Posts filed under ‘BIO’

AIR SHOW: READING AIRPORT IN PENNSYLVANIA JUNE 3, 4, 5

I thought with the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, it might interest some of you to revisit World War II, and see the planes, vehicles and reenactors reliving a time we should never forget.

For those who follow this blog, you know of my love for aircraft and flying.  While in college I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, qualified for pilot training and began flight lessons and soloed before I graduated.  (I knew how to fly before I could drive.) 37 I washed out when it came to flying the T- 37, a small twin-engined trainer that I could not master.

Fast forward.                                     

I am a member of the Mid Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM), and for more than ten years have volunteered at their World War II airshow held the first weekend of June.  If you have a love of history and historical aircraft, and you are in the area or wish to travel, as may do from as far away as England, this show is a must.  Along with the aircraft and vehicles, there are hundreds of reenactors camping on the grounds.  Represented are soldiers and sailor from all sides of the conflict.

Also present are some of the men, and women, who served their country when duty called.

Here is the website for the museum.

 

http://www.maam.org/maamwwii.html

I am also including my first published story which appeared in Enigma, a Philadelphia publication.  Enjoy the story and those who served this country.

 

                                                       REUNION

 

 

 

The June morning was brilliant and clear with just enough of a breeze to keep you cool despite the predicted eighty-degree day.  At the age of eighty-two, for Christopher Johnson, getting up in the morning was not an easy chore and had lately not seemed worth the effort.  He turned his head and looked at the pillow beside him.  “I miss you so much honey,” he said quietly.  His wife Peggy had died less than a year ago.  One night they went to bed as usual.  The last words he had said to her were the words he always said to her before falling asleep, “I love you.”  When Chris awoke, Peggy was dead of a heart attack.  A few days later he was looking into her grave knowing a large part of his life was now buried in the cold earth.  After almost sixty years of marriage, the pain of her loss was intense, almost as intense as the love they had shared all those years. 

With Peggy still on his mind, he sat up and began to stretch his arthritic limbs knowing the pain that would follow.  Next he stood up and took a few steps; those first steps, they were the worst of the day.  He winced with every movement, but soon his joints and muscles settled down to the constant pain that accompanied him these days. 

He had gotten up earlier than usual, for today, unlike most of his days, he had an appointment, something to do.  He opened his closet door and, in the back, he found what he was looking for: his U.S. Army ranger dress uniform, the one he had worn on his return home after being wounded during World War II.  With persistent pain, he maneuvered his body into the uniform that, after sixty years still fit his slender frame.  He looked in the mirror, and the toll of those sixty years stared back at him.  The hair on his head and his mustache had gone gray years ago.  His eyes, once admired by his fellow soldiers for their ability to spot enemy aircraft or fortifications before anyone else, now watered behind heavy bifocals.  He inspected his image, looking over the uniform for signs of moth damage.  The area of his uniform he examined first was his chest; there hung the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He was proud to have served his country, proud of his awards but knew, that in combat, a split second could mean the difference between a dead soldier and a hero.  Satisfied that his uniform had survived another year, he returned it to the closet and dressed in his usual summer shirt and khakis.

While Chris hung up his uniform, his mind still held the Medal of Honor and the events that led to its award.

The day was D Day, early in the morning of June 6th.  Chris was among a group of Army Rangers that would be the first to hit the beach.  Their objective was to climb and secure the cliffs overlooking the landing sites.  These cliffs held guns that could hazard the ships and soldiers, and the hazard needed to be removed.  German soldiers were stationed on the cliffs, ready to rain death on unprotected soldiers landing on the beach below.  Chris and his three buddies Frank Grimes, Larry Schwartz and Duck Dupont were together in the landing craft, along with twenty other rangers heading toward the beach.

Chris had begun basic training knowing no one.  Soon he gravitated to three other guys who seemed to be as lost and alone as he was.   The four of them gradually became friends and survived the ordeal together.  Of the three, he was closest to Duck Dupont.  Duck’s real name was Willard; he gained his nickname Duck during a basic training class.  The class was walking past the artillery area when a practice round went off.  Most of the class flinched, but Duck was on the ground with his head covered by his hands.  From then on he was known as Duck.

