The Deuce.

More stuff I miss………..

The called it The Deuce. Forty Second Street. It was a part of the city unlike any other, with its own rule of law, its own traffic pattern, its own societal norms. Walk one Avenue over in either directions and you would be back in Normal Town, but there in that crossroads, in that vortex of morality and humanity, there you were in a different world. It is almost too hard to imagine when you look at the Disney-esque nature of what the area has become now, but once, back in the day, back in the sinful Seventies, it was ground zero for all kinds of human endeavor and debauchery. Specifically it was 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, right off of Times Square, and if that sounds like a pretty limited piece of real estate, you would be amazed at how much was crammed into that short walk to the wild side. Now understand, the area was considered “undesirable” from back in the Sixties, due in large part to the trade on the streets, and the entertainment offered – the first peep show opened there in 1966- but by the Seventies, it had intensified to proportions beyond a Mid-Westerners imagination.  Everything and everyone was available, and willing, and the glare of the 24 hour neon lights only accentuated the carnival like atmosphere that prevailed everywhere. 

I loved to go there to just walk the streets, past those peep-shows, burlesque reviews, and porno houses, and take it all in like I was in some foreign land (or planet for that matter). And all the while I had to keep up a steady stream of responses to the  boys, men, women, girls, trans and all in between who approached me with some very interesting propositions: “No thanks”….”Not today”…..”Not interested”…..”I’m flattered but no”…”Wait – what? you can do that? Really??” “Uh no no thank you”. 

It was so easy to make friends in that part of town. And isn’t it nice to feel wanted? 

But for all that there were real places, everyday workingman like gems. One was the Grand Luncheonette, a bit of a hole in the wall between 7th and 8th Avenues.  Signs hanging above the small seven seat Formica counter, read things like:  “Knish Potato Pie $ 1.25” and “Hot Sausage $ 1.50”.  It had been there since 1941, and from behind that counter, the founder Fred Hakim watched history unfold; celebrations of wars ending, city strikes, civil unrest, all played out like a newsreel right outside the door. Of course like everything else in the city that had some old world charm, it was doomed. By the 80’s and 90’s the fix was in, and Manhattan was on its way to becoming a land of the rich, and places like the Grand Luncheonette didn’t belong any more. It always devastated me when I would head out with the intention of grabbing a bite to eat at a place like this, and see that dreaded all too familiar sign on the front door stating it has closed for good. Just like that, I had been there the week before, enjoying one of those wonderful knishes and all was right with the world, and a mere week later, a piece of the city’s fabric was ripped away; these kind of places do not come back once they are gone; they can’t. No problem in opening up another Appleby’s or Starbucks; they are all the same, but lose a gem like the Grand Luncheonette and you lose it for good. 

Another one of my favorite places to hang out was the Howard Johnsons on 46th facing Times Square. Yes a Howard Johnsons, a chain I know, but you would never know it from this place. With its distinctive orange colored booths and brown carpet, it’s small full service bar with signs encouraging you to buy a decanter of Martinis, Manhattans or Daquiris for its daily Happy Hour. Heck you could get a stack of waffles and a dirty Martini at the same time, all day every day. And c’mon those fried clams were divine. It was an affordable, somewhat clean, perfectly situated restaurant in an area fast going through a transition from tawdry to unaffordable. It was a mainstay, a reminder, an icon, gleaming well into the Manhattan night, every night. I loved to sit in a booth near the big glass windows that faced Broadway and Times Square, and just watch that surreal world pass by hour by hour. Sinatra or Crosby would waft through the restaurant, and I would sip my drink and munch of that basket of clams, and think I was the luckiest guy in the world. Where else could you experience something this transformative, this bizarre?  Oh and did I mention upstairs, on the second floor was the Gaiety Theatre, a male burlesque venue? I mean really, does it get better than that mixture of cultures and kitsch? Talk about irreplaceable; cocktails with breakfast, Sinatra on the juke, fried clams and a male review upstairs; try matching that Disney!

And also amid all that swirl of life, there were indeed a few what we now would call “legitimate” theaters showing non-porn movies. My favorite for a very specific reason was the Victoria, right on the Deuce, and like all good things, long gone now. Now this shouldn’t be confused with the New Victory theater that is there now. No, the old Victoria was into double bills, and quadruple bills, all with a theme in mind. And what the Victoria did in the early Seventies was host a “Spend a Day with Clint Eastwood” promotion. For under three bucks I could go armed with a couple of sandwiches and settle into the sticky fabric on the warped seats, and watch four, count them, four Eastwood westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Hang ‘Em High). The place was full of smoke of all kinds, the floors were awash in something I didn’t want to know about, and the bathrooms were a whole other adventure where often I would run into some of the people  I had  met on the street previously; they were still offering, and I was still not game. Hours later as dusk fell, I would stumble out of the theater, satisfied, (for at least a week or two) with my movie fix. And every time I left I would turn back to look at the beautiful marquee again, it’s bright lights reflecting off of the peeling gold paint, a grand dame of another age, and I would  just know there was no other place in the world quite like 42nd Street.

And I am glad I got to experience it, when it was the Deuce.

There are so many more places and stories that now only reside in memory and city lore; stories and places and people that deserve to be remembered as they could have existed no where else but New York City.

I got this. 

-Rob

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1960’s. The Movies

Growing up in the 1960’s: The Movies.

Norman Bates, enter stage right.

From a  ten year old to a preteen to a teenager to a college student, I have always loved movies. When I was very young, going to the drive – in at the Ledgewood in Lake Hopatcong, NJ with mom, dad and my little brother was an extremely special, exciting time for me.As a young teen,  walking to the Lowes Theater from our apartment on west 12th Street in New York also generates wonderful memories, as do the times, as an         “older” teen, my friends and I would take  the subway to Times Square to take in one of the many movies playing there. From young boy to young adult, going to the movies was a big deal to me and the 60’s offered some wonderful choices.From comedy to horror; western to gangster, romance to epic, the 60’s had them all.

Please think about some of the legendary movies that made their debut in the 60’s. This  list is only a snippet, I’m sure you could add many others, but, for the moment consider these:

-The Odd Couple

-The Dirty Dozen

-Physco 

-In The Heat of the Night

-The Longest Day

-Goldfinger

-The Pink Panther

-A Fistful of Dollars

-Rosemary’s Baby

-The Sound of Music

-The Graduate

-Midnight Cowboy 

-Lawerence of Arabia 

-Exodus 

-The Alamo

-Oceans Eleven

-The Longest Day

-The Birds

-A Hard Days Night

-The Great Escape

-The Guns of Navarone

-The Parent Trap

– 101 Dalmatians 

-To Kill a Mockingbird 

-Goldfinger

-Von Ryan’s Express 

-The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

In no way is this an exhaustive list, but it gives a pretty good look at some of the classic movies of the decade and,  depending on your taste and, possibly age, some of these may be all-time favorites.

