This morning at Ye Local Bagel Emporium - that fine establishment to which the Minyan Boyz repair after the daily morning worship - something made me think about how we used to earn pin money as kids. I thought back upon some of my early jobs...and before.
There was one summer I earned my bread in what was perhaps the lowest-paying work I ever did: I drove an ice-cream truck. Yep, ol’ Elisson was the Good Humor Man. That job is worth a post or two by itself. But that was a real, grown-up type job, requiring a driver’s license and all. Let’s go back even farther, shall we? Back to pre-teen days, when a driver’s license wasn’t even a gleam in my eye.
Probably the first real earned money I made was shagging golf balls. We lived a block or so away from a nine-hole neighborhood golf course. It had been built when the neighborhood was first developed, back in the beginning of the 1950’s, and was a real drawing card for potential residents. It wasn’t a fancy-pants club like the ones you see today in golfy neighborhoods - no Country Club of the South - but it served, especially if you didn’t want to schlep the five miles to Bethpage State Park (yes, that Bethpage) and queue up for a ticket.
Our little golf course had a treacherous ninth hole, a par-five that ran parallel to the edge of the course. Any ball that had the slightest amount of fade on it would sail over the chain-link fence that marked the boundary, and would land somewhere on Cedar Drive, either in the street, on the median, or in one of the yards of the homes on the opposite side of the street.
Where a small army of kids was waiting for it.
We would snag those balls, and, being too young to play ourselves, we did the enterprising thing: we sold ’em back to the golfers who had just smacked ’em over the fence.
Let me tell you, we developed an eye for quality. The prize ball in those days was the Titleist, and it was especially nice to get a new one - one without any nicks, dents, or “smiles” on it. The balls in those days had wound cores with balata covers - the two-piece Spalding Executive had not been invented yet - and so they were very vulnerable to damage by the mostly inexpert players. A new Titleist was worth a dollar, maybe even $1.25 - and those were 1962 dollars which packed a much bigger wallop than our skeevy 2005-vintage bucks. You could make a handsome handful of dollars working Cedar Drive.
I wonder if the kids in the old neighborhood still shag golf balls. The course is still there, and the golfers aren’t any better than they were 40-plus years ago. Do kids hustle to earn those few bucks anymore?