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The Blog Brothers

Two Black-Irish-American brothers from the mythical city of Albany, New York ponder their 20th century adventures from either side of the Pacific Ocean; Bob in Kyoto, Japan and Mick in Santa Barbara, California.

Monday, January 09, 2012


I'd just gotten off the evening train and was gingering my way along the snow-covered platform out here in the boonies of the most different country in the world - the nation of sushi, sashimi, ramen, gagaku, minyo, enka and various other food and musical forms - when into my ears from out of my iPod (filled for me by brother Mick, back in Santa Barbara) came the time-tripping voice of country-and-western deity songwriter Hank Williams, singing Jambalaya, crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo...

What a chronic surprise it was to suddenly be so far away from then and there! The peerless tune and lyrics evoked their own jambalaya of memories -- that lakeside cabin in upstate New York way back in the early '50s, where the grownups played Hank Williams all the summer days long on the phonograph... and those shimmering highways winding along the red earth of the south, the ancient trees draped with Spanish moss fading into distances ahead... images immediate yet so remote here in the cold and dark on the other side of world and time-- what a psychodistance I traveled in those moments, living back along life while making my way toward the stairs to the foot of the mountain...

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dream Car

The whole idea was for the five of us to hitchhike to Delmar with the 100 dollars we'd bummed from Tony the Source, pay for the model A coupe, get it out of the old lady's garage and push it the ahh, 20 miles or so back to Chris's back yard, soup the buggy up, paint it Candy Apple red, win Hot Rod of the Year and a few important drag races, use the money to pay for college, then get high-paying jobs from which we could change the course of history to our liking. Simple.

None of this, except the hundred dollars and the garage part, was discussed or even thought about at the living edge of our teenage minds in the hours and miles we went into the darkness before we at last pulled open the creaking doors of the old garage back there among the big trees - in the movie the background music would be Maybelline by the immortal Chuck - and brought to the light the object of our odyssey on that hot summer night in 1957, but the dream was there and we all felt it to the core, it had drawn us to this place.

If the movie was made right now, we'd all be played by overage actors overdoing young in a smartass young director's conception of what teens in the fifties - who attended the actual birth of rock'n'roll for godsake, to say nothing of all that followed - were really like, but the whole thing would be such a crock and we'd know it, sitting here graying along with the balding, paunching audience, watching our characters hitchhiking out there with the clothes and the music chronology all screwed up, what a ripoff, what do those punky hollywood whippersnappers care about getting eternity right?

'Cause we were really there, we knew how it really was, there was just Sun records and Chess and a few others, all 45s, don't let me get too far off the track here. For good background music, just also hear Little Richard, Fats Domino, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Screamin Jay, the Coasters, Lloyd Price, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and a dozen or so others, Carl Perkins, Ronnie Hawkins, the Diamonds, Mickey and Sylvia, the Silhouettes completing the air around us On the Road to the garage way out in Delmar and back, and the adventures that befell us along our journey.

As for threads: no dumb, square, uncool short-sleeved shirts with birds or dogs on them for godsake from way back in the late forties, might as well be off by a hundred years, back when the director's grandfather was working on his third divorce. For any up-and-coming director who wasn't there but might really care about authenticity, for shoes we wore cordovan ducks or baby ducks or crepe-sole desert boots or converse all stars. All key style items in season. Fruit boots too. We all had DA's and rat tails or Balboas maybe, since this was summer. Definitely no wimpy whiteside haircuts look like Eisenhower. Greasers all.

T-shirts, Levi's or black, white or tan chinos, rat-tail comb in the back pocket. Used often. Especially on street corners. Oh yeah. Richie Valens. The Del Vikings. Frankie Lyman. The Bobettes: maybe a little earlier, but definitely there. The Beatniks were thriving down in the basements of NYC and elsewhere, wearing berets, shades, sandals and digging jazz, selling paintings on the street, getting high on pot, wine, espresso, reading poems of the cool kind in the souped-up, bebop night.

We were gonna make a world like that too, only way moreso, more like we wanted. You know how it is when you're young and absolutely right, perfectly on track for the first time ever in history, we knew it deep in our Dreamlover hearts, as proven in the music our parents hated, which would ruin us they were sure, and in our craving for the fast cars of our dreams that would take us away, cigarette packs in the rolled-up T-shirt sleeve. We were on the mark alright, but in fact we had no idea what a Model-T the world was. - Of course: Bill Haley. - And always will be, as each generation steps up to the old garage with its dreams and opens the doors on reality.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Hot Chicks, Cool Guys

I received a link in my email the other day, via my account at Classmates, to some fotos of my high school class reunion that had been posted by a classmate whom I remember as a very cool guy. I went to see, and was gutrocked to realize that it's been nearly 50 years since we all graduated.