My earliest, but perhaps most lasting, recollection of a movie from this decade was Physco, by Alfred Hitchcock. I was very young,but, watched Hitchcocks weekly TV show with my parents. I always watched with my eyes closed for most of the show, but I was a glutton for punishment. Looking back, I’m surprised my very over- protective mom allowed me to watch the show at all! I guess it was because I literally begged her to let me watch with them. Much of my desire to watch was because my older friend, James, always talked about the show and how great it was. I wanted to be able to talk about the episodes with him and not feel like a “Chicken”, though I most definitely was.

When Physco was released, there is no doubt that I was too young and unprepared to watch this movie, yet, watch it I did. It was released in 1960; it is now 2022 and I swear I’m still traumatized to a degree!!! From the musical score, to the setting, to the cinematography, I was scared! Remember, this was long before Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason ever made their appearances. For the day, Norman Bates was way ahead of his time and totally frightening.To be honest, I think Krueger, Myers and Jason would probably shy away from Norman Bates.

In the aftermath of the movie, I quickly changed from taking showers to baths. This was because I did not have to close the shower curtain when taking a bath. I could see if Norman/ his mom came into the bathroom unexpectedly. In addition, I immediately developed a fear of basements/ cellars. This became somewhat debilitating, in that most of the family had basements in their homes/apartments. Cousin Chris’ home in Brooklyn had a basement, Cousin Robins’ family had a basement in Queens, Aunt Mildred had,not only a basement , but a fruit cellar in Connecticut!! Yep! a fruit cellar!! Just like the one Norman Bates had!!! 

We spent the Thanksgiving after I saw the movie at Aunt Mildred’s place in Connecticut. While she was preparing the meal she asked me to go down to the fruit cellar and get a few jars of Strawberry preserves. I gulped hard and tried to think of a way to get out of this suicidal mission. I told her I had to go to the bathroom. She said there was no rush, I could get them when I finished. Damn. After about five more obvious delaying tactics dad intervened and told me to get my butt down there and get the preserves. I was doomed.

Now, this darned fruit cellar was a classic… just like the one where Norman kept his mom: the wooden, narrow staircase, the light switch at the top of the staircase, the dim light itself at the bottom of the staircase barely lighting the small, shadow filled room…. the whole package!!! … and this is where I had to go to get the stupid Strawberry preserves.

I opened the ominous door at the top of the stairs and pulled the cord which triggered the dim, wobbly light in the cellar. I then took a deep breath trying to remind myself that it was only a movie. Very gingerly I crept down the rickety, wooden steps , my eyes trying to take in the entirety of the rather small cellar. There was a small chair in the middle of the room. (Thankfully, unoccupied). 

Shelves  from floor to ceiling were on all four sides of the room, and each shelf was clearly marked with the name of the item stored on that shelf; Tomatoes, Squash, Peach Preserves, etc. Fortunately, when I reached the bottom, I noticed the Strawberry Preserves on a shelf close to the stairway. This was good; I could grab the jars and make a very hasty retreat. I made my way to the shelf, taking extra precautions to avoid looking at that empty chair! When I was just about to the shelf, the bloody light flickered! Not for long , but long enough for this hero to let out a rather pitiful scream. I turned on my heals and flew back to the stairs. I knew that Norman Bates was right on my heals! Of course , in my wild retreat I missed the bottom step and crashed to the floor. I practically crawled up those steps at top speed. 

When I got back upstairs , I quickly tried to adjust my shirt and hair… I didn’t want to look like a little coward right?

I strolled back to the kitchen and, as casually, as possible said hi to mom and dad.

Dad looked at me, a bit confused, and simply asked;

“Where’s the Preserves?”

Crap!!!

Don.

Red Sauce Joints

A while back I was back in the city for business and stayed at the old Park Sheraton on Seventh Avenue. After a long day at the convention I was attending, I got back to the room, showered, and hit the streets. Lighting a cigarette, I glanced over at Carnegie Hall as I turned down 56th street, crossed Broadway and in a moment I felt better. Up ahead was the familiar awning I was looking for.

Roughly halfway down the block, I opened the door to one of the most special Italian restaurants I have ever frequented, for many reasons. Patsy’s Italian Restaurant has been a part of the city since 1944; it is the only one in town, there are no spin offs, no branches, no franchises, there is only this one Patsy’s and that alone can make it special in a town lately given over to chain restaurants on every corner. It isn’t a super large place and the bar on the right as you walk in is modest, but as long as there is one open seat for me, I’m good. I settled in as the bartender wandered over and asked what I was having. Looking up at the small statue of Frank Sinatra standing on the bar, I asked for a Jack on the rocks. This was a favorite of Frank’s, so much so that the owner installed a private entrance for him, leading to a private dining area for him and his guests. He loved it, and the restaurant loved him back; a famous story has it that when Frank was down and out in the 50’s and came in alone, he asked what the restaurant was serving the next day, Thanksgiving Day. The owner had decided to be closed that day, but answered “whatever you want Frank”, and indeed the restaurant opened the next day as usual. I love stories like that, but even more than that I love the food there; it is one of the last of the great red sauce joints left in the city, not too fancy, just good and I mean good like your Italian Mom made good. After finishing my drink at the bar, I took a seat at a small table, and ordered my favorites, Clams Oreganata to start, and their signature Manicotti for my entrée. I sat back and just took it all in, the hundreds of photos on the walls, the classic white tablecloths, the candles, the smell of a perfect sauce simmering, the traces of cigarette smoke and perfume, and I was transported to another time, when places like these were everywhere in town, good drink, good friendly people, and that sauce, that wonderful red sauce. I miss places like that.

There are a few left and I try to get to them on the rare occasions I am back home. Another one still in business is Monte’s on MacDougal. It has been there since 1914, and you could walk right by it and not know it if not for the sign out front, as it is located in the basement of the building so you step down from the sidewalk to enter. Once inside however, you know once again, you are home. It was a favorite of my Aunt and Uncle who lived on nearby Charles Street, and the family went there for special occasions; a graduation, birthday, that kind of thing. As a kid, it was always exciting to go out to dinner at all, but even more so to an Italian restaurant because obviously we thought our Mom made the best Italian food on the planet so it would always be a kind of ratings contest.  It sported the white table clothes, and heavy slated wooden chairs that scraped the original flooring each time you sat or got up. As an adult, I would always order the same thing, still my favorite dish, there it is called Melanzane Parmigiani or Eggplant Parm; nobody did it better. It is a blessing it is still operating today.

