Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fairness, The Lodi and Zaberers

Back in the 1950's and very early 1960's our annual "vacation" was a day at the beach in Atlantic City. We changed clothes for bathing suits at The Lodi. Then our mothers would stake out a spot somewhere on the hundred yard deep beach between the Steel Pier and the Million Dollar Pier. The lighter skinned among us, like Sam, would acquire a near case of sun poisoning since we stayed on the beach from about ten in the morning to four or five in the afternoon. There were sandwiches and sodas to enjoy for a brief lunch; but we kids spent almost the entire day in the water or getting thoroughly sanded at the water's edge.

Life doesn't get any better than a perfect day at the shore at ten or twelve years old. Heating up out on the sand, cooling yourself in the water, testing yourself against the waves. Wondering if there really are sharks out there. So hungry by two or so that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes like Ambrosia. So exhausted by four that the back seat of the car is as restful as the womb. The shore at ten or twelve years old is as near to heaven as any of us ever get here on Earth.

Pop, and the rest of the fathers, escorted us to the beach and got us all set up. They had no time for the beach. For they had to spend the day working, carefully investing in the horses at the Atlantic City Raceway. After the last race they came to get us.

In good years, when one or a couple of the Redpeppers hit big at the track, we went to Zaberers where the big winners treated the whole crowd to dinner. In so-so years we ate a much less expensive meal at The Lodi. If you've been to Maggiano's or Buca de Beppe you can easily visualize those meals because The Lodi served family style; huge platters of appetizers, huge bowls of soup, huge platters of just like home made ravioli, lasagne, spaghetti, meat balls, veal parmesan, etc. served until nobody could eat another bite. There was no problem sleeping in the back seat of the car during the long drive home up Black Horse Pike and Ridge Avenue after a meal consisting of fifteen or twenty meat ravioli plus at least some of everything else.

Zaberers was a much more formal type place. There you ordered individual meals with the prices almost no object; although Matty got a dirty look from Uncle Froggy for ordering lobster one time. He got the lobster though. Doc, who was paying that year, laughed about it and said something about it being only right that kids should get a taste of the good life. But, as I said, we only ate at Zaberers in exceptional years, maybe twice or three times, when Doc or one of the boys hit really big at the track.

I'm reminded of this because the fuel for those meals at Zaberers was the general sense among the Redpeppers, a band of brothers from the East End of Norristown who became teammates on a very short-lived semi-pro baseball team that they formed in the late 1930's, that at least some of any instance of good fortune (Bona Fortuna) had to be shared.

The Redpeppers did the same sort of sharing when one of them hit the daily number or when one of them hit big on a long shot horse - those were the days before some unsung genius invented the trifecta - but still there would occasionally be one of the boys who would hit ten bucks on a thirty to one shot. Doc, especially was a long shot bettor, a very scientific bettor, carefully studying the racing sheets until he had a good prospect and then even going to the track to observe the horse before putting ten or twenty, or even a hundred, down on it, spending the rest of the day placing a disciplined two dollar bet on one of the horses in each of the other races just to maintain interest. Pop always said that Doc was the only horse bettor he ever knew who beat the odds on the horses; and Pop knew a lot of horse bettors, a lot. He knew pretty well every horse bettor in Norristown.

I'm reminded of all this because I came across the article I've linked to below on which is the best general purpose reading site on the web that I've ever found. I don't agree with this guy that the special sense of fairness he writes about is unique to the so called Anglosphere because, after all, Pop and his buddies were only products of the Anglosphere on the surface. Underneath they were actually still more or less Italians, at least in those days, even though they all spoke English as their native language. Most of them could understand Italian from exposure to their parents; but they never or seldom spoke it. They wanted to fit into the general run of Americans. Their wives, for some reason, were much more open about understanding and speaking Italian, which may say something about women being less conformist than men; but that's a subject for another day.

And, since I've mentioned that The Redpeppers were a band of brothers, here, by chance is another article that's near the top of the site. It's about the battle where that phrase was coined, at least in the version Shakespeare told of it - putting these words in Henry V's mouth. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. . ."

As a bonus it's my theory (and I'm sure that of others much more learned) that the development of the English peasant into a longbowman by virtue of required archery practice by most of the peasant men every Sunday was critical to the existence and evolution of the egalitarian institutions that developed earlier in the Anglosphere than in other societies in the modern age. You're never again gonna keep 'em quite so firmly in their place once they've learned that any one of them, pressed too far, can kill any one of the armored knights who are their "lords" using weapons they're more or less capable of making themselves.