Friday, August 28, 2009

Losing Everything by David Lozell Martin

This book has opened up more insights into my own past than even I could have imagined.

The author was raised in West Virginia by a mother who is mentally ill and a father who is abusive enough to have at least contributed to that illness.

This is the story of one mans battle with his own inner demons while acknowledging the demons that stalk us all.

A compelling read, Mr. Martin takes you on a journey of his own life up to and including the point where past meets present and he finds himself in, and reacting in the same way to, all the things that happened in his family as a child.

Together with his brother and sister he retraces the events and the shadows that hung over him while growing up. While reading it I became aware that I had not addressed some of my own childhood demons in my writing.

An accomplished author of fiction, Mr. Martin has written a very telling book, one that must have taken some courage to write. That he faces his demons and takes from them some very valuable insights make this book the gem that it is.

Ellie Greenwich and Tin Pan Alley

Once upon a time there was a place known as "Tin Pan Alley." This was an area in Midtown Manhattan where so many popular songs of the
20th Century originated.

In the 1950's Carole King went door to door selling her songs there, even while attending James Madison High School. Prior to that Irving Berlin, George Cohan, George Gershwin and so many others walked these same streets and knocked on the same doors. Commodore Records was located nearby. This was all before the mass migration of music to the West Coast.

I grew up listening to AM radio. Some of my favorite songs were written by Ellie Greenwich who passed away yesterday at the age of 68.

I will always remember The Dixie Cups "Chapel of Love" and can still sing the lyrics without error. She was one of the last to roam those fabled streets in search of a publisher. Her passing marks the end of an era in American music that will probably never be equaled.

If you grew up listening to songs like "Hanky Panky"(Tommy James and The Shondells),"Leader of the Pack"(The Shangra-Las),"Doo Wah Diddy Diddy"(Manfred Mann),"Doo Ron Ron"(Ronnie and The Ronnetes),"And Then He Kissed Me", "River Deep Mountain High" (Ike and Tina Turner) and so many others, then you will miss her.
I know I do.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 13- A Little Background

It has occurred to me that I have left out an integral portion of my life prior to leaving home. My Mom's illness was undoubtedly a very large portion of some of my problems - from drug abuse to the lack of any relationship with my brother. This is all an important part of my narrative. No excuses are being offerred here. Anything I did do was of my own choosing. But the background is a very necessary part of understanding who I was and even who I am.

My Mom developed ulcers around the time that my parents had that "chart/demerit" thing going which caused conflict between my brother and I. Each week, as I've said- the one with the least demerits got to go to the store and pick out a prize while the other watched and sometimes wept. That someone was usually me.

Looking back I realize that this was all the result of my Mom's nerves. She simply couldn't handle 2 small boys and developed ulcers. The blame somehow got shifted to me and I paid quite a price emotionally while growing up. Even today I carry the big "G" for guilt; and it is one heavy fucking cross to bear.

When my Mom became sicker with collitis and cancer we were told repeatedly that "this was the end" and Mom wasn't going to make it. Imagine going to school while wondering if Mom is dead or alive. You don't learn much under those conditions.

My brother and I fought viciously, to the point of the neighbors calling the cops. Our fights even encompassed knives at times, taken from the kitchen. This was all a product of my Mom's illness.

Make no mistake, I bear her no ill will in any of this. She was a victim as well. But I found that each time I was told that she wasn't going to make it- I found myself wishing that she wouldn't. Then I wouldn't be living under that dark, depressing cloud of uncertainty. That's where the "Big G" comes from.

The only good part is that I spoke with my Mom extensively concerning these feelings in the days leading up to her death. I would call her from phone booths all over the world while sailing. The last calls were from Norfolk and she told me, "You know you will never be able to live until I die." Not a question- a statement. And my reply? "I know, Mom, I know." And she responded with, "And that's okay." And it is.

I just needed to add this and one other thing- the trips we took as a family.
From 1963 through 1970 we went by car to Mystic Seaport, Fire Island, Montauk Point, Philadelphia (when the bell was sitting outside and you could touch it)Florida, Washington DC twice, Virginia, Dairy Farms in New Jersey and Coal Mines in the Appalachians.

My hat is forever off to my parents for the efforts they went to and the expense of money we did not have to take us on these trips. The memories are truly priceless.
So at 21 I was an enigma. On the one hand I loved these people who rejected me. And on the other hand I hated them for the rejection.

With that said- I can now move on back to the story at hand.

Now let's see, where was I?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 12- The Lost Year

Work wise things were going well for me in 1975 through 1976. But personally this was a very lonely and depressing time. I was 21 years old and it was beginning to look like I would be working in a grocery store 6 blocks from where I had been born for the rest of my life.

I was drinking less and taking Tuinols and Qualudes in increasing quantities. I was smoking during the day and I was always at work- and doing my job well, but the nights were a different story altogether.

I spent most of my evenings walking alone, smoking the pocketful of joints that I always carried. I would take a Qualude or a Tuinol to even things out. Walking and singing in the streets became my nightly ritual. There was something comforting in the darkness that hid the pain I was feeling. I was lonely, wondering why my parents had given up on me.

My relationships at this time were either women from the grocery store who craved the attention they were not getting from their spouses- or else just someone that I would run into and get high with. The only love I got at the time was in the treatment I received at the store and the tolerance shown me concerning my drug use.

After 2132 was sold I began a migration from apartment to apartment. On the eve of my 21st birthday I was faced with eviction from an apartment on Ocean Avenue I had been sharing with Michael Held. This was the only argument I ever had with Michael. The apartment was in my name and I got half the rent from Michael each month. When the eviction notice came he stopped paying. I had not been using his share of the money for rent- buying pot and pills instead, so he felt that the last month should be free for him. I countered that since I was going to be evicted under my name alone and he was going across the street to his Mom’s house, he should pay me. Of course I was wrong. But words flew and Michael, in a move very uncharacteristic of him- took a pan of boiling water from the stove and threw it on my bare stomach! To my credit I did not shoot him. And he was so surprised at what he had done that we both ended up laughing hysterically. We then went to the roof with our big wooden TV and threw it down into the middle of Ocean Avenue. Call it male bonding….

The next night found me wandering the streets until after midnight. I went to a friends house and threw stones at his window. Creeping around the alley to the front door I went in quietly and spent the night there. In the morning my friends’ parents asked a few questions, fed me breakfast and I was on my way to work.

I really needed a place to stay and that day I had no idea what I was going to do. Harry and Al both offered the hospitality of their homes but I declined- out of shame I think.

But that very afternoon Donna came walking into Met Foods, leaving Duke tied up at the meter in front. She listened and then offered me the living room of her apartment on Avenue O and 19th Street. I quickly accepted and moved in that evening.

Donna was 31, I was 19. She was a hairdresser. I wanted to be roommates, and at first that is the way it went. But things began to change and I was not comfortable in the way things were turning out. One day I came home from work and Donna’s ex was there. I remember coming to on the couch with a knot on my head from being knocked out. Time to move.

I had become friends with Mia Mamoor, who worked at the Rainbow dress shop on Kings Highway and East 16th Street. He had been introduced to me through Osman and Cumin Raji, two brothers from Malaysia who were janitors in my parents’ apartment building. I used to go to their room on the ground floor and smoke the best opiated hash on the planet.

Mia had an apartment on Ocean Avenue and Avenue L and that is where I moved next. We would meet after work and go back to his place where he would cook swordfish and curry. It stunk up the whole building and the neighbors were complaining about it. One night we made so much fish that we invited the neighbors in to eat. Only a few accepted- but when they saw and tasted the food they never complained again.

Mia was dating a Chinese American girl named Karen. Her parents owned some restaurants in New York as well as Virginia. Her Dad spoke a little English and I think he told me the stories about Mao and the final days of the Revolution in the late 40’s. Although they did not really care for Mia they never interfered with her seeing Mia and they eventually married.

