How’m I Doing?

Ed Koch was a very colorful 4 term congressman and a 3 term Mayor of New York City. Following his time as Mayor, one of the things he did was a daily talk show on WABC, and I was his engineer. During his political life, and when he did the radio show, he loved to measure his success by asking people, “How’m I doing?” I’m going to take a page out of the Mayor’s book, and ask myself, “How’m I doing?”

On January 11th of 2021, I posted a rather long blog post entitled “Writing”, in which I detailed some of my various blogs I’d started and then let go by the wayside. I talked about my desires and my intention, and then made a promise of sorts. Here’s a quote from that blog:

“Look, I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, and honestly I don’t remember making one that even lasted beyond my January 2nd birthday, but I’m going to try one on for size in 2021. As we work our way through the second week of the new year, I am going to pledge that at the very minimum, I’ll publish one new blog post per week in 2021. That means a minimum of 52 posts during 2021, and hopefully many more! “

So, in Ed Koch style, it’s now time to ask the question, “How’m I doing?”

Well, since that post exactly one year ago today, and including this post, I have posted 51 blogs. So, nothing new with resolutions…I didn’t make my pledge to publish one new blog a week! I came close, but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes!

Looking back on the year gone by, my best month was March, 2021 when I published 8 blogs, followed by April when I was responsible for 7 new blogs. The absolute worst months were October and November, when I only did 1 blog each month! There were a lot of months with two and three blogs on my list, but the only months I did indeed put up 4 new blogs were January, February, March, April, July, and December! I guess 50/50 is the best I had in 2021!

So, should I try again for 2022? I’d like to indeed, but if I do or don’t, we won’t know till January 11, 2023 when I look back at my stats! Stay tuned….

A Look Back at 2021 – Part 2

So, yesterday I started this look back at 2021 by detailing some of the things that happened in our lives during the first 6 months of the year!  Here now is a look at the last 6 months of 2021!

July saw us continue our regular summer routine of going to the beach, sitting for hours a day on our front porch, and being with our friends and neighbors!  Then late in the month, it was time for me to re-start something that should have been long finished, but for the pandemic!  In July of 2019 I had my left knee replaced.  My intention was to start the process to replace the right knee shortly after coming home from Florida in April of 2020, but then Covid showed up!  Well, this postponement had taken enough time, and I was ready for pain-free knees, so off we went to Dr. Zabinski in Somers Point to get the process started! 

At the very end of July, we celebrated a very special birthday with a very special neighbor!  Doie Barnes lives right next door to us on Pennlyn Place, and in WWII she was a member of the Women’s Marine Corp, and on the 30th of July, she celebrated her 100th Birthday!!  There was a huge ceremony at the flag raising ceremony that morning on the Ocean City Boardwalk, followed by a party at the American Legion Post!  It was a special day, and we were so happy to be able to share it with this great lady!!

August saw me taking care of surgery pre-op clearances with the hospital, our medical Doctor and our Dentist, starting the vitamin regime that Dr Zabinski calls for, and even making a decision about our leased 2018 Honda CRV.  Our lease was going to be up mid September, and as there were very few new cars around due to the “chip shortage,” we decided to extend the lease for 6 months!  We also went to a Straight No Chaser concert at the Ocean City Music Pier with our neighbors and good friends, Patti and Meade.  We’d bought these tickets way back in 2019 for a concert that had been canceled in the spring of 2020!  

As Labor Day rolled around at the beginning of September, Ocean City turned back into a small town, after 2 plus months of being a summer resort, and the quiet, calm months of our lives were back!  On Tuesday, September 14th,  I had my right knee replaced by Dr. Zabinski.  It was very different than the left knee, as this time, due to Covid protocols, Susie dropped me off at the front door of Shore Memorial at 6:30 AM, and picked me up in the same place at 4:30 PM!  I now had two prosthetic knees!  The rest of the month was given over to recuperation, physical therapy, and eating all the things I couldn’t before the surgery!

By the third week of October, I was done with PT and the next week was released with a clean bill of health from Dr. Zabinski!  I could again travel distances in the car, and go about my normal life, with painless knees!  Also, October saw the second part of our kitchen rehab take place, when our new subway tile backsplash was installed over the new counters!  Then later in the month, another key part of our rehab took place as we had new plantation shutters installed across the front of the house!  October also saw a visit from Kenny and Chris, who flew up to Atlantic City from Tampa airport.  They spent a week with us, before heading up to New York, and a reunion with his twin sister and her husband Mike!  In case you couldn’t guess, October was a busy month for us!

Unlike last year, on November 2nd we voted in person around the corner from our house.  Masks were the order of the day, but it was good to be enjoying this most basic American privilege in person!  Now that I’d been cleared for travel, it was time to once again see our kids and grandkids in North Carolina, and the second week of the month we drove down to spend 4 days with our North Carolina Family!  Having pretty much decided that we were going to buy our 2018 Honda CRV when the lease extension ended, we were very surprised when we got a call on November 23rd from the Honda dealer, telling us that a red 2022 CRV had just come off the truck.  We went back and forth on price, and when they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, we went over to take a look at the car.  That evening, we drove our new, red 2022 Honda CRV to Charlie’s for dinner!  Thanksgiving, 2020 was a lot different than Thanksgiving 2021, when we hunkered down in Ocean City with Kenny and Chris. It was the first time Kenny was home for Thanksgiving in 14 years!  We went everywhere and did everything in 2021, putting 700+ miles on the brand new car!  We traveled to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with our son-in-law Mike’s family!  The next day, we loaded Krissi and Mike into the new car and headed up to New Rochelle to spend the night with them!  Saturday morning we headed to Long Island to participate in the big celebration for our Boy Scout Troop’s 100th Anniversary.  Sunday we saw Susie sister and her family, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at our favorite Mineola restaurant, Piccolo’s!  Yes quite a whirlwind weekend and a busy month, which also included both of us getting our Moderna Covid boosters and our flu shots!  

The beginning of December saw the last part of our rehab take place: the removal of our old tile floor in the dining room and kitchen, and the installation of our new laminate flooring.  We love it!  The second week of the month we had a brief visit from my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt, as they made a much belated trip down to their winter residence in Barefoot Bay, Florida. Before we knew it, Christmas Eve was here, and Susie and I partook in some of our usual traditions and some new ones!  We’d been alone last Christmas and were not really upset about spending the holiday alone, but our alone time was not to be for long!  A Christmas surprise was in store, as our son Bill, his wife Lori and our three Grandkids traveled up from North Carolina on December 26th!  We had three wonderful days with our kids and our three little ones, Layla who is 7, Henry who is 6, and Annabelle who is 2 and a 1/2!  What a great treat to see them all and to spend time with the littlest D’Elias!!  

