January 26, 1962   no responses

Hey Culligan Man! by pjryan.

My mother tried all different brands of detergents but she couldn’t get a good head of suds in the laundry. When we lived in Brooklyn, Tide was the soap of choice. Once in a while she used Duz if it came with a dish towel in it. But up in Newburgh, the washing machine agitator swirled back and forth in dark gray waters with nary a bubble. My mother was distraught, all the whites were coming out gray and the colors were less than bright. She tried Lux, Borax, Surf and Oxidol to no avail. What was a mother to do?

Our water supply came from a well and a pump in our basement. We were used to the pristine purity of NYC water that travelled all the way from the Catskills in underground aqueducts and out of our faucets – not this infernal metallic country water pumped up from hell. My Dad finally figured out that we had hard water. You can’t get a bubble out of hard water. You couldn’t even get lather up from a good bar of soap when you showered.

Then one day I heard a commercial on the local radio station – “Hey Culligan Man!” The Culligan Water filter system would make everything all right. The water would be soft and sweet and my Moms’ wash the envy of any Chinese laundry or French Cleaners.

Mom had me call up and make an appointment for the water softener to be installed. It involved a complicated hookup in the basement before the water reached the hot water tank. I scheduled a visit for a cold Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th when the holiday was celebrated on the actual birth date and not watered down into President’s Day sharing it with Washington. My parents still had to work since the factory had an order to get out but I was off from school. About 11 o’clock in the morning, a small van pulled up into our driveway and out came a man in a spiffy gray uniform, The Culligan Man! I opened up our front doror and waved him to go back around the house to basement. He trundled along with a propane like tank on his hand truck. I met him at the back door.

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Our basement was dark, humid and unfinished in gray cinder blocks with a dusty concrete floor and dimly lit by a 60 watt naked light bulb bobbing unadorned from the ceiling. Two laundry lines stretched from one end to the other with wet clothes hanging to dry like veils in a harem. I let him in. As the tank bounced over the ridge in the doorway, he caught me staring at him as he struggled to get it up and over. “Hi I’m Jim, you’re Culligan Man.”  He was an attractive guy probably 40 or so, husky with his gray trousers bunching up nicely. He took off his Eisenhower cut jacket to reveal a barrel chest under his white shirt with bow tie. He kept his cap on with a sporty tilt. I brought over a chair from our summer kitchen table set and sat close by to watch him install the tank. Michael and Karen were out playing in the snow so we were alone.

He worked steadily explaining to me step by step all the advantages of the soft water system. He turned off all the water. He cut a section of the pipe, expanding the joint, screwed on a casing and looked back to see me watching. Over the next 20 minutes our eyes often met as he worked and explained to me:

“At Culligan, we understand how important water is to you, your family, and your home. Which is why when you trust Culligan with your water needs, we promise to deliver one thing: better water, pure and simple”

Slowly, meticulously he assembled the unit; lifting and straining to get the pipe to fit into the tank and make a perfect seal. Suddenly turning around to reach up to an overhead connection, he lost his balance a bit as I grabbed him by the waist to hold him in place. We stood there for a moment till I quickly grabbed a towel off the line popping off the clothes pins in my haste to cover my embarrassment.

With a little few little grunts he wiped his brow with a clean rag and cleaned up any mess he had made. “OK it’s ready to go! Why don’t you help me turn it on?” He stood back to admire his work and gestured to proceed. I put my hand on the bright new shiny copper valve he has just installed. It was tight and wouldn’t budge. He put his hand over mine and we both turned it slowly till it moved.  WHOOSH – and a CLANG CLANG . We could hear the water whisking through the pipes into the tank and back out and up and around and up into the house above..

