And now, for something completely different ...

I have done a thing or two in my years, so I figure I will write about that here, since writing about today in Blog 1 is pretty depressing.

Back when I was teaching, one of the reasons the kids wanted to be in my classes was that I never B-S'ed them (I was also kind of fun, or so they told me). That is, I used to tell them that if I was telling them I knew about something it is because I did it, which is and was true, I have ever been an empiricist. I have done a few things in this life, and I figure it is time to account for these (at least the mentionable ones). So I will begin this here.

Nothing of real interest happens in my life in my early teens. I remember I was a fat kid, was very self-conscious, but what fat kid isn't? I did run a Miehle V-35 printing press in my father's company for summer work, and did utility work there. We had a good sized printing company in those days; we were the official printer for the U.S. Supreme Court, the Second Circuit, many local government organizations, the NAACP, CORE, and so forth. A lot of the time I would melt down slugs into pigs. Now I know that sounds a lot like shooting pigs, or something, but it was not. Composition was done on Linotype, or Ludlow typecasting machines that cast a line of an amalgam of lead, antimony, tin, zinc, etc. After the need for the galleys of type was done, I put them into a Nolan re-melter and cast them into pigs, or ingots, of Linotype metal that then were hung on a dispensing system in the "pot" of each line casting machine. So I reckon I was breathing lead fumes way earlier than most. Back then about everything was either painted with lead based paint or had lead in it in some form or other. The world didn't do too bad then, either. A couple of summers I had jobs driving an elevator in the Carolina Rice building, and some other gopher stuff.

Since I have decided to re-create the Blog 1 page, that will have my observations of modern times on it, as Thurber put it: My Life and Hard Times and I will reminisce here. Started the re-write of Blog 1 on 03 Sep 15, have a look.

 [July 2022 Addendum: With the political atmosphere of the nation being as radically socialist as it is, with minimum tolerance for any views that are based on unrevised history and cold fact, I have decided it is better to keep my observations and opinions private until such time as threats to one's liberty for disagreeing with the party line ends. Therefore Blog 1 will remain inactive until such time as a legitimate government takes office in the nation's capitol.]

This real incredible summer job happened in the summer of my sophomore year of college.

The Good Ship S.S. HurricaneS.S. Hurricane

I guess I am entitled to begin this part with, Arrrgh, maties ... Or maybe not.

I believe it was the summer of 63 or 64 (I suppose that I could find the old Merchant Marine Discharge, that had the date. But who cares? Besides, I have no idea where it is.) It was after Kennedy was shot, and I was "going with" Debbie - who I probably should have stayed with, but I did not.

Well, as I wrote, we had a printing company in the family and one of our customers was the SIU, or Seafarers' International Union. It was one of two major merchant marine unions, the other one being the NMU, or National Maritime Union ("Nuts Morons and Unfits" to the SIU rank and file). So by way of an arrangement, it was arranged that I would "ship out" in the summer of (I think) my sophomore year. You had to have Seaman's Papers to get a job, and you needed to have a job to get Seaman's Papers. It was that kind of a thing. Through the SIU I got U.S. Coast Guard Seaman's Papers. This is not a picture ofSeaman's Papers my original papers, I got this update in 1989. (At that time I was so enjoying what I was doing that I decided to get my Seaman's Papers updated and to ship out. Only problem is that by 1989 we did not have very much of a merchant marine anymore, and I could not find a job.)

I was supposed to go to "school" at the union, and learn the trade of the basic level of mariner, which was "ordinary seaman, wiper, or steward's department, food handler." I showed up at the union to do the school thing, and the contact at the union, a guy named Joe DiGeorge, told me to be quiet about the fact that I was a college student, not to mention his name, and to get to the hiring hall because he found a ship for me. (Gee, writing it here makes it sound very 18th century to me.) The ship was the Waterman Lines C-2 cargo ship, a type built during World War II, somewhat more durable than the old Liberty Ships. It was the S. S. Hurricane out of Mobile, Alabama and the Captain was named Jones and the crew referred to him as "Puddin' Head." They told a story about him that when the ship was tied up next to a coal barge in Korea (no, it did not run on coal) that he watched an old Korean woman taking coal off the barge and he shot her. Almost as good as my navigator in Vietnam trying to shoot the momma-san he flew his RC airplane into by accident wrecking the airplane and the momma-san's arm.

