I recently found a most confusing voicemail message on my cell phone. All I could understand were the words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Eventually I figured out what it was about. In 1981 I flew to western New York to visit some cousins for Thanksgiving. Famous jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway was on the plane. The call was from a representative of his estate. His lawyer explained to me that Mr. Calloway was so favorably impressed with what a charming and intelligent young gentleman I was that he (Calloway) intended to leave me something in his will. He planned on leaving me his famous trademark wide-brimmed hat. Because of circumstances beyond his control, however, he somehow neglected to include that specific provision in his will. He did, however, remember to tell all his friends and associates about me. Fortunately he told them quite often about his intention. He died twenty years ago this month. I should have gotten the hat then but it’s very nice to know that the problem has finally been resolved entirely in my favor. I just know that I shall make quite an exceptionally nice impression when I am finally able to wear the long overdue souvenir of such a legendary musical figure.
Although I’ve always had only relatively few restricti0ns on the things I consider permissible, these things tend to be quite seriously non-negotiable. Music is the most notorious example of where this snobbery comes into play. Ever since I was only a kid, I’ve always been fanatically obsessed with the Beatles and their era. Of course I can very easily be counted on to enjoy practically all kinds of music from all other time frames too. There are, however, certain very definite exceptions to this rule. I’ve never been able to stand either disco or rap. In the world of pop music in general, I have yet to find a recent style in general, or specific song, that strikes me as worth bothering with. My nephews Michael and Sam, and niece Bridget, are constantly reminding me, as people always have, of how important it supposedly is to keep an open mind. I honestly don’t care though. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always lived in my own private exclusive little world, and always shall, and I’ve learned to make my peace with it. Somehow when it comes to musical styles other than pop, I’ve never had any trouble adjusting to new experiences. Genres such as jazz, blues, classical, among many others, have always struck me as quite interesting and enjoyable, and I’m capable of being exceptionally flexible about my listening habits. My problem only seems to exist with the kind of style which kids on a school bus are expected to enjoy. The music of the 1960’s has always been my very favorite, and I’ve always enjoyed 1970’s and 1980’s styles too. Later eras’ popular music styles, ever since sometime during the course of the 1990’s, besides disco and rap, have been the veritable bane of my existence. By now it’s even become a part of my legend. Another snobby obsession of mine is names. I grew up in, and can only handle, a world where people have nice, plain, square names. Give me a world, please, filled with people named Peter, Andrew, James, John, Ann, Margret and Theresa, rather than Garth, Brice, Dustin, Jared, Marlee, Uma and Amber any day. People who like those invented names try to defend them by saying that the old names are entirely too predictable and commonplace. What they don’t take into account is the fact that eventually these new names will become equally trite and hackneyed anyway. That’s a problem that can’t be solved. I know I shall make many enemies with this comment but I just can’t see the point of it all. Just think about it: A woman named Chelsea will have to go through the rest of her life knowing that her parents named her after a swanky neighborhood in Manhattan. A woman named Amber will have to spend all her life knowing that her parents named her after a Crayola crayon color. I shall never get used to it.
Ralph was quite a purist musically. He had no use for synthesizers, tape loops or any other technical finagling of sound. His friend Stanley was much more willing to try some experimental stuff. Stanley was also a bit of a nudge. In order to drive Ralph crazy during their practice sessions, he’d always kept a copy of Tears For Fears’ 1985 album, “Songs From the Big Chair” within eyeshot of him.
“Ever since we first met at the conservatory you’ve been trying my patience!” moaned Ralph.
“Ha! Ha!” replied Stanley. “It keeps you determined to practice. Doesn’t it?”
