Friday, June 16, 2017

60 Years Ago

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” Jack Kerouac, “On the Road” (1957)

I recall reading “On the Road” for the first time in college and finding it tough going due to the unorthodox punctuation.  More comprehensible and endearing to me was another 1957 best-seller, “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, which contains this sage advice: “You find magic wherever you look.  Sit back and relax.  All you need is a book.”

Jillian Van Volkenburgh asked me to speak in October as part of the South Shore Arts series Art in Focus at Munster Center for Visual and Performing Arts.  My talk last year on “Vivian Carter and Vee-Jay Records” received a high ranking from the seniors.  I’m titling my upcoming appearance “Reliving 1957: A Dance Party.”  Assuming the persona of a deejay (I’ll call myself Jim Dandy), in between records I’ll mention news events, movies (i.e., “Peyton Place,” “Jailhouse Rock”), TV shows (“American Bandstand” went national that year), and other popular culture nuggets in between playing such Oldies as “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Rock and Roll Music” by Chuck Berry.  Hopefully Jillian can reshape the room so folks can dance.  The a capella group Stormy Weather might sing doo wop numbers such as “Come Go with Me” by the Dell Vikings and “Silhouettes” by the Rays.  Son Dave has agreed to play the music and put images on the screen.
The movie “Peyton Place was based on the 1956 best-selling potboiler by Grace Metalious that I found tucked away on a shelf behind another book at the home of my maiden Great-Aunt Grace Metzger.  Banned in Rhode Island, the novel contained this scene:
      “Is it up, Rod?” she panted, undulating her body under his. “Is it up good and hard?”
      “Oh, yes,” he whispered, almost unable to speak. “Oh, yes.”
      Without another word, Betty jackknifed her knees, pushed Rodney away from her, clicked the lock on the door and was outside of the car.
      “Now go shove it into Allison MacKenzie,” she screamed at him.

1957’s top-rated TV shows were “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun – Will Travel,” were so-called Adult Westerns.  Rigged quiz shows such as “Twenty-One” and “The $64,000 Question” were popular.  Hoosier comedian and satirist Red Skelton had the coolest variety show, featuring such characters he created as hobo Freddie the Freeloader, dimwit Clem Kadiddlehopper, braggart Bolivar Shagnasty, and drunkard Willie Lump Lump.
 Red Skelton
Althea Gibson statue in Newark, N.J.
Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron

Top stories of 1957 included the Russians launching Sputnik into space and President Dwight D. Eisenhower sending National Guard troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect 9 black students integrating Central High School. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was Time’s Person of the Year.  Athlete of the Year was Althea Gibson, who won Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australia Opens.  Hula hoops were the rage, and Frisbees were first marketed.  The Milwaukee Braves, led by Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, were World Series champs, defeating the Yankees in seven games, with pitcher Lew Burdette winning three of them, including a shutout in game seven.  My Philadelphia Phillies went 77-77, with Robin Roberts losing 22 games.  My favorite player was Richie Ashburn, the foul ball king, who one day hit a ball into the stands that broke a fan’s nose and while she was being taken out on a stretcher, “Whitey’ hit her again.

In 1957, according to Jon Meacham’s “Destiny and Power,” George H.W. Bush was struggling to make his fortune as a Texas oilman and mourning the death a four-year-old daughter Robin, while his father, Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, was an intimate of Ike, enjoying golf outings with the President and drinks at six at the White House.  Prescott voted against a legislative bill Bush wanted to deregulate the natural gas industry.
In 1957, I turned 15, finished ninth grade, and started tenth.  My girlfriend was Mary Delp, and I recall both Vic and her dad driving us on various “dates.”  She was a good dancer, and one song we boogied to was “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox, which opens with these lines:
Well, all I want is a party doll
To come along with me when I'm feelin' wild
To be everlovin' and true and fair
To run her fingers through my hair
Come along and be my party doll
Come along and be my party doll
Come along and be my party doll
I'll make love to you, to you
I'll make love to you

One time, Mary and I played bridge with Vic and Midge – I wonder if she’s erased that memory and hopefully others where I acted like a dumb 15-year-old.  Like some of the bridge players Steve McShane’s students are interviewing (and unlike today’s generation), I played in college, where bidding was much more reckless than at the Lane household. Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother Sam “The Man” Townsend was particularly impulsive.  Unlike some, however, I refused to play for money.
 Al Simmons, Barbara Graegin, Dave Bigler, and "Big John" Chmielowiec
Duplicate bridge expert “Big John” Chmielowiec died of complications from diabetes.  In Barb Walczak’s weekly Newsletter John Teshima recalled a game in Gary four years ago:
He and Howie Schmid had just clobbered us in a 1 NT redoubled contract.  As Big John was leaving, struggling with his walker, he passed by me and stopped.  He offered me a tip on how to get out of a bad contract.  I am not certain that he even remembered me from when I last played [20 years before] but the fact that he would interrupt his labored travel to help me out really stuck with me.  Right then I knew that he was a kind person.
              Playing at Portage, Wayne on my right had overcalled in diamonds and clubs.  I arrived at 3NT. Dummy had four top hearts and a fifth heart.  Laverne on my left was discarding hearts, so I knew he had long hearts.  I thought and thought for a ninth trick but came up short.  Afterwards, I told Big John about the hand – he always wanted to know about the game and the players.  They were his friends.  Anyway, his eyes immediately lit up and he said, without pausing, that it was a double squeeze.  Neither opponent could keep the little spade, which was the ninth trick. All this without drawing up the diagram.  Wow!  Wayne and Laverne were, of course, happy when I came up short.  They would not have been so happy if Big John had been the declarer!

              Looking back, I feel blessed for having gotten to know this gentle person.  He is a good friend and I will miss him.  But I am glad that he is no longer hurting.

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