The fotos were ones he'd taken at the Cardinal McCloskey Memorial High School Class of 1958 reunion, held somewhere back in the old home town that I haven't visited in over 15 years, and only a couple of times in the last 40 years. I left and never went back, essentially, though I took a mindful of fond memories with me.

The Class of '58 had had 132 grads in it as I recall-- a few straight arrows, but mostly troublemakers in one way or another - that was the '50s after all - and we were all rebels with or without causes, the oh-so-hot chicks with the tight skirts, come-hither makeup and wannatouch hairdos, and the cool guys with the greased-up rat tail hair, pegged pants and cordovan ducks, movin' and shakin' to Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Coasters, among dozens of others there in the background on the way to our own places in the big world out there, where the bond of all we'd we shared would link us always, no matter what...

But at the near 50th reunion, according to the fotos only a few of those rebels showed up, about a dozen of each sex, and the hot chicks are grandmas now, with comfortable slacks, little makeup and practical hairdos, a new kind of 'hot' we teens hadn't foreseen at all, and the rat-tailed guys are grandpas now, bald or wearing hats and soft shoes in a new kind of cool...

Amazing though, how the mind remembers faces and the memories associated with them, even after 50 years and countless worlds, the pranks we played, the trouble we got into, the juvenilities we talked about with such earnestness, we bubbling cauldrons of adolescence-- and then to realize that all the things that were so heartfully important back then turned out to be mere wisps of dreams of ephemera relative to what the future was actually made of and actually spelled out for us after all, that got us here to what it all became, as it always does in its ceaseless ways, and if we had known back then what our futures would be, would we have been willing to go there?

In my case, the answer is a resounding YES! And judging by the smiling faces in those fotos, the answer was the same for my classmates... It turned out to be true: that bond we shared was still there and holding, even after nearly 50 years of future, traveled in our separate ways.

The Class of '58 for life. Cool.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Silver Plane

Maybe it was Jo Stafford's voice on those summer nights, singing from the open doors of VFW Post 6776, "Fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the ocean when it's wet with rain," wafting through our bedroom window next door in those anxious and mysteriously heart-filling times, maybe it was those words that got me started, flew me this far - or maybe that secret is deep in the genes, of putting a foot down and not keeping it there for a lifetime - but whence ever it came, at some point the yearning to travel began to speak in me--

And now, here on an autumn mountainside in Japan, out on the deck with a glass of wine after a day of turning the garden and splitting some firewood I've just listened to that song again - thanks to you, Mick - for the first time in more than 50 years, and felt that same sensation, a deep recollection of that early yearning, right here in my own present life on the other side of the world, in a bamboo jungle wet with rain--

Maybe the song, maybe the simply genetic desire to wander, to not stay in place-- but I marvel now at how that tune evokes exactly what it did then, when the silver plane flew only in a song - as though the past were truly present - Those nights when mystic wings would over and over fly across the air and into my unlived heart, though no one we knew was going anywhere-- I would-- I would go somewhere, on a silver plane.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Crazy Man, Crazy

That was the summer of our odyssey, the summer of 1953, the summer that Crazy Man, Crazy by "Bill Haley with Haley's Comets" was a huge jukebox hit at the bar on the grounds of the cottage rental place on Warner Lake in upstate New York, where that prelude to Rock Around the Clock rocked the summer air over and over day and night, especially Saturday night, during the month we stayed that summer before the divorce. That was also where we heard the mythic tale of the lady who not so long before had drowned in her big ball gown when the motorboat she was in capsized coming back late at night from a dance at a pavilion across the Lake.

As if to demonstrate, one morning that summer a small boat laden to the gunnels with fully dressed wide folks roared from the local dock out onto the Lake and sank, as the sudden thrust of the outboard motor pushed the stern down the last inch to Swamped; but since it was clear daylight the group were soon rescued. A crowd of wet wide men and women is a memorable sight as they clamber dripping onto a rickety dock.

Someone fishing from the same dock caught a BIG snapping turtle that was really pissed at what the world was doing to it with this fishhook amid this crowd around of staring faces and all the poking sticks and the pointing of vulnerable fingers. Speaking of fishing, I knew where to get the best earthworms, lots of big fat earthworms to sell to the fishermen at a good price, so I always had some ready cash, I caught tons of crayfish too. (Dave?) Ludwig was there as well, I remember that, I also think he lived on Morton Ave., his family was staying in a nearby cabin; we met and were BFF that summer, the way kids are, and never met again.

