Two broken legs, two brass balls

While a teen living at 3607 Baring St. in Philly’s Powelton Village, I had a lovely, frisky kitten. I couldn’t find it one day and worried myself sick. Finally I uncovered it rolled up in my bedding, unable to get loose. It had broken both front legs.

I knew it liked to skitter up the ailanthus tree out back and I’d seen it leap, at least once, head downward. I’m sure that practice had been the cause of its fractures.

In those days, the Penn vet school held an open clinic on Saturday mornings where it treated small animals for $2. Lots of institutions then believed in providing service (pretty much all I can say in praise of the ’50s, except for its diners and little motels). Setting the kitten’s legs didn’t take much time or effort: two tongue depressors, a wrap of gauze and tape, and a few weeks to heal.

The kitten adapted without missing a beat. It tap-tapped full speed around our first-floor apartment and across the concrete out back (but not up the ailanthus). When I returned to the clinic to have the “casts” removed, I expected a tentative relearning of the complications of walking. Not a bit. As soon as it hit the floor it was tear-assing around like the day before its tumble.

What became of that kitten later? Did it live a happy, extended life? Did I have to give it away? I can’t even recall its name. I hate losing that continuity of memory.

We lived on the first floor then, while the owners, Hillary and Gertrude, for some reason lived upstairs. Especially strange because Hil devoted most of his spare time to creating a radiant garden in the small strips available out front and alongside the concrete driveway (one of the few such driveways in Powelton).

My bedroom was in the front, facing onto Hil’s strip garden of salvia and other slim flowers. The room was probably the front half of the original parlor, graced by seven-foot-high windows. I could enter directly from a side door in the vestibule, pushing through what we’d made into a shallow closet. 

I loved that room at a time when I didn’t find much else in life to love (though I did have a mad crush on Dorothy Collins, the virginal singer on TV’s “Your Hit Parade”). I’d spend homework breaks banging a ping-pong ball against the wall, using an old sandal as paddle. Since the walls harbored sconces, doorways and those seven-foot windows, the carom was wholly unpredictable. I got pretty good at anticipating random rebound.

The kitchen and rear entryway were wainscoted in knotty pine that dead-ended half way up the wall, with no molding to finish it off. Down in the basement, I sawed four-inch-wide shelves with rounded corners that I stained to match the fluted boards and then nailed along their tops. Looked OK – friendly, like some of those little motels. The Minwax stain I used (Ipswich Pine) had an enticing odor. It’s my default wood stain to this day.

For a short time we had an Old English sheepdog, Brandy, an endearing beast who would back his rump up to the couch and watch TV with us. OE sheepdogs have long, curly hair everywhere. We had to trim around his eyes so he could see where he was going, and when I took him out for his daily crap, I used hair clips to divert strands from the neighborhood of his anus.

Brandy got distemper and died by his water bowl after a week of misery. We should have had the sense and compassion to have him put down sooner. Rod lifted the rigidifying body into the trunk of his car to take it in for cremation.

The 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings were held around the end of the school year, and I watched hour after hour of them, fascinated. Nearly all the personalities were bigger than life, unlike most pipsqueak, sound-bite politicians of recent years. Only Trump can match them in brazen disdain for reason and decency. 

(An update for the younger set: Sen. Joe McCarthy form Wisconsin was the central figure in the ruinous anti-Communist crusade of the early ’50s. Senate hearings dealing with accusations and counter-accusations between the Army and McCarthy became the first daytime political media event, with gavel-to-gavel coverage – pretty unimaginable on later network TV.

McCarthy had been mostly a distant noise on the news up till then, with the coverage confined to newspapers and radio, but those live hearings were his Armageddon. He came across as a smug, crude, bullying, half-crazed lout. It was all downhill for him from there. Score one for TV.

By then, Rod and Vic were both married and working for Sun Oil, Vic on the ships, Rod in research and development. Both spent their careers with Sun. Dad was a contract inspector for the Navy, working, as he had years earlier, in Upper Darby.

Sydney Boyle, the sister of Peter (Young Frankenstein), lived next door with her East Indian husband, whose name I can’t recall. The Boyles’ father was a local kids’-show personality, Chuckwagon Pete.

I have no idea why this couple spent time talking to me, a weird introvert teen. Both were funny as hell. Here’s my favorite limerick, which the husband whispered in my ear:

There was a young man of Madras

Whose balls were both made of brass.

In windy weather

They clanked together

And sparks came out of his ass.

From 3607 Baring, I often walked the mile and a half to my all-boys Catholic high school (we couldn’t afford the trolley on a regular basis), along Lancaster Ave., which angled northwest through the otherwise rigid gridwork of Philly’s residential layout.

The once prosperous Jewish business district between 40th and 44th Sts. on Lancaster  Ave. was in its death rattle, squeezed by a surrounding Black slum. Around the year 1900, that stretch of Lancaster Ave. had been the center of a poor black area with a great deal of vigor. The wheel of fate?

A distribution plant for Phillies Cigars – once a leading national brand – retained lovely stained glass transoms, and half-block-long stores still sold paints, wallpaper, and appliances in a sad, afterthoughtish way. During my high-school perambulating years (1953-57), into the fading storefronts moved used-furniture outfits, tiny takeout joints, and the redolently named seafood store, Porgy and Bass. Treegoob’s upscale furniture store (shortened from the immigrant Treegoobovich), a fixture for decades, lasted into the ’60s. 

I wonder what’s left now? But I don’t think I want to visit.

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