Saturday, July 16, 2005

How Droll Was My Puberty

A few days ago, I received an email from a long-lost friend, Jerry M., who is perhaps the only person remaining on the planet who is fully aware of my white trash, low rent housing project background (vide the movie Sylvia, starring the great Carroll Baker) in Charleston, West (bygawd) Virginia.

Jerry and I went to high school together, and after college we somehow managed to end up at the same lower Manhattan employer, where we engaged in an early computer legal data program. (Did I get him the job; or vice versa?)

Somewhat ambiguously, along with a few other asides, Jerry wrote: "Won't cover more of my life and times on the east coast unless you respond and it is relevant to anything, so I don't bore you with drivel."

Beats me, then, whether I can expect to hear from him again or whether I should have even have bothered to respond in the first place. But I did. And here is most of what I said.

Jerry:

Good to hear from you.

I quit my day job as a film librarian about three years ago to concentrate on various writing and recording projects, and I think all the groundwork I laid is beginning to pay off. I am sure you will recall how totally nuts I was about records as a kid. Still am. Finally, I am starting to get work in Japan producing, reissue-producing, and working as a liaison between a Japan record label and U.S. artists.

Speaking of recording artists, do you you remember the time in high school when we ran into Haynes Record Shop on West Washington Street and stole a lifesize Doris Day cardboard cutout for the original cast recording of the Pajama Game? I believe you distracted them, while I grabbed up Doris. You will, of course, NOT remember (no one has long term memory like me) but, trust me, my old friend , you were an accomplice. Just think, if we still had that, we could sell on ebay and retire to Gstaad. Probably the only thing I stole from a store in my life...but WHO could resist? I guess the "statue" of limitations has run out on that little caper.

My long term memory is so good that if you ask me ANYTHING about the Charleston of yore, I can probably answer it. The name of the lady who ran the record department at Londeree's? Why, Madge Orchid, of course. (If I had a name that kewl, I could die happy.) The man who managed Orchard Manor? Mr. Keener, mais oui. The name of my boss at Kroger's at Five Corners? Jim Beheler! Now, just what kind of a last name is THAT? And I seem to remember that your middle initial is "R."

I can also remember that it was you---I think---who accompanied me as a teenager on my maiden voyage to the (verboten) Greenbrier Theater. I believe it was to see the original Godzilla. Yes, I did take the precaution of carrying along a spray can of Pam just in case my feet got stuck to the floor. Perhaps you were allowed to go to the lowbeat Greenbrair and the equally sleazy Lyric on Summers Street, but I never was. What it was that I was supposed to be avoiding by not going to those two dens of something-or-other was never spelled out to me at the time by my mother, but in retrospect I suppose it was the so-called raincoat brigade. I was strictly a Capitol-Virginian-Kearse-State-Custer-Rialto-West Theater kind of guy. Though I sure did long to see those Monogram and Republic "B"'s (hell, "C"'s!) that only seemed to play at the Greenbrier and Lyric.

Charleston's beautiful art deco Blossom Dairy luncheonette is still there...unchanged! But much else of the olde towne has bit the dust, including, just recently, the Strand Pool Room on Hale Street that I thought would roll on Forever. The Planters Peanut store is STILL there at the corner of Quarrier and Capital, but alas the mechanical Mister Peanut with the monocle, and the wand he tapped against the show window while one was waiting at the bus stop is nowhere in sight. Eventually the wand wore a hole through the glass and they Scotch-taped a quarter over the hole and he tapped THAT instead. Do you remember that? Probably not. Lucky you.

I will send you a copy of [my autobio] Early Plastic if you lay your address on me, for free Free FREE. I don't know how [our mutual high school friend] Kitty got a copy (it's pretty obscure stuff). I run the gamut from high profile-to-self publishing. Early Plastic definitely falls into the latter category. I just felt like I didn't want even so much as a single rejection slip for my "life," and so I did it myself. A nice book, albeit a tad sloppily proofread and edited. Maybe Kitty got [Charleston newspaper columnist] L.T.Anderson's (my idol of idols!) copy when he died a few years ago. You know, of course, that [Charleston jazz disc jockey] Hugh McPherson is long gone. Though, believe it or not, I am in touch with his discovery, Charleston singer Jennie Smith, who went on to a fair degree of national fame until the Beatles came along and blew all that kind of pop-jazz stuff out of the water. She lives here in L.A.

