SARANAC LAKE RAMBLINGS





Pianist, vocalist, composer, arranger, raconteur, music educator, story teller and loyal Saranac Laker, Phil Klein



Phil Klein’s Saranac Lake “stream of consciousness” assorted recollections

This compilation has no format. It’s simply bits and pieces of my dearest (and not-so-dear) memories of dear old Saranac lake. I was born in 1927, and after a short tour of duty in the U.S. Navy (January, ’45 to August ’46) I returned to Saranac for a year, before I was off to school at Potsdam.

The list consists simply of names. Some have stories connected; others just a fact or two. As everyone knows, many of the names that pop up in Saranac are anglicizations of French names. I say that, because the very first name on my list is Ernie Root. (“root” in French is “racine”) And so, the list:

ERNIE ROOT - He lived in Tupper Lake and had twenty-one kids. He was also the truant officer (which I think is funny…) Ernie was a distant cousin. (My mother was French.) All I remember about the visit was that the family ate in shifts.

LIL AND BERNARD CARLIN - Carlin’s fancy bakery of course. I worked for him as a kid (poor Bernard!) and have many funny stories about what happened to me in his employ.

NOREEN DRAYSEE – She lived next to me on Upper Broadway, at the foot of Mr. Pisgah. Vivid recollection: when she and I set fire to some burlap that hung down around our hangout. Even more vivid: my Ma threatening to hold my hand over the stove gas burner to teach me a lesson!

PHIL WOLF(E?) This guy was a landscape architect who hired me to work with him, and immediately we simultaneously realized that we had made a mistake. Phil never walked…he RAN everywhere, and I was expected to follow suit. The first day, he had me on the other end of a crosscut saw, and I had all I could do not to cry. I believe that he immediately fashioned a way to get rid of me gracefully. The next day, we went over to Lake Placid. On the shore of the lake was a house, looking down at the lake from the top of a high hill. At the bottom was a big pile of gravel, a wheelbarrow and a shovel. He dropped me off early in the morning and said he’d be back at noon and expected that I would have transferred the gravel to the top of the hill. I managed to start one pass, during which the wheelbarrow tipped over and spilled its contents over the middle of the hill. (I can’t recall whether he came back or if I merely hitch-hiked home from Placid. End of story…

DICK and ALICE DEMERSE – I can visualize their house on what WAS Riverside Drive (now Kiwassa Rd). Dick was in my class and Alice worked with me at Charley Green’s. FRED CARTER managed to get a good number of people to call him “Abner.” (Saranac was great for names. Wait until you hear MY assortment!)

WALLY YATIGAN – He also worked at Charley Green’s. Poor Wally got killed in Europe. He was a funny guy, and I still remember an occasion when he was singing “TANKS for the memory….)

ALDO (EUGENE) SORCINELLI - His dad ran a shoe repair under Bernie Wilson’s. He went in the Marines, and I vividly remember sitting with him at Bernie’s, having a soda, when he was home on leave. Shortly after that, he was killed by a sniper on Iwo Jima.

BILL DEMING - This guy lived in a section which was off Lake Flower Ave., which was affectionately(?) known as “Rat Street.” I was in the third grade at St Bernard’s and lived on Pontiac St. I lived in terror about encountering Billy (I snuck to school in back alleys) because every time Billy Deming saw me, he had an irresistible urge to punch me in the nose. The years went by, and wouldn’t you know that poor Bill Deming got killed in Europe. Strange what the passing of years will do… I felt genuinely sad when I read of his death.

THE NATIONAL GUARD - I joined the National Guard for two particular reasons (neither of them patriotic) 1) They had a great basketball court in that picturesque building on River St., PLUS a great pool table. There was an old guy there named Cliff, who loved to play pool. It was there, where somebody showed my first piece of titillating literature (now called pornography.) This masterpiece was called VENUS IN INDIA. Believe it or not, there wasn’t even one naughty word in it. (It didn’t need it.) In the back of the Armory was “the bay.” Richard Goodrich and I used to take midnight swims out back in the buff. We referred to that practice as “moving the moon”… (get it?)

