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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sir Harry Alfran (with a nod to Jack Greenland)

If you want a pack of gum or smokes or a newspaper you go to the only places really left here in the suburbs; the cookie cutter ""7 Eleven"'s of the world. Anyone my age or there abouts can attest to the subtle charm of the corner Sweet Shoppe or Luncheonette. Hell, sometimes they were called both, and most of them did have both, that is a cashier counter and a long counter with stools.
Every town here in Jersey had plenty of 'em, I had at least 3 that I remember within walking distance of my house. Some had better comic books than others and some would let you loiter for a few seconds longer than the others before you got the obligatory: "This ain't a library!" or "What''ll it be boys?". All in all they had pretty much the same things that I was interested in at the time and that was mainly Base Ball cards.
1962 was the year of the 'brown edges", at least thats what my best friend John and I called them. More than any other year, I remember these, I treasured them and collected them with an insane vigor that only a boy of 8 years could do. I earned .25 cents a week allowance and I divided it up 3 ways. As each pack of 10 cards (and a stick of rock hard gum) was .05 cents, I could buy 5 packs during the week. Sunday was the day I received my allowance and the corner stores all closed early so I had to wait til Monday. Monday after school I would race to the store and buy 1 pack. I never ripped open the pack, I always examined the cover art, yea, it felt like a good pack. I'd rub my hands over it like Aladdin's lamp and then I'd slowly open the back, taking care not to rip the cover waxed paper.  There was still one more step to take before the treasures were realized. The ancient rock hard stick of gum covered most of the back of the first card as well as sugar powder from the gum. You would have to work up a shit load of saliva to get that gum going in your mouth and once you had the spit, you chowed down. The gum always shattered into slivers before before you actually got it going.
For me, one of the toughest cards to get seemed to be the 1st checklist. 4 or 5 checklists tabulated the entire series of cards. There was even a check mark box on the checklist to check off that you HAD the checklist! Unless you started before opening day with your collecting you could kiss #1 Roger Maris goodbye, you weren't gonna see was a real racket this company had and us kids were in it hook, line and sinker.

So, after the 1st pack of the week I divided it up this way: 2 packs on Wednesday (Wednesday madness!) and the final pack on Saturday...then the week started fresh again. This cycle went on for quite a few years and I would sometimes go to different neighborhood stores on the off chance they had a better box of cards.  At the store the packs were displayed in special display boxes from Topps. I NEVER took a pack off the top, I always dug down a bit to get a good one.

Base Ball cards were seasonal though, not to worry, Topps wasen't letting me off the hook that easy. They had all sorts of crap to collect. Monster cards, Mars Attacks, different TV show cards, Beatle cards (loved them) and one of the best during the Centennial years: Civil War Cards!
These particular cards were custom made for a boy of 8. Gory isn't even the word, obscenely, profoundly gory is more like it. Each card depicted a battle or event. They were hand drawn and probably had no relation to what happened on the field but who fucking cares, they were simply amazing!

The above is a tame selection but gives you a decent idea, the rear of the card was an historical account of the scene depicted and it came with gum AND  Confederate money.

Out of all the stores, the Grove Street Sweet Shoppe in Montclair was my favorite. The Lord of the Manor was a kindly gentlemen known to us as Sir Harry Alfran (Lord knows what that name meant). To an 8 year old he was a towering giant of a man, with jet black hair, a good sized paunch, thick black frame glasses with a stub of a cigar butt clenched in his teeth, a yellowed white shirt open at the collar and rolled sloppily up to his elbows and mean as a bear with a lanced boil on his ass. You're feet barely crossed the threshold before the usual "What'll it be boys" slammed you in the face like a hot kiss on the end of a wet fist. The place smelled like old cigars (naturally) and was long and narrow with old tired cracked black and white checked linoleum floors. About half way down was the lunch counter, I may have gotten that far once in my life. Usually there were a couple of hobo looking guys sipping coffee and gnawing on some sort of burger or donut or who the hell knows. I cared about the front of the store. The first part of the counter was a glass case filled with all kinds of cigars (naturally squared) and then the open area with step down like shelves that contained boxes of cards and tubs of wax lips, wax soda bottles and fairly racist candies like Black Crows and Chocolate Babies. A squeaky old carousel filled with comics completed my little slice of heaven on earth and I could walk away contented with any sort of cards or comics.

The beginning of this base ball season I went out and looked for a pack of cards just for the hell of where, no where at all...I searched luck. Base ball cards are now in the realm of the dumb ass yuppie for-profit collectors... fuck 'em.

1 comment:

  1. This is most enjoyable! Have memories of cards and that fabulous gum!! Hmm, can still taste that bubblicious paste. Did you search those nostalgic candy stores for the cards? Be careful though if they do have them...could be years old....

    Very entertaining and interesting write.