July 9th, 2011


More about Harry?

Harry -- you probably never met Harry -- Harry was perhaps the first fan of my writing who didn't have a friends/family/teacher-student/co-student stake in the situation and who was willing to back that up with cash as well as moral support.

Understand that for portions of this tale I was a collegian living at home and for portions soon after I'd moved in with two other friends from high school... and no matter that I was living at home or quietly with others I was also managing a somewhat bohemian lifestyle, with multiple girlfriends, stories and poetry and features in the mail and occasionally published, and a barely legal side-business dealing with "magazine companies" -- but perhaps no more on that later.

All in all, these things together meant that I knew some odd people -- people who were doing business or doing fun anytime of the day but particularly between 10 PM and midnight and 6 AM. Harry did business 24 hours a day, with many of the people I knew from the nightside and some from the dayside, because he owned the Dunkin Donuts in Reisterstown, Md. The local hookers were there, and local on-and-off duty cops, and the newspaper delivery guy(s) and the locksmith and sometimes the drunk high school girls trying to drink enough coffee to go home. The high school coaches sometimes showed up there after coming back from a cross-county match/game/tournament.

Eventually I knew all of the staff at Dunkin's, at least to wave at, and some considerably better. I started going to Dunkin because my older brother, Don, went there from time to time. Now understand that he was three years older than me... and that he ran with an older (and borderline wilder) crowd than he was. So I was, for sometime, Kid Miller or Little Miller, with many of the folks assuming I was small for my age because -- they assumed I was Don's age since they thought Don was their age.

Arguably a soap opera could happen from any DD shop -- that one, for example, had at least two different night bakers win major lotteries in the early days of million dollar lotteries -- and there were probably the usual percentage of soon-to-be-divorced people working there, and separated people, and people moving in, and gonna-get-married people... The thing is that I knew some of those folks -- some during three or four of the relationship phases, some through multiple tries at any two you could name.

First, of course, I was a customer. I'd show up any time of the day or night, sometimes with a companion, sometimes as a companion. Often, I'd have a notebook with me -- it might be a reporter's notebook, it might be a simple 3x5 spiral. I had so many of those little pocket notebooks and attendant pens that the phrase "pocket stuff" had a particular meaning for me and those close to me who were always finding them stacked about...or later, on the floor where cats had distributed them.

Once I was a customer I became a regular, and this was at a time when I was following my grandmother's advice and writing down anything that struck me -- so I'd have page after page of images, of descriptions of faces, of commentary on ironies I saw, of short bursts of verse or potential verse. It was also a time I was known to go to the local bowling alley to write -- I'd sit in front of the jukebox there, eat a hotdog with sauerkraut (with a milk), chased with a lemon meringue pie and then have a coke for two or three hours ... and then move on to Dunkin. When I started at Dunkins I wasn't big on going home; I still lived at home then, and there was .... some cultural conflict in those days between myself and my stepfather -- going home meant remaining upstairs and reading rather than dealing him. Later, I moved out of the house and the late nights became much easier.

But Harry, Harry saw me writing and asked, and I showed him a few of my poems, and some of my stories, and eventually I'd be invited on *his break* to go back to his office for coffee and donuts (like what else?) and I also got to watch the whole baking process from end to end, sometimes to the point of helping to inject filling into the filled donuts. There were consequences -- one of the night crew waitstaff had an apartment in Reisterstown and when us three guys moved from a rented house in Columbia to Reisterstown, we ended up in her building, 1 flight up. And then another member of the waitstaff left her husband and moved into the room under mine ... well, anyway, life was always complicated then, and Harry always had time to read my latest poem. He even broke his own rules about allowing local free newspapers get distributed from his store once my poetry column started in the local free weekly rag, the Northwest County News.

One day I was not being much fun, in Dunkin... quite the opposite, I was withdrawn, and going through Coke and donuts at quite a clip and Harry asked why .. so I showed him, the poem I'd been working on, about Albin.