Anyway, it was very dramatic. My parents dropped me off on pier in Port Newark in the middle of the night, far enough away from the ship so they would not see me getting out of whatever my father was driving then - probably a Cadillac. I do not remember much of signing on or just about anything other than I was assigned to a room with two other "wipers." Right. I was a wiper, the other two "college kids" were on deck, ordinary seamen. (That is why the guy at the union was in a hurry, he found a ship to dump all the college kids on.)

"What does a wiper do?" you ask. He wipes things. In the engine room, where the temperature hovered around 125F you wiped stuff. The other two wipers, in my memory, remind me of Sméagol from "Lord of the Rings," they were really pretty gritty. But that was it - my parents dropped me off on a pier in the middle of the night and I thought I was about to meet Humphrey Bogart. The S.S. Hurricane departed shortly after I got aboard (no, it was not waiting for me), and I remember noting how slow it went, but by morning we were at sea. We were heading for Bremerhaven, Germany, then through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Muskegon, Michigan. It did not matter to me, I was forever below decks, wiping things. Some of the things I wiped were these huge bearings the propeller shaft was supported by as it passed through what was called "shaft alley." It was a tunnel of an affair going from the engine room proper to the stern of the ship where the shaft passed through a wooden (yes, wooden) bearing to the sea. The water poured in at the wooden bearing and that is what bilge pumps are for. Apparently they used wood because it swelled and minimized leaking - although if you asked me the ship spent most of its time sinking. The good thing about shaft alley was that at the end of it was a ladder that went up to the after deckhouse, where I could sneak up to and see the sky.

On the subject of the ship sinking, I do clearly remember the first and only lifeboat drill we had. It was announced as a lifeboat drill and the ship's horn sounded six short blasts and one long. We had two lifeboats and I was assigned to the starboard lifeboat. As we clustered around the boat, one of the officer's told me I was assigned to hold the sea-painter. I did not have a clue what a sea-painter was - I now know it is the line attached to the boat that keeps it from floating away. I must have had my usual confused look because one of the two or three guys I remember from the crew - Big Mike, more about him later - told me, "Just hold this rope. They'll let the boat down a few feet and bring it back up again."

So the chief engineer, who was in our boat - more about HIM too, later - pushes a lever to let the boat down. It moved about six inches on the fore davit, and maybe three times that on the aft davit, and then it froze in place.

While they were slamming the davit with sledge hammers trying to free it so that the boat could at least be hauled up and secured, one of the other wipers said to me quietly (don't forget, this is in the mid-sixties, only 20 years after World War II), "I been torpedoed three times, you don't wait for them lifeboats, just jump in for your life."

I'd love to have a picture of what my face looked like then - holding the sea-painter and contemplating jumping the equivalent of about 8 to 10 floors into the cold sea. We did not have another lifeboat drill. I hoped nobody wanted to torpedo us. It was a remarkable experience that you cannot have today: We were isolated from the world on that ship. There was a radio, but that was it. Email? We hardly had any E. It was probably the end of a time that you really could be away from it all, and I was. It was just anachronistic enough, and sufficiently out of place and incongruous in my life to attract me, and it certainly began to do that.

I had briefly met the other two "college kids" at the hasty briefing Joe DiGeorge gave us at the union. I did not see much of them as they were on the deck crew and I was assigned to the bowels of the ship. I recall the Chief Engineer (I believe he was the third mate, maybe) was in the engine room and he looked at me with the same look on his face as if he had discovered dog shit on his shoe, and told me, "You, wiper, souge down that bulkhead." It was the sea-painter, but worse. This was the bulldog of a Third Mate speaking directly to me in a language I did not understand, in a confined space and expecting immediate results. I figured this has to work for me, as I can pretend I am just plain stupid. (I clearly did not realize at that time how stupid I really was.)

I said, "Souge?"

The Chief Engineer, who had no patience at all and I exhausted what remnant might have been there, told me, "Wash that bulkhead!"

I "Yes sirred" as I got a bucket and what appeared to be a mop and started washing the bulkhead that was about 20 feet high in my immediate vicinity. You see, there are no real walls (bulkheads) or ceilings (overheads) in the engine room, there are these steel ladders and walkways and such. I began washing - souging - the bulkhead, and the Engineer erupted in anger: "Is that how'd you wash your car? From the bottom up?" This was clearly not going well, but I played the stupid thing: "I don't have a car, sir."