A funny story about Mia, Osman, and Cumin concerns John DiStefano. One night we all got together and went to Chinatown for dinner. With Osman and Cumin doing the ordering we were in for some rare treats. John was a bit more drunk than the rest of us. The food began arriving at the table and we all began to eat. Then the fish came out on a platter – whole- and with the eyes still in. Osman- ever the gracious host- took his chopsticks and expertly plunked the eye out of the fish, offering it to John. This was actually a sign of honor and respect. John puked and Osman, unfazed, plopped the eye in his mouth, savoring this delicacy.

Another funny thing about this period of my life is that although we were always talking politics, religion, God etc. it never once came up that I and many of our mutual friends were Jewish. You see they were Islamic. Mia actually did the foot washing etc at night. But it was never a point of discussion. We were all friends and that was the most important thing. It really wasn’t until years later that I thought of it!

After Mia’s place I had a rented room in a nearby apartment for a couple of months. Then I moved into Sheldon Wassermans mom’s home on East 22nd Street- across from PS 197 where I had gone to Kindergarten. She was elderly and alone so Sheldon thought it would work out for us both. It did- kind of, sort of.

Sheldon was married to the cutest little Italian woman, her name was Rochelle, everyone called her Shelley. So they were Shelley and Sheldon. We had a little arrangement between us- I gave then pot- they gave me pills. They were in their early 30’s and I was 21. Things got bad for Sheldon with the pills and so Shelley sent him over to live with his mom for a bit. There was plenty of room so it was not bad. And soon we were joined by his nephew Stevie and started to call the place “The Clinic.” Sheldon’s mom was not so amused but soldiered on anyway- playing host to this band of mis-fits. Secretly I think she was glad for the company.

My evenings were now spent on the corner of Avenue O and East 12th Street. There was an open air drug scene outside of St Brendan’s Church and most of the dealers were the kid brothers of various friends. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the corner, only to be awakened at about 1 in the morning by Judy Lannigan or Denise Woods and they would point me towards home. But at 9:05 AM I was back at Met Foods with my Italian bread and milk, ready for another day.

One night, as I was standing in the schoolyard of PS 197 watching Phillip Held play softball, I noticed some objects in the sky- very bright and larger than stars. I immediately identified them as Venus and Mars. Later in the year I pointed out Jupiter. Now no one had ever shown me these before- and I don’t know how I knew what they were- but they were.

I could see that a change was in order- I had traveled from Bedford Avenue and Kings Highway, where I was born in 1954 to East 22nd Street and Kings Highway- a distance of 3 streets in 21 years! And I was working on East 19th Street and Kings Highway. My whole life was becoming defined by these 6 city blocks! I could see that it was time to move on- and so I began to make plans.

I would join the Navy. And Harry and Al would have to change that old sign in the window- the one that had read “Part Time Bag Boy Wanted” would now read “2 Full Time Men Needed.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Movie Review- You Kill Me

This movie came to me via one of our fine librarians and she was right on target. I do like this movie. A slow start but the plot keeps you hooked.

Essentially this movie is about an alcoholic hit man in Buffalo, N.Y. who works for the "mob", who happen to be his family. They are the only remnants of the Polish "mob" and trying to horn in on the Irish and the Chinese business. But our hero, played by Ben Kingsley, falls asleep, misses the hit and is confronted by his relatives. It's an intervention - He has a choice- 6 months in rehab in San Francisco while working a normal job- or the family has him "taken out"-related or not.

His "watcher" in San Francisco is a gay real estate agent who monitors our hero's attendance at AA meetings. He also gets him a job as an assistant mortician, which leads him to meet the step daughter, played by Tea Leoni, of a deceased man. They have an unusual attraction to one another that blossoms when their mutual passion for the "dark side" emerges.

What follows is the transformation of a hard drinking, non thinking hit man into a semi sober, pre-meditated killer- with wild repurcussions for everyone-even his "family".

Crisp and calculated direction by John Dahl give this movie the pace it needs to keep you onboard for a very unusual story.

The Ragman's Son by Kirk Douglas

From the opening line through to the last page this book is one of the most intimate and honest auto-biographies I have ever read.

Issur Danielovitch Demsky was born in Amsterdam, N.Y. to a Russian born "ragman."I still remember the ragman from my own neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. He was a kindly,though somewhat mysterious figure. Imagine if that man was your father!

This book is the first of three that Kirk Douglas began in 1988. I have read all three. Follow Issurs'(Kirk Douglas) career through a childhood of poverty to his high school years and then World War Two.

Honest to a fault about everything, including his own shortcomings, this book will draw you into his life and thoughts. His confrontations with anti-semitism and his growing understanding of what it means to be Jewish contrast starkly with his name change. This is a complex man.

His movie years and 2 marriages are a good look at Hollywood and how it affects people and who they are. His insights into himself are what keep him searching for the meaning of all that has happened to him during his remarkable career.

I have always enjoyed Kirk Douglas as an actor. and as an author he shines with a light unique to Issur, the small boy who makes it big.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 11- Harry and Al's

I entered 1974 unemployed, a bit heartbroken and once again in search of a place to live. Jimmy was still in charge at 2132 and so I went to see him. By this time Michael Held had moved in to take my old room so I was set up in the unused living room.

I made a “pit” style bed out of a mattress surrounded by wooden crates, which also served as my closets, shelves and a desk. The fact that anyone coming or going had to pass through the living room never bothered me. I was always the last one to go to sleep anyway.

Finding a job was more complex- I was still trying to impress my parents so I went looking for another suit and tie type job similar to the one I had as a Buyers Assistant. After 2 weeks of taking the subway into Manhattan I was walking home along Kings Highway when I passed Met Foods/H and A Grocery. They were just off the corner of East 19th Street and around the corner from 2132. There was a sign in the window that said- “Part time bag boy wanted.” I went in and spoke with the owners- two Jewish fellows in their 60’s named Harry and Al. They were the names behind H and A Grocery.

Harry Falkowitz was a short, stout fellow who smoked the classic “big cigar”. Al Sussman was the opposite, tall and thin. They had been introduced to one another after having failed at their own businesses as a Grocer and Printer, respectively. They were ideal partners.

While one was frugal and cheap- the other was generous and gregarious. While one was the center of a happy family the other was a depressed and disappointed man. I liked them both immediately. They evidently felt the same way about me and so I was hired part time at $2.50 an hour which was the minimum wage at the time.

I quickly progressed from bagging groceries to working the register- which was one of those old National Cash Registers. In other words you had to be able to count and make change- unlike today where the machine tells you what to do. You could also work with the drawer open- which came in handy at “rush hour” each evening when people came in to pick up one or two items to complete their dinners. At times like these we would even resort to writing the prices on the grocery bag and add thenm by hand with a pencil I kept behind my ear, adding the items up before placing them in the bag. The bag, once I had written upon it, served as a receipt. In this way we could work as an extra register if needed.

Before long I was "full time" and being paid as follows; $2.50 an hour for the first 15 hours- this put me on the books in case a Labor Department Inspector showed up. The balance of my pay was in cash- about $5 an hour, which was pretty good for 1974. So at the end of each week I had about $200 – which was almost double what I would’ve made at the suit and tie job. My hours were 9AM-7PM Monday through Friday with a half day on Saturdays.

I lived one week to the next, starting out behind. Consequently I always owed my pay before I got it. This posed no particular hardship as Kings Highway was like a little village and I had accounts at every store I used. For instance- groceries I took as needed and it got written down in “the book”. At the end of the week when I got paid I would pay the store back for all that I had taken. Breakfast was free- consisting of a fresh, too hot to handle loaf of Italian bread smeared with 4 ounces of Philadelphia Cream Cheese and washed down with a quart of ice cold milk. Lunch and dinner were both eaten at Minerva’s, the Greek restaurant across the street from the store. I’d eat and they would mark it down. On Friday nights I would pay them off after dinner and we would begin again. I can still taste their Lamb Stew which was Tuesday nights special.

Laundry was done by the Greek woman on the next block twice a week and I paid her on Saturdays. Clothes were usually paid for in cash when I went shopping on Saturday- but if I needed credit there was no problem. All the store owners knew one another and the employees- if I didn’t pay them Harry and Al would and then take it from my pay. I am proud to say that never happened.

