Thursday, January 21, 2016

It's Only Me- Chapter 10- Ohio


Lori Grow was a friend of Mona’s. Her mother was German and had married a GI in Germany during the late 50’s. She came to America where Lori was born and lived up the street from me. As Mona and I started to part ways I began to see more of Lori. She is the link that brought me from Brooklyn to my time in Ohio.

Lori was on a trip to Ohio to stay with her Mom’s friend Jutta Thomas, a German woman of large proportion with a liking for beer and pills. She was divorced from her husband, also an ex GI she had met in Germany during the 50’s, hence her connection to Lori’s Mom. She lived by the side of Lake Erie in a 2 story home in Timberlake, Ohio with her 5 kids. This was the smallest town I had ever seen. 300 people lived there.

A phone call in the middle of the night from Lori was my summons to Ohio. Seems that Lori had taken some acid and had a “bad trip.” So I was going to her rescue. A friend of mine with a small green Triumph drove me there. I still remember passing beneath the “Welcome to Ohio – The Buckeye State” sign on Route 80 as we entered the state. Then we headed North and in a total of 12 hours we arrived in Timberlake. Lori was fine- with seemingly no recollection of having called me in distress.

My friends Mother had, by this time, realized that her son was gone and she started making phone calls. Now with no knowledge that we even knew anyone in Ohio, or that my friend was with me, she somehow found out where we were going, got the name and number and had left a message for him before we even arrived! Now that’s some detective work! There was no drama- just that she wanted to know where he was.

I proceeded to fall for Lori’s friend Monica Thomas, the oldest of the 5 children. She was sixteen and well developed for her age. I was almost 19. We went on long walks and talks by the Lake, which was polluted beyond all imagination at the time. Fish literally washed ashore dead by the thousands from the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company plant. But we only had eyes for one another and we began a truly passionate relationship that was interrupted by my friend having to go back home. So I went back home with him, promising to return in 30 days to begin a new life with Monica. In light of recent events at 2132 I see now that I was looking for a change. And going from Brooklyn with 3 million people to Timberlake with 300 people- well, that’s change!

So on August 30, 1973 I awoke early, paid my monthly bill to Jimmy, and with a few dollars in my pocket and clothes on my back, I headed to the subway. I took the train to Manhattan and up to the George Washington Bridge. I walked over, not wanting to leave so fast that I wouldn’t remember the trip. It was a beautiful morning and I started to hitch. I got lucky and my first ride took me all the way to Ohio and to the point where I needed to turn North. From there it took about 2 more hours and then I was in Willoughby, Ohio which is about 15 minutes from Timberlake. I called Monica and the whole family came to pick me up in their station wagon.

I stayed at 107 Keewayden Drive for about a week, sneaking up to Monica’s attic room every night. I got a job working for a Mr. John Grailing, who owned some houses that he rented out, doing the upkeep himself. It was time to paint several of the houses, including his own, next door to Monica. So I was a house painter. From that we went on to roofing the farm house where Mr. Grailing had been raised. It was beautiful and I felt very wordly being out in the country, working at something so rugged, like roofing.

By this time Monica’s Mom had grown tired of having me sneaking in and out of the attic every night and so I had to find a place to live.

I camped on the side of Lake Erie in the town’s park for about a week before the Sheriff asked me to find more suitable quarters. I was still saving the few dollars I was earning but did not have enough money to rent yet. Mr. Grailing let me live in the back of one of his properties- in the room that housed the hot water heater. I got a hot plate and some canned soups and set up on the cot that was in the room. I wondered why there was a cot there. I found out several nights later when Mr. Grailing came over unannounced with a 17 year old boy for some “fun.” This ended that arrangement very quickly. It also ended my job working for him.

I next found a job at the May Company Department store. It was in a mall- which was entirely new to me. Brooklyn had gotten a mall in 1969 but I don’t think I ever went there. I did my shopping on Kings Highway in stores.

