Saturday, December 15, 2007

the Voting Age Coalition


The Philosophy Club in high school was more than just a discussion group. They sponsored Smuff, a food drive for Biafra, and were the Hackensack sponsors of the Voting Age Coalition. The Voting Age Coalition was a state-wide effort to decrease the voting age to 18 in New Jersey. It led to a ballot question in the November 1999 election in New Jersey.




I got to be a leader of this group and was in fact the Hackensack coordinator. I remember well the meeting we had in the auditorium of the high school. It was well attended and we teamed up people to distribute materials in their neighborhoods. One female student indicated she could distribute literature around Summit Avenue and Beach Street. I had just met someone else from the same neighborhood. I described the second lady.


"I remember her", I said in a loud voice, "she was real small and she had black hair and she had these thick glasses". Suddenly she appeared. She had frizzy hair. She met her partner to be for the leaflet distribution. She looked at her and said "bless you".


That fall Richard M. Nixon came to Hackensack High School to support Cahill's run for election as governor. Even though I had a paid job working for Meyner, I played "Hail to the Chief" along with the rest of the high school band, for Nixon and his daughter Christie. They told us to put our "Vote yes on 18" signs down.



Cahill won and the initiative was defeated. The frizzy haired young lady had a lost but not defeated party after the election. The party was held in her mother's garden apartment. The hostess laid out like a corpse on the windowsill. Eventually she came back to life. We talked. She asked me if I was happy or was it a front. We discussed colleges. We both had applied to Temple University in Philadelphia. For me it was my backup. She was planning to go there. She wanted to major in psychology.


We exchanged phone numbers and the family telephone rang like blazes after that. I was invited to watch the sun rise over the George Washington bridge. I was invited to go to New York to pick up underground newspapers for distribution in New Jersey.



We became a crowd, two black kids, a Jewish kid, two Irish girls and dear old me. We marched all over Hackensack after school. One day we walked into a delicatessen. The frizzy headed girl bought us all tongue. I never liked a food that could taste me as I was tasting it.


The group showed up at my parent's house on Christmas eve. They admired the Christmas tree and the witty thing my mother had put up on the toilet bowl with Santa covering his eyes.


The classic Christmas conflict showed it's head. Parents believed that Christmas eve should be spent with family. Kids believed that Christmas eve should be spent with friends. They believed that there was enough family time on the 25th. I had my first Christmas fight with my parents. I was now growing up. My older brother was a veteran of such conflicts.


Later that night, I ended up watching "A Christmas Carol" at the frizzy haired girl's apartment, along with a few members of the hip intellectual crowd. A few days later, I made out with the frizzy haired girl. No she had straight hair by this time.


And so the sixties ended for me. I was in a crowd. I was politically active and I had applications out for several colleges. I was a happy camper that Christmas.

The brave men of the Green Berets

He became an instant celebrity, hero, and record star. Then he had the fall from fame which so often accompanies meteoric rises. The Wikipedia entry tells the story. I first remember him when he was on the Ed Sullivan Show. He sang, what else, "the Ballad of the Green Berets". My father commented that there were marks on the stage telling him where to move after every verse.


The record was a tremendous hit, number one on all the charts, and, for a while, Americans prided themselves on living in a country where Green Berets died for us and were featured in John Wayne movies.

Then that summer, the song off the record charts but not out of our hearts, I heard that Staff Seargent Barry Sadler was singing (for free, no less) at the Bergen Mall. There I sat and watched the show. He was asked to sing "A Team" the follow up record, but he declined, saying he didn't remember how it went.


The next day I was back at the YMCA learning how to swim. I told my new swim-mates about seeing Barry Sadler. They were very impressed. The summer of 1966 was noteworthy for seeing Staff Seargent Barry Sadler sing and Peter Chu to swim at the YMCA.




Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New York again

A few months ago, I did a blog about New York. It was about how our parents, who had moved to Long Island, New Jersey, and Westchester, felt about New York. New York used to be nice but it changed was the general idea. But the kids, the baby boomers of said parents, were attracted by New York. They liked walking around Times Square and midtown. They loved the Village, East and West. It was the land of freedom, sex, the counterculture, and drugs. Young suburbanite baby boomers drove their parents crazy by their desire to hang out in the city.

Parents:

"You can hang around there if you want to. I don't see the attraction in being in a place dominated by drug crazed Negroes but if you want to, that's okay. Just get out of there (at night being replaced by) by midnight. That's when the cops all leave and it's a free for all."

Youth:

"Mom, it's not that bad. How am I supposed to learn about things if I can't go to the city (whine)"

Among the hip intellectual crowd in Hackensack, a working knowledge of the city was de regure. You were supposed to know the subways. You were supposed to know the hip places to hang out near Saint Mark's Place. You were supposed to know about falafaels.

Editor's note: My blog has been discovered, albeit in a small way, by Kelly Heyboer's column, Best Blogs of New Jersey. The thing I did on underground newspapers made the list in September. Now I can wear sunglasses inside and go to Starbucks. I'm so happy.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Women in the sixties


Men in the sixties thought of women as those sweet accompaniment's to their idealistic lives. The cute things that would be by their side as they worked their career paths and for the bohemian crowd, those sweet lays looking with adoring eyes at their male heroes. Heroes fighting for civil rights, heroes fighting against hypocrisy, heroes fighting against the Vietnam war.


Women, emboldened by the civil rights movement aimed at Blacks, developed their own movement. Women had their own objectives in the sixties.


Caucasian men marched into the seventies saddened and no longer fashionable. "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", women said. In the sixties, Caucasian men marched in like lions and marched out like lambs.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Women in the fifties



I was just a tot in the fifties. But apparently, Caucasian White men were treated wonderfully during this decade. Your wife stayed at home, cleaning your house during the day, ironing your shirts, did the family shopping and chores, taking care of the kids and cooking you and yours nutritious home cooked meals.





At work you were addressed as Mr. So and so while the women at work were girls and were addressed by their first names. The women made you coffee and brought in home made streudel for you to sample.





Of course most housewives didn't have it that bad either. They stayed home. Coffee clutched with their neighbors, smoked, played cards, and watched Arthur Godfrey during the day. After the kids came home they made sure they did their homework and allowed no shenanigans.





Women were limited to women only professions. This created a supply and demand advantage for education and nursing. A principal could choose the pick of the litter from the local normal school and the town would have a dedicated, smart, hard working, non-unionized teacher for life, or at least until the sounding of wedding bells. The hospital administrators could in turn get hard working non-unionized nurses for a song. America was the envy of the world for it's schools and health care system.





Bachelor men were pampered at work and even the ugliest of them were looked up to by the ladies. His social card was filled with dinner engagements. He was considered "eligible" and was constantly being given home made baked goods by the eligible bachelorettes at the office. Keeping his waistline was a problem for a bachelor in an office setting.
After work he could pick and choose the apples off the tree. As this was before "the pill" he had to be ginger in choosing his apples as otherwise, he might have to acquire a plant for his backyard.



In the sixties everything changed. It turns out that bra burning was an urban myth. Women didn't burn their bras but various women's groups were created and demands were made for equal pay and equal rights for women. For men, life was never the same.

editor's note: to be continued.








Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer


I should have loved Norman Mailer. Worshiped at the feet of the co-founder of the Village Voice, and author of the Naked and the Dead. Actually his writing is not bad. One day I'll finish the Executioner's Song.
As a baby boomer, a pseudo-intellectual, and someone from the New York Metropolitan area, demographically, I should have been Norman Mailer's biggest fan. But I was too young. Norman Mailer was the god of my teachers in the English Department of Rutgers in the 70's. But not of my crowd. He would have scoffed at young men who didn't know the rules of boxing or betting at the racetrack.

He was a man's man. He was a working class intellectural. He was welcomed at the bars he frequented. He knew how to order a drink, play pool at the bar table and fight a man when he had too. He knew how to flirt with the pretty girl at the party. He was sort of the Jewish New Yorker's Ernest Hemingway. He fought Rip Torn.


The younger baby boomers couldn't always relate to him. He was your older brother or your TA's favorite writer. He had a pre-Pre Beatles sensibility and did not tranlate as well as, say, Allen Ginsberg. He was too old school.
editor's note: for a hilarious account from Jimmy Breslin on the 1969 Mailer for Mayor campaign click on Mailer segment on this page.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gentrification


The dream of the fifties for most Americans was to move from the crowded cities and buy a home in the suburbs. The GI bill, the interstate highway and developments like Levittown New York made this transformation from ethnic urban dwellers to suburban nuclear families the norm. Of course, with the sixties, baby boomers rediscovered the cities. Here they could become independent of Mom and Dad (receiving the occasional Care package) and indulge in bohemian lifestyles in older urban housing, that was in the beginning, low in rent.

As more baby boomers moved to the inner cities, Gentrification took place. Over the years, renters became homeowners and the urban fixer upper became the pet child of the baby boomer of the sixties and beyond. This Old House has its roots in this movement.

At the other extreme was the back to the land movement. Here young baby boomers flocked to join rural communes. They ate squash that they raised, made their own organic toothpaste, and lived like modern day Shakers, but with sex. Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm is an example of a hippie commune.
The young person in 1969 faced a number of choices. He could move to a commune, move to the city and live on the streets, or take the path of least resistance and go to college.

Most of us took the path of least resistance with the acknowledgement that we were simply passing through the academic world on our way somewhere else. We liked to think our final destinations was an ashram in India or a carpenter shop in New Hope. Yeah, right.


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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Youth hostels, backpacking and the John Muir trail


The summer of my junior year in high school I went to typing school, band practice, and at the end of the summer went to Mo No Mo Nock in the Pocono's with the folks. I knew I had missed Woodstock. What I didn't know until going to a Philosophy Club meeting in September was that the hip kids had all gone backpacking in Europe and stayed in Youth Hostels or, if they traveled domestically, they had hiked the John Muir trail.
I thought my sleeping bag days were over after Boy Scouts. Now I found I needed my camping gear again if I wanted to stay au courant. I scoured the cellarway for my back pack and sleeping bag. My mother had given them away. Funny these things disappeared right after Woodstock.

Travel is one of the many things that changed with the sixties. Previously travel meant getting in the family sedan and going to an overnight resort that had a pool for the kids and a golf course for Dad. If you were an outdoorsman you went on camping trips and hunted deer with your father.

Now you were supposed to backpack the Appalachian trail and travel overseas with a rail pass and stay in Youth hostels. You and your guitar were supposed to have adventures and experience life. Meeting fellow travelers of the female persuasion along the way.

I was a slow learner. I didn't have a girlfriend until my seventeenth birthday and I didn't stay in a youth hostel until I was in my thirties.

editor's note: I recently came back from a brief vacation in Portugal. On the second to the last day my wallet was stolen and the only money I had left was an emergency stash, rather paltry it turned out. Squashing the thought of staying in a posh hotel I was looking for cheap quarters to crash for the night before I could take my plane back in the morning. I was walking down the main boulevard of Lisbon and noticed a sign on a building that said "Travellers House". What the heck. I went up the stairs and was greeted by two friendly ladies who let me stay for twenty euros. The place had Internet access, a color tv, a kitchen and a beer party for guests. The beer party was swell and, the hostesses encouraged the guests to dance to the records. Thankfully, my shared quarters was in a room with quiet men instead of the British young men, drunk with beer and rugby stories.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Woodstock

Woodstock, was the great event that defined the late sixties. Yet while at once showing how young people in America had changed from their co-horts in the fifties, the seeds of destruction were laid at the same time. Instead of the counterculture being a relatively small group of like minded souls, after Woodstock everybody got hip. College campus became filled to the brim with "freaks". "Far out","bummed out", "down on..." became expressions that everybody used. No longer an exclusive club, everybody went to Woodstock that summer or at least pretended to.

The girl next door started wearing granny dresses. The kids in high school majoring in auto mechanics grew their hair long and started smoking pot. The pharmacist at the drug store started riding a motorcycle. Anthony Cavalo took up the guitar.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

High school underground newspapers


Being a high school intellectual, at least in the 60’s, made one wiser, smarter, hipper, and more worldly than our elders, especially our teachers, principals, political leaders, parents and ministers. A high school intellectual, with one witty comment, could show an awareness of the intricacies of life and the world that older people could not grasp.


Between classes, we had the wisdom of the ages and were not afraid to share our knowledge of life. One of my personal favorite axioms of that time was that the major difference between high school and college was that at college you could get chocolate milk. In this axiom my own personal acumen and knowledge was shown to understand the entire misguided American educational system.


We were wise sages masquerading as high school kids. And high school underground newspapers were one of the principal manifestations of the superiority, morally as well as intellectually we had over our teachers and our straighter classmates.

By weaseling my way into the high school hip intellectual crowd, I was invited to attend a meeting of Smuff, the soon to be high school underground newspaper of Hackensack. Working for Smuff was a great honor, albeit one that did not appear on my college applications. Prudence, as they say, is the better part of valor.


Why the paper was not burned and all the distributors expelled I do not know. The high school administration allowed it to go on. Maybe they realized that the Smuff thing was just a fad that the writers would appreciate later when we were getting our graduate degrees. At any rate, it was tolerated.


Some times I get nostalgic over a few beers and get out my old Smuffs. They are enjoyable reads.


editor's note: the long out of print "Our Time is Now" edited by John Birmingham (the first editor of Smuff) contains excerpts from a number of high school underground newspapers (including Smuff) as well as an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut. It is available quite cheaply in paperback on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

the new Democratic coalition

The New Democratic Coalition of Bergen County supported Eugene McCarthy for President and sat on their hands during the 1968 Presidential election that ultimately elected Richard Nixon.



That spring some of the members decided to join the Hackensack Democratic Club. My father, at that time was the club president, and as a kid I got to listen to some of the phone calls the old man made. I remember he called people like Tony Andorra and said, "Well we've decided to let some of these young people join the Democratic Club but I thought it would be nice of some of the 'old timers' came to the meeting too."



A kid with big ears learns a lot from his parents.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Vatican II


When I was a kid growing up, the mass was said in Latin, the priest faced away from the public, and kids were afraid of the nuns, who were allowed to use corporeal punishment. Not going to a Catholic school, I only got a small dosage of Catholic learning in Cathechism on Sunday mornings. There we learned that Hell was a place where devils put hot spears in the sinners' livers and spleens.


Missing Church on Sunday was enough to plunge one into the depths of Hell. There was also a middle place, called Purgatory, where people with venial sins sat around and waited (sometimes for centuries) for entrance into Heaven. Life had its rules and all Catholics were happy and content with their faiths.


