Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Can't Go Home Again

There’s nothing like getting older and/or the death of a loved one to make you wax nostalgic. Or sometimes it just takes being around someone who just happens to be living in the past. In any event, I have to admit that sometime I just feel like goofing off, leaving the here and now, to think back to how things used to be.

Like the corner store in the old neighborhood where I grew up. When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes send me there (with a nickel or a dime, I think) to pick up the Elizabeth Daily Journal. He loved that paper. The EDJ went out of business and its demise (in 1992) left a hole in Union County news that has never been filled. I liked that corner store because they sold penny candy and had a counter with stools where you could sit and have a soda, ice cream cone or an ice cream float. Maybe they even sold sandwiches and coffee, but I never noticed. After all, I was a kid and all I saw was the candy and the soda fountain once I picked up dad’s newspaper.

Sometimes I got lucky and would find a penny, nickel or dime on the sidewalk or in the gutter and then I could buy some candy (once or twice the nice lady who worked the register and the counter would tell me to sit down and she’d pour me a coke from the fountain or she‘d give me a piece of penny candy). I made sure I always finished the candy before I got home, but somehow my mom always figured out that I had gotten “lucky“ and had eaten some candy and/or when Mrs. F. slipped me that coke “for the road“.

You’re probably wondering what my little sojourn down memory lane has to do with this Linden forum. Well, I’m getting to that.

That corner store was one of my earliest memories of the businesses that made our town what it was. The physical building is still there but it has morphed into something else. I honestly don’t remember what kind of establishment it is now, but I know that between my candy store and the store adjacent to it, they have been everything from a barber shop, beauty parlor, to a T-shirt shop to a soup and sandwich shop to whatever it is currently (I heard it was even a bookie joint for a while). I only remember my candy store.

I get a little sad when these great childhood comfort places disappear - more so when the building is destroyed in the process because then it gets harder to visualize what it looked like back then.

Like the Leather cleaners on the corner of St. Georges Ave and Wood Avenue. (Now a bank?) Or the store called NS (Newark Slip - thank you for recalling that, NFS!) now Walgreens….and before NS and Walgreens it was a grocery store - I can't recall what grocery chain it was but one source tells me it was a Shop Rite, another says it was a Safeway… Anyone out there remember for sure?

Do you remember Walt’s on St. Georges Avenue (near Stiles) in Linden? (And Jeans [Genes?] Beans -- I think I remember that my dad used to buy great fish dinners from them). I guess it’s now that purple colored beauty supply place and a home improvement business. But Walt’s had great franks and fries. I sure miss it sometimes. (I even miss the golf place where that shopping center is now, even though it wasn't one of my "essential" places). I remember going to Walt's as a kid with mom, dad and my older siblings. It was one of those cool adventure spots in my mind. We would pile in the car with the hot, but “genuine” naugahyde with fabric upholstered seats. (Anyone remember naugahyde? I think it’s now called “pleather”) Anyway, we would take one of our famous family drives to the food store, or to go visit my grandparents in Elizabeth, or to just take a drive to watch the leaves changing colors; along the way we'd stop off there for a bite to eat.

It was always the whole family - dad, mom and us kids. Mom never drove (actually never got her license), always had on her sundress and her wing tip eye glasses with the Polaroid clip ons. Us kids wore our dungarees, striped polo shirts, white socks and our high top keds, sporting our latest brush cuts (courtesy of mom and her home barber kit). Of course, in that 10 minute ride over, my siblings and I had a hundred skirmishes because “she touched me” or “he’s on MY side”…and mom would threaten us by saying dad was going to “pull over and give it to us” if we didn’t behave.

When us kids got a little older I remember one of my older siblings taking accordion lessons at Ted Pulaski’s (sp?) Music School over there on Wood Avenue. (between St. George and Gibbons St.) It was a HUGE white house -- and I think it is now (one of the many!) attorney offices. The Pulaski’s were nice people as I recall them.