That worked. I guess he had figured I was some rich kid whose father had bought him a car and such, which I guess, in retrospect, I was, but which he now had doubts about. The Engineer was moved. He told me calmly, "Get up on that ladder and start souging from the overhead down."

That is when I became acquainted with the "fidley." The fidley is what we landlubbers call a "smokestack," except it is the inside of it. The exhaust gases go up through a central pipe and the structure of the fidley itself is about the highest part of the ship. I was sent up the fidley with a bucket and mop in one hand and the ladder in the other.  The only thing I thought about was advice that probably came from Joe DiGeorge: "One hand for you, one hand for the ship." When I got to the top and started souging, I became aware of the increased motion of the ship as the bucket was swinging a pretty wide arc in my grip, the soapy water surging over the rim on each swing.

 Unfortunately then, I looked down.

Now because of the heat in the engine room, there were salt pill dispensers here and there. I had never taken a salt pill, and probably had taken way too many of them, for as I looked down from near the top of the fidley, and saw the deck of the engine room far below, my mouth was filled with an extremely salty taste. I had to be about 15 floors above the deck in the engine room (which is just above the bilge, or bottom of the ship) which distance exaggerated the motion of the ship, and the next event was inescapable. I've flown high performance jets, and I had never experienced motion sickness before or since my fidley experience.

I tried to puke into the bucket, but it rolled starboard while I pitched to port. It is a good thing that the Chief Engineer had probably left in disgust, for if he was still where he was he would have good reason to be disgusted with dislike for me.

Shaft alley was about seven feet high and maybe six feet wide. The propeller shaft passed through it supported by huge bearings, everything painted white. After my high-wire act, I focused my wiping activities on wiping the propeller shaft and the bearings, working my way aft to the stern of the ship where the disquieting sight of water gushing in around the wooden bearing was disturbing, but constant, so how bad could it be? The ladder back there went straight up to the after deck house and I would sneak up there and take great pleasure in seeing the world, the sea, the sky again. It was pretty uncomfortable in the engine room, and things might have turned out differently if I was in the deck crew. There was no chance of being a steward as the crew was small and the cook and two or three stewards were the full staff. I remember the food on the Hurricane was good. We often had steak or lobster tail or something else that was pretty decent. It was far from a bad life. Big Mike, whose name was Mike, and who was big - I do not recall a "Little Mike," so Mike could have just been Mike - but he was not. Mike was probably wise that the three of us were college kids, but he was very nice and a kind person. He told us that the Scandinavians took their women on the ships with them. and sure enough we passed in opposite direction but very close to a Norwegian freighter than had all these women on the aft deck hanging up laundry. I do nor remember anything about laundry ... I wonder if I even did it?

On another day an American freighter passed close to us, and Mike and the other deck hands had determined that it was a non-union ship and the whole crew came to the railing to shout insults and flaunt SIU t-shirts, and so forth. It was becoming something engaging, like a family, and I do not think I would have returned to college if it was not for Debby.

Well, there was a movie, "Fanny," that we either saw on TV or in the cinema, that was about a young guy who has to go to sea to get money to marry the young gal who winds up marrying the older guy (Charles Boyer) while the young guy is at sea. Now, the other part of this ridiculous equation was a mutual friend Debby and I had, whom I will call "Bruce." My nickname for "Bruce" when Debby and I talked was "The Boy Schmuck." He was just a real putz who was hopelessly in love with Debby and had to hang around in the event she felt a hankering for him, which was not anything realistic.

The Third Officer was Sparks, or the radio operator, he was one of the ship's officers, but he was probably the most accessible of them all. One day, between watches, somebody - I do not remember who -  told me I had a radiogram and I had to go to see Sparks in the radio shack - or so the radio room on the ship was called. I went in and I remember watching him work. He manually set switches for different antenna configurations from an apparatus overhead. When he moved this lever to different electrical connections it literally threw sparks that showered down from the overhead, hence the origin of the nickname "Sparks" for radio operators. I think I just watched this conjuring with my mouth wide open in amazement. Finally he asked me what I wanted and when I told him who I was he looked at me with a mixture of gravity and sympathy and said, "You have a message." He handed me what looked like one of the old telegrams except it was printed on the sheet, not pasted onto it from strips of text.

Now keeping in mind the movie I mentioned above, "Fanny," and my having become very comfortable on the ship, I had received a message from Debby. (I have been taxing my memory to recall how mail got off the ship while we were under way, and I do not remember. I remember writing letters and I think we actually exchanged mail bags with other ships, but I do not remember how we did it in the maritime days of the stone age.)

