The Odyssey of Flight 532

Mom never learned to drive. She never learned to swim. And for a long time he had never stepped foot on an airplane. When she finally did at the good age of 58, it would be one of the last adventures she would ever have.

I have to believe she dreamed of traveling to Europe, of seeing Paris, Rome, the Vatican, but back when she was young, people still took transatlantic voyages by ocean liner. Now that is something I always wanted to do, and obviously will never do. Air Flight of course took off in the 1960’s (Come Fly with Me….we’ll float down to Peru”), and airlines like TWA and Pan-Am ruled the skies.

So for whatever reasons, partly I am sure economic, partly fear, she never took flight.

Dad I have to believe, having been a Marine, would have had the opportunity of taking a flight. Unfortunately, he did not get to fly to Paris or London, but he did, compliments of Uncle Sam, get to see the wonders of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Peleliu. I could of course be wrong, as he did regale us with stories of shipboard life, and the Marines were a nautical bunch, so maybe he too never had the pleasure of looking down through the clouds and seeing Mother Earth.

In the late Seventies, early Eighties the discount airline made its appearance. These airlines used small planes, had no amenities at all, and if you were willing to take the chance they could bring you half way across country for $49; not bad.

PeopleExpress was the name of one of the first, if not the first. of these airlines and it flew from Newark Airport to most American cities for a fraction of what one of those classy big ones would charge. You even paid for your flight while you were on it! At first it was cash only, then they started to accept credit cards, but often the cost of the flight was literally pocket money.

Now I have a memory of the first time Mom took a flight; it was in the early 80’s and we went to see Don and Rhonda in Virginia and we took PeopleExpress.

But let me preface this memory with the fact that Mom didn’t travel well. She was a nervous wreck sitting in a moving car. She was notorious for sitting in the passenger seat as Dad drove the Rambler, and being wracked with terror for the whole time the car was in motion. She would slam the floor with her foot, hitting imaginary brakes to slow the car down if she thought Dad was driving too fast, which was all the time, she would grab the dashboard white knuckled when a car merged into our lane, she would start reciting the Lords Prayer if it started to rain, all the while keeping up a steady banter with Dad while he drove:

“Tony that car has his turn signal on”

“Yes I see that”

“He may want to get in front of you”

“Yes, yes he may”

“Tony do you see that truck is braking??!!”

“Yes Babe, I see the truck is braking”.

“Tony you’re driving too fast”

“No, no I’m not, I am doing the speed limit”

And on it would go….every single time.

So if she was that way in a moving car which was attached to Planet Earth, what would she think about getting into a steel tube and getting shot into the heavens?

We did our best in the weeks leading up to the flight to re-assure her that it was just as safe as……well we couldn’t say driving given how she dealt with that…and we couldn’t say swimming for the same reason….er..er..as safe as taking a walk? Sitting on the couch?? We tried everything. Dad had a more fatalistic view of the world; if your number is up, your number is up. I guess that attitude comes from having had to charge through a jungle or up a hill with people shooting at you. After that, taking an hour long flight to Norfolk Virginia was a breeze.

But Mom was another story.

Trying to convince her was quite a task; the rosary came out, the prayers were recited, the candles at daily Mass were lit.

The airplane awaited.

I am sure she didn’t sleep the night before the flight. We made our way to Newark airport on a bright sunny day. The flight was a short one; so short that by the time you reached cruising altitude, the plane began its descent. We got through Security, which would be un-recognizable today as it was virtually non-existent. You could pretty much carry on a sub-machine gun back then and no one would stop you.  We settled in to our seats, Les and I sitting directly in front of Mom and Dad – the plane was so small it had two rows of seats on each side of one small center aisle in between. I kept turning around to check on Mom, trying to make small talk to get her mind off the moment of take off. Thankfully for such a cheap plane, the engines were quiet and smooth sounding, and when the plane started to taxi to the runway, you could hardly feel you were moving. It certainly must have seemed that way to Mom as she made no indication of being upset or scared by the beginning of the flight. We had been talking back and forth, enjoying the ride after take off, and I was pleased and amazed that she was taking it all so well. I turned at one point to tell her how good she was doing and she responded:

“Well as long as we are on the ground, everything is fine”.

Les and I looked at each other. Huh? On the ground? What was she talking about?

“What do you mean?” I asked with some dread. She looked out the small window and said:

“I can still see the runway so I’m ok.”

See the runway? What was going on? How could she still be seeing the runway? We were flying!! And then it dawned on me: from her cramped aisle seat with a limited view out a miniscule window, all she could see was a slight expanse of smooth grey – the wing of the airplane. But it looked like the grey of the runway we had just left. How the heck she missed the whole take-off thing I don’t know, but she was smiling and feeling safe on the ground, so why tell her any different. Dad was snoring away next to her in the window seat, so Les and I just went along for the ride so-to-speak and before we knew it we felt the plane begin its descent. Well, I couldn’t keep this up any longer.

“Mom, that isn’t the runway you are seeing.”

She looked at me, perplexed.

“That’s the wing of the plane.”

Her look changed in a second from one of confusion to one of abject horror! She shot out her arm, clutching Dad’s hand in a vise like grip; he woke up howling.

“Mom, it’s ok – we are landing soon….its all over..you did it.

Dad was totally lost.

“Babe youre killng me- what the hell is wrong?! Wha? Wha? What happened?!”

I heard Leslie laugh, and that was all it took. I tried to stifle my laughter as I shook my head telling Dad:

“I’ll tell you later”.

We proceeded to have a wonderful visit and that first night around the dinner table, the story of our flight was related and met with great laughter and Mom, to her credit, laughed the most.

And just like that, a simple trip to Virginia, became another chapter in family lore….the strange and wonderous journey of PeopleExpress, Flight Number 532 and the bizarre appearance of a phantom runway, high above the clouds.

-Rob

 

A Homage – #2

During that misguided and rather stupid experiment called Prohibition, New York City was a hotbed of illegal bars called “speakeasies”, so named because that is how you referred to them –“speak easy friend”. These establishments flaunted the law and served cocktails, wine and beer. Prohibition’s purported purpose was to ensure the moral fiber of a Christian nation, to make sure Demon Rum did not rob our daughter’s virginity, or our fathers and husband’s self respect. What it accomplished was the establishment of the Organized Crime, otherwise known as the Mob. Supplying bootleg booze to thousands of thirsty people who were more than willing to lose their self respect for a good shot of Johnny Walker, became a gold mine for the Mob. Now famous names were just starting their careers in crime then, all due to the Government’s experiment in morality: Capone, Luciano, Lansky, some heavy hitters there who would have remained small time hoods if it wasn’t for the 18th Amendment of the Constitution and the Volstead Act.

The city, and especially Greenwich Village with it’s winding, small streets and discrete alleyways was a prime location for the illegal trade in booze. They were scattered throughout the West Village and some still exist today as legitimate taverns.

Now if you have been paying attention you will remember we lived on West 12th Street off of Greenwich Avenue, and right across the street from our number 290 was one of them. It dated back to 1920 so has seen a lot of rollicking times in the old city. The entrance faces 12th street but to this day there is a little used door that connects the interior with the Avenue on the other side, a former escape route if the cops decided to raid the place. It was a bar first, then a restaurant.

It was called The Beatrice Inn.

It’s still there, though now it’s a fancy steakhouse with prices beyond my budget; but when we were growing up, it was a classic Italian red sauce place, the kind that was so comfortable and welcoming, you really never wanted to leave. Cushy booths, candles on the white tablecloths, a good house wine, crusty fresh Italian bread right out of a coal fired oven. Old World at it’s best. Everyone should grow up with a place like that across the street. I remember walking home and the air on our block was filled with the aromas of olive oil, garlic and onions simmering with fresh tomatoes; truly the fragrances of Heaven.

It was a neighborhood favorite with a lot of regulars, and I mean regulars. Some folks would take their dinners there three and four times a week. We got to recognize them and in the warmer months we would hang out the window of our apartment across the street and wave to them as they arrived for dinner. Mom and Dad knew the owners, Elsie and Ubaldo Cardia who would own it for fifty years; later we would become friends with their daughter-in-law Randi.

It was that kind of place.

And the food? Mmmm; clams oreganato, mussels marinara, meatballs, lasagna, veal, eggplant, all blessed with a sweet, slightly smoky red sauce that had been simmering for hours….I could go on but I am getting really hungry so……..

Given our circumstances, we didn’t go out to eat very often; it being a combination of economics and the very valid belief that finding better cooking than what came out of Mom’s kitchen was no easy task. Dad would sit at the dinner table on a Sunday evening, beaming at a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs Mom had just placed in front of him (Sunday was Meatball and Spaghetti night) and he would look down at the food, then at Don and I and utter his famous line:

“You know what they get for this on the outside?”

We never quite knew who they were, but we were able to figure out that “the outside” meant a restaurant- some place out of our apartment. It took a while for us to understand, but he did have a point – there really is nothing like a home cooked Italian meal.

Which was pretty much what the food at the Beatrice Inn tasted like, because that’s what is was – home cooked, made fresh right there in the kitchen by an old world Italian couple who had learned that magic in the Old Country. You
can’t get too much more authentic than that. You could sit there for hours over a glass of house wine and bread dipped in olive oil, and visit with friends and family and solve the problems of the world. Voices were low throughout the dining room, there was the occasional laughter, the clinking of glasses, people marking the passage of their lives there.

We certainly did.

We went there to celebrate on our Wedding Day, one of the best days of my life.
And we went there to commiserate after Mom’s funeral, one of the worst.

The owners paused their cooking for a few moments to come out from the kitchen to congratulate on the first occasion, and to give a comforting hug on the second.

In our young married lives, we would sometimes meet Aunt Fil and Uncle Jim there for dinner, enjoying Manhattans (they preferred theirs neat, we liked them on the rocks) before ordering dinner, and invariably Elsie would stop by the table to make sure everything was to our liking; remembering names, asking about where we lived, how our jobs were going, making a recommendation from the menu, nodding to a waiter to signal a glass of wine on the house. She would smile, looking proudly at us, and say:

“La Mia Famiglia”

My Family.

And we were.

It was that kind of place. Special.

And that’s why, If it meant something, you went to the Beatrice Inn.

Many years later back in town on a visit, I found myself walking down our old street, and noticed scaffolding in front of the restaurant. I had read it had recently closed; its owners retired. It was undergoing a facelift and would soon be re-incarnated as a trendy downtown club for the A-List crowd, the exact opposite clientele than I remember. It was a cold night, with a hint of snow in the air, as I stepped down the two steps and peered through the dirty front window……

And I saw what I knew I would. There we were. Again. Amidst warm colors and soft light, the family sat drinking and eating and laughing; off to a corner an all too familiar young couple held hands and stared into each other’s eyes, their whole lives ahead of them and the back room was shrouded in darkness and held the shadows of the mourning, the robust figure of Elsie hovering over it all, making sure everything was bene.

Laughter and tears, replaying still, after all those years.

I continued walking down 12th Street; snow falling now. Before turning on to Greenwich, I caught the unmistakable aroma of simmering tomato sauce and I smiled into the nothingness in front of me.

I liked that.

Eternity served up with a touch of garlic.

Rob.

 

Taxi Driver 2: Ladies of the Night.

As promised in my last entry, here is the sequel to Taxi Driver.

If you recall, this was a job I attempted during my freshman year of college. I was by no means an accomplished driver, let alone a capable Taxi driver in NYC, but I was determined to see it through. The last entry recalled a pretty disheartening experience I had while getting a very nasty passenger to Newark Airport. This resulted in me thinking that this was not the right part time job for me,and I pondering quitting as I drove back to the garage in Manhattan after the bad experience, I contemplated my options when I turned in my cab for the night.

I concluded the last entry by stating that I decided to give it just one more try. When I brought the cab back well before the end of my normal shift, the boss questioned as to what was wrong. I told a bit of a “ white lie” and stated that I wasn’t feeling very well and just needed to go home. My explanation was readily accepted and I returned to my parents apartment to get some sleep.

Dad and Mom were still awake when I returned home, as they were always late night people, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. They sensed something was wrong and questioned me gently. Dad wanted to be sure that all was ok with the job and Mom just wanted to be sure I wasn’t getting sick. ( every time my brother or I so much as sneezed, Mom would have the Vick’s vapor rub out along with some hot tea.) I assured them that all was fine and it had just been “ one of those days”. They reluctantly accepted my vague explanation and I went off to bed.

The next day, being Saturday, allowed me to sleep in a bit later with no classes to rush to. I felt better after a good nights sleep and was determined to try one more time at this Taxi driver thing. I took it easy for the majority of the day and went in for the late night shift that evening.

The early part of the evening was pretty routine. mostly picking up passengers on their way to bars or parties. No incidents at all of any significance. It was close to midnight when I was cruising 7th ave., around 44th street. I was was hailed down by two ladies as they were leaving an apartment building there. I didn’t get a real good look at them until I slowed down and stopped for them to get in the cab. Even someone as naive as I was didn’t take long to realize I had just picked up two of New York’s hundreds of prostitutes. The clothes, or lack thereof, the perfume, the hair,the heels that appeared to be six inches tall were immediate give aways. One was a platinum blonde the other appeared to be a natural red head.

I was immediately uncomfortable and nervous. I was not the most confident guy around women and these two were intimidating as hell.

“ Where to , Ladies?” I said, trying to sound confident and street-wise.

“ 86 street and third ave” said the blonde.

“hmmmm, nice area “ I thought to myself.. this must be a “ house call “.

“ You got it”, I said as I put the cab in gear starting toward the upper east side of town.

For a while , we rode in silence, the aroma of their heavy perfume making me want to open a window.

After a few more blocks , the red head asked me;

“So, how old are you?”

The question took me aback ( why? , I’m not sure), but I know I immediately felt my forehead begin to perspire.

“ummm, I recently turned 18” I responded awkwardly.

Giggles from the back seat before red head said to blonde:

“ We have a baby driver!” … more giggles…. more perspiration on forehead.

My guess was that they were in their mid to late 20’s, but all the makeup made that a very rough guess. I heard them whispering to each other , but couldn’t make out what they were saying before the blonde spoke up;

“So sweetie, this ain’t your real job is it? you’re not a cabbie, right? you just making some extra money? going to school or something?

“Pretty perceptive”, I thought to myself before answering;

“ Yes, ma’am” ( geez, I just called a prostitute ma’am? what a dork)

“ I’m going to school, I’m driving at night to make some extra money.”

Redhead; “ So, What school you going to?”

me; “Fordham University.”

Blonde: “ In the Bronx? Oh , yea I know it. So you’re a good little Catholic boy , eh?

( After she said she knew the school, I found myself hoping she didn’t know any of the Priests!)

