Seeing The Beatles….kind of.

Seeing The Beatles…… kind of.

It was February, 1964, and the new sensations of pop music were making their first trip to America. Their very first visit to The States would be to New York (of course) for a very much anticipated live performance on the Ed Sullivan show. The excitement and frenzy had been building for months since the visit was first announced.The Beatles had quickly achieved unprecedented success on the American music charts, at one time having the top five songs on the Billboard top 100. Even if you were not alive at the time, I would bet you know the names, and perhaps the tunes of these chart toppers; “I Want to hold your Hand”, “She loves You”, “Please Please me”, “Twist and Shout” and “Can’t buy me Love”.

The Beatles were the spearhead of what became known in the music world as the “British Invasion”, and I must admit, I was a bit resentful. The incredible success of the Beatles left me feeling a bit “ out of sorts” . I had just turned a teenager and I was caught in an interesting time in music history. The very first music that I came to love was the American bands. I was a huge fan of the Four Seasons and The Beach Boys, as well as the unique and fabulous “Motown” sound. This new upstart band from England was now stealing all the attention and I was determined not to like them. As you probably know, all the teen and pre-teen girls were absolutely enthralled with the Beatles, adding to my (jealousy?). They were also changing how to look to be “cool” , with their mop

cuts replacing my very carefully styled pompadour! How could they?? 

Yes, I had some preconceived dislike for these guys before I really gave them a chance…….

and this  brings me to that day outside the Plaza Hotel.

It was a Friday when they landed at JFK airport. The fan uproar was incredible. I don’t remember the exact time, but it was early afternoon when their plane touched down. Their adoring fans( mostly teenaged girls) were in a frenzy. Many came down “sick” that day and were unable to go to school. Others raced out of school as soon as the final bell sounded to get to the Plaza Hotel where the band would be staying. Fan or not, the feeling in the city was electric. 

As I have admitted , I was not a fan, mostly because of jealousy. Almost every girl I knew was on the verge of fainting at the mention on the band or one of the band members. That did little for my already fragile ego. Every girl had her favorite band member and were madly in love with John, Paul, George or Ringo.

I must admit, I really liked the name Ringo… it just sounded “ cool” to me and though not a devotee, my curiosity was peaked.

I made the decision to go to the Plaza Hotel that afternoon to get a first hand feel of the this whole amazing “happening”. 

Timing would not be an issue. The band was scheduled to land at JFK in the early afternoon and hold a brief press conference at the airport. They would then be quickly transported to The Plaza. Betting on the length of time for the press conference  and the travel time into Manhattan, I would have plenty of time to be at the hotel when they arrived . My school on 13th street was in walking distance of the hotel,( a long walk, but still very do able), so I didn’t need to worry about public transportation.

I didn’t tell many of my friends my plan, as I thought the guys would tease me mercilessly and the girls would think I was just trying to get them to notice me.   I knew quite a few of the girls who had also decided to go and I knew telling them would not play in my favor.

So, on that Friday, I left school and started the long walk to the Plaza Hotel. If my memory serves me right it was a fairly pleasant day for New York in February and the walk itself was somewhat pleasant.

As I approached the area of the Hotel, the enormity of the event became clearer. There were kids everywhere! Mostly girls, dressed in Beatles style hats and boots. There were some guys, but we were definitely in the minority. When I finally made it to the Hotel on Central Park South the crowd was huge. There were cops everywhere to make sure that no frenzied young lady tried to “Storm the lobby”. I quickly learned from one of the other few guys there that I had just missed the arrival of the Band at the hotel. He told me that when they emerged from the limo, it was simply pandemonium. I was a little disappointed that I had missed their arrival, but was told that they would be emerging from their rooms on to the balcony above to show their appreciation to the crowd. They were staying on the 12th floor and the Plaza had 20 or 21 floors. It was not long before the crowd began to chant the name of the band and girls by the hundreds were crying out to their favorite band member;

“I love you , Paul!!”

“I love you Ringo!!”

etc, etc,….

After about 30 minutes four figures emerged on the 12th floor balcony. Despite being almost unrecognizable at that height, the crowd went crazy! Screams, shouts, jumping. Some of the girls actually started crying. I strained to make out the individual band members as they waved to the crowd. Even though they were quite high up, I believe I was able to  distinguish John, Paul, George and Ringo.

One of the few guys in the crowd was standing fairly close to me and said ;

“This is totally far out, right?!!”

I responded without a lot of enthusiasm;

“Yea man, it is….. But i don’t think they are THAT great “…

That was not smart.

At least 12 girls heard my comment and turned toward me and gave me the most evil looks I have ever seen! They went on to tell me, using some choice cuss words, what a little idiot I was. One threw a bag of M&Ms at me. 

