Monday, April 13, 2009

The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming!

I don't know a lot about music yet, but I like a lot of what I hear at home and on the radio and TV. There's a lot more of that rock and roll being played now, and I watch American Bandstand sometimes before I get my Three Stooges fix on Sally Starr.
There's lots of music being played in my house. Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley. I like the Dixieland jazz stuff my parents play too, but I'm not too sure about Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk.
My older cousins listen to rock and roll when they baby sit me and my bother and sister, and that stuff clings to my brain and whirls around inside my head, and I can hear those songs in my mind as I walk to school.
One day in school Mr. Lotstein, our visiting music teacher, asks us if we like the beetles. I don't quite get what he's talking about. What have bugs got to do with music, I wonder?
After a few seconds I realize he's talking about that new band from England I hear people talking about on the radio. They're supposed to be really popular over there, and now they're coming to America to play their music and to make it big in the United States, the home of rock and roll.
Mr. Lotstein asks us again. "Who likes the Beatles? Raise your hand."
Mostly the girls raise their hands.
A lot of the boys don't. Some say the Beatles just play "mushy" music about holding hands and love this and love that. They're not real rock and rollers like Chuck Berry or Elvis or Little Richard.
I don't know much about them; I'm not too sure if I've even heard their songs yet.
The Beatles must be important, I guess, if Mr. Lotstein is asking us about them. Mostly all he talks about is classical music when he comes to our school. These Beatle guys must be really good.
On February 9th the Beatles are going to be on the Ed Sullivan show, so I figure I'll see what all the commotion is about.
Well they come on alright. Just four guys in suits and hair that's a little different than most, and they play their first song. Well, I can't believe the girls in the audience. They're screaming and crying and holding their faces in their hand, and just having fits.
I don't know how they can hear the music over all the noise they're making.
The boys in the audience don't seem to be screaming or crying. Some of them look like they're enjoying the music, but I can't see how with all those girls just carrying on. It's a lot like how the kids behave at a matinee at the Wood movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon.
I don't get it. I mean the Beatles sound OK and all, but I can't understand all the screaming, especially when they all go OOOOOOH! during one of their songs. I thought all of the girls were going to pass out.
After that night all you heard about were the Beatles.
The "Mop Tops", the "Fab Four". The cute one and the smart one and the shy one and the funny one. Beatles this and Beatles that.
Seems like people are forgetting that America invented rock and roll. We can't just ignore Elvis and Ricky Nelson and Bo Diddley.
But then even more British bands start popping up.
Herman's Hermits and The Kinks and The Animals. The Dave Clark Five and Gerry and The Pacemakers. Manfred Mann and Peter and Gordon, The Rolling Stones and others.
British rockers are everywhere you look, and everybody is copying them now. Tight fitting suits and black pointy shoes and long hair.
The music is catchy, and it takes hold of me just like Bill Haley and the Comets or Jerry Lee Lewis.
Odd thing though. With all this British music taking hold the number one song on the radio is by that funny-looking guy Roy Orbison. "Oh, Pretty Woman" is at the top of the charts, and I don't even think the girls scream over him at all. Roy Orbison just kind of stands there not doing much wearing dark glasses and a haircut like Moe from the Stooges, and he's number one.
I guess these Beatles will just be a passing fad after all.
I mean we've got The Supremes and Bob Dylan and The Beachboys and Sam Cooke and Johnny Cash and Little Richard and Jan and Dean and The Everly Brothers and all the rest.
How can those English guys beat that?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Winter Joys