My attempt a “sounding cool” response;

“Well, I’m Catholic, but I don’t know how good I am”

More giggles from the back. (I don’t think my attempt at sounding “ cool” worked.)

Red Head; “ so , what does a good Catholic boy want to do for a job after he gets out of school? You’re not gonna’ be a street hustler , are you?”

(More Giggles )

After a nervous little laugh I responded;

“ No Ma’am” ( ma’am again??), “ I’m thinking about teaching, or maybe the military….I’m not really sure yet. I don’t even know my way around the campus yet! “ ( finally, I had said something remotely funny)

My passengers laughed, lit cigarettes and then blonde said;

“ Well if you want my opinion.. go for teaching…. we need teachers that care.I wish I had had…..”

Then she trailed off..

I looked in the rear view mirror and watched her smoking her cigarette while she just starred out out the window, her mind clearly somewhere else.The redhead was applying another layer of make-up.

Other than small talk, ( are you a Yankee or Met fan? Where do you live? , Do you like driving a cab…) there was no further conversation.

We pulled up to their destination on East 86th Street ; a very upscale apartment building. The fare was not very much, perhaps $8.50? I don’t remember exactly. Redhead got out first , she smiled and told me to have a good night .

Blonde got out next and paid the fare. She threw a 50.00 bill at me and told me to keep the change. She obviously noticed the confused , questioning look on my face. She leaned over to the drivers side window and said;

“ You treated us nicely, not like trash…. you talked to us like normal people…. We appreciate that. Good luck with school, stay nice.. Bye”.

With that , she straightened her very short skirt and followed redhead up the stairs into the apartment.

I sat there for a moment and gazed at the $50.00 bill. All I did was talk to them… and they considered that being treated nicely…. wow.

I looked around at the busy, but lonely streets of the City. I felt sad that people would consider a casual conversation “ being treated nicely”. What did that say about how they were normally treated? How we treat each other?
I found it so interesting that two “ trashy hookers” could treat me better than the well paid , highly respected, important business man I told you about in my last entry entitled “ Taxi Driver”.

I put my cab in gear and finished out my shift. On my way back to the garage, I remember thinking: “ well, maybe I’ll give this a bit more time”.

I’ll relay one more incident in my next entry: Taxi Driver 3: The Mystery Man.

Don.

The School Play

It is another one of those dreadful things they force you to do in school. The book report isn’t bad enough – no, no you must also be a part of the school play. No one was exempt, the fear and embarrassment were mandatory. There were always a few kids, usually girls, who loved being in the annual play; they enjoyed the rehearsals, the dressing up, the singing (they were invariably musicals). I was one of the few that would have chosen Man and Superman or Long Days Journey into Night, but no one asked me so it was always My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music, or Oklahoma, the better to humiliate us with.

So back we go one more time to PS 41 in Greenwich Village; I am in Ms. LaRoche’s class, she of the short bobbed haircut and red lipstick; she was very Parisian, very alluring or at least I remember her that way now. At the time I was afraid of her; her sardonic wit and the way when you displeased her, she would pinch you cheek and twist until she saw tears in your eyes.

One day she made the announcement that our home room class would be participating in the annual school play that was presented to the parents and relatives of the student body. A groan went up from the boys in the class; giggles of glee came from the girls. She went on to say that after school that day we would all meet in the auditorium to determine what parts we would play. And what was this year’s choice of production? It was “The Greatest Show on Earth”, that epic story of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was a successful film a few years earlier starring Charlton Heston, James Stewart and Dorothy Lamour, and its plot centered around all the problems and drama of life under the big top- the jealousies, rivalries, tragedies that made up life in a circus. The cast list was long and challenging: the owner of the circus, his many loves, the clowns, the trapeze artists, the lion tamers, I mean the list went on and on. It was quite ambitious for a small school but the previous year they did Oliver Twist, so I guess they thought they could pull it off.

I of course lay low, not wanting to be picked to play any role at all – I thought I would volunteer to paint the scenery or help with the costumes, anything but get in front of an auditorium full of adults and have to say lines. This time however there was no escaping it; everyone had to be on stage doing something. My only hope was I would be picked to play a tree or a lion so no one could actually see me. The rest of the day some in the class couldn’t contain their excitement at the prospect of yet another chance to be discovered by the Hollywood agent or Broadway producer that was sure to be in the audience. The rest of us were dreading the after school meeting.

“They are going to need a lot of sets painted aren’t they?” I asked Ms. LaRoche. She flashed those dark eyes at me- I was glad she wasn’t in cheek range – and responded:
“I am sure they will – and the art department will do a fine job with them too”.
Darn – she was on to me! Thinking back now, I wonder how old Ms. LaRoche was at the time – twenties? Thirties? I course when you are a little kid, everyone seems old.

So the old paint the scenery trick wasn’t going to work. I had to come up with something else.

“I bet there are a lot of trees in this play huh?” I asked.

Again, the eyes flashed.

“Trees? In a circus?” she responded.

I was momentarily stumped, then:

“Well…yea….circus trees….I think”

Now she smiled.

“I think you are thinking of citrus trees.”

Huh? Circus…citrus….foiled again. Things were not looking good.

Three o’clock came and we assembled in the auditorium with other kids from other homerooms. Mom and the other parents who usually came to pick us up at three sat in the back, more interested in the proceedings than a lot of us, that was for sure.

Ms. LaRoche, Ms. King, Miss Paris, and Mrs Werdenslaugh all gathered on the stage and welcomed students and parents. They had evidently already met and decided which students would be right for which parts. Hopefully I had “tree” written all over me! They started to call out names of kids they wanted to come forward and do a reading; of course they called the more talented ones like Lydia, Elaine and Casey. I sat in the tenth row next to John and Paul (no George) and tried to remain invisible. I always found being invisible to be the only way to handle such situations.

After a while, the lead roles were decided upon, and it was time to move onto the supporting cast- the trees, bushes and other non-speaking roles – my kind of performing! Being a show about a circus, they needed a bunch of kids to play trapeze artists. Well, that’s not so bad, I thought, it could even be fun. Of course they wouldn’t actually have us doing any acrobatics for fear of killing kids right in front of their parents; the idea was to fake it, to move back and forth like you were on a trapeze, and best of all they were all to be at the back of the stage, setting the backdrop for the real drama going on front and center. Easy peazy I thought; I could do that role, so I volunteered for it.
Ms. King was speaking:

“Now you will each be responsible for getting your own costumes.”

Costumes? What did she mean? What was wrong with jeans and a t-shirt?

She started from the top with the lead actors and explained what they needed to make or get for their costumes. We extras, trapeze artists all, were at the end of the list. I sat with Jose Rivera, Dwayne Wayans (little brother of Damon), and my friend Luiz Guzman who would actually go on to be a television and movie star. We fidgeted and squirmed anxious for the whole process to be over; we didn’t like staying in school after three o’clock.

Finally she got to us.

“And now for our trapeze artists – you will all need to be dressed exactly the same – white sleeveless cotton shirts, black leotards and red ballet slippers.”

Luis looked at me

“Did she say leotards? What are leotards?”

I gulped.

“I think……I think they are like tights.”

A look of pure panic came across his face.

“You mean like girls wear?!”

I could only nod feebly. Dwayne’s expression hadn’t changed since hearing what Ms. King said – his mouth hung open; his eyes were dazed. Jose spoke up:

“Did she say red ballet slippers?”

Again I could only nod.

“Like ballet dancers wear?” he continued.

