Chapter VII - The Rip-off
We were really glad to see some of our old friends. I was still very reclusive, standing against the side of the building during most of the recess periods. After we got settled, Dad bought our first radio - a table model. I just couldn't wait too get home from school and tune in the serial programs. I liked to listen to Chandu the Magician. It takes a special kind of fan to believe in tricks performed over a radio. I was a faithful believer. Chandu offered a magic disappearing black ball in a secret container for only 2 box tops and 25 cents. I just had to have that magic disappearing ball. I tried to hoard my pennies and box tops. When I had enough, Mom mailed them off to Chandu.
I watched the mailbox like a barn owl waiting for a mouse. Finally it arrived. The minute I tore open the package I realized that I had been swindled. The package contained a small black wood ball and half a ball formed a part of the cap of a little red container. Chandu could make the ball disappear by wiggling his fingers to expose the whole ball or the half. Chandu lost a loyal listener that day. I turned my radio devotion to Flash Gordon and his on-going fight with Ming, Emperor of the evil empire, Mars.
The daily serial programs sponsored by Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati later to become known as Soap Operas, were broadcast in the early after-noon as they are today, except they were only 15 minute duration. Oxydol had Ma Perkins - Rinso had Helen Trent or John's Other Wife. Programs that we refer to as sit-coms like Amos and Andy, Fibber Magee & Molly were evening programs. When the family gathered in front of the console radio in the living room, it was time to "Shut up and listen."
Mom said, "We will just have to make do until we can find something better." The house was so small, we were going to be crammed in like sardines, but we were back in Saint Margaret's again with Father Ansbury, and that was worth a little discomfort. We spent the better part of that summer, crammed into that little house. Most of us kids had to sleep on the floor. In early August Mom told us she had found a nice big house. It was closer to school and to the Traction line. It was just too good to be true. The house was a big 2 story buff brick on the corner of Cambridge and Blaney Streets in Madison Place. It was occupied at the time but the people were planing to move the End of August. We just couldn't wait for them to move out so we could take over. This move on Sept. 1st, 1933, was one that I didn't complain about. It was the nicest and roomiest house we ever had. School started the week after we moved in. Little Betty was just starting in the First grade.
Marg took charge of getting her ready and they started off about 45 minutes earlier than necessary.
Marg was so proud of her little sister - She wanted to show her off to all her friends. Bill and I were walking down Bramble Ave hill. When two girls came flying down the hill on a bicycle. One of them was perched precariously on the handle bar. As they whizzed past, the one sitting on the handlebar released her grip with one hand and waved and hollered "Hi Eddie". I couldn't believe what just happened. Bill said, "Who was that?" I said "It looked like Ilene, but she wouldn't be waving at me". Ilene Kahn was the prettiest and smartest girl in our class. At least that was my opinion. She was the typical teacher's pet. I thought if she was going to wave at anyone it would be Jack Fleming or Rome Hartman. I considered myself the resident Dork.
We had some real nice neighbors that lived in the same apartment complex around the corner, where Watsons lived. They were a young couple by the name of Butts. They had a boy about my age named Joe. Long before most people became aware of the environment, a dump could be started almost anyplace.
Someone would discard an old tire or a worn-out chair over a hillside, and a dump was born. There was a small dump on the west side of Blaney Street not far from our house. I was walking past the area one afternoon, when I noticed Joe Butts climbing around on the dump. He was gathering tin cans and pouring liquid into a open five-gallon paint can that he had found.
I called to him and said, "Hey Joe, what are you doing down there in the dump?" I climbed down to where he was pouring liquid into a large open can. "What are you going to do with the stuff?" "I'm going to burn it." Then he pulled a few matches out of his pocket, and started to light one of them.
I told him he ought to light a piece of paper first, and throw the paper into the can. I backed off to give him room. He lit the paper, and tossed it at the can. "PHAROOM"! Every hair on his head vanished in that flash. He was burned severely. I ran screaming to get Mom. She told me to find his mother, and have her call the doctor. She wet a towel with cold water, and ran down to the dump to help Joe.
About an hour later, Dr. Campbell came to their house. I stayed outside, and watched until the doctor left. Then I went to see how badly he was burned. Joe's head and arms were swathed in gauze bandages. I said, "Gee Joe, you look like a mummy!" He tried to laugh but it was too painful. He recovered after a few weeks.
The experience left a few scars, but they were not bad. Dr. Campbell said he was a mighty lucky young man.
In the fall we bought a new radio from the Wurlitzer Co. It was a nice console model called Lyric. We could pick up stations all over the United States. It wasn't one of the new short-wave types that could pick up stations in Europe, but it was plenty good enough for us.
Radio programs in the days before television, were produced with expert storytellers, assisted by professional sound effects men. The stories were so realistic that the listener was immediately drawn into the story as an active member of the cast. With the aid of these sound effects men, you were mentally transported from your living room on a magic carpet. You not only listened to the story - you lived it! This will explain how I became a good friend of OG - Son of Fire.
