Hang Out

Okay, back to 1957, ’58, originally published as “Hanging Out in the ’50s” by the Broad Street Review on May 9, 2009. Got some good reactions, establishing my West Philaelphia street cred, as I recall.

The hamburger came with grilled onions and cost 35 cents. French fries cost 15 cents and a coke a dime. Or you could pile into a booth with your friends for nothing. The juke box played “Poinciana” and “To the Aisle” and “Mr. Lee.” You could do that till curfew chased you home.
In the mid-1950s, West Philadelphia, from 63rd to 30th, from Market Street to Baltimore Avenue, became a “changing neighborhood.” Negroes moved in, and whites (mostly Jews) moved out. Since the changes first manifested on the perimeter, in 1957 Barson’s, on 60th Street, ceased to be the area’s main hang-out, and Dewey’s, on Spruce, below 48th, replaced it. I lived three blocks away and, at 15, was entering my hanging-out years.
Dewey’s had a counter, a double row of booths down its center, another row along its west wall. The core of the Dewey’s crowd was from West Philadelphia High School, a block to its north – mostly white kids – and mostly Jewish – like Buzzy Scolnick, the varsity quarterback, still best known for having enlivened a grade school trip to the zoo by lobbing cherry bombs at the crocodiles, and Steven Pomerantz, who already smoked individually wrapped Garcia Vegas and wore a full length vicuna coat and homburg, like his father the bookie, and stylish Sam Goodman, who had made black turtlenecks under blue buttondown shirts de rigeur in certain circles. These luminaries layered upon a contingent of older, even more worldly semi-criminals, like the Egan brothers, Biff and Bow Wow, who consorted with whores; and Cowboy Dineen, who had been thrown out of three schools I knew of despite the ability to hit a baseball over the Passon’s field fence; and Troy Something-or-Other, a swarthy, oily haired, rock-muscled guy, whose girlfriend was Carol Blitz, the prettiest girl in the senior class (Why, I wondered, would she be interested in him, when boys who were going to Penn to become orthopedic surgeons would have given 25 points off their College Boards to date her), and Donny Rumble, who drove a silver T-bird. That was all I knew about him Donny Rumble. Silver T-bird. What else was there? What could better that?
I did not drive. I had never spoken to a whore. I was happy to line a ball past shortstop. I was not exactly at Dewey’s red hot center. I was tall and skinny and wore glasses and shy and, even worse, when I was ten, my parents had transferred me from the public elementary school, where I was about to be taught by Jacqueline Susann’s mother, a ferocious woman with a bun of severely dyed black hair, known for disciplining pupils by having them copy pages from the dictionary, into Friends’ Central, a Quaker school across City Line Avenue. So I was a “private school kid” on top of everything else. I came to Dewey’s because some of my neighborhood friends, like Max Garden and Mickey Kipper, did. Max and Mickey’s own defects left them only a little closer to the center than me, but they had friends who were closer still, and this provided enough rideable coat tails that I could feel comfortable.
The thrill of hanging out at Dewey’s was primarily in the echoes of that “out.” “Out” meant away from the family. It meant away from the confining, conformist, predominant 1950s cultural attitude that scorned all non-grade-bettering, non-money-earning, devil-courting idleness. We might not actually be doing anything at Dewey’s, besides idling, of which the family or the culture disapproved; but at least we were giving ourselves the chance that we might. That counted for something, we believed. We knew nothing of interest was going to happen if we stayed in.
The devil might roll up in a silver T-bird. He might have a dishwater Nash. We just wanted to hear the purr of his exhaust when his motor revved.

