Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holly, Jolly, Christmas in 1964

I talked earlier about our Christmases but think it’s worth revisiting since Mick and Ted and I are all older and we have a young sister, Mary Lou. In December of 1964 I was officially a teenager, thirteen. Mick was eleven and a half and Ted seven and a half. Mick and I were hip to Santa being our parents but Ted and Mary Lou still believed. Ted had serious doubts but Ted worked hard at holding onto the good things in his childhood and didn’t want to let Santa go.

Our Christmas ritual was to put up the lights outside on Thanksgiving weekend. This effort took about half a day and Mick and I “helped” our Dad. Our help was limited since we were inept but we were able to untangle the lights and hand my Dad various tools. We had a wrap around porch surrounded by bushes so the bushes and doors were ringed with lights.

After my birthday and my father’s birthday (14th & 15th) Dad would buy the tree. The tree was always, always, gigantic. We had twelve foot ceilings so we’d get a twelve foot tree. The tree sat outside in a bucket filled with water in an alcove off the front porch. It would not be put up till Christmas Eve morn.

We might also go to Gaudio’s to see the light displays and pick out ornaments. Gaudio’s was a garden center in Woodbury, long vanished, that had a huge selection of Christmas decorations to supplement their gardening business. If we went to visit our Grandmother Glading in Pennsylvania we’d drive back admiring the various light displays. Not as elaborate as todays but to us, astounding. I’m telling you this because really and truly none of us cared that much about anything except Christmas morning and that never came fast enough.

Finally it would be Christmas Eve! My mother would spend the day baking cookies and making stuffing for the turkey. My father and Mick and I would lug in the tree and set it in the stand my parent’s had owned since I was a baby. Christmas tree stands pretty much sucked back then so we’d use wire to keep the tree from falling. My Dad would stand on a chair and nail one end into the wall then wrap it around the tree and repeat the process till the tree was stable and straight. Or kind of straight. Then it would sit all day, unadorned, till after dinner so its branches could fall.

Mick and I would go to our rooms in the afternoon and attempt to wrap the presents we’d purchased for our parent’s and our brothers and sister. I mangled package after package. Then dinner, hopefully pizza or cheesesteaks, and then we’d trim the tree. My Dad had a system and Mick and I learned it well. Large balls at the bottom, medium balls in the middle, and small ones at the top. We’d alternate between tinsel and garlands depending on my mother’s moods. Then we’d hang our stockings in the 2nd living room on the bookshelf and sit down together in the living room. My mother would sit with Ted and Mary Lou on either side and read, first the Christmas Story, about the birth of Christ and second, Twas the Night Before Christmas. It was wonderful. Cheesy but wonderful.

Finally we’d place our gifts beneath the tree, set out Santa’s cookies and milk and then it was off to bed. Mick and I had recently been relegated to the attic for a bedroom and we went up and tried to sleep. The night passed. Slowly. Santa’s reindeer landed, somehow found a way to get him in our house, and left to spread more Christmas cheer. We tried to sleep. We played chess. We tried to sleep.

Then it’s 6am and Christmas morning and we all run to our parents room to wake them up. It’s the house rules that you can’t go downstairs Christmas morning until Dad checked to make sure Santa wasn’t there. Once we’d get the all clear we hurtled down the stairs to see the heaps and heaps of presents. Mom and Dad would pass them out from piles they’d set up the night before (or rather Santa had set up the night before) and we’d tear them to pieces.

After we’d finished with the presents we’d empty our stockings. Our stocking stuffers were a kind of weird mix of the 1930’s and the present. We’d get little toys or funny things but also, always, a tangerine. A tangerine? I never understood this until I realized late in life that this would have been a rare treat for a child in an America still stuck in the Great Depression. For us though it was just a piece of fruit. Admittedly we didn’t often have tangerines in the Wiler house. Most of our experience with actual fruit, not canned fruit, was limited to apples, sometimes grapes, bananas, and in the summer peaches and blueberries. Oranges and Tangerines would only show up once in awhile…too expensive I think.

After opening the presents Mom and Dad sat on the couch and watched us play with our new gifts. They always seemed very happy. Mick and I would then go to our friends houses to see what they’d gotten and Dad would be left to pick up the mess with Mom. When we returned we’d walk up the block to visit our Grandmother Wiler and get gifts from her. Finally we’d sit down to turkey dinner. Sometimes relatives would drop by with relative gifts. My fathers Uncle John and Aunt Eleanor or our Grandmother Glading and our Aunt Gersh all might stop by to share the day.

It was and is my favorite holiday. I don’t look at it with cynicism or dread. Tonight Johanna and I will be joined by her mother and sister and nephews and our dear friends. We’ll eat and drink and sing and laugh. It’s Christmas! In the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone!”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

They're Dancing in the Streets

It's an easy seque from my stupid dance lessons to my first dance.  Spring, 1965.  The cafeteria is converted into a wonderland and the girls and boys of Gateway go to their first dance.  Hop.  Keep in mind that in truth I had no idea how to really dance to the music that was popular among young people.  In fact, I hardly listened to music that was popular.  Oh sure, I knew about the Beatles and every once in awhile I'd hear music on the radio or watch Shindig or Hullabaloo but my musical world was largely shaped by my parent's listening habits.  Which means I was raised on the Mills Brothers, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Tony infinitum.  And the worst of all the worst: "Sing Along With Mitch".  No, there were actually worse acts but my mind has graciously deleted them.
So now I was going to Gateway to dance to the music of my generation.  At least as it stood at that time.  I was going to gyrate wildly to the Twist and the Mash Potato and the Swim and swig soda and fall in love and kiss a beautiful girl under the moon.  Then ride home with my folks and sleep happy with a smile on my face.
I was going to get dressed in a stupid Madras jacket with a clip on tie and tight cords and walk for the first time into the most uncomfortable experience of my life.  Sure, I talked to girls in school.  You kind of had to.  And yes I wore clothes and I'd taken dance lessons and I knew about music.  But I had no idea how all these things went together and I was about to find out how little I really knew.
I should tell you that, at least in Westville, there were CYO dances that kids had been going to for awhile.  Some kids from Wenonah might even go earlier in the year.  This means that they had a leg up on us chuckleheads.  This means that they were more comfortable, knew how to dance, had cool clothes, a cool haircut and could walk up to any girl they knew and ask for a dance.  I, on the other hand, was expert at standing next to the wall.
So this is the way things were.  A row of a dozen or more skinny boys with their backs pressed against the newly painted cinder block.  Groups of girls with cups of punch huddled together, giggling, looking here and there.  And in the middle girls and boys all with cool clothes and hair dancing and having a great time.  This great divide was to be my world for the next 4 years or so.  Cursed and alone we geeks clustered together like fools.  Out on the floor girls and boys laughed and hugged and kissed and had great fun.  
The saddest part is how all of this is about confidence and courage.  In fact all of us felt the same way.  It's just that some of us said fuck it and walked away from the wall.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dance Lessons

I may be off a bit here.  In my dotage I'm not sure if these events took place in 7th or 8th grade.  I asked several classmates and they were as clueless as I am.  So I figure since it's my blog I'll make it 7th grade.  In Wenonah when I was a teenager the parents all felt we required some education in the social graces.  Specifically ballroom dancing.  None of us shared their opinion but this seemed to be a non-negotiable issue.  By banding together the parents insured that none of us could say, "but Jack Wiler doesn't have to go".  Even worse they used social pressure and hounded us as we visited each others homes.  
So it was that in early winter we were herded to the Presbyterian Church along with the grade below us to learn how to dance.  We had two instructors, a man and a woman, and they loved their work.  We did not.  We began with simple steps; the Box Step, the Fox Trot, and moved onto more elaborate things like waltzes and sambas.  It was torture.  Torture for so many, many reasons.  First we had to dress up in good clothes, second we had to dance with girls or vice versa boys, third, we were not given a choice of who we would dance with.  Our partners were assigned according to an arcane formula.
And so we whirled across the floor of the multi-purpose room of the Presbyterian Church, twenty or thirty young men and women with pimples and greasy hair or odd clothing or weird heads.  All of us forced to comport ourselves as ladies and gentlemen.
We did this for about eight weeks.  The final week we had a formal dance (suits and ties, dresses) and a dance contest.  And we all wanted to win.  Go figure.  This thing we hated we now wanted to excel at and we took pride in our ability to glide effortlessly across the floor.
I'm sad to report that this class has really had only one benefit in my life...when I go to a wedding I can do a mean foxtrot.  Otherwise in the real world of young men and women dancing it was a waste of time.  Next...going to my first dance at Gatorland.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Street Football

I guess every kid in the US of A has played street football or some variant of it. We certainly played our share of games. A day like today would have been perfect. Mild weather, the trees nearly stripped of their leaves, nothing much to do on a Sunday afternoon.
We played on S. Lincoln Ave and mostly in front of my house. The game was a passing game. Take ten steps down the sideline and cut across, Mick, you go long, then the snap and the count 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3Mississippi, 4 Mississippi, 5 Miss... and the rush and the pass. Or take ten steps and cut behind the Marx's Cadillac or everyone go long or the crisscross. Terry Fleming and Chris DeHart were often quarterbacks but sometimes they'd gang up on us and it would be me and Mick and Sam Stewart vs Gary Condell and Terry and Chris. This was a lopsided game because Sam couldn't catch a football to save his life and I had no arm but we played like it was the most important game in the world. Sometimes we won but mostly we'd lose.
The game was played on a macadam street so if you fell, or were pushed, you'd slide a few feet along the rough stones and ding your knees or your elbows. The palms of your hands.
We'd play all afternoon. Changing sides, changing players, new guys coming in, guys going home for dinner or a family trip, the game kept going. Once in awhile my father or Al Frank or my Uncle would join in to make us look like the knuckleheads we were. I remember one memorable day when Father Kernan from the Church of the Incarnation showed up. Running routes in his robes and smoking cigarettes. Might have been a curse or two.
There was a fierce competition to the games but there was great joy. The long bomb through the trees, the unexpected sight of Sam pulling down the ball in front of Chris DeHart, the sack, the surprise play, the Hail Mary, the hidden ball trick. It was a game with few rules and many, many arguments. Interference, he pushed me, you went before the count, how can we win with this team, at least give us Gary. Skinny little kids running for hours, my asthma would kick in but we'd keep playing. Ed Mossop or Johnny Hindman or Stewart DeHart and Bobby McQuaide would pass in and out of the games. A blur of hikes and counts and passes and the unexpected run or Charlie Flitcraft, fast as lightening turning a four yard toss into a touchdown. The goals were undefined, the scores forgotten or argued about. No kicking. Plenty of shoving.
The sun setting, the ball dark against the sky, the hands reaching, reaching, reaching.

