Posts tagged ‘Newark’

POEMS & FLEETING THOUGHTS: WINDOWS’ VIEW, PAST AND PRESENT

 

I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, a city not known for its beauty or soft heart.  Not my choice, but it helped to form what I am.  These words are meant to describe the difference between my life then and now. 

After all these years I still ponder my life in Newark, and appreciate the emotions and experiences the city provided.

 

As I sit, advanced in age

Looking out back from my home

I see a multitude of trees

Denying the presence of neighbors,

 

I recall the home of my youth

And the views I saw then,

Beer factories

And the back windows

Filled with clothes lines

And hard-packed ground,

Beyond the bordering fence of wood,

More of the same.

 

I now pray

Not to take for granted

This present life,

And not to forget

The past.

April 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm 1 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

AND SO IT GOES KURT VONNEGUT: A LIFE by CHARLES SHIELDS

If you’ve read Slaughterhouse – Five: A Children’s Crusade and enjoyed the hell out of it as I did, you owe it to yourself to read this biography and get to know the man behind the work. Reading about Vonnegut’s life and his journey on the rocky road to fame gives you a background into the birth of his novels and will encourage you to read more. I plan to seek out Breakfast of Champions and Cat’s Cradle to my to-read list. One event described in the book that deeply affected Vonnegut’s family life was the death of his brother-in-law in 1958 and I have a vivid memory of that tragic accident for I visited the site shortly after it happened. A train bound for New York was about to cross the Newark-Bayonne Bridge over the Newark Bay. The bridge was open for a passing barge, and as the train approached to open bridge the engineer suffered a heart attack. The fireman tried to stop the train but couldn’t. Two engines and three passenger cars plunged into the bay with the loss of 47 lives. I still recall pictures published in Life magazine taken while the cars were being raised from the water with bodies hanging from the windows. Published photos were more graphic back then. Perhaps it was the next day when, after school, I walked to the local library annex, one of my favorite places. I was eleven. The library was a short distance from school and it feels like kids had more freedom then, even in a rough town like Newark you were able to wander on your own. After settling in, my sister found me and said my family was outside in our car and that I should come along. They were heading for the train wreck. As were approached the bridge there were cars parked all along the road. Coming upon the scene I remember one car still dangling from the track and partially in the water. Everything else was still submerged. Sorry for the digression. Vonnegut’s brother-in-law’s wife, the writer’s sister, died the same day and Vonnegut wound up supporting their four sons. I took a little detour with the above memory, but once again, this is a biography worth reading.

April 22, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

THE TEARS OF NEWARK

At times, I don’t know if my thoughts are just of an old man out of rhythm with the times or valid observations.  You, my friends, must be the judge.

 

Over the years I’ve noticed a trend, the intent of which is either for the betterment of mankind or yet another means of making money.  I’m talking about the discovery of new diseases, not life threatening ailments, to be sure.  But ailments for which products have been developed, afflictions such as dry eye and restless leg syndrome.  The syndrome from which I draw a great deal of humor is ‘dry eye’.

For this malady, a host of artificial tear products are on the market, and if these products do not work there are heavy duty products such as Restasis, a heavily advertized remedy.  Every time I see their ads I think of my late dad.  I’ll tell you why.

When I was a kid my dad had a cure for dry eye.  If he were alive I could see him opening up a ‘dry eye clinic’.  His remedy was really cheap.  All he would do was say, “You want something to cry about?  I’ll give you something to cry about.”

It worked every time.

While I was a kid living in Newark during the 50’s and 60’s there was little need for artificial tears.  There was always plenty of the real thing to go around.  In fact, we had a surplus of tears.  We could have exported tears.  Compared to today’s problems, we were pretty well off.

Then there is ‘dry mouth’ cured by hydration, something we used to call drinking.

January 30, 2014 at 8:32 pm 1 comment

REPRISE OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY

I thought I’d revisit this memoir entry.

MEMOIR
As a kid growing up in Newark, the only significant occurrence associated with that holiday was the local parade.
Here is my remembrance.

