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|Bobby Thompson Homer
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
When Bobby Thompson Hit His Pennant Winning Homer?
I’ve already mentioned that I had a paper route: the biggest paper route for the Star. Seventy or so customers and growing. One of the older kids in the neighborhood retired and I inherited it. Built it up good. Customers liked me fine except for an occasional complaint from those who liked to pay weekly. They’d have their thirty-five cents by the door on Friday — a quarter for the bill and a dime for me — but I sometimes wouldn’t collect for several weeks. Why bother? I didn’t do it for the money. I’d pay my bill out of my capital and float my customers. No, I liked to ride around and practice my aim for the door mat.
My predecessor had taught me to fold the paper, printed on a full sheet and folded, like the Times, into what he called a tomahawk: a fold that served throwing accuracy. Hard and pointed you could break a window with it. Of course it ruined the paper for reading: once in the tomahawk, the paper would never want to open up and lie flat again, but what did we care: we were paper boys: in it for the target practice, for sport.
I didn’t care if the customer could read it, but I cared very much if the paper landed on the door mat in the protection of the porch. Other kids would sling their tomahawks into the bushes, into the trees … If I missed, and I didn’t miss much (or at least not by much), I’d jump off the Columbia and place the paper on the mat by hand.
Actually, I was somewhat responsive to the customers preferences. Besides, when I had gotten enough complaints about my perfectly folded tomahawks, I yielded to the soft “H” fold that was to be flipped, not hurled, to the porch. Like playing golf with nothing but a wedge, it was a more lasting challenge. The H fold dominated the balance of my several years in the field.
Anyway, the way it worked, the Star would rent some widow’s garage and hire some yo-yo alchie to count the papers out for the boys and to collect and turn over the Star‘s part of the revenues. I don’t remember exactly, but our commission was something like four cents out of the quarter. The alchie probably got eleven cents cause he was an adult, had rent to pay, drinks to buy, and so forth. The paper of course doesn’t make its money on sales. It could probably afford to give the papers away: pay you to take them. Circulation was everything: for the advertising revenues. (And don’t forget Marshall McLuhan’s point about the news: it ain’t about the news, the papers exist for the advertising. The reason the news is always bad is so the ads will look like good news. Very esthetic: balance.
Anyway, we moved from garage to garage. One alchie who could hardly stand up and couldn’t count straight would be replaced by another in worse condition. But then we moved into a big garage: right across the street from Doc’s soda fountain: immortalized in that Rockville Centre girl’s nostalgic book on the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was probably even titled Wait Until Next Year. (And girlie, let me tell you: I knew a different Doc from the one you report.) With the big new garage came a different sort of paper counter. The guy wasn’t old. Big guy. Could stand up straight. He lasted a while. I counted papers in that place for probably well more than a year.
Speaking of the Dodgers, I’ll work another story into this one. I’m a little kid with no father. No parent ever had a catch with me. I was so far behind the other kids in sports I’d never catch up. They knew the rules. They knew how to cheat, how to bully. “Don’t stand on the bag, stand over here.” Then they’d tag me. “You’re out!”
My family moved to Rockville Centre when I was three. Oh, boy, a yard, trees. Big deal. We had a big yard in Jamaica. Anyway, the neighborhood was full of young girls, but all the boys were a couple of years older. I had no male friends. Then one day Rudy moves in a couple of houses down: only one year older. I walk up to this kid just arrived from Brooklyn. “What are you,” he snapped: “Dodger fan? or Yankee fan?” Huh? “Oh, Yankee fan, eh.” And he jumps on me and beats me up.
So years later I ring a door bell. “Collect.” The ball game is on the TV. Again and again it happened. The Yankees “win”. What they won or what it meant I didn’t know. I’d take my week’s paper money (or month’s or six weeks arrears where they’d had no choice) and hear again and again: the Yankees won. So whatever I got beat up for, at least they “won.”
