The first time my dad gave me a crisp twenty dollar bill, I thought it might has well have been a million. That's how great it felt.
I was six and he told me that I could use the money to get whatever I wanted for my birthday.
"Can we go to Two Guys?" I asked.
He nodded and 30 minutes later, I was wandering their nine toy isles -- only the ones for boys.
Two Guys was like catnip for a six year-old. A precursor to stores like Best Buy and K-Mart, the discount chain was founded in Harrison, New Jersey by a pair of brothers, Herbert and Sidney Hubschman.
After opening their first store in 1946, they established quite the reputation for selling radios, TVs and your basic household appliances at rock-bottom prices. It was Jersey after all. Some of them may have fallen off of a truck or two. Just saying...
Much to the chagrin of their competitors, their business grew throughout the eastern seaboard and they were dubbed "Those two bastards from Harrison..." The insult stuck and the Brothers Hubschman wore at as a badge as they expanded and slightly modified it into "Two Guys."
So there I was, clutching that twenty dollar bill deep in my sweaty little palm and perusing such boy toys as the Planet of the Apes Treehouse and Evel Knievel's Stunt Cycle and Scramble Van. Those were fuckin' toys...
I thanked Pop for my gift - which by the way leaned towards the Simian persuasion.
"You'll get that twenty dollar bill every year," he told me. "Our secret. We'll have our little field trip. You and me."
"In the mood for some Stewarts?" he stated more than asked.
"What about mom?"
"She'll be fine..." Even though I was six, I knew what he meant and probably learned about subtext way earlier than I should have.
By high school, the Old Hickory tradition didn't have that same oomph and by college, it was more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.
After the divorce, Pop hurt his back and went on permanant disability. A year or so later, he moved about three hours south since the cost of living let him to stretch his dollar a bit more.
Looking back, I may have resented his relocation and didn't speak to him as much especially with juggling girls, work and the books.
Estrangement aside, though, I planned to surprise him with a six pack of his favorite beer on my 21st birthday so we could share our first toast as men.
One knock. Two. And then a pound on the steel apartment door.
When the super let me into his tiny cluttered studio, it was way too late. Anything could have given him that heart attack -- the smokes, the cheap food he ate or just the plain stress of wondering how he got there.
After the coroner took his body, I was prepping to lock up when I caught a glimpse of my birthday card on his kitchen counter and thought twice about opening it. But who was I kidding?
I cracked open one of my Heinekins and read the card probably 100 times, which of course had a twenty dollar bill and six scribbled words: