The Sounds of the Street by Octo G. Enario
“I grew up on a farm. You wanna talk about hard work?” said one gym-rat. “I’m from L.A., and we were married to our cars from the age of 16. I almost lost the use of my legs. Ha, Ha, Ha,” countered a well-tanned senior. “Hey, Brooklyn, I bet all you saw was cement and muggers,” came an anonymous comment from a grunting power-lifter (20 pounds), causing ripples of guffaws. I smiled and nodded, letting the ribbing go unanswered as I continued torturing my lats. But my thoughts wandered nostalgically to memories of my little world on East 2nd Street:
Clip clop, clip clop…So loud, and it’s too early…before dawn. Gosh, it must be that extra large dog…or whatever that creature is…that wakes me up every day at about this time. Yes, it is…and it’s pulling that big Sheffield Milk delivery wagon. Must it always come this early? I sure am glad the humans don’t make me do such heavy pulling. There he is, the milkman, walking alongside with his noisy metal basket full of clanking milk bottles. That big dog is pretty smart. He knows where the Sheffield customers’ houses are and stops automatically to allow the milkman to run up to the house to deliver his fresh milk. They make a good team. Too bad they’re so noisy. Thank goodness, as they make their way up East 2nd Street, the noise drifts away…and so do I…back to sleep….zzzzz
Hey, what was it that woke me this time?!? Oh, it’s those two bakery delivery vans that motor down the street each morning. They work for fierce competitors, Krug’s and Dugan’s. When they enter the street, usually from different directions, it’s like an old Western shootout between gunslingers. They pass each other on the street, exchanging sinister stares, revving their motors in challenge. Now that WWII is history, they have plenty of gasoline for what used to be called non-essential home deliveries. What a variety of fresh baked goods they have in their large baskets…and they take them right up to the front doors of the houses. Now, the older female humans (sometimes called ladies, women, or mothers, I understand) — still in housecoats and curlers — pop their heads out and make their selections for the day. No money passes hands because the week’s total is collected on Saturday. Soon the pack (or families) will feast on the purchases for breakfast. What service these humans enjoy! I notice that the house across the street from me is a Krug’s customer, and I know why. It’s the influence of that chunky little male human, Octini. He knows that Krug’s offers its customers a free comic book about the exploits of its hero, Peter Wheat, and Octini lobbies his parents to buy from Krug’s and not Dugan’s. His lobbying pays off.
Oh, well, I might as well get up…the mid-morning parade is starting. First, the vegetable man drives up, parks in the middle of the street, and announces his arrival with a great bellow. Out comes the trickle of homemakers with purses in hand. They queue up as they look over the fruits and vegetables displayed on the open-sided truck. “How’s the fruit today, George?” is the unvarying query. As always, George answers, “Good, good!” Never has he admitted to any lesser evaluation. I notice that the ladies take this time to chit chat as they wait on line…a little social break from the drudgery of homemaking. I can relate to socializing…I too romp with my friends on the block when the opportunity arises.
The parade continues with a variety of peddlers with pushcarts. They don’t stop and park but noisily amble down the street awaiting residents to stop them and make their purchases. There’s the hot pretzel pushcart; there’s one selling steamy, freshly roasted peanuts; another is selling ice cream. Each cart has its own distinctive bell, shout, or whistle to signify its arrival. The humans live well on this block. Too bad they have to be so noisy about it.
As the day goes on (and I try to snooze), the merry-go-round on a cart pulled by another extra large dog (still not sure what he is) arrives and parks curbside. The driver cranks up his hand-driven calliope, again interrupting my dreams (darn humans). The familiar music entices all the small humans (sometimes called kids or children)…here they come…rushing out to get on the ride. Each one pays and is strapped onto what they call a “wooden pony” (hey, it looks sorta like that large dog), and the driver closes the gate and starts hand-cranking the ride. Now the next wave of older male humans (also known as boys) rushes out and lines up behind the driver, awaiting their turn for the “privilege” of cranking. The driver turns over the crank to the eagerly awaiting boys, and each one takes a turn for a minute or two. That driver must have read those Tom Sawyer stories that I heard little Octini talking about. After relaxing through two or three sessions, the guy packs up, and I listen as the cart goes clopping away.
There is a transition going on in the neighborhood. The humans are replacing their kitchen iceboxes with electric refrigerators, and they are heating their houses with oil instead of coal. This has doubled the amount of street traffic. While I find this irksome because my naps are interrupted more frequently, the kids seem to delight in all the delivery activity.
Now the iceman is chopping his masses of frozen water into icebox-size blocks, while the kids watch attentively in anticipation of his departure into a kitchen. As soon as he is out of sight, they jump up on the wagon and search for nuggets of ice that have fallen from his sculpting. These little humans seem to love the taste of these morsels, as they walk away sucking on them contentedly. I licked up a drop from under the wagon, and frankly, I don’t get the attraction.
Here comes the coal truck…no napping for me now. The coal deliverymen roll out their giant wooden coal barrels and fill them from chutes on the sides of the truck. The clatter is deafening. Then the ballet begins. These big, burly men tilt these full barrels slightly, then dexterously roll them 30 or 40 feet to the side of the house, then noisily dump the coal down a metal chute into the basement. The final act concludes with each man rolling two empty barrels at the same time, one guided with each hand. The brawny, barrel-chested men look down haughtily at the fascinated youngsters, who are enthralled by the ballet-like performance.
Those homes that have converted to oil heat get deliveries from tankers, which are a lot less noisy than the coal trucks. I prefer them because they rarely awaken me. On the other hand, the children have only passing interest in the oil delivery operation…probably because it’s silent, and there is no strange ballet involved. They drift away bored after only a few minutes…maybe now I can drift off again, too.
Oh, man (yawn)! One delivery vehicle after another interrupts my nap. The irregular convoy includes the umbrella/knife-sharpening truck with its piercing announcement bell, the strolling violinist playing classical music in hopes of tips, and the seasonal melon man singing “Wa-da-me-lown…” He’s from Naples and sings the word with a cry in his voice and accents the last syllable of the word pronouncing it “own.” Of course, now all the children begin imitating him, shrilly yelling, “Wadamelown,” but not nearly so melodically. Sure, they are reveling in the game, but I can’t sleep!
It’s already afternoon, and the kids are enjoying the “industrial strength” vehicles. The city water truck drives down the center of the street, spraying its cleansing water out both sides. The bigger kids run on both sides of the oncoming truck and attempt to jump over the spewing spray without getting wet. Successful jumpers are applauded, and the others merely get very wet. The garbage collection trucks follow with their loud engines, noisy truck escalators, and the metal garbage cans clanking. The children follow along down the street, never tiring of this show.
The young ones eagerly await autumn, when the city carts away the fallen leaves in large, open-topped dump trucks. Getting the piles of leaves into the truck is a magical operation that attracts all the children. One man drives an odd-looking vehicle with a plow in front, embedded with two rotating metal arms. City workers shovel the leaves onto the plow, and the rotating arms gather the leaves to the center, where they are escalated up and into the waiting dump truck. The kids’ attention moves from the workers, to the plow, to the rotating arms, and up the escalator. What a show! Unfortunately, a noisy one.
The least interesting vehicles for the children (but my favorites) come just twice a week. They are very pretty trucks, always with shiny fresh paint jobs — mostly green, with bright red wooden spokes on the wheels. Very eye catching! The big sign on the side of each truck has a mother holding a baby wearing a spanking clean white diaper. I have heard my female master read out the words as “Pilgrim Laundry.” I hear that they run on something called electricity. The children have zero interest in these trucks because they make no noise — the very reason that I favor them — they don’t interfere with my naps. The mothers welcome the uniformed drivers, who run up each stoop delivering freshly laundered diapers, then down again carrying bags of soiled nappies (as my British bulldog friend would say). I could have used such service when I was rearing my own seven pups.
On Wednesdays and Fridays, Charlie the fish man stops his truck halfway down the street and sets up business. He raises the cover on his fresh fish, laid out on a bed of ice, and yells, “Fisheeya” a few times at the top of his lungs. He exaggerates and stresses the last syllable, “ya.” While all the kids are imitating Charlie, chanting “fisheeya, fisheeya…” the housewives drop everything they are doing and walk trancelike toward the fish truck. It looks like a scene from the movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” that my young master likes to watch. Brooklyn homemakers respond immediately to a vender’s arrival announcement. After all, provisioning their families is a top priority.
It must be Friday…Charlie is beginning his operation as the ladies line up for their turn. As usual, they chat, gossip, and talk shop while in the queue. “Have you heard about Mrs. McNamara?” “I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight. What are you making?” “How is your headache today?” Charlie takes each order, scaling and filleting the fish as he works. The children provide an attentive audience as he processes the seafood. They pay special attention to the whole eels that lie on the ice in one corner, feeling sure that they are still alive and possibly wriggling. All the women walk away with their purchases wrapped in paper from Charlie’s large, magical paper roll. Charlie closes up, and the kids wander away.
My master has just come home from work and is calling, “Rover, Rover, come here, boy.” That’s me, so I must run now…maybe I’ll get some of the goodies that were purchased today! Ya know what? I have a pretty easy life here, and so do all the humans on the street. After all, the world seems to come to us every day.”