Before I mention a couple of gems that are no longer in business, at least as classic red sauce places, there is one more worth mentioning but for this one you have to head out to Brooklyn, and visit the Coney Island location of Gargiulo’s, another huge old timer having been there since 1907. I remember going there in the evenings after going on the rides at the nearby amusement park; we always made sure we waited to eat until after the rides, going before could be dangerous. One special time, Leslie’s brother was in town on business, so the three of us went to Coney Island, took in some rides and then went to dinner at Gargiulo’s which if I recall had a large carving of a giant squid or octopus on a portion of the ceiling, but the highlight of the evening was upon perusing the menu, I saw the special for the evening was Penne Al’Ortolano. I felt quite important and had to resist telling the waitress my last name. Of course I learned that Ortolano or Ortolana is Italian for Green Grocer or Gardener, so Penne Al’Ortolano is a red sauce with lots of fresh vegetables in it. Kind of a nice surprise to see your name on the menu. The sauce at Gargiulo’s was rich and red and slightly spicy, one worth repeated visits.  

And now for a few that are gone, or at least have been transformed into something other than what they were.

First up is of course The Beatrice Inn on West 12th Street, a classic that stood right across the street from our apartment building when we were kids. It started out as a Speakeasy in the 1920’s, and then became a favorite local spot beloved in the neighborhood.  Our family knew the owners, the Cardia family, who created a perfect comfortable Italian red sauce spot with all the dishes you would expect to see (I don’t eat it anymore, but at the time the Veal Parmagiana was my go to dish). It became the kind of place that we went to when we reached a milestone in our lives; it hosted our Wedding dinner, many birthday celebrations, a graduation or two, and even provided solace when we celebrated the life of someone we lost. It marked the important events in our lives, joyful or not.  Its warm colors and casual elegance were just what we needed each time. 

Alas it was sold in 2006 and became a night club that became all the rage with the monied celebrities of the area. Of course the red sauce wasn’t on the menu anymore replaced by exotic dishes most of the people that frequented it when it was an Italian restaurant wouldn’t even recognize. It finally closed for good in 2020.

Another was Rocco’s on Thompson Street; it opened in 1922 and had been serving up comfort and red sauce to generations of people in the neighborhood and beyond; it was an institution in the Village. But when its lease came up for renewal in 2011, the landlord raised the rent from $8000 a month to $ 18000 a month and the writing was on the wall. They tried to hold on and there were even civic groups that protested the change coming, but hey it’s New York City, and money rules. So another classic red sauce place bit the dust. 

Lastly the Minetta Tavern, that wonderful spot on the corner of MacDougal and Minetta Lane, named after the brook that used to run where the present day street is. It was another one of those places that you could just stop in for a drink after work; the bar was welcoming and the bartenders knew how to make a Manhattan, or stay for dinner, say Manicotti or Stuffed Shells, the sweet red sauce perfectly paired with fresh Italian bread and a glass of house wine; the kind of place as all of these were, where you honestly didn’t want to leave when you were done eating. It was just too cozy of a spot, with its murals and black and white photos on the walls, it was a magical place that made you forget the trials and tribulations of your day, a place to relax and enjoy what really mattered in life. And you know what’s coming: in 2012 a fancy restaurateur who owned other places nearby bought it, and closed it for renovations (say goodbye to the ambiance), and when it reopened it was a French Steak House, with it’s most popular dish being a $ 50 hamburger. Yea you read that right, 50 bucks for a hamburger. Needless to say, I have never been back. 

Looking back at my time in the city, I am grateful for the restaurants like these that are still here, and mourn the loss of the ones that aren’t. Each one was special; a mixture of simplicity, sincerity, and tradition, served up with warm crusty bread and a nice glass of Chianti.

Saluti !

-Rob.

Wanting to be “Broadway Joe.”

Remembering the 1960’s : The Sports. Wanting to be “Broadway Joe”.

Even if you are not a Sports fan, I tend to believe you are somewhat familiar with the name of Joe Willie Namath. He was an iconic Football star in the 60’s and 70’s and he can still be seen doing commercials on television today.

However, I want to go back to 1965 when Namath was signed by the New York Jets for a then record breaking $450,000. Previous to signing with the Jets, Namath had quarterbacked the Alabama CrimsonTide under legendary coach Bear Bryant. Namath led The Tide to a national championship in 1964. 

When he came to NewYork, he took the city by storm! Although he didn’t turn the Jets into instant winners, they steadily improved with him at Quarterback. He quickly became of the most exciting players in the league and I became an almost immediate fan.Very much like Muhammad Ali, Namath was the face of a transformed American sports hero of the 1960’s. He was known almost as much for his off field antics as he was for his accomplishments on the field. His late night frolics with beautiful women were covered with as much enthusiasm by the New York tabloids as were his amazing performances on the field.He was a new kind of counterculture male that many young boys, such as me, wanted to be like him. He was perfect for the 60’s! His long hair hung well below his helmet and his white football shoes , when everyone else was wearing black, set the stage beautifully. The New York press soon started calling him “Broadway Joe”…. perfect!  A title that he  still holds today! 

He was youth and success; the clothes, the car, the girls, the NewYork Penthouse. He became larger than life. 

Probably the one incident that cemented his status as legendary , especially with me was his incredible guarantee that the Jets would beat the very heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl Three in 1969. What a year to be a sports fan in New York!  In the  game that many feel made the Super Bowl the major spectacle that it is today, Namath and the Jets were almost perfect in beating the Colts 16-7. Namath became a household name, not only in my city, but across the country.That game went down as one of the greatest sports upsets of all time.

For me, the Super Bowl win just cemented what I had been feeling about Namath from the very first day he arrived in New York….. I wanted to be like him! 

When we played football at Horatio street park, and I was fortunate enough to quarterback , I pretended I was Joe Willie.I even let my hair grow( as much as I could get away with in Catholic School anyway). I made sure my sneakers were white… they had to be white like Namaths’ shoes. I even tried to copy his stance when getting ready to throw the ball. 

