BASELINE

The memory I recounted in my post Assembly, Part 1, about my Dad putting together a pocket watch for me is not a particularly strong one. In fact, it’s like an alternative recall that really doesn’t come readily to mind. For one thing, there’s not that much action in it, and certainly nothing approaching anything like real drama. Just a quiet moment in a temporary home, years ago, in the distant past.

I didn’t ask for a gift that morning and I had no idea one was coming my way.  Like a faint shadow on old paint, it’s there to remind you if your eye happens to fall on it while you’re thinking about or doing something else.

For me, I have similar experiences sometimes while listening to music during long drives in my car. I hear the music, but I am focused on the road and other traffic. One of those melodies can suddenly appear front and center in my consciousness days later, and I am left with some chord structure or arrangement in endless mental repetition. The bad ones we call earworms, annoying feedback loops of muzak that would be better eaten by birds.

ASSEMBLY, PART 1

In the summer of 1966, I lived with Dad as an 8 year old in his temporary home in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Sort of like today where I am a transient resident of nearby Reading (except now, I am seriously older than 8!)  Forget about the famous railroad company from ‘Monopoly,’ the Reading Railroad was closed years ago.

For whatever reason, I just keep coming back to the Keystone State.

One morning that year, I woke up to find, not to my surprise, that Dad had already been awake for several hours. This wasn’t unusual for him. He had bought some kind of model kit the day before for a pocket watch made out of hard blue plastic. Early that morning, while I was snoozing away, he had painstakingly detached all the pieces from the molds.

Then, carefully and slowly, Dad followed the detailed instructions to assemble the watch. All parts were made in the aforementioned blue plastic: the sprockets, cogs, case, the hour and minute hands, everything save for the spring and the clear transparent plastic cover that snapped into place over the clock face.

DEATH IN HONOLULU

There is a good reason why the Bernard Olcott Story, every so once in a while, makes a reference to the Aloha State.

On a late July 1977 morning, a slight man woke up in his modest efficiency apartment near Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu.  He was 61 years old, somewhat gaunt, barely five foot seven.  Wrinkles of a hard life lined his face as he switched on the radio after leaving his bed.  The weather forecast came on, as if it were the news.  For Honolulu it isn’t, since the weather is always the same, day in, day out.  Highs will be in the low 80s, lows in the middle 70s.  Winds are “trade.”  Winds are always trade in Hawai’i (unless a cyclone comes to visit, of course.)

The weathered man had lived some thirty years previous at 3169 Alika Avenue in the Nu’uana – Punchbowl neighborhood, an up country residential district.  The previous week, he had decided to travel from his current home in Exeter, New Hampshire to come back here to retrace his steps as a young naval officer and maybe plumb his soul.  It’s about the longest trip you can make in the USA and still remain in the land of the free.

He found himself later that morning on Ala Moana Boulevard wandering alone in the sunshine on Wednesday, the 26th of July in 1977.  As Honolulu is the southern-most metropolis in the nation, at these latitudes, the sun can cause a bad sunburn in as little as 15 minutes.  The fair skin of a new arrival from Northern New England is at particular risk.

The man stopped in his tracks, his pace suddenly unsteady.  As he wiped the sweat off his forehead, the traffic swirled around him and he became disoriented.  It wasn’t the bright sun that had gotten to him, but a sharp pain in his upper chest.  He gripped himself, but could only stagger forward and reach out vainly with his free arm.  When he dropped to the pavement, he cut his face on the sidewalk.  His last sight on this planet was the passing traffic – buses, trucks, cars – from ant level.

As the dying man went down, passersby unknown took advantage of his incapacity, rapidly relieving him of his wallet, cash, and watch.  By the time help arrived, the corpse on the sidewalk could no longer identify himself.

The Honolulu County Medical Examiner later that day fingerprinted “John Doe.”  A match came back the next day – from military records.

The man’s name was

MR. CLEAN AND ANOTHER END

Back in 1961 and 1962, I would often be plopped down in front of the black and white television.  In between ‘Heckle and Jeckle’ and ‘Mighty Mouse‘ cartoons, there were commercials, many in great sing-along formats — sometimes both cartoons and commercials featured bouncing balls.

Heckle_and_jeckle_promo_picture[1]

But there was one that always remained far and away my favorite.  Mr. Clean:

There’s nothing you can’t do, Mr. Clean!

Oh gosh, do I remember clapping along to this jingle!  I would get my Mom and Pia, my stocky middle-aged and eastern-European (Hungarian?) nanny, to join me in song and dance.  I was a very infectious musical conductor.

