint in New York City, returned to Cincinnati in 1955 to host a new morning TV show on WLWT geared to housewives. Dixon delighted in being completely corny, and his audiences loved him. He’d start each show off as the “Mayor of Kneesville,” with the camera panning in on the short-skirted women seated in the front row. The show’s singers and co-hosts, Bonnie Lou and Colleen Sharp, were major celebrities in their own right -- prominent country music singers and regulars on The Midwestern Hayride. The show’s most famous episode centered on the wedding of two rubber chickens who were longtime props on the show which Dixon used in Kroger advertising (you can see this you YouTube if you search for “Paul Dixon chicken wedding”). Bob Braun was the Best Man, and Bonnie Lou and Colleen were Matrons of Honor. Katja and I watch the Chicken Wedding when it occurred, and I remember the broadcast to this day since it reached the heights of goofiness. The Dixon show aired in Indianapolis among other places, and David Letterman, who grew up there, credits Paul Baby with being the main inspiration for his own comedic style.

The Paul Dixon Show (Paul, Bonnie Lou Okum)

Our son J was born in 1969, and he too soon fell prey to the wonders of local TV. The Uncle Al Show on WCPO, co-hosted by Al Lewis and his wife Wanda (known as Captain Windy), was one of the longest-running kids’ shows in TV history (1950-1985), and we watched it with J in his preschool years. Regulars on the show included Pal the Dog, Lucky the Clown, the Merry Mailman, and Mr. Patches. There would be dance contests, birthday celebrations, and Uncle Al would play his banjo and accordion. Perhaps the peak event of J’s childhood occurred when our good friend Susan G. got tickets for the The Uncle Al Show for J and her daughter Jessica. Susan went to the show with the kids, while Katja and I stayed home and watched as adoring parents.

The Uncle Al Show (Captain Windy, Uncle Al, Patches)

I was still working on my doctoral dissertation when we came to Cincinnati, and I would stay up late at night, analyzing my data while watching the all-night movie show hosted on Channel 9 by local TV personality Bob Shreve. Shreve had been a staple of Cincinnati television since 1950, long before our arrival in the city, and had been a regular on The Midwestern Hayride, The Ruth Lyons Show, The Uncle Al Show, and several programs of his own. He started doing the Schoenling All Night Theater on WCPO in 1963. He’d come on at 11:30 p.m. and show movies till dawn. Like Jackie Gleason’s skits with Frank Fontaine, Shreve would play the part of a bartender, greeting his audience as customers at his bar and serving them Schoenling Beer. Shreve intertwined movie segments with crazy antics that were often more entertaining than the movies themselves. Characters on the show included Chickie, a rubber chicken that Shreve would stretch beyond the breaking point; Garoro, a gross severed head; and Spidel, a large spider that would swing into the picture and knock Shreve’s hat off. Shreve lip-synched songs like Limburger Lover, did some soft-shoe dancing, and sometimes made cameo appearances in the movies he was showing. When WCPO cancelled the show, Shreve moved back to WLWT for a year or two and then to WKRC-TV where the show became known as The Past Prime Playhouse. His many guests included Bill Cosby, Adam West (Batman), and “baseball’s kissing bandit,” stripper Morgana.

Bob Shreve, The Past Prime Playhouse

I have fond memories of all these media characters and shenanigans. I’d lived in New York City for a while during college, and radio and TV there were much more hip (e.g., Jean Shepard). Cincinnati productions had a deliberately Midwestern, small town feel about them – non-pretensious, warm, funny, sometimes off the wall. But, since I’m a product of the heartland myself, I guess I won’t complain.




Google Images


Monday, September 19, 2011

Ups and Downs at Hocking Hills

Campers at Ash Cave

Dear George,

Katja and I are recently back from a four-day camping trip to Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio. The trip had particular significance because Katja, a Philadelphia city girl, is less enthralled about camping than I am, so I’ve been mostly going out by myself with the sheepdogs. Many of our acquaintances don’t realize it, but it’s rumored that Katja is actually the lost daughter of the King and Queen of Romania, and, having been attended to by doting handmaidens throughout her childhood, the idea of roughing it in the wilds of Ohio doesn’t come easily to her. I was able to lure her to Hocking Hills because of the region’s reputation for beauty and splendor. My secret intent was to make this the perfect trip – flawless, comfortable, just like staying in a five-star hotel. However, things turned out more like that old Chevy Chase movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation, in which Clark Griswold takes his wife and kids across the country to visit Wally World. Like the Griswolds, we had lots of excitement, though not all of it was what we planned.