He smiled at a job well done as he gathered up his tools. Putting on his jacket, he asked me to come over to sign off on the job. He held a metal like box and I pressed hard as I signed my name through the carbons. He pulled a lever and out came three copies, white, yellow and pink. I got the yellow slip. His signature, James Mac Donald floated above mine. With a tip of his cap, wink and a smile, he grabbed his hand truck and off he went. I locked the basement door and I ran upstairs. I stood by the living room window, slyly watching through the curtains as he got into his van and drove away.

 

From my pocket I pulled out the now soiled rag I had surreptitiously took while Mr. MacDonald wasn’t looking and  held it to my nose to smell his sweat. With a sigh, I went over to my stereo and put on “Naughty Marietta” from my Readers Digest Collection of Great Operettas. I got undressed and took a shower to test the system.  I sang along “Napoli, Napoli, Na-a-apoli” to the Italian Street Song as I stepped into the tub.  I brought the rag in with me and used it as my washcloth. When “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life” came on, miraculously a rich lather sprang from my bar of Dial soap and I slavered it all over my body in rich luxuriousness. A hot steady spray cascaded from the spigot as the Prell worked up in my hair into a white icing. My body was sleek like an otter as I soaped myself up using his rag.

 “All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning

The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall

AHHH…”

 The bathroom window fogged up as the room clouded with steam. Anna Moffo and Peter Palmer sang out and reached a melodious peak – “For it is love alone that rules forevermore!”  I almost slipped when I got lost in the moment. I bent over to pick up the dropped bar of soap and the rag that I had dropped now brighlty white, clean from the suds swirling around my feet. Yes, the water was now so soft but I was now so hard. 

“Hey Culliagan Man!”

 January 2, 1962   no responses

It was a stormy afternoon in late October “What are you two doing up there?” my mother yelled up from the bottom of the stairs as Joey was getting close. Too late! As I pulled off to answer her, Joey shot over and past my face and it all landed on my yellow chenille bedspread. I hurriedly yelled back, “Nothing Ma, we’re listening to records.” Whew! I wiped the mess up with my jockey shorts and quickly hoisted them back up. While buckling my jeans, I jumped on the bed, sat on the stain, and pretended to read the LP liner notes on the back of the cast album of No Strings, a musical about an illicit interracial romance. I turned up the volume on Diahann Carroll singing “Loads of Lovely Love.”

Joey was my stocky Italian neighbor who lived around the corner and was a year behind me at Sacred Heart Grammar School. His sister, Celeste was in my class and we called her “Celeste the Chest,” because even in the 8th grade she had big bosoms that the school uniform only accentuated. They were so big that she self consciously walked with her arms folded under them to keep them hidden and aloft. However she was the brightest in the class, the teacher’s pet and was often asked to be the monitor when Sister Vincent left the room. She got back at my tauntings by ratting me out on my class clown shenanigans when Sister returned.

Joey came from a typical large Italian family complete with an ancient toothless Sibyl-like grandmother living in the extra bedroom. They became my surrogate family and Joey’s mom often asked me to have supper with them – I always eagerly accepted. In time I became a pest. I would doggedly hang around, sort of sad sacked, begging to be invited over. No one was ever invited to eat at our house since my Dad had Parkinson’s disease and all visitors were forbidden. So as a typical child I sought love where I could find it at Joey’s dinner table and in Joey’s burly lap.

So on that rainy afternoon, I had invited Joey up to my bedroom to listen to records. We sat on the bed next to each other as I commented on Richard Rodger’s clever idea not to use strings in the instrumentation of his show, No Strings. My hand lay idly next to his soccer thigh as my finger gently stroked the outer seam of his jeans. He did not pull away as we both stared ahead listening to Richard Kiley sing “The most entrancing sight of all is yet for me to see…” My finger tracked a path to his inner seam and traveled north to the bunched-up juncture where the seams gathered at his crouch. Slowly I maneuvered up and flicked the copper slider open on his zipper as I pulled it down over the shiny teeth while they made a nice metallic purr. Joey was wearing box shorts so the jack quickly jumped out of the box. “No Strings, No Strings…” It didn’t take long, but long enough for my mother to get suspicious of why we were being so quiet in my room. “What are you two doing up there?”

