Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mystic Revelations

In the spring of 1965, around Easter, my mother decided that I should be baptized. My sister was going to be christened, so she figured to have a multiple ceremony which would include me, my brother Carl, Dad and Cheryl all together.
I couldn't figure this out. It didn't make any sense to me since I had stopped going to church altogether and I had made it quite clear to my mother that I didn't really believe in all of this god stuff. I guess she didn't take me seriously. Maybe she figured that if I had some of that magical holy water splashed on me that I'd see the light or something. I had a vague recollection of Dad going to church once or twice, but he was almost always working on Sunday, so he wasn't really a church-going man at all. Carl didn't care one way or the other, but I'm sure he'd rather stay in bed on Sunday morning, and little Cheryl is only two-and-a-half, so she doesn't get anything to say about it.
I never liked church or Sunday School. I didn't see the point of it all. To me these were interesting stories, but they were just as fantastic and as unbelievable as the super heroes in all of the comic books I read.
Rising from the dead, making miracles, getting swallowed by whales and destroying cities by blowing horns all sounded good, but come on, did they really think I'd believe all of that stuff?
I could learn just as much watching Davey and Goliath on TV, and I could stay in my pajamas.
I was always trying to be a good person and I didn't get into trouble much and my grades were good in school, so why did I have to give up a perfectly good Sunday morning just to listen to people telling me why I should be good? I mean, I already had that covered, you know?
I don't talk about religion to anyone. It seems if you tell people you don't believe in it that they don't take too kindly to you. We don't have a national religion in our country, it says so in our Constitution you know. We used to have to pray in school. It was a Christian prayer, and everyone was forced to say it no matter what they believed. We're supposed to be a country where everyone is free to believe what they like, so I say leave me alone when it comes to religion.
Maybe if we could be christened like the black Baptists from Jericho did it, I'd be more interested. They get together and stand in the lake down the street and sing songs and then you get dunked under the water. They always look like they're having a good time.
We have to get dressed up in our best clothes and go over to the Presbyterian Church on Elm Avenue and stand there while the minister prays or something, and then he's going to drop some water on our foreheads. Big deal.
What is this going to do, give me some sort of Christian force field or something? Will it make me a better person?
After it's all over I don't feel any different. I don't "see the light" or anything like that. I'd rather go home and get into my dungarees and a T-shirt, but no, we have to go around to all of the relatives now and tell them we're all official Christians now.
I guess this makes Mom feel better. I guess she thinks we're protected now or that we'll have a better chance of getting into heaven now that we've been watered.
I doubt it. My brother could still care less, and my little sister really doesn't know what's going on. My bet is that Dad will still stay away from church as much as possible, and there's no way I'm going, so I still don't see the point of it all.
So, keep the faith if you have to.
I'm doing fine by me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just Getting By

Soon it will be 1965. 1964 was a mixed bag for me. The first half of the year I was still in Sixth Grade, still with my friends from Woodbury Heights and getting a little more confident. I was looking forward to the Seventh Grade until I learned that we'd be going to a new school with kids from three other towns. I never took to drastic changes very well. I preferred the familiar, and I would have liked two more years in Woodbury Heights Elementary School, being one of the older kids, sitting at the top of the roost.
Now I've got to go back to Gateway Regional High School. Six years maneuvering my way through those halls, avoiding the tough guys, anticipating the chocolate pudding and fruit cups being hurled my way in the cafeteria.
I dread gym class days. Recurring nightmares about forgetting my gym suit - humiliated by Mr. Williamson in front of the other guys in class. I hate gym class and yearn for the days of recess, plain and simple.
I did get to go to the World's Fair several times. Such a wonderful place, such promise for the future. I'm hoping everything I saw and learned there comes true. A world at peace filled with marvelous machines that will make life easier and more fulfilling for us all. Wouldn't that be something?
I'm getting good grades in my first year at Gateway, but I'm not having an easy time of it. I struggle at Math. I sweat out every test, the numbers swirling around in my brain. I excel whenever I have to stand in front of a class to give a book report or talk about history. I love public speaking, something which seems to scare the living daylights out of the others.
I'm not a popular person. I lack confidence in myself when it comes to the girls. I consider myself goofy-looking, a kind of Jerry Lewis in miniature, and it doesn't help to be practically the only boy left with this awful crew-cut hair.
I'm not tall or handsome like guys like Paul Albright. I don't join any of the athletic teams but I play sports all the time with kids after school. That's why I'm so skinny. I'm always running or riding my bike. I play football with Butch and Billy Clay and my brother and other kids. Whenever Paul LaPann, Billy Hills, Jim Matsuk and others ask me to join them at the old school for a game of basketball, I go. I'm not very good at it, but I play my best, even though they pretty much laugh at my efforts.
My best friend is still Steve Kay from Woodbury Heights. He and I play Avalon Hill war games and we still play with our Airfix toy soldiers down in his basement. Every once in a while Jack Wiler from Wenonah joins in with us when he can get a ride home.
I like Jack. He and I share a love of Marvel comic books and we talk about history a lot. Guys like Jack and Gary Lundquist are the type of boys I like to hang around with. They seem to know more about current affairs than I do, and I know they've read more books than me, so I strive to learn more and to read more so I can keep up with them.
It's a weird feeling going to Gateway Regional High School. I'm in Woodbury Heights but it doesn't feel like I'm a part of Woodbury Heights. It feels maybe like being in Berlin, you know? Like I'm in a separate zone peering over the wall or something. It's hard to explain but it's uncomfortable.
Six more years of this?
I hope it goes by quickly.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I'll have a blue Christmas in 1964

It was difficult to get excited about Christmas. My Nanny Gardner had died the night before Thanksgiving, so that was a somber holiday for all of us. Now that Christmas is upon us I'm missing her presence even more. It's odd for me to go to her house now. Pop-Pop is still there, and soon Uncle Pat and Aunt Irene along with their kids Janet and Patti, will be moving in with him, but it's strange that it won't be Nanny's house any more.
Nanny's little dog Tippy does not take her death well either. She hides under Nanny's bed and won't come out for days. My mother finally coaxes her out, but she's not the same dog any longer. Tippy broods and cowers. She trembles when you try to pet her, and finally she begins snapping at everyone. Tippy gets more and more withdrawn and her temperament worsens. Eventually she is put to sleep.
I didn't go to Nanny's funeral. I just couldn't face looking at her dead body lying in a coffin. I stayed home from school that day, but no one and I mean no one could drag me to her funeral.
I ask for things for Christmas like I normally do. Some Airfix toy soldiers, the Afrika Korps board game from Avalon Hill and yes, I do ask for a G.I. Joe. Doesn't really matter to me anyhow. I'm not in a very festive mood.
Dad doesn't help matters very much. His choice of Christmas trees usually isn't very good, and this year he brings home the worst one yet. This thing doesn't even look like a tree it looks more like some hideous shrub, even more scraggly than ever. Mom and I decorate it but that doesn't help, it seems to emphasize its ugliness.
The only consolation for me is that I can escape Gateway Regional High School for a while, and hopefully it will snow over the holiday and I can lose myself in the thrill of sledding down Freund's Cliff. It's pretty cold on Christmas Eve so maybe there's a chance of some snow in our future.
No such luck. I wake up Christmas morning and find out it's almost sixty degrees outside. It feels like spring more than winter. The unusually warm weather makes the whole holiday seem ridiculous, and I feel like I should be playing baseball rather than singing about winter wonderlands.
The warm air sticks around for several days and even then it doesn't get really cold until almost New Years'. We get some rain mixed with wet snow, but that just makes things more miserable. It's gray and rainy on New Year's day too, so I'm tortured by the Mummers parade on TV. I have to retreat upstairs to my room and my piles of comic books, losing myself in the adventures of Spider Man and the X-Men and others.
This is not my favorite Christmas, not by a long shot.
Nanny's dead, our tree is ugly and the weather just stinks.
Who ever thought I'd look forward to getting back to school?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thanksgiving: 1964

My grandmother, my Mom's mother, who we all called Nanny, died. She died the night before Thanksgiving. She wasn't sick as far as I knew - she just died. Nanny seemed to know it, at least according to the grownups, because I heard them talking about how Nanny had gone shopping during the day and bought a goose to cook. "I don't know why I bought the damn thing," Nanny said, "I won't be alive to cook it." Sure enough, that evening she died.
The only death that had affected me up till now was when my dog Whee-Zee had to be put to sleep last year. I'm still upset about that, and now my Nanny has died. Death is hard to cope with. Our family won't be the same without Nanny Gardner.
No more food tricks. Nanny tried to fool you into eating and drinking things under assumed names. She would cook liver and try to con you into thinking it was steak.
She never got me with that one. I could always tell by the smell that it was liver, but she never stopped trying, never gave up the game.
A glass of Tang was orange juice, and a corn fritter was a pancake, but didn't she know we could tell the difference?
The worst thing she tried to pass off on us was A-Toast. A-Toast is a syrup that you mix with water - it's supposed to taste like Coca-Cola or Pepsi, but it doesn't. It tastes more like soda that's been sitting in a glass all night and now there's no fizz left. The stuff is made in Burlington County, and some people claim they like it. They put seltzer water or club soda in it and then they swear it tastes just like Coke or Pepsi, but to me the stuff is just plain horrible. Still, Nanny would keep trying to pull a fast one with it.
Nanny was eccentric. She was my fun grandmother, the one I liked to visit because it was always fun to go to her house.
Nanny belched. She belched real loud and didn't apologize for it.
Nanny had a blue Parakeet named Billy. Billy had the run of the house: oh, he had a cage, but Nanny left the door open for him so he could fly all around the house.
She had a yellow Canary too, but it was always kept in its cage.

