It’s often occurred to me that this was quite a common experience, one which so very many people have gone through, but I always remember it as having been so very offbeat. When I was a kid, up until around my twelfth birthday, I lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, in New York. On September 11,1971, my parents, younger sister and I moved to Lindenhurst, in Suffolk County, on Long Island. One of the sad things about that move was that for several decades afterward I never got a chance, after a few visits in the very early days, to get back in touch with my old friends, including my teachers and classmates from St. Gabriel’s. Sometime around the beginning of the twenty first century, I got the idea to track down some old friends on http://www.classmates.com . I found some friends from Jackson Heights, Jo Anne, Ruthie and Frankie from 92nd Street. When I sent each of them an e mail, I got a friendly greeting and an explanation of everyone’s circumstances. Eventually we all made plans to go to a big reunion at St. Gabriel’s in East Elmhurst in February of 2001. When my parents and I arrived at St. Gabriel’s I was confronted with quite a jolt from my far away past. Suddenly I was right there in a place I hadn’t been part of since I was a kid, in the company of all my old friends and classmates, as well as the de la Salle Christian Brothers, Sisters of Charity and lay faculty members who had once been our teachers. Although quite a significant number of changes must most certainly have transpired since September of 1971 in each of those people’s lives, and in that section of Queens, all I could see were people, places and things I could still recognize as if my absence from that world might as well have been only for a few months instead of decades. We talked quite naturally about our current lives and our past, absent friends and all sorts of of other things After Mass at St. Gabriel’s, and a tour of the school, my parents and I, along with some old friends and their families, went back to 92nd Street to visit the old neighborhood. It was all so intense. From there we went to Bruno’s, on Astoria Boulevard, for a really nice party. Bruno’ s wasn’t there in my day so that was one of a few obvious changes I could recognize right away. My parents sat with their old friends and I sat with mine. Yet again all I could think of over the course of the whole thing was that I was now in some odd incomprehensible environment. As a youngster I had always associated with these people quite naturally because as friends, neighbors, classmates and teachers of mine they were then the cast of characters of my everyday normal life. This time, though, they were, in a way, part of another world entirely, one that was only geographically the same.
I’m fifty four years old. My earliest memories of dancing are from very long ago when I was a small boy in my first few years in grammar school. It was an era during which music and dance figured prominently in people’s social lives. Back then, as now, there were certain songs that always seemed to have been played at weddings, birthdays and all sort of other functions. Songs such as “The Stripper” by David Rose and his orchestra, Al Hirt’s “Java” and “Sugar Lips”, “Alley Cat” by Bent Fabric and his Piano, and Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” from the movie “Hatari”, all instrumentals, were considered indispensable requisites for a good time. On my father’s side of the family, our ethnic background is Italian and whenever they got together for a party, the relatives would always truly enjoy hamming it up with old fashioned traditional ethnic music to go along with all the traditional ethnic food and drinks. During those days I lived in a neighborhood in Queens, New York, where two thirds of the neighbors were from either Italy or someplace in the Hispanic world. That provided me with a chance to find out about a wide variety of different kinds of traditional ethnic music and dancing, food and drinks. Parties were held in people’s houses as well as in schools, churches and Knights of Columbus councils. Although I’ve never been even the least bit good at dancing, I used always to get quite a kick out of watching it all. Frequently during that era people danced in a conga line. It’s too bad that no one ever seems to do anything like that anymore. People of all age ranges got together and danced on the same line. I have quite a lot of relatives and during that time in my life I lived in an especially active neighborhood where people were constantly gathering together for parties and social gatherings in general. I’ve always been exceptionally fond of the music and pop culture of the 1960’s and I’ve always assumed that these early gatherings, with all their emphasis on dancing and its association with having such a very good time, are such a significant part of the reason for it.
