Time in a bottle

The phone rang, and I looked at the clock. It was 6 o’clock at night. Weird, I thought.

Why weird? Simple. Almost no one calls me, and the ones who do, call at the same times. So it’s the AQ at 8 p.m.; Ignatius Lindenhauer III at 9 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends. Kookie the night owl is always around 10 p.m. And my brother, who thinks anyone who doesn’t beat the rooster on their morning wake-up is a loser, makes sure never to call any later than 0645 – especially on my days off.

Other than that, it’s the occasional telemarketer, survey-taker, or politician with his pre-recorded bloviating.

So who was the 6 o’clocker?

It was none other than Barb Curtis, owner, CEO, and director of maintenance at the Dorsey Street Exchange.

“Hey,” she said, “I just got something I think you’d like.”

“A Harris tweed?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said.

“Not a Harris Tweed?”

“Right,” she said.

“But I’ll still like it?”

“Oh yeah,” she said.

“So what is it?”

“Sorry,” she said. “You’ll have to stop in and see it.”

“Well, at least give me a hint,” I said.

“I gave you two.”

“You did?” I asked. “I musta missed them. What were they?”

“I said it wasn’t a Harris tweed and that you’d like it.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.

“Neither is life,” she said and hung up.

My curiosity was piqued, and of course I was going to hustle down to the DSE and check it out. Unfortunately, I’d have to wait till the next day, since Barb called me after closing hours.

Would she have done that on purpose? I wondered. I didn’t have to wonder very long, since I knew the answer was Yes.

The treasure revealed

So the next day I was at the DSE counter, maybe 10 or 12 minutes after Barb opened, not wanting to appear anxious about this possible score.

“OK,” I said to her, “where is it?”

“Right here,” she said, producing a big glass bottle from the shelf behind her and handing it to me.

Actually, while it was a bottle, it was a special one – a soda siphon bottle. Even though I’d never seen one in person, I immediately knew what it was.

The reason I knew was because I’d seen them in two places. One was the old-time movies, where some sophisticate in a tux like Nick Charles was putting just the right amount of bubble-osity in a drinkee, to serve to his worldly inamorata. The other was in the circus, where one clown chased another, threatening to give him one huge spritz.

“But check the etching on it,” Barb said.

I did. On the bottle’s front in big letters was written, “M Curran” on top; “Saranac Lake” on the bottom; and in the middle, an interlocked “MC.”

On the bottom was etched “The Koscherak Siphon.” Underneath that was “Made in Bohemia Austria,” and at the top was the Austrian eagle.

The siphon was in fine shape, no scratches on the bottle, not a lot of wear on the metal spigot on top?- even the glass straw was there in all its glory.

“You ever hear of M. Curran?” asked Barb.

“Never,” I said.

I tried to unscrew the spigot, but only got it to turn.

“Any idea where it came from?” she said.

“None,” I said. “But I know who will.”

The “Who” is, of course, Bunk Griffin, My Home Town’s pre-eminent historian-cum-raconteur-cum-blogger.

I emailed Bunk, and almost immediately he replied, giving me the background I wanted.

M Curran was a local bottling plant around the turn of the century, located in back of the town hall in what is now the public parking lot. There were several bottling plants in town that supplied all sorts of beverages to local establishments, among them soda water in siphons. I assume the reason I couldn’t remove the spigot is because the entire siphon had to be returned to the plant so only they could refill it. I could be wrong, but I wasn’t about to get out my Channel Locks and start cranking on it, either.

Bunk said he had some bottles from local bottlers, among them M Curran, but no soda siphon, which according to him was quite the find.

I checked on the internet and found other soda siphons, some with the Koscherak label but none with a Saranac Lake one. They were all in the same price range, which to someone who’s never collected a bottle, like yours truly, seemed pretty high.

The next day I called Barb to report my findings. I told her what Bunk had told me, as well as the prices I saw on the siphons. Then we cut to the chase, and I asked her how much she wanted for it. She told me, and unsurprisingly, it was in line with all the others. Of course I snapped it up.

The glass time machine

So now the logical question: What use could I have for a pricey soda siphon, even a 100-year-old one in fine condition – especially one that can’t be filled?

Well, lemme tell ya, if you’ve got to ask that question, you don’t know the value of nostalgia.

I look at the siphon and I don’t see an old bottle. Instead, I see one of our classic, long-gone watering holes, maybe the Riverside Hotel, or the St. Regis, or even the Paul Smith’s Hotel. I see the men, bellying up, talking and laughing -?perhaps too loudly -?smoking (even chewing) tobacco, with big mirrors on the walls and brass spittoons on the floor.

And there sitting on the back bar is my siphon, making that scene, and those men, come alive for me. I look at the siphon and I can smell pipe smoke and whiskey; I can hear laughter and chatter; I can time travel 100 years in an instant.

To me, my siphon isn’t a bottle -?instead, it’s magic in the truest sense.

In fact, for all I know there’s a genie inside that bottle. But if there is, I’ll never know since to free him I’d have to remove the spigot.

So as long as the siphon sits on my shelf, the genie stays inside.

And while the genie might not be happy with that arrangement, I am.