In order to preserve my life , I thought it was time to exit and make my way back home and listen to the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys.

Epilogue:

That Sunday night, The Beatles made their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Mom, Dad , my little brother and I all watched. I was skeptical, pretty much knowing I wouldn’t like them. Dad was, as a musician, curious. Mom and my brother really didn’t care either way. They played a total of five songs in two sets ,( All my Loving, Till there was you, She loves you,  I saw her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand), and , as at the hotel, the girls in the audience went wild. 

To his credit, Dad gave them a good review! Rob wanted to watch Bonanza and Mom wondering why you would name your band after a bug.My reaction was twofold; First, they came across as nice guys, and two ; Their songs were good.

My final thought after the Ed Sullivan show was over?

“ These guys might actually “ make it” .”

Ya’ think?

Don.

“You Can’t Go Home Again” – Thomas Wolfe

Recently I tuned into one of those stations that plays old television shows from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, you know the equivalent of one of those Oldies cruise voyages. The station was doing a weekend marathon of one of my favorite shows from my years growing up, a comedy I used to tune in every Saturday night religiously. I was really excited about seeing the show again, as I had so many fond memories of instances where the characters made me laugh out loud. So I settle in on Saturday night after dinner, of course telling Leslie she has to see this show, it was the best ever. The first episode we caught came on at 8PM.

So around 9:30, it suddenly dawns on me I haven’t laughed once. As a matter of fact a couple of times I was getting annoyed at the stupidity of the character’s behavior in the show. I mean how could someone be that inept? Come on people! Pouring another drink, and sitting back down to give it another go, the thought came to me again that this used to be a favorite of my childhood. I adored this thing! And here I was, watching for two hours now which meant four episodes of a half hour each, and the only emotion I had so far was anger at it’s silly premise, and the repetitive routine that defined it’s comedy.  

Hmmmm…I felt .another one of those unwelcome adult realizations coming on. What once was great, now basically is barely watchable. 

Ok, I thought, let me test this theory on some other shows. The following weekend, they were doing a marathon of an old Cop show I, yes yet again, loved as a kid. These episodes were an hour long. Once again, I settle in, by myself this time, my credibility with Leslie having been ruined the week before, and start to watch. I woke up from a deep sleep about three hours later; I had fallen asleep on the very first episode, it was that boring. 

Uh-oh….this was becoming a trend.

I tried a movie next, one I had gone to see in the theater at least three times; one I had raved about for years to anyone who could listen. It was one of my favorite genres, a mystery set in Victorian England, I mean how could that have gone bad right??  I turned it off after forty five minutes. 

Ok try music. Sometime after that I rummaged through my now dusty CD collection (yes I still have some of those), and picked a band I really thought was great back in the day. I popped the disc in the player and settled back.

Do I need to tell you what happened? After about five songs I actually shouted out loud to no one: “This sucks!” What the hell was I thinking back then????”

Well need less to say that CD went to Good Will the next time I made a donation. Maybe someone else hadn’t left the 70’s yet and would still get a kick out of it; to me it sounded really bad.

So I get it. Things that you thought were good at one point, whatever it is, just don’t cut it anymore. I guess we have all experienced this in one form or another; whether it be a movie or a piece of music or even a once favorite restaurant.

We move on; we change, something that lives in the past often doesn’t translate into the present; it just is for the time it was, nothing more. Sometimes that is its beauty; it defines a time for you. It just doesn’t work now.

But then I started to expand the theory, and haltingly thought about…….people. Yes people. Think of all the people you have known in your life; all the co-workers, church members, drinking buddies, teachers, whatever……bet you can come up with a few names that you used to be really close to, thought you would be friends for a long time with……and now…..meh….not so much. Everyone grows apart. And truth be told, I had some friends that were pretty close, at least at work, and now I am not at all in contact with and …….I don’t care; guess they weren’t as close friends as I thought or one of us would have kept in touch.

And yes unfortunately it happens in families too. Besides the obvious separation of miles as families are more and more distant from each other, there are those instances where you, if you are honest anyway, really would rather not see Aunt whomever, or Uncle you know who, or Cousin fill in the blank. 

It’s OK – it is all part of life; accepting that maybe that restaurant didn’t change, and the movie was always the same movie, just like that TV show, and that piece of music, it is the same as when it thrilled you.

None of those things changed – you did. 

You learned more, your tastes got more refined, you (hopefully) grew more intelligent, sensitive, and open to different points of view. And there is always the possibility that you just had really bad taste back in the day (especially that CD you listened to). Whatever, you have thankfully moved on. 

And it’s all good…..change is good. 