I followed his off field activity as well, and, as I mentioned, the New York tabloids were more than willing to give me plenty to follow! His late night appearances at Toots Shor’s , a legendary New York restaurant and saloon were well documented. This was a place where major celebrities such as Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mickey Mantle ,Marilyn Monroe and Earnest Hemingway hung out. My man Joe Willie was one of those celebrities! One of the City’s famous celebrity spotters, Tommy Joyce,  would often place himself outside of Toots Shor’s and herald to passerbys’ that “Joe’s Inside!” …… the majority of New Yorkers knew exactly who Joe was! For me, a teenager in the big city, Joe Namath was the epitome of “Cool”, and, for a kid who was far from “cool” he gave me the perfect idol to emulate. I fantasized about the life on the field and, perhaps even more, of the life off the field. In my young mind, I would be at Toots Shor’s sitting at Namath’s’ table , surrounded by adoring fans . I would spot Sinatra on the other side of the room and give a wave. Jackie Gleason would walk in a bit later and give Joe and I one of his famous smiles and tell us “How sweet it is!” Ah! the places the mind of a teenage boy will go!

As I mentioned, in my young life, Super Bowl 3 was the defining moment of just how cool Joe Wille really was.

In 1968, only about 25% of American households had the luxury of a color television set. Our family was not one of them. However, my Aunt Mildred and Uncle Santino had one in their apartment on Charles street, a short distance from our apartment. It was determined that we would have dinner with them and watch the Super Bowl at their place.It was Sunday, January 12, and temperatures around game time were dipping close to zero in the city. The relatively short walk to Aunt Mildred’s apartment was frigid. However, my excitement and anticipation was at such a heightened level, that the cold didn’t really get to me as it did my mom, dad and little brother.

When we arrived at their place, I couldn’t wait until all the obligatory greetings, hugs and kisses were over so that I could take my place in front of that color TV. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! A  color TV to watch Joe Namath and the Jets in the championship game! The others had some interest in the game, but nowhere near the level of my excitement… there was no doubt that this afternoon had been put together for me, and I will always be grateful for that!

Aunt Mildred made turkey for dinner and it was good, but, I can hardly remember anything about the turkey , conversation or the apple pie dessert. I was glued to that TV screen.

I have to be honest, even as much of a Jets/ Namath fan that I was, I didn’t have a good feeling about this game.These were the  mighty Baltimore Colts from the National Football league and they were favored by huge odds to wipe the field with these amateurs from the American Football league and their cocky quarterback. I was worried we would be embarrassed. No one including all sportscasters, analysts and even the announcers were giving us much of a prayer.

And then the game started. I sat transfixed as Namath completed efficient, well timed passes to George Sauer. I cheered as Matt Snell was almost unstoppable on the ground against the highly vaunted Colt defense that was supposed to shut down our running game. We intercepted Earl Morrall, their quarterback, three times.I was losing my voice from cheering and dad had to remind me that we were in an apartment building and that I needed “to keep it down!”

Well, you know the ending. Not even brining in the legendary Johnny Unitas could save the Colts from being beaten in one of the greatest upsets in Sports history.

I was in disbelief and hoarse by the time the game was over. Mom told me that she thought it was “nice” that my team had won.Dad told me that he wished that I was as excited about school as I was about a football game. Aunt Mildred wanted to know why I had not eaten much.

The walk home was cold, but, oh so satisfying for me. When I finally tucked myself into bed and drifted off to sleep, I was at Toots Shor’s with Joe Namath. We were talking about what an amazing game it was and we were laughing.

I think Sinatra and Gleason were sitting  next to me. 

Not a bad night.

Don.

Halloween Memories

Halloween Memories

A Trilogy

In the 1960’s, there was a kids show on WPIX in New York, hosted by Chuck McCann, an comedian and puppeteer who would go on to have a long and prosperous career in show business. Besides his daily show, he did a couple of specials for  Halloween at Freedomland, a theme park located in the Bronx. He would host a walk through the park, and encounter various and sundry ghouls and goblins. There was something scary about wandering through the woods knowing there were creatures lurking somewhere ready to jump out at you. I always liked that idea of a “Haunted Trail” and finally got to see one first hand years later. 

We were living in Brooklyn near Prospect Park, a sprawling 526 acre bit of greenery in the heart of the borough. The local community organized a Halloween walk through the many paths that wound their way through the park, over stone bridges, across the Grand Parade, and through the woodlands. Along the way of course, there would be the occasional Werewolf, or Frankenstein monster to scare the kids, and at one point in a clearing they would come across a full sized coffin, its lid closed. Of course the kids would gather around holding onto each other in anticipation. After a while, just when everyone was thinking it was just a coffin and nothing was going to happen, the lid would spring open with a bang and Dracula himself would sit up, eyes ablaze. The chaperones had to make sure they didn’t lose any of the kids as they ran away screaming. Worked every time.

One stop along the way was my favorite; the path crossed over a small lake, and after being chased by Zombies, and almost having a Vampire get you, most children crossed not suspecting any further encounters with Evil spirits, but just as they got close to the edge of the lake, the surface of the water broke, burst open by one more monster, the dreaded Creature from the Black Lagoon! And there they went again, scattering in all directions, some laughing with glee, some crying in fear! And again the Chaperones would run after them, rounding them up. That one was such a favorite of mine, that each year I would plant myself somewhere close to watch the reaction of the kids. I was constantly getting asked to move by a park employee, lest I give the kids a heads up that something wasn’t right about that peaceful lake. I remember thinking I wish I were a kid again, so I could take this Haunted Trail myself!

