The names of the principals have been changed. Forty-plus years after the fact, I have so little firm information that out of respect for these wonderful people, I don't want any exaggeration, for the sake of entertainment, to be even slightly embarrassing to them or their family.
A recent conversation with a coworker (BB), revealed a surprise. This articulate former New Yorker and graduate of NYU, never saw a Broadway musical until he was fifty-five years old. He was equally surprised when I said, "I not only enjoy the theater but I also like show tunes." Show tunes. Yeah, I like show tunes and I'm proud of it. So much so that each Sunday on my drive into work, I look forward to a twenty minute dose on our local, South Jersey classical music radio station WWFM, (93.9FM). Hosts, Michael Kownacky and Ted Otten, call their show, "THE DRESS CIRCLE." The program features; best of Broadway recordings, historical facts and humorous banter. KOWNACKY (left) AND OTTEN (right). MGTP READER WTW, TURNED ME ON TO, "THE DRESS CIRCLE." RECENTLY, I RECOMMENDED THE SHOW TO BB. I WONDER IF HE CHECKED IT OUT...AND LIKED IT?
This past Sunday Kownacky and Otten played, "JOHNNY ONE NOTE." That song was from a 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical called, "BABES IN ARMS." I was familiar with the enjoyable tune and remember humming it as a kid. But I never knew the lyrics and it was hearing those words last week that sparked a chain reaction of long forgotten facts.
I WANTED TO POST THE 1937 YOUTUBE RECORDING OF THE SONG HERE BUT MY BLOG'S PROGRAM WOULDN'T ACCEPT THE LINK. IF YOU GO TO YOUTUBE, YOU'LL SEE SEVERAL VERSIONS OF THE PIECE INCLUDING PERFORMANCES BY SHIRLEY BASSEY AND BARBARA STREISAND.
In the mid-60's my dad had a juvenile furniture store in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Together with an uncle, my mom on weekends and two teenage part-timers, they sold cribs, baby carriages, toys etc. One of those part-timers was an up-and-coming boxer named Charley. My father liked Charley and related well to him because they were both musicians. They shared a passion for jazz and during down time, dad gave him saxophone lessons. On several occasions, until Charley enlisted in the army, dad included him in after work activities like meals and visits to the Turkish Bath houses in Coney Island. He in turn got my dad and uncle free tickets when he boxed in the Golden Gloves, (one year he was the heavyweight champion).
When I started working at dad's store, (eight years old), I was poorly whistling some song. My father looked at Charley and said, "Hey, it's Johnny One Note." They had a laugh at my expense. Then for almost fifty years, I never heard that Johnny One Note phrase again until the title of the song was mentioned on, "The Dress Circle." So last Sunday as I put the tune, the lyric and the long lost circumstances together, a flash-flood of other memories sprang up.
The rush started when I remembered the exact moment I last thought of Charley. It was three years ago while visiting my mom. That day, we needed to take a short excursion to Valley Stream. I had encountered awful traffic I on the Belt Parkway on my way in, so I thought it best to, "take the streets." This less than scenic route took us through the East New York section of Brooklyn. My mom felt nostalgic and suggested that as long as we were going so far out of the way that we swing by the house that my dad grew up in, on Van Sicklen Avenue. MY GRANDMOTHER LIVED IN THAT HOUSE UNTIL I WAS TWELVE. ON THE CORNER, THERE WAS AN "EL" TRAIN STATION. WHEN I WAS SIX, SHE BEGAN A CAMPAIGN OF IN DEPTH LECTURES ABOUT THE DANGERS OF CLIMBING THE ROOF OF THE EL'S STAIRWAY, TO BEAT THE 15c FARE. SHE WOULD NAME NAMES OF NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS WHO FELL OFF. TO EMPHASIZE THE SEVERITY OF THE RISK, GRANNY ALWAYS MANAGED TO SQUEEZE IN A KID NAMED PADDY, WHO LUCKILY SURVIVED HIS FALL BUT WAS HIT AND KILLED BY A *BUZZ. *(MY GRANDMOTHER HAD NO ACCENT AND SPOKE PERFECT ENGLISH BUT FOR SOME ODD REASON, THE WORD BUS ALWAYS CAME OUT BUZZ).
From dad's old house, mom and I traveled along Linden Boulevard, parallel to the Belt Parkway. Just before crossing out of Brooklyn into Queens, we passed Eldert Lane. Then in one mass impulse of recollection, each of the four buildings on those corners congered up some of my most obscure memories from 1965-1967.
On the right before Eldert Lane, there was an old high-rise apartment house within a huge, decaying complex. I remembered as an adolescent that an elderly, distant relative lived there. I was with my folks once when we took her home from a wedding. I guess using wheelchairs for people who could barely walk wasn't yet in vogue. Because, I recall dad helping her inch along until she got home.
