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Anyone who says the suburbs are quiet must live in the city. Even here, which falls on the country side of suburban, complete silence is rare. In fact incomplete silence is rare. I’m not talking about the pleasant sounds of birds, crickets, peepers, and cicadas. I’m talking about machines.
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is.
Spring and Summer?
I grew up on city sounds, where the noise, other than honking horns and sirens, is more of constant, a type of noise that one grows so accustomed to that it is no longer heard. As for sirens – up here we not only have the sirens sounding from ambulances, police cars, and fire engines, we have the air raid type siren that summons the volunteer firemen and EMTs.
And oh yes, then there’s the mother of all sirens, the ear-piercing Indian Point nuclear power plant alert siren that is tested regularly. These are mounted in strategic spots in every town within a wide radius of the plant, and take it from me, if you happen to be next to the one in the shopping center in Peekskill, if you survive a nuclear meltdown, you’ll do so with impaired hearing!
But back to the ubiquitous leaf blowers, I don’t think I ever saw one until I moved back to New York from California. I do remember when I lived in San Jose, reading how Palo Alto wanted to outlaw leaf blowers, and wondering what the fuss was about. I guess that’s because my neighborhood had lots of shrubs but few trees. Someone down the street had a cluster of palm trees on their lawn, and everyone had a city-planted curb strip tree, but leaves they shed could easily be wept up with a broom.
Then I moved back to NY, (in the fall, wouldn’t ya know!) and rented an apartment in a private house in Harrison, a town of massive trees. Being home all day until I found a job, I was treated to the full effect of lawn blowers underneath my windows every Tuesday when the gardener made his rounds.
But I hadn’t seen anything . Those days were quiet compared to up here – where it seems everyone and his brother has a
– the bigger and more macho the better. They run them in spring to clear away any trees who bit the dirt, or I guess I should say bit the snow (or vice versa) over the winter. Then they power them up again in summer and fall, to cut up those same logs to burn through the winter.
Oh, and did I mention
Before I even open my eyes, I can tell if there’s been, as the utility company gently puts it, a power interruption over night. These little generators produce more noise than they do power!
But come once a year, I get my revenge when I power wash my deck each spring!
And tee hee, bonus! This week I hauled it out a second time to power wash the house. But I’m all done, and as soon as these babies dry, out they’ll be back in the shed –until next year.
The recent death of Muhammad Ali’s saddened me as I realized yet another icon “with me” since the days of my youth has preceded me to whatever awaits us all some day. On a happier note, it also brought me back to some of my earliest and most treasured of memories of times with my dad. But then whenever I think of boxing I always think of Daddy. Daddy loved boxing which he always called prize fighting, and its participants were, of course, always referred to as prize fighters.
This particular trail had its starting point way back before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and perhaps since it was 1950 or 51, perhaps even before he put on his first pair of boxing gloves. Other little girls might remember their fathers teaching them to dance. I learned how to box. We’d spar and prance about the living, he constantly reminding me to “cover my face.”You see, I was the son he never had, until he did, that is. After my younger brother was born, he must have realized I was the daughter he did have, because he taught me how to do the Charleston. After my youngest brother was born, I was old enough for him to begin to worry about boys and he was probably glad he’d taught me how to box.
But back to when I had Daddy all to myself – Back then boxing, oops – prize fighting – was on TV every Wednesday night. And although I was only four years old and it didn’t come on until 10 PM, I was allowed to stay up to watch with him, as long as I took an afternoon nap.
One prize-fighter always had on white trunks and the other, black, or so I thought. Now I realize this may have been because it was on black and white TV. If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that I had loads of questions to ask and when my curiosity had been satisfied, loads to chatter about. And so Daddy established the rule that I could only talk when the Cheese Man came on. The “cheese man” was a cartoon-like figure whose head suggested a wheel of cheese and was perched on a stool and directing a TV camera. But instead of ABC or CBS, the side of the camera was emblazoned with the Kraft logo, Kraft being the sponsor of the Wednesday Night Fights.