So that pretty much takes care of our 2021!  I know that as the year ended, a lot of people were happy to see it go, but honestly, our 2021 was so much better than 2020 that I really don’’t count us in that camp.  It sucked that Betty White died on the last day of the year, but you must admit that 99 years is a pretty good run!  Of course, with the Covid variant Omicron all over the place, and numbers growing, who knows what 2022 will hold for us, but life goes on and Susie and I are thankful that our whole family is doing well and just hope that continues.  Susie is looking forward to it being her turn, and getting a replacement hip, but then I’m getting ahead of myself!

Looking Back at 2021 – Part 1

A year ago at this time, we were all hoping that 2021 would be better than the majority of 2020 was. We were looking forward to Covid vaccines, getting back to going out to bars and restaurants, and seeing loved ones! So, in retrospect, how was it? Let’s take a look.

January started out as it always does, with my birthday on January 2nd. This year, Susie and I celebrated my 71st trip around the sun with a much quieter celebration than my 70th had been, but we had hope for the future! It wasn’t long before we were both eligible for the Covid vaccine in New Jersey, and we made it our daily job to get appointments. Everyday we signed onto the app, and looked all over the state for appointments. With a little work, and a lot of patience, we both got an appointment for our first shots, me on Thursday, January 21st in Rio Grande, and Susie one week later on the 28th in Glassboro!

In February we continued to do take-out and take all precautions when we went shopping, and then on the 19th for me, and the 25th for Susie, we got Moderna shot #2! We were on our way!

First Night Back

Exactly two weeks after Susie got her second shot, on March 11th, for the first time since just before we went to Florida the end of January 2020, we ate inside at Angelo’s Restaurant in Atlantic City! We called this our “Coming Out Day” as we were now both fully vaccinated and could return to our regular Thursday hangout spot! Then on March 24th, we again were back inside at Charlie’s! It wasn’t our usual Tuesday night at the back bar with our friend Sue, but since the back bar still wasn’t open, it was the second best thing! We may have been back inside, but things were still strange at our favorite spots. No drinking or eating at the bar, masks and strict separation guides, but it was progress! March also saw the start of our kitchen renovations, with the installation of new quartz counters and a marble fireplace surround. The green was going away at 854 Pennlyn!

April was a banner month for us, as on the first weekend of the month, we journeyed to North Carolina to see our son and daughter-in-law, and our Grandkids for the first time since the end of January 2020! Over a year without seeing your Grandkids and being able to hug them when they are 6 and under is a long time for Grandparents! We continued our weekly visits to Charlie’s and Angelo’s, and also had a wonderful visit from our daughter Krissi and her husband Mike, for the first time since a very socially distanced visit in late August of 2020! Then towards the end of the month, we were again in North Carolina for a joint birthday party for our Granddaughter Layla (7) and her baby sister Annabelle (2)! Yes, life was returning to normal!!

The Birthday Girls

Just to prove that life was in fact coming back, after we left Billy and Lori’s, we didn’t head north, but rather south to visit our son Kenny and his husband Chris in Florida and see their new apartment in downtown St. Petersburg! It was a quick trip, spending 3 days in St. Petersburg, and then one in our beloved Indian Rocks Beach before heading north again! This time, we did something we hadn’t done when we ran home from Florida in March of 2020…we stopped in Darien, Georgia to once again enjoy the best fried shrimp we’ve ever had at B&J’s Steak and Seafood!

May saw us back on Long Island for the first time in over a year, as we took care of some Doctor visits, and then spent some great time with our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf! From there we were off to New Rochelle and spending a night with Krissi and Mike at their new condo that we’d yet to see! Now we’d seen all our kids, our grandkids and checked out everything that was new in their lives! Life was getting more and more on track! Of course, May in our household would not be complete without celebrating the birthday of my beloved on May 28th! Susie claims that that birthday would be the last one she would celebrate, but I don’t know about that!!

June saw the island come alive, as many of our summer visitors arrived, ready to have summer fun in a place we are lucky enough to call home 365 days of the year! June also saw us refinancing our mortgage at an incredible 2.65% for a shorter term than we had left on the original! Incredible when you think that, when we’d bought our Mineola home in 1986, we’d started with a 13 3/4% loan!! On the 13th of the month, our son Bill flew up to Philly from Wake Forest, North Carolina with his two oldest kids, 7 year old Layla and 5 year old Henry. Within a couple of hours, Dad was back on a plane headed home, and Layla and Henry were in the car with Grandma and Grandpa heading to Ocean City! For the next 5 days, we got to spoil our Grandkids, and expose them to Ocean City, exactly like their Dad and Aunt and Uncle had been, way back in the 80s! We tried to do all the things we remembered doing with our kids, so our days were spent on the beach and boardwalk, playing mini golf, eating Hose Pizza (AKA Manco & Manco Pizza), picking out taffy at Shrivers, trying everything at the 34th street playground, enjoying the rides at Wonderland, and of course, all the beach activities like digging holes, flying kites and frolicking in the water. It was a great 5 days, but wait, there’s more!!

The end of their visit coincided with Father’s day weekend, and Susie and I loaded the car with Layla, Henry and all their new purchases, and headed down to Billy and Lori’s Lake House in Gaston, North Carolina. Coming via plane were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, and son Kenny and his husband Chris! It was a huge D’Elia/Mikowicz/Fox Family Reunion/Father’s Day Weekend on the lake, and it couldn’t have been better! Yes, the world was starting to feel normal, and here Susie and I were with our three kids, their chosen partners, and our three beautiful Grandkids!

And that’s how the first 6 months of 2021 went for the D’Elias of Ocean City. Check back tomorrow to find out how we faired during the last six months of 2021!

The Christmas Curse

Just like the 86 year “Curse of the Bambino” that the Boston Red Sox suffered through after selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, I too suffered through my own curse as a kid. Unlike the Red Sox, mine did not have to do with not being able to win a World Series, while the New York Yankees dominated in the fall classic. No, mine had to do with getting Christmas presents that didn’t exactly do what they were supposed to do! I think of it as my Christmas Curse!

The first time it happened was when I was too young to even remember, but through the years, I heard the story so much that it is ingrained in my memory as if I did remember. It might have been my second Christmas and “Santa” had gifted me a red pedal car fire truck. On Christmas Eve of that year, my folks came home from doing a show at the Met, and my Dad launched into assembling this fire truck. He opened the box, and rather than the 4 wheels it was supposed to come with, he only found three! Knowing that, at the very least I should be able to sit in the truck in the living room of our Jackson Heights apartment the next morning, after putting the rest of the truck together, he fashioned a 4th wheel our of a cigar box. Of course, with a square wheel, I couldn’t ride it, but he had made sure that at least I could sit in it! And so it started!

