Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Other Milton Passes but Paradise Lives On

When I was kid, shortly after the Civil War, for the price of a dime and a piece of scotch tape, the world was a wonderous place. In the back of every comic book were amazing offers-I don't know what else to call them-that could be yours as an impressionable and not especially discerning young reader for a mere 'one-tenth of a dollar' mailed to a post office box somewhere in the middle of the country. Growing up on the east coast I wondered if someone in Cleveland or Chicago mailed his dime to someplace like Irvington, New Jersey or Staytonville, Delaware. Wonder, after all, should know no zip code.

The possibilities were endless. Who among us didn't have a bike, which seemed to be the only thing you needed to have paper bag crammed with
Grit, a publication that has had its share of unhappy encounters in recent decades with the lean and mean publishing world. I never knew anyone who read it or delivered it, but that didn't stop me from yearning to make my fortune in the newspaper biz.

My dad wasn't impressed with my poorly developed but still keen entrepreneurial spirit. He'd point to my pal, Bobby F, who delivered the
Daily Home News, sort of as a slacker before the word even existed. That is, Bobby was the paper boy for the afternoon edition but most days didn't have any enthusiasm when the paper was kicked out of the back of the panel delivery truck. His mom delivered it more often than he did.

Still. There were greeting cards you could go door-to-door selling and the money would just roll in! Or so it seemed when you read the inside cover of the comic book. And who could pass on the opportunity to own
Sea Monkeys! "Do Not Resist" indeed. For a time, I thought Sea Monkeys were proof positive that these are the days of miracles and wonder, this is the long distance call, the way the camera follows us in slo-mo; and how would it have been so bad if that were true?

The greatest of all the offers, hands-down, was the
ant farm. It's hard for me to believe that Milton M. Levine, Uncle Milton, who shuffled off this mortal coil the middle of last month, at the age of ninety-seven (!), not only never received the Nobel Prize for Science, he wasn't even nominated. Such a miscarriage of justice, I know and yet, the heart carries on.

Was there a mom anywhere whose face didn't freeze in horror at the notion her child wanted to bring ants into the house as pets? Where was her sense of adventure? Besides, what could possibly go wrong? At the time, none of us knew about postal regulations that prohibited the shipment of queen ants through the mail (helping assure a steady source of revenue to UMT for replacements), and besides, that's not what Mom worried about.

All Mom saw with her x-ray vision whenever you started taping the dime to the comic book cutout card was
this. Awe. Some. I must've sent thirty dollars in pieces of silver (and always in vain), as that dumb old mailman never brought me any ants. I was, I think, in my late thirties before it occurred to me that there was another more plausible and yet sinister explanation for what had happened.....MOM! You'll definitely want to cover the sugar bowl as that seems to attract them and it may be time to try another flavor.
-bill kenny

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