Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanksgiving in the Sixties

In the late sixties, many young people suffered major transformations at Freshman year at college. Happy go lucky, polite, well groomed young people the previous June, they went off to college and contracted bad cases of college-itus. Their hair grew long, they sported beards, they smelled like pot.

As was the tradition at my school, the previous senior class wandered the halls of high school the day before Thanksgiving. And look at them! Enough to bring many a high school teacher to tears. "All that work we put in on their educations and three months at State and look what happened to them!"

I was recently listening to the Beatles' Revolver and can see a similar transformation. Young clean cut men, previously loyal to their Queen and Capitol Records, smoked a joint and got sour outlooks on life. It sounds like they ate a meal that didn't agree with them. (Or got their tax bills).

Editor's note: One of the icons of the sixties, the cartoonist R. Crumb, has an interesting show of original ink drawings at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art at on the Penn campus. Throught December 7. Wed-Sun. Free.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Route 80

Northern New Jersey was late in getting the major interstate highways. For years anyone wanting to go to the Pocono's had to take Route 46 through Hacketstown, which was always crowded. Hackensack finally got Route 80 in 1964.

One Sunday afternoon I was traversing my way through the comics in the Herald Tribune. I was past "Peanuts" and entering the more parochial world of "Miss Peach" when my father asked if I'd like to take a bicycle ride. This was a new development in family life up to this point so I said, skeptically, "okay".

I rode my trusty bike and my father rode my older brothers'. He was at college and would never (until now) be the wiser. We headed onto Route 80. Scheduled to open the following day, the highway was magnificent and empty. It had a wonderful view of New York and the Empire State Building. We went as far as Bogota.

In Bogota we visited my father's friends. I had a coke and he drank a few beers. On the way back he swerved a bit on the road but I held up the rear. The next day Route 80 was opened up to the trucks and traffic jams for which it would become famous.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arnold Constable

Among my earliest childhood memories are being dragged by my mother to “the stores”. At that time, the malls had not
yet arrived in Bergen County New Jersey so people still went “downtown” which in our case meant Main Street in Hackensack. Not yet in Kindergarten, I visited Packard’s, Woolworth’s and that perfume laden place, Arnold Constables. It was what my mother called “a lady’s store”. The whole place reeked of perfume and I can remember smelling like Chanel No. 5 the rest of the day, or possibly until the next day when I changed my clothes. One nice thing about going to school was that I missed out on these daytime excursions in the world of women’s shopping.

As a twelve year old, Arnold Constables re-emerged once in my life as the location of a special appearance by Cousin Brucie aka Bruce Morrow, the disc jockey. I remember the place was full of kids, and most of them did not smell like perfume. This one girl I didn’t know started talking to me about music. I held my own, showing off my knowledge of the Animals and the Stones. My first exposure to the faster set that traveled at will to see music celebrities.

Bruce Morrow showed up. There was lots of screaming. I don’t remember what he talked about. Presumably it was to promote his radio show on WABC and perhaps a few products.

Today long gone, Arnold Constables in Hackensack is now a campus of Bergen Community College. Bruce Morrow does oldies shows for public television “pitch week”.

Editor’s note:  This post is mentioned in the Hackensack Community Message Board. Interesting site for Bergen County history buffs.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Beatles White album and the new bed

The Beatles "White Album" was long awaited and there were rumour mills about it long before it hit the stores. One story was that it featured "Hey Jude" and songs from an upcoming movie. Another story that a radio DJ repeated was that the second disc was a jam, similar to Grape Jam by Moby Grape. In gym class I learned that the cover featured John Lennon and Yoko Ono sitting on toilet bowls.

Finally the album found its way to FM radio and Murray the K announced that he had, once again, gotten the album first and would be featuring it on his Saturday night program on WOR-FM. Homework done, chores done, I was looking forward to an evening listening to this historic album for the first time.

The radio was on in my room. Murray the K had just started the show and there was a knocking on my door. It was my father.

