Home > 1, Music, Puerto Rico, The Music Business, The Virgin Islands > Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957…

Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957…

Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957.

As noted once and said twice, we would learn a great deal in Far Rockaway, New York, USA in the winter, spring, summer and fall, of 1957.

Right from the beginning, the music meant almost everything and was somehow more real than the reality that it was sound tracking, Gale and I went back to school to discover that we might as well have been studying moon rocks on Mars for all our previous book, (and lack of book,) larnin’ had to do with the New York City Public School curriculum.

The flash back was to sitting in La Escuela de San Juan Bautista where no one spoke a lick a da lingo (English) and I didn’t speak a lick a la lingua (Spanish) only this time we were able to comprende the sniddy snoody and snide comments made about our pathetic fraternal idiocy.

The only saving grace for me came in the person of a Puerto Rican kid whose command of English began and ended with a fruit salad of four letter words like you’ve never heard. It was fantastic. This angel faced boy knew nothing but cuss words and creative combinations of cuss words presented so fluently and floridly inappropriately that I’m certain that we today, would have an entire field of scatological study devoted  to and franticly seeking the cure for FFFWS (Flagrantly Floridly Filthy Word Syndrome) it was amazing.

Anyway, I was able to demonstrate a smidge-lit of intelligence by virtue of the fact that I was the only person in the entire school able to translate his linguistic intentions (though there is the small possibility that I may have inadvertently taken too broad a horizon or perhaps one too many small liberties with my interpretations and translations, but only to demonstrate my own facility with multi-syllabic  language, in the hope that they (the school) would realize the kind of intellects that they were too quickly dismissing as “the gang of three ..Idiots”.

He really was a sweet sincere kid who had more than likely been victimized by a psycho Tio (uncle) with his own hysterical but cruel agenda for getting even with  all the school Marms and Principals in the New York City Public School system, and boy if his intention was to cuss ‘im out, he got ‘im good…

I can’t help but wonder how my life might have been different if a kid like me had been assigned to interpret for a kid like me at San Juan Bautista…Good Lord Awmighty.

Needless to say, my attention to my own school work was frustrating and minimal, in truth because we had missed so much of what led up to the sixth grade, but mostly because I was much more interested in The Spanish Main, the clash of sword against sword, the clash of cultures in the race for God Gold and Glory and most especially, the names and exact locations of the great treasure Galleons that had gone to the bottom bursting with doubloons and now swayed in the sea tide with red eyed skeletons guarding the golden pieces of eight, than in Millard Flurbush, or Floyd Huckabucket  (who or what ever they were)

But that was school daze, and when not immersed in defending a translingual scatological diatribe, or my dream life along the Spanish Main, my antenna was “full tuned” out the window towards every passing car radio and the essential life lessons being broadcast freely into the air. Life lessons as only Chuck Berry and Rock n’ Roll could structure and present them…” Be Bop A Lula She’s Mah Ah Bay Bay” “Up in the Morning and off to school” These are the days of “Be Bop A Lula” “Hail Hail Rock n’ Roll” “Party Doll”, “Little Darlin” and “All Shook Up” music that moved us through winter to spring and into the summer of 57. (10 years later as a young staff writer in New York City, I would spend my days at Screen Gems writing “SOON”, cubicle to cubicle with the Great Otis Blackwell, writer of “All Shook up” “Don’t Be Cruel” “Great Balls A Fire” “Fever” and many other seminal, inspirational works of Rock And Roll, but that is another story. One which we will surely get to in it’s time)

Summer, dazzling full on blazing hot, tar melting Summer on the Boardwalk is (in my opinion) one of the elemental full sensory joys of life on Earth. Truly something that everyone  ought to experience at least once in their lives.

Many people, especially the old folks and the teenage girls in Far Rockaway, seemed to live for it. The old folks would endure all the bitter winter winds, wearisome woes, disappointments and God awful depression of that seemingly endless time in between. Trudging along, their little spark of the divine flickering through dampness and the blasted semi-damnation of the dark time; waiting for the when the world would be born again.

The when, when a kind of honeyed hell comes to the city and Beelzebub’s own wicked heat hots up the place and the human race once again flings off the cloth (and all modesty) and prances out bellies bouncing, barely clothed, slathered in Sea and Ski, straw hat on the top knot, down to the glorious sea side.

Another group raring to go was the mysterious sideshow of pseudo carnies that opened and ran the flipped out, tripped out stands along the strand, that made and manned the crazy sand blasted or freshly painted pre-psychedelic, psychedelic art and amplified lunacy of the Boardwalk

Oh the smells, my God the smells, the French Fries, Candied popcorn and Hot Dogs (Kosher thank you) Cotton candy, Candied Apples, foot wide lolly pops, Soft Custard in Chocolate and Vanilla, the double Rainbow array of Popsicles and the sodas, Cel-Ray, Sarsaparilla, Orange Crush, Cream Soda, Cherry, Root beer, and the Coca-Pepsi and Chocolate syrup egg creams and the Lemon, Pineapple and Strawberry scent of twirling Salt Water Taffy,

I am sure that the Angeles in Heaven (but perhaps only the goodest of the good ones, like Vicki Sue and my dear partner Kookoolis) are from time to time allowed to part the firmament and stick their noggins down to whiff deeply the aromatics of the Boardwalk…and the Beach (the seaweed, salt air, sea and ski and the fishtunken stink-a-moids stuck in the flotsam and jetsam) because in the Summertime, the super heated swirled up smell of it all together, is well, all together, out of this world.