When you are a kid (still one in my mind), one of the most important parts of Christmas morning is being able to play with your newly delivered toys! Be it a sled, a skateboard, or an erector set, your full enjoyment is only reached the first time you are able to use the gift. Sadly, the three wheeled fire truck was not the last of my Christmas morning disappointments! There was the year I got my first two-wheeled bike. That year, an important part was missing, and all I could do was look at the pieces, as it wasn’t even assembled enough so I could sit on it! But the one that stands front and center in my mind, is the year in the 60s when I was gifted a brand new Lionel HO Scale Slot Car track with two race cars. I unpacked the box, carefully set up the track, plugged in the controllers, and was all set to enjoy some slot racing when I discovered that sadly, only one of the cars worked! Oh No!! The Christmas Curse had struck again!! I have sad memories of my friend Barry Meade and I playing with just one car, as the second one sat there and just gave us the finger!!

I tell you these sad stories as a preamble to my real story, that took place when our oldest son Billy was about 4 or 5 years old. All three of our kids have November birthdays – Billy the 3rd, and Krissi and Kenny the 20th. Back when they were small, and toys were the major items on their Wish Lists, Susie and I would make a trip to Toys R Us in October, well before the Christmas rush. We’d buy both Birthday and Christmas gifts then, so we could avoid the crazy rush that started right around Thanksgiving, and lasted right up to December 25th. That year for his birthday, Billy’s main gift was a Teddy Ruxpin talking “bear”. If you don’t recall, Teddy was an early animatronic children’s toy, who’s eyes and mouth moved in response to an audio cassette tape that you inserted into a player built in his back. One track of the cassettes was used for audio and the second was a data stream that facilitated the animation of the the doll. It was a marvel of engineering for a kid’s toy at the time, and one of the hot gifts, ads for which flooded the TV.

It was an instant hit with Billy, and he took it everywhere. When Susie’s brother Don and his wife Diane saw it on Thanksgiving, they decided to buy Billy Teddy’s companion Grubby for Christmas. By means of a supplied cable, Grubby plugged into Teddy, and when you inserted a cassette that featured both of the characters, Grubby and Teddy would interact. Incredible for the time, or so it seemed to us! Of course, without Teddy, Grubby was no more than an expensive stuffed animal, and that takes us to the crux of my story!

Just a couple of days before Christmas, Teddy stopped working. No matter what I tried, I could not get him to work, and knowing that Grubby needed Teddy to work, I saw that my Christmas Curse was about to be passed along to our son! Of course, when you are a parent, you will do anything you can to secure your children’s safety and happiness, and with memories of my childhood disappointments in mind, I made the ultimate sacrifice! I went to Toys R Us just 2 days before Christmas!

I told Susie that I was not going to let him suffer as I had as a kid, and since Toys R Us was open till midnight the week before Christmas, after he was asleep that night, I headed out to the Toys R Us near us in Carle Place. I pulled into the parking lot after 10 PM, and from the cars there, it might as well have been a Saturday afternoon. There were absolutely no shopping carts available, so I ventured into the store ready to carry out my one purchase. There were people everywhere, trying to find the perfect gift before it was time for Santa to come down the chimney. As quickly as I could get through the crowd of shoppers, I went to the spot in the store where I knew the Teddy Ruxpin display had been, praying that there were still some available. I was rewarded by seeing at least a dozen still on the shelf, and quickly grabbed one. Satisfied that the box was in good condition, and that Teddy looked complete, I cheered my good fortune, and made my way to the front of the store and the checkout counters! I didn’t get far!

This particular Toys R Us had about 20 checkout stations, and the lines for each of them snaked around the front of the store and then up the aisles. Getting on any of the lines, you were about halfway up the aisle in the middle of the store. I was resigned for a long wait! Thank God I was in my 30s, and standing a long time was doable, because believe me when I tell you, I stood a long time! As I slowly waited for my line to move, I checked out my fellow shoppers surrounding me. There were people with kids asleep in their carts, there were folks with more than one shopping cart, and the vast majority of folks had shopping carts overflowing with games, and puzzles, and dolls, and all manor of toys! Turns out that Toy R Us, just days before Christmas was as much of a nightmare to be avoided at all costs as Susie as I had always thought!

My story though, does have a happy ending! After spending hours on line (I got checked out after the doors of the store had closed at midnight), I got back to the car, and headed home. At home, we loaded new batteries in Teddy, put in a cassette and he worked! YES!! Then it was just a simple task to switch this new Teddy for the broken one and tell Billy the next morning that we’d fixed him! Two days later, at Susie’s Mom and Dad’s house on Christmas Day, Billy opened Donnie and Diane’s present, plugged Grubby into Teddy, and they both worked, and our young son was happy and none the wiser!

That little boy is now 39 years old, and for the past few days we’ve had a post Christmas visit from Bill and his wife Lori, and our three Grandkids…Layla (age 7), Henry (age 6) and Annabelle (age 2 1/2), traveling up to us from their North Carolina home. The toys that our three Grandkids showed us they got from Santa this Christmas are much more sophisticated than a bear named Teddy and his friend Grubby, but thankfully due to my emergency trip to Toys R Us, Bill never had to suffer through the Christmas Curse of broken toys, and therefore did not pass it along to Layla, Henry, and Annabelle! That late December visit to Toys R Us also confirmed to Susie and I that shopping there in October was definitely the better plan, and we continued to do so until their wish list gifts started changing from toys to electronic gadgets like CD Players, Video Games, and TVs! This year, with the exception of a new shirt that was a bit too snug, I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to keep the ghosts of Christmases Past at bay, and play with everything under the tree on Christmas morning!

The End!

Another Day Older, and Deeper in Debt

Ah Christmastime…As Andy Williams and many other singers tell us yearly, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! And it is…. This time of year is always a wonderful time to make memories, and to reflect on those memories years later. Here’s some that easily come to my mind!

Susie and I met in July of 1977, and right from our first Christmas together that December, I knew that she loved Christmas. That’s why, a year later when I had a permanent job at ABC, on Christmas Day of 1978, I managed to get her alone upstairs at my folks house in Bayside, and I asked Susie if she’d marry me, and then ran through the house, telling all that would listen, “She said yes!!!” That’s probably my best Christmas memory! Happy 43rd Anniversary of the day you said “Yes” Baby!

