A Christmas story for my friends Neil, Curt , Simon, Roger, Jeanne, Barb & Chris. Hope you like it Merry Christmas
Stewart s Fund
I m sitting at the far left edge of nine lanes of mired traffic in Guillen Province, the People s Republic of China. The driver of our car has begun cracking the door to spit outside as a scooter, simultaneously inventing a foot-wide tenth lane, is trying to pass between the opening car door and a waist-high cement median dividing the oncoming and incoming lanes of traffic.
Instantly, as that scooter bore down on the opening door, I was transported to the summer of my sixteenth year...
I started the summer working the third shift at the local all night 7-11. At first, it was a lot of fun; I got to make and eat some pretty big sandwiches. My Waterloo, occurred one night while making a liverwurst hoagie for a musician who came in at 2:00 every morning, our steadiest sandwich customer. Herb, the owner, wasn t around so I had to make his sandwich. Liver products aren t my favorite things in life and what do I know from liverwurst? I sliced it and gingerly forked the offending thick rings on to a roll. Unfortunately I lost my job for leaving the clear plastic wrapping, which went unnoticed, in my zeal not to handle the liverwurst. Personally, I d rather eat plastic rather than liverwurst.
Luckily for me, a job opened up just across the street from the 7-11 on the corner of Lane Avenue at the Carvel ice cream store. My friend , Neil Callahan, had been working there since spring and with summer coming, they needed an extra hand.
It was an incredible experience at first. Mrs. Feindt, the owner, didn t care what or how much we ate! I could indulge myself in huge strawberry sundaes, thick strawberry ice creams sodas, and foot-long banana boats, with four different toppings. Pineapple, marshmallow, hot fudge, and strawberry, ringed with whipped cream and topped with wet walnuts . Perhaps it was that last banana boat that did the trick, as after that treat and an unpleasant night spent staying close to the bathroom, I found my interest in ice cream had peaked.
Not surprisingly, I discovered Neil had long before stopped eating ice cream altogether. In retrospect, Mrs. Feindt may have been smarter than we thought she could be with her all-you-can-eat employee ice cream policy, as if we had to sneak it, we would have never gotten sick of it so quickly.
After a week of working on days, training with Mrs. F. and her semi-beautiful daughter, Beth, a limpid blond with pale blue eyes who had a sweet young face with a lot of little girl still in it, I was moved to the five-to-closing shift with Neil and Beth s younger brother, Mike. I was to be Mike s replacement, so Mrs. F. wouldnít have to come back to the store at 10:00 to pick him up.
Mike trained me in cleaning the soft ice cream machines. He took a lot of pride in his work, and it wasn t until years later until I understood the possible impulse for his ardor. The soft ice cream machines were shut down about a half an hour before closing, which gave the remaining ice cream time to melt. The ice cream slush was then was allowed to run into collecting buckets which were stored in the freezer for reuse in the morning . Mike then ran hot water into the machines and turned the machines on to dilute and expel the remaining ice cream. This milky substance was discarded.
He then took a special tool, similar in shape to a toilet plunger, with its head wrapped in clean towels ,(perhaps you re beginning to get the picture now), inserted it into the bore, and swabbed the smooth, long, cylindrical tunnel of the machineís inner core, thereby removing the last of the dripping, milky, white residue.
When finished, Mike would exultantly cry, "Sanitizzzeed!"
I often wondered in later years if he made the same cry after a resounding round of sexual intercourse, but, of course, I ll never know .
At any rate, when Mike felt I could properly "sanitize" the machine, he reluctantly left that job to me to do and went home in the afternoons with his mother and sister. Neil was considered a trusted employee by this time, so he was allowed to close. If she had known about the "Stewart s Fund," I don t think Mrs. Feindt would have been so trusting.
Working evenings was great. While I was still pretty much off ice cream, I could still give some super-sized portions to my friends, Roger, Chris, and Jeanne, whenever they d come by, and that became a frequent occurrence. I remember one particular night when I looked up into a pair of large brown eyes framed with long soft hair. It took me a second or two but in that time, I fell in love all over again when that lovely face resolved itself into my adored girlfriend, Barbara, who lived a bit too far away to become a regular like the rest of the gang. What a pleasant surprise that was!
I think the average cone size was supposed to be three ounces and the large, six ounces. One night my friend, Simon, came in and made a soft vanilla cone that topped out at sixteen ounces, a pretty mean feat and an exercise in physics which once again proved Simon s proficiency and scientific expertise, even then was pretty good . To date, that cone remains the largest soft ice cream cone ever made by human hands .
At the end of the first night, Neil asked me if I was hungry. Being sixteen years old, I was always hungry and just not for ice cream.
He said, Let s go over to Stewart s, which was the orange-colored drive-in root beer/hamburger stand that were ubiquitous across America in the 60s and 70s. Conveniently, there was one right across the parking lot from us.