Well, I left Sparks' radio shack with me message in an envelope, and I began to realize how the members of the crew seemed to be taking special notice of me. I read the message, and it was from Debby. It said:

"Cannot spend five years waiting for you to return from sea, am getting married to Bruce."

I read it and laughed, both at the thought of Debby and Bruce (he really was "The Boy Schmuck"), and it was funny that her message reflected the movie, "Fanny," which we both liked. Except the crew was not on to the joke, and they saw this as a "Dear John" letter, and from that moment on I would never be alone on the ship. They had all been tipped off to the content of the message by Sparks and his mates. My fellow crewmembers did not want me to take a header off the ship. (Also known as "Doing a Brophy," which indicates suicide by jumping into the water named after the first person to commit suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge - Anna Brophy. No, I have no idea how I know this stuff, much less how I remember it.)

I recall crewmembers coming up to me and making conversation - one of them told me of a guy who got a message from his wife that she was leaving him when they were in the middle of the Atlantic. He packed a suitcase, got dressed in his good clothes, came on deck with the suitcase and walked over the side. They told me these stories to make sure I was not going to kill myself, all the while I was still amused and chuckling at the joke of the message from Debbie which, no doubt, made the crew think I was even nuttier.

Sitting here, in the 5th floor waiting room of the Rockefeller Outpatient Clinic of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, waiting the get the results of the CT scan from my oncologist, I have decided to press on with the story of my preposterous youth. (As for the CT scan, I had my semi-annual (twice a year) scan a couple of months ago and something on it had grown .5 cm. so my onc ordered another scan (two months after) before the 6 month interval.

So, I was on the S.S. Hurricane, busy being the Jew-boy-college-kid wiper, and the girlfriend at the time, Debby, sends me a radiogram that she is running off with the "Boy Schmuck." Right. Now another colorful member of the crews was a fellow named "Punchy." (I will not give his last name, but it was the same as Seuss's elephant.)

Punchy was just that: punchy. He was a young fellow who had tried to be a prize fighter in Galveston and apparently got the shit punched out of him. Big Mike had Punchy closest, under his wing because Punchy might have been a fighter, but he was functionally pretty much retarded. I was friendly with Punchy, and he told me things I never believed, but he was a good person. When Punchy heard about the radiogram, he told me how to greet Bruce (not his real name), the "Boy Schmuck." Punchy told me, and in scary manner demonstrated, how to say hello: "Wellll, you hold him by the back of his neck, smile real big like you are his best buddy, then pull his head towards you and hit him in the face." I thought his fast short punch was going to connect with me, but he did not.

Now things went on this way on the ship as we sailed down the Saint Lawrence Seaway headed for Muskegon, Michigan, our first port in the U.S. At night I watched the lights of the houses on the hills near the Seaway slip past, and even then, as a kid of maybe 18 or 19, I wished I had a home - and I DID have a home, just maybe not a very good one. In today's parlance I guess it would be called "dysfunctional."

By the time we got to Muskegon - and all I remember about that place is what follows - I had made my mind up that I had to get home to kill the Boy Schmuck. It also seems convenient how my desire to get home coincided with the beginning of the fall semester. (Before the Debby Radiogram I had decided I liked the life and was ready to continue as a merchant seaman.) I was discharged in the port of Muskegon - it was a formal document, not unlike a DD214, and I used to know where I kept it, but cannot locate it now - and as a going-away celebration the crew took me to a bar and we started drinking the place dry.

Now the honest truth is that I was a very naive young man; did not have much of a clue about the netherworld of sexual deviation or whatever ... In few words, I made the mistake, in that bar, of hitting on a dyke whose mate was a woman only by technicality. I honestly had never known what a dyke was, and now I was getting the shit beat out of me by one. Technically, in the language of that time, I was getting the shit beat out of me by a "bull dyke." (Interesting to note that, in later years following my first divorce, I became very friendly with Judy and Sue, affectionately known as "The Dykes" in our West 13th Street digs. In fact, Judy and Sue voted me "Mother of the Year," that was in 1983, I think.)

However it came to be - which I do not remember - I found myself on a Convair 440 flying from Muskegon back home and back to school.