September or October 1951, just turned thirteen, I’m counting my papers in the garage on the west side of Brower Avenue. The paper man has a ball game on the radio and he keeps running across the street to the bar (liquor store actually) where they’ve also got it on the radio. (I wrote “bar”: some guy from the Wall Street Journal, wanting to use this story in a book, checking “facts,” told me he couldn’t trace a bar on that block, but there was a liquor store: same difference to this thirteen year old.) “Hurry up and count your papers, kid. I’ve got $200 on the Giants to win the Pennant.” Made no difference to me. Though where that guy at a few pennies a paper got $200 was beyond me. But then they probably lied a lot, these paper men, too. I counted my papers as I always did: efficiently and carefully. Boom. Bobby Thompson hits his home run. The guy is struck dumb. He turns … what? to embrace me? No: I’m invisible to him, the paper business forgotten. He streaks for the bar in the little row of businesses just north of the curve on Brower Avenue: Doc’s fountain and pharmacy on the corner (where I would have my first by-the-hour job: soda-jerking, age sixteen), a butcher shop, another soda fountain, and this bar. Guy streaks straight across the street without looking. Squeal. The big Buick goes sluing sideways, the driver standing on the brakes. Wham! Hit my paper man in the hip. My paper man doesn’t care. He has simultaneously planted his big palm on the hood of the trembling car and vaulted over the hood and into the liquor store: like a half-back smashing and vaulting his tackler. To collect his $200. And to gloat!
When John Kennedy was Assassinated?
In Herman’s Sporting Goods Store on 42nd Street, shopping for skiing equipment. I’m drooling over the metal Heads which I couldn’t afford. I finally went for a pair of metal Mercuries at $80, which I also couldn’t afford. My girl, Hilary, was poking around among the knitted hats or something. We had a little time to kill before my class on GBS was to start at NYU, Shaw editor Dan Laurence, teacher. Hilary came to every single class, may have been the only one there other than me always to have read every assignment in its entirety before class commenced. I loved Shaw. We read both plays and prefaces together, Hilary and I. Laurence no doubt got a kick out of her sitting in, following me around. After class Laurence and Hilary and I, and occasionally another student or two, would go for an ice cream. Brown noses, I suppose. They didn’t seem to know or care shit about Shaw. Me, I’d just read the play, probably for the second or third time, just read the preface, for the third or fourth time, I’d just had the class, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more Shaw, more Shavians.
(Don’t think please that I’d read my other assignments before class, or that I gave a damn about eating ice cream with the professors: it was just Shaw.)
So I’m poking among the Northlands, the Kneissels … when I hear it on somebody’s portable. Kennedy shot. I poke around. Next time I’m near Hilary, I tell her, “Somebody just wacked Kennedy.” She goes Hmm, hmmm, and keeps poking. As we come out of the store, onto 42nd Street’s late afternoon, I hear more. He’s dead.
“What?” Hilary has gone completely pale.
“Kennedy. I told you. They shot him.”
“What?” Hilary is devastated. She tells me she’d hadn’t really heard me, hadn’t believed me, thought I was fooling around, couldn’t believe I’d keep looking at skis if I knew. God, you’d think your girl friend would know you a little bit. Shit, I’ve been with her now … four years. At least. And what’s it to her? she’s not even an American. Born in London. Scottish father. Austrian mother.
People are moving on 42nd Street, but the atmosphere is stunned. The news kiosk outside Bryant Park is sold out of papers, but what would the papers have yet anyway. People in the park, people coming from the New York Public, are blank faced, staring. We get on the subway and go to Washington Square. Dan Laurence gives some speech about carrying on, having the class anyway, “he” would want us to …
My respect for Dan Laurence fell about eighty notches. What does the death of some politician, some rich bastard, have to do with Shaw? a genius, a comic genius. A social good guy.
After class Hilary and I drove to the mountains. I wanted to climb Hunter. It’s wonderful in the summer when the flowers can reach chest high. It’s greatest in the winter if the snow is good. But I’d fallen in love with the mountain any time. Fortunately for me, utterly by coincidence, I got to ski. Some guy had a patent on soaking plastic chips in margarine and spreading them around. Yeah, I skied on the stuff. Volunteer chip tester. But it’s not plastic chips that would have brought me back, and back.
Then for years I have to listen to people talk about where they were when Kennedy was shot. Even before then I had another NYU girl friend, another Barnard alum (though Hilary thinks of herself as Bryn Mawr, where she’d started as a freshman before her mother’s remarriage had forced her to transfer. (Good for me. I met her as she arrived at Barnard.)), who was always telling me Kennedy was so smart. Huh? How can you tell? Smart about what? I should give a shit. Ambitious kleptocrats. They get confetti thrown at them. They get motorcades. (One of Kennedy’s had delayed me in traffic before he was President: unforgivable.) They get blown under the desk. They get stabbed at the Forum. What does that have to do with me? What does that have to do with Jesus, with Shakespeare, with Shaw? Does it have a thing to do with Benny Goodman? with Bird? with Miles?
