Thursday, March 09, 2006

Some things never change... like jerks in your home town

I take my dad to a movie Wednesdays, which gives me the chance to cruise through my old home town every week, a place I avoided like the plague for years. I used to remember only the stuff I hated about Whitinsville (which just so happens to be the cultural and economic epicenter of Northbridge). Most of the bad vibe I had was probably related to the state of mind I was in during the period of time I lived there, basically the first twenty-one years of my life.

As I cruised down Church Street, I noticed a sign spray painted in block letters on the side of a building. "NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION WE HAVE FORGOTTEN THE PAST" or something quite similar. Another message on the bricks complained "NO SAFETY OR PARKING" due to a beautifying "architectural project" that has been going on in the downtown area for the last year or so. The ironic thing was that the brick building boasted a parking lot which was completely empty.

Some things never change in a small town. A tinge of resentment washed through me as I recalled working pumping gas for the owner of the building as a teenager. It seemed everyone in town was somehow after this guy's money, a conspiracy, if you will. He wasn't making friends in local government, and when he was denied a liquor license for one of his businesses, he responded by boarding one of is buildings in the downtown area, making the buiding as much of an eyesore as possible and placing stones in the openings of his usually empty parking lot so that patrons of open businesses could not use his vacant lot. Ken was always a real communtiy-minded chap.

As I viewed the block letters, I wondered what the town had done to Kenny this time? I bristled a bit as I remembered a particularly irritating incident that happened when I worked at the gas station he once owned and operated.

We had a drop safe, and every time we would get one hundred dollars, we would bundle it up and drop it in, registering the drop on a sheet cleverly titled "the drop sheet". Ken asked me one day what I would do if I got robbed, and I said dutifully, "give them every dime and free fill up."

I wasn't interested in being a hero for four dollars an hour.

Kenny said, "Nah man, get to the drop safe. Don't give them the satisfaction. When you've seen their faces, they're going to shoot you anyway... twice, and probably in the head. They can't afford to be identified."

I was cool as I could be. in spite of the fact that my head was close to exploding right then, without the aid of a bullet.

"I want $4.25 an hour, Ken... and I'm still giving them every dime. And if they're going to shoot me, I may even suggest a complimentary fill-up."

One time the money I had dropped wasn't there when Kenny went to take it out and make a bank deposit. I had absolutely no explanation for this. I made the drops and wrote it down. Made a drop, wrote it down, made a drop, wrote it down.

I didn't like the drop system in the first place, now I hated it. Why couldn't I just bundle the money up at the end and put in the big envelope like we used to?

Two hundred dollars had gone missing. Most of my drops were there, but two were not, and I couldn't explain it. Then I remembered that Ken's wife had access to the safe and frequently came in and grabbed a bundle or two for the purpose of grocery shopping, jotting down how much she had taken. I suggested that this could possibly be the reason for the missing deposits, but Ken insisted that his wife hadn't been in the safe this time. I agonized over what could have happened to the money. I swore I hadn't taken it, that I really had dropped it. Kenny thought and thought, finally deciding he believed me, but that I would have to pay back the money, "work it off" he said.

Still angry and skeptical, (and still needing my job,) I agreed, but not until a thorough insistence that he or his wife had to have "borrowed" and forgotten to write it down.

Ken's mantra was consistently, "that doesn't make any sense, why would I steal my own money?"

He used it similarly to George Bush saying "Iraq" when asked about prescription drugs or the economy.

Ken, I made the drops, where do you think it could have gone? Only you and your wife have access to the safe.

"Why would I take my own money?"

I felt like I was teaching economics to a pre-schooler.

"You see Ken... if I have to pay it back, then it kinda becomes MY money?"

"You're not making sense, Korte... I wouldn't steal my own money."

Ken was kind enough to work out a deal where I would get an extra two bucks an hour for doing work outside of my job description. (Attached to the garage was a mechanical repair shop that he also owned. Admittedly, I was a pansy about helping with the repairs. Aside from being generally lazy, I didn't know what I was doing and usually wound up injuries that never seemed to heal and grease that settled several inches below skin level. Finally, Ken had his assistant.