My Mom loved Mr. Clean because it made the floors so antiseptic you could eat off them (wait for it to dry first, please).  My Dad loved Mr. Clean, well, because my Mom loved Mr. Clean.  And me?  I was ecstatic to be the third wheel spinning in the love-a-thon.

THE HEIGHTS OF THE HELIPORT

Today, we’ll set the way-back machine to 1965 when I was 7 years old.  My Dad had recently moved into the brand new Pan Am building (today the MetLife Building), his first year sharing space with the Taylor, Scholl, Ferencz, & Simon Law Firm in Suite 3219.  He would move to his own suite the following year.

I have written previously how I marveled at the modernity of the Pan Am building – to me, it was a vision of the future, please see my post DAD’S REAL WIFE.

Feast your peepers on the opening picture above.  Today’s story is about helicopters.

One of the most notable aspects of this building was the roof, which was completely flat except for a small enclosure housing the staircase down to the access gate and lounge.  As Pan Am was the owner, they had an innovative use for that real estate – a working heliport to ferry first-class passengers from midtown to JFK Airport!  Is that completely cool or what?  More lubricating than the switch downstairs from the Lexington IRT Express to the Local, right?

THE END OF AN ERA

As related in my post THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY), Dad was slaying it in the late 1960s.  While he was enjoying a very active social life with his girlfriends Kay Kay and the two Jeannies, well, I was probably watching TV back at the apartment, a huge studio in the Peter Cooper Hotel on Lexington at 39th Street, just a short walk from the Pan Am Building.

One of the Public Service Announcements (PSA) running that summer on television featured the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods.  The PSA was by the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

A KNIFE AND A FORK IN A BOTTLE WITH A CORK THAT SPELLS NEW YORK

Fifth and Madison Avenues around 47th Street in the late 1960s were chock a block with small tawdry electronics stores.  Many of these shops still exist today in midtown.  Now however half of their shelves are filled with NYC tourist gimcrack like tee shirts, license plates, and miniature statuettes of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But back then, they almost always showcased a device in the window touted to be a “Pocket TV.”  To me it was the Holy Grail of futurism – a television you could keep in your pocket.  As you can see in the above picture, it was about half the size of carton of cigarettes, a little wider.  So technically, it was a completely portable TV, as long as you had a huge-ass pocket and an extra long extension cord.  Another drawback was the teeny screen, about 1½ inches in diameter.  The engineers who designed the thing affixed a magnifying lens to present a bigger image to the eye.  But it should be readily apparent that the tech recipe was overcooked any which way you looked at it.  I’m willing to bet that nobody got rich designing and manufacturing this thing.

At the time, I couldn’t care less about these shortcomings.  Every time we passed by any electronics shop on the way to the Automat or Bohack’s, I could immediately spot one in the window.  I would stop and point at it, just like an Irish Setter at a duck in a pond, and Dad would jolt me out of it, lugging me on towards our destination.  As explained in my post IS NOTHING SACRED?, I was helplessly attracted to any aspect of futurism.  It was in my DNA.

IS NOTHING SACRED?

I always regarded my Dad as some kind of futurist when growing up in the mid to late 1960s (and well afterwards).  As relayed in my post THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY), he took me frequently to the PSI Computing Center on 42nd Street, a space-age looking place filled with refrigerator-sized computers.  Real ones, complete with periodically spinning tapes and blinking lights.  I had seen mock-ups on various science fiction shows on TV of course but there was nothing like the real thing.

If imitation is the greatest form of admiration, then I wanted to be forward seeing and thinking, too.

19 YEARS

My beguiling sister Victoria, with an admirer, sometime in the late 1980s.

As related in my post “Fear and Loathing on Second Avenue,” when I returned to New York in June 1965 for summer vacation, my stepmother Graciela was no longer there.  Dad’s third marriage had collapsed, fully and fitfully, a few months previously.  Her father had broken his hip in Ecuador that January and she had raced down there to be at his side.  From her point of view, what was the point in coming back to New York?

So Graciela became yet another void in my Dad’s life, one of many.  Whether it was the missing family in Lithuania, the Einstein letter, or the mystery of wife no. 1 (the one before my Mom), these black holes of his intrigued me, beckoning me to jump in.  I was learning that my leaps inside were dazzling experiences.

As for the mystery of wife no. 3, Graciela was actually one of two voids; with her on her trip home that winter was my infant sister Victoria.  I could remember her as a swaddling babe in her crib from the year before.  Little did I know that I would not see her again for 19 years!