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Heart and sole

October 29, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Obviously, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise is my official publisher.

But less obvious is my unofficial publisher. No longer able to keep such a powerful secret, I now reveal it: It's the IB Hunt Agency.

The Hunts in the publishing business? Is that possible? Indeed, it is, and while they don't publish frequently, they do it regularly - once a week, in fact.

It works like this: My deadline is Thursday at noon. I start bouncing around possible column ideas on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday, I start the rough draft, which I hand-write. When I finish it, I put it on my computer and revise it on the monitor. But the final draft and the one before that, I have to do it on hard copy.

It's probably due to having come of age - and aging - in a black-and-white world as in black print on white paper. As a student, teacher and compulsive reader, all the writing I ever scrutinized was on the printed page. Consequently, I can find flaws on paper far better than on computer screens.

And what does any of that have to do with the IB Hunt Agency? Simple. I don't have a printer and they do. So on Thursday mornings, I hie into Hunts with my flash drive, and I avail myself of their kindness and printing operation.

But it's more than simply seeking services, I also have fun there. I like to banter with the brains of the outfit, Carolyn Salls; with Samantha; and of course, with Ken when I can find him.


The sage of Saga

But beyond getting my column printed and chatting with my pals, there's something extra-special about going in there, namely I'm always reminded of when it was the Endicott-Johnson store.

In case you don't know, Endicott-Johnson was a shoe maker, back when shoes - and everything else - were made in America. But I didn't go there for the shoes, I went to visit the manager, Henry Duffek.

The Duffeks were friends of our family, and Mr. Duffek was always especially friendly to me. He was medium height, stocky, had a Kaiser Wilhelm-type flattop and a very slight accent, having been born in Czechoslovakia. I don't think we ever had real conversations. Instead, he kidded me a lot, always called me "A little scheisser," and just was a great guy to have small talk with. It doesn't sound like much, but given how distant most adults were with children, it was enough for me to consider him my friend.

And because he was my friend, I'd occasionally take advantage of his good nature and use him as a commercial loan officer. It was all in the name of literacy, what with me and my Saga magazine addiction.

Saga, "The Magazine for Men," was a great publication. It was one of those classic men's magazines like True and Argosy, only I thought the stories were edgier, less staid, and generally more exotic. Just to clarify: Today, men's magazines are very racy, often to the point of in-your-face trashiness, but back in the '50s and '60s they weren't even off-color, let alone mildly erotic. Instead, they extolled high adventure, with articles like, "Capsized in piranha-infested waters," "Diary of a lion tamer" or, if it was of a military bent, "Escape from Bataan."

Anyhow, it didn't matter what specific subjects were featured, I thought Saga's writing was the best in America. And as a 14 or 15-year-old, you had best believe I was a fine judge of literary excellence.

And how did Mr. Duffek come into all this?

Never able to afford a subscription, I was forced to buy Saga by the issue, which I did religiously. But because it cost a lordly 50 cents a copy and because I'd lose track of when exactly the new issues hit town, I'd often find myself downtown with the latest Saga but without the 50 cents. I kept my major stash at home and would never have dared carry a whole half-buck as walk-around money.

So I did the most logical thing; I asked Mr. Duffek to lend me the four bits, which he always did. And in return, I always repaid him the next day.

The visits and the loan-and-repayment dynamic had a sudden and sad end when Mr. Duffek died in May 1962.

Saga ceased publication years ago.

I still miss both of them.


Glowing recommendation

There was something else about the Endicott-Johnson store that's still vividly etched in my mind - its X-ray machine.

An X-ray machine in a shoe store? That can't be for real, can it? Oh, yes it can.

The store had two front doors, and if you went in the left door, the X-ray machine was immediately on your left. It wasn't like the X-ray machines we see in hospitals because it was made specifically for shoe stores.

It consisted of a small platform, on which was a waist-high tower, which had eyepieces at the top. At its bottom was a space where, after you stepped on the platform, you slid your feet in. And somewhere in the middle of this construction was a fluoroscope that when turned on, gave you a great view of both your shoes and your feet's skeletal structure. And because it was a fluoroscope, it was on as long as you wanted to keep checking out the insides of both your tootsies and your chukka boots.

The supposed reason behind this was you could see, scientifically, how well your shoes fit. The real reason, of course, was so the salesmen could point out how the "best-fitting" shoe was the most expensive one. The machines came out in the 1940s and it's estimated that during the '50s, there were 10,000 of them in shoe stores across America.

Now the inevitable question: How safe were they?

From what I've been able to figure out, they weren't the least bit safe. I mean, how safe could they be? Today when we have a simple dental X-ray, we're wrapped in a lead shroud and the dental techs are out in the hall, cowering behind a wall when they turn it on. But back in them days, Bunkie, was irradiating the living bejammers out of our feet and everything and everyone else within a 10-foot radius.

Still, the thrill of being able to see your inner man, woman or child was irresistible to almost all men, women and children. It sure was to me and my brother, but unfortunately, as irresistible as it was, it got resisted. Not by us, but by our father.

He understood the appeal of the shoe store X-ray machine, but as a doctor, he also understood its dangers. So we were forbidden to partake of the great radiologic delights of My Home Town.

So every time I went in the store (which I did almost several times a week), all I could do was look at the machine, sigh and try to accept one more pain of my deprived childhood.

Of course, my father was only being a conscientious and concerned parent, but at the time I considered him nothing less than an arch villain. And, please, don't pardon the pun.



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