My Dad Owned a Spa

Don’t get all excited, ladies. Manicures, pedicures and lava stone massages were not on the menu at Andy’s Spa. Burgers, meat ball and sausage sandwiches were.

Andy’s Spa was located on Charles Street in the north end of Providence, Rhode Island. A street leading from a steep hill, Christopher Street, was directly across from the spa. In the winter, why no car had ever slid down the icy, sloping roadway and barreled through his neighborhood gathering place is beyond me. .

The spa featured six counter stools and plenty of standing room for those not fortunate enough to snag a seat. At one end of the counter sat a huge glass candy display: penny candy on the bottom shelf and the expensive candy bars, five-cents each, filled the top three shelves. To the right of the long counter was a freezer which housed two five gallon metal containers of frozen lemonade: one lemon flavored, the other orange. Across from the candy display was another freezer, a long one. It was filled with ice cream novelty items such as Popsicles, Fudgsicles and Nutty Buddy cones.

A large, slide-top soda cooler with circulating cold water lined the back wall of the spa at the opposite end of the counter. Because of its position, there was no way he could make it through this tight passageway unless he sucked in his gut and walked sideways. As a kid, it was an easy-peasy walkway for me.

Next to the soda was an ice cream making machine which sat on top of yet another freezer. He used the machine to make his frozen lemonade. He didn’t manufacture his frozen delight for just Andy’s Spa but operated a wholesale business as well, supplying five area lemonade stands with his sloshy sweetness.

One such stand was Mrs. Mancini’s Fruit and Lemonade. Mrs. Mancini would sell fresh picked vegetables from her expansive gardens and Andy’s lemonade from her shed which sat atop the highly trafficked Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence. Now occupied by a small strip mall and a Burger King.

Each night after she closed for the day, she would walk to her adjacent home and call my grandparents’ house to place her order for the next day. (Since this was the 1960’s, not only were cell phones not invented but a six-stooled spa having its own phone was absurd.) One of my aunts would answer the phone and the same conversation took place every night:

Mrs. Mancini: Whatta da weatha goona be ta-morra?
Aunt: I don’t know, Mrs. Mancini.
Mrs. Mancini: Ho-kay. Gimme a 2 lemon ’n 2 hor-ange. My son picka up in mornin’.

Like clockwork, her son would stop by the spa and my dad would have the four metal canisters ready for Pissy when he arrived. Yes, that was his nickname, Pissy Mancini.

Back then, all the spa regulars would have pet names which they treasured as much as we cherish our online aliases. There was Louie LaBootz (who was as comfortable strumming his ukulele as he was belting out Vesta La Giubba from Pagliacci), Debit (this guy’s nick was based on his occupation: not accounting but a runner collecting bets for the daily numbers’ racket), Newt Nutini (never knew his real first name), TB (even as a kid I thought it strange they would name a guy after a disease…I found out years later his name was really “T”ony “B”ucci), Pippy (who was my Godfather), Sheikie (a cousin of my dad’s)…

Pinball2On the side wall facing the counter was where the shrine was located. It attracted pilgrims who would spend endless hours worshipping in front of its flashing radiant lights. Occasionally, the men would hold their breaths, observing the beads of perspiration forming on the forehead of the pious person who stood front and center on this most hallowed ground.

As he pulled back the plunger to propel the shiny silver ball, he would pray: “Please, God, let me hit this target.”

Dad’s pinball machine was quite the draw for the spa crowd. Outside of the arcades of Rocky Point and Crescent Park, local amusement parks, these machines were scarce. Day and night a steady flow of nickel donations were shoved into the slot to activate the machine in quest of being crowned the pinball wizard.

Had Andy’s Spa not closed decades ago and was still operating today, I wonder how current technology and social media would impact their pinball matches. Pippy would have held up the game telling them that they’d have to wait until he completed a Tweet message to let the world know who was winning. Debit probably would have missed his turn since he was so preoccupied playing online slots. Pissy would have missed his spot in the rotation a few times as he was so engrossed checking the Weather Channel app on his iPhone to let his momma know: “Whatta da weatha goona be ta-morra.”

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