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A NAUTICAL TALE

During my first three years in S.L.H.S. I lived at 14 South Hope Street. Across the athletic field near the school lived the Hammonds, on School Street. (A little bit beyond the Hammond residence, up the hill, lived the Bucks, who ran the Post Office Pharmacy.)

Phil Hammond was a good pal of mine, and I have a couple of yarns that involved him.

On Winona St., a bit cross town, lived Donny Morgan. He was a good craftsman and had made himself a dandy little boat, something between a canoe and a kayak. Phil and I got wind of his putting it up for sale, and we struck up a deal with Donny -who spoke in a funny, sort of “drawling” country voice - to buy his boat for the princely sum of $5.00. (Frankly, we thought it was a steal at that price!)

This little boat was very lightweight, and considerably shorter than a regular canoe. Phil and I hauled it up to his house and decided to have our maiden voyage off a dock that was under the State bridge on the Tupper Road. (We thought we’d do a little fishing while we were at it.)

The great day arrived and we were totally excited! I don’t recall how we got the boat up to our point of embarkation, but, as I said, it was quite light because it was made of wood and canvas.

I have to tell you that what I’m about to relate is still very vivid in my mind! We put our little boat in the water and deposited our fishing poles, tackle and lunch onboard. Then we stepped into the vessel with much care. The great moment had arrived! We each reached over to the dock and gave ourselves a simultaneous shove. Immediately, the boat started acting very strangely…as if it wanted to tip over. AND IT DID! We both were in the water, and our poles and tackle box immediately went to the bottom of the river. Our bagged lunch forlornly floated nearby, but we had no thought of eating it.

Fortunately, we were both good swimmers, so there was no danger of our drowning. But I think it occurred to both of us – at about the same time – why Donny Morgan had given us such a good deal!
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SARANAC PERSONALITIES
Arthur (Pussy) Swain - Puss was born on May 26, 1927. How do I know that? Because his arrival at Saranac Lake General Hospital preceded my own by two days. (I might add that Al Levy preceded me by just two hours. Al turned out to be a renowned athletic doctor whom I’ll have a lot to say about later, along with his cardiologist younger brother, Artie,)

But back to Pussy Swain. I grew up with him and watched his intentional and steadfast development into a “hustler,” who loved every form of gambling and all the means of psychologically unnerving an opponent. We all spent much time in “the hole,” Sam Sherman’s den of iniquity. There was a lot of lower-level gambling going on in the form of nine ball and pill pool. It was intriguing to watch Puss in those games. He did much jingling of coins in his pocket while opponents were taking critical shots.

Around 1942, Pussy decided to try a new form of gambling, by starting a football parley (the first of its kind in dear old Saranac.) I came up with a name for it: THE SPORTING GESTURE, and Wally (Knob) Gay handicapped the teams. I guess there were about a dozen of them on the card. It only ran one week, and Pussy found out that running a parley was risky business. He would have gotten his clock cleaned if it were not for two fortuitous happenings:

Wally gave Villanova 35 points against Army, and the Cadets ended up winning 35 – 0 (a push.)The other thing was a pretty funny situation. Dew Drop, who was a cop on the Saranac Police Force at that time, had correctly picked a large number of winners, with the exception of one game: T.C.U. vs. Kansas. Now, remember that this was a time when news did NOT travel fast. I still recall one particularly funny scene on the Sunday morning after the Saturday games. There was Dew Drop, directing traffic in front of St. Bernard’s with Pussy Swain on the curb, trying to buy him out (before the result of the game in question came in.) Dew Drop steadfastly refused Puss’s buy-out, and it cost him money when the result finally came in. Who knows what might have happened if it had gone the other way? Pussy might have gone deeply in debt, paying off Dew Drop. It could have changed his entire life. He might have ended up being a priest or something.

