Stalking the talk

There’s no question about whether or not we’re opposed to wastefulness. The only question is who decides what’s wasteful?

Some things everyone (or at least everyone with half a brain) can agree on are a waste. For instance, Donald Trump, Justin Bieber and both houses of Congress. Beyond them, the issue gets fuzzy.

I know a guy (call him X) who loves Harris Tweed sport coats. He has 35 of them – total cost, somewhere around five grand.

I love Harris Tweeds, too, and have 10 of them. But unlike X, I loathe retail; my total cost is somewhere around 200 bucks, maybe.

So is his spending 25 times more than me per coat wasteful? If you’re talking money alone, the answer is yes. But if you factor in the pleasure X gets from his collection and how dashing they make him look, and that they keep him warm, it’s money well spent. And this is especially true considering he doesn’t drink, gamble, carouse or indulge in any other expensive activity.

Then we have wastes of time. Newton Minow, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, famously referred to television as “a vast wasteland.” Frankly, I think he was making an understatement, but since 96.7 percent of American homes have TVs, it’s obvious that my opinion is a minority one. This hardly surprises me, as lots of folks think my favorite hobby is a total waste of time.

In case you didn’t know, my favorite hobby is schmoozing.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify something. Schmooze is a Yiddish word which means to chat, or maybe even to gossip a bit. That’s the traditional definition. But recently it’s taken on another meaning – to brown-nose. This is clearly not the definition I’m using.

Life before the Internet

I think I came by it naturally. As far back as I can remember, schmoozing was a way of life for most people. Yeah, that’s right: Before TV, the Internet, Facebook and cellphones, people actually talked to each other. And they talked a lot. They talked to their neighbors, to the people on the streets and in the businesses downtown, to darn near everyone including strangers. Monkey see, monkey do -?so it only made sense I’d do the same.

One day, I timed myself, seeing how long it’d take me to walk from the post office to the town hall, chatting to folks I ran into on the way, but not crossing the street or going into any businesses. I clocked in at 45 minutes, and wasn’t the least surprised.

So why don’t I consider idle chit-chat wasteful? Well, I’ve got several reasons. First, pure and simple, I enjoy it. Second, I’d like to think the people I schmooze with have a good time as well. And third, it’s my schooling. Every time I talk with people, I learn something. It may about them, about me, about the world in general, or even more important, about My Home Town. Last Saturday I uncovered some real nuggets.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about a bottle that Barb Curtis, she of Dorsey Street Exchange fame, had brought to my attention. It was from the turn of the century and came from a local bottling company – M. Curran. I couldn’t find out much about the company, other than it was owned by a man named Michael Curran, the plant was in what’s now the village lot in back of the town hall, and it closed around 1920.

After the column hit print, I got an email from a gal named Casey Miller. It turns out her maiden name is Niederbuhl and she’s originally from Bloomingdale, where her bro, Artie (King Arthur) Niederbuhl, still lives and reigns over Norman’s Store.

In her email, she told me she was Michael Curran’s great-granddaughter, her mother being his grand-daughter. She didn’t know anything about the business, but she asked if I’d take a picture of the bottle and give it to her mom, to which I readily agreed.

On Saturday I took the pic to Norman’s to give it to The King. I was also going to get a chunk of their cheese, arguably the Adirondacks’ best. Of course, when I go into Norman’s, while I may have a primary mission (in this case, to give the photo and get some cheese), I always have a secondary one as well – schmoozing with The King.

Cheddar and better

I gave Artie the pic, got my cheese, and then we got down to business.

I told him the story behind my getting the bottle, as well as the few details I knew about his great-grandfather’s business.

“I don’t know how old the bottle is,” I said, “but I do know it can’t be any newer than 1920, since that’s when the business closed.”

“You know why he went out of business?” Artie asked.

“No idea,” I said. “I couldn’t find out. Even Bunk didn’t know.”

“It was because of Prohibition,” he said. “His biggest business was delivering beer.”

Of course! It made perfect sense, and I should’ve figured that out for myself but I didn’t.

“Here,” he said, rummaging around and then handing me a picture. “See.”

It was a huge old truck, loaded with wooden kegs, with M. Curran himself standing on the running board.

A minute went by, and then Artie spoke again.

“That truck,” he said, “saved my grandfather’s life.”

“OK,” I said. “This sounds like a great story.”

And it was.

Artie’s grandfather, John Curran, was an infantry soldier in World War I, on the front lines in France, which were hardly worse than hell itself. On one of his rotations to the rear lines, he ran into another Saranac Laker, Ed Lamy. At some point in their interaction, Lamy told Curran that the Army desperately needed truck drivers.

We take for granted today, but think about it: How many people in 1917 could drive a car, let alone a big truck? Curran, having driven his father’s beer truck, probably had more experience than 98 percent of American men. He got the job immediately and credited it with his surviving the rest of the war.

So that’s what I learned in my half-hour in Norman’s.

And if anyone thinks that’s a waste of time, they’ve got a headful of rocks.

Or even worse – a heartful of them.