Unless Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, my folks always had to do at least one performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When I was small, after they’d gotten home from a show on Christmas Eve, was their time to do the tree, and set up presents and stockings. When I got older, we developed a habit of having Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches, and cheap champagne (them when I was younger, all of us as I reached my teens), while we opened Christmas presents. This made it easier for my folks to sleep in a bit on Christmas day, rather than have me wake them up at 6 AM! Because we’d started this years ago, Christmas Eve was always a day we celebrated with our version of the 7 fishes and then cold cut sandwiches at midnight. The Christmas Eve of 1979, Susie and I had only been married a couple of months, so that night, after I’d worked at WABC, we went to my folks house in Bayside for our traditional Christmas Eve. We left very late at night (really early in the morning) and headed home to our apartment in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Tired and wanting to be in our own house, we were happy to park in front of the small 4 apartment building we called home. The great memory of our first Christmas Eve together was not being with my folks, or the microwave oven they gave us for Christmas, but rather the fact that the front door of the building, which had never been locked and which we didn’t have a key for, was indeed locked! A great memory of our first Christmas Eve together (we eventually did get in after our banging woke up another tenant)! Christmas Eve is still an important day for our family. We no longer open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have traditions that we do every year! So for us, Christmas is a two day celebration. Christmas is the time for traditions!

Christmas of 1982 held many great memories, because our oldest Bill was less than two months old. Not that he knew what was going on, but first time Parents and Grandparents enjoyed it that year! The next year was also a great Christmas, but for entirely different reasons. My Dad suddenly died just 10 days before Christmas of 1983. It’s hard when you lose your Dad when you are 33 years old, and was sad for my Mom as they’d spent 35 Christmases as husband and wife, but now Billy was 1 year old, and had a little grasp of what Christmas was. I think the entire family concentrated on him, and while we had every reason to be sad, we weren’t, and had a great Christmas. The Miracle of Christmas?

Christmas of 1986 found us in our new home in Mineola, and our family expanded to five from three. Krissi and Kenny were born six weeks premature on November 20th, and our fervent wish was that our entire family would be together for Christmas. Krissi spent 18 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Kenny spent 28 days in the NICU. Kenny had a little stocking ornament on his incubator that said, “Home for Christmas.” Our prayers were answered that year, and on Christmas morning ,our two little bundles of joy joined their older brother Billy for Christmas in our Mineola house! Our family was complete! By the way, Kenny still has that ornament!

So many wonderful memories of Christmases as the kids were growing and getting older. Memories of doing Christmas Eve dinner at my Mom’s or at our house with Susie’s folks, of having a leisurely dinner till the last minute, when suddenly the clock had run out, and we had to dash out of the house because we couldn’t be late to the kid’s Christmas Pageant at Church, and then the Service of the Carols. Then memories of coming home, of the kids getting into their jammies, and then the whole family continuing my Mom and Dad’s tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and cheap champagne, and of watching Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. As the kids got older, we even made it to the end of Christmas Vacation! Then they’d go to bed, and the real work started! Putting together presents that needed to be assembled, pulling Toys R Us tags off items that were going into their stockings (Santa didn’t shop at Toys R Us!), getting to bed way too late, and then getting up way too early! Of making the kids wait at the top of the stairs till Dad went down and made sure the house was all set up for Christmas morning. Then there was wrapping paper everywhere, and suddenly it was time to all get dressed so we could head to Susie’s folks or her sister Barbara’s house for Christmas, or getting the house cleaned up because the whole family was coming to our house! They were crazy, exhausting Christmases, where we operated with all together too little sleep and too much to do, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them! They are all the wonderful memories that live in your heart when you get older!

Let me leave you with one more memory that means a lot to us and our kids. The first year we were married, Susie found these leaded glass toasting flutes at Sterns Department Store. They have been a part of every one of our Christmases over the last 42 years. This year, through the magic of Ebay, I was able to find enough of them for sale that we just were able to send a set to every one of our kids and their spouses, plus have enough so that when we are all together, we will have them too! It’s our hope that this year Bill and Lori, Krissi and Mike, and Kenny and Chris will all toast Christmas the same way their Mom and Dad have for all their married life, and that they will have as great a life and memories of Christmases as we do!

So yes, perhaps another day older and deeper in debt, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the money in the world! May you and yours have a joyous Christmas, spent with family and friends that are like family, and make new memories that will warm your heart on Christmas for years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

This is the Army and the Story of the Box

On the occasion of last month’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, I posted on Facebook a couple of pictures of my Dad in World War II, performing in Irving Berlin’s all soldier show, This is the Army. I’m going to use this blog today to expand a bit on that post, and to also tell you a story that was a staple of my childhood, that today has a different ending than it did when I was a kid. Let’s start at the beginning…

My Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia (so no…I’m not legitimately a third as I don’t have a middle name), was born on October 5th, 1910, on the lower east side of Manhattan. He was one of 13 kids in a typical big Italian family, and like many kids of his generation, never went to High School because he had to go out into the world and earn money to help support his family. My father was different from many folks in those days though, in that his chosen profession was to be an opera singer. (One of the questions I wished I’d asked my Dad when he was still with us was, “Why an Opera Singer?”) Jobs were hard enough to find, but finding a job as an opera singer was even harder.

From stories I heard growing up, like many performers, my Dad had many jobs that did not involve singing. From selling pretzels in the park to being a messenger for a Wall Street firm, to acting as “secretary” to his voice teacher, Madame Novelli, he did what he had to do! Long story short, that’s why he was very happy when he got to audition for, and then was offered a job in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Germans and the Japanese were edging the world towards war and this would impact my father’s life in a very large way.

Sometime in that first year of being a member of the Met chorus, he got his draft notice! After years of struggling and scraping by while supporting his family, he was finally at the point where he had a regular job, and now the US Army was going to change all that. He went to his draft board, looking to get an extension so that he could at least complete the season before reporting for duty. Ultimately, they did give him that extension, so he finished out his first season at the Met, and then went off to the army. (If you read the blog post, My Dad and His Family then you know the whole Draft Board story, if not, here’s a link https://rnewadventures.com/2020/10/06/my-dad-and-his-family/)

After kicking around at Fort Dix for a couple of weeks, my Dad was sure that he’d be sent off to some area where his background and experience would have no use to him. That’s why he was very surprised to be assigned to Camp Upton, in Yaphank on Long Island, to audition for Irving Berlin and his all soldier show, “This is the Army.” He passed the audition and joined the cast that included Broadway actors, movie stars, musicians from famous orchestras, and one singer from the Metropolitan Opera! For most of my childhood we’d be watching a movie or TV show, and my Dad would point out one of his “army buddies” that he’d traveled the world with in the show.

After rehearsals, the show opened at New York’s Broadway Theater (the same theater that gave us Mikey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie) on July 4th of 1942, and was expected to run for 4 weeks. It was such a success that the run was extended several times, and eventually it ran to the end of September of that year. Since the show was loved by so many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw it 3 times and wanted her husband the President to see it too, next up for the company was a National Tour, with all ticket sales going to Army Relief. Washington was their first stop with a special Presidential Matinee scheduled at Washington’s National Theater. The day after that performance, the entire company of This is the Army was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, where festivities lasted late into the night! Another story I’d heard when I was a kid! When the National Tour ended in February 1943,This is the Army had earned $2,000,000 for the Army Relief Fund.