Riding and Mandingo

Well, let's see now, I was back in school and still seeing this same girl. I was a bit changed by my time on the old Hurricane, but apparently not very much. What Debbie did that had an effect on me was that she liked to ride horses, and I never really had done that. Hard to remember what it was all about, but I seem to have taken to riding like toast does to butter, or whatever. I was a natural rider, and a pretty good one.

A couple of years later, I remember my mother's mother talking - and I actually have this on an ancient little reel of recording tape - about her time in the old country, and it seems my maternal grandfather's family (whom I was said to favor) were horsemen. Imagine that. Not too sure what is or is not hereditary, but I was, and likely still am, a good rider. Never had a lesson, but I read about it and I learned from the best teachers of all, the horses. Introduction to riding was about the extent of the days with Debbie, and she exits stage left, or right, or wherever. However, before she exits, it is worth noting that this was '63 or '64, and the movies "Tom Jones" and the "List of Adrian Messenger" come to mind. What was most impressive to me in both films were the foxhunting scenes - I thought that was incredible!

At some point I remember we were riding horses that we had rented from Brookville Boarding Stable (more about that place later), and while riding on the Winston Guest estate (more about that and Jacqueline Kennedy later), when in a meadow below us I heard a hunting horn and behold: A foxhunt! Red (I would later learn they were called "pinks") coats and all! I watched, absolutely tranfixed. Turns out it was the Meadow Brook Hounds, a pretty exclusive hunt club in Old Westbury, with whom I would eventually ride, more about that later.Manding & Me at Hunt Meet

Brookville Boarding Stable was, and still is, on Route 107 in Brookville. In my day there it was owned by a crusty old Irishman named Mike Roche who had two sons and a daughter - I think. Mike had a limp that rumor held he had gotten from a British soldier during the "Troubles." Mike was pretty much a legend. If you were standing around doing nothing you would hear his, "Git yer hands out of yer pockets!" I became something of a groupie (can there be such a thing at a stable?) there and learned a lot watching and talking to Mike, his sons Danny and Michael, and old Clarence, the stable man. Always there was the "Git yer hands out of yer pockets!"

(I went back there about a year ago, and the stable is there, same name, but now it is run by some women whose names are not Roche. It looked way too neat and prim to be the place I remembered. But no more of this present day drivel.)

I was still "hacking" which is the name for renting a horse to ride; hence, the use of the word to describe any rented transport, such as that the Taxi and Limousine Commission in New York City used to be called the NYPD Hack Bureau, but that is about as useless to know as that the stable is now a girlie-stable.

I remember the stable had a U-shaped courtyard, and the stalls in the inner bends of this U were dark, and got very little direct light. There was a black horse in the inner stall on the left who I remember would thrust his head out towards anyone who came by. He was pretty frightening, and I am totally without a clue as to how it came that I ever rode him, as I only remember being scared to death by him. His name was Mandingo, and eventually I "boarded" him, which was to pay his expenses and he was ridden only by me. Ultimately I bought him. If you can love a horse, I loved that big thoroughbred. His history, as told, was that he had been owned by Frank Chapeau of the U.S. Equestrian Team. Chapeau had a reputation for being hard on the horses, and the next thing, or so I was told, was that he was steeple chasing in Cuba. Yes, it was that long ago. Finally he wound up at Mike Roche's place. Now a thoroughbred has a tattoo inside his top lip - yes, I know it sounds beastly cruel, but that was hardly the worst in the horse world - and you can normally track a thoroughbred by the tattoo since they are all registered at the Jockey Club, or some such place. Well, Mandingo's tattoo was obliterated (not uncommon in those days to hide a horse's history, or age). In fact, when I asked Mike how old Mandingo was, he told me "He's old enough to vote." You had to be 21 to vote back then. When we were in the programs at various horse shows, Mandingo's age was listed as "A" for aged. The riding pictures at that link are from the Spring Valley Hounds Horse Show, I think in 1966, or so. Mandingo - "Ding," I called him - was the best teacher I could have had. Anyone who has worked with horses knows they are smart, and Ding was smart enough to know I was his meal ticket and his ticket out of the glue factory. Actually, I think he liked me. I remember once we were working on jumping an "in-and-out," which is two fences with enough room between them for the horse to take one stride. It simulates fences and a roadway, and because he was so big - 16.3 hands, and 17 hands when he needed shoeing - it was hard for Ding to get himself together for the second jump. One time I went off in midair between the two fences, and onlookers said Mandingo looked like he was dancing to avoid stepping on me. Of course, there is also the time he got pissed at me, turned his head around when I was in the saddle and we were going someplace he did not like and bit my toe (in the boot, too, and it hurt). Another time, after we had chased this big buck - very mystical, more about it later - that I just dropped the reins and let him wander home. Twice he found his way between two trees that only he could fit through. I had to put my feet up on his neck. He was a character. When he heard me coming and he was in the horse van at a hunt meet or a show they said he would start stamping and snorting. He was huge, solid black, and quite beautiful. Mandingo was special.

