Category Archives: Nostalgic

Nostalgic Stories

When Mr. Potato Head Was A Real Potato

Does anyone remember when Mr. Potato Head was made with a real potato? Today’s Mr. Potato Head is a large, clean plastic potato replica into which you stick plastic ears, eyes noses and lips.  But when I was a kid, Mr. Potato Head was a lot more crude. The Mr. Potato Head toy first came out in 1952, and  was just a little box with all the accessories and nothing else. You had to go out and find a real potato into which you would stick the eyes, ears, nose and anything else you could dig up. Maybe you even gave it hair made from some old lint ball found under the couch.

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

Kids loved the toy and it was an instant hit. Parents liked it too. It was inexpensive, kept kids busy for hours while stimulating kids’ imaginations. Of course using a real potato did have its drawbacks.

Today's modern Mr. Potato Head

Today’s modern Mr. Potato Head

Many a child would let out a terrified scream after finding a forgotten Mr. Potato Head in the back of a closet. After a few months alone, the Mr. Potato Head would be growing new appendages and sprouts and be covered in a fine lumpy mold.  This is probably why you don’t see any toys made from real food anymore.

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

The modern Mr. Potato Head is still a lot of fun. Of course unlike the original toy you can’t eat it when you are done playing.

“All Our Wrong Todays” – why don’t we live like The Jetsons?

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is a Sci-Fi novel that explains why we don’t live like the Jetsons. Let’s face it, by this time we were supposed to have flying cars, world peace, Moon Colonies and teleportation machines. What happened to the future that the 1964 World’s Fair promised the Baby Boomers?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

Tom Barren, the hero of All Our Wrong Todays is the man who ruined the future for all of us. It turns out that the utopian future really did happen.  Things were going smoothly right up to the point where time travel was invented. That’s when Tom travels to the past, and in a matter of seconds, unintentionally changes human history. When Tom returns to the “present” he finds it has become the messed up  world we live in today. Oh, by the way, his actions also destroyed the time machine, so there is no way he can go back and undo the damage he created.

The 1964 World's Fair promised us a perfect future

The 1964 World’s Fair promised us a perfect future

There have been many time-travel novels, but All Our Wrong Today’s is one of the best. Instead of getting hung up on technical jargon, Elan Mastai delves more into the psychological and ethical issues of experimenting with technology of unlimited power.

When Tom comes back from the past into our “wrong today”, at first all he sees is how technologically backward we are. Then he begins to realize that his  own life has improved. He has merged with the person he is in this new time line.

What really happened when the World's Fair ended

What really happened when the World’s Fair ended

In his own time, Tom was a screw-up only child. In our world, he is a rich and famous architect, with a wonderful sister. Tom also meets a woman and falls in love. Tom realizes   that the technology of his world had muted the senses of people. Our world may be harsh and often terrible, but it also allows people to truly feel every experience.  But is it right for Tom to continue in this false world that was created by accident? Shouldn’t he try to change time back? Is there any way he can get the best of both worlds and merge the two realities?

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

We don’t want to reveal too much of the plot for fear of ruining the exciting twists and turns of All Our Wrong Todays. Suffice it to say that Elan Mastai is a brilliant writer who brings all the characters of these fictional time-lines to life. We look forward to reading more by this gifted author.

Cool – The Most Dangerous Four Letter Word

Cool is the most dangerous four letter word in the English language. How many thousands of stupid decisions have people made in the never-ending quest to be considered “cool”?  People abuse drugs or alcohol, start smoking cigarettes or drive cars drunk partly so that they can be cool.

Smoking is so Cool

Smoking is so Cool

Somehow cool has maintained a hold over the American psyche, long after other slang words have lost their mystique and died an ignominious death. No one wants to be “groovy” or “boss” or “outta sight” or even “hep”.  In fact, anyone even using those expressions would most likely be laughed out of the room. Yet Cool remains the king.

That's right - I'm Cool!

That’s right – I’m Cool!

The worst part of trying to be cool is not what you do, but what you don’t do. The cool-seekers dissociate themselves from anyone considered un-cool. Loving family, good teachers and childhood friends are all abandoned when it becomes obvious that they are not cool.

At least he walked away

At least he walked away

Sometimes, years in the future, the cool-seekers realize that they have abandoned the best people in their lives. Of course by that time, it it often too late. Those good friends and family  are gone, forever.

What can we say?

What can we say?

So maybe it’s time for Cool to finally exit the stage and go the way of “groovy”. What will be left without people trying to be cool? Maybe, a world where everyone can be happy with who they really are.

So Cool

So Cool

 

Don’t Bother To Knock – Marilyn Monroe shows her true acting skills

In the 1952 film   Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe showed the world that her acting skills deserved  better than the stupid ditzy blonde roles she was normally given. Don’t Bother To Knock is a thriller, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a mentally unstable woman who might kill an innocent child.

Knock" has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

The poster for “Don’t Bother To Knock” has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

Despite this tense  plot, Hollywood could just not resist promoting it as a sexy Marilyn Monroe movie rather than a thriller. The movie poster featured Marilyn Monroe in a skimpy outfit that was not part of the movie. The advertisements called her ” a wicked sensation as the lonely girl”.

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

In Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe is Nell Forbes, whose pilot boyfriend has been killed in a plane crash. Unable to deal with her loss, Nell attempts suicide and spends time in a mental institution.  After being released, she goes to New York to live with her uncle Eddie (played by Elisha Cook Jr.)

Elisha Cook Jr. in "Don't Bother to Knock"

Elisha Cook Jr. in “Don’t Bother to Knock”

Eddie finds Nell a baby sitting job in the hotel where he is a elevator operator. Nell seems fine and gets along well with Bunny, the little girl (played by Donna Corcoran). However, Nell is actually quite unbalanced. When she meets Jed (Richard Widmark), a pilot staying at the hotel, she believes he is actually her dead boyfriend. In her mind,  Nell creates a fantasy world. When Jed rejects her, Nell thinks it is because he does not want the little girl Bunny keeping them apart. That is when Nell decides to take action against Bunny.

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock, is a fantastic movie, whose plot and tension still hold up today. It is also the debut film for a stunningly beautiful Anne Bancroft as Lyn Lesley, a lounge singer. This was 15 years before Anne Bancroft would gain international fame as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock did well in the theaters and was a critical success. Although she was only 26 years old at the time of her brilliant performance, Marilyn Monroe never went on to a full career as  a true dramatic actor. Hollywood producers continued to  cast her in a series of very profitable “dumb blonde” movies. There were lots of actresses who could do drama, but directors knew that only Marilyn Monroe would be perfect for films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (1953)or Some Like It Hot (1959).

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Unfortunately, off-screen, Marilyn Monroe had much in common with the mentally troubled woman she played in Don’t Bother To Knock. Despite being a world-wide celebrity, Monroe was very unhappy, and  committed suicide in 1962 at the age of 36.  (Of course, rumors still swirl that The Kennedys actually killed Marilyn Monroe).

 

 

Riverdale – Archie Comics in an Alternate Universe

Baby Boomers who see Riverdale on the CW network will feel like they have entered into an alternate universe. Murder, intrigue and illicit sex have made their way into the Archie Comics town of Riverdale. Archie himself has been transformed from a goofy geek into a major hunk who shows off his six-pack abs every chance he gets.

Classic Archie joke

Classic Archie joke

Despite these changes, Riverdale is actually a good show with an interesting plot and excellent acting. We are just  not sure why the producers chose to base the show on a comic book that first came out in 1941.  The target audience for Riverdale is about 50 years younger than anyone who actually  remembers the classic Archie Comics.

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa is Archie, who like in the comics, is continually caught in the middle between Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). Both Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes really nail their characters. It is not easy to play a comic book character without going “over the top”, but both of these fine actors resist that temptation, and play the characters straight. Like in the comics, we always feel sorry for Betty, who despite being nice and beautiful is relegated to the “just friends” category by Archie.

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Archie himself is the biggest change from the comics. He is a bulked-up football star, who has an illicit sexual affair with a beautiful young teacher. What happened to the nerdy guy from the comics, who never quite got what was going on?  What made the original Archie great was that he was not cool.

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Archie was the average high school guy that kids could identify with. Archie was not a star athlete, or brilliant student. He did have a car, but it was a rattling piece of junk (as opposed to rich Reggie’s sports car).

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

In Riverale, Archie and his friends investigate what might or might not be a murder. To say much more would be to give away the mystery. Riverdale is actually a good show and teenage viewers will like it. Older viewers of a “certain age” can also have fun taking a look, just to see how times have changed in the sleepy, likable town. Still, Baby Boomers may get a twinge of nostalgic sadness seeing Riverdale.

The original Riverdale in Archie comics was a fantasy even when it was created in 1941. It was a place where nothing bad ever happened. No one ever got hurt, got sick,  changed or grew older.  Kids could read these comics and retreat from the “real world” that was being forced onto them. The CW network’s Riverdale is an interesting place, but if given a choice, we would still choose to live in the original Riverdale from the Archie comics. Let’s face it; the real world is highly overrated.

 

 

 

Natalie Portman Is “Jackie”

In Jackie, Natalie Portman give an astoundingly accurate portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the days just after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jackie Kennedy was a quiet beauty with an inner strength and stubbornness that people continually underestimated.

Natalie Portman perfectly captures the stylized,  precise, almost-a-whisper  way in which Jackie Kennedy spoke . Director Pablo Larrain intersperses actual newsreel footage into the movie with incredible effect.

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Despite being in a state of shock after the assasination, Jackie Kennedy fought to make sure that her husband’s place in history would always be remembered. While others wanted a small family funeral in Massachusetts, Jackie insisted on a grand state funeral, modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln.

Caroline, Jackie & "John John" Kennedy at President Kennedy's funeral

Caroline, Jackie & “John John” Kennedy at President Kennedy’s funeral

Jackie shows how Jacqueline Kennedy also managed the press after JFKs death to create the “Camelot” myth of the Kennedy years. Billy Crudup is perfect as LIFE Magazine  reporter Theodore H. White whose lengthy interview with Jackie was read by every person in America.

1964 Issue of Life magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

1964 Issue of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

Much of the film is the interaction between the reporter and Jackie, and shows how she was able to manipulate the press in a way that no politician or celebrity would ever be able to do today.  Jackie essentially wrote and edited the LIFE story, including the references to Camelot. Amazingly, Mrs. Kennedy gave this lengthy interview only 1 week after her husband was gunned down in Dallas.

