I had mentioned earlier the discovery of Morris the Jewish hardware store owner and Mr. Bryne the Jewish department store owner. There are two ways in which Jewish people seemed to play a disproportionate role in the retail world when I was growing up. In fact, there was an overarching ethnicity to much of the business community; Diners tended to have been owned by Greeks, sit down restaurants tended to be Italian; and clothing and textile stores Jewish.
In those days, much of the clothing worn by my mother and sisters was made by my mother on her sewing machine using patterns she’d buy at a certain store on Central Avenue. There were three or four stores including that one that sold the products necessary to make this clothing. It was a kind of miniature garment district, all the shopkeepers were Jewish, and I would accompany my mother as she went from one store to the next purchasing all the goods necessary to make that season’s clothing. A few years later on, I ended up going to a school that was walking distance from that shopping district, and we would go over when we had no classes or during lunch to get pizzas, purchase miscellaneous items, or hang out in the magic supply store.
There was a racial thing going on. My friends who were African American were not allowed in the stores on Central Avenue. They didn’t like unaccompanied kids in those stores. If you went in as an unaccompanied white kid, the shopkeepers glowered at you. I had noticed that African American adults elicited growls from the German Shepard that the shop keeper would have behind the counters. Unaccompanied black kids …. well, that would get the dogs released and that was never good.
I want to get back to Morris for a minute. You’ll notice I refer to him by first name, but to Mr. Bryne more formally. That’s how it was then, for me and for everyone. Mr. Bryne was tall and stately and well dressed and while always totally friendly, he was Mr. Bryne. His employees called him Mr. Bryne, and Morris called him Mr. Bryne.
Morris, on the other hand, was casual in appearance and style. He usually wore a smock or carpenter’s apron. While one often had the feeling of having an audience with Mr. Bryne, one usually felt that Morris was inviting you into his house for lunch and a beer. Morris was ‘Morris’ to his employee who also happened to be his wife. Mr. Bryne sold my mother clothing and most of the uniforms us kids needed to wear in school. Morris sold us all kinds of stuff too, but he gave me a birthday present every year. I still remember some of those birthday presents very well. They were usually some kind of car toy.
Anyway, one day I acquired one of those air plane kits that you put together out of balsa wood. You then cover the balsa frame with a paper like substance, and you paint the paper with a certain chemical that causes the paper to shrink and become hard. this is actually the technology that some early planes were made with because of the combination of lightness, hardness, and smoothosity required for air plane skin.
So I went to Morris’ hardware store and asked him if he had any of this substance. It was called “Butyrate of Dope” and over the previous year or two, it had apparently become the drug of choice among teenagers. I did not know this. Why do you think they call it dope? Well, because it’s called ‘dope’ of course.
So, here’s this kid walking in and asking Morris “Excuse me, Morris. Do you have any butyrate of dope? I don’t care what color really, any kind will be OK.”
So, Morris gets this nervous look on his face. He looks around to see if anyone else is in the store, and he says “OK, come over here….”
And we walk over to the Tetra Paint display (that’s model paint — all different colors in little tiny bottles) and he unlocks a latch on one side, and the display opens up so you can see the secret storage place that is inside. And there’s about thirty or forty bottles all labeled “Butyrate of Dope” hidden in there. Morris took another glance around to see that no one was coming in the the front door or the pass through over to Mr. Bryne’s department store. He deftly made a basket out of his carpenter’s apron and with one sweep of his hand, all of the bottles are now in his apron. He took this back to the counter and quickly deposited all the bottles in a paper bag and handed me the bag.
“Don’t tell anybody where you got this.” and he escorts me out of the store with the last of his dope.
No charge, apparently.