Albin had just killed himself, and he was the first person I'd really known who'd done that, and I was quite upset. What I recall here is *what I recall* ... there were facts I wasn't privy to, but hey, what I remember is what I remember, if the full picture or not. Harry read the poem, looked aroudn and suggested we leave the counter for paying customers and pointed toward his office in the back...

Albin was very much unlike Harry; Harry had a full head of white hair, was spry and out-going, astute in business, able to deal very well with people, and an optimist, always. He smiled a lot, had a facility for names and faces, and liked his store and "his people."

Albin was, if we typecast, fannish in some ways. He pursued an interest in lead toy soldiers, and he had an interest in what my mother had always called (in my younger days) "art films." Somewhat plump and soft faced, he was always diffident. he'd been a friend to my father, I think, in part because they were both head and shoulder above their class in school -- and both had been looking expectantly toward the necessity of going to war in Europe or Japan as they grew up, to have that future yanked away by atomic weapons and the sudden burst of peace.

The only son of European refugees from Hitler, he was among the first of my father's friends I recognized (at a time when my mother and father were on the verge of splitting up)and like a number of fans I've met, he attached himself to people. Somehow he attached himself to my mother as well as my father; when they split he seemed to take it as a an inconvenience that he couldn't see them both at the same time, but no more than that. His parents ran a store in the country while they had a house on the edge of Baltimore's Pimlico neighborhood -- a nice house with a koi pond! What was extra special is that some of the fish in that pond came from my grandfather's pond, from the wild's of Jarretsville.

And you see, that was part of the problem for me, I think -- Albin was a connection to a number of things in my life before my stepfather came into it. He liked word games and puzzles, was bright and smart and well-read, and -- though I don't know this first hand -- he was always treated as if he was odd. Or maybe, as one of my uncles insisted, queer.

When Albin's parents died suddenly (I forget how) he was thrown on his own. A spoiled, guided child, he wasn't good with life. My father, an effective salesman with a complicated lifestyle of his own, was by now in the midst of various affairs commercial and not always available as an advisor. Albin got odder -- he showed up at the house in full safari outfit one time, including pith helmet! -- and he tried a series of jobs, being bad at a surprising number of them.

Jobs? Sigh, if you name the company, he'd tried it. He came to the house my mother and stepfather moved to in Owings Mills, hoping to sell the wares he was burdened with as a door-to-door salesman. Pots and pans -- my mother had her grandmother's! Plasticware -- but one of my mother's friends did Tupperware. Gadgets -- sigh. The gadget I remember most was because I'd been doing the potato peeling when he arrived. With great fanfare (he did try!, yes he did!) he unveiled his laborsaving device ... a potato peeler! An "automatic" potato peeler! I'd be free to read instead of doing household drudgery!

Made of white plastic, with a clear plastic dome, the potato peeler was simply to be attached by the short black hose to the kitchen faucet, placed on black-sucker feet, and violins! Turn the water on and --

Hold it right there. My mother, I think had really hoped to be able ot help him this time, but you know what? We lived in a farmhouse that had been briefly turned into a funeral home during the war (that was WW II)and then returned to home service. The water for spinning and tumbling potatoes against the sharp blades that were to peel them as they went by? That water came from a well of unknown quantity, and of low water pressure.
Albin, however, was testing his spiel. He needed to test it.

My mother allowed the test to go on, offering up several of "my" small homegrown potatoes. Ooops. By using both cold water & hot water, and twisting the handles fullbore, the little machine actually got up to speed. And, it did, peel potatoes. Alas, using small potatoes meant that it sliced them into slivereens, wasting (my mother would not put peels into her mashed potatoes!) about half of each one.

Albin stayed to dinner that night, eating my peeled potatoes, IIRC, with my stepfather off working his night job at the liquor store.

There are other stories, but ... anyway, Harry asked me questions, talked to me about how he lost a few customers each year to suicide, it seemed to him, that there was no way of knowing, really, who would and who wouldn't... and then he pulled out a $20 bill and said -- "Here. I want a copy of your book of poems, as long as that's in there."

So, I told Harry I'd do a book of poems, eventually, and told him to hold onto his money until I had a printer.

That's how TimeRags got started.

There's more of course, to what's in there...


Steve Miller

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