One other event involving Puss Swain began in the pool room, when he got into an argument with George Garrant, who was actually a very cool cookie. As Puss got heated up, he challenged George to go out back, near the river and duke it out. George was in the middle of a pool match of his own, and he got Pussy in a real stew when, despite Puss’s goading to hurry up, he took his sweet time. Finally, George’s game ended and he calmly put his stick in the rack and said “Let’s go…”

All of the guys in the hole went out with them of course, and made a circle around the combatants. Pussy did a lot of fancy dancing around, but George was a trained boxer. It didn’t take much time before George got in a couple of wicked shots, and Pussy’s combative spirit vanished. It ended gracefully. George didn’t rub it in and I’m sure Pussy Swain learned an invaluable lesson about human relationships.

By the way, I’m sure many remember Pussy’s older brother, Bob (also known as “Boobie".)

This is the second article that mentions Phil Hammond. It also involves Richard Goodrich (I know that everyone called him “Dick” in later years. I just started out with “Richard” and never changed.)

ANYWAY…

In the early ‘40’s, we were all making model airplanes made of balsa wood (and stealing them, as you may recall.) The models were making were WWI planes, such as Fokkers, Spads, etc.

Richard was the master. He had inherited a lot of manual skills from his father, Fred. Toward the end of this period, Richard decided to make a bigger model, which used a tiny one-cylinder gasoline engine. He built this plane with much care and patience. At last it was ready for its maiden flight. He decided to attempt to have it take off from the ice in back of the Armory, where there was an extension of Lake Flower known as “the bay.”

This was a very safe place to ice skate, because there was no current flowing underneath the ice (as was the case in much of Lake Flower because it really is the Saranac River.)

So there we were, just about ready to start the engine, when Phil Hammond, who had been skating, spotted us from a distance and made a beeline for us across the ice. As he skidded to a stop, he said: “What’s up, guys?” The query was made just as he skidded into Richard’s new plane, and broke off a wing.

All I remember about what happened then was --- nothing. Richard was absolutely stunned, and may have shed a tear or two in extreme frustration.

Phil Hammond was really a good (do I dare to say “skate?”) and I believe that Richard just accepted it for what it was: an accident … And another memory!

* Richard’s Dad, Fred, was a funny guy. This was a time when most people were heating their houses with coal fires. But many were switching to oil-burning furnaces. I remember Fred’s saying that there was to be no more Ash Wednesday (pause) because The Pope had just put in an oil burner!

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DEERWOOD AND SHERWOOD KAINS
Deerwood was a woodsy private resort just before Saranac Inn. In the 40’s, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music took it over and ran a private summer music camp. The group, comprising a chorus and orchestra gave weekly concerts in the Harrietstown Townhall. This meant that they kept a beautiful, in-tune grand piano on hand there. At the time I was a clerk at Charley Greens, and I used to run over to the Town Hall at lunchtime, and play the piano while I consumed my regular lunch of three jelly doughnuts and quart of milk. I caught some of their concerts and they were excellent. At one of them, I was sitting right above the stage at the end of the balcony. The concert concluded with a big choir/orchestra piece, which ended forte with a dramatic break after which the whole ensemble came in a climactic final chord. Wouldn’t you know that one poor soul blatted out all by herself, and Sherwood came as close to apoplexy as any human being I have ever seen. One night during this period, when I was avidly trying to learn to like beer, despite my illegal age, a bunch of us drove up to Deerwood, which had a practice stand, complete with a piano just inside the front entrance. I stumbled out of the car (this was about midnight) and rattled off about 16 measures of very loud boogie-woogie. I never knew if anyone heard it, but we all laughed like hell! So I guess I can say that I gave a “concert” at Deerwood.

