As a lad growing up in suburban Minneapolis, I was blessed and I was cursed. I was blessed with an Uncle who owned the local hardware store where values beyond my wildest imagination could be secured. I was cursed with an older sister.
Older sisters have always been a cross to be shouldered. It was no different in fifties, the most wonderful era of any generation. Only David and Rickey Nelson, Wally and the Beaver and a privileged handful of others escaped this almost intolerable scourge. Jeff Stone was burdened by Mary played by Shelley Fabares in the “Donna Reed show.” Bud Anderson was beset with Betty played by Eleanor Donahue in “Father Knows Best.” Girls have always outnumbered boys, so almost all of us were plagued with an older sister.
As a lad there were parental rules. There were school rules. There were church rules. There were neighborhood rules. There was kid etiquette that had to be adhered to. And, as if that weren’t enough, last and most definitely least, there were sister rules.
Sister rules were established willy-nilly, were enforced through intimidation and were never to be challenged or questioned without serious retribution. These rules could be changed at the drop of a hat depending upon whims and circumstances.
For example; a home with two televisions was almost nonexistent in the 50’s. The new fangled fad was, for a time, monopolized by my sister and her friends who would descend upon our living room after school to watch “American Bandstand.” This would prevent the viewing of “Axel and His Dog” and seriously jeopardized “Spin and Marty” as well as Annette Funicello. OUCH! Her “Royal Highness” had also made it clear that I wasn’t to be seen when her friends were around. That was an embarrassment that could take her weeks to recover from.
One night at dinner I requested that a fairness doctrine be instituted regarding the television. I made a strong plea for sharing the television viewing time after school. My father and mother found my argument reasonable and thus compelling. My sister strongly disagreed and argued that allowing me any kind of unfettered access to the Stooges, Stan and Ollie and “The Little Rascals” would only serve to warp my brain even further. This is where the old man sprang into action. He explained to his precious princess that her brothers’ shortcomings occurred in the hospital at birth and that, in all likelihood, the damage was both all-encompassing and irreversible. He therefore concluded the television would not pose any greater or additional danger.
Two nights later at dinner her “Royal Majesty” demanded fair time to view a show she had no interest in watching but was opposite my favorite show, “The Rifleman.” Following the terms of the fairness doctrine her request was granted. This was her retribution and she was good at it.
Eventually the girls found another home to view “American Bandstand” and I was watching “Axel and His Dog” in my living room whenever I wanted. Sacrificing some “Rifleman” episodes to win a victory over the demonic forces in the world was, in the end, a small price to pay.
She was not just insufferable regarding the television. She controlled the telephone, the bathroom and metered out her own special brand of vindictiveness when she was placed temporarily in charge of the house. She never got over “Bandstand” or any of the other small victories I might have won in challenging her quest for dominance.
Our parents would occasionally take weekend or long weekend mini-vacations. Her “Royal Highness” would be in charge for those weekends. “Shock Theater” aired every Saturday night at ten o’clock on television. These were movies featuring Bela Lagosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolfman. There was Frankenstein, The invisible Man and Mummy flicks as well as other delectable delights of the era. I was not allowed to view these for two reasons. The first was because they aired long after my bedtime and the secondly because the subject matter was deemed inappropriate for a lad my age. Now that the parents were off cavorting the opportunity to indulge in this rarest of treats would be available to me. Ah, but alas, it was denied by my sadistic sister. This was not done out of some sense of duty or responsibility. House rules designed to govern her behavior while our parents were away (no parties, no sleepovers, no boys) could be routinely ignored.
Then, of course, there were the different methods of discipline employed. When I got out of line the old man came down on me like a ton of bricks. However when his precious princess needed counseling it was always done in private with a warm, soothing explanation, along with the assurance that she was still loved and that everything would be alright. YUK!!!
My mother was the only one who could draw the line with her. When those two clashed it always resulted in the most sophisticated forms of trench warfare. I did my best to create these skirmishes (mom might learn that house rules were broken when she was away). As these disputes flared up, I always maintained a safe distance to avoid being caught in the crossfire…something I learned from the old man.
Her “Royal Highness” was also a cheerleader and the prettiest one of the bunch. She was an amazingly beautiful Blond. Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens paled in comparison to her. As a result, boys were always hanging around and calling our house. It seemed like she had a new suitor every week. She was not allowed to “go steady” so if there was a favorite it was never divulged to me. This was also the one area where the old man was unyielding with his darling daughter and the one area that my mother and sister conspired to hide information from good ole dad. It was also the one area in which I could have really proven problematic, if I had chosen. I always managed to know more than I was supposed to know.
While this environment could be volatile at times, our parents usually managed some semblance of order. They employed a shrewd blend of knowing when to step in and take control, when to leave us to our own devices and when to work from behind the scenes to control the outcome.
During the school year my sister was so busy with her studies, cheerleading, her friends and boyfriends and making my life miserable that she had little time for anything else. However during the spring and the summer months she worked as a car-hop at the Full Moon drive-in restaurant. She was extraordinary on roller skates. She could skate circles around everybody else. If there had been an Olympic event on roller skates she would have been a gold medalist. Her skating prowess combined with her looks, made the car hop job very lucrative for her. Her weekly allowances, her hourly wage and her large tips at the drive-in all provided her with a nice fat savings account. Our little “Queen For A Day” always had money.
She also had a big heart when it came to everyone except her brother. It seemed as though someone always owed her money. She was constantly loaning out and being paid back the money she was owed. I never recall her forgiving a debt (although she may have) and never recall her refusing to help anyone within her circle of friends.
This circle of friends put together a chaperoned trip to visit Washington DC during the upcoming summer vacation. My parents had agreed to fund about half the trip. My sister opened up a separate saving account dedicated solely to this endeavor. It didn’t take here very long to save the difference between the money my parents provided and the remaining loot she needed for this summer hiatus. As usual she was way ahead of the curve.
One of my sister’s best friends was Karen Adams. Karen had a boyfriend that was a couple years older than my sister and her friends. The attraction was obvious. He not only had a driver’s license but a car as well. His attention, and thus his perceived attraction, to her significantly elevated her status and popularity. Through him, Karen had access to events and other opportunities not readily available to other girls her age. Karen’s friends, while envious, saw possible opportunities for themselves. They stayed close in hope of snagging one of these older guys for themselves. All this provided Karen with disproportionate esteem leading to an inflated ego. While “robbing the cradle” was not common in the fifties it was not unheard of and therefore, somewhat acceptable. It could open up a guy to razzing or ridicule but only elevated the status of the girls. His name was Rick Lucius.
Rick had a reputation as a bit of a bad boy which provided additional luster to the relationship. It had been rumored that Rick and his buddies had been suspected of a variety of juvenile delinquent activates of the day. Hub caps would routinely disappear at events they attended. Other forms of vandalism, such as, break-ins and damage were sometimes attributed to these fellas. The cops gave the impression that they were keeping a vigilant eye on these galoots primarily to avoid public criticism. Most suspected that a lot of what was rumored was false. But Rick loved the attention and notoriety and did nothing to discourage it.
Rick also loved his car. He spent almost all the money he made working in the auto parts department at the Chevrolet dealership on modifying his 1955 Chevrolet. Rick always wanted a ’55 Chev Bel Air Hardtop. He was finally able to get his hands on a used ’55 Chev that his father had found for him. It was a two-tone blue and white with blue and white vinyl interior.
The “55 Chev was the first Chevrolet to abandon a previously stodgy imagine. Its brochure highlighted the dramatic redesign and additional power. It was longer, lower and wider. The excessive chrome that characterized the cars of the era was toned down on this model, giving it a more distinctive appearance than its predecessors or current competition. Rick was also influenced by some serious emotional pulls. He had a picture of James Dean standing next to a ’55 Chev and also found the car irresistible because it was used as the pace car at the 1955 Indianapolis 500.
A car in the 1950’s was far more than just transportation. An automobile was commonly modified to enhance, not just the car, but the image of its owner as well. There were two basic groupings in modifications.
Appearance modifications, from pinstriping to hub caps to hood ornaments were financially achievable for most young people. Even novelty items like Aooga Horns (sounded like a submarine diving horn) or a Wolf Whistle horn, to get the attention of girls walking down the street, could be comfortably managed by most.
Performance modifications, like converting a three-on-the-column or an automatic transmission to a four-on–the-floor, or adding dual exhaust, or rebuilding and modifying the engine, was far more costly.
Creative modifications beyond after market availabilities would lend even greater status to the vehicle and thus to the imaginative genus behind them. This special recognition could be crucial in garnering special levels of respect and acceptance.
Rick, being an ego maniac, was fanatical with all forms of modification which seriously depleted his wallet. He naturally drag raced at every available opportunity but found he could take no pride in that activity. He lost more times than he won. Rick’s fragile ego was taking a beating. So, Rick decided it was time for a major engine overhaul.
The standard engine in a 1955 Ford was a 265 in³ “Turbo-Fire” OHV V8 rated at 162 horsepower; 180 horsepower was also an option. It was widely held that Rick’s used ’55, had the standard 162 horses. To get the power and speed Rick desired, he and his pals more than likely upgraded to dual 4 barrel carburetors, shaved the heads and raised the manifold. The car also sported a modified powertrain to accommodate the modified engine, a converted four-on-the-floor transmission and modified dual exhaust.
To manage the costs, Rick purchased most of the parts from junk yards and the Chevrolet dealership at employee discount prices. He and his buddies did most of the labor. He also took advantage of a layaway plan at the dealership.
Credit and credit cards were not common in the 50’s. The practice of incurring huge credit card debt with usury forms of interest rates had not yet become stylish in America. The closest form of credit was layaway plans. If you didn’t have the cash to purchase a desired product, you could, in most cases, put the item on hold or layaway. This arrangement required weekly or monthly payments until the entire purchase price was met. At that point (and never before) the item would be provided. Interest was never charged on such an arrangement.
Even though Rick utilized every means at his disposal, he found himself overwhelmed by the financial realities of this obsessive endeavor. Undisciplined and immature youth can be impatient and self-centered. Young Mr. Lucius had no interest in engaging in a long term project. This absurdity would only perpetuate further drag racing embarrassments which Rick considered unacceptable when the problem could be rectified immediately. He raced ahead, leveraging himself to the hilt, to complete the project as quickly as possible.
When completed, Rick boasted 300 horsepower. The car was deafening and would rattle windows when revved up. This racket provided yet another additional benefit for Rick. The cops were now paying even greater attention to him. Losing drag races had become a thing of the past. Rick had secured a vaulted status in drag racing folklore. It was indeed a nifty set of wheels.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, her “Royal Highness” had become smitten. She was pushing the envelope knowing full well this was against the rules. I first suspected that something was amiss when the telephone, which was seldom available during the evening, was suddenly never available during the evening. If I inadvertently picked up the phone when she was talking, which she always was, she would charge me with eavesdropping at breakfast or dinner. This was, naturally, an unhealthy sense of paranoia…to think I would stoop that low.
She also became unusually persnickety about her appearance. She was now demanding that my mother never wash her clothes with my degusting attire. She said she was convinced my filth was impeding the whiteness and brightness of her wardrobe. “Give me a break!”
I of course always retaliated.
I would wait until she was in bed and then sneak into the bathroom and unscrew all the light bulbs. This drove her absolutely crazy. When she figured out what was going on and started screwing the bulbs back in, I would sabotage the toilet seat by making sure it was left up at night. I would also confiscate her undergarments and hang them around the house. This prompted her to start locking her bedroom door which drove my mother crazy. With her bedroom door locked, I preceded to snoop through the laundry placing soiled unmentionables in conspicuous places around the house. When my sister succeeded in putting a stop to that, I would hide the soiled garments so she would run out of clean underwear.
