Tuesday, August 3, 2010

83rd Street Summertime Blues

On 83rd Street, in the mid 1960s my parents bought their first air-conditioner. A tiny unit that for some reason only worked in their bedroom, or so my father told me when I suggested he put it in the living room so we could watch TV with cool air. On "Oh, my God," hot nights, my father barely tolerated my brother, Rory and I dragging our mattresses into their bedroom, so we could sleep on the floor to escape the dead heat of our room next to the building’s air shaft.

Once we were all there in the dark, something happened, and the curtain rose on our summer passion play.

Rory bellowed from way low in his belly, “Good night, Momma. Good night, Dada. And good night, Thommmmm.”

I answered lower, limbo low, “good nigh, Ma, good nigh, Da and good nigh, Rorio,” Then I went high as Bugs Bunny to Elmer Fudd, “Rorio, Rorio, where art thou Rorio?”

Dad said, “Everyone shut up or get back in your bedroom, go to sleep!”

A moment passed. Nothing happened. Then another moment. Nothing. After a length of time, a slow, steady “Whistle While You Work,” rose from the ashes of the silence. It had momentum and an additional passenger onboard as Mom entered the studio stepping up to the mike, hand cupped to her ear…The trio in song, in tune, in danger. Dad was a lion in a cave with a thorn in his paw and the scene had no potential to be a happy ending parable. It was dark, but not too dark, we all continued to whistle and watch Dad squirm under his covers. He was a plutonium heap and fusion was imminent.

Continuing to whistle while we worked, Mom, Rory and I seamlessly moved into another tune, singing loud with pride, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile!” As the song hit its second verse, the pregnant negative energy in the room imploded, turning into harmless vapor as Dad’s anger transformed into sweet nostalgia. We began our sentimental journey.

World War I tunes, World War II tunes – give him a war, Dad gave you a tune. Civil War? “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Revolutionary War? “Yankee Doodle.” Crimean War? OK, no song here, but you could see his eyes calculating and searching his database. Nothing like a good tune from a good war to calm the beast until he lay down with the lamb.

In song we soared and dove through the dark chilled bedroom together as a family like no other time, unless you count fighting over the last slice of bacon. Our song rolled to a happy conclusion when all the lines were lost to exhaustion except, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.” The four of us, twin Laurel and Hardys’ skipped arm in arm out of the last scene, in the last reel, as the credits began rolling across our dusty pants.

This is why I love radio as a medium. In the dark, my mind becomes the camera. The radio voice describes part of what I see, but it’s my imagination that takes me all the way there. My mind is the best ride on the block. And a good ride operator knows how to get your imagination into position to enjoy every twist and turn. Turn on the radio and go far away or right in close. It's up to you.


Tonight’s show is all about the 500 Block on 83rd Street in Yorkville from 1957 to today. My guest, Woody Salvan, Esquire, Land Baron, River Man. Woody and I are going to talk about the block, the neighborhood and play some tunes. Please listen in on the Centanni Broadcasting Network live Tuesday @ 9pm from Giovanna's Restaurant, 1567 Lexington Avenue (between 100th & 101st Street). Or listen to the archived shows at your convenience.


last week's show at link below at the Centanni page:

Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts 7/27/2010 with host Tommy Pryor-and Guest Edward Rogers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was born in 1940 at 200 block of 83rd Street. My memories of growing upo on that block are as sharp as yesterday's. No one had AC until the '60s, Barely had fans in the '50s.