Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nuts and Bolts

You swung the golden handle in a half-circle to open or shut the latticed metal doors and the elevator would clatter between floors on command. In the early '50's I was very impressed with those fancy doors at the Albany Hardware and Iron Company. My grandfather was the manager of the store, thin and bald and dapper in his vested suits and his wire-framed spectacles. I was so proud on those special occasions that he would take me to work with him on a half-day Saturday.

I was thrilled that my grandfather had a key to let us into the store before the customers started arriving. I could prowl the dim, deserted aisles, tiptoe-ing through the particularly spooky spots while he turned on lights and set up for opening. The cash registers had windows across the top where black numbers on pieces of white metal popped up noisily when the clerk hit the big round keys. The machine made glorious dings and chings, and the money drawer practically flew open to transact the cash exchanges. I was allowed to practice hitting the No Sale key when there were no customers.

Better even than the elevator and the cash register was - I still don't know what it was called - the pneumatic thingy that was able to transport money and messages from floor to floor. Need change for a $20 in third floor housewares? Stuff the bill in the gleaming brass tube, twist it shut, and stick the contraption in the brass pipe that ran throughout the building. The pipe mysteriously sucked the little messenger down to the first floor where the clerk there would whoosh it back to you with the proper change. How cool. Better than e-mail, or voice mail, or fax, and simpler to understand. I loved it and begged to send experimental posts through the tubes - pennies, gum, thumbtacks. My grandfather had the patience of a saint.

The old building sat sadly vacant for years with the long vertical sign easily recognizable on the front of the tall building on lower State Street. I don't get downtown much, but it is probably now a Curves or a Starbuck's or some other such irrelevant business, housing nothing as useful as screws and door hinges and garden tools, and making lovely memories for nobody.

Thanks, Gramp.

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