His thoughts returned to June 6th.

It was still dark and they landed unopposed.  The men quickly and quietly disembarked and headed for the base of the two hundred foot cliff – it would be quite a climb.  When everyone was in position, they fired ropes up the side of the cliff.  This brought the response they expected, Germans began firing down the cliff and rangers began to collapse on the beach.  Chris and his friends were to stay together and climb along with most of the rangers while the rest provided cover fire.  Soon the German fire lessened then ceased as the rangers continued their climb.

The four friends were the first to reach the top of the cliff.  What they saw sent a shiver through them all.  Before them, set back about fifty yards from the edge of the cliff, stood a series of three bunkers. The first light of dawn streamed through the trees beyond the enemy, and all seemed quiet and peaceful except for the machine guns projecting from behind sandbags.  They knew they had to act fast, for if they didn’t, the rangers coming up the cliff would be cut down as soon as they reached the top.  They split up into two groups; Chris and Duck went to the left – Frank and Larry to the right.  The two flanking bunkers had to be eliminated before the middle position could be attacked.  Each group approached the nearest bunker and tossed a grenade inside.  The simultaneous explosions sent German soldiers into action.  The rangers had missed one.  Along with fire from the third remaining bunker, a fourth bunker opened up along with mortar fire from behind the bunker.  The fourth bunker surprised the rangers and had a clear shot at them.  Duck was literally cut in half by machine gun fire.  Larry was attacking the third of the bunkers they had seen, having just pulled the pin from a grenade when he was shot.  They never did find Frank.  Chris entered the first bunker they had taken out, pushed aside the mangled German bodies and manned the machine gun.  He quickly took out the bunker they had overlooked before, creeping up to the last remaining bunker; he destroyed it with grenades.  The actions of the four men had saved the lives of the rangers now reaching the summit of the cliff and helped secure the landing site for the invasion.

           In the early morning silence, after the heat of battle, Chris collapsed on the ground part from fatigue, part from pain, but mostly from grief – his friends were gone.  Chris had shrapnel wounds in his left arm and hip.  At some point his helmet had taken a hit and deflected the bullet but the impact gave him a nasty scalp wound.  Blood now streamed down the side of his face and soaked his collar.                                                                                                                                                             

These are the memories that flooded into Chris’s mind as he put away his uniform and prepared to spend a weekend at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum as a guest of honor, something he had done for the last five years.  This would be his first year going without Peggy at his side.  He knew it would not be the same without her, but he still looked forward to the event.  

          The museum had organized a weekend devoted to the history of World War II for the last ten years.  It was a living history lesson with vintage aircraft flown in from all over the country, and encampments set up with hundreds of reenactors dressed in the World War II uniforms of the United States, England, France and Germany.  The museum also invited veterans from the war who would give first hand accounts of combat.  But none of them told what the war was really like for their memories were selective, cleansed by time, and they all carried within them that area of memory they would never enter again. 

World War II weekend started Friday morning and, although he wasn’t scheduled to give his presentation until Saturday, Chris always went Friday to wander the hanger and apron crammed with vintage World War II fighters, bombers, trainers and transports.  He could remember when the skies were filled with their kind.  Now there remained only a few of each.  On those warm Friday afternoons, he enjoyed walking through the encampments.  At one point he saw three men in ranger combat uniforms.  He smiled to himself, glad to see his branch of the army represented.  Chris loved strolling through the tents.  In his mind, there was nothing like the smell of a real canvas tent; the open flaps were your windows and the grass was your floor.  He had seen the tents his grandchildren used when they camped, it was like camping in a nylon bag, no smell, no character. In one of those old canvass tents, he could stand, close his eyes, and the memories of his days in the army would flood into his brain.

