Once upon a time in Gerritsen Beach there was a very special cap pistol. It lay, muzzle pointing to the left, in a display case all the way at the rear of a candy store on the corner of Gerritsen and Allen avenues.
The store had recently been taken over by the three Patch brothers who were WW II veterans. Five days a week I had to pass this store on the way home from grammar school. (In those days you walked.) This is what caused the "agony." From the second I laid eyes on that gun I desired it more than anything else in the world. The problem, the agony, was the price ticket. This was attached to the trigger guard by a string and was clearly marked in big, black figures: .50
For as long as I can remember I have been a Dick Tracy freak. That's right, not fan, but freak. I still am. The comic strip grabbed me from the moment I learned to read right up to the present, though lately it is too tame. I could draw Tracy and the legion of bizarre villains so well that they looked as if they had been drawn by the great Chester Gould himself. I can still remember Itchy Oliver having Tracy tied up in that basement, and Mrs. Pruneface with that huge block of ice melting and driving that spike into Tracy's chest.
It seems like yesterday that Flattop got shot in the throat but survived to drown under that pier. Or the Nazi spy Brow falling out the window and being impaled on the flag pole. Great stuff to grow up on. It explains many things. In drawing Tracy I had often drawn his gun. It was a black automatic. I have also been a gun freak all my life. For a kid living in NYC this is an exercise in frustration.
Now the "agony." It was two-fold. 1.) That cap pistol was 50 cents at a time when my allowance was 5 cents a week. 2.) With the application of some black paint it was a dead ringer for Tracy's roscoe.
The weather was warm so it must have been near the end of the school year. Every day I thought about that gun.
How much of the weekly nickel could I save? How long did I have to wait until it was mine, or (shudder) someone else's ? Each day I found a new excuse to enter the store, make my way to the back and make sure it was still there. Sometimes I would hear "Can I help you son?" One of the Patch brothers. After school the store was always wall-to-wall kids darting here and there. The Patch brothers, even with their combined total of six eyes, had trouble keeping tabs on all of us. I would answer "No. Just looking." or "I'm waiting for Edmund." That would be Edmund Flood who always stopped by for a chocolate cupcake and pickle and who along with Billy Grace and Kevin McKosker made up my grammar school Hole In the Wall gang. "Well then wait outside please. Don't come in here unless you want to buy something."
It began to look like those weekly nickels, minus whatever I was shamed into spending during the week, would never add up to the magic number. Now-a-days five cents doesn't seem like much but then you could ride the bus for a nickel. Saturday and Sunday matinees at the Graham were only ten cents. Two movies, cartoon, serial, and coming attractions.
In those days kids, boy kids that is, played "guns." Now, this was a generic game. It might be cops & robbers, or cowboys & Indians, or Masked Marvel, or Copperhead, or Spy Smasher, or whatever was currently hot. We were flexible if nothing else. I was determined that one day I would play guns with the spitting image of Tracy's gun.
Just when things were blackest, from a totally unexpected quarter, came a miracle. My grandmother's youngest sister aunt Nonie and her husband uncle Bill came from Long Island for their semi-annual visit. Uncle Bill would always take me for a walk--"to get away from the women" He was a man's man. This walk was to Fran & Izzy's for an ice cream cone. Maybe this time he figured I was a little too old for that kid stuff. Or maybe he was a little too old for the walk. He took me on the side and slipped me a quarter. YEEEOOOWW. Now I had more than enough for Tracy's gun. But I had to wait until morning.
After endless night, morning arrived. It was summer vacation and I hadn't seen "it" for a couple of weeks. I ran the two long blocks to Allen Ave., past Billy's house, past Edmund's house. I flew the two short blocks to the store. The Patch brothers had just opened for the day. Heart pounding, hands trembling, I headed for the back of the store. The Big Spender had arrived. IT WAS GONE. GONE. My world crumbled. One of the Patch brothers came up behind me. "That cap gun you always looked at. Sold it the other day. You shoulda bought it sooner." My God, was I that obvious all this time ? Though my heart was broken I was determined that this Patch brother (I never could sort them out) would never know how crushed I was. I hoped that whoever had that gun was a Dick Tracy fan. "Uh, I'll have a Mars bar."
Time prob. c.1946
Last changed: June 28, 2002