Joey jumped up and ran down the stairs, saying good bye to my mother and slamming the screen door behind him as he ran out into the autumn storm. I was still shaking in fear of almost being caught. Side One was over and I flipped the black vinyl disc to Side Two. Diahann CarrolI sang softly to me, “And the dearest love in all the world is waiting somewhere for me…” I quickly took off my BVD’s and with some spittle cleaned up the chenille. But what to do?  I put them back on and walked nonchalantly downstairs to the bathroom. Then I washed the drawers in the sink using the golden bar of Dial soap, and I wrung and wrung every drop I could to get them dry as possible. I put them back on. During dinner I could still feel the clammy bottom of my underwear wedging up and moistening up the green vinyl seats on dinette chair. Pretending to clean up some crumbs, I used my Marcel paper napkin to dry off the chair as I got up to clear the table and wash the dinner dishes.  It wasn’t till Bonanza was over that they were fully dried.

At 10 pm I went upstairs to bed. As I pulled down the covers on my side of our double bed I noticed a small translucent stain on the pillowcase. I quickly jumped, in, pulled the covers over my head and waited for midnight.  Quietly I slipped out of my bed and silently removed the offending pillow case. The house was eerily still, with just the whirr of the fan blowing hot air up through the vent in the bedroom floor grate from the basement’s fiery furnace two floors below. I reached the top of the stairs and slowly descended step by step like a somnambulist, being careful not to slip on the carpeted treads. I was wearing my socks, so I almost skidded on the last one as I grabbed onto the varnished banister to keep from falling but still landing on my butt.

I reached the bathroom and in the darkness turned on the faucets, trying to balance a warm flow of a slow steady stream so as not to make a splashing noise while the water hit the enameled basin. I held the pillow case in my hands, gingerly fingering from the outer edge until the tip of my forefinger reached the dry parchment-like spot. I moved the cloth back and forth under the cleansing stream, gently rubbing with my thumbs like a priest cleaning an ablution cloth after communion. Using a towel that hung on the rack jutting out from the Sears & Roebuck pink plastic bathroom tiles, I pressed out the stain and my afternoon sins.

 

As I was starting to return upstairs, from the dark cavern of the downstairs bedroom my mother moaned out, “Anthony, what’s all that noise? It’s after midnight.” I quickly replied: “I had to go the bathroom, Ma. Go back to sleep.”  “Good, I warned you next time you’ll have to wash your own damn sheets if you pee in that bed again,” she sniped.

I was so nervous, I tripped again on the steps going back up, knocking an arts and crafts picture I made of a Pixie that now appeared to be leering down on me in judgment. I cursed my mother underneath my breath for fouling up my afternoon plans with Joey. I  put the pillow case on the grate and let the hot air blow through the thin worn out fabric. I waited for the next cycle of hot air to start blowing up again to warm up the chilly room and cover my footsteps  as I put the case back on the pillow and flipped it over so the almost dry spot was on the bottom.

My father was snoring lightly in the next bed and I had to push my brother Michael over in our bed to make room for me. I stared up at the attic ceiling and watched the shadows, menacingly dance made by the trees buffeted by the still continuing storm. It was past the witching hour as I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of demonic pixies, Sears & Roebuck catalogue men in their underwear, cackling witches, Celeste tethered like a balloon in the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade  and Joey sleeping across the woods… “waiting somewhere for me”.

