Memory Lane: ‘Soldier Boy’

Something, some spirit, called up this song from deep in my memory–a vision of a summer day, and a trip to the shore with my grandparents (it would be my introduction to surf-fishing)… with Soldier Boy, by The Shirelles, playing on the car radio. And oh, how I wanted to be back there again!

I grew up in a world of men and women. Now it’s a world dominated by freaks and villains who deny there ever was a past. Nothing good existed until they came along!

I can at least get back for two minutes or so. All aboard for the Jersey Shore, 1962.

Willie Mays Forever!

Belay the nooze, enough’s enough! I’m going to write about something that has always made me happy, and hopefully give you some pleasure, too.

“Unknowable” and I were chatting about celebrity, hero worship, and idolatry–they’re all related, aren’t they?–and I brought up the subject of… Willie Mays. To me, the greatest athlete that I ever saw.

Among other things, Willie was famous for this one play during the 1954 World Series. I was five years old. Anyhow, they were playing at the old Polo Grounds, where center field was about the size of a Jersey township, and Vic Wertz smashed a screaming fly ball to the deepest part of center field. A real moon shot. At this point, let the video speak for itself.

Willie lit up my childhood. He was my hero. But y’know what? I never felt the urge to delve into his personal life. I have made a conscious choice to remember him solely for the things I saw him do on the ballfield; and those are things that still give me deep aesthetic pleasure 67 years later. I think it’s the same kind of pleasure art lovers get, or music lovers, from their favorite masterpieces. Willie Mays in center field was the baseball equivalent of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Yeah! Sitting on the floor in our sitting room, playing with my grandpa’s blocks that he handed down to me, while my mother did the ironing while watching the Giants’ game on TV. That’s a memory that gives me joy!

Baseball isn’t what it was, not by a long shot; I no longer care for it. But I do care for my memories: and for a good few of those I say, “Thanks, Willie!”

Memory Lane: ‘Death Valley Days’

I just loved the opening theme of Death Valley Days–that haunting bugle solo. And there was something evocative in that distant view of the 20-mule team.

And then, of course, Rosemary DeCamp would come on with another ad for 20-Mule Team Borax, whatever that was, and the spell would be broken.

Death Valley Days first aired in 1952 and ran to 1970. In 1964-65 future President Ronald Reagan was the host (he quit to run for governor of California, which he eventually achieved).

Memory Lane: Favorite Board Games

The Value of Board Games – WOW! Children's Museum

We didn’t have hi-tech fancy electronic videos back in the Bronze Age, but we did have board games. And with summer waning, my friends and I knew it was time to dust off our favorite games. (I’m not counting Monopoly or chess, because we played those all year round.)

My cousins had Clue. “Col. Mustard in the Kitchen with the Candlestick!” I think the first game we learned to play was Chutes and Ladders. Look at the picture–there’s Stratego. You love it when they blow themselves up on the hidden mines, trying to capture your flag.

Candy Land. Sorry. Pachesi. Mille Bournes (oh, yeah!). Settlers of Catan (for adults). Go to the Head of the Class (did any of you ever play that?).

I’d love to hear what your favorite board games were–or are. They come in mighty handy when the weather’s not cooperating.

But I suspect that to enjoy them properly, you have to not have a cell phone.

They Came Out in the Rain

Eastern Box Turtle Care Sheet - Reptiles Magazine

It’s raining today–a quiet, steady rain–and it brings me back to a vivid memory of my childhood.

We lived right next door to the woods, and sometimes when it rained, box turtles would come out of the woods and parade across our back yard. Because I was such a little child, I remember them as being eye-poppingly large turtles.

We had a screened-in back porch, with a glider. My mother liked to read out there on rainy days. And I remember her calling excitedly, “Oh, come and look! Come and see the turtles!”

And there they’d be, strolling across our back yard in the rain. Usually three or them at once. We thought they must be a family; but box turtles don’t live in family groups. It was just a few turtles doing the same thing.

Where were they going, and why? Was it always the same couple of turtles? Our little woods was rich in wildlife. My friend and I once saw a huge enormous horned owl who scared us silly. And with all the wild blackberry patches, there were always plenty of turtles.

It hardly needs to be said that the lovely little woodland, with its turtles and blackberries, has been erased by developers and politicians who say They Protect The Planet and Look Out For The Public Interest by enriching themselves and screwing everybody else.

But it was a beautiful world, the way God made it.

