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Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957…

June 20, 2010 Leave a comment

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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Book 1. In Nueva York!

June 6, 2010 1 comment

BOOK 1. In Nueva York!

 We arrived in Nueva York that night with the wind a blowing and the snow a snowing… Mud walked out of the plane, down the stairs and across the tarmac  with little Larry snuggled in her arms, Gale and I following behind. People looking in amazement at this woman and her children dressed for  the fourth of July, apparently completely ignorant of things like baby blankets, mittens,, noggin toppers and the like. An older white gent looked pityingly at Mother with her little brown babe in arms, and took off his heavy overcoat, draping it over Mother and child. We knew instantly that we were in a world, a reality that was  completely foreign to us, we (Gale and I) had spent over half of our young lives surrounded by people of color, or colors, immersed in cultures and climes very much other than this one. 

I can’t speak for Gale on this but I had come to view the world from the position of an underdog with “something to prove” and white folks as “odd otheren” that we did not particularly identify with or fully understand.

It was very strange to see “the othern” all around us, and to all but hear them making judgments about Mother and Larry and Gale and I, things became even stranger when we saw our first  so called “American Negros” all relegated to subservient positions in the airport, and saw (and felt) the tense and toxic vibes that existed between the Blancos and los Negros and vice versa.

The number of shifting realities present in those first minutes in the terminal at Idlewild Airport that winter night was fantastic.

Our survivor antenna were sparking and spinning like never before…our exposure  to the new “who is what to whom and which is where and why and how and what is what is what” would take intense sorting out and every day that followed would bring more and more of the same…

For example, the very next day while riding in Mud’s twin sister Lea’s husband Jack’s (who had been on the verge of marrying Mud in St. Thomas before she choose Howard instead and we wound up in Puerto Rico) car, I saw a white kid my age running like crazy down the middle of a four lane avenue, a huge box of Jujubes in his hand with the lean mean  grown up manager of a nearby supermarket right behind him. The kid was flying…

I was filled with curiosity and strong emotions   as I watched, in large part because I had never seen a white person in either of these roles. Why would a white kid have to steal anything? Why does a grown up white man care enough about a box of candy to be running around in the street traffic and risking his life, like this?  “Suppose the man catches him? is he going to kill him or just hurt him? Will the kid fight him and bite him? Will they call his parents? Does he have any parents? Will the police come, will they beat him up? I thought It was among the strangest things I had ever seen, but only because the people were white. 

In my experience, white people didn’t work, and certainly they didn’t run through traffic risking their lives over a box of Jujubes, white kids didn’t have to steal candy they were rich and got what ever they wanted by whining for it.

The white adults I knew were wild eyed  artists or owned things like hotels or jewelry stores or were plump and pale effete tourists, the only white children that I’d ever seen (or could remember having seen…-although we may have seen some such before we went to the Islands in the first place) poor enough to perhaps have to help themselves to a bon bon  from time to time, were Gale and me, and of the two of us I was the only white child that I know of in the whole wide world that had actually stolen (and eaten) candy. In reality, I had stolen some pennies and a quarter, some nickels, and dimes, half a handful of change from the cash box of a little shop in the Islands owned by the parents of friends of Gale and mine.  (I was so young that I didn’t yet know how to count, or I was so upset at what I had done that I didn’t want to know how bad a deed it was, I bought some penny candy with it just outside of the Barracks Yad and stuck the booty and the little looty left over under my pillow. Apparently I had scooped up more than I needed for the penny candy I wanted, so..not knowing what to do with the overage, I  may have thrown it away by the road side) Nevertheless, even though I was only six or seven when I lost my state of grace to petty penny pilferin’ misery, I still felt terrible about it. (Ah..In fact, I still do) Against that background, I struggled with what I was seeing play out in the middle of the traffic before us. A light changed somewhere and we moved on down the road without seeing the conclusion of the tableau or act three. (My hope has always been that the boy got away but was so upset by his actions and outcome that he never never never did anything like that again. It may be an unlikely end story however, because frankly the little white kid looked like a pretty tough little guy already. Another something novel and new to me)

Lea and Jack were pretty blasé about the whole thing it, and I got the impression that stuff like that happened all the time. It “blew my mind” (which means it exploded my preconceived notion of a particular reality) Yep,