  Another reason he enjoyed the Fridays was the veterans whose attendance was heavy.  The old men and women enjoyed the smaller crowds and slower pace that Fridays afforded.  He enjoyed conversations with his contemporaries, reliving the past and recalling the days they were once young and involved in the great adventure they shared. 

Saturday morning arrived, the sky again clear and blue.  He went through his morning routine, slowly struggled into his uniform and waited for his nine o’clock ride to the museum.  Chris looked forward to the day.  Although he had never made a big deal about his award, one day bathed in the admiration of people who appreciated the sacrifices made during World War II did not hurt him, not at all. 

With his first lecture scheduled for 10:30, he was anxious to get to the museum.  He found the tent for his lecture.  There were about fifty folding chairs set up.  He took a moment and stood there alone, letting his mind recall memories that he usually avoided, memories that he would touch slightly, just slightly today.

As he waited at the speaker’s platform, the tent began to fill up. At the back of the tent, he spied the three young men in ranger uniforms he had seen the day before, standing together apart from the crowd.  Maybe today they would learn something about the uniforms they wore.

The chairs were full and people were standing in the back as Chris went into his presentation.  He shared with them the events of that early morning on the French coast, sanitized, but with enough action to keep the crowds attention.  After thirty minutes he was done and ready for questions.  Half way through the questions one of the men dressed as a ranger raised his hand and said, “Sir, I just want you to know we appreciate what you did for your country.”

  That brought a smile to Chris’ face, “I appreciate that son,” he answered.

The presentation over, the tent was cleared, and it was time for a little lunch and a chance to watch the vintage aircraft flying.  This was the part he most enjoyed.  The drone of the B-17 accompanied the whine of the Merlin powered P-51s.  He knew the planes were the big draw, not old men wearing old uniforms, but he was happy to be part of the show.

First to fly were the trainers, SNJs and T-28s.  Then the observation aircraft would fly, the L-19s, followed by the transports, the C-47s and a C-54.  Before the fighters and bombers took off, the reenactors took the field in front of the crowd.  To the left were the men in German uniforms, to the right the U.S. Army.

The uniformed men fired blanks and mock mortars at each other.  There were also smoke grenades thrown by both sides.  All this action took place in a grassy area between the runway and aircraft taxiway.  As usual, the fire department stood ready for the grass fires the smoke grenades always started, and this year was no exception.  The grass fires were more of a nuisance than a danger, and they were always rapidly dealt with.  In fact, the dense plumes were greater than any of the regular attendees of the show could remember, and the fire company quickly prepared to hose down the grass.  Chris stood there with the rest of the crowd as the shroud of smoke drifted over them.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  It was one of the rangers, “Sir, we need your help.”

 “Sure son, what can I do for you?” came Chris’ reply.

  “Could you join us sir?” the ranger questioned.  The ranger started walking towards the smoke set off by the mock battle, flanked by the two other rangers Chris had noticed before, and bewildered, Chris followed.

Soon smoke enveloped the four men.  The crowd, watching the firemen putting out the grass fire saw the three reenactors on the field but could not imagine why an old man in uniform was traipsing in after them.  They saw the four enter the clouds of smoke and lost sight of them.

Chris walked, not knowing where the three young men were taking him.  His arthritis bothered him as he entered the smoke, but a few steps into the haze his pain was reduced, and then gone.  He noticed something else; he no longer wore his dress uniform but wore the ranger combat uniform, same as the reenactors.  All at once he was puzzled and amazed and had no idea what their destination could be.

The three reenactors slowed down and Chris easily caught up with them.  “How in the hell are you, Chris?” asked Duck.  Frank and Larry were slapping his back and pounding his shoulders, his young shoulders. 

“We’re on a mission and need your help,” said Frank.  “We need the squad together,” he continued. 

“I’m your man,” said Chris taking off his helmet and running his hand through his thick dark hair.  His mind still could not wrap itself around what was happening.

Some of the crowd there to watch the flying saw four figures begin to emerge from the smoke, the figures of four young men.  The men entered another cloud of smoke before them and were gone.

