UNITED STATES—Whenever we were on a trip my dad would get anxious and phone the drug store. This seemed a gross interruption of our vacation time, reinforcing the ill feeling for the drug store. As I child, to tell you the truth, my sister and I loathed the drug store as something that robbed our dad from us. And that theft continued when he gave himself the enormous leisure of a Sunday off, in the mid-70s. The rotating Sunday among the half dozen stores in their pharmacy organization had not given very many plentiful days off, and after so many Sundays he never really got used to being off.
And among Watsonville’s pharmacists there lived the memory of a man, Bob Rouse, who belonged to the earlier era of town when it looked more like a hustling bustling little American city and the pharmacist prided himself on never taking a day off. It was a neon forest and all the parking places on Main Street were filled. Now the neon had been pruned, though a massive scaffolding still supported the molten-red letters HOTEL RESETAR atop the five-story building and visible from all points around the valley. Our drug store had the one corner, and the Resetars had the other three, occupied by their hotel, the other J.C. Penny and the Corner of East Lake and Main had another variety store. The Yugoslavians like the Resetars had no shame in seeing their names embedded in the cornices of buildings.
Johnson Drug it was instead of Miller Drug and Johnson Drug it remained until 44 years later they had held out and were the last of the independent pharmacies, still offering free delivery. And when I came to the downtown and started pushing my first broom around the sidewalk and picked up my first pocket change, the downtown seemed more a cross between Mayberry and the Tenderloin.
There was a bar next to the drug store, that reached around behind Tony’s barber shop and under the stairs to the hotel, The Roaring 20s. On Fridays, organ players and good side men came in to play, and now and again the good jazz seeped through to the drug store from the Roaring 20s. From the viewpoint of the alleysweeper it was a place to be shunned, a place where one of the Janson’s of the music store, the one with the florid red face, might stop for courage early in the morning to face another day at the music store. Bad people went there, and unbeknownst to me Dad slipped in there from time to time and lived the jazz that was in him and was still alive, even though he caved in to the embarrassment we felt when those rhythms would take over he’d be moving his legs and tapping his feet.
My duties included sweeping an alleyway behind there that had a stench unique to dumpsters, and there was a Chopstick, a drab chop suey joint with lazy susans on the tables and it seemed a real treat.
A task requiring strength and courage was unrolling the awning, it required a huge iron rod with an eyelet on one end and the rod weighed a ton. The awnings had to be rolled out in the morning and in with the night. The risk was always to keep it on the hook, and not let the heavy rod slip and smack against the plate glass window and break it to smithereens. It was a very real risk, and given my highly uncoordinated nature and proximity to panic as a child, it is astonishing that it didn’t happen. Dad would have blown up at first and then quickly forgiven me.
Now and again some lout from the hotel over the drug store would toss out a cigarette from one of the upstairs windows and burn a hole in the canvas awning. It would later have to be patched up. That hotel, mostly residential, belonged to my parents. A few years after buying the drug store from Mr. Meyer they got the opportunity to buy the fleabag hotel where the drug store was located and it consigned much of our childhood to great austerity in terms of gadgets and stuff that other people seemed to get and flaunt very easily. None of this was explained until my father neared the end of his life and my mother became less inhibited about talking about such things as handling a mortgage that monthly took almost everything they had.
Paying for the Jefsen Building (there it is, the name of another dynasty).
To be continued…