I boarded Mandingo with Mike Roche for about a year. I do not recall what happened but I moved him out. As I look back I recall it was a pretty strange thing. While riding I came upon a stable that was run by Gypsies - Irish "Travelers," or "Tinkers." The father, mother and two daughters. The father had somehow crossed my path and knew how to talk his way into my confidence. Mandingo had what we used to call "broken wind." More like a kind of emphysema, it was a condition in which his breathing was impaired when he exerted himself. Clarence, at Mike Roche's place, came up with the idea that moistening his hay would cut down the dust and help him, but that did not work. I believe, thinking about it, the Tinker had told me he could help Ding's wind problem, so I boarded the horse with the Tinkers.  I missed hanging around the barn at Mike's place, and when I hang around at the Tinker's he eventually got the idea that he would try to interest me in his daughter. I needed to move Ding out of there, and I think it was Paul Mayo, who owned the Cold Spring Harbor Saddle Shop, from whom I had bought a lot of stuff, asked Harvey Youngs, who ran the stable on the Devereux Milburn estate to fit us in. However it happened, we went from the Tinker to a stable on an estate that was just incredible. It was - as I mentioned to someone a short time ago - the "last gasp of Gatsby." The great estates were being sold off to developers and there was less and less land to ride on.

One did not ride to hounds (fox hunt) in the summer as it was too hard on the horses. Summer was for playing polo, which I never did. So Harvey had some arrangement where the horses were turned out on the estate of Sir Ashley Sparks, who was the American head of the Cunard White Star Lines, when he was alive, and whose estate was still, at that time, intact and it was huge.

Have to flash back to Mike Roche for a moment. It was when I was at Mike's that I began riding with Meadow Brook Hounds. I do not know how that happened, but I had read everything I could on fox hunts and found out you could "cap" with the hunt. That means that you go to the Hunt Meet, drop a check in the Huntsman's cap, and you are allowed to ride with the hunt. Supposedly you could only cap three times then you were either invited to join the hunt, or you went away. It was different in my case (it was ALWAYS different in my case).

However, I was a male, and there was a shortage of  young males, one of the causes of which was made to clear to me when I had dinner with one of the officials of the Hunt, on Sutton Place - more about that never.  Instead I was allowed to continue to cap, got invited to the Hunt Balls, but did not get the pinks, so I continued to hunt in the black Melton coat - the one I bought from Paul Mayo. More later, this is beginning to bore the crap out of me - literally ...

Harry M. Knoud was probably the most exclusive - read, expensive - saddlery in the City. He was up on Madison Avenue, in the 70s or 80s I think. I had been breaking (yes, breaking) saddles - the trees, actually - and Harvey Youngs suggested I try one of the Cliff-Barnsby Hunting and Polo saddles he had there. I rode it on Mandingo and for one thing it almost fit him - his withers were so high that most every saddle's pommel came in contact with them and gave him a sore spot if I did not build up a pad of fleece for him, which I did. No, I did not peel grapes for him, too.

The saddle was probably pretty much unchanged in style since the 18th century: no fancy knee rolls, or other snappy features. Not even loops to put the stirrup leather excess into. Well, Harry Knoud was about the only place that had one in my size, so I bought it. Saddle cost around $800.00 and that was back in '65. I could check the CPI, but it doesn't matter, it was a splendid hand made English forward seat saddle. The curiosity of this little nugget is that way later, after the first wife took off and my life came apart, I refused to part with saddle and boots. WAAAAAL, THAT'S RIGHT, PILGRIM ...

Back then I still had boots and saddle, so to speak, and needed money. I was, at the time, pretty low on the food chain and was leasing and driving a cab in the city. I took the saddle to Harry Knoud to sell it back to them, and they did not believe I had bought it there and I had a hard time convincing them I did not steal it. They did have good records, and I sold it to them, but it is kind of a sad thing that not only did I have to sell my saddle, but I had become whatever low form of life that I had become. So what - who cares?