Hocking Hills is located in Ohio’s Appalachian foothills, about two and a half hours east of Cincinnati. We arrived about 1 p.m. on Monday, our SUV packed to the gills. The state parks are quiet on September weekdays, so we got our pick of campsites. Campsite #163 was an obvious pick because there were three deer standing on it as we drove by. Except for the ground being wet and dirty, it was an excellent location. We’d bought a large 9’ by 15’ dome tent for a U.P. trip several years ago, but we hadn’t put it up since then. For some reason, we got entirely befuddled in the process, with tent poles pointing every which way and nothing fitting together properly. After an hour of frustration Katja voiced her concern that we wouldn’t get the tent set up by sunset. I was privately thinking that we would never get it set up and would have to sleep in the car. However, after many missteps, we did finally succeed (by accident). Here’s our put-together campsite with handsome sheepdogs and all.

Hocking Hills is a huge park with a number of scenic destinations. A couple at a nearby Welcome Center suggested we go to Ash Cave first, since it had the most navigable of the hiking trails. Hocking Hills is so attractive because of its deep gorges which are lined by massive Blackhand sandstone walls and filled in with hemlock and beech forests. The bedrock is 350 million years old and was once covered by a warm shallow sea. The cliffs have been eroded by water and weather over millions of years to form natural caves underneath them. Ash Cave, which is 700 feet from end to end, is the largest of these. The cave got its name from an immense pile of ashes believed to have been generated by Native Americans’ campfires over hundreds of years. Here are a few views of Ash Cave and the gorge trail leading to and from it.

Monday night I wasn’t able to get our campfire started (probably because our wood had come from the wet forest floor), so we turned in before 9 p.m. I gave Katja my sturdiest air mattress. Naturally, all the air leaked out in the first few hours, and Katja wound up sleeping fitfully on the cold, hard ground. We did get up for breakfast, which Katja graciously cooked with her eyes half-closed, but then she went back to sleep while I took the dogs out on a forest hike on a trail along the upper rim of the gorge heading toward Old Man’s Cave. The views were pretty, though I was nervous about the dogs falling off the 150-foot vertical cliff and kept a short grip on their leash.

Katja got up after lunchtime, and the four of us set out for Old Man’s Cave. It’s a beautiful hike along the lower part of the gorge, but much more arduous, with a lot of steep up and down climbs. Katja, with a gimpy knee, gritted her teeth and gradually made her way, while I was busy trying to keep control over the sheepdogs who delighted in racing down the stone steps while pulling their master behind them. Old Man’s Cave was as gorgeous as billed. The cave is named after hermit Richard Rowe who made it his home around 1796. His grave is believed to be under the main ledge.

Another trail led off to the Lower Falls. It required a strenuous climb up the gorge, so Katja decided to take a rest with the dogs while I explored it. It was a beautiful view.

As we were leaving Old Man’s Cave, Katja tripped over an upraised rock on the trail and jammed her right leg into her hip bone, causing intense pain. Though she was near tears, there were no options except to hike back a half mile over the hilly terrain. Katja was pretty brave though she was worried that she might have broken something. When we finally got back, she took four Advil, lay back on a reclining lounge chair, and immersed herself in a murder mystery.

Unfortunately, that was the end of Katja’s hiking adventures for the trip, though it did make for lots of rest and relaxation. The next day we took it easy and checked out a nearby town. Katja had seen an advertising brochure that suggested it was a shopper’s paradise, but, aside from a neatly organized Goodwill and a tourist trap antique mall with 1950’s knick knacks there wasn’t too much of interest. Disappointed with that venture, we consoled ourselves by having Dairy Queen sundaes for lunch. Back at the campground, Katja resumed her mystery novel. I did the rest of the hiking stuff, taking the doggies along. Here’s the Old Mans Cave trail that led to the Upper Falls.

Here is Cedar Falls. It’s one of the park’s most stunning waterfalls.

Conkles Hollow didn’t allow pets, but I was glad that I went ahead and did it on my own. It’s one of the deepest gorges in the state with 200-foot cliffs on each side of the trail.

Wednesday night was our most memorable night at the campground. There was a heavy rainstorm, and a large puddle formed on our dome tent roof, then leaked through right on top of my head. I was already chilly because my lightweight summer sleeping bag wasn’t suited for the cold front that had moved in, and all the air had gone out of what was now my air mattress. I slept on and off. By morning, our tent was soaked on the outside, wet on the inside, and the campsite was a sea of mud. Pretty grumpy, we loaded our gear in the car, skipped breakfast, and departed before 9 a.m. We both were happy to have seen Hocking Hills, though we agreed that our trip could have been smoother. Katja, to her credit, said she was willing to try camping again sometime, though “not in the same manner.” She was a little sketchy about what manner she has in mind, but I’m sure we’ll find out. She might mean camping in the manner which they offer at the Best Western.