“Well, yea I guess that’s who wears ballet slippers.”

A collective sigh went up from our little band of brothers. The Greatest Show on Earth indeed! The thought of being in front of a full auditorium dressed in tights and red slippers was enough to make any red blooded little boy want to run away and hide until the theatre season blew over. And then there were our own classmates – the girls!! My sweet Jesus – the girls were going to see us boys dressed in tights and ballet slippers!!! I wished now the trapeze was going to be real so I could just let go and end it all right there instead of suffering the embarrassment that was sure to come.

Opening night loomed.

There were thankfully no dress rehearsals so our ultimate shame would have to wait for the first nights performance. Which came way too fast.

Now I should mention that of course Mom was thrilled with getting me all I needed to dress the part, but as I think I have mentioned before, she always wanted me to be girl anyway so there you go. The idea of her buying tights and ballet slippers for me to wear was a dream come true to her.

So, when the time came, we were told to report backstage two hours before curtain; nothing like getting some place early so you have time to worry and fret. I met my friends and we milled about, each of us grasping a plastic Korvettes bag which held our costume. We would wait until the very last minute before putting them on.

Ms. LaRoche appeared out of nowhere, wearing a black pleated skirt and a white blouse; her shoes were red and matched her lipstick.

“Well my boys – what are you waiting for? Get those trousers off and your tights on!”

She said it loudly on purpose and everyone backstage turned our way. I was already blushing and I hadn’t even put the damn costume on yet! There was a group of girls, all pretty of course, who were also extras that glanced our way, then giggled amongst themselves.

Oh Lord, I thought – we are toast.

Ms. LaRoche escorted us to the locker room and left us to change. It only took a few moments and we had all transformed ourselves into rather effeminate looking trapeze artists. We stood looking at each other. I thought maybe we could just lock the door and barricade ourselves in until the play was over. But we didn’t.

Instead we opened the door and walked back out to the staging area. What we feared, happened, as it always does.

“WoooHooo”

“What cute legs!”

“Hey boys – nice shoes!”

Catcalls, whistles, laughter – lots of laughter. Each of us lowered our heads stared at the floor and our red slippers and made our way into formation.

“Ah here they are – and looking oh so lovely” Ms. LaRoche of course.

The torment continued:

“Hey Jose – you forgot your lipstick!”

“Rob….who knew?”

“Hey girls – over here – say cheese!”

A flashbulb! Great – now there would be a record of our shame.

The good part of it all was that after dealing with all that before the play actually started, it was a relief to play our parts when the curtain went up! We put our arms up as if holding onto the trapeze bar and we stepped forward a few paces, then stepped back a few paces, and all at the back of the stage. Some real method acting taking place let me tell you! All in all it was a lot better than being backstage with our classmates.

The play mercifully ended and we even got to go center stage and take a bow when it was our turn, and it was nice to hear the applause.

It was over and from the sound of the crowd the play was a success. Everyone seemed happy and appreciative of our collective efforts. I shook my head as we started back to the locker room. Another of life’s hurdles over (little did I know then how many more were waiting in the wings so-to-speak). It wasn’t so bad, I thought as my friends quickly shed their red slippers and tights to be replaced by jeans and sweatshirts.

There was a full length mirror in the locker room and as I began to change, I caught sight of my reflection. Standing up straight, I realized that the outfit- the tights, the starched sleeveless white shirt, and the red slippers weren’t such a bad look after all.

As a matter of fact, I thought to myself, a nice red sash across the waist would have made it really extra special.

Mom would have been proud.

Rob.

 

The Book Report

The assignment was an easy one: read a biography of your choice and prepare a simple presentation showing what you learned about your subject. I was in sixth grade at IS 70 and English was one of my favorite subjects; I loved to read so this, another book report, was not going to pose any problem.

I looked around the classroom checking out my classmates faces; saw disappointment, fear, total apathy. Not everyone loved English class; one more day, one more assignment.

So what book to choose? Whose life should I read about, interpret and share with these classmates of mine? Someone from history surely, another favorite subject of mine. I knew the school library was pretty light on historical biography so I would have to venture to the public library in the Village for my quest. Glancing again around the room, I wondered what the others would choose.

Peter, well for Peter it would be someone in sports; that’s all he talked about, all he cared about – maybe Mickey Mantle? And what about Sarah? Hmmm, was Mary Poppins a real person? Did people write biographies about not-real people? Ok maybe not Mary Poppins, how about Helen Keller….yea that seemed right…Sarah was a Helen Keller kind of girl. And how about my good buddy Dermit? Yes that was his name, Dermit – don’t ask. Anyway what would he choose? The Life and Times of Buffalo Bill Cody? That sounded good.

Lightweights! All of them !! No, I would push the envelope, take a dare and choose someone no one else would dare to…someone so influential, so important to the world; someone…..yea…..evil; that’s the ticket! I would shock teacher and students alike with my choice and my erudite re-telling of a life lived in infamy. What was there to worry about after all – it was just another book report; I had done dozens of them in my illustrious career up to that point.

So who?

Of course another problem was the limited field of books about historical figures that were written for a twelve year old; not a vast lot to choose from there. So I enlisted Mom’s help (of course), and off we went to the Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue and West 10th Street. Housed in a former courthouse, it had three floors of books and a special section for those of us not yet in high school. My Mom was happy to indulge my reading but little did she know of my mission: to find a biography of a fiend to shock my friends. We asked a nice librarian to direct us to the young adult section, and Mom took a seat at a table with a magazine as I started to wander through the shelves.

To my surprise there were a lot of biographies written about bad guys for young adults like me – who knew? Now to narrow it down. There was one – a biography of Rasputin….hmmm not bad, but no, not evil enough. Next up was Jack the Ripper, a fun idea but how can you write a biography about someone no one knew the identity of?? Ok cross that one off the list. Next..Al Capone, but somehow if Rasputin didn’t rise to the level of evil I was looking for, good old Scarface certainly didn’t – besides he was just a businessman after all. And then I saw it-abridged from a larger work by the author, a black and red cover, a biography of evil incarnate – the granddaddy of distilled hatred…the title? The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler.

Bingo.

I mean whoa! Try putting up Mary Poppins against this baby; the class will be shocked by my choice, impressed (hopefully) by my confidence, and finally enthralled with my beautiful prose in re-telling this tale of horror.

Now I will admit, Mom looked at me rather questioningly, but she didn’t believe in censoring any thirst for knowledge, no matter how distasteful the subject may have been.

The following Monday, Mrs. Landman would write on the white board in our classroom all of our names and next to them, the biographies we had chosen. I could hear the collective gasp from my fellow students when they saw my choice.

I took the book home over the weekend and read it cover to cover. As it was written by William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich- a classic study), it was an intelligent and well written story. I even started writing my book report and it was looking good. I was going to ace this one on so many levels.

Monday rolled around, and we all sat in anticipation of learning what our chosen books were. Mrs. Landman was playing it up, taking her time walking up to the whiteboard, shuffling her papers, talking about how pleased she was with everyone’s choice….well almost everyone’s. She smiled once at us all and turned to face the board and she started to write in black magic marker. I sat smugly in my short wooden chair, a confident smirk on my face – wait till they see my choice! As the teacher wrote, a few giggles arose from the class.
Sarah……Mother Teresa.
Ok so I was wrong about Mary Poppins. She wrote a few more, then
Peter…..Roger Maris.
Well I was close; Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle…what’s the diff??
Some more names went up there.
Dermit…..Wild Bill Hickock.
Missed it by that much.
I looked at the list, there was not one surprise in the bunch; everyone was playing it safe. Then I saw Mrs. Landman start to write:
R…o…b…e…r…t…..
Here it comes, baby! Wait for it…
A…d….o….l….f…H…
A loud gasp went up; the kid knew where this was going and couldn’t believe it.
i….t…l….e…r

“Oh No!” someone said.