While living in Minnesota however I did find something that came close; the Haunted Hayride. We of course thought it would be fun and not very scary at all so another couple joined us and we climbed onto bales of hay on a flat bed truck.  There were kids with their parents of course, but more than one other adult couple who nodded knowingly at us, as the truck pulled away, and headed into a large open field. It was dusk, so the lighting was low, all the more effective when off to the right, we saw a group of hungry Zombies heading our way. Then almost at the same time to the left, the Wolf Man emerged from the woods and started loping towards us. The truck was going so slow, I thought these guys would have no problem catching up with us, but of course at just the right time, the driver accelerated and left the monsters behind. There were more to come, a Frankenstein (who definitely had no chance to catch us), Vampires that seemed to swoop this way and that, their black capes catching the evening breeze, Ghosts rising out of the gathering fog. Some of the kids were scared, some just curious, content with the thought that the threat was off in the distance, and not close at all. But that was to change for both child and adult alike as there was one last coup de grace to unfold, and to this day I have not seen anything quite like it. Someone shouted from the rear of the flatbed, and we all turned to look behind us. And there in the distance but gaining ground, was a huge black steed, bolting towards us, steam shooting from its muzzle,  and riding on him was a monster of a man dressed in black holding a glowing Jack O Lantern high over where his head should have been, but wasn’t. That vision was enough to weaken the stomach of everyone aboard, and even a couple of the adults started to urge the driver to hit the gas and get a move on!  He didn’t of course, pretending not to hear us, as the Headless Horseman got closer and closer; kids were crying now, and I remember thinking was this part of the show? This bigger than life size horseman was so real and so frightening compared to the other ghouls we had encountered, maybe this guy was real and just wanted to be part of the show! On he came, gaining on us easily. Gasps and shouts went up from the truck, as the Spectre pulled up alongside us, and with one mighty roar, the black horse reared up, its front legs pawing the night sky, and the Horseman pulled back on the reins with one hand and launched the glowing pumpkin straight at us! More screams, and one of them was mine! I am sure I wasn’t the only one to close my eyes, as the glowing orb got larger and larger coming right at us! And then contact! I heard a big bang, ducked, afraid to open my eyes. When I heard some laughter, I finally took a peek, and was relieved see that the only horror that had been inflicted on us, was that we were all covered with orange confetti! The Headless Horseman of Minnesota reared again, and with a mighty swish, turned and galloped back into the darkness. The screams from our truck were replaced with some nervous laughter, some genuine sighs of relief, a number of “Thank God’s, and yells of “Wow!”  “Totally Cool” and “F***ing A!” “Fantastic!!”.

Now that was one hell of a Haunted Hayride!! 

Bravo Minnesota, you scared the “you know what” out of this jaded city boy!

And now one last memory, this one close to home: The Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. 

It is New York City’s version of Brazil’s Carnival, a wonderfully decadent display of color and imagination. It originated in 1974 and grew steadily, eventually becoming an event that drew over 100,000 people a year.(or at least it did before the Pandemic). It is always held on Halloween night, and is a bizarre combination of creativity and spectacle, of pride and puppetry. The costumes could give Broadway a run for its money, and the scale and imagination of the marchers and their creations are truly awe inspiring. My friends and I went a bunch of times and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (speaking of imagination, or the lack of it, when I went I always donned the usual black cape with red inner lining, and went as the Count – original huh?). Boring though my costume was, I was glad to be a part of this crazy thing! We all experienced a kind of adrenaline rush as we strutted up Sixth Avenue, part of a costumed crowd that seemed larger than the city itself for that one special night. I remember thinking that usually when I was in a crowd that size, I was part of a protest march or something, something serious; this was different – what a joy it was to be surrounded by strangers (and some were definitely quite strange), and we were all there to celebrate, to take to the streets, to have fun, and to share a common love of the season and the city we loved to live in. It was uniquely New York, and I haven’t felt anything like that since. The whole neighborhood got into the act of course, it being the Village, and the stores and brownstones were festooned with seasonal decoration; carved pumpkins, scary looking figures staring out the front windows. Even the Jefferson Market Library where I worked part time got into the action each year, when a giant spider crawled out of the bell tower, and made its way down the side of the building.  

The parade has evolved over the years, and is still going strong, though I suspect it will never ever be like I remember it back in the 70’s. It continued through the next decade of the 80’s when a very real horror changed the feel of it all, as the AIDS epidemic took a heavy toll on the community and many people we knew personally. The parade and the people soldiered on through the 90’s and beyond. And one year, 2001, just seven weeks after tragedy of 9/11, the parade was proudly led off by a huge new puppet, a blazing Phoenix rising from the ashes letting everyone know New York City was alive and as strong as ever. That year, the parade was broadcast world wide. It was a special sight to see, full of pride and sorrow, solidarity and a very real sense of loss. It was a good night to be a New Yorker.  

So there you have it; my three very special memories of Halloween from the simple to the grandiose, from the sincerity of a local park in Brooklyn, to the open imposing fields of Minnesota, back home, to the truly magical streets of Greenwich Village. 

All were indeed, very Happy Halloweens. 

-Rob

Remembering the 60’s, The Sports….

Remembering the 60’s ; The Sports. The Amazin’ Mets…”The Catch” ; and a world Championship!


Tired. I’m Sitting in the back seat of the old Desoto with my little brother. Dad is in the front, driving, with mom in the passenger seat next to him. It’s late, and the lights from the small boats on the Hudson river to my right make a peaceful sight on this clear night. Mom and dad are speaking softly,  but I can’t hear what the are saying. My little brother is sound asleep on the seat next to me. It’s been a long day, but oh, what a great way to finish it! I feel happy and content even though they lost; heck, they had lost most of the games this year, as they did last year;their first year in the league. However, I had fallen in love with this new team in New York.

I replayed the night in my mind as we drove home from the game. They played their home games at the famous Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, the former home of the New York Giants before they had moved to San Francisco. It would be another year before Shea Stadium opened for business. I  had never been to the Polo Grounds; in fact, this was the first major league baseball game that I had ever attended, and, for me, it was magical. Little do I know that these bungling, losing, lovable Mets would, before the decade was over, become the Amazing, Miracle Mets.

However, on this warm, beautiful NY evening, they were still the bungling, losing Mets , and I didn’t care one bit.They become MY Mets and I was thrilled to be at their house, in our city, cheering them on. Our opponent this evening was the heavy hitting Pittsburg Pirates and the seats that dad had secured, probably by working 40 hours of overtime, were wonderful. We sat on the third base side of the field, lower section right where the outfield started. I was in awe as I viewed the incredible panorama of my first major league baseball game and, names that I had previously just heard on the radio, were right there in front of me!

In Pirate uniforms were greats such as Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell. For the Mets, there was Gil  Hodges, Duke Snyder, Choo Choo Coleman, Run Hunt. Yes, this kid was in awe.

Despite, their historic losing record, the Mets had quickly captured the hearts of many in the city and attendance at their games was shockingly high for a team performing so poorly. This night was no exception; The Polo Gounds was packed,and this just added to the excitement! We lost again this night, but it did not in anyway spoil my “Oh, so special night”.As I gazed out of the car window at the lights on the river, the thunderous cheers of the crowd resounded in my head.I glanced at my little brother as he slept soundly on the back  seat next to me and, though he was only six at the time, I knew he would grow up to become a Met fan as well, and I smiled; Time proved me correct.

Drowsy. Now I was getting drowsy. The car ride, the view, the safe, comforting feeling of being in Dads car with he and mom in the front seat was relaxing and peaceful. It was past my usual bedtime and I started to drift off to sleep.. the cheers of the crowd ringing in my head. 