Memories inevitably morph with time and so I know that one day, the Ali frozen in Parkinson’s disease will fade into the early Ali: Ali the greatest, Ali, the prettiest, the graceful butterfly floater, the lightning-quick bee stinger, just as in my Wednesday night memories, Daddy was young and vibrant and it would be 60 years before he too would be taken away by Parkinson’s. Memories are funny like that.
And I’ve discovered my prize fighting memories are not quite as they seem either. Take the Cheese Man. In Google fact checking my memory, I could find no reference of Kraft Cheese sponsoring Wednesday Night Fights, but I did find this on a website called Old Time Radio catalog
“The Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts were Wednesday night fights from 1948 through 1955. The show was on all three major radio networks over the years and was a popular part of the television lineup. The fights broadcasts originated from several arenas around the country and featured a number of title bouts.”
That’s when I realized I had to wait for the bell, and not the Cheese Man.Waiting for the Cheese Man was my mother’s rule – when she was watching the Kraft Television Theater.
I am referring to Diana Ross of The Supremes, not the late Princess Diana. These days people comment on how “skinny” I am. Whether it’s a compliment or not is up to interpretation but, if it is, I have to give Ms Ross some of the credit – or blame – depending on how you look at it; and also to the 60s British supermodel Twiggy, although I don’t think there was such a thing back as a supermodel back in 1966 which is when this journey began. I know there is much concern these days about the detrimental effect ultra-thin models have on young girls’ body images and self-esteem. I don’t know if that was true in my case, nor if at age 18, I could be considered a young girl.
I had gone through the typical weight gain that is widely attributed to freshman year dorm living. I’m not sure what the catch term is – Freshman 15? I also am not sure that I gained 15 pounds, but what got me started, I guess, was my mother’s comment when I arrived home for the summer. “You’ve put on some weight,”coming from someone who always told me I looked fine just the way I was, definitely got my attention. So did the episode in the Alexander’s dressing room a few days later. I don’t remember what the garment was, but it was a size 13, my usual size at the time, and it was too tight.
I watched my weight all summer, but really got into it when I went back to school, a place I really did not want to be. The college was Ladycliff, a small Catholic women’s school that is no more, but when it was, was located on the banks of the Hudson in a small town named Highland Falls. By day two of Freshman year I’d realized that it was not my cup of tea, as did many of the young women who became my friends. Some of them were able to persuade their parents to let them transfer at the end of Freshman year. Others like me, weren’t as lucky. The former waved goodby and went to school with a more 60s vibe the rest of us bonded and forged deep friendships commiserating. But eventually we accepted our lot and concentrated on fun, and oh yes, our education.
Meanwhile I know, you’re wondering what does this have to do with Diana Ross?
Technically, I don’t know if I became anorexic, it was more a cycle of bingeing and starving, so I guess it was a bulimia anorexia hybrid, although I never forced my self to throw up. Since then, I’ve read that eating disorders stem from a feeling of having no control over one’s life. And that’s how I felt back at Ladycliff for sophomore year.
I’d always loved the Supremes, and they were at the peak of their popularity, and since it was also the time of Ed Sullivan Show and weekly shows like Hullabaloo that showcased all the popular groups of the times, I had many chances to admire how thin Ms Ross was with the result that she became my poster girl for thin.
Speaking of poster girls, it was about this time, Twiggy hit the big time, appearing on the covers of Seventeen and Bazaar……..
………..and it all came together………
There’s no one here to make me eat. Ha ha.
It is my belief that as in the case of alcoholics, food disorders are never cured, but merely overcome, and then only by a hair. What happened in my case was I transferred my dependency to exercise. I started running in 1978 and when I moved to California ran in 10K races for years. I still run occasionally, but attend the gym religiously. Knowing I’m a gym rat, my niece gives me workout clothes each Christmas and truth be told she has better taste in that department than me. The pants she gave me this year were especially nice and I love that they have a long comfortable waistband so I don’t have to worry about plumber’s crack.gy
But what really caught my eye was this size comparison chart on the inside of the waist band.