Chris and his three buddies came out of the haze.  They were on a dirt road surrounded by a forest.  They were all holding rifles, but Chris could sense no danger.  They were on patrol and Chris felt better than he had ever felt in his life.  He was with his best friends, men he had missed all these years and men he loved.  The sky was so blue it almost hurt his eyes. The trees and grass were the greenest green he had ever seen.  He set out with his three friends, easily matching their stride.

Suddenly, Chris’ eyes filled with tears.  He did not know how, did not understand what was happening, but somehow he knew his young and pretty Peggy was waiting up ahead.

 

                                            THE END 

  

 

 

 

May 27, 2016 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

POEMS AND FLEETING THOUGHTS

I’m beginning yet another category, the title above.

My life is changing, and feelings run through my brain.  Sometimes slight, observations of the world around and at times personal.  For better or for worse, I want to reveal my soul.

 

CHANGING LIFE

You grew remote

Slowly, never noticed

In thirty years.

 

I, less than perfect

Took the route of drink and acceptance

As the separation increased.

 

Separate lives

Lived together for a time.

Finally we separate

With little change.

 

Yet life goes on,

Remembering better days,

Remembering unequal love.

 

 

 

 

January 5, 2016 at 8:59 pm 2 comments

MEMOIR: PRESERVING YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY

 

While thinking about and writing my memoir, I have come to the realization it is to share our history with our families, to put down the words of our lives. Our lives, to varying degrees, help form the world around us be that world distant or immediate.

As a youth of perhaps ten, I recall sitting in our backyard one summer day when our neighbor came out. The couple living next door was an elderly Polish couple. The husband rarely left the flat, so seeing him outside was a rarity. While he stood there, much to my surprise, he began talking about World War I, how he recalled airplanes flying overhead. With my love for aircraft, I was immediately enthralled. If I had been thinking, I should have sought every memory he had of the war. I never knew if he served during the conflict, and if he did, on which side he fought. I asked no questions, but 50 years later I still can recall that conversation. That fact is testament to my lost opportunity.

The same is true with my parents. My dad was in the army in 1941, with his service almost completed. He told me that when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, he cried, for he knew then he would probably be in for the duration and he was right.

While my wife and I were living in Los Angeles, he came for a visit. Long Beach, CA was the home of the Queen Mary and we took him to tour the vessel. I wanted to make the pilgrimage for I knew he traveled from the U.S. to England on that ship. I’m sure he never expected to walk its decks again. During World War II he served in a supply unit and travel through Africa and then Italy. He did not see action and was strafed once while on a train by a P-51, one of our fighters – oops.

He didn’t talk about the war much and I didn’t ask; my loss.

The greatest regret I have about missing a personal glimpse into the past was talking to my mom about her life when she was young. She lived through the Great Depression and observed conditions on the home front during World War II and I never asked was life was like during those times.

For those of you who read this blog, do not make the mistake I did.  Ask your senior citizens about their past.  They have a more vivid experience with history than a book can provide.

July 25, 2014 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

MEMOIR: LIFE ON A SHOESTRING

Once, while listening to NPR, I heard a report on credit cards. The report stated that the average person has thirteen credit cards and carries about eight thousand dollars in debt. This was some time ago; I hope the numbers have improved. I must admit, that there are times when I have trouble getting my wallet in my back pocket because of all the potential debt lingering in there, but try to keep it under control. On hearing this broadcast, my mind wandered back to my youth, a time when people had the mindset that it was not so much that you lived without but you lived with what they could afford. It was a time less of envy and more of survival.

For most of my youth, credit cards did not exist. They started flourishing in the 60’s, so when I was young, they were not even an option. For paying bills, my parents didn’t have a checking account. When there was a bill that needed to be paid I was sent to the drugstore to buy a money order. It was the only way my family sent money through the mail.

In my neighborhood, credit was not as much a way of life as it is today. People lived on what they could afford. With the exception of houses and cars, you bought what you could pay for then and there. I must admit just writing about life without credit seems so foreign and unreal. Buying just what you can afford at the time of purchase seems like such and odd concept, yet that is the way it once was.