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. That’s where i’m walking on this day, six years after that night at the Polo Grounds. Arthur Ave is in walking distance of my High School and later, my College. Strangely, I am paying no attention to the fabulous Italian bakeries and Pizza joints that make this Avenue a destination point in the Bronx. Today, I am glued to my transitor radio, my heart pounding.It’s October 15th and a beautiful fall day in the city. It’s late afternoon and  I’m listening to game four of the 1969 World Series between the NY Mets and the Baltimore Orioles. Yes, you heard me correctly; six years after that night at the Polo Grounds watching my lovable losers get beat by the Pirates, they are in the World Series against the mighty Orioles. More incredible, they lead the series, 2 games to 1.

I had become one of those fanatic Met fans over the past six years. Though I never stopped liking the Yankees, the Mets had become my darlings…. and here I was , walking down Arthur Avenue listing to them in the World Series. Incredible. 

Obviously this was an important game and as we entered the top of the ninth  inning the Mets were up 1-0. My heart was ponding in my chest as I neared a local hang out/ bar affectionately called The Web . ( As in spider web , as there was obviously no World Wide Web in play as yet.)

With one out Frank Robinson singled. I could not stand the tension. I noticed that The Web was showing the game on their lone television set  above the bar. The place was packed and I couldn’t resist the temptation to walk in and watch. I could barely see the small screen from where I stood.

Boog Powel followed Robinsons single with another hit. My heart sank. They had runners on first and third with only one out! The crowd let out a collective grown. As an important  side note, you must remember, this was the Bronx. Home of Yankee Stadium…this was Yankee country. Yet, in this small bar, everyone was a NEW YORK fan. You could cut the tension with a knife as the great Brooks Robinson stepped up to the plate. 

Hitting against Met legend, Tom Seaver, Robinson nailed a line drive to right field that was certain to go for an extra base hit. The crowd in the bar gasped at the crack of the bat. Then, out of nowhere,frozen in time, is Mets right fielder Ron Swoboda. He dives, spread out parallel to the ground, and makes an incredible backhand catch, the ball resting in the webbing of his glove. There was an ever so brief moment of silence as the crowd around me fully grasped what had just happened. … and then the place erupted! Napkins in the air! spilling beer, glasses breaking, cheers shouts and fists slamming on tables. I found myself hugging the guy next to me as if we were long lost brothers. I had no clue who he was and vise versa. We we’re screaming as we hugged; DID YOU SEE THAT !!! HE CAUGHT IT !!! HE CAUGHT IT! HE CAUGHT IT!!

On the TV screen , we could see that Shea Stadium reacted in the same way; pandemonium!

Interestingly, the runner on third scored on “The Catch” to tie the score, but Seaver was able to get out  of the inning with no other runs scored and the Mets went on to win , 2-1 in the 10th inning.

There was no doubt that Swobodas’ catch had saved the game. I honestly don’t even remember what I did for the rest of that day; I was in a very pleasant dream world…. replaying “The Catch” over and over in my mind.

Eyes are closed. I’m laying on my sons bed, resting. It’s 2022, a lot of years after the events that I just wrote about. However , as I slip in and out of sleep, I find myself in the backseat of dads Desoto. I turn to see my little brother asleep. We are on our way back from the Polo Grounds. Our Mets have lost again, but what a special evening it was.

Back asleep. I’m on Arthur Ave., at the Webb…. It’s 1969 again. I’m watching Swoboda make the catch.. I’m hugging the stranger next to me. My loveable losers would go on to win the Word Series.

…. and this, my friends, is what dreams are made of.

Don.