“How could he??” another whiny voice.

People, I thought. It was a book report, it’s a book for God’s Sakes…I am not joining the Nazi Youth!!

There were more names to put up, but it was all anti-climatic from there. Kids were stealing glances my way, dirty looks, shaking heads, one held up a fist.
Man these people took book reports too damn seriously. I had the feeling in one sweep of Mrs. Landman’s handwriting, I had lost any friends I had in that class; and probably made a new set of enemies.

But it was a book, just a book.

Mrs. Landman finished, and turned to face the class and waited for quiet.

“Now class” she began “this time we are going to do something a little different.”

Hmmm I never liked the sound of that.

“This time” she continued “ you are each going to give your report to the class, dressed up like the subject of your book – you are going to give your book report in the first person, as if you are telling the class your life story.”

I started to get a sinking feeling, and felt the blood rush to my face.
What did she just say? Dressed up?..Wha??

I could hear laughter; snorting behind me; taunting.I was still trying to understand.

Be…Adolf…no she couldn’t mean that…I must have heard wrong…stand up in front of the class dressed like…no …couldn’t be. My smug look had vanished replaced by one of horror and embarrassment. I could hear Mom now:
“Hitler??!!!….What is wrong with you?! You are going to look really silly in that mustache! And God Forbid if your Father hears about this!!!”

Lord I was dead; I felt sick to my stomach. Maybe Mrs. Landman would let me change subjects since she sprang this little surprise on me! I looked up at her pleadingly, but she only looked back at me, smiled and shook her head, knowing exactly what I wanted to ask.

Destroyed. Hoisted on my own petard, my own arrogant quest to be more shocking than my classmates, who were all laughing at me now. I barely heard the teacher give the dates of our presentations; my ears were ringing. A date was set for my complete humiliation, to stand up in front of the whole class and tell my …. his story. God help me.

Well, I was right about Mom’s reaction, but after she calmed down, she did what she always did – supported me. I mean come on, how many other mothers would get out the sewing machine and start to stitch together a uniform jacket, arm band and all, just like the one in the photo on the cover. The challenge of the mustache was another matter, but a small square piece of black felt taped to my upper lip would have to suffice. As she worked I told her about the reactions of my classmates; the dirty looks, the threats and she just shook her head.

“What, we are only supposed to read books about nice people?” she said.

Being a firm believer in the power of books and how they can transform and educate, she always got angry when anyone tried to put any limitations on what one should or shouldn’t read.

“It’s history! – we need to know it – they need to know it! – If we don’t learn, if we don’t read about it, then people forget about it!”

She was on a roll, and I daren’t interrupt. She paused, reflected, then said.

“And if there is anything we shouldn’t forget…..”

She was right of course; if I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.
Censor nothing; learn everything.
Once again, Mom was way ahead of the rest of us.

“I don’t want you to be afraid” she continued “you go up there in front of your class, and you act, you act a part for a little while, and you try and teach them something – you can do that.”

Well I didn’t know if I could or couldn’t but if she had faith in me, I would give it all I had.

I just wished I had picked a biography of Abraham Lincoln.

The day came. I sat nervously awaiting my turn, for the moment mustache-less and in civilian clothes. After a while, when Davy Crockett had finished telling of how he heroically died at the Alamo, Mrs. Landman looked at me and said:

“Robert…are you ready?”

My mouth was dry; I managed a nod, stood and put on the uniform jacket I had carried in a plastic bag from Korvettes. I heard some more gasps as kids saw the black, white and red armband with it’s distinctive symbol. I turned away, lowered my head and quickly taped on the felt mustache. I was ready. Clutching the book I strode to the front of the class with determination, Mom’s words in my head.
All history was important, not just the happy fun stuff, just keep her words in mind. I faced the class, looked once quickly at Mrs. Landman, and started:

“My name is ……”

The rest was a blur – I tried to talk calmly, not rush my words, not try speaking with a fake German accent; just tell his story like the author told it to you –just another book report. When I finished, there was silence in the room and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. All I knew is that it was over, and I had done it for better or worse, but at least it was over. Mrs. Landman was speaking:

“Well..I am sure class we can all appreciate how hard that must have been for a good, decent boy like Robert to do. And I hope you also appreciate the fact you didn’t make it any easier for him to do what was, after all. his assignment.”

The class was still silent, now a majority were looking down at the floor. She wasn’t finished.

“And I for one, think he did a fine job”.

I gulped, looked at my teacher with eyes that wept gratitude. Heck, from that moment on I was in love with her! I made my way back to my desk, shaking; someone started to clap, then stopped. When I sat down, I put my head down on the desk, and tried not to cry.

It turns out I didn’t lose any friends after all, because of my choice of biography, in fact I may have made one or two more. They even asked me to be in the next school play.

So that’s the story of the most interesting book report I ever had to do. It comes with a few good lessons for life:

Be prepared to be misunderstood and judged unfairly, but don’t hate or judge back.

Know that arrogance will always trip you up and make you look foolish.

Believe in yourself, and never be afraid to face the truth; it will always set you free.

Oh and one more thing: Give Thanks for all the good Mothers and Teachers of the world, they are the beacons that light the way through life.

Rob.

My First Hunting Trip

Some time ago , I wrote about my disastrous “First Fishing Trip.” Well, I think it’s time for you to hear about my legendary first hunting trip.

First, as you know, I was a city kid, so hunting was never a part of my growing up experience, as it was for many who grew up in the country . Second, I was always an animal lover, so the idea of hunting them was never attractive to me. Now, this is not a judgement on those who hunt to feed their families, as many in my wife’s family did ,or many others I came to know over the years. Hunting for sport still is not something I am comfortable with, but this post is not about the morals / justification of hunting , it is about my first experience and it took place in the company of two friends who did hunt for food. It also turns out to be quite humorous, so don’t get turned off by the subject material.

I was living in Virginia at the time. It was October and deer season was in full swing. I had never given much thought to hunting and my only “experience” was the hilarious escapades of my dad and Uncle Santino trying to shoot a Groundhog that was making some nice holes on Uncle Sans property in Connecticut. They had one shotgun between them as they stalked this groundhog around the property. What made the irony more side splitting was that Uncle San had served in the Third Army with General Patton in Europe while Dad had been a Marine who had seen action in the South Pacific during the Second World War. One would think the unsuspecting groundhog had no chance. Wrong , he lived to dig another day.

But, I digress. The two friends that I mentioned above invited me to go deer hunting with them. They would hunt as much as possible in the fall to supply their families with meat over the winter. They told me about the wonderful taste of venison and deer sausage, which they vowed to share with me if I went. I had never tasted either so I figured, “ what the hell”, it would be fun and I would be helping them provide for their families. I had a number of shotguns and rifles, as I always enjoyed going to the range practicing my skills. Dad had come with me a number of times and we always had a good time together… so, I signed up for my first hunting expedition.