Tastes change; I mean think about it, as a kid I used to love Chef Boyardee Raviolis in a can, but now……wait…..I still like Chef Boyardee Raviolis in a can……Ok how about those White Castle Hamburgers……no wait….I still love those things too…..Hmmm.,,,.OK bad examples…..but there’s…..no  no there’s not…..well.…well, .you know get the idea..

-Rob

The call of a Blue Jay.

I was sitting in the backyard one morning this past week. It was a pretty morning with the sun just about ready to fully rise in the east. 

I was looking up into the trees when I heard his call…. the distinct  sound of the Blue  Jay . I turned toward the trees on the west side of our small yard and there he was, proudly and distinctly calling. I closed my eyes for a second…… and was once again, back in my childhood years.

There were not many wild birds where we lived in New York City; as a matter of fact there were basically none. Of course there were the Pigeons Plenty of Pigeons to look at. Most people that I knew were not fans of Pigeons. They are not the “neatest” of birds and , because of the number of them, their droppings would sooner or later find you as a target.

These birds displayed a very special enjoyment in targeting our dads car.. especially after he had just washed it. There were not that many “car washes”around back then, so dad washed his car by hand and did a perfect job. The car was glistening when he was finished and he was very proud of his work. 

“She looks great, doesn’t she?” he would ask my brother and I after completing his task. Of course we always nodded a very enthusiastic “yes!”

That “looking great” would last perhaps to the next morning when Dad would go to check on his car and find that the Pigeons had “dive bombed” it and left their mark on the spotless windshield and gleaming body.

“ I hate those damned Pigeons!!”he would declare to no one in particular , while trying to remove the mess.

Actually, I was always pretty fond of the pigeons. I enjoyed when they flew in swarms between the buildings that actually created shadows on the busy streets below. They were pretty fearless and chose their spots with little regard for people or the constant traffic on the streets. Sometimes when Mom would take us for walks to Washington Square Park, she would bring along a bag of bread crumbs and let me feed them. I loved doing that. They would almost take the crumbs rights out of my hand or sit patiently by my feet for me to throw a handful out to them. Yes, I pretty much loved the pigeons, and as I grew , I came to love all birds. Yet, as a kid, the cobblestone streets of NY were not the home of many birds, other than my pigeons. 

( To give you an idea of how rare other birds were; kids that left the city for a weekend in the country would bring back bird feathers that they had found for “Show and Tell”)

It was when we were fortunate enough to spend summers at our small bungalow in Lake Hopatcong, NJ, that we really enjoyed the full extent of nature. It is back to that little bungalow that my memory took me when I heard the call of the Blue Jay just a week ago.

It’s odd how certain insignificant events in our past actually have such “staying power” in our memory.

For me, one such event was simply waking up in the early morning hours in that house. It was a small bedroom that my brother and I shared. My bed was directly under the only window in the room. Because of the height of the window,the only thing I could really see were the upper portions of the trees in the backyard. 

Waking up to a sunny summer morning was such a wonderful feeling! My brother usually woke a bit earlier than I, and he would lay in his bed thumbing through his Monster magazines while he patiently  waited for me to wake up. It was in this lovely setting that my memory of the Blue Jay is so vivid. As I slowly opened my eyes to the sun peeking into our window, I heard him. The distinct cry of the Blue Jay. what a wonderful alarm clock! If I sat up in bed and  took a quick look into the trees , I could

many times see him. Proudly perched on a branch overlooking me, I imagined he was looking right at me when he uttered his next cry. The sound meant so many different things to me, thus the lasting memory.

The Blue Jay was calling me to wake up and get ready for another fun, summer day; playing with my little brother and perhaps a few other friends. He told me to get up and dressed and outside as soon as we had our cereal to enjoy another day surrounded by beautiful creation; Birds, Squirrels, Ground Hogs, all kinds of interesting insects. The beautiful trees called as did the Raspberry bushes across the road.

His majestic call spoke of comfort and security to me….. of family.

In the next room were mom and dad , sleeping a bit later than their eager sons. Across from me was my brother… his childhood face filled with anticipation and excitement; it wondered what we would do first?

Play with our toy soldiers on the porch or go directly outside and begin a classic game of Wiffle Ball?

Precious memories….. how they linger.

I’m back in our yard in Texas….. still staring up at the Blue Jay. He called again. I believe he just said;

“You remember, don’t you?”

Don.

Heroes.

“When you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend.”

                                                                                          -John Ford

I have almost finished watching Season 4 of The Crown, a beautifully made Netflix series. It has opened my eyes and mind in ways I did not expect. And it has done a good job of imploding any silly, fawning admiration I had for the Royal Family. As a matter of fact, even though it is such a well done show that I will certainly continue watching, every time I do I am re-amazed at how such a dysfunctional, useless, relic of a not very nice bygone age is still around. Man, if I were the Royal Family I sure would have tried to have that show stopped!!