What a cast of characters we had working there! There was Ishmael, or “Izzy” as we called him, who was Puerto Rican and hit on all the women that came in the store. And I mean ALL the women- including the Rabbis’ wife! (She seemed pleased at the attention.)

There was Paul, a Jewish fellow who had gone off to Korea for the war engaged to an Italian girl. While he was over there she met and married another man. Her parents never forgave her and when Paul came home they took him in “until he got settled.” He had been there for over 25 years.

Then there was Bob, a vain and arrogant man, which I later realized was just a cover for him. His wife worked in Real Estate and made lots of money and I suppose his arrogance was the only way he could hold onto his pride.

We had 2 Mexicans in the store- Leo and his younger brother Angelo. Leo was legal- Angelo was not. Leo had a family of 5 living above the store next to ours. Angelo had a room nearby. They were both the brothers of Milton Perez, who delivered the groceries in a station wagon bought for him by the store every 2 years. Milton lived in a house 3 doors down from 2132 and his son Joseph would go on to become a Doctor.

We had a dairy manned by another Bob, a gentle and shy fellow who was a real old time dairyman. He was in charge of the walk in cooler where all the dairy items were stored, along with some beer for Paul who had an unquenchable thirst. The cooler was a funny place- we would drink there, hide there, and once Harry walked in with a customer to show her how “fresh our pot cheese really is” , only to find Paul screwing the local prostitute atop a crate of milk! We lost the woman as a customer but Paul stayed on.

Each evening at 5 PM, just before the evening “rush” would begin, Izzy would take a can of beer and go out front to drink it while leaning on the parking meter. All things being equal I would join him and smoke a joint. All the customers knew us and never said a thing. Officer Russo, the beat cop, would stroll by and Izzy would simply lower his can while talking to him. I would cup my joint in my hand, where it would die out. More than once, as Officer Russo would turn to leave, he would look back and say, “Need a light, Kid?” I never did….

Harry was Orthodox and had his family and the Temple. Al had a wife he didn’t like and a printing press. He kept the press in a separate room in his apartment in Far Rockaway, with the door padlocked. It was his own world. When he found out that I wrote he let me in and gave me a copy of his self published “Poems for Grandkids” by A. Zaydeh. A was short for Abraham, or Al, which was his first name, while Zaydeh was the Yiddish word for Grandpa. So it was really “Poems for Grandkids” by A Grandpa.

Al could be very cruel at times, especially when he had taken his afternoon nap in the "office" above the store. He would come down with two red palm imprints on his forehead from falling asleep at his desk, head in hands. He would take Seconals and sometimes add a "nip" to it. This accounted for his surly behavoir when he came back down. Occassionally this would cause him a problem.

One day Al had come down from his "nap" only to be confronted at the register with a little boy, about 10 years old, tugging at Al's white grocers jacket. "Mister, Mister, do you have any foreign coins?", he implored. "Go away kid, you bother me." was Al's reply in W.C. Fields fashion. The kid persisted and Al turned to him with a mock smile and patting him on the head said,"What a nice little boy- very nice. So you want some change-? Here's your change!" He then took the kids change and threw it out into the middle of Kings Highway. The kid ran crying from the store only to return with his Dad, one of those big fellows with hair on his shoulders and wearing a wife beater tee shirt. "Who took my kids money?" he yelled. "That one." said the kid. At this point Al opened the register and started shoving money at the kid while saying "What a nice boy- here- take some more- nice boy you have there!" The rest of us were in stitches.

But Harry was just the opposite. We would catch steady customers stealing small,high priced items and Harry would let them go. He reasoned that it made better sense to simply pad the next bill than to lose a customer. This infuriated Al, who would expose and publicly ridicule anyone caught while he was in the store. Like I said, they were perfect for one another. Al would throw them out and Harry would entice them back in.

About this time Johnny Carson made a remark on the "Tonight Show" that would jar the country and make Harry and Al very wealthy. It was in 1974 that Johnny Carson, remarking on a sugar "shortage" that was taking place, lampooned the shortage by saying there was a shortage of toilet paper on the way. Panic ensued with people loading up on the stuff. Coffee soon followed- remember this was just after the Arab oil embargo and the US was experiencing it's first shortages (all be it manufactured as opposed to real) since World War Two. So Harry and Al, through their contacts at the distibutor, where able to get tractor trailer loads of all the short goods. We rented extra space in any garage within 2 blocks of the store and added to the maze of sheds in the rear yard, filling them all with toilet paper, coffee and sugar. They made a killing buying at low prices and then selling at the current rate.

But Harry and Al were not mercenaries- they were really nice guys who cared about their employees. And they put their money where their mouths were.

Of the 3 Perez brothers only Angelo still had family behind in Mexico. A Wife and 5 children. His dream was to save enough money to bring them here.
Angelo could ape a few words of English and taught me several foul words and phrases in Spanish. He was a hard worker- about 40 years old. He sent his pay home and lived in a furnished room around the corner from the store. He never got to go home and see his family while saving to bring them here. He was an illegal and this was 1974. They still upheld the immigration laws back then so it was a risky business sneaking in and out.

There had been a slight recession in ’73 going into ’74.The Vietnam War had just wound down and Watergate had given us our first unelected President in Jerry Ford.
There had been talk of some cutback in hours or possibly some layoffs in the store in the fall months leading up to the holidays. Harry had been in and out at all odd hours compared with his usual schedule, which was etched in stone like the Tablets on Sinai. We assumed he had been meeting with bankers to negotiate some financing.

The holidays approached and with them all the excitement that is generated by the prospect of the “Christmas Bonus.” This boiled down to two very basic questions- how much and when? The tradition at Harry and Al’s had always been a weeks gross pay in cash on Christmas Eve just before closing.

Christmas Eve finally arrived and we rushed through all the last minute tasks before closing early for the holiday. Harry and Al were still busy counting the days receipts as the rest of us pretended to work, waiting for the “moment”.

Al and Harry stood behind the counter and we were all gathered on the customer side exchanging best wishes etc as Harry handed out the envelopes with our bonus. One for Milton, Izzie, Leo, Steve, Bob, Paul and myself. Angelo’s name was not called.

Meekly coming forward with hand outstretched Angelo spoke; “Me, dinero?” he implored, eyes showing the shame of asking. He was here illegally and there was no guarantee of a bonus for anyone, let alone this poor fellow. He continued, “ Me mucho trabajo- no dinero?” Al held his hand up, arm outstretched, palm facing Angelo and said, “ You no work bueno- you no dinero.” And then he turned away. The silence, as they say, was deafening. Angelo turned and ran to the basement to be alone with his disappointment and probably anger.

Suddenly from the basement we heard the sounds of laughter and tears. Seeing Harry and Al as they exchanged satisfied glances we knew things were not as they appeared to be. Milton and Leo seemed unusually calm as the rest of us herded toward the basement steps to investigate the cacophony of sounds.

There was Angelo, surrounded by his wife and five children, tears streaming down their faces as they embraced the greatest Christmas gift imaginable- one another.

And then we realized, Harry hadn’t been going to the bankers as we all thought. He had been going to Immigration arranging the visas and job commitment necessary to re-unite Angelo with his family.

There was not a dry eye as we left the store that night. We filed out under the caring gaze of 2 of the wisest men I have ever known, and I believe we had seen the Spirit of Christmas.

My own life was spiraling out of control in the area of drugs at this time. I would wake up in the morning, smoke a joint and head to work. I lived 2 blocks from the store but was always 5 minutes late. This annoyed the hell out of Al. He actually added the 5 minutes up and multiplied it by 300 days a year to prove that I was robbing him of 25 hours a year in wages. But I was a good employee and all the customers loved me so we let it slide.

During the day I would smoke pot in the back of the store, the front of the store, on top of the store, in the basement of the store and even in the walk in cooler. But I was really just waiting for 5 PM when I would take a Tuinol- 3 grain. This would result in my becoming a bit surly and the last 2 hours of the day were the most fun for me.