I should like to think that a train station, airport terminal, subway stop, or anyplace else where passengers gather, is somehow an eclectic combination of both a soulless space occupied by distracted, stressed zombies and a magical set for fleeting, interlocking stories within the population of mankind. Since most of the people who pass through these kinds of places are always going to remain absolute strangers to each other, and since they won’t ever end up having any significant contact with one another, in that sense they will always, unfortunately, appear as if they’re a randomly thrown together combination of nameless, lifeless non entities, who are only in the same location for an extremely short time frame, on their way to a common destination. They have the kind of connection to each other that’s somewhat similar to that of people who are connected only on Facebook, Myspace or Twitter. They all merely fit into the same category to serve a fleeting purpose. At the same time, however, there can be potentially quite a lot of drama available in such a setting. Very many people with common interests may find themselves in each other’s company. If, occasionally, someone would presume to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger in such a setting, they might even end up igniting quite a significant romance, reminiscent of the kinds that happened on shows like “Hotel” and “The Love Boat” (I’m very sorry but I don’t watch very many recent shows). People are the same all over the world. Up to a certain point it’s not such a very smart idea for anyone to trust someone he’s just met in that kind of environment. Although good people can be found everywhere places like that can be populated by all kinds of nasty characters. Denizens of subway stations are well known for being rather lazy and careless about sanitary habits and social skills in general. Once one gets past all the morons, troublemakers and otherwise lost souls, though, it’s a truly hep place. If someone were merely to hang around and to listen to the conversations people have in these kinds of places, he would be able to amass, after a short while, quite a significant collection of interesting anecdotes. Exactly because so many people from so many different environments can be found there, it must be quite a veritable bottomless pit of story telling. All those otherwise soulless non entities then become store houses of folklore and adventure. Whether by way of simple observation as a disinterested third party, or even by getting actively engaged with the occasional character in a lobby, restaurant or gift shop, anyone at any given time can at least turn an otherwise unbearably boring stressful situation into a reasonably interesting experience. Besides everything else one never knows whom he may meet in this kind of environment. Once, in the early 1980’s, I even flew to Buffalo on the same plane as jazz musician Cab Calloway.
I’ve always enjoyed exceptionally warm weather and dreaded the several months of the year when it’s cold. Autumn is, to a certain extent, quite an exceptionally nice experience for me though. At first, when all the leaves start changing colors and orange and black seem to be everywhere, it’s such a fine feeling. I have many decades’ worth of nice memories of Halloween, especially when I was a kid, and Thanksgiving, most significantly when I used always to spend it with cousins in western New York. I remember during my very young days, as far back as Jackson Heights, the weather on Halloween was usually so bitter cold that I was forced to explain to people that somewhere under my fifty layers of heavy clothes was a costume, and that I really was dressed as either the Green Hornet or some other then-current character. Thanksgiving in North Tonawanda, during the 1980’s, was also frequently bitter cold. November can often be exceptionally rainy. Once the full brunt of autumn settles in, though, it then becomes quite a seriously nasty depressing time for me. The miserable weather and dark gloomy atmosphere have always struck me as exceptionally frustrating, and are also quite an intense metaphor, for me, of the dark side of life. My mother died during the last week of September and my father died during the first week of November so that adds yet another dark property to the fall. When I was a kid autumn brought with it the beginning of the school year, that was always welcome, but as an adult I can count on no such milestone to keep things interesting. Walt Whitman’s poem, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” from “Leaves Of Grass”, specifically references the ninth month as a symbol of birth. September, the ninth month, is when fall begins. For me it represents all the good and bad that life has to give. Change has never been easy for me. The positive and negative aspects of fall perfectly reflect the good and bad things in life.
Over the years I’ve been known most certainly to have my share of inadvertent gaffes, from the time I heard Z.Z. Top’s “Two Step Boogie” as “Tube Steak Boogie” to the times I’ve answered the phone by saying “Telephone” instead of “Hello”, and the time I pronounced “NOmenclature” as “noMENclature.” Inappropriate behavior has always come quite naturally to me. To this very day my cousins from western New York remind me of the times I was visiting them, mostly during the 1980’s, and had all kinds of missteps involving their dog Muggsy, my polka dotted jammies, and all sorts of other horrendous missteps. My cousin Vinnie especially likes to talk about his visit to Lindenhurst during the late 1970’s when I sideswiped a school bus on the way to Robert Moses Beach. Those are just some of the highlights of my lopsided adventures. Please stay tuned for ever more yet to come.