Speaking of Charley Green’s, he and his wife, ‘Nita (both of whom had charming British accents,) ran an old fashioned grocery store, which featured fine meats and a full array of gourmet foods. His brother-in-law, Ralph Hutchins presided over the meat department. These wee the days before self-service and we clerks would stand behind the counter and fetch items from various parts of the store, as the customers ordered them. This involved a great deal of running around. When the order was complete, the clerk would get an empty carton from the cellar, and pack it item by item, while the customer would write the prices as told on a paper bag. At the end, they would be added up for a total. Never wanting to be bored, I would add the numbers in my head, and dramatically wave my hand over the box-full of items and give a total. This mystified the customers, and they were even more astounded when I did the regular adding and came up with a total, which corresponded perfectly with the number which I had quoted with my wave of hand. Many other things happened that were memorable, but I’d like to cite one in particular. There were numerous affluent people in town and one of them was a Dr. Kinghorn, who had a ten-year-old boy, John, who was a veritable Little Lord Fountleroy. One day John came in and up to the counter. He told me that he wished to buy a five cent bag of peanuts, but solemnly asked me to charge it to his mother’s account because, “He didn’t want to break a dime.” You don’t forget lines like that! There will be more tie-ins to Charley Green’s to come.

Eugene (Gene) Christian was a classmate of mine. He lived on Dorsey Terrace and I used to go to his house and play the piano, which fascinated him. (By the way – I hate to think of how the LaPan Highway spoiled the “mystique” of Dorsey Terrace, which created the illusion that downtown was further than it really was. Both Gene and I had learned how to send flashing light Morse code while we were in the service. We found that out, when we came home after the war. I found that I could stand at the top of Helen Hill (just outside Maggie Seymour’s house, and send flashing light to him at his house at Dorsey Terrace. One the one time we actually did it, Miss Seymour came out of her house to say “hello” and find out what I was doing. I explained, and told her that I’d tell him (with the flashing light that she was there.) I sent him a message with the flashlight that she was there. He flashed back (and I spelled it out for her as he did) H O W I S T H E O L D B A T ? I never got beyond “old” as I spelled it out for her. It was pretty funny.

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MY FIRST MUSICAL STEPS IN SARANAC LAKE

Miss Loretto Leonard was my wonderfully talented - and beautiful - piano teacher for nine years. Some time ago, I made note of the "Miss" on her business cards, and all other written materials. She told me that her father had loved the name Loretto, and even after he discovered that the feminine spelling was Loretta, he still insisted on naming his daughter Loretto!

She was an extremely attractive young woman who had had the misfortune of contracting polio ("Infantile Paralysis" back then) as a young child, resulting in a shriveled leg and a limp.

Her piano teacher in Saranac lake had been Mrs. Simpson, who was acknowledged to be Saranac's finest. She had studied in Europe with a renowned concert pianist. This points out a factor that exists in every good teacher/student relationship: emulation. It's probably the most important and vital one.

When Loretto became my teacher, she had only recently graduated (with high honors) from the Eastman School of Music. My Ma and Pa heard about her, and made an appointment for the three of us to go to Loretto's studio (in her house) for an audition that was required for every prospective student. The memory of that occasion is vivid. She gave me all kinds of "musical ear" tests and checked my manual dexterity. At the end, she said: "I believe your son will make his living with music some day." I'll always remember those words!

Loretto was a stern taskmaster. She assigned me scales, arpeggios and pieces. At my lessons, she would have me run through them, and make notations in my assignment book. Next to the pieces in the book which I was to have practiced she would place a gold, silver or colored star sticker...or no sticker at all! When I'd get home, Ma would avidly look at the assignment book to see what I had received in the star department. (I must confess, at this late date...I occasionally did a bit of star re-sticking!) I had definite musical talent, but a kid is a kid and I had to be driven to practicing. Ma and I had many fights about this issue. One week she'd threaten, "That's it! You're through! No more lessons!" I would object to that decision... Next week, I'd scream: "I'm quitting!" She'd answer, "you're not quitting!" Sometimes, she'd lock me in the room with the piano. Fortunately, I usually had a SUPERMAN comic on hand, which I would place on the piano and read while I practiced a one-handed scale! Now, don't get me wrong. This didn't go on all the time!

