January 22, 2014

Jerry's Ink


This is the story of how the sale of condoms over the counter made Life Savers the most successful and profitable candy brand of the 1950s.

In 1957, when a 15 or 16-year-old boy would go into a pharmacy to purchase a box of condoms, it was the most tension-provoking, frightening purchase a young man could make.

On one side were his raging hormones.

On the other side was the church, The Legion of Decency (a powerful Catholic group), his family, society, censorship, and a quietly repressive political climate that sanctimonious politicians used to win votes.

It was a world of shame and guilt.

Naturally, in the 1950s, against all odds, the raging hormones always won and our hero went shopping for protection.

Unlike the giant CVS and Walgreen's and Duane Reade megastores of today, pharmacies those days were tiny stores and there was a good chance that the proprietor knew your parents on a first-name basis.

So one would slink into a pharmacy when the owner was out or having dinner. Then you would go from aisle to aisle pretending that you were going to buy aspirin. Or Bengay or Vicks – any item in the store other than a box of condoms.

You checked the other customers. Was it your mom's best friend . . . a teacher from your high school . . . your local priest?

With your head down, staring at the floor, you would make it to the front of the store where the condoms were kept behind the counter.

You would look at the floor and mumble, "I would like a box of mumble . . . mumble . . . mumble."

A voice from behind the counter would say "WHAT?" You then would look up into the beautiful eyes of the a girl from your school who sat four seats away from you in your social studies class and this was her part-time after-school job.

She would greet you by name. "What would you like?" she would say in a voice so loud you know your mother sitting in her living room a mile away could hear.

Panic . . . panic . . . pure unadulterated panic.

"I would like er . . . er . . . er . . . I would like er . . . er . . . er . . .A PACK OF LIFE SAVERS . . . That's what I would like, a pack of Life Savers."

There they were, brilliantly placed near the cash register. I bought hundreds . . . thousands of packs of Life Savers. I was responsible for a full share point of their national sales. Every boy I knew from that time has the same story. No young man in the United States ever went into a store to buy Life Savers but we all came out frustrated with a pack of Life Savers and a case of guilt.

Sexual thoughts and hang-ups in Brooklyn started for a boy with his first kiss. It was the fuse that ignited the hormone tinderbox.

I remember as if it were yesterday. It was summer. I was 12-years-old. I was the most awkward child ever put on this earth. I was at the age of twelve close to 6 feet tall and weighed 96 pounds.

I took my date (her name was Rose) to the Kingsway Theater on Kings Highway in Brooklyn.

Nervous? There wasn't a pore in my body that wasn't flooded. My armpits needed leaders and gutters. My body felt like it had a temperature of 106 degrees. My hands and feet felt 70 degrees colder.

I was also nauseous because in preparation for this first "date," I had brushed my teeth about 20 times and was in danger of dying from an overdose of Colgate toothpaste.

Rose thought I was the strong, silent type. Actually, I couldn't talk because I had a mouth full of Life Savers. I had consumed two packs of Wintergreen Life Savers from the minute I had picked her up at home. So every time I let out a breath I smelled like a walking Airwick bottle.

The movie was called Pagan Love Song starring Esther Williams.

We sat in the balcony and I was too shy to put my arm around Rose so I put it around her seat instead. The movie was almost two hours long and Esther Williams spent most of those two hours swimming.

I spent the two hours in pain. My arm had cramped up in this awkward position and then it went to sleep. It was dead. Useless.

I think I cut off the circulation and to this day I can't throw a baseball 10-feet and I blame it all on that seat in the Kingsway Theater.

At one point I realized that I couldn't move my arm . . . I had no control over it and probably would never be able to move it again. I wondered if it would have to be amputated. This made me giggle hysterically to myself.

Unfortunately, I had this thought during a love scene between Esther Williams and Howard Keel.

Rose then said her first word of the afternoon to me: "Shuuuussssssh."

Finally, during the scene where Esther Williams was swimming underwater (and I think singing at the same time), I decided to try to kiss Rose. My dead right arm, which I had counted on for foreplay and balance, was useless.

So I had to try to move my body and sort of lurch at the same time. It put me off-balance and, even though I was aiming for her lips, I missed and sort of kissed her on the bridge of her nose and on her right eye.

She sort of summed up what my sex life was going to be like forever when she said, "Stop that. We're going to miss the good part of the movie."

I may have been 12, but being thrown over for Esther Williams didn't do much for my sense of self-esteem.

It was then I decided to retrieve my right arm, but in order to do that I had to reach over Rose's head with my left hand and pick up my dead right arm and swing it over her head. I didn't do that as well as I should have. My hands were dripping wet with perspiration and I wound up dropping the arm and accidentally hitting her in the top of the head with my dead arm.

"What's wrong with you?" she said, thereby becoming the first person to ask a question that I've been asked many times since.

If you wish to comment on "Jerry's Ink" please send your message to jerry@dfjp.com.

  1. print email
    Right of Passage
    January 22, 2014 | 01:03 AM

    Jerry ... Unlike you at 16, I always walked brazenly into my local drug store in Valley Stream and said, "One three-pack of Ramsey's, please". That was 1966, usually on a Friday or Saturday night, when it all was still "taboo" and my friends were busy browsing Life Savers.

    Didn't really care if my Mom's friends or neighbors were around, because without "the goods", nothing was going to happen with me and Mary Jane that night. Simple as that. And because all of my friends thought I was a Superstar in a drug store, I wound up ordering for everyone (their money in advance, of course). I was their hero every week!

    Then we'd try to score some beer. Same routine, because I had older friends standing by. It was great to be "me" in the neighborhood!

    Now they sell "rubbers" anywhere in the store, with no questions asked behind-the-counter. Which is good, I guess.