Needles to say, this put me at continual odds with my old man. No matter what his precious princess did, he always expected me to turn the other cheek by adopting a level of maturity that was years away from fruition. As I learned much later in life, my father had embrace two words which were crucial in dealing with my mother and essential to maintaining peace and harmony within their relationship…they were, “Yes dear.” He once told me, “Son, you must learn that in dealing with a woman you will never win a war of wits. They control the high ground when it comes to emotional and psychological warfare. Always pick your battles carefully; understanding that irrefutable logic never prevails. You must be cunning, learning how to employ sophisticated forms of subterfuge and if confronted, claim ignorance. Women will always concede to ignorance because they are convinced that the biggest idiot known to mankind is their guy.” He concluded by emphasizing, “This strategy provides the most realistic expectation for victory.” The old man could be quite astute on occasion.
About the time my sister and I could no longer be civil to one another; my sister had an astonishing awakening. The young lady, who was constantly yapping, seldom said a word to anyone. The phone was freed up in the evenings and she was no longer making demands of anyone. What was most incredible was her total insensitivity toward me. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I could do or say anything without being subjected to any attempts at humiliation. She was relinquishing control of the house.
But she had also grown distant and melancholy. My parents tried to talk to her but it proved fruitless. I think they eventually concluded that some guy or raging hormones or something similar was probably troubling her and that she would snap out of it sooner or later.
As time went on, I was amazed to discover how I felt and reacted to this. While my parents enjoyed the respite from all the fighting, I began to worry. Only God knows why, but I was concerned about her.
The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Superman were real. They came in the form of my Uncle Louie who was always available to ride in and save the day. Uncle Louie owned the local hardware store and was probably the most successful and wealthiest hardware entrepreneur the free world had ever known. I had the run of the store which, for the most part, was a waste. To this day, I can’t pound a nail straight. But this access helped in building our clubhouse and Uncle Louie did stock certain necessities of life, such as, baseballs, and some bike paraphernalia.
The only area off limits to me was a room in the back of the store. I wasn’t allowed to go near that door. Most people weren’t allowed near that door. All the somewhat seedy types who occupied the premises always entered and exited from a doorway in the ally. This no exceptions policy was presumably implemented to avoid any possibly embarrassment or negative repercussions to Uncle Louie’s hardware business. It may have also been designed to insulate my Uncle Louie from any firsthand knowledge concerning all the supposed nefarious activities taking place back there. The rumors were intriguing and always disturbed my father.
Uncle Louie was single. Anyone who spent five minutes with him would know why. He had a very gruff exterior and was well known for his sarcasm and total intolerance toward anything that contradicted or offended his standard of common sense. He possessed a quick wit and sense of humor which could employ the most colorful metaphors. He wore spectacles, was about five-feet, eight-inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds. He always had a cigar in his mouth and was waging an unsuccessful campaign against male pattern baldness. He looked sixty when he was forty which he attributed to good living and the whiskey he kept in his desk drawer. His surroundings looked like nuclear test bomb sites. Things belonged where they fell and that is where they stayed.
The only contradictions to Uncle Louie’s persona were his car and his clothing. He drove the most expensive cars and they were kept spotless, both inside and out. His clothing was of the highest caliber. When he tightened the knot of his tie to the top button of his shirt he was one of the most dapper men in town. Also, no one close to my mother and father, or to Uncle Louie, ever had to worry about working or having a job. If they didn’t like the hardware business he would help them secure work elsewhere. Those who took the time to know him, loved him, and nobody loved him more than me and my sister.
Louie and my father were the only kids my deceased grandparents raised. My grandmother had lost two other children in child birth. The second loss left her barren. As a result, Uncle Louie embraced me and my sister like we were his own. In addition to having total access to the hardware store, we got the greatest birthday and Christmas gifts a kid could imagine. It was not uncommon to receive gifts from him at any time during the year. If he learned we wanted something it would magically appear. My parents weren’t always pleased with this behavior. If we asked them for something and it was denied, we were always cautioned that future refusals for other requests would be commonplace if we persisted by asking Uncle Louie to intervene. He was quite often referred to within the family as “your rich Uncle Louie.”
As I grew older, I came to understand that my parents knew how important their kids were to Louie and quite often allowed him to buy the most special gifts, not because they couldn’t afford them, but because they knew it would strengthen the bond between us and our beloved uncle. Yet none of this is why we loved him so much. Uncle Louie was a confidant. We could tell him anything without fear of reprisal. He would always help dry our tears and lick our wounds without violating our trust.
Uncle Louie was aware of my fondness for Willie Mays. Mays had played for the Minneapolis Millers for a short time before going to New York to play for the Giants. Mays’ nick name was the “say hey kid.” According to Willie, the nick name was hung on him because he was terrible at remembering all the names of all the people he was constantly being introduced to. So to avoid the embarrassment of having forgotten their names, he would greet most people by saying, “Say hey.” So Uncle Louie always referred to me as, “kid” or “the kid”, and everyone in the hardware store always greeted me by saying “hey kid” which is exactly what happened when I went to see him about my sister.
“Hey Kid,” “Hey Kid,” “Hey Kid”
“Hi guys. Is my uncle upstairs in his office?”
“Yea, he should be.”
As I walked up the rickety old wooden steeps I could smell the wonderful aroma of his cigar. To this day I can conjure it up at will.
I loved the robust manner in which Uncle Louie always greeted me; “Hey kid. How’s the average” (a reference to a baseball batting average)? I would usually respond by saying, “477,” which was Willie’s batting average when the Giants took him away from us. I didn’t respond this time and immediately sat down in the chair in front of his desk.
“Oh my, Willie didn’t die, did he?” asked my Uncle.
“No sir. It’s my sister. Somethin’s wrong with her,” I said.
“What’s going on?” asked Uncle Louie.
I told him; “I don’t know sir. She won’t tell anyone. All she does these days is cry and cry and cry. I’m getting sick of it. I had a dream last night that “the Mick” (Mickey Mantle) and I had hit back to back homers to win another for the Yankees and before I could enjoy the roar of the crowd she woke me up again with her crying. This has to stop.”
“Come on kid, it can’t be that bad”, said Uncle Louie
“Oh yes it is sir. She is so gloomy and moody these days I can’t even insult her any more. It’s like she doesn’t care about anything.”
“Do you think your mom and dad know what it is?”
