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Featured Column
Week of 9.11.2006
Mr. Maechlin
          The picture of him is clear in my mind even though over fifty years had passed since I had last seen him. Every Wednesday afternoon, like clockwork, between 3 and 4 in the afternoon he appeared. He always wore a dark blue or black suit. He bore a slight limp as though his left leg was a half inch shorter than the right. His shoes were always black and newly shined. His tie was always fashionably wide and appeared to be of silk. He was slightly overweight.
           I always thought he was ancient, but I was young, very young back in the early 1950’s. I was of the age that knew everything. Mr. Maechlin was probably in his middle forties then, but being as young as I was and having newly introduced hormones raging through my body, everyone looked old, everyone was slower, fatter and not quite as smart as I was. Today, when I think of how smart I thought I was in my early teen years I cringe and choose to think of something less embarrassing. But, I digress.
          Mr. Maechlin was the Metropolitan Life Insurance man for our neighborhood. He was a “Debit Man.” These were the representatives of the life insurance companies that had scores of families as his responsibility to collect the weekly or monthly premiums for their life insurance - in person. These “Debit Men” collected fifty cents or a dollar or two, enough to cover the premium for a family’s insurance policy. My father had a ten thousand dollar Metropolitan Life insurance policy. Because my mother and father both worked my grandmother would hand Mr. Maechlin the premium. I recall her handing him a single dollar bill when he stopped at our house.
          The “Debit Men,” like Mr. Maechlin carried a soft leather bound portmanteaux cases – the kind with two handles that separate into two parts, exposing their contents.
Wednesday was the day that Mr. Maechlin walked our neighborhood. It was always Wednesday.
          I didn’t think about Mr. Maechlin very much. He was just the “life insurance man.” I wish I would have asked if he had a wife, children, mother, father, friends. Mr. Maechlin had a smile and a handshake for everybody. He represented his company with honor. He wore his dark suit regardless of the weather. His tie was always tight at his neck. It could have been 95 degrees, but Mr. Maechlin always wore a dark suit. I remember him answering our neighbor, who didn’t have the money for him when it was due. “I’ll be by next week, you can pay it then.” He smiled, shook our neighbor’s hand and walked on to the next house.
          Mr. Maechlin was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to all of us. I think I could have learned a lot from Mr. Maechlin if I would have taken the time to listen.
          These were different times for all of us, especially us kids. Summers were a time to play and be with each other. Television was just beginning to take over our leisure lives. Milton Berle was he funniest man on the planet. Ed Sullivan brought us the tops stars of the day. “Your Show of Shows” starring Sid Caesar, “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason, “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball, “Superman” with George Reeves, “Dragnet” with Jack Webb and “See it Now” with Edward R. Murrow filled our evenings. 
          My heroes were Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Rocky Marciano, Ben Hogan and Bill Russell. My father worked as a signalman for the railroad, he was my biggest hero. My mother worked as a seamstress and I thought she was beautiful and the smartest woman in the world.
           If we wanted to talk to a friend, we rode our bicycle to his house. The telephone was too expensive to tie up with children talking with each other. The word was that one of these years television would come to our house – in living color. In the meantime, we watched our fuzzy black and white programs. Only Mafia members had guns. Our fathers would give us a smack if we uttered a dirty word. They couldn’t even say the word “pregnant” on television or radio.
          A guy named Bill Haley recorded the rock song, “Crazy, Man, Crazy,” then filmgoers were electrified by his “Rock Around the Clock” in the movie “The Blackboard Jungle. Segregation was taken for granted by many white Americans.
          It was a corny time. Simple and innocent. Corny things came along and we embraced them. Hula hoops, Davy Crockett caps, pogo sticks, telephone booth stuffing, slinkies, Howdy Doody.
          Two books were published and became best sellers. They changed the way America looked at itself. “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger and “Peyton Place,” by Grace Metalious. By the end of the fifties the world was changing.
          The innocence that was ours was slowly turning to distrust, scorn, petulance and anger.
          One fall afternoon I asked my grandmother, “So, Gram, I haven’t seen Mr. Maechlin in a while, what’s up?”
          Gram quickly sat down on the couch and placed her right hand on her right cheek. Her eyes looked downward and she told me, “Mr. Maechlin died.”
          I asked her how and she said, “He had a heart attack on the street behind ours. He was walking across the street and just as he got to the sidewalk he had a big heart attack and died right there. Poor man.”
          I felt badly because my grandmother felt badly. I hardly new Mr. Maechlin. I was a teenager and my thoughts were elsewhere.
          But now, every once in a while I think of Mr. Maechlin. I picture him walking down the street in his dark suit, silk tie and shined shoes. I think of how he always said, “Hello” to me. If we were close to each other he would reach out to shake my hand.
          I don’t know why I think of Mr. Maechlin a half century later. Maybe because he was, and is, symbolic of an age. Maybe because he epitomizes those last innocent times that disappeared long ago.  Maybe because he was a decent, good man.
         I wish I would have known Mr. Maechlin better. I miss him and I miss those far more innocent, simple and corny days.
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
     
Ron Cruger