No more Nanny Gardner?

When we go over to Nanny's house the day after Thanksgiving the place seems empty. There's a stillness to it that's never been there before. The big cuckoo clock in the kitchen sounds louder; there's an echo that I never noticed before. It's all too quiet.
Nanny's little terrier Tippy sits in her dog bed shivering. There's a deep sadness in her eyes. She can sense that Nanny is gone and doesn't know what to do except sit in her bed and shake with grief.
The big cuckoo clock tick-tocks louder and louder.
Nanny's not here to try and fool me or to give me candy mint leaves or lemon slices.
Tippy keeps shivering.
The clock keeps ticking.
There's no joy here anymore.
That clock keeps ticking.
I pet little Tippy and try to make her feel better.
She just shivers and looks even sadder.
There will be a funeral-Nanny's funeral.
I make up my mind that I will not go look at Nanny lying in a coffin.
No, I will not do that. I will not say good bye.
I'm going to be thirteen in a month, I'm supposed to be grown up now.
Grown up? What does that mean at a time like this?
I don't know enough to feel grown up, I don't know enough to help me cope with death.

Well,grown up or not I do know one thing: I miss my Nanny Gardner.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 1964

The warmth of the October Indian Summer gave way to the dreary damp and gray skies of November. Lyndon Johnson was elected our new president. There seems to be a lot of people who don't like Lyndon Johnson. During the campaign it was claimed that he was a corrupt politician who was guilty of fixing elections in Texas, and now some people are saying he knows something about the murder of President Kennedy. What do I know of it? I'm only twelve years old and I'm trying to deal with pimples and becoming a teenager and all that.
I am kinda glad that Barry Goldwater wasn't elected. He scares me. He's got a stern look about him and he seems unconcerned about dropping bombs on the Communists. During the election campaign Mr. Goldwater said a lot of things about using force in order to defend freedom, so he seems pretty much like a warmonger.
Our new president, Lyndon Johnson, sounds like he wants to make our country better. He talks about ending poverty and giving medical care to senior citizens when they retire, and he seems like he wants to try and put a stop to racism. His opponents call him a "socialist" and a "communist", but in my mind it seems like he's trying to help all Americans. President Johnson has also said that he will continue to support the government of South Vietnam against the Communists. A lot of people are angry about that. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I've been taught to be a true-blue American, so I guess it's the right thing to do. More and more people in our country and around the world are starting to say that we should get out of Vietnam; that it's none of our business, but shouldn't we be fighting the communists? It's all so complicated.
I'm watching the TV and there's lots of stuff about the Kennedy assassination. It's been a year since the president was shot, and just like then it seems that's all that's on TV right now. I think I've had enough of it. It doesn't seem real, you know? There's a lot of talk about Lee Harvey Oswald and that maybe he was part of a plot to kill President Kennedy; that maybe it was Castro or the Mafia or even the CIA that plotted to kill him. All it does is confuse me. I don't want to hear about death right now. It's time to think about Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I've got to get through my thirteenth birthday and becoming a teenager and all.
Christmas! What do I ask for now that I'm going to be thirteen? Do I stop asking for toys now? I'd like to get that G.I. Joe soldier, but it feels like I'd be asking for a doll. I will ask for some Airfix toy soldiers to reinforce my Afika Korps army for my battles with Steve Kay down in his basement. I guess I'll ask for that Monopoly game too. That seems like what an older kid would ask for. My brother wants spy stuff. The James Bond briefcase or the Man From UNCLE one. I hope he gets them - then I can play with them too.
I guess we'll be going to Aunt Bette's farm for Thanksgiving again. Almost all of my Mom's side of the family gathers there every year for a great big dinner. We'll fill up the kitchen and spill out into the dining room, and all of us cousins will play hide and seek in the barns. But....

It's the day before Thanksgiving and the phone rings. My Mom is talking on the phone and she sounds worried and serious.
Something's wrong.
It's something about Nanny, my grandmother, Mom's mother.
I think she's very sick or something, and Mom says she's got to go to Woodbury and see what's wrong. Mrs. Olsen and Mrs. Avis will keep an eye on us until she gets back or until Dad gets home from work.
Nanny - sick?
No, not Nanny, she can't be sick. I know she's very old and all, but she's the center of our family, nothing can happen to her, can it?
I don't like this feeling I'm having.
No nothing bad can happen, can it?
I'm standing in my hallway, looking out through the picture window in the living room. Mom is driving away looking really worried.
No, I don't like this feeling.
I don't like it at all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Awkward in Autumn-1964

It's weird, this autumn of 1964. I'm trying to cope with going to this new school, this Gateway Regional High School. My body is going crazy, with pimples bursting through my skin, and my scalp flaking off, and now I'm going to be thirteen in a few months. Thirteen! Me, a teenager? Today I am a man and all that crap? I don't feel ready. I mean, I'd like to get one of those G.I. Joe action toys for Christmas, but if I'm going to be a teenager should I be asking for a doll for Christmas? I tell myself that it's not a doll, it's a large toy soldier that you can change uniforms and equipment on, but hey that IS a DOLL, isn't it? I'm gonna want one and I know some people will feel it's stupid and I'll feel it's stupid, but I'll probably ask for one anyway.

It's October and like most Octobers the Yankees are in the World Series again. This year I'm more interested in baseball than ever before. I understand the game more and I can play it better, and this summer was pretty exciting watching the Phillies almost win the pennant. It's a shame they blew it, but it's pretty much what people have come to expect from them. Still it would have been pretty cool watching the Phils play the Yankees. Dad probably would have gotten tickets to some of the games. I could have seen Mickey Mantle play ball in person, right across the Delaware River. Instead I rush home at the end of the school day to catch the last innings. The St. Louis Cardinals are making things tough for the Yanks. The series goes to seven games and I'm disappointed when the Cardinals win. What's really weird is after the Series is over the Yankees fire their manager, Yogi Berra and hire Johnny Keane, the guy who managed the Cardinals! A strange way to end things, that's for sure.

It's a strange feeling I have this autumn in 1964, like I'm living in two different worlds. I live in Woodbury Heights, and my friends are my neighbors from Woodbury Heights, but when I go to school my friends are mostly from Wenonah and Westville and National Park. But they're only my friends at school, we hardly ever see each other outside the walls of Gateway.

The world is strange too in this autumn of 1964. The presidential election is between two scary looking men, Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. A lot of people say Lyndon Johnson is a crooked politician who fixed elections in Texas, and Barry Goldwater seems to be someone who's determined to start a nuclear war with Russia. Even if I could vote I don't think I'd pick either one.

This October more East Germans tunneled their way under the Berlin Wall to get to West Germany and freedom. I still can't understand it all. I can't imagine what it's like to be a kid in East Germany, wondering if I'd ever be able to be free again. What do those kids ask for at Christmas?

I decide I'm not going out for Halloween this year. That's one thing I think I'm too old for now. I'm gonna stay home and hand out the candy and try and guess who is under those costumes. Mom can take little Cheryl out trick-or-treating, I'll stay home and hold down the fort.

My grades are good and I make the honor roll. I have to study harder and it seems like there's no end to the homework our teachers hand out, but somehow I get through it all.

Soon the election will be over and we'll have a new president. A big Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Bette's farm,and then thoughts of Christmas. And yeah, I'm going to ask for a G.I. Joe, doll or no doll.

I don't want to think about my thirteenth birthday too much.
I don't need another pimple.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Woodbury Heights

This is a map of Woodbury Heights as it is today, but pretty much as it was in 1964 as well. Find the streets I talk about in my other posts. My house is at the corner of Walnut Ave. and Tanyard Road, with Gateway Regional High School right behind it. You can see my walk to school changed dramatically. The elementary school is on Academy Ave. where Asam Ave. meets it. St. Margaret's is all the way over on Second Street, off of Central Ave..
Freund's Cliff is behind the former TYCO site.
Double click on the map to enlarge.

Stay Tuned

For those of you waiting, if there are any, more posts will be coming shortly.
Heading towards the end of 1964 and my thirteenth birthday. I'm going to try and tackle some hard issues, and I hope I'm up to the challenge.

For those of you who venture over to Jack Wiler's World, I must tell you that Jack passed away on October 20 of this year.

I will miss my old friend. I will miss his inspiration. I shall try and rise to his challenge - to write hard and write true.

