Often, while on my usual relentless quest for some new quotidian facet of bygone life in our valley, an idle conversation can take a subtle turn and lo, a column just begging to be written hits me right between the horns. While I usually try for a little greater depth than the following item affords, sometimes ya just gotta have a little caprice on the keyboard.
The talk at men’s coffee groups can transcend from informative and cogent, to complete blather, in about seven syllables, and that happened a few years ago at the Continental Lodge, or whatever they call it now, coffee shop. The intelligent and significant discussion was of the proliferation of bar codes in pricing, and the capability of a merchant to change prices, up or down, by mere keystrokes on a computer. And the follow-on thought was how much easier that was than re-marking everything in the store. So far, that all made sense.
But then, local historian extraordinaire Red Kittell brought up MONKEYTAIL, and what was slightly frightening was that most at the table knew what monkeytail is. Or was. Once upon a time there was a venerable store in western Nevada named Eagle Thrifty Drug & Market – we know them now as Raley’s. Eagle Thriftys [which was the correct plural spelling that the paper turned into “…ties”] sold everything under the sun, and their basement on the Wells Avenue store [now a Hispanic market] was a hardware/camper/TV and radio/auto mechanic/outdoor furniture freak’s paradise. All of their wares had a price on stick-on labels, with letters below the prices. A few hapless employees divulged to the profane world what those letters stood for, never to be seen ever again (it’s rumored they reside under the produce section on the Eagle Thrifty-turned-Raley’s Peckham Lane store.) In the monkeytail code, the “m” represented “1”; the “o”, “2”; the “n”, “3”, and so forth up to the “l” for zero. We learned over time that if we were looking at a Coleman lantern that was marked $16.99 and the letters under it were “TAE,” that the store had paid Coleman $7.85 wholesale.
It turned out that many retailers had such a code, and some were dandies; they had to be of 10 letters, none repeating. They started surfacing when bar codes and cash register scanners started ruling the west. Anyway, go out to the garage and find an old broom or a can of paint that came from Eagle Thrifty. Armed with this information, available nowhere else in this newspaper [OK, so I wrote this a while back, like 2001, in the RGJ], you can become privy to what the Gastanaga family that owned the chain made off your transaction these 40 years ago.