Friday, November 07, 2008

My Name is Jimmy Carl Black and I'm the Indian of the Group

I'm going to skip ahead a bit to senior year.  Only because tonight I read that Jimmy Carl Black of the Mothers of Invention had passed away at the age of 70.  The Mothers of Invention were one of the finest bands of the sixties.  Weird, truly experimental, and, well, fun.  They were funny and inventive and crazy.  I loved them the first time I heard them and I wasn't even on dope.
Besides Frank Zappa, the leader of the group, Jimmy Carl Black and Ian Underwood were my favorites.  Jimmy because of the quote that opens this post and Ian Underwood because of one the finest sax solos of all time on Uncle Meat with Ian Underwood whips it out.  God, I loved that band.  Because brown shoes don't make it and we could always make the water turn black.  Impish, insane, fun, musically complex.  The best sixties rock band ever.  Better than the Stones or the Beatles because they didn't give a fuck about the music industry.  In fact they were totally anti establishment even as they made fun of hippies and doo wop and everything under the sun.  
In some ways what is even more interesting about Jimmy Carl Black is not his work with Francis Vincent Zappa but his life.  His obit says that after the Mothers disbanded and his band failed he went to work painting houses with Arthur Brown.  Arthur Brown of "Fire"!  What a bizarre house painting company that must have been.  After that he worked in a donut shop.  One of my musical idols working in a donut shop while I was driving a truck after college.  If you had told me senior year in HS that in the late 70's me and Jimmy Carl would be on the same economic strata I'd have said you were nuts.
My friends from Rutgers and I went to see the Mothers at a Halloween show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic.  It was a raucous joy from beginning to end.  Within two years they were no more and Jimmy Carl was painting houses  in West Texas.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Elect Barack Obama

Wow!  What a wonderful night!  What a great country!  God Bless America!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008

Well, it's crunch time.  Time to put up or shut up.  Vote.  If you don't you own what comes next.  Make a statement.  Obviously I'd prefer Barack Obama.  But vote for someone.  Don't sit home and say it doesn't matter it's just same old, same old.  It's not.
We have an extraordinary event happening right in front of us.  A black man who could be elected President.  A woman who could be Vice President.  In our lifetime!  Who would have thought.  A black man couldn't have gotten elected dog catcher when I was young and women didn't leave the home.  What an astounding moment in history.
Sure racists might give the office to McCain or Obama might turn out to be Jimmy Carter without a cardigan.  Any number of things could happen.  But one thing is sure...we're rid of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and their merry band of thieves.  Fuck em.  I've been waiting eight years for this day to come.  Let them slink out of town with their tails between their legs.
I'll be at the Christa McAuliffe School casting my vote at 6:15.  I'll be voting for my rights, for peace, and to preserve this great land.  If people in Iraq can give a fuck about voting so can we.  Vote.  
ps: Jeez was this a NY Times editorial or what?  I don't think it's a good idea to have that knucklehead Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the Presidency...especially when the President would be very, very old.  Not a good plan.  If she gets in we're more fucked than we were with bushcheneyrove.  Vote for Barack Obama.  

Sunday, November 02, 2008

HO Racing

I feel foolish talking about this shit now. Our country is at a crossroads, the world is in turmoil, the dogs of war are barking everywhere.
But in 1964 we became Aurora HO race car enthusiasts. We got our Aurora kits and laid out our layouts and began to race our little cars on little tracks in our basements. At the time there was a nationwide craze for 32nd scale tracks. There were racing tracks built all over the nation for people to bring their cars and race them against each other.
Not us. We bought the smaller size. Speed was the gig but speed on a small, small scale. Nonetheless the ability to make your car faster became a dominant impulse. We bought magazines and parts to soup up our cars. We were mini Ed Roths. We bought slicks for the rear tires and learned how to make our cars super fast.
We envied our friends layouts. As usual Terry had the coolest layout in the land. Trees and shit and the fastest car. All laid out on an 11' piece of plywood. Mine was small and in my basement and no one came to try out their cars.
We bought containers to carry our cars and we bought extra parts and we were mini mechanics. We sat like demented enthusiasts for hours at a time making little plastic cars race around and around and around. Not far from playing video games and killing aliens hours after hour after hour.
I remember one night in mid winter walking home from Terry's with my little beige plastic box and taking a bad spill on the ice and all my precious cars spilled out into the street.
I cried. I raged. I was filled with humiliation, not just for the fall and the loss but because my cars never were as good as Terry's. I was incompetent. I was just a chump. A fool.
When I got sick and fell outside my home one frigid January night I was made acutely aware of the parallels.
When I got home that night in the early sixties I told no one of my humiliation. I went upstairs and lay in my bed and felt smaller than I'd ever felt in my life. I wanted more than anything to be able to make my cars race like the wind. To have a cool track. To have people admire me and my passion.
Instead I spent that night picking up little electronic parts and rubber tires and tiny pieces of plastic under a cold January moon.
The things we care about seem so foolish. I could name dozens now equally stupid and I'm a grown man.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Miracle in South Philly

The Phillies won!  The curse is over!  My brother Ted has not thrown himself in front of a train!  Now if the Eagles can keep it together...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The 1964 Phillies (a cautionary tale)

I’m going to break from my goals tonight because of the prodding of Bob Thomas. I jetted past the summer of 1964 without acknowledging the greatest Philadelphia Phillies collapse of all time. The Phillies were the only game in town by the ‘60’s. Of course before the Phillies they had shared the city with the Athletics. For decades Connie Mack and the Athletics were the closest thing to baseball glory folks from Philly and the tri state area could brag about. The Phillies were wretched. They even played their games in the shadow of Connie Mack as their stadium was named for the old gentleman.
Connie Mack Stadium was in a ruined part of town. When we went to games my dad would dip into his pocket for a quarter for a neighborhood kid to “watch” our car. Basically extortion money.
The stadium itself was quintessential old school baseball. Dirty, decaying and cool. You were right in the game and the decrepitude of the interior only amplified the beauty of emerging from the runways into the light of day or the glare of the stadium lights. The world was green, white, and brown and the giants of our youth were right there in front of us.
Sadly none of them were on the Philadelphia Phillies. It is a sad measure of their lack of skill that most of us picked other teams to root for during the season. Terry revered the Yankees, my team was my Dad’s team, the Reds, Mick had his beloved Pirates and on and on. Christ Kenny Fell preferred the hapless Mets to the Phillies.
But to continue…in the summer of 1964 the Phillies were in first place for 73 consecutive days. They had a huge lead coming into the final days of the season. This was before wild cards and extra divisions and shit so they were going to the World Series if they could just hold on for a few more games.
They couldn’t. Along with the collapse of the Mets in 2007 there has never been a more ignominious end to a baseball season. Of course Phillie fans knew it would happen. Most loser towns (Chicago for one) accept this as a matter of course. No way their hopes will not be dashed and dashed they were.
My favorite part of this entire train wreck was watching Sally Star on tv coming apart day by day as the Phillies committed more and more bonehead blunders. By the time they’d blown the whole thing it looked as though she was going to have to spend a few weeks in the loony bin.
It wasn’t till I was long out of Wenonah that the Phillies found baseball glory and tonight they’re knocking on the door. Let’s hope the ghosts of ’64 aren’t walking down from old Connie Mack to help them along.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Margie's Luncheonette

Let's talk a bit more about Margie's Luncheonette.  Especially now that I'm in seventh grade and more and more of my friends spend time there.  The counter is at the front and is usually full in the morning with working men having coffee and a bite or not.  In the afternoon the booths were full of older elementary students and then finally after the buses from Gateway arrived; the high school students.
Margie's was both a town meeting place and a place to learn to be cool.  What to drink, what to eat, how to dress, how to talk, what music to hear, what music not to hear.  You were allowed to go there or you weren't by your parents.  A lunch at Margie's was a treat.
I remember my grandmother Glading asking where Margie was and getting a long convoluted answer.  Where she was, was not there.  The waitresses were older and smoked cigarettes and cracked wise.  The counter man was brusque with us kids but that shouldn't be surprising.  We were fools and who gives a fuck about little kids.
Margie's was where we bought models for ourselves and for birthday gifts.  Margie's was where we bought comics.  Margie's was where we got candy and school supplies and it's the only place in the world where I ever shoplifted.  Yes, it's true.  In seventh grade for about two months I stole erasers and pencils from Margie's.  Like I needed or wanted them.
We ate cheesesteaks and hamburgers and drank shakes and cokes and dreamed of being old.  Had we had a brain and looked at the men at the counter we might have thought twice about that but we were young and stupid and this was the center of Wenonah.  Which made it the center of the universe.  Almost.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Autumn in Wenonah

