I don’t remember now many men the F.D.R. had on her — but we handled maybe six or eight squadrons and anywhere from 75 to 125 fighter planes. Most of ’em were prop-driven. I’ll go to my grave believing the F4U Corsair was the best carrier-based plane in history. Was on the F.D.R. (the joke was that those three initials stood for F—ed up, Dirty and Rusty — but we’d won the “E” for efficiency for three or four years in a row. The Midway was in port so often, we called her “Building 41”) from November, 1949 till March or April, 1950.
Didn’t do much but do operations in the Caribbean. (Cuisine was MUCH different than on our Family cruise last July.) Was involved in Operations Portrex — off the island of Vieques (probably mis-spelled), which has been the center of every liberal worth his salt trying to stop (and, I guess succeeded) those annual war maneuver’s off the Puerto Rican island.
The captain — after the maneuver ended — told us (over the P.A.) a lot about Vieques, but I don’t remember hardly any of it. Who knew that it was going to be so prominent in the year 2000. Given the name of the ship, we took a lot of horse’s-rears congressional delegations on trips. Usually one day — usually a Saturday (dammit). We’d operate off the Virginia Capes, and go back to Norfolk at about five o’clock in the afternoon. Let the freeloaders from Washington get home at a decent hour. Transferred from the ship — when she went into the Navy Yard, in Portsmouth, Virginia, to the Naval Air Technical Training Command, at Millington, Tennessee — just outside of Memphis. Went to Aviation Storekeeper’s school for something like three months. Korea broke out about 2 1/2 weeks before my class graduated.
Was sure I was going to Korea. So certain that — on the Sunday in the week between the outbreak of the “police action” (where you got killed just as dead as if you were in a war) and my class’ graduation, that your great grandmother Choody flew down from Detroit to spend the weekend with me in Memphis. First member of the family ever to have flown. On Chicago & Southern Airlines — which hasn’t existed for probably 45 years. I almost went to Korea — but didn’t (through no brilliance on my own). Will try and send you that portion of my “memoirs”. Wound up at the Fleet Aviation Accounting Office — at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk.
That’s where I met “Uncle Ski” — who’s been my best friend over the past 50 years. Your dad has met him. He lives in Florida now. Spent the rest of my hitch — from June or July of 1950 till April of 1953 — at FAAO. Got to be Petty Officer Second Class. (THINK that’s the equivalent of a staff sergeant in the Army and/or Marines.)
Hitchhiked from Norfolk down to Brownsville. Took me three days. Freeloaded three weeks with Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Castillo. Popped the question to Grandma — and she accepted. Only fly in the ointment was that she’d promised her parents that she’d finish high school. And she was just finishing up the 11th grade when I was down there. So, sometime in May (I guess — after three weeks, anyway), I hitchhiked up to Detroit. Took me three days. I was wet — and froze my fanny off — for two days (from St. Louis northward). Got a job — well two of ’em — and bought my glorious 1949 DeSoto. (Very similar to the ’49 Chrysler Uncle Doug bought me last summer.)
Grandma and I were married Sept. 12,1954 — a year to the day after John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier. Only THEY got married on a Saturday. Grandma and I got married on a Sunday. (Everybody in Brownsville WORKED six days back then.) Between the summer of 1948 — the last summer I was out at Runyon Lake, where Grandma’s Grandma had her cottage — and September of 1954 — when we got married — Grandma and I were together for only those three weeks in 1953. Your dad was born nine months and four days after we got married. (Whew!)
Uncle Doug was born 14 months later — August 12, 1956. Uncle Danny May 6, 1958 (he weighted 9 pounds and 6 ounces), Aunt Hogan August 11, 1959, Uncle Donald April 26, 1963, Aunt Duffy August 21, 1964 and Aunt Clancy March 6, 1966.
We moved from Detroit in the fall of 1962 — to San Marcos, Texas (which I’d never heard of, till Liberty Loan Company — in whose vineyard I toiled — told me I was going there. Moved to San Antonio in the summer of 1964 (a month or so before Aunt Duffy was born). Moved to Metuchen, New Jersey in the summer of 1965. I believe we were on the road Easter Sunday that year. I think your father has shown you the hovel in which we lived. Most frustrating time of my life — trying to get us out of there. Moved to Buffalo (West Seneca, actually) in December of 1970. I moved down to Houston — moved in with Uncle Doug — in January of 1977. Six months later, Uncle Doug moved out. I stayed there — on Renwick — for something like 7 years. It was a jumping-off point for “everyone”. Your dad came down in (I think) March of 1977.
