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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 01/28/2008
Vol. 2, #201

Section One

"It won't work," Lippert said.

The supervisor raised his eyebrows and allowed his swivel chair to thrust forward, pressing his girth against the edge of his oversized walnut desk. "Why not?" he demanded. He had carefully, patiently explained the reason for the transfer, even to the extent of spelling out the findings of the research department.

"I have tendencies toward agoraphobia."

"What's that?"

"I mean- I don't think I'd be very good in the wide open commuter spaces."

"Temperamental- you? I don't buy that. Whatever else is right or wrong about you, it's not temperament. Even though you're an oddball in this business." He had heard that Lippert played the violin. "But as far as I'm concerned, that's all in your favor." The supervisor, who had risen in fifteen years to become head of the entire eastern district of the Great Horn chain of sixty-seven supermarkets, was one of the remaining employees from the first Manhattan outdoor market out of which the now successful chain had grown. He had developed an irreducible confidence in his own personnel decisions, even when it came to handling strange ones like Lippert. "No- it's just moving that bothers you. You've been rooted in one spot too long. Once you get over the relocation pains, you've made a step up. Think of it that way."

"-and there's another thing those research types haven't taken into consideration," Lippert went on stubbornly. "Exurbanites aren't the same as suburbanites even when they have the same income and work in the same ad agency. There's a qualitative distinction that's being completely overlooked."

"It's possible," the supervisor admitted. "Research has its limitations. But that's only one more argument in favor of sending you there. It's the only way we'll ever find out if there is a difference."

"You don't have to find out. I can tell you myself. I wasn't cut out for the suburbs."

"Why not?"

The question involved too many intricacies to be answerable. Lippert was silenced.

"You'll do fine," the supervisor assured him. "Everyone agrees you're the ideal man for Baldwin Village. It's a very cultured community. I understand they've even got some good violinists out there. You'll see- it's not exactly the Gobi Desert."

So Lippert went off to Baldwin Village with his wife, rented a house and managed to get through almost an entire week at the new store with no more problems than the usual ones of readjustment to a new location. Then, on Thursday, a number of things happened to give fresh substance to the sense of alienation that followed his transfer.

The head office on very short notice and over his objections had notified him only that morning to proceed with the setting up of a new contest that was to be tested in his store. It was now the noonday lull. There was very little traffic in the aisles. Only one of the checkout counters was open. Lippert had been dourly observing the posting of the contest announcements on the inside of the plate-glass front. What bothered him was his certainty that the whole set-up of the contest was wrong. It was too complicated. And there should have been more than just one grand prize. The trouble was that the whole idea had been worked out by an amateur, a nephew of old man Margolis, the chairman of the board. Ordinarily, such a contest would have been put in the hands of a reputable contest management organization whose professional expertise provided some assurance that all would go smoothly. As it was, Lippert had a foreboding of fiasco that left him in the poorest of possible moods to deal with the second important happening of the day, his encounter with Alice Dumbrille.

The morning had been unusually warm. The sun sent a thick mantle of brightness over the almost empty parking lot. Beyond, where the state road led past the shopping center, it was possible to see the waving green tops of a clump of maples and poplars through the interstices in the plate glass left by the signs advertising the end-of-week specials.

The contest poster now lay in an elaborate runner across the top of the glass, shading most of the checkout section from the sun's direct action. The store itself was pleasantly air-conditioned although the echo of piped-in music annoyed Lippert who had escaped this dubious blessing during his long tenure at Manhattan East.

He sighed and turned away from his uneasy contemplation of the contest sign. Because of it, the butcher had already complained about the window space allotted to his meat posters. Now was as good a time as any to have a word with him.

He was just starting toward the rear when a loaded shopping cart skittered from the oils-and-salad-dressings aisle and jarred into him, bringing him up short in front of the massed display of the day's canned tuna special.

"Oh-" A pair of startled depthless eyes confronted him across the shopping cart. He saw a tall woman, about thirtyfive, dark-haired, wearing a loose cotton print dress that must have come from a quality shop but had seen better days.

"I'm sorry," the woman said. "No damage, I hope?"

"No-my fault, I'm afraid," Lippert said automatically.

He made as if to walk past.

"Are you the new manager?"

He paused, facing her again. "Yes, I am."

"I'm Mrs. Dumbrille," she explained. "Alice Dumbrille."

Smiling, she added: "Your predecessor, Mr. Graham, knew me quite well."

"Oh?"

"I was in the habit of annoying him with requests of one sort or another."

Lippert found himself studying her hands as they circled the push bar of the shopping cart- large white hands, soft, the fingers looking plump and aggressive. The wedding band, if that's what it was, was broad and etched with a detailed calligraphic design. "Yes?" he had difficulty smothering an edge of impatience.

"Mostly in the interests of progressive education," she went on. Her eyes were expressive but demanding, Lippert noted. The cheeks were a little plump too, like the hands. There was something willful about her mouth. He felt a stirring of dislike.

"It's about the school- the Baldwin Village Cooperative Nursery School. You must have noticed us in the store at the other end of the shopping center."

Lippert nodded. "I noticed the window- and the sign." "It's not the most ideal location, but we don't expect to be there much longer."

Lippert struggled to conceal his impatience. "You're moving?"

He tried to produce a semblance of interest.

"We've been planning the new building for some time. But it's a question of funds. I'm afraid almost everything connected with the school is a question of funds."

