Stuff, to me, is different things. Could be politics, music, religion, memories…a whole bunch of things. As an example, the other evening we watched a DVD of Guys And Dolls, and it took me back a long, long way. I grew up in Brooklyn, back when it was worth your life, or a limb at the very least, to go into a neighborhood that wasn’t yours. As a matter of fact, it was when I got a bicycle chain wrapped around my head by a kid that was smaller than me, that my mother said “That’s it…we’re moving”, and we moved to Florida.
Wow, talk about a culture shock! I got a driver’s license at 14 and when my father and I visited Brooklyn I was king of the hill. That’s a good memory. New York City was never going to be Pleasantville…it’s just too vibrant, but there was a time when it was better than it is now. It wasn’t unusual to go to a friend’s house and open the door and walk in, because a lot of doors weren’t locked. The parks were places you went to play ball, row a canoe, visit the animals in the zoo and, if you were lucky, eat something that your folks brought for the picnic. Yeah, we had ants back then too…it wasn’t all paradise…but it was better than it is now.
My father and I used to go to Times Square every Sunday and we would pick out a movie from one of the seven or eight that were in that immediate area. I remember seeing vaudeville at the Loews State, with acts like Gallagher and Sheen, and I heard Frank Sinatra at the Paramount. Yeah, I’m old, but in my time all the big ones were just coming along, and it was my privilege to see and hear them. There was Gargantua the ape at the circus, the tiglon at the Bronx Zoo, and if the weather was right, we’d go to Coney Island and ride the steeplechase horses at Luna Park, have hot dogs from Nathan’s and hot buttered corn. Those are good memories.
For me, “the war” was World War 2, even though I served after it, and during Korea, because that was the era in which the world was the most dangerous…and reading the headlines in the paper alternately made my family happy or scared, depending upon the news. We had a map of the world that covered nearly a whole wall in our living room and we knew where the war was going good for the allies, and where it wasn’t.
There wasn’t a real fear that America could be bombed, but it might be invaded, and that was almost a daily discussion. I had a pal that had a .22 rifle and we’d go to a vacant lot and shoot bottles – I got pretty good with it, but nobody was shooting back at us then. During the war you couldn’t go a block without seeing a flag flying, or, if you looked in a window you might see a small pennant with a blue star – or a gold one.
There was so much patriotism it was easy to get caught up in it. We would scour neighborhoods for glass bottles, or any sort of aluminum pots or pans, or any metal at all. Rubber tires were especially prized, and we thought seriously about taking them right off cars, but we got a lecture about that, and didn’t do it.
The music of that era was, I think, better. You could understand the words to the songs, none of them had cursing in them, and many were patriotic in their message. There was “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer”, “Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” along with many others, and some songs that carried over from The Great War in the 19-teens. One of my favorites was “Lili Marlene”, even though it was a German song.
We felt bad when Glenn Miller disappeared. We were deeply moved by the reports from London by Edward R Murrow, and Drew Pearson was an oddball at the time. Walter Winchell spoke to “all the ships at sea” and at some time, Ernest Hemingway moved to Key West. I lost a nice guy cousin when his B-24 was shot down returning from a raid in Ploesti, Romania. The world had never seen the magnitude of the military might that the United States amassed to free, and arm, the world. It was said that, during the raids on the German homeland, there were thousands of American aircraft in the sky.
That was some stuff then and, speaking of stuff: do you remember the stuff that dreams are made of? I do. I have a Maltese Falcon looking down at me from just above my monitor’s screen…
Image: Courtesy of: http://connecticutcallboard.com/blog/2013/01/17/landmark-community-theatre-thomaston-opera-house-audition-notice/