    But I think all young men are missing out on the classic "right-of-passage" and courage, by not having to confront a scarey 60 year-old man saying, "Yes young man, can I help you?" LOL, Bill Crandall

    Bill Crandall
  2. print email
    January 22, 2014 | 11:49 AM

    First off, it was Ramses like egypt, not new jersey.
    I remember blowing up my first one!
    As always thanks for the memories Jerry...I spent much time on kings hwy..and graduated high school at the kingsway!

  3. print email
    Buying Condoms 2010-Wearin o' the Green
    January 22, 2014 | 01:40 PM

    After a grueling late flight into Ft. Lauderdale escaping last winter in the Hamptons, my sense of direction escaped me while trying to find the road to our apartment. Surely, I did not need that navigation system offered with my rental car! Disoriented, was I going North or South? I was humbled realizing I had to stop and ask for directions in a questionable neighborhood not having the appetite for eating any more crow from my partner. Finally, a gas station with a 24 hour quickie mart!
    Being a fan of CSI Miami, I parked directly in front of the store, kept the motor running instructing my partner to play "chickie."¯ What's that she asked? Not wanting to take the time to explain, it was clear the night was not going as planned.
    Upon casing the store, the counter was an impenetrable fortress of plexi-glass, mirrors, high tech equipment and cameras pointed in every direction. An opening of barely six inches round, good for mice was the only way to make your transaction at the counter.
    One could hardly make out the clerk behind the counter given the scratches and apparent clawing on the plexi. This is what it must me like to have cataracts I thought as I got in line behind a young man with a hoodie and blond hooker at his side. Unlike myself, at least they knew which direction they were going.
    I already ate one portion of humble pie, now do I go back into the car this late at night to find another source of direction? No, I maintained my position. "What you want?"¯ The clerk yelled at the young man in front of me for lack of a microphone. All the surrounding technical equipment and no microphone? "Uh condoms."¯ How many? "Whatcha got?"¯ I got box of 6 or 12, three pack or singles, the clerk yelled back.
    I looked up in the mirror to see the line behind me growing impatient and restless. After all, this was supposed to be a quickie.
    The young man looked at his lady-in-waiting who raised one finger. "Just one, one,"¯ he yelled back to the clerk who yelled back at him "What size?"¯ I could sense the line behind me starting to move in frustration. Bodies shifting left to right, right to left. Next would we will all be doing the conga. Then silence as we waited for the reply which was mumbled, except for his blond cohort who let out a loud "harrumph."¯
    Being the next in line I thought the grilling was over and my turn had finally come, yet there was one more question. "What color?"¯ "Whatcha got?"¯ The clerk proceeded to rattle off a rainbow of colors. "Green"¯ was the choice. My imagination let loose for a moment and did not want to go there, instead I thought it must be St. Patrick's Day.

    Tricia Rother
  4. print email
    To Lewis
    January 22, 2014 | 07:53 PM

    You are quite right Lewis. It was "Ramses". Never personally blew one up (because they cost money and I had other fun in mind), but you have a very good memory. Guess I forgot because I soon graduated to FourXXXX. A much better ride. LOL, Bill

    Bill Crandall
  5. print email
    January 29, 2014 | 03:48 PM


    mike boccio
  6. print email
    January 29, 2014 | 03:49 PM


    mike boccio
  7. print email
    January 30, 2014 | 10:05 AM

    In 1944 I was thirteen going on fourteen,attending St Malachys elementry school in Brooklyn NY.I was a good Italian mamas boy kid who wanted to do no wrong.The fear of hell was ingrained in me.Bless me father for I have sinned,I self abused myself one time.The big guys on the block were carrying a condum in a secret compartment in ther wallets.You never know you might get lucky and so I thought this was cool.I decided that one day I was going to purchase a condum.I remember this experience like it was yesterday.I would case this Pharmacy for weeks.There was an old man at the counter I was physically mature what can I loose. The problem was there was always some customer in their.I waited for the perfect moment.It came nobody was in the store.As I open the door to the store a little bell rang to alert the attention of the old man that was was in a room behind the counter attending to some business,I thought.Out comes a pretty young women with her pharmacy outfit and says,can I help you?I was speechless,and must of turn red as a beet.A,aaa box of Trojans please.Now she wants to know my size,small,medium,or large.Oh!my god what did I get myself into?Medium please.Then she says the prophylactics come in lub or un-lub.I put my head doun and wispered lub.She went behind the counter and got me a box of Trojans.Then I thought to myself was I doing something illegal here?I will never forget her smile and smirk when I left that store.

    mike boccio
  8. print email
    February 12, 2014 | 06:01 PM

    It was ENY Brooklyn I was fifteen years old a big guy,an Italian wop.I was a good boy,a mommas boy who who never wanted to get in trouble,to protect my families name.It was 1945 I was attending St Malachys Catholic school.Bless me father for I have sinned,I self abused myself one time.I had to confess,I didnt want to go to hell.It was 1945 and the older guys conseal a scum bag in the wallet,incase.Well,I emulated them and I wanted to do the same.I remember as if it were yesterday what I had to do to purchase proforlatics.I cased this drug store for several weeks on Atlantic Ave.The owner was an old man,but there was always someone in the store.One day my opportunity came.As I walked in the store a bell rang to alert the old man who I thought was in the back attending to other business.Out comes this young lady dressed in her drug store outfit and says can I help you.With my head down I said a box of Trojans please.She replied,small,medium,or large?[gosh she was asking me how big was my dick was,I began to blush}Oh,Oh,er medium.Lubercated or un-lubercated.Oh,er un lubercated.I paid her ,but ill never forget that Monalisa smurk see gave me.

    mike boccio
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