Uncle Danny was already down in Brownsville — for about a year — staying with Great Grandma Castillo and running a Pizza Hut. In July of that year, Grandma pushed through with Aunt Hogan and the three “Dirty Rats” — on her way down to Brownsville. Aunt Hogan peeled off — and lived with me for something like 18 months. On her 18th birthday, I told her to get her fanny out of bed that she was going to work for me — I was managing the off-airport site of Thrifty Rent-a-Car back then. They paid TERRIBLE! But, I told Aunt Hogan that she’d get six-months experience with me — and then she could go to Hertz or Avis and make some REAL money. Which is what she did. Became a teenaged manager for Hertz out at Houston Intercontinental Airport.
I was in the rent-a-car business most of what we laughingly refer to as my “adult” life. Began at Avis in Detroit. One of my very dearest friends — Mary Jane Zaijor — was manager there. My first boss in the car rental game. We were very close — for all the years since. She passed away last August. I think she was 75. I shouldn’t say this, but I miss her more than my own mother. She and “Uncle Ski” have been my two closest friends through the years. Tended bar for 6 or 8 months — for Great Grandma Choody’s boyfriend. Bar in “Beautiful Downtown Detroit”. He went out of business shortly thereafter. (He wound up owning another bar in suburban Detroit that I’d taken the three “Dirty Rats” to on a number of occasions. Tried to sell insurance after that — circa 1961. “Carried a book” — what they called a “Debit Insurance” route. My territory was in River Rouge, ANOTHER Detroit suburb. It was all black clientele. You didn’t sell ’em $1000 worth of insurance. You sold ’em 83-cents worth. Hopefully two or three policies with 83-cents worth of insurance. Then, every week, you’d go by and pick up the 83-cents or the $1.66 or whatever. I did not do well.
Went to work for Liberty loan in the spring or summer of 1962. As stated, they transferred me to San Marcos. I managed offices in San Marcos and Austin for them. They were hell to work for. Quit them, and opened an office for B&W Finance, in San Antonio. But, that turned out to be a fiasco — for many reasons (most of which were my own fault). The marriage was kind of on the rocks by then. I THINK I was on the verge of suicide back then — but, don’t really know. We moved to Deans, New Jersey — then, a couple months later, to Metuchen in 1965.
I had a number of jobs. Ran a rent-a-car/gas station/parking garage in Brooklyn for Alexander’s Rent-a-Car. They were a subsidiary of Alexander’s Department Stores — and all the executives at the rent-a-car thing were from the department store — and knew zilch about the car rental biz. They were even harder to work for than Liberty. They knew that Grandma was pregnant with Aunt Clancy — and that I needed the job (and the hospitalization and the vacation time to take care of the rest of the six kids, when Grandma went into the hospital). So, when I inherited the Neptune Avenue facility — in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — I had two rental agents and two service agents. Shortly thereafter, I had NONE. Worked 7:00 AM — till 11:00 PM (the hours the joint was open) seven days a week — for 125 glorious dollars a week. (Where was I gonna go?) Every now and then, they’d deign to get someone to work Sundays (two people, of course — sometimes three) so that I’d be able to experience a “day off”. (Blasphemous though that may have been.)
When Aunt Clancy was born, I submitted my resignation — in suppository form — and got back into the loan business. Beacon Finance, in Highland Park, New Jersey — across the Raritan River from New Brunswick (6 or 7 miles from Metuchen). But, I lost my job there. My own fault. Didn’t steal any money. Did NOT! But, hell, we were ALWAYS broke. Never had two nickels to rub together. And, if I’d go out to a debtor’s house on Wednesday night, and she’d give me 25 bucks, I might use the 25 — and turn in 25 bucks from my paycheck on Friday. Got caught doing that. Worst economic time in my life. Lost my job. Your Dad can tell you — a couple weeks later, on a Sunday, coming back from Aunt Cubby’s and Uncle Chuck’s my wondrous 1959 or 1960 Studebaker Lark wagon’s motor froze up! So, I didn’t have a car. It was during that time that I sold a pint of blood to put food on the table.
Kind of a hairy period for us. I managed to snag a job (turned out to be only for one week — the guy needed a lot of heavy lifting done) at a sporting goods store in New Brunswick. Your Dad — who was about 11 — had a paper route. He’d go out every night and collect enough for me to have bus fare in to New Brunswick the next day. Sometimes, he got me bus fare back. (My memory — which may be faulty — says I walked home more than I rode. But, I was eternally grateful to your father for the bus fare in. Every now and then he’d snag me an extra quarter — “so that you can buy yourself a cup of coffee”.) So even then, he was quite heroic.
Got a job at a hardware store. I think your Dad might’ve pointed it out. Was right around the corner from where we lived on Station Place. Worked there for maybe 8 or 9 months — till January 7, 1967. Was able to by a 1958 Plymouth — for $95.00.