At the May Company I met Dan McCandless, a fellow about 3 years older than I, and he showed me the ropes as janitor. We would arrive at the store at 5:30 AM each day and work til opening at 10 AM. Boy did we clean the place! We had rolling trash bins and we would raid every display case for watches, jewelry and even the stereos and appliance sections. We gave gifts to everyone we knew and sold some of the stuff at Mr. Pete’s, a local bar in Eastlake, just outside of Timberlake. We did real well until inventory time and then we were both fired.

By this time I was living with Dan and some friends on a farm near Willoughby and it was there that I got a job at DeSantis Coatings. It was a paint factory that made traffic paint for the State of Ohio. It was a hard job- but I learned a lot there about how people live and work in Middle America. Dan came to the factory with me- and so we continued some of our adventures.

This was my first factory job and I kind of liked it. The camaraderie and the assortment of people I worked with was exceptional and the whole experience was an eye opener for me. The end came one day when I was working with Dan McCandless. We had a system, whereby we would “spell” one another while the other took a break. We were both smokers of the left handed persuasion and so we rotated these “spells”.

I worked as the Oiler and assistant to the Mix man, who was Dan. I would take a hand pulled trolley with a big metal vat on it and pull it to the pumping station which had all kinds of solvents and thinners that were used in the making of paints. It was an electric pump and the liquids were all flammable, so you had to make sure you attached a “grounding” cable from the pump to the cart. This ensured that static electricity would not create a spark and set you and the vat and possibly the whole factory on fire. Depending on what we were making I would then pump the required “spirits” into my vat and pull it back to the mixing station. There it would be added to the various 80 pound sacks of pigments etc that were required for the different products we produced 750 gallons at a time.

After I would haul the oil over to the vat I would connect the hose and pump the oil into the vat. Dan would be dumping the pigments in as fast as he could rip open the 80 pound sacks. When the two tasks were completed we would lower the mixing blade into the vat and stir for about 15 minutes and then start pumping it out 50 gallons at a time. This meant that one of us would stay with the 750 gallon vat and at the pump control panel, while the other would go down and draw off the paint into a 50 gallon holding tank where it would remain until drawn off into 5 gallon buckets for labeling. We had it figured so that one of us could go out and have a smoke while the other continued working. It took 7 minutes to pump 50 gallons and then we would switch to another holding tank. These were located above the doorway to the office. A great system. But nothing is perfect.

It was my turn to take a break and so I left Dan at the receiving end after I turned on the pump. Stepping outside into the autumn sun I lit up and puffed away for about 5-6 minutes. Well, when I returned to my station I heard a lot of “glumping” coming from the other side. I was not the only one to hear this sound. I went to the holding tanks and was devastated by what I was seeing. Dan was gone- and the holding tank was overflowing, accounting for the “glumping” sound. It was like a yellow waterfall. At this point the office door flew open and Vince Jr came out and stepped into a torrent of yellow oil based traffic paint. He was covered! And I was fired.

I had worked under the supervision of the factory’s “Foreman for Life”, Joe Barnes. No kidding, that was his actual title- Foreman for Life. I was very curious about this position and especially the title. So one day I saw Joe Barnes at the pump station as he was bottling up some tuelol (the active ingredient in airplane glue) for a 3 day weekend. Tuelol is addictive and Joe had the “monkey on his back” when it came to inhaling the stuff.