The way a person received their pay was also different in my youth.   Friday afternoons, my dad was home from working at the tannery for hours, but he had to return Friday afternoons to get his pay. I would sometimes take a ride with him. You could smell his place of employment long before you could see it – Ocean Leather – gaining this name due to the fact that it was the only tannery at that time that could tan shark skins. We would drive around to the loading dock where drums of chemicals stood, the soil, stained shades of purple and green, was soil of an OSHA nightmare. Into the building we would go, past large rooms where various stages of tanning was taking place, and into the office. Here my dad was handed a brown envelope with bills and change and that was his pay. That’s the way people were paid back then, you actually held your pay in your hand. It was not electronically sent to your bank from which you electronically paid your bills. You were able to hold what you earned, actually see it.

Friday was also allowance day for me.   For completing my choirs, I received fifty cents a week, and when I could really control my spending – not wanting another airplane model or book – I turned those quarters into a dollar bill, real folding money, which I would immediately take to the cellar and hide – I don’t know why. To this day I can still recall the feeling that, with a quarter, I had money. With a quarter in my pocket, I’m okay. How things have changed, and how I remain the same. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

During my younger days I remember my dad saying, “Always keep two dollars in my wallet or else I could be arrested for vagrancy. If the police only knew how often I walk around with an empty wallet these days I could easily wind up behind bars, aha, but there is the MAC card and all my other credit cards with their lines of credit that keep me out of jail but could lead to the poorhouse.

 

 

July 19, 2014 at 7:45 pm Leave a comment

MEMOIR: HIKING SOJOURN

In the scouts for years, I journeyed from Cub Scout to Boy Scout to Explorer earning the Eagle Scout award along the way, learned and explored many things a city boy would not normally encounter. One of the activities I enjoyed the most was the opportunity to go camping.
An hour’s drive northwest of Newark, New Jersey near Boonton was a Boy Scout campground. My troop would camp there several times a year, mostly in the winter. Cabins of various sizes dotted the campground. The only source of heat was a fireplace at one end of the cabin and cooking was done on a wood-burning stove. One winter, we had to melt ice for water. The weather had been so cold that the pipes to the old hand pump had burst. It seemed the harsher the conditions; the more we enjoyed the outing. City boys were facing nature head on.
On my first experience camping at the campground, we boys were going to cook a spaghetti dinner for Saturday night. The scout master wasn’t there, and none of us had ever cooked spaghetti before, but that didn’t stop us. We filled a large pot with water, put in the pasta and set it on the wood-burning stove to cook. A couple hours later we had one large noodle. That’s how I learned you needed boiling water to cook pasta.
The camping trips were formal outings organized by the troop. The less formal day hikes to the local Boy Scout area located in the South Orange Mountain Reservation, would be organized spontaneously, when a group of us were just hanging around with nothing to do. For a group of boys ranging from maybe eleven to thirteen, these trips were a real adventure. The beauty of these outings was that the city bus could take us to the base of the mountains. No adult input was required, once permission to go was obtained.
We usually caught the bus fairly early in the morning because once we arrived at the base of the mountain; it was at least an hour walk to the Boy Scout area. Sitting amongst commuters going to work or out to do some shopping, laden with packs and canteens and any other camping paraphernalia we thought we might need, we proudly displayed our badge of ruggedness. We rode through the Newark downtown area, then north through some of the blighted areas of the city, and then on to the more affluent suburbs. The bus would leave us in the shopping district of South Orange, where we would start to trudge up the hill to what us city boys considered wilderness. We hiked past stately homes with manicured lawns, a far cry from our homes in Newark. Finally, the houses were replaced with trees and the sidewalks with a dirt shoulder – we were almost there.
Our destination lay down a dirt road branching from the main highway. The area was large and open, set aside for day-tripping scouts to build fires and cook their meals. Across a stream bordering the area and up into the trees stood a few cabins for weekend outings. The cooking area was supplied with a generous amount of wood provided by work crews maintaining the reserve. For a bunch of boys who thought starting a charcoal fire was an adventure – this was nirvana.
Lunch was usually hot dogs and foil-wrapped potatoes and onions. The fire built to prepare these meager meals was immense to say the least. On hot summer days, we built fires large enough to heat the whole area during the dead of winter. Once everyone tired of throwing on wood, we had a fire too hot to approach to do any cooking. Either you waited for the flames to die down or had to find a very long stick to cook your hot dogs.
After our meals were consumed and the fire extinguished (I won’t go into how we boys would sometime extinguish fires), we set off on our hike. The mountain reservation was extensive with a variety of trails we could wander. Some were relatively flat, along a streambed, while others were more strenuous. One hike we often took was up a steep hill with the final climb to the summit a rock face. A spectacular view awaited, a view city boys could appreciate. When we later returned to the Boy Scout area, we usually built another fire whether on not we had anything to cook. With everyone rested, we began our trek down the hill to catch the bus home. Somehow the walk down always seemed longer than the walk up. By now we were all grungy and reeked with the smell of smoke, but we always enjoyed each other’s company and the time we had in the woods. After once again walking through affluence, we boarded the bus and made our way past the slums of Newark and finally to our homes. I treasured these outings with friends and took comfort in the fact that the solitude of a forest was only a bus ride away.

