All I need is the air that I breathe


Mom week continues…

Moving a little further along the timeline, when I was still in my tweener years, Mom used to take me with her on various trips to stores or other locations.

Some of these were fun, like the Italian bakery (where she would get, oddly enough, French pastries).  Some were not as much fun, like shopping at department stores.  We’ll get into examples of each in today’s post and in the unique, life-threatening trait they had in common.

The hair salon

Mom went to one of those shops that looked a heck of a lot like those scenes immortalized in movies from the 50’s.  The large glass window, the long row of hair dryers and wide vinyl seats, the nail lady out front and the atmosphere…and I’m not talking mood here.

There are few more tortuous places you could take a young, active boy than to sit him in a chair in the front of a large shop filled with women in space helmets and air so thick in hair spray as to water the eyes and choke the throat.

Having matured enough from my pickle crying days, I managed to avoid embarrassing Mom at the shop by complaining, but before and after I put up as much of a whine as I could to try and get out of going (or going again).

In those days, I had my mass of crazy curls, so I would almost always have to suffer some “witty” observation from one of the other Moms there (they were all Moms; I don’t know if single women even worked there, let alone had their hair done).

The hours there would seem like forever and in the days before hand held electronics, it was truly a dreaded time.  In fairness, Mom always looked great coming out of her “helmet” and she was always in a happy mood, which usually meant some form of reward for my silent “suffering”.

I wasn’t so dim back then that I thought women could use Brylcreem on their hair, but that didn’t stop me from hoping.  I’m clearly permanently scarred by the over-exposure, for while I don’t have the most sensitive nose, when it comes to hairspray, I tend to be over-sensitive.  Same with cigarette smoke, perhaps because of my time at…

The bingo hall

Mom’s great “gambling” love back in the 70’s was the local bingo hall.  Now, we’re not talking about the friendly confines of your local church or neighborhood association.  Nope, this was a building constructed for the sole purpose of holding hundreds of people seated along multiple aisles of tables with a big electronic screen and those cool air machines ( I always liked to hear that “whoosh” as a number ball was pulled out).

This place was the first of its kind, at least in South Florida (predating the local Indian tribes more grandiose halls) and it pulled in the players by the hundreds (or thousands, even).  The place was always packed.  More than half the players were older than Mom (by quite a lot), but there were still enough “younger” people there (i.e., Mom’s age).

It was illegal for me to play, so I was once again stuck just sitting there while Mom worked her cards.  Over time, the games moved from thick boards with cards printed on them to paper sheets, which meant the players shifted from little plastic discs to ink stamps.

The science was well-thought out for each, with the discs being opaque and the stamps watery enough to see the numbers beneath.  The games were a variety of straight bingo and complex designs (squares, T’s, L’s, X’s).  When Mom shifted to the paper, she would give me the old boards to let me “play” the numbers with the plastic discs.  This kept me occupied enough that the time with her wasn’t boring and it was always fun when Mom won (she would often make me stick up my hand and yell “Bingo”, which seemed to amuse the other players).

In fact, the only downside to being with Mom during these times was the massive amount of cigarette smoke in the air.  I mean MASSIVE.  We’re talking Hound of the Baskervilles thick.  Mom, who had been a smoker previously, was apparently impervious to the fog, but young Jeffrey suffered terribly with watery eyes and wrinkled nose.  The building purported to have three modern air “recyclers”, but they didn’t work (or if they did, I couldn’t even imagine how bad it might have been without them).

I enjoyed spending the time with Mom and “playing” alongside her.  In later trips, I would bring my sketchbook and draw while she was playing, receiving compliments from players who happened by (or the “grandmas” who wanted to coo over Mom’s “handsome son”.  They were good times, even with the smoke (which clung to the clothing so heavily, I had to change when I got home).

So in this tale, I was teary-eyed long before I shared it with you here.

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