A FINAL EVENING AT KAROUN’S OF NEWTON

Our small town has its pluses and minuses. On the upside, there are no major traffic jams. We have one traffic light in the middle of town, near the common. Drivers are polite, stopping to allow folks to cross the street rather than play big city car kamikaze where pedestrians are targets. People are generally friendly. Yes, it’s a place where almost everyone knows your name. Blink and you think you’re living in the 50’s, looking for “I like Ike” signs.  It’s easy living for a former big city couple.

Karoun Restaurant

On the downside, our local eateries leave a little to be desired. A big night out is Mickey Dees and the main menu. We miss the world-class restaurants of Boston. We became spoiled after 30 years of sitting down to dinners prepared by chefs we knew on a first name basis. A few days ago, Marilyn and I were commiserating about frozen pizza or hot dog dinner choices as we read a note from friends about one of our favorite former eating places.

Karoun Restaurant occupies a special place in our hearts. It goes back more than 30 years in our lives. So many magical evenings and wonderful memories. If I remember correctly, an old friend — a decorated World War II veteran — introduced me to Karoun. Berge Avedanian was a wonderful man, truly part of the Greatest Generation.

Berge was as proud of his Armenian heritage as his participation in the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. Berge and I shared many liquid lunches at a pub that catered to veterans, politicians, and TV news reporters.  He frequently bragged about his favorite Armenian dishes.  So it was that he introduced me to Karoun Restaurant, in Newton.

Garry with John Eurdolian, founder/owner

I was smitten the moment I walked through the front door and into an atmosphere that might have been Casablanca, circa 1942. Although Sam was not at the piano or Rick at the corner table — suspiciously eyeing customers — there was, instead, a smiling man. With hand extended, he was saying, “Welcome to Karoun, I’m John.”

I started to introduce myself, but John made it clear it wasn’t necessary.  I was in my prime as a Boston TV news reporter. My face was familiar, but my celebrity didn’t matter to John Eurdolian. I was a new friend. Thanks to Berge Avedanian, I quickly became part of the Karoun extended family. John would introduce me to other family members including his sisters Mary, Nora and Roushi. I even got a tour of the kitchen and met John’s Mom who still supervises cuisine before it leaves the kitchen.

Dinner at Karoun was a weekly ritual.  I would invite colleagues and friends to join me. John was discreet, with a wink and nodded approval of my special dinner companions during the years before Marilyn came back into my life.

The belly dancers were always a fun part of our Karoun experience. They were friendly, gracious and radiated a terrific sense of humor. Initially, I was a little shy about sliding dollar bills into the dancer’s slim waist band. A big smile as the dancer leaned over me and my shyness evaporated.

With folk dancers behind us on the floor

Karoun was one of the first few places I brought Marilyn when she moved to Massachusetts. John acknowledged I was a very lucky guy and it became a regular spot for both of us and any friends or family who came to visit.

Fast forward. Life changed. I retired. In 2000, Marilyn and I left Boston for small town life in central Massachusetts — suddenly living in the kind of town that people respond to by saying “Where are you? Oxbridge? Uxbridge? Where is that?” We adapted well to country life in other way, but we always missed the good food and fun at Karoun.

After our old friends, Ross and Mary (who dined frequently with us at Karoun) told us it was closing on the 24th of June, we knew had to go one last time. Even though our retirement budget doesn’t allow much fine dining, this was important. A big part of our treasured past was shuttering its doors. Despite torrential rain and rush hour traffic, we drove into Newton to meet up with Ross and Mary. After some pre-dinner chatting and laughing, we made our way to Karoun.

Sometimes your expectations for an evening like this aren’t met. Not to worry. We were back in Karoun/Casablanca, 1942. The food was marvelous. Everyone was laughing. The conversations were sparkling. And, the entertainment was spectacular — even by Karoun standards. The belly dancer was brilliant. She could have been top-billed on the old Ed Sullivan show. The variety and stamina of her performance was something we won’t forget.

Marilyn, Garry, Ross and Mary – and don’t even ask for how many years we’ve known each other!

Our old friend, John Eurdolian stopped at our table. Smiles, hugs and laughter all around as John told us it was a bittersweet time for him. Sad for him to say goodbye to all his friends and decades of great memories. However, it was time for him to slow down and enjoy his family. And, in any case, the town was leveling all the shops in the area to build a mall, so he would have had to find another place regardless. It was time to let it go.

It was an auld lang syne as John led us in champagne farewells. On the floor, everyone was dancing.

Waves and shouts of “goodbye” followed us as we left Karoun for the last time. Outside, We could hear the music and laughter as we dashed for the car through the heavy rain.

TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Isn’t it too early to be drinking? by Garry Armstrong


I heard these lines recently in a movie. They made me laugh.


“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” he said.
“No,” she said. ” I’m awake.”

