Tales from real life
|Back in the sixties, we had a Rexall Drugs in our small town. The proprietor, Cal Lindbergh, was a really nice guy who would stock almost anything on his high, and highly disorganized, shelves. He had everything from a display case of modestly priced jewelry to a bin of warm roasted peanuts. The brick building was located on the sunny southeast corner of the block, but seemed to stay dim and cool even in the summer heat. It was an adventure to wander the narrow aisles and look at items that might have been there for days or maybe decades. You could check out a state-of-the-art transistor radio, or buy a hundred-year old patent medicine cure-all that harnessed the power of placebo. A pharmacy window in the back dispensed real medicine. Best of all was an old-fashioned soda fountain on one side where a kid could get an ice cream cone or a root beer float.
As a precocious ten-year old, I was most interested in the rack of comic books near the front door. I’d eye them longingly, but it was well understood that they weren’t to be handled until after purchase. Unlike the other stock, they weren’t kept around forever. Once a month, a new batch would arrive, and Cal would dispose of the unsold issues. He’d tear off the covers and return those to the publisher for a credit, but it seemed a shame to toss the remainders into the garbage. Instead, he came up with an alternative that became the basis for one of my favorite childhood rituals.
Cal would roll up half a dozen of the left-over twelve-cent comics, and tie them with a twist of string. He’d stack them by the magazines and charge 25 cents per bundle. I was no collector, so I didn’t care about the covers. I just wanted to read them. Four cent comics were a great deal! The element of mystery was also a plus. What hidden gems would I find as I unrolled my treasure trove?
We lived nine miles from town and mom made the trip once a week for groceries. I had little interest in tagging along with my mother and sisters as they did our weekly shopping, so I took my fifty cents of allowance money and made a beeline for Lindbergh’s every Saturday morning. I’d buy a bundle of coverless comics and climb onto a stool at the counter. I’d wait with delicious anticipation while Cal made me a root beer float. Then, and only then, I’d carefully remove the string and read the entire pile of comics, in order, so each one would be a new surprise.
Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were good, and even the war comics were okay, but no one really wanted Richie Rich or Casper the Friendly Ghost. There’d be a triumphant little ‘yes!’ when I found a Batman or Spiderman, and a disappointed, ‘aww’ when it was Little Lulu or Baby Huey. But I read every word on every page anyway, except for the occasional horror of finding a romance comic. Those I gave to my sisters. With tweezers.
I think Cal enjoyed the ritual, too, because he’d shake his head, or nod approvingly when I was picking out a bundle. I can’t help but think he was upping the odds for a steady customer.