Uptown

Uptown

In my memory, the sidewalks uptown always sparkled in the mid-day sun; somehow I never saw that in the Village, we had to go to that exotic place where all the excitement of show business lived….uptown. We would go, my Mom, Aunt and I and stroll midtown mingling with the Matinee goers, business people, and street vendors that clogged the blocks around Rockefeller Center and the Theatre district. We weren’t there for business though, or even a Broadway show; we were there to score free tickets to be in the audience of whatever television show they happened to be taping that day. We learned enough to know Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the most popular for Broadcast Companies to shoot these shows, and as opposed to today where you have to write to request tickets to be in the audience, back in the Seventies, when they needed an audience, they would just send someone out to the street in front of the theatre where the show was going to be taped, and the person would just start calling out:
“Tickets!…..Tickets to the Pyramid….taping today….who wants tickets?”
We always did.
There were a lot of game shows being filmed in New York City at the time in places like Thirty Rock in Rockefeller Center, or the Ed Sullivan Theatre over on Broadway. The shows were hosted by personalities like Alan Ludden, Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn, Peter Marshall, Bob Barker and Bert Convey – any names ring a bell? These guys made whole careers out of being the hosts of shows like The Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid, The Price is Right, Password, and The Match Game. One of the things I found interesting is that in one afternoon, they would tape a whole week of shows; the hosts would simply change clothes between tapings so it wouldn’t look like, well like it was…all happening in one day. Some would even make comments about what day it was just to add to the delusion. There was always someone at each end of the stage, an Applause sign at the ready, for when the announcer once again said “And now welcome to The Price is Right!”. Good thing too, because sitting through five shows at one sitting, it was real easy to forget to applaud at the beginning and end of each “new” show. Even the cameramen were in on it; they would show one portion of the audience for the Monday show, another for the Tuesday show, and so on so viewers at home thought it was a different studio audience each time.
I always found it exciting to be admitted to a television studio, and see the behind the scenes goings on at a production like these. We weren’t usually very picky at first but after a while we decided on some sort of ratings system; Password was always at the top of the list because they would have celebrity contestants, so you had the chance to see a star; most of the others just had common people like us competing, and that wasn’t as much fun. But we took all the free tickets they could hand out. Sometimes depending of the timing, we would catch the taping of one show at CBS and then rush over to see another at NBC. And sometimes if we were really lucky, they were giving out tickets for a variety show, like a Bob Hope special, and that was the best, because you just knew you were going to see plenty of stars. I hadn’t realized that so many shows were taped on some random afternoon to maybe get aired the next week, or even month. And here I thought every time I tuned into a show it was coming to me in real time. Silly now that I think of it, but there was so much live television being produced that one could be forgiven for thinking they were all like the Ed Sullivan show which came into your living room every Sunday night right from the set of the theatre.
It was a fun way to spend an afternoon uptown, and indeed we did get to meet and say hello to some personalities of the day, people like Alan Alda, Steve Allen, and one fun time, the married comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara (Jerry went on to play Frank Costanza on Seinfeld years later). They were a very sought after act on television at the time, and we met them at the Ed Sullivan theatre, and only because I turned around in my seat to see more of the theatre and there they were, sitting in the audience in the row behind us, I guess passing a fun afternoon watching Password with host Allen Ludden. They were very friendly and gracious.
But I guess the uptown taping experience I remember the most, in part because it didn’t happen very often, was when we were given tickets to see an advanced screening of a television pilot show to be premiered in the upcoming Fall Season. That was exciting; we weren’t just part of the crowd in the audience cheering on a contestant, we on that occasion had a say in the show itself. After being handed our tickets we were escorted into the lobby of the Sullivan theatre and instead of proceeding into the theatre itself, the three of us, and a few lucky others were ushered to an interior elevator that whisked us up to the production offices. We walked down carpeted halls, all very awe struck to be in the bowels of the Sullivan Studios Production company, our eyes darting this way and that, constantly looking for celebrities, and occasionally glimpsing each other, smiling and surprised by our luck!
Eventually we made it to a large conference room with a huge oblong table at its center. We took seats, careful not to touch anything in front of us. There was a small monitor, a pair of headphones, and two large plastic buttons with wires attached, one was green, the other red. The excitement was building now; what were we going to see? What did they want us to do? Mom as usual looking a bit frightened, Aunt Fil was making small talk with the others around the table, when a tall guy with a CBS monogrammed blazer stepped into the room and welcomed us.
“What you are about to see is a pilot for a brand new comedy show premiering this Fall Season. We want to get a live audiences real reaction to the production so we are asking you to help us out.”
Us? Help out CBS with a show?! Heck Yea…The guy continued:
“You’ll see in front of each of you, a pair of headphones for you to wear to hear the audio portion of the show; the monitor or TV screen is of course where you will watch the show.”
I guess in his job he had to talk real simply to bring people along; I mean what else would you do with a TV screen and a pair of headphones?…but whatever.
“You’ll also see two buttons, one green and one red.”
We all nodded somberly; yes yes one green one red yes yes we see them.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You will watch the pilot using the headphones and monitor and when there is a portion of the show you particularly like, or find funny, or maybe even an actor you are fond of, you will press the green button. If by some chance, there is a part of the show you don’t like for whatever reason, you will press the red button and continue pressing it until the portion you don’t like is over. Now we hope you won’t find a need to use the red button but we want your honest reaction, because that is how you can help us make a show you will watch again and again. Make sense?”
Oh yes, yes makes sense. I glanced at Mom who was studying the headphones, unsure if they would interfere with her hair-do, and Aunt Fil who I saw silently mouthing “green good, red bad” over and over.
I was thrilled; man this was power!! We get to tell them what we think about what they came up with, before anyone else even sees it! How often does that happen? Usually you just watched what the stations served up, and if you liked it, you tuned in again the next week, and if you didn’t like it, you didn’t.
“Any questions before we begin?”
We all obediently shook our heads.
“Ok then, put on your headphones, and get your fingers button-ready. The show will begin in a few moments.”
With that the overhead lights dimmed; I could sense Mom struggling with the headphones and her hair, but was glad to see she had it mastered by the time the screens in front of each of us came to life.
And for the next half hour, we sat watching, sometimes laughing, most times not, and I for one was hitting my buttons quite a bit, at least the red one. I remember when it was over, Mom, Aunt Fil and I discussed the show, and while Mom thought it had some charm and warmth, Aunt Fil and I were not won over. But that didn’t stop our excitement when we read a few weeks later that the show was indeed on the Fall Schedule! Then the rest of the country would see what we had already watched and rated. Would they have changed anything we wondered, based on the room’s reaction? Well we would have to wait and see. And the night it premiered of course my Aunt and Uncle came over and we all watched the show together.
They hadn’t changed anything.
So what show was it you ask? Ever hear of a show called Carlucci’s Department? No, I didn’t think so. It was a half hour comedy show starring James Coco who played the Supervisor at a New York State Unemployment Office. It debuted on Friday, September 14th, 1973 and it lasted all of just twelve episodes.
It wasn’t very good.
Still we all had a very unique experience, and made a wonderful memory to share with each other in later years. I must say however I always feel a little guilty when I think back on it. I was all of 17 years old at the time; what did I know about creating a television show, about how hard it was, for the Production people, the Actors, everyone involved? And there I was that day, practically leaning on that red button for the whole half hour. I guess it didn’t matter after all, as they went ahead and put the show out there as we saw it, despite our reactions. They had to see for themselves I suppose, and they did. And who knows? Maybe I was the only one hitting the reject button. I remember thinking of that possibility and that after the show was cancelled, maybe I had a knack for recognizing a loser and I should get into this TV business.
But then I thought, nah, like the show, that career would probably have been short-lived.
.
-Rob

Remembering the 1960’s : Sports.


Remembering the 1960’s; Great moments in Sports; The impact they had on this City Kid

First, I wanted to let you know that this will probably be part one of a multi part series as there is just too much to talk about in one short blog.

Second, If you’re not a Sports fan , please don’t get turned off by the title of this entry. It is not going to about stats and recaps,  but more about  how these historic events impacted me as I grew up in New York in the tumultuous 60’s.

As we have seen, there was a lot of history being made in the 60’s; cultural history, political history and music history. Sports was no exception .

Consider these major “happenings”:

-The rise of Cassius Clay/ Muhammad Ali

-Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run record

-Peggy Fleming Olympic Gold

-Birth of the “Miracle Mets” and their unlikely World Series victory in 1969

-The memorable “Raised Fists” at the 1968 Summer Olympics

-The first Super Bowl

-Joe Namath’s legendary “guarantee”

– Rod Lavers TWO Grand Slam wins

– Wilma Rudolf’s historic Olympic performance.

I guess I should begin  with my earliest recollection; that of Wilma Rudolf’s Olympic victory. I was still a bit young to really get into the Olympics, but the Wilma  Rudolf story really struck a cord with me. 

It was the at 1960 games in Rome that Wilma shined as bright as any American Olympian to that date.She won three Gold Medals and set two Olympic records. She was the first American woman to win three Gold Medals at a single Olympic Games.

However, it was not her records that impacted me as much as it was everything that she overcame. 

It’s important to note that even at the young age age that I was, and even though I absolutely longed to be good at sports, it was fairly apparent that I would never really excel. In addition to that, I was the kid that was made fun of and bullied at school, resulting in a confidence level of about minus six. This is where my head was when  my Aunt Ruth first told me about Wilma; no confidence, self conscious and isolated from the other kids. I found Wilmas’ story very inspiring, almost like a good movie! She overcame tremendous odds in her life and was now competing in the World Olympics! 