G-mail Comments

Hi David and Katja, I had no idea you had such exquisite natural wonders in your area. Good for you that you took on such an adventure. I've done yearly camping at a site with lovely canoeing and peaceful views but without bathrooms, rocky terrain, uncertain weather (including lightning and thunder storms, wind and smoke from wildfires). I guess that's what makes it all an 'adventure'. But I have to empathize with you, Katja, there does come a time when sleeping on hard ground, having your joints ground together on steep passes or having cold rain pour on your head doesn't really appeal! Recently, I'm more taken with finding a comfortable cabin on a lake with some cooking facilities and doing day hikes (haven't found that yet). I will say that my air mattress is 'deluxe' (about 18" thick and very comfortable). We used to pump it up with a foot pedal air pump (endless, arduous aerobis) - now, nothing less than an electric pump will do. George and I camped for years in a 30+ yr old canvas tent we adored, which we purchased in England. If I embark in future camping activities, it'll have to be with some sort of dome tent that pops up when I push a button and never, ever leaks. Ah..changing times. You're good sports. Hope that knee/hip insult has resolved itself. Love, Vicki

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Drug Store World

My Grandfather, V.A.L. Sr. (circa 1950)

Dear George,

In 1893 at age 18 my grandfather, V.A. Sr., emigrated from Sweden to Menominee with his parents. At first he worked in the logging camps. Then he got his pharmacy degree in 1903 from Ferris Institute in the Lower Peninsula and soon opened drug stores in Menominee and Marinette. By the time I was a teenager, my grandfather was in his mid-70’s and had pretty much retired from a successful business career. He gave his Menominee store to my Uncle Kent, who operated it as the head pharmacist, and he gave the Marinette store to our father Vic Jr., for whom it was a side business to his law practice. As the oldest grandchild, I became the first kid to work at the family drugstore at age 14, as did each of my siblings in the years to follow. My starting salary was 25 cents an hour, and I was excited each year when I got a raise of one nickel.

V.A. had built the brick Rexall drugstore building on the corner of Wells and Main St. at the southern edge of Marinette’s business district. Conant’s photo studio, where we got our high school yearbook pictures taken, was next door. Nylund’s Gift Shop, owned by the O’Hara’s next door neighbors on Green Bay, was two doors down. Tiny’s Bar, where my parents bought Jim Beam Whiskey at a discount price, was around the corner on Wells St. A local blacksmith shop was on the opposite side of Wells from Main St. The Boren Clinic, the Twin Cities’ largest medical establishment, was a half block down on Main. I’d be sent there sometimes to pick up prescriptions or deliver medications.

The Marinette Drugstore, Main and Wells (circa 1972)

The drugstore’s two main personnel were Clarence N. and my Uncle Ralph. They were both good bosses, but they were differed in personality and style. Clarence was the main pharmacist, older, with jet white hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, and a serious Midwestern demeanor. He used a mortal, pestle, and copper weights to mix prescriptions and was painstakingly careful. My uncle Ralph was a large and more affable man, full of laughs and amusing stories. He sang in a barber shop quartet which competed around the state. Ralph enjoyed chitchatting with the customers, and various neighborhood shopkeepers would come in during off-hours to shoot the breeze with Ralph about the day’s events. Highway 41 ran through Marinette into the U.P., and Ralph advised tourists about their vacation routes and itineraries. He encouraged visitors to check out the waterfront business district in downtown Menominee, then see the buffalo herd in Henes Park. He’d tell northbound travellers that Highway 41’s inland route through Menominee County to Escanaba was fastest if they were in a hurry, but M-35 along the Green Bay shore was a much more scenic and pleasant route.

My Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha

My primary duties were to help customers find merchandise and to ring up their sales. I was good at math and preferred to add up all the purchases in my head rather than ring them up individually on the cash register. On one occasion when I totaled and rang up about 15 items, the customer questioned my mental calculations. Even though I proved to be correct to the penny, Ralph told me I would have to add up items on the cash register from then on. Rexall Aspirin and Hadacol were our medical best sellers. I learned later that Hadacol’s widespread appeal was due to its 12% alcohol content. I was put in charge of the ice cream counter at the front of the store. The neighborhood kids would beg me to make the scoops larger, and I would usually oblige them. Clarence watched over my shoulder one day, and he put the kibosh on that, showing me how to measure out a uniform (measly) scoop. To this day, I believe our ice cream sales declined as a consequence.