So high school wasn't that much fun.  So I was alienated from my long time friends.  So I rode around on my bike feeling sorry for myself and read comics and books and in general acted like a moping teenage boy.  But it was fall in Wenonah.  A wonderful time of year.  And this year, just to spice things up, we began daily touch football games in the yard behind Jane Shiflet's house.  Co-ed touch football.  With some piling on and inappropriate laying on of hands.  Things were stirring in my body.  The hormonal soup was on the stove and coming up to boiling.
After an afternoon of boys and girls ostensibly playing sports I'd head home for dinner and then sit down with my family to watch tv.  On a black and white tv.  This was the year of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Bewitched.  Gilligan's Island, Shindig, and Hullabaloo.  The next day in school we'd all talk about the shows and the bands.  Music.  We were discovering music.  Paul Revere and the Raiders.  the Dave Clark Five.  Motown!  I'd read under my covers with a flashlight for awhile then off to sleep.  Then back to Gatorland and my trials.  
But it being fall there was also Halloween.  Mischief Night.  Mick and I would guard our house from eggers and keep kids from soaping our dad's car's windows.  We'd lay in the bushes with a garden hose and soak anyone who came near.  One year Dave Porter threw an egg at a house and blinded an old lady in one eye.  My father was on the Juvenile Committee and at night he told us what had happened and how terrible it was and why we should never throw eggs on Mischief Night.  We were suitably impressed and worried.
But the next night we'd don our costumes and set out with our trusty bags for goodies.  Terry, Mick, Gary Condell, and I would walk from house to house, covering the entire half of town up to West St.  
Back then the adults would take the time to guess your name and we took great pleasure in fooling them.  What a strange thing that was, it seems almost like a Booth Tarkington tale.  The whole town walking out at night.  A town of wandering children with bags of candy.  We should probably have been scared.  But we weren't.  The only thing that brought us in was our parents calling our names, time for bed, come home, come home. And home we went to sleep and dreams.  Dreams of towns filled with wandering children dressed as monsters and ghouls, wandering in search of candy.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fall and Gateway Regional

Perhaps I should tell you more about my new school.  Not the bickering and backbiting and meanderings of seventh graders but what my school looked like.  Gateway was brand new.  Brand motherfucking new.  We had new lockers, new hallways, new teachers, new desks, and new classes.  Instead of Science we had Earth Science.  Instead of History we had Social Studies.  Instead of Reading or Language Arts we had English.  And we had to learn a new language.  You got to pick your language.  I picked French.  
We also had new desks.  The desks in Wenonah Elementary were old school.  Wooden desks that were separate from the chairs.  Desks that opened up and you put your books in them.  Your books sat there all year unless you took them home for homework cuz you had the same seat all year long.  Gateway had desks attached to chairs.  The desks in Wenonah had been carved up and inked by years and years of students.  Gateway and its desks were clean and free of taint.
Gateway was laid out like a grid.  A long rectangle with a center entrance.  At one end was the Auditorium and flanking that Wood Shop and Home Economics.  At the other end the Cafeteria.  Just before the Cafeteria was the Gym.  The Gym had a huge dividing wall that could be opened for athletic events but was closed during gym classes because boys and girls did not exercise together except on rare occasions.  God knows where that might lead.
This was an era where sports were the province of boys.  The important sports were all boys; boys football, hardball, basketball, wrestling and track.  Girls could do field hockey, girls basketball (note the "girls" in girls basketball), and softball.  They might have had track but I doubt it.
The school had two floors and if I recall was divided in quadrants by class.  Seventh graders were on the 2nd floor.  I have no idea where everyone else was.  
Our principal was Charles Korkuch and our superintendent was John Lelko.  God only knows what a superintendent did then.  We certainly had no clue.  There were 32 teachers on the faculty. I spent few hours today looking at my yearbook trying to figure out who my teachers were that first year. Couldn't do it cuz they blurred together.  Perhaps one of you can help.  Over the next years I had nearly all of them for one class or another.  When I returned in my thirties for a poetry in the schools gig most of them were still there.  I don't know if that is sad or beautiful.  Or both.
To be honest going through the yearbook was a trial.  We all look like creatures from another century.  And not the 20th.  Children taking Personal Typing.  Mechanical Drawing.  The Dance Band! Irma Fean our school nurse.  Object of ridicule for most of my later years in school.  When basketball players feigned illness for a cheap time out we'd all shout: "Irma!, Irma!"
The pictures of the children are hideous.  Giant beehives, huge ears poking out from the sides of heads, all the boys in sport coats, all the girls with head bands.  We all look earnest and young and stupid.  I think we were.
We were all jammed together in this school.  Headed for the future and with no clue that everything we knew, everything our parents knew, would be turned on its head in 7 years.  Jesus the world is strange.
Stranger still that at our reunion this summer most of the tiny photos from my yearbook in 1965 turned out to be my classmates in 1970.  This was a world where no one left.
Next up on the reports!  Scholastic achievement!  Touch football with Jane Shiflet in the afternoon.  Sex rears its ugly head and brings with it dances and fashion.  Ugliness abounds.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The World of Gateway

This was a new junior high school.  In fact, it wasn't even finished.  The gym wasn't quite done, the auditorium a work in progress, everything was new and half done and odd.  But we were all there.  Disgorged from our buses and thrown together.  Several hundred students from four districts with little in common.  Westville and National Park were largely working class, factory towns.  Wenonah and Woodbury Heights more middle class.  There were points where we all intersected and points where we veered widely apart.
I've been thinking about this first year for a while now.  In part because it was a huge leap in my life and in part because I had to confront things I'd never had to confront before.  No one knew me here.  No one knew many many people.  New friendships would be formed and old ones changed.  
But for me the hardest part of seventh grade was going to my locker.  Each day when I went to my locker a kid who I will leave nameless would confront me and assault me.  We're talking punches and insults and general bullying.  In Wenonah I'd feel comfortable dealing with this outside of the school but here there was no outside of the school.  I was taught not to behave badly in school and fighting would be definitely a bad thing.  I took my licks.  I took punches to the stomach and arms and insults every day at the beginning and every day at the end.  It was a bad, bad experience.
One of the boys who bullied me was in my gym class.  Our gym class instructor was a man named Chuck Williamson.  Mr. Williamson.  Old school.  Not a man prone to sympathy.  Towards the end of the year we were playing softball at one of the newly completed ball fields and I was playing first base.  The boy who bullied me stole second and I threw the ball hard to second.  It drilled him dead center in the back.  He turned and he and his lackey chased me for a good ten minutes before Mr. Williamson put a stop to it.  Ten minutes.  It didn't help my self esteem and it didn't make me a man.  It made me a scared little rabbit running from a kid who'd flunked two grades and had two feet and fifty pounds on me.  This was not fun.
The other part that was not fun was losing my friends.
This is harder.  We continued to engage in play after school in Wenonah but in school they had new friends, cooler friends.  The gap grew larger and larger.  It would close in later years but it felt weird and was painful.  I came to understand that growing up wasn't just about knowing new things but about losing old things.  I've never been good at that and it always hurt.  
The funny part is that all of us felt this way.  Even the kids that bullied us.  We were all in the same strange boat.  Unmoored from our safe little towns.  Our rituals.  Our games.  We invented new ones.  Some nasty, some joyful, some stupid.  But nonetheless we were on our own in this creation.  There was no one there to tell us how it would be.  No rules.  No guides.  Just knucleheads set loose.  Bullies and bullied.  Cool and uncool.  Stupid and smart.  Ugly and beautiful.  And at the end of the day some Boy Scout furling the flag.  Uncoolest of the uncool.  A volunteer to stupidity.  
Next post: the geography of Gateway

Monday, August 25, 2008

The New Class Struggle

Before I continue my story I should correct a few minor issues that my beloved readers noted.  First, that first year GRHS was only a Junior HS and the sending districts sent 7, 8, & 9 graders.  After their 9th grade year was up they moved onto Woodbury HS.  Second, apparently, in Wenonah at least, you could choose either Woodbury or Pitman HS.  Bob Thomas reports that in the case of one of his neighbors two siblings elected to go to different high schools.

But to get back to the matter at hand.  We were to be divided in classes in our new found school  As I mentioned I was in 7C.  Naturally that means there was a 7A, 7B, 7D…and on to 7F.  Similarly in 8th grade.  We were also nominally assigned to homerooms based on our last names.  The classes were divided based on tests we’d been given over the years, teacher evaluations, etc.  7C and 7E were college prep.  The others…maybe not.  Initially we were only vaguely aware of this structure but over the years it would become more and more apparent.  This would have positive and negative consequences but mostly it meant smart kids and geeks hung with smart kids and geeks and greasers hung with greasers and jocks with jocks.  The only time we all got mixed together was in the halls, the cafeteria, the auditorium, and gym class.  This would have dire consequences for me in particular.  

