we stopped there every time we rode our bikes past on the way to the beach or the harbor. north shore outdoor recreation center & school of skindiving was a shop downtown east northport, a couple blocks from the railroad tracks and across the street from the old auto parts store. our high school biology teacher jim owned it and we’d stop in and visit, looking around at gear and flirting with the just-slightly-older-than-us-guys who worked there.
when i was 17 i started working there after school and on weekends. i’d do office work, the newsletter, and sell scuba, archery and other outdoor-related sporting equipment. the fill tank, a pool of water in which oxygen tanks are immersed in order to fill them for use while diving, was just outside the office and i can’t tell you how many times i ended up sitting in it. until i got smart and carried extra clothes to work with me in the car, i had to drive home to change, sopping wet and glorying in it. i was the only girl there and these boys were brutal teasers.
the basement of the shop was formidable, dungeon-like; at the top of the stairs were a sliding chain lock and the light switch. the gestetner machine (a copy machine that invariably spewed purple stuff all over you during use) was in that basement which meant i spent some good time down there wrangling this obstinate office contraption. from way down in the depths of this concrete cavern, i could hear the chain sliding and the click of the light switch, leaving me in the dark to feel my way back up the steps and stand at the door, pounding to be released from yet another prank. yes, brutal stuff.
crunch was in charge which left jimmy and ollie and i under his thumb. much more a rule-follower, crunch was a task-master and was the one who turned down the blasting stereo of ‘heart’ singing ‘barracuda’ in the workroom. he wagged his fingers at us to sweep or organize regulators, but he was right-in-there, shortchanging me with the growing-boy deli orders they sent me on, leaving notes on my little vw about town-noon-whistle-blowing-timeliness, not setting me free from the front sidewalk window when i, during christmas-eve-day last-minute-shopping-hours, dressed as an elf and, coerced to fix something in our christmas display, was locked in, forcing me to grin and bear it and stand with plastic-santa, waving at people walking by and the crowd that gathered at the auto parts store. but we all did good work together, the dives were organized, people had the right gear and the shop was a place customers loved to come and linger in.
an older italian couple lived above the shop and luigi was not as loud as his wife. without the benefit of air conditioning, the windows and lack of thick insulation in the walls made it easy for us to hear her rapid-fire italian admonishments of her husband, always punctuated by a shrill “luigi!” in our first-hand innocence of marriage-challenges we’d voice, “poor luigi.” i don’t think i ever knew his wife’s name. i wonder about their lives. where did they go? their rows weren’t nearly as loud as ‘barracuda’ or the sounds of boisterous laughter coming from the back storage/workroom of the shop. they were simply a part of the story, a part of the history of that place, a sound-artifact i can still hear.
during one of his college classes, crunch, who ended up one of my very best friends, for a psych class project, decided to glue a a few coins onto the sidewalk out front and hide in the tent displayed in the front window, capturing passersby reactions to money-for-free. they always went for the quarter and it was predictable how earnestly they would try to pry this off this sidewalk, invariably stopping to rub at their fingertips, digging in backpacks or purses for pens or keys to pry with. nevertheless, the superglue held and the coins remained on the sidewalk for a long time to come. i don’t know when they finally disappeared.
for those of us who actually think coins count as money, it’s natural to stop and pick up coins when you see them, the whole find-a-penny-pick-it-up-thing. the little jar at home fills up and is, surprisingly, a good sum of money when it’s up to the tippy-top. so when we passed the two pennies in the UPS parking lot, david bent down to pick them up. one heads-up, one tails-up. i immediately yelled, “no! don’t touch them!” it was the very beginning of the pandemic and touching ANYthing without sanitizer nearby was a formidable act. it was too late; david had picked them up. so he brought them over to the sidewalk by the UPS store and laid them on the window ledge. i wonder if they are still there.
the quarter was on the trail when we were hiking last week. it made me stop; it’s a quarter, after all! i looked at david, pondered, then shrugged, and, against every reflex, left it there and hiked on. the not-picking-up-free-money-guilt set in but not enough to break the don’t-touch-it-pandemic-rule. i wonder if it is still there.
in this time of so-much-change and the use of so-much-technology, i find myself thinking of those times, over four decades ago now, when things seemed simpler. coins counted, ink-laden-copy-machines slowed us down. i think about the relics that were left behind.
and i wonder, forty years from now, when i am 101, what will those relics from this time, this time of pandemic sweeping our world, look like? what will they be?