I got home late last night--late enough to have missed the first seven innings of the first World Series game. It was another frustrating--perhaps futile day at work--but I had no time for that. The land line was ringing and that could mean only one thing, Uncle Slappy was on the phone.
I don't know why people of my generation still have land lines. The only ones that call us on it are telemarketers, high-priced telemarketers (aka politicians seeking office) or even older loved ones like Uncle Slappy.
Slappy, in fact, does have a cell phone, but like many of his ilk, he leaves it turned off lest he rack up ungodly charges. He doesn't quite understand how the billing of the things works, so to be on the safe side, he abjures from using it at all.
"Boychick," he poked, as soon as I picked up the blower. "Boychick," he said by way of 'hello.' "Have I ever told you the story of Tillie Tickets?"
I turned the Mets game on the TV and turned the volume off. I settled into my favorite chair, and made myself ready for yet another episode of the Uncle Slappy Show.
"Tillie Tickets," I answered dumbly. "I don't believe I've heard of her."
"Tillie," the old man harumphed, "like much of the Upper West Side in the 70s was a widow in a seven room apartment with a river view, a rotary phone, a cat and a threadbare Oriental rug, was living on a fixed income. An admixture of about $90 a week from Social Security and $120 a week from when she was a teacher in the Bronx before it changed."
"Not a lot of live on," I observed.
"She made do. That's how Jews have survived for 6000 years. She wasn't eating filet mignon, but she wasn't eating cat food either. Besides, Tillie Tickets found a way to supplement her income."
"Go on," I added unnecessarily.
"The two things the elderly did in those days to scrape by were 'bruised fruit Tuesdays at Fairway' and free samples at Zabar's. By the way, I was in the service. I've been in combat. You've never seen hurly burly like bruised fruit at Fairway. Do you know what it means to an alte cocker on a fixed income to get a slightly bruised cantaloupe for only 19-cents?
"In any event, it was at Zabar's where Tillie Tickets earned her fame. At the fish counter, where they give out the free samples, she noticed a lot of people, frustrated by how slow the lines moved, would leave their 'now-serving' ticket on the counter and abandon their wait.
"Tillie would grab these tickets and sell them to the highest bidder. Sounds stupid, right. But when the 'now serving' sign is on 19 and you have number 79, no question you'll slip an old lady a fiver for a 26 or three bucks for a 32.
"Before long, Tillie Tickets was pulling in a good $20 a day re-selling discarded tickets. This in addition to all the free samples of lox she was getting."
At this point the old man took a pause. I took a sip of my soda water and bid him go on.
"In the end," Uncle Slappy continued, "Saul Zabar, the owner of the place, got wind of it. And justice came down hard on Tillie."
"He called the cops?"
"No, worse. He barred her from the store on weekdays."
"Exiled to the Gulag Delipelago."
"However, Saul Zabar is a mensch, and it all worked out."
I breathed a long sigh of relief.
"Each Monday to her apartment he had delivered a dozen bagels, assorted. A pound of lox, sliced thin. And..."
"A cantaloupe. Unbruised. A mensch," he said, hanging up the land line.