My father owned a shopping center in Jackson, New Jersey where I used to go with him to collect rent. The shopping center was about a half hour from where the Zeppelin Hindenburg crashed and burned on May 6, 1937. The base was located on Hope Chapel Road and my father used to pass the base everyday on his way to work, a fun fact he mentioned to me each time I went to work with him at the retirement village he owned called Crestwood Village. My father loved his job, but always got annoyed with the senior citizens who drove about ten miles an hour when he was rushing to work. Margie, his faithful secretary would be waiting religiously with coffee when he arrived, and would make him home made tuna fish with onions on white bread every day for lunch. Aside from his irritation with the sixty five and up crowd however, my father loved the building business. He liked building things from nothing and watching them grow. And he also enjoyed the camaraderie of all of his employees, despite the contractors who always made countless mistakes, forgot important things, were late, or just plain "stupid." Patience was not one of his virtues, but over time I got used to his screaming on the phone at dinner while my mother watched the vein on the side of his head bulge. I could have sworn that one day it would burst open.
The crash of the Hindenburg and the airbase was kind of like Lakehurst's claim to fame and a fact I always pulled out of my hat when people said they had never heard of Lakewood, New Jersey. "Right next to the explosion of "The Hindenburg," I would always say. "Where 36 people burned and died at the crash." Nowadays I tell people to google it, but back then they had to take my word for both the crash and death toll. They also had to take my word on the fact that while the vein in my father's head got close to bursting, it remained as intact as the speed limit in the retirement village. As the senior citizens drove their ten miles an hour back to their picket fenced houses in the evening, my father and I would make our way back home to my mother after a long day, where I had spent the majority of my time coloring and counting xerox paper as he did his job.
At Carol Pharmacy, the pharmacist and cashier always gave me lollipops and raisinets. Most times, my father and I went from store to store to collect the money, which was handed to him in a little white envelope. And when we were done visiting the grocery store called The Big W, the variety store called The Busy Bee, the shoe store and the deli with names I have forgotten, we would make our last stop at The Dairy Queen where I would unsuccessfully plead for rainbow sprinkles. Each time we went in after a long two hours collecting rent, I would hope that today would be the exception and that he would place a dime on the counter. "When I was your age, I never even had ice cream." Most times, the conversation between me and father revolved around the tenants. Some were late with their rent, some were rude, some were too friendly, and others didn't sweep their stores or take out the garbage often enough. At the grocery store, the manager always gave me pennies for the gumball machines, where I would get mini diamond rings and big round balls of gum. With the ring, I pretended I was married and with the gum, it went right into my mouth which I chomped in our beige station wagon the entire trip down Hope Road to Lakewood. The trip was always the same. First we went through a bunch of traffic lights, then we turned right and passed the lake, then the golf course, and as we got close to our split level house we passed the "home on the hill" built by Bob Schmertz, a real estate developer like my father but who also owned part of the Boston Celtics and the blow dryer company called Conair, a product that I used to make my wavy hair straight like all the popular girls in school.
Whenever we arrived back home, my mother would open the front door and ask us why it had taken so long. After being told that we had gone door to door to collect rent for over two hours, she would go back to either marinating the chicken for dinner or painting her nails while she talked on the phone to either Penny or Alice.
At the drug store, my father and I got bandaids, aspirin, or a prescription filled from the doctor. While we waited for the pharmacist to fill the medicine, I often counted the number of cars that passed by the window in the space of five minute intervals. My father tapped his sandy colored Clark shoes on the carpet and kept checking his watch. Sometimes he would tell me to wait while he walked next door to the supermarket to get fruit for my mother's jello mold tor to kill time. And while the pharmacist plied me with chocolate covered raisins and my father picked up odds and ends, I never dreamed that one day the drug store would be one stop shopping like Amazon, or that hair dryers would be sold in every superstore in America along with bananas.