"Master Mustache, come on, Mr. Mills has the bed he's giving you and we need to bring it over before he changes his mind."

"Bed, what bed, I don't need a bed. I have a bed." Even then, I was resistent to change.

The rest of the night it was up and down Kaplan Avenue. We carried mattresses, box springs, bed boards. It must have taken ten trips. We disassembled the bed at the Mills bedroom and reassembled it in my bedroom. I got to hear snippets of the Beatles behind the grunts and swear words accompanying the bed assembly. My other bed was then removed and planted on the curb.

After the bed was set up, Mr. Mills brought a bottle of champagne which both families drank, sitting on my new bed. Thus the bed was christened.

Finally the Mills family went home and I got to hear the last two Beatles cuts, "the End" and "Good night".

Editor's note: We actually drank the champagne on the back porch.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The new blog

I have started a new blog on growing tomatoes. It will trace my tomatoes from seedlings to hopefully, luscious, fruit bearing tomato plants. Not as exciting as the sixties but that's what happens when you get old.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The seventies

For me, the sixties merged into the seventies and with it I left the bosom of my parent's home and entered the exciting Fallopian canal called college. Dick Cavett said that college teaches a man to drink. On that point he was correct. College was four years filled with booze, co-eds, cutting classes, bull sessions and other diversions. What with one thing or another, the idealism of the sixties descended into the cynicism of the seventies. Graduation came but with it, no job prospects emerged. I graduated into an uncertain and somewhat unpleasant world.

The first foreboding that the economy was turning sour started with the great energy crisis. Then came the great recession of the seventies.

Oh where oh where were we going to get jobs as art therapists, dance therapists, cabinet makers and pottery school directors? Where would I be able to use the many skills I acquired doing a show on college radio?

The sixties were over. College days were over. I was a college graduate selling hot dogs at Two Guys. It was Saturday night and I was sitting in my parent's living room watching Lawrence Welk. The sixties were not supposed to end like this! My father is making popcorn. I'm drinking his Schmidt's. Oh wo is me!
The story of the ending of the sixties is repeated in the life stories of many baby boomers. The grasshoppers were wrong. The world hadn't changed that much. Just that there were no jobs and things were more expensive.
Editor's note: I will be taking a short hiatus to help build a church in Tanganyika. After that, I'm open for suggestions on what to do for the last of my blog trilogy. Possibilities include "the seventies" (an obvious choice) "what the doctor said" an ironic blog about the world of medicine as it applies to aging baby boomers, and "modern times" a blog about life in the 00's. Put your suggestions in the comment box. I'll inform you of my decision right here. I can assure you I will keep Mr Mustache in the title of the blog (it is a trilogy after all).
ps if you are new to the blog, start from the oldest and work your way forward for best results. So long.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the Sixties legacy

The sixties was gasping it's last breath. It was the end of the decade, Guy Lombardo was moving up his baton. The sixties was a crusty old ex hippie. And he gave this speech (with apologies to John Steinbeck and Tom Joad).

I'll always be with you. Wherever you go. Every time a woman feels she has heard a sexist remark, I'll be there. Every time you pass a Whole Earth store, I'll be there. Every time you turn on the FM radio and hear another sixties oldie, I'll be there.

Every time someone says holistic, I'll be there. Every time you pass a folk arts festival on the highway, I'll be there. Every time you read that diet is what causes arthritis, I'll be there. Every time you listen to "Fresh Air" on NPR, I'll be there. Gay rights? They owe it to me. Feminism? It all came from me. Gentrification? It has its roots in my spirit. Brown rice? I'm to blame brother. Whole wheat bread? That is my child. Hear a dulcimer on the radio? I'm guilty.