The next stop for the TITA company was Hollywood. Warner Brothers had offered $250,000 for the film rights of the show, and like the profits from the National Tour, this was donated to the Army, and the entire company spent 6 months in Hollywood making the Warner Brothers movie, “This is the Army.” Although, for the purpose of the movie, a sub plot was added that enabled Warner Brothers to include movie stars like Ronald Reagan (the only one of the “stars” who was in the service as an Army Lieutenant), George Murphy, Alan Hale, Sr., and several others. The musical numbers from the show were still intact and the performers in those numbers were still the soldiers. A camp for the 359 members of the company was set up near the Warner Brothers lot (with heated tents built by the Warner Brothers Prop Department), and each day, the company would march from their camp to the movie studio. As well as shooting the movie, the singers, dancers, and musicians all participated in regular army drills, as befitting soldiers in the US Army.

My Dad is the soldier on the far right

The real reason for the making of the movie was to raise funds for Army Relief, and towards that end, it was an unqualified success. It earned $9,555,586.44, which Warner Brother’s donated to the Army Relief Fund.

After their American performances, the company was reduced to a cast of 150 men, including my Dad. Their next assignment was to be shipped off to England, and play around the country for 3 months, but prior to that, they returned to Camp Upton on Long Island to re-stage the show taking into account the reduced cast. On October 21st, the company sailed for Liverpool aboard the Monarch of Bermuda. After 10 days of very crowded conditions, sailing in the dangerous North Atlantic, their convoy reached its destination. This is the Army played in London for Royalty and for American and Allied troops, and then embarked on a tour around Great Britain. On February 6, 1944, they returned to London and performed for General Eisenhower. At this point the cast thought they had reached the end of the road, and the show would be disbanded, and they’d all be sent off to regular Army units. However, after seeing the show, General Eisenhower thought that it would be a great moral tool for his troops, and requested from Washington that the show play to Troops at the front.

General Eisenhower’s request was granted, and a week later the This is the Army Company sailed for Algiers. This was to be the the first stop on their tour that would take the company around the world, and not end till October of 1945 in Hawaii, almost 2 months after the September Japanese surrender! Rather than performing for Army Relief Drives or heads of states, now they would chase the front, and perform for the soldiers actually fighting the war! Some of the places they performed were regal, and some just a thrown together stage in the jungle, and their audiences were now groups of soldiers who had just come out of combat and who would be heading right back into it after the show.

TITA Posters, The Original Cast Album, and pictures of Irving Berlin

After 2 weeks performing in North Africa, they sailed for Naples, Italy. In Naples they were billeted in the partially destroyed palace of Victor Emmanuel, and that’s where the story of The Box starts. This was not my father’s first visit to Naples. Back in the 30s, he had sailed from New York to Naples with his voice teacher Madame Novelli. Madame Novelli was originally from Naples, and they stayed with her family for several months while visiting . Among the members of the family was a young man about my Dad’s age, and the two of them became fast friends. Turn the clock ahead to 1944 and the American liberation of Naples. As soon as the “This is the Army” company got to Naples, my Dad looked for his old friends and found them living at the same address he’d visited as a young man. The war years had not been kind to his Italian friends, and my father did all he could to get them food and other supplies that they’d been without for years. One of the benefits of this was that my Dad got to eat with the family, and had home cooked Italian meals for the first time in several years. From my Dad’s stories, simple ingredients like SPAM in the right Italian hands could be turned into gourmet food, so this Italian kid from New York truly enjoyed his meals with his Italian friends!

The royal palace in Naples had been German headquarters in the city, and as such was a favorite target of the allied bombings. My Father would tell stories of sleeping in incredibly opulent surroundings with bomb blasted holes in the roof. The doors at the palace were about 10 feet tall and decorated with intricately carved and painted 4 inch by 10 inch panels. In a typical GI move, my Father pried one of these panels off the door as a souvenir. He told his friend about this and even took it with him to dinner one night to show the family. His friend said that he knew a wood carver and how would my father like it if he could get him to carve a box to match the panel, and use the panel as the lid? My Father liked that idea, and a plan was hatched. About a week later at dinner, his friend showed him the box. The wood carver had done an excellent job of matching the lid, and the carving was exquisite. All that was left was to paint the box to match the lid, and my father’s souvenir would be completed. He left them that night and promised to be back for dinner in 2 nights, and in turn, he was promised that the box would be ready for him to take. As they say, best laid plans.

On the afternoon of the second day, the “This is the Army” company was ordered to load their trucks and be ready to leave Naples within 45 minutes. The Allied forces were continuing up the Italian boot and their show was needed closer to the front lines to entertain the troops. There was no time to get to his friend’s house and no way to tell them what was happening, so that was the last of his stay in Naples, and of the carved box.

That happened in 1944 and was but a brief episode in all the escapades of the This is the Army troop, as they continued through Europe and eventually island hopped in the Pacific theater too.

So now turn the clock forward to the summer of 1971. I’ve just graduated from college and we’ve planned a 4 week trip through Europe. It starts at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany where we picked up a new Ford Capri. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland and down one side of the Italian boot and up the other side. I very distinctly remember the day we got to Naples. After getting situated in the hotel room, my Dad went down to the lobby and found a phone book. He looked up the last name of his friend’s family and found a listing at the exact same address they’d lived at when he first met them in the 1930s. My Father placed a call and when a young lady answered, he explained who he was and asked for his friend by name. She said that he was looking for her Grandfather and that she’d get him. In a few minutes his friend, who he hadn’t seen or talked to in over 25 years, came to the phone. He couldn’t believe that this voice from his past was on the phone and was in Naples. One of the first thing he said to my Dad that day was, “Frank…I’ve got your box!”

That happened 50 years ago this past July, and was the culmination of a story I’d heard my Father tell all my life. Now his story of “The Box,” the souvenir that got away, had a new, and almost impossible to believe ending! My Dad died in 1983, but I must admit that I have continued to tell the story, and I guess keep him and his “This is the Army” stories alive. My Father was a great story teller, and after growing up on so many of these stories, and then finally seeing the movie, I’ve always felt very connected to this time in my Father’s life.

Oh…and the box? Well, for many years it resided on my Mother’s coffee table in her living room in Bayside, as it had since we returned from Europe in 1971, and it completed its trip started in 1944! When my Mom died in 2011, the box moved to our dining room hutch in our Mineola home. When Susie and I moved to Ocean City permanently, and cleaned out the Mineola house, our youngest son (Kenny…the performer and spiritual heir to my Mom and Dad’s profession) asked if he could have the box. It’s traveled around the country with him and his husband Chris, and now lives in their St. Petersburg, Florida living room.  I hope it will always have a place of honor in our family, as a reminder of one of our family’s member of the Greatest Generation.