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Peter Sarsgaard is Robert Kennedy who tries to protect Jackie and also unsuccessfully tries to control her.  As always, Peter Sarsgaard gives a masterful performance.

Caspar Phillipson as "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" and Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE.

Caspar Phillipson as “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and Natalie Portman as “Jackie Kennedy” in JACKIE.

Casper Phillipson is Jack Kennedy, and accurately captures the smooth confidence  of JFK.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

The script by Noah Oppenheim and the acting of Natalie Portman bring Jackie Kennedy alive as a real person. Not as just a legend or a caricature, but as a actual woman, who despite her youth, was able to show dignity and strength when America needed it the most.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Many First ladies have come and gone without being remembered, but people will never forget Jackie Kennedy.

 

 

 

The Right Burgee – the book that shocked the Yacht Club set a half a century ago

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee was a novel published in 1965 which created an uproar in the Yacht Club crowd. It put in writing all the unspoken truths about yacht clubs, and the fact that they have nothing whatsoever to do with yachts. The East Coast yacht clubs in 1965 were a social class measuring tool.

You could not  just pay a membership fee and get in.  How much money you had was only one factor. You also had to be of the proper race, religion and ethnic background. How you made your money was also important. “Old money” was many times more valuable than “new money”. If you came from Old Money it meant your family had been part of the upper classes for generations.

How to display a burgee

How to display a burgee

The Right Burgee takes place in the fictional Housatonic Yacht Club. Of course, readers in the know realized it was actually the Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club, of which Henry Lee was a member. It is well written and the characters all come across as real people rather than stereotypes. 

The Right Burgee cleverly  shows the incredible stress on people and families when their main goal in life becomes trying to prove to the world that they belong as part of the chosen few. You see, just getting into a yacht club is not enough. It has to be the right yacht club.  A bugree is that little triangular flag that people fly on the front of their boats to show what yacht club they belong to.

Burgees of Yacht Clubs

Burgees of Yacht Clubs

Not all burgees are created equal. The top of the top in The United States was the New York Yacht Club, which in 1965 still proudly displayed the America’s Cup trophy in its clubhouse. In their hearts, the members of the Housatonic Yacht Club know that despite all their pretensions their bugree really ranks somewhere in the middle rather than closer to the top.

The main character in The Right Burgee is a man who in the beginning of the story has completely bought into the whole system. His goal in life is to become Commodore of the club, and wear the stripes on the sleeve of his yacht club blazer. He has no interest in boating, but keeps a small sailboat, since that is the only way to obtain “flag rank”.

The Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club emblem

The Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club emblem

However, along the way, he begins to question  the point of the whole  system. He sees the stress his wife is under to always be invited to the correct parties. He sees how his daughter is crushed if she does not get to go to the proper cotillion.   He eventually falls in love with a beautiful woman in New York. Getting a divorce and marring her would ruin him socially forever. Not because of the divorce, but because she is Jewish. He will have to choose between love and social standing.

The America sailing Yacht

The America sailing Yacht

The Right Burgee is hard to find, but there are still a few copies floating around on Amazon. It is worth getting, to see a glimpse into the social structure of a half a century ago. It may seem silly that grown men were willing to spend huge amounts of time, money and effort just to be able to wear a blue blazer with little gold stripes on the sleeve. But it wasn’t about the jacket. It was about the right to show the world that you were better than everyone else. The yacht clubs of those days were not about who got in. They were about who got kept out.

The America's Cup when it was on Display in The New York Yacht Club

The America’s Cup when it was on Display in The New York Yacht Club

Even in 1965, the whole yacht club structure was beginning to change. Irish-Americans had recently been admitted to some of the clubs, and there was even talk in some clubs of possibly letting in Italian-Americans. Traditional members argued that letting in the Irish-Americans was the beginning of the end for the whole system. Of course, they could still not even imagine a future where Jewish-Americans or African-Americans would ever be admitted to any club with a proper burgee.

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee (The image on the cover shows someone being "blackballed - refused membership to the club)The Right Burgee by Henry Lee

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee (The image on the cover shows someone being “blackballed” – refused membership to the club)

When I was  young, I met the author of The Right Burgee, Mr. Henry Lee. He was eating at the Stamford Yacht Club, and my mother introduced me to him. I had read the book and I was surprised that he was still a member of the club all those years after its publication. However, it was obvious that the other members of the yacht club had neither forgiven nor forgotten the theme of The Right Burgee. Henry Lee was in the main dining room, eating at a large table, completely alone. The dining room was packed, but Mr. Lee was being studiously  ignored by the other members of the club, while they happily chatted to each other. As you can guess, he never became Commodore of the yacht club.

 

 

 

Confessions Of A Bad Runner

Go to any running race in the tri-state area and you will see me there. Look for the 6 foot tall, thin guy running with a beautiful stride at the front of the race.  That’s not me. Look further back. No – much further.  That’s right, the boxy short guy with grey hair huffing and puffing at the back of the pack.

I never win. I never come close to winning and  never will. There was a time when I thought that I would start winning “age category” medals as I got older. I would keep myself in shape and eventually be able to outrun the old duffers who had let themselves go. This was a miscalculation. It turns out that there are one Hell of a lot of old guys who can still zip by me like I am standing still.

Pack runners

Pack runners

So why do I do it? It is because running races are one of the last true community events that actually bring people closer. Men,and women, teenagers, senior citizens and  kids all run together. They run at different speeds and tremendously different abilities, but they all encourage each other. There is no nastiness of body-shaming. The fact that you are trying is good enough.

The runners at the front of the pack are like beautiful Ferrari or Maserati sports cars gliding  along at top speed.  Those of us in the back are more like boxy little Jeeps bouncing and almost tipping over as we take the turns.

Usain Bolt the world's greatest sprinter

Usain Bolt the world’s greatest sprinter

The best part of any community running race is the finish. Not because it is over, but because the great runners at front who finished long ago wait for and congratulate every single finisher, no matter how long it takes.

I have never gotten a medal when I cross the finish line. I have gotten a lot of free Popsicles, and drinks of rubbery tasting hose water. Sometimes, there is even a free T-Shirt with a charity’s name on it.  Somehow, that’s enough.

 

The Nostalgic T.V. Show quiz – 4 quick questions

Think you know a lot about the old time T.V. shows? Take the East Coast Stories 4 quick questions quiz and test your knowledge.

Q. Why did the Skipper put up with anything from Gilligan and always forgive him?

The Skipper & Gilligan

The Skipper & Gilligan

A. Gilligan saved the Skipper’s life in World War II when they both served on a U.S. destroyer. A depth charge had broken loose on deck. It was about to roll into the Skipper and crush him, when Gillian raced across the deck and pushed the Skipper out of the way.

Q: Who was the most successful female impersonator ever on television?

Who was T.V's most famout female impersonator?

Who was T.V’s most famous female impersonator?

A: Lassie. That’s right. Although Lassie was a female Collie on the show, the actual dog was a male. Dog trainers claim that male dogs are easier to train. (No angry comments please. This is not our opinion but the opinion of Lassie’s trainers.)

Q: What type of cigarettes did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

A: This is a trick question. Lucy Riccardo supposedly smoked Phillip Morris cigarettes since that was the show’s sponsor. You can clearly see the label on the pack. However, Lucille Ball preferred Chesterfields. In fact,  she always threw out the Phillip Morris cigarettes in the Phillip Morris pack and refilled the pack with Chesterfields. Therefore, Lucy Riccardo was actually smoking Chesterfields.

Q: How many times did Captain Kirk die on Star Trek?

Star Trek's transporter

Star Trek’s transporter

A: Most people will answer zero, but that Kirk faked his death at least once (when he fought Spock on Vulcan). However, the correct answer is that Kirk died every time he went into the transporter. The original people do not actually go through the transporter, any more than the original piece of paper goes through a fax machine. The originals are destroyed by the “transporter” and a copy of those people appear at the other end of the transporter. It is, in effect, a very long distance fax machine that also happens to destroy the original. This is why Doctor McCoy tried to go by shuttle instead of transporter whenever possible.

Squidward Tentacles from SpongeBob is a thief

Squidward Tentacles from the show SpongeBob is a thief.  He has been skimming from the cash register at the Krusty Krab for years. That is why he never quits, despite complaining about his position all day every day.  The show gives  clear indications that Squidward is an underwater white collar criminal. Lets take a look at the hints.

Squidward Tentacles. The world's worst fast food cashier

Squidward Tentacles. The world’s worst fast food cashier

Squidward’s house is more more expensive than a cashier could possibly  afford.  It is made of carved stone, has nice furnishings and even has an indoor elevator. You may argue that Patrick Star and SpongeBob Squarepants also have their own homes. However, Patrick Star’s house is nothing more than a rock he lives under and all his so-called furnishings are really just sand piles.

SpongeBob does have a actual house, but he grew it himself from a pineapple seed. On the other hand, Squidward’s house is a giant stone replica of the ancient carvings on Easter Island. Squidward also has a an boat-car. It is very seldom shown, but he does have one.

houses of Patrick Star, Squidward Tentacles and SpongeBon Squarepants

houses of Patrick Star, Squidward Tentacles and SpongeBob Squarepants

Squidward also has all the key characteristics of a white collar criminal.  Police have often noted that white collar criminals never think of themselves a thieves. They think of themselves as underpaid persecuted workers who are really just taking what the company should have been giving to them all along.

White collar criminals are often disgruntled employees and are very open about their hatred of the company and their boss.  Squidward is all of that.

Mr. Krabs and the Krusty Krab

Mr. Krabs and the Krusty Krab

Squidward  has the perfect opportunity to steal. Mr. Krabs never takes a turn behind the register and is usually locked away in his office. Although Krabs loves money, he does not seem to have any way to cross check the cash against the number of Krusty Burgers sold.

The Krusty Krab does accept any type of credit or debit card. This  all-cash environment makes it easy for Squidward to skim.

SpongeBob Squarepants

SpongeBob Squarepants

No matter how bad things get, Squidward continues to show up every day without talking vacation or sick days.  This is also a classic feature of white collar criminals. They never take time off, since that would risk someone cross-checking the books. If income went up dramatically whenever Squidward was on vacation, then Mr. Krabs would become suspicious of Squidward.

Squidward  only has 6 legs whereas a real squid has 8. Could this be  because two of Squidward’s legs were chopped off by prior employers that  he stole from? That may seem rather convoluted, but remember that a lot of the SpongeBob show is really geared towards adults rather than children. This is the same cartoon that once showed the grave of Diver Dan. Only a Baby Boomer would get that reference.

