My father was a sucker for a second-hand bargain. He was a smart, hard-drinking, gregarious, temperamental but soft-hearted, sensitive and very honest man who loved animals and trusted everyone. The two or three times he tried to tell a lie, he was so bad at it that he got himself in just as much trouble as he would have by telling the truth in the first place and taking his lumps.
Dad thought that everyone he knew was as honest as he was, and he never learned otherwise, no matter how many times he got stuck. Whenever one of his friends, acquaintances or drinking buddies had a piece of junk to unload, my Dad was the mark. He would fall for any sales pitch, no matter how ridiculous.
“Hey, Johnny! I got something for you. It’s a pre-fabricated shed. You run a gas station, right?”
“So this is perfect. You set it up in that gravel alley behind your house and turn it into another gas station. That way you get twice as many customers as you got now, with just that one on Main Street. I’ll let you have it for fifty bucks.”*
Before we knew it, we had a hideous shed in our back yard that sat lonely and unused for years, bringing down property values all over the block. Even the neighborhood kids were ashamed to play in it. My Dad might have been Italian, but that thing made us look like rednecks.
We had some of the worst cars and worst TV sets in town, thanks to Dad and his bargains. Our cars were always breaking down. Our TV sets were always black and white, full of static with pictures that kept rolling up or down. We might get a good picture if someone volunteered to stand next to the TV and act as a human aerial, but nobody wanted to do this for more than two minutes.
We could have gotten a color TV if it hadn’t been for my Grandma McNeely. She won a color TV in a church raffle. Being a woman of simple wants and almost fanatical piety, she gave it back to the church so they could raffle it off again and make more money. My Dad, who was not pious, wanted everything and wasn’t fond of Grandma McNeely,** was pissed:
“Why didn’t she give it to us?”
That was our one and only chance to get a color TV, and it was gone forever. I hope Grandma got a lot of credit up in Heaven for that. Somebody in the family had to get something from it, and it wasn’t us.
Once in a great while Dad would catch a break and get something good, like that great console stereo that gave us music for many years. Everything from Puccini to The Beach Boys was played on it. I don’t know what finally happened to it, because I was out of the house by then.
Dad also got me my one and only car, which he got for the princely sum of $100. It was a Simca, a French car. I drove that little thing over half the State of Washington, to and from college, several times. It finally died on me once and for all right after I had reached my home town, not far from where we lived.
It was like losing a friend.
*This was considered a lot of money back in the 50s. You could feed a family of five for a week on $20 back then.
**The feeling was mutual.