Sunday, August 9, 2009
Mrs. Purtz ~ 1970
"Delivery!" shouted Harry Cohen, manager of Daitch Shopwell store #16 over the Sky King styled microphone taped to the wall in the high office overlooking the cashiers.
I flung the cereal box I was packing out into the freezer display on top of the Birdseye peas and ran to the front of the store barely beating Joe Menesick to the three egg boxes on the shelf in the store's window facing First Avenue between 71st & 72nd Streets. I won two things. I'd earn a dollar for the delivery and I would get inside Mrs. Purtz's apartment.
When Mrs. Purtz got up that morning she looked like the model in the ad above. That didn't last long. Mrs. Purtz had four sons, ranging from 2 to 7, her husband ran some kind of store and was out of the house from 7 to whenever, six days a week. Lacking help with her pack, Mrs. Purtz lost her composure and hairdo right after the kids cartoons.
That Saturday, she came to the store to re-supply and her boys hung off her shopping wagon like monkeys. Freddy, one of her middle guys, jumped on a Cheese Whiz display and she mindlessly pulled him back. He tried to balance himself by grabbing the top of Mom's house dress. By the end of the aisle, three dress buttons were open and stayed that way. Mrs. Purtz rarely adjusted herself. She concentrated on her list as she went up and down the aisles, unaware that she was giving a terrific show. With pencil and paper, I could draw the paisley design stitched onto the ample white bra that kept Mrs. Purtz's secret pink parts barely inside the flapping dress.
I didn't care if she was a mess, it made her prettier. I daydreamed about Mrs. Purtz more than playing halfback for the New York Giants. Mrs. Purtz was better looking than Elizabeth Montgomery, and you didn't have to sit through crappy Bewitched episodes to watch Mrs. Purtz. She was right in front of me, I could smell her salty sweat and Maxwell House coffee breath when she burped. She wasn't some ten-inch figure on our black & white TV. Face it, if Uncle Arthur or Larry Tate weren't in the show, you were only there for the nose twitch. Though, Mrs. Tate, Louise, did make me re-evaluate my attraction to older women.
Do you know what an egg box is? It was the largest box in the supermarket, size of a kid's toy chest and we used it to deliver heavy goods. The Purtz's were broke, so two of the three egg boxes were filled with cans of on sale Campbell soups and Del Monte french string beans, peas, cut carrots, wax beans, new potatoes, cut green beans and corn nibblets to feed her mob. I stuffed the three boxes into the delivery wagon's giant metal box in the front of the bike. When my brother was small, I used to put him in the box and ride around the block. Rory loved it, but only when I didn't ride up the curb, going back and forth from the street to the sidewalk. That turned Rory into a bobble-head doll.
Purtz lived down the block in 535 East 72nd Street in the building right next to George Plimpton and the Paris Review at 541 on the East River Drive. At 16, I saw no reason to make more than one trip up the five flights of stairs to the top floor apartment. I piled the three friggin boxes on the stoop and lifted them to my chest, and balancing them on my knee rang Purtz's bell and entered the hall. The building had a circular flight of stairs so I looked up the center to see if anybody else was going up or down. When I saw no one, I arranged the boxes directly in front of my face, temporarily blinding myself to what was in front of me, and yelled, "Gang way, gang way," then took off. Round and round, I was Barney Rubble motoring his Flintstone car, leaning my head against a box, not stopping for anything and hoping I'd hit nothing till I got the top.
Mrs. Purtz use to my routine, had the door open as I ran into the kitchen and put the tower of goods on her table. Stevie sang on the radio:
Like a fool I went and stayed too long
Now Im wondering if your loves still strong
Oo baby, here I am, signed, sealed delivered, Im yours
After I was done, I snuck a stare as she went to her purse to tip me and ran her hand through her thick curly brown hair trying to get it back to where it was that morning. Each time she did it, it got wilder and wilder, complete opposite of what she intended. It looked amazing. Mrs. Purtz could of given Rita Haywood a run for her money.
The end of the shopping expedition for Mrs. Purtz was the highlight of her chore week. Five boys, counting dad, were murdering her. Finishing the grocery effort gave her a breather that left her peaceful and content for a short spell.
Mrs. Purtz kept ice water in her fridge and asked me if I'd like some or she could make me ice tea. I said ice tea, so I could linger. I watched her go into her cupboard and get the 4C Ice Tea packets and pour the powder into an old Mott's apple juice bottle, careful not to spill any. Then we talked. Sometimes, she remembered to button her house dress, and sometimes she didn't. I never cared. I studied her chocolate brown eyes and pocketed my dollar.