I’ve always really enjoyed both coffee and tea. Most mornings I like to go to a local capuccino shop in my neighborhood to get a medium sized cup of one of their distinctive flavors. By now all the employees have gotten used to having me around. It’s a small place and considering its size they get quite a significant number of customers there each day. In the late 1970’s, during my late teens, I had always drunk at least a cup of hot tea daily. Over the course of my lifetime since then I’ve always had the occasional cup of hot tea, or glass of iced tea, though I’ve more frequently drunk hot coffee. During the past few weeks I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking Earl Grey tea by Twining’s of London. Each bag comes in a fairly small yellow packet. I sometimes have some with my sister, brother in law or anyone else who happens to be around. Quite often, though, I really enjoy a cup when I’m all alone. I make sure I fill the teapot with at least enough water for a few cups although I generally only have one. After a seemingly inordinately long time the pot makes a loud persistent whistling noise so I pour the tea, along with some honey, and occasionally milk, into my cup. I hardly ever use sugar though I quite enjoy it. As a general rule I let it simmer for a few minutes before drinking it. Occasionally I even get exceptionally brave and drink it from my very large mug with pictures of the Beatles on it. That can be a bit too much though. The tea always has such an especially nice scent mild scent, nothing overpowering, and occasionally I drink the flavored kind. That’s always an exceptionally interesting touch. I enjoy all kinds of flavors including the traditional lemon, as well as raspberry, lime, mandarin orange and ginger, among many others. Like many other beverages tea is quite flexible. It’s equally enjoyable with a snack or meal, as much as without anything to eat. For some unknown reason tea has never been quite as popular as coffee in this country. The images that people usually see on TV shows and movies, as well as status updates on social networks, generally tend to give the impression that coffee is the significantly more interesting of the two drinks. Tea is especially big in England though. Many of us in the United States have long ago learned the same lesson as the Englishmen have, that tea is truly good.
I have several relatives who play musical instruments. My brother in law Steve, a music teacher, plays several instruments and so do my nephews Michael and Sam. We could invite my cousin the Ronald, who plays the trumpet, as well as a few other musician cousins, to join us. My cousins Gary and Lanfranco even play the accordion. I , a guitarist, have always been obsessively smitten with the music of the 1960’s and the Beatles have always been my very favorites. Lately I’ve been learning to play Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice , It’s All Right” and “Tangled Up In Blue”, John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”, and the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love”. Several cousins of mine especially enjoy the Who, Steve is very knowledgeable about jazz and classical music, and the Ronald’s son Rich (aka Italo) can really keep us abreast of all the currently popular styles because he’s worked with pop music for all his adult life. With his connections he can be very helpful in getting us jobs and publicity. Knowing how obnoxious and pushy each of us has always tended to be, naturally there will be some inevitable tension among us. Because we’ve all known each other for such an exceptionally long time, though, at least there won’t be any of the problems that always arise with people who are complete newcomers to each other’s lives. By now we all know each other’s shortcomings, tastes, weird ideas and attitude problems. Another problem would be distance. We don’t all live in the same place so we should have to go to a lot of trouble to make plans, only on special occasions, to get together. Naturally some of us enjoy the kinds of music which others can’t stand so that can really like to trouble. Well over twenty years ago, my cousin Vinnie and I tried to play Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” and the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” together. Perhaps we can all get together to see how those song sound with the addition of accordion and trumpet. As far as I can see each band has its own distinctive persona. Ours would be awfully seriously difficult to explain or to understand.
I’m fifty four years old now but I can still remember my twelfth birthday , September 16, 1971, as if it were only yesterday. In those days, Richard Milhous Nixon was still in his first term as president. Carole King’s “Tapestry” album, John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Paul McCartney’s “Ram” were all on the radio. Up until five days before that, my parents, my younger sister, and I had always lived in Jackson Heights, in Queens, New York. This was during our first week as residents of Lindenhurst, in Suffolk County, New York. I had always gone to St. Gabriel’s Elementary School in East Elmhurst up until then. All the time I was in Queens I could count on good friends and familiar surroundings. Even back then I disliked change. For my first two weeks in Lindenhurst I went to Copiague Junior High School. My party was very small. The only friends-potential friends, so far-in attendance, were the three kids who lived next door, Tommy, Bobby and Karen. Their mother was also there. As a kid I had always been so very shy. I was having quite a difficult time getting used to the new environment and new people. Considering that I felt exceptionally uncomfortable with all the new surroundings it was quite a nice simple time. Nothing eventful happened that day but I learned to enjoy the new world that would be mine for the next four and one half decades. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/
This year Groundhog Day fell on a Sunday. It’s also the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple so I went to 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Mary of the Isle on Park Avenue. That specific day also happened to have marked two other very distinctive occasions for us. It was also Super Bowl Sunday. This year was Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. That’s also the day each year during which the local members of the Polar Bear Club have their annual fund raiser in Long Beach, to benefit the Make A Wish Foundation. After Mass I came back to Mary Anne’s and Steve’s house to find cousin Mark here. He and Steve were hanging around getting ready for the big day over at the boardwalk. Each of us put his bathing suit on and after a few shots of Jameson’s Irish whiskey , that seems to have become quite a staple for us by now on special occasions, we went, with Mary Anne’s friend Lynn, to the beach at the boardwalk. On the way we met another friend of theirs, Liz, who comes from Brooklyn each year to join them. Because of bitter cold weather and precipitation over the course of the past few days, and a very foggy morning, it was quite a surprisingly nice day, although horribly cold. Everyone had a nice time and the Polar Bears made quite a lot of money for the Make A Wish Foundation. As always, though I was seriously aggravated by all the endless walking.