Stay tuned.
More Maddox Corner to come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Short Note

I haven't been posting lately. Family matters and personal situations have taken priority. If you're still reading and would like to see more, I hope to be back soon.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Random Act

The late summer/early fall of 1964 proved to be sunny and warm. I and all of my Woodbury Heights classmates and the kids from three other towns were getting used to our new high school in the fields behind my home.
Most of the guys I used to play with were becoming more interested in playing sports on the Gateway teams, so I didn't see much of them on the weekends now. In the past, Steve Kay and I and Paul LaPann and Billy Hills and lots of others would be fighting the battles of one war or another, chasing each other through the woods and fields all over town.
It was harder for Steve and I to get any of our former classmates to join in. I can't explain our fascination for playing war, except to say that we were comfortable in our imaginations. Whether charging across the grounds of the Episcopal Church or using the garage in the Clay's yard as the Alamo, it was an exciting way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
We delighted in making gun, aircraft and artillery sounds. Steve and I could spend hours in his basement moving German and British soldiers across the miniature desert, most likely driving his mother to distraction with all of our noise.
Steve had also introduced me to the world of Avalon Hill games, war games played out on large folding boards representing the terrain of some of the most famous battles in history. You moved little cardboard squares representing infantry, armor artillery and motorized units. Combat was resolved using dice: the outcome determined by the roll, the strength of the units, and charts that would tell you the results. The first game was called Tactics II, pitting the blue army against the red. Once you mastered this game you were ready for the more advanced and "realistic" campaigns like Afrika Korps and Gettysburg. For military history freaks like me, this was Nirvana. Here I was commanding the actual units that fought at Tobruk and Cemetery Ridge. I could play those games all day and never tire of them.
But there was to be one last battle with our old comrades, one last hurrah on the fields of honor - well, Steve's back yard.
Steve had somehow convinced Paul and his brothers Joe and Dave to join in the war with us one bright sunny day in late September or early October. There was Steve and his brothers Howe and David and me and a few others.
It didn't matter to me what battle we'd play out, Paul was with us even if it was to be one last time.
We charged and yelled and died on the steps of the Episcopal Church, our battle flags flying. Charge and counter charge and the occasional argument over whether or not you were really shot by someone and had to fall down. We screamed and died and made our best battle sounds, whirling and shouting throughout the afternoon.
The battle was drawing to a close with one side holed up in the small wooden shed behind Steve's house. The shed was assaulted time and again with each charge repulsed by its determined defenders. One last effort was made and the door was breached, and the attackers moved in, pushing the defenders into the walls of the shed. The wall moved under the stress of all those young bodies, and a large cracking noise could be heard.
It was a spontaneous move by all of us. We got caught up in some sort of hysteria and we all began to hurl ourselves at the wall of the shed, once, then again and again, until the wall had broken free and toppled onto the ground. We repeated this action over and over, bashing our bodies into the small structure, until nothing was left standing. We stood panting and sweating, surveying the results of our savagery. There was no longer a shed, just a wooden floor and a pile of boards. We laughed embarrassed laughs, amazed at the damage we had done. Some scurried away, not wanting to wait around to see what Steve's parents would have to say about all this.
Father Kay did not yell at us, which made us feel even worse about what we had done. No, he was cool and calm in his lecture to us with just enough edge in his voice to let us know how disappointed he was in our behavior. The shed would have to be put back together, and it would be some time before any battles could take place on the grounds of the Episcopal Church again.
We put the shed back together.
Steve and his brothers were grounded for quite some time.
None of us could ever explain why we did it.
Such senseless violence in the middle of our war.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Study Time

There were days during the week that you were given free time to catch up on your homework, or to read a book, or just sit there and vegetate. These moments were called Study Hall. A grand notion, a generous gift-time to do homework in school so you could be free to pursue other interests after the bell to go home had rung.
The only problem was, the places they picked for us to "study".
I had Study Hall in the auditorium of all places. Sitting in auditorium seats without a surface to write on, so your biggest book or your three ring binder became a desk top. If the subject you had homework in was in your biggest book, well then you might be out of luck. There was no place else to put the rest of your books and other stuff you might be carrying. Oh, you could try and place them on the seat next to you, but it would keep trying to close up on you, or your books would slide down to the floor. It was a juggling act. We looked like the Three Stooges at an informal dinner party, trying to balance plates on our knees.
The lighting was dim to non-existent, and most of the time my pen or pencil would pop through my paper from the lack of a proper hard surface to write on. My papers would be sliding out from under me, and those slippery book covers meant the occasional avalanche of text books sliding under the seats in front of you.
You could tell that teachers did not appreciate having to do Study Hall duty. They approached it with an air of resentment, that "I don't want to be here any more than you do" attitude. They patrolled the Study Hall like prison guards, looking for any signs of conversation and prodding those just sitting there to do something constructive. As if sitting in a semi-dark cavern that's too cold from the air-conditioning without proper seating was conducive to scholarly endeavors.
The cafeteria wasn't much better, but sometimes there I was sitting at one of those long tables jammed in with the rest of my classmates, shoulder to shoulder. The lighting was better, but there wasn't a lot of room if you needed to spread out, and the wardens were there to keep us all in line.
I tried. I tried to do my homework in Study Hall, but it was next to impossible for me, so I just perfected the art of looking busy. I could stare at a book with the best of them, or just doodle for the entire hour or so, looking like I was deep in thought.
There were the rebellious among us. A defiant sneer at the teacher when told they should be doing something, or an out and out protest, usually resulting in them being sent out of the room, something they wanted anyway.
For the vast majority of us, we kept our heads down buried in our books.
That is, if we could keep them from falling to the floor.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Covers And Other Junk

Seventh Grade moves slowly. I’m forging new friendships and trying to hold on to the old. Steve Kay and I are in 7C, the only boys from our former Sixth Grade class in Woodbury Heights. Vince Fitzgerald is in 7C as well, but he was in the “other” Sixth Grade, and didn’t share all of our experiences.
I miss the cloakroom. My locker combination doesn’t always work, so I have to bang the door just under the lock sometimes before it will open. I don’t have much that someone would want to steal. My jacket? My school books? Once in a while my gym bag? I didn’t have to worry about thieves in Woodbury Heights Elementary. I guess with more kids there’s more temptation.
Our teachers are obsessed with book covers. Some of them are rabid about it. All of the textbooks are brand new, and they want us to keep them that way. Remember to cover your books, they remind us. Some of them demand that we buy the “official” Gateway book covers and not use the paper bag covers our mothers make for us. The Gateway book covers are blue and white of course, with the Gator logo in a kind of laminated glossy paper. I prefer the home-made paper bag cover myself. They provide you with an empty canvas on which to doodle. Mine are usually covered with my “art work” by the middle of the year and a bit worn so I have to get my Mom to make some new ones. The Gateway covers are slippery which makes it hard to hold onto your books. They slide out of the racks under my desks if I’m not careful. Stacking your books under your seat is a daily juggling act I could do without.
There are other official obsessions.
The dress code for one. No blue jeans or shorts. Boys must wear shirts with collars-no t-shirts whatsoever. The girls must wear skirts and blouses or dresses. They can’t wear slacks. They can get away with wearing coullottes, which is a skirt that looks like a pair of shorts. We cannot have long hair like the Beatles or the Beach Boys, and every boy must be clean-shaven. Beards and mustaches are forbidden. Not too many of us can grow them quite yet anyway.
Are the girls’ gym teachers obsessed with them wearing their gym clothes the way Mr. Williamson is? Whatever you do, don’t forget your jockstrap or your white socks. I have nightmares about gym days. I dream that I’ve forgotten my gym bag and Williamson is having a ball humiliating me in front of the whole class. Do the girls have to endure this kind of nonsense?
The gym is finished and we run in circles in our half. There’s this pull-out wall separating the girls from the boys. This seems ridiculous after years of recess and lunch time on the playground. It was always boys and girls together, but now that we’re older they don’t want us to mingle. What is on the minds of our school board anyway?
When the sports season begins we have pep rallies. We’re supposed to whip ourselves into some sort of school spirit frenzy, all of us one mind and body united in hatred for the schools our teams will be playing. I feel weird going to pep rallies. They remind me of the newsreels of the Nuremberg rallies the Nazis used to have. We’re encouraged to scream and yell and worship our guys like they’re some sort of Olympic gods or something. I don’t want to be there, but I have to be. Inside I laugh at the spectacle.
I don’t consider myself a “Gator” yet. I don’t know what I am but I know I’m not a blue reptile that swims in a swamp.
Some days of the week they separate the boys and the girls for the special classes. Industrial Arts for the boys and Home Economics for the girls. Only boys want to be carpenters or mechanics or architects don’t you know? Only girls want to learn how to cook and to sew. It’s 1964 outside, but it might as well be 1954 in the building. No one asked me.
The shops aren’t finished yet so we spend most of our time watching films about how engines work and about shop safety. We have Mechanical Drawing using T-squares and funny – looking triangular rulers. This is precision three-dimensional drawing, displaying the sizes and angles. I have trouble getting the arrowheads on my dimension lines correct, but on the whole I like Mechanical Drawing and the discipline it encourages. I would like to know how to cook, though. Chef Boy-ar-dee had to learn somewhere, didn’t he?
I’m not enjoying Gateway Regional High School, at least not yet. My grades are good and I’ve got my best friend Steve Kay in my class, but it’s not the same as Woodbury Heights Elementary. I wonder how the kids from the other towns feel? How are they making out getting up earlier and waiting for buses to ship them off miles away from home.
At least I don’t have to ride a bus every day.
I’d hate to have to ride one of those damn things.
Wait a second- did I just say damn?
Now where did that come from?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Body Language

