Himself and I sat through a long service at his uncle's funeral, wondering at eulogies that described a man we had never met. Even the aunt and cousins looked confused. At one point I slipped out to double-check that we were in the right room. Surprisingly, we were. I speculated that someone else might have chosen to be buried under Uncle Felix's name, but decided this was improbable. Finally the multitude got into cars to go to the cemetery, and, headlights glaring, we joined the procession. Until--
-- It was really dry in there. Aren't you thirsty? I am.
Asking if someone is thirsty is like yawning in company - soon everyone is thirsty, or is yawning. I agreed that something cold to drink would be just fine.
-- I bet, he continued, if I made a right here, and then another, we'd be at the Dairy Queen. How does a vanilla milkshake sound?
-- Chocolate sounds better, I tenderly replied. But are you sure there's a DQ, and do you know the way to the cemetery?
-- I have a plan, he said as he turned right. If there's not a long line at the DQ, or if there isn't a DQ, we can just turn right again, come back up, and fall in at the end of the procession.
-- What if there is a line at the DQ?
-- We'll have to a terrible decision to face.
Two kids were at the front window, paying, when we pulled in. We jumped out of the car, leaving the motor running, charged up to the window, ordered, paid, grabbed our shakes, drank deeply, and turned around. There, having pulled in behind us, filling the parking lot, trailing down the streets, more still coming, headlights glaring, was every car that had been following us to the cemetery. We had drippy moustaches, mine beige, his white, so the excuse of a sudden need for the ladies' was not available. Later I found out that many of the mourners had turned right because they thought Himself knew a shortcut.
-- Only your relatives, I told him, would think it was normal to want to get to a cemetery faster.
One summer I had a summer job at a company that had a vault in which customer records were kept forever: who had bought what, how promptly did they pay, were there complaints, was the buyer's father a bum? the sales force was expected to know this stuff before placing an order. And who found the information for them? da collitch kids, dat's who.The vault was dim and moldy, and seemed to go on forever. If a buyer's former owner had failed to pay, it was in there. We hid in the vault to duck worse assignments, to avoid people who thought we'd profit from hearing their life stories, to shirk being called upon to make up the numbers at a wake or funeral - people died in that industry with alarming frequency, and if they didn't, their relatives did, and the company would hire a small uncomfortable bus. I will always think of the Flatlands area of Brooklyn as a place where custom required the deceased to wear his glasses in his coffin, as he had in life, to make recognition easier.
My friend Carol and I lurked in the coolness of the vault most of that August, stifling sneezes, not putting on lights... and then we found that at the end of the longest passage, there was a door. In hissing whispers, I dared her and she dared me. The arrival of Billy the Tooth - an elderly supply clerk who would have preferred to be called Ace - saved us from standoff. Billy was nominally in charge of - something, but was still young enough to be kind to da collitch kids, and his shoulder got the Door of Mystery open, revealing a room that Billy identified as having once been a Bomb Shelter.
We saw dusty piles of little boxes - K-rations, C-rations, rapidly soluble coffee packets, flat beige cookies ornamented with an intricately spelled out "mother". Billy had heard that these supplies were provided by the Civil Defense people. Imagine surviving Armageddon only to spend eternity in the Vault, surrounded by yellowed purchase orders, living on dried food and reconstituted drinks: we couldn't. We pushed past Billy the Tooth, broke for upstairs, for sunlight, and ran across the street, for cold sweet vanilla cokes.
That company paid every two weeks, and we got an extra half-hour for lunch on payday, the Legislature having decided during the Great Depression that workers who were not paid in cash should be given time on paydays to cash their checks immediately. Since by my time, fears of one's employer's imminent collapse and closing were part of a faraway past, the extra time was put to good use boosting the profit margins of local bars and restaurants.
historical note: in what i think may have been Mildred's early years, although who knows, the machine was called a Typewriting Machine, and the person who operated it was called the Typewriter.
On paydays, Mildred unbent and treated her staff to as many pitchers of whiskey sours as we could get down in the allotted time.
another historical note: the drinking age was then 18, not 21. This was immaterial to Mildred. She told us that Japanese babies were considered one year old at birth, and further we all could have been Japanese but for General MacArthur and other accidents of fate, and another year or two was immaterial.
We left in convoy, heading to a restaurant with the icy pitchers already on the table. I don't remember what we ate. There may not have been any food at all, I don't remember. Mildred gave us career advice,