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Flatbush Flashback

I Was an Eight-Year-Old Soda Jerk

 

"If you read comic books, then you may remember that Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe was the Riverdale institution where Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead whiled away idyllic afternoons sipping malteds at the gleaming, chrome-trimmed counter. It occurred to me one not-so-bad Flatbush afternoon, as I was perusing the latest editions of Archie, Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Superman, The Flash, Fantastic Four, and Mad, which I'd spread out on top of the ice cream freezer in the back of the store, that if Pop Tate's were in Bizarro World, the cube-shaped planet from Superman where everything is the opposite of the way it is on Earth, then it might look something like the Goodrose Cigar Store." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

One night in Provincetown, in the summer of 1996, Mary Lyn Maiscott and I went to see the band Betty at a local club. Named after Betty Cooper in Archie comics, the group, known for tight harmonies, catchy melodies, and clever lyrics, still consists of Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff, and Elizabeth Ziff. Midway through the show they asked the audience an Archie-related trivia question and offered a prize to the first person to answer it correctly.

 

The question was: "Who is the principal of Riverdale High?"

 

I was the only one who raised my hand, so they called on me.

 

"Mister Weatherbee," I answered.

 

"That's correct," one of them said and then asked me my name.

 

Not only did Betty give me some Betty CDs and a T-shirt, they sang my name in three-part harmony, which left such an impression on the audience that after the concert, as Mary Lyn and I wandered around Provincetown, some people, who'd obviously seen the show, called out, "Hey, Bob Rosen!"

 

It was my finest Archie moment, and it wouldn't have happened had I not spent all those hours reading comic books in my father's candy store.

 

The above cover of Pep (Archie Series), from January 1961, is typical of what I was reading in the prime of my comic-enthusiast days. And though I'm sure I understood the difference between fact and fiction, the idealized image of the candy-store proprietor, his employee, and his customer must have filled me with confusion and longing.

 

For one thing, portly Pop Tate, with his bowtie and lavender shirt, was a far cry from the candy-store owner I knew: my father, whom I describe in Bobby in Naziland as looking "dangerous, in that irresistible James Dean kind of way, all slicked-back hair, cool aviator shades, and ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips."

 

And I, the employee, was an eight-year-old soda jerk who could barely imagine what it would be like to serve somebody as pretty as Veronica (or Betty) an egg cream, not to mention make out with her between sips (though I could never understand what either of them saw in Archie).

 

Most confusing of all was the contrast between the cramped, dingy candy store, where every surface "appeared to be coated with a half-century of accumulated dust and grime," and brightly lit, sparkling clean, mirrored, expansive Tate's, with its chrome-trimmed seats at the counter. (SRO for the candy store's cigarette-smoking and dirty-book-reading clientele.)

 

Why couldn't my father's candy store be more like Pop Tate's? I wondered, as if the fictions of Riverdale could somehow be made real in Flatbush's grubby commercial grottos. In Provincetown, 35 years later, had Betty, the band, followed up their Mister Weatherbee question with this more existential inquiry, I'd still have been stumped.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you should (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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