This is the Army was my Dad’s life for over three and a half years, and was how he fought the Second World War. My Dad made friends and had experiences that he talked about for the rest of his life. As well as entertaining thousands during the war, and making millions of dollars for Army Relief, This is the Army was America’s first integrated company in uniform! Up until I finally saw the movie at the Museum of Modern Art in the 70s, all I had were those stories of my Dad’s of this period of his life. Believe me, I heard lots of “This is the Army” stories growing up, but none of them was any more prominent that the story of “The Box!” His stories of This is the Army continued to be told for the rest of his life, especially every 5 years when the alumni of the company would get together for a reunion. Reunions my Dad relished going to until his death. Sadly, most of the folks that my Dad spent these years with are gone, and the reunions just a memory for those of us who heard our Dads talk about This is the Army.

Thanks Dad for your service!

One of the great sources that I had for filling in some of the TITA details was Alan Anderson’s book, “The Songwriter Goes to War.”

Here’s an excerpt from that book detailing a story my father often told about TITA in Italy – Click on the book cover below to open the passage…

Another excellent source for this period in Irving Berlin’s life, is a series of articles from the National Archives and Prologue Magazine. If you’d like to read more about this period of American History, here’s a link to the first part of the series on This is the Army.
https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/summer/irving-berlin-1.html

If you’d like to see the whole scene that the picture at the beginning of this blog is taken from, here’s a link https://youtu.be/G5xKrNeqqGY

If you’d like to see the whole movie, through the magic of the Internet, here’s a link to Irving Berlin’s, This is the Army https://youtu.be/1RYHowaXdFY

If It’s Tuesday, it Must be Belgium

The 1969 movie of the above name, detailed the adventures of a group of Americans on an 18 day whirlwind bus tour of Europe.  The hectic tour traveled so fast, and to so many places, that it was only by remembering the day of the week, that they knew what country they were in.  Susie and I have just had our own whirlwind tour, and although it wasn’t to Europe, we did travel extensively.  We call it…

Our 2022 Thanksgiving Weekend

About 9 AM on Thanksgiving morning, we loaded bags, food stuff, clothes and ourselves in the CRV and off we headed over the 9th Street bridge and out of Ocean City.  Our destination?  Sara and Gabe Smith’s home in Ellicott City, Maryland.  Sara and Gabe are our son-in-law Mike’s sister and brother-in-law, and for a number of years now, they have been kind enough to include us in their Thanksgiving plans.  Of course, last year there was no traveling to Maryland, and no big family celebration, so we were looking forward to a return to tradition!  

In addition to us, the participants were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, Mike’s Mom and Dad, Jerry and Paula, Sara and Gabe’s teenage kids, Maddy and Ethan, Gabe’s Mom Linda and her husband Bill, Gabe’s sister Danielle and her husband Erik along with their kids Genivieve and Scarlet, and wrapping up the group, Gabe’s sister Darcy and her guy Ken.  It was a full house, and a wonderful time for all.  Susie had made her traditional Turnips, Mashed Potatoes, and Cheddar Cheese mash-up, but the real star of the meal has, and continues to be, the meat that Gabe smokes.  This year, thanks to a new pellet smoker, the traditional turkey was joined by the most delectable brisket!  

It was really a wonderful day, being a part of this big family celebration, and of course eating way to much, but hey Thanksgiving calories don’t count, right?  So there you have stop #1 on our Thanksgiving weekend!

That night, we were off down the road about 15 or 20 minutes with Krissi and Mike to Columbia, Maryland, and Jerry and Paula’s home.  They’d graciously offered us lodging for the evening and we gladly took them up on it.  Everybody got in their PJs, and we hung around until the food coma became too overwhelming, and we headed off to bed!  The next morning we were up and by 10 AM had the car packed and Susie and I, along with Krissi and Mike Mikowitz were off to our next destination….543 Main Street in New Rochelle, New York!

Over to Interstate 95, up through Maryland and then Delaware to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to the state of New Jersey (hi home…see you soon), up the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington Bridge (the toll plazas still stink at the GWB), across the Hudson River, and up the New England Turnpike to New Rochelle!  Night two (It’s Friday in case you’re keeping score) we were spending in Krissi and Mike’s new condo in New Rochelle.  This was just our second visit to the place and we loved the further things they’ve done since we last saw it in May.  We also loved getting to see our Grand Cat, Marz!

Later that day, we helped Mike out by testing a couple of new vodkas that his company is representing  (Mike works for the liquor distributor, MS Walker).  I mean come on…you’ve got to help your kids, right?  Then it was out of their building, just down the street to a wonderful Mexican Restaurant and some great Margaritas and food!

After a good night’s sleep, our now seemingly domesticated daughter served us a delicious vegetable frittata accompanied by an arugula salad as a very nice Saturday brunch.   A very nice way to end our stay with two of our favorite people, because it was now day 3 of this weekend, and time for us to move on to our next stop!

Back to The New England Thruway, but south this time, across the Throgs Neck Bridge, back to a place we know very well…Long Island!  First stop, Joe’s Sicilian Bakery in Bayside, just down the street from my former family home.  We needed some friselles for our Christmas Eve Spicy Shrimp and Linguini, and Joe’s has the best!  Once the friselle’s were in hand (and a Sfogliatella for me and a little cheesecake for Susie) we traveled back to our neighborhood of 31 years, and the Hilton Homewood Suites that is literally down the road from our old Mineola Home.

For 26 or 27 years, Susie and I were involved in Boy Scouting in Mineola, first Cub Pack 246, and then Boy Scout Troop 45.  Well, tonight (it’s Saturday by the way) a huge 100th Anniversary Gala celebration for Troop 45 was planned, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!  Chartered in 1921, Troop 45 was probably even older than that, but 1921 was the only date that could be proved, and over 300 people were scheduled to be at Mineola’s Jericho Terrace to celebrate this event.  We relaxed for a couple of hours and then showered and got into our “adult clothes” and headed over to our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf’s house to pre-game.  Steve has been the Troop 45 Scoutmaster for more than 24 years, and I am proud to say that I am the one who convinced him back in the late 90s to take the position!  Steve was, of course, directing last minute activity at the catering hall, but we had a nice visit with Pat, their son Dan and his wife Michelle, and Steve’s brother Freddy and his wife Linda.  

It was a wonderful night, seeing so many old friends, young men who we knew as kids, and even middle age men we knew as kids!  Folks who were involved when we first started and folks who are still involved.  There was great fun, slide shows with old pictures, and just a feeling of pride that we were involved with a group that has ben around for 100 years and that has probably helped well over 1000 boys transition to young men! 