She was always interested in my musical "discoveries". One time, for example I discovered that I could play the songs ONE DOZEN ROSES and I'VE GOT SPURS THAT JINGLE JANGLE JINGLE, with one song in the R.H. and the other in the L.H. When she heard it she smiled and taught me a new word: "counterpoint." I was playing the songs contrapuntally!

One of my most vivid and still frightening recollection is of the recitals. We had two or three of them a year. The early ones were in Loretto's studio. I still remember the paralyzing fright of having to walk up to the piano and play before those people, who sat there so solemnly. The true and ultimate occasion of terror was the annual spring recital (the "biggie") which was held in the grand ballroom of the palatial Hotel Saranac. I had a long time to wait for the end of the program and my turn, and I would even leave the building and walk around Saranac's streets, trying to assuage my monumental apprehension and fear. Somehow, the situation always turned out fine, and afforded my proud parents plenty of time to sit and beam and enjoy the compliment

Gradually, as my skills improved, I became one of Loretto's star students. My name was placed closer and closer toward the end of the program. I had a "flair" (her word) for playing some of the old warhorses, such as Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor with much finesse. To be honest, she had better student players than I was, but they did the harder stuff, such as Bach, which I could never handle. Bach is also less "commercial." Also, I should mention that during my lessons Loretto realized that I would learn pieces much faster if she played them for me (the ear factor.) I sometimes sensed that she was reluctant to do this, because I wasn't a very good music reader, and her playing pieces for me was a crutch. As a matter of fact (because of the dominance of my musical ears) to this very day, I am not a good music reader. But we're talking here about sightreading. This was to bedevil me throughout my professional life. I'll talk about this later, and its quite humorous aspects ("humorous, I might add, at my expense!

Loretto died several years ago at age 92. I want to mention one other aspect of her life, for it was to have a profound influence upon her dedication to her piano teaching. I believe that she only had one major love affair. She fell in love and became engaged to a dashingly handsome young music teacher and band director in town. She was radiantly happy and he came once to an annual swimming party that she had for us students. Then, he fell in love with somebody else, and here's the rough part: He not only broke the engagement. He asked for the engagement ring back AND HE GAVE IT TO HIS NEW BRIDE-TO-BE. That's not all. They were married on the very same day he was to have married Loretto! To say that this guy was a total -------! (you fill in) is not an exaggeration. This had a profound effect on my dear teacher, and to my knowledge, she never dated again. From that point on, she re-dedicated her efforts to her students and further studies (At Juilliard, Diller-Quaile and the Cincinnati Conservatory.) She stayed her entire life in the family home, land, and died in the bed in which she was born. Over the years, I saw her many times. I loved her deeply.

For whatever I have managed to achieve in my musical life, I am deeply indebted to Loretto Leonard.

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POTATO PICKIN'

I never cared much for school, except for the opportunities it provided for imaginative mischievousness and trickery. I was bored by most of my classes. Thus any opportunity to escape going to school seemed heaven-sent.

Early in my high school years I learned that during the fall it was possible to get time off during potato-picking season in the fall season. All that was required was a note from one’s mother authorizing the student to go over near Gabriels, N.Y. to work on the Hobart truck farm. I can’t quite remember the sequence of things, but I seem to recall that they let me out one day to pick potatoes with some other kids at Hobart’s. I believe I had forgotten to bring the note from home, but they let me go anyway, with the understanding that I’d bring one later.

I only lasted one day. During that day I got an inkling of what slave labor was. (Poor migrant workers do that every working day of their lives.) We were required to walk along, dragging a burlap bag into which we would throw the loose potatoes. It was back-breaking work as the bag got heavier and heavier. When at last a bag was full, it was left for someone else to pick it up. It seems to me that I did about sixteen bags during that one day. For that I was paid the total sum of eighty cents…in other words, a nickel a bag. My body ached and school suddenly didn’t seem quite so bad.