The most exciting times at Dewey’s were when news arrived of a party. Someone would have heard from someone in Wynnefield or Oxford Circle or Lower Merion, and we would pile four or five into a car, chip in $2 for gas, and off we would go.
One Saturday evening, in the spring of 1958, word came of a party in Newtown Square. Newtown, ten miles to the southwest, was a long way to go for a party. It was also foreign and exotic terrain. All I knew of it or its inhabitants had come from the arrival at Friends’ Central the preceding fall of a graduate of its high school, Joe “Hondo” Wayne, a crew cut, six-foot-four, 220 pound, All-Delco tackle, whose need of additional education could nicely fill holes in our offensive and defensive lines. He was someone we sophomores regarded with awe – especially those amongst us who were 150 pound JV defensive ends. Who was hosting this party or how word of it had reached Dewey’s I did not know, but Mickey Kipper had his father’s Plymouth, and off we went. (Mickey and I were sufficiently off-center that no one else rushed to join our crew.)
It was a ranch house on a dead end street. Biff Egan and Buzzy Scolnick were drinking Ortlieb’s in the kitchen. Troy Something-or-Other, in a fish net t-shirt, was on the living room couch, his arm slung over a Barbara Steele lookalike in a pink V-neck and slit skirt. The record player was running “I Got a Woman” over and over, and Bow Wow Egan, an upended wastebasket between his knees, was pounding the beat on its bottom. The entire scene was bathed in red light. The cigarette smoke was as thick as mucous. Bedroom doors were clicking shut. I suddenly thought: No parents are home. I had never been at a party when no parents were home. I settled with that revelation into a conversation with Artie Gottlieb, a junior councilor at my summer camp just back from Paris Island, until it became clear he had more important things on his mind than describing the obstacle course to me.
I was staring at the refrigerator, wondering if you just took an Ortlieb’s from it, or if you had to ask someone’s permission, and, if you did, whom you asked, and, if they granted it, how you opened the Ortlieb’s without it spurting all over your Banlon shirt, when it fell upon me that the several cars that had pulled to squealing stops out front had dislodged several sets of running feet that were massing at the front door, and that several of those already in the house, like Biff and Bow Wow and Buzzy, were running toward this mass and that others, like Mickey Kipper, were retreating toward me. It occurred to me that a number of girls at the party were from Newtown and that a number of Newtown guys had arrived to register their objection.
“Vamanos,’ Mickey said.

Those who had remained behind returned to Dewey’s later, loud, laughing, slapping backs, a legion rotated to Rome after destroying the Goths. I hung on the edges of their conversations, hungry for details. I could not wait for Monday when I could report to classmates at Friends’ Central. I felt like I had hopped a time machine and glimpsed a dangerous future.
It was Wednesday that Hondo raised an arm to stop me on the stairs. “Heard you were at the Omega Drive party.”
“Yes,” I said, hoping he would not smite me to avenge a fallen comrades.
“You West Philly boys are tough.” His smile offered a suit – black leather, gold lame’, or three button worsted – into which I might yet grow.

News at 11:00

Michal, a friend since college, called from Seattle during the Colts-Broncos game, because he thought my connection to the comics world might have left me more affected than most by the Charlie Hebdo shootings. I told him I didn’t think so. I was, I said, trying to take the long view, relocating from the planet, looking down.y latest piece has gone up at http://broadstreetreview.com/cross-cultural/charlie-hebdo-and-other-bad-news

It begins: Michal, a friend since college, called from Seattle during the Colts-Broncos game, because he thought my connection to the comics world might have left me more affected than most by the Charlie Hebdo shootings. I told him I didn’t think so. I was, I said, trying to take the long view.

This internet age

EUREKA! Robert Levin is pleased to announce the first direct purchase of books (2) from this very web site. The discriminating buyer is a resident of Toronto, Ontario, where, incidentally, lives another writing, basketball playing Bob Levin, who even more weirdly graduated 10 years after me from my very own 70-classmember high school, leading to some confusion when my first novel, about a basketball player, appeared; but let’s not get into that now. Instead we’ll pass along the tip to aspiring web site merchandisers that, when setting your item prices be sure tyo consider the implications of non-domestic postage. I didn’t, but if the Mounties at the border seize my wares, whose illustrations certainly raise the possibility, the resulting word of mouth may make it worthwhile.

This blogging life

Visitors to this very web site increased from 5.4/day in November to 6.7/day in December. I even sold a book to a fellow from the wrench cafe. But he thought I wanted too much money, so he bought it from Amazon.

On the down side, the average time someone spent at my site decreased from 34 to 21 seconds. I considered that I might have been a better (i.e. speedier) class of readers, but further analysis led me to a different conclusion.