When the Lights Went Out? New York’s Great Black Out
I’ve got a class at NYU. Hilary’s got an appointment with her shrink, Dr. Z. I’ll pick her up at Z’s after class and we’ll go for dinner.
Late afternoon I drop my token in the slot and go through the turnstile to the Broadway IRT at 116th Street. Standing around waiting for the train is a terrible bore. My first experiences waiting for subways were when I was fifteen, sixteen … three, four o’clock in the morning after Birdland closed. I gotta get to Penn Station. I gotta wait for a LIRR train. First I gotta wait for a Broadway train at 50th Street. Lucky to get home by 8 AM.
Now I’m used to the subways. Sometimes they come right away. Three, four o’clock in the morning, they really may not come for forty minutes. Sometimes after a minute or two it seems like forty minutes: especially if you have an appointment or something scheduled: like a class. I stick my neck out and can see the train sitting on the tracks up at the 125th Street station. But it was there the last time I looked. Shoulda been here within another minute or two after that.
Couple of people on the platform when I arrived. Now more. Many more. Never seen the Columbia stop so crowded in the late afternoon. For some reason I didn’t notice that the lights weren’t on in the station. The train up the tracks didn’t have it’s perpetual Cyclops eye on either. I don’t know why I didn’t notice. There was still some light coming through the gratings. More people arrive. Now people are starting to leave. Something’s definitely wrong. Now I am aware of how dark it’s getting down there. It’s frequently gloomy, and the Columbia station is normally cleaner and better tiled than most, has more working bulbs, reflects more light, but this dark is weird. I’m gonna miss my class. So screw it, but I’m not gonna miss Hilary. I leave the station myself. No lights on Broadway. No traffic lights. No store lights. But it’s still dusk, not real dark yet. Hilary won’t appreciate the Yamaha this time of year so I head for her VW Beetle. Zip down Riverside Drive and onto the West Side Highway, no sweat. Zero traffic going downtown. Never flew south so fast. I streak out onto Bleeker Street in about fifteen minutes. New York would be an amazing place if everyone were dead.
Now. Traffic going uptown: that was a different story. That traffic wasn’t going anywhere. I stop at every intersection. Cross Seventh Avenue, Cross Sixth. No trouble getting a parking place at NYU. I’m even in time for my class, or would have been if there had been a class. People stuck in elevators, people being jimmied out, the cafeteria serving warm and cold food by candlelight: only the wrong things warm and the wrong things cold. I head for Dr. Z’s. People hanging out in bars, beer already warm. People on the street were grooving; people in the traffic looked like zombies.
Hilary went to shrinks as long as I knew her. Now she’s a shrink herself. She “brought” our son “up” on shrinks. In another age she would have gone to mass every morning, or read tea leaves. There is a very real subject called psychology, very important. And there’s something else by the same name that’s 94- and 44% pure balderdash in my book. Hilary was crazy when I met her. It was part of her attraction. Hilary’s mother was one of those non-parents who like to spend money in lieu of parenting. So Hilary was always with Dr. Z. She even got me to go a couple of times: couple therapy. I amused him; he didn’t amuse me. I’m the one who should have been paid. Anyway, I knew, long knew where it was: 11th off 5th: that neighborhood. Dozen flights walk up with no elevator. Huff. Puff. I knock. I enter. Hilary is sitting in there in the dark. Alone in the waiting room. Alone for an hour. “Hi, ‘Pot.” (Short for Honey Pot.) “Er … Garrum Shuffle murffle … Dr. Z sticks his head through the door. He’s been sitting alone in his office. Jesus Christ. The shrink and the neurotic, both sitting alone together for an hour in the dark! Hil and I visit with Dr. Z. Tell funny stories. I suggest that hours having gone by, traffic might not be quite so bad now going back uptown.
Wrong. Nothing’s moving anywhere. I get to an intersection. I jump out. OK, you stop, you go. OK, now you all stop. Let me go. Street by street, we inched our way up to the eighties and then we were home free to 116th Street. Supper was very late. Supper was at home. Supper was what ever we had. And when I woke up, the lights were back on.