But more than my personal difficulties with the various groups of young men and women who had suddenly become my classmates there was the fracturing of long standing friendships from our old schools.  Kids who once were my dearest friends found other, cooler, friends.  Kids I barely paid attention to became my new friends.  The small, close knit world of Wenonah Elementary was shattered.  If I was smarter or more worldly or braver this would have been a time to reinvent myself.  Instead, inside I was still Wacky Jiler, the Rough Tough Creampuff, and I was certain everyone in this new school knew it as well as my friends knew it.  I was scrawny with a stupid haircut and clothes from G. Wayne Post's or Sears.  I was fucked.  And like every other knuckleheaded teenager I had no idea everyone else felt the same way.  Of course, even if I did I wouldn't have the balls to use it in any intelligent, thoughtful way.  Self knowledge for teenagers is not always a good thing.  That's why football heroes act like arrogant assholes.  Or why geeky nerds trudge the halls with their heads down hoping no one notices.  It's dangerous to be noticed sometimes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bluebird Buses and Me

The crisp smell in the air. The morning a little darker. The trip to Pitman to pick out our school clothes. The sure and perfect signs we were going to school. And we were. To Gateway Regional High School. Woodbury High School was too small to accommodate the children of the baby boom and thus was born GRHS. Woodbury Heights, National Park, Westville, and Wenonah all sent their children to GRHS. If memory served the first classes were just 7th and 8th graders. We would be the first classes to go elsewhere; our parents had all gone to Woodbury HS but we would be part of the new generation. We were a little social experiment.
For the little knuckleheads from Wenonah it was to be our first bus ride to school. Our first interactions with the larger world. Our first time out of the little world we grew up in. We got our class assignments, our instructions on how to get on the bus and then on the first Tuesday after Labor Day we got on the bus. A Bluebird yellow school bus.
We boarded our bus at the corner of Jefferson and Mantua Avenue. In the beginning my friends came to our house first and then on to the bus. That would end soon. The bus took us up Mantua, made a left on Glassboro Rd and then a right through Deptford, past the pig farms, till at last we reached our mostly completed school. I say mostly because the auditorium, the auto shop, and the gym were not yet complete. They would be soon but we had to go to school so fuck it.
We ate in the cafeteria. Thirty five cents bought you a lunch and a milk. A dime bought an ice cream sandwich. There was no soda or salad or ice tea. Just lunch and milk.
It was all very exciting. I was assigned to class 7C. I was to stay in that class for most of my HS life. I can remember most of my fellow classmates by alphabetical order because i heard it time and time again. My memory begins at the L's. Lundquist, Maddox, Parker, Percival, Springer, Stens, Trocolli, Wernig, Williams, Wiler, Zahn. I'm sure I've fucked it up and someone out there will correct me. As they should. Lora Banks, John Camp,and all the others before Gary Lundquist are lost to the fog of memory. But we were all joined together in this great experiment. Separated by some weird system based on intelligence and personality that was established by tests we didn't even realize we were taking. Little lab rats in madras shirts and khaki pants sitting in neat little rows waiting to learn the new facts of life. And we would. And we would.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sweet days of summer

Okay, they're not always sweet. But this summer, the summer of 1964, the summer before we entered Gateway Regional High School was my last blissful summer. Summer in Wenonah was always rich. But also filled with dread and the sure knowledge school was coming. Wenonah summers are hot and humid. Sometimes it feels like you're walking around in a swimming pool with trees in it. We returned from California ready for the rest of the summer and like all rest of the summers it stretched wide before us.
We could go to the pool, or ride our bikes, or play guns, or kick the can, or the Gun Game, but either way there were a million things to do. And we did them but by mid-August time had shifted into a weird sort of warp. On the one hand it was rushing forward with a terrible pace bringing the fall and school with it. On the other hand it had slowed to a near crawl. We'd exhausted all the fun in the world and nothing was left except Risk and Monopoly.
Oh, sure, we got to vote on the name of the new Gateway athletic teams. The mascot. Woodbury was "The Thundering Herd", Deptford was the "Spartans", West Deptford the "Eagles" and we became for reasons I've never, ever understood, the "Gators". For some insane reason alliteration triumphed over location, desire, and anything remotely related to the idea of a school mascot. "Hoyas" makes more sense than "Gators" (a little snide nudge at Lundquist there). There are no alligators in South Jersey. Maybe the occasional rattler or water moccasin, or garter snake. some toads and frogs. Box turtles. Catfish and sunnys and carp. But alligators? You'd have to go to South Carolina to just see one. We were bummed. What about the Jersey Devil, or the Gladiators?
"The Gateway Gators" with some natty little cartoon of a gator for us to stare at blankly.
After that it was just a waiting game.
A waiting game spent on my porch with Mick and Sam Stewart and Chris DeHart and Terry Fleming and Gary Condell. A waiting game spent conquering the world or else taking over the now decrepit Atlantic City. Sure, we fucked with the games. We combined two, three Risk games to create huge amounts of available armies. We also used rules from Chris' original Risk which decreed each throw of the dice killed but one army. This insured epic, lengthy, battles.
We did the same with Monopoly. Bags of money were everywhere, like in the Hague administration in Jersey City. Hotels sat two and three high on a property. We played on, we played on.
My brother Mick, for some stupid reason, always tried to take Asia. Gary Condell was in love with America. Me, I preferred to take Australia and stack up box after box of armies waiting for armageddon. And it would come, it would come. Then, when I'd exhausted my opponents armies I'd sweep out across the board and ruin everyone's dreams. We'd begin again. Broken and bruised but ready to battle for days, weeks, even if that's what it took.
And it did. The games sat on the porch day after day waiting for us to hunker down, pick up the dice, and launch our evil little dreams.
Risk is a game where everyone eventually ends up hating everyone else. No other game elicits the deep level of personal hate that this game does. It was like taking some evil drug everyday for weeks.
Years later I taught a poetry group consisting of teachers. One of the teachers wrote a poem about a game of Risk between herself, her new boyfriend, and a newlywed couple. At the end of the game the wife is sobbing in another room, her boyfriend storms out to buy cigarettes and she and the husband share a brief sexual interlude. The last line was "I was Queen of the World". Indeed.
We battled and schemed and waited. Waited for the doors to open in our brand new school. Waited to meet the dozens of strangers from the four sending districts. Waited for the unknown. It would come. It would come. Till then my armies are massed in Indonesia for a final battle against Gary Condell and the Asian hordes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Walking the Boards

So, in theory I'm done for awhile with this acting thing. With this play. With my past. What does that mean exactly? I don't know. I know that each time I do it I'm seduced by the freedoms of memorization. I know that each time I do it I sense the power of the things I said another way and enjoy the saying of those things. People after the last performance praised the 'authenticity of my performance". What is that?
As a poet I know what I've left out. Here are some nurse Maria, the man who brought my meals, Ron, the woman from visiting nurses, Caroline. What I've left out is their deep commitment to my return to health. No. To my acknowledgement of illness and the ways we return to health. I leave them out all the time. As though they were never there. I slight my brothers and my father and my mother and my sister and my friends. It's always about me and my indominatable spirit. Hah.
It was my selfishness that impeded my return to the world and it was their unselfish love that allowed my return. I acknowledge my fears and weaknesses but not the fears and weaknesses of my friends and family and nurses and doctors.
Let me say this. It is easy to get up in front of people and say you almost died. It is much harder to hold that person up. And hold me up they did. Cranky and angry and sad and difficult as I was they comforted me and gave me courage and strength.
I think this is a way of looking at your life. We think we blunder through the world alone. We don't. The whole time there is a web of kindness that keeps us whole.
So what.
So you should sing their praises and worship their weaknesses and strengths and give them the knowledge they saved you. As they will save others. As you must save others. As we all do, almost by accident everyday.
God Bless those who saved me. God Bless those who never knew.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Frost Place

I've just returned from Franconia, NH and the Frost Place. I spent three wonderful days talking about poetry, arguing about poetry, and yelling about poetry. It was marvelous. I drove up with Cat Doty and we yakked for hours. I don't think I stopped yakking till I got home to Johanna.
If you're a poet and you value words then you should go to the Frost Place at least once for their Festival of Poetry. It's a gas. Plus you get to hang out at Robert Frost's house and listen for ghosts.
Now it's back to killing bugs and talking to rich people about mice. Life is hell. If any of you have the time or inclination I'd love to see you at one of the performances of my one man this case only one night is me. The rest is young people pretending to be me. And doing it well.
Life can be scary but life is never dull.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ventura on my Mind

Well, we arrived in Ventura, safe & sound. But in my case, angry. Angry at my haircut, angry at my parents, angry, pretty much, at the universe.
My aunt lived in a new development that butted up to lemon groves. She was happy, married, with new hip California friends. Instead of calling her Gert for Gertrude they called her Gigi.
She also had way better tv stations than us and this was to prove my escape. Instead of visiting stupid mission churches I'd stay home and watch movies. No messy human interaction, no one to see my crewcut, my uncool self.
Of course, my standards dropped when it came to Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm, but all rules are made to be broken. Even mine.
At Disneyland Ted got a Derby hat which made him adorably, insufferably cute. At a surfing tournament he was besieged by young (girl) reporters. My blood boiled.
We did find that skateboarding was much easier here than in Wenonah. No gravel & macadam streets, just smooth asphalt for blocks & no one outside in the day.
Alas our little tour had to end and back we drove to Wenonah in murky, hot midsummer. The return trip uneventful, lost, no things to recall.
It was time to begin the long slide into the hell of Gateway Regional HS.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Play, Robert Frost, et al

Hi everyone!
Please if you're planning on seeing the play send Steven a note. His email is I'm off to Franconia, NH for the Frost Place Festival of Poetry. This means I'm incommunicado for a few days. I'll finish my tales of California upon my return. In the meantime...see you in the funny papers!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

All the World's a Stage and I'm stuck on it

Hi everyone! Just a note to let you know I'll be performing in the one act play Steven McCasland and I put together. Here are the particulars:

by Jack Wiler, adapted for the stage by Steven McCasland

Jack works as an exterminator for ACME exterminating. But he goes home to write poetry in Jersey City in an old armchair and a window looking out over Palisades Avenue. On top of it all, Jack has AIDS. Through illness, he rediscovers himself and reclaims his life. Jack's beautiful book of poetry sings and made a perfect adaptation for the stage.The one-man play was workshopped in April and starred Jack Wiler in the autobiographical piece. For four nights only, Group Therapy revisits the revamped text, with new poetry by Jack. Each night, a different actor will step on stage and fill Jack's shoes. Gender and race do not matter in his tale. Join us for an exciting and emotional journey.