The day of my adventure dawned very cold, and, “ dawned” is not the proper word, because unbeknownst to me, when one is going deer hunting, one must wake up before many have even gone to bed! It was 3:00 AM when my alarm went off. I reluctantly climbed out of a nice warm bed to face a cold, dark morning. I dressed in my newly purchased insulated hunting gear and heading for the car to meet my friends at a diner on the way to the deer lease land we would be hunting on. I quickly realized that my newly purchased hunting gear was quite effective, as I broke out into a full sweat once in the car, despite the temperature outside being in the teens. I removed a jacket and vest in order to avoid passing out from heat exhaustion.

It took me about a half hour to reach the diner where my friends were already seated at a window booth. Despite the ridiculously early hour the place was packed, mostly by other hunters. ( notice,I was now considering myself one of them. Seriously? Donny from the Block? a hunter…. haha)

My friends good naturally teased me about all my newly purchased hunting attire and complemented me about following their instructions on wearing a good pair of “long-johns.” We then ate the largest breakfast I had ever seen. Biscuits, gravy, ham, eggs, mounds of potatoes and grits. By the time we finished I felt that my new, orange long johns would burst at the seams. My friends kept telling me that it was important to eat a hearty breakfast before spending hours in the cold woods. Well, this breakfast surpassed “ hearty” , but I managed to eat it all.

Totally stuffed, we got back in the truck and headed to the property. It was about another 45 minutes away from the diner where we had just eaten. I was surprised to find a number of other trucks waiting for us on the property when we arrived at around 5:00 Am.

Apparently, my friend, who owned the property had invited some other friends to join us on “ the hunt” . There were five other guys that were joining us. They all seemed very nice as introductions were made and they were all anxious to fill their freezers with good meat before the really bad weather set in. Another thing that surprised me was that we would be employing the use of hunting dogs. Beautiful, well trained Beagles whose job it was to flesh out the deer and “ run” them toward the positions the hunters would take around the property. This was all very new to me, but the use of the dogs seemed to take a bit of the skill required ( or so I thought ) out of the hunt. I said nothing, being the obvious novice in the group, so I spent the first few minutes admiring the beautiful, excited Beagles. I was told not to be too friendly to them before the hunt as that would distract them from the job at hand, so I tried hard not to pet them and talk sweet to them , which was difficult for an animal lover such as I. I managed to get in a few pets and cooing words before I was “ escorted “ away by the dog owners. The dogs seemed to enjoy the attention, but, oh well., when in Rome.

The next thing was getting our assigned positions in the woods. Great care was taken to ensure plenty of space between all hunters, for obvious reasons. We didn’t need to be shooting each other. I, being the new guy was not assigned a “deer stand”, as those were reserved for the regular hunters who had built them. A deer stand is simply a form of “tree house” where the hunter positions himself and waits for the deer to come their way. I didn’t care about not being assigned to one, as it seemed an unfair “ambush” on the deer, but what the hell did I know… I was a kid from the city where we ambushed people, not deer… lol.

I was positioned on a hill over looking a stream where the deer were likely to come for water. This, coupled with the dogs that would chase the deer, gave me, what I was told , a prime position. So , before sunrise I took my “prime position “, well concealed by fallen trees and a few average sized boulders. The first thing I noticed was that, despite my thermals and well insulated outdoor gear, it was still freaking cold just sitting there under some fallen trees. I was told that they would release the dogs right around dawn, so I really didn’t have that long to wait, but I was chilled to the bone. I endured the cold until the first grey streaks of dawn appeared. The bone chilling cold lessened noticeably with the departure of the deep darkness.

The next thing I noticed was that I was very tired. My eyes were heavy and my layers on insulation were beginning to do their job. I was actually beginning to feel comfortable. I checked my shotgun to ensure that it was properly loaded and ready to fire when the dogs began to do their thing . I still wondered about how I would feel about shooting a deer chased by dogs, but figured I would find out soon enough. Dawn began to take hold and my eyes were getting heavier. I still had not heard the distinct yelping of the beagles, so began to toy with the idea of catching a few winks…. after all, what good would I be if I were too tired to get off a good shot. I made myself comfortable laying against a surprisingly well placed log. I put the safety back on my shotgun and looked up at the very clear, beautiful sky. The eyes began to close….. and then…… blackness.

I awoke with a start! The first thing that became very obvious was that the sun was fully up. “Oh crap!” I thought, I had slept right through the key early dawn hours. The second thing that became apparent was that I was now quite warm. This didn’t make much sense until I noticed the reason. Sound asleep on my chest was one of the beagles… another was asleep across my legs. Two others were nestled up to my side. “Oh crap!!” I thought, “ what have I done???” My quick movements startled the dogs awake …. they lay there looking me with blinking eyes as if saying; “ what’s the deal? We were sleeping nice and soundly” I jumped up and shushed them away into the woods. Of course I could not resist a few more pets before doing so. The dogs then reluctant bounded off into woods yelping as they went.

I gathered myself together and noticed that it was already after 9am. We all had agreed to meet back at the cabin at 10, so I started the trek back, using my compass to ensure I didn’t make things worse by getting totally lost.
As I was making my way back I heard loud voices faintly in the distance. It was the dog owners calling for their dogs.. they didn’t sound real happy.

It was just a few moments before 10 when I emerged from the woods back to the base camp. It appeared that most of the others had already made it back and were gathered around the cabin entrance having some hot coffee. As I strolled out of the woods , my two friends came and met me and asked;
“Did you see anything at all?Did you have a shot?”
“Who me? I answered innocently, “Nope,I didn’t see a thing, you either?”
“ No! Not a thing! I don’t think any of us even got a chance at a shot… so weird.

I overheard one of the dog owners saying in a dejected , confused voice:
“Damn Dogs! I don’t know know what the hell got into them today… they usually are outstanding! But today? NOTHING!”

I also noticed that the dogs had been herded into the back of a pick up truck. Three of them vigorously began wagging their tails when they saw me approaching. I quickly changed direction moving away from the pick-up to grab a cup of coffee. My two friends were now giving me a suspicious look.
One of the other dog owners approached me and apologetically said;
“ Hey, I’m sorry your first time proved to be a bust! The dogs sucked today, which is really unusual. Maybe next time”

Gulping my hot coffee as quickly as possible without scalding my mouth I responded, sounding as disappointed as I could;
“Awe,it’s ok, I appreciate you inviting me and I did enjoy the peace and serenity of the woods.”
He gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder and went back to the pick up truck. The last I saw of him he was staring at the dogs asking them in a concerned, loving voice what was wrong.
I gulped more coffee.

Most of the guys were going to try going out again that night to see if fortunes changed. My two friends and I decided to head home, we we only had one day off from work.

On the drive home, I finally confessed what had happened to my two friends. They looked wild eyed at me as if I had held up a State Bank.

Not surprisingly, they never invited me on another hunting trip.

Go figure.

Don.

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The Bi-Centennial

It is sometimes hard to remember that we grew up on an island; a big one for sure, a crowded one, but an island nonetheless. Looking out of our bedroom window on 17th Street and Ninth Avenue, we saw the Hudson River slowly making its way down to the harbor a couple of miles south; Jersey returned our curious gaze. When you are on the edge of something you can forget what lies behind you.

One of the places to get a sense of the topography is at the very tip of the island that juts out into the bay; Battery Park, The South Street Seaport, Castle Clinton. There was quite a big celebration in the city in 1976 heralding the Bi-Centennial of the nation. Originally this national birthday party was supposed to be in Philadelphia, then Boston, then Washington; but all those plans fell through, and New York became the host. The city of course was absolutely broke at the time; crime was rampant, there was garbage strewn on every street corner and alleyway; the last thing the city needed to spend money on was a celebration where the whole world was invited. But not having money never stopped a New Yorker. And actually it was the beginning of the restoration of many a neighborhood. When you had invited the whole world, you had to clean house.