After work I would go for dinner at Minerva's and frequently fall asleep at the table or the counter. Manny and Bill, 2 of the owners at Minerva's would eventually wake me up with , "Hey Mr. Kid, you want to go home now?" They were always so kind and never made a fuss, even if my inebriated presence bothered some of the other customers. A few years later, while in the Navy, I sent them postcards and gifts from Greece and they were delighted.

I was still living at 2132 and one night a very strange thing happened- a good strange thing but one that I have often marveled at due to the nature of how it all happened.

The tray pictured here belonged to Seth Herman's Grandma Bee Bee. She lived at 1900 Quentin Road in Brooklyn, N.Y. When I was in Juinor High I thought nothing was classier than this tray- which was always filled with goodies like Bridge Mix and other delights we didn’t have in my home.

I’m not really sure of the year but it was around 1971 or so when Bee Bee passed away. I was offered a “souvenir” to remember her by- and I chose the tray. To me it epitomized an era of genteel living, when people had “company” on Saturday nights, or “guests” during the week for cards or Scrabble. TV came along and changed all that.

The real “meat” of this story involves the loss and later recovery of this tray- possibly with the aid of “cosmic” forces beyond our understanding or control.

The tray had been on top of a black steamer trunk which I used as a dresser in 1973 while living at 2132 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. Remember in July of 1973 I packed up and moved to Ohio where I ended up engaged to Monica and working in the paint factory.

In December of 1973 I left Ohio by car (a 1964 Ford Galaxy 500) for NY- trunk in tow. But the car didn’t make it and I was forced to abandon it on the side of Route 80 in Ohio within sight of an Arco station. Not being able to hitch with the trunk I carried it over to the service station and asked the owner if I could leave it there for a bit, intending to send for it later. The owner gave his consent and I lugged it up a ladder to the attic/storage area and continued to the airport and a flight to NY.

I mentioned to Seth that I had left the trunk at a service station in Ohio alongside Route 80. And then I don’t think I thought about it again except in a passing- “Gee, I wish I had my trunk back” kind of way.

So here it is, almost 2 years later at 2:30 in the morning and my front door bell rings back at 2132 Ocean Avenue. At the door is Seth with a black steamer trunk on his back going “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!” It was my trunk!

Inside we opened the trunk and I started going through all the things I had missed in the previous 2 years. And the big surprise was that not only was the tray in there- but Seth, who had given me the tray to begin with, had no idea it was in there!

Eventually I got the whole story- he had been driving back to NY from school at Ohio State in Antioch and along Route 80 found himself outside of Cleveland when he remembered that I had lived near there a couple of years back. And then he remembered that I had left a trunk at a service station somewhere alongside Route 80.

Looking up he saw the sign for an Arco station at the next exit and got off. He went in and asked the guy if he had ever stored a trunk for some tall, skinny guy with shoulder length hair. The reply was something like- “Yeah, and if he doesn’t come for it soon we’re throwing it out!” So he took it and drove through to Brooklyn and woke me up.

And that’s when he saw the tray!

We have pondered this little oddity between us over these many years. He didn’t know it was an Arco station- he didn’t know exactly where on Route 80 I had left it- and only a brief whim caused him to stop and check it out. Was it Bee Bee calling out to get the tray? Or just one of those odd coincidences that make life the joy it sometimes can be?

I don’t know- but I still have the tray and, as of this writing, I still have the friend.

Life would go on in this vein for 2 and a half years. The only change would be where I was living. In June of 1975 Mr. Rosenberg came down and knocked on our door. Smiling ear to ear. "Boys," he said, "We've sold the house and we're moving to Florida."

And so 2132 came to an end. It was time to find a new place to live. It was also the start of what I refer to as my "lost year."

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

I have been an admirer of Shel Silverstein ever since I was about 8 years old and looking through my Dad's Playboy magazines. There were some great cartoons drawn very simply with screamingly funny lines written beneath the one panel drawings.

Shel Silverstein was a Korean War Veteran who came from Chicago and a Jewish family. Funny how in all those years I never thought of him as Jewish. He was larger than any label. He defied being defined.

When he got bored with the Playboy Mansion scene Hugh Hefner sent him on a round the world tour. His only task was to report back once a month with either an article, photo or cartoon. All expenses paid. What a job!

By 1964 he was writing childrens books-"The Giving Tree" was one of the first. After that he went on to songwriting- collabarating with the likes of Johnny Cash- "A Boy Named Sue", "One Piece at a Time" etc. He was even the "behind the scenes" collaborator with Bob Dylan on the 1975 release "Blood On The Tracks", long considered to be Dylans "comeback" album.

This is the guy who met Bobby Bare one afternoon and they discussed writing some songs for Bobby Bares next album. The very next day Shel called Bobby and told him the album was done. He had written almost all the songs for "Lullabys, Legends and Lies" overnight!

Ever hear of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show? "Sylvias Mother" and all the other hits were written by Shel Siverstein. What would be next?

Childrens poetry of course! "Where the Sidewalk Ends", "A Light In The Attic","The Story of the Missing Piece", "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O"..... I have them all.

A very complex man, often misunderstood, Shel lived on a houseboat and had several houses from Cape Cod to San Francisco. He lived life by his own rules. Never married and often thought to be gay, he was the father of one daughter, whom he supported for the rest of his life.

If you are a fan of Shel Silverstein, or even if you have never heard of him, you will like the man you meet in this book. A very carefully crafted biography of a very unusual fellow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Irving Henkin

Happy Birthday Uncle "I". I miss you alot- even after all this time. You taught me much while demanding nothing in return. I think of you often and you are always a part of me in everything I do. Thanks for all the good times and though we never said it aloud, I will now- "I love you, too."

Sometimes Things Just Happen....Or Do They?

We have a store in Huntersville called "Nanny's Attic and Vintage Finds". They sell bric-a brac and antiques, etc. Sue walks across the street and browses there at lunchtime.

Now sometimes things just seem to "happen"... or do they.? Put this in the "It kinda makes me wonder" category.

The following article about the store is from the current issue of The Lake Norman Herald Weekly.

Grandma’s Bible a ‘Vintage Find’

Wendy Crim 14.AUG.09

HUNTERSVILLE – Kathy Holland wasn’t trying last month to find a piece of her family’s history, but during a trip to Nanny’s Attic & Vintage Finds, it found her.

Kathy Holland and her husband, Dave, were looking for items to contribute to the Sept. 26 Historic Latta Plantation Bluegrass and Barbecue Fundraiser. Dave Holland is a Latta Plantation board member.

They spent about 20 minutes shopping before deciding on a blue vase. Dave Holland was ready to take the ornate antique home, but Kathy Holland wanted a few more minutes to look around the 2,500-square-foot shop.

Kathy Holland stumbled upon her grandmother’s Bible last month at Nanny’s Attic & Vintage Finds in downtown Huntersville after she said she felt “drawn to it.” Her grandmother wrote the names of family members inside the well-worn, black-leather Bible.

That’s when she found it.

Kathy Holland felt inexplicably drawn to a stack of well-worn, black Bibles with aged pages. When she opened one of them, a small handwritten note and an obituary of her long-deceased aunt fell out onto the floor.

She noticed some familiar handwriting in the inscription from the book’s previous owner.

The Bible had belonged to Julia Martin, Kathy Holland’s grandmother, who died nearly two decades ago. Martin had inscribed the names of her entire family in the Bible’s registry.

“I felt like I was stuck in mud or concrete,” Holland said.

Unable to conceal her excitement, she began to shout about her find to the other shoppers.

“This is my grandmother’s Bible,” she screamed across the building.

Holland asked shop owner Cathy Wiltcher for a price. Wiltcher knew the find was priceless.

“You can have it,” Wiltcher told Holland.

“I just gave it to her,” Wiltcher later said, “I couldn’t believe it was happening, that she found their family Bible.”

Kathy Holland felt like she was walking on air as she sauntered out of the store to her car. Dave Holland was waiting for her and felt just as dumbfounded by the discovery.

“It’s astounding,” he said. “It isn’t as if she was looking for it.”

Back at home, Kathy Holland began poring through old photographs of the relatives who are named in the Bible’s registry, and had a new appreciation for them. She still wonders how that Bible found its way to Nanny’s Attic.

