There are always people out there in the advertising world who aren't averse to aiming at the children's level to pull off a deal. Even though there are more "watchdogs" minding the fences today, kids still get taken, but not as badly, it seems, as we were while we were learning about "life."
Some of those old, similing grocery-store proprietors, a kind sort of backbone in the neighborhood, had a lot of tricks to rip the pennies away from the kids, most of them designed to send us on the way to the bad habits we live with today.
Our friendly neighborhood guy was an old, smiling Yankee from down Maine someplace, who used to open the cigarette packs and, if you were old enough to crawl to his store, he would sell you a "loosey" for a penny.
Pennies were hard to come by, but we found ways to get them and by the time we hit the fourth grade we could hardly wait for recess so we could light up a "gasper."
The punchboards were always around where you could push the little circle out with the rubber end of a pencil, and if you were lucky you could win money or a cheap baseball.
Chocolate squares sold for a penny, most with white centers and a few with red. A white center was a loser, but a red center could get you five pieces free -- or two cigarettes.
We bit on gumballs, hoping to get the one with the secret number inside, the million-to-one shot.
While your teeth were rotting from biting into candy and your wind going bad from somking, there was always one guy who drove up pulling a horse trailer.
Opening up the back, he would lead a pony out telling the circle of kids, "Sit on it, go ahead, this pony could be yours for so many thousand Fudgesicle sticks."
Never thinking about how we were going to store a pony on the top floor of a three-decker house, we all set out to win the "pony boy express" -- collecting the sticks, keeping the faith and never seeing the guy again.
Deals, as we called them, came from all different directions.
There was the baker who had his shop behind the church who dealt in wood for his furnace. We would haul the wood in from the dump and sell it to him for a bag of three day-old jelly doughnuts.
He stored his wood a good distance from the shop. So on a slow day, we would steal the wood we already sold him, bring it around to his back door and were rewarded with the jelly-filled, sugar-coated brickbats.
This system worked out until we realized we were being taken again by hauling his wood for him.
Another man who influenced our lives was the rag-and-paper man who would come up the street a couple of times a month, with a seedy-looking horse pulling a beat-up old wagon.
Half way down the bag of rags we sold him were a few wrapped around heavy brick.
The rag man would lift our sack, weigh it in his hand, reach a grimy hand into his pocket and come up with a quarter.
Any protest to say it was heavier than a quarter's worth was met with a quiet smile, his way of letting us know, "who's kidding who?"
There were promotion schemes that made us feel we were going to be rich at an early age.
One emanated from a car dealer who papered the city with posters announcing that on a certain day keys attached to tiny parachutes would be dropped from a plane.
If your key fit the car, you drove off in it. The time was about seven in the morning when a bunch of us went down to the square. Sitting on the platform was the biggest, shiniest car any of us had ever seen.
We were all about 8 years below the required 16-year-old driving age, but it mattered not.
About 10 a.m. a small plane appeared in the distance, headed for the square and the sky filled with tiny parachutes, one of them holding the lucky key.
The first rule said the keys could not be tried in the lock until after five, so we had the whole day to scramble. And we did.
They landed everywhere, and we risked our lives to retrieve them.
We even skipped lunch, and by five we took our places in line knowing there wasn't a key left to be found.
As the adults tried their keys in the lock and failed, we would cheer.
We inched closer until a burly guard said, "No kids, only adults can try."
We took our keys to the park, separated them from the parachutes and threw them into a heap.
After a short conference we tossed them into a sewer, dogs in the manger, all. That night brought fitful sleep for all of us, wondering if we should have given the keys to our parents.
In the morning the car was driven off by a salesman, indicating that no one had found the key.
We sat on the curbstone watching, budding cynics, happy with the thought that none of the keys fit anyway.
Spirits bounce back early with the young, and faith restores itself faster.
There was always the day early in summer when the well-dressed, fast talking man would stand alongside his big, open convertible with the back seat loaded with gifts, topped with a brand-new bicycle.
"You kids look smart, bright, ambitious," he would say. "You can make money and win prizes, even that bike there could be yours. Now let me tell you how it works."
And the words, "Saturday Evening Post," "Liberty Magazine," "build up a route," "delivered to your home," "brand-new, canvas-sling bags to hold the magazines," would fill your ears, and your eyes were filled with baseball gloves, bats, hockey sticks, as you signed on to sell.
The first reluctant customers were our parents, next nearby relatives, then friends of the family, all encouraging our first efforts in the business world.
By the end of summer when the novelty had worn off and we realized that to have enough points for any of the prizes we would need several hundred subscriptions, we quit working and accepted the bag of marbles he gave us.
Cigarettes are a lot more expensive today, the old grocer could probably get a nickel or more for a "loosey" now.
The "red centers" are being sought in the daily double and state lotteries, and we still keep a beady eye out for the guy in the fancy suit who might have a good deal.