I had another New York black out that involved carrying my borrowed twelve foot single piece bamboo surf pole up eleven flights of very crooked stairs to our apartment after a night at Fire Island failing to find a striped bass. My next New York black out didn’t come till 1974. I had just launched PK Fine Arts, Ltd. An artist had bought me a brand new VW bus which was so new I hadn’t yet converted it from bus to artmobile: so the seats were still in it. All I remember is being in the west Village when the power went off, about to head home. This time I’m way over: Hudson Street probably, coming out onto 12th Avenue by the meat market. Every section is filled with pedestrians looking for taxis and no taxies not already jam packed with people and taking no more. I pull up at what should have been the traffic light, slide the side door back, and announce, “I’m going to Broadway and 116th. The bus fills right up. All what we call black people. I don’t mean Hispanic, Central American, Puerto Rican. I didn’t see a non black-black anywhere. “Everybody OK?” I throw the door open again at 23rd Street. Same message but for fewer people. Better to be jammed in the bus going somewhere than to be jammed on the sidewalk going nowhere. I see in my mirror people getting money out. “What’s he charging?” “He hasn’t said yet.” “I don’t think he’s charging anything.” As we work our way uptown, the crowds thin but what the crowd’s are doing is getting much worse. I don’t remember any looting or vandalism during the big one. But I was in the Village, then inching up Sixth Avenue, then zip through the park to 110th and over to Riverside. This black out was visibly full of anger and destruction. Fires are burning in the middle of the avenues and streets. There’s trash every where. I told these people Broadway, and like a fool I’m going up Broadway. I should have gotten over to Riverside and let them walk the stinking block up the hill. New York is a bunch of very different places from block to block. The fool arrives at Broadway and 116th. “End of the line. Everybody out. I turn west here.” (Now I lived on Riverside and 103rd at that time, but I’m sure I’d said 116th and I’m sure that 116th is where we were. I must have been going to see my son for a minute. He was still at 116th and Claremont.)
No one would move. I ordered them out of my bus. Not one of them would move. They knew a humanitarian sucker when they saw one. Every goddam one of those people lived in Harlem and every goddam one of them was afraid to walk a half a block amid the flames and riots. I saw their point. What am I going to do, take them home with me for the night? Take them and lay them on Hilary? This is my new car. I couldn’t afford to buy it. I couldn’t afford to replace it. I needed it working perfectly and looking good to now make my living the way I’d announced. Artists were trusting me with their goods. I couldn’t afford to get a flat tire let alone a broken windshield. So what does the fool do? I drove every one of those people to their door: amid the riots, the fires, people throwing rocks and bottles. But not throwing them at me. And I got no flat. And the bus was OK. And yes, over the coming years, I sold some art.
@ K. 2000 11 14
Miles’ All Blues
Where was I the first time Miles Davis performed his immortal All Blues for the public? Right there, in Birdland, listening.
It was no coincidence that I was there for Miles: I was “there” for lots of great jazz artists, and Miles, in the middle late 1950s was increasingly one of my favorites. Soon he’d be my absolute favorite, then my all time favorite: and All Blues is one of everybody’s all time favorites. It’s had peers from Miles since then, but no superiors.
How do I know it was the first time played? Because Miles introduced the tune saying that he’d recorded it that morning. Horace Silver rehearsed songs to perfection in the clubs, then recorded them; Miles improvised them with the recording equipment on, then varied them before audiences. So, if he’d recorded it that morning, we were the first public audience. Besides, Miles introduced Bill Evans, not currently a member of his group, but the keyboard on that recording. Wynton Kelly moved over, Evans took the piano bench. Wow, oh, man.
Give it another listen: and note that wikipedia does a great job with the above linked piece.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941 I was three years old. My family was living in Jamaica, Queens, on Hillside Blvd, soon to move to Rockville Centre, Long Island. That AM the Japanese attacked the US military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We heard about it at dusk that evening. We were sitting in the hard, the neighbor lady came to our gate, very concerned, told us the news. The adults were all very upset. My sister was four, we kids didn’t know from nothing. Subsequently I heard all the usual propaganda. As an adult I heard mittigating stories: the US had sabotaged Japan’s access to steel.
I’m an American who took our supposed belief in freedom, including free markets, seriously. Therefore the US had no business interfering with Japan’s efforts in modern markets, m odern industry: of course they needed raw materials But now, 2017 11 22, I’m reminded of another “fact”, and go kablooie: US admiral Perry had sailed into Tokyo harbor years before, forcing Japan to open trade with the US: Japan had practiced cultural isolation, they wanted no part of us. So: we forced them to trade, then crippled their ability to trade. Not nice.
Bombing isn’t nice, I’m against it: but they were provoked, sorely provoked.
On the other hand, we’re white, Christians; they’re Japs, slanty eyes. So fuck ’em. We’re right, by definition.
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