Then came Vatican II. Now the mass was said in English. They introduced that business where people shook hands during service. The missiles were thrown out with their translations. We were told that from now on, the Church was about love, " I mean Luv l-u-v"
At grade seven, Sunday school ended and was replaced with the Confraternity of Christian doctrine. This took place on Monday nights and accounts for the fact that I never watched the Monkees as a kid. Post confirmation, most young families felt that no more Catholic education was required, so the classes were always small. The students all smoked before class.


Being taught by laymen (or laywomen) the topic of these classes was often muddled. My favorite one occurred when a young lady brought in her record player and we played and analysed Simon and Garfunkel records. I wonder if she knew if they were Jewish.


Today a revolutionary idea has been brought to the Catholic church. Latin masses have been reintroduced with the priests facing the front of the church. What goes around comes around.


Monday, September 3, 2007

WBAI


The Pacifica foundation was founded in California in the 1950's and was famous for the left-of center radio station in Berkeley, KPFA. A few years later, WBAI radio was started in New York. A good account of the early days of this station can be found in the book by Steve Post, "Living in the FM Band".



At some point in my high school career I was introduced to WBAI by my father's hospital bunk mate. My father was recovering from hand surgery and his bunk mate suggested I listen to WBAI. I don't know how it came up in the conversation but it did.



The following September my mother started out for her new position as a school nurse in a local nursing school. She had to leave early so I had the run of the house for half an hour every morning before I had to go to high school.



I was elated and happy. I could have adventures all over the house and no one would be the wiser. One thing I would have control of the was the fm radio in the house, attached to the family stereo. I switched around the dial and put it square at 99.5, WBAI. Funny, no station. I ran into the kitchen to have some orange juice and when I came back a grouchy man was talking about the cheesy coffee shop he had just been in. Then he played a weird band I had never heard of called "The Incredible String Band". I had discovered a new radio station.



The next morning the radio was tuned again to WBAI. Again silence. At roughly twenty minutes past seven, a testy man started complaining about a sour container of yogurt he had just bought. The man was Larry Josephson. After this repartee, he played a record by Phil Ochs or perhaps it was Tom Paxton.



I always felt that the concept of starting a radio station not at a set hour but when the guy got there was one of the unheralded revolutionary ideas in media. Like an artsy shop in New Hope, it opened when the owner got there, not when the clock said it did. Not surprisingly this trend never made it into the main stream.




That year I listened to the station for the humor and knowledge of people like Larry Josephson, Steve Post, and when I was allowed to stay up late, Bob Fass. I also learned to feel guilty about the way we Americans oppressed women, people of color, the environment, the Vietnamese and countless other things about the terrible state of modern American post-industrial society.




Over the years I, like most baby boomers, have left WBAI for more comfortable pastures. I now listen to NPR, WXPN in Philadelphia for music, and mouse around with the Internet. The baby boomer's radicalism descends into a comfortable, whiny, liberalism.


editor's note: Judging from their website, the Incredible String Band are still performing! I wonder how Licorice is doing. I had a thing for Licorice in high school.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Siddhartha

High school in the sixties had the one interesting quality of being unpredictable. Good or bad, Fanny Hillers and the Junior High School had the day to day sameness that a child learned to expect from school. You knew when the assemblies would be. You weren't surprised by unexpected breaks in routine. Yes there was the occasional fire drill but that was about it.

High school turned out to be, at least for me, full of surprises. One unexpected turn of events came in eleventh grade English class. We were trodding through 17th century literature with Mrs. Bernwick. We were finished, thankfully, with Francis Bacon and were just reluctantly dipping our feet into Ben Johnson when, one morning, we had a substitute teacher. The next day, another substitute. Then, Friday morning, the sky turned from blue to white to yellow and back to blue. Trumpets sounded through the halls. Into the classroom came beautiful, sweet, young Beth Rogers.

Beth Rogers never looked at the lesson plans. Instead, she handed us all paperbacks of Siddhartha. Siddhartha was the signature work of the then fashionable German 20th century writer, Hermann Hesse. So much for the literature of jolly old England.

Ostensibly about the life of the Buddha, the book was in reality a thinly disguised bildungsroman. With her blue eyes glimmering and her beautiful long blonde hair flopping all over the classroom, we discussed Siddhartha, growing up, our parents, and other topics.

One day, a month later, Mrs. Bernwick came back. Assuming that now we would at least be up to the Cavalier poets. "So what did you do while I was away?"

I raised my hand. "We read Siddartha by Hermann Hesse," I volunteered.

"What the heck is that?". Mrs. Bernwick was not amused. The sky went from blue to gray and none of us ever saw Beth Rogers again. The next year I snuck to the Village when my parents were away and bought Demian.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Philosophy Club


One of the great goals of mankind is to be in the in crowd. The kids at play groups jockey to play with the "in" kids. In the workplace, we all know what the true hierarchy is, and it is not based on job titles. In the nursing home, the oldsters want to sit at the "in" table at lunch. And so it is in high school.




High school is the home of cliques, crowds, in groups, out groups, the nerds, the band kids, the drama kids, the ethnic kids, and so on. There were the clean cut kids who would end up with good educations and nice homes and SUV's. There were the juvenile delinquents who would later spend time in jail and end up working on the docks or sweeping up a bar.




One of the gifts of the sixties is that kids who had no hope of being popular in the existing crowds of yore had a chance of getting into a new crowd, a hip crowd, or in my case, the crowd of hip intellectuals. Being a hip intellectual in high school never would get one elected into the student council or date a cheerleader, but it at least allowed one to be in a group and even have a Jewish girlfriend.




My entree into being part of the hip intellectual crowd was a new club in high school, called the Philosophy club. A freewheeling discussion group, you listened to people talk about the Vietnam war, WBAI, Paul Krazner, Wavy Gravy, Andy Warhol movies, the Fugs, drug laws, rumour about pop stars, all while belonging to an academically sanctioned club. We had a young hip teacher who flirted with the chestier seniors in the class. Later the Philosophy club could lead to involvement with high school underground newspapers.
editor's note: To be continued






Thursday, August 16, 2007

FM Radio





Before the mid sixties, FM radio in the New York metropolitan area consisted of simulcasts of AM stations, a few easy listening stations, a couple of classical stations and a couple of educational stations where people would have erudite conversations about why it is a sin to present Moliere in English. Then an FCC ruling severely limited the amount of simulcasting a station could do to hold onto its FM license. Necessity being the Mothers of Invention, this forced FM radio owners to do original programming for FM, rock music being an obvious choice. There would finally be a new outlet to play groups like Moby Grape.




WOR had a famous AM outlet and its tv station featured Joe Franklin. For FM it went with an album oriented rock format. It was weird because it started without disc jockeys because of a labor dispute. For several months, listeners could basically listen to all types of rock music without interruption. WABC-FM followed, and its night disc jockey Bob Lewis was featured with the folk oriented "Some Trust in Chariots" before the station took the full plunge. Even Dan Ingram did a jazz show on Saturday afternoons for a spell.


1967 was of course the big year in the psychedelic era. Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, the Grateful Dead have all been discussed during this anniversary year. The music even made it to the halls of my junior high school. Mr. Duncan, the 9th grade history teacher, saved the last day of class (also the last day of Junior High School for me) to discuss Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He actually brought in a copy, although there weren't any seeds in the inner cover.