It was a great but late night, and we were thrilled when after 2AM we slid under the covers of the king-sized bed at the hotel!

Sunday was a relaxing morning at the hotel.  We slept in, were bad and had McDonald’s for breakfast, and vegged till early afternoon.  Then we showered, got once again dressed as adults, and headed out to Susie’s sister Barbara’s house in Huntington.  What with covid, surgeries, and the like, we hadn’t seen the Vincents (Barbara, her husband Rob, and their son and our Godson Ryan) since their Mom’s funeral in February of 2020!  A visit was long overdue, and we were happy that we were able to make it happen!  After a nice visit with them and getting to see some of the new projects they’d recently done in their house, the five of us journeyed back in time, to a place that Susie and I have loved for years, and that we have exposed so many family and friends to over the years.

32 years ago, the night we bought our 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon, Susie and I stopped in at a place we’d passed many times.  It was on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, and it’s a place we’ve loved since that first visit…Piccolos Italian Restaurant!  The Francescini Family is more like friends to us, as we saw the two boys who run it now (Robbie and James) grow up from little kids.  Their Dad Bert is still involved and we still miss their late Mom Debbie who was a real spitfire! From my Mom’s 80th birthday party, to Susie’s Mom’s 90th, to after funeral meals for Susie’s Dad and my Mom, Graduation celebrations, and everything in-between, it was our go-to place!

The 5 of us had a wonderful meal, got to see Robbie and James, reminisce about the old days, the great meals, and the great times.  It was fun to go back in time and who says you can’t go home again??

As I write this, it’s late Monday afternoon and I’m sitting at the island in our kitchen in Ocean City.  I’m going to be honest with you, as this weekend was approaching, the two of us were a little bummed that we had so much to do and so many different places to be this weekend. Between the time we crossed the 9th Street Bridge on Thursday morning till we crossed it again this afternoon about 2 PM,  we covered 663 miles.  But now, with the weekend in the rear view mirror, we are so glad we didn’t make an excuse or beg out of one of the events we were involved in.  From our Thanksgiving in Maryland, to our evening with  our Daughter and son-in-law, to the pride we felt on Saturday to be back with our Boy Scout friends, to the love of spending some time yesterday with Susie’s sister and family, remembering experiences over the almost 45 years that I’ve been a part of their lives, to capping the weekend with a great dinner with family and our Piccolos restaurant friends, we agreed we wouldn’t change one thing!  We did agree however that life is too short, and we won’t wait as long to enjoy what we did this weekend all over again!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, filled with family, friends, love and reminders of all the things you have to be thankful for.  I know we did!

A Member of the Family

Here’s another auto themed story for you…..

The first time Susie and I went to Las Vegas (well, first time since I was there as a 10 year old) was in 1999 to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. Hertz was very nice on that trip and gave us a 1999 Ford Mustang as our rental vehicle. At the time, we owned a 1986 Mustang convertible, and after driving around Vegas for a week in a brand new Mustang, the bug was in my head to think about trading our 14 year old car for a new 2000 version of the vehicle!

Back in those days, there was still a Ford dealer in Mineola, so one day in October, we went to Mineola Ford to order a 2000 Mustang convertible. I probably should have suspected something was hinky with the salesman when he wouldn’t take the ’86 Mustang in trade, but was willing to personally buy it, but we went ahead and placed an order for a Laser Red Tinted Clearcoat Mustang convertible with a charcoal cloth interior and a black convertible top.

The car was being built to order, so once the factory accepted the order, there was a couple of months wait till it was built and then shipped to the local dealer. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I got the call that my new BLACK Mustang had been delivered! “Black,”,I said incredulously, “I ordered a Red Mustang!” I got out my order paperwork, and there it clearly showed that I had ordered a red Mustang with a black convertible top! Somehow, when the salesman (the same one I had my doubts about) put the order in, he put Black as the car color rather than Red. When I told them I didn’t want the car, they were incredulous. They said they’d try to find another one in the pipeline, see if they could trade with another dealer, and someway make me happy. Suffice it to say they didn’t do anything, other than still try and convince me to take the black car. In fact, the day I went back to the dealership to get my deposit money back, there was the car front and center in the showroom. “Don’t you want to look at your car before you leave?” the sales manager asked. “It’s not my car!” I answered as I walked out!

I was disappointed, but as we were right in the middle of the holidays, I put thoughts of a new Mustang on the back burner, until after the new year. On January 2nd, 2000 I turned 50, and 3 days later, on January 5th, 2000, Susie and I walked into Park Inn Ford in Valley Stream to place an order. We ended up at Park Inn Ford because they were affiliated with the AAA Car Buying Service, and as a member, we were guaranteed a “no haggle price”. I had spoken to a young lady at the dealership, gotten a really good price, and had come in on the evening of the 5th to write up our order. Ford was running a Free Leather Interior promotion at the time, but as our older Mustang convertible had vinyl seats, I was well aware that an open top convertible with vinyl or leather seating surfaces was like an oven on a sunny day, so I told her I wanted the standard cloth seats. “No problem,” she said, and just deducted the price of the leather from our final price quote. I stressed that the car had to be red, and we left happy. End of story, right?

Well, not exactly. The next day at work, I received a call from the son of the owner of the dealership. It turns out that the girl I was working with was very new, and when she deducted the cost of leather from the car she was quoting me, she missed that under the Free Leather Ford promotion the cost of the leather was never added to the final price, making it a $900 mistake! He asked me if I’d be willing to split the cost of the mistake with him. If I’d go up $450, he’d subtract $450 from the price of the car. He also said that he would act as my salesman for the rest of the purchase, to make sure there were no more issues (and probably to save the cost of a sale’s commission). We talked for a few minutes, and agreed to split the cost of her mistake, and a relationship was formed.

The Mustang started our relationship with the owner and Park Inn Ford, and was the first of four cars we bought from him and Park Inn Ford…sadly the dealership is no more.

Park Inn Ford

On Friday March 31st, 2000, we picked up our nice new RED Mustang convertible, so today marks her 21st year as being a part of the family! I used to say that since we ordered the car 3 days after my 50th birthday, she was my “Mid Life Crisis” car, but now that she’s still with us, I say she went from being my “Mid Life Crisis” car to my “Retirement” car. In fact, she moved to Ocean City even before we did, getting New Jersey license plates the summer of 2016, and living here since then! When this summer rolls around, it will be the 22nd summer she has been with us, and after all, isn’t summer the real time to drive a convertible!

Happy Birthday…she can legally drink more than gas as of today!

This is her winter storage spot, till it’s summer and real top down weather!

Two People I Owe

Walter and Kathy Hemerly were another married couple that worked with my Mom and Dad, as members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus. They were a fixture of my life, probably from the day that I was born, and there are several things in my life that I owe directly to them.

