Dad's locksmith shop was a perfect circle. So round that I don't think I can tell you the square footage of the place. It was small though. So small that one day when an epileptic friend of my father's had a fit in the shop, he took up nearly the length of the place, front to back, when he fell.
"Ward's Corner Key and Lock" was how we were told to answer the phone. This is what is was. Keys made, locks fixed and sold, but mostly sitting outside on the front stoop, because sitting (or having a fit) was awkward inside. In the summer, outside sitting was preferable anyhow, since inside was hot as a blast furnace and since the shop sat in the middle of the parking lot, pretty girls walked past plenty enough to turn necks from the inside to the outside, making it more convenient to sit out front, thus not having to crank necks as hard or as often.
Locksmithing is a hard dirty business. Working all day to open a suitcase, pinching the picks and handling them just so to jostle the pins inside the lock and allow the case to open was no easy task. Cutting keys to order, opening car doors and locks without keys (and making new ones) was just part of the workaday world of my Dad's occupation. By Noon, his hands were as black as to make any Negro resentful. However, Dad carried on good relations with the blacks here in Norfolk, a southern town, but one with the cosmopolitanism of having the United States Navy in its backyard.
I "worked" there in the summer. Dad would wake me and somehow stuff my still asleep body into the car to make the trip to Ward's Corner. This "Times Square of the South" as it billed itself was an outdoor shopping center built in the forties and fifties. Made up of drug stores, dime and department stores, a movie, assorted general shops and my Dad's key shop, it was a blizzard of activity until about ten o'clock when it settled down for the days traffic, steady, smooth and slow. We always called it the key shop, yet the money was in locks and fixing and opening them. But people understood keys and so on opening day in 1955, Dad and Robert and David put a big flashing key on the roof, which flashed until about 1968 and remained there until Dad left in 1987. We stopped looking at it sometime in the 60's.
My Dad never wanted me to be a locksmith. There was no money in it, really. And the skim was skinny too. Back in those days a late night call to open up a car with the keys in the ignition was fifteen dollars. And Dad, being the democrat, charged the same for colored sections of town as he would for the tony. This worried my Mother who, even though even handed on the race question as anyone could be in liberal Norfolk, knew that there were more murders down on Church Street than up on Algonquin drive. But Dad didn't worry. Mom did, and would call the cops who often would meet Dad on a job, if they could, to make sure he remained alive. He did, and we were awfully glad.
So you can see why he didn't want that life for me. Like traditional Jewish parents, he wanted a doctor for a son. Forgetting that this would require having a son for a doctor was no impediment to his thinking, but he did come to realize early on, by the time I was in school, that I was not medical material. But I wasn't going to be a locksmith either. But this didn't constrain him from invoking the draft when summer came and inducting me into involuntary servitude. I wasn't a slave, mind you, but I had no choice. It was up early and to the shop. I was not enthused.
I wasn't much good at any of this, and never did get good at it. In fact it wasn't until after my Dad's death that I figured out once and for all the difference between a "Phillips" and a "regular" screwdriver. Or a nut and a bolt. Comic books and large amounts of diet soda kept me fairly stupid and unindustrious. I wasn't able or willing to learn much more than how to make a key, so my job became mostly running errands and getting lunch for the real workers. This I liked. I could turn a ten minute run over to the hardware store into an hour and a half hop, skip, and jump to the drugstore to suck on a Tab for half an hour while leafing through comic books, another thirty minutes at the newsstand peeking at the nudey books and magazines and another thirty checking out the latest records at the music shop. When I got back, Dad had long ago been taken up with some such and such and forgot about me and my errand. This worked out just fine. It was going to be a good, well if not good, then fair summer. I'd rather be home in bed with Art Linkletter, eating, sleeping, using myself for unwholesome pleasure and then eventually tottering outside to see if we could get a game up. Like we always had, every summer. But this summer I was going to work. Or give the impression of it, anyway.