As SpongeBob enters what is rumored to be its final season, take a new look at good old Squidward. And if you ever go to the Krusty Krab remember to count your change.

The Lost Sounds Of Fall – a nostalgic look at bamboo rakes

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The Sun is bright, the air is crisp and the leaves turn a wondrous range of colors. When I was a boy,  there were also the special sounds of Autumn.  As the weather turned colder, the last noises of lawn movers ceased and the world became quiet.

The whining of small engines was replaced by the unique soft sounds of bamboo rakes as people gathered the leaves into huge  piles. There were the delighted laughs of children when they ran full speed and jumped into the piles. Dogs barked as they chased each other through the leaves and searched for sticks as if they were hidden treasures of pirates gold.

People aren't the only ones who love leaf piles

People aren’t the only ones who love leaf piles

No one rushed at the task of raking. Adults spent a lot of time leaning on rake handles and chatting with neighbors about what they did over the Summer and asking each other how bad they thought the Winter was going to be. At the end of the day there would be the cracking sound as the piles of leaves were set on fire and we would warm our hands as the piles slowly melted into ash.

But somewhere along the way, the removing of leaves changed from being a slow, honored ritual, and became a noisy efficient task. Incredibly loud gasoline leaf blowers began appearing everywhere. They drowned  out all hope of civilized conversation. The people not actually operating the blowers retreated inside behind closed doors and windows to try to escape the noise. Leaves were blown to the curve, where giant vacuum trucks sucked them up and carried the leaves away. The delighted squeals of kids playing in the leaves were replaced the revving engines of two-ton diesel trucks.

Bamboo is superior to leaf blowers

Bamboo is superior to leaf blowers

The new way of getting rid of leaves is amazingly  efficient, and after the trucks move down the street not a single red oak leaf is left  behind. But in the race for speed, an American tradition has been lost forever.

The point of gathering leaves in Autumn was never to see how it could be done the fastest. The ritual for leaf gathering was a way for people to celebrate Life itself.  The older adults cherished  the last few days of  bright Sunshine with friends, knowing that soon they must face the inevitable dark Winter to come. There was solace in seeing that children and dogs forever live in the moment and take joy from the small pleasures.

A few years ago California had a voter referendum to try and ban leaf blowers. In our fast paced world, the referendum was soundly defeated. If I had lived in California I would have voted for the ban.   Give me a bamboo rake any day. It takes longer and is less efficient than a leaf blower. That’s the whole point.

Victims of 9/11 Tell Politicians to Shut Up

If the victims of 9/11 could speak from beyond the grave, it would probably be to tell the politicians to “Shut Up and leave Our Families Alone!” For 15 years we have been watching as American politicians of all political parties  have been jockeying to get close to the families of those who died on 9/11. Memorials and plaques and speeches and dedications seem designed to give the maximum boost to political careers rather than any real comfort to families. Maybe the best way to  honor families is to let them grieve  in private.  Yes, 9/11 impacted all Americans, but not all equally.

Flower wreath for a dead son

Flower wreath for a dead son

One of the strongest childhood memories  I have comes from a day when I was playing on a deserted beach, and a very old man and woman hobbled down to the water’s edge. They threw a handmade wreath of flowers into the ocean and stood still for a long time as the waves carried it out. Then they turned and slowly walked away without looking back.

When I asked my parents about them, I was told  that the old man and woman were honoring their son who was a Sailor killed in World War II. They did this every year on the anniversary of their son’s death. People in the area stayed away from that part of the beach each year on that day to give the old couple privacy. It was only by mistake that as a child I had witnessed this moment.

Those grieving parents did not want plaques or Fourth of July parades or even medals. What they wanted was to privately remember their son, and that is what the people of the town gave them. In the years that followed, I always remembered to stay away from the beach on the anniversary of that Sailor’s death. Even  as a child I knew that the best way I could help the parents on that day  was to leave them alone.

I know it is a lost cause, but I would still like to ask American politicians to show a little class on 9/11. The best thing the politicians could do on 9/11 is to stay home. It is a day for the families of the victims – not for you.

 

 

 

Ed Koch Murders Donald Trump

In 1995 former New York City Mayor Ed Koch murdered Donald Trump.  As much as Ed  Koch hated Trump, he could not kill Trump for real. So instead, Koch wrote a detective novel entitled Murder At City Hall, where the murder victim was Donald Trump.

Of course, Koch could not mention Trump by name, for fear of becoming the target of one of Trump’s hundreds of lawsuits. In Murder At City Hall, the murder victim is a real estate developer named Karl Kreig. This real estate developer is a despicable fellow who is hated by so many people that there are a large number of murder suspects.

Donald Trump & Marla Maples

Donald Trump & Marla Maples

The real estate developer also has a much younger wife who comes to parties in scandalously revealing outfits. This  real estate developer treats his wife as bait to allow him to get close to city officials that approve building contracts. He cheats on contracts and on every deal everyone but him loses money. He also cheats on his attractive wife, with a series of mistresses.  But of course, Koch insisted that this was not supposed to be Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, Ed Koch & Roy Cohn in 1983

Donald Trump, Ed Koch & Roy Cohn in 1983

Mayor Koch and Donald Trump started out as friends, but that did not last long. The problem was that even in a city as large as New York, there was only room enough for one of their gigantic egos. Koch and Trump both had an almost childlike need to be the center of attention for everyone,  all the time.

In Murder At City Hall (by Edward Koch with Herbert Resnicow), the Mayor’s giant ego comes through loud and clear. The main character of the book is Ed Koch himself, who is not only the Mayor, but also the detective solving the murder. He goes to lavish parties, meets beautiful women and is a better crime solver  than the police.

Murder At City Hall is interesting to read for its historical perspective, but is not a very well written detective novel. Ed Koch is no Agatha Christie. There is just way too much talking and description of Koch riding around the city, and not enough plot and character development.

Still, it is fun to note how much things have changed since 1995. The Mayor has assistants that are constantly running out and getting newspapers to check the latest goings on, and to see how the Mayor’s popularity is holding up.  Nowadays, you can do this instantly on the internet.

As the title indicates, the murder itself took place at New York’s City Hall. There were metal detectors in place, but there were not the hundreds of security cameras we now have in our post 9/11 world.  In fact, the police never even talk about checking the cameras. Nowadays if a murder happened at City Hall it would all be caught on camera.

Ed Koch may not have been a good detective novelist, but most New Yorkers believe that he was he was a good Mayor.  Whether you agreed with his political views or not, everyone agreed that Ed Koch loved being mayor and that he loved the City Of New York.

Ed Koch passed away in 2013. It is a shame he is not around today to comment on the current Presidential election. Koch was known for his quick wit and his ability to skewer his political opponents with his sharp wit and humor. Given today’s technology, the Twitter wars between Ed Koch and Donald Trump would be fun to see.

 

35 Year Wedding Anniversary – Susan Marasco & Gregory Farrell

On this day, 35 years ago, I married a beautiful young Italian-American woman named Susan Marasco. How I every convinced her to marry me is still a mystery. You see, despite what many believe, I do understand my own failings.

Susan & Greg August 8, 1981

Susan & Greg August 8, 1981

How she has put up with me  is also a mystery. She must be a Saint. At least that is what she has told me several times a week for 35 years. (Just kidding!)

The wedding was part of  a full Catholic Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ardsley New York. The elaborate reception was at a country club and the groups were basically split between the Italians and the Irish, and everyone brought gifts. The gifts from the Irish side were nice, but the Italians brought cash. Big wonderful envelopes stuffed with Cash.

Susan’s wedding gown had a special sort of cape with a very large pouch sewed into the inside. I did not understand what it was for until the Italians began giving her the cash envelopes, which Susan quickly secreted into the magic pouch.

Later than night, (yes, our wedding night) Susan spread out all the unopened envelopes on the bed and took out a pad of paper and a pen . She would not allow me to just open the envelopes and dump out the cash on the bed like I wanted. You see, along with the cash, each envelope had a note inside telling us who it was from.

Susan carefully wrote down exactly who had given how much cash. When we returned from our honeymoon, Susan wrote all the thank-you notes to every guest. Each note was different. The larger the gift in comparison to the guest’s income, the more elaborate the thank you note.

Thirty five years has gone by on the blink of an eye.  Two children, three States, one book,  many stories and many jobs, cats and bunnies later we are still together.

We don’t look at the wedding album very often. Unfortunately, many  of the people in it have passed away. Our parents and relatives  came from that World War II  generation of heavy smokers and drinkers,  and consequently they  did not live very long.  One of the reasons I started this website was to keep the memories and stories of many of these wonderful people  alive. Somehow, the stories of how they lived seem much more real than the old pictures.

Susan herself is the subject of many of the websites’ stories,  and is known as The Gentle Woman in all the Bunny Stories.  Susan is also  The Girl in The Terrycloth Shorts.

Cat and Bunny on a hot day

Cat and Bunny on a hot day

Susan continues to be the love of my life, even though she is a stubborn as the day I met her.

Whatever does come next for my beautiful Italian bride and me, the Colombian singer Shakira expressed it best when she sang,

“Whenever, Wherever we’re meant to be together,

I’ll be  there and you’ll be near, and that’s the deal my dear.”

Happy anniversary Susan. Thank you for 35 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Doctor Jean Farrell

My aunt, Doctor Jean Farrell of Stamford Connecticut died on July 3, 1984. She was a well known Pediatrician at Stamford Hospital. Those of you who were her patients will now have children (perhaps even grandchildren) of your own and realize how important a good pediatrician is in your life.

Doctor Jean Farrell, 1947 Vassar College 1952 Georgetown Medical School

Doctor Jean Farrell,  Vassar College
1952 Georgetown Medical School

Jean was a big woman. She was big physically. She had a loud booming voice and a hearty laugh. If you were her friend she would do anything for you, and if you were her enemy, then God help you because nothing else would be able to.

Jean Farrell was also a a pioneering woman for her time. She went to Georgetown Medical School at a time when female doctors were still very unusual. She became a Board Certified Pediatrician and spearheaded  many new techniques that saved children’s lives.

She was only 56 when she died and since she was unmarried my father (Dr. John Farrell)  and I had to review the death certificate. If you have never seen a death certificate they are very cold and terse documents to sum up a person’s life.  I still remember the wording. It read:

“Occupation – Doctor, Unmarried, No Children”

It struck me how wrong that document was. Jean Farrell had hundreds of children. All of her patients were her children. If any of you read this, I would like you to know that despite her rough exterior Doctor Jean Farrell cared for each of you very much and as individuals. She knew all your names. You were her life.

