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Archive for April 15th, 2007

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When I was about three or four years old, my father would take me with him on occasional Saturday morning visits to three bachelor friends who shared an apartment that must have been fairly close to where we lived.  Their names were Charlie Vennen, “Red” Brown and Neil Newton. Charlie was very big, about 6 foot four and muscular. I don’t remember Red’s appearance but Neil was about the same stature as my father who was 5-7.

I think my father’s association with these three dated to his first job in New York, driving an instrument truck for Consolidated Edison.  One thing I remember from my father’s description of that job was that the company put governors on the engines to try to keep the drivers from going too fast and damaging the instruments.  The drivers soon developed a way of thwarting the company by driving to the top of a very long hill, then accelerating as fast as they could down the hill, depressing the clutch, coasting for a while to gain speed and then popping the clutch, which would break the governor.

There were two very tall young women associated with this bunch, the Coin sisters. One of them, Helen, married one of the guys later on, I think it was Charlie.  I don’t clearly remember what happened with the other sister or her name, but I believe she married Red. Later, Neil went to work building the Empire State Building. He fell deeply in love, married and became a widower when his wife died in childbirth. He had a complete breakdown which took years to recover from.

The shared apartment was operated like a miniature frat house.  The guys were much given to pulling practical jokes. One that I remember:  there was a prissy old maid living on the floor above them in their apartment building.  One day as she was coming up the stairs returning from shopping the two bigger guys, Charlie and Red, dragged Neil out of the shower naked, soaking wet, with suds in his hair and threw him out into the hallway.  Another example of their high-class humor occurred when a young couple who had just gotten married was moving in. The moving men had removed the door to their apartment in order to be able to get some of the larger pieces of furniture through the doorway.  These guys stole the door and hid it, I think in the basement.  That night, the young couple, presumably on their wedding night, sat up all night long staring at the empty doorway.

On one morning visit, the guys were still lounging around in their underwear and bathrobes. We went into the kitchen and because of my small size I was able to see under the chairs. One of them had been rigged up with a half dozen or so large dry cells.  In those days large dry cells were something like eight to 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter with screw post terminals with nuts for clamping down wires. The three of them tried various ruses to get my father to sit on their homemade electric chair, occupying the other chairs and so forth.  For some reason, my father didn’t sit on the chair that they wanted him to.  I don’t think he was aware of what was underneath the chair so it was just coincidence.  After trying various other things, they finally got fed up, and the two bigger men grabbed my father and physically lifted him up with the intention of plunking him down on the chair.

This was one case where the executioner probably suffered more than the condemned.  I made a heroic effort to save my father’s life by wrapping my arms around Charlie’s bare leg and biting as hard as I could.  He let out a yell, let go of his side of my father, who then tumbled sideways onto the chair, hitting his head and neck on the back. Charlie then pried me off his leg.  I had bitten hard enough to leave marks and draw a couple of drops of blood. My father was not seriously hurt, and everybody had a good laugh, except me, because of the unexpected turn of events. Oh, and the chair didn’t work anyhow.

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