My body is going crazy on me. There’s this struggle going on. The Maddox genes are fighting with the Boswell genes and they’re mixing it up with the Gardner genes who are trying to hold off the Knoll genes. I don’t know who I look like anymore. I’ve got bigger lips and my head looks longer. My face is erupting with acne and I’ve got hair above my upper lip, and my voice is changing. I’ve always looked a bit geeky, a bit like Jerry Lewis with this perpetual crew cut, but now I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not getting any taller like I figured, I’m still about five-foot-five. OK so maybe I’m five-foot-five and-a-half, but I’m not sprouting up like a lot of guys my age.
I’m skinny. Real skinny. I’m skinny ‘cause I never stop running or riding my bike or playing war over in Steve Kay’s yard. I’m always outside doing something, so I don’t have time to get fat. I do notice that I’m able to do those exercises in gym class a lot easier than I did when Mr. Williamson first started on us, and my arms and legs feel stronger. There’s not a lot of muscles on me, but I definitely feel stronger.
I got up one morning and looked in the mirror and I realized I had to start shaving. The hair above my upper lip was noticeable, a dark shadow beneath my nose. At first I used Dad’s electric shaver, but that never felt like it did the job, so I switch to a safety razor. I have to be careful not to cut myself or open up one of the pimples forming beneath my mustache. Mustache? I didn’t think it would come this quickly. As I’m scraping the hair from my upper lip I notice the fuzz on my cheeks is getting darker too. Pretty soon I’ll be shaving my whole face. Why do I need all this extra hair anyway? I don’t live in a cave somewhere. My legs are sprouting more hair too. What is this?
My scalp is dry. If I scratch my head I can cover a school book with a layer of white scales. I’ve got more dandruff than I know what to do with. This is just great, blotchy skin and mounds of dandruff and a face that’s changing shape. This is all I need. I’ll never get up the courage to talk to any girl I like now.
In my mind the eruptions on my face are gigantic, like I’ve got a volley ball-sized growth popping out of my nose. My brow is all red and bumpy, and why do pimples have to form right where I have to shave? This is painful. This is embarrassing. This is insane.
Hairy, bumpy, skinny and crew cut, and dandruff. I don’t need this at all.
I’ve got enough self-esteem issues without my body going wacky on me.
I’ll scrub my face and shampoo my hair. I’ll rub and rub and rub till my skin and scalp are raw, but it doesn’t do any good; my face erupts and my skin flakes off. In my mind I’m hideous and I wish I could wear a mask to school.
Yeah, I’ve heard about it, how your body goes through changes as you get older, but my body is going crazy and it’s driving me nuts!
How can I keep going to school looking like this?
I’m not even thirteen.
What’s going to happen to me then?
No, I don't need this.
I don't need this at all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Changing Channels

The new school year also means the arrival of the latest television season. TV is starting to pull away from the 1950s a little more this year. Westerns don’t dominate the schedule like they used to. Most of the cowboy shows are called “adult” westerns, and most of them are an hour long. I think Rawhide is on mainly because people like the theme song, and why anyone would want to watch The Virginian is beyond me. Gunsmoke is still on Saturday nights and I never miss that. Marshall Dillon and the folks in Dodge City are old familiar friends.
My brother likes the Outer Limits. That show creeps me out, especially the beginning where they tell you they’re in control of your TV set, and that loud noise is buzzing in my ears. I go downstairs and watch something else when that’s on. The one time I do decide to stick around and watch it, it has these alien creatures that look like big ants that have human faces. Too weird for me. I don’t know how Carl can sleep after watching stuff like that.
Carl likes this new Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea show too. The actors in it seem phony to me, and the special effects and everything else about it looks cheesy. I’m not going to watch that one either.
Ozzie and Harriet are still on. Can you believe that? Dave and Ricky are all grown up and Ozzie still walks around in a sweater without any visible means of support. I guess he’s retired now, but from what? This year they show mostly re-runs of the older episodes, so it’s not quite as embarrassing as it has been. But why is it still on?
A lot of the older comedians are still on, but Red Skelton and Jack Benny are still funny. Lucy on the other hand, is not, and I don’t see why she’s still on, but for some reason or another she’s still popular. I don’t get it. Watching an old lady throw temper tantrums isn’t funny to me anymore, it’s just stupid.
There are several new shows on that are about people who are different. I like Bewitched. This guy marries a real pretty girl who turns out to be a witch. The only thing that bothers me about this show is that this guy doesn’t want his wife to use her powers. He wants her to be “normal”. Now everybody knows if you were married to somebody who had magical powers, you’d be asking them to do all kinds of neat stuff. TV always has to teach us a moral, like we’re always going to Sunday school or something.
There’s two more shows about people who are “different”. Two families trying to get along in the world even though their lifestyles don’t exactly fit in. They look different from everybody else too. The Munsters and the Addams family are really funny. What it would be like if the Frankenstein monster was living in a small town, or if an alternate world of ghouls and witches and other assorted freaks of nature moved in next door. The Addams family has an edge to them. Gomez and Morticia seem like they could get a kick out of doing something evil, and no one wants to mess with Lurch. I don’t like the actors who play their kids, though, especially that boy who plays Pugsley. He’s just plain awful.
I love the Munsters. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were on my favorite show of all time-Car 54, Where Are You?, and they’re great as Herman and Grandpa Munster. Fred Gwynne is all rubber-faced and goofy as Herman. I don’t think any other actor could play Herman and be as funny as Fred Gwynne. The Munsters is my favorite show this year.
TV has finally realized that there’s a new generation watching. Shindig is on on Wednesday nights at 8:30. It’s a live half hour show featuring all of the new rock n’ roll bands and they actually perform their hit songs instead of lip singing them. Every big group with a hit record is on the show, even the Beatles. The only rocker not on is Elvis, but he doesn’t seem as popular anymore. The Beatles are number one, and Diana Ross and the Supremes have a lot of hit records this year too. Elvis is taking a back seat to the British bands and the groups from Motown. I don’t watch Shindig too much ‘cause it’s on when the Beverly Hillbillies are, but I hear a lot of kids talking about it.
Carl is watching The Man From Uncle. It’s a spy show with a lot of gadgets and car chases. I guess it’s on because of that James Bond guy. I don’t like Robert Vaughn too much. I’d rather watch McHale’s Navy or Red Skelton.
There’s a lot of new shows on that I’m going to try. Twelve O’clock High, another World War II show about the B-17 bomber crews. I saw the movie with Gregory Peck, and I love watching war shows, so that will be on my schedule.
Donna Reed is still on, and so is My Three Sons, but they’ve pretty much worn out their welcome, and why oh why is Hazel still on? Can somebody tell me why that horrible show is still on?
Another show that catches my attention is a comedy show. It’s a lot of political satire and jokes about what’s going on today. It’s got that British guy David Frost on it. The show is called That Was The Week That Was, or TW3, and it’s pretty funny, but they keep pre-empting it for programs about the election, so most of the time I forget it’s on.
There is a show on that’s not very good, but I like it anyway. It’s the perfect show for young boys like me. The show is called My Living Doll, and it’s on Sunday night at 9:30. Robert Cummings is a guy who’s put in charge of an experimental robot. The thing is the robot is a beautiful woman, and she’s been programmed to do anything you tell her to do. The robot is played by Julie Newmar, one of the prettiest and sexiest women on TV at the time. I have to watch it every week just to look at Julie Newmar. Bob Cummings calls the robot Rhoda, and you operate Rhoda by pressing the freckles on her back! This show is the answer to every 12 and 13 year old boy with raging hormones dream. I know that every boy who watches this show is waiting for the day when Rhoda is told to take her clothes off. We know in our minds that this will never happen on TV, but we can dream, can’t we?
Who knows? Remember that Tarzan movie I saw? The one where Jane swims totally naked under water?
I saw that on TV now, didn’t I?