The storm subsided. I woke up the next morning with an angelic smile on my face as I hummed  the song, “Joey – Joey Joey, – Joey – Joey Joe” from the Frank Loesser musical, The Most Happy Fella. I stretched my arms luxuriously back behind my head in bed and kicked off the covers. I figured out when we would meet again at Bingo!   But oh, there was another damned spot on the sheets…

   no responses

 The Game

Bingo was every Saturday night. It was held in Gallo Hall in the basement of Sacred Heart School (named after Father John Gallo, the pastor and founder of our Italian parish in 1912). It was a necessary evil for raising money for our elementary school. The Catholic tradition of Bingo goes back to the Gospel story of the Roman centurions throwing dice to win the robe of Jesus during his crucifixion.  Of course gambling is a curse.  Look what happened to Richard Burton in the movie, The Robe and of course in real life – he won and lost Elizabeth Taylor twice. He got his revenge though in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by killing off their imaginary son.

Interestingly none of our parishioners attended Bingo. The puritanical Protestant non-denominational “white trash” of Newburgh made the Bingo rounds each week at the various Catholic Church basements. There were only a few Blacks in attendance sprinkled around the Whites like jimmies on a vanilla ice cream cone. It was a strange brew of witches in multi-colored kerchiefs hiding their toilet paper-sized pink hair curlers just put in at the beauty parlor in preparation for the next day Sunday services at their heathen places of worship. Each sorceress with a jungle red lipstick stained cigarette dangling from her lips set up altars of talismans and good luck charms. An impish troll-like demon was seemingly the god of the games. These devotees purchased multiple cards for each round; this is how the church made its money. Every lady had at least 20 cards spread out before them in precise military line up. Armed with a red ink pad, their eagle-like eyes ran up and down each card, like an Italian customs official stamping out with an authoritative thud the appropriate numeral, hoping to win and shout out – Bingo!

Nicotine primordial, gray clouds hovered on the ceiling of Gallo Hall; eventually it got so bad, the parish had a special charcoal filter machine put in to suck the gaseous vapors out.  The Bingo Caller was always a male, dressed in Eisenhower Era sack suit and narrow black rep tie. He presided like a high priest behind a long cafeteria lunch table set up on the stage which would be re-set the next morning for the overflow adult attendees from the 9 a.m. Sunday’s Children’s Mass held in our church across the street. The seventy five numbered ping pong-like balls would whirl and whoosh and careen around in a clear Lucite box propelled by hot air blast sounding like my mother’s Sunbeam hairdryer. After pressing a foot lever on the floor, one ball would be sucked out of the box, up a clear vacuum tube and placed in a tray that looked like a huge Tupperware deviled egg holder. The device lit up the number on a marquee for all to see the number called. You won by completing a line up or down, or across or diagonally.  This was the basic play for the first cash prize. The second prize for a higher amount was the Round Robin filling the outside square all around the card. The third and last was Full Card. The Maenads of Dionysius would then rip up cards with a frenzy and buy a whole new set – more money for us indigent Italian poor orphan babies

 

Groans of laughter, salacious mooing and hissing would accompany each pull of a bingo ball.  They were a fanatical and superstitious bunch outdoing the Pentecostals in speaking in tongues.  They would scream out the most vulgar comments at each bingo call. Each one had a ritualistic mantra:

G-1     Baker’s Bun!

I-23    Thee and me!

N-4     Knock on the Door!

G-28  Over weight!

O-54  Clean the floor!

Whenever 69 Either way up!  was called the banshees would go wild. It wasn’t for a few years later that I knew what that particular salacious chant was all about. In between calls there was a code of silence, deadly serious stuff, more serious than the transubstantiation.

Onan – According to the Old Testament, after Godhad killed Onan’s older brother Er, Judah asked Onan to have sex with Tamar , Er’s widow, so that the offspring could be declared Er’s heir. Onan had sex with Tamar, but performed coitus interruptus each time, spilling his “seed” on the ground, so that there would not be any offspring which he could not claim as his own. The passage states that this displeased God, who killed him.

 

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_UOCWpIvl9Yw/SSIA451RGuI/AAAAAAAABR4/PdrSYosnYEU/s400/Troll.jpg

Jackpot!

