William Firestone


There is a small brick house on Vine St between 2nd and the river. I am with Rob and Diane. We are going to visit his grandfather, William Feuerstein Sr. He is 99. We walk into the house, it is small but comfortable. William is sitting on a stiff backed cloth covered chair. The place is immaculate; especially considering that William lives alone. I use the bathroom and notice a small wash rag where the toilet paper should have been. William doesn’t use toilet paper only a washrag.  We are there to try and get a little money from the old man. Rob begins talking to his grandfather, as Diane moves closer to the old man. She has a love/hate relationship with the con. Was letting an old man cop a feel, especially at 99, have a joy, better than a minor pinch. We get a five, that will fill the tank and DQ, once Diane made the mistake of wearing a skirt, we got a $20.00 out of that.

We go back a few days later to give William a ride to church. Rob and he are talking, William with a thick German accent, I cant translate anything. Rob is from Omaha, he knows no German. The understand each other. He sits as erect as a 99 year old man can. He is wearing a black suit, the waist, uh, band of his slacks were just below his arm pits. A thin black suspender held them up. His shoes are shined, an when he stands, he places a black Homburg on his head, it is banded with a wide silk band. We are not looking for money, but Diane gets inattentive and gives up a freebie grope.

William immigrated to the US into Omaha, and finally to Reno. At one time the Germans were the most populous immigrant group. I imagine him as a survivor of WWI, coming here well before the Third Reich. William had five sons, William Jr., John, George, Kenny, and Henry. William Jr was a housing contractor in the late 30’s, doing quite well.

On Christmas eve 1951, William Sr, answered a knock on the door. There is a police officer informing him of the death of William Jr, who had been crossing 7th and N. Viriginia who was struck and killed by a car driven by 25 year old Billie Lee Dunning, a UNR student; she had a .139 blood alcohol level, a level not sufficient to determine if she was intoxicated. A bit later William Jrs’ wife is awarded a $10,000 settlement.

Rob never mentioned his Uncle William, he was born the year he died. I did meet three of the brothers, all Renoites now. Uncle Henry “Hank” was a cantankerous man, he was the one that I found out about them being Jews. Hank lived up to the ‘prototype’ of a Jewish conman. I can give you two examples. Hank owned a 64 Pontiac Catalina convertible; by 1969 the car had taken on a few flaws. One was a chipped and cracked windshield. Hank went on a drive one day and soon finding himself behind a Isbell Construction gravel truck, which he followed, all the way to the construction office, angrily telling the boss that the truck had thrown some gravel and cracked the windshield. Two days later he had a new windshield.

Ah but what to do about the weather worn convertible top. He gets his chance; Lindell has a crew painting a house just up the street. Uncle Hank parks his car four spaces away from his house, upwind of the sprayers. He shows up at Lindell’s angrily telling the boss that his crew had gotten paint all over his soft-top. Three days later Hank has a new white convertible top; tops are a bit more labor intensive that windshields. They also gave the car a professional washing and waxing making the car shine.

Hank lived at 661 Lake St, just north of the DQ. A two story clapboard house most likely a Feuerstein Construction house. Hank was retired, not sure from what, probably a contractor of some sort. I can’t recall his wife’s name, Ruth maybe, Rob only called her snaggletooth,. She was a mean woman, I understand why now, but had no clue then. She was a victim of Alzheimer’s of some sort; there are many varieties. When she was lucid she was wonderful, always offering Rob and I something to eat, but progressively she worsened. On one visit she had been stupified by her dose of Stellazine, which caused her to drool, but did little to control her temper and she would fling things at you in anger. They had a Scottie, named MOPSY, a foot tall, three feet long, and a foot thick. Mopsy had never been groomed, and the name MATTY was more appropriate, the dog’s teeth were as snaggled as it’s owner. During her down times, she lashed out at everyone in her path, but never once did she lash out at Mopsy. She died a few years before him; and if she hadn’t she might well have killed him. The house remained there for several years, used as a halfway house, until it was burned down; it is still an empty lot that will soon be covered but a student housing complex.