As everyone knows by now I’ve always been quite irremediably smitten by music in general. When I was little the Beatles made it unavoidably necessary for everyone who fell under their influence to want to play an instrument. I have no idea which instrument is my favorite but when I was a kid in Queens, my friends and I took guitar lessons at one of the local public schools, either P.S. 148 or P.S. 127. Unfortunately that only lasted for a fairly short time. In 1980 I finally decided to get a guitar and to learn to play again. To my chagrin I’ve always had only acoustic guitars. Although I’ve never learned to play any other instrument, I’ve always been quite smitten with all different kinds of instruments. One day at O. L. P. H., about ten years ago, one of the church’s bands was practicing for a while in the sacristy. A parishioner named Lou was playing his French horn. To this very day I can still remember how perfect it sounded. I’ve also always been quite awe-smitten with the sound of slide guitar on Beatle George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) and fuzz bass on his “What Is Life”. When I used to visit relatives in Buffalo and North Tonawanda, in western New York, during the 1980’s my cousin Vinnie and I used always to play his guitar. We played quite a rousing version of J. J. Cale’s “Cocaine”, popularized by Eric Clapton, and we played an overwhelmingly memorable version of the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” with a band Vinnie was in for a while. Then there are all the annual Fourth of July jam sessions. Steve’s a music teacher and the kids all play instruments too. Besides that quite a few of my cousins also play instruments. Cousins Gary and Lanfranco even play the accordion, and the Ronald, when he was young, played the trumpet. In my world there’s most certainly never been any shortage of exposure to different varieties of instruments.
Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve gotten lost several times, some more significantly than others. There was the infamous and legendary Fourth of July incident in the late 1980’s, all over a mountain full of blueberries. Then during the 1990’s there was a job interview in Glen Cove, New York. On my way home to Lindenhurst, I somehow managed to end up getting there by way of Queens. My last misadventure, though, was no big deal. Recently, somewhere over the course of the past few months, I was supposed to drive my niece Bridget to work, a whopping grand total of around three miles from here, on Lindell Street in Long Beach. After I got her there, I was just supposed to make a U turn, back onto Park Avenue and to come back over here. Somehow I managed to turn right instead of left. I ended up in the neighborhood where all the streets are named after presidents. Not having gotten to know the city anywhere near so well, back then, as I have since then, I got quite frustrated. I wasn’t overly nervous because I knew nothing extremely bad could possibly happen. I was simply intensely restless, though, because I couldn’t wait to get it all over with. Conveniently I spent much of the time on streets that were parallel to the one I was supposed to be on anyway. It was during the cold weather and at that time of the afternoon the sun goes down, leaving a lot of glare to have to contend with. That, combined with the traffic congestion, made it quite an annoying ordeal. I’m notoriously bad with new experiences and anything that’s beyond my control. Of course I ultimately knew that sooner or later it would inevitably end anyway. I just wish it could have been less harrowing. At least if I could have gotten lost on a main road, in a business district, I could have stopped someplace for a while. Those side streets are nasty and unforgiving though.
At my age I can remember all sorts of anachronistic things, that are now mere memories from the distant past. When I was a kid in Jackson Heights there was a milkman who drove through each neighborhood on a regular basis delivering glass bottles of milk to customers. Each customer would leave a big square metal box on his stoop in which the milkman would put the order of milk. At St. Gabriel’s, my grammar school, each student always had an ink blotter on the top of his desk. The real old timers of that era even referred to ice boxes and victrolas. A top contender for the thing I miss the most from my younger days may be the vinyl record. It was round, practically always black, and span in thirty three and forty five revolutions per minute. Although it was nowhere near as technologically advanced as today’s compact discs, and the sound wasn’t as good, there was something really impressive and interesting about records. Each album was either ten or twelve inches-the single was significantly smaller- and played with a stylus. One of the most interesting things about the record was the artwork on the cover. In those days each singer or band would go to great lengths to make sure the album cover was sufficiently distinctive. Now that we have compact discs it just doesn’t seem like such a good idea to bother to devote that much attention to such a small space. In 1967 the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. On the cover were a few dozen famous people from the past, with the Fab Four, in a psychedelic garden. Four years later the cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” was in the form of a pair of pants with a real zipper down the middle. A record cover, in those days, could be seen as kind of a variation of a poster or t-shirt. Musicians were as notorious for their visual imagery as for their music. One of the major disadvantages of vinyl records was a major problem with storage space. Over the years I have seen many compilations of pictures of the best most significant album covers of yore. It’s nice to see that people still appreciate the covers. Because of their significant size it was difficult to find a place for a sigificant number of them. Another problem was that they often scratched, skipped and got warped if they weren’t treated with meticulous care. Visiting a record store was always quite an enjoyable experience, and was significantly different with each succeeding era, depending upon what was then in style. Unfortunately the days of vinyl albums ended in the late 1980’s. I still have very many in my collection and I even have a record player too so I can play them. Not many people these days can say that. It’s quite in keeping, though, with my offbeat anachronistic image. People who know me fully expect me to have things like that.