If I understand Google Analytics, one of my most viewed blogs was “Sex and the Single 11-Year-Old,” a rebroadcasting of an article I wrote for THE COMICS JOURNAL in 1997, reflecting upon my fascination with a comic book story, “50 Girls 50,” which I read in 1953. Combined with the fact that two of my most fertile sources for visitors were domain names that it is likely the FBI is keeping an eye on led me to suspect that once these visitors had familiarized themselves with what I was about they had opted for more gratifying climes.

Seasons Greetings

My latest piece is up at http://broadstreetreview.com/cross-cultural/on-the-sending-of-christmas-cards

It begins

I began sending Xmas cards when I was an attorney. Every current client received one. I hoped the gesture would prevent their yelling at me for at least a week. If I received a card from a client, I sent that client a card the following year, even if their case had ended. I sent cards to friends who lived outside the Bay Area too. I kept a record in my address book, allowing each to go three years without sending me a card before I dropped them. Some friends I kept on the list longer, like I was dropping messages in bottles into the ocean of time, hoping for an answer. Some friends returned cards forever and ever… then stopped. Some resumed, but others were left to my imagination to account for.

I just finished…

…”Ways of Seeing,” by John Berger, and “Human Smoke,” by Nicholson Baker. (Robert the K recommended the first and I chose the second in my efforts to form a world policy for myself.)

“Seeing,” a Marxist approach to art, was written over 40 years ago, so some of its points may have already entered the culture and lost their power by becoming familiar. (Also Berger does not value clarity in his prose style, and, being a Brit, his language choice does not always connote to an American as it might to his domestic audience.) Finally, Marxism is a narrow way to look at art, though the concentration may add potency to his remarks. I liked best his final remarks about “publicity,” which I took to mean “advertising.” There I found much with which to agree.

“Smoke” is an apple cart-turner. It is pro-pacifism. All wars, it implies, are part of one war; and no war achieves naught but evil. So far, so good; but the war which Baker selects to make his point, through an assemblage of selected events leading up to it, is “The Good War,” World War II. Most historians (but not everyone) trashed it, but the book will not leave my head alone.

Cheese Steak

Okay, gang, back to my adolescence. This one is where these pieces all began. It appeared April 5, 2009, at www.thebroadstreetreview.com, under the title “Steak Sandwiches, B.C.,” and, after reflection, I will concede that was an improvement over what I had submitted it as.

Let’s get one thing straight. The whole idea is a corruption. The Philly cheese steak is about as traditional as an aluminum Xmas tree.
When I had my first, fifty years ago, it was “Y’wanna getta steak?” Period. It meant meat, an Italian roll, onions – grease. Salt, pepper, hot sauce – and for the brave — chopped cherry peppers optional. The cheese – out of a can, by the way – came later.
They weren’t everywhere either. You needed a car to get them. And you just didn’t pick one up for lunch or after school or dinner. They were best ritualized. Usually, it went like this. You had nothing to do, so you went to Dewey’s – 48th & Spruce – and hung out – 15 cent cherry coke – “Poinciana” on the juke box – or, nice weather, you stood outside, and, maybe, Marty Yudoff came by in his ‘50 Studebaker and knew a party in Oxford Circle, so you and Max Garden and Gino DiPieta and Sam Blank chipped in $2.00 for gas and, only after the party, when no one had scored, no one had gotten lucky – which was out of the question really, anyway – no one even getting a date or a phone number – you went for steaks.
The place we went was Jim’s, 62nd & Noble. Jim’s was a classic steak place. Narrow as a cigar box. The grill along the north wall spattering with the meat and onions. The salt, pepper, hot sauce, napkins on the wall behind you. (A sign offering $75 if you could prove the what you ate came off any three-letter animal not spelled “cow.”) You stood in line. You paid your fifty cents. And no place to sit. Very important, no place to sit.
The great places all had one name – Jim’s, Lou’s (for meat ball subs), Nick’s (for roast beef), and Pat’s. (The exception was The White House, in Atlantic City, for hoagies. I knew guys drove the entire 120 miles for an Italian Meats Special.) Pat’s, on 9th, where Wharton crosses Passyunk, deserves a few words of its own.
Not only did Pat’s have no place to sit. You couldn’t even get inside. You stood on the sidewalk, under an overhang plastered with black-and-white photos of Pat with notable Philadelphians: Bobby Rydell; Gus Zernial; Pat with Gil Turner; with three of the Four Jays; and you ordered through a window. And ordering at Pat’s was really cool. You said, depending on your feelings about onions, “One with” or “One without.” And if you were really, really cool, you knew to say, “One with, inside out,” which meant “Scrape-the-bread-outta-the-roll.”
Cheese was not even in the conversation.