Uncle George lived in a beautiful brick house on Gear St, he designed it and built it, one of the first houses using glass blocks. George was a quite friendly man, always civil, even with the long-haired hippie that I was. A contractor in town, I don’t know if it was still Feuerstein Contractors. If we needed money, George was a last resort, he would make us work for it. His house is still there, as elegant as it was then.

Then there was Kenny, Robs dad. Think of the 3 Little Pigs; George was the brick house, Hank the wood house, and Kenny was the straw house pig. Sober he was a gentleman; a great wit and sense of humor. Kenny was a Journeyman carpenter. Kenny was also a ‘hardcore’ alcoholic. He was Union and could always find some kind of work, usually a day or two as a ‘finish’ carpenter, rarely anything longer than three days. He was an excellent carpenter.

The first time I met him was the day I met Rob. I met Rob through his girlfriend, and he was usually the jealous type, but we hit it off. It was also the same day I met Uncle Hank. Kenny was drunk the first time we met. Kenny was a loud, shouting drunk, but never threw a punch at any one. He was mad because Rob had come home so late. The louder Kenny yelled, the louder Rob laughed at him. After an hour Kenny has passed out; Rob invites me to stay overnight and I accept. I wake up the next morning in a small apartment on Valley Rd, just north of Sierra Vista. I smell coffee, bacon, toast, and greasy fried eggs. Kenny is at the stove, stone cold sober and he puts breakfast in front of the two young boys. He is smiling as he drinks a cup of coffee.

Rob and I were nearly inseparable for the next 15 years. I lived with him and Kenny, from the apartment on Valley to fourteen houses within the area of Grove and Wrondel.

Kenny as I have said was an alcoholic, and he helped me to become one at the age of 17. One day we are at Crystal Peak Park in Verdi, it is late August and 101 degrees out. Kenny has a Mercury Comet. It is a wreck. We have been at the park for hours. Kenny reaches under the driver’s seat and pulls out a pint of Ten High Whiskey, his favorite; not for taste but price. He unscrews the cap and takes a large pull. He hands me the bottle, and I put the rim of the bottle to my lips. I take a mouthful and swallow an ounce of cheap bourbon. The bottle had been under the seat for hours and I am not expecting the booze to be 98 degrees warm. In less than 30 seconds I am having dry heaves outside the car, which continued for several agonizing minutes.

During the most severe winter of the 70’s the three of us are living in our cars, we are on the curb of a friends house on Wrondel. Kenny lives in his 49′ Pontiac, Rob and I are in the 57′ Pontiac. During the day we can be in our friends house, and one day we begin talking. Kenny is okay with living in the 49, there is enough room, but his main complaint is that his feet get to cold. It is one of the coldest winters in a while. I don’t know how the conversation turns to the fact the Kenny sleeps with his shoes on. I read, and in a book I have read where soldiers slept better with their shoes off, and I tell this to Kenny. He is half drunk and tells me I’m stupid, I agree; I am by now able to diffuse Kenny from his aggressive tantrums. I say nothing more. The following morning I see Kenny, he is smiling. He approaches me and grabs me around the shoulders; I am baffled. He tells me that he has had the best night’s sleep in weeks, he took of his shoes last night, and his feet didn’t freeze. Kenny never questions me again. If I tell him something he believes it.

One afternoon Rob and I meet up with Kenny at Smorgy Boys on Keystone to eat. Kenny stops us before we go into the buffet. He hands us both a pair of bib overalls and we put them on. In each overall there is a large pocket in the front. We go in and pay for our meals; all you can eat for cheap.

We hit the friend chicken, and fill up our plates, along with a few other items. We fill halfway up, and go back to the smorgasbord. We load up on more fried chicken, and I grab some butterscotch pudding from the buffet. As we talk and slowly eat our deserts we take the dozen pieces of fried chicken we haven’t eaten and wrap them in napkins, and then place 4 to 5 pieces into the chest pocket of our overalls. We saunter out, three carpenters, working men in our coveralls, each one with a front pocket filled with tonight’s dinner and tomorrows breakfast.

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