But I still had the obligation of bringing the note from Ma. She wrote one for me, and I brought it to the main office of the school. The school secretary glanced at it and, to my surprise, she ushered me into the office of school superintendent H.V. Littell (known to one and all as "Prof. Littell.") I didn’t realize it then, but he was getting well along in years. I guess his powers of comprehension were waning, because he studied the note for a moment and then pulled a sheet of paper out of a desk drawer and wrote a brief note, which he folded and handed to me.

I couldn’t imagine what he had written, but I thanked him and walked out of the office with the folded note in my hand. Once out, I raced to the boys’ room to examine its contents. When I read it I was dumbfounded! Prof. H.V. Littell had written: "Philip Klein is excused from attending school for a period of one week to pick potatoes."

This was staggering information. It meant that I could legitimately stay away from school for a full week! I had no intention of picking potatoes. I could just do anything I wanted, and nobody would miss me at the school. I could leave home in the morning, and be as free as a bird…for a full week!

But my euphoria was short-lived. As I contemplated the coming week of freedom I began to wonder about how I could spend this wonderful free time. The more I thought about it, the worse it got. Saranac Lake is a small town. Where would I go? I couldn’t hang around downtown. Everybody knew everybody! How could I explain why I wasn’t in school? I couldn’t say I was off to pick potatoes when I was hanging around. What to do?

I decided I’d have to get out of town…to hit the road. I, even as a boy, had done much hitchhiking. Back in those days, hitchhiking was an accepted means of transportation. Nobody really worried about the possibility of being robbed, or hit on the head, molested, or any of that stuff. Once in a while you might get picked up by somebody who was pretty drunk, or driving like a maniac. In those cases, I always remembered that I had an aunt in the next town, and I should really stop and say "hello."

But there was another factor. Most of the time, I would hitchhike with a pal. It was nice to have company, and you could talk about a lot of things – like girls – while you were waiting to be picked up.

In this case, I would have no company. I would set off for places such as Lake Placid, Tupper Lake or even Malone. But then, what the hell would I do when I got there?

Well, it turned out to be even worse then I had imagined! I became so paranoid that I imagined that every approaching car might be someone I knew or – God forbid – even the truant officer, Stu Parks. My imagination intensified my fear; I even took to hiding in culverts and ditches.

To sum up, my five days of "liberty" were wretched. When the weekend at last arrived, I felt relief that was nearly heavenly.

And you know what? I could hardly wait to get back to school on Monday. Nobody had known anything; life had gone on and I was safe once more in the arms of my now not-so-bad, boring routine.

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BUMPER RIDE

In the winter of 1944 there weren’t many young men left in Saranac Lake. Those of us who were old enough to enlist (17) were still trying to make up our minds what to do. There was a small group of us that were hanging around downtown, not doing much more than sitting around corners talking and making periodic visits to the Minute Lunch for coffee or to shoot the breeze with Harry and Bill.

One night, three of us offered to do a bunch of dirty dishes out in the back for free cheeseburgers. Harry and Bill were sports, and agreed. The three of us, myself, Wally Gay and one other guy – can’t remember who - went out back and attacked the dirty dishes and silverware.

Even the act of doing dishes turned on my imagination. I supposed that all of the dishes and utensils would be much more sanitary if I dumped in a little Clorox bleach, along with the soap. It didn’t take long for us to realize with horror that all of the silverware had turned black from the contact with the bleach. And there was a lot of it. We told Harry what had happened. He was not dancing with joy. He produced a big jar of Gorham’s silver polish and directed us to remove all of the black. This was the 1944 equivalent of Hercules’ task of cleaning the Augean stables. It was almost a hopeless task. Each piece required what seemed like endless rubbing before the black was gone. My two pals were furious with me, but had to share the responsibility for the debacle with me. In terms of barter, those were the most expensive cheeseburgers we ever had. On top of that, we were totally whipped and went home early.