The line had stayed with me many years after the laughter faded, replaced by memories of work, reporters, bars, and pubs from New York to Saigon.

As a reporter, I covered Presidential politics from 1962 to 2001. From JFK to Bush, Jr. As a newbie reporter, I saw veteran correspondents fueling up with multiple Bloody Marys as we began our day on the political or campaign trail. I was impressed. During my rookie year, I summoned up enough courage to question one famous reporter who had begun his career working with Edward R. Murrow. He was on his third Bloody Mary — in one 10-minute period.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” I asked, slowly and politely.

The veteran reporter who’d covered FDR, World War II in the trenches, and the McCarthy Hearings, among other assignments. He looked at me for a long moment, then finished his drink.

“Is it too early to be drinking?” he repeated my question and ordered another Bloody. “No, I’m awake!”

I shook my head in amazement and admiration. He was clearly fortifying himself for the day to come. It would be another long day on the road. Cold, dreary, and filled by interviews with people from pompous to angry to clueless when asked about election issues and the candidates.

I remember one fellow decked out in a hunting outfit, cradling a shotgun. He sneered when answering my questions. When finished, he said “Figures the media is not tellin’ the truth. A Negro askin’ me stuff about that Catholic in the White House. That’s what’s wrong with our country.”

The veteran reporter had overheard the conversation. He gave me a wry smile.

Garry-With-TipONeill

Years later, I shared the story with “Tip” O’Neill, Speaker of the House and a personal friend. He laughed so hard the bar seemed to shake. Then he looked angry for a moment, patting me on the shoulder with a huge sigh.

“Garry,” he said, “Here’s looking at you, kid!” The Political Legend smiled as we clinked glasses. “Some days, it’s never too early to start drinking,” O’Neill concluded. And ordered one more round.

I wonder about “eye-openers” for those covering last year’s Presidential race and even more about how those trying to cover “news” in this insane political year are managing.

These days, for those who still drink, maybe it really is never too early to start drinking.

REMEMBERING MOM ON HER 100TH BIRTHDAY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Seventy years ago today! I can see it clearly as yesterday even though I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

June 14th, 1947.

Harry Truman was President. Jackie Robinson had just broken Major League baseball’s color line. “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was a controversial new movie. In Jamaica, Queens, New York, P.S. 116 students were itching for the school year to end. The kindergarten class was distracted by music that filtered from other rooms as 6th graders practiced for graduation.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Mrs Hartley’s kindergarten class was trying to focus on a boring history lecture. This was a special day,  Mrs. Hartley told the class.  Why, she asked.  A few hands shot up. The shortest kid in the class, the one in the first row in a starched white shirt and pressed short pants raised both hands.  Mrs. Hartley looked around and then pointed to the little kid.

“Garry, why is this day special?”  Mrs. Hartley had mixed feelings about Garry who seemed bright but had issues. Earlier that year, She had to give Garry an F on his report card because he couldn’t properly buckle his galoshes or button his overcoat. Yes, I already carried a burden but was ready to seize this moment. I looked firmly at Mrs. Hartley, sure of the answer about the significance of the day.

1988

“Today is my Mommy’s birthday!!” I remember Mrs. Hartley looking  briefly confused before sternly answering me.

“Garry, today is Flag Day! An important day to celebrate our country’s history!!”

I answered quickly, “Maybe. But it’s my MOMMY’S birthday.”  We locked eyes as I sat down.  I could hear the other kids giggling as Mrs. Hartley stared at me. The bell rang and the class scattered quickly. Mrs. Hartley gave me “the look” as I skipped by a couple of the taller kids and out the door.

When I got home, I told Mom the story. She smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I was surprised because I thought she might be angry because I had “sassed” the teacher. No, not this time.

Sure, June 14th is Flag Day. But for me, it will always be my Mom’s birthday. Esther Letticia Armstrong would be celebrating her 100th birthday today if she hadn’t been called home 10 years ago. She lives on with her legacy : three sons. Anton, Billy, and Yours Truly.

I’ve written about Mom before. Days of my youth when Mom forged and nurtured my love of books, music, and movies. Our family library was full and varied. I remember reading Eric Sevareid’s “Not So Wild A Dream” when I was still in grade school. Mom made sure we listened to radio newscasts every day. Murrow, Sevareid, Gabriel Heater, Lowell Thomas and many other icons were familiar voices in our household. I didn’t know it then, but my career as a TV (and radio) news reporter was already mentally seeded.

1945 – Garry’s mom and dad … and Garry, too

Mom was a very forthright person. She didn’t suffer fools. She set the bar high for her sons and didn’t accept lame excuses for procrastination, mediocre school work, or social gaffes.  I was encouraged to pursue my dreams even if Mom didn’t always agree with some of my choices.