Monday, July 27, 2009

School Daze

I think the people who planned Gateway Regional High School are messing with our heads. They’ve taken kids from four different towns and thrown us all together in one building in some kind of bizarre science experiment. I feel like a lab rat in a maze, passing hundreds of strangers and every once in a while I see a familiar face but I can’t stop to say hi, I’ve got to keep moving and find the next classroom before the bell rings. Every hour or so it’s a race against time, rush-rush-rush, and don’t be late-don’t stop or take a time out to pee.
There are a few teachers I recognize. There’s Mr. Harvey and Mr. Culbertson from Woodbury Heights. I would have had them in Seventh or Eighth Grade if we had stayed in our old elementary school, but here I just see them going by me in the hall. Sometimes they smile and nod, acknowledging my existence. Fate has been kind to me as far as Language Arts and Social Studies. I get Mrs. Oglesby. Mrs. Oglesby lives six houses down from me on Walnut Avenue. She’s my neighbor! I passed her house every day on the way to school, and she knows my Mom and every Halloween I’ve stood in her living room while she tried to guess who I was. It’s good to have at least one familiar person as one of my teachers. There seem to be teachers from all four towns sprinkled in among us. I see some kids know Mrs. Conaway, my Homeroom and Reading class teacher. There are just enough teachers that we know to keep us all from getting too nervous about this place.
I and my classmates in 7C are expected to learn French. Why French, I wonder? How practical is French going to be for me? Who I am going to speak French to after school? German might be good, seeing as how my grandmother came from Austria, but French? Maybe if I lived near Canada or New Orleans French might be a good thing to know, but I live in South Jersey. There’s a lot of Italians in South Jersey, and Puerto Ricans, too, so maybe French isn’t the right way for us to go.
We spend a lot of time asking each other where the library is and introducing ourselves in French class. Miss Viola is our teacher, and she’s nice enough and pretty young and all, but maybe she could teach us more practical things to say. How about, “Where’s the bathroom?” or “Do you like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” Instead we practice introductions and tell each other we’re having sausages to eat, and how many times do we have to ask where the library is anyway? What is it with all these different ways to say the? Masculine, feminine and neuter? I never knew words could have a gender! Different endings for the same word, and there’s a formal way and an informal way to talk to each other. Hey, I’ve been speaking English for all my life, how do they expect me to understand all of this?
Miss Viola gives everyone the French equivalent of their first name. Except me. There is no French word for James, and John Camp already got Jean, which is the only thing close. Jack Wiler gets Jacques, the next best thing, so I have to settle for Pierre. Pierre? Why can’t she call me Louis? Louis is French, and that’s my middle name, but no, I have to settle for Pierre. If you ask me, this French class is a lot of merd.
Gym class is really tough. Mr. Williamson drills us like soldiers and then makes us do exercises until I feel like my veins are going to pop. Squats until my legs feel like over-stretched rubber bands. I’m in the push-up position, holding myself on my arms and toes as my arms wobble and the sweat is pouring into my eyes. Jumping jacks that last forever and we touch our toes until I feel like I’m going to pass out. Every once in a while somebody forgets their white socks or their jock strap, and Mr. Williamson reams them out in front of everybody like they’ve just committed some sort of mortal sin or something. The guys you feel most sorry for are the ones who forget to bring their gym suit to school that day. Mr. Williamson yells at them and makes them sit on the sidelines and watch us exercise, and ridicules them all throughout the period. I’m beginning to hate gym class.
I’m making some new friends in Gateway, but how friendly can you get with kids that live miles away and can only get here by bus? The guys from Wenonah are the closest, but it’s complicated if you want to hang out together. Your Mom has to drive you back and forth, or you can ride your bike, but you can’t be too close ‘cause you’re just so far away from each other.
Classes aren’t the same either. You don’t spend all day with the same teacher teaching you everything, and you don’t feel close to any of them. I like some of my teachers, and there's some I don’t care for. I guess I’m like everyone else, just muddling through, just trying to make it through the day.
I never used to watch the clock too much in Woodbury Heights Elementary School, but I stare at it every last period now. I can’t wait for the final bell. I’ve got a short walk home, so I’m there faster than anyone else.
Every day I take a quick nap after school. I rush upstairs and collapse on my bed and drift away. Thirty to forty minutes of bliss.
Free to let my muscles and my mind relax
Free to forget where the library is in France.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Phold

I didn’t know much about the Phillies until this year. I did know that the last time they had been in the World Series was 1950, a year before I was born, and the only other time was 1915, and both times they had been beaten.
This year, 1964, it was a different Phillies team altogether. They had been in first place most of the season, and now in September it looked like they were going to be the National League champions for sure. We all talked about it in school.
The Phillies were a young team, led by veteran outfielder Johnny Callison, revered by Phillies fans as much as Mickey Mantle was by Yankees fans in New York. My neighbors Butch and Billy Clay talked about how great Johnny Callison was all of the time. From what I had read in the Bulletin, they were right. Johnny Callison was hitting a ton of homers and he played an almost flawless right field. Yeah, the Phillies had a star in Johnny Callison alright.
The main thing that was different about the 1964 Phillies wasn’t just the players’ ages. They actually had a team that was made up of guys who were black, white and most of all, they had quite a few Latin-American ballplayers.
(left to right)Cookie Rojas, Johnny Callison, Richie Allen, Gene Mauch

There was a player who looked like he would be a superstar as well, and for the first time in the Phillies’ history, he was black.
Richie Allen was having a great year, and the Philadelphia papers and newscasts were all touting him as candidate for Rookie of the Year for the National League. He wasn’t the greatest third baseman, that’s for sure, but he was clobbering the ball. Allen was hitting for average, driving in runs, and blasting out just as many home runs as Johnny Callison. It was pretty amazing listening to white kids praising a black baseball player, especially a Phillie, but it was happening, right here, right now.
The Spanish-speaking players were fan favorites as well. Tony Gonzalez was one of the best center fielders in baseball, and little Cookie Rojas was proving that utility players were just as valuable as the regular guys. He was hitting the ball well too, batting close to .300 for most of the season.
Phillies fans weren’t used to success. It was expected that they’d lose every year. My father and all our neighbors never thought in a million years that the Phillies would stay in first place almost all summer long, but here they were on September 20th with a six and a half game lead and just twelve games left to go. All they have to do is win six games, that’s all. Just six games and the championship would be theirs.
But something happened. Some Phillies fans probably said it was bound to happen. Things began to unravel, and we saw it on TV and listened to it on the radio.
On September 21st the Phils lost a 1-0 game to the Reds because a utility infielder named Chico Ruiz decided to do the unexpected. He stole home plate all on his own. He just did it, surprising his manager and his teammates as much as he surprised the Phillies. From that night on and for nine more games, the Phillies just couldn’t win no matter how hard they tried.
They began making a lot of errors and balls that seemed routine would suddenly take a bad hop or hit a rock, and before they knew it, the other team was way ahead. It seemed like everyone stopped hitting except for Allen and Callison, and they couldn’t be expected to do it all.
For some reason or another, the Phillies manager, Gene Mauch, suddenly changed the way he used his pitchers. It seemed like all he wanted to do was play Jim Bunning and Chris Short, like Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp or even Rick Wise didn’t even exist. The sports announcers were all saying that Gene Mauch was wearing his best pitchers out, and the losses were piling up. The fans were losing their patience and their confidence, and they began to boo, and I mean boo.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on television. The Phillies were falling apart. I saw them blow big leads and fail to take advantage of every opportunity they had to win a game. It was like I was watching an entirely different team than what I had seen all summer. They had become what every Phillies fan had expected, a major-league disappointment.
Six games-that’s all they needed to win. They lost ten in a row, and now the St. Louis Cardinals were in first place with just two games left to play.
The Phillies still had a chance. If they could beat the Reds and the Cardinals lost to the Mets, then the Phils, Reds and Cardinals would end up in a three-way tie for first, leading to a playoff to see who would go to the World Series.
This was exciting to me, I don’t think this had ever happened before, a three way tie for first place. You could just feel the tension in my neighbors. The Clays were pretty rabid Phillies fans, and you could hear Mrs. Avis screaming at the television all during the losing streak.
Well, the Phils got lucky. On Friday, October 2, they squeezed out a 4-3 win over the Reds and the lowly Mets destroyed the Cards 15-5. All the Phillies had to do was win on Saturday and hope that the Mets could pull off another victory over the Cardinals.
Maybe it was just fate or bad luck or maybe just because it’s Philadelphia.
The Phils clobbered the Reds, 10-0.
But the Cardinals beat the Mets, 11-5.
Butch and Billy Clay were stunned.
Mrs. Avis was hoarse from all the yelling.
Phillies fans everywhere just couldn’t believe it.
The sportswriters were pointing their fingers.
I didn’t feel too bad, after all my team, the Yankees, were going to the World Series, and I figured they’d beat the pants off of the Cardinals, so that would even the score.
It was a shame what happened.
A season full of so much hope and so much promise.
For a change Phillies fans had an exciting season, but it ended the way all seasons had.
In bitter disappointment.
“There was no joy in Mudville......”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The 1964 Election

President Johnson is running for re-election this year. The only thing I know about it is that he's running against a senator from Arizona named Barry Goldwater, and that the Democrats have their convention in Atlantic City. My parents watch the convention, and it's on all of the channels, so there's nothing on TV while the convention is going on.
There's a lot of name-calling. People accuse President Johnson of being corrupt, and that he fixed a lot of elections when he was running for office in Texas. Some people are saying that maybe he had something to do with President Kennedy's assassination. A lot of people don't like the fact that he's sending more and more soldiers over to Vietnam, and most white people don't like him because he's getting a lot of civil rights laws passed.
Senator Goldwater is being called a war-monger. He claims there's no shame in using whatever force is necessary in order to defeat the Communists. I don't like the way he looks. He looks spooky to me, and Lyndon Johnson is pretty creepy-looking too.
The election is beyond me. Political things just seem so complicated, you know? Who knows what to believe?
But one night I see this commercial for Lyndon Johnson, and it scares me to death. A lot of people are scared to death.
I have trouble sleeping after seeing that commercial.
Suddenly I hope that Barry Goldwater isn't elected our next president, and President Johnson doesn't seem so spooky at all.