You understand of course that I (and we) were well adapted to the mystical turquoise tranquility of mountain sheltered coves along the Caribees and the sweet reflective solitude to be found ‘neath the shading (coconut) tree. I’m guessing that you know or have at least heard tell that the Beaches in the Rockaways are any and everything but that. In fact they are the opposite of that in every way.

They are a Symphonic, electronic, “Ca-ca-ca-ca-phony” of clashing color, scent, sound and crazy characters, double amped to the max. I could not believe my eyes and ears (and taste buds) nor the heat of the frying pan hot sand under my feet, the Icy cold water, sea birds screeching, wheeling and robbing, up down around and around, Kiddies screaming and yelling (as often as not because the sea gulls were making off with their samrichs,) people wall to wall everywhere ,standing sitting laying leaping running back and forth slipping, tripping, back flipping  ball flying, babies crying, the guys screamin’ Ice Cream, “Hey uh huh getchur Ice Cold Ice Cream Heeya!” It was five towers of Babel fallen on their sides and popping open to spill man’s madness willy nilly upon the land..ah..sand 

Every conceivable human activity was being plotted, planed or in process there, I understood it to be my first real exposure to Democracy, and the downtrodden, weary rabble yearning to really be free.. And weaving under around, through and ultimately over and above it all, was the music. The glorious music a never ending arrhythmic crescendo of clashing keys, the competing themes of ultimate liberation of the human spirit.

That was the summer of ”Good Golly Miss Molly” “Searchin’””Bye Bye Love” and well yes “Love Letters In The Sand” and “Tammy” (I WAS a 12 year old romantic, much the same as now) but most of all, it was the Summer of 16 year old Paul Anka’s beautiful record “Diana”. “Diana” was the dream theme of every cross-eyed lovesick skinny bagabones boy who had ever set his eyes and heart on a slightly more physically mature, and sophisticated teenaged dream queen… (you may recall how wide a gap a year or two means in early teen time), “Diana” playing full blast over and above it all took us out of the crazy mind-boggling and delirious Boardwalk  Beach,  Summer of 57, (so exciting to me),  and into the Fall….   

Un “supra-stuporus” impression that has lasted, pasted and blasted the test of time, (and still takes my breath away) was what I can only call “My Vision of Arleta”

One pre-adolescent September afternoon when I was twelve, there on a side street close to the Boardwalk just inside the slightly elevated doorway, standing coolly in the tidal wave of jingling boinging bell banging, screeching sirens rackety raucous, sizzled grease burnt electronics and sawdusty scent and sound cloud that is a pinball arcade, was a girl.

And Oh my dear Lord what a girl. A sixteen year old Garrison Belted gum snapping, cigarette dangling helmet haired black leather jacketed death in blue denim Queen, A 1957 New York City, Rock n’ Roll indigo dolly of the most extraordinary God help us, “first plus” order.

Heavy lidded, red lipped, rouge on ivory, pouty, sultry, tough teen atomically charged, motorcycle booted “A-Bomb Baby” white teethed, smooth skinned, insolent virgin seductress, big bang born goddess of love, ah.. Ah… I mean burning lust. Teen Venus Diana Magdalene Italian Valkeri, proud, ah… very proud, of bosom, switch blade flashing, ebony eyed, Arleta.

 I stopped, heart pounding in my tracks right in front of her and looked dumb struck directly straight and completely into her face, into her eyes, searching, searching deeply into her soul, for her own registry of this moment. The impact of this momentous eye popping, jaw dropping of “fate in your face” moment.

I stood as her attention slowly shifted in my direction, and then to me, I imagined that the light flash kiss of a lifetime was a moment away that I would soon fling myself upon her bosom and mercy, for now and for the rest of my trembling life.

I steeled my self for her imminent ecstatic recognition, my collapse and complete surrender to her and her Arlettic ways, her eyes swept across my latitude, my geography, my place in time, my whole in the whole of the universe and registered… no thing, no one, nothing. As if my heaving chest and love flushed, thunder struck face was empty space. She registered nada, nada nada. 

My friend just off my elbow, who had witnessed the whole thing said matter of factly “Her names Arleta, she’s sixteen” and then “she didn’t even see ya”

What I learned that day was that this particular friend had a way of loudly and UN necessarily belaboring the painfully obvious.

The Vision of Arleta was beyond learning it was just an “is was” or “was is” of the most extraordinary, exciting and lasting, power and inspiration.

The next New York girl that made a strong and lasting impression on me was one that I had also never seen before but got my attention by swacking me smack dab in the eye before raining a torrent of fisticuffs down upon (or rather across) upon me in a mano a mano toe to toe nose to nose, knee to knee belly to belly “watch me beat up this boy battle” that seemingly was born for no other reason than that. Apparently, she saw it to her advantage to demonstrate her ability to “beat up a boy” and scrawny me looked like a most likely candidate… This was a battle that I certainly could not win, however I did manage to avoid humiliating myself for the next sixty years by standing my ground and taking it (rather than running away in tears) until an adult stepped in and sent us each back to our own corner buildings.

Of course my right hand comentater man found it necessary to say loudly and repeat repeatedly “Boy, did you see that? That girl sure can fight” and “Man, a girl was beatin’ you up in front of all those people!”

Continues…

 

 

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