Joey’s mother was in charge of the kitchen at Bingo, selling food to the famished harridans which provided additional income. She arrived in late afternoon to start the making of the coffee in a huge industrial chrome coffee maker that looked like something out of The Bride of Frankenstein. She also hovered over boiling and steaming cauldrons of Pepto Bimsol-bright Hot Dogs. Joey helped his mother every Saturday night so I not too altruistically volunteered. We helped her unpack the frankfurter rolls, jelly doughnuts and cinnamon buns dropped off by Luna Bakery.  We stocked the restaurant sized refrigerator with gallons of milk delivered by Crowley Dairy up the block.

Once the games started, Joey and I would roam up and down the aisles of Gallo Hall pushing a metal hospital cart with a small urn of coffee on it, a metal bowl filled with tepid water where the frankfurters sloshed around, and a turquoise blue, Melamine tray of mixed baked goods. I wore a white apron with deep pockets containing lots of coins to make change for each transaction. It was like feeding red meat to hungry lions at the zoo and tossing fish at seals at the aquarium. They were a voracious lot. The women would accost me and grab me and make all sorts of remarks and predictions. It was all in good fun and I gave their sexual banter right back to them!

Hey cutie, is the coffee hot as you?  – “Hotter!”

Put lots of cream in sugar. – “All you want, Maame!”

Nice buns!  - “Cream filled.”

What ya hidin’ under that apron, sweetie? – “Me to know and you to find out!”

Got any Italian sausage for Momma?  – “Sweet or Hot?”

Naughty boy, you need to be spanked.  - “Don’t ya know it!

You’re gonna be a star, someday baby.” – “The Greatest!”

They loved tipping me and putting the money down into my pants pocket as I was sla

thering their hot dog with neon bright looking yellow mustard. “This is for you honey, don’t tell your mother.”

 

Sacred Heart School Kitchen

(not much has changed!)

 

Joey and I were done when we ran out of food. We counted up our tips to compare but I always lied to him since I got a lot more.  It took his mother awhile to clean up the kitchen, so we had an hour or so to hang out… I suggested to Joey we go explore until it was time to leave.  The back stairs led directly up to the main floor classrooms. All of the lights were turned off, it was exciting to see the school so dark and spooky, and the only sounds were the Bingo and catcalls echoing up from below. We went down the green and gray checkered linoleum tile hallway till we stumbled into the Kindergarten Room. The mercury vapor street light coming through the venetian blinds cast a weird bluish-green light that made us look like vampires and cast sharp shadows onto the black chalk board from the trees from the garden facing Route 9W outside.

We prowled around the room like Zombies, flipping through a dog-eared Highlights magazine; squeezing a stray broken stuffed animal that yelped out a tiny cry and we silently tossed a red and blue ball back and forth till I finally sank it with a flourish into the toy chest. We looked through the drawers of the teacher’s desk hoping to find money but only to find crayons, colored tissue and construction paper. There was a set of alphabet blocks on the shelf under the blackboard so we put them on the desk and tried to make up words like automobile, vegetable and biology. I scrambled the blocks once more and I playfully spelled out: DICK and JANE.

From the Gallo Hall below we heard cackling-

B-62 Turn the Screw!

I slid into one of the tiny child kindergarten desks, barely fitting in so my legs splayed out in front of me like Goldilocks in Baby Bear’s chair. I motioned Joey to sidle into the desk next to me. We both stared at the blocks watching the shadows play on the blackboard behind it.  Slowly using my leg locked onto one of the feet of his desk, I pulled him closer to me. The desk made a dull moaning noise as the hard rubber coasters groaned across the floor, leaving a black trail on the linoleum. I reached over and undid his pants. I leaned over to the desk and re-arranged the blocks, making new words as we continued reciprocally in tandem:

COME DICK.

COME AND SEE.

Our desks got closer, metal to metal; the cuff of my dungarees got stuck between the two wood writing desk tops. The orgasmic cries from the weird Bingo sisters of the Bacchus were getting closer now.