This went on for about a week and a half, until Ken generously decided to forgive the rest of my "debt" to him.

It wasn't until that moment that I realized that I had been scammed. This guy never gave anybody anything that I ever saw. I had worked a few jobs before this one, and I once wondered out loud how much of a Christmas bonus we might be getting. Kenny got quite a chuckle out of that, I'll tell ya. I guess this question was a bit naive in light of the fact that were working Christmas and New Year's Day for straight pay.

As I look back, I wish I had demanded to either be believed or fired, a move akin to an "all in" bet in Texas Hold 'Em. A move that said, "I'm done. My chips are in the middle of the table... now what're YOU gonna do?"

These kinds of memories flood my head every time I cruise through the town. Maybe the town is just a town, like any place else, and it's the lens I look through that makes it suck.

There sure were a lot of cool things about Northbridge, like the old Gulf station on the corner of Park and Church. When I was a little kid, we would get a bottle, a real glass bottle of Coke and sit and listen to the guys shoot the shit. There was this one heavy guy that liked to tell stories. One time he was telling this story about how he had been to Worcester the previous week and heard this guy running for senate talk, and boy was he good. In fact, this guy agreed with every damn word he had heard.

Some of the other guys on the stoop thought this was curious, because he had beensmoking butts on the stoop with them the night of the rally.

The old Gulf station has been gone for years. Now it is the site of a Unibank, which has also taken over the spot where Woolworth's was (later Flagg Pharmacy, another place I worked). Unibank also bought out Colonial Stationery and put in a parking lot. (I wonder if Kenny is excited about the additional parking.)

I do remember a few things fondly. The town diner is as great as it ever was, and sits in much the same shape it was in when I first started going there as a little boy.

The town plaza is still in tact, though no longer a local hangout. It sits right in the middle of town, and kids used to go and just hang out for hours at night, and especially on weekends. Almost like in "American Graffiti"... kids would show up in their cars and get a pizza, go into "Friendly's" for a fribble or a sundae and talk smack. When I was in my early 20s some genius decided it was a bad idea to let kids loiter there and they passed laws that you couldn;t sit around there anymore.

It makes so much more sense to have kids driving around than to have them out in the open where you can see them.

The plaza's main attraction, "Harry's Pizza" is in a new, bigger and nicer location, but the food is every bit as good as it ever was when I was growing up and I still occasionally make the hour drive to the plaza for a "special grinder" or my signature pizza- mushroom, sausage and green pepper.

Roger's Bakery is gone, closing a few years ago when Roger retired and no one wanted to take the business over, but there is a new "old style" bakery opening a few doors down, and I can';t wait to try it out.

Funny that I never really appreciated all the cool small town stuff in Whitinsville until it was mostly gone.

5 Comments:

Blogger Gelatinous Goo said...

Now really, Korte, how is it you can comment on the good things about Whitinsvile (known to outsiders as "Whittensville") without having mentioned Purgatory Chasm or Marty Roach? Hmm?

6:58 AM  
Blogger Korte said...

Good point, Marty is a legend.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Gelatinous Goo said...

And let's not forget Richie Zisk...

7:02 AM  
Blogger Gooch----- said...

What about the pit??? Remember Pythian's bowling alley??? How many nights did we try our best, as 14 year olds, to sqeeze that old bitch Louise (bless her friggin' heart) out of her bowling dues by playing a few rounds of Pitch after school!!!? It was a place where we could go drink (whatever we could find) in the back alley then go downstairs and throw a few overhand bowling balls down the alley before 'what's his name...old Billy(?)' would turn up his hearing aid and eventually throw us out.!

And what ever happened to the Zisk??

11:42 AM  
Blogger Korte said...

Goosh, holy shit, I can't believe it's you.

Last I saw, Zisk was still patrolling the sidelines at NHS Ram football games.

The Pit...wow, now there's a blast from way back.

Bill is still hanging around, he's 132 now.
Louise got tossed out of hell for annoying Satan and is not haunting Lincoln Greyhound Park.

6:18 PM  

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