Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Errand Boy

So, this is not a blog entry on the Jerry Lewis movie, although I think my dad took me to see this as he begrudgingly did with every Jerry Lewis film that showed up at the Loews Theater in Mount Vernon, New York.

Nope, the errand boy we're talking about today

If you're a regular subscriber to my daily nonsense, you know that, back in the days of my youth, the world was a safer place and it was really not a big deal to send your child out into the world on his or her own.  I've told you in the past of my solo excursions to the public library or the local movie house all by my lonesome.  A ten-year-old free to roam the streets of my hometown.  

Of course, with that freedom, a curse also arrived.  If I was so self sufficient in my travels, I certainly could be used for purposes of convenience.

Yes, I was able to do errands for all the adults in my household.  And since I was the only kid residing on the premises, I had nobody to pass the buck to.  Yep, it stopped with me.

I became a quite handy tool.  And the older folks soon learned what a luxury I could be.  The errands they used to do were now completely absorbed by yours truly.  

Take, for instance, my mother.  Once she went back to work at night, she had little time or interest to do the daily food shopping.  Nope, now she had me.

We had a variety of stores within walking distance where you picked up the daily essentials.  For my folks, that was easy.  In her amazingly pretty penmanship, she'd write down the stuff I needed to purchase "around the corner."  Those two food establishments were Gene's Grocery Store and Charlie's Deli.  The latter was a favorite of mine as it also kept up the widest assortment of Hostess and Drake's cakes for that much-needed after-school calorie infusion.  But, I still had to do the shopping for the parental units.

Since Gene was also a butcher, any fresh meat had to be purchased there.  But the window of fresh meat didn't extend beyond one single item.

"Two pounds of chuck chopped."

Hamburger meat.  

If we needed any meat beyond that, the errand took me a bit further.  To 241st Street and White Plains Road where there was the Quick Way meat market.  My mom's lifelong friend Rose worked in this place and would take my mother's shopping list from my hand to make the selections.  As much responsibility as I was being accorded, this youngster was still not up to picking out the best cut of London broil.

Back to Gene's emporium, the other items I was usually sent to this store for were canned and frozen vegetables, breads, and Menner's Spanish Rice.  Never heard of the latter?  It came in a can and, back then, the only way I would eat hot dogs.  They had to be mixed in with this glop.  A taste I can still remember and, almost mystically, still crave from time to time.

All the other staples had to be purchased at Charlie's.  He was a good guy and German, to boot.  More importantly, he had a very loose criterion for what a ten-year-old could purchase.  Because, invariably, Mom's shopping list included the following:

"Two packs of Kent cigarettes."


"A six pack of Schaefer Beer."

Gene balked at letting me buy the latter.  Charlie, however, didn't give a shit.

So, laden down with grocery bags which always seemed to be slipping through my arms, I trudge back from Charlie's with one last parental request ringing in my ears.

"Don't shake the beer cans."

As I got a little older, I was soon entrusted to another errand.  Picking up the dry cleaning from One Hour Martinizing just over the Bronx line.  It always prompted me to ask the perennial question.  Just what is "martinizing?"  I'd always get the same answer.

"You ask too many stupid questions."

I'd double up on these treks and usually pick up the dry cleaning and the groceries at the same time.  Juggling became even harder.  And, again, I would hear the voice in my head.

"Don't drop the clean clothes.  And...don't shake the beer cans."

Another stop on the "Len works for you" tour was Bob's Candy Store also around the corner.  This was one of those lunch counter places where soda was served in paper cones that fit into plastic holders.  I'd have to pick up Dad's newspaper there as well as Mom's required monthly reading.  "TV/Radio Mirror" and "Photoplay" magazines.  I'd look at the headlines on these rags and wonder what all the fuzz was about.  Who cares about Liz and Dick?  Why is anybody concerned who was the father of Patty Duke's baby?  And does anybody really pay attention to why Liberace can't find Mrs. Right?  Luckily, this stop allowed me to take some of the change in my pocket and pick up the latest Archie or Superman comic books.  Before leaving Bob's, I had one more item on the list from Mom.

"Two packs of Kent cigarettes."

But didn't I just buy some smokes at Charlie's?

"Cigarettes don't go bad."


Of course, my parents were not the only ones in the house who enjoyed the ease and convenience of Len's Errand Service.  There was another.


Food shopping was not an outsourced project in her world.  She did all the grocery purchasing she needed for the week every Thursday when she and Grandpa made their big drive to the A & P on Oak Street in Mount Vernon.  And they had beer delivered to the house every Wednesday morning when the beer guy drove his rickety truck down our block.

But, Grandma did pull me into two monthly errands and I would need to do them like clockwork on the last Thursday of every month.  Luckily, I could double up and get these done at the same time.

First was a stop at the County Trust Bank on Third Avenue in Mount Vernon.  Grandma's saving account was there.  Was I making a deposit?  No.  Was I making a withdrawal?  No.  My grandmother simply wanted her interest added to the bankbook.  I'd give it to the teller and she would have to get the account updated.  Grandma would contend that banks would steal your money if it wasn't clearly printed on your bankbook.  

Don't ask.

The next stop would be Ankerson's Drug Store on Fourth Avenue.  Oh, there were a lot of pharmacies that were closer to our house.  But, Ankerson's was the only one willing to order Grandma's favorite medicinal item.

White Cloverine Salve.  And, hell, they still make the gunk.  I just found it on

It's supposed to be for cuts and burns.  Grandma used it for everything.   She might have even added it to her spaghetti sauce.  It certainly wouldn't have made it taste any worse.  But, back in the day, Ankerson's had to order the salve.  I asked the simple question one time.

Why don't you have them order a couple of boxes so you never run out, Grandma?

"You ask too many questions."

Did my grandfather ever send me on any errands?  Well, yes and no.  There would be those days where my grandmother, with dinner on the table at 430PM, would call up to me.

"The dinner is ready.  Your grandfather got lost.  Go find him."

That could only mean one thing.  I'd walk two blocks to what my grandmother called "the beer garden" or "the gin mall."  The place my grandfather could be found every afternoon from 3:30PM to 4:30PM.  Sometimes, his departure time would get a little fuzzy.  I'd bound into the saloon and my grandfather would almost always see me immediately.

"Alright, alright already.  I'm coming.  I just had one."

Dinner last night:  Kobe beef hot dog at Blue Plate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Errands should go in the movie, especially the smokes and beer and Grandpa.

"Don't shake the beer cans."