HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth. I think it’s a tragedy, personally. The best parts of my life were spent hanging out.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spent an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money for now weren’t expensive then … and this wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hope that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.

HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS AND MEMORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There are pieces of furniture and other household objects I own that conjure specific and cherished memories for me.

I have a large, light wood hutch, that I recently loaned to a good friend. That hutch was a big part of my years living with my parents. The hutch is about eight feet tall. It has shelves inside the top part and drawers in the bottom section. My mom covered the entire inside with pink geometric/striped wallpaper. I kept school supplies in the shelves and sweaters in the drawers.

The hutch is significant because it was located right behind my desk from around fourth grade on through college. (I lived at home during college). I spent a lot of time at my desk doing schoolwork. And I spent a lot of that time leaning back onto the back legs of my desk chair and resting the back of the chair against the hutch. I don’t know why, but it helped me think.

My mother hated it because I was ‘dinging’ the beautiful wood of the hutch. There is, in fact, some small, barely visible marks on the hutch commemorating my bad habit. My mother would yell at me whenever she saw me ‘leaning’. So I would try to quickly sit up normally whenever I heard her coming. I don’t know why this silly ritual has stuck with me – maybe it’s just the sheer number of years I did it.

Another piece of furniture from my childhood room is very dear to me. It’s a big, soft, overstuffed armchair. I used to sprawl over it in elementary school when I was reading, which was a lot. I also sat in that chair all through high school and college, reading endless books for school.

When I married and got an apartment of my own, that chair came with me. It went into the baby’s room. I spent countless hours in that chair nursing my children and singing to them. I nursed two years with my first child and one year with my second. As the kids got older, that was the chair for reading bedtime stories and snuggling.

Me and David getting ready to nurse in our comfy chair

That chair has followed me from my own childhood through both of my kids’ childhoods. If I have grandchildren, I hope that chair will be part of their lives too.

Another sentimental object for me is an orange and brown soup tureen that my grandmother kept on her dining room table in her CT cottage. That tureen meant ‘grandma’ to me. After Grandma died, I had the tureen on my dining table in CT (I actually used my grandmother’s dining table from CT as well). It was there for many years.

Then I had my first child, David. He was born prematurely and weighed four pounds two ounces at birth. He was so tiny, we took lots of photos of him illustrating how small he was. We have one picture of him, in my comfy nursing chair, sitting in his Teddy Bear’s lap! We also have a photo of David IN the soup tureen. Since then, the tureen reminds me of my teeny tiny baby as well as my beloved grandmother.

Larry with David in Grandma’s soup tureen

One other piece of furniture has a vivid story attached to it. The guest room in my mom’s CT house had two twin beds with beautiful dark wood headboards and footboards. They were made in the 1930’s as part of a New Deal program (WPA?) to get people back to work.

When I was a kid and had a sleepover date, which was often, my friends and I would sleep in the beautiful yellow and white guest room. We used to climb up on the footboards and ‘dive’ onto the beds. One day, when I was about nine years old, I dove and heard a loud ‘crack!’. The slats under the mattress had broken. I was afraid to tell my mom so I slept in a contorted position for a while. I finally told her, she had the bed fixed and she switched it with the other bed.

A year later I had a sleepover date and was telling my friend about the diving and the broken bed, I decided to demonstrate the dive, figuring that nothing would happen if I only did it once. So I did. ‘Crack!’. Again. The other bed broke. Now I was really scared to tell my mom. But I eventually confessed and the other bed was fixed too. I never ‘dove’ again.

Beautiful wood beds in Mom’s guest room

These beds are now in my guest room. I even decorated the room in the same color scheme and style as my mom’s old guest room. I added some modern touches to the early American country style décor. But it was the warm feel of the original room that I was going for. I achieved it and it is a reminder of a happy childhood place – and fun childhood memories.