Small here in the USA is LARGE in Japan? Oh my goodness, is Diana a large? How about Twiggy? Like I said – I’m recovering.
Last Sunday closed out the Winter 2016 skating season at Rockefeller Center. Luckily I’d passed this way several weeks ago and stopped to record it for posterity.
Whose posterity? Anyone’s and everyone’s. This is because I’m the only one who was involved in the tale I’m about to tell who’s still walking this earth. but I guess it’s a factor of living long enough to tell tales. Now that I think about it now, I’d rather me talking about them, than them talking about me.
As I recall my mother and I used to board the D train for the trip to 50th Street and Rockefeller Center every Friday evening. Although it was the same train I wrote about when I recounted my Macy’s woes, and the ride but two stops shorter, if I was asking “Are we almost there (?), it was because I could hardly wait to get there. There, being the skating rink where my Aunt Ginny would meet us after she got out of work. Aunt Ginny was my mother’s youngest sister. She worked for the New York Times and she loved ice skating. She also loved her little niece. So once I turned four, she’d walk over from the original Times Building which was about 6 blocks away.
The Old New York Times Building
We’d buy our tickets, and go into the dressing room, and although I didn’t change into a cute little skirt, my skates did have pom poms on them. Aunt Ginny would change out of her work clothes and my mother would lace up my skates and layer me with sweaters, and off we’d go; Aunt Ginny and I, to the ice, and my mother, to take up her observer post by the rail.
See the little girl in red? That’s where my mother would stand, and the door just behind her, to the right, was the dressing room
We kept this up week and after week and I took to the ice naturally. By the time I was five, I was able to skate around the rink by myself without holding her hand or the rail.I still remember how I loved being part of the circular whir of skaters, and and how exciting it was to skate in the midst of all the skyscrapers, fancy stores with the lights of Manhattan blazing and sparkling overhead.
Our weekly excursions ended the winter I turned six. I’d ceased being an only child in July when my brother Jimmy was born. My father, a podiatrist, had evening office hours and my mother couldn’t very well bundle up the baby and stand there with him in the freezing cold. So Aunt Ginny went straight home to Brooklyn after work, and we stayed home in Manhattan and watched Friday night TV.
After a five year hiatus, we did try to resume our sessions, on Sunday afternoons instead of Friday night. But it was never the same. I was eleven, and after skating with my friends on Saturday afternoons at the huge Wollman Rink in Central Park which was about ten times larger than the Rockefeller Center rink, fifty times more crowded and much rougher, I’d become a flawless skater, not a figure skater, but one who never fell. Rockefeller Center seemed very tame by comparison.
Jimmy was the pupil now, and he was not only much clumsier than I had been, also much bigger. I guess Aunt Ginny got tired of being pulled down on the ice, and soon my skating was confined to Central Park, which was fine with me. I went skating a few times in college and once or twice in my twenties, but it had become mechanical, and as my friends laughed and wobbled and held on the the rail, I became bored with it.
Jimmy resumed skating as an adult, but only to take his daughter skating whenever she wanted. His stride was a kind of a sharp-elbowed hobble. If you are old enough to remember the TV show, The Real McCoy’s, you’ll understand why we called him Grandpappy Amos on Ice; his style of skating, reminiscent of Walter Brennan’s skippy type limp with elbows held at an angle.
As for me, I went on to bigger, better, and scarier things – like sliding down Vermont mountains with skinny strips of fiber glass and wood attached to my feet. I never became bored with skiing, probably because I never stopped fearing for my life! As my more skilled friends paralleled and schussed their way down the mountain, I’d follow at my own pace and style, probably equivalent to Jimmy’s Grandpappy Amos style of skating.”Please, please. I’d pray”, as I picked up speed, navigating through the turns, retreating to the prayerful deal-making of promises of my childhood years. “I’ll be good , I promise I will if you just let me get to the bottom alive.”
Then I’d arrive at the bottom and ski-step back to the lift line, thinking Wow! that was fun. Let’s do it again. No I never got bored with skiing, but I got my own apartment which meant I couldn’t afford going to Vermont every weekend. (or any weekend, for that matter.)
