Thursday, December 29, 2016


282. AVENEL, pt. 4
Right next door to
St. George Press was
an auto body shop
named Royal Auto
Body. Just after the
time I got there,
the owner was
about to retire,
and his main
sidekick guy there,
Jerry, bought the
place and took it
over -  it was just
one of those ordinary
auto-body shops you'd
see back then; cars
around, heaps, old
trucks and things,
like a scrapyard, and
a cinderblock building
of some sort. About
1982, the state passed
some law that from
then on body shops
needed enclosed and
spray-booths, so as
to lessen the effect
of the odors and spray
 -   from the painting
or repainting  -  getting
into the atmosphere.
The whole thing sort
of took the wind right
out of the old-style
body shop thing :
now they needed
an enclosed, inside,
spray booth, with
filters and ventilators
and all that. It was
an expensive proposition
which shut down
any number of
old-line paint shops.
It was (and remains)
really just one of those
stupid bureaucratic
ideas that come from
people who've probably
never had fun in their
life, certainly never
spray-painted a car,
professionally or not.
Cranks and spoil-sports.
Clipboard geeks.
Inspectors and permit
people. Well, anyway,
this Jerry guy, he
stayed on, invested
in a booth, and all
that. It never changed
anything, except it
was there; they used
it, it passed muster
and got them to keep
their body-shop license.
No matter. Jerry and his
guys would still hang
about, outside.
Cigarettes. Real
easy and leisurely
work  -  country-time
body shop. I'd go
over there now and
then. A person could
sit on an upturned
pail or whatever and
just watch, talk,
schmooze. They would
most always also (this
was new to me,
and a sort of
shocker I'd never
thought of before)
would have an
open bottle of
some sort of
whiskey, bourbon,
whatever, and
just now and then
swig from the bottle
- which bottle, if
you were there,
was also passed
over to you. You'd
take your swig,
you'd pass it on.
(No wonder some
of those pin-striping
jobs looked kind of
wobbly). The state
probably didn't want
you smoking and
drinking there either  -
or at least they'd
say you had to do
it in the spray-booth.
I always liked Jerry's;
it was a nice tough-guy
place, and homey.
I've always noticed 
when people buy 
other-people's property  
-  like houses, garages, 
etc.,  -  they always 
set about to do some 
sort of what I call 
'ritual cleansing'. It's 
a way of making it 
their own, claiming 
a territory. Gives 
them ownership. The
new homeowner 
cuts trees, or rips 
out shrubs and 
hedges, things like 
that. Here, at the 
body shop, Jerry 
set about going 
around the entire 
building, spraying 
down, cutting and
ripping out, all the
little pieces of wild 
grass and shrubs and 
weeds and saplings 
and things that, 
over the years, had 
seeded themselves 
there and slowly 
grown in along the
foundation. It was 
nothing at all really, 
he'd worked there 
for the years while 
this went on and no 
one glimpsed twice. 
But his ownership 
made the difference, 
and his ritual 
cleansing effort was
that : removal and 
clearing. After that, 
it was truly his. It 
was sill just a square, 
squat, cinderblock 
garage building, 
but it had been 
'touched' sort of,
 by the grace of a 
new owner; his. 
Probably a psychological
thing, but it makes all
the difference. It gets 
people doing things
like painting a 
mailbox, or putting
up newly-bought
house numbers to 
replace the ones 
that had been 
there for years.
Just weird.
One business over 
from that was 
Frystock Motors. 
Throughout the 
50's and 60's it 
had been a Rambler 
dealership, for years  
- Rambler Americans, 
Ambassadors, all those 
strangely unreliable
but cool cars, right 
through the AMX 
and Pacer years too. 
By the end, it was 
a Jeep dealership, 
with a used-car-lot 
across the street. 
Everything's gone 
now, Frystock, Jerry's, 
even St. George Press, 
replaced by a Walgreen's, 
a parking lot, and 
some condos. Stuff 
changes, lives and 
dies, gets moved 
on. Ritual cosmic 
All these places had 
once been houses. 
There was a time 
when this portion 
of St. George Avenue
 actually had people 
living on it, homes 
and little lawns, 
in regular houses, 
The remnants of 
them, by 1960, 
were mostly turned
 over to professional
 use  - commercial 
fronts added, for 
travel agencies
 (at Frystock), or 
the old house that 
once was St. George 
Press. All down, 
and up, the block. 
The 'highway' use 
of the thoroughfare 
was once secondary, 
but certainly took 
over. Another place 
right there was called
'Charlie's Sugar Bowl'  
-  it was like a sweet 
shop, with a large 
expanse inside  -  
newspapers, magazines, 
soda fountain, and 
things. Lots of 
old-style wood 
gave it a particular 
feel, one I've not 
often since found 
around. Atmosphere. 
A feeling which the 
present day can never 
duplicate with its 
plastics and cheap 
glamor. Even the
colors were different;
deep and real, reds
and browns. There 
was, as you entered,
to the left, an actual
bank of phone booths, 
wooden, with a seat 
in each one, and 
doors that closed.
 Private little 
telephone cubicles. 
I used to go in there 
to order, by telephone 
with Chicago, auto 
parts from the J. C. 
Whitney Company, 
right in Chicago, 
Whitney was, back 
then, some cheap, 
mail-order clearing 
house for almost 
any sort of auto 
need. They shipped, 
large or small, 
whatever you 
wished for. You'd
give them the 
make and model 
and year, give the
part number, etc., 
and they'd send. I'd 
call pre-paid, dumping
a bunch of change into 
the phone as the operator 
told me the charges, except
I can't really now  
remember why I did 
that; why I just didn't 
call from home on 
my parents' phone 
bill and settle up 
with them later. 
It must have just 
been the thrill of 
doing it that way. 
I can still recall 
the different weathers 
and sorts of days I'd 
do this  -  driving to 
it, or walking to it. 
Charlie's Sugar Bowl, 
for sure. 
Over time though, 
everything got fouled 
up  -  junk like 
Dunkin' Donuts and 
all that moved in  
- national brands 
and things that just
took the place down 
a notch or two. 
Thelma's Bakery 
was gone. Gas 
stations and golf 
driving ranges 
disappeared. The
 road was widened;
 traffic and apartments 
boomed. At St. George 
Press I'd still do 
business with some 
of these fading 
remnants  -  billheads, 
letterheads and envelopes,
 that sort of stuff. One 
guy, I forget his name, 
he ran a clothing store, 
or at least jeans and 
tops and stuff, 1970's 
clothes-style, in the 
'80's. It was called 
Tops 'n' Bottoms, as 
I recall   -  something 
of a throwback hippie 
clothing store. I 
forget the guy's 
name, but he'd 
come in. Cool 
enough. However, 
I found out through 
word of mouth, and
rumor, hearing about
 it from others, that 
the guy, whoever he 
was, was known 
around town as a 
sort of 'perv.' who 
freaked a lot of 
the girls out  -  to
never return. Fitting 
the girls. Touching 
things a bit too much. 
Gliding his hands 
over 'tops and bottoms' 
as it were. Funny stuff. 
I never said anything; 
couldn't. To me it 
was hearsay. What 
would I do anyway, 
ask him for a job?
OK, I'm being facetious.
It's a writer's right to throw
in some silly charm now 
and then seeing if it flies.
(Speaking of flies).

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