Monday, March 17, 2014

Orange Street, the Way It Was Then

Your earliest continual stream of memory began while you were in residence at 6145 1/2 Orange Street, in what was to become Los Angeles 36, California before attaining the enhanced sensibility of Los Angeles 90036.

Orange Street begins at South Fairfax Avenue, heading west past Crescent Heights Boulevard, onward beyond La Jolla Avenue, intrepid as it reaches beyond Sweetzer Avenue, where, after a hint of a dog leg, it gives up the ghost at the angular duplicity of San Vicente Boulevard.

When you were driven by boredom and loneliness to venture into the vast, uncharted attractions of imagination, Orange Street provided you the crucible for the best equivalent of magic a boy could wish for.

The magic began early most mornings with the appearance of a squat, square, white vehicle with the read lettering on its side panels, Adohr Milk, and the constant, clattering sound of an engine impatient for more extensive adventures.  The squat vehicle was piloted about the neighborhood by a man known to most of the youngsters on Orange Street as Mister Neeper, a small, neat man with a thin nose, who wore rimless glasses, and a one-piece uniform, also white, with the name Adohr stenciled in red across the back below the shoulders.

We were motivated to be polite and friendly to Mr. Neeper who, at any given moment, was likely to use his ice pick to dislodge a chunk of ice from among the large blocks of ice kept in the rear bed of the truck to keep the assorted milk, cream, and butter at the proper degree of chill.  From Mr. Neeper, we learned that all one had to do was spell the name Adohr backward to arrive at a more familiar name, which was Rhoda.  This fact motivated you to regard every name you saw on billboards, store signs, and vehicles with suspicion until you discovered these were only one-way names; they spelled nothing in reverse but gibberish.

On special, not infrequent mornings, we clustered, chunks of ice in hand, while Mr. Neeper told us the romance of Rhoda, who was, in fact, Rhoda Rindge, a descendant of a Spanish land-grant family, who was rumored to ride about her rancho in Malibu, barking orders, whether there were persons to hear and obey them or not.

You did not lack for the romance of delivered milk, cream, salt or sweet butter, nor the bottles, themselves, all etched with the Adohr logo.  Each sip of your Adohr milk, each splash of it on your morning Rice Krispies or Wheaties (with sliced banana or strawberries) was a way of ingesting Spanish land grants, early California, the Rindge family's alleged madness, and a world filled with horses, riding contests, curses, feuds, squabbles, and the occasional stampede.

At the time, mail was delivered twice on weekdays, with a single delivery on Saturday.  This gave you enough time to discover Raphael, the mailman, and his reputed relationship to the movie actor and all-round hail fellow, Leo Carrillo.  While Raphael never owned up to his relationship, neither did he outright deny it.  Such questions as, "Hey. Raphael, are you really a cousin to Leo Carrillo?" could provoke such responses as, "Would that make you like me any more?" or, "Don't always be judging a man by his connections,  Judge him by his deeds."

Most evenings in the Spring, Summer and early Autumn months, another vehicle, also square, but not so boxy as the Adh\ohr milk truck, appeared, its chimes alerting you to its presence even if you were inside, otherwise occupied.
 This vehicle was more compact, its contents chilled by more sophistication than blocks of ice.  The Good Humor truck dispensed ice cream in various forms, your own favorite The Milk-Nickle, a two-by three-inch rectangle of vanilla ice cream, coated in chocolate, impaled by a wooden stick which, on occasion, said Free, which meant you got a free Milk-Nickle, which meant a piece of wood, half the width of a tongue depressor, became a currency.  Oh, the times you were bribed by your sister with a Free stick.  How wealthy you felt with two or three Free Sticks.

Another vehicle made weekly visits to Orange Street, this one was referred to by your parents and such neighbors as the Dekters and Appels as The Seltzer Truck.  Picture one of the contemporary bottled-water delivery trucks, with its huge storage racks, then add a lackluster paint job on its body, and unpainted, even unvarnished wooden racks, holding siphon bottles of one- and two-quart capacity.  There is bottled sparkling water, sometimes referred to as soda water, even club soda.  The Seltzer Siphon produces a serious product, a water so carbonated as to cause your eyes to water.  Imagine a splash of Bosco, your father's favorite, or Fox's U-Bet, much beloved by your mother.  Then a long pull of carbonated seltzer.  Imagine you and your sister with your own siphon bottle, a pint of vanilla ice cream from Thrifty's Drug Store, a generous squirt of U-Bet, and fill the rest og the glass with seltzer.
There was yet another kind of vehicle, a barge-like rectangle, mounted on what memory tells you was probably once a part of an early-model pick-up truck.  Filled with a colorful, seasonal display of vegetables and fruit, it was drawn by a team of two dun-colored horses, splotched with spots of white.  Your mother referred variously to the husband-wife team who operated this movable produce display as Gypsy, Italian, and Mediterranean, always in the context of "Those Gypsies, Italians, Mediterraneans only offer the best fruits and vegetables.  Will you look at those (plums) (squash) (oranges) (onions)..."

Now that you think of it, Fritz, the knife-sharpener, had his honing wheel mounted in the bed or a pick-up truck, leaving only the buyer of old clothes, Gershon, to tread the pavement of Orange Street on foot.  A chunky, sun tanned man who wore a three piece suit with a shirt buttoned at the collar, but no necktie, Gershon favored the middle of the street over the sidewalks.  His chant never failed to entrance you.  "Buyin' old clothes buying," he said every hundred feet or so, his eyes alert for a housewife appearing in a window or balcony, waving some suit of her husband's she'd been wanting to retire.

You admired the way Gershon ran his fingers over the material of clothing offered him, his stubby fingers assessing the texture while probing for worn spots.  You'd expect Gershon to have demeaned the item offered him, thus to pay less for it, but he always began with a "Nize goots, wery nize.  I can go maybe nine fifty.  No, we say ten.  Yes.  Ten dollar.  Nize goots."

On one particular day when you were six or seven, in desperate need of money for a group of comic books you craved, you approached Gershon with a sweater you were eager to part with.  Gershon assured you of the quality inherent in the sweater.  Then he gave you a memorable lesson, reminding you how this time historically was considered The Depression.  "Money is hard, you understan?  Your parents, they want you should be warm when it is cold.  You understan?  You do not sell such a sweater when so much was paid for it, you understan?  What I could give you for this, it does not make up for what they paid."

He watched you for several moments, during which you could see his dress shirt was frayed and dirty.  He reached into his pocket, extracted a nickel, pressed it into your palm.  "Money is hard,"  he said.  "You understan?"  And then he was on his way, moving east toward Fairfax, his chant plangent in the mid morning.  "Buyin old clothes buyin."

In many ways, the Orange Street you have described here reminds you of scenes in the lower East Side of New York you would experience in the next few years, but the west central part of Los Angeles of your youth was a street of shade trees, occasional but not significant traffic, and access to things you took for granted before your parents energy took you East for the first time in your life.  You took avocados, mangoes, pineapple, plums, nectarines, cheramoya, tangerines for regular realities,  As a student in New Jersey and New York, you were actually shown samples of such things, teased by your classmates for having eaten them.

They were all real, these things you have described, as real and simple now as they were then, waiting for you to revisit the adventure and diversity of magic.

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