A good example was the South Street Seaport, which at the time, looked pretty much the same way it did in Colonial times; cobblestone streets, wooden framed houses and stores, and even the authentic smell of fish and seawater. The Fulton Fish Market was located a block away back then, the source of seafood for the city’s restaurants and shops. You walked the streets and looked around, and besides a street lamp or a fire hydrant, you could feel you had walked back in time. With the big celebration coming up, the city targeted the southern tip of Manhattan as a place for some serious rehab. You see one of the attractions they had booked was called Operation Sail – sixteen high masted square riggers, plus a British Schooner thrown in for good measure. These majestic sailing ships would come down the Hudson, make a left turn and fill the Harbor with their glory. Thousands would be on hand (as they always were when this outfit came to town). The city had to look good. And it had a good start on the West Side, opposite South Street, because three years before in 1973, the World Trade Center Plaza had opened up, and already hundreds came to the city to ride those lightening fast elevators that deposited you at the highest point in the city, or any city at the time. Towers One and Two were completely done, but more buildings were being added all the time; it was to be the country’s commerce center. Interestingly enough, the whole of the land it was built on was ocean a hundred years before; it was all landfill. Look at a Colonial era map and see how far inland the shore was then.

The celebration started in the Spring of 1976 and would culminate with the Flotilla of ships, fireworks, and President Gerald Ford on July 4th. Heck, even the Queen of England was there, looking over what her Empire has lost.

Now because of the great view we had from the apartment, it was almost unnecessary to venture out into the streets on the 4th. Mom and Dad (but especially Mom) didn’t like large crowds, and decided to watch the whole thing from the many windows that looked out west onto the Hudson and south to the harbor; the Twin Towers dominating the skyline.

On a side note given the future we didn’t know at the time of course, I was really pleased that Dad and his orchestra got to give a few concerts at the base of thoseTowers, as part of a city program to introduce live music during workers lunch hours.

Anyway back to the 4th of July, 1976:

Though Mom and Dad were taking the smart route and watching the party come to them, my friend Mike and I decided (drum roll) that we had to “see it in person!” (see previous blog post about that necessity).

The day dawned brightly, a clear blue July sky, fluffy clouds, good visibility; a perfect day for a party, debt be damned. We ventured out after watching the Flotilla make its way past our windows, and headed downtown.

There were lots of people from all over the place; we heard even more languages we didn’t understand than a normal day in New York; there were vendors everywhere, live street shows, bands playing. The real star of the show was of course the city itself. We made our way to South Street on the East side- the place looked great; it had been forgotten for so long, but now it was having its day in the sun, charming the crowds, proud of its past, looking forward to its future. And indeed since then it has been a destination spot for anyone visiting the city.

Mike and I walked, ate, gawked, ate and walked some more. We started on the East Side and followed the island’s shore line West towards the Trade Center, and Battery Park; all the while the Flotilla was slowly making its way into the Harbor for the planned final, patriotic climax under a massive fireworks display overhead that night.

When we got to Battery Park, we walked to the waterline and stood basking in the late afternoon sun, enjoying a slight breeze and looking out onto the sea. Our backs were to the skyscrapers; our sights were set outward into the ocean that started just a mile or so away. As we stood there, the crowds melted away, the concrete and iron barriers in front of us disappeared, and the sky brightened again. I rubbed my eyes, continued to watch the ships appear slowly fanning out, creating a spectacle of light and grace and pride. It was easy to lose all sense of place.

There are occasional ripples, windows, brief moments when you get the feeling you are seeing something as someone saw it in another time long ago. That’s what I was feeling that moment, that day.

I glanced over at Mike, who broke off from staring, clearly feeling the same thing. He returned my look and smiled that famous “how cool is this?!” smile. It was like the present and the future were behind us; the buildings, the commerce, the bustle, the hustle. In front of us was the past, with the ghosts of a hundred wrecked ships trying to get to where we stood.

New Amsterdam.
The New World.
New York.
Then it was all new.

When you stare at the ocean long enough, there comes a point where no matter what is around you, no matter how loud or busy, it all fades from your consciousness and you are just left with the sound of the waves, the seagulls and the absolute certainty that you are the last person on Earth.

Or the first.

It was like that, that day, the 4th of July, 1976. This huge thing was going on all around us, with the most crazy, exciting city right behind us, and at the same time all we could hear were the waves, the wind and the past.

That’s a fun thing about an old city, it has those cracks where the past peaks out at you when you don’t expect it, like when you are walking down a street and look up and see a faded sign on the side of an old building, advertising a product long gone, and you look around to see if anyone else sees it, and then you look back to make sure you really saw it.

Holes in time. Nothing is really past.

It was quite a day. The party was a huge success – even the Queen dug it. It was that rare instance when you really did have to “see it in person”. Mike and I made our way back to the apartment in time to see those amazing fireworks light up the sky over the harbor, illuminating those glorious ships, the colored lights shooting off of the sleek glass of the Twin Towers, and bestowing a halo of light over the head of Lady Liberty, the statue that defined quite simply why American was great. It was stunning.

I of course would find myself down in that part of town many times after that day, but every time I went down there, I remembered that one Fourth of July, when the Towers were gleaming and new, when the ocean beckoned and invited us to take a deep breadth and a look back, to celebrate the present and to contemplate the future; to appreciate our blessings and most importantly, to commemorate all that went before.

Rob.

Reflections on the passing of another year.

I find myself shaking my head as I realize another year has come to an end. I know it’s a cliché, and we say it all the time, but time absolutely flies.

I suppose as I get older the passing of the years holds a bit more sadness than it did when I was a kid. In those days , the new year was a fun holiday; time to enjoy family and food and laughter. There were no somber thoughts about the passing of another year…. no thoughts of how short life really is.I was young, I could start looking forward to Summer fun as soon as the new year rolled in! It was an endless, fun cycle.

It’s different now. The changing of the seasons affects me very differently than when I was that kid growing up on the cobblestone streets of NY. Then, when summer ended, as fall and winter made their entry, stage left, it was all excitement! Thanksgiving followed soon by Christmas! Each day brought new anticipation and expectation.

Now? Not so much. The season changing from summer to fall/ winter now brings a certain emptiness…. perhaps some anxiety and fear?
Another year has passed…. lost opportunities to do good, missed chances to say “ I love you”, the books I didn’t read…..warmth followed by a gripping chill. Long sunny days followed by shorter, darker ones. Of course, I still enjoy the Christmas season filled with precious memories and the overall feeling of peace and goodwill. Sadly, peace and goodwill appear to be more hopes than actualities in our world, but you understand my point. Once the brief excitement and anticipation passes, the New Year stares you in the face.

Again, as a kid, and even a young adult, the New Year celebration was filled with high hopes for the coming year…. even looking forward to summer vacation as early as January. Now, I find myself reflecting more on what has been rather then what is to come. Probably a big reason is that I realize , ever so reluctantly, that there are far more years behind me than before me. I, as countless others, find myself wondering “where did all those years go?” Wasn’t I just a kid on Monday? It’s Friday already? The week is almost over. Now I have kids…. and they have kids. Were all those years a dream, or a reality that passed by so quickly that I didn’t have the sense or intelligence to fully appreciate them?