I remember like yesterday the big lightning storm, when lightning struck in a blinding blue flash of ozone right next to our cabin window while we were eating dinner, and at night in order to fall asleep with Crazy Man, Crazy blasting out of the jukebox till the wee hours, Mick and I playing our fallasleep games in the big saggy bed, asking each other things like What color is Tuesday? (Blue, for me.) No, Tuesday is brown! Yeah? Then what color is 5? (Orange, for me.) And November? This was also where we invented a new fallasleep game, in which we had to alternately whistle each note of a common Irish jig and never made it past the first five or six notes without exploding into laughter and, eventually, sleep.

Then in the mornings, close along the lakeshore swam small black clouds of baby catfish like mobs of lost punctuation in the shallow sunwarmed waters, begging to be caught, and we obliged, every day being chased away by Old Mr. Decay (after the then-popular tv toothpaste commercial), in the real world D.K. "Harris" or something on his hand-lettered road sign; sold bait and such, a grumpy old man who owned lakeshore property we were always invading in our fishing and other quests, so much stuff happening all the time, too much to fit in, even for zippy kids like us.

Then one day when we had more jarfuls of baby catfish and pans full of crayfish than we knew what to do with, we heard from someone about an old pen factory somewhere around there that had been abandoned since back before the war, which at that time had ended only 8 years ago (!). So one clear, hottening summer morning we set off to find the newly legendary factory, without a map, just the second or thirdhand word that it was out there somewhere in this general area of the State was enough for us to turn it into a treasure hunt. Crazy Man, Crazy.

There were four of us who set out on the odyssey: me, Mick, ?Eugene? (I think he was there, and at least one other kid; you see the way history can get bent, over time) and there were many twistings and turnings on the way: who-knows-why lefts, no-real-reason-rights, go-backs and go-arounds, we had no idea where we were headed and soon got hot, tired, hungry and thirsty, I'll tell you; no one else was out in that heat, it was a long glaring day, but by a late afternoon miracle of some kind that happens on kidquests (see The Goonies), we found the rusty fallingdown hulk of a place and, scattered in the tall weeds all around, long lengths of mother-of-pearly and other pen barrels made out of celluloid... like the old Esterbrooks of that time... like King Solomon's Mines it was, all those mounds of emeralds, sapphires and rubies lying here and there, gleaming in the high grass around the rusting collapse of these old buildings, way out here in the middle of nowhere...

How did they choose this location? Why a pen-barrel factory way out here? Who built it? Were questions never even thought of by us at the time, let alone asked or answered (though I'd love to know the story now), but we headed back carrying shoulderfuls of clacking bundles of long, bright, multicolored gems of no use whatever that anyone could think of other than for pen barrels, What in the world you gonna do with those things, the adults we passed would ask, but to us those dusty tubes were priceless with that beauty only kids can see, that adults have lost the ability to perceive, or have traded for other things--

Well, for your information those tubes made the biggest drinking straws you ever saw, you could drink from across the room. They also had impressive squirting power when drinking was reversed, made great dueling swords and fishing poles, and furnished great lessons in physics (major spitballs anyone?) and chemistry, to say nothing of pyrotechnics, since they turned out to be supergreat fireworks. Any of you grownups ever light the end of a two-meter long celluloid pen barrel?

Crazy Man, Crazy.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time Slow, Life Rich

We grew up in a US time when horses were still used to deliver milk and baked goods, and collect recyclables (generically called 'rags' back then)... It was a slow time, when summer days were a week long, and to get from Saturday lunch to the starting bars of the first Looney Tunes of the Saturday matinee with 25 cartoons and cowboy double-feature took about 3 days.

There was no tv then, so all we could do in the living room was live. That was mostly at night. During the day, if not at school daydreaming out the windows we were always out playing, up to many miles away, on foot or bicycle, often taking our lunch with us. The radio was in the kitchen, for listening to after dinner or while doing the drudgery of homework while Mom did the ironing.

The only apparatus in the living room was the big clunky iron telephone you had to dial, then wait for the dial to roll clickingly back till you could whirl in the next number but there were only 5 numbers in those days, since there were about 2 billion people in the world and only a tiny portion in Albany. My Brady/McTeague grandfather, an electrician for the phone company, had one of the standing phones with the earpiece on a side hook and the dial at the bottom, like in all the old black-and-white fast-paced newspaper movies. "Get me the desk!" Things began to change palpably when the phone numbers started getting longer. Where I live now my number is 10 digits long, 15 or more if you're calling from another country.

We had no Victrola, as phonographs (itself a neoarchaism now!) were called back then; the only person in the family who had a Victrola was my Robinson/Kelly grandfather, a NYCRR conductor, who had a then merely quaint wind-up Victrola in his basement, with a big morning glory megaphone where the sound came out. Next to the whizzing green felt turntable it had a little metal cupful of playing needles like headless finishing nails that lasted about an hour and were attached to the tone arm by vising them in place with a knurled knob.