“Uncle Ski” came to visit me. He lived in Chicago at the time. Kicked my butt like a good Polack Uncle should. Told me that I should never subject my wife and kids to a hovel like the one in which we were living. We got paid on Friday night. Most usually had enough in the house to feed everyone till Friday night. Very seldom till Saturday morning. This was before I’d bought my fabled, storied ’58 Plymouth. Still didn’t have a car. George Wells — who lived on the back end of the duplex, on Station Place, had a 1960 Ford. He also worked at the hardware store. He’s the one who got me “in” over there. So, Friday night — after having gotten paid (I was making a hundred bucks a week — with seven kids) we’d head over to the supermarket in his Ford.
We had to work till nine on Friday night. On the Friday that “Uncle Ski” came to visit, HE took me over — in his Avis Mustang (that he’d rented at Newark Airport). He was throwing all kinds of food in the basket — steaks and pork chops that we’d not had in ages — and picked up the tab, for TWICE what I’d normally spend. When we got back, Grandma had herded the kids off to bed — and, after she’d put away the groceries, SHE went to bed. It was then that Uncle Ski sat me down — and went through me like a laxative. Saturday, I had to work But, when I got home — we closed at six o’clock — we had dinner. I think he put the fix in with Grandma. She decided the kids all had to go to bed early — and she was tired herself. That left “Uncle Ski” to take up where he’d left off the night before. And did he EVER! On Sunday morning, he was pulling out to fly back to Chicago — and your Dad came down and said, “Uncle Ski left this fifty dollars on the chest of drawers”. You can go through your entire life — and not have a friend like Uncle Ski.
I went to work in January of 1967 at the Avis Licensee in Piscataway, New Jersey. Worked there till December, 1969. In that time, the paper route that your Dad had had — from which came all those glorious bus fares — got circulated between your Dad, Uncle Doug and Uncle Danny. But, we got a “sample route” from the Newark Star Ledger — where they’d give us the names and addresses of those people who already were subscribers. There were supposed to be four boys — to deliver 50 papers each — to those who were NOT subscribers. (I was the fourth boy. Aunt Hogan used to sit in the car on Mondays and Fridays — and stuff flyers into the papers.) Uncle Doug and your Dad would go out, then, on Saturday and Sunday and try and sell the people to whom we’d given the samples to. They were damn good! We had — far and away — the best sales records of the three sample crews. (Whoever was in 2nd place was WAY behind us.) Uncle Danny wasn’t that good — and your Dad and Uncle Doug didn’t want him blowing any prospects.
The kids had to get up at 4:30 AM. Picked up our papers. Uncle Danny owned the route that had been circulated between him and your Dad and Uncle Doug. (All us four “boys” would deliver that route — on our way over to pick up our samples.) So, while his older two brothers were out selling subscriptions, Uncle Danny did his collecting on his own route. Grandma would take him around Sunday morning to deliver the large Sunday papers. (I was working at a gas station, in North Plainfield, on Sundays in those days.
Before I got the sample route, I had a morning route in New Brunswick — that I used to deliver by myself. Could just throw the papers out of the car window. In winter, I froze my butt off!
Your Dad went with me a couple of times. And he and Uncle Doug used to help me deliver the huge papers on Sunday. Finally, in order to get us out of that damn hovel, in Metuchen, I had to quit Avis, in Piscataway — and go to work for Humble Leasing which was a subsidiary of Humble Oil (now Exxon). THEY moved us up to West Seneca! Took almost a year to get into the house. They had to BUILD it — and they wouldn’t build it, till we got the financing together. Was making $800 with seven kids. So, it was pretty cloudy! Moved into the place in West Seneca a few days before Christmas of 1970. Humble Oil flushed its Humble Leasing subsidiary a couple months later. (They’d tried to talk me into bailing out of the house in West Seneca a couple weeks before we closed on the house — knowing that they were gonna blow the leasing facility out! Wanted to save the moving costs! If I’d have LET ’em talk me out — taking away my escape from the Hovel in Metuchen — I’d have been devastated. Don’t know WHAT I would’ve done.
Got a job, in Buffalo at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Opened a rent-a-car operation for them at the Clinton-Aire Hotel, across from the Buffalo airport. Those were nice people for whom to work! The best! A couple days after Christmas, of 1972 (your Dad was in the Air Force) Grandma and I separated. It took a couple years for the divorce to become final — goofy laws in New York State at that time. In 1974, the Clinton-Aire was sold to the Executive Hotel, next door. We were on a month-by-month arrangement — the Executive was in the middle of a long-term lease with American International Rent-a-Car. So, we were out of luck. I tried to sell cars — at the dealership. Had two good months and two bad ones (alternately).
