There's a Ralph Lauren country store on Main Street in East Hampton (there probably is a Ralph Lauren store on every Main Street in America by now, for God's sake!) and since I pass this store on a fairly frequent basis (The Blue Parrot bar, grill and Cal-Mex restaurant is just down the alleyway west of Ralph's place), I have become something of an amateur of Mr. Lauren's display windows, which just may be the best Americana since Norman Rockwell.
Is it real? Well, let's not get shirty. Just how real were Norman's covers for the Saturday Evening Post?
Ralph changes his display windows with the seasons, as do most sensible retailers, but it is the quality of the junk (I mean, antiquities and memorabilia) in the windows that stuns and amazes. And which has convinced me that my dear old mother, who passed away several years ago, may have had a good deal to answer for when she came up before the heavenly bar of justice, for having callously thrown out stuff I might have sold to Ralph Lauren for his shop display windows coast to coast.
Just think about the use to which creative shopkeepers and others put otherwise totally useless rubbish.
Just around the corner from Ralph's place on Main Street in East Hampton is the Morgan Rank Gallery of primitive American art. In the windows currently are antique photos of baseball teams and three wonderful old baseball gloves in dark and decidedly aged and cracking leather. In today's art world, those three gloves qualify as artifacts. Even as objets d'art! And where, now that I might make a buck on it, is my own vintage 1930-something Earl Averill fielding mitt?
Talk to my mother, Sheepshead Bay's goddess of cleanliness, who every season went through the house throwing out junk of enormous potential value like that Earl Averill fielder's glove I'd been saving against a rainy day. Or a paucity. Or a cash money offer from either Mr. Lauren or Morgan Rank.
And there was still some baseball in that glove, no matter how many times I spit in the palm, and then pounded my fist into it! Though please do not press me on just who Earl Averill was or his team.
Then there's my Flexible Flyer sled. Where the hell is that? When winter comes, Ralph's going to need an additional Flexible Flyer sled in the old window. See my mother. If I believed in Ouija boards I'd be rapping on tables right now and trying to find out what she did with that sled.
I had a great leather football helmet, too, in a style reminiscent of a University of Michigan helmet, and that disappeared while I was in the Marine Corps. And that wasn't the only thing that went while I was off serving the nation and the grand old flag (which reminds me, if we owned a flag, she would have tossed that out too and not burned it the way they teach you in the Boy Scouts). I had a nifty wooden shafted golf putter. And what about the six feet of racing shell?
I guess I ought to explain about the shell. As a freshman I was on the Manhattan College crew as coxswain though I wasn't in the varsity boat the day it sank in mid-race in the Harlem River (the front page Daily News headline over an embarrassing photo of the event read, "Manhattan crew goes DOWN to defeat!"). But when we cut up the old shell for souvenirs afterwards, I took the stern six feet home and treasured it (until my mother's next spasm of housecleaning).
There was also my extremely valuable collection of Indian Head pennies (not sure if Ralph could use those but they surely delighted the numismatic in me. I used to have down in the cellar just about every issue of Life magazine that came out from the start until about 1942. It was at that point I was shamed into surrendering the stack to a wartime waste paper collection so the Air Corps could make bombers (please don't ask how you made bombers, even back then, out of old magazines; during the war we did what we were told). I also had extremely rare first editions of Superman comics as well as some Batman and Submariner comics in mint condition. And what would those be worth to collectors today? To say nothing of my shelf of Big Little Books.
Mother, you know not what you did!
Then there were my several cigar boxes crammed with assorted treasures such as NRA buttons with the eagle emblem and, much later, my "I Like Ike" buttons. All gone, alas. Since my cousin Si Titus, a Holy Cross man, played interior lineman for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the NFL until he went into the Marine Corps, I had a Dodgers program autographed by everyone on the team including that great quarterback, Ace Parker. Why anyone, even my mother, would take it upon herself to discard such a trophy I cannot explain. And what of all those Army-Notre Dame game programs, with photos in there of such demigods as Angelo Bertelli, Blanchard & Davis, Leon Hart and De-Witt "Tex" Coulter?
It is very nearly sufficient to make you appreciate matricide.
And where is the canary cage in which our "Dickey" lived happily until "Lindy" the Airedale terrier knocked it over and scared the poor bird to death? You think Ralph Lauren doesn't need a nice bird cage for his shop windows once in a while? Nor have I any idea where my balloon-tire bike went. Or any number of hockey sticks. Or those early pine skis with a protrusion at the bow on which to attach sealskins. Or the fishing rod with which I caught my first sunfish using bread as bait.
But the true crime against humanity came while I was in the Marines and my mother gave my set of bright red Lionel trains along with two switches, a tunnel and an automatic grade crossing to my young cousin Martin who, as young cousins do, promptly demolished the lot.
If that devastated me and still does, how do you think Ralph Lauren feels? I believe that next time I pass his store en route to The Blue Parrot, I'll get old Ralph to come along. We both need a drink.