Monday, August 31, 2009

Pulp Fiction

Dad smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes without filters, allowing the ash to collect until it was quite long, finally falling off due to gravity onto the floor of wherever Dad happened to be standing. Dad was always standing, when he wasn’t prone on the couch “watching” TV with his eyes closed. “Lin – da,” Dad would shout from the living room couch, and Linda would come running to find out what Dad needed. Often it was to change the TV channel – no remote controls in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.

Sometimes it was to fix him a cup of coffee, which meant pouring a cup from the stovetop percolator into a saucepan and heating it up, then adding cream and sugar. Linda liked everything about making coffee, including helping Mom to grind the coffee in the noisy red store grinder mounted on the wall opposite the check-out stands of the grocery store. At night, when Linda turned on the kitchen light to reheat the coffee, cockroaches would scramble from the sink into the crevices behind the kitchen counter into the walls. If she was quick, she would manage to squish a few before they all escaped. Cockroaches were just a fact of life in the apartment flats that Linda’s family occupied first on the west side, then on the east side of the Midwestern midsized city where they lived. As the oldest child, Linda couldn’t be squeamish about things like cockroaches, since she was entrusted with tasks like fixing Dad’s coffee.

Once a week Dad had a half-day off from his job as a cook in an all-night restaurant. In the early years, his shift started at 4:00 in the afternoon and ran until 4:00 in the morning, and Linda only got to see her dad for a quick half-hour before it was time to leave for school in the mornings. Later, Dad worked the day shift, starting at 10:00 in the morning and returning home just before midnight six days a week and working the dinner shift until closing on his half-day off. Since Mom also worked six days a week in a laundry pressing shirts and pants, Linda grew up thinking that it was normal to work hard all the time, because that’s what responsible grown-ups like Mom and Dad did. Her friends’ fathers and mothers who worked five days a week had union jobs in factories or office jobs that required secretarial skills.

The best times spent with Dad were those spent talking about what Dad was reading. Usually it was pulp fiction – paperback books by Louis L’Amour about the Wild West and frontier life, stories about hardnosed detectives like Mike Hammer by Mickey Spillane, and the occasional Ernest Heminway, Jack London and John Steinbeck book. Dad always had his nose in the newspaper or a book, and Linda adopted that habit at a young age, sitting beside her dad at the formica kitchen table with a book in her hand. Dad would often start off with “Linda, did you know . . . ,” and of course, Linda didn’t know and would listen raptly to what Dad told her. Interestingly, her brothers didn’t participate in this ritual with Dad, because at one and three years younger than Linda, and being that boys matured more slowly, Gus and Tim just didn’t have the attention span in those early years to be interested in Dad and his books. Later, they didn’t have the habit.

When the James Bond movies came out each year over the Thanksgiving weekend, Dad would take the family to see them. Dad had read the novels, and later, Linda would also read the novels, even if she had seen the film first. The extreme quirkiness of the bad guys in the Bond films coupled with the exotic locales of James Bond’s heroics grabbed Linda’s imagination. Dad didn’t have the time or money to travel or to take the family on vacations, and the Bond films were like a travelogue to Linda. Instead of identifying with the beautiful women in the Bond films, who wore exquisite gowns, tiny bikinis and cat-like eye makeup, it was Bond himself that Linda fantasized about. Oh, to be a world traveler, who knew hand-to-hand combat and how to use a gun, who stayed in luxurious hotels and wore elegant clothing , doing deeds of derring-do without a thought to keeping his clothes clean!

Little did Linda know that in her adult life she would become a world traveler who stayed in five star hotels and wear designer clothing, but that’s another story to be told at a later time.

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