Tried to sell Electrolux vacuum cleaners — in Batavia, where you were born, Flanagan. Was not very good — especially when the economy went into the tank. Went to work for Scotty Car — trying to rent Pintos and American Motors Gremlins. Your Dad can tell you about Gremlins. Company was badly mismanaged — and, though I was profitable, I couldn’t carry the entire company. So, they went out of business. Went to work for Electrolux, again, in Batavia — as the office guy. When I left that job, your Dad (who was, by then, out of the Air Force and was living upstairs over the same bar as me [I was in room 2 and he was in room 7] for eighteen bucks a week) took over the office job in Batavia. He had to be introduced to Hugh, the head gazink, in Buffalo — who was not thrilled. Was gonna give your Dad a typing test and everything else. As I understand it, your Dad and Hugh went pub crawling — and your Dad got him sufficiently toasted that he hired your Dad. He loved your Dad. Wasn’t too thrilled with ME — but, LOVED your Dad.
I tried to sell home furnishings — terribly over-priced, for a few bucks a week — for awhile. Went to work for Uncle Doug — when he was trying to by Brother Bruno’s Pizza, in the same mall where Grandma worked at Big N. Was out of work — when I moved down to Houston in January of 1977.
Went to work at Thrifty. Hired Aunt Hogan. Then, went to work at Scher Rent-a-Car (in March of 1978) and your Mother worked with me. We had a really nifty time. We rented Volares — Plymouth Volares. Worst car I’ve ever been involved with. We’d have more breakdowns in one week — than the entire time I rented Mercurys in Buffalo, at the Clinton-Aire. They were even worse, God help me, than the Gremlins.
In 1979, went to work for Dollar Rent-a-Car. January of 1980, I got crossways with Al Cantarella — who owned the licensee. Wound up without a job. Only one I could find was at a collection agency — three or four blocks from my apartment. (Look, Ma! No car.) $600 a month. I could never make it on that. So, I got a second job at a “porn shop” across the street from the collection agency. Would work there from 8:00 AM till five o’clock in the afternoon. Then, I’d walk home. Aunt Patsy was living with me then. I’d take a nap — and get her to wake me up at 10:30 PM. I’d get up and walk back to the “porn palace” and work from 11:00 PM till 7:00 AM. Walk home, shave, shower and shine — and walk back to the collection agency.
Had Saturdays and Sundays off at the agency and Wednesdays off at the smut shop. But, it made for a tidy couple months. United Recovery Systems was having problems staying afloat then. But, when Uncle Doug and Uncle Ray could afford to take me, they did. For $1000 a month — and was I glad to get it. Kept the Friday nights and Saturday night gigs at the porn shop! Hey, it was $45.00 a night! Guess I kept the “Porn Palace” gig for three or four months. Went to work for a year-or-so, for Texas Battery Company. Sold batteries to Bass & Meineke and a lot of other auto parts houses. But, when the company got sold, they rooted us out — one by one. I was the last to go — for whatever accomplishment THAT might’ve been. Again, I didn’t have a car. Your Dad had this Pinto station wagon. He sold it to me for $500 — “A Dollar Now … And A Dollar When You Catch me”. Was never happier to see a car in my life. Great car. Sold the car, eventually, to Aunt Duffy — same arrangements. Was gonna go to work for an overpriced photo company. First week would’ve sent me to Longview. Stopped by United Recovery — to see if I could borrow $100 from your Dad.
He said that he’d be glad to front me the hundred — but, that he thought that he and Uncle Doug and Uncle Glenn were fixing to make me an offer. That six-point-seven reading they got on the Seismograph at the University was the sound of your sainted grandfather dropping off the hook!
Went back to work for URS. Worked, originally, as a salesguy. Then, I worked for your Dad, in the office. Had another sales thing — after your Dad left. Ended up processing the “hate mail”.
Worked for Aunt Duffy. Worked at URS for about 11 years — longest I’d ever worked ANYWHERE. (Must be a moral there, somewhere.) Retired April 1, 1995. Will have been up here six years in just a week or so! Org! Amazing!
I’ve never been happier than I am now. I LOVE it up here! Me and The Head of The House. Can do just about anything I want — within reason.
So, as you can see, I didn’t accomplish very much in my life. Finance-wise, I was a miserable failure. But, I have seven blessings — seven miracles: Your Dad and his six siblings. You grandkids have always been a blessing for me too — but, of course, I’ve been much closer (and for a much longer period of time) to your Dad and aunts and uncles! I’m the most blest father in the history of the world. I couldn’t even tell you who’d be in second place. I’m sure that Grandma would say that she’s the most blest mother to ever walk the planet.
I’m POSITIVE this is more than you — or Finnegan — ever wanted know about your dear, sweet, lovable, affable, avuncular, grand-daddy. Take from this lengthier-than-I’d-intended diatribe whatever it is that you want. If I’ve missed anything (don’t know how THAT could be) lemme know. I’m proud of you, Kid. You and Finnegan and your brudders, all. But, I’m even MORE proud of your Pappa and aunts and/or uncles.