One weekend last month Steve, Mary Anne and I made two consecutive trips to Manhattan, one on Friday and one on Saturday. On Friday at around noon, Mary Anne and I took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station. After a brief subway ride we met Joel. We three got something to eat at a small local diner. After we finished I, always having been such a compulsive bookworm, went over to N.Y.U.’s nearby college bookstore to hang around while they had an important meeting with someone they were supposed to see. Later we met Steve who joined us after his having gotten out of work. Then there was yet another meeting with an architect and his friend, a Jewish woman from Canada, who owns the company that’s in charge of the circumstances they were involved with. After it was all over we visited Joel and his wife Andy at their apartment. After a while Mary Anne, Steve and I went to Lincoln Center to see a production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly”. I have several opera C.D’s but unfortunately I can’t even remember the last time I saw an opera. Steve got the tickets from his friend, Father John Mullen, S.J., whom I accidentally met while on line at Lincoln Center’s men’s room, when he asked about my St. Peter’s Prep sweatshirt. Because I’ve never felt comfortable among strangers I sort of expected to have a hard time getting used to having to deal with all the new people but it didn’t bother me so much. I was entirely worn out by the end of the night though because of all the trains and subways, combined with the seemingly incessant walking. Because it had been quite a long time since my last subway ride, I had forgotten how nightmarishly cramped and uncomfortable they are. By the time the night finally ended, we had been subjected to a full thirteen hours worth of all this activity. On top of everything else, on our way back to Long Beach, a woman on the train threw up in the car we were in. The next day there was yet another trip to Manhattan and we all went to a play in Greenwich Village. That time we drove. We left at around 6:00 p.m. We saw “East Towards Home”, Billy Yalowitz’ story of the life and times of folk singer and musician Woody Guthrie, told from the point of view of a young man growing up in a radical left wing Jewish socialist environment. It’s set in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Of course we all know about my notoriously intense lifelong opposition to both liberalism and socialism. I thoroughly enjoyed the music though. Mark and Laura, and Mary Anne’s friend Lisa, were there with us. After the play we all went to a really nice Indian restaurant. As with Friday’s trip I was yet again forced to deal with many strangers and a lot of walking but I somehow made it. At least on Saturday the day started much later and we didn’thave to be bothered with public transportation.
In December, right after I first got to Long Beach, I knew I couldn’t spend a significant length of time here without making sure I got a chance to visit my two cousins in Massapequa and their families. I tried to get in touch with Larry but because he hardly ever bothers with his cell phone I ended up talking to Gary first. Larry eventually returned my call and asked me to visit him. I went over to Massapequa that Sunday morning, a couple of hours after Mass, and spent the day with him, Rose, Eddie, and Jennifer and both her kids. After a fairly short time we all went over to Amityville to visit Aunt Norma. We spent a very nice time there except that the elevators were too slow and the music too loud. It happened to have been snowing very violently all that day and night. I got into my car and drove down to the exit to get onto the Loop Parkway. I took the Loop to the Meadowbrook and then to the Southern State. Fortunately I recognized them all because of my having spent so much of my life around here. Unfortunately the weather conditions turned the entire trip, each way, into an absolute nightmare for me. On top of that, on the way back to Long Beach, I absent mindedly got off at exit 23, Meadowbrook Road, instead of exit 22, the Meadowbrook Parkway. My nerves have always given me trouble so I was seriously frustrated with all the excessive and entirely unwelcome precipitation. We all had such an exceptionally nice time though. Eventually I called Gary again and we made plans for me to visit him and his family. Yet again it was on a Sunday, a few hours after Mass. That day the weather was very bad because of rain. Instead of the Southern State, I got off the Meadowbrook onto Montauk Highway at the exit for Freeport and Merrick. Each way I could, yet again, barely see where I was going. When I got there Gary and Mary were their with both her parents, Tony and Carmela. Tina and her boyfriend Doug were there too. From there we went to an anniversary party a short distance away for Maria’s sister Giuseppina and her husband Adrian. Several of Maria’s relatives were there including Dino’s and Roseanne’s both kids. Of course as always we made quite sure we made time to visit Aunt Norma.
