Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Happy Childhood Equation

sg Rob Kelly I haven't wrote about this particular memory yet, even thought its one of my favorites, since it's not a story per se, more like just a series of random impressions. But sometimes life is like that, I guess.

One of my most beloved childhood memories was during the late 70s and early 80s when my Dad would take me with him to his office at Hartford Insurance, located in Voorhees, NJ.

But it wasn't during the work week--no, this was the occasional time when my Dad(who was the manager of his branch) had so much work to do to he went in on a Saturday. And since my Mom worked a part-time job on weekends, that left me without anyone home so I went with my Dad. We had the entire building--all two floors of your typical huge-o office building--to ourselves. Including...the cafeteria.

Now, the cafeteria wasn't anything exicting...pretty much just a room with tables and a whole bunch of vending machines. But everytime I went with my Dad, we'd first stop at Woolworths or some store like that and he'd buy me a pile of comics, and a lot of them ended up being treasury editions. Maybe because I needed to be kept out of my Dad's hair(what was left of it) and he thought I would be getting more bang for his buck, but I seemed to end up with them more on these office visits with my Dad than any other time.

Anyway, once we got into the dim, uber-quiet building, he'd sit at his desk and I would plop down at his secretary's desk right outside his office. I'd have a pile of comics to read, and I would get so engrossed in them that I would barely make a peep during the whole time my Dad was trying to work. (Having now spent a lot of time on the other side of the Adult/Child dynamic, and seeing how quickly kids get bored, I'm sort of retroactively impressed with myself that just a couple bucks' worth of over-sized comics was enough to mollify me for an afternoon)

When I would get hungry, I'd take a book with me to the cafeteria, where the soft hum of the vending machines selling coffee, tea, chocolate milk(my favorite, then and now), chips, cookies, and pre-fab sandwhiches sounded like angels to me. I would buy two or three snacks, bring them to a table, and go back to my reading. At age seven or eight, I generally was too shy to ever buy food on my own(not that I ever really needed to), so this sorta made me feel like an adult--deciding for myself what I wanted, paying for it, and cleaning up afterwards. Immersing myself in the giant world of a treasury comic while eating delightfully crappy junk food is one of my most, er, treasured memories.

I don't know if I believe in the theory of reincarnation, but I have an affinity for cafeterias that I think was in me before I ever made these trips, so I wonder if in some former life I worked in Manhattan in the forties and ate lunch daily at the Automat. My eyes would grow wide when my Great Uncle Fred would tell me stories of eating there when he was younger, and also when I'd see that one Bugs Bunny cartoon set in a department store and he visits an Automat.

I have to think all this layed dormant in me and when I got to do my scaled-down version in the 70s and 80s and that's partly what made these trips so exciting. To this day when Tracy and I are somewhere--an Ikea or a hospital, even--she'll mention the existence of an in-house cafeteria in a sing-song voice, knowing that I'll want to head there as soon as possible.

Eventually my Dad retired from the Hartford, and that building--which is only about fifteen minutes away from here--stayed under the Hartford's stewardship for years. Every so often I'd drive by there and imagine, was there any way I could visit the place, just to grab a chocolate milk and a pack of cupcakes in the cafeteria? Of course I never tried, and then the chance was gone forever when the building was demolished and replaced by a Target.

If my guess is right, the cafeteria would've been right around where Target's greeting cards are now. But it just ain't the same...


Plaidstallions said...

Remember how you commented to me "Your dad sold Aurora Kits, mine sold insurance?"

If my dad had a lot of work to do on Saturday, he dragged me into help! I sent many an action jackson and Lincoln monster on it's way somewhere.

Your dad was way cooler to the childhood Brian.

Swinebread said...

Wonderful Story

Damian said...


K.B. said...

Great story Rob. It is funny how these books mark time and bring back very vivid memories.I can pinpoint where i was and what i was feeling/doing with just about every comic i have. I too have simmillar recolections of the giant sized purchases when i would go to daycare or a babysitter. It definitely made it more palletteable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rob - wonderful story!

I was blessed to hit NYC when I believe 2 or 3 Automats were still hanging on. And the one at 42nd & Lex (or Third?) was there for several more years. The glory days were past, but I loved it all the same when I ate there.

(Do NOT get me started on the death - actually, murder! - of Woolworth's...)

Blessed New Year to all,
-Craig W.