“I doubt it. Usually if there’s a problem she will fight with my parents and then just be angry and run around the house yelling at everyone. But she just stays in her room now and cries.”
“Have you been able to get anything from her friends?” asked Uncle Louie
“No sir. They know we don’t get along so they won’t tell me anything.”
“Yea, well, no surprise there. The whole world knows how well you two get along.”
Uncle Louie now furled his brow and in typical fashion advised, “Say a prayer she’s not knocked up, Kid. Sending her away could get tricky.”
“Can you help her Uncle Louie?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You’re not going to tell my parents, are you?”
I ain’t gonna lie to you kid. I won’t tell them how I know, but I may have to tell them what’s wrong. I’ll do what’s best for her.”
“Please don’t let her find out I was here, either. If she finds out I’ve been nosing around, I’ll never have any peace,” I Pleaded.
“Yea, Right,” responded Uncle Louie.
“Say Kid, before you go; take a look at the new bike handle-bar grips with streamers I got down there. The streamers are brown and orange. Giant colors.”
“Thanks Uncle Louie.”
“Don’t worry kid. Everything will work out.”
As I exited the hardware store I could hear the roar of Rick’s Chevy as it came to rest at the stop light across from the drug store. Elmer Scoggins, a retired postal clerk and former mayor, had just walked out of the drug store and onto the sidewalk. Obviously infuriated by the racket, which not only spoiled the solitude of the day but also, in all probably, raised havoc with Elmer’s hearing aid…he yelled, “Ya darn kid ya. I’m gonna call the cops on you”… which, naturally, pleased Rick to no end.
The next day Uncle Louie made a rare appearance at the Full Moon drive-in. While he loved food, the ambiance and silliness of such places were way beyond his ability to comprehend and therefore only served to provoke him. When he walked in my sister saw him immediately, and for the first time in weeks, got a big smile on her face and screamed; “Uncle Louie” while racing to give him a big hug and kiss.
Uncle Louie knew the owner of the drive-in (Louie knew everyone in town). He had asked and gained permission to steal his niece away for the rest of her shift. So Uncle Louie invited my sister to go with him to Mac’s Malt Shop, the local hamburger joint and ice cream parlor. While he loved Mac’s burgers, this too, was not his favorite place. He selected it carefully knowing that my sister would be very comfortable in that setting and therefore more inclined to open up to him.
Whatever Uncle Louie may have lacked in marketing skills he more than adequately supplanted with people skills. He knew that in addition to the setting, an emotional approach would be crucial in reaching my sister. Suspecting she was pregnant, he asked if she had a steady boyfriend. She said, “Yes.” He next pursued a line of inquiry about him to gain an emotional read on how she was feeling toward him. He detected some hurt and disappointment, which only served to further validate his worse fear.
Uncle Louie then reached across the table and while holding her arm said, “There is nothing more important in life than love and family. None of us go through life alone. All of us have crap to deal with which may force us to seek and accept help…nobody can survive alone. We must have faith and trust in those who love us and when necessary must ask for their help and guidance, especially when things really stink…no matter the embarrassment it may cause. Those who love us have an unbelievable capacity to understand and to forgive and forget. We all have our little secretes.” He then said, “I sense I should be concerned for your happiness.”
Her response included the dreaded word; “I’ve gotton myself in trouble Uncle Louie.”
Trouble, when used in connection with a young unmarried lady in the ’50’s, was the code word for pregnant. When Uncle Louie heard it, his heart sank. He immediately began planning the demise of this new boyfriend.
“What happened?” asked Uncle Louie.
“Do you know Rick Lucius?” she asked.
“Yea, I know who he is. He’s that crazy hot-rodder. Thinks he’s a big shot,” he replied.
“That’s him. Anyway, he has been going out with my friend Karen Adams. He is a couple years older than Karen so…”
“Yea, yea I get it. It’s a big deal”, interrupted Uncle Louie.
“Anyway, Rick told Karen he needed money. He told her, almost with tears in his eyes, that he was in trouble. He said he was caught stealing some parts from Roadway Chevrolet where he works. He said they demanded payment for the stolen parts. They also demanded he turn over the pink slip to his car which the dealership would hold until the parts were paid for. They agreed not to prosecute him and told him he could keep his car and his job if he paid the money back on time. He then told her that they were now demanding payment in full on his remaining balance before the end of February or they were firing him and taking his car to meet his debt. He said he couldn’t tell his father because his dad would take the car away if he found out. He couldn’t tell anyone because he had broken the law and would never be able to get another decent job and might even end up in jail. He said that while he was lucky the dealership wasn’t prosecuting him, he was for sure going to lose his job and his car if he didn’t come up with the money before the end of February. He begged her not to tell anyone else and said his life was over.”
Uncle Louie now becoming impatient wondering what any of this had to do with her being pregnant asked, “So what’s all this crap got do with you?”
“She gave him her money Uncle Louie…and not just any money…but the money she had saved for our trip to Washington D.C.”
“Please…what does any of this melodrama have to do with you?” implored Uncle Louie.
“The money Karen gave him wasn’t enough to get him out of trouble so she asked me for money to.”
It was starting to dawn on Uncle Louie that the “trouble” may not be, as he liked to say, “A bun in the oven.” “You didn’t,” he said.
“I told her no several times Uncle Louie…I truly did. But he was running out of time and I couldn’t stand to see Karen so out-of-it, so I gave her my money for the Washington trip too. Karen has always paid me back.”
“Have you ever lent her this much money before?”
“Heavens, no!” She exclaimed.
“Okay…so how is this yahoo going to pay you back?”
“He told Karen that he could easily return our money before the Washington D.C. deadline because his dad had promised him a loan when he got a bonus or commission or something at work and that his grandpa had left him some money when he died which he should be able to get in a couple months. Some trust thingee or something.”
“Why Didn’t he just ask Roadway for a little more time?” asked Uncle Louie.
“Karen said the whole reason they wanted their money by the end of the month was because he had fallen behind in his payments and they were out of patience.”
Now really irritated, Uncle Louie blurted out, “This jackass has an answer for everything, doesn’t he?”