Evenings were slow, and I’d stand at the front tobacco counter reading a comic book or movie magazine till somebody came in. An elderly, unshaven neighborhood geezer stopped by every week to check the new magazines. He was completely infatuated with Marilyn Monroe. He wrote daily love letters to her, and he was convinced Marilyn that loved him in return and would soon be coming to Marinette to visit him. I loved Marilyn too, but I was less carried away in my fantasies.

We closed at nine, and it was my nightly job to sweep the floor throughout the store. I also checked the shelves before closing time and replaced any missing items from the stockroom in the back. Once a season we did a complete inventory, and we had to list on lined tablets the exact quantities of every item that the store carried. That boring task seemed to go on for weeks. In the winter I was responsible for shoveling the sidewalk, and my dad arranged for me to paint murals, e.g., Santa or the Easter Bunny, on the store’s front windows at holiday seasons. I made deliveries in the neighborhood on my bike, and sometimes I’d go to a competing drugstore over on Hall Ave. to pick up some medication that we needed for a customer but didn’t have in stock.

My Sister Vicki in Her Job at the Family Drugstore (circa 1960)

The most high pressure part of my job was taking a money bag filled with the previous day’s receipts a block and a half down the street to the First National Bank. I undertook the task with utter seriousness, concealing the money bag in a innocent-looking paper sack and watching for masked robbers who might try to waylay me along the way. After I’d made it successfully to the bank (which I always did), I’d continue down Main St. to get a frozen malt cone at Lauerman’s Department Store. The frozen malt machine was right up at the front counter. It was the best cone I’ve ever tasted. Though I’ve kept an eye out ever since, I’ve never run across another frozen malt vendor anywhere. After my malt cone I’d go down to Lauerman’s basement and check for any new additions to the camping gear in the Boy Scout department.

My father was attuned to health issues, and he became increasingly convinced that operating a drugstore, whose very aim was to foster well-being in the community, was incompatible with selling cigarettes and cigars. He decided to remove the tobacco counter. Uncle Ralph responded with total alarm, arguing that we got half of our customers from the personal contact that occurred when people stopped in to buy a pack of cigarettes. My dad and Ralph argued back and forth for a year or more -- the two of them taking heated, polarized positions. Eventually Ralph’s pragmatism won out, though Vic never really accepted the idea.

My Dad, V.A.L. Jr.

One day a young girl came in and spoke to Ralph at the back of the store. She was perhaps 13. I saw her hand him a note, and he shook his head after reading it. After she’d left, he told me that the note was supposedly from her mother, asking the pharmacist to sell her daughter a box of condoms that her daughter would bring home to her parents. Ralph said that he got that all the time from young girls. He felt bad about refusing contraceptives to sexually active young teens. At the same time, he was sure there would be a serious uproar if he did that and it became a matter of common knowledge in the community.

The condom drawer was in the back room where prescriptions were prepared. I was always curious and liked to look over its contents when nobody else was around. Several years later, when my brother Steven was working at the store, he thought it would be a funny practical joke if he stole a box of condoms to give away as the prize at a poker party he was hosting for his teenage male friends. He’d just put a box of Trojans in his pocket when our mother came in to the store and started talking with him and Clarence. Somehow Steve, fiddling around, managed to drop the condoms onto the floor between the three of them. My mother didn’t see it, but Clarence did, and he rapidly pushed the box behind him with his foot. Steve grabbed the box up as soon as he had a chance. Neither he nor Clarence ever spoke a word about it.

In addition to Clarence, Ralph, and I, the drug store staff included a black-haired woman named Gertie. Gertie was very outgoing, full of jokes and laughter. Her specialty was the cosmetics counter, and she was an excellent saleswoman. She and her husband owned and operated a tavern on Hall Ave., Ed and Gert’s, and she’d shift to her evening hours as a barmaid after her daytime stint at the drugstore. One day Ralph was out of town on vacation and Clarence became ill after lunch. Despite state regulations requiring that a registered pharmacist be on the premises at all times, Clarence went home, leaving Gertie in charge. Around mid-afternoon Gertie called me to the back of the store, looking pale and in a state of panic. She said that the State Inspector had just come in for his annual visit. Gertie gave me her car keys and said I should get out to Pine Beach as quickly as possible and bring back my grandfather so we would have a pharmacist in the store. She said she would stall the inspector in the meantime. Pine Beach was a couple of miles away, and I drove through town at fifty miles an hours, rushed my grandfather V.A. Sr. into the car, and raced back to the store. My grandfather, as you might imagine, was totally upset about possible sanctions from the authorities. Gertie was waiting for us at the back door, looking sheepish. The State Inspector had already finished his job and left. It turned out he wasn’t the pharmacy inspector at all – he was the plumbing inspector. So much for that dire crisis.