My latest…

…can be found at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/archives/2014/12/ol_blue_eyes.html

I can’t resist saying that when the editor showed it to a woman friend, she told him that when she was in college, she would have slept with whoever wrote it. (She went on to say that, regrettably, while now in her fifties that is still her highest praise for a boy author.

I thought, now why didn’t anyone react like this when it would have done me some good. Then Adele reminded me that, aside from how I looked in jeans, my writing was what first attracted her to me.

Anyway, it begins…

To get the preliminaries out of the way, at Bob Dylan’s third of three concerts at the Oakland Paramount, first, the band – Bob (piano and harmonica), Tony Garnier (bass), Donnie Herron (banjo, viola, violin, mandolin, pedal and lap steel), Stu Kimball (rhythm guitar), and especially, given the way the sound mix reached these ears, George Reville (drums) and Charley Sexton (lead guitar) – was terrific; but if you understood more than one-third of the lyrics, you beat the over-under. Second, they did nineteen songs, of which one was from the sixties and five from “Tempest,” Bob’s latest release of new material. (Last year, at Mountain View, they did fifteen songs, of which four were from the sixties and two from “Tempest.” The year before, in Berkeley, eight of fifteen songs from the sixties and none from “Tempest, even though it had just been released and could have used the promotion.) Third, as for ingratiating stage presence, Bob no longer even introduces the musicians. (If he said anything, it was “Thank you. We’ll be right back.” At least, immediately after something undistinguishable uttered from his microphone, everyone walked off stage and returned, fifteen minutes later, to resume playing, without any buzzings or dimming lights to alert those in line in the rest rooms, of whom, given the number of graying pony tails in the audience, male as well as female, there were likely to be plenty. (Of further demographic note, it being the night after the World Series, the audience sported about as many t-shirts saluting the Giants as it did saluting Bob.) And finally, when he’d played Mountain View, Bob was still varying his shows by a couple songs, night to night; but on most of this tour, he has been sticking with the same songs, in the same order, every night, regardless of whether he is moving on or sticking around.

My latest…

…is up at http://broadstreetreview.com/books-movies/s.-clay-wilsons-abc
(Again I apologize for not being able to post a link that can be directly clicked on.)

Anyway, it begins…

The perfect gift for the man who has everything, provided his possessions include an X-rated sense of humor, has arrived: Wilson’s ABC, “an audacious, illustrated alphabet,” from Wordplay, edited and annotated by Malcolm Whyte.
S. Clay Wilson, along with Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin, was one of the original cartoonists invited by Robert Crumb to join him in ZAP. ZAP, which is generally credited with transforming comics into a vehicle for adult artistic expression, and thereby liberating all of graphic art, was one of the most influential publications of the second half of the 20th century; and Wilson, whose uncensored id-to-ink renderings of laugh-out-loud sex-and-violence blew what restraints remained upon his already freewheeling colleagues, was among its most influential artists.

I just finished…

…Haruki Murakami’s “The Strange Library.” Adele (and her friend Marilyn), who read things psychoanalytically, had interesting things about it, interpreting it as a dream which followed the event with which Murakami actually concludes his book. I, who does not, didn’t.

This was the third Murakami novel I had read. It came to me that his process entails grouping together letters into arrangements that, say, spell “sheep” or “moon” or “girl,” which cast up responses within readers’ minds, but are used by him more like cut-outs of colored paper, which he slides around within the confines of his book’s covers, governed by the laws of a universe which, while offering some restraints, were not the laws of my own and that, then, what happens to your mind, happens to your mind.

Of course, this could be said of any writer. But it was with Murakami that I first saw it, so he gets the credit.

And I join Adele and Marily in wishing that, now that he’s got this out of the way, he’ll get back
to “IQ84.”