When Jean died there were many large floral bouquets, but one tribute stood out from the rest. It was from a friend of Jean’s named Iris, who like, Jean was a devout Catholic.  There was a simple cut glass vase with a single red rose in it. (Jean’s hobby outside of work was growing roses.) Beside the rose was a card with the handwritten note:

“Until we meet again”

 

5 Reasons the Bob Newhart Show Was Revolutionary

Watching re-runs today, you may not realize that The Bob Newhart Show was revolutionary when it made its debut in 1972. Here are the 5 reasons why.

1. The characters all live in a city – The standard T.V. sitcom took place in the suburbs. Father Knows Best, The  Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett , and Leave It To Beaver all took place in the suburbs.  However, the characters in The New Hart show all lived in an apartment building in Chicago.

Cast of The Bob Newhart Show

Cast of The Bob Newhart Show

2. The female lead of the show had a job – Emily Hathaway (played by Suzanne Pleshette) was a full time public school teacher, and she was good it in. Up until then, almost 100% of T.V. shown portrayed women as stay at home moms.

The beautiful Suzanne Pleshette

The beautiful Suzanne Pleshette

3. Suzanne Pleshette was sexual. – It is hard to even image  Ozzie & Harriett Nelson or June & Ward Cleaver having sex. In fact, it is even disturbing to think about. In The Bob Newart Show, however, the beautiful Suzanne Pleshette was shown in a low cut nightgown sharing a king sized bed with her husband.

The Hartleys in Bed

The Hartleys in Bed

4. The married couple had no kids and did not plan to have any – The Newharts had a full life without children, and their friends were also all professional people with no kids.

Jack Riley as "Mr. Carlin"

Jack Riley as “Mr. Carlin”

5. The subject of mental illness was portrayed without hysteria.  Dr. Robert Hathaway (Bob Newhart) was a psychologist, and a large part of the show focused on his patients. They were not crazy or dangerous people, but likeable individuals who were struggling to face the pressures of everyday life. Of course, being a comedy the situations were portrayed with humor. The most memorable patient was “Mr. Carlin” (brilliantly played by Jack Riley). Mr. Carlin was a successful real estate developer who just cannot seem to be able to connect with people personally.  Actually broaching the taboo subject of mental illness is probably the biggest contribution of  The Bob Newhart Show .

So, if you happen to to be flipping through the channels and come across an old rerun of The Bob Newhart Show, you may want to view it with some respect. In its own way, it began to breakdown the T.V. stereotypes of what Americans were supposed to be and how we were supposed to act.

 

 

When Men Wore Hats – a poem of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Men wore hats. Women’s dresses were  Bright,

Ties  narrow and black.  All shirts were white.

Cars had fins and gadgets galore.

America was Great. We had won the War.

The President was handsome. His wife a gem.

We never saw their likes again.

Was it real or were we fools?

Bullets and Time have been so cruel.

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

 

Ric Flair -“To Be The Man”

Ric Flair’s 2004 book, To Be The Man is a fascinating glimpse into the old days of professional wrestling. Even if you are not a professional wrestling fan it is an enjoyable nostalgic read.

Of course, professional wrestling is not a real athletic contest, but the people in it are superb athletes. Professional wrestling is basically a traveling circus. Like circuses, many of the performers are part of families that have been in the business for generations.

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

It is also a very nomadic life, especially for the lower level wrestlers. They perform in one city, then right after the show get in cars to drive to the next city to perform the following night. Unless you are one of the stars you probably  have to do  double duty by helping set up the ring and chairs in the arena.

But how do you get to be a professional wrestling champ in something that is not a real sport? Who actually decides the winners and losers? Ric Flair’s book shows how it is the fans that ultimately decide who will become great. The key to becoming a professional wrestling champion is to get the fans excited about you. You want the fans to love you or hate you, as long as they don’t ignore you.

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair made himself a wrestling star by inventing innovative ways to promote himself and get the fans and press to notice him. He used his own money to get publicity and start acting like a star long before the fans had ever heard of him. It is sort of what the Kardashians do today. He made himself famous by simply acting like he already was famous.

Ric Flair would get to a city the day before a wrestling match and go to a modeling agency. He would hire 3 or 4 beautiful models for the night of the match.  When it was his turn to wrestle, he would  walk down the ramp to the ring, with these beautiful women hanging on his arms and pretending to be his girlfriends.  He also spent a fortune on his wrestling costumes, with robes and boots costing thousands of dollars. The fans got a real show just seeing Ric Flair walk into the ring, before the match even started.  The fans loved his antics and  soon demanded to see more of “The Nature Boy”.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

However, all of the promotion is just what got Ric Flair noticed. It was his athletic ability that made him great. The stamina and strength to be a professional wrestler is incredible.   Whenever they are  not in a match, wrestlers are working out. Ric Flair’s warm up routine before even starting his regular exercises was to do 300 sit-ups, 300 pushups and 300 squat thrusts.

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

If you can find a copy of To Be The Man, we recommend it as a fun summer read.

Free Books!

Libraries are doing something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. They are throwing out books. They are putting them on carts in front of the library and you can take as many as you want for free. If no one takes them, the library simply throws them out. Books are no longer needed in a modern library. They are being replaced by computers. No need to have stacks and stacks of books when they can be replaced by a few rows of computers that can access all the literature in the world instantly.

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I know it will make me sound very old and out of touch to say, but I find it almost sacrilegious to throw out a book .

The Library in my  home town of Basking Ridge New Jersey has  been giving away books for months now, and I have been gathering them up as if they are gems thrown in the garbage.

It is incredible what was being thrown out.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare, A Dictionary of Classical Mythology, a book with beautiful photographs of all the buildings ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. There were also mystery novels, books of poetry and erotic thrillers. All of these items are now proudly on my den shelves at home.  My wife thinks I am crazy, but I can not pass up an abandoned book any more than she can pass up an abandoned bunny.

But some of the books have sadder stories to tell than others. Many of the books have inscriptions in them. Some of the inscriptions show that the book was donated to the library in memory of a loved one. How could a library throw that out?

Other books have things inside them that people left as bookmarks and then forgot to take out when they returned the book to the library.  One was a letter in which a woman had written down all the phone numbers for support groups for Military Moms.  Her son was fighting in Iraq and she was worried sick about him.

She must have tried reading a book to take her mind off her worries. I don’t think it worked. The fact that the paper was still there as a bookmark meant that she had never finished the book. I pray that her son made it home safely.

I love physical books and old time libraries and dens filled with them. Throwing them out seems like when all the old Vinyl records were tossed. It was only after they were gone that people began to realize just how much them missed them.

When the last book from the last library is gone and there is nothing left but rows of computers; the libraries will be more efficient and cost effective.

But something will be gone forever.

 

Why the Dutch Tell Germans to “Bring Back Our Bicycles” at Football Matches

Whenever Dutch football (soccer) teams play German teams, the Dutch fans taunt the Germans with big  signs that say “Bring Back Our Bicycles “. The Dutch go to the trouble of writing out these signs in German so that their rivals will get the message.

The Dutch love the joke and think it is a great insult. The only  problem is that except for the very old people in the crowd , the Germans have no idea what the Dutch are talking about. The Germans know it is some sort of insult, but exactly what is it?

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Well it goes back to the end of World War II. The Germans, of course, has invaded The Netherlands at the very beginning of the war, it is was one of the very last countries liberated by the Allied Forces.

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By that point in the war, the German army was completely defeated and the Germans were retreating full speed as the Allied Forces approached. The Germans were using everything they could to get out of the Netherlands. They took trucks, cars,  motorcycles and tractors. When no motorized vehicles were left, the remaining German soldiers stole every bicycle in The Netherlands and rode them back to Germany.

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These events were 70 years ago, but the Dutch have never forgotten. They never hold up signs asking to bring back the cars of trucks or tractors. It is the bicycles they remember.

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The Netherlands is a nation of bicyclists. Children, businessmen, old people and beautiful young women all ride the big sturdy Dutch bicycles. In the pouring rain they ride them to work, steering with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other.

As time goes by and World War II seems more and more distant, the people of Europe will forget many things.  But the Dutch will never forget or forgive the theft of their bicycles.

 

 

The Boy Scouts Nuclear War Song

They’re rioting in Africa,

They’re starving in Spain.

There’s hurricanes in Florida,

And Texas needs rain.

The whole World is sweltering with hate and mistrust.

And I don’t like anybody very much.

But we can be thankful and tranquil and proud,

we have not been hit by that mushroom-shaped cloud.

But all of us know that one lucky day,

Someone will set the spark off,

And we’ll all be blown away.

 

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Editor’s note – This was a popular song in the Connecticut Boy Scout camp Tokowam in the summer of 1965.It sounds funnier when you sing it by a campfire and you are too young to grasp the true meaning. Lucky for us the World has learned from its mistakes and the threat of nuclear war  anywhere in Earth is long gone.

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 Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories.

The Girl From Greiz and Her New Trabant by Gregory Farrell

When a beautiful, tall German girl by the name of Dagmar Juettmann was 21 years old, world-changing events were happening in Berlin. Relations between East and West Berlin were improving. Many travel restriction had been lifted and there were even rumors that the Berlin Wall itself would be torn down.

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But Dagmar didn’t live in Berlin. She was hundreds of kilometers away in the town of Greiz, deep in the heart of East Germany. Dagmar found the events in Berlin to be an annoying distraction. She was focused on two major events in her own life. The first was working hard to pass her Accounting exams. Good jobs were hard to come by in East Germany, and getting her degree was essential. Dagmar was furious that all the other students wanted to talk about was Berlin and The Wall. She needed to study.

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The second life-changing event Dagmar was anticipating was getting a brand new Trabant. It was the only car available to East Germans of her family’s economic status and there was a 5 year waiting list.

West Germans made fun of the Trabant. West Germans had the Porsche, the Mercedes and even the Volkswagen, and they ridiculed the poor little  Trabant.

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There was a lot to ridicule about the Trabant. The car has a 2 cylinder engine that only produces 26 horsepower. Safety features  are non-existent. Rumors were that the body of the Tarbant was made out of painted cardboard. This was not true, but the body was made of a flimsy material composed of resin and cotton.  To top everything off, the gas tank of the car was on top of the engine. It was as if the designers had been trying to design a car with the most possible potential of catching on fire.

Still, Dagmar wanted that car. A Trabant would mean freedom and independence. With her new Accounting degree, a job  and a Trabant she would finally become an independent woman – at least as independent as anyone in Greiz East Germany could hope to be.