There was also a Tiffany style lamp in the guest room with two mottled green and yellow glass shades. The lamp was actually made at a factory down the street from the original Tiffany factory. My friends and I were afraid of the dark so we left the lamp on at night. The only problem was that the two greenish shades looked to us like ‘cat’s eyes’ glaring at us in the dark. So we had to decide between being scared by the dark or by the ‘cat’s eyes’. We stuck with the ‘cat’s eyes’.

Tiffany style ‘cat’s eyes’ lamp

I still have that gorgeous lamp in my living room, with many other pieces from my mother’s house. The lamp doesn’t scare me anymore. It just brings back memories of childhood and the magnificent houses I grew up in.

It’s nice to be surrounded by things that conjure happy memories. Which is why I love my house so much.

SUDDENLY, THE YEAR TURNS

Suddenly …


Age is a very strange thing. You are a child, then you are young and these days, you are young for a very long time. Young really up through your fifties and for many people, pretty youthful into their sixties. Then, it changes. Maybe a little. Sometimes a lot and quite suddenly.

Macro birthday bouquet

The face that has been almost the same since your twenties is different. Older. Not just wrinkles, but there’s a “look” of maturity that tells the world — and you — that’s you’ve been around. You’ve seen a lot. You know things. Older eyes are different and it’s impossible to explain what that means. It doesn’t mean they do not sparkle with joy, but there is a knowingness that is missing in young eyes.

More birthday bouquet

This year has vanished even faster than usual. In fact, this entire last decade has been a wink and a shrug. I do not feel older this year than last. Actually, I feel better this year than last, but I’ve been gradually recovering from earlier surgeries and it’s nice that there’s a semblance of progress. Still, I sometimes don’t understand how I got here. I remember the years. I mostly remember what I was doing for most of them … but how do they add up to such a big number?

Yet here I am.

Macro bouquet

This twirling, whirling, busy world is a bauble in the great universe and we are just little crawly dots on its surface. In the even greater scheme of things, we are barely here at all. I’m not sure whether or not that perspective is comforting or chilling. Maybe both?

SHARING MY WORLD – MARCH 2018

Share Your World – March 5, 2018

Forward

The other night I had a seizure or something pretty remarkably like one. It isn’t the first time this has happened to me — nor is it the first time I’ve tried to discover why. I’ve had several sound theories, but none of them has been correct. Garry wasn’t going to let this one slide and I can’t blame him. I think I scared him half to death and I found it pretty scary too.

My doctor booked me for an EEG on the 15th. It has been a few years, so maybe they know something now they didn’t know last time. I’ll see.

What did you or did not like about the first place you lived without your parents?

Wow. Talk about a blast from the past! The first place I lived away from home was a room in a little house in Hempstead or maybe it was East Meadow. Near Hofstra University, which at this point didn’t have its own dormitories. It would a decade later and by then, I had graduated — and was also married.

It was a house just like this, but with less land.

What did I like about it? It wasn’t with my parents. Anything away from “home” was great. Also, no one cared who you brought home or basically about anything except whether or not you paid the rent. There was no one watching you, reporting about you, or keeping tabs on you.

We had fun. It was an old, dinky house, but we played music, laughed, and every night was a little party. It was the way dorms are supposed to be but generally aren’t.

What is your most favorite smell/scent?

Vanilla or cinnamon.

Would you prefer snowy winters, or not, and why?

I want snow twice each winter and never on New Year’s Eve because the drunks driving on snow die in heaps of twisted metal.

The gate, the dog, the blizzard

Not that I will be one of them because we have long since stopped doing anything on New Year’s Eve other than watching movies and giving each other a kiss when the ball drops in Times Square.

Snowy day

I want each snow to last 24 hours, then melt cleanly away. No ice. No pile-up on the roof. No need for $50 for each plowing of the driveway.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?

Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. 

Reading “Lord of the Rings” has reminded me of all the other times I read it. How much I love the books.  How the first time I read it was a couple of months following my spine surgery in 1967. I was in the hospital for 5 months and I read everything I could get my hands on. Which included “Lord of the Rings.”

These books opened a whole new world of literature for me.

