Pomonok and Making a Living
It’s only a pencil, but it unleashes a flood of memories. We had dozens of them in my Pomonok apartment. My father took them home from work and kept them in cigar boxes in his meticulously arranged hall closet. As kids, we never wanted for pencils.
My father worked as a clerk for Saltser and Weinsier, a Brooklyn based plumbing and heating supply company founded around 1920. Not only did he bring home pencils, he brought home lined order pads, date stampers, staples and staplers, and every plumbing and heating gadget Saltser and Weinsier had in stock. My father stored all the stuff he liberated from Saltser and Weinsier in the hall closet, which was his alone and required his permission to access. He had every size washer imaginable. He had different styles of faucets and faucet handles. He had aerators made by all the major plumbing companies. He even had one of those long metal snakes that professionals use to unclog drainage pipes. We never had to call the Pomonok maintenance men when our toilet got stuffed up.
Some of my fondest memories were when my father took me to work with him. He often had to work Saturday mornings and he would take me along, first on the bus into Jamaica and then on the el train that ran into Brooklyn. I loved the train ride, being high above the streets, passing apartment building windows and rooftops. For some reason, I would dream of that ride often.
Finally at work, we’d enter his office, part of a row of attached low brick buildings that took up nearly an entire block. My father would sit me down at a huge metal desk with a typewriter and both he and I would get to work. I had no clue what he was doing, but I was deeply involved in using carbon paper to make as many legible copies as I could. When I got bored with that I’d fill in the Saltser and Weinsier order pads with imaginary supplies and prices or just draw on the back. Sometimes I’d sneak into the back room and wander among the long dusty shelves filled with plumbing supplies.
This was a real work place in the real world and it held great importance in my mind. It felt like a privilege for me, just a little kid, to be there, to be part of my father’s world, the adult world, the important business of buying and selling vital merchandise.
Around noon, we’d leave, but instead of going directly back to the train, we’d stop in a candy store. The aroma inside that store was unforgettable because it was filled with boxes of cigars. It was only when I got older that I learned that the candy store was owned by a bookie and that’s where my father made his bets on horses and football games.
All throughout his employment as a clerk, my father attended Brooklyn College at night. He was a WW II veteran and, like so many other vets, his college costs were paid for by the GI Bill. In the late sixties he finally graduated and got a job teaching math with the NYC Board of Ed.
Then, instead of strainers and toilet bowl seats, my father started bringing home tons of school supplies, especially paper. I never understood how he managed to carry all that paper out of his school. We always had reams of blank letter size paper, legal size paper, lined looseleaf paper, and yellow pads of all sizes. He also collected rulers for some reason. I still have a slew of ancient wooden NYC Board of Ed rulers that I use to mix paint. It never crossed my mind that my father was stealing stuff. I just assumed that it was a perk of being a teacher.
Ironically, I became a NYC school teacher too, and I ended up repaying the Board of Education many times over for my father’s sins. I was forced to spend my own money year after year on school supplies that my school couldn’t afford.
There’s a segment in the film “Pomonok Dreams” where residents reminisce about what their parents did for a living. The point is that they did whatever they could to make a better life for their kids, whether it be driving a cab or working overtime as a clerk in a plumbing supply house. These were people who were first or second generation immigrants who lived during the Great Depression. To have a job, any decent job, was a blessing.