"I can well imagine."

"I'm chairperson of the building fund committee."

"Well, Mrs. Dumbrille, I'm sure that's quite a responsibility. Now if you'll-"

"Oh wait. there's something else, Mister-?"

"Lippert."

"Lippert? Do you have children, Mr. Lippert?"

"No- I'm afraid not. No children."

"No children? Mr. Graham had three. Not that it makes any difference. But one of the Graham boys attended nursery school year before last. I suppose we'd have gotten his youngest this year- he's a boy too- if he hadn't been transferred to White Plains. Anyway, the reason I asked, I was hoping you'd understand something about children's toys. In fact, I have one of my usual requests."

"Yes?"

"it's about that big cardboard display you've got set up at the end of the next aisle." She gestured toward it. "The Stadium Coffee display- the one made of all those interlocking triangles?"

He nodded, too preoccupied to give her his full attention. "It could be very useful-I mean- looking at it from a pre-school point of view."

"A coffee display?"

"Not the coffee, naturally. I mean the display itself."

"What about the display?" Lippert said, wondering what unique new problem was about to spring at him.

"Well, you see, the Educational Services Corporation makes an item just like it- as a toy. They specialize in toys that develop learning skills. But. of course, with our funds situation- that's how I happened to notice the coffee display. You know, it wouldn't surprise me if the whole idea was stolen from Educational by some bright advertising executive for the coffee company?"

"I wouldn't put it past them," Lippert murmured.

"But really, that's not the point, is it? What I was hoping you'd see- is how you could donate the display to the nursery school after you're through using it. Of course, we'd have to paint it- or rather our fathers committee would." Mrs. Dumbrille trailed off and seemed to be sizing up the new manager. "I'm sure Mr. Graham would have given it to us," she added, treating him to a marauding glance from her dark eyes.

Lippert managed a quick, almost imperceptible movement of his shoulders as if shaking off some invisible constraint. His eyebrows lifted to form an unbroken flat line across his forehead. "I'm hardly the one to profit from Graham's example, he said in a voice that seemed to resonate with the metallic rasp of the speakers emitting their strangled melodies.

Mrs. Dumbrille tried to mitigate the unintended effect of her remark. She bathed Lippert in the renewed balm of her glance. "I wasn't trying to suggest that you needed Mr. Graham's example as an incentive."

"For a moment," Lippert said icily, still goaded by his own fretful mood, "I was afraid you had."

Mrs. Dumbrille's smile hardened. "I only meant that since you are stepping into his shoes-"

"That's not quite the case, Mrs. Dumbrille," he said, regarding her with caustic melancholy. "My role here has absolutely no relation to Mr. Graham's footwear."

"I didn't intend it quite that way," she replied stiffly. "You're a very sensitive man, Mr. Lippert."

Actually, the man was behaving like a perfect boob. And much as she wanted that display, she couldn't resist the impulse to add: "Much too sensitive for Baldwin Village."

Lippert shrugged. "You may be right," he admitted.

Her mouth tightened. She grasped the push-bar of her cart and made as if to thrust past him. For a moment, he seemed about to add something. Instead, he stepped aside, allowing her to pass. She advanced a few paces, paused and looked back at him. "Thank you, anyway," she said. "I'm sure we'll survive without the display."

He watched her trundling the cart ahead of her as she disappeared down the next aisle. He shrugged again and proceeded toward the rear of the store.

"How about it?" the butcher said, holding a fish up by the tail to inspect it for scales. He held the scaling knife in his other hand, pointing it in the direction of the front window. "Do I have a beef or don't I?"

Lippert stared glumly down at the chopping table. "I can't help it, Charlie. I've had to skimp on everybody's space to make room for that damned contest. It's going to be a disaster anyway. The whole plan is wrong. I tried to tell them they should've gone to a regular contest house like Blair or Donnelley instead of listening to that idiot nephew of old man Margolis. Anyway, I tried to make it up to you in the new flyer."

The butcher slapped the fish down on the table and made a couple of passes at it with the knife. The scales splattered about in a miniature storm. "You'll be stuck with a lot of stinking fish on Saturday. You'll see." He dropped the knife and wiped his hands on his bloody apron. "So what's it with you? Ulcers? Graham had ulcers. You didn't know that, did you. But you got the same kind of look."

"Graham had ulcers?" Lippert repeated.

"Would I make it up? Of course, I didn't do the diagnosis."

Lippert shook his head. "You've no idea how much better that makes me feel."

"You don't like Graham? I didn't know you even knew him."

Lippert chuckled. "I'm getting to know him now."

"What are you talking about?"

"Charlie- how old is your kid?"

"Which one? The boy? Five. The little girl- she's three. Why?"

"You don't send them to nursery school by any chance, do you?"

"Hey- has my wife been talking to you?"

"No- you mean she wants to send the kids to nursery school?"

"You're psychic. Otherwise, why would you bring it up? A whole month now, she's been after me. Charlie- what kind of a father are you? Charlie- don't you even take an interest? Charlie- who's Lisa got to play with her own age? It's bad enough these days everybody's got to go to college. That costs enough, don't it? All right- I don't object. I even bought into one of those funds to cover tuition way up front. Okay- but when they start adding on at the other endnursery school- it's too much. If I don't think my kids have to spend half their lives in school- I'm a monster? You tell me."

- Alvin

<< 01/14/2008 | 01/28/2008 | 02/04/2008 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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