Without any doubt, another incident which occurred during that winter was the scariest experience of my entire life. Most of the cars of this period had bumpers and spare tires mounted on their rears. There was a lot of snow, and a few of us started a new evening activity at night: jumping up on the rear bumpers of the cars as they went around corners, and hanging on to the spare tire for support. We’d ride from one end of town to the other, and jump off as the car turned a corner. Most of the drivers were driving quite slowly, because the roads were slippery.

One particularly slushy night, I was doing a little bumper-jumping with a pal, Wallace (Baldy) Baldwin. We jumped on the bumper of a big Packard as it turned the corner of Bloomingdale Ave. at the St. Regis Hotel. Bloomingdale Ave. is a fairly long street, and it runs out of Saranac and puts you on the road to the hamlet of (what else?) Bloomingdale. As it leaves town, the road veers to the left and heads out along the shore of the Saranac River. Just before you’re on the road to Bloomingdale, there is a sharp right turn on Pine St., which keeps you in the village.

WELL! This car had a single occupant, the driver. We no sooner were on his rear bumpers when he started to accelerate. He kept on going faster and faster, and Baldy yelled to me, "If he heads out the Bloomingdale Road, I’m jumping at Pine St!" The guy did turn out the Bloomingdale and Baldy did jump at Pine St. And there I was, all by myself on a dark and wet night on a guy’s bumper who was acting as if he wanted to set a new speed record.

As the car accelerated, my parka started fluttering wildly. I was hanging on to the spare tire for dear life. The road undulates and curves as it follows the river. My first thought was to ride out the five miles to Bloomingdale, but I was starting to panic.

Then I had an idea.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out a coin, and started tapping it noisily and rapidly on the rear window. I could see the driver’s silhouette, and he was plainly panicking! His head was rapidly turning back and forth and he began to slow down. He must have been going around 60 when he started to decelerate. Thus, when we got down to around 15 or so, I jumped. I tumbled head over heels in the wetness and slush, but was uninjured. The car stopped, and the driver jumped out with a flashlight in his hand, but he never saw me. I had jumped into the ditch and run up into the woods. So I have to believe he never really had any idea of what had happened.

I managed to get back into town; it was probably a 1 to 2 mile walk. It was the end of my bumper-jumping career, and my idiocy had almost cost me my life.

I have often thought about that driver. He must have gone to his grave wondering what possibly could have been making the noise that scared him half out of his wits and made him stop on the Bloomingdale road on that cold, slushy night.

Who knows…he may have considered it some kind of a supernatural phenomenon! He must have told his eerie story over and over. I have certainly related this tale of my utter stupidity over and over and never do it without realizing - once more - how lucky I am to be alive to tell it.

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THE POOL HALL DAYS

When I was growing up in Saranac Lake there was a poolroom which was frequented by one and all, affectionately known as "The Hole". It was located on Broadway, on the hill, right across from the Pontiac Theater, Saranac’s only movie house. Doubtlessly it got its name from the fact that one would open the door, and immediately begin a descent down a stairway with the enchanting aroma of tobacco smoke, old and new, ready to titillate anticipations of various evil activities. I know that description sounds quaint in this day and age, but the hole did indeed various temptations, unavailable elsewhere. It was owned and presided over by Sam Sherman, a stocky man of medium height, who had lost most of his hair.

Sam was a dyed-in-the-wool gambler, who spent most of his waking hours participating in various gambling activities. Sam sold Treasury balance tickets, forerunners of today’s lotteries. Each ticket had five digits, and the game was to match your number with the last five digits of everyday’s U.S. Treasury balance, which was published in the daily paper as a "civic service." Sam also was a bookie, and would take bets on just about everything, especially horse races. In his spare time, when he wasn’t minding the store (the hole) Sam played cards for money with his pals in a room off the arcade of the Hotel Saranac.

There was a showcase in the hole with an aisle behind it. At the end of the aisle was the cash register, and an armchair next to a radio, where Sam reposed.