Uncle Louie then advised that the girls immediately demand their money back and to tell Rick that it’s his old man’s job, “to pull his fat out of the fire.”
Uncle Louie had unearthed the crux of the problem. My sister now stated through a floodgate of tears; “We already did that Uncle Louie.”
“So what’s the problem?” asked Uncle Louie.
Sobbing almost uncontrollably she said, “When Karen asked for our money he denied ever getting any money from us. She told him if he didn’t pay us we would tell the dealership, his dad and even the police. He said go ahead. You gave me cash. I’ll just say you two little chippies (tears really flowing now) are just trying to blackmail me for money to go to D.C. It will be your word against mine. And with no proof that you ever gave me one red cent, who do you think they’ll believe? He’s no longer talking to Karen and our money is gone.”
Now furious, Uncle Louie bellowed, “He said what?”
“I know Uncle Louie. I’m just sick about this. Now Karen and I can’t go to Washington with our friends this summer. I can’t tell mom and dad. The money they gave me for the trip I gave to Karen. How can I tell them I was so stupid? They’ll kill me if they find out. Not to mention the hounding I will suffer at the hands of that little twerp I have for a brother.”
Uncle Louie then inquired, “Do you know if any of the malarkey this Lucius kid gave you is true?”
“I doubt any of it is true, sir.”
“Because shortly after we lent him our money his car was all different and stuff. It was louder and faster and he was drag racing all the time. Karen’s convinced he used our money to fix up his car.”
“This punk should be horsewhipped”, said Uncle Louie.
He now had a clear understanding of the deep despair she was suffering. He was also angry and heartbroken by her tears.
It was time for Uncle Louie to do his Lone Ranger routine.
“Okay”, he said, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. First off, you don’t have to worry about your parents or “the kid.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“As for the money and your trip to our country’s capital of corruption…I will repay all the money Mr. Lucius fleeced from you two.”
My sister, now having the weight of the world lifted from her shoulders was euphoric.
“You can do that Uncle Louie?!! You’d do that? Oh thank God,” she cried.
“Yea, well…He’s got nothin’ to do with it,” said Uncle Louie
He next explained, “This money is a loan not a gift. You guys have to learn a lesson here. I want nothing to do with this Adams girl. Are you sure she wasn’t used to set you up?”
“Oh, if you could only see her Uncle Louie. She’s more of a basket case than I am. She’s missing school, her grades are tanking, she thinks I hate her and besides, I’d know if she was still seeing Rick and I know, for honest, she’s not.”
Uncle Louie continued, “Nevertheless, you insist on pay-back. If she so much as balks at that arrangement, you withhold the money. Make it clear you’re not some darn church and she has to cough up the dough, no ifs, ands or buts.
“I will Uncle Louie.”
Leaning forward with his elbows half way across the table and looking over the top of his specs he said, “Now, you are to never voluntarily tell anyone, especially this Adams girl, where you got the money. You never lie to anyone…be evasive. If anyone, except your parents, should ever ask where the money came from, give them a line of crap…anything from ‘mind your own business’ to ‘the Rockefellers’. This should never happen as long as your keep still.”
“My parents can never know Uncle Louie…they just never can.”
“They’ll never hear it from me. I know they’ll never hear it from you, but who has this Adams girl told. You might want to find that out and tell her to keep her her yap shut as a condition for receiving the money.”
“Do I have to Uncle Louie?”
“If you don’t have that little chat, then you better start thinking about how you’re going to deal with your parents should they come calling.”
“Okay”, she relented.
Uncle Louie was very savvy when it came to money. He never told my sister that he was fearful Karen’s enthusiasm for paying her debt might be dampened if she learned where the money came from.
Before moving on to more pleasant topics Uncle Louie, being Uncle Louie, had to caution, “I sure hope you’re smart enough to keep this new guy out of your knickers.”
My sister turned a bright shade of red and exclaimed, “Uncle Louie!’
“Yea, well don’t be taken in by this guy. Don’t be giving him what he wants. Most of these guys today are a bunch of knuckleheads who think it’s ‘cool’ or some such crap, to let their hormones do their thinking for them. I mean it now, be careful,” he said.
“Just a minute here. You didn’t think I was P-G?! Did you, really?!”
Then the ole female intuition kicked into gear so she asked; “did you know anything was wrong…did anyone tell you anything?”
His response, “Na, I didn’t know anything about anything until you told me.”
Uncle Louie could obviously practice what he preached…a perfect example of truthful evasiveness.
Her “Royal Highness” was back and in rare form. She was now on a food kick. Even though her body was perfectly proportioned and curvaceous; and even though her activity level allowed her to eat whatever she wanted with no negative consequences, she had determined it was time to shed some pounds. This enlightened decision and the resulting course of action presumably stemmed for her discovering that she had gained six ounces in the calf of her left leg. Nevertheless, she was plotting a coup to take over the food in the house. Naturally everything I loved had to go, as well as many of my father’s favorite dishes. My mother refused to be a pawn in this covert activity. She warned my sister that World War III would surly erupt if anyone started messing with her father’s food. This was the first time I remember the old man telling his precious princess that she was out of line. The demon lady had returned and our happy little household was back to normal….and I was relieved.
With tranquility restored at home, word had spread through the automotive grapevine in town of a hush, hush deal. It was a travel package that included gate passes, lodging for almost a full week and train fare to the Indianapolis 500, which was right around the corner. The price for this package was a real buy. Those who learned of it spoke of it in whispered tones because the availability was very limited and very tight. If word of this spread to the general public it would create a feeding frenzy. This would surly result in the offering being closed in a flash and those who first knew of it, could be shut out.
It didn’t take long for word to reach Rick, who secretly shared it with his buddies. To them, this was a dream come true. They loved cars and dreamed of seeing the Indy 500, but they had to act quickly.
Rick learned that the package was being brokered by Max Conrad who worked out of the back room of Uncle Louie’s hardware store. One of the many rumors that circulated around the back room was that Max could get almost anything dirt cheap; televisions, radios, refrigerators, jewelry and fur coats. It was even once rumored they brokered an athletic scholarship out of the back room.