Through the years, I have snap shot memories of Mom and her wonderful voice, singing the “standards” that I’ve always loved. We would duet on Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Huesen and the hits of Sinatra, Crosby, Doris Day, Nat Cole. We shadow danced to big band music. Mom was graceful. I was not. Marilyn and my wedding song, “For Sentimental Reasons” had been a staple in the Armstrong house through the decades.

When I leaf through the photo albums and see pictures of Mom and Dad, I have a tinge of sadness because I didn’t know them when they were young, full of life and love, and part of the greatest generation in so many ways we cannot appreciate. I’m not sure how Mom would deal with our current political landscape. As I said earlier, she didn’t suffer fools.

I’m sure Mom is celebrating today, singing in  her beautiful voice and everyone is laughing, having the time of their lives.

Happy Birthday, Mom!! 100 years old and counting.

THE OLD WHARF, BOSTON – GARRY ARMSTRONG

BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY: TRACES OF THE PAST Y2-06

The wharf dates to the days before the American Revolution. Parts of it date as far back as mid 1600s. You can easily see how old the wharf is and the various ages of buildings from the 1700s to now.

The Beaver – a transport ship from Colonial days in Boston with modern Boston behind it.

Not sure how old the bridge is, but probably from the 1800s. It has been kept in very good shape.

The tea kettle weather vane atop the Tea Party Museum in Boston Harbor.

mergeyes_widget

MORE FRIENDS – A SATURDAY SWITCH – PHOTOGRAPHY GARRY ARMSTRONG

PHOTO CHALLENGE: FRIEND

Photographs by Garry Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Garry and I used to ride. Horseback. We rode horses. I started riding pretty young and before I got good at it, got pretty broken trying to find my way. I dragged Garry to take riding lessons with me when we were both in our fifties and it was great. He took to it like a duck to water. After watching westerns his whole life, he could now ride the high country with the best of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

At some point in the mid 1990s, I had one nasty accident that completely unglued my spine. Riding, I was told, was out. Not just sort of out. Really, truly completely absolutely O-U-T. I’d heard this before, but I’d cheated because I really love horses. But this doctor was serious. He said one little fall and that would be “it” for walking.

That hurt. I have always loved horses. The smell of barns, the feel of a horse under me, the way they gather their muscles to make the next move. How you can feel their intentions in your feet and legs. I love the velvet of their noses and how they take food off your palm with those big soft lips.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Last night, more or less out of the blue, the granddaughter emailed me to say they were having an event at The Barn and would we like to come. Barn? What barn?

It turns out she is volunteering at a horse barn down the road, just over the Rhode Island line. “She’s learning to ride,” I told Garry. “It’s genetic. My mother rode. I rode. She can’t help herself. She needs a horse.”

He looked a little puzzled. “You show me a young woman volunteering at a barn and I will show you a young woman trying to work off riding lessons.” It’s a thing, young women and horses.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Lad with local “unicorn”

It also turned out she also needs a portrait lens for her camera. I can’t give her one because I don’t own a camera that size or style. In fact, the camera she has was my last full-size camera. I did tell her there’s a lot of Canon camera and lenses on sale these days — new and used — since so many people are changing to smaller cameras.I thought we might just be able to snag a lens for her. If she has time to drop by.

Garry took pictures. I took a few too. I got a delicious scent of horse barn while Garry’s thinking taking riding lessons again. He deserves it. Go Garry! It was a better than usual Saturday out here in the country.

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

A PEN THIEF CONFESSES – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I could run for elective office if I so chose. Even in retirement, after more than 40 years as a TV and radio news reporter I’m sufficiently recognizable that I could put my name up for election. I don’t have a lot of skeletons in my closet. Certainly none scandalous enough to draw attention. Maybe, given the way times have changed, I don’t have enough skeletons, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Nonetheless, I felt it was time to come clean about the addiction I have not been able to shed. I steal pens. I am a pen thief.

My reputation precedes me into the offices of public officials, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, business, and law enforcement. I am welcome with smiles and handshakes — but the pens are locked away.

My pen thievery is the stuff of legend, admired by icons like “Tip” O’Neill, the late Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Tip” and I once swapped anecdotes about the quality of watches and pens on “The Hill”. He actually once double dared me.

Having swiped pens from Scotland Yard, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace, state houses, city halls, and other high-profile venues, I set my sites on the biggest of all: The Oval Office.

I’d already established a rapport with then-President Clinton. He knew and liked me. I had it planned. A one-on-one interview with no one else in the big room. I diverted the President’s attention and reached for one of his elegant pens — only to find him staring at me. Smiling.

“We know all about you, Garry”, President Clinton smiled cheerily.

Turns out the good pens had been stashed and replaced by cheap, discount ones that dried up after a few uses. I later found out some of my best political contacts — on both sides of the aisle in DC — had joined in a bi-partisan move to warn the President about the notorious pen thief from Boston.

Being a legend isn’t as easy as it looks.