I whirled around, not wanting to miss two celebrities in one morning "No, not here, Silly! I mean, when they were shooting 'Shane', for instance, they had to build foot-and-a-half-tall wood walkways so he could stand on them and look as tall as other people in the film -- Jack Palance, especially, who's a giant in comparison. I mean, how would it look for the super-villain Palance to tower over the hero Alan Ladd? I mean, they might as well have hired Mickey Rooney, for Christ's sake. And as for the grungy clothes, how else does a glamorous movie star escape all New York's gawking autograph seekers and just be able to spend an ordinary day by herself than by dressing in off-putting clothes? That's what Greta Garbo did."
My self-flattering sense that I could spot a sports-film star at a hundred feet distance sure took a blow that day.
The name J. Fred Coots isn't what you'd call a "household name," anymore, but for about 18 years, he and his wife, a leggy former Ziegfeld chorus girl whose first name I never knew, lived, together with their son Clayton and their daughter Gloria (known to all the neighborhood kids as "Mousey," don't ask me why) for about 20 years, right across the street from my family, from the time I was 6 until I was about to get married at age 24.
Actually, Clayton Coots was about the first person I met, upon my family's moving from Pelham Manor to our house at 9 Normandy Lane, in New Rochelle. The lot beside Coots' house was untouched, bereft of any grass, as if someone had chosen to build a house on it, but something happened to halt the financing dead in its tracks. One spring day, while my father was indoors, painting the living room walls, and my mother was back in Pelham Manor packing for the big move, I went outside to check on the new territory.
One feature of the lot across the street was a huge boulder, the flat top of which, I suddenly noticed, was covered with olive-green World War II lead soldiers; rows of various models of U.S., English, and Nazi tanks; different models of what were known as reconnaissance cars; and other such whatnot.
Who this dazzling and desirable display of military hardware belonged to I had no idea. But when I looked around me at the sunshine-baked neighborhood, and saw no living thing within shouting distance, I drew my own conclusion: whoever owned these things must have jettisoned them, or left them for a kid who might appreciate them.
Which I immediately did.
Into the two pockets of my jacket I stuffed as many reconnaissance cars as they would hold; I grasped as many lead tanks and trucks as my small hands could hold, and went back home, where I took my loot into the basement, and dropped them on an old wood table, planning to arrange them, militarily, at my first free moment.
But, alas, it wasn't 10 minutes before I heard a knock at the heavy oak front door. Another two minutes, then I heard my father's deep voice: "Buzz? Would you please come here?"
When I arrived at where the voice had come from, I was introduced to our new neighbor, Clayton Coots, who wondered if, in my wanderings of the day, I'd happened across any lead model tanks and trucks and soldiers. They all belonged to Clayton here, and he'd like them returned, if I didn't mind.
What struck me immediately was how calm my father remained throughout the confrontation. Even after the lead-bearing teenager Clayton crossed the street toward his home, Dad coolly explained the concepts of ownership and stealing. Then he benignly touseled my hair, went into the sunroom, to read that day's "New York Times." and let the whole matter drop forever.
To be continued.