Memory Lane: “Clothe the Animals”

In 1959 a kooky character called “G. Clifford Prout” appeared on the Today Show to launch his “Clothe the Animals” campaign (

It was a hoax engineered by an inveterate hoaxster, Alan Abel. Nevertheless, some 50,000 Americans signed up to support his phony campaign.

What does that tell us about our national credulity quotient? Or did a lot of those people sign up just to be part of the gag?

At any rate, we had some laughs about it on the playground.

I’m afraid our populace has grown a bit more daft since then.


‘Memory Lane: A Sound of Summer, 1960’

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All this, and Mel Allen in the broadcast booth!

“Hey, getcha cold beer!” How many times did I hear that, growing up?

Memory Lane: A Sound of Summer, 1960

Daytime baseball, New York Yankee games brought to you by Ballantine Beer, brewed right here in New Jersey. And next door on the ballfield, the crack of the bat. I love that sound! Another memory: standing outside the fence, watching the batter–and discovering that he hits the ball before I hear the crack. Kind of a physic lesson.

It was great to be 12 years old in 1960!

Memory Lane: Drive-In Movies

Sean Connery in Zardoz | Considerable

Behold Sean Connery in hot pants and, I guess, go-go boots, starring in the 1974 science fiction classic–they kept saying it’s a classic–Zardoz. Good grief.

I turned to Patty yesterday and said, “Y’know what I’d like to do this evening? Take us to a drive-in movie.” Only of course that was looking back into the past; today the nearest drive-in is some hundred miles from here. All the ones we used to have–and enjoy–have been replaced by pack-’em-in housing and strip malls. Progress, don’t you know.

One night in the 70s we went to the dear old Amboys Drive-in to see Zardoz, which was supposed to be a classic. My brother Mark brought the beer. Patty watched the opening credits. “Oh, boy! John Alderton is in it!” She loved him in Upstairs, Downstairs. By the time Zardoz was halfway over, it was “Poor John Alderton!” With Mark in the back seat uncontrollably guffawing over the dialogue (“The ***** is evil. The ***** shoots seeds.”) Incredible, that Connery’s career survived this.

Every now and then you caught a good movie at the drive-in. But some of the bad ones were… well, indescribable. Like Caligula impersonating the Goddess Dawn. But if I listed just half a dozen of those and admitted I saw them at the drive-in, you’d think there was something wrong with me. Yeah, there was: I was in my early 20s.

We can’t go to the drive-in anymore. It’s been stuffed into extinction. People under a certain age have never seen one.

I call it a loss.

Memory Lane: Water-Powered Rocket

Now that the weather’s warming up, here’s an outdoor toy–you’ll soon catch onto why you shouldn’t play with it indoors–that was heavily advertised on TV when I was a boy: the water-powered rocket.

Whoosh! Look at ‘er go! I want it, I want it! This was back at the beginning of the space program when we were bringing TV sets to school to watch the latest launch from Cape Canaveral. So much cooler than plain old lessons! When those first astronauts went up, the whole country went up with them. But oddly enough, I never got one of those water-powered rockets, nor did I know any kid who had one. The fulfillment of this dream had to wait till I grew up.

Finally! I bought a water-powered rocket. Mine, all mine! I took it out to the schoolyard and hoped it wouldn’t fly so far away that I couldn’t find it. Pump, pump, pump the launcher, build up that pressure. And then, and then… Launch!

It gave this sort of little farting sound and mostly just fell off the launcher. Even as a little kid I could have thrown the fatzing rocket farther than it ever flew from the launcher. Again and again I tried. Its best effort was about four or five feet. Not exactly a moon shot.

I do wonder if everybody’s water-powered rocket was as big a disappointment as this. Nowadays you can get these huge, elaborate water-powered rockets, YouTube is full of them and they probably cost a fortune.

But I think I’ve learned my lesson.

Memory Lane: ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’

This takes us a long way down Memory Lane. These days it’s hard to imagine that a little series built around a clown, a dragon, and a cheery young woman would turn into a major hit. Indeed, in 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Kukla, Frank, and Ollie.

Kukla the clown and Ollie the dragon, puppets, engaged in gentle banter and funny songs with Fran Allison, the only live human in the show–and people just plain loved it. The show ran from 1947 through 1957. Watching it is one of my earliest childhood memories. But it was even more popular among adults than children.

And would you believe it was all ad-libbed? No foolin’. Fran had experience as a live radio comedian, so she was up to the challenge. I wonder if anybody could successfully do a show like that today.

Well, what could be more benign and harmless? I like benign and harmless–and we could use more of it. Lots more.