“We didn’t inherit a thing (from my grandmother),” Kathy Holland said last week, “but I would much rather have this.”

Kathy Holland plans to restore the Bible and keep it in her family.

But she plans to make another trip to Nanny’s Attic, she said, to see if any other items grab her attention. - Lake Norman Herald Weekly

Friday, August 14, 2009

Betty Hutton- Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief by Hoagy Carmichael

When I was about 3 years old I heard this record for the first time. It was a 78 RPM acetate. Some of my earliest musical memories are of my parents records. We had Patti Page doing "How Much Is That Doggy In the Window" and the Cast Recording of "GiGi" along with scores of others - but this was my first favorite record. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I still do. And of course I am a big Hoagy Carmichael fan as well. Ms. Hutton passed on in March of 2007 and I just know she is truly still Dancing With the Stars. So just hit the link and have fun!

youtube betty hutton Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief - Google Search

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 10- Ohio

Lori Grow was a friend of Mona’s. Her mother was German and had married a GI in Germany during the late 50’s. She came to America where Lori was born and lived up the street from me. As Mona and I started to part ways I began to see more of Lori. She is the link that brought me from Brooklyn to my time in Ohio.

Lori was on a trip to Ohio to stay with her Mom’s friend Jutta Thomas, a German woman of large proportion with a liking for beer and pills. She was divorced from her husband, also an ex GI she had met in Germany during the 50’s, hence her connection to Lori’s Mom. She lived by the side of Lake Erie in a 2 story home in Timberlake, Ohio with her 5 kids. This was the smallest town I had ever seen. 300 people lived there.

A phone call in the middle of the night from Lori was my summons to Ohio. Seems that Lori had taken some acid and had a “bad trip.” So I was going to her rescue. A friend of mine with a small green Triumph drove me there. I still remember passing beneath the “Welcome to Ohio – The Buckeye State” sign on Route 80 as we entered the state. Then we headed North and in a total of 12 hours we arrived in Timberlake. Lori was fine- with seemingly no recollection of having called me in distress.

My friends Mother had, by this time, realized that her son was gone and she started making phone calls. Now with no knowledge that we even knew anyone in Ohio, or that my friend was with me, she somehow found out where we were going, got the name and number and had left a message for him before we even arrived! Now that’s some detective work! There was no drama- just that she wanted to know where he was.

I proceeded to fall for Lori’s friend Monica Thomas, the oldest of the 5 children. She was sixteen and well developed for her age. I was almost 19. We went on long walks and talks by the Lake, which was polluted beyond all imagination at the time. Fish literally washed ashore dead by the thousands from the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company plant. But we only had eyes for one another and we began a truly passionate relationship that was interrupted by my friend having to go back home. So I went back home with him, promising to return in 30 days to begin a new life with Monica. In light of recent events at 2132 I see now that I was looking for a change. And going from Brooklyn with 3 million people to Timberlake with 300 people- well, that’s change!

So on August 30, 1973 I awoke early, paid my monthly bill to Jimmy, and with a few dollars in my pocket and clothes on my back, I headed to the subway. I took the train to Manhattan and up to the George Washington Bridge. I walked over, not wanting to leave so fast that I wouldn’t remember the trip. It was a beautiful morning and I started to hitch. I got lucky and my first ride took me all the way to Ohio and to the point where I needed to turn North. From there it took about 2 more hours and then I was in Willoughby, Ohio which is about 15 minutes from Timberlake. I called Monica and the whole family came to pick me up in their station wagon.

I stayed at 107 Keewayden Drive for about a week, sneaking up to Monica’s attic room every night. I got a job working for a Mr. John Grailing, who owned some houses that he rented out, doing the upkeep himself. It was time to paint several of the houses, including his own, next door to Monica. So I was a house painter. From that we went on to roofing the farm house where Mr. Grailing had been raised. It was beautiful and I felt very wordly being out in the country, working at something so rugged, like roofing.

By this time Monica’s Mom had grown tired of having me sneaking in and out of the attic every night and so I had to find a place to live.

I camped on the side of Lake Erie in the town’s park for about a week before the Sheriff asked me to find more suitable quarters. I was still saving the few dollars I was earning but did not have enough money to rent yet. Mr. Grailing let me live in the back of one of his properties- in the room that housed the hot water heater. I got a hot plate and some canned soups and set up on the cot that was in the room. I wondered why there was a cot there. I found out several nights later when Mr. Grailing came over unannounced with a 17 year old boy for some “fun.” This ended that arrangement very quickly. It also ended my job working for him.

I next found a job at the May Company Department store. It was in a mall- which was entirely new to me. Brooklyn had gotten a mall in 1969 but I don’t think I ever went there. I did my shopping on Kings Highway in stores.

At the May Company I met Dan McCandless, a fellow about 3 years older than I, and he showed me the ropes as janitor. We would arrive at the store at 5:30 AM each day and work til opening at 10 AM. Boy did we clean the place! We had rolling trash bins and we would raid every display case for watches, jewelry and even the stereos and appliance sections. We gave gifts to everyone we knew and sold some of the stuff at Mr. Pete’s, a local bar in Eastlake, just outside of Timberlake. We did real well until inventory time and then we were both fired.

By this time I was living with Dan and some friends on a farm near Willoughby and it was there that I got a job at DeSantis Coatings. It was a paint factory that made traffic paint for the State of Ohio. It was a hard job- but I learned a lot there about how people live and work in Middle America. Dan came to the factory with me- and so we continued some of our adventures.

This was my first factory job and I kind of liked it. The camaraderie and the assortment of people I worked with was exceptional and the whole experience was an eye opener for me. The end came one day when I was working with Dan McCandless. We had a system, whereby we would “spell” one another while the other took a break. We were both smokers of the left handed persuasion and so we rotated these “spells”.

I worked as the Oiler and assistant to the Mix man, who was Dan. I would take a hand pulled trolley with a big metal vat on it and pull it to the pumping station which had all kinds of solvents and thinners that were used in the making of paints. It was an electric pump and the liquids were all flammable, so you had to make sure you attached a “grounding” cable from the pump to the cart. This ensured that static electricity would not create a spark and set you and the vat and possibly the whole factory on fire. Depending on what we were making I would then pump the required “spirits” into my vat and pull it back to the mixing station. There it would be added to the various 80 pound sacks of pigments etc that were required for the different products we produced 750 gallons at a time.

After I would haul the oil over to the vat I would connect the hose and pump the oil into the vat. Dan would be dumping the pigments in as fast as he could rip open the 80 pound sacks. When the two tasks were completed we would lower the mixing blade into the vat and stir for about 15 minutes and then start pumping it out 50 gallons at a time. This meant that one of us would stay with the 750 gallon vat and at the pump control panel, while the other would go down and draw off the paint into a 50 gallon holding tank where it would remain until drawn off into 5 gallon buckets for labeling. We had it figured so that one of us could go out and have a smoke while the other continued working. It took 7 minutes to pump 50 gallons and then we would switch to another holding tank. These were located above the doorway to the office. A great system. But nothing is perfect.

It was my turn to take a break and so I left Dan at the receiving end after I turned on the pump. Stepping outside into the autumn sun I lit up and puffed away for about 5-6 minutes. Well, when I returned to my station I heard a lot of “glumping” coming from the other side. I was not the only one to hear this sound. I went to the holding tanks and was devastated by what I was seeing. Dan was gone- and the holding tank was overflowing, accounting for the “glumping” sound. It was like a yellow waterfall. At this point the office door flew open and Vince Jr came out and stepped into a torrent of yellow oil based traffic paint. He was covered! And I was fired.

I had worked under the supervision of the factory’s “Foreman for Life”, Joe Barnes. No kidding, that was his actual title- Foreman for Life. I was very curious about this position and especially the title. So one day I saw Joe Barnes at the pump station as he was bottling up some tuelol (the active ingredient in airplane glue) for a 3 day weekend. Tuelol is addictive and Joe had the “monkey on his back” when it came to inhaling the stuff.

