Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Angels performing Cry Baby Cry.
Every “teenage nation” generation since they started to place teenage-hood as a distinct phase of life between childhood and young adulthood over a century ago has developed its own tribal rituals and institutions. Today’s teens seem to have cornered food courts at the mall, video arcades, and the ubiquitous Internet screen text mad connections through various look-at techno-gadgets although, frankly, I am not fully current on all their mores, customs and tribal language. No way. Old geezers form a line to the rear, way in the rear.
What I am familiar with, very familiar with, is the teen institutions of my generation, the generation of ’68, that came of teen age in the early 1960s. Our places of rendezvous were the corners in front of mom and pop variety stores in the days before franchise 7/11 came to dominate the quick stop one item shopping market; the ever present pizza parlor with its jump jukebox where we deposited more than a few nickels, dimes and quarters; for some of the dweebs (or if you wanted to get away with a “cheap” date, but only as a last resort ) the bowling alley; the open air drive-in restaurants complete with car hops for more “expensive” dates; and, for serious business, meaning serious girl and boy watching, the soda fountain. And not, in my case, just any soda fountain but the soda fountain at the local individually- owned drug store , Doc’s (no CVS, Osco madness with quick pitch in and out), that used the fountain to draw people (read, kids: what would we need prescription drugs for, those are for old people, we were invincible) into the store.
That last scene is what will drive this sketch, and for a simple reason. My mind just now has an illustration before it of just such a classic soda fountain, complete with whimsical teen-age frills (read girls, if you are not from my old working class neighborhood) all sipping their straws out of one, can you believe it, one paper cup while a faux beat -type looks on. Ah, be still my heart.
Needless to say this scene, complete with its own jukebox setup (although not every drug store had them, ours didn’t), the booths with the red vinyl-covered seats and Formica top tables (with paper place settings, condiments, etc., right), the soda fountain granite (maybe faux granite) counter, complete with swivel around stools that gave the odd boy or two (read: me and my boys) a better vantage point to watch the traffic come in the store (read: girls). Said counter also complete with glassed-encased pie (or donut) cases; the various utensils for making frappes (that a New England thing, look it up on “Wikipedia”), milkshakes, and cherry-flavored Cokes; a small grille for hamburgers, hot dogs and fries (or the odd boy grilled cheese sandwich with bacon); and, well a soda jerk (usually a guy) to whip up the orders. Oh, did I say girl and boy watching? Ya, I did. Still, what do you think we were all there for? The ice cream and soda? Come on. Does it really take an hour or an hour and a half to drink a Pepsi even in slo-mo 1960s (or now) teen-land?
Enough said about the décor because the mere mention of the term “soda jerk” brings to mind a Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood story, Frankie of a thousand stories and Frankie who was the king hill skirt-chaser (read: girl), and my best friend in middle school (a.k.a. junior high) and high school. Ya, that Frankie, or rather this time Frankie’s sister. Now when we were juniors in high school we mainly held court at the local pizza parlor which in the pecking order was way above the soda fountain. That was for kids, unless, of course, things were tough at the pizza joint (meaning girl-free) and we meandered up the street to Doc’s drug store soda fountain to check out the action there.
Of course, before we graduated to the “bigs” the old soda fountain was just fine. And it did no harm, no harm at all, to strike up friendships , or at least stay on the good side of the soda jerks so you could get an extra scoop of ice cream or a free refill on your Coke. Whatever. See, the soda jerk was usually the guy (and like I said before it was always guys, girls would probably be too distracted by every high energy teen guy, including dweeb-types, trying to be “cool”). But the thing is that the soda jerk also had some cache with the girls, I guess it must have been the uniform. Wow! Personally I wouldn’t have been caught dead wit that flap- cap they wore.
So one night we were dried up (read: no girls) at the pizza parlor and decided, as usual, to meander up the street to Doc’s. We had heard earlier in the day that Doc had a new jerk on and we wanted to check him out anyway. As we entered who do we see but Frankie’s sister, Lorrie, Frankie’s fourteen year old sister, talking up a storm all dewy-eyed over this new jerk, who must have been about eighteen. And this “cradle-robber” had his arm around, or kind of around, Lorrie. Old Frankie saw red, no double red, if not more.
See, Frankie was a guy who had more girls lined up that he could ever meet and be able to keep himself in one piece, although he has only one serious frail (read: girl again okay) that kept his interest over time (Joanne that I told you about before). So Frankie was no stranger to the old male double standard of the age, especially in regard to his sister. Not that he was really protective of her as much as he was insulted (so he told me later) by some new “jerk” trying to make moves to become king of the hill by “courting” Frankie’s sister.
And Frankie, old wiry, slender, quick-fisted Frankie was tough. Tougher than he looked. So naturally new boy “jerk” takes umbrage (nice word, right?) when Frankie starts to move “sis” away with him. Well the long and short of it was that Frankie and “jerk” started to beef a little but it is all over quickly and here is why. Frankie took an ice cream cone, a triple scoop, triple-flavored ice cream cone no less, that was sitting in a cup in front of a young girl customer ( a cute girl who I wound up checking out seriously later) and bopped, no be-bopped, no be-bop bopped one soda jerk, new or not, with it. Now if you have ever seen an eighteen year old guy, in uniform, with hat on, I don’t care if it is only a soda jerk’s uniform wearing about three kinds of ice cream on that uniform you know, you have to know that this guy’s persona non grata with the girls and “cool” guys in town forevermore.
Or so you would think. Frankie went out of town for a few days to do something on family business after this incident and one night near the edge of town as I was walking with that young girl customer whose ice cream Frankie scooped (I bought her another one, thank god I had a little cash on me, and that is why I was walking with her just then, thank you) when I saw one Lorrie sitting, sitting like the Queen of Sheba, in Mr. Soda Jerk’s 1959 boss cherry red Chevy listening to Cry Baby Cry by The Angels as “mood” music on the background car radio that I could faintly hear. Just don’t tell Frankie, okay.
Labels: growing up absurd in the 1950s