Number one is Ocean City. Walter was from Philadelphia, and his family owned a summer house on the 3200 block of Asbury Avenue in Ocean City. Back in the early 50s, the Met’s season was short, and the members of the chorus collected New York State Unemployment during the summer. In the summer of 1955 when I was five years old, they finally convinced my Mom and Dad to come down to Ocean City. We stayed in a guest house right next door to Walter’s family summer house, and for the next 5 years, Ocean City was where we spent our summers. Turn the clock ahead to the first year Susie and I were married, and we once again visited Ocean City, and it seemed remarkably the same as it had when I was a kid. Jump ahead to the Summer of 1983, and our first stay in Ocean City as a family with 7 month old William Ryan, and the die was cast. Since that first visit with Billy, for each of the 37 following summers, we have spent part of or all summer in Ocean City, since 2005 in our own house, and since 2017, we’ve called it home! Thanks Kathy and Walter!

The second thing I owe them is my first car!

It was a 1955 Chevrolet BelAir 2 door sedan, in green on green. It wasn’t the car pictured, but it was exactly like this one. It had a straight six cylinder engine, a three speed manual column shift transmission (referred to as 3 on the tree), non-power brakes, non-power steering, an AM radio, white wall tires, and full wheel covers, and that was it! It cost me $50 when I bought it in the spring of 1967, but I had to drive it home from their apartment in Westchester County. I had learned to drive on my folk’s new ’66 Ford Galaxie with a V/8 engine, automatic transmission and power steering, so this was going to be a big change for me. I had never driven a stick shift, but I had watched a couple of folks drive one, and was sure I was prepared. I guess I could have done more research, but I was 17 and knew all!

So the day we are going to pick it up, we take the train up to Westchester, meet Walter and Kathy in their apartment building’s parking lot, give them the $50, put my new license plates on the car, and off we go. Okay…it’s harder to drive a stick shift than it looks….a lot harder! I drive around their neighborhood a bit to get a feeling for the car. I stall the engine multiple times, shift into the wrong gear, and have lots of trouble pulling away from stop lights. A lot of my issues had to do with that third pedal…the clutch pedal. See, my big issue was that I now had to drive the car from Westchester County to where we lived in Queens County. Westchester is part of the mainland of the United States, Queens is part of Long Island, an island off the coast of the United States. Island equals bridge, and bridge equals toll booth. You see my problem?

I cautiously get on the highway, and I’m doing fine as long as I don’t have to stop, but here comes the Whitestone Bridge to Queens and it’s toll bridge. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I’m able to pick a toll booth with no line. I down shift and slow down, but I’m afraid to stop for fear of stalling and not being able to start the car again, so I toss the 35 cents toll (it was a long time ago) at the toll taker, and “accelerate” away from the booth and onto the bridge! Somehow, I made it home to Jackson Heights, parked the car (not easy to ease a standard transmission into backwards movement either), and knew I had my work cut out for me really learning how to drive all over again.

Over the next couple of weeks, I drove the car as much as I could and honestly, I got pretty good at the manual transmission. I attempted to “dress up” the 12 year old Chevy, even embarking on compounding the tired paint, till I realized I was compounding through the paint to the steel of the body. I settled for applying a racing stipe on the car, and getting a couple of new tires. The AM radio worked fine, and this was before the day of FM’s dominance, so I could listen to WABC, and all the other appropriate stations for a person my age!

My friend Richard and I were spending the summer before college working at Alexanders Department Store in Rego Park, and it had become my routine to pick Richard up at 96th Street and 34th Avenue on the mornings we worked, and for the two of us to drive to and from Rego Park together. One sunny summer morning, as we were heading east along 34th Avenue, and cresting a slight hill, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun directly in front of us, but slowly then realized that there was a car stopped in the middle of the road. I attempted to stop, but I didn’t, and hit the back end of the stopped car and pushed it for most of a block before we both stopped in front of a school yard in Corona. Turns out that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I hit a 1951 Chevy. I will always remember the name of the driver of the car, Mr. Lemberg Nelson, and the first words he said to me as we both stepped out of the car, “Oh my neck!”

Luckily Walter had installed seat belts in the car during his ownership, so Richard and I were belted in. However, pre-shoulder belts and air bags, I hit the steering wheel with my face, right under my nose, and although I didn’t lose any teeth, I did get 8 stitches in my upper gum. Richard had a bagel in his teeth at the time of the accident, so he had a 1967 version of an air bag and got no injuries!

Unfortunately, that was the end of my 55 Chevy, as it was not worth repairing the car based on the damage and the age and value of the vehicle. I always marveled over the fact that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I had an accident with a 1951 Chevy. A 12 year old car hitting a 16 year old car…what are the odds. Also, if you remember from earlier in my tale, I was a neophyte stick shift driver, having had less than a month’s experience driving a 3 pedal car. For the last 54 years I have never really been 100% sure, if on that fateful morning while trying to stop the car, I hit the brake pedal OR the clutch pedal, and I guess I never will.

So those are the two big things I owe to my Mom and Dad’s co-workers, Kathy and Walter Hemmerly. My first car, that lasted less than a month, and my love for Ocean City, NJ, that has lasted a lifetime! Thanks Kathy and Walter!!

Luck of the Irish

A number of years ago, the kids gave Susie and I Ancestry DNA test kits for Christmas. We dutifully followed instructions, spit into the tube, packed it all up, and sent it off. I didn’t really have any doubt what my test would find, as I knew very well that my Dad was 100% Italian and that my Mom was not only 100% Scottish, but had even been born in Scotland and had not come to America till she was 6 years old! I don’t know if they are faster today, but back in those days, there was a couple of months wait till you got the results back. When they did come back, boy was I surprised!

Yes, the Italian and the Scottish were there, but look at what else they found!! 1% European Jewish (obviously the reason for my love of Matzo), 7% Caucasus, 7% Middle East, and (drum roll please) 25% Irish!! Who knew that after all the years of having nothing more in common with Irish folk than an apostrophe in my last name, I was now 25% Irish!!

Then, just one year later, and shortly before St. Patrick’s Day, I got the following “up date” to my DNA story!

Suddenly they had re-calculated the results, and although some of my other results were similar, now they’d lumped Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in together and highlighted Scotland! Oh well, so much for me being Irish! Goodbye St. Patrick’s Day, time to get out the “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but Italians” sweatshirt again!

Then this year’s DNA story showed up, and guess what…now I’m 27% Irish!

That’s it, I give up! Tired of the revolving door of ethnicity, think I’ll just go back to what I’ve always known…half Italian, half Scottish!

Either way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone…please don’t turn out like those drunken kids, who cut school to go to the parade in the city, that I used to spend my trip home from work with on the Long Island Rail Road! More celebrating, less throwing up on your shoes at the curb!