Why do you think they call it "dope"?

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.

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I remember those airplanes

Well you asked for it.
Perhaps the tendency for people to write such propaganda as this in the first place, is the reason you got it for free.

By bahladash (not verified) on 24 Apr 2009 #permalink

Similar memories of neighborhood businesses where I grew up in north Jersey, although in that area all the local grocers, butchers, and delis were Italian too.

I most definitely remember those models too. BTW, it's Testor, not Tetra. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testor_Corporation

Testor. No wonder my fish never lived very long...

Our butchers were German and our Bakers were Italian.

Although I never got into airplane modeling as a kid, I did read a few books on the subject. This "dope" stuff can apparently be converted into a very thin plastic sheeting called microfilm -- instead of using it to seal paper or fabric, it's just put directly on the balsa frame, which uses a very slow rubber band engine for indoor flying. Evidently said planes are *extremely* delicate.

And you can hide secrets on them!!!!!

The clear "dope" was great for melting your little brother's plastic toys --- in the name of science and experimentation, of course!

"Our butchers were German and our Bakers were Italian."

And who were the candlestick makers?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1807, Amer.Eng., "sauce, gravy," from Du. doop "thick dipping sauce." Extension to "drug" is 1889, from practice of smoking semi-liquid opium preparation.

Presumably the model airplane stuff you remember was called "dope" because it was a liquid that you had to slather all over the model as if covering your food with sauce or gravy. The fact that it could also be used to get high (presumably it is the same or similar stuff that is in the glue that people sniff) is probably just a coincidence, since "dope" meaning drug seems to have been around since 1889.

Also, the name "Butyrate of Dope" seems implausible to me, seeing as butyrate is a chemical term and dope clearly isn't. I think it must have been just "Butyrate Dope," i.e., dope made of some sort of butyrate. Google books tells me it is is actually cellulose acetate butyrate. (I think that book is about real airplanes, not models, but I guess both use the same sort of "dope." Certainly there are online sites offering butyrate dope for model makers. It looks like it is easy enough to buy now.)

OK, I just checked. It is often called "Butyrate Dope" these days, but in older instructions you see Butyrate of Dope sometimes. I remebmer it as "Butyrate of Dope" It may not be correct from some idealized perspective, but this is toy glue, so that may not be the point.

This is indeed the "glue" from "sniffing glue" of the day, and it did indeed melt plastic toys.

It's off your topic, but you brought back memories of my brother making incredibly detailed model planes out of balsa struts and doped paper. He painted them by hand and applied decals, and creatively fabricated small parts like landing gear and wind screens.

And somehow, all lost in the years. Probably none of those hand-made miracles are extant today.

Well, George, at some point you are supposed to load them up with fire crackers, douse them with lighter fluid, and throw them, burning, off the roof of the nearest garage or apartment building into a pile of dried leaves. where you have strategically placed little green plastic soldiers.

Then you run them all over with your bike a few times.

(Archaeologists love kids. Or hate them. Depending.)

Plumbers often use pipe dope to glue plastic or PVC pipe and tubing together. Yes, they still call it dope, and the term is delivered without a trace of irony or double entendre. If you were to suggest a connection to the popular usage of the term, you would likely be told to grow up.

Probably there are other trades in which the term is still used in its original context.

"Well, George, at some point you are supposed to load them up with fire crackers, douse them with lighter fluid, and throw them, burning, off the roof of the nearest garage or apartment building into a pile of dried leaves. where you have strategically placed little green plastic soldiers.

Then you run them all over with your bike a few times."

::Greg is in my head!! He's stealing my memories!!!Thought theft!!::

By the real me (not verified) on 27 Apr 2009 #permalink

Nonsense... You can still buy and fabricate these model planes from scratch if you wish. I'm building one right now and only thing I need is a cheap alternative to traditional dope (Butyrate or modern Nitrate).