Now I never miss a chance to walk by the Rockefeller skating rink when I can. I make my way through the crowd to gaze down at the skaters. Am I feeling nostalgic because I’m sole survivor of those long gone days? No, I’m just waiting to see someone fall down!
I know Macy’s has great sales, not only because my friends rave about the bargains they find there, but because I used to partake of them over the years. What stopped me was a problem with my Macy’s card. The problem was not my credit, but for some reason I was unable to activate my new card over the phone. That alone tells you how long ago that glitch occurred since if it were today, I’d have activated it online. Eventually they stopped sending me their sale fliers and coupons, and we parted amicably. I never looked back because for some reason I was never crazy about shopping there. Maybe it was the waiting in line at the cash registers scattered around the various departments. Or maybe it was the necessity of having to go to the mall. I am not a fan of malls.
Well I was recently on 34th street passing THE Macy’s yes, the one from the classic movie, Miracle on Main Street; the one that hosts the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, floats, and balloons; the original Macy’s famed for being the largest department store in the world. Needless to say it can not fit in a mall since it takes up an entire square block.
Upon seeing the entrance, I had a flashback that revealed to me the root of my Macy “problem”. This store was the bane of my early childhood existence! Back in the early days when I was still an only child, which meant younger than five, my mother would regularly drag me down to 34th Street to “go shopping.” We’d have to walk nine blocks to the subway, (but that wasn’t the part I hated) then ride 129 blocks underground. That’s eight stops if you’re counting. I wasn’t, but I was asking “Are we almost there yet.” (Nope, that’s not what I hated either.)
Finally we’d emerge into the daylight of Thirty-fourth Street and make our way into the store. It seems like it was always crowded, even though it was usually a weekday morning. (Nope the crowds didn’t bother me either). It was the fashion faux pas, my mother visited on me.
As soon as we emerged from the revolving door, she’d take my coat off, but leave my leggings on. Leggings back then referred to the heavy wool pants that were part and parcel of the matched set that also included a matching hat. That’s what I hated – I wanted to keep my coat on like all the grownups, but there I was walking around with my dress stuffed into a suspendered overall type pants. But my mother had a theory. If I kept the coat on, my body would get used to it and when we went out into the cold once again, I’d feel cold. But I noticed she didn’t mind “getting used” to her coat.
This looks like a Sunday coat, and since stores didn’t open on Sundays back then, it couldn’t have been a shopping coat, and I’m probably younger here than the days I’m talking about – but look at the leggings. Get the picture?
If walking around unfashionably clad was the beginning of my, as she liked to put it, crankiness, (a word often applied to me, especially at nap time and bedtime), it was reinforced by having to wait until she’d bought everything else before going up to the fourth floor or the fifth floor. One held the children’s shoe department and the other, the toy department. I regarded them both as sources of joy, and perhaps enjoyed buying shoes even more than a toy. (Some things never change!)
But n-o-o-o-o. I had to wait until last. Another one of my mother’s theories was I’d be less of a pest if I had to wait. Pest was another word often applied to moi. The reasoning behind this was, once I had what I came for, I’d suggest “Let’s go have lunch”. Well, maybe it was more like whine, so if she saved my shopping until last, she’d be able to shop in peace.
Once her mission was accomplished, we’d either have a hot dog and orangeade at Nedicks, an indoor stool and counter. If I recall, that’s all they sold; at any rate it was a New York icon in the Fifties and Sixties.
No more Nedicks! Today, it’s a
Sometimes we’d go across the street to the 5 & 10, as we called Woolworth’s, where we’d also have a hot dog, but a coke instead of an orange drink.
No more 5 & 10. Today, it’s a
Although lunch was fun, it remains overshadowed by the shopping. But you know how they say misery loves company ? Well, about thirty years later I discovered I was not alone. The man to whom I was once married, upon hearing my tale of woe, assured me that he was there too and he was very surprised I hadn’t seen him.”I was the one tagging after my mother,” he told me crying.” the one crying.”