Joe was a friendly sort and always telling stories. He was the most senior of employees- he had been on the job for about 18 years and as I said, he was “Foreman for Life.” This particular day he was jabbering away when he asked me , “Do you know how I got be Foreman for Life?” I replied , “No, but I am curious about it.” And that was all it took for him to recount the following;

“Well, you see, it was a Friday and Old Man DeSantis (the founder/owner of DeSantis Coatings) was drawing off some thinner to do some painting at home over the weekend. Stupid bastard owns the factory but he don’t know one damn thing about making paint. So he’s over here at the pumps and he’s got a metal bucket and holding it under the spigot- presses the pump button without grounding and zap- a spark ignites the bucket which spooks the old man and he falls with the pump running and now he’s soaked with thinner and on fire and he’s really burning. Now I hated Old Man DeSantis and so I looked around and I realized we were alone. So I go over to him and getting as close as I can I kick him in the ribs- hard. And he rolls over on his side. So I kick him again and he rolls some more. By now I’m really into it so I keep kicking and kicking and he keeps rolling and rolling. Just then his son, Vince Jr comes in looking for his old man and sees me kicking him. So I figure- well I’m done here and so I give him a couple of more kicks for the hell of it and he rolls some more and now the fire’s out. Vince Jr is hailing me as a quick thinking hero for saving his dad’s life and they give me a raise and make me Foreman for Life. And that was about 15 years ago.”

Around this time- October- Monica missed her “time” and we were both under the impression that she was pregnant. So we called friends and family and announced our “engagement.” Everyone seemed very happy for us. But there’s always that one thing you didn’t count on, and this time it was my parents. They flew into Cleveland, under the guise of wanting to meet the family of the bride to be. They arrived, sat and chatted for 5 minutes before offering the cash necessary for an abortion, which had just become legal in New York. I threw them out. Literally threw them out of the house. Although it turned out that she was not pregnant it gave me quite an insight into my parents and their values.

Jutta had now invited me back into the house to live and I was even providing money for groceries to cover my own expenses and supplement the Food Stamps that the family received each month. One night Monica’s Mom decided to call the Police on her for smoking some pot. Now Jutta wasn’t against it- she was just having a hard time with alcohol and pills at the time and felt threatened by Monica and I sort of taking over running the house. This call resulted in Monica being taken from the home for violating the terms of her earlier release on a curfew charge. She was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center in Painesville. I always thought of it as Pains-ville due to the emotional pain we were both feeling at the time. After about 3 days she was released and I was told to stay away from her as I was now 19. So I went back to the farm.
In the meantime I had purchased my first car- a 1964 Ford Galaxy 500- with a huge engine- 405 cubic inches or thereabouts. It was an 8 cylinder gas hog at a time when gas had gone from 35 cents a gallon to 65 cents. Anyway- I loved that car- which cost me a mere $75 dollars, and spent time in it every evening, listening to the AM radio out of New York- I could actually get WABC 770 AM! I loved looking at the green dashboard all lit up.

By November it was snowy and cold- I was sneaking back to Monica’s at night against Court Order and one night I got caught by Jutta. She called some guys from Mr. Pete’s to come kick my ass and we went on a wild chase in 10 inches of snow. These guys were serious and needed the 10 bucks so I was literally running for my life. The town Sheriff- Mr. Justice- really- that was his name- joined in with his station wagon and I ended up putting him in a ditch on the side of the road. So I went back to the farm for the night and arranged to pick Monica up in the morning by the lake.

By this time my parents had decided to invite me to my brothers wedding and so we took advantage of that to leave Ohio. We were on the way to the airport when the car seized up from a massive oil leak and were left on the side of the road. I took everything I could to a nearby service station and left it in the loft. The owner was very kind and assumed I would be back shortly for my things.

Meantime, Monica and I made it to the airport and to Brooklyn for my brothers wedding. We went back to Ohio afterwards but things were getting out of control there so we ended up back in New York,-me in Brooklyn and Monica to her Stepdads in Haverstraw.
Mr. Thomas farmed his step kids out to various foster homes and kept only his 2 children by Jutta. Michael Held and I went to Haverstraw to try and see her one day- we took the Greyhound from Manhattan. We were met at the door and told to leave or face the local police. Monica and I never saw one another again.

And so as 1973 drew to a close, and 1974 made its entrance I found myself back in Brooklyn and once again, back at 2132 Ocean Avenue.

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