Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Tow-Away Zone Revisited

(Rare photo taken of Pet Nosh owner and business neighbor of real estate man Benjamin Scheckeler in close proximity to the latter's Tow-Away Zone, circa 1980)

I spied this man on the street this morning that managed to resurrect a ghost from my past. Actually, a rather obscure ghost whom I knew mainly as a colorful supporting character at a particular time in my life. Of course, the man I laid eyes on couldn’t have been Benjamin Scheckeler because he would be—if still among the living—pushing 105, I'd say, and I doubt very much he made it anywhere near that ripe old age.

Benjamin, you see, was a tightly wound man with an explosive temper. As a teen in the early 1980s, I worked in a mom-and-pop shop called Pet Nosh in Little Neck, Queens, and the septuagenarian Benjamin plied his trade in the real estate office next door. Our two businesses, plus a few others, shared a gravelly communal backyard parking lot. But only Benjamin had a parking space reserved for himself. There was a sign posted on a fence that stated in no uncertain terms that one particular spot was for Benjamin Scheckeler and Benjamin Scheckeler alone, and that any and all violators would be towed away—and toot sweet at that.

In fact, when I saw the Benjamin Scheckeler look-alike several hours ago, my brain—without any coaxing —retrieved a recording from more than three decades ago. “Tow away…tow away...tow away” played over and over in my head in a singsong German accent. On occasion, you see, somebody would pull into Benjamin’s sacred spot and shop in our store and the others. On Saturdays, in particular, this little parking lot of ours could get quite full and the temptation to pull into Benjamin’s sometimes-unoccupied space could be quite overwhelming. After all, shoppers would be in and out, so no big deal, right? Wrong! Whenever Benjamin pulled into the lot and found an interloper in his reserved parking spot, he went ballistic and stormed into the various stores hunting down the guilty party. In very angry and very loud tones, he invariably shouted: “Tow away! Tow away! Tow way!” Almost threateningly, Benjamin attempted to educate us on the importance of educating our clientele that they—under no circumstances—should park in the reserved spot for Benjamin Scheckeler while shopping in our store. Seriously, he wanted us to cross-examine each and every customer that entered our place of business: “You aren’t parked in Benjamin Scheckeler’s reserve parking spot, are you? If you are, please move your car immediately because it will be towed away.”

I never did find out how Benjamin Scheckeler and Benjamin Scheckeler alone qualified for a parking space of his own in that little parking lot in Little Neck. But he nonetheless left an indelible mark on me, because all these years later and I still encounter a signpost up ahead every now and then that alerts me of the next stop: the Tow-Away Zone. “

(Photo one from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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