This is not about some of my prouder moments, when I look back at them. I am quite sure that there are a multitude of developmental explanations and/or some significant emotional problems coming to the surface but these thoughts are stories of growing up on the West Side.
Across the street from 222, on the west side of broadway just north of 83rd street sat Levy Brothers. An all purpose stationery, gadget and toy store this place was an important stopping point for children, adolescents and adults in the neighborhood. School supplies — check, paperback books — check, greeting cards — check, art supplies — check, spaldines and other sporting goods — check, so much more and a staff that never seemed to change — check..
I grew up in that store. There was always a reason for entering the well lit space with a reasonably sized aisle from the front and cramped spaces around to the right. Immediately inside the door to the left was a cash register and cashier in a small open booth like structure. A counter on the left held things like fancy lighters and nice pens. A countertop was next for sales where besides paying you could have items bagged or wrapped.
Beyond that counter were glass cases on the left and open shelves to the right but further back, most important when I worked there, up a couple of steps, were the toys and games; even bikes, basketballs and blow up Bozo punching bags.
I remember a Christmas season, I was 17 or so, and I worked in this area in the back. Staff said later it was one of the best holiday seasons they ever had. It was, in part me. Back then I bragged it was all me. Why? When parents came in to buy toy guns I redirected them to educational toys which were considerably more expensive. Why? I was never allowed toy guns – my father forbid them – and I had begun to develop a conscience. I had a whole speech for these parents and clearly, I was convincing.
One of the other staples that Levy’s sold was roll caps. I couldn’t have the gun but caps were cool. Red rolls with little bumps of something that exploded, popped really, and smelled great when they were put in a toy gun, popped with a pencil or stomped on the sidewalk.
In my early years maybe up to 12, Levy Brothers was also the place I shoplifted. Anything out in the open was fair game. Small stuff mostly. Of course among the things I lifted were small cap pistols. Once, I lifted what they called a fruit knife. A long skinny knife with a six inch blade, I liked it. Carrying it would make me tough. I got caught of course but I was not stopped in the shop. When I got home I got some lecture. What I remember about it most was “What if you got into an argument and pulled out your knife and the other guy pulled his? And he knew how to use it?” Thanks Dad.