Two or three weeks after school started, Tom Watson told me that he knew about a real neat dump. We could go there Saturday and get a whole sack full of good stuff. I didn't see any harm in that. I asked Mom if I could go with Tom. She said, "Oh I suppose so, but you be very careful and don't get hurt". I said, "I'll be careful."
Tom was over, bright and early Saturday morning. He had two burlap sacks. He gave one to me, and we started off. I had no idea where we were going or when, if ever, we would get there. We walked through Mariemont down into a forty-acre cornfield, and into the Claire railroad yards.
We started down the tracks. I walked with him for hours, mile after mile, like some stupid sheep. He kept saying it just a little farther. We walked across a long train trestle, and walked about two more miles - up one road and down the next. He would say, "It's just around the next bend,"
My belly started to growl, and remind me that we didn't bring anything to eat or drink. Between us, we didn't have 2 red cents to rub together, as Mom would say. Tom's credibility was about to hit a record low. I started to think that he didn't have the vaguest idea of where we were going. I kept saying, "Tom, are you sure you know where this dump is?" He said, "It's right behind that yellow brick building down there." Sure enough, we arrived at last. We climbed into a mountain of metal stampings, and a wide variety of other valuable artifacts. Our sacks were loaded with treasures in about twenty minutes. We heaved the sacks over our shoulders, and started for home. After the first half mile, the sacks became heavier and heavier with each step we took.
We began to realize that we could not carry them all the way home. The only solution was to lighten our loads by disposing of some of the ballast. Every half mile or so, we would sort through our inventory and select the least desirable item, to be discarded along the railroad tracks. I dragged my aching body up the steps about seven that evening - starving to death.
My throat was parched! The family had eaten supper two hours earlier. The only thing left in my burlap sack was a little electric traveling iron that I saved for Betty. Mom fixed me a hot dog, and a cup of coffee. That was the most delicious hotdog I ever tasted before or since. Betty was thrilled with the little iron. I supposed that made the trip all worth while.
As I grew older, I discovered that infamous dump was a scrap pile behind a stamping plant on Paxton Ave, just four miles from home. We had walked five miles in the wrong direction to get there.
I didn't care to listen to Flash Gordon or Chandu anymore, after being cheated with their offers. Now my new hero was "Og, Son of Fire." Og was a caveman looking for burning embers left from a forest fire. I walked with him every afternoon, in his desperate quest for firebrands, through dense primeval forests.
We could often hear terrible growls from grizzly bears and saber tooth tigers, and the trumpeting roar of a Woolly mammoth that would curdle your blood. We always seemed to be able to outsmart the animals, and manage to keep out of their way, or hide until it was safe to start out again. Og never had shoes to wear. He just had pieces of bear skin tied around his feet.
One day when we were walking along a trout stream, He found some gray speckled rocks that sparked when you hit them together. Og gathered up some fine dry grass, and by putting the sparks into the dry grass, he discovered how to make a fire. He called the rocks flint. He carried the flint with him all the time in a little pouch he had tied around his neck.
Whenever we got hungry, Og would kill a little animal with spear. Then, he would make a fire to cook our supper. It always made me hungry when he was cooking a rabbit over the fire. It smelled so good I could almost taste it. I walked every step of the way with him across the frozen tundra, and the great plains. He wanted to hurry back to his cave, to tell his friends the good news. His girlfriend's name was Nad. He had two other guys he hunted with. They were Ru and the great hunter, Gnu. Og showed them how to cook their meat, instead of having to eat it raw like they had always done before. Now they would all be able to keep warm in their cave during the long horrible winters.
Every afternoon I would hurry home from school, to plop down on the floor in front of the radio, and turn the dial to 700 - Station WLW, (the Crosley Broadcastingg Company), waiting anxiously to hear the terrible roar of lava, bubbling in the volcano. When Og awoke out of his sound sleep he would yell, "The gods are angry today."
He was always in the cave we found the night before. There were a lot more caves back in those days than there are now. We walked together all day long. As soon as the sun started to set, we would climb a little hill, and there was a neat cave for us to spend the night - safe from all those ferocious animals that we heard during the day.
When I wasn't thinking about Og's quest for fire, I was thinking about Ilene Kahn! My mind was hardly ever on my schoolwork. I followed her home from school each day. We walked up the Traction line that ran along side Murray Ave. When I turned North on Blaney Ave, she and her sister would turn South, toward Mariemont.
I decided that I had to find out exactly where she lived. I put her under surveillance one Saturday afternoon on the way home from the Madison Theater. I followed her like a "Private Eye", loitering about half a block behind her and her sister, Marie. I thought I noticed them looking back to see, so I started stalking Ilene hoping to find out just where she lived. She and her sister walked past our house. I followed them several more blocks up to Wooster Pike, where they turned west. They passed several houses, then turned and went into a big Queen-Ann-style house. It was directly across from the lagoon. I was happy that I found out where she lived. Seeing her at school every day wasn't enough! I wanted to see her on weekends as well.