July 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm Leave a comment

MEMOIR: NIGHTS WITH JEAN SHEPARD AND CRIPPLED JOE

It was a time before cell phones, before computers and instant messaging. It was a time before people felt obligated to be at the beck and call of anyone who has anything to communicate no matter how insignificant the information might be. To many today, the ability to communicate – to use the technology – is more important than the content of what they have to say. It was a time of relative freedom, when you could truly be alone without getting away, when people did not feel uncomfortable to be out of the loop, for the loop for most did not yet exist. We were individuals, not part of a grid. It was a time when people were allowed to live their lives without the constant intrusions that today we consider to be normal – no telemarketers, no beepers no SPAM – the only SPAM being that fantastic pink brick. You could answer the phone at dinnertime and be fairly sure it was someone you wanted to talk to instead of someone trying to sell you something.
Growing up, my family did not have a phone. We lived in a four family house and only one family had a phone, a family on the second floor of our two-story house and you only asked to use it if a there was a real emergency. I’m talking seizure or some other life-threatening event. About the time I entered my teenage years we did get a phone, but in those days it was on a party line and, with our plan, you were limited to thirty calls a month, then you paid extra for every call over thirty. Imagine those limitations today in a family of six that included two girls.
But don’t get me wrong, when I was young the exchange of information was important – but there was just so much less of it. Or maybe it is that today, what we call information is not information at all, only considered so by those who generate it. What was communicated had importance, not the latest Hollywood starlet’s drug problem, not the public following the antics of an individual acting like a fool and wanting to be the first to know what outrageous or sick thing they do next. Long gone are the days when social media was comprised primarily of face-to-face conversations.
I watched my share of TV while growing up, maybe more than my kids do now, but I would never admit that to them. I listened to the radio, there always seemed to be a radio on in the house. That is why now, when I hear just the first few bars of a song from the late 50’s or 60’s I can usually share the song’s title and the artist singing with my children although they could care less about this information. I would listen to talk shows. These days I still listen to quite a bit of radio, usually National Public Radio when I’m not listening to an oldies station.
I would listen to Jean Shepard during the final hour of my shift working in a newsstand at the corner of Broad and Market streets, the heart of Newark, New Jersey. I was addicted to his show broadcasted on WOR weekday nights from 10:15 to 11. What a fantastic storyteller. For those not familiar with Jean Shepard, if you have ever watched A Christmas Story you have heard his voice and watched his work. We have a local station here in Pennsylvania that shows the movie nonstop for 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve. When he died at the age of seventy-eight, his obituary read, “A Twain of the radio.” He would start each show and off he would go on a forty-five minute monologue about what it was like when he was growing up in Indiana or his observations of life around him, and you never knew where he would end up by the end of his show. He was genuine, one of life’s observers, and listening to him relate his memories and thoughts was a true treasure. He would conjure up stories of his childhood, remembering things that happened to us all but take a slightly different slant in his observations and in doing this create those wonderful views of his youth.
I would be counting up the papers and magazines and get the place ready for my relief as I listened to the radio. I worked at this newsstand for most of my high school and college years and came to know quite a collection of characters, old men haunting the nights on Newark’s streets. Talking to one another, carrying newspapers days old and talking to me for I was a regular of Newark’s night too. One individual, who could have been a character in a novel, was the man who would relieve me, a man with the most unpolitically correct name I have ever had the honor to hear – his name was Crippled Joe.
Now Crippled Joe must have been in his 50’s and walked with the use of a cane. His deformity was one leg that had an almost ninety degree bend in the top before it entered the hip. Crippled Joe had worked for my boss, the owner of the newsstand, for years and years, working the 11 PM to 6 AM shift and he was my relief of the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that I worked. And every night all papers and magazines would have to be counted and the money counted and locked up for Crippled Joe would try to steal whatever wasn’t accounted for, and my boss knew this and that was the relationship they had, Crippled Joe could be trusted as long as he was not given an opportunity not to be trusted.
Joe also had a little side business going. He used to run a numbers racket at the newsstand. Everyone knew about it, my boss, the other workers – everyone, yet every night Joe would complete these transactions secretly, and I suppose he really thought they were secret. Men would come up while I was changing over with Joe, whisper something in his ear and handed him some bills but would never take a newspaper or magazine. Being just fifteen or sixteen when I started to work, and quite naïve. It took a while for me to figure out what was going on and used to think it funny that, after all the years I worked there, every night he would still try to hide.