In the case, in addition to candy and cigarettes, Sam had (not in plain sight) certain items "for men." Don’t forget, these were times when a guy could waste a lot of money in a drugstore on useless items such as combs, gum and nail files, trying to get up enough nerve to buy condoms. This was especially so when a female clerk might suddenly appear to serve you.

Needless to say, in addition to the regular pool games (rotation, straight and 8 ball) there was a lot of gambling pool games going on, such as 9 ball and pill pool.

Theoretically, one was supposed to be at least 18 years old to come into the pool room. What really mattered to Sam was how old you looked. Some guys were in there at 14, but they were also shaving. I didn’t start shaving until late, and I was always skinny. Sam kicked me out a few times, and finally accepted me when I was around 16. At that time, the police were giving him no problems about the ages of his clients. Trouble was to occur, which I’ll tell you about later.

Sam never drove a car. He was chauffeured around by his wife, Fran, who was a very big woman. Fran would drop down to have a word with Sam occasionally. Whenever that happened, Sam was very anxious that none of the clients would use foul language in her presence. I can still remember those times when she was there and someone would utter something as vile as "hell" or "shit." Sam would scream in a loud voice, "Fellows….please!!" (Keep that in mind for later…)

I have to say that Sam was really a good guy. He liked me a lot and was fascinated with the development of my musical career. The year that I got discharged from the Navy – 1946, after the big war was over - there were a lot of guys hanging around drawing their 52-20’s (Twenty bucks a week for a year) and enjoying their freedom. At the time, Sam only had the hole open at night. I persuaded him to let me open it in the daytime, which he did, giving me 1/3 of the take plus free pool.

I want to wrap this up with a tale of what proved to be Sam’s downfall in the hole. One night, when he was shutting down, two kids hid in a closet at the foot of the stairs and robbed Sam of fifty bucks after he left. Sam then made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. In his rage, he called in the State Police. They caught the two kids, who ended up in reform school. BUT the State Police also nailed him for letting in under-aged patrons, and this virtually destroyed his business.

The reason I am mentioning this was that a couple of years after that debacle, my pal Richard Goodrich and I were hitching over to Placid and along came Sam being driven by his wife. They picked us up and we proceeded about a mile, when we noticed a lone hitchhiker ahead. It was one of the kids who had robbed Sam…now out of the slammer! Sam’s wife said, "Shall I pick him up?" And Sam screamed the greatest sequence of obscenities that I have ever heard in my life: "NO! THAT !@#$%^&*()!! NO!" Believe me, he left nothing out.

And I thought, "Fellows…Please!!" But I loved Sam, and they were great days.

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ED DUPREY - MR. MOTORCYCLE

If you lived in Saranac during any of the time when Ed Duprey, Saranac’s only motorcycle cop (as far as I know) was keeping us all safe, you can’t forget him! I’m not sure what it was… the way he sat in the saddle with his ramrod-like posture; the awesome roar of his bike; his ability to lead a parade in a manner which bestowed utter majesty on the event; and not least of all, his intimidating facial expression, which featured tight-lipped grimness. All of this, plus a rapid-fire style of speaking that commanded respectful attention!

He took his job and his motorcycling VERY SERIOUSLY.

Thus it was one day, in the early 40’s (when Freddie Carter and I were in our young teens) that he and I were strolling down upper Broadway’s sidewalk by the firehouse, when Ed came roaring toward downtown. As he was about to pass us, we were inspired to shout on a 1..2..3.. "HEIGH-HO SILVER!" Ed looked around and, to our astonishment made a U-turn by the Potter Block and started back towards us.

He pulled right up next to us (were standing there white-faced (and I don’t mean the mountain,) leaned over and said through those clenched teeth: "Listen, you little sons-of-bitches, if you ever do that again, I’ll run you in so fast it will make your heads swim! And if I don’t, I’LL KISS YOUR ASSES THREE TIMES ON BERKELY SQUARE ON A SATURDAY NIGHT!!"

We didn’t know whether to laugh of cry… so we laughed.(after he roared away.)