Well, they are entertaining in a somewhat dire way; the show is a major hit, and the interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that Oprah conducted got boffo ratings. They endure somehow, despite a hollow claim on heritage and privilege.

Somehow having found myself in love with London every time I have visited, my reaction kind of saddened me.  It got me to thinking about having things that you looked up to, enjoyed, felt good about, and how as I got older, discovering they were not as good, honest, or worthy as I thought they were.  It’s the old tradition of disillusioning the starry eyed youth.

Because it does all start when you are a child and look up to so many people you deem heroes. Sometimes they were real people but a lot of times they were figures from history, or the movies, or even sports.

You would watch a show, and based on the biased and often inaccurate way someone was predicted, you in your little kid wisdom, would proclaim the protagonist one of your heroes.  I remember growing up, there was a cult following of the historical figure Davy Crockett. That was because Walt Disney worked his magic on his weekly show, and made Crockett an idol of young boys everywhere. Kids would beg their parents for an imitation coonskin cap like Davy wore. The real man was replaced by Fess Parker in the minds of thousands, and  years later John Wayne would put his brand on the historical man. As I grew up and read book after book on the subject I began to realize those shows had about as much to do with the real Davy Crockett, as the Ziegfeld Follies did. The more I learned the more I realized maybe this wasn’t necessarily someone to look up to (see Gore Vidal’s wonderful depiction of him in his classic novel 1876). And geez when I found out he didn’t go down swinging at the Alamo with a bunch of Mexican soldiers surrounding him, like Fess Parker and John Wayne did, that he had actually surrendered, well that about did it.

One down with many more to come in life. 

History of course is full of complicated individuals with flawed characters from the slave owning Founding Fathers, who thought so little of the common man, the“masses”, that they invented the Electoral College, to the Indian fighters who were contributing to mass genocide, to the absurdly false narrative of the Lost Cause, the chivalrous Confederacy who, let’s face it, could only be considered traitors.

Part of the problem of course was Hollywood. They produced hero worshipping TV show after TV show geared for a young audience, about all sorts of people you would never in your right mind invite into your own home. Sterling examples from history like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Daniel Boone, Bat Masterson, Jim Bowie and even that brilliant strategist, George Armstrong Custer got the star treatment. Each had their very own television show, usually starring someone who looked a whole lot better than they did in real life. 

This of course was something not restricted to television; the movies were guilty of the same thing. I mean did you ever see a photo of the real Bonnie & Clyde?  Remind you of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at all?  I didn’t think so.  And why should they be heroes anyway? When you think about it the American Entertainment industry was very good at what it did, making people think cold blooded bank robbers who killed lots people, were kind of cool; that’s quite a feat. Or maybe it isn’t.

It then was no surprise when I started to learn about all the real people that these entertainments were based on, I felt let down at best, betrayed at worst. I had been lied to.

It wasn’t just the images flickering on a screen that was guilty of this anti-hero worship; the music industry and some of it’s shining stars were guilty of the same thing. Take for instance Bob Dylan; much as I love his, every time I remember he wrote a love song to one Crazy Joe Gallo, a member of the Genovese crime family, on his album Desire, I shake my head in stunned amazement. Hell even the rest of his Mob family thought Gallo was a bit of a loon (they didn’t call him Crazy for nothing)  but ol’ Nobel Prize winner Bob thought he was the best, a real stand up guy, just misunderstood. Give me a break.

“Why did they have to come and blow you away?’ 

Dylan laments in the song. Geez Bob, give me a break, read a newspaper why don’t ya?

It’s a part of the American psyche I suppose, to put people on pedestals and worship them even when sometimes they are so not worthy of it. And when we discover their feet of clay, we are not quite sure what to do with our feelings. 

And it seems each year, or really month really, the list of false idols grows more and more, and I haven’t even talked about politicians! But that would be too easy like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. So we react in different ways. I, for instance, can never watch a Woody Allen movie again, or an episode of the Cosby Show, or a Polanski film. Just wouldn’t feel right anymore; they have been tainted; their talent, as great as it was didn’t excuse their behavior as people. Of course the truth is they were obviously always these flawed people, we just didn’t know it at the time. 

Maybe a better idea is to choose our heroes more precisely, more meaningfully. Maybe the real heroes, the ones worthy of our adoration and respect don’t come from the stage, screen or concert hall. Maybe they come from a lot closer to home. Maybe they come from home itself. 

Certainly the past year has re-defined what a hero is; a necessary re-adjustment. And the funny thing is these folks we now acknowledge as heroes are doing the same thing they have always been doing; we just didn’t know how much we needed them.

But let us bring it back home. 