DOWNNECK ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE

The section of Newark, New Jersey I called home was referred to as the ‘Downneck Section’, why, no one could ever explain. And on the Sunday afternoon, on or before St. Patrick’s Day, the residents of my street were treated to what had to have been the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country.
Our local Catholic Church sponsored the parade. I could see the church’s steeple from my parlor window. It was that close. The parade had to be held on Sunday for between my house and the church stood Balentine Brewery. Weekdays were filled with the rumble of trucks quenching the thirst of a parched city. Sunday was a day of rest for the trucks, making the parade possible.
Magically, sometime before the parade, a green line appeared down the center of our street, the first harbinger of a gala event. I never witnessed this lines creation, but every year it materialized. Around one-thirty the residents began to gather on the sidewalk. We all walked out our front doors with anxious anticipation. The brewery and Catholic school took up one side of the street, multiple family houses stood opposite. Of course, there were always the annoying boys riding their bikes down the center of the blocked-off street before the parade began. I was proud to add to their number.
I assumed the parade began at the church. I never did discover where it finished.
There was always a band, not a school band, but one made up of adult men most of whom had almost mastered the instruments they were assigned. Before the band came a few ruddy-faced Irish men, decked out in their top hats, waving to the minuscule crowd. At the front of this procession were the parish priests. The parade took thirty seconds to pass. The procession turned the corner on to Ferry Street and marched on, melting into the Downneck neighborhood.

March 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm 2 comments

THE DAY KENNEDY DIED

MEMOIR

November is the month of thanksgiving, when the weather no longer bounces between summer and winter, when the chill of fall sets in with a vengeance preparing us for the hard cold of winter. It is also the month John F. Kennedy died at the hands of an assassin.
During November 1963 I was a junior at East Side High School. I already had a deep interest in science and forfeited my study hall to work in the school biology lab. I designed an experiment to study Medallion heredity. The experiment required two black and two white mice, which I purchased, and began mating the mice in all the various combinations possible, trying to predict the color of the littermates. I soon ran out of space in the cellar where I was keeping my mouse colony and asked permission to move my many mice to school I pressed on, until I began seeing litters with brown siblings, something I had not anticipated. This brought an end to my experiment and an introduction to the unpredictability of science.
It was while I was working in the school lab one November Friday afternoon that someone came in and said that the president had been shot. I recall reacting to the news with horror and disbelief. The emotions of I felt will always stay with me, the sense of experiencing a moment that defied all logic, the vitality of our young president in jeopardy. I sensed that the world had changed; this quiet November afternoon would become a milestone in history. All I knew was that the president had been shot; there was still hope of survival as I headed home from school that day. But as I walked the mile and a half home from school, I saw something I shall never forget, something that dimmed my hope. On my way, I saw clusters of people standing on corners and most were crying. The residents of Newark are not known for their emotional displays so this sight was disturbing. It was the first signal I had that something was extremely wrong, that the world had changed, and not for the better.
When I reached home, my father was already there, not unusual for he began work early in the morning and was home before me most of the time. I would find him sitting in the kitchen with his beer and paper, but today he was in the parlor watching the TV and he was crying too, something I recalled seeing only once before. The last time I saw my father cry was when my mother lost a baby girl shortly after birth. Ironically, my sister died almost the same time the Kennedy’s lost their third child and also for the same reason, underdeveloped lungs. As my father sat weeping before the TV, he told me that the president had died.
The days that followed were surreal. Long before the age of cable and satellite dishes, there were only three major networks and a few independent New York stations broadcasting to Newark. All normal broadcasting ceased; TV carried nothing but news and insight into the assassination. On the radio, all normal programming came to a halt. The radio played nothing but somber music and news of the assassination. Everyone watched the news all weekend, watching history unfold before our eyes. Shortly after Kennedy died, Oswald was captured. The nation viewed live, the instrument of their sorrow. We watched Oswald’s murder at the hands of Jack Ruby, adding confusion on top of the misery. Everyone’s thoughts were in turmoil as these historic events concluded with JFK Jr. saluting his father’s casket.
The day Kennedy died; I learned something of the unpredictability of life.

November 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment


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