The living room in those days was where guests sat and chatted or Dad read the newspaper in the big red easy chair under the standing lamp by the window after dinner. On really rainy days when we had friends over or went to their house, we played in the living room: checkers, cards (War was a favorite), chess, Monopoly, Clue, Go to the Head of the Class... but when the weather was even remotely tolerable (in winter there were no limits) and we didn't have measles or mumps or whooping cough we would never in a million years have stayed inside, we'd be out somewhere exploring, playing, finding stuff to do all day long, even into dark in summer, home only to eat then out again, except for the detested but implacable Saturday night bath.

Each of those days was about a week long. The school year was about a decade in length, but seemed longer. I remember one time at the end of summer vacation realizing it would be 9 months till summer vacation, an impossible duration, as time-distant as the Civil War, which had ended only 80 years before, when great grandma was a teenager. Then at the start of summer vacation, school was almost 3 months away, in the heart an essentially unending length of time, though we knew better.

Comics were a new thing then too, this was only a few years after the first Batman, the only copy in existence now a crumbling million-dollar item. I used to own millions of dollars worth of comics at today's prices, bought them for dimes I got doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, original Donald Ducks, Little Lulu, Mad, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and all the many others, read 'em and tossed 'em in a pile, filled my wagon and went trading comics in the neighborhood.

It wasn't a better world in many ways, there was more manifest prejudice, for example, and pollution was the norm-- litter wasn't even a full-blown concept yet (the word 'litterbug' was the winner of a contest to give the phenomenon a name), and though age and nostalgia likely play a big part in my perspective, it seems from here that many of the technoadvances we now enjoy have been achieved at the cost of time's depth and richness. The journey is where the treasures are.

In a Tarzan movie I saw one long-gone Saturday afternoon, Tarzan is shown a movie on a screen set up in the big white hunter’s jungle camp; on the screen Tarzan sees a train rushing at him and panics. "That train in the picture can go from coast to coast in three days," explains the civilized white guy. "What for?" asks Tarzan.

In so many ways, those were the days.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tall Enough to Tell the Tale

You've got me there, Bob (see previous post); but as I've been saying more and more frequently lately, it seems to be the names that go first. That means I've got a lot of nameless faces floating around in my head these days, but I've learned to cherish the memories, with or without the names. I do remember that face vividly, though, and also remember his parents - and that '50 Chevy - very well.

I also recall spending an afternoon fishing with him from a rowboat out on the still, cold waters of Brant Lake in the Adirondacks. He was a true character, full of piss and vinegar; and unless my mind is telling tall tales on his behalf, I believe he landed what looked to be a pretty good-sized smallmouth bass that day. Of course, I was far more excited about it than he was; perhaps it looked much smaller to him?

I have a much clearer memory, though, of the dart sticking out of the back of my hand at the Delaware Tavern than I do of the legendary "turkey" moment, for understandable reasons. Not only did it dampen my love for the world of darts (a tough blow for one raised in bars), but to this day I have mixed feelings about the memory itself.

It seems that initially the crowd of revelers greeted my childish mistake - foolishly reaching for darts on the board while someone sober enough to stand but too drunk to see, was about to launch his shoulder-fired missile - with a roar of laughter. Time and the blessed imagination of the Irish, however, have given me a better ending.

As I stood there staring at my impaled hand - Christ-like, virtually nailed to the board - I calmly reached up and drew out the offending projectile, jammed it into the bullseye, and walked slowly back to my seat, droplets of blood tracing my footsteps to the table.

The silence in the room was palpable; but its vacuum was suddenly replaced by a deafening roar of cheering, clapping and the stamping of feet, quickly erasing any vestiges of shame left in my heart. Clutching my bloodied hand with the other, and lifting my head to the onlooking crowd, I whispered hoarsely, 'Don't worry, my friends; it's only a flesh wound.'

How do you remember it? Did I leave anything out?

Author's note, added the following day: I was lying in bed last night, about to drift off to dreamland, when suddenly the ceiling above my bed opened up to reveal a vast midnight sky filled to overflowing with glittering stars. From deep within a bank of silvery clouds came a voice, saying "Bobby! Bobby! Bobby Van Buren!" Then I fell into a deep and restful sleep until the room was once again full of sunlight. Morpheus always seems to do his best work in that twilight zone between wakefulness and the semicoma of deep sleep.


Hey Mick, got a question for ya--

Remember Chark and Lilian Van Buren, who lived across the street from us and VFW Post 6776, had a then supercool salmon and gray Chevy (1950? another question) and their son X one night hit a turkey on the dartboard at THE dartboardly perfect moment and the house went wild (not the time you got a dart in your hand, I think; kindly elaborate on the dart-in-hand memory and its fringes)-- But my question is: what was the name of the son?

(He had one of the first motorbicycles in Albany that I know of, he explained it to me in front of Einstein's Pharmacy - early 1940s)

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