I-43 Down on your knees!

The blocks seemed to move on their own like an Ouija Board spelling out our fate:.

COME, COME.

COME AND SEE.

Even though breathing heavily and almost in unison, we made not a sound.

N-54 Clean the floor!

Our ears pricked up like nervous deer in the woods, alert to any hunter who may discoverer us.

G-64   Red Raw!

 

COME AND SEE SPOT.

 

O-69   My God!

From Gallo Hall, an orgasmic cry rose up…

BINGO!

 

I could tell from the excited voice that one of my ladies that I waited on had won the final big cash jackpot of the night.  Joey’s leg spasmodically hit the desk and the blocks fell off crashing loudly onto the hard linoleum floor as he shot out across the darkness onto the blackboard.

“Hey Joey! You guys up there? It’s time to go home.” Startled, I got up, almost tripping on my pants legs, pulling the cuff from under the desk, ripping them, as I grabbed a handkerchief out of my back pocket, stumbling over to erase the stain off the chalk board. Being a gentleman, I offered my handkerchief to Joey. He ran downstairs and I quickly started to follow, putting the blocks away. As I was bending over, I noticed my black pocket comb had fallen out of my pants. I parted my hair and put it back in my pocket with my soiled handkerchief folded around it.

Before leaving, I breathlessly ran over and congratulated Miss Lucy, the winner and she gave me a dollar tip out of her haul. Joey’s mother drove us home. I almost banged into the garbage cans as I made my way to the little patch of woods behind our backyard. The wind seemed to make the trees move towards me and reach out like an old Disney cartoon as I buried my handkerchief with the rest of my secret stash.

I used the basement entrance and went up to the bathroom. I closed the door first and then turned on the light.  As I was washing my hands I looked up into the mirror and saw a curious stiff cowlick that I must have gotten when I quickly combed my hair. I rubbed it out with a towel. I panicked. Had anyone seen it? I pulled my flannel pajamas off the hook on the back of the door and started to change.

I went up to bed in shame but also with a strange feeling of elation, like the lady who won the final game of Bingo. I had a hard time falling asleep, but once I did I had terrible dreams of being torn apart by the Bingo Women, like Sebastian Venerable from the movie Suddenly Last Summer that I had just seen where Elisabeth Taylor wore a skin tight pure white bathing suit revealing her heaving chest as she screamed in abject horror as Katharine Hepburn cackled.

I woke up the next morning. My brother and father had already gotten up and were downstairs. “Anthony, it’s time for mass, you better hurry up and get dressed and get your ass down here!” my mother lovingly yelled up.  I tossed off my blanket. There down below was a white chalk stain I must have gotten after I cleaned off the blackboard and used my handkerchief to wipe off. It looked like K2 with a snowy peak. Suddenly I remembered a catechism lesson one of the nuns used to explain Original Sin. “Your soul is like a glass milk bottle. When you are pure you can see right through it – clean. But when you commit a mortal sin, the bottle clouds up, leaving a film that is hard to cleanse away like putrid rancid milk.”

I was going to Hell.  I spit on it and rubbed and rubbed till the stain came off – Absolvo Te.

I ran to the closet, put on my Sunday suit, Chinese laundered starched white shirt, tie and shined shoes, skidded down the staircase, slammed the front door behind me and jumped into our pink and gray Rambler. My mother in a huff handed me my collection envelope and off we went to the 9am Children’s Mass. When they passed the basket, guiltily I also threw in the dollar that Miss Lucy had slowly stuck in my front pocket.

I continued to volunteer for many more Saturday nights, got to know the Bingo Ladies very well and looked forward to seeing them. Joey and I graduated from Kindergarten to the 1st Grade classroom to 4th Grade, 6th Grade, right up to the 8th Grade!  I always had a clean handkerchief….

BINGO!