August 5-8, Pace University's W501 Blackbox Space, 8pm
1 Pace Plaza, New York, NY 10038
[Across from City Hall Park, Pace is located at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge
and is accessible by the 2, 3, A, C, J, M, Z, 4 and 5 trains.]

All tickets at the door are $10.
Reservations are STRONGLY encouraged as space is limited.

The performance schedule is as follows:
August 5, 8pm: Jack Wiler
August 6, 8pm: Martin Cohen
August 7, 8pm: Steven McCasland (Adaptor/Director)
August 8, 8pm: Kerrie Bond

Directed by Steven McCasland
Lighting and set designs by Steven McCasland

To reserve your ticket, simply respond to this e-mail: or call (631)-374-7886.

We look forward to seeing you at the theater and wish you a happy, healthy summer!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mutant Rats and Me

In case you didn't know it (and you probably didnt') I was part of a History Channel documentary on "Mutant Rats". Total bullshit but kind of fun to watch. When I sound like the most normal person on camera you know something's wrong. Check out the genuine New York denizens. It's a real gas! Here's the link to the YouTube postings:
Have fun!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Western Edge

Join our merry band of travelers as we move west. First to Rolla Missouri. What a wonderful place! And what a glorious Holiday Inn. For the first time we are into the rhythms of the road. We disembark from our Chevy wagon and pile into the pool and thence to dinner. Candied apples! I'd never had candied apples but we had them at dinner. Everyone was nice and pleasant and all of us were nice and pleasant despite our crewcuts and the trip and the closeness.
Next day is Amarillo Texas. Not so nice but it's called Amarillo and now we're officially in a place not like the east coast. Dry plains and Mexicans and weird shit. We're going west on Route 66 and from here the trip gets good and bad and fun. My dad never stops but after Amarillo we drive through desert and visit the Petrified Forest and the Great Canyon and I almost faint in the desert it's so hot in the car. This is going to another planet. Then we wind up a mountain pass and we're in Flagstaff, AZ. Pheonix Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Denver, San Bernadino. It's Route motherfucking 66!! We've watched the TV show, we're entranced, we're hot as motherfucking hell. Remember, no AC.
Then after Flagstaff it's a long slow coast into Las Vegas. My grandmother and aunt love Las Vegas. So do me and Mick. We know what to do with slots from Terry Flemings basement. We're pumping nickels in the slot machine in our hotel and we're making real cash! Not like Terry's house where you had to give it all back. Then we're shut down. Apparently only grown ups are allowed to lose nickels. Bummer of bummers. But it's Las Vegas! Neon and heat and gambling and then the long ride into southern California and Ventura and my Aunt's house. Where I would turn into every dickhead teenager in the world. More on Friday.
Surfers, skateboards, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, me watching TV and not having fun.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

First Leg

Okay, back to the trip, back to 1964, back, basically to hell on wheels. To refresh your memory we have me and Mick and Ted in the back with our heads buzzed, my midgety baby sister who's only three, my Grandmother Glading (Nonny), my Aunt Gersh, my Dad and my Mom jammed in a 1963 black Chevy station wagon with a rear seat driving west on the PA Tpk heading towards the promised land. LA. Or to be more precise my Aunt Gert's house in Ventura.
We have a U Haul storage rack on the roof to hold our shit and my Dad and my Aunt are the primary drivers. My mom is teaching us all stupid car games to keep us from killing each other and we're motoring along at 60-65 mph to heaven. Our first stop is scheduled for Columbus, OH or thereabouts. We not only achieve that, we break down in Columbus, OH. If I remember correctly we blew a head gasket which necessitated emergency repairs which somehow were completed in enough time for us to leave the next morning. But we were delayed.
For the old man this was a disaster. Delay was tantamount to being in hell. We spent the next night some place in Indiana. In a Holiday Inn. We spent all our nights in Holiday Inns. For a good reason. My old man figured out we knuckleheads would immediately go to the pool, my Grandmother and Aunt or some variation would take care of Mary Louise and Dad and Mom could go to the bar for a cocktail to recover from eight hours of driving hell.
We were not good children on the road. We really weren't good children not on the road. As I've mentioned previously Mick and I fought like cats and dogs. Well, that only got worse in close quarters. Plus Ted had finally found someone he could pick on. Top that off with the old man and Gersh arguing about routes, speed, gas, etc and you have a toxic stew.
Tomorrow we end up in Missouri. Which we all liked. Then Amarillo. But, more to come. For tonight, sleep tight my little readers and dream about all the nightmare trips you and your families ventured on. Remember having to pee and needing ice cream and getting backhanded somehow from your Dad in the front seat. Life was wonderful and we were evil little monsters.
With no hair.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Reunion and all that

Okay. It was ungodly cool. But it was so cool I need a couple days to think. In the meantime shoutouts to Ruthie Felch, Sheri Wakley, Sheila McGlauglin, Suzy, Linda Lewis, Joyce Murphy, Terri Sergonne, Joyce Hoefers, Karyl Carter, Bruce Zahn, Grant Karsner, Terry Fleming, Chris & Steph DeHart, Jim Combs, oh shit...I'm almost mentioning everyone. Oh, Jill Springer. Don Davis. Jeff Schultz. And more. And more.
We all know it was weird and cool and disorienting but aren't we all better people now? Love you all! More to come! Manana!
Muchas Gracias for the best night!
Barb Conway... You rock babe! Dottie...You too! And Margie...Wow!
Life is but a dream.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The 4th and all that

Before we rejoin my Mom and Dad, my Grandmother, Aunt Gersh, Mary Lou, Ted, Me & Mick we take a brief side trip to Wenonah in the year 2008. It is fifty years since I moved here with my family and as with most years I made my way to Mantua Ave for the parade at 8:45. Well, actually, I got up at 5:12, showered, threw my shit in the trunk and drove to Wenonah at 5:50 to arrive at 7:50 for the parade at 8:45. It was raining a bit but I was smart and even though I was stupid and left my umbrella I went to CVS and bought one. So I spent a few minutes walking the streets of Wenonah, past my old house, my grandmother's house, the Fleming's house, the Condell's, the homes of Sharon Hoffman and Kathy Collinge, Robby Cook's house and then up to the park. I spent a few minutes in the park reading the names on the memorials to those who served their country.
Not so many in WWI but around 34 young men in WWII and then those in Korea and Vietnam. The WWII memorial is hard to look at. So many men on there were the fathers of my friends. There are stories that were common across America but up close it takes you back a bit.
Then I called Barb Conway and went to wait at her house for her husband Charlie (a fireman) to call and tell us whether the parade was on or not. On it we were off. Off to the best 4th ever! Everyone was there Chris and Steph DeHart, Terry and Arlene Fleming, Dottie Chattin, Suzy Parker, my brother Ted, Ron Fay, you know, if I listed all their names that's all this post would be. The Bonsal Blues and the Hobo Band faced off in front of O'Connor's! I spent a good half hour talking shit with Victor Anderson about the Buddha and our wild acid trip of summer 1971.
Jim Maddox and I spent a great deal of time talking with Carey DeGeer about blogs and writing. Beer flowed. Fortunately there's a Porto-Potty at the O'Connor's!
Then on to the Firehouse. Bought my mug, got my three tickets, and there was the whole rest of the Wenonah universe!
Three wonderful things happened there. The first was that several people who I didn't know, or barely knew came up to me and said how much they liked the blog. Sweet. One wonderful woman even asked after Johanna! Very sweet!
The second was I found out I was on the History Channel! I'd thought I got left on the cutting room floor. Now my ego is the size of Chicago!
The third was I found out that Judy Kiernan had died. Now this might not seem wonderful news but in fact it was. Judy was a much picked on woman from my class in school. She was large, slow, and socially awkward. We smart guys loved making jokes about her. We were assholes.
Anyway Judy's ambition in the yearbook was to be happy in the convent. I remember going home one college vacation and reading this while I mega high on acid. It was the saddest thing I ever read. So to get to the happy part...Judy died in the convent. One hopes she was happy.
We thought we were such smart kids. Fools. This woman who we all humiliated had more depth and courage than any of us. Tonight at the reunion I'll lift a glass in her memory...and in memory of all those who seem broken or lost. They redeem this world.
So, enough mush! After the firehouse we repaired to the Telford for food and the party just kept growing...Jim Combs and his wife, Charlie from the firehouse, Suzy, her brother Billy, Terry, Arlene, Chris, Steph all of us talking and talking and talking. It augers well for tonight.
After the Telford I went to my niece's. She was having a keg party. No one, well one guy with his 20 yr old girlfriend, was even close to my age. They were heedless and happy and smoking and drinking and it was like being in Wenonah in 1971 all hopped up on our energy and power! Beautiful.
Then tired from standing I went back to Mick's and fell asleep at 7:30pm. Old man Wiler. Ha ha!
Tomorrow I'll give you the straight dope on our reunion. Oh, and for Terry and Suzy: Lundquist you chicken, get on a plane and get your ass out here!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The End of Days