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The week Dagmar passed her Accounting exams with high marks, World events came crashing down to ruin her life. The Berlin Wall was torn down and the people of East and West Germany rejoiced. Dagmar knew that this was theoretically wonderful news, but like many East Germans she was scared of what it would mean for her personally.  What would happen to the economy in East Germany? Would all the communist East German companies collapse, unable to compete with the West? Would there be any jobs for a person with high marks in Accounting from an East German college? Dagmar was despondent.

Just as she was worrying about her future, her father came into her room with a big smile.  “I heard from the factory!” he said. “Your brand-new Trabant is ready to pick up. It is my graduation gift to you. I waited for it for 5 years and now it’s ready!”

Dagmar didn’t want the car. She knew it would be worthless when people could get a West German car. She wanted to tell her father she didn’t want the gift, but she just could not disappoint him. He had waited 5 years to give her this gift and it would be cruel not to accept it.

When Dagmar and her father got the Trabant she was feeling a little better. After all, it was shiny and new. It was fun to drive and it did mean she could go where she wanted.

As soon as she dropped her father back home, Dagmar took off in the Trabant to show it to all her friends. Despite the tiny engine, she was determined to see just how fast she could go.

Dagmar had only been driving the Trabant for about 1 hour when she took a corner too fast and the tires slid. She scraped the side of the car into a stone wall, and a rock punched a hole through the side of the car.

Dagmar knew she couldn’t tell her father. She spent the rest of the day diving the car all around Greiz to every place that might possibly be able to fix the hole. But they all wanted a huge amount of money.

Finally towards the end of the day Dagmar found a garage mechanic who took pity on her. She explained in tears about the accident and how she wanted to hide it from her father. The mechanic said that the hole had not structurally damaged the car. It would still drive just fine. He said the hole didn’t really have to be fixed, it just had to look like it was fixed.

He took some sort tape, covered up the hole and painted over the tape. He was a real artist. When he was done the car look as good as new. Of course, if you were to touch that spot, your finger would have punched a hole in the tape.

When the paint dried, Dagmar drove home very slowly. She was still worried about what the changes in Germany would mean to her future,  but she felt that, like the problem with the Trabant, somehow things would work out.

Editors Note: – I met Dagmar after communism had fallen and Germany was reunited. Dagmar has a good job in the Finance department of the Dutch chemical company Akzo-Nobel in Dusseldorf. Whenever possible she hires other people from Greiz.

Dagmar kept the Trabant.  Once Trabants were no longer being produced, they became collectors items.  Car buffs from all over the world wanted to own what was considered to be the “worst car ever made”.  Dagmar eventually sold the Trabant for many times more than her father had paid for it. She never told her father about the hole in the car covered with painted tape.

 

The World’s Worst A&P Joke

It is too bad that A&P decided to declare bankruptcy instead of merging with another grocery store chain.

At one point A&P was considering merging with Stop & Shop. The new name would have been STOP & P.

 

 

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(We warned you it was a bad joke).

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Still, it is sad to see the  once proud Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company go out of business. We wish all the hard working people of A&P good luck and good fortune ahead as they look for new jobs going into the Holiday season.

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In case anyone else forgets to say it; thanks for serving us through the years.

James Bond Marries Miss Moneypenny

Three weeks after he retired from MI6, James Bond married Eve Moneypenny. Eve moved into James’ London flat and the two were fabulously happy.  Most people had assumed that James would marry a supermodel, or an exceedingly rich and beautiful woman.

However, James Bond had always been in love with Miss Moneypenny, and she with him. Moneypenny was the woman who was always there for Bond. She was the only real friend, male or female, that Bond had ever  had.

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Of course, Bond had made love with countless woman over the years, but he had never really been in love with them. All those women were seduced by 007, the fearless man with nerves of steel and no doubts.

Unlike the other women, Moneypenny had seen the real Bond. The one he hid from the world. When “M” was away, James and Eve spent hours in the office talking about all the demons that tormented Bond.  He confided his guilt about the many people he had killed, the destruction he had caused; even the many women he had seduced and then left behind.  He questioned whether or not it was really for a good cause. Eve Moneypenny was always there to reassure Bond. She was there to pull him up when he was at his lowest.

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Unlike Bond, Moneypenny did not retire. She had started in MI6 as a secretary, but eventually rose to become Director of All European Secret Operations. Moneypenny often worked late into the night, directing her spies throughout the world.

James loved his new role. He was a gourmet chef and always had a romantic dinner waiting for Eve whatever hour she returned home.

One day a new agent at MI6 made  a pass at Eve Moneypenny. She laughed it off, and explained that she was a happily married woman.

“Well, your husband, Mister Moneypenny, is a lucky man.”

“Yes he is”, answered Eve with a smile. “And by the way, his name is not Moneypenny. His name is Bond, James Bond.”

I Was A Halloween Hooligan

When I was a teenager in Stamford Connecticut, every Halloween we played a very exciting and rough game with the police. It was a secret game, completely hidden from the parents of Stamford. As rough as it was, the Halloween Game had rules. The most important rule was “don’t tell”.  The police would not tell our parents what we were doing and we would not tell our parents what the police were doing.

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The objective of the teenagers was to vandalize as much property as possible on Halloween. Within limits, of course. We did not smash windows or set anything on fire. However, we did steal street signs, fill mail boxes with shaving cream, throw toilet paper in trees and egg everything in sight.

Now days, if a kid does that, the police will pick them up and possibly even arrest them. But that was not the way the game was played in the old days.  When I was a boy,  Halloween was a time for the police to have a little fun too. When I was a teenager, the Stamford police were all men who had seen extensive combat in World War II. Roaming bands of teenagers with eggs and shaving cream did not exactly frighten them.

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The cops patrolled in cars and looked for large groups of teenagers on Halloween. Especially kids who were way too old to be out trick-or-treating or were not wearing any Halloween costumes.

The police car would come to a screeching halt and the teenagers would scatter. Most were fast enough to get away from the cops, but a few slow pokes always got caught. The police would search them for eggs, and if any were found, the kids got an “egg shampoo”. That is, the copys would smash the eggs one by one on the teenager’s heads. I had that happen to me only once, but the disgusting  feeling of three egg yokes dripping down my face is something I will never forget.

If a kid was a real problem and got caught more than once in the same night, then the police would take the teenager on a “long ride.” That happened once to Tommy Bower. He got put  in the back of the patrol car and the cops drove him 5 miles or more from where he lived. Then they just left him there. He was too busy walking home the rest of the night to spend any time vandalizing anything. Despite the long walk, he later admitted that it was “really cool” riding in the back of the patrol car.

When we look at the problems between the police and young people today, it is hard to explain the way the relationship was in those days. The cops took it for granted that kids sometimes did stupid and even destructive things and they did not get angry about it. Being wild once and a while was accepted as a normal part of growing up.

As teenagers, we accepted that the cops liked to have a little fun too, and if the game got too rough then it was our own fault for deciding to play it in the first place. Looking back of course, I now realize that  it was a much more peaceful and innocent time.  The Halloweens of old had no guns or gangs or drugs or mace or tasers. Teenagers and police were all a lot safer back then.

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As Halloween approaches I remember the taste of free Hersey bars and even the dreaded Bit-O-Honey. However, what I remember most is the feel of three smashed eggs in my hair as a police car drove way with the two cops laughing hysterically.

 

 

The Nostalgia Critic – 5 Reasons Why He is Great

Doug Walker is the Nostalgic Critic, the creator and star of an internet show which reviews and spoofs movies. He is funny, witty and we highly recommend his show.  In fact, here are 5 reasons why the Nostalgia Critic is great.

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1. He is proud of his hometown Chicago. The Nostalgia Critic is not trying to pretend to be a big Hollywood star or an aspiring New York intellectual  who has stooped to appearing on the internet. Doug Walker is a Chicago boy and he loves his city. He brings a Chicago point of view to many of his reviews.  In one review, The Nostalgia Critic noted how silly the sci-fi movie The Day After Tomorrow is. In the movie the weather suddenly turns frigid and the people have to huddle in a public library for warmth.  The Nostalgic Critic’s comment to that was:

“This movie says we’re supposed to be scared because a day starts out warm and then suddenly turns very cold. In Chicago we call that Tuesday.”

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2. He is a genuinely nice guy. Doug Walker wants reviews to be funny, but does not want to hurt anyone. He did a review of Thomas And The Magic Railroad In which he made fun of the bad acting of  Mara Wilson, who was 13 years old when the movie was made. Mara Wilson is now in her 20’s and she was very upset by the review. She said that she was in a very awkward stage at age 13.  When Doug heard about Mara’s reaction, he invited her onto his show and let her review a home movie he had made when he was 13.  He looked ridiculous in the home movie, in which he was trying to sing like a rock star. Mara had so much fun on the show that she and Doug Wilson became good friends.

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3. He is a great boss. The Nostalgic Critic show is a team effort, and sometimes they go on location in Chicago to film. In one episode they went to a park to film and after getting the whole team there it turned out the park was not going to open for another 2 hours. Instead of having everything sit in their cars and vans for the next 2 hours getting angry and bored, Doug took everyone out to a restaurant and treated them all to a huge breakfast. He runs a team of very diverse creative people who make very little money.  Yet they all have a great time and love working for him.  If he ever stops doing The Nostalgia Critic, Doug Walker could teach management courses  on how to motivate people.

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4. He admits when he makes a mistake. Being a low budget internet show , there are often production errors or factual mistakes. When this happens, Doug Walker admits the mistake and says that he made it. Doug does not blame it on someone else or on a computer glitch. He takes responsibility for his own errors. This is something that all bosses should do, but which very few actually do in practice.  At one point the team put together a tribute to Rachel Tietz, an actress on the show who left to go into main-stream acting. In post-production, Doug hit the wrong button on the computer and deleted the whole show.   Doug explained to the viewing audience exactly what had happened and why there was no tribute show.  Not once in the explanation did he try to shift the blame to another person or even to the computer.

5. He Loves his job. There is an old saying that states, “if you love your job, you never have to work a day in your life.” What makes the Nostalgia Critic so much fun to watch is that Doug Walker and his whole team really enjoy what they are doing. Even when they make mistakes, their sheer enthusiasm makes up for any lack of professional training, and makes the show fun to see.

We rate this show Five Stars *****

Words to Live by

As you go through life it is amazing how some advice turns out to be true and remembered forever. Here is a list of saying from family, friends, and teachers I have known throughout the years.

