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


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"