One cold Saturday afternoon right after Thanksgiving, I was in our house listening to the radio when our doorbell rang. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground. Mom answered the door. She called to me and said, There's a little girl here asking for you". I was completely dumbfounded. Nobody ever asks for me, especially a little girl. I went to the door and a pretty little girl that I had never seen before, said, "Do you know Ilene Kahn?" I said, "Yes she is in my class at school". "Do you know where she lives"? I replied, "Yes, she lives on Wooster Pike in Mariemont across from the lagoon". Then she said, "Can you please tell me how to get to her house?" By this time, I was so flabbergasted I could hardly speak. I could go straight to her house blindfolded, but to explain it to someone else was a horse of a different color - as Mom would say.
I started babbling about turning right, turning left, and going through the alley. Then the little girl said, "OK! Thanks, I think I can find it". As I closed the door, I saw her holding Ilene's hand. Both were giggling as they ran off the porch. Ilene had been standing with her back to the wall the whole time. I was thrilled from head to toe after the episode began to sink in, and I realized what had just happened.
We struggled through the coldest winter in many years. The brightest spot for me was Valentines Day. Sister collected them in a small box and had one of the girls pass them out. I got several and one very special one. It had a little girl on the front and when it was folded it looked as thought the girl was kissing a boy on the back of the card. I opened it and it said, "You are the one I love so don't slam me". It was signed Ilene. I looked over at her and she smiled. At that moment, I was ten feet tall. Maybe she meant it and maybe she didn't but I would not have sold that Penny Valentine for a million dollars.
Dad did buy me another pocket knife on my tenth birthday and I used it to carve a heart with the initials, I K + E B, on half the trees in Mariemont as well as the new shelter house that had been erected on the traction line.
We never spoke to each other in school except to say hi, as we passed. We were both painfully shy. On Saturday afternoon, I would walk up to the Movie Theater to wait and see if she would show up. On the rare occasions that she did, and I would follow her into the theater.
When she saw me, I thought she selected a row in front of empty seats. I figured that was my invitation to sit behind her. Then, I just sat and stared a hole in the back of her head for two hours. Whenever Ilene was in the theater I never knew what was playing on the screen.
The movies had become very popular in just a few years. The era of "Silent Movies" had passed, and all the kids were caught up in the "Cliff-Hanger" serials that were featured after the matinee. Admission was just ten cents, if you could afford it, or you could "sneak" in when the ticket-taker turned his head.
Ilene usually walked up the traction line after school with her sister Marie with me. I lollygagged behind them. They seemed to take turns turning around now and then to see if I was still on duty. I was tempted to run on ahead several times. They always poked along, and I was afraid that I would miss Og. I was hooked on another program that came on right after "Og, Son of Fire". It was called, "The Pirates." It was sponsored by the Excelsior Laundry Co. I thought I had learned my lesson with the two box tops and twenty-five-cent scams, but.
Captain Jack offered a secret, genuine cryptographic decoder that I just had to have, in order to decode the secret messages that he broadcast every afternoon at the end of the program. With out that secret decoder, I could never learn what was going to happen next. I decided to try again. I squirreled away my pennies. I needed two Excelsior Laundry Slips instead of box tops or reasonable facsimiles. Mom mailed my hard earned quarter, with reasonable facsimiles, off to Captain Jack.
I wasn't too disappointed with my cryptographic decoder. It was a pretty card with the alphabet in a circular pattern, and a ring of numbers that you could rotate inside the alphabet. I figured it was probably worth about a nickel, certainly not a whole quarter.
It was easy to decode cryptic messages if you knew the secret letter and corresponding number. I went along with Jack until the contest came up to decode a super secret message. You received just one clue to the secret message each Friday afternoon for nine weeks. Count the letters in Excelsior
The winner was to get a new bicycle.
Naturally, the secret decoder that you had wouldn't quite do the job. However, you could buy the "New and Improved" version for 25cents and two more laundry slips (or "Reasonable Facsimiles")
They probably received 20,000 quarters in exchange for a $20.00 bike. One of the quarters was mine. Shortly after that lesson, I cut a coupon out of a magazine for a carton of carbolated salve that children could sell door to door and make some money. I mailed the coupon off to Chicago. Several weeks later the mailman brought the small cardboard carton. It contained twenty-four small tins of salve. I was supposed to sell for twenty-five cents.
I could keep half the money and send the rest back to Chicago. I figured that since I had been swindled three times, it was my turn. The salve was very hard to sell, but I was able to sell eight or ten tins. It did come in handy on several occasions when we needed a quarter to buy a loaf of bread and a pound of hamburger. I don't remember whatever happened to the rest of it, but I do know that it didn't find its way back to Chicago.
Life on Cambridge Ave was very meager. Don was away in the CCC in Santa Maria, California. The $25.00 check we received each month, was a Godsend!
By this time Bill and I had outgrown the tadpoles, polliwogs, and the myriad lower-life forms that fascinated us in the ponds and streams in the wooded area beyond the lagoon.
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