Mr. Finkle, the door-to-door salesmen, talked my Mother into buying one of those new TVs with three channels. Truth was, my Mother talked Mr. Finkle into talking her into buying the TV. It was a small TV by today’s standards; it was set in a large wooden box which sat on the floor and didn’t move an inch even if you happened to bump up against it. It was American made, by RCA, brown and had an anten-nee which looked like two fingers giving the peace sign. We were poor and a TV was a really big deal even if it was only black-and-white. But this TV was special: it had a box with a timer attached securely to the back which was designed to accept quarters. This was how we were paying for the TV: for 25 cents you would be able to see 25 minutes of TV, a penny a minute. Every week or so, Mr. Finkle would arrive and empty out the quarters from the box and make a notation on how much had been collected into his little book. He smiled a lot and was always very cherry. The only thing was you would be engulfed in a mystery movie or a who-done-it tale or even a Jimmy Cagney gangster movie and bam the TV would turn off and demand another quarter. It seemed it was always at the end of the show that the timer and your quarter would run out. Then there would be a mad scramble to find another quarter to see the ending.
On one such occasion, the supply of quarters in the household had dried up and my older brother Johnny wanted to see the end of this John Wayne movie so bad that he handed me a dollar bill and told me to hurry and run down to the corner store “Lenny’s” and get some quarters.
Now I know that for a fact there was no one who could cover that distance faster than me. In those days I would make like I was an airplane and spin my arms to mimic the props and take to flight down the street at a breakneck pace. Turning and slipping past anyone on the sidewalk. “Watch out Mrs. Linders,” as I turned right then just as quickly flew by the old women. “Must hurry got to get to the store, the movie is almost over!” These and other thoughts raced in my head. As I arrived at the store I thought it had to be a new record. I ran into the store and up to Lenny the owner. “I need quarters please.” “You have to buy something,” was Lenny’s reply.
“Ok, give me five pretzels and an icecreamsicle,” was my speedy reply.
Needless to say, by the time I got back with what was left of the dollar the show was over and my brother was fit to be tied after he realized that I had spent most of his dollar.
It wasn’t long after, while returning from school one day, that I heard a noise in the basement. It turned out to be my Mother beating on something with my Father’s hammer. Upon closer inspection I discovered she had taken the hammer to the back of our Black and White TV, and with two or three well-placed blows, removed the timer box along with the box full of quarters. She quickly retreated to the basement to lay claim to her prize. What a sight when finally my Mother’s labors payed off. The steel box exploded onto the cold gray floor like the goose that laid the golden egg. I let out a cheer of sorts, my Mom taking time to catch her breath, looking down at the enormous pile of quarters, and smiling that smile of a kid who just figured how to get into the cookie jar. She looked down at the quarters but in fact she didn’t see quarters at all. In her mind’s eye she saw the family dinner for that night and the next. She saw roast beef with hard-boiled potatoes, beens and gravy plus tall glasses of cold milk for the twins, and maybe a quart of beer for Dad, after work.
I couldn’t tell you what Mr. Finkle said about my Mom’s shenanigans that day, but the TV stayed along with Mr. Finkle. He continued to come around selling this and that for many years until, like the TV, he just stopped working one day.