Okay, UVM thing: I went to UVM (for those who are unaware, that is the University of Vermont - Universitas Veridae Montanae, or something), because the president of the school was a guy named John Fey who was my father's friend. This is my dropped out of high school in his sophomore year to work to feed his mother and siblings father. My father met Dr. Fey when Dr. Fey was the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, and they were our customer. I remember how Dr. Fey would walk the campus in the winter when we were all freezing our asses off wearing about eveything we owned, and he walked along briskly wearing only his suit, no overcoat, or scarf. It turned heads when he would greet me with a cheerful, "Hello, Steve!" Nice, that. Anyhow, I was on the freshman football team (until I creamed our own bonus baby quarter back in a "hands-off scrimmage" which I did not know was "hands-off" - I will never lose the picture in my mind of me laying there clutching this guy's ankles to my chest, while he is also laying on the ground, looking back at me, saying, "You bastard." I accidentally benched the star with a knee injury for the season).

I also just recalled being friends with a team mate named Tony, who was pretty short. I was around 5'10" so Tony must have been 5'6". Well, there was a drill where you lay on your back on the ground head to head with another guy. When they blew the whistle you had to quickly get to your feet and one would try to run through the other. So Tony and I were usually on line together, with another friend, Harry, and it never failed that Tony was up against some huge Vermont farmboy - they were all huge Vermont farm boys. He would look up to me and I would say, "Sure, Tony, let's switch places," and I promptly got squashed by whoever would have otherwise squashed Tony. Harry only stood in when he was bigger than the other guy. Harry was smart.

Secure from Flashback!

03 July 2022

Printer's Devil

Printer's Devil was a term used to refer to an apprentice to a printer, way back in the old days. I was one.

We had a printing and publishing company in my family. We were printers for three generations, and my father started a company with his friend and partner around the time I was born. Over the years it grew and I remember when I was pretty young it moved from 214 William Street to 95 Morton Street, back when the far western part of Greewich Village, along with Hudson Street and Varick Street were the center of printing in New York.

We were pretty successful back in the days of Linotype, also called "hot metal," since the Linotypes had a "pot" in which a "pig" of type metal (mostly lead, antimony, tin) was melted to cast the lines of type. So we were a letterpress shop having a large composing room with about fifteen Linotype Machines, a full pressroom with some pretty big Miehle Horizontal presses as well as Meihle "Verticles" for smaller jobs and several Heidelberg offset presses. We had a full bindery with everything from Smythe sewing to "perfect binding." I started working summers in the shop when I was about 13. Mostly scraping type (you had to scrape the excess moulding from the bottom of the linotype so it would be "type high" with no irregularities. Then I moved up to remelting the used lines of type and pouring pigs in the Nolan Remelter. (Who knows how much lead I breathed in doing that, but I'm still here.) After the re-melter I got my union card and could run the Meihle vertical (V36 and V50) presses, and work in the bindery. On the Meihle I started by "singing chases," which is an interesting term. A "chase" was the frame that held the type and was set into the press to print those particular forms. They type was locked in the chase using wood spacers ("furniture") and quoin keys. Then the "lockup man," who locked the type into the chase, would slide it to the end of the lockup table, and as the run ended, the pressman would remove the chase from the press and swing in the new chase, hence, "swinging chases."

No matter how large it grew, we always referred to the plant as "The Shop." At the height of its success, we listed among our clients, The United States Supreme Court, The Second Circuit Federal Court, The NAACP, The Congress of Racial Equality, NY State Liquor Authority, and many others. We had a publishing division that published legal books, and some of these were very handy, such as the NYPD Sergeant's Exam Study Books that got me out of many a traffic ticket.

We were doing pretty well, and then computers happened.

My older brother was in the business, as well as myself, and he advocated getting some of the new computerized type setting systems. However, the "Big Six" or the typographical union, insisted the clerical staff who would run these machines--their keyboards were not the ETAOIN SHRDLU of Linotype, byut were the QWERTY keyboard familiar to typeists--be paid the same scale as union typographers, which was the highest wage paid (minimum scale for a Linotype "Operator" in 1965 was about $11.00 an hour, pretty high in those dollars).

My father's partner, and very dear friend with whom he had worked his way up, suggested my brother was wrong and it was time to buy more "machines" (being Linotype machines) since they were priced so low. Of course they were, the days of metal type were ending and everyone was selling them.

Alas, long story short,

More later.