Okay, you've probably noticed I haven't written shit. Because I haven't. Because it's summer. Because there are tons of bugs to kill. Because I'm a lazy fuck.
But I'm willing to move forward and in order to do so I'm skipping most of 6th grade. it was fun but dull and not a challenge. Yes, I discovered girls but not in real earnest till the summer and the next few years. So fuck it, it's gone.
But I think it's important to note that the end of 6th grade was the beginning of a rise in music that nobody was ready for. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Motown, the Dave Clark Five, and on and on. Plus these bands all looked different than the rest of America. Long hair for one. Wild clothes for another. We weren't stupid. We caught on.
Mick and I spent most of 1964 trying to grow our hair. The clothes were out but we thought we could muster Beatle haircuts. We were doing modestly well when my family decided to go to California the summer before 7th grade. For reasons only an evil parent can explain my old man decided to give us both crewcuts the day before we left. We were going to the land of surfers and the Beach Boys with shaved heads! Disaster, Ruination! Humiliation! Total Humiliation. We were mega fucked.
Plus we were going to the land of cool with our parents and grandmother and aunt. Not cool. In a station wagon. "Little GTO" this was not. We're talking a chevy with a roll down window in the rear, no AC, and a UHaul storage thingie on the roof. Basically pre-teen hell.
So we bundled up all our shit at some god forsaken hour. My old man believed in leaving early so it was probably 6am and off we went. Me, Mick, Ted, Mary, Nonny, Aunt Gersh, my old man and my mom. Things could only go downhill from there. And they did...more to come!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Poetry, Theater, Money and life

Sorry I haven't posted in a bit. I've been involved in two big projects. One was to put together a large proposal for pest control at a large NY University and the other was to finish the manuscript for my third book. I accomplished both but boy was I beat. Each of these projects carries the same fears and anxieties.
Did i do my best? Will the powers that be appreciate and accept what I have done? Will I be successful?
Jeez Louise!
But other than that things are wonderful. Saturday is the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, next Sunday the Gay Pride Parade in NYC, and then the week after the 4th of July in Wenonah followed by our goofy little reunion. I can't wait for any of these events. Well, actually I'm not psyched about Gay Pride but the boat ride that evening.
I hope I'll see many of you in Wenonah on the 4th and at the Adelphia on the 5th.
Later, Gators!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hip Boots and Unhip Guys

Ah, the vagaries of posting on your blog. My dopey attempt at humor has failed miserably. Claudia is peeved and no one is amused. Such are the trials of men. I know my swamp trudging twelve year old self would have been totally enamored of this ad. My grown up 56 year old self is mostly amused that people think hip boots and fishing gear can be sold by hot babes with hardly any clothes on. But I am after all the editor who recommended we put a vintage photo from the 50's of a woman holding up two halved melons in front of her breasts as a cover for Long Shot. I should have recalled the near total lack of positive responses. I'm like a rat that keeps pushing the same button and getting shocked. Oh well.
My reunion is a mere two weeks away. I'm excited and scared. All of us are old guys and women now. Some of us have grown in wonderful ways and I'm sure some of us are exactly the same. It should be a gas. I'm looking forward to lots of Dave Clark Five and Motown and toasts and mad stupidity.
Meantime I'm almost done my 3rd book and am totally pumped about that. Life is proceeding fast apace. As it should, as it should.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hip Boots

Bob Thomas wrote in with the proper definitions of hip boots vs waders. Waders are chest high and hip boots come only to the top of the thighs. Waders are used by stream fishermen in particular. Bob also sent me a nice little ad for hip boots. It may be a tad politically incorrect but it's still a hoot.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Obama, Hillary, et al

You'll probably notice the hopeful little logo next to everything else. I was a big Clinton fan but now it's time to change gears and engage the enemy in his lair. Barack is our man and I urge all of you to support him and his campaign. It's time to toss the nitwits out of Washington and pay some attention to what's going on here at home.

Imps; reimagined

Hi everyone, a few weeks ago I posted a poem I wrote in response to my play. I've rewritten it and will post it below. Also, some news! Steven and I are doing four nights of "Fun Being Me" at PACE in early August. The dates are: 8/5,6,7,&8. I'll be doing the performance on the 5th but some marvelous young actors will be taking my place (thank the Lord!) on the subsequent nights. I'd love to see you at one of the performances. I'm writing some new material to enlarge the work and think you'll enjoy this night of theater. For more info stay tuned in the coming weeks!
Meantime, here are my little imps:

Dreaming of Imps

I was very sick for a time.
I came so close to death it seemed almost like I was dead.
I spent much too much time with demons and angels.
I ate too little and slept too little and sweated through the night.
I woke each morning drenched from my dreams.

Last night there was an imp in my bed.
Well, not really an imp;
a small demon, I guess.
I woke up and must have frightened it
because it scurried off to hide in the shadows.
But I saw it.
The color of a young roach.
Then it was gone.

I haven’t been sick for years.
Not like before anyway.
Oh, a flu now and then, or a sore throat,
but that’s been it.
Till that imp leaped up and licked my face

There was a time such things were with me daily.
Demons and imps and shrouded ghouls.
Lingering by my bedside as I lay sleeping,
dreaming terrible dreams of a good life.
A life where I had a job and friends and ate food
in restaurants.
A life filled with nice clothing and cars.
People who laughed at my jokes and forgave my foibles.
The demons watched me twitch in sleep and
giggled at my travails.

Perhaps they never left.
Perhaps I’m still desperately ill.
This life is the dream I dream.
My car, my dogs, my new suits, my beloved.
All just fodder for their little jokes.
There should be an insecticide for demons and imps.
There should be some poison I could set out
for them to find and eat.
It might be unpleasant to find their swollen little bodies but
except for a day or two of stink it would be better to have them gone.

But it seems to me that there is no poison they wouldn’t love.
No death they couldn’t cherish.
No desire or whim that wouldn’t amuse them.
Dreams and imps.
Poisons and wishes.
All things to think about as we kneel at the foot of the bed
to say our little prayers.

That's it for tonight gang. Go back to sleep and dream happy dreams. I'm getting ready for a day at Sandy Hook and Gunnison Beach on Sunday. See you all there! Of course you'd have to be naked:)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

I might be wrong on the timeline here but I don't think so. The Christmas of 1963 brought me my 1st pair of hip boots. Waders is another name for them, especially among fishermen, but for us they were hip boots.

They were my best gift ever! Better than army men, better than sleds, better than money. Hip boots gave us mastery of the swamps! Now the water & the mud could not keep us back! Now we could go anywhere! As long as it didn't go over the top of our boots. Then there was a problem. A boot filled with mud & water was not a good thing. Especially in the winter.

The boots I got were black and from Sears or maybe from Polsky’s Army Navy in Woodbury. They came to the top of your thighs and you put them on over your regular shoes, kind of like a giant pair of galoshes. I had many pairs over the years, sometimes because I was growing but more often because I would get a hole in them. Even a small hole was a disaster as your foot quickly filled with cold, cold water. Once you had a hole in the boot they were shot and we did any number of stupid things designed to make holes. Running headlong through sticker bushes for one; walking through mud with no thought as to what might be beneath the mud for another.

But the boots freed us from the tyranny of mud and water. Where once we turned back from mud flats and pools of water now we could walk straight through! We could even cross the Mantua Creek at a few shallow points at low tide. Of course there were other difficulties. Hip boots were not possessed of any real grip. In fact they were sort of like wearing giant ice skates when you were walking on slippery underwater surfaces. What sort of surfaces? Well, say, half submerged logs or rocks by the trestle. That sort of thing. So you’d be walking out where disaster lurked, feet dry as a bone and then, boom you slipped off the log and were drenched to the bone. This would invariably necessitate a run back to the house, to the basement, to strip out of wet clothes, then race upstairs to change into dry clothes and out the door. Behind, in the basement were the wet jeans stinking of swamp mud and swamp water. Mom loved that.

The other big problem with hip boots was quick mud. If you got caught in some really nasty mud you might be up over your knees when it first got you. You’re fifty feet from any solid ground with your friends staring at you like you’re a knucklehead and you’re sinking slowly into the deep swamp. Then they’d form a little chain and with a stick or some shit reach out to you and pull you free. Leaving your boot sticking up in the mud. Like the foot in Fargo in the wood chipper but with almost the same consequences. You had to get it out or there’d be hell to pay. This would mean an hour or so of calculations, planning and effort that would eventually pay off and leave you with wet, muddy socks and shoes trudging up Mantua Ave dragging a boot caked in mud. What fun!

