Tuesday, August 07, 2007

a boomer's niche

[555 mcclean avenue in staten island’s south beach houses, p.s. 46 on reid avenue]

from this little corner of the world i spent years 5-10. during this period--corresponding to the years 1964-1969--i started kindergarten and finished fourth grade. as i explored the south beach houses and the surrounding neighborhood, lyndon johnson trounced barry goldwater and the “great society” commenced. civil rights workers michael schwerner, james chaney, andrew goodman, james reeb, and viola liuzzo were murdered. the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965 were passed overwhelmingly and signed into law. watts, newark, and detroit blew up. our ill-considered vietnam incursion “escalated” out of control and young men--including those in our precincts--came home in body bags.

when we first moved to staten island at the height of beatlemania, a ferry ride to manhattan or brooklyn was required to “connect” to another borough. plodding across the bay this way took us to the world’s fair. yet, looming above us in the near distance was the almost-completed verrazano-narrows bridge. when president lyndon johnson came to inaugurate that wonder, we welcomed him with “hello lyndon” sung to the tune of “hello dolly.” sounds of 77 wabc and the wmca good guys provided a delightful score over am waves to ease racial tensions or the anxiety of vietnam and events such as the soviet crushing of prague spring and dubček’s “socialism with a human face.”

from my perch in 2A i cheered on my hero and fellow left-hander sandy koufax—whether in the ragweed-laden field next to p.s. 46 in the dusty summer of procul harum’s “whiter shade of pale” or that christmas we celebrated german-style with the army family the rushtons in dongan hills when “hello, goodbye” by the beatles and “you better sit down kids” by cher made those holidays even more amazing. immigration guidelines had already changed, which would forever change the face (or actually faces) of new york city in the years that followed. chicken pox erupted a few weeks before 1967’s six day war commenced, allowing me to stay home from school for a week to savor old “donna reed show,” “leave it to beaver,” and “biography” (mike wallace’s version) reruns on morning television. “groovin’” by the rascals was my score to that.

studebaker exhibited its 1964 line-up at the coliseum auto show. the assault by michael quill and his transit workers union upon the nascent administration of mayor john v. lindsay unleashed the unrelenting municipal union troubles of his idealistic tenure—whether the blue flu of nypd, huge piles of refuse uncollected by sanitation workers, and the fiery belligerence of albert shanker and his uft (who struck for two months when i was in fourth grade). during the period of that strike by teachers over decentralization, richard nixon squeaked by to victory over the chicago-tarnished hubert humphrey. lights and appliances in 555 mcclean avenue came to a screeching halt with those in the rest of the city during the great blackout of 1965. that event occurred close to the election of mayor lindsay—the first candidate for whom i ever rooted. [interestingly, the mayor of “gotham city” on the tv show “batman” (which went on the air in 1966) was mayor linseed.]

the summer of 1968 a boy named david (who suffered from brittle diabetes) moved across the hall from us. he writhed in pain in our car as our moms returned from a saturday shopping trip to korvettes (and josé feliciano’s remake of “light my fire” came over the car radio). [feliciano would be greeted by detroit tigers fans with bottles and cans at the world series a few weeks later when he sang the national anthem.] david succumbed to his disease during the teachers’ decentralization strike when it seemed “hey jude” by the beatles never stopped droning on and on.

while i struggled to tie my shoelaces, i delighted to herman’s hermits singing “henry the viii, i am” and tom jones’ “it’s not unusual.” that summer after first grade when i learned to swim at the fort wadsworth pool, the troggs’ “wild thing” and frank sinatra’s “strangers in the night” came over the snack bar’s radio. in the aftermath of bobby kennedy’s assassination (in which my overwrought third-grade teacher mrs. o’brien had to leave the room), i enjoyed burgers at wetson’s on hylan boulevard with my friend allison rushton and brother keith to the strains of richard harris’ “macarthur park.” allison’s sister mimi and her mom had been visiting at our place two months earlier when word of dr. king’s assassination came over news bulletins while we watched “bewitched.”

days before our move to suffolk county, men walked on the moon, upstate roads were clogged with revelers headed to yasgur’s farm, and a chain of events occurred in a place called chappaquiddick. “spinning wheel” by blood sweat & tears and sly & the family stone’s “hot fun in the summertime” provided succor with reruns of “julia, “here come the brides,” and “the ghost & mrs. muir.” vietnam dragged on, wreaking havoc on the vietnamese people: young americans continued to return from that useless conflict in body bags or damaged emotionally.

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