It's Sunday, January 12, and it's snowing. The weather man says it's one of those northeaster kinds of storms, and we're going to get a lot of wind and snow. Lots and lots of snow. This kind of news on a Sunday makes the weekend even sweeter, because it looks like there's a good chance that there won't be any school tomorrow.
Snow days! Every school kid's dream in the winter. A free day to do whatever you want or get out and go sledding or build a snow fort or have a giant snowball fight over on Freund's cliff.
The snow is really coming down and the wind is picking up. Carl and I watch the flakes swirling around from our upstairs bedroom window. The white stuff is piling up, and the wind is pushing it around, forming huge drifts in the side yard. I'm twelve years old now, so I'll have to help Dad shovel the driveway so he can get to work. How he's going to drive in this stuff is a mystery to me, but the railroad never closes.
We get outside in the wind and snow, but it's hard to have any fun when the weather is this bad. Carl and I are wet and sloppy from it all, and Mom says we'll have to wait until tomorrow before we can go out again.
My brother and I content ourselves with board games and comic books the rest of the day, pausing to look out the window now and again to see how the snow is piling up. Yeah, school will be canceled for sure.
It's easy to sleep that night, knowing that we won't have to get up and get ready for school.
We still have to get out of bed the next morning and listen to Ken Garland on the radio or watch Wee Willie Webber on TV reading out the school closings.
We listen intently, and then there it is: Woodbury Heights Public School - CLOSED, and the day is ours.
Oh, the choices on a snow day are endless. It's unplanned time off, so we get to pick what to do.
Going back to sleep is an option, and it's tempting, but for once I can watch Wee Willie till the end, and then catch re-runs of shows like My Little Margie or Our Miss Brooks or even The Bob Cummings Show.
I look outside and see that it's still snowing and the winds have picked up even more. It's cold and windy and snowing. The radio says it's a blizzard caused by the northeaster stalling off the coast, and it will last for a couple of days. A couple of days! We might get more than one day off out of this - a dream come true.
I struggle to help my father dig the car out, and I wonder how he's going to manage to get to work in a blizzard. He's got to go I hear him say, and he's taking some clothes with him in case he can't get back.
We'll all worry about him until he calls us to say he made it in safe and sound.
Carl and I decide to play with the Big Caesar Roman galley he got for Christmas. We use the Encyclopedia for Children as land, the bare tile floor of our bedroom will be the ocean. My Robin Hood knights will battle the Romans and try and capture the galley, in a bizarre battle that never could have happened in real life. Carl and his army win the day; my knights are no match for the legions of Rome.
The snow isn't letting up and the winds are howling and making more and more drifts. When I can get outside again I'll have to dig out the driveway once more.
We do get outside for a while and try to make a snow man, but it's no use, the weather isn't cooperating. Back inside and Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup and hot chocolate.
Carl and I will play Mouse Trap and Stratego, and I'll set up a Civil War battle with my Marx Blue and Gray toy soldiers.
The day is bliss, and the weather isn't getting any better, so we can go to sleep pretty much knowing that there won't be any school on Tuesday either.
Tuesday morning it's still snowing, but it's not as windy, but there is no school! A four day weekend, and it's snowing and we've got another day all to ourselves.
The snow begins to let up, and we can get out and enjoy it. It's one of those snows that leaves a thick crust on the top layer, and we try to walk across the side yard without punching through it. You take a few steps, and then the snow cracks, and your boot is down in the soft powdery stuff, and your feet are getting soaked.
We make a snow man with our neighbors Susie and Paul Avis, and try sledding down some of the larger drifts in the yard. Not as fun as Chestnut Hill, but it's too difficult to get over there right now.
Carl and I spend some of the afternoon over at the Avis house playing with Paul and Susie and their Play-doh fun factory, extruding clay bricks and other shapes.
The sky begins to clear and the winds start to die down, and we hope the roads aren't cleared enough for school to re-open tomorrow.
Our luck runs out, and school isn't closed on Wednesday morning.
It was a great run though, four days off in the middle of January watching the snow fall and listening to the wind howl.
Such joy, such pleasure.
Such warmth in all that cold.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ringing In Another Year

So we bang our pots and pans and ring our bells and shake the noise makers. Say goodbye to 1963. We heard a dream and the reports of an assassin's rifle and the year ended in sorrow and in fear.
We heard a lot in 1963.
What's to come in 1964?
What will we hear?
The sounds of marching in the street, of black and white voices crying out for an end to hate and war and poverty?
Hands clenched in fists of rage and in a V asking for peace.
Fingers holding draft cards burning, and bras too.
The young and the old, their voices rising as they take to the streets looking for justice.
Will shots ring out, will bombs explode, killing people because of the color of their skin or the ideas in their heads?
Shall we dance to the sounds of a new beat coming from a distant shore, and will Elvis be King once more?
The music of Motown and Philly and the scene from California, bands in suits and pointy shoes and girls with big hair.
And what to hold on to - the same old red, white and blue? The myths and the legends, the outright lies and half-truths taught to us in school?
Do we hold on to childhood or can we still be safe in the arms of Captain Kangaroo and Sally Starr?
What will we see on the evening news, and will we see the truth after all or will we cling to that which is wrong but is safe, or will we turn over the rocks and watch the bugs squirm.
What will the children hear and say in this year of 1964?
Will we hear the right things, or will it all be muffled by the sound of helicopters and napalm falling on the jungles and villages of Vietnam?
Happy New Year?
I wonder.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Christmas 1963