Hip boots eventually led us to our next money making enterprise. Trapping animals for their pelts. But more on that in my next post. If you’re squeamish about dead muskrats and river rats don’t worry. We sucked at trapping them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Getting Bigger

Here's something we hardly ever talk about. Size. Well, maybe we talk about it a lot but not in the way I'm interested in. I'm thinking more about that time when you start to be the same size as everyone else. In 1st Grade and up until 6th I spent most of my time looking at people's thighs or waists. As a consequence I thought nearly 90% of the planet was made up of grown ups. Parents. Figures of Authority. If you towered over me you knew what the fuck was going on. If you were my size or smaller you were like me. Lost. Confused. Stupid.
It's kind of like when you realized how to speak English (assuming of course you're from the USA). First you're a baby and then one day, like a little miracle, you understand everything people are saying. One day you're staring at knees and everyone is a grownup and the next you're looking in their eyes or their chests and you start to realize there are hierarchies of adulthood. Of course, you're still a kid, but you start to get that 8th graders don't really have any clout in the world beyond being able to kick your ass. And that your mother is different in status then say the lady at the supermarket. You start to see teachers as having personalities that you can manipulate and control. Oh, what a wonderful moment.
But just like that moment when you realize how to ask for milk instead of burbling some incomprehensible syllables you still don't really get it all. That my friends is a blessing and a curse. Not so much for 6th Graders. We were consigned to one of the outer circles of Hell. But say when you're a Senior in High School and you have a crush on your teacher and she's talking with you at graduation sort of like a girl talks to a boy. This can be very confusing and it's confusing because you're a dumb schmoo. You think she's a grown up but she's really only 4 years or maybe only 3 years older than you. In just ten years you'll start to have trouble figuring out how old people are if they're between 20 and 30 but right then, with a little beer in your gut, it just seems odd and you don't know why.
What if you knew everything right then in 6th grade? Would that be a blessing or a curse. Part of me votes for curse. I'd no doubt have told some older kid he was a stupid jerk and get flattened for it. Another part of me votes for blessing. We were all dumb chowderheads stumbling through the halls of Wenonah Elementary. Students, teachers, administrators. Trying to do our best and fucking it up too often. But some of us were big and some of us were small and for Wenonah that was a good enough dividing line.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Other Stuff to Think About

I'm a little lazy and consumed with Spring fever lately and haven't posted. My sincere apologies to my readers. Posts will come next week. We have much to talk about. But in the meantime I have a couple personal items to put out into the world.
The first is my friend Baron Wormser's new book, "The Poetry Life: Ten Stories", is out on the Cavankerry imprint. This is a gorgeous book, rich and clear and wonderful. For the reader and writer of poetry it strikes a chord few books can even hope to strike. Baron has used the voices of ten invented people, one of whom resembles him, to talk about a poet has impacted on them and the world. The voices are wonderful, the understanding of poetry and how it is apprehended is done without affectation or bullshit and because of that the poetry itself is like a clear bell. What a grand, glorious book! I urge you to buy this book. It's not just some dumb book about writing. It's fun and compelling and filled with passion and emotion. To quote my first wife Kathy, "I laughed, I cried, I ran the full gamut of human emotion". You should buy this motherfucking book.
Second, I know a lot of you folks from the Frost Place check in now and again. It is the 30th anniversary of the Festival and Jim and this years crop of faculty and staff would love to have all of us in attendance. I'm journeying to the North Country once more to immerse myself in words and I urge all of you to dig deep in your jar of pennies and come up with the cash to go. I think it will be a wonderful week and I hope you will join us. If you can't come as a participant then come as an auditor or a visitor or a friend but come, come!
Finally, to all you Gateway Gators: It's crunch time you chowderheads! Time to put up or shut up! Go to the dopey site and register and then RSVP or if you're so old fashioned and weird that you mistrust the internet then mail Joyce Murphy Kiner a check but show the fuck up on July the 5th for our wacky little reunion! I know you're old, I know you feel you're a miserable failure, your kids are assholes and you look like shit, but really that would be true of all of us so show the fuck up! You could be dead in a year! Plus, what if you're the best lawyer in Sioux City or one kicking Jaguar mechanic or maybe you do orthodonture like nobody's business, this is your chance to make everybody that treated you like shit for six years feel like a moron. I know I can't wait to line dance but that's my weird thing. I know Suzy is wishing we had the Geator with the Heater there but we'll always have the Dovell's and that, my friend, is a fact. Sign up! Sign up now! If I can tell all of you I have AIDS then you can drag your fat bald headed ass to Deptford and drink a few cocktails and have a great time!
Well, that's it for now. Time for my favorite movie, Rear Window.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Little Things

It's nice to see the world from the standpoint of big stuff that happens. But honestly President's don't die every day and other things matter more. What kind of things?
Things we smell and taste. Things we eat. Things we do.
Like Testors glue.
Like the smell of swamp mud on your boots. Like the way the leaves act right before a thunderstorm. Like when you go away for summer vacation and when you come home the world is a deep, hot, humid green. Or sneakers. Clean and white at the beginning of summer and then by the end a dull gray. Their deep funk. Or hiding in some little place in a game that no one knows about and watching the spiders and smelling the mildew. Or clambering into the sewers for an adventure that isn't really an adventure because it's just a pipe and it goes no where. Nowhere.
Like lying in your bed watching a summer storm. Lightening. Thunder. Wind. Trees thrashing this way and that. Or the smell of your grandmothers house. Or going into a friends house and it's not like any place you've ever been before. There's the smell of hairspray or cologne or cleaning agents and you step back for a second. Shocked. Seduced.
Or spring erupting with a magnificence you can't understand and the stink of skunk cabbage and the deep mud and dead animals strewn on the swamp.
Crayons. The smell of wax. Paste. The way it tastes.
All the candies in the world.
Neats foot oil.
Your mothers cigarettes.
Incense at the church at high mass and it's stink.
Floor wax.
Termiticides in the crawl spaces of your house.
All the different kinds of soap.
Your mothers perfume.
Chanel number five.
The books in the basement of the library.
Your aunt as you sleep next to her.
Clay, which is different than dirt and loam and top soil and swamp mud and leaves and new mown grass.
The way the air smells just before a winter storm.
Burning rubber.
Rubber cement.
Rubber balls.
The truck running down the alley behind the post office spraying for mosquitoes.
Paint thinner.
Chrome cleaner.
Leaves burning on the curb.
The dead mouse in the crawl space.
So many things with so little reason. Except they shape your life.
Except they shape your life.
The loud cry of the fire whistle.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sixth Grade Report Card

How smart was I. Just you look!

The Digging Yard

Behind our garage was a small yard. At one end was a black maple and at the foot of the maple there was always a compost heap. There was a path between the rear of the garage, the tree and the heap and then a stretch of ground roughly, twenty five feet by twelve that was "The Digging Yard". Oh! The Digging Yard. This was the center of huge parts of our life. It was here I destroyed my brother Ted's beloved Tonka trucks. It was here we built huge oil drilling landscapes of used pipes and trucks and it was here that we dug and dug and dug. We loved digging and we loved digging in the digging yard.
In 1963 we all went to see "The Great Escape". It was the coolest war movie we'd ever seen. It had motorcycles, valor, Steve McQueen, Nazi's, motorcycles, English cool, Steve McQueen and marching music. We loved that movie. And of course, of course we had to make it true in our back yard. So we began to dig holes and then tunnels between the holes. And as we got better the holes got deeper, the tunnels longer and more complex. We were chowderheads covered in filth and having the time of our lives.
All of us dug the holes. Mick and Ted, Chris and Terry, Robbie Hill and Eddie Mossop, all the little brothers and neighborhood wanna be's were all there with shovels and pails and dirty faces.
Our exploits culminated in one glorious giant hole. We dug till we hit water. Now, in many parts of the United States that could mean digging for hundreds of feet but in Wenonah which was barely above sea level according to the US Geological Survey marker sunk outside the Grosscup building that meant going down roughly twelve feet. Which while it may not be much is a great distance in a yard 12x25 when you're barely four feet tall to begin with and many of you are between 3 & 4 feet tall. The hole began wide and expansive and narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until finally after days and days of labor we hit water.
We felt like we'd struck gold! Like we'd understood some great principle of Geography or Geology! We were explorers in a downward spiral. We were engineeers. We were builders. We were escape artists. Soldiers. Geniuses. We were also very dirty and stupid.
It turns out our giant hole wasn't a good idea. Joel Cook fell in and all the little kids panicked and that led to my dad stumbling out from his cocktail to say "What the hell...?" and then all the dirt went back. I think it could be said that Joel Cook functioned as the weird conscience of our stupid behaviors since everytime we did something that would get us in trouble it was Joel that revealed the trouble and caused the punishment. He was an odd boy but useful.
I should mention that after the giant hole our attraction, or at least Mick and my attraction, waned. My parents began to use the digging yard for a straggly vegetable garden. But for years after, as they tilled the soil, the rotted plastic corpses of small army men came to the surface. Like some weird field in France. Men clutching grenades and crouched with semi-automatics, buried for years in rich loam, then thrust into the light of 1970's daylight. Like Japanese soldiers on deserted islands long after WWII has ended. They remained. Brave guardians of our misspent youth.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Things we didn't know we'd learn; 1963