The premise of the class was that is was prententious horse s--t. The Beatles, fearful of losing their audience were going to outrageous lengths to capture an audience that had migrated to Bob Dylan and the Five Stairsteps. And so ended my experience in Junior High School. High school would be better.
My father didn't like Sargent Pepper's either. Actually, he admitted he couldn't figure out what they were trying to do. The movement from logic to post-logic. Ultimately that was Mr. Duncan's problem too. The older generation thought they were supposed to "get it" and there was no "it" to get. It was the same with painting soup cans. Why make a painting of a soup can? I think I need another cup of coffee.
editor's note: I have been using Grammar Girl to help with the grammar of this blog.








Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gym class

The last period of my first day in Junior High School was gym class. Completely different than what I had known before, this was for boys only and all the gym teachers were male. We were all sat down on the benches and the head of the physical education class took roll call. Then we got the speech. The speech that informed me that my childhood had come to an end. From now on, I was a man.

First we were told we had to take showers after gym or the girls would make remarks about us smelling a bit. All the boys smiled. We had never been talked to this way. We weren't little kids anymore! Then we were told we had to bring in five dollars to buy our gym clothes which came with a neat gym bag. Then our mothers would have to clean our gym clothes once a week. (Good old Mom always laundered my gym clothes and never complained.)

If we didn't bring in our gym clothes, smelling like daffodils, we would have to wear a shirt and shorts that said "unprepared". Many times in my life I haven't been ready for a situation. I wish that all I had to do was wear one of those shirts.

Then he said we had to wear athletic supporters during class. Otherwise known as jocks. No more BVD's during gym class. We had to wear jocks.

Walking home from my first day in Junior High school I knew I was now a man. I had to wear a jock. No longer a sapling, a child, a kid. I was a man. A grownup.

I informed my mother of the new change in my life. She looked somewhat skeptically at her grown up son. He was so young just a few hours ago. I could wear my older brother's athletic supporter to gym class. He won't need his now that he is in college. If he needed it he would have taken it with him.


editors note: There are lots of interesting retrospectives going on this summer with the Sixties as the theme. If you will be near New York the Whitney show on psychedelic art may be of interest to you.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Food in the sixties


In America, food underwent incredible changes in the 60's. In the fifties, most people ate in local diners on those rare occasions when they didn't eat their mother or their wives cookery. For special occasions they went to nicer restaurants with traditional American fare. The only chain most people went to was Howard Johnson's, and that was only when traveling. The sixties saw fast food chains become the casual dining choice of the masses, spurred on by baby boomers and their new driving privileges.
Chinese and other ethnic foods became more sophisticated in the sixties. In the Chinese restaurant of the fifties and early sixties my father always ordered pepper steak and I always had chow mein, all eaten with forks. In the late sixties, pseudo sophisticated young people went to the cities and ate Moo Goo Gai Pan with chopsticks. During this era the falafael was born. Eating at the communal table of the Paradox on East 7th Street was the hip thing to do.
Italian restaurants cropped up that served more than spaghetti. Calimari became acceptable outside of the old Italian neighborhoods. Cooking shows entered America's picture tubes with Julia Child leading the way.
As the sixties culture came into fruition, soul food, macrobiotics, and vegetarianism entered the scene. Stores where you ground your own peanut butter emerged in the bohemian neighborhoods of our towns. Skippy was relegated to the children and Grandma. The malt shops of Ozzie and Harriet were closed. Of course in the seventies, America became nostalgic about the fifties and old fashioned diners became hip again.
Editor's note: This is my most popular post. Must be the Google references. I am currently working on Hard Times, a blog about modern times.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Junior High School


Leaving elementary school in June and going to the Junior High School in September is one of the most abrupt transitions I can remember from my childhood. From the same group of women teachers in a comfortable school near my house, I was sheltered for seven years at Fanny Hillers School. Then one September I was abruptly moved to the topsy turvey world of Junior High School.


On the first day of school I had to wear a tie. The other kids said that if you didn't come to school you would emerge with a black eye and a bloody nose. While not strictly true, one always felt better being on the safe side in these matters.


Then there was the bus ride to school. I could walk before. Now school was too far. We weren't even allowed on a school bus but had to ride on a public bus. My bus stop was the home of most of the juvenile delinquents of the school. The boys would smoke and curse and the girls would snap their gum loudly.


The school itself was the ugliest and oldest school I ever attended. (No I didn't attend Columbia University). I had to learn about boys and girls entrances. I had to change classes too. And there were male teachers. Boys were addressed by last names now. The children in my classes misbehaved badly and the teacher's seemed unable to discipline them. One look from Miss Watson and the kids would quiet down. Now the teachers seemed incapable of bringing order to the classes.


Living close to school I had gone home for lunch. Now I had to eat in the cafeteria. The old school was entirely Caucasian. Now there were Negroes and children who spoke Spanish that they didn't learn in school.


I had to take algebra from a stern man with a beard. There was nothing like that in dear old Fanny Hillers. Then there was band. Band was a huge group of students in a stuffy old room. We had to take auditions to see where we would sit. Oh where was dear Mr. Santarama now. Even the sweat coalescing near his armpits was comforting.


editor's note: we will deal with gym class in a future lecture.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fat Mike's


After my brother got a driver's license he discovered girls. He probably suspected previously that such sweet things existed, but it was his driver's license and attendance at the local church CYO that introduced him to a group of women who attended one of the local Catholic high schools. To the consternation of my mother, he and his male friend Lou would cram twenty of these future home makers into our father's 1958 Ford Fairlane and go to places like Fat Mike's Italian Ice. This would be illegal under current driving laws. In some ways, things are stricter today.


Why I was invited on these outings I can't fathom. Apparently the twenty girls thought I was cute. "Oh please, let's bring your adorable little brother along!" they would say. In addition to Italian ice places, diners like the Bendix Diner, Harry Tack's and other places would attract us and other damsel filled cars with their young chauffeurs.


Also popular for young people who lived in New Jersey was driving to New York to buy beer. The drinking age was eighteen in that hedonistic state. Being a child with a rather large mouth at the dinner table, I was not invited by my brother on those forays.
editor's note: the photo is of Johnnie's Hot Dogs in Butzville New Jersey. Strictly speaking it was too far away for my family but is representative of the sort of place that has has attracted teenage drivers on their late night drives since the invention of the automobile.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jack Kerouac


The sixties have many prominent writers. My personal choice for the most influential writer of the decade is Jack Kerouac, specifically because of the book, On the Road. I came upon an audio book of this title recently through my librarian job. After returning the book through inter library loan it came back to me. When the book came into my hand a second time, I figured it was fate and I listened to it. The reader is David Caradine and it is quite enjoyable.




Hippies were the children of the beatnicks and the beatnicks were the children of the Lost Generation. I've been told that Henry Miller is the grandfather of the hippies.




On the Road romanticized the ethos of traveling to different parts of the country with no jobs and no money. You would meet interesting people on the way and take drugs and have lots of sex with beautiful women.




Hitch hiking and being up late in weird lonely diners in the middle of nowhere is part of the great American dream, when you feel most alive. The baby boomers ate this up like pancakes. Everybody wanted to leave their parents homes and experience life. The life of late night satori, wild women and backpacking.