I worked year round while in high school and summers while in college. The newsstand was a good-sized booth with the front open to about waist level. We sold all the Newark and New York City papers. Back then Newark had two daily papers and New York at least six or more. We sold comics and magazines and some kind of dream cards that told you which numbers you should play according to the dreams you were having. Working at the newsstand during the winter was a real challenge. The wind would whip around into the booth and all the papers had to be held down with heavy metal weights. The change was kept in a metal change holder, a series of metal cups nailed in front of where you stood in the booth. When it was cold, I mean really cold, the change would freeze to your bare fingertips. You kept gloves on when no one was buying anything, but when the time to make a sale came, off came the gloves and those warm fingers would freeze right to the coins. Snowstorms were a real challenge. I had what some might determine to be a twisted sense of duty. During one particular storm, the snow was drifting against the door on the inside of the booth. We had electric heaters but unless you were right on top of them, you froze. I kept the stand open even though no one in his or her right mind was out on a night like this. Finally I got the word to close down. It was the first time I ever saw the newsstand closed.
During the summers of my high school and early college years I worked days and ran the newsstand for my boss who would drop by once a week to pick up the deposit slips and see how things were going. It was about this time that my well-established hormones began to really kick in and along with fantasies about some of my customers. I can recall one shorthaired blond girl, who must have been a secretary, and every day would pick up a paper – perhaps for her boss. I was in college at this time and she was about my age, probably working right out of high school. By the time I would sell her a paper I was dirty with newsprint from the early morning rush hour. I would see her every day and she would never say a word. Thinking back it was probably good that she hadn’t for I probably would have answered with some garbled response. So I would have my fantasies of meeting for a soda after work, maybe a movie but all I did was keep folding her papers and taking her money.
There was another girl I remember but she haunted the nights. I first noticed her while I was still in high school. She was about my age, maybe seventeen, not pretty but not unattractive either. She was very slim with long red hair and would hang out on the corner where I worked. She usually had other kids with her but she was the oldest. I never knew if the other kids were siblings or just friends. She was not well dressed and just looking at her you could tell she had very little money. I just wondered what she was doing night after night on that corner. Even now, when I think of her, I can hear Frankie Vallie singing ‘Rag Doll’. I wonder what became of the ‘rag doll’ as I wonder about other people that crossed my path during those night and days I spent selling papers.
On Mondays and Wednesdays my shifts were from 6-11PM, but on Fridays I went to work straight from school starting at 3PM and working until 11. I got quite a few stares and have to do some explaining after gym in high school as I was putting on my long johns in preparation for a winter’s night work.
Fridays, I would get home about 11:30 have some dinner and go to bed. My bed by now was a single pull-out bed in the parlor next to the kerosene stove which, during the winter, you could almost sit on and have no fear of injury. But my radio listening for the day was not yet over, or just beginning, depending on which way you wanted to approach the time of day, for another of my favorite radio shows was about to begin – Long John Nebal whose talk show on WOR radio ran from midnight to about five in the morning. The topics would vary but the subject often discussed that stirred my interest was flying saucers. Nebal would sometimes have on his show the editor of Saucer News, a local magazine-type publication although calling it a magazine was quite a stretch, and of course I immediately sent away for a subscription. It was just a few pages long and would be filled with pictures of flying saucers along with local sightings and editorial comments. The funny thing was that most of the editorial comments were about the editor’s ongoing divorce. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to slightly wacko subjects, here’s where my kids could provide an editorial.
Anyway, I would listen to these shows as late into the night as I could. Now I wouldn’t use my newsstand radio for that would be a waste of batteries, I used my crystal radio. Let me explain what this is, although my theoretical knowledge may be a little rough. The radio actually contained a crystal and onto it pressed a thin piece of wire called a ‘cat’s whisker’. The pressure generated electricity and it was also the way you tuned in a station, by moving the ‘cat’s whisker’ around the crystal. My radio was in the shape of a rocket and about six inches long, a black and red beauty. Coming out the rocket were three wires. One wire ended in and alligator clip for the ground, one wire was an earpiece and the last wire was the antenna. The antenna was rather long, somewhere between twenty and thirty feet and I would stretch it through the whole house before climbing into bed. I tend to toss and turn in my sleep so I would always wake up all wrapped up in the earphone and antenna wire, but no electricity was wasted although every night I listened to my crystal radio I risked death by strangulation.
Looking back, they were rough days, hard days but good days. I was easily entertained. I worked hard, and ever so slowly I matured.

