Monday, January 25, 2016

It's Only Me- Chapter 6- Politics, Working and Brandy

Kings Highway was an epicenter of political activity in the 60's. Every local as well as state and National hopeful was obligated to appear at East 16th Street and Kings Highway outside Dubrow's Cafeteria to make his case. (There were virtually no women candidates then.)

From 1964 through 1968 we greeted John Lindsay for Mayor, Robert Kennedy for Senator and later Hubert Humphrey for President. Humphrey appeared with Mahalia Jackson the African American gospel singer. Humphrey was lackluster but I remember that Mahalia Jackson shone! She could've done without the microphone.

Each candidate kept a local office where they stored the pamphlets and buttons that the neighborhood kids would clamor to get by the bagful and then hand out. Capitilizing on the free labor of mostly uninformed chidren was a staple of NY politics back then. But some of us were involved out of a sense of history, or a desire to belong to something that would invlove them on the periphial of the adult world.

Steve Solarz had an office around the corner from Seth's apartment and when he ran for Assembyman in 1967/8 I was up there most of the time. As a result of running back and forth for coffee and sandwiches at Arkins Luchenette I eventually got a part time job working there. The place was called Ruby's after the owner Rueben Arkin.

The place was your typical Brooklyn "candy store" with a newstand and magazine rack out front at the open front counter. Walking in was a delight. There was a rack holding candy and gum. Along the wall was a massive selection of comics and magazines from Popular Science to Mad and all the rest. And to top it off the whole place was done in wood and mirrors. It was the typical "candy store."

My job was behind the counter, washing dishes, cups, mopping the floor and making malteds and ice cream sodas. Eventually I was allowed to fry things and make sandwiches.

Overseeing the whole operation until about 3:30 each day was Ruby's mom- I don't remember her name but I do recall the face. She was a refugee from some European country- she had arrived befor the beginning of World War II. She wore dark glasses- I'm not sure why- but she could be mean as a snake. The dishwater was never hot enough to suit her taste and I always used too much ice cream in the malteds.I can still hear her saying, "You're going to put us out of business!"

Still, it was a wonderful place to work and Ruby had a secret life.

About the time of my working there, several of my friends and I had started smoking pot. At the end of the day when we would close the store Ruby would be listening to jazz on the Black Liberation Station WBLS which played the jazz that Ruby had loved so much in his youth. He used to go to the Cotton Club in Harlem as a young man to dance to all the greats. He saw Cab Calloway, Lena Horne,Duke Ellington and even Louis Armstrong play there. He also picked up some unusual habits for a man his age- so it was quite a surprise one night when he closed and went to the back for a moment. Coming out form the curtained storage area with a sly grin, he instructed me to "pull the front shade." Turning the radio up loud he looked at me and said-"Wanna smoke some reefer?" I was shocked- but not really- Ruby was an animated and very vocal person. I thought he was cool but had no idea he smoked. So this became a ritual- we would close- sometimes early- and smoke pot.

One day I asked him what he did on the days the store was closed. He told me- "When Francis and the girls get on my nerves I pull some tobacco out of the end of my cigar- press some grass in the end and light up. They never know the difference."
I often wonder if this little secret went to the grave with him, or if he eventually got busted by one of his kids.

Around this time and through my association with Ruby, I got a job with one of his customers, Murray, from Murray's Liquors, also on Avenue U. This was a strange deal in that Murray was Jewish and couldn't/wouldn't work the Sabbath. But it killed him to pass up the trade on one of the busiest nights of the week. So, in direct opposition to the Torah, he had another Jew, me, 14 or 15 years old, taking the money and selling the booze for him. I would sweep up and close, placing the money in a previously agreed upon place. I would take my share of the money and a couple of bottles of Hiram Walker Blackberry Brandy. This was my drink of choice at 14 and a half.

I shared my liquor with Mark Shorr and Jeffrey Goldenkranz. Mark and I used to meet at 7:30 in the morning and walk to James Madison High School, drinking about a half pint on the way. Then we went to gym class and then home. It was a good system.

Jeff and I would hook up later in the day, before I would go to work at Ruby's and have a drink. It was also around this time that we began to push each other in the direction of smoking pot. We were both keenly interested in it- partly due to the influence of the music, which was all slanted toward the growing "drug culture."

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