Drooling on the Pillow

Friday, August 05, 2005

Joe, The Seltzer Guy 

I've read with interest the accounts of Jim, at Parkway Rest Stop and also at Down The Shore about retail practices in the days of yore when the vegetable guy and and the fruit guy and the ice guy and the rag guy would drive around the neighborhood in a truck, bringing his wares to you.

While I can't claim to have dealt with horse-drawn vendors or traded sea shells for turnips, I do remember the death of another time-honored delivery service.

I was living in Washington Heights in the early '80s. It wasn't a very good time for me, but I did have a great apartment for a ridiculous rent. And I had Joe, my seltzer delivery guy. I was turned on to Joe by Joel, a friend whose family had been using Joe for decades. Joel later married a beautiful Irish girl who didn't like my lack of enthusiasm for the IRA and we lost touch years ago. Another story.

Every week Joe would leave a rack of twelve old time seltzer bottles at my door and pick up my empties. Joe was old and crabby and, though I lived on the second floor of an elevator building, would spend ten minutes trying to make me feel guilty about how tired he was if I happened to see him delivering. I think it was just his way of taking a break. He had an Dominican assistant on the truck who would sometimes make the delivery. I don't remember his name, but he was much more personable. Friendly, happy guy, but if I tried to make a joke about what a sourpuss Joe was he wouldn't have it. Joe was a great man to this guy. I tried to talk to Joe to find out what was so great about him, but he was only interested in complaining.

I believe the weekly delivery cost me about five bucks or so. Only once during the two or three years I took the delivery did I use the seltzer bottle to squirt someone.

One week they didn't show up. I called the office but the line was disconnected. Eventually, the cat lady across the hall, who also used Joe, told me they went out of business. I called around, but couldn't find anyone else and I even went to talk to a local rabbi who told me nobody provided that service anymore. I started to buy my seltzer in plastic bottles, but, of course, that's just not the same.

Turns out the rabbi was wrong. According to this NPR Radio Diary, there are still a handful left. I bet they'll set you back more than five bucks, though.

I have just one more entry into this particular trip down memory lane.

When I was a little guy I had two jobs. One was to clean out the coal furnace every Sunday after church and the other was to wait out front with a bag full of knives for the sharpening guy every Saturday morning.

He had a tiny little black truck that was loaded with steels and stones and grinders. A tall stool hung of the back and when he stopped he put the stool down in the street and folded down a little work bench with various clamps from the back of the truck, grabbed the bag and went to work. Two bits per knife, four for scissors and a buck for pinking shears or garden tools. He was a dark little guy with a Chico Marx hat and I have the impression that he was Turkish, but I can't be sure of that.

Come to think of it, he was pretty crabby, too. No wonder this form of retail died out.
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