Surviving Gateway

I started out my first few days at Gateway a little intimidated by it all, but after a while I got used to the routine, and I was making a few new friends. Most of my new friends were the smarter kids in school. There’s this guy from Westville named Grant Karsner who seems like he could be Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Grant is really good with math, something I struggle with. I’m getting to know another kid from Westville. Bruce Zahn is his name. He’s smaller than me and kinda quiet-the soft-spoken type.
I was right about Jack Wiler from Wenonah. He and I share a lot of the same interests. We talk about Marvel Comic books-which artists we like and which super heroes are our favorites. Jack likes history too, so I’ve found somebody else other than Steve Kay I can talk to about World War II and all the other wars I like to read about.
My locker mate, Gary Lundquist keeps pumping me for information about all the girls from Woodbury Heights. I’d like to help him out, but I really don’t know much about them personally, only from what I know when we’re in school. I can tell him that Joyce Hoefers is as good an athlete as any boy and she’s a nice person, except if you’re trying to dunk her under the water, then watch out! I agree with him that Sheila McLaughlin is pretty, and once again I don’t know too much about her as a person. I like Gary, he’s good at making jokes and he seems real intelligent when he speaks. He’s kind of like a junior William F. Buckley; a mini-intellectual. I seem to be able to make him laugh real hard sometimes. Gary tells me he’s interested in a girl from my class that I hardly ever spoke to, Debbie Pryzwara. Her father is working on his house or something, and he thinks that he’d like to get to know her. I tell him that Debbie was kinda quiet and shy in school, and I don’t live on her side of town. I tell Gary he should ask Don Vanneman about Debbie-he lives across the street from her. Whether or not he acts on my advice, I’ll never know. I do know he’s also interested in Sue Burns, the girl I’ve always had a huge crush on. I’m too awkward and shy to ever tell Sue Burns I like her. I thought that I’d get up enough courage to talk to her now that we’re in high school and all, but I don’t.
There are lots and lots of pretty girls to meet and admire. They’re everywhere, but what does that matter to me? I’m this skinny awkward goofball with a crew cut. I look more and more like Jerry Lewis the longer I keep getting my hair cut this way, but I don’t have a choice, that’s how my parents tell me to get it cut, so that’s that. Anyway, when I tried to let my hair grow long a few years ago it was a disaster. It’s better to get it cut off than plastering it down with a whole bottle of hair tonic.
I decide that I’m going to join the school newspaper. I have an interest in writing, and I used to pretend that I ran a newspaper when I was younger. They make me the sports editor. Sports? I don’t know much about sports at all. I know about baseball mostly. I’ve played football in the yard but I don’t know much else about it and I know absolutely nothing about basketball. The few times I’ve tried to play basketball with Jimmy Matsuk and Paul LaPann and some of the others I was just horrible, so I’ve stayed away from it.
Mr. Harvey is the basketball coach. I know Mr. Harvey from Woodbury Heights Elementary school, so it will be easy to talk to him. I write down a whole bunch of questions for Mr. Harvey about the upcoming basketball season and how he thinks the team will do. Most of my questions are pretty open-ended, so he can be free to answer them in any way, and I won’t look like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Mr. Harvey answers all my questions and then some, so I’ve got a lot of good material for my article about the boys’ basketball team. The only thing is, when the newspaper is finally printed, most of our news is so old that nobody really cares about reading it. After Christmas vacation I lose interest and quit the paper.
A lot of kids are choosing activities to join. Football, basketball, field hockey, cheerleading, color guard; everyone is picking something.
I’m not a jock, my athletic abilities usually provoke laughter rather than admiration, so I join the Chess Club. My neighbor Mr. Olsen taught me how to play chess. I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved listening to him speak to me in his Norwegian accent, so I tried the best I could. Since chess is a military game I figured it would grow on me, but somehow my brain couldn’t wrap itself around the subtleties of the strategy, and I couldn’t see the moves ahead of time like you’re supposed to. I lost pretty much all of the time. Years later my long time friend Keith Madden and I would play chess almost every day and every day he would beat me. One day I noticed that I was doing very well against him, and it looked like I was going to win. Keith had reached a point in the game where his next move would decide whether or not I could beat him. I figured he could see that I could win and make the right move to prevent it. To my surprise he didn’t, and the next thing I know I’m calling out Checkmate!
Keith couldn’t believe his eyes. I think he studied the board for at least twenty minutes before conceding the game. I didn’t believe it either.
I didn’t join anything else. I wasn’t confident enough to try out for sports, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time practicing a musical instrument, so band was out for me. Good thing too, because kids who were in the band seemed to have been placed in a whole different category of nerddom. I never understood why though. I always envied people who could play an instrument. Playing one of those horns or reed instruments is hard to do, and you have to practice as much as any athlete, so I never understood why kids in the band were ridiculed so much.
I was keeping my head down, trying not to get noticed, just flowing along and trying to get good grades. I sat at the lunch table with guys like Bruce Zahn and Grant Karsner, Ken Fell and Ralph Leeds and Jack Wiler. I had pretty much lost touch with most of the boys I went to school with in Woodbury Heights, except for Steve Kay. He and I pretty much kept to ourselves, and after school we contented ourselves with playing Avalon Hill war games and moving Airfix toy soldiers around on the desert we built in his basement.
I’m getting by OK so far. My grades are good and I’ve made a few new friends. Maybe this new school isn’t so bad after all.
Well, I’ve still gotta survive gym class. And let's not forget the cafeteria.
We’ll see.
We'll see.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lunchtime at Gateway

Our cafeteria isn't quite ready for us when we first start school. We have to bring our lunches and eat in our homerooms for a while. The cafeteria itself is a makeshift gymnasium, perfect for calisthenics and close-order drill. We also play "Crab Soccer", a game played with a giant canvas ball. We sit on the floor with our arms behind us, pulling ourselves with our legs. You can only kick the ball, you can't touch it with your hands, and it's a welcome relief from all those muscle-bending exercises.
It takes a while, but the cafeteria is finished, and lunch periods can begin. The cafeteria lacks any ambiance at all. It's just a big open room with bare cinder block walls painted a kind of institutional green. Long tables in rows that remind me of the mess halls in prison movies or movies about boot camp in the army.
It's loud in the cafeteria. Dozens of voices chattering away all at once, a sudden change from the relative quiet of our classrooms.
When they begin serving us food, or at least their idea of food, it seems like most of the time we're served something made of ground beef and starch. Sloppy Joes, beef-a-roni, or chili with beans. The pizza is unlike any pizza I've ever eaten. We pour the grease off of it before even trying to eat it. Most kids eat the French fries and the hot dogs. Lunch costs 35 cents. There is a moment in time that is somewhat surreal. They serve something called Turkey On A Stick. What it is I couldn't say for sure. There's some kind of fried glob of what looks like a meat product on the end of one of those pointed wooden skewers that you usually have a candied apple on. Who thought any of us would want to eat this? I steer clear of that concoction, and it disappears from the menu rather quickly. What were they thinking with that one?
You can get an ice cream sandwich for a dime, and after a while that pretty much consists of my lunch until I start bringing my own again.
There's not much in the way of fruits or vegetables, and the small fruit cups they do have usually end up being used as missiles. The grapes, mostly and sometimes the pudding. Somebody always seems to feel the need to toss some grapes during lunch period. I guess being cooped up in the building all day creates so much tension in some of us that the only way they can release it is by throwing food.
I don't like the cafeteria. There's this unofficial pecking order in there. Nerds like me are clustered together for safety's sake, where we can talk about TV shows and comic books. We're inevitably the target of the food throwers at some point; everyone knows that nerds don't fight back.
The popular kids, the "beautiful people" are in their own section,as are the jocks and the greasers and the tough guys. The least popular kids, the "Lost Souls", must find a table that will accept at least one of them.
I do not like lunch period. We can't leave the building for some reason. In elementary school we could go outside and play in the playground and get some fresh air for a while, but here in high school I feel trapped, and the feeling is made worse because my house is only minutes away. Who would be hurt by my walking home for lunch? Why can't we go outside for a few minutes? Do they think we'll all run away?
This is far worse than the little lunch room I had to endure at the Woodbury Heights Elementary School.
I'm going to have to put up with this for six years?
There's gotta be a way out of this.
There's just got to.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Only The Strong Survive

There’s no recess in high school. They call it Physical Education now. We call it gym class. It looks to me like almost every boy in the Seventh Grade is here. Our bodies are still developing, and most of us are skinny and gangly, barely a muscle showing. We’re all together in gym; the short and the tall, the tough guys and the wimps, the nerds and the jocks-nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.
Our teacher is Mr. Williamson, all crew-cut and bluster. He is obsessed with us wearing ONLY our gym suits in class-there will be no exceptions. And we MUST wear white socks at all times, and jock straps-no underwear may peek out from your gym shorts.
Our gym suits are white T-shirts with Gateway in blue letters, and our shorts are blue with white letters. You can wear white or black sneakers, the color doesn’t matter, but you must wear sneakers. NO EXCEPTIONS!
Mr. Williamson treats us all like we’re Gomer Pyle. He screams at us. There will be no sympathy from Mr. Williamson. We all think of him as a maniac, a hard-nosed bully who gets his kicks out of making young boys feel even smaller than they are.
The gym isn’t finished yet. The floor hasn’t been laid down, so we have to use the cafeteria. Mr. Williamson lines us up military style, in squad formation.
He has us march in close-order drill. Left, idle left, idle left, right, left. Left, left, left, right left. And on and on and on.
I don’t mind the marching so much. It’s easy and you can’t really get embarrassed like you can trying to play some sport you’re no good at. We’re all on a level playing field just marching. It does feel kind of eerie though, as if he’s getting us ready for the military; preparing to ship us off to Vietnam.
The calisthenics are another thing altogether. Mr. Williamson has us doing push-ups and sit-ups and jumping jacks and all manner of body crunching exercises that push us all to the limit.
By the time gym class is over we’re sweaty and sore and we feel as if we’ve been in the Bataan Death March. We have to go back to regular classes after this.
The locker room is a crowded affair, and some guys are embarrassed to be seen naked by the rest of us. Some are so intimidated that they hold towels in front of themselves while taking a shower. I guess they never had to share a bath tub with a brother or a cousin or something.
Mr. Williamson makes it clear that EVERYONE must take a shower. EVERYONE!
It’s hell for the timid among us.
Mr. Williamson makes it clear that EVERYONE must have a lock for their gym locker.
As if someone would want to steal my gym shorts. I do not bring anything of value with me to school.
It’s an hour of “Lord of the Flies”, and then back to class.
I’m still sweating from it all even though I’ve had a shower.
The muscles in my arms and legs ache for the rest of the day. I can barely carry my textbooks.
I will hear Mr. Williamson’s voice in my sleep.
Physical Education they call it.
Three days a week.
Oh for another chance at recess.