On the Road was the spiritual father of Easy Rider. The road and being an outsider and having adventures. Today as we drive our children to the orthodontist in our SUV's the call of the road still lies like a vestigial memory yet to be fulfilled. Maybe when we retire we'll take Route 66 from end to end.
editor's note: there are two articles on On the Road in the August 19 New York Times book review.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

the Civil Rights Movement


The sixties, in addition to being a time when young people stopped visiting the barber, was the principle decade of the Civil Rights Movement. In New Jersey, forty years ago, the Newark riots took place. A good article on this period in Newark is available at the Star-Ledger website.


I remember the end of living in a segregated world. Going to Dallas with my mother to visit family, we arrived at Love Field and there I had to go to the bathroom. There was a White men's room and a room for the colored. My mother said I should go to the White bathroom.


Even Hackensack had bussing to keep the negro children in Beach Street school and the wealthy kids who lived on Summit Avenue in a white elementary school. Every morning, instead of walking three blocks to Beach Street School the youngsters were bussed to Fanny Hillers.


The civil rights movement was a big topic at the dinner table. Mother liked to remind my father that the North was just as segregated as the South.


Lyndon Johnson promoted the Great Society program with mixed results. The Newark riots came as a surprise to most people in New Jersey. I remember hearing "they had some trouble makers in Hackensack too" (presumably at one of the bars in the Central ward) but, the story went, "they chased them back to New York."


In 1968 my father was asked to serve on the Human Rights Commission in town. The prosecuted cases of housing distinction. After King was assassinated, the City Council led a memorial service in front of the Court House in Hackensack. Everybody sang, "We Shall Overcome".


Livingston College was created partly as a result of the Newark riots. Today, Livingston College is no more. Beach Street School was closed and became part of the high school campus. Today, throughout America White men and Black men stand proudly next to each other at the urinals.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Why did they make me a pineapple


One of the premises of this blog is that the sixties is the most influential decade in recent times and that vestiges of that decade can strike in the most unexpected ways. You have arrived at work and need to take advantage of the day because a report is due on Monday. Today you have a unique opportunity to spend some time on it because no-one is in so you can be left to your work. You have your coffee and feel good about the world.

Suddenly Cathy comes in, "You better get going, they'll be waiting!"

"Waiting for you at the sensitivity training!"

"Oh no!" You exclaim. "Not today, oh please not today!" NO NO NO NO NO! You can't get any work done today. Today you are learning the secrets of leadership. You will spend the day role-playing.
Leadership/sensitivity training. One of the vestiges of the sixties.


Now you are in a meeting with the other staffers who were dragged in. You are a pineapple. Beth is an apple. That man with the uneven beard is a lima bean. "Why is the apple jealous of the pineapple," the leader questions.
Oh no! I'll have to come in on Saturday!
Fritz Perls had a hand in it with gestalt therapy. Then there were the encounter group fads you remember from college. This is where role playing and interacting with our fellow human beings became popular. Pop psychology. EST. Leadership training.
I have learned to become a leader, treat women with respect, learned how to be the real me, learned how to lose weight, fight depression, and other things on the company dime. But the trainer always leaves me to do the report.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jean Shepherd

When I was in the eighth grade, I must have gotten tired of Cousin Brucie and the other AM radio pop music shows as my fingers moved to the left of the dial to 710 one fateful night. There I heard this man talking. No music, no jingles, just this man talking. And like countless other kids perusing the radio dial I stopped. He was telling a story. A story about being a kid. I heard the story. I think it was about a kid eating hot polish peppers. Completely by accident, I had discovered Jean Shepherd.





For the next five years of my adolescence I added Jean Shepherd to the radio shows I listened to (prepositions should never end a sentence but this sounds right). He was the person who has most influenced my writing (such as it is) and my annoying sense of humour. No my favorite show was not Saturday Night Live. It was the Jean Shepherd Show. Mondays thru Fridays at 10:15 and Saturdays, live from the Limelight, at 10:30.




I was getting too old for Boy Scouts. During my last summer at Camp No-Be-Bosco the kids from my cabin started smoking banana peels. It was 1966. The smoke was real harsh and nobody really got any buzz worse than the buzz from standing too close to the camp fire.






Egged on by my new Boy Scout friend M- (I've been reading Stendhal) I wrote a letter about smoking banana peels to Jean Shepherd. The incident forgotten, I was looking for a summer free of school and was watching the All Star Game with my older brother.





The phone rang. It was M- His voice was quivering. Mr. Mustache, Jean Shepherd is reading your letter! He not only read it, he embellished it. He talked about how our Scoutmaster always talked about brunch. He called the show, "the silly season".



The young person suddenly is frozen in a dilemma. "Mom, Dad, Jean Shepherd read my letter on the air!"


And what was the letter about Mr. Mustache? My father would ask. It was about smoking banana peels at ....


Suddenly I knew. I had a dilemma. My greatest triumph and I couldn't tell anybody. Anybody official anyway. This could not go on any college applications. It would be a secret that I could only share with my immediate peer group.


It was that day that I moved from childhood to adolescence. "Mom, I met Allen Ginsburg!


"Really, where, my mother would ask."


"Smoking marijuana at ---" This story I would also have to keep to myself. The child becomes a man. Little secrets are kept to the grave.

Friday, June 15, 2007

the Mama's and the Papa's


I was just watching public television and they had one of those fundraiser cum documentaries. That is twenty minutes of documentary alternating with thirty minutes of pitching. It was on the Mamas and the Papas. The film was okay and it was nice to see Michelle Philips again. She still looks good. My only objection is that it was a white-wash. It presented them as clean cut goody-gooody's while every kid who grew up in the sixties had a closetfull of stories about the band. Passed verbally from kid to kid in those pre-Internet pre-Entertainment Tonight days, they were accepted by all as gospel truth.
First, the band all took drugs constantly and LSD was licked off of the Mama's t--s by the Pappas mouths. They were constantly having orgies, and they had harems of progeny somewhere in Tangiers.
The women of the band were the greatest fear of all parents with daughters. God d--n it if my daughters are going to grow up like that! Hilda, turn off the television!
Although parents didn't like rock music and called it a term evoking the "N" word, they knew that folk music was even more insidious. Folk singers with their beards and their know-it-all attitudes were Communists in disguise and not to be trusted. And the Mamas and the Pappas combined the worst of folk music, hippieness and sexual promiscuity.
I knew all about the Mamas and the Papas. It was whispered to me in a tent at Boy Scout camp.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Day Camp




As the weather is getting hot and sticky, I recall the two years I went to CYO Day Camp. Looking back, I realize I was railroaded into going. Kids nowadays would have an attorney look at the brochures and negotiate the situation with their parents. Realizing their parents really wanted them to go , it would mean text messaging for two years and a new skateboard in return for attendance at day camp.

Those were simpler times. I woke up one morning and found out we were going to Day Camp orientation. I guess my mother was tired of spending summer with her whiny bored son.

The whole thing ran on tired old school buses ran by seminarians, men studying for the priesthood. They drove the buses, taught us how to swim, made sure we drank our milk at lunch and generally supervised the sessions. They were rather long days. After being carted to Paramus pool, the afternoon consisted of arts and crafts in a stifling hot parochial school or baseball in a muggy baseball field.