2019, you were an acceptable year. No major highlights and, thankfully, no major pain. As I’m sure many of those reading this would agree, there were the ups and the downs… the highs and the lows. You were a normal , average year and 2020 arrives with some of your issues unresolved.

Of course I want “everything to be ok” for my family and loved ones. No health issues, no relationship crisis’, no financial issues…. no sadness. I want 2020 to be a Hallmark movie,but I still have enough sense left to not count on that .

One thing I can say to you 2019….. you were not very steadfast and loyal….. you left me far too quickly. I didn’t think you would be gone so fast.

So, on New Years Eve, Rhonda and I did what we have traditionally done for some time now… we spent some time with nature and , usually there is water involved, either the ocean or a lake. This year found us at a beautiful, quiet state park with two lakes . In our opinion,there is nothing quite as peaceful as being alone with nature. The steady, peaceful flow of the water seems to make me reflect on life; endless movement, high tides and low tides, small, trickling streams that become big, beautiful lakes. We took plenty of photos to serve as remembrances of “ New Years Eve, 2019”. I have included some of them.

I watched the “ball drop “ in Times Square that night, though I totally agree with the view that my brother expresses in his entry last week. The ball should rise, not drop. Rising says hope.

After that quick tradition ended, I went outside and simply stared into the night sky. I love the night sky…. especially on the night the new year arrives. The majesty of the sky! The stars, the moon, the sheer vastness of the beautiful universe we are part of. I feel small…. but at the same time very grateful to be part of something so majestic and grand.

I’m not a fan of fireworks, but had to listen to them for quite awhile….. some exploding all to close to the house.( Some of my neighbors are not very considerate, but , again, such is life) . We finally went to bed around 2am…. in the wee small hours of the new year.

2020, welcome, and please be kind. I also would not mind if you hung around a bit longer than your predecessor.

Don.

New Years Eve

The New Year holiday always seemed a bit pale in comparison to what preceded it by a week; maybe because it is even more of a made-up holiday than Christmas itself. It marks the man-made demarcation of one year’s end, and another’s beginning, like science or nature cared a whit about our calendars. And let’s face it, to paraphrase The Who, the new year always feels a lot like the old year. Now that is not to say it is not worth celebrating; I mean Wednesday is worth celebrating, but of course New York celebrates in a slightly over the top way. New Yorkers (and tourists) make a big deal of New Years Eve and New Years Day, though truth be told, the bigger the deal the Eve is, the more likely no one remembers the Day.

Now one particularly stupid way to celebrate New Years Eve is to go to Times Square and watch a lighted ball descend on a pole, its descent marking the last ten seconds of the current year. When it hits bottom, it’s a New Year. I always thought they got that backwards; as an old Ad Man, showing the ball descending (into what exactly?) going down, down, down is not the greatest image or message – Hey when it hits rock bottom, you have arrived!

Gee thanks.

A better idea would be to reverse it, so the ball would rise up to the starry cold night sky, and when it reached it’s zenith –BAM! Celebrate another gift -Happy New Year!

Always rise up; never go down.

Anyway as a family growing up, I don’t think we ever partook of that event, though my memory may be failing me. I just couldn’t fathom Mom and Dad wanting to bring their kids to a confluence of drunken partiers in Times Square, but like I say I may just not remember. If we did go, I probably would have been looking at the same lower backs of the grown ups I saw at Rockefeller Center when we went to see the tree, so I wouldn’t have seen anything anyway.

A bit of history: The whole event had its beginning in 1907 when the publisher of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs wanted to punch up the fireworks display he usually put on. And though the ball started out made of wood and iron and now is crystal panels with LED lighting, that ball has been coming down every year since with the exception of 1942 and 1943 due to the war’s blackout.

One year however, years later, as a teenager, I went.

So on television, the whole thing looks kind of fun…well kind of…everybody always seems to be smiling and enjoying themselves, all anxiously awaiting the fall of that damn ball. I think Dick Clark was the host that year; having taken over from Guy Lombardo (depending on your age, you may have to Google those names). Whomever it was kept up a steady steam of dialogue for the cameras everywhere; how pretty the city looked, how cold it was, how the Christmas lights were so beautiful and on and on. If I recall the program starting broadcasting live from Times Square around 8PM which means those poor souls had to come up with crap to say for four hours!

After about ten minutes of my friends and I arriving to join the throng of people, it became clear, that like football games, this thing was better enjoyed from the comfort of your home. Being there finally was quite a bit different from how I had experienced it in the past (at home snuggling with a blanket on the couch). But I suppose like a football game, people feel the need to “see it in person”.

Let me tell you, at the twenty minute mark, I was convinced I didn’t need to see anything else in my life “in person”. Seeing it in person, in this case meant being cold, jostled by strangers, dodging projectile vomit, jumping over puddles of piss, and generally being sure that if this is how the old year ended, there wasn’t much hope for the new one starting at midnight. And all the while, this lousy sound system was blaring some indiscernible music, punctuated by the deejay screaming a reminder of how many more hours…minutes….seconds to the New Year.

Big Wow.

But we came, and we were determined to stick it out; we probably couldn’t get out anymore anyway, as we were surrounded by hundreds of other misguided fools. Mercifully someone in our vicinity was passing around a joint, so I began to feel a little better after that, but not much. I didn’t want to drink because I didn’t want to have to pee – I mean where would I go? Unlike the other sophisticated partiers who simply unzipped and pissed in the street, I was a little too well brought up for that. So I held it in, shivering, impatient, and all around not enjoying this New Years Eve – I looked around me and shook my head; if this was someone’s idea of fun, it was lost on me.

Thankfully at about this time that I was losing any hope of the evening ending, the idiot with the loudspeaker informed us there were just minutes to go. Some of the crowd starting chanting again, no idea what; some were just shouting WooooHoooo, others were taking this opportunity for one last drunken puke. The television cameras scanned the crowd, the klieg lights flashed on brighter than ever; the whole of Times Square was bathed in this weird white glow; I couldn’t make out much of anything; I remember thinking it must be like what an actor feels when he looks into the audience but only see the footlights and nothing beyond.

“Here we go Kids!”

To Dick Clark, we were all kids.

“Here we go”

Somewhere up above out there the ball flashed on, a hundred sparkling incandescent bulbs; it teetered a bit on it’s pole and I had the thought that it didn’t look very secure but what the heck; I figured they knew what they were doing. And it didn’t fall, evidently it teetered that way every year before starting its descent.

“Ten…..Nine…Eight….Seven….”

We got the idea already; move it along so we can get out of here.

“Six….Five… Four…Get Ready Now….Three”

Instinctively we all held onto each other in the crowd like something dramatic was going to happen in three seconds. But all that happened was the ball hit bottom.

“Two….One…..Happy New Year!”

People screamed, danced, kissed each other, jumped up and down and generally went crazy, but that is what they came for. And after a while, the hundreds began to disperse and make their ways back to subways, busses, and parked cars, most all thinking that the slate was clean, a brand new year awaited, going to get everything right this year, lose that weight, get that job, marry, start a family, move, go on that vacation, whatever; they all had hope again just like they did one year ago.

I had the thought that maybe that was the point of the whole thing; just to give hope again, one more time.

Me, as I walked away, had the thought I had every year: this new year, minutes old, was feeling suspiciously like the old one. But what the heck, I thought, maybe this would be the year I get that job……go on that vacation…..who knows?

That’s the fun part of hope.

Happy New Year.

Rob.