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  • “I get what you’re saying son, but I don’t quite know what you mean.” Savin Hoffecker

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  • “Smart is easy to find, but it’s one in a million to find Loyal.” Lou Romano

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  • “Never hit a man when he’s down. Kick him its easier. – Jack Reilly

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  • “Most people spend most of their lives trying to prove something to somebody – usually somebody that’s dead.” – Elsie White

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  • “When you get older you will realize that your family are the only people in the world who really care what happens to you one way or the other.” – Aaron (Woody)  Hess

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  • Never get romantically involved with a man who is better looking than you are – Susan Farrell

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My Evening with Frank Gifford

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Frank Gifford. Most people knew him as a sportscaster on Monday Night Football. An older generation remembers him a fantastic player with the New York Giants.  However, I will always remember him as a great after dinner speaker.

When I met him, Frank Gifford was in transition between being a professional athlete and becoming a T.V. star. He was one of many ex-athletes who were competing for a very small number of openings on T.V. or in the movies. Some guys could make  the transition.  Most did not.

Frank 3

Frank was taking whatever gigs he could get so as to get used to speaking to the public. When I saw him he was the after-dinner speaker at King School’s annual father-son dinner. The dinner was held at a restaurant called the Halfway  House which is on the Stamford-Greenwich border. This was so long ago that the term “halfway house” was not yet associated with ex-cons and drug addict rehabilitation. (The restaurant is still there, but now calls itself Twin Faces).

Frank Gifford could have just showed up after dinner, given his speech and left. But that was not his style. He arrived early, had drinks with the fathers and told funny stories to the boys. At dinner he sat at the front table with the headmaster Mr. Jackson and made everyone around him feel comfortable.

During dessert it was time for Frank Gifford’s speech. All these years later I can still remember it. He spoke of his days as a professional football player and the funny things that happened on the field and in the locker room. The man was a natural story teller, and the audience loved him.

The funniest parts of his speech were when he spoke about his days after football and his attempt to be an actor. With his good looks and athletic build, Hollywood tried putting him in the movies. For some reason they kept trying to put him in Westerns as a cowboy, even though he knew nothing whatsoever about horses

He told a story about one scene where he was supposed to pick up a saddle from a fence and “saddle up” a horse. No one had told him the saddle was strapped to the fence and you had to unbuckle it first. Frank went over to the saddle, grabbed it with one hand and heaved. This resulted in Frank falling flat on his back and ruining the scene. After that, directors had no interest in trying to make Frank Gifford into John Wayne.

After the speech, Frank stayed for the rest of the evening and everyone got a chance to spend a lot of time with him. Even then, we all realized that there was something special about Frank Gifford. He had a natural charm that came from the fact that he could genuinely connect with people. We knew that his career after football was going to be a success.

Frank 1

It was only a few years after that when Monday Night Football started and Frank Gifford became a household name. I am glad he was such a success.

Goodbye Frank. Thanks for the stories.

 

King School Class of 1971

It seems impossibly long ago. In fact,  44 years ago. Rapidly closing in on a half a century. Yet somehow I remember everything from King School in Stamford Connecticut much more clearly than many events that have taken place since. The events of those years make a lasting impression on a person.

In fact,  I have written a number of stories on  this very blog about my time at King. If you click on the links below you can read some of them.

  • The Last Connecticut Gentleman is about  the real Merritt K. Sawyer. At school he was a feared tyrant. But I knew him out of school in quite a different context. (By the way, as our English teacher, Mr. Sawyer would have hated that I began the prior sentence with the word “but.”).
  • Running For Cake is the story of our wresting coach Aaron Hess (Woody) and his quest to turn us into Spartans.
  • Guns In The Attic is the story of one of my fellow classmates and the strange and wonderful air force in his attic.
  • Mr. Yang and the Electrical Banana is about our math teacher Jackson Yang and his struggle to make sense out of the incomprehensible lyrics of Donovan Leitch.

Of course, there are many other people and events that come to mind whenever I think about King. There was our Senior English teacher Mr. John Savin Hoffecker, whose love for teaching  was so great that  he gave up a successful law career in the South to teach English in Connecticut.  Savin felt that no class was complete unless he had told us a story about his days in the Old South. I don’t remember many of the books we read in that class, but I do  remember every one of his stories.

There was Malcolm Wilmott who taught Earth Science and who had been a race car driver  in England before becoming a teacher. He was always frustrated with being the person assigned to ferry students around in the school’s underpowered Volkswagen bus.

A number of people from King have written comments to this blog about  the King School stories, and I would love to hear from more. I was looking at the King website on line today and saw that it has changed tremendously, yet somehow remained the same.  It is now co-ed and combined with Low Heywood Thomas.  Some of the physical attributes of the place have changed, but the sheer youthful exuberance of the students remains the same.

When I graduated from King I was happy to leave. It was time to move on and find new adventures. Frankly, having gone there since sixth grade I was tired of the place. But now, when I look through the old yearbook I remember it for what a unique experience it really was.

In the movie Radio Days Woody Allen spoke about how he can still remember the old-time radio voices, but as he get older each year they seem to get a little fainter. I find just the opposite. As I get older, my memories of King seem to get stronger.

Now that I am as old as the most senior teachers were, I can somehow look back at the school with a different perspective and see it in its entirety.

 

 

 

Turkey Bowling

You probably never wonder what goes on in a Supermarket after hours. That’s most likely for the best. If you knew you may never look at your food the same way again.

Like many American’s I had a summer job working in a supermarket when I was a kid.  Most of the kids working there really didn’t need the money, but our parents thought it would be a “good learning experience” for us to have a job.  They were right about it being a learning experience. Whether or not it was good, is another matter.

The supermarket would not close until late at night and that’s when all the high level managers would go home their families.  Left behind in the gigantic store were all the people with the low level jobs who still had a few hours of work left to perform. We had to re-stock the shelves, sweep the aisles, empty the trash, clean the counters.

TURKEY 1

 

It was incredibly boring work,  at least it was until we  began cleaning the floor near a display containing frozen turkeys. That’s when my friend Kevin came up with an idea. He reached inside the freezer and lifted out a frozen Butterball turkey. Kevin had noticed that Butterball turkeys were packaged in a plastic net, with a convenient handle on the top to make them easy to lift.

Kevin took the turkey by the handle, swung it back like it was a bowling ball and then shot it forward  like the supermarket aisle was a lane. It turns out that the ice coating on the outside of the turkey makes an excellent lubricant and the turkey smoothly sailed down the aisle.

turkey 3

Within minutes we were suddenly surrounded by everyone else working in the store that night.  They did not want to reprimand us. They wanted to get in on the fun. Cans of soup and peas were taken off the shelves and set up as bowling pins. Teams were established and bets were placed.

Regular bowling can be fun, but it cannot compare with the thrill of sliding a frozen turkey down a supermarket aisle into a mountain of canned corn while all your friends cheer.

turkey 2

We turkey-bowled for about an hour, and then someone remembered the time.  We only had 30 minutes to put back the turkeys, replace the cans and clean the whole store before the General Manager of the store showed up.  He came by at the end of each night to do a final check, get everyone out of the store and set the alarm.

We scurried about frantically, working harder than we had all summer. We stocked shelves, cleaned and polished, and removed all traces of our illicit sporting event. When the manager arrived, he actually complimented us on how clean the store looked.

I always thought were were the kids who invented turkey bowling and that it was unique to my hometown of Stamford Connecticut. Then years later I happened to mention it to my wife.  She told me that as a kid  she also had a job in a supermarket in Ardsley New York. It turns out that in Ardsley they also bowled in the supermarket aisles, except that they used frozen hams not turkeys. Apparently there are regional variations to the sport.  Over the years I have found that just about everyone who worked in a supermarket as a kid had a similar story.

Of course, now days stores have so many hidden security cameras that it would be impossible to do any of this. When the manager is not around, the workers have to actually work, knowing that the “eye in the sky” is watching their every move. One of the true “learning experiences” of a summer job has disappeared forever.

I’m glad they didn’t have those security cameras when I was a kid. The job paid almost nothing, the hours were long and the work was boring.  Despite that, I still remember it as one of the best jobs of my career.  It wasn’t the job that made it great. It was the fact that we were young and surrounded by friends and still at an age where we could make even a frozen turkey and a few cans of corn into a great adventure.

Mr. Yang and the Electrical Banana

It’s funny how an old song can transport you back through decades as effectively as any Time Machine. Yesterday I was cruising down the highway when Mellow Yellow by Donovan Leitch came on blasting through my car radio. Suddenly I was back at King School in Stamford Connecticut in Mr. Yang’s Algebra class.

Mr. Yang was a teacher we all thought was hilarious. He had moved from Taiwan to the U.S. and still had a very thick Chinese accent. He told us he had served in the United States Army which was  something none of us believed for a second. For one thing, he was only about 5 feet tall. He was also thin as a rail. The boys would laugh openly when Mr. Yang told us of  his “adventures” in Army life.

Looking back on it, I realize that Mr. Yang was actually a great teacher. He made the dreaded Algebra class fun. He didn’t care what was making the kids laugh. What he liked was that they were associating coming to math class with having fun.   You see,  once he had gotten the kid’s attention with stories and jokes he started teaching them Algebra.

Mr. Yang loved his new country of America.  He desperately wanted to be a “cool guy” so he listened to all the same radio stations as  the kids did and tired to learn all the songs and their meanings.  Having a mathematical mind, he just naturally assumed that each song must have a meaning.

Unfortunately the songwriter that Mr. Yang liked the most was Donovan Leitch. Now Donovan’s songs are great and are wonderful to listen to, but do the words really make any sense? All I know is that Mellow Yellow came out in 1966, and I still have no idea what it’s about.

One day Mr. Yang came to class very excited. He had heard Mellow Yellow for the first time on his way into school and it drove him crazy that he could not understand its meaning.

Couch and Bananna 006

“What does Electrical Banana mean boys? What’s it mean?” Mr. Yang kept asking us.

Of course  we had no idea either, except that as kids we were sure that the phrase “Electrical Banana” must have some sort of sexual connotation. We all thought it was hilarious that the naive Mr. Yang was too innocent to get the sexual reference.

Mr. Yang  next tried to decipher Season of the Witch with no more success than he had with Mellow Yellow.  Finally he  moved on to trying to figure out the calculation of the correct Star Dates in Star Trek. Somehow, while all this was going on, all us kids learned Algebra without actually realizing we were doing so.

