Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MELHORN'S CORNER

      The Four Tops' "Same Old Song" blared from the jukebox in the corner while the four of us puffed away on Old Golds, blowing smoke so thick you could have cut it with a knife pawned at Richie Wallace's.  We were nursing our bottles of Coke, about 15 cents a bottle and deposit- worthy those days, when suddenly Lou Melhorn swept his arm from his side toward the exit.  "All you boys do is come here to smoke behind your mothers' backs," he cried in that reedy voice of his.  "Now get the Hell out of here."
      Hell was a smokey place we had heard, perhaps not so smokey as the ledge upon which we were now smoking outside Melhorn's overlooking the sidewalk.  We were somewhat critical of Lou's entrepreneurial skills.  How could any T-town businessman risk losing such big and influential spenders to perhaps Happy's up the other side of the block or even to Rudy's near the high school.  Crossing over the north end boundary of Cleveland Street was akin to scaling the Berlin Wall because a few north end toughies always seemed to materialized out of the Ohio Valley pollution and participate in their favorite pastime: rearranging your face simply because they didn't like your looks.
      Me, Tim Maple and the two Jocko twins would take our 27 cents elsewhere and tell Lou where to stick his Popsicle sticks.
      Back then tobacco companies like Lucky Strikes, Marlboro, Winston and Old Gold advertised on television how relaxing, soothing and James Dean cool cigarette smoking was.  The only side affects that we knew of was that smoking stunted your growth.  So whenever a faintly familiar car would approach along Trenton Street, we would deftly cup our mouldering smokes inside the palms of our hands because we did not want the Red Knight coaches thinking the next Don Sutherins and George Deideriches were going to develop into some puny weaklings good for only practice dummies.
       Coming from the direction of Lenny's Sunoco down our side of Trenton was Doughnuts, stooped over as though looking for money, hands folded behind his back.  Occasionally, he stopped inside Melhorn's to drink tea from a saucer.
      A cocker spaniel yapped along the white picket fence two lawns above us.  Doughnuts slipped a hand into a pocket of the baggy hobo jacket he always wore--even in the dog days of summer as was this day--and stuck his hand inside the fence, the dog licking the treat from his hand and Doughnuts's face.
      One of us, probably a Jocko, would have asked Doughnuts how he was doing, but Doughnuts would have most likely told us "None of our God-damned business" as he did the day before.  We watched Doughnuts shuffle down Trenton Street onto the overhead bridge, only seeing his blue ball-capped head appear as he ascended the summit of the bridge.
      We knew any moment Lou would beg us to go back inside to spend the 27 cents remaining amongst us.  Five, six…15 minutes later we were still awaiting the apology when Bill Jaco came lumbering toward us toting a black umbrella with a wooden hook despite the cloudless sky.  Bill was making his early evening rounds and we could tell by the pizza sauce and chocolate on his white sleeveless T-shirt he had already made his stops at Johnny's Pizza and the Dairy Aisle.
      "How's it hanging, Bill?" one of the Jockos asked.  I couldn't tell which Jocko; they both looked the same that day.
      Bill stuck out that footlong pointer finger of his and poked Jocko right in the stomach.  "Whoops!" Bill said.  His voice sounded as though it trumpeted through an elephant trunk.  To us, his shoulders were as broad as an elephant's.
       A white Ford Fairlane rolled to a stop at the corner.  "Ford junk," Bill tooted as though he were reading a fact from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  "Ford junk.  Hit a bump and the seat falls down."
      The driver rolled his window down, asked Bill, "Can you tell me where Clarke's Funeral is?"
      The man was obviously from out of town.  Only out-of-towners got lost in this town of 7,000 residents or stopped for the stop sign at the bottom of the overhead bridge.
      "Up bay," Bill trumpeted, "Up bay."  Toot fix Fords.  Fix junk.  Clarkie's goosey.  Clarkie's full of stiffs."
      Bill was talking talk only T-towners could interpret while the out-of-towner just shook his head from side to side.  Bill must have seen the guy's wife in the car and said, "Man marries woman something loose--something loose."
       Finally, the man poked his head out the window and shouted, "Man, you are completely nuts!"
      Bill merely eyed the man as if adding another nut to a town already full of nuts and then said," "Not lost."
      The man peeled rubber onto Trenton, smoke fountaining from his wheels still crossing Findlay.  Bill philosophically said, "Town's full of nuts" and then lumbered his way toward downtown.
      The four of us figured we would let Lou off easy and returned inside, lit up four Old Golds while we listened to "The Same Old Song."