Joe was a friendly sort and always telling stories. He was the most senior of employees- he had been on the job for about 18 years and as I said, he was “Foreman for Life.” This particular day he was jabbering away when he asked me , “Do you know how I got be Foreman for Life?” I replied , “No, but I am curious about it.” And that was all it took for him to recount the following;

“Well, you see, it was a Friday and Old Man DeSantis (the founder/owner of DeSantis Coatings) was drawing off some thinner to do some painting at home over the weekend. Stupid bastard owns the factory but he don’t know one damn thing about making paint. So he’s over here at the pumps and he’s got a metal bucket and holding it under the spigot- presses the pump button without grounding and zap- a spark ignites the bucket which spooks the old man and he falls with the pump running and now he’s soaked with thinner and on fire and he’s really burning. Now I hated Old Man DeSantis and so I looked around and I realized we were alone. So I go over to him and getting as close as I can I kick him in the ribs- hard. And he rolls over on his side. So I kick him again and he rolls some more. By now I’m really into it so I keep kicking and kicking and he keeps rolling and rolling. Just then his son, Vince Jr comes in looking for his old man and sees me kicking him. So I figure- well I’m done here and so I give him a couple of more kicks for the hell of it and he rolls some more and now the fire’s out. Vince Jr is hailing me as a quick thinking hero for saving his dad’s life and they give me a raise and make me Foreman for Life. And that was about 15 years ago.”

Around this time- October- Monica missed her “time” and we were both under the impression that she was pregnant. So we called friends and family and announced our “engagement.” Everyone seemed very happy for us. But there’s always that one thing you didn’t count on, and this time it was my parents. They flew into Cleveland, under the guise of wanting to meet the family of the bride to be. They arrived, sat and chatted for 5 minutes before offering the cash necessary for an abortion, which had just become legal in New York. I threw them out. Literally threw them out of the house. Although it turned out that she was not pregnant it gave me quite an insight into my parents and their values.

Jutta had now invited me back into the house to live and I was even providing money for groceries to cover my own expenses and supplement the Food Stamps that the family received each month. One night Monica’s Mom decided to call the Police on her for smoking some pot. Now Jutta wasn’t against it- she was just having a hard time with alcohol and pills at the time and felt threatened by Monica and I sort of taking over running the house. This call resulted in Monica being taken from the home for violating the terms of her earlier release on a curfew charge. She was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center in Painesville. I always thought of it as Pains-ville due to the emotional pain we were both feeling at the time. After about 3 days she was released and I was told to stay away from her as I was now 19. So I went back to the farm.
In the meantime I had purchased my first car- a 1964 Ford Galaxy 500- with a huge engine- 405 cubic inches or thereabouts. It was an 8 cylinder gas hog at a time when gas had gone from 35 cents a gallon to 65 cents. Anyway- I loved that car- which cost me a mere $75 dollars, and spent time in it every evening, listening to the AM radio out of New York- I could actually get WABC 770 AM! I loved looking at the green dashboard all lit up.

By November it was snowy and cold- I was sneaking back to Monica’s at night against Court Order and one night I got caught by Jutta. She called some guys from Mr. Pete’s to come kick my ass and we went on a wild chase in 10 inches of snow. These guys were serious and needed the 10 bucks so I was literally running for my life. The town Sheriff- Mr. Justice- really- that was his name- joined in with his station wagon and I ended up putting him in a ditch on the side of the road. So I went back to the farm for the night and arranged to pick Monica up in the morning by the lake.

By this time my parents had decided to invite me to my brothers wedding and so we took advantage of that to leave Ohio. We were on the way to the airport when the car seized up from a massive oil leak and were left on the side of the road. I took everything I could to a nearby service station and left it in the loft. The owner was very kind and assumed I would be back shortly for my things.

Meantime, Monica and I made it to the airport and to Brooklyn for my brothers wedding. We went back to Ohio afterwards but things were getting out of control there so we ended up back in New York,-me in Brooklyn and Monica to her Stepdads in Haverstraw.
Mr. Thomas farmed his step kids out to various foster homes and kept only his 2 children by Jutta. Michael Held and I went to Haverstraw to try and see her one day- we took the Greyhound from Manhattan. We were met at the door and told to leave or face the local police. Monica and I never saw one another again.

And so as 1973 drew to a close, and 1974 made its entrance I found myself back in Brooklyn and once again, back at 2132 Ocean Avenue.

Milton Berle- An Autobiography with Haskel Frankel

I remember Milton Berle from TV. He was hipper than Sullivan and was a part of the act, not just the emcee. His career began at age 5 and spanned 7 decades!

This book takes you on a ride that begins with his Mom entering Milton in a contest for a silver colored cup- and leads you through the Golden Age of Vaudeville to the early days of Radio and Screen. The book is fast paced and informative. You learn all kinds of things about how it was done in a world void of modern gimmicks.

The Berles were Germans and actually the name is Berlinger- he never changed it legally- as a matter of fact the whole family used Berle after Milton became famous. But officially it always remained Berlinger.

His father was a seemingly ineffectual person, but Miltons kindness comes from him. His tenacity and stick to it qualities come from his Mom, a woman known affectionatley as "Queenie." She was an imperious woman and is largely responsible for Milton Berles sucess.

The train trips across America in the 1920's, his first encounter with sex via a burlesque dancer and his increasing pre-occupation with sex make this an enjoyable read.His encounters with Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and a host of others will keep you reading.

His affair with an actress he will not identify will fascinate you. He gets her pregnant- offers to marry her out of real love- only to be turned down. She is engaged to a prominent Hollywood producer and marries him instead. Though the Producer is impotent she convinces him that this is thier child and they marry.The marraige launches her career. This event is so traumatic that he opens the book with an account of it- over 40 years later.

The cast of characters is colorful. That they are all real people you know of- is a big plus and gives you that "peek behind the curtain" feeling.

His early days on TV will fascinate you with the differences in the Industry today. Doing live TV was a demanding and exacting task. You either sank or swam. Milton Berle swam with the best of them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chuck Berry- The Autobiography

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it has no byline. It is simply titled "Chuck Berry The Autobiography." And it is clear that this is no ghost written volume of anecdotes. This is the real thing, written by Chuck Berry himself.

With his unmistakeable style of writing he takes you from the St. Louis of his youth to his dark years of confinement in a juvenile facility. After his release he returns home, working for his Dad while learning the guitar. From there he begins to play around St. Louis, establishing a local following. His relationship with Johnnie Johnson, a local paino player with a trio of his own, and how it becomes The Chuck Berry Trio is an insight into the attitudes and the people of the era.

An impromptu trip to Chicago and an encounter with Muddy Waters (nee McKinley Morganfield) lead him to the Chess Records Studio. From there we share his amazement and wonder of touring in places like New Yorks' Paramount Theater and the Alan Freed Shows.

Learning the business along the way was not always easy and he gets cheated along with all the rest of the pioneers of Rock and Roll.But he keeps rocking and rolling, establishing himself as one of the Fathers of the Genre.

You meet,along the way, such luminaries as Howling Wolf, Ike Turner and Little Richard to name just a few. He describes their struggles as well as his own, learning the business the hard way in an industry controlled by whites.

The writing itself is often laced with internal rhyming and interesting word plays that evoke the lyrics of Chuck Berry's hits. The man is a lyrical treasure chest and sees everything as if it were a song waiting to be written.

He very casually explores and explains how some of his earlier records were written. He describes in detail the interactions of learning to play in different clubs to different audiences and makes you want to grab a guitar and hit the road.

Never a shrinking violet, Mr. Berry talks freely of his fascination,and interaction with white women at a time when such things could be deadly. Think Emmitt Till in the summer of 1954- the very year that Chuck hits the road.

The inner workings of early rock and roll are explored through the Alan Freed "payola" trials. Mr. Berry carefully explains some of the sinister practices that robbed our early rock pioneers of money and pride. He does it without bitterness or rancor- this was just the way things were then.

The Chapter on his problems with the IRS in the early 70's is of interest. The way he accepts the penalty and reports to Lompoc Prison in California are also another insight into the character of this legend.

Of course this book only goes up to 1986- the year before Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones would make a landmark film with Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson(who was working as a bus driver at the time)called "Hail. Hail Rock and Roll."