There are several Epilogue notes to the story, which happened long after I graduated from King. The first is that Mr. Yang went back to school himself and earned a PhD in mathematics. The second is that when I got older I looked up some records, and found out that Mr. Yang actually was in the United States Army. Apparently the Army wants small guys with great technical and math skills just as much as it wants big strong guys.

Finally, decades later,  Jeff Donaugh,  one of the guys from our class actually ended up meeting Donovan Leitch in a coffee house in London. He found Donovan very approachable and finally Jeff had the nerve to ask him what Mellow Yellow was about.

Donovan looked him directly in the eye and said, “It’s all there in the song man. All you have to do is listen.”

I just know that somewhere in America Doctor Yang is still trying to figure it out.

 

 

Bronx Windows

The following is a true story as told by Patrick Flynn, who grew up in the Bronx.

I wasn’t a bad kid. No worse than any other kid growing up in the Bronx.  I was in a Catholic middle school about 20 blocks from my apartment building.  I always walked the long way home. Instead of going on the regular streets with the stores, I went out of my way to walk by a large factory.

The factory was an old-fashioned red brick building with hundreds of windows.   I was never really sure what they made in the factory, but to a kid like me it seemed exciting. Machine noises and whistles came from inside the building, and large tractor trailers pulled in and out of the loading docks day and night.

I mentioned one day to my dad that I might want to work there when I grew up, and it surprised me when he got angry. “I’m not paying extra money to send you to Catholic school so that you can end up in a Bronx factory. You’re going to go to college like I should’ve.” That was the end of that conversation. My father was not the type of man you argued with.

There was a chain link fence around the factory but there was a hole in it large enough for me to slip through. The property just inside  the fence had a lot of large  piles of dirt. I would climb up on them and pretend I was climbing mountains. Sometimes I would get piece of cardboard and try to slide down the dirt pile like I was on a sled.

One day I climbed up a dirt pile and at the top there was a rock just about the size of a baseball. I can’t really explain why, but for some reason I suddenly wanted to see if I could throw it far enough to hit one of the building’s windows.  I had nothing against the factory. I loved that factory.  I just wanted to see if I could hit the window.

I stood on top of the dirt pile. I threw the rock, and to my amazement it sailed out of my hand and shattered a window on the second story of the factory. I didn’t get any time to admire my handiwork, since right after the window shattered I heard someone yell. I turned around and far down the street on the other side of the fence was a New York City Policeman. He was on foot. In those days, there were still foot-Patrolmen in The Bronx.

I ran as fast as I could to the hole in the fence and made my way through. The cop was running towards me, but I was able to duck in and out of narrow places he was too big to fit through.  It felt like he chased me for hours, but in retrospect, I realize it was only about 5 minutes before he gave up.

I did not go back to my apartment right away. I hid in an alley for a long time to make sure the cop was gone.  Also, I had to wait until I stopped panting and sweating. I needed to go into my apartment like nothing unusual had happened that day so that my parents would not get suspicious.

I was feeling pretty smug about myself by the time I got home. I was calm and ready to just walk into the apartment.  I opened the apartment door, and sitting at the kitchen table were my parents drinking coffee. There was a plate of cookies in the middle of the table too, which was unusual. My parents were using the good cups and plates since they had a guest.  Sitting at the table calmly having coffee with them was the Policeman who had chased me.

As I came through the door, the Policeman got up, shook hands with my father; tipped his hat to my mother and left.  I hated to see him go. I was much more afraid of what my parents would do than I ever was of the police.

Now days the police patrol in cars with all sorts of radio and computer equipment that supposedly keeps them connected with what is happening.  But when I was a kid in The Bronx the police kept connected a different way. They walked on the streets and knew the people. They knew where people lived and knew the names of their kids. No computer can ever replace that.

I won’t say how my parent’s punished me. Let’s just say it was appropriate. My father did get his wish. I went to college. However, I still was fascinated with factories and machines, so I ended up studying Engineering.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to that Policeman. I wonder if he ever understood just how good he was at his job.  He and the other beat cops never acted like they were patrolling an area.  They were simply part of the community.  They always took the time to shake hands, and they always tipped their hats to the ladies.

 

Silent Flames On Cold Water

One of my clearest memories from childhood is of a cold October night when I stood helpless on the shore  with two hundred other people and watched a beautiful sailing yacht burn.

I lived in Connecticut near a large boat marina. Yachts from all over the world would would come in and tie up to the dock. As a kid, I didn’t  think about the incredible amounts of money they must have cost, or what type of people could afford them.  I was struck more by the pure beauty of the vessels.

It was a cold dark night and my father came into my room and said he had seen fire trucks going towards the marina. He and I got into his old Buick Le Sabre with giant tail fins and raced to see what was going on.

When we got to the docks, we could see two fire trucks and a lot of people standing around, but at first we could not locate the fire. Then we saw that everyone was staring at a beautiful  wooden two-masted sailing vessel with teak decks. It seemed to be somehow glowing in the dark.

The boat was not a racing vessel, but one meant for comfortable luxurious sailing.  It had a large cabin with large windows, instead of little port holes. Through the widows we could clearly see the flames as they burned the inside of the yacht.

It was an odd sensation, since there was no sound at all from the fire. The boat was locked up tight and the windows were very thick and strong. They were meant to withstand the pounding of heavy seas, but instead were holding back a fire.

No one knew the who the owners of the yacht were. They had sailed in from another state and a limousine had picked them up at the dock. No one knew how to contact them.

I asked my dad why the firemen did not break the windows and start pouring water on the fire. He explained that if they smashed the windows, oxygen would rush in to feed the fire and make it much worse. The firemen were hoping the fire would run out of oxygen and stop itself.

But oxygen must have been getting into the cabin from some sort of opening, since the fire showed no sign of letting up. Then my father pointed out the real problem. Against all the rules of the marina, the owners of this boat had left it tied up to the gas dock.  This burning vessel was tied to a dock with tanks that held thousands of gallons of gas and diesel fuel.  If the flames spread from the boat to the gas dock, the entire marina and all the other yachts in it could go up in flames. No amount of hosing down the gas dock would be able to stop the disaster.

It was only a matter of time until the fire in the cabin would get powerful enough to break through the windows and start the gas dock on fire. There was only one thing to do.

The marina’s launch pulled up to the burning yacht and and man tied a rope to the cleat at the bow of the yacht. Then another man untied the ropes holding the yacht to the gas dock. It was an incredibly dangerous act. If the flames had burst through the yacht cabin at that moment and hit the gas dock, both of those men would have died instantly.

The launch  towed the burning yacht into the center of the harbor away from all the other boats. Then the launch raced  away from the danger as quickly as possible.  The town had no fireboat, so there was nothing left to do now but watch the yacht burn.

No more than five minutes after the launch had towed the yacht away from the gas dock, there was the sound of shattering glass and the flames broke through the windows. My father was right about the oxygen feeding the fire. As soon ad the windows broke, the fire tripled in size and for the first time we could hear the roar of the flames.

Even in those days, a solid wooden yacht was rare. Fiberglass is so much easier to maintain. The wood hull and the teak decks burned quickly. The flames shot up the two masts. The crowd on the shore was silent as the vessel died. There were no shouts of “Wow!” or “Look at that!” A yacht like that is something of a moving piece of art. Real sailors feel a boat that beautiful is somehow alive.

The yacht burned down to the waterline, and the crowd started to leave. My father and I got into the giant car and drove home.  We did not feel like speaking on the ride back. It was as if we had just attended a funeral. This was long before the days of cell phones with cameras, so there are no videos or pictures to record this event. The Buick Le Sabre with the giant fins in no more, and even my father is gone. But somehow the memory of that night still burns as brightly as silent flames on the cold water.

 

 

 

 

 

I

Guns in the attic

Wesley’s mother was beautiful and his father was insane. His mother came to all of the King Low Heywood School  soccer games. Our coaches tried to hide the fact that they were looking at her, but they were all stealing glances whenever they thought the kids were not watching. She had a natural beauty which was unusual in those days. She used no makeup and never wore any sexy clothing, but somehow that only made her more beautiful. She had long auburn hair and a slim athletic build. She never seemed aware of the impact she had on the men around her. She was always wonderfully nice to everyone. She was so sweet that the other mothers, instead of being jealous of her looks loved being her friends.

Wesley’s father was an advertising executive in New York. He took the train in all the way from Royaton ever day, so that his family could live near the beach. His specialty was products aimed at kids like toys, cookies, candies and the like. He invented Nabisco’s “Cookie Man”. The fact that he was insane was probably a great help in his profession.

Wesley, his parents and his  brothers lived in a big barn of a house. Like many of the houses in Royaton it was freezing cold in the winter. The houses near the beach had all originally been built as summer homes. It never occurred to the builders that people would live there year-round. That’s why the houses had almost no insulation, and very minor heating systems.

I found out his father was insane when I spent one Saturday at Wesley’s house. I helped Wesley and his brother put the finishing touches on model airplanes they were building. There was a B-17 and a German fighter plane. They had done a wonderful job building them, with no glue splotches, and all of the decals perfectly straight. They had even put in miniature pilots.

When the last decal was on, the dad came in and said, “Well fellows, let’s try them out.” Wesley picked up the model planes and their father pulled down the stairs to the attic.

We all climbed up the stairs and I was amazed at what I saw. From the ceiling hanging on strings was a miniature air force. German and Allied model aircraft all of World War II vintage were suspended from stings hooked to the ceiling. There must have been forty or more model airplanes. They were positioned in such a way that it looked like a full scale air battle was going on.

But the strange part was the mattresses. There were hundreds of them in the attic. They covered every part of the floor and walls. They were three, four and in some places five mattresses deep.  Wesley and his brother bounced over the mattresses until they found the perfect spots to hang their new model airplanes from the ceiling. I thought we would be going back downstairs after that, but the dad lead us over to the far side of the room where a wooden workbench was set up.  He then opened a long box next to the bench and took out a .22 caliber rifle and proceeded to load it.

He placed the loaded rifle on the workbench and then handed each of us what he called “shooters’ safely glasses” and told us to put  them on. “Remember-safety first boys”, he said. I did not know much about rifles or shooting equipment, but I did know that what he handed us were swimmers’ goggles. We also got safety equipment for our ears. These were balls of cotton with strings attached to them.

We each got a turn with the rifle. The goal was simple. Try to shoot down the German fighter planes, without hitting any of the Allied bombers. As Wesley and his brother  took turns shooting, I was petrified. What if a bullet bounced off a rafter and came back to hit one of us? What if a bullet went through the mattresses in the floor and killed Wesley’s lovely mother who was in the kitchen making cookies for all of us?

