Christmas 1961 at 1050 Fifth Avenue. My last Christmas up north for 10 years! Gosh, I really loved that blue robot!
May you find lots of toys under your tree!
With Gloria, Christmas 1974 in Stony Brook, Long Island.
May your tree be topped with as much joy!
Both photos by Bernard Olcott.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
Storm clouds gather over Yorkshire Towers
Graciela Levi Castillo was Dad’s wife no. 3 – and my first stepmother. Their marriage was very short, from January 1963 until January 1965. Only a few memories of her remain intact from the summer of 1964. You see, in 1963, my folks had just split up and had not yet worked out all the details. Dad even came down with Graciela to see me in Orlando once or twice. My Mom tells me she was very gracious with Graciela during those visits; still, it had to have been somewhat awkward with both parents parading their new spouses in front of the other.
What I remember most about Graciela was that she was as kind to me as she was garrulous. Meaning, she was very, very kind!
In order to start his life anew with Graciela, Dad quit his apartment at 1050 Fifth Avenue (that he had shared with my Mom) and they moved into Yorkshire Towers, 305 East 86th Street, an immense white brick postwar building on the northeast corner of Second Avenue (see above picture). As a newly completed building in 1964, deals were always available to new tenants willing to move in during construction. Dad found such kind of bargains to be irresistible. The new apartment had much of the same furniture as previously with my Mom, so it had an air of familiarity about it.