V.A. Sr. and I at the Drugstore (circa 1953)

Years later, when Katja and I were married, my dad would tell us that we could go over to the drugstore and pick out anything we wanted for free. We’d stock up on household supplies for the year: bandaids, mercurachrome, shoelaces, shampoo, aspirin, Tums, shaving cream, combs, everything we could think of. Katja especially loved to spend time behind the cosmetics counter, and she fully replenished her beauty supplies on each of our trips. After several years of this Ralph explained to us that it wasn’t really free, but, rather, our bill was put on my father’s tab. Even though we’d discovered it wasn’t free, that didn’t slow us down much on subsequent trips.

One summer in the early 1960’s when we came home we learned that Uncle Ralph was gravely ill. We went to visit him at his family’s Pine Beach home, and he was as cordial and welcoming as always, though he’d lost a lot of weight and his face was very pale. I vividly remember him saying that if he could have only one wish in the world it would be to go back for a day’s work at the drugstore. We said we prayed that that would happen, but we knew in our hearts it wasn’t likely. Ralph, in his forties with two teenage children, died a couple weeks later. Some time after that, Clarence retired and my dad sold the drug store to a pharmacist named Jerry. My dad didn’t lose sleep about disposing of the store since most years he’d lost money from the business. However, we were saddened by the end of a family tradition.



G-mail Comments

-Vicki L (9-16): Hi D, I really loved this piece about the drug store- maybe I'm touched not only be the memories but by how much richness lies within simple, ordinary daily living. Thanks, V

PS Where did the picture from Vic come ? - a rare find!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mundane Photograpy: 1. Walls

Dear George,

Recently I’ve been taking lots of photos of walls. This came about by accident. I was driving across the Harrison Avenue Viaduct and noticed the railroad yards down below. They struck me as very photogenic, so the next day I came back, parked my car up the hill on McMicken Ave., and walked down to the viaduct. The first section of the viaduct was topped with a high fence designed to prevent wayward teens from throwing rocks on the cars passing below. After the fence, however, the viaduct walkway turns into a narrow sidewalk with speeding cars on one side and a waist-high wall next to a hundred-foot drop on the other side. I walked no more than six steps before I started feeling queasy. Rapidly retreating, I decided that that was it for my railyard project. As I disappointedly walked back to the car, I passed by several walls in various states of deterioration. To prevent my outing from being a total loss, I took a few pictures. Back home, I found them visually interesting and decided that walls, though lacking the intrinsic power of railroad yards, were a worthy subject matter in their own right.

Usually, I think that the most meaningful photos one takes are of people, particularly friends and family members. They have the richest emotional connotations and often capture memories of particular occasions that people have enjoyed together. I also like photos I’ve taken on trips to Santa Cruz or New York City since they provide a visual record of places and experiences. All have a lot of personal relevance and meaning.

Walls are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Rather than special, they are mundane, even potentially boring. With photos of people or places, we usually have a rich history of interaction with the “object” of interest, and the photo arouses a host of memories and emotions. Railroad yards, for example, activate a host of meanings: commerce, transport, speed, power, workers, goods, wealth, etc. Walls, in contrast, are ever-present and entirely familiar, but we usually pay them minimal attention and we’re unlikely to feel much sense of personal connection or associative meanings if we do. Consequently photos of walls presents the challenge of selecting a stimulus configuration that will be aesthetically pleasing in and of itself, rather than via what it means personally or in terms of past history. It’s the immediate configuration of shapes, colors, and forms that provides the photo’s sensory impact. Here are some of the wall images that I like. See what you think.



G-mail Comments

-Donna D (9-13): oh my god, david...these are really beautiful!!! donna

-Vicki L (9-11): Hi Dvd, Wall Art! I say. I think you should continue your project, get over your vertigo and get Greg to have a gallery showing. My friend Virginia (also my supervisor back when I was an intern) has really taken to photography since her retirement and has put on several shows. She's having a lot of fun. I think you have always had artistic sensibility and talent - glad you're sharing. Maybe even more people can see it. The other thought I had is you might select a few of your favorites, frame them and install them at Farm next summer. You're an inspiration. Love, Vicki (PS I've only been making bouquets....).