Max did not stock inventory or have a store front, so whenever word got out that Max was dealing, you had to move fast or miss out. All these purchases were made with cash…no lay-a-way plans were ever offered.
In order to secure a spot it was necessary to visit Max and give him a down payment. Rick and the boys had never visited the back room, but were familiar with all the stories. They had heard all the gossip and knew to enter through the door in the alley.
When they arrived the steel door was bolted close. They knocked and were granted access. Max greeted them and asked what they wanted.
“Are you Max?” asked Rick.
“In the flesh”, answered Max.
“Are we to late to get in on the Indianapolis 500 trip?”
“All four of ya wanna go?” asked Max.
They all answered in excited unison, “Yea”…”Yes”….”Yea”…”Yea.”
Max then called across the room, “Frankie, we got four spots left on that Indy deal?”
“Geez Max, I don’t think so. Let me look here.”
After a minute or so Frankie said, “Ya we can do it. That’ll just about close it out.”
“Looks like you fellas got lucky”, Max said. You bring your do, re, me?”
As they were giving Max their deposit he said, “You guys understand this is a nonrefundable deposit?”
“You’re aware we’ll need the rest of the money in a couple of weeks?”
“Yea, okay…no problem, Max.”
“Alright: looks like your all set.”
“Geez, thanks Max.”
“Yea. Just don’t’ forget about the rest of the money.”
When they left they could hardly contain their excitement; “We’re going to the Indy 500!”
But there was a problem. With these guys there was always a problem.
While Rick and his pals could handle the deposit they had no idea how they were going to get the rest of money. Rick would have to find a sucker, and soon, if they were to meet the deadline.
After a week of no success, an incredible stroke of luck occurred.
Chester Rollins, a mechanic at the local service station showed up at Roadway Chev to pick-up some parts the service station had ordered. While Rick was waiting on him, Chester mentioned he had just come into a sizable chunk of cash. Chester told Rick he wasn’t going to be stupid with this money and wanted to invest it. He told Rick he didn’t want to just put it in the bank. Chester wasn’t interested in the meager interest the bank would pay him. He was looking for a bigger score, an investment opportunity. Rick, of course, was anxious to help.
He told Chester that his old man had tapped into a private investment fund that was making a ton of loot. He told Chester that his father had taken some money from a trust fund his grandfather had set up for him and the money had almost doubled.
“Doubled?” asked Chester.
“Oh yea”, said Rick. “Where do you think I got the money for my car?”
“Yea. You know Rick, a lot of us have been wondering about that.”
“Well, now you know,” responded Rick
“Geez, thanks Rick. I’ll give your old man a call,” said Chester.
Rick then motioned Chester over to a quite area in the parts department, got close to Chester and whispered, “My old man will kill me if he knows I blabbed about this to anyone. I like you Chester and I want to help you. I know how tough it is for the average Joe to turn a buck today.”
“Boy, ain’t that the truth,” responded Chester.
“You bet it is,” said Rick.
He continued, “Look I don’t care if you use my old man’s gold mine or not, just please, please don’t tell him I told you. Ya know Chester, it’s like a good fishin’ spot. Once everyone finds out about it, the spot loses its value.”
As Rick began walking away, Chester called him back.
“Rick, how much would I have to invest in this deal?”
“Well, I don’t know, I believe there’s a minimum.”
Just so happened the minimum was exactly what the boys needed to go to Indy. Lovable Rick had yet to develop a true appreciation and hunger for greed.
“Well that’s not so bad. It’s not even close to the complete windfall.”
At this point Chester told Rick he would be willing to give it a try. He asked Rick to stop by the station to pick up his check after work tomorrow. Rick then told Chester that the fund only operated on cash.
Noticeably irritated Chester said, “Cash!”
“This is a very exclusive offering Chester. Only the hoy-paloy has access to it and they have determined it is a cash buy-in only. That’s includes everybody, even my old man.”
“But, Rick I won’t have any proof of transaction.”
Rick now became indignant; “You think my old man would screw you?” Her I am trying to put you on to something really good and you’re calling my father a crook. Forget it Chester.”
“Okay. Okay Rick. I’ll have the cash tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry about getting sore with you, Chester. It’s just I love my old man and would trust him with my life.”
“I’m sure he’s a good man. Just look at the great kid he raised.”
“Exactly,” said Rick.
“Well then, I’ll see you tomorrow Rick.”
“You betcha Chester.”
The next day Rick collected the money from Chester. With cash in hand he told his buddies that the Indy trip was all set. The next day he promptly paid another visit to Max and paid the balance owed for himself and his buddies to go to Indy.
For the next few days these bandits reveled in unbridled joy.
Then Rick got word that Max Conrad wanted to see him.
When Rick arrived all commerce was suspended. The back room was cleared except for Max, Tony Deluca and Frankie Pasquale. These two could best be described as buildings with legs. They anchored the locked alleyway door and stood behind Rick where he had been told to take a seat.
From behind his desk, Max asked Rick where he got his money for the Indy trip.
“Savings”, Rick answered.”
“Now isn’t this a shame that you and I have to start off on such a bad footing?”
“What do you mean sir?” asked Rick.
“Be careful young man. You’re trying my patience.”
Max then asked Rick if he knew Chester Rollins.
“Sure Max. I Know him.”
“Uh, ah. Well Chester has just told me something most disturbing.”
“He has?” asked Rick.
“Indeed he has”, responded Max. “It seems he gave you money to invest in some phony scheme you concocted and then you had the chutzpah to give it to me for your trip to Indianapolis.”
“Well…Ah..Ya see sir…Ahm… I think Chester is confused about this. That money was a loan…that I fully intend to pay back.”
“Really? And will this payback include doubling the amount he forked over to you…which you promised him?”
“I never said that Max.”
Max, now really steamed, screamed, “If you don’t knock off the crap right now you’re gonna need some serious dental work!”
Max proceed with his tongue lashing, “You’re asking me to believe that one of my best friends, a guy I played High school football with is trying to stiff me… you little punk!”
At this point, Rick glanced over his shoulder to see if could make a swift retreat. Unfortunately, there was no chance of him reaching the door without incurring medical treatment.