What do you call the Father that works two jobs to provide for his family, who gets up every morning, and whether he feels up to it, whether there is a blizzard, whether anyone is even awake yet, goes to his job. Every day; without fail. He works a full eight hour shift, makes it home for dinner and goes out again to his second job. And get up the next day and do it all over again.And he still has time for his wife and his kids, because he makes the time. He does it all for his family. What do you call that if not hero?

And what about the Mother who is the perfect counterpart, tending to everything else there is to do, who sacrifices everything for her children, and who never once, ever complains about what she doesn’t have; she just gets it all done, and makes it look easy when it is anything but. She is never without a smile, or a helping hand, or a warm hug at the moment it is needed most. She loves her family unconditionally.  What do you call her, if not hero?

I called them Mom and Dad. They were my real heroes.

It took me a while, but I finally figured it out. 

-Rob

Out of the Ashes.

 This will be a pretty short post, but I hope you find it meaningful.

My last post was about the unprecedented freeze we experienced here in SE Texas. It has now been a month since that event. Many are still struggling to have pipes repaired and , as a result, do not have water. It will be a memorable event in Texas weather history.

Our plants, shrubs and trees took a particularly hard beating, as they are not in any way accustomed to tolerate temperatures that hit zero degrees. It is depressing to see all the dead foliage.

I was surveying the damage in our fairly small yard last week and was struck by what I included as my photo for the blog this week.

What only days before had been a mound of dead “ mush” looked clearly different. Out of the “deadness”, life had sprouted. Impossibly, new green shoots had made their appearance. Out of death, came life.

I stared at the green shoots as they fought their way up, out of the ashes, and I reflected on how this “picture” was one of life itself. How often, out of what appears to be disaster, does hope and new life spring?

The examples are many;

-The one who was abused as a child, sexually or physically, rising up to be a wonderful , loving parent.

– The one who was severely injured in an accident  or otherwise,to become a symbol of strength for others going through the same thing.

-The couple going through severe marriage issues , only to come out of the ashes stronger and more unified.

-The couple who tragically loses a child( I can’t imagine the pain), who rise up to be loving , devoted parents to other children.

 -The abused wife who finally gets away from her abuser and finds herself and happiness.

– Those who lose homes or businesses to natural disasters or fires, that somehow rebuild.

-The child who was picked on and made fun of in school, who rises up to be a wonderful, loving parent and teacher.

The stories are endless. I’m sure you personally know of some…. perhaps yourself? I know I have personally seen it in those closest to me… my own family. How about you? if you know of such a “rise from the ashes” please share in the comments. In times such as we are living , these stories can only add hope.

I stared at the new growth for quite awhile. I smiled because I had been sure all was dead….and then life.

What a story my little ornamental grass told…a story of inspiration….. a story of hope.

Don.

Black & White

Let’s take a trip back to the days of black and white.

I recently watched an old sit-com, a very good one, on Netflix. It depicted an average American family in the 1960’s living in the suburbs of New York City. The husband drove into Manhattan for his job, the wife/mother was house-bound, and their child went to the local elementary school. Everyone of course was attractive, in perfect shape, well groomed and coiffed. The father, a successful man would come home with his suit and tie not the slightest bit rumpled, kiss his wife hello, and disappear into the bedroom, only to reappear wearing a cardigan sweater instead of his suit jacket; his tie was still perfectly knotted, and he wore the same suit slacks and shiny patent leather loafers he put on that morning. 

The wife/mother was of course a knock-out in her Capri pants, the rage of the time; she could cook, clean, care for her near perfect child, and do all that while also dancing, singing looking downright hot.

It was the time of coffee. There was always a pot of coffee going either in a classic shiny percolator (still one of the best ways to brew a good cup of joe), or one of those class carafe jobs that were so common and popular in the sixties. The husband and wife, after of course tucking their little darling into bed all safe and sound, would then settle in the living room on the sofa, coffee table between them and the television. There was always a bit of cake the wife had made that day or perhaps some Danish the husband picked up from a bakery downtown. They would sip, munch, watch The Defenders or The Late Show, and comment on the evening’s entertainment. In the morning at the kitchen table, the man of the house would sit down to a breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast, and more coffee. 

The family of course had neighbors that were good friends of theirs. Their kids played together after school, and took the same bus every morning. The parents next door would come over at least once a week for a game of cards played on a folding table, or to share some important television watching time. Being the safe suburb it was, the next door neighbor would frequently just pop in to borrow a tool or a cup of sugar. Everyone trusted everyone else implicitly.

It was a picture of domestic perfection; the American dream on display. 

And it had about as much relation to our lives, and the lives of millions of others as it did to living on Mars.

No that is not to say that we, and scores of others didn’t have a loving, fulfilling family and household; it’s just that ours was a bit more rooted in lower middle class reality.