First of all she was Black growing up in an era when racial prejudice was still very much in play. However, even more than that, when she was only five she contracted both Scarlet Fever and the dreaded child illness of the time, Polio. As a result, her left leg was paralyzed. She had to wear a metal brace for several years just to help her get around. Her mother had to take her from their home in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee to Nashville every week by bus; a 90 minute round trip, just to find a Doctor that would treat her in the segregated South. Years later, when I read her autobiography, this statement that she made had a very deep impact;

 My doctor told me I would never walk again; my mother told me I would . I believed my mother.”

Wow! I found myself extremely  interested in knowing how she was doing at the Games. Remember , this was well before Smart Phones and instant access to what was happening in the  world. What we learned was via the evening news,( though there were fewer highlight reels then there  are today), or in our favorite daily newspaper. Every evening I would ask Dad if there was any new information on Wilma in his newspaper and he would gladly update me on the reports. As the news of her amazing feats began to come in, I remember being both proud and encouraged. Even at this young age she made me begin to see that “bad things” can be overcome.She became an unlikely hero for me, right up there with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, my two baseball idols of the day.

On both sides of her incredible performance, Wilma had a tough life. I briefly described her childhood challenges. Later in life , she developed brain and throat cancer and died in 1994. She was only 54 years old. I wonder how many even know who she was, and that is sad. She was a hero, a very courageous one, that made an impact on a kid from the streets of New York who didn’t have any self confidence. If even just a little, Wilma helped me there.

Allow me to cover one more of the great sports moments for me. It was a year later in October and in the final day of the Baseball season, Roger Maris, from the New York Yankees hit his 61st home run. This made him the first player in Major League Baseball history to hit more than 60 home runs in a season, topping former Yankee great Babe Ruth, who had hit 60 home runs in 1927. ( I find it very poignant that i’m composing this post on the day after Aaron Judge of the NY Yankees, hit his 62nd home run of the season, breaking Roger Maris’ record.)

What a time to be a young baseball fan in New York ! What a time to be a Yankee fan and how exciting was it that it was the final day of the season. I didn’t see it happen, but NewYork exploded with the news as soon as Maris hit it. Every news station began showing clips of the historic event and all of the local newspapers were quick to make it a major headline. Of course, this was very big news across the country, not just in NewYork, but for this city it was monumental. The Yankees were our team and Maris was our guy.

New York had recently lost the Dodgers and Giants  to Los Angeles and San Francisco, so for a brief time, the  Yankees were “ it” in the city. (The Mets would arrive on the scene in 1962, but more on that another time.)

When we played our street game of stick ball, I would bet that most of us kids pretended to be Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris when we stepped up to the plate( the plate was usually drawn in chalk on the street). With this incredible year as our motivation, hitting one of those classic,old Spaulding red balls three manhole covers down the street, was for us stick ball players, a memorable moment.

In our minds, we were there with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle; the crowd in Yankee Stadium  was roaring OUR name! As we rounded the chalk drawn bases we lifted our hands in celebration!

Thanks Roger, for a memorable year….

Don.

Cousin Chris.

If anyone has been reading this blog since the beginning (is there such a person out there?), they have heard us talk about our Cousin Chris.  He was a big part of our lives when my brother and I were growing up. We were close, from the early days when he and his family lived in Bay Ridge, to the days in New Jersey when his family moved to Mountain Lakes, twenty minutes from our house in Hopatcong. Our family would visit his every Christmas Day for many years, adding Easter Sunday later. We played endless games of Ping Pong, Badminton, Monopoly, Tennis, and Hockey; We listened to Cousin Brucie together on Saturday nights, and spent Winter days on our sleds precariously speeding down hills with no plan at all for how to stop; We blustered our way through Charades in front of our dubious parents; the three of us Chris, Don and I felt invincible, that’s what you feel when you’re young isn’t it?. Don obviously was a lot closer to Chris than I, being only one year apart in age, not the seven years I was, but Chris always made sure I was included in everything. I remember we helped him move into the dorm at Lafayette College and later, after graduating, I remember saying goodbye as  he went off to the Peace Corp. From there he lived in Europe and when he came back, his views on a lot of things had changed. It made for some spirited political discussions with both his parents and ours. But we never let that come between us; we felt nothing could. It was that kind of close. He went onto a successful career in the State Department and we got along with our lives, going  our separate ways. Inevitably  our families grew apart, not in small part because we grew scattered, and as they years passed our families grew smaller. And almost without anyone noticing, a once strong bond, a close knit extended family, slid into the kind of closeness defined by an annual Christmas card.

The Pandemic, of course brought people together again; suddenly we all felt a need to re-connect with family and friends we had grown distant from. We re-united with Chris via Zoom. It was good to see him, but as I mentioned to Don after the first call, I guess it was him, he didn’t look like the cousin I remembered, but it had been many years since I had seen him so that was to be expected. But just having the three of us “together” again, sharing a screen, I felt the bond was still there. And then as life goes, the Pandemic eased and everyone resumed their busy lives, and subsequently couldn’t find the time to share a few moments with old friends and family. So again, we lost touch. 

And a week or so ago we learned Chris passed away unexpectedly.

Poof. Just like that, someone that at one time had been such a part of our lives is gone. All those memories, those days spent together, the holidays, the games, all of it, didn’t mean a thing when for some reason, it was time for him to leave this planet. As you get older you obviously get more used to people you knew not being there anymore, especially ones older than yourself. But there are some that leave a bigger hole than others when they leave. This is one of those.

On a larger level it of course gave me a reason to think about just how and why
“things fall apart” so to speak; how does it happen, whether it be family or friends, that a relationship can go from it being “no way we’ll ever lose touch”  to “oh yea….I should call one of these days…..”.  It happens all too easily. I of course know there are lots of reasons; geographical, ideological, political, petty, and plain old laziness….but is any one of them good enough? 

Because there will come a time, like it did for Don and I last week, when there are no more chances. Then all you are left with are the thoughts that run to “I should have kept in closer touch”, and sometimes that means being the pain in the ass that won’t let a relationship worth something, simply die.   

So now we are left with only memories and they’re ok I suppose but they don’t measure up to the real thing. 

I have my doubts about the whole “we will all be together again” idea; I am pretty sure I will never see Chris again, but I wouldn’t mind if I am wrong. 

For now, I have been drop kicked by Life with yet another lesson, and this one I should have seen coming. 

-Rob