This book cries out for a sequel from a man who really took music a step further toward the Rock and Roll we all know and love. A music that came to define a nation, if not a whole generation.

Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 9- 2132 Ocean Avenue

John and I, along with Jimmy decided to rent 2132 Ocean Avenue simply to get away from our respective homes. That and also to have a place to bring home girlfriends without any problems. We had established rules such as no overnight “crashing”, chores and things of that nature. Things went well for a bit.

Friends began dropping by and it became a continual party. John opted out and was replaced with a guy named Joey who was a friend of a friend. We were already starting to make mistakes.

Joey was great at fixing things up, wiring phone extensions and stereos. He also worked at a hardware store around the corner and got “five finger” discounts on a lot of things we needed. But he also introduced us, falsely, to someone he said was his cousin. We believed him. The “cousins” name was Mike. He was really a friend of Jeff's. This would begin one of the darkest times at 2132, which, prior to this, had been a lot of fun.

Mike was a guy who was a Vietnam Veteran and told great stories and seemed to always have good drugs. We took a liking to him very quickly.

One night he was over very late and so he “crashed” in the living room. When Jimmy awoke in the morning and saw him sleeping, he kicked the bedding that Mike was using, waking him up with a terse “No crashing here- time to go.” And Mike left.

This was just before we found out that Mike was involved with some very “heavy” people. He was also implicated in putting 2 guys in 55 gallon drums and tossing them into the East River. Not for fun or anything- apparently it was a “business” transaction.

At this point Mike began supplying us with pot by the pound on credit. We began to have even bigger parties and our neighbors were very upset. We had people coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

Mike added another character to our little world in the person of “Kevin”. Kevin was about 16 and mean as a snake. He was the type who probably tortured animals for kicks. We didn’t like him and the feeling was mutual, but by this time we were into Mike for several thousand dollars and so had to put up with his continued presence.
So, as you can see, the rules had all gone out the window and by this time we had a “crash pad/ drug house”. Eventually the hardware store closed and that left only Jimmy working and paying the bills. He kept a tab listing our debts to him. I can only imagine how pissed he was at this point. He had also realized that Mike might be angry with him for waking him that first morning and I began to hear a thump sound from Jimmy’s room late at night. He used to padlock his room from the inside at night- when he had his girlfriend Melody staying over. Later I would learn that he slept with a hatchet and had gotten quite good at hurling it to the door. The thumping I heard was the hatchet embedding itself into the wooden door frame.

The parties were non stop and of epic proportion. You could literally go to sleep and wake up with someone in your bed! It was like a movie. And we were the stars.If Jimmy or any of us wanted to talk privately we would lock ourselves into a bathroom. It got the point where if you wanted to get into the bathroom party, you were either a close friend or girlfriend.

Eventually we found out that Mike had been ripping off our drug connections and selling the stuff back to us on credit. We also began to realize that he was connected to some very bad people- people who owned gambling casinos and dealt in gun running. This involved the Police Department and organized crime. We were in way over our heads!

I took some of the purloined drugs back to the people who had been robbed. Don’t take me wrong- I was no saint- I merely told then that I had purchased only half of what I had and returned that while keeping the rest to sell and use for myself. There are no friends in the drug world- only opportunities. And to top it off I now refused to pay Mike.

Around this time Mike had run into some sort of trouble with either the bad guys or the police who had been assisting him in some of the gun activity. It seems that certain people wanted him “removed”. I was actually given a Korean War M-1 Garand, fully converted to automatic with two 30 round “banana” style clips. I carried it with me in a bass guitar case anywhere I went.

One night Joey and I shot a round or two down the long hallway in the house at like 2 AM. Mr. Rosenberg was down in an instant banging on the door. “Boys, are you alright?” he shouted. He was a World War Two Veteran and knew the sound of gunfire when he heard it. We opened the door with the lights out and asked sleepily, “Yeah, what’s up?”

Around this time in the summer of 1973 Mike needed to leave NY in a hurry and began a blitz to collect his money. I didn’t have mine.

One night, and I don’t know why, Mike and Jeff, lured a few of our friends to mythical cocaine party at the apartment of Leslie, a 27 year old woman whom we all knew quite well. She was a gentle soul, into free love and drugs. Funny thing is that she worked each day in an office - masquerading as a straight person rather than the true hippie she was.

Anyway, this particular night Joey went with Larry the Bird, an obnoxious local DJ of no note, whom everyone disliked. He treated his dog, a beautiful German Shepard like dirt, beating it for things like peeing in the house after he had not been home for 3 days. He was told to bring his “spoon” as it was to be a large party. His greed for the powder made him a guaranteed show up.

What ensued for the next 24 hours was an orgy of violence. Larry was beaten, tied, burned and whenever he passed out he was revived in a cold shower and the show went on, and on. Sometime during all this Leslie was assaulted. This was done by “Kevin” as far as I know. Mike had an AR-15 and I believe there was a handgun present as well.

Meantime, I was home at 2132 and got a call from someone- maybe Kevin- that made me realize something was up. So I packed my M-1 in the bass guitar case and went to Steve and Donnas’ to hide. By this time they were living over Schlotsky’s Deli on the West End of Kings Hwy where no one would think to look for me.

The next day I returned home and found out about all that I had missed. By this time the cops and the FBI were looking for him in earnest and I was told to set up a meet with him at my place. The FBI and NYPD detectives arrived with shotguns and hid on the porch. I was supposed to open the door and they were going to kill him!
At this point Mike Held, also big, came by tripping on acid. When he came up the steps the cops asked who he was and I answered “Mike”. The sound of many rounds being chambered at that moment is still fresh in my mind as I write this. “No- that’s the wrong Mike!” I yelled. Mike Held stuck his head in the open window. Seeing all the guns and cops he let out a “Whoaaa…” and hastly retreated down the street.

A few minutes later the real Mike was in a car at the corner waiting for the light to change when a uniformed patrol car saw the plates and recognized that the Dodge Charger was stolen. He attempted to pull Mike over but Mike hooked a U-turn on Ocean Avenue and headed to Coney Island. There he ditched the car and led the cops on a foot chase- firing into the crowd to create the confusion necessary to escape. And he did.

Three weeks later he was captured in Lumberton, N.C. while asleep. He woke up with guns pointed at his head and chest and told, “Don’t fucking move!” He didn’t and was transported back to NY where a Grand Jury was waiting.

Eventually he got like 12 months, with time served counted towards his release. In exchange he helped bring down some of the people who had given me the M-1.

When last seen, around 1979 or 1980, Mike had made the cover of NY magazine and was doing anti crime commercials.

This was the first half of life at 2132. I went to live in Ohio after meeting someone there- but returned in December of 1973. This would begin a new and more pleasant phase of life at the house. By June of 1974 the house was sold and I began what I call my “lost years.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 8- Sex and Ulcers

Around 1971 I lost my virginity to a girl named Mona who was 2 grades behind me in school. She lived one floor above or below my friend John. I still remember the first night I got laid- my Mom and Dad had gone out on a Saturday night and wouldn’t be home until about 1 AM. So Mona and I went to my place and proceeded to proceed when I heard the front door open and my parents come in. Quickly thinking I put Mona in the closet and jumped back under the covers.

It was 10 PM on a Saturday night and I was 17. I must have been stupid to believe that my parents would accept that I went to bed early. My plan was to sneak Mona out the back window which opened onto the flat concrete roof of the underground garage. From there I planned to run to the iron stairway that led to the street. But I had miscalculated my parents, who, entering my room and turning on the lights saw two piles of clothes on the floor.

To say that all hell broke loose would be an understatement. There was yelling and cursing and all manner of confusion. After they left the room Mona got dressed and I took her two blocks to her home and then returned to face the music.

My mother asked me if the "girl" had “told you that you were the first”, implying that I was the victim of a teenage werewolf slut come to consume her child. I tried to explain that I wasn’t looking for purity- just sex, but when my Mom saw the used condom and wrapper on the floor near the bed, all was lost. An auspicious beginning to my love life…

John and Jim had become good friends by this time and I spent a lot of time at their house. Their Dad worked as a chef and I envied the freedom that his odd hours afforded them. By this time we had all begun to drink, mostly wine, cheap wine- so we would get pretty buzzed. On the night of my 17th birthday this would become a problem.