June 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm 1 comment

REVISITING MY MEMOIR

Around the year 2000, I began writing my first prose in the form of a memoir. Sections of that effort have appeared in this blog and now I thought I’d post a few more. You may have to hunt if you want to read past entries. My blog needs better organization, but I guess I’m limited by the ability of the organizer.
The title of my memoir, if it ever sees the light of day as a published work, will be You Had Hot Water? This title is derived from the fact that the house where I lived until the later part of my undergraduate college education which I pursued far from Newark, New Jersey where the house was located, did not. Come to think of it, our kitchen sink was the only sink I can ever recall seeing which sported just one faucet.
Our family resided in the Ironbound section of Newark, given that name because of all the industry located in the neighborhood. It was also referred to as ‘Down Neck’ by the locals and is still to this day although I don’t know and I’m sure the vast majority of its residents don’t know the origin of that name.
I began writing my memoir after making observations of the world around me as an adult and seeing what people had and the lives they lived and how the conditions and attitudes were so different from those I experienced growing up. People live in conditions far better than I could ever imagine growing up in Newark, yet bemoan a life I would have given anything for while growing up in Newark during the 1950s and 60s. And I bet they all have hot water.
I realize that these are ‘blanket statements’ and there are many living lives in this country which are miserable existences, but there are more safety nets available now than there were back in the 50s and 60s. Back then, it was a time when you appreciated what you had rather than what the other person had. In reality, no one had a great deal, but we lived life as best we could.
With this introduction, I shall begin posting more memoir pieces offering a glimpse of live in Down Neck Newark when I was a boy.

June 27, 2014 at 2:14 am Leave a comment

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