Whenever I go back home---once a year or so---I walk around a lot downton, the library, etc. But I NEVER run into anyone that I knew there when I was growing up. Not even Reed Belasco! [Inside joke.]

I am still in touch with Ken Weaver, and went to see him a couple of years ago in Florida. Just think, Cravath, Swain and Moore [the law firm where Jerry, Ken and I worked] was probably exactly on the spot of the WTC. I was on my way to LAX for a flight to Tokyo when 9/11 came down. We ALL remember where we were that day. When the news about Kennedy was announced, you and I were, of course, at CS&M. I guess you were the guy who made the executive decision to "Go home." You DO know that Ken Weaver became one of the Fugs, right?

Someone told me that when they finally queried the CS&M computer for the first time [after several years of our feeding data into it] and that it just spewed out a piece of paper that said something like "Gazornenplat."

My brother, Tom, bought the farm quite a while back. When he died, I tried with all my might to find something nice to say about him to his wife. She finally and compassionately said, "Don't even bother."

My two sisters---much older than I---are still living. Though both are in somewhat parlous shape. Especially the much much older one...with Alzheimer's. I am still in good physical AND---if I do say so myself---mental health. Ours was a felicitous time to be born, I think. People of EXACTLY our age, I sense, have one good healthy foot in the before time (in a sense, the 19th century) but are bascially malleable and can keep up fairly well with current adjustments to, you should pardon the expression, THE WAY WE LIVE NOW. I wouldn't change having been born in 1941 for anything in the world.

Do you go back to Charleston much? I don't think they even have SJHS [our high school] reunions anymore. And I seem to recall that they have torn down [the public housing project where we lived] Orchard Manor or as the locals pronounced it, MAY-NOR. Or maybe they just nuked and napalmed it to oblivion, because it became a pretty rough and wild place.

Do you remember that wonderful, completely undeveloped area up behind OM where we used to hang out? My recollection of it is as a vast, verdant, unclaimed wilderness. Probably no way of checking out the correctness of that memory, because I would wager any amount of money that it is all tract development now.

I remember a wonderful old road leading down from that area that dead-ended just ABOVE West Washington Street. In the winter---and I feel certain you partook of this---it was a great sled run. But if you didn't make the sharp turn JUST RIGHT at the bottom, you would become airborn and land smack dab in the middle of West Washington Street. I think a kid got killed one time, shortly after our days of sledding there. Kerblam... right into the middle of snow-covered West Washington Street in front of Gordon's Drug Store and got run over by a Charleston Transit bus. Splat! I remember hearing the story and then running to the dictionary to look up the word "spleen."

A few years back I wanted to visit Washington MAY-NOR, where we lived before Orchard Manor, but it too is now so dangerous that my family tried to---to no avail---stop me from doing so. I went looking for the sewer grate where I got my roller skate wheels got caught and I fell when I was ten, thus losing a front tooth. And for the chipped tile in the common hallway on which I cut myself so badly that I nearly lost my left middle finger. I felt just like some kind of dumb Holden Caulfield tromping around WM that last time.

Jerry, I suppose I have known you longer than any other non-family member, and even though I tend not to be a sloppy, sentimental old fool, still it is so very good hear from you. Send me your snail mail addy.

Are you still a vegetarian?

Best,

Bill

PS: I might post some of this on my blog, but please don't think that is why I wrote back. Just kind of dawned on me to do so toward the end of writing this. Like my grandma used to say, "Use everything but the oink." Bet you never knew that I had it in me to be so folksy.

1 comment:

SteveSchalchlin said...

You're scary. I can barely remember yesterday.