I wish I’d asked him if he had to take off his coat!
People of a certain age, my age, may (or may not ) remember the fear of 27 that was prevalent among the earliest wave of baby boomers in 1970. I wonder if there’s a name for the fear of 27. I know there’s a name for the fear of 13. It’s triskaidekaphobia. If you think that’s hard to pronounce, try spelling it.
(Since I went to the trouble of googling fear of 13 to find the term, I might as well share where it stems from. Wikipedia lists several sources, The Last Supper, being one. Judas was the last one seated at the table – the Twelve apostles, and then Mr Iscariot.)
As for 27, it was an age we feared reaching because of the “trouble comes in threes” deaths of three of our most beloved rock stars:
Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970
Janis Joplin on October 4, 1970
Jim Morrison on July 3, 1971
Since they were all 27 when they died, we Baby Boomers were sure we’d never survive that dreaded year either. I know it sounds dramatic, viewed this many years later, but hey, it was all about us. Wasn’t everything about us? Even though it would be another three years before we started to turn 27 in 1973, and we’d lost no one else in the intervening years, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we turned 28.
The deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman last week at age 69 brought it all back. Ironically those of us who were the first to blow out 27 candles are all 69 now. Just saying.
Keep in touch!
That’s the word I heard over and over on Monday morning as the news hit me in the face. And it was my own voice uttering it. It was 7 AM, and I had woken up early enough to have made coffee and fed the cats in time to catch the Today Show from the very start. There it was, a head shot of David Bowie filled the screen. And although the photo could have been a teaser, signaling anything, it being the morning after the Golden Globe awards, a sinking feeling in my stomach told me what it was. And sure enough my awful suspicion found confirmation in Matt Lauer’s voice. “Dead at the age of 69, after an 18 month battle with cancer.”
I must have stood there, protesting no! no! no! no! for at least 2 minutes before sinking to the recliner. I am still surprised by my numbness – akin to, but of course not the same, as when I got the phone call telling me my brother had lost the same battle over twenty years ago.
Four days later, I’m still trying to figure out why I am so deeply affected. Maybe it’s because I feel that I “discovered” him. It was, I hate to admit, 44 years ago, and there I was, a romantic Yank who had fallen in love with a a Brit, and the city in which he lived. On vacation from my teaching job back in NY, I wandered London all day while he was at work.( I know a dirty job, but someone had to do it!)
On this day, I was in our neighborhood, Finsbury Park, and passing the renowned Rainbow Theater, the site of so many rock concerts.
On this afternoon, a line of people seeking to buy tickets, snaked around the corner.(Yes, this was before the age of Ticketron and Ticketmaster.) I looked up at the marquee and wondered “Who the heck is Ziggy Stardust? (it was also before the WTF era) It wouldn’t be until the next year that his song, Space Oddity, hit the New York airwaves, and I would learn that the voice singing Ground Control to Major Tom belonged to David Bowie whom I’d already “met”, as Ziggy Stardust.
The years passed and I moved into my own apartment and probably annoyed my neighbors with the Ziggy/Bowie voice. I do recall the upstairs neighbor banging on his floor(my ceiling? It’s a matter of semantics) with a broomstick but I was probably playing the Stones.
I still have the albums, and somewhere (?) a third one, Station to Station
but since I have no turntable, the neighbors are safe.
My Mile Marker
All the news reports made a point of pointing out Bowie died just four days after releasing his latest album on his birthday And this may have added to my emptiness. I was quite aware that January 8th was his birthday because I waited for it each year.
You see, I used to have a BFF, Rosalie, back in college and my early 20s. Her birthday was January 3 , four days after mine. I can’t believe that at such a tender age aging bothered me, but I would not call or see her for those four days until she “caught up” to me.
Rosalie eventually went her way and I went mine and we lost contact and somehow David Bowie took her place as my personal mile marker. He was born nine days after I was so I took solace each year when he caught up to me. If he could stay “young” and hip, so could I. I guess I’m on my own now.