When I was a teenager, I got a job at a store on Wood Avenue working in the back stock room. It was before I could drive - or had a car - so I used to have to take the bus from home to work and I hated it! Especially some of the “regulars” I encountered on the bus. (One was this foreign lady who never shaved her legs and who wore stockings over the smashed down hair. It was one of those disturbing things that horrify you to see, but for some reason you cannot look away, either...).

I remember several stores on Wood Avenue then, like a place called Serendipity (across the street from Sweets and BZ)…I bought a hand crafted “hippie inspired” coffee mug there and used it for years (I think now that it was probably ladened with lead or other toxic materials and I probably suffer from depleted mental faculties now because of having used it all these years). I also remember the Singer (Sewing Machine) store because my mother had them repair her sewing machine and I had to pick it up. Let’s see, there was also a jewelry store (was it called Goldblatts?). Well, whatever the name, I bought a watch there once.

There was also a kids store - was that Raiffes? I think another clothing store was called Linwood? And was there a drug store called Shorrs? (Or am I thinking of another little town?) A Woolworths with a lunch area. (I used to eat there, too, sometimes). Father and Sons. And I remember going to Big Stash’s and eating til I felt like exploding. I’ve heard it’s not the same as it used to be…but then I can’t say.

One of the places that I remember from that time period was that greasy spoon called Gus’. It was a small diner and near the movie theater. (Gus was always sitting on the stool in the front. I imagine it was so he could leer or paw at the pretty young girls who worked at BZ when they came in on their breaks. Meanwhile, his poor wife would just shoot everyone those “kill me now” looks). Sometimes I used to wonder how Gus and Mrs. Gus ever got together in the first place since they didn’t seem to like each other much to me. Of course, at that time I couldn’t understand how my parents ever got together either… I ate at Gus’ at lot back then because it was fairly cheap and I didn‘t make that much money. (I loved those greasy cheeseburger platters with the fries). Later, after I grew up, married and moved, I heard that Gus passed away and the business was closed - then I heard it became a McDonalds for a while.

As I said, I got married and moved away, but then we moved back. Around that time period I remember visiting Sweets - I used to get art supplies there while the little woman shopped (and spent) my money at BZ. I remember Roz, George, Estelle and Mr. B. They were nice -- but then, I was paying them good money for them to be nice to me… Oh, and Palmers Men’s Shop was a great place to shop at - nice clothes and nice people employed there.

I remember that we saw the Isle of Dr. Moreau (starring Marlon Brando) in the Wood Avenue theater…oh - and Babe (the pig movie). Gosh, if those weren’t the most god-awful movies…

BZ, Sweets, Singer, the movie theater, the jewelry store - all of those establishments gone. So, anyway, now that area is Bauer’s Plaza. Nice building, but it doesn’t hold any memories or importance to me like the places it replaced. I hope it does for others.

All my memories of Wood Avenue are fading away. Instead they are being replaced by 99 cent stores, the ABC Store, nail salons, and whatever else… I miss the old Wood Avenue, the old Linden -- with Woolworths, Sweets, BZ and Father & Sons. The establishments that were worth going into. Hardly any good or interesting establishments are left anymore. The worst part is, I can’t remember most of what was there years ago - or what is operating there now! I ride up and down Wood Avenue a few times a week and, other than stopping at just about every light, there is nothing that makes me want to park my car and walk up and down the street and window shop - let alone actually go into any store.

Does anyone else remember the great establishments that used to be in Linden? The great sidewalk sale in the summer? The great ambiance as you walked up and down the Avenue during the holiday season? I’d love to hear your stories of businesses and fun places that used to be in Linden.


NFS said...

You unleashed a flood of memories in me Dougman with your poignant post. Thanks for making that post.

Corner store seemed to be everywhere .. I can close my eyes and envision 6 stores in a 6 block radius where I lived. I also remember on my way to school, if I had a nickel or even a couple of pennies, I would stop in to buy some candy . “Now and Later” candy and “dots” on a paper strip come to mind. Of course Bazooka was standard with the little comic inside. I remember saving those comics ... I think if you saved enough of them, you could mail them in & get a prize. I only saved them ... never made it to an actual mailbox. Was the Daily Journal published twice a day? I recall going to the store to buy an afternoon edition for my mother.

