How did The Nut Shop get to be our hangout? I don't know, but that was where we landed when we had outgrown the neighborhood playground.
It was just a short walk up 101st street to Euclid Avenue--"Uptown"-- where there were five movie theaters competing for your popcorn and Goobers change. I can see their beckoning lights even now: University, Keith's RKO, Alhambra, Circle, and Loew's Park.
Was it "Rock Around the Clock" that blared from the loudspeaker outside the storefront that drew us in? If so, Then Bill Haley and the Comets must have been our Pied Piper.
We had no rec rooms or dens to congregate. A few families had television sets, and a few had phonographs, but parents who worked all day came home tired and wanted some peace. The Nut Shop became our official Place To Be. It was here we met other teenagers to joke, flirt, and listen to Rock 'N Roll.
The front of the store was devoted to selling nuts and candy. The back of the store opened up into a lunch counter of black marble with backless red vinyl- covered stools, dotted on the edges with silvery buttons and rising on shiny metal pedestals. Behind the long counter was the cooking space, the dish washing space and the soda fountain. Everything stainless steel.
When the Nut Shop opened its doors at noon every day, office workers and clerks from surrounding businesses came in for a quick hamburger, coffee or slice of pie.
Late afternoon into early evening, the teenagers congregated for fantastic sodas and ice cream concoctions. It was a pattern that worked. Sitting in the center of the lunch area was the jukebox, a massive, gyrating, mechanical kaliedoscope of music and color. Feed a quarter to it and you could choose 3 songs.
"Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis, "Little Darlin" by the Diamonds, or "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers? Yes, meeting the gang at the Nut Shop was pretty cool.
Working on Cool
Most times we showed up in our school clothes, the girls in narrow, long skirts almost touching the tops of high bobby sox loafers fashionably down- at- the- heels. For a while it was cool to wear your sweater backwards with the buttons in the back. False pearl chokers we could pull apart and re-fashion were a minor fad.
Guys could be casual in Levi's, a white tee shirt with a folded up sleeve pinioning a cigarette pack inside. A pompadour of greased lightning Brylcreme with slicked back sides into a Duck Tail in the back was all the accessory needed to mimic James Dean. For a dressy occasion, carefully pegged "drapes" were the trousers du jour.
Oh yes, we were ready for the afternoon! Someone dropped in a coin and Elvis began to gyrate with "Hound Dog" A few of us would begin a little jitterbug, the rest singing along with "the Pelvis" until Frank, the owner, erupted from the back office with "Cut that out! No Dancing! I don't have a permit!" So that was that.
Yip Yip Yip Get a Job
One day the front window held a sign, "short order cook/waitress wanted/ afternoons/ weekends" and as I pushed open the door, the Platters were crooning "Only You." That had to be a sign. Frank looked at me dubiously as I presented myself as a potential employee. "You have a card?" he asked, meaning a Social Security card. I nodded yes. It was still unbent and fresh in my leather cartridge-box purse.
"Can you count back change?" he interrogated me further. Oh, math was involved. Well, kiss that job goodbye, I thought, but not so. "I'll teach you to count change back" he told me, and under his stern tutelage I flourished as the A-Number 1 counter-backer.
The grill was a hissing monster that always needed cleaning and scraping, especially when someone wanted a cheeseburger. I learned not to drop the thin slice of American cheese on until almost ready to slide the meat off the grill.
Washing dishes was a snap. Hot suds, hot water, drain dry. Everything so the customers could see how clean the glasses were. Hold them up to the light, I was told, to check for lipstick.
Scrub and dunk, rinse, inspect, and as Chuck Berry warbled out "Maybellene" I sang right along. Working at the Nut Shop, I no longer had to feed coins into the jukebox-I learned all the lyrics for free.
Pretty soon my friends made sure to arrive on the afternoons or weekends I was working. Why not? We could all sing and tap our fingers to the tunes while I worked and they slurped. I always charged them for their orders,but somehow the size of the ice cream scooped into malted milkshakes got larger and larger. And if someone wanted a Tin Roof, well-my artistry with the maraschino cherries and Spanish peanuts was something to see.
Chocolate syrup was reserved for Chocolate Phosphates, the fudge pump worked overtime when I made Tin Roofs. And the fries were always spilling over the plate for my friends.
I learned a lot working at the Nut Shop. I learned to work quickly but efficiently. I learned to count change in my head. A few grill burns and a cut hand from one of those squeaky-clean glasses made me careful. I learned that lesson that comes from "working with people." Come payday, Frank clanged open the cash register, counted out some bills, had me sign a receipt, and off I went with my after school earnings, a whole $7.50 burning a hole in my pocket. I was rich!
Each of us has our own Happy Days. I can see with my eyes that every city block and street familiar to me has been crushed by the wrecking ball of progress. But inside me, I think a memory can resist change if it chooses.
So in my memories I can do The Stroll up E. 101, turn onto Euclid Avenue, and find the Happy Days of my teen years. It is there that old friends are young, the jukebox plays without money, and the whipped cream on the Tin Roof Sundae is the real thing.
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