Mary Anne’s and Steve’s friends, Gary and Jo Anne, threw a really nice party on New Year’s Eve. We were all supposed to go but Mary Anne got too sick so only Steve and I went. They only live a few houses away so we walked. Usually I’m quite happy to enjoy a really nice quiet New Year’s Eve at home without bothering to do any celebrating to mark the occasion. Occasionally I’ve been known to attend a party thrown by either cousins or neighbors. As everyone knows I’ve always been quite notoriously bad with meeting new people and in crowds. I tend to feel uncomfortable in the company of anyone I don’t know and I’m also a bit claustrophobic. That’s not even counting the fact that I’ve never been fond of staying up late at night. All worked out quite especially well though. The people at the party were quite polite and friendly. They were mostly married couples with their kids. It’s a good thing I managed to get along so well because it appears I shall have to be spending a reasonably significant amount of time socializing with them from now on. A top contender for the most interesting character at the party was a really big guy named Kirk. Kirk has been a less than significantly famous actor ever since the 1960’s. He spent the night telling us stories about his adventures with Woody Allen, Tennessee Williams and Richie Havens. When the conversation turned to movies, something came up about John Huston’s movies. I reminded him that Huston had made the movie version of Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” in the late 1970’s . Each of us was quite taken aback that someone else could possibly be so familiar with O’Connor’s works. On New Year’s Day I made sure I got up in time to go to 9:00 a.m. Mass at St. Mary of the Isle on Park Avenue, because it’s the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. Thus began my new year. I ‘ve been forced to accept one change right after the other.
Unfortunately I got out of the habit, for a while, of making entries into my blog. A lot has happened since November. The first Christmas since my parents’ deaths turned out fairly well. Steve and I drove Michael here from Long Island City and Sam was here from Hofstra. A while before that Steve and I went to Union Square in Manhattan where, among other things, we got some of the Christmas presents. It was an especially harrowing day for me because we first went to St. Peter’s Prep, where Steve is on the faculty. It’s a Jesuit high school. As soon as we first got there I went to 7:30 a.m. Mass in their chapel. After Mass I met some really interesting people, most of whom were on the faculty. None of the bathrooms in that entire section of New Jersey was functional that day so we were all sent home early. Ultimately, though, I really enjoyed the trip to Manhattan. I’ve always really been interested in that type of environment. We went to a big outdoor market where they were selling all sorts of funky esoteric things. We got much of our Christmas shopping done there and stopped to get something to eat. On Christmas morning we all went to Mass at St. Mary of the Isle Church on Park Avenue in Long Beach. Micheal, Sam and Bridget all wanted to open their presents that day instead of Christmas Eve. Late that afternoon we all went to Mark’s and Laura’s house in East Setauket for a Christmas party. I finally got a chance to meet Laura’s brother Harold. Mark has always told me about Harold’s being as much of a Beatlemaniac as I’ve always been. Harold and I did quite a lot of talking about the Fab Four. Frank and Autilia were there with their kids and I saw a lot of other familiar faces too. Because I didn’t have to drive I even drank some bourbon. I got both my annual Christmas cards too, one from Carole and one from Grace. Unfortunately Carole’s husband Bob died on October 2. I also got a lot of Christmas cards this year which my parents would have gotten. A while before Christmas I first started growing my beard, the first time I’ve ever really let it go for significant length of time. Alas the highlights that were once such a nice shade of red have since turned grey.