I think I visited Woolworths almost every weekend. Going “uptown” was a Saturday ritual after my chores with my $2 allowance. A visit to Anacapri was standard. Remember the pizza war between Anacapri & Pizza Town? Pizza was sometimes followed up with a banana split at Woolworths or for a movie ticket. At one time, the price of the banana split was marked on a piece of paper inside the balloons hanging from the umbrellas at the counter. Pick the right balloon and you could pay as little as a penny.

We went to the movies a lot but I'm having a hard time recalling the movies we saw ... I only remember "The Yellow Submarine" and "The Aristocats". I do remember the last ten or so rows were reserved for the smokers.

I use to wonder all over Woolworths, upstairs and down. I remember being fascinated by the makeup display, probably because I was too young to be wearing makeup, or not allowed by my parents anyway. I think I did secretly buy (who knows, I may have even stolen it) some ghastly green Maybelline eye shadow once, being sure to wipe it off before going back home.

Another big thing back then was sewing patches on our jeans. I remember sewing a bullfrog on my jeans. The more patches you had, the cooler it was. We also made denim pocketbooks out of old jeans. We cut the jeans just below pockets, take the seams out, and sew it back up so somehow we were left with a bag. We’d make the straps either out of the scraps of denim or some kind of embroided, what I'm going to call “bric a brac” that could be found on rolls which we purchased by length, all bought at Woolworths. I also remember buying my first Butterrick (?) pattern at Woolworths. Made a dress in 6th grade. I was so proud of that dress that I wore it not only to our school fashion show, but on other days too. What a yahoo I was. How about the tall, boisterous black lady who worked mainly downstairs ... I think her name was maybe Geraldine?

I think I bought one of those famous Peace signs at Serendipity. I don’t exactly know what it was made if ... but I remember it had tiny bubbles in whatever material it was made from. I also remember the back room which was a black light room which I think was separated from the rest of the store by a bead “curtain”. Was it a head shop too?

I guess my family wasn’t the only family with the dysfunctional car rides? Always with the “you’re on my side” business. How did our parents stand all the noise and bickering? Sneakers were always Converse ... no one wanted to be caught dead wearing “mickeys”. Or highwater pants either.

I recall NS being a Shoprite before it became NS, but I was really young so I could be wrong on that. Plus, we kids had to sit in the car while our mother shopped so I was never actually inside the store. Can you imagine that today? We'd be placed in DYFS. I do recall NS advertised their specials on the comic page ... or maybe it was the Ann Landers/Dear Abby page ... but in that section of the newspaper.

I recall the many summers spent at Linden Pool in Wheeler Park. I’m talking about the old pool, with the big blue water fountain and sandy area where we laid our towels. I remember we’d get a wire basket where we deposited our clothes for safekeeping. An attendant would place the basket on a shelf and we were given a pin with a number on it to reclaim the basket. I can almost smell the “locker” lockerless room where we changed ... had a curious smell in there. The snack bar was always open. Going through that cold shower before entering the pool area. Sometimes we’d try to avoid that and enter the pool area through exit turnstile. We usually got caught by one of the lifeguards who’d whistle and point us to the showers. Two low dives one high dive.

If we weren’t swimming at the pool, sometimes we’d go down over to the tunnel. Sometimes we just hang in there cause it was raining out or sometimes it was to venture down to the “eyes” with candles in hand. Most of us would gets spooked and never make it to the eyes. The cops were always chasing us out of there or the old man who lived in a green house next to the tunnel. This was when it was one big tunnel .. not the two little ones that are there now.

Every generation says “those were the days” and that’s how I feel too. I know my kids will have their own kind of memories, but those WERE the days.

Fender Bunny said...

lol, the guy in the green house was Al Angelo, he lived there with his brother Joe and his ancient mother... we used cigarette lighters to cruise the system under the streets of Linden...