We lived in Manhattan and Dad worked in Brooklyn and while he did wear a suit jacket and tie and dress pants for his commute to and from his factory job (he was a man with a lot of pride, and sartorial sense), as soon as he got home, that all came off and he changed into comfortable clothes more suited to lounging around a living room watching TV. Mom did wear Capri pants on occasion but not around the house; that is what housecoats were for, and while she was as attractive as any woman on the big or little screen, she wouldn’t as a rule wear lipstick just to dust the living room, or rouge and eyeliner to clean the stove. That stuff was for going out on the town, not serving meatloaf to your kids at the kitchen table. 

Now it was true, that each night Mom would make a small pot of coffee and she and Dad would either sit at that same kitchen table and talk about their days or the days ahead, or they would sit in front of the television to watch Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. And indeed there would always be a confection involved, a piece of Entenmann’s Crumb Cake or Apple Pie (Dad loved their apple pie right up to the day he decided he had had enough and left the earth). Later in their lives, maybe in an attempt to eat healthier – Dad was having problems with his sugar – they switched to toasted Corn Muffins that left the most amazing aroma in the apartment, it was hard to fall asleep because I always got hungry again.

So at least in that respect their lives matched the perfect family on television. But that may have been the extent of it. 

And neighbors? Well living in a housing project in New York City wasn’t exactly the most fertile atmosphere for sharing time with your neighbors. In fact it could be downright dangerous, given some of the people we shared that building with. So there wasn’t too much “dropping in” being done. It was a little better when we lived in the Village on Twelfth Street; there we knew the people in our building (whether we liked them or not), and even the people on the block. But when we moved to Chelsea all that changed.

The closest we got to the camaraderie of that perfect television world, was when we were at the bungalow in Jersey. Though there were not neatly trimmed lawns or sidewalks, occasionally a neighbor would drop by with a bag of tomatoes they had grown in their garden, or a cake they had made in the hopes there would be a pot of coffee brewing that night (there always was).

So no, life wasn’t like we saw it depicted on the black and white screen. We may have wanted it to be (though a lot of it looked downright boring), we may have envied the always safe neighborhood, the always present and willing to help neighbor, the way people dressed at home, the perfect harmony that always reigned in the family unit.  But wanting something don’t make it so.

And we were some of the lucky ones. 

The other even more distant world those shows didn’t give a glimpse of was the one where poverty, and prejudice held court; where a walk to the corner store could be fatal, where wages were determined by the color of your skin, not the ability of your mind; none of that was ever even hinted at, even as at that very same time, whole cities were going up in flames, and college campuses were battlegrounds.

Reality wasn’t welcome in those cozy black and white suburbs shown on countless sitcoms that made up the dreamscape that was 1960’s television.

Escapism disguised as everyday life; fantasy wearing the guise of modernity, a well honed script replacing the writing on the wall. 

But the real stuff was there, every night on the seven o’clock news when Cronkite would give the numbers of the young men lost, or tell of the latest coup or assassination. And if you happened to miss, intentionally or not, the six o’clock news, not to worry; you could catch up on the real world at eleven as well. Just depended on whether you wanted to get your shot of the real world before or after the make-believe.

From My Three Sons to My Lai

From Mayberry to the Mekong Delta

From I Dream of Jeanie to I Have a Dream

That’s the way it was.

And is.

-Rob

Snow and Ice….not very nice.

We have lived in Texas for over 16 ears now and have never experienced a winter storm such as the one that is finally winding down as of this writing. Frigid temperatures in the single digits, ice , snow and wind. Unheard of in this part of southeast Texas.

Unprecedented loss of power, broken pipes and contaminated water all add to this very unusual week. My point is not to lament on all that happened to us this week. Comparatively to thousands of others , we have fared pretty well thus far. Many can not say that. 36 hour long power outages with temps in the single digits have caused cracked pipes and very horrendous living conditions for many…. especially those with small children.  Some have lost their lives while understandably, but unwisely , using dangerous methods to keep warm. Suffice it to say, it has been a sad and challenging week.

I am writing this late in the evening and looking out of our bedroom window at the snow covered back yard. This is the most snow I have seen since moving to Texas. There is still some sleet and freezing rain falling and the roads are understandably very quiet. A snow fall of almost any proportion brings on a very distinct silence, does it not? …. Especially late in the evening. 

As I was gazing out the widow , my now tired and sleepy mind transported me back to another window…. another memorable snowstorm.