We were drinking in Kelly Park on 16th Street and Moore Place, riding the swings and climbing the monkey bars. I should tell you that there were two Kelly Parks; the old one where the Italian and Irish “hitters” hung out; and the new Kelly Park, which was built for the adjoining elementary school that bore it’s name. We were in the latter one- seemingly safe from the “hitters.”

Whatever forces of nature, the cosmos or fate that existed came together that night and sent the Kelly Park “Gang” through the new park, which was separated from the old one by an elevated rail line of the subway system. Spotting us they said something, and we replied with shouts of “Have a fucking drink!” We were gleefully drunk. This prompted the Kelley Park boys to come tearing through the fence and begin to deliver us a sound beat down. We at first tried to deflect the blows but ended up running from the park, up 16th Street to the safety of John and Jimmy’s apartment. Only after arriving there did we realize that Jimmy was not with us. Racing back toward the park we found him, a bit more bruised than we were, but for the most part alright. We were sore for days!

Shortly after this episode I left home for good and established myself in a basement apartment on Ave W and Bedford Avenue. The house was owned by two nice Orthodox Jews who decided to take a chance on me and my black Lab. Hard to believe, but I had a dog. His name was Tommy, short for Tomorrow. I named him for the Wings song of the same name. With a red bandana around his neck he was irresistible.

By this time I had become friends with Steve Freund and his girlfriend Donna. Steve was a year and a half older than me and in my brothers’ classes in high school. But they were never friends. Donna was a hairstylist, 30 years old and really beautiful. She lived in the same building as Steve and his parents. It wasn’t too long before Steve moved from the 5th floor with his parents, to the first floor with Donna and Duke, the beautiful and loyal German Shepard that was hers.

Donna sold nickel bags of grass and so there was a constant flow to her place of all sorts of young people. She also cut hair on the side and this increased the traffic and annoyed the neighbors.

I was working part time at a supermarket on Avenue U and trying to go to Kings Borough Community College in Sheepshead Bay full time. I lasted about 2 weeks and realized that I was only going to school to prove to my parents that I didn’t need them. I really had no desire to be there. So I left class one day and wrote “Cold October Parks” to my mother, sitting at the end of the Bay near Lundy’s restaurant and never went back.


I’m sitting-in the cold
October park-
Just sitting-writing a poem
About how beautiful
Everything could be.
Isn’t it a joke-
(you) telling me.

I’m sitting- in the cold
December dark-
Just sitting- writing a poem
About how ugly
Everything can be.
Isn’t this a joke-
(me) trying to tell you.

Two days before the election of 1972 I was getting a haircut and a nickel of pot at Steve and Donna’s when I felt very strange. I had been having stomach cramps and pain for several weeks and attributed it to not eating right. I got up from the chair and went to the bathroom where I tried to throw up but couldn’t. Instead I felt a welling of warmth rising like liquid in my esophagus and then I started to vomit purple blood. The smell was overpowering and I think I passed out. Steve opened the door and Donna made the diagnosis. An ambulance was called and I was moved to the lobby to wait for it. I could not stand- I had lost too much blood- so I lay there on the floor.

Now I remember the neighbors coming out and berating Donna and Steve and calling me “Yunkie”- which is Junkie with a Yiddish accent. Steve remembers it a bit differently and recalls carrying me out to the police car when it was decided that I would not make it if I waited on the ambulance. I trust Steve's recollection better than my own.

The ambulance arrived at the last second and I remember the siren and that’s about all until I got to the hospital. My blood pressure was 60/40 or something like that. I had an immediate transfusion of 3 pints of blood. My right lung had collapsed and a scalpel was used to make a whole in my side to re inflate my lung. I was connected by a tube to a large glass jar, creating a vacuum to re-inflate my lung. That’s when I passed out.

Later that night my parents arrived and I threw them out. They were setting me up for the same kind of surgeries that ruined my mothers health and as long as I was conscious they could not make the decision for me. So I stuck it out, barely awake. A Korean intern came in and announced that “an 18 year old should not need surgery.”

I had peptic bleeding ulcers, just like my Mom and did not want to follow the same course of treatment that had left her ill from the time I was six and for the rest of her life. The treatment then was to cut out half of the stomach- the theory being that the sores were removed. But that left half a stomach and all the acids for a full stomach! This is rarely done today.

But the Korean intern had some ideas of his own. He produced some tubing and inserted two lengths, one in each nostril, down to my stomach. Then using iced water and a bulb syringe he washed iced water over my stomach to cause the bleeding to stop, It worked and probably saved my life. Whoever he was and wherever he is, I send my eternal thanks.

While in the hospital I missed my first Presidential election. It was 1972 and Nixon vs. McGovern.

During my 2 weeks in Coney Island Hospital I managed to smoke some pot on the sly. One of my friends, Jeff, brought some in and at night I went to the bathroom across the hall and had a few hits. I was still hooked up to the jar. The next morning I awoke with a Doctor questioning me- “How did that smoke get in the jar?” to which I boldly replied, “You’re the doctor- you tell me!”

I also managed to get out on a field trip one day. Seth came by with his Dad's car and some weed. We strolled right out through the lobby with me in my hospital gown and carrying the IV. We drove around a bit in the Coney Island area and smoked some before returning.

In about 2 weeks I was discharged and discovered that my parents had closed up my apartment and sold my dog. With nowhere to go I wound up back home for what was supposed to be 12 weeks. I made it only to New Years.

In January I went with John and Jimmy DiStefano and rented the first floor of 2132 Ocean Avenue from Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg. It was 7 rooms- old, but nice. It was on “Doctors Row” across from the public library.

I was working again- as a buyers assistant in the Garment District for Ted and Harold Cohen. The son had a division called THC Graphics. But every morning I had to get off the train and throw up on my way in. The job, or rather, I, didn’t last long and so I quickly became unemployed. Little did I know, but I was about to enter one of the more interesting periods of my life.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon

This book is a confirmation of most of what I believe to be true concerning the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah; his child by Hagar, Ishmael; and thier banishment at Sarahs' insistance. This ignited a whole series of events that we all understand to have led to the creation of 3 Religions- all laying claim to the same Patriach-Abraham.

At the heart of the "Arab-Israeli" question has always been the dispute over who received Gods' mercy, or who should have? The first born son of Abraham with his hand maiden Hagar-Ishmael; or should it have been Isaac; his first born by his marraige to Sarah? Our cultural and social moors were set by this story and are almost "etched in stone" so to speak. And culminating with the creation of Islam in 625 AD we have been at odds since. Christian against Jew and Islamic versus everyone.

Ms. Gordon with her careful analysis of this Biblical story shows us the difference in the roles of women in Judeo-Christian tradition since Sarah and juxtoposes it against the same issues in the Islamic world. The social diffences and political ramifications lead to a polarized current based on this one story. And the more firmly entrenched we become in each of our respective versions of this story, the further the polarization becomes.

This book tackles the issues of the role of women in the oppossing cultures, and how it all affects us today. That it does so in a style that is at once easy to read, yet preserves the historical context and insights of the subject, is a feat in itself. At the same time the author steers you to a new understanding of what may have taken place on Mt. Moriah so long ago.

This will be a controversial read for some, and an exciting journey for others. The important thing to remember is when you read a book like this you are getting another piece of the puzzle that has been the center of literary and philosphical argument for thousands of years.

With my own understanding of the Bible and it's history somewhat limited I found this book to be full of stuff I did not know. What is the Islamic version of this event? Where did it occur? How old was Isaac at the time? Did Abraham visit his illegitimate first born, Ishmael? What happened to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac after the trip to the mountain? And how did that affect the history of the Mid East? And how does all this affect us right down to the present day?

You may come away with more questions than answers- and either you will have gained some insight into your own doubts- or reinforced your previous convictions. And of course the third possibility is that these challenges to the conventional "take" on this subject will lead you to try and know more.