Not having been paid yet, I said I didnt have any money. A common problem for teenagers in those days in households of only one working parent, money was always in short supply for us, somewhat like valuable and rare specie during colonial times, ...
I thought Neil was being a grand sport as he told me not to worry about it., and so I happily went to Stewart s with him. Upon arriving at the counter, I really perked up when he further told me to order whatever and as much as I wanted. Wow! I felt like such an adult as I had never been accorded this privilege before!
After stuffing our faces and sitting back contentedly, I offered to pay Neil back when I got my check. It was only then he that he revealed Carvel s "dirty little secret."
Neil, and his brothers who had worked there before him, had developed a system for holding back money from the register each night. This money was conveniently put into a separate till under the counter a couple of bucks at a time. This became known as the "Stewart s Fund". It was a no-brainer as who wanted to eat ice cream when burgers were suddenly so much more appealing.
Neil explained this arrangement to me clearly waiting for my response to the moral quandary in which he had implicated me. The fourth child in a family of five Roman Catholics, Neil plainly understood that this situation was, after all, "technically" stealing. Now that I was thoroughly an accomplice to this, he wanted to know where I stood.
I considered it for about three seconds, thought about the great free burgers I had just inhaled, and exclaimed, "It s a great idea!"
Over the next week, Neil instructed me in the ways to replenish the fund without detection. If I recall correctly, this could be best accomplished when given exact change at busy times of the night. Simply and deftly placing the money under the counter, it only took a few transactions to fill the fund for the night.
One night when joined by our friend, Curt Rollar, for our nightly feast, I played a joke on Neil. After depositing his three burgers at the table, he went back to the order counter to pick up his iced root beer mug. I took advantage of his absence to insert a carefully-folded napkin in one each of his burgers.
When he returned to his seat, Neil ate contentedly, and as he reached for his last burger, I couldn t help but start laughing. Curt being an honest and generally admirable fellow, stopped Neil from eating the aforementioned burger and implied that it might be a good idea to check its contents before eating.
Neil opened the bun and said, "What, did Tinsky spit in it or something?" An idea not beyond imagining....
But I said, "No, I didn t do anything like that." By this time, even Curt was laughing, as obviously Neil had already unwittingly consumed a napkin in one of the previous burgers.
By the end of August, even burgers were beginning to pale as an appetizing treat. It was time for a change....
So one night, having the only bicycle, I was chosen to take my old purple Schwinn Varsity up the steep hill on Bloomfield Avenue to Joes Pizzeria, which was still open at 10:00, after we closed Carvel. We ordered it over the phone and off I went.
Going up the big hill was no problem, as I had ridden my bike many miles all summer. The Stewart s fund easily covered the cost of the pie, and I walked out of Joe s holding the pizza. I immediately discovered there was going to be a problem which as a near-thinking teenager I hadn t foreseen: how to get the pizza, the bike, and me down the precipitous hill back to Carvel. I certainly didn t want to walk the half mile or so and arrive with cold pizza; the solution to the problem seemed simple enough.
Working it out as best I could, I put the pizza on the hood of a conveniently-parked car and leaned the bike against it also. Wedging my body between the bike and the car, I was able to grab the large box with my right hand and, balancing it like a waiter with a tray, I was able to ride down Bloomfield Avenue with one hand guiding the bike, pizza aloft in the other.
Now, Bloomfield Ave is a pretty busy, four-lane commercial thouroughfare during the day, and even at night it has some traffic. Things went smoothly enough until I hit the first intersection at Central Avenue with a green light going my way.
But it was here that I encountered my first problem, in the form of an oblivious (to me) car turning right as I was planning to go straight.
Not wanting to jam on my front brake and go head over heels and possibly damage the pizza, I did the only thing I could, which was to make a hard right down Central Avenue, now paralleling the miscreant vehicle.
I had just gotten my balance back, pizza still in hand, and was congratulating myself on my quick thinking, when the next problem presented itself . As I was picking up speed going down the hill on Central Avenue, a car parked on the side of the road with an invisible driver inside the dark car chose that exact moment, as I bore down upon him, to open his door. His dome light flared brightly, lighting up my night vision, and in that flash ...
I was back in China as the scooter deftly avoided our driver s opening door with a quick turn of his wheel that momentarily took him up the side of the cement traffic median. He sped on without a look back.
While I was back on Central Avenue, careening down upon a similar opening door, I executed a similar quick, one-handed zigzag. I kept a semblance of balance, pizza wobbling in my other hand as I got the precarious bike back under control.
Riding out the hill, I turned down a quiet side street. Gliding down this gentle hill, I was able to delivered the somewhat bruised and battered pizza to my hungry, waiting friends.
With Thanx to Barba for editing !