The treat was the field trips. Every Wednesday was field trip day. Some of these were okay. We went to Bear Mountain, Lake Hopatcong Amusement Park, and Van Saun Park. One day we went to Teterboro Airport and saw Arthur Godfrey’s plane.

Little by little we got into a routine. I always sat next to the developmentally disabled kid on the bus. I was that popular. On Wednesdays’ we would sing drinking songs on the bus. I always remember, “I want a beer just like the beer that pickled dear old Dad.”

The big thing came towards the end when we would start rehearsing for “the show”. We spent hours rehearsing skits; one kid tried to do a magician act. One of the seminarians actually wrote original songs to climax the show. I can still hum “Good Evening Friends”.
In one skit, I played a secret service agent accompanying John F. Kennedy. I didn’t have any lines.

The night of the show they gave out awards. I won “Camper of the Year” for my age group. My mother was quite surprised.

The last day was sad. All the seminarians decorated the buses with signs and balloons. We drove through the streets of Bergen County and wound our way to the various corners where different kids lived. Nobody is more sentimental than a group of Catholic kids ending their summers on the bus. Or young men bound for the priesthood.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Modell's

As a kid I was carted off to Arnold Constables and Packards by my mother. Then there were the forays to Main Street and Grants and Woolworths. Later when they built the Paramus malls we would go there.



But Dad's favorite store was Modell's. It was the sort of place where a man could feel like he was getting a bargain. It was a big, weirdly shaped store at the bottom of Kaplan Avenue, south of the Hackensack line in Lodi. Many of the departments were independently run so there was a flea market atmosphere to the place.



The grocery store took your purchases and put them on a conveyor belt which you then retrieved by driving to the pick up station on your way out of the store. If you were so inclined, you could get a haircut for ninety nine cents.



The floor was always dirty and for a kid, it was great fun to streak your shoes against the coated sugar and grease of the floor. They had a record store which wasn't half bad. It was here that I purchased my first record for 77 cents. A copy of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" with the original Beatles singles cover.



Outside the store were empty box cars, where an adventurous kid could play. One Wayne Manley, a kid a year younger than me, played there after getting a haircut. The box car turned over and crushed him to death.



The next day the news spread all over the school. For some reason my teacher gave me an errand that involved sending me down to the third grade classroom. The classroom of death. Cautiously, I entered the classroom where the late haircut boy had been enrolled. The kids all looked sad but some of the boys were smirking.



We all learned our lessons. Kids shouldn't play in boxcars.



A month later I came to school on a different route because I wanted to see where Frankie's Market had burned down. "Christ" the Junior leader said, "I though you was....Wayne Manley"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Miss Rheingold




"Vote vote for Miss Rheingold, the beer that is so extra dry.


Vote vote for Miss Rheingold, the babe so many millions try."




Well it went something like that anyway. Certainly the Miss Rheingold contest was one of the great events of my childhood. Especially the day me, my mother, and the Mills girls went to the Bergen Mall to see the contestants for this great honour. It was 1962.




I remember the seven contestants were all in the Sunday papers. Everyone had their opinions. I forget who I liked but I know she lost.




One day my mother announced that the contestants for the Miss Rheingold pageant were going to be a the Bergen Mall. Anybody want to come to see them?




My poor father had to work that day, so my mother, the Mills girls, my brother and I don't remember who else went to the Bergen Mall for the historic event. At the entrance to the shrine were thousands of people all awaiting the arrival of the girls. Then suddenly, a huge engine noise. Six motorcycles, ten police cars, and there they were.


A magnificent convertible and there sat the contestants for the great award. They got out of the car. What marvelous skirts! The older Mills girls said. My older brother was told to close his mouth before the insects attacked his tongue.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The 1964 Elections


The Republican convention came first at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Nelson Rockefeller was supposed to be nominated but then he got divorced and re-married. The job went to Barry Goldwater, a nice guy who was a ham radio operator and appeared on the Jack Paar show. At the convention they released gold balloons. The television commentators said the Republicans had fallen off a cliff.




The Democratic convention was held in Atlantic City. The sign on the wall of the Convention Center said "Let us continue". Mrs. Mills was a delegate and we tried to spot her on television but couldn't. Hubert Humphrey gave his famous "But not Senator Goldwater" speech. Johnson followed it up with his "And so do I" speech.



From reading this blog you can probably guess who I was for. Barry Goldwater. I loved being the conservative Republican of the family.


I got aid on this mission from an unlikely source. My mother invited some of her Texas kin-folk up for a few days and they were invited to a cook-out at the Mills. My mother's only male relative in the group went up to everyone and talked about why he liked Goldwater. "Johnson is serving up slop in a silver chalice. It is served up good but it's the same old slop. Now Goldwater is at least doing something to bring decency back to this country."


Johnson won the election. I didn't remain an arch conservative for long. After you get used to it, slop tastes good, if it's served up in a pretty enough plate.
Editors note: I changed the comments requirements so you can comment anonymously. So let's have some comments!


Saturday, May 26, 2007

AM Radio


I was always a big fan of AM radio as a kid. From the early sixties to the psychedelic era, when baby boomers got too sophisticated for the stuff and switched to FM, AM radio (sorry Frank Zappa, who called it "ugly radio") was on my regular diet, largely responsible for destroying my brain cells as a youth. As I got older, alcohol finished the job.



There was WABC, Murray the K on WINS and on cold crisp evenings I would wonder the dial for great stations such as WKBW in Buffalo and WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Here, there was the banter, the unending commercials, traffic reports. (Traffic reports were especially fun for those of us who didn't drive. It was a window into the secret world of adults).

In the area around New York you could also receive one of the great AM radio stations, WMCA. It was homier than WABC, had a larger play-list, and was so New York oriented that a kid from New Jersey could pretend for a moment that he was living in Queens.

I don't care what anybody says, the music on the radio in 1965 was a heap better than the stuff on today. Motown was at its prime, the English groups were starting to create a new music, and folk was starting to mature from its New Christy Minstrels phase. Just look at this list from this week in 1965. The scary part is I can probably sing most of the songs in the top 30!

A great television show at the time was Shindig. It featured the Beatles debuting "I'm a Loser" and in 1965 they almost dedicated a whole show to the Rolling Stones, with the band's own guest, Howlin' Wolf. At the end of the show the Rolling Stones introduced a new song. It was called "Satisfaction."
Going to band practice on a bicycle and listening to AM radio. That sums up the summer of 1965 for me. That and two weeks at No Be Bosco. Boy Scout camp we'll save for another installment.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New York has changed

Living close to New York it was not unusual to hear the typical New York conversation. This conversation, or one like it, took place in and about every major urban center in the United States. It dealt with change. And it dealt with change that wasn’t so good.

The great urban myth is that before World War II American cities were like small towns. You didn’t have to lock your doors. If you did anything wrong the people in the neighborhood would tell your parents and you would get whipped as soon as you got home. And you never would know who was the tattle tale.

Everybody took care of everybody. The Irish took care of the Irish. The Italians took care of the Italians. And the kids behaved or they would get into trouble.

After World War 2, the GI bill came along and increasingly Caucasians moved into the suburbs. When the new suburbanites came into the city or talked with people who still lived in the city, the talk was always about changes. Or more specifically “how the city has changed”.

Throughout the 60’s one heard the classic New York conversation.

“Mary, been back to Morris Heights lately?