Then they handed the rifle to me. I didn’t want to do it at first, but the three of them encouraged me. Turns out it’s a lot harder to hit a model airplane then it looks, especially when you are aiming through scratched swimmer’s goggles.

But it happened. A perfect shot. After several misses, I fired a  .22 caliber round which  blew to pieces a German fighter with a red swastika on its tail. The Allied bombers around the fighter were untouched. Everyone cheered. It was thrilling.

I never told my parents about what we did at Wesley’s that day. I knew my father would have gone berserk, and my mother would have made a lot of “concerned” phone calls which would have caused  trouble for everyone. Wesley’s whole family may have been crazy, but I liked them.

Wesley married and became an Episcopal priest.  He and his wife has also spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa. I recently got the very sad news that Wesley Wubbenhorst had passed away. I still find it hard to accept. His “joie de vivra” always made him more alive that anyone  else. I never really knew what became of his parents. I like to think they spent their golden years in a luxury retirement community where the old men secretly  glanced at Wesley’s mother, while Wesley’s father shot at model boats floating in the community pool.

 

 

 

 

Dusty Cars – a 9/11 Story

Train Station 004 9/11 Victims from Basking Ridge NJ

A very large percentage of the people who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were train commuters from New Jersey. From my little town of Basking Ridge alone 17 people died on that day. So many New Jersey people worked at the World Trade Center since it was such an easy commute. Take the train to Hoboken; then the PATH train directly into the basement of the World Trade Center itself. Fast escalators took you to the lobby of the World Trade Center which was so full of stores it seemed more like a shopping mall than an office building. Huge elevators then  took you up into whichever tower you happened to work in. Some commuters did not even bother to bring a coat in the winter since they were almost never outside.

Train Station 001

When the towers went down, the destruction was so complete that most victims could not be identified. As the days and weeks went by, people began to wonder if a full count of the victims had been obtained. After all, what about the people who lived alone and had no family or friends to wonder where they were? So the NJ Transit Police began a search of every train station parking lot along all the lines that ran into Hoboken. They were looking for any cars that looked like they had been parked for a long time. They took down the license plate number of any cars with an unusual amount of dust, and then started the task of searching for the owners. Sometimes it turned out to be just a dirty car. Other times it was as they had feared. The car belonged to a 9/11 victim that no one had even been looking for.

Train Station 006

The PATH from Hoboken to the World Trade Center is operating again and has been doing so for a number of years. No one says they are taking the PATH to where the World Trade Center used to be; and no one says that are going to the Freedom Tower. We go to the World Trade Center. That is what it says on the PATH train, and that is what the speaker announcement says.

We commuters take the PATH to the World Trade Center and then up the fast escalators which now lead us directly outside to what apparently is a never-ending construction project. Large  groups of New York City police stand in circles, and teams of soldiers in camouflage uniforms carry M-16s and walk around in twos and threes. Early morning tourists from every country on Earth stand on blocks of cement and take pictures of themselves while smiling into the camera.

The commuters don’t stop for any of this.  The police, soldiers and tourists are just annoying obstacles we have to maneuver around in our rush to get to work on time.

Train Station 005

I purposely did not publish this story on 9/11.  That date has become too political. I never watch the annual  ceremonies from the site of the World Trade Center memorial. The podium there gets more crowded each year as politicians try to squeeze into the spotlight to further their own careers.

The commuters who died on 9/11 came from all different backgrounds and political persuasions. But their lives were not about the events of 9/11 in New York. Their lives were here, where they lived.

Unlike the politicians, I will never try to speak for the victims of 9/11. I don’t know what their views would be or what they would want to say. The only thing I know for certain that they had in common, is that they all should have come home that night.

Train Station 008

 

 

 

The Last Connecticut Gentleman

It is always strange to see your teacher outside of school, especially when you are in middle school and the teacher is someone everyone is afraid of. His name was Merritt K. Sawyer. He was a scary-looking old man. Mr. Sawyer always wore a black suit and a white shirt, and walked with a pronounced limp. He was not a large man, but he had a certain presence that immediately made anyone in the room pay attention to him.

Mr. Sawyer lived in a scary house too. It was  an old, dark green Victorian, with the yard perpetually dark due to a forest of huge, untrimmed oak trees crowding every inch of the property. Instead of a garage he had a full sized red barn with the boards sagging so much it looked like it would collapse any second. In the barn was his ancient Dodge Dart. Unlike everything else on the property, the car gleamed like it had just come out of the showroom.

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

The worst part was that Mr. Sawyer’s house was directly across the street from mine, although I never had any interaction with him outside of school. That is, until King School decided to save money by eliminating as many of the school buses as it could. Students who lived near teachers were told they would have to ride to school in a teacher’s car.  That’s how Jimmy Sachs and I ended up riding in a shiny Dodge Dart every day with the most feared teacher in Connecticut.

Since it was his car, Mr. Sawyer got to choose the radio station, and all he every picked were news stations. National news, local news, business news. I had no idea all those stations even existed. And he insisted we all discuss the stories after we heard them.  “It is important for a gentleman to be well informed,” he used to say.

Gentleman. It’s a word he used to say a lot. He seemed to be living in a different time period from the rest of the world. Jimmy and I didn’t want to be gentlemen. We wanted to be cool. How much more un-cool could you get than riding to school in an old car with an old teacher every day. But Mr. Sawyer wanted us to be gentlemen. When were  not listening to the news he lectured us on what it meant to be a gentleman. A real gentleman had to be intelligent and brave. You had to be physically strong and stand up for what is right . A gentleman is always polite. Not because he is subservient to anyone, but because he has the strength to be polite, when a lesser person would be rude or angry.

Now that we all car-pooled, Mr. Sawyer seemed to take more of an interest in the neighborhood. He started turning his lights on for Halloween, and my parents made me go tick-or-treating there. He had two kinds of treats you could choose from – Saltines or pennies (for UNICEF). People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but that is actually what he handed out on Halloween.

In February, we got a huge unexpected wet snowfall which looked like it might collapse the roof of Mr. Sawyer’s home. Jimmy and I were walking on the sidewalk when suddenly we heard Mr. Sawyer calling to us. There he was up on a flat section of his roof limping about with his bad leg and trying to push the snow off with a plastic broom. He looked like he would fall off any second.

When Jimmy and I went over with snow shovels, Mr. Sawyer met us at the door, thanked us profusely and invited us in. It was the first time either of us had ever seen the inside of his house. It was a beautiful house, with polished hardwood floors and lovely red curtains. Everything was spotlessly clean. He took us to the upstairs gust room, which had a large window from which we could climb onto the roof. The bed had a large, thick American flag draped on it. The type they put on the coffin of a soldier and then give the family. We were dying to ask about the flag, but of course did not. Was it from a family member? Had he been in the war? Is that why he had a limp?

After the day we had saved Mr. Sawyer’s roof from the snow, he seemed to loosen up on the morning drive a little. Sometimes he even let us choose a music station, although he could not help but comment on how bad our taste in music was. It was a long daily drive to the school, all the way from the beach section in Shippan Point  where we lived, to the country in the hills.

The old Connecticut was dying  and it was obvious even to us kids.  There were still working farms, but every day a few more of them got sold and turned into tract housing developments. Each day we passed a an especially beautiful farm with rolling hills, and a lovely white farm house. On a particularly sunny spring morning I happened to say, “That’s a beautiful farm.” That was when Mr. Sawyer surprised me by revealing the only piece of information I was ever to learn about his past.

“Yes it is,” he said, “When I was a boy my father almost bought that farm; but he died about a month later so we never got it. A little boy sure misses his daddy.” It seemed so strange. It was the only emotion I had ever seen from him except for anger (when the kids at school were especially loud, or late for an assembly).

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

My morning rides with Mr. Sawyer ended when I graduated from middle school. Of course he was still my next  door neighbor, and so I saw him outside raking leaves or washing his Dodge Dart. By the time I was a senior in high school, it was time for Mr. Sawyer to retire. Rumor was that he didn’t want to retire, but was being pushed out. The teachers and parents were having a retirement party on Saturday night for him and were going to present him with a rocking chair with a Princeton logo.

My parents had gone to the party since they had donated some money to the school. As usual, I was sitting at home doing nothing but watching T.V. when the phone rang. It was my father with an order for me. He sounded very angry and said, “Go over to Mr. Sawyer’s house and see why he isn’t here. We keep calling his house and there’s no answer. There are three hundred people here and that old fart hasn’t shown up!” He gave me a phone number and I promised I would call him back.

Mr.  Sawyer’s house looked as dark and scary as I had ever seen it. I was afraid I was going to find him dead. It was a cold night with no moon, and the clouds were blocking any stars. I walked up the old wooden porch and rang the bell. Mr. Sawyer opened the door looking very old and tired.

“Gregory,” he said. “How nice of you to come by. Please come in.”

I followed him into the living room. Mr. Sawyer mas moving and speaking very slowly, almost as if he were in a daze. I followed him into the living room and he motioned for me to sit in a plush red chair. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a cheeseboard. “Please have some cheese and crackers and soda.”

The phone rang while he as pouring a 7-UP, and Mr. Sawyer ignored it while it rang twenty times before it finally stopped. As gently as I could I leaned forward and said, “I think that is the school. People are worried that you did not show up at your retirement party.”

“No they are not,” he replied wistfully. “They just want me out. And then what do I do? What do I do?” He had a look of real fear in his eyes. He was not the mean teacher, or the frightening man with the limp in a black suit. He was just an old man with no family worried about what would come next.

Mr. Sawyer and I sat drinking 7-UP and eating sharp cheddar. Every once and a while the phone would ring and we would ignore it. Then he walked me to the door and shook my hand. “Thank you so much for dropping by,” he said solemnly.

I called back my father and said that Mr. Sawyer had a real bad stomach virus and would not be able to make the party. He had not answered the phone since he was in the bathroom most of the time. My father was still angry, but there was not much he could do about it.

After he retired, I continued to see Mr. Sawyer around the neighborhood driving in his perfectly maintained Dodge Dart. He still handed out Saltines and pennies every Halloween. One Spring the town had a junk pick-up, and I noticed that Mr. Sawyer had thrown out a rocking chair with a Princeton logo on it.

Once and a while I would drop by his house to see how he was doing. If the weather was warm we sat on the front porch of the old Victorian having cheese and soft drinks. We never spoke about the night of his retirement party. I still listened to all the news stations, so we conversed about world events while we looked out at the huge oak trees shading his yard. Just two Connecticut gentlemen.