“Rick began, “Alright Max…I Just…”
“Shut up”, barked Max. I’ve heard enough.”
Max continued, “Here’s where we’re at. I have returned Chester’s money to him. So you have managed to incur yourself quite a little debt here. Debt profoundly disturbs us young man. We’re not a bank!”
Now for the terms; “So here’s what we’re gonna do. You will have the money you now owe us, on my desk, by the end of business tomorrow.”
Now terrified, Rick pleaded for mercy; “Please Max… I haven’t got it.”
No one could apply pressure better than Max.
“Oh my; No? Well, we now have a serious problem, don’t we?”
Rick tried to bargain, “How about we just forget the Indy trip? You can keep the deposit.”
Max countered, “What are you, brain dead? You can’t back out of this deal. We have prepaid for everything and we turned others away to hold your spots. It’s way too late for that garbage.”
Rick tried again, “Well just give me some time then. I’ll make payments.”
At this Max paused, leaned forward on his desk, raised his eyebrows, and while staring directly into Rick’s eyes said, “Do we look like Sears layaway to you?”
Max then said, “I oughta just turn you over to the cops and be done with this aggravation.”
“Oh please Max, not that. I’ll do anything…I beg you”, implored Rick.
“Common on, it’s not like I don’t have a heart… but conning my buddy Chester and then all your lies, pushed me to the brink. You’ve just been one disappointment after another. I’m really tired of you and all your crap,” said Max.
After a brief pause Max said, “So you’re telling me you have nothing of value to offer me.”
“I’ll pay ya Max…I swear I’ll pay ya.”
“How about that jalopy of yours? You own that? And I’m going to caution you again not to push me over the edge. I’m out of patience with you.”
“Yea, I own it.”
“Alright… I think we have an out for you.”
The now pliable Rick listened intently hanging on Max’s every word, “Because I go to church, I’m a compassionate kinda guy…a guy who’s been known to get all weepie and emotional over acts of charity. So I won’t bring in the cops and I will allow you some time, not much, to get squared away with us.”
“Thank You Max. I will never forget this.”
“Yea… But I think, just to be safe, we should put in place some preventative measure to act as a safeguard against your character flaws. This safeguard should be something that would really express your appreciation for my extraordinary charity…something…”
“You want my car, dontcha?” Asked Rick.
“Oh Rick, I would have no use for that bucket of bolts but I have to believe that, if sold, it would more than adequately cover your debt.”
Max concluded, “So to avoid any further disappointment, here’s what you’re going to do. You will bring me the pink slip on that hotrod of yours or payment in full for what you owe by the end of business tomorrow. If you choose to go pink slip, we will hold it until you’re squared away with us. We expect to be paid in full…none of your crap…in one week. If we do not get our money, then we will sell the car and you’ll be shutout from Indy. You should know; I wouldn’t do this for everybody, Rick.”
“I still don’t know how I will get the money together that quickly, Max.”
“Maybe some simple math will help you figure it out. You take what you owe us and divide it by 4. You know how to do that?”
Rick nodded yes.
“Good. Then you tell those deadbeat buddies of yours to cough up the dough. When viewed in increments of four it’s not so overwhelming, right?”
“They’re not going to be willing to do that.”
“They will after you explain to them they are duplicitous in the theft of Chester’s nest egg. They benefited from and used money they knew was stolen. They can be prosecuted just the same as you.”
Then Toney said, “Hey Maxie, maybe they can share cells in the joint?”
Max finished, “If these brick brains have any trouble understanding any of this, just send them to me. I’ll introduce them to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett (motioning with a limp wristed index finger to the door); my buddies here.”
Frankie and Tony got “a kick” out that.
Rick sat silent for a brief moment and came to the realization that he could only make matters worse if he continued finagling. Finally he said, in a very soft, defeated tone of voice, “Fine.”
“Good. Then we have a deal”, said Max.
‘Rick got up to leave and Max said, “Woo, hold on there, cowboy.”
“What?” asked Rick.
“The keys…we need the keys to your car. We don’t want you getting nervous and rabbit on us. Besides, you don’t want us comin’ after ya…life can get real ugly when that happens.”
Rick reached into his pocket and placed the car keys on Max’s desk. He finally had full and unfettered access to the alley door that he had desperately desired.
Rick returned the next day and put the pink slip on Max’s desk. Max just looked at him and said, “You know how do this? You just sign it over down there on the left side.”
“Do I sign it over to you?” Rick asked.
“No”, said Max. “Sign it over to The Venture Corporation.”
“Man, I don’t what I’m gonna tell my old man,” said Rick.
Max loved this; “Now isn’t this special? You want somebody to feel sorry for you?
You gotta have rocks in your head. Go on now and get out of here… and don’t you dare bring me any more dirty money.”
When Rick was gone Max picked up the phone.
The voice on the other end answered, “Venture Corp.”
“Yea, Louie…it’s me.”
“I got the pink slip here.”
“Nicely done Max. Can you send it over to me?”
“Sure. You want the seed money you gave Chester back as well?”
“Yea, send that over with the pink slip.”
“How about Chester’s cut? Should I take it out of this before sending it over?”
No. I’ve taken care of Chet. By the way Max, will the deposits those morons gave you cover your end okay?”
“Oh God yes. It’s more than enough.”
“Just a caution, my friend. These numskulls are desperate. They could be loose cannons. Make sure you keep Frankie and Tony close until this is over.”
“I will Louie.”
“Anything else we need to go over?”
“No, we’re good.”
‘Thanks again Max.”
“You Bet Louie.”
Uncle Louie was anticipating great joy in receiving Rick’s Pink Slip. But instead he felt nothing but rage and sorrow. When he held it; when he looked at it; all he could see and all he could hear were the tears and sobs of his cherished niece. He was vindictive. He wanted to exact the harshest penalty possible on this creep. It took every ounce of discipline he possessed not to pick up the phone and sell the car as far away as he could. But, Uncle Louie knew that vengeance is for fools. It never heals the hurt and always exacts a dear price on the perpetrator. He would wait, praying every day, that Rick would not be able to meet his obligation. He wanted to sell that car as bad as he ever wanted to do anything. All of this broke his heart. He sent the pink slip back to Max.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be; Rick made his next appearance in front of Max’s desk right at the deadline. He brought with him the full amount to pay for him and his buddies to go to Indianapolis; which was the full amount he embezzled from Chester.