It was the winter of 1961, February to be exact. 290 West 12st  in New York  City. I was in fourth  grade and It was the second day, a Wednesday, of one of the city’s largest and coldest storms. School had been cancelled on Tuesday, which of course thrilled me. This storm followed a prolonged period of frigid temperatures. Over two full weeks in the teens and single digits. There was almost 17 inches on the ground now. JFK Airport would go on to officially record over two feet of snow. In just over 24 hours this snowstorm had gone from exciting and beautiful to a little scary for me. It was late afternoon and I was  sitting with Mom looking out of our living room window to the street three floors below. My four year old little brother was playing happily with his toys on the window sill next to us. He was mesmerized by the scene taking place outside of our window.You could not longer distinguish street from side walk as the snow had covered them both entirely.The only hint as to where the street began was the parked cars along the curb, quickly becoming buried under the falling snow. Snow plows would eventually push the snow from the street against the cars, almost entirely burying them.

This was not one of those “fantasy” snowfalls that we have become familiar with on Hallmarks Christmas movies. You know the ones? Where the snow falls gently and never sticks to clothes or hair. Where there is no icy, bitter wind blowing, turning the streets into dangerous ice patches. I didn’t notice any couples happily strolling in the magical snow fall while sipping on a hot coffee of cocoa. No, this was not Hallmark… this was a nasty ,unforgiving storm.

I could tell that Mom was a bit nervous. We were waiting for Dad to get home and the conditions just kept worsening. Just the previous day, Dad had come to get me from school when the school system alerted parents to pick their kids up if there was anyway possible. He had taken off work early to do that, not wanting Mom to venture out into the storm. Mom knew he would be trying to get in as many hours as possible to make up for the hours he had sacrificed the previous day. What was left of the dim daylight was starting to fade, and I also began to experience her anxiety. We had not heard from him( remember, this was before cell phones, texting etc. and regular phone lines were backed up), and that just increased the nervousness. 

Mom now noticed the concerned look on my face and tried to dispel any fears:

“Don’t worry he will be home soon”…

“I’m sure the subways are running very slow today.”

“He may have decided to work a  little late….”

Even my little brothers “look” changed ever so slightly. He wasn’t as enamored with the driving snow or the toys he was playing with. Now he was looking into Moms face….. he could sense the concern. I tried to distract him by annoying him a bit( a specialty of mine at the time), but he was having none of it.

The street nights now came on giving the cobblestone street below us a very surreal look. The blowing , drifting snow took on a life of its own, creating the image of ghostly movement below the drifts. It was at that moment Mom sat straight up and peered intensely toward the west 4th street intersection…… there, walking with that swift, long stride came Dad! he was holding his hat on with one gloved hand, while the other held his coat closed tightly around his neck!

“Here he comes! “ , Mom exclaimed! I smiled broadly and stopped annoying my brother for a few minutes as Mom hugged him. I could literally feel the relief in all three of us.

“Watch your brother and stop being mean to him!” Mom firmly stated to me, “I have to heat up supper..”

My bother gave me that “you heard that , right?” look as mom hurried down the hall to the kitchen. In a few

moments we heard the front door openingas dad came in stomping the snow off of his shoes.

“Damn! it’s a blizzard out there”, he exclaimed, “ Trains were all messed up!…I had to walk from 6th avenue”!

He came down the hall and gave us both a kiss on the head and asked if we had been good boys.We nodded in assent, with my brother giving me a look that said “why are you lying…?”

Dad then went to his bedroom to changed into some comfortable clothes.

My brother and I looked at each other. All was well now…. we could relax and turn our cartoons on the television…. 

The snow and ice outside couldn’t hurt us now.

I’m back in our bedroom in Texas. The snow is still falling and the deck is iced. My brother and I had exchanged text messages earlier in the day. He was getting slammed in PA. with lots of snow and ice as well. He may have been too young to remember that day.. I should ask him.

In an odd way, I want to whisper a soft “thank you” to the falling snow and ice for that memory.

Don.

Winter Begone!

Where there was green, now there is grey

Where once the air smelled of Honeysuckle and Rose, now is the sterile stink of nothingness.

I look down our road, and the trees, stark, barren, and foreboding, stand sentinel to piles of snow, cold and useless. 

I look up at an impotent sun and feel no warmth, pulling my coat closer against a bitter wind that seems to sweep the neighborhood of all its joy. 

No one is out, no birds sing, nothing grows, flows or bestows any beauty. 

I peer at the garden and see only the debris of a summer that seems decades ago. Nor can I detect the sweet smell of the soil, buried such as it is. 

The field nearby lies fallow and alone, abandoned by its purpose; a lone fox prowls the stalls of the horse show grounds. The century old wood moans as the cold wind batters the empty cabins.Loose shutters bang in protest. The sounds demand a memory of better times. 

Even the fox leaves, disappointed. 

I remember looking at a painting by Van Gogh; I think it was calledThe Winter Garden, and I shuddered at the feel of it, the cold that emanated from it, and while that proved the stunning ability of its creator, it made me long for his Fields of Poppies or his famous Sunflowers, so full of light, color and hope. And warmth.

