Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shopping On York Avenue ~ 1959

On the ground floor of my grandmother’s building, 1582 York Avenue, were two storefronts. To the left was Parker's Grocery. One day in 1963 a quart of milk, a loaf of Wonder bread and a pound of Ronzoni number #9 spaghetti all cost 19 cents each. That was cool. Murray Parker owned the store. Leather hat with built in earmuffs he wore year round over his large bald head. A real girl catcher. Huge cigar always unlit. Powerbroker over-sized Swifty Lazar eyeglass frames. Grimy white linen apron. That was ok because you never saw a clean one, so there was nothing to compare it to. Murray’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Parker (no first names available, nor given) started the business in 1932. Same year my dad's family moved into the building.

All arithmetic was accomplished by pencil on the brown bag you took your groceries home in. You would go home, check the numbers on the bag, then scratch your head for five minutes wondering how Murray never made an error. Sometimes he’d go down one side, do a subtotal in his head, go down twenty more items and always give you a perfect grand total. Many purchases were recorded in a marble composition book to be settled at the end of the week on payday.

Parker's was my first solo shopping experience. In 1959, at five, Mom sent me to the store for a pack of Marlboros and two milk. She gave me a dollar wrapped around a quarter. Parker's was around the corner from my 83rd Street house so I walked to the store without crossing a street. Mom looked out Chickie Murphy’s front window in 4W watching me go up the block. When I neared the avenue she called my grandmother, “Mom, Tommy’s near the corner going to Parker’s, get on the front phone, watch him into the store and let me know.” “Got it.” As I turned onto York, Nan waved down to me and yelled, “Be careful.” “OK, Nan!”

Inside Parker’s, I asked Murray for the cigarettes and walked to the back of the store to grab the milk from the glass case. Walking back towards Murray up the narrow aisle, his eyes traveled from me to the counter. After a long pause, Murray said, “What the hell is this?" Sitting on the tired marble counter a brown bag of garbage. Oh crap, I brought it with me. Too much pressure, remembering Mom's orders, "Marlboro, soft pack, two milk from the back of the case," and the stupid garbage.

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