I couldn't wait for Christmas morning. Because of my brother's snooping I knew I was going to get the Marx Civil War play set, and I was getting anxious. Why did he have to tell me, anyway? The anticipation was killing me. I'd have to try and concentrate on other things.
It looked like we were going to have a white Christmas, 'cause it snowed a day or so before, but no such luck; a cold rain was coming for Christmas Eve night. It didn't hurt our usual Christmas traditions. The scraggly tree, watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and the Bell Telephone specials with the Beaton Marionettes. I had to watch "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" and the "Nativity" every year.
Our family and friends will file in and out of our little house just like every year, filling our home with laughter and good cheer. Mom has painted the picture window again, and this year it's the manger scene.
Me,Carl and our neighbors Paul and Susie Avis in front of our Christmas card wall in 1963.

Our house is full of Christmas Spirit, but there's an empty place where my dog Whee-Zee once was. No nap on the living room floor together this year.
Carl and I will be sleeping upstairs in our new bedroom. No excuses about the noise keeping us awake.
Mom and I watch the Christmas tree lights in the darkened living room after most of our guests have gone, reliving our first Christmas Eve together.
It's a little tough for me to go to sleep at first, the excitement is just too much knowing that soon the Yanks and the Rebs will be in my hot little hands, but eventually I drift off.
Christmas morning comes quickly, and Carl and I are awake by six, but we wait until seven to go downstairs. We get our parents and our little sister up and start the unwrapping.
There it is in a bunch of small boxes- the Marx Blue and Gray Centennial Civil War play set! Cannons and soldiers and cavalry. The stone bridge like the one at Antietam, and a Southern mansion and wagons and everything! It even has General Grant and Robert E. Lee, and the new Centennial figures that Paul LaPann's set doesn't have. I'm too excited! I can't wait to start setting up the troops down in the basement. I'll have to call Steve Kay later on to see if he can come over and do battle.
But there are other cool toys this year.
I unwrap a long box to reveal the Remco Barracuda nuclear submarine. It's got a clear plastic top so you can see inside. There's a nuclear reactor that glows red when the sub is moving across the floor. You can remove the top and put the crew in the different compartments. The bulkheads can be moved around so you can change the layout of the sub's interior. Missiles fire from it as it moves, and you can fire the forward torpedoes. It's simply amazing.
I also get the Milton Bradley Dogfight World War I air battle game, and Stratego too.
Carl gets the Roman Big Caesar warship. It moves across the floor a little at a time. The oars move and then the ship does. It is too cool. We can have bizarre sea battles between the past and the future up in our room.
Carl also gets the wacky Mouse Trap game. It's a Rube Goldberg type of contraption. The game itself isn't all that exciting, but watching the mouse trap go into action is a barrel of laughs.
My sister gets little girl toys that don't really interest us. She's not even two years old yet, and it's all a bit overwhelming for her. She seems more interested in tearing up the wrapping paper than the gifts themselves.
It's a great Christmas full of amazing toys, and even though my brother kind of spoiled it a little, I'm having a great holiday.
We get more snow over the holiday, and a big storm comes right on New Year's Day, so we get to go sledding down Chestnut Hill before going back to school.
I'm twelve years old now and next year will be a new challenge. I'll be heading towards my teenage years and I'm not sure I want to give up the joys of being a little kid yet. Pretty soon I'll have to go to the new school that's rising up in the fields behind my house, and my safe and comfortable world in Woodbury Heights Elementary will be over.
I can see Gateway Regional High School from my bedroom window.
I wish I could see more than that.