Your niece is living with a guy? That started with me. Wheat pizza? That comes from me. Organic? You're looking at grampa. Your date is driving the car? That wouldn't have been allowed in the fifties. Women using four letter words? Blame me. Your boss isn't a White guy? Me, sir. And a million other things.
"I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be everywhere-wherever you look I'll be there..."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The first time I heard about girlie shows

One day our family had an outing to Freedomland, the ill fated amusement park that was supposed to be New York's answer to Disneyland. Apparently, Mrs. Mills had a sister who sang in a band, namely the Jimmy Dorsey Band, then fronted by Lee Castle. As a bonus, Donald O'Connor was performing on the same stage.

Freedomland was okay, but not great. The best thing there was the tent where the disc jockey from WMCA was doing a radio show in front of a group of bored teenagers.

Outside it started to rain. In the band shell Donald O'Connor appeared and sang "Singing in the Rain". The stage was not sheltered from the weather. Donald O'Connor was a real trouper. No wonder my mother named me after him. The band played. The sister sang. And we all went home, soaking wet but happy.

The other big fair was, of course, the New York World's Fair, amply described in the book The End of the Innocence, by Lawrence R. Samuel. He was on the radio this morning.

The New York World's Fair was a hotly waited for event. I had been looking forward to it ever since hearing about the one in Seattle a few years earlier.

Contrary to it's detractors, for a kid it was great. Futurama was great. The Disney exhibits were great. My mother thought the electronic Abe Lincoln at the Illinois pavilion was real until he stopped talking. I got to go twice, once because my father wanted to go and once because my mother's friends from Ohio wanted to go.

After several hours of touring and tired from the day, my parents sat down at a bench at the fair. Soon a man shyly came up to my father. He almost couldn't speak, then he said, whispering, "do you know where I could find a girlie show around here?"

My father paused. "I don't know, I think the Texas exhibit has some scantily clad ladies." After living with my mother all these years, he had become a Texas booster too. And I heard a new term to increase my vocabulary.

Today there are remnants of the fair in Queens. You can still see the unisphere and the walkable map of New York at the Queens Museum of Art.

Editor's note: We'll get to an explanation of life after the sixties in due time.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How we envisioned the future

And so it was New Year's Eve and I was at my first New Year's Eve party. Not the flannel pajamas with my brother watching Guy Lombardo New Year's Eve party. No, I was at a real party with young people and a few drunken adults. The sixties were coming to an end and we were looking towards the future.

The nice part was that everything had changed. "Straight jobs" would be gone. We would all become free spirits picking and choosing among meaningful, insightful, occupations, bolstered by plentiful government grants provided by a free, enlightened America.

The men would become motorcycle repairmen, carpenters, organic farmers, writers, actors. The women would make quilts and pottery and grow flowers. The slums would disappear as black Americans would join the ranks of the middle class and move into our parents houses as we would all live in communes or new cities in the dessert.

The sixties were ending and a new world was beginning. The seventies would be a time of brotherhood, freedom, happiness, and only the "straight people" would be left behind.

Some of the wiser babyboomers were like ants in contrast to the multitudes of grasshoppers. They knew that accounting degrees and MBA's would still be needed in the seventies and that the expectations of the longhairs was a load of hooey. They knew the world could only use so many guitar players. They reasoned since most people never went to the theatre millions of actors would not be able to find work.

And so the sixties ended on a high note of expectation. Keep tuned for in my next post I will tell you what happened after the new year was rung.

Editor's note: I was just browsing the other blogs and Tacky Christmas cards is swell. http://tackychristmasyards.com/

Monday, January 28, 2008

the Patti Duke Show

This week I had an earworm that I couldn’t get rid of. Hence the topic for today’s blog. I find myself singing the theme song of the Patti Duke Show on the way to work, at work, on the elevator, in the bathroom, walking to the pizza joint on Warren Street. “While Cathy adores the minuet, the Parlez vous and Crepe Suzette, our Patti like to see the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights. What a wild duet…still they’re cousins, identical cousins all the way. They laugh alike they talk alike at times they even talk alike. You can lose your mind" ….

Uncle Bill once said that television is written for ten year olds. (This from someone who thought Pepino the Italian Mouse was the height of couture). And being ten at the time, I agreed with him.