“Oh, it’s changed. You wouldn’t believe how it’s changed. I almost cried the last time I was there. I told my sister, get out of this neighborhood. It’s changed!”

“Boy how East Tremont has changed. I used to love to shop at Goldstein’s. Can you believe old man Goldstein was robbed at gunpoint? Now, thanks be to God, he lives in Florida.”

“Tony was well into his sixties. Every Wednesday he used to go to New York on the bus to see his old friends. I told him; don’t go to New York no more. It’s changed. One day he went to New York and he didn’t come back.’

“I decided to visit my friends in the old neighborhood. Boy did I get a surprise. My best girlfriend is in jail and the other girl I used to hang out with: She became a drug addict and they found her body in a garbage can. Boy, New York has changed!”

If there was any message I got as a young person it was be careful when I went to New York. Kids in the city carry knives. My father knew he could never keep me away from New York. But at least I could get the hell out of there after dark.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

the Kennedy Assasination


The early sixties boded well for life in general. Americans would all have money. We would all be hip also. Men could grow beards in college, sing folk songs and be assured that after college they could easily obtain jobs in New York in the arts and in the publishing industry. All that was required was a piece of paper.
Negroes would obtain their rights and would be quickly merged into the middle class. There would be music, lots of government benefits, and grants for all ...but underneath the beards and berets, young people would respect their parents and their country and still go to church on Sunday and temple on Saturday if they were Jewish.
Somehow the thought that we didn't live in a perfect world, a world about to become the future world of the Jetsons, showed its ugly head on November 22, 1963. I didn't know it at the time.
I first heard about the assassination at Fanny Hillers School, where I was in the sixth grade. It was a nice day and we were playing touch football outside the school during gym class. Then some kid who had a transistor radio announced that Kennedy had been doing Christmas shopping and been shot in Texas. Soon afterwards, school was dismissed.
I was a junior leader, a highly prestigious position. I was in charge of the bicycle rack. Underused, still the bicycle rack had its share of customers, including a girl. The kids quickly discharged their bicycles and rode home before the Russian bombs descended. One young girl was picked up by her mother in front of my station.
"Why was Kennedy shot?" the crying girl asked.
"It has to do with the colored," the mother replied.
I went home and the Mills family was in my kitchen. Mrs. Mills was crying. Johnson was now president. My mother didn't say a word about this development.
On Monday we got off from school. My father sent me to the store to buy potato chips. Eating potato chips, the family watched the funeral procession of Jack Kennedy. My father drank beer. We drank soda. I still remember the taps guy missing the first bar. da da douey.....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

the Cuban Missile Crisis and Richard J. Hughes


I lived in a block growing up that was named after a prominent psychiatrist at Hackensack Hospital. Appropriately named. There were no boys on my block that didn't tower over me in age but there were two girlup the street that I played with. They were the Mills girls. One was two years older than me and one was two years younger than me. They were exciting people to be around and they had exciting imaginations. The older girl was a horse nut and the younger one was into politics and the movies. Every summer we had imaginary horse shows.

They dragged around a little red wagon that was emblazoned with campaign stickers supporting Democratic party candidates from New Jersey since 1958. There was the bumper sticker for Robert B. Meyner. There was the bumper sticker for Harrison A. Williams. There was, as should be expected, a few Kennedy stickers. The newest sticker they had was for Richard J. Hughes, who was, at that time, running for governor in New Jersey.

I always will remember the horse shows we had in the Mills backyard. And there were the happy summer hours shooting rubber arrows and listening to the older girl talk.

Come fall there was a big story in the neighborhood. The newly elected governor was making an appearance at the Young Democrats headquarters in Maywood, New Jersey. We waited an interminable time. There was a tv in the window of the headquarters. John F. Kennedy was on the tv and he was giving a speech about missiles being found in Cuba.

Finally Richard J. Hughes arrived in a car. He had the reddest face I ever saw. My mother said that was because he had high blood pressure. He shook a few hands and autographed the Mills wagon. I always thought after that that governors always had reddish faces.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Civil War Reenactments

One of the fads of the early sixties, in addition to hula hoops and the twist, was Civil War battle reenactments. Every day that passed that was one hundred years from an event in that tragic war was celebrated with reenactments, picnics, festivals and other activities. My family was not immune to the Civil War contagion and in July of 1960 my father enlisted another family for the cause. In the Briggs station wagon went both families, kids feet hanging out the back, bound for Manasses Virginia. Going to watch men die a second time in the First Battle of Masasses, better known as the first Battle of Bull Run.


At the motel in Virginia the maid started talking to my mother and my mother revealed we were going to the reenactment. The maid said, "Sit out in that hot sun? Y'all must be hard up for something to do!" I was greatly impressed by that statement and repeated it many times during the following year.


The two families enjoyed the reenactment, passing out ice cubes to the other celebrants. We were all committed loyalists to the United States of America (except for one Southern loyalist).
This was a major victory for the South, albeit one of a small number. It was exciting to see Stonewall Jackson route the Yankees. "Just a home run in the first inning," said Mr. Briggs.
Editor's note: Let's keep those comments coming!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Miss Watson and the Beatles


I first heard about the Beatles when Jack Paar announced on his Friday night show that he would show a film of a new British craze called the Beatles. The next week he showed a year old film of them singing "Some Other Guy". According the Jack Paar, they had long hair and when they shook their heads the girls screamed. Always an Anglophile, he was a bit surprised to see British teenagers behaving that way.

Little by little it built up. The radio stations started playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand". In an animated discussion on the Christmas day in the park behind Fanny Hillers School, my cousin and his dog, Rex, my big brother, and myself talked about the Beatles. The consensus was that they were going to be the next Elvis.

They arrived in the United States and the radio stations all promoted it heavily. There was a rumour that George Harrison would not go on the Ed Sullivan Show because he had the flu. They were staying at the Plaza Hotel and their were crowds outside the hotel.
The big night finally came. The family all gathered in front of the tv to watch Ed Sullivan. The sound was terrible and you could hardly hear them over the screaming girls. My mother said that the record company paid them to scream like that.

Miss Watson was our eighty-five year old school teacher. She evaluated the Beatles before the class and said that they were "clean cut" and that she liked them. Little did she know that three years later there would be throngs of rowdy kids with long hair and dirty blue jeans sitting in the nations parks, taking drugs, having sex, and listening to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Editors note, so you don't miss anything, "Albums" is newer than "Astronauts", but appears behind it. Apparently the blogs are sorted by the date of the first draft, not the date they are published.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

the Astronaut

Not long after the inauguration of Kennedy there was a feature article in the New York Herald Tribune on the astronauts. The question at hand was "Who would be the first to launch?" I ran down to the workbench where my father was working and asked the old man the same question. I was a John Glenn supporter myself.

"Probably it won't be John Glenn," he said. "Eisenhower was an Army man and he would have given the job to Glenn, since he was from the Army. Kennedy is a Navy man and I would guess the first astronaut will be a Navy man."

He was right. Alan Shepard, a Navy man, was the first man in space.

One cold morning I arrived at Fanny Hillers school and all the students were herded into the auditorium. A tv was set up with the countdown for Shepard's launch. Television. I didn't know they knew about television at Fanny Hillers.

The countdown was very dramatic. One hundred seven, one hundred six....Sort of like sex, the countdown is often more rewarding than the activities after liftoff.