Gateway: The First Day

A warm September day this first day of school. My first day in Gateway Regional High School just a few yards down the road from my home.
I don't have to rush to get ready, the school is right behind my house, so I stay in bed for as long as I can, savoring the last minutes of summer vacation.
There is no way to prepare for this, to be thrown into a new building with hundreds of other kids from four different towns, four different worlds.
I and everyone else will be creating something new in this rectangle of bricks and mortar, rising up from what used to be Mr. Rizzuto's field.
It wasn't long ago that Paul Avis and my brother and I ventured out into this field as the Bulldog Patrol, our army platoon, ready to take on the Nazis. Mr. Rizzuto spotted us and mistook us for older boys armed with BB guns, and he came roaring at us full speed in his pick up truck.
"Let me see those guns," he barked.
"You boys better not be huntin' out here."
"No sir, I said, "they're just training rifles. You can't load them with anything. They're not real."
Mr. Rizzuto grunted, and satisfying himself that we weren't out to kill anything, he rode off, warning us to be careful.
We did not enter the field again after that encounter.
I walk past what's left of the woods behind my house,the woods where I used to roam all day long. I'm walking in the shoulder of Egg Harbor Road towards that field where Mr. Rizzuto didn't want us to play. It's hot, but the trek won't last very long.
Yellow buses zoom past me, hauling the kids from Wenonah. I can hear them laughing and yelling and talking as they pass me by.
Cars and buses are pulling into the parking lot, and the grounds in front of the school are filled with kids waiting for the first bell to ring.
Is everyone as nervous as I am? Not too many of my classmates from the Heights are in class 7C. I'm not comfortable about this. I don't like letting go of things that are safe and familiar. What if the kids in my class are all smarter than me, or if I'm somehow put into a class of all wise guys or something? Will I be looked upon as a nerd, once again the only boy still sporting a crew cut?
The bell rings and we flow into the building. I've got to find room 214, that's my homeroom; the teacher will be a Mrs. Conaway.
We're directed where to go,and I'm caught up in a current of bodies all trying to find their way home. I feel like I'm in one of those science experiments where they put a mouse in a maze and I'm looking for a piece of cheese, except there's hundreds of other mice getting in my way, and I'll never be able to see the cheese through all these bodies.
Somehow I find room 214, and Mrs.Conaway who's standing outside the door like all the other teachers. She says hello and tells me where to sit, and I take my place and get a look at my new surroundings.
Everything is new. Our desks aren't really desks, they're more like little tables attached to orange/red plastic seats by chrome-plated tubes. More tubes underneath the seat are where you store your books when you don't need them. Not much room under there, and your feet are likely to kick them off if you're not careful. The clock is new, and the flag and the walls and the blackboard-which isn't black anymore, it's a kind of green color.
There's a speaker on the wall and someone is constantly making announcements.
We all have to stand for the National Anthem and to say the Pledge of Allegiance-the whole school all at once-along with that voice coming over the PA system in the wall.
I find out that Homeroom is where they take roll and give out information. It's where our lockers will be, just outside in the hall. Two people share a locker. My locker mate will be this guy from Westville, a kid named Gary Lundquist. He wears glasses and he looks a lot smarter than me. He seems a lot more outgoing than I am, and he's already talking to everybody, making wise cracks the whole time.
Mrs. Conaway tells us that in a few minutes first period will begin, and the bell will ring and we'll all have to wander the halls looking for our next classroom.
Wandering and searching. Wandering and searching. A river of children flowing through the halls. Every once in a while you see someone from your home town and you call out to them but you can't stop, you're caught up in the current, lost souls looking for classrooms.
It will go on like this all day. Wandering, searching. Books piled up in your arms. Meeting new kids and looking for old familiar faces. Lunch in the cafeteria sitting at long tables that look like the ones in those old James Cagney prison movies.
Parts of the school aren't finished yet. The gym's not done, so we'll have to use the cafeteria. The auditorium isn't finished and some of the biology labs aren't either.
I'm not comfortable this first day of school, but it goes by quickly. I don't have time to think about it too much with all the scrambling about and looking at schedules and learning locker combinations and carrying all those books. Bells ringing and announcements over the PA system. Lots of new teachers and a river of children to contend with.
Before you know it the school day is over and I'm back in Homeroom waiting for the final bell to ring.
I made it! It wasn't too horrible, but it was a bit overwhelming. I hardly saw any of my former Woodbury Heights classmates all day. It looks like I'm the only boy from the Heights in class 7C. Who decided that and why?
I think I'm going to like my locker mate, this Gary Lundquist kid from Westville. He's in class 7C as well, so I see him most of the day. There's this other guy named John, but he prefers Jack. He's from Wenonah and I kinda see some of myself in him. I heard him talking about Marvel comic books and it sounds like he likes history just like I do, so I think he and I could be friends. Lots of new last names.
Albright, Banks, Camp, Chattin, Fell and Leeds. I'll sit behind Lundquist in most of my classes. Stens, Stokes, Wernig, Williams, Wiler and Zahn. New names, new faces. New everything.
Kids empty the building at the end of the day, rushing down Helen Avenue back into Woodbury Heights; boarding the buses for Westville, National Park and Wenonah.
It's a short walk for me, up out of the field and past the woods, past the places I used to roam. Past the places where Mr. Rizzuto didn't want us to play.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I thought I'd take a time out to tell those of you who are reading that my previous post, Thinking Hard, is number 200. Two hundred short stories, free verse, notes, and once in a while a little venting. I never thought I'd get this far. There have been times when I thought I had run out of gas or family problems have gotten so pressing that I'd just throw in the towel. Anyway, here I am and where I'll go from here is anyone's guess. If you're a regular reader, thank you. Thanks to those four who like the blog enough to sign on as regular followers. Jess, Bob Thomas, Bob Smith and Alan.
Special thanks to my wife Patty for her support, and to Jack Wiler for daring me to write again. I have received e-mails from people who grew up in Woodbury Heights telling me how much they've enjoyed my stories and the memories I've brought back to life. Thanks to John, Janice, and Joyce and all the others. Thanks to everyone I've mentioned in the blog, you've all been good sports, and I haven't received any threatening letters. I need to sit back for a while and gather my thoughts. I've also got to find a job - my unemployment benefits won't last forever you know. What I'd like is for anyone who reads the blog to put up a comment or even a question you may have for me. I think it would be nice to see the Maddox Corner "community" and what you're all thinking. So send me your comments and questions. I'll be happy to respond. Give me some time and the "Gateway Era" shall begin. Thanks again for reading. Stay tuned.

Thinking Hard

There's so much on my mind now that summer is almost over. I look through the chain-link fence and stare at Gateway Regional High School rising up just past the trees. What will it be like, I wonder?
So much to think about this summer.

Will the Phillies stay in first place? It looks like they've got a lock on the championship, so it's a good bet they'll play the Yankees in the World Series. I'm hoping the Phillies make it. It would be neat to see them play against Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford. Maybe there'll be a home run slug fest with Johnny Callison and Richie Allen challenging Mickey and Roger and Joe Pepitone. The Yankees in Connie Mack Stadium! I bet Dad could get us tickets for that.

I think more about the war in Vietnam. I still don't understand it too much. I can't tell if anyone is winning or not. Seems like every time the news comes on there's a new leader of South Vietnam, and President Johnson keeps sending more of our soldiers over there. The war is getting bigger all because an American destroyer called the Maddox was attacked by little patrol boats or something. I wonder who the Maddox was named after? I don't have any relatives I know of named Maddox. All of my Dad's family is called Woodward 'cause his father died and Dad really never knew him. I hope our family doesn't get blamed for getting us deeper into war. I don't think I'll have to go and fight over there. I'll be thirteen at the end of the year and in five more years I'll have to register for the draft. The war will be over by then I think. At least I hope so. I play war a lot and I like to watch war movies, but I'm no dummy. I know what war is and I don't think I want any part of this one. I don't want to die in a jungle somewhere far away.

One night near the end of August we hear about a riot in Philadelphia. We're watching John Facenda on Channel 10 talking about black people going crazy in North Philadelphia. It seems it all started when a black lady's car stalled out in the middle of the street,and when some policemen tried to get her to move it an argument broke out. It got worse after that and a crowd gathered, and the lady was arrested, and then a rumor started. The rumor was that a pregnant black lady was beaten to death, but that didn't really happen but it didn't matter, everyone went crazy and started breaking into stores and starting fires and just going nuts. We watched the violence on the local news. The police just stood by and didn't do much. Lots of black people got arrested and lots and lots of stores were destroyed. Police brutality was the cause of this, a lot of people said. I couldn't understand this the same way I couldn't understand Vietnam, but it was just across the river, and it was frightening. People just spinning out of control, right here, so close to home. North Philadelphia is where the Phillies play ball. I don't think Dad will get us tickets for the World Series now.

In a few days I'll walk a few yards down Egg Harbor Road to a new school, to a whole new world. What will that world be like, I wonder?
Mom will drag us around to Kresge's and W.T.Grants and Ernie's Shoe Post and I'll try on clothes and shoes until I can't stand it anymore. We'll go to Woolworth's and buy pencils and paper and I have to get a three ring binder notebook for some reason or another.