IMAGINATION, REALITY, AND GETTING YOUR PERSONAL ROCKET OFF THE LAUNCH PAD

Just Imagine


I’m sometimes slightly hazy about the rough parts of what happened in my life. It isn’t that I have no grip on reality. More that time has a way of softening the edges of hardest truths and making them less edgy.

I seem to have imagined away a lot of the worst stuff. These days, it’s more dreamy. Less like the haunted awfulness of youth. Some of the really bad stuff I worked through. Writing my book was unquestionably one of the major ways I worked through it. It seems I’m better at settling my emotional hash writing about it than talking about it.

Even the people I once hated … I don’t hate them anymore. I don’t like them, either, but they are just people now. I have a distaste for them and I certainly am not going to have a party and invite them round for cookies and tea … but the edge of rage and obsession is gone.

That’s imagination. The ability to see myself as having come from a bad place to a better place. A kind of Christian forgiving, where I recognize it isn’t my job to fix the ugliness of my world. What remains is for some higher power to take on — and good luck to him, her, or them.


Imagination made it possible for me to survive growing up, to try unknown things without dwelling on what might happen if I got it wrong. To believe that things that looked bad might not stay that way and the worst might get better if I stuck around.


Imagination is not merely making up stories. Imagination is the fuel of hope. It’s the big engine under your personal rocket lifting into the sky.

A LITTLE FICTION – THE CALLIOPE

Oom pah, pah … oom pah pah …

The sound of the calliope is a siren’s call to the little girl. There, in the middle of the big park, the magic ponies go up and down. Up, down, around and then around again.

“Can I ride Mommy? Please?”

Mommy nods yes. There’s no harm in a carousel. It’s just wooden horses, traveling in a circle, going nowhere, eternally and forever around the calliope as it pumps out the same songs. A good place to be on a bright summer day, a happy place to bring a five-year-old girl who loves horses. She can dream of real horses while the park spins past, green and sunny.

Years fly. The girl has grown into a young lady. Sixteen, if you please. “I’m not a child!” she cries to the world, but especially to her parents. “I will do as I please.”

What she pleases is to have a boy friend. To be in love, to make love. She has no future plans, not yet. Just the fresh bloom of love which must be eternal. Because in books, love is always eternal, always fresh and smelling of roses.

Today she is meeting her boy friend. They will be meeting by the carousel in the park. She loves the carousel, has loved it since childhood. It’s a magic place for her, a places that holds only happy memories. The calliope is playing the same songs it played when she was so little. So long ago, or so it seems. When she rode the big wooden horse, pretending she was riding a gallant steed, galloping off to protect the world.

Life goes on. The next time she is able to visit the ponies, she is holding her little boy by the hand. “I rode those ponies when I was your age. Listen, the music is still playing. Just like it did when I was your age.”

“Can I ride Mommy?”

“Of course. That’s why I brought you here. To ride.”

And the painted horses go round and round while the park spins through another summertime. This is our forever summer, she thinks, as she watches her little boy riding the merry-go-round.

The next time she comes, she is holding her granddaughter’s hand. They watch the horses. Her little granddaughter is a tiny thing, with a passion for horses. A dreamer. She rides and rides and finally, it’s time to go. Long shadows lie across the sidewalks and the carousel is about to close for the day. As they take their leave, she wonders if she will ever be here again to hear the calliope play?

The next time she comes to the carousel, her son is with her. Middle-aged now and the tiny granddaughter is a sullen sixteen. Three generations by the carousel and remarkably, the calliope still plays.

This special carousel is still alive, magic intact. It’s good to be alive this summer day in Central Park. The music wakes the teenager into the girl she was. There’s something so … eternal … about the dancing ponies.

Grandma remembers the first time. All those times, even when she came alone because it was just a quick subway ride. One token. To see the boy friend. Whatever became of him?

She would never miss a chance to ride, though it’s not as easy getting up into the seat as it used to be.