I remember, vaguely, the Alan Shepard and John Glenn ticker tape parades in
New York that were on television. My mother proudly pointed out that as Vice President, Lyndon Johnson outranked Mayor Wagner and that this was reflected in the order of the cars on the parade route.

Wally Schirra's moment came later. A native of Oradell, he was born in Hackensack and he had a motorcade through Bergen County, ending at the county court house. After an interminable wait the cars finally came down Main Street. The same street I had marched in as a Cub Scout. Walter Schirra spoke. He had bright red hair. He was the only astronaut I ever saw in person.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Albums


In the early sixties kids played singles. When a little kid like me was privileged enough to hang out with older kids it was always in the basement or the bedroom where the singles were played. The singles were stacked and you always held your breath when a new record was released and hoped it and only that one it would descend correctly, ker plunk, to be played. The worse would be when one record would drop, the tone arm would move to the record and then the record above it would descend on top of the tone arm. Singles.

The music of these get-togethers was usually Lesley Gore, the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, Bobby Vinton, or perhaps one of the girl groups. Novelty records like “Itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini” were also featured occasionally.

Adults, on the other hand, played albums. Albums were mostly boring things, Perry Como goes Hawaiian, or 1000 strings in Paris. However, there was another side of albums. Albums that were more sophisticated. Albums that adults played at cocktail parties.

My parents, although classic squares, were greatly influenced by the slightly hipper and richer couple up the street, the Mills. They were active members of the Young Democrats and lassoed my parents into participating in political work and cocktail parties. As a kid with no apparent life of his own, I found myself observing the doings and goings on. I learned about couples who got divorced, about wives who drank too much and fought with their husbands. And in whispers, I could hear party members debating about what their stand should be on civil rights.

The sound track to these events were albums. “Music to Break a Lease” was played and the slightly intoxicated “Young Dems” would sing “Five foot two eyes of blue” at the tops of their lungs. The next big album I remember was “My Son the Folksinger” by Allan Sherman. Apparently the joke was that he took popular folk song melodies and changed the subject to items involving Jewish New Yorkers. “How’s your cousin Ida, she’s a freedom rider” was a lyric from that l.p. At the time it was considered to be hilarious.

The biggest album of all was Vaughn Meader imitating Jack Kennedy in “The First Family”. This got huge laughs at the Mills cocktail parties.

After the Kennedy assassination the album craze died in my parent’s circle. Then with the Beatles, the kids discovered albums and better quality stereos migrated from the living rooms to the basements. In the album war, the kids won.

Dan Ingram and the Rolling Stones

I used to listen to the Dan Ingram Show after school in 1964. He always played the latest Beatle records and I was a regular listener. The second record of the hour was always “number one” and then, more often than not, it was a Beatles single. Over time, other records became number one. Louis Armstrong even had a shot with “Hello Dolly”. “My Guy” by Mary Wells got its fifteen minutes of fame. But I loved the Beatles, the Yankees, and liked to crack my knuckles, just like everybody else in the sixth grade at Fanny Hillers School.

Then the Rolling Stones came on the scene. I had read about them in my father’s copy of the New York Herald Tribune. Them and the Pretty Things were going to be the next big thing. I’m still waiting for the Pretty Things to get big.

Dan Ingram announced on his radio show on WABC that he would give twenty dollars of his own money to the letter that expressed the best reason to like the Rolling Stones and to hate them. No corporate money was involved, only cash from Dan Ingram’s pocket. I have no idea if that was true, but it’s what he said on the air at the time. I got to see the Rolling Stones on the Hollywood Palace and hear “Tell Me” on the radio. They were completely different from anything I’d ever heard and I became an instant life long fan. I loved “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, the Muddy Waters song that they put on the flipside of of “Tell Me”.

Dan Ingram finally had his contest results. I hadn’t entered but I was curious about the results. Two kids won. He talked about the group a little and then played “It’s All Over Now”, the only time I remember WABC playing that record on the air. I liked it, though, and bought it in a record store when my family was on vacation. A teenage girl I did not know came up to me in the store and said “Oh I see you like the Stones”. Why do you like them?”

I replied, “Oh, they’re sophisticated.” An eleven year old sophisticate. Later I saw them on the Clay Cole Show. In the fall of 1964 they got a lot of airplay, especially on WMCA, the rival of WABC. Throughout my adolescence, one of my claims to fame was that I was into the Rolling Stones before anybody else.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Presidential Election of 1960





I remember the presidential election of 1960 as my first exposure to the world of politics and government. As a seven year old I was strongly influenced by the viewpoints of my mother, who was involved in the election herself, albeit in a small way.


I remember especially the carnival aspects of the event. I remember singing "K-E-doluble N- E -D -Y oh he's a jolly good guy. Kennedy and Johnson they are voting in every town. I'll bet you all the beans in Boston...."


The bumper stickers on the car. The bumper stickers on the Mill kids wagon. Wearing campaign buttons to school. A campaign was like a sporting event. A months long sporting event.


The first convention to be broadcast was the Republican Convention. It featured a jowly man on the podium.I remember he said. "I won't be here next time."


My mother said, "Oh he says that every year." The jowly man was Herbert Hoover.


Next up came the Democratic Convention. My mother had a horse in that race. A proud Texan, she was a Johnson supporter all the way. Johnson lost out to Kennedy but our family was placated by his number two position on the ticket.


A few months later, my mother got a phone call from Mrs. Mills, the political activist of the neighborhood. Lyndon Johnson was landing in Newark Airport and they wanted to greet the next Vice President appropriately. Five people showed up at the airport, including someone's daughter. Lyndon Johnson kissed the daughter and talked to my mother about Texas. Paris Texas came up in the conversation.


The night before the election the Dobie Gillis show featured a plot where Maynard would predict the election. At the finale of the he didn"t predict the winner, not toanyone's surprise.


There was a huge snowstorm on Inauguration Day so me and my brother got to stay home and watch the ceremonies on tv. I remember seeing Nixon and Eisenhower in top hats. Cardinal Spellman spoke. "That was for the benefit of the Catholics who got Kennedy elected," Mother informed us. Robert Frost spoke." That's for the benefit of the Harvard intellectuals", Mother informed us. Kennedy then gave the famous "Ask not what your country can do for you speach. I guess that was for the benefit of the slackers who always wanted something from the government.


The next day it was back to school. I remember a voice of a young girl on the radio obstensibly a young Caroline Kennedy. "My Daddy is president..." I just remember the first line.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why the sixties

The sixties is the turning point in American society where everything changed. Before the sixties a man could walk into the office and the "girls" would be happy to make him coffee. Before the sixties you knew the first names of the owners of all the stores in your neighborhood. Before the sixties adults controlled what tv shows the families would watch and kids didn't talk back. Before the sixties students had respect for their teachers.

Before the sixties a fella could eat anything he wanted, buy as big a car as he wanted, throw his garbage anywhere he wanted, smoke if he wanted, drink if he wanted. Nobody heard of organic. Nobody heard of cultural diversity. Men didn't have to wash clothes, cook dinner, shop or do anything but drink beer and work on their cars. And most importantly, it was a time when women didn"t wear pants nor men sport ponytails.

After the sixties all that changed. I can't think of one aspect of American life that wasn't altered by the sixties. And so that's why everybody writes about those heady times. This blog will write about how a young kid experienced that memorable decade where everything changed.