I know what you're thinking. I know I've waited many years for this post, two to be exact, and I've hesitated for two or three days thinking about what else to say about 6th grade and the fall of 1963 but really this is the thing that matters most. It's some time around the middle of the afternoon on a lovely late fall afternoon. It was warm. I remember that. We were in Mrs. Fuller's math class. God knows what we were learning. Some dim precursor to Algebra? It couldn't have mattered. Mr. Campbell walked in and pulled Mrs. Fuller out and they talked, like adults do about things that matter to adults, and Mrs. Fuller walked in to tell us the President had been shot. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas in the afternoon of November, 22nd, 1963 and we were shocked. Huh.
That seems stupid saying that but we were. Shocked. Stunned. Only one other event in my life made me feel like this and that was in September of 2001 when I watched two airplanes hit the World Trade Center. But back then this was something you didn't even know how to acknowledge. What did it mean? Why was he shot? I mean, really? Why would anyone shoot the President of the United States. It wasn't a Russian. It wasn't like we had just ended a great Civil War. So we all sat in class like little fools and looked at each other and then we were sent home. After an hour or so our teachers sent us home. To be with our parents.
They were no better than us. Ed Campbell who had witnessed the slaughter of Korea and who rushed out like a hero to put out fires, Mrs. Myers who seemed stalwart and brave and strong, Mrs. Ferrera who laughed with us and told ribald jokes, they all looked like little puppets who had had their strings cut and they said things and did things but they didn't know why or what they were saying and we walked home.
When I got home my mother was sobbing.
When I got home my mother was sobbing.
Her ironing board was in the living room and she was in the first living room and she was crying. I don't believe I am making this up. This is what I remember. It was embarrassing but she was in tears. The tv was on and there were people talking about the President and by now it was clear he was dead. He'd been shot in Texas by a man and he was dead.
It seems so stupid from this great remove to say we loved this man. We did. He was a joy. He and his family were funny and real and just like our own even if later we were to find out this was all a fiction. He was like my father. He played touch football. My father did. He had back problems. My father did. His wife was beautiful. She looked like my mother and my aunts and my beloved Irish cousins. Jesus.
My mother had been watching a soap opera. She never watched another to the end of her life.
The facts played out on television like nothing we had ever seen; though they would play out that way again and again over the next several years. We were exiled to play but everytime we ducked into the house the President was dead.
You could make up lots of dumb shit about this. We were, after all, only sixth graders. We knew absolutely nothing about politics. To us he was like God. We admired and loved him and his family. We had not had the tragedy of WWII or WWI or the Civil War or any other horror brush up against our stupid little lives. This was like getting smacked really hard with the hand of reality and no one tells you it is reality.
I would imagine there are worse things than public tragedy. I know my mother's death affected me more than the death of the young man who was President. But I know that this event marked my childhood just as clearly as the two towers falling marked my adulthood. That's an odd thing. How public events become private events. How you can remember every smell and hesitation. The ironing board. The quiet streets. The shocked looks of adults. The newsreels, the tv news, the man with a gun the twisted body of Lee Harvey Oswald, the smoke drifting across Brooklyn, the candles burning in doorways all over Jersey City, the ironing board, the gun, the smoke.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Newspaper Routes

It was in the fall of 1963 that I began my first real job. Up until then I'd mown some lawns, raked a few, and shoveled sidewalks when it snowed but basically had no real daily responsibilities. Then my friend Chris DeHart offered me his Woodbury Times newspaper route. On the surface it sounded like a good deal. You delivered the papers daily, collected the weekly subscription fee on Friday or Saturday, had Sunday off and lived like a prince. It turns out there were some minor problems with the economic model.
I believe at the time the Woodbury Times, now the Gloucester County Times, cost five cents an issue. Five cents! I would deliver them to people and my cost would be three cents. Thus netting me a profit of two cents for each paper delivered. Each customer would receive six newspapers a week, so my weekly profit, per customer, would be twelve cents. I had twenty five customers. That meant I stood to make the princely sum of three dollars per week. For this three dollars I would drive my bicycle around my neighborhood for perhaps forty five minutes a day, tossing newspapers onto porches or sliding them through mail slots or whatever particular quirk a customer might have for accepting the paper. This meant I was working...around four and half hours a week to make three dollars. This puts my hourly rate at about $.60 cents per hour. This was a lot of dough. I think. I mean my allowance was twenty five cents for Christ's sake! But it turns out there were some negatives.
Number one was people didn't pay you. I'm talking grown up, mature men and women stiffing some little twelve year old kid for the vast sum of thirty cents. But you still had to pay the man. That's what the guy from the newspaper was called. The man. He would come by every Saturday and collect your three cents per paper. You had to have that money no matter what. This created numerous problems. Like, number one, what do you do if significant numbers of people don't pay? Or what happens if you're a lazy nincompoop who doesn't really make a sincere effort to collect the money because you're scared to ask grown ups for money? Or, just for the sake of argument, suppose you don't exactly deliver the papers in the orderly, on time fashion your customers expect? And then they say, "I'm not paying for that paper, I never got it!". This could lead to serious cash flow issues. Your vast three dollar profit could end being at most seventy five cents or less. And this for hours of hard works! Or, to be honest, less than committed, hard work. Actually, kind of lazy half hearted rolling around the neighborhood on your bicycle daydreaming and not doing a very good job kind of work. That would probably accurately characterize my work ethic at twelve. Non-existent. To be very honest I'd fire my ass if I worked for me now. i sucked. I was unmotivated, lazy, bored, and lost in a world of fantasy. Delivering the news of the day in a timely fashion was the very last thing on my mind. Collecting funds from surly, angry old people was definitely not something I wanted to do.
I lasted three months or so. I was an abject failure and happy to turn in my bag and go back to playing football and running in the woods. I would try this money making approach again, more on that in the years to come, but I should have looked closer at the business model, the employee profile, etc. I was doomed from the start.
Some boys are born newspaper delivery boys. Others were made to daydream about repelling Russian hordes. I think I fit in the latter category.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poetry Derived from Play

Oh, by the way, here's a poem that came out of the work I did for the play. Enjoy.
Dreaming of Imps

Last night there was an imp in my bed.
Well, not really an imp;
a small demon, I guess.
I woke up and must have frightened it
because it scurried off to hide in the shadows.
But I saw it.
The color of a young roach.
Then it was gone.

There was a time such things were with me daily.
Demons and imps and shrouded ghouls.
Lingering by my bedside as I lay sleeping,
dreaming horrible dreams of a good life.
A life where I had a job and friends and ate food
in restaurants.
A life filled with nice clothing and cars.
People who laughed at my jokes and forgave my foibles.
The demons watched me twitch in sleep and giggled
at my travails.

I was very sick for a time.
I came so close to death it seemed almost like I was dead.
I spent much too much time with demons and angels.
I ate too little and slept too little and sweated through the night.
I woke each morning drenched from my dreams.

I haven’t been sick for years.
Not like that anyway.
Oh, a flu now and then, or a sore throat,
but that’s been it.
Till that imp leaped up and licked my face.

Perhaps they never left.
Perhaps I’m still desperately ill.
This is the dream I dream.
My car, my dogs, my new suits, my beloved.
All just fodder for their little jokes.
There should be an insecticide for demons and imps.
There should be some poison I could set out
for them to find and eat.
It might be unpleasant to find their swollen little bodies but
except for a day or two of stink it would be better to have them gone.

But it seems to me that there is no poison they wouldn’t love.
No death they couldn’t cherish.
No desire or whim that wouldn’t amuse them.
Dreams and imps.
Poisons and wishes.
All things to think about as we kneel at the foot of the bed
to say our little prayers.

The Play in Various Forms and Permutations

Well, over the past several days two interesting things occurred. First, Bob Thomas thoughtfully recorded the first night's performance. If you'd care to listen to me on opening night here then is the performance, warts and all. Just follow the link:
Let me know what you think.
That night there was a talk back following the performance. You can catch the recording of that event, again, courtesy of Bob, on You Tube. Here's that link:
Finally, during that talk back there was discussion about others doing the performance. I had sent the script to my friend Jim Maddox who recorded it in his voice. I'm still too stupid to figure out how to upload the mp3 so for the time being, if you'd like to hear Jim's take on me in NYC please send me an email and I'll send it along.
To all of you who came, many those who couldn't here is a meager substitute. Of course you don't get to see my acting talents in all their glory but what the hey.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sixth Grade September 1963

It was always nice to go to school in Wenonah. The first days were warm with that beautiful September warmth and you had the idea that you'd do great this year, really great. Sixth grade marked a change for us. In order to get us used to moving around like robots in our new high school we would move around in Wenonah school. From teacher to teacher, subject to subject, classroom to classroom. In theory this would have us up and running on day one at the new HS. In fact it was sort of stupid. We knew everybody. We'd had all these teachers. My math teacher was Mrs. Fuller from last year for God's sake! I think we had Ed Campbell for History but jeez louise this was no stretch for any of us. I mean, what, walk upstairs to a classroom or down the hall twenty feet to another and all with the exact same people? We would not, repeat not, be ready for Seventh Grade.
But we felt all cool and shit and that meant a lot. For the first time in our little lives we felt like we were in control. It was a lie but it felt like it. After school we'd ride our bikes to my house and sit on the curb and talk about the Beatles. There was some weird rule that you had to pick your favorite Beatle. As if I gave a fuck. So I picked George who really didn't do anything. One thing about the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and some other bands was they had long hair. Okay, not really long, but long enough.
This got me thinking about growing my hair and wearing cooler clothes. Bad thoughts all. My hair was a disaster. Three cowlicks, no hope. Cool clothes? We shopped at JC Penney's for Christ's sake. I couldn't even get Converse sneaks...I had to get the cheap Penney's knock offs. We did go to a mens wear store in Pitman though to pick out our fall clothes. I actually had some vague say in what I wore. I have no idea what I picked only that in all my pictures I still look like a geek.
And our new classes? We were learning about New Jersey history. Apparently over the summer the state decided we should know something about this pisshole so they taught us about the Lenni Lenape and Governor Morris and we had to know all the counties and stuff. As if in Gloucester County we had the vaguest conception of Jersey City or Hoboken or Newark. There were only two negroes in our school!!!
But we were cool, we were cool. We passed through the hall like little gods, lording it over the 5th and 4th graders. When we got home we'd make fun of Chuckie Holstein and his little friends. We'd break their club house and laugh and laugh. We ruled.