After completing all the necessary transactions, money counted and stored, the pink slip signed back over to Mr. Lucius, Rick said, “Well, I guess all that’s left is the tickets and passes for Indy.”
“What are you talking about?” said Max.
“What’s this?” asked Rick.
“What’s what?” responded Max.
“You’ve offered a special trip to the Indianapolis 500,” explained Rick.
“Who told you that?”
“You sure did!” Screamed Rick.
“Prove it,” said Max.
“You no good…then give me back my money…now!”
“All the money I paid you for the trip.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The cash I just gave you.”
“Cash? What cash? You got a receipt?” No? Well then I guess it’s your word against mine there buddy boy.”
Rick jumped up and screamed, “You no good son of a…”
Before Rick could finish, Frankie and Tony immediately helped him find his seat again.
Rick still incensed went on; “You’re not going to get away with this. My old man will go to the cops. It’s about time you were thrown in jail.”
“Yea, why don’t we do that…why don’t we all go to the cops. You tell them what you know and then I’ll tell them what I know, and while we’re at it…why don’t we ask Karen Adams to speak on your behalf at Chester Rollin’s fraud trial. That’s right, you snot nose little punk, we know about that too. And trust me, if you’ve brought me any more dirty money we’ll soon know about that as well. Your old man know about all of this? Yea, I didn’t think so.”
Max continued, “Who do you think you are? The nerve of you. A no good cheap hustler comin’ into my fine establishment here and threatening me. Where’s your respect for your elders, sonny?”
Rick had a response but before he could utter a syllable, Max raised his hand and said, “I’m gonna give you the best advice anyone will ever give you. If you’re smart, you will leave recognizing just how lucky you are. First, think; I’m not going to jail, at least not yet. Second, think; I have my car back, free and clear. Third, dig deep to see if you can discover how good it feels to know you have finally paid for all that rubbish you did to that bucket of bolts you love so much. Finally, it’s time you started appreciating that you never had to get up-close-and-personal with my buddies here.”
Max concluded, “With all you have to be thankful for you should be; what is it you kids like to say? Oh yea, ‘on cloud nine, man.’ Now leave before I let Frankie and Tony have some fun with you in the alley. Good Bye, Mr. Lucius.”
Max was tempted to tell ole Rick that his money would be used as pay back to Karen Adams. But he knew that might jeopardize those who needed to remain anonymous. Rick and his buddies knew nothing about Uncle Louie or his involvement. Chester Rollins could maintain his role as the poor helpless victim, with Rick never knowing, that it was Chester who set him up. Rick also had no idea that the money he had stolen from Karen and my sister was ever retrieved. Rick was conned in more ways than he could ever imagine ….cons that survive to this day. He had met seasoned pro’s…the best in the business. They did to him, exactly, what he had done to Karen and my sister and he never saw it coming.
It’s not known where Rick got the money. What was known is that Rick and his buddies split up shortly after the Indy trip fell through. Rumor had it they were all tense over some money deal that went bad. Also, nobody saw Rick’s car that entire summer. Now that Rick was without his car for awhile, it was rumored that Rick’s old man strongly advised his son to earn additional income with all the extra time he would have on his hands. To help Rick’s with this endeavor, his dad got him a night job at the lumberyard which he worked after his day job at Roadway Chevrolet. Rick was basically a ghost for a little over a year.
Max gave the money to Uncle Louie. Uncle Louie took a cut for his time and trouble. He also recouped what he paid Chester Rollins for his help. The remaining amount totaled what Rick had fleeced from Karen and my sister. Uncle Louie had paid Rick’s debt to my sister, so the girls could go to Washington D. C. Although the girls got their money back through Uncle Louie, and, although, Uncle Louie had now salvaged the money he loaned to the girls, he still wanted them to pay back the loan. Uncle Louie never intended to double dip…quite the contrary. He wanted them to learn and grow from the experience. He wanted them to learn both responsibility and accountability for their mistakes. Who knows? He may have even succeeded at awakening the same values in Rick.
The girls eventually paid Uncle Louie back. To make sure the books would balance; Uncle Louie opened saving accounts for my sister and Karen Adams and deposited what the girls owed him from the money Max gave him. He could have waited until the girls began making their payments to start the accounts, but Uncle Louie wanted them to gain the maximum benefit from the interest rates. He presented the passbooks to my sister upon her graduation from high school. He asked my sister to give Karen’s passbook to her; once again, swearing my sister to secrecy. Truthful evasiveness was, I’m sure, employed.
Uncle Louie, Max and the guys knew how to keep their mouths shut. Their little escapade was never divulged to anyone. It was years before I knew the whole story. Uncle Louie did not confide in me until I was a young adult. I still have no knowledge as to what, if anything, my parents may have learned over the years. Not a word has ever been spoken about any of this within the family nor have I ever heard a word of it breathed in public. I stopped trying to discover the truth about the actual commerce conducted in the back room. And finally, I learned why Uncle Louie was so successful in the hardware business. He could fix anything.
My sister went to Washington DC with her friends. They had a great time. While there, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey got them an introduction and a picture with President Eisenhower. Oh how we liked Ike.
So all’s well that ends well and, of course, everyone lived happily ever after.
“Mom, where’s my make-up?!”
“How would I know? It’s wherever you put it.”
“I’ve been looking for it everywhere and now I’m going to be late. Please help me find it.”
“Come on down here and get mine, then.”
When she returned to the upstairs bathroom with her mother’s make-up, she saw it. There it was. Sitting right there on the bathroom vanity. It was her lost make-up.
Bio: Phil Malat worked in the broadcasting industry for more than 20 years. As an on air personality he hosted various music formats and programs from early rock to News / Talk. Phil also worked as an assistant News director and sports director. Phil taught in the broadcasting department at Brown College. Phil continues to live in Minneapolis where all three of his grown daughters reside.