At fourteen, I walked about eight city blocks from St. Martin's High School on Fulton Avenue to my Father's carry out store on Pratt and Monroe Streets. Even as a sophomore in high school, I can remember the unfortunate uncomfortableness of this walk through a struggling neighborhood: debris scattered on the streets and sidewalks, once well-kept, three story houses, homing a now poorer economy, abandoned National Boh bottles idled on bar-window ledges, having stale beer scents, lingering about the street corners. Especially, I remember the faces, those bored and daunted blank expressions of parents on pads of concrete, taking in the evening last beams of light with children close by playing simple games, chalked on the sidewalks, near streams of traffic.
We were blessed. Dad always felt obliged to give his children an employment. Of course, working gave me the gladness of spending power. Just the week before, I had just bought a suede and Italian-knit, classy dress, costing me a week's pay-- forty-five dollars which came with the lesson of working too hard for one dress. A storm was starting, the biggest raindrops falling first on this chilly, fall day. Dashing across the last intersection, I unlocked the corner store's door as quickly as I could so my new hairdo would not get wet.. Then again quickly, I relocked the door, flicked on the overhead lights and started working alone. Although not totally alone, several other of my father's employees worked in the adjacent building, Monroe Seafood, where the steamed crabs were sold. This past summer was my first real job working at the crab store, cleaning crab pots first and then graduating to counter help. The fairly recent opening of the carry-out had shone good promise, and Dad wanted this to stay open, past the summer season as long as we could. He asked, and I agreed to help.
Although I did not really feel like doing this, once there, duty compelled me, and I got into the tasks at hand. First, I re cleaned from the night before: dishes, counters, sweeping the floor. Then, I prepared the salads: potato, macaroni, and coleslaw. For the early 60's, dad had an luxurious, automatic slicer. Just clean and core the cabbages and toss them in the stainless steel sleeve of the slicer, set the dial, and in a few minutes, cabbage was sliced, lovely and fine. The same salad dressing was prepared for the base of all three, and then the showcase had to be prepared. Quickly, I put on a pot of coffee and turned the pizza oven on low to take the chill off. Breaded, stuffed shrimp, and fish squares were all pre made, and were placed on clean steel trays with delicatessen paper underneath. Dad would do the double padded oysters when he came in, and my brother would bring me up a large tray of hard crabs with the backs off, and I would remove the gills and scrub them. Then, the cavity was filled with crab cake, and I would giggle when the claws would jump a little even after cleaning, showing still some life. Soft crabs I could not do since you had to snip off parts, while they were still alive; their weak feelers would cling to the seafood surgeon's hand. I could not take that, and kindly, my older brother would do that task for me. Then, the batter for the hard fries was made, starting with five pounds of Washington's Self Rising Flour, eggs, water and seasonings. All the fixings for subs and pizzas were made, and then I would unlock the door, pour myself a cup of coffee and waited for the first customer and/or the evening help.
The rain was pounding, needily, scrubbing the streets. Paper flowed down the now “rivery” gutters. Then, the ten or eleven year old boy, who supplied the corner with the morning and evening Sun Paper, came in, drenched.
I looked at him ahgast and said, “You look like something the cat dragged in.”
“Yeah, ' really coming down out there...Do you want the evening paper?”
“Sure. How about a cup of coffee—on the house.”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“You sure are wet! Why don't you take off your shirt, and I'll dry the shirt in the oven?”
He hesitated, gave me his shirt, and exposed an unknown to me deformity in his chest. I glanced at the convex chest, and then looked down, and then looked searchingly in his eyes. Did he want me to enter his place of embarrassment and pain? Doing what his eyes told me, I did not mention it and took his shirt, placed the water laden shirt on the ledge of the pizza door and turned up the mighty oven.
“I was born that way. It's a chicken breast.” He said frankly, openly, with no chance now of discretion as is the busy traffic, honking horns, and neon lights, colorfully,blatantly, adding to the city night.
“How about a crab cake?” He agreed, and I fixed him a big plate of food, which seemed to be the family remedy in those days, too often, before psychiatry visits were trendy. While he ate, I fiddled with the shirt, turning it over and over in the high heat of the oven. Eventually, it was pretty dry.
“I know what we can do—so you won't get wet all over.”
“We'll put newspapers on you. Look,...” I took newspapers and draped them over his shoulders, and he tucked them in. Then, he put his shirt on.
“See?” I said thinking this haphazard prevention had some benefit.
Matter of factually, we smiled and said our “see you laters," both of us going back to work. Returning to the steady rain, he turned and sent a big final wave. But, I never did see him another time-- the paper boy who brought us the Evening Sun news. I guess he was swallowed by his world to a new location or moved away or something, and, of course, the immediacy of daily duties won out over any further seeking for the shy youngster.
Dad got there about 5:30 pm, looked around, studied the showcase briefly, and said,
“Good”, getting his second wind from his regular full time job.
“Go around to the grocery store and get this,” handing me a list.
"Okay,” I dashed outside in the waning storm to the very near grocery store, not ever being bothered again about the rain in my hair, not ever, even unto this very day.