Then there was this thing called television, and its crazy crazy shows like “Queen For A Day” and “$64,000 Question” and something called “The Mouseketeers” with a beautiful soulful looking girl named “Annette Funichello”. We were in someplace called “Kew Gardens” in a world dunked and  dyed this God awful brown and gray. A color that I’ve since dubbed “Brey” the essence of depression that ran under over and through everything everywhere you looked.  The sound track to all of this was an Ookity Dookity song called “Catch A Falling Star And Put It IN Your Pocket And Save It For A Rainy Day” by a singing barber named “Perry Como” who made Pat Boone look like Humphrey Bogart. The song was #1 in this, the world of Rock And Roll, one more reason why  Gale and I along with Mud and Little Larry  were thoroughly  disoriented and confused.

 One day I was looking out the window and  saw some scruffy older kids  messing around with the great New York City equalizer,  Stickball. However, just as I had earned my own place in the scruffy lineup, the whole kapassel of us (Mud, Lea, Jack, Hansie ( Lea and Jack’s little guy John Just about the same age as Larry) Claudia (Lea’s beautiful little girl,around two years old at the time) Gale, Larry and I.) left for Far Rockaway and Wave Crest Gardens.

“Wave Crest Gardens” (two or three blocs of “private” public housing type buildings, each “Bloc” consisting of two U-shaped six-story buildings facing each other from either end of a  raised central space containing park type benches and the odd patch of grass, stunted trees and bushes. The “Gardens” were a block from the board walk and the beach at Far Rockaway. A far so far  that the Board walk actually ended there. It reminds me of  El Ultimo Trolley in its lonely finality.

 Now we were in another world, inside another world, because most of the people living there were a kind of white people called “Jewish” a people with some interesting thoughts and experiences around race and cultural prejudice themselves. Of course up to that point the whole Jewish New York reality might have been a Chinese opera for all we knew, however we soon realized we were foreigners again with much to learn. And we did.

Probably first and foremost was the realization that the ideas that we had about white people were pretty much adopted from black people and brown people who had been oppressed and disrespected by “the white people” and were jusifiably wary of any universe that contained them.  Consequently, our understanding of “white people” was cockamamie and incomplete. We realized that up close, there was (for us at least) no “the white people” rather there were innumerable groups of disparate peoples (many of whom and didn’t like each other one bit), fought constantly and said nasty things about each other. We were now living among a “white people” who had been wronged, abused, brutalized, and murdered due to prejudice. However, inspite of that, I was surprised to discover that some of the kids had some hateful prejudices of their own.

Fairly early on as we all jockeyed for places in the hierarchy of cool (roughly based on appearance, ability to fight, demonstrated skill in Stickball, Punch ball, Handball, Stoopball, and your ability to sound like the singer on a Rock and Roll record) some of my age peers (11 or 12 years old) came running breathlessly to tell me that “Alan” a hither to coolish  bigger, older kid, had called me a…a…a…”spip or spuk or snik or something”, a word I had never heard in my life and had no meaning whatsoever for me.  “What’s that? I asked them, “It’s a person from Puerto Rico!” they exclaim-s’plained, a person who comes from Puerto Rico! “We came here from Puerto Rico, but what’s the matter with that”? I wondered and asked. They were flabbergasted…how could I not know what that word meant? How could I not be outraged by the word? How could I not know that someone had tried to be completely demeaning and insulting of me and what the idiot thought were my people? By calling me a word that had no meaning? I didn’t get it, It was ridiculous. 

I didn’t even know what he and they were talking about. It took quite a while for me to understand and realize that this Jewish kid (a bigger older kid who I had respected and thought worth learning something from) thought he was putting me down by calling me a spluk or something. It really was ridiculous. (Years later a New York Taxi Driver trying to hip me to the ways of the City and educate me about Borinquenos, proudly explained to me that “People from Puerto Rico are “Spanish Puerto Rican Indian Coloreds” and that’s why we call them that word.

I still didn’t get where the insult is in being “Spanish Puerto Rican Indian Colored”, because in fact there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a beautiful joining of beautiful peoples with a powerful and romantic heritage and history.

Anyway, that kind of cruel idiocy seems to be one of the common threads connecting all of human kind, it’s always disappointing when it shows up but most especially from someone who you think might have suffered enough to know better. As I said earlier, we would  learn a great deal  in Far Rockaway, New York, USA in the Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, of 1957. Continues…