 There are those that see beauty in vistas of specter like, dormant trees silhouetted by an overcast sky, and a homely bit of countryside. 

Not me.

The best thing about Winter is it’s end when once again the earth comes back to life; when those horrid shapes dress themselves in leaves again, when the first sprouts of green defy the damp earth and worship the summer Sun again, as I do; when the aroma of Honeysuckle and Rose embraces me, when the horses come back to their stalls.

When the coldest thing I have to deal with is the bottle of beer in my hand as I toast in the heat of a delicious July afternoon.

Begone Winter.

One day of your presence is one too many.Go back to your glacial tomb on the other side of the world.Go back to the darkness you revel in, Go back to the cold you delight in, Go back and leave me alone

Rob

Feeling safe…and another memory.

Our cat, Owen, has a very unique personality, as most cats do. Our guy basically runs things in our household and one might say we spoil him ( perish the thought)

Anyway, in a future  blog I’ll tell you the interesting story of how Owen came to our household, but for now let’s focus on one of his latest demands and how, just this past week, it triggered a childhood memory.

Owen has a pretty “cush” cat bed that is located in our closet in the master bedroom off the master bathroom. It is a medium sized closet, with plenty of room for his bed.When the “anointed one” is ready for a nap or prepared to turn in for the night, he will head directly to the closet. However, he usually stops and stares at me for a few moments before preceding to his bed. His look basically a says; “I’m going to bed now…… you’re  coming too, right?”

If I don’t follow him in to the bedroom/ bathroom , he will go to the closet for a bit, but , without question he will emerge and come to the living room ( or wherever we are) and sit and stare at me again.

He look says; “I thought I made it clear that I was going to bed!… what are you still doing in here?”

So I, of course, obediently get up and follow him to the bed room and then the bathroom. Before he saunters into his closet he will watch me for awhile…. just to be sure I am staying and “pulling a fast one”.

To convince him I’m staying , I will turn the water on in my sink, rustle around some toothbrushes or something and act very engaged. Only then will he enter the closet and crawl on to his bed where he proceeds to “kneed it” for several minutes before getting comfortable. My task is not totally done however; he has to be sure i’m not sneaking out before he falls asleep. So, I turn the water on and off, perhaps turn the shower on, play some music on my phone and even just sit and read for a few moments. He can’t see me from inside the closet, but he knows I’m there by the bustling about that I create.When he is convinced I am there and not slipping out,,,, he feels safe and finally falls asleep. 

It was just a few nights ago when I was in the bathroom area stirring around so that he knew he was not alone when a memory hit me. I turned on the shower for some added “background” and suddenly , I was a kid again living in the apartment where I spent my earliest years. I have spoken about this apartment previously.It was what was called a “ railroad” apartment, typical of the many lower income buildings in New York. The name comes from the manner the apartment is laid out. Once entering the front door, you were met by a long hallway leading to the living room. On the left side of the hallway were all the other rooms; kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, etc. Upon entering this apartment, my childhood room was the first on the left. By “frightened by your own shadow”kid standards, it was a long way from my room, down the hall, to the living area and Mom and Dads room and my little brothers room.( see my blog “The Hall”)

As you know by now, as a kid, I was frightened of everything. Being in this room at night always scared me to death. I felt isolated from the rest of the family… I felt as though all the ghosts and monsters that populated my dreams had easy access to me. It was worse in the middle of the night, when things were dark and silent. The small night light that Mom let me have didn’t help much. As matter of fact , it contributed to making the shadows all the more ominous and threatening. I didn’t like the silence; the shadows that played across the ceiling and the walls….. mostly I didn’t like feeling alone.

However! if I heard Mom and Dad in the kitchen having a late night snack of coffee and pastry or heard them in the living room laughing and commenting on one of their favorite TV shows , I felt safe. Just hearing them talking , moving around , laughing ….. whatever…. no matter how muffled the sounds….. hearing them, made me feel safe. 

The comfort of their voices…. the security it brought , allowed me to curl up in my room and fall asleep.

When Dad was working one of his second or third jobs that didn’t allow him to get home until 1 AM or so, I would not be able to fall asleep until I heard his key in the door and the sound of his walking down the hall. Dad was home…. I was safe. Inevitably, no matter the time, Mom would get up from the sofa she had fallen asleep on and greet him. This was usually followed by the aroma of some rich expresso brewing and the distinct sent of cannolis being served. They would stay up into the wee hours of the morning…. just talking, enjoying each other’s company… sharing a laugh or two. That sweet melody was therapeutic to my young ears. It told me it was ok for me to go to sleep now…. all was well. I was safe.

I’m writing this from our bedroom; the master bathroom and closet are in front of me. I just got up to check on my little cat. He’s sound asleep in the closet. He looks secure and safe. I understand.

Don.