Sunday, September 30, 2007

She Dropped A Coin Into The Cup Of A Blind Man At The Gate

Ethel Cohen died this week.

I had to climb up to the attics of my mind and look for what I wanted to say. The files were all dusty and hard to read. There will be more false memories than usual as we have few people left to verify facts and events.

In the early 1950's, I was just a kid, but was already cultivating a rich garden of laziness. My father, who was in his 30's, saw this and felt he could train me to be an earner and proper member of the working culture by dragging me along with him to his job.

He owned a parking lot in downtown Rochester, N.Y. He would later own a lot of them and become an earner of immense proportions. He always taught that having a business that generated CASH was better than punching a clock for a paycheck. As much as he loved Roosevelt in his day, he did not love paying taxes. Cash businesses allowed him to operate in the "grey area" of bookkeeping.

All this meant nothing to me. I was a shiftless 8 year old who would much rather stay in a warm bed than hang around a crummy asphalt lot in a dirty area of a boring city.

The only best part was that right next door was a firehouse with the red truck, firemen, and the mandatory Dalmatian dog. On occasion, Dad would take me over to marvel at the glamour and romance just out of my reach. I could sit in the truck and pet the dog. They even let me slide down the pole.

Back at the lot here was an old gas pump that sold petrol for pennies a gallon and a shack at the entrance that was no larger than a phone booth. In it was a rickety makeshift desk and a wooden chair. Also a cardboard box that served as a trash bin.

That was it.... no romance, no poles.

Imagine sitting there for hours doing nothing. If this was what it was like to be an earner, I would rather be a beachcomber.

Once, I was lounging there and discovered a book of matches. I lit one; this may well have been the first time I experienced this..the strike, the ignition, the smell of sulphur, the tiny flame.

You play with fire, you get burned.
I did not know how to put it out as it got close to my stubby fingers, so it dropped it into the cardboard box, which was filled with paper. The result was combustion and panic. I ran out and my Dad ran in and somehow saved the day.

Sadly, we had no need for the firetruck to come roaring in, sirens wailing, hoses gushing, dog barking.

Directly across the street was the city courthouse so many of the regulars were lawyers and such. On occasion, Dad and I would wander to the newsstand that was in the lobby. The stand was about the size of our still unburned shack. The guy behind the counter was Ken Kless, a buddy of my father. They were in an organization called the Jewish War Veterans and had hats and everything. It's my guess that Ken was wounded in WWII because he was blind.

There's no way he was blind when he signed up.

Ken looked like James Taylor does today, but his eyes were all messed up. I think he may have had a dog. I don't know how he got to and from work. Maybe Dad drove him for all I know. I always wondered how he was able to make change or how people didn't try to rip him off by claiming they gave him a $10 and so on.

Times were different in the Eisenhower years. Unlike today, crime was against the law and people were more decent, I suppose.

Ken and his wife had kids our age and often came over to our house and we went to their place too. Ken's wife was Ethel. She was young and pretty and had a great smile and happy personality..very positive. It must have been difficult being married to a blind guy who sold newspapers and candy. I think I recall that Ken could be crotchety at times also.

It also turns out that Ethel had a sister who was also pretty and nice. By some odd coincidence, she was my teacher in elementary school. That's all I remember about that.

Eventually Ken and Ethel got divorced. I seem to recall that he was seeing another woman. But I could be mistaken because that made no sense, knowing Ethel. But as a child, I was not informed of the deep details of other people's lives.

Another odd connection was that Ethel's daughter, Judy, got married to a guy named Christer. I want to say he is Swedish. Sorry Chris if I am wrong. They had a kid or two and broke up.

Chris now lives in Anchorage and is a close friend with my buddy, Howie Diamond, who also knew Ethel back in the day. We last saw him at Howard's daughter's wedding in Seattle.

Small world.

A few years ago, my father turned 80 and we had a big party to which we invited Ethel, now using her (maiden?) name of Cohen. Kimberly and I had a wonderful visit with her. She was still adorable and sharp with that warm smile. She was still needing to work. I think somehow because of the divorce from Ken, the US and A government denied her widow's benefits when he passed away. She was still trying to get some justice.

She told us she had brain cancer.

We hugged and kissed and that was the last time I saw her. The US government can finally sleep at night.

And so it goes.


At 5:45 AM, Anonymous robin said...

very nice sir. dad might even say - thanks for the memories. with just a few more months to go of this year I just want it to finish out without any more losses as it is going down as the crummiest and hardest year ever (with the wonderful exception of Chloe) ...robin

At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a thoughtful piece of writing and remembering. I had the same memories of the parking lot, Ken, and hitting up the church people for 50 cents.

Ethel was a wonderful person and I hope her family has an opportunity to veiw this blog.


Christer is a Sweede with two beautiful girls and a wonderful x...


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