I'm still wondering what homeroom is all about. It's not a class but we'll have a homeroom teacher. I don't get it.
A different teacher for each subject, and kids from four different towns.
What will they be like, I wonder?

Soon now. Soon.

I'll put on my new plaid shirt and my new khaki pants and the collar will itch and my new shoes will feel tight on my feet and I'll be uncomfortable just walking those few yards down the road.

Soon now. Soon.

I hope I'm ready for this.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Beating of Drums

This war not a war over there in Vietnam is confusing. We heard that the two American destroyers, the Maddox and the Turner Joy were attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats for no reason on August 4th. Now on the news they're saying that the ships were really attacked on August 2nd, and they may have been attacked on the 4th, but no one is really sure.
President Johnson has told us that it was unprovoked, that our destroyers were just minding their own business out at sea, not doing anything.
I don't understand this. Aren't we over there helping the South Vietnamese fight the communists? If we're helping to fight the North Vietnamese, doesn't it make sense for them to attack us?
I'm hearing more and more about this Vietnam this year.
Back in May, there were protests held by students in New York City and San Francisco and a few other places. They marched and held up signs saying that the war was wrong and that we should get our troops out of there. Most people say these students are just cowards and don't want to be drafted to defend our country from Communism; that they're just afraid to die.
I guess I kind of agree with that. I mean, aren't we a nation of freedom, and aren't we supposed to help other countries stay free? It's what I've been taught, it's what I believe, you know?
This war not a war is different though. It's not like when my Dad and my friends' dads were fighting in World War II. I don't read about sweeping marches and the taking of cities or tank battles. There's no front lines changing hands or territory captured, measuring our success.
I hear of villagers being killed, and the communists control most of the countryside.
It seems like every month there's another one of those coups, and the government of South Vietnam is being run by somebody else with a name I can't pronounce.
President Johnson sent five thousand more advisers over there, and I hear on the news that we now have over twenty thousand soldiers in South Vietnam, and that almost two thousand Americans have been killed so far.
The day after the Maddox and the Turner Joy were attacked, President Johnson has our planes bomb the North Vietnamese. He gives a speech that night, and tells us that we are just punishing the Communists for attacking our ships, and that "We still do not seek a wider war."

They say on the news that the Congress is meeting to give the president all the power he wants to fight the war in South Vietnam.
To me this is sounding more like a war - a real war over there in Vietnam. The latest president of South Vietnam is saying that North Vietnam should be invaded, and the Viet Cong are even attacking cities now.
But I have faith and confidence in our soldiers. I mean we're the best in the world, aren't we? We beat Hitler and Tojo in World War II, and they were a lot tougher than these little guys in black pajamas weren't they?
I bet we beat those Viet Cong real quick. We'll train the South Vietnamese so good that they'll be as tough as we are, and with our planes and helicopters and artillery to support them, they'll win for sure.
I don't think I'll have to worry about going over there.
It's five more years till I can be drafted.
Yeah, that war will be over long before then.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

August 4, 1964

Here in Woodbury Heights we're watching Cheryl Ann opening her presents. My sister is two years old today and of course we're having a party for her in the shade of the old maple tree. It's not my idea of something to do on a warm summer day; spending the afternoon with a bunch of little kids, but most of my friends are away on vacation.

In Neshoba County, Mississippi, it's a hot summer day and FBI agents are opening the walls of an earthen dam. It's not something these men want to be doing in this ninety degree heat, but they've been searching for so long and they want an end to this case.

Off the coast of North Vietnam a navy destroyer, the USS Maddox along with the Turner Joy is patrolling the high seas. The sailors would much rather be in port instead of on the lookout for incoming torpedoes.

In Woodbury Heights we have cake and ice cream on the picnic table and the little kids play Pin the Tail On the Donkey and drop clothes pins into the milk bottle as they try to win the small prizes my mother has to reward them.

FBI agents work feverishly, at a steady pace, sweating and swearing in the hot Mississippi sun, hoping that this time they'll find what they've been looking for.

Sailors on the decks of the Maddox and Turner Joy are searching the horizon, hoping for another routine patrol; they don't want another firefight with the North Vietnamese patrol boats.

It's a beautiful day in Woodbury Heights, not too hot for a day in August. My sister is happy and all my younger cousins and neighbors are full of cake and ice cream. Cheryl Ann has her presents and the party is over and I'm free to go ride my bike or go down to the lake or just do whatever I want. Still a few more weeks of freedom, plenty of time left until I go back to school.

In Neshoba County, Mississippi, in the wall of an earthen dam, three bodies are found. Two white, one black. The FBI agents can rest easy now, they've found what they've been looking for.
Their names called out once more on the evening news.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
Shot to death in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

The USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy will be fired upon by North Vietnamese patrol boats; at least that's what we'll hear on the evening news. An unprovoked attack, President Johnson will call it. Somewhere off the coast of North Vietnam. A place called the Gulf of Tonkin and a ship with my family's name, and the country plunging deeper into war.

A warm and sunny day in Woodbury Heights. The perfect day for my sister's birthday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Southern Exposure

The lazy summer days of July are upon us and in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
The search for three young men, two white, one black, goes on.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner
I hear their names on the evening news.
The FBI is scouring Neshoba County, Mississippi.
They find bodies of young black men who had disappeared.
One, then another and then another-a dozen or so.
Bodies of black men swallowed up in the darkness,
Gone missing in Neshoba County.
Mourned only by their families who could not ask for justice.
Body after body and still the same evening chant,
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
FBI agents are met with silence.
No one is talking, black or white,
But they know-
Everyone knows.
The Ku Klux Klan-
It’s their handiwork.
Men who wrap themselves in the flag
And hide beneath hoods and robes.
The local police of Neshoba County.
The “good ‘ol boys” of Neshoba County.
They hide beneath hoods and robes.
The politicians of Mississippi who say:
“These three boys are probably hiding.”
They hide beneath hoods and robes.
They say nothing of the bodies that are found.
The bodies of black men who disappeared,
Swallowed up in the darkness.
Somewhere in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
Throughout July I hear it.
Three names called out on the evening news.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner
Three young men, two white, one black.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
I hear their names over and over.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
Swallowed up in the night.
Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.
Gone without a trace.
Somewhere in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

Phillies Fever

It's early July and the Phillies are in first place. First place? The Phillies? No one can believe it, especially long time Philly fans. I mean they're always losing and playing just awful and that's what everyone in the Delaware Valley expects, you know? These Phillies are turning the baseball world upside down. We're not used to having a winning Phillies team, and the fans are just plain giddy. My neighbor Billy Clay just can't stop talking about them and his favorite player Johnny Callison. He worships the young veteran outfielder with the same passion I have for Mickey Mantle. Johnny Callison is having a great season, driving in runs, hitting homers and playing an almost flawless right field.
This new guy Richie Allen is really hitting the ball for average and lots of power. There's talk of him making rookie of the year if he keeps playing like this. Who are these guys? The fans of Philadelphia finally have a team that looks like it's going to go all the way to the world series. Not since the "Whiz Kids" of 1950. The "Whiz Kids" played the Yankees in the world series in 1950, maybe this year will be a repeat of that.
Johnny Callison is picked for the All-Star game. Richie Allen is not. Allen is a good player but he's not well liked, so maybe that's the reason he's not picked. The National League team is loaded with superstar outfielders, so most people don't think Johnny Callison will even get a chance to play. With guys like Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Billy Williams and Willie Stargell on the team, it looks like Callison will sit this one out.
Well, Hank Aaron is sick and not able to play the outfield, so Callison comes into the game, pinch-hitting for his teammate Jim Bunning in the fifth inning. He pops out.
Callison gets his chance for glory in the ninth inning. With the game tied with two outs and two runners on base, he drills a ball into the right field stands, winning the game for the National League! Not only that, Johnny Callison is named the game's Most Valuable Player! Just like Jim Bunning's perfect game a few weeks ago, it's another dramatic moment for Phillies fans everywhere.
Johnny Callison is mobbed by his teammates after winning the All-Star game with a three run homer.

My neighbors are giddy. The sports announcers on TV are giddy. Sally Starr is giddy.
The Phillies keep on winning.
Our fathers' card games on the weekends take a back seat to the ball games.
Everyone is talking about the Phillies going to the world series this year.

Like I said before, I gotta pay attention to this.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Missing Persons

As the baseball fans of Philadelphia were celebrating the perfect game victory of the Phillies over the Mets, there was something else going on in another Philadelphia, another "city of brotherly love".
Philadelphia, Mississippi.
We would hear about it on the news.
The names of three young men who had disappeared.
Three young men, one black, two white.
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
These young men were civil rights workers trying to educate and register black people to vote in the south.
Agitators, they were called by the police and politicians in Mississippi.
Informing black people of their rights as Americans was not welcome in Mississippi.
Three young men had disappeared.
One black, two white.
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
Their names repeated again and again on the evening news.
The Ku Klux Klan was suspected.
Members of the police were suspected.
Men in hoods and sheets burning crosses on the evening news.
Three young men had disappeared.
Vanished into the night.
One black, two white.
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
Not a trace, not even their car could be found.
On a lonely road it happened.
Outside of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Every night on the evening news, the same sad story.
Three young men had disappeared.
One black, two white.
Chaney. Goodman. Schwerner.
Chaney. Goodman. Schwerner.
Outside of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Vanished into the night...