No more real horses in her life, but today — briefly — she is young. She feels as if she is looking at herself through a fun house mirror. Are these the same wooden horses she rode as a girl?

It was always summertime in the park. I think it still is.

CHRISTMAS 2017 OR BAH, HUMBUG! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is the time of year we usually share memories of Christmases past as we deal with this holiday season. We have already watched a few of our favorite “r/x” movies. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol” (the 1951  Alistair Sim version). It was fun, in the moment, viewing those classics, but the feel-good vibes didn’t linger.

This, I suspect, is the winter of discontent for many of us. I think of my fellow retirees, those deep into double-digit years of retirement. The “golden years” myth disappeared long ago. The celebratory wine now is cheap hooch as we absorb the first year of the White House tenant and his minions. How would Charles Dickens begin chapter one of this historical piece?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It was the worst of times….

We’re bombarded with holiday TV specials, new age Carols I don’t recall, sung by smiley faces I don’t recognize.  The nightly network news/24 hour cable news are relentless with “Dr. Strangelove” breaking news tweets, apocalyptic natural disasters involving every country on the planet, and daily offerings of mass shootings.  The news outlets usually give us a “kicker” story with a Hollywood happy ending. I don’t find myself smiling.

As I write, I find myself in a Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey moment wondering how it went so sour.  I know I’ve made my share of mistakes on the home front but they hardly seem deserving to be one of the usual suspects in this turgid real life melodrama.

Our furry kids —  Bonnie, Gibbs, and Duke seem oblivious to the scenario. They’re waiting for Santa Claus, sure their dreams of mammoth offerings of biscuits and other treats will be waiting for them when the Big Guy drops by our house.

The dogs are our comedy central. They make us smile and laugh in the middle of our anger and, yes, self-pity. I can feel the “woe is me” heavy on my shoulders as I write. I’d like to think I’m not alone in my whining.

When our world was young, I never took time to see or hear what my parents were doing during this time of year. I didn’t see my Mother grimace as she pored over the bills, the annoying phone calls from the bad bank people and others asking for past due payments. I didn’t really pay attention to my Dad’s exasperation over where the hard-earned pay from his two jobs went.  I didn’t see the anger on his face or frustration in his voice because I was too busy pestering them about the stuff I wanted from Santa Claus. After all, what I wanted was really the most important issue. That much was clear to me.

One December evening, I recall my Mom biting her lip, reaching for patience and calmly telling me, “Garry, one day when you’re a man, you’ll understand why your Father and I seem so short with you. You’ll see. I just hope I’m around to see how you handle things.”

I thought Mom was kidding with me, putting me off about my toys list. Adult stuff which didn’t make sense to me. Mom and Dad were always quietly — or so they thought — arguing about how they could pay for essentials and take care of me (and later, my two younger brothers) and my not-so-secret Santa list.

I’d usually shrug them off. It was just boring parent stuff, I reasoned, then sneaked off to listen to my radio shows. Off with my heroes of yesteryear,  The Lone Ranger,  Sgt. Preston, Superman, The Shadow, others, I was oblivious to the real world problems of my parents.

All was calm, all was right.

Mom isn’t here to see how I deal with things now. Neither is Dad. They’d probably grin at all my soul-searching and “why me?” queries.

I’ll never know how many bleak Christmases Mom and Dad endured while making sure everything was good for me and my brothers. Kids never know. If they’re lucky, as we were,  it’s a Walt Disney world with no grumbling about the state of our nation. No awareness about how bad hombres are in charge of our ship of state.

Marilyn and me, in a much lesser role, will try to make Christmas 2017 a happy time for our family. Marilyn is already busy with tonight’s dinner.  Tomorrow’s festive dinner is in progress. She feels much the way I do about this Christmas but carries the major load in keeping us afloat, including taking of me. That’s her year round gift to me.

Marilyn isn’t Clarence but she’s long overdue for wings.  Wait! Don’t I hear a distant bell?

Attagirl, Marilyn!

Photo: Garry Armstrong