Truthfully, I enjoyed junk like the Patti Duke Show. I could understand the plot. I could relate to the little brother. Although when the question came up in biology class, we were assured that the presence of identical cousins was a scientific impossibility.

Those ABC situation comedies. There was I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, Guestward Ho, Bewitched, Gidget and most importantly the Patti Duke Show. But television, even shows written about teenagers like Gidget, were sort of boring at the time. At least compared to the excitement of AM radio.

Editor's note: Steve Post, the legendary announcer on WBAI, is doing a weekly radio show this month on WNYC. Click here to access the podcast.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bunny Lake is Missing

In recent years, aging baby boomers are able to revisit (or perhaps visit for the first time) movies originally made in the sixties, but not widely shown at the time. For example, Bunny Lake is Missing, one of the weirdest yet most sixtieish movies of the sixties, was mostly known to us through the Mad Magazine parody. Another Otto Preminger movie that features Jackie Gleason taking LSD, "Skidoo", was largely unknown to most people in the sixties. Thanks to the Internet, dvd's and cable tv, artifacts of the sixties are in many cases more available now than when they were in the sixties.

A high school kid would hear the name Andy Warhol occasionally, but his movies rarely made it across the Hudson River when they were new. One of the scariest thoughts I have ever had was, "Can you imagine if they had the Internet in the sixties?". For being a kid, even a hip intellectual kid in the sixties, you only knew about things as rumours or long after they happened. Brian Jones dying I only found out about two days later, and that was because the disc jockey at WKBW casually mentioned it before playing "Honky Tonk Women". That John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Christ comment took weeks to reach my ears.

When the mainstream media did portray the sixties scene, it was always with beautiful blonde hippie girls with rich fathers and tall sculptured young male hippies with long hair and dirty clothes. Beatnicks were represented by Maynard G. Krebs in the classic sit com the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The Monkees were the cleaned up version of actual rock bands and their shenanigans. Perhaps that's what made things so fascinating to kids at the time was that information was harder to come by. Except for the Mommas and the Poppas. Every kid knew all the details of their lusty lives.

Monday, January 7, 2008


The adolescents in the sixties consisted largely of two types until the hip era showed its ugly head. One type was exemplified by the tough girl who used "go" as a verb. That is "go"as a synonym for say. Not "now that it is time for my confirmation it is time to go my Hail Mary". Rather in the sense that teenagers describe verbal conversations involving parents, teachers, sisters, boy friends and others. Usually described in homeroom class by young teenage girls who had to run into class before the bell rang before they finished their cigarettes.

So my mother goes, "So you're going out again without finishing your homework".
And then my father goes, "You should be getting better grades".
Then my brother goes, "I aced that class when I took it two years ago".
And then I go, "Yeah but I didn't have my ass in my shirt like you did."
And then my mother goes....

Then there was her boyfriend, the underlying cause of the conflict in the preceding vignette. He was good at sports but couldn't get into varsity because his grades were too low. On weekends he managed to obtain beer from New York, where the drinking age was eighteen. He was best avoided in the rush from class to class. He couldn't, however, be avoided in gym class, which were arranged in an apparently arbitrary manner.

Of course, every school also had its "goody two shoes". This type was in the Honor Society, the Key Club, and practiced for his one varsity sport, perhaps tennis. These young people would go to good schools and be your bosses when you got older. They would generally be successful at the game of life, though multiple marriages would reduce their net worth.

The rougher boys had cars that they worked on. The "goody two shoes" had to borrow the family car.

With the social upheavals beginning in the mid sixties, a new crowd of hip intellectuals emerged in high school. Bound for good colleges like the "goody two shoes" and occasionally using go as a synonym for say (to show their street creds) they got good grades but were not trusted by their teachers. They were too hip for their own good. In tenth grade, I was basically a "goody two shoes" but had aspirations to join the hip intellectual crowd.