On the next block, on the same side of the street was a department store called the, "TIMES SQUARE STORE, (TSS)." AN OFF-CHUTE OF SEEDMAN'S, TSS WAS A POPULAR DISCOUNT STORE IN NEW YORK CITY, LONG ISLAND AND PUERTO RICO. IN 1961, THE FIRST OF 18 TSS LOCATIONS OPENED IN LEVITTOWN. THE ENTIRE ENTITY BECAME DEFUNCT IN 1989.
When I was ten, my folks brought me to TSS to shop. I went to the restroom and a man with wavy, dull, red hair, black horned-rimmed glasses and an unzipped yellow windbreaker asked me, "Who are you with?" I said, "My dad is right outside." When he scurried away, I knew something was wrong. I was spooked but I never told my dad because he always said, "Don't talk to strangers." Later in life when I was less naive, I realized that I had side-stepped a terrible fate. This event left such a profound negative impression on me that I'm positive, even now, I could pick this weirdo and probable molester out of photo array.
Across the street, facing TSS, was Interboro Hospital. My father had an operation there that saved his pinkie toe from amputation. While he was recovering, my sister and I were relegated to waving to him from the parking lot because at a time when anyone, even doctors smoked anywhere they wanted in hospitals, pre-teens weren't permitted inside, to visit their ailing father.
On the fourth corner, diagonally across from TSS, there was a single apartment house. My dad's former worker Charley was an charter tenant in 1967, when he returned from serving in Vietnam.
I went there with my uncle to deliver beds for Charley. He came to the door wearing a dashiki. Inside, a scratchy Charlie "Bird" Parker record was playing as I noticed the walls were adorned with African art. He impressed my uncle by saying he was working for Emerson (a radio company) and was using his G.I. benefits to go to an electronics college. Charley was so cool, he even offered my uncle and me a Rheingold beer, (my uncle drank his and took mine home for later).
We were on our way out when Charley asked me, "Are you teaching Floyd the ropes?" Charley was referring to his younger brother who took his place at dad's store. I idolized Floyd. He was closer in age to me and more easy-going than his brother. A giant, Floyd was 6 foot 3 and a Golden Gloves champion too.
Floyd went on to become a professional boxer and was a contemporary of George Foreman. Foreman remained an amateur in order to participate in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Floyd, due to economic hardship, turned pro on November 10, 1967, after being that year's champion of the Pan-American Games. Immediately, Floyd seemed destined for super-stardom. SPORT MAGAZINE even ran a lengthy article about him in which he indirectly thanked my dad.
In this period, Floyd gave me two pairs of his old boxing gloves which I always cherished. Much more importantly, he saved me twice. Once I was accosted on the street near my father's store and he came out of nowhere to scare-off the two street-toughs. The other time was a chance meeting at Manhattan Beach.
A month before that meeting, towards the end of ninth grade, a fat, former run-away with a scary, scarred eye named Dean Cheatam, called the beauty of a girl at school to my attention. (Cheatam was the shamed, last player when the heavily favored Juvie class lost to the Nerd class in the sixth grade dodge ball tournament). See my February 28, 2011 blog, "DODGE BALL, A METAPHOR FOR THIS CRAZY LIFE."
This delicate flower would be the first girl I ever asked out...and she accepted. That summer we got together at her house five times. Her obese dad was intimidating because when she and I hung out in the yard, he'd stare me down, out the back window.
Her good-looking mom was more liberal. On one occasion, she let me take her precious cargo on three buses to Manhattan Beach. These were times before wearing cover-ups was popular. So my date, wearing only a tiny bikini was continuously ogled the whole trip.
It was great to finally be one-on-one with her at the beach. I was on cloud-nine until we went to the concession stand for lunch. After she downed a second hot-dog, she wanted another bag of fries for the walk back to the blanket. Then every few minutes, she asked me to go back and get her pop corn or a soda or candy.
At first, rather than disappoint her tapeworm, I was a dutiful errand boy. Then it turned into a tolerable annoyance. Towards the end, the gold-digger had put my skimpy bankroll into severe jeopardy. If I followed through with my latest food delivery, it would "eat" into my untouchable car fare home.
In a quandary, I stood outside the concession stand and alternated between staring at the price of Italian ices and at my last meager handful of coins. I didn't realize it at the time but this was the miracle year of 1969. That summer, astronauts would land on the moon, Woodstock would become synonymous with peace and the lowly Mets would win the World Series. Hell, even the true events of the movie, "AWAKENINGS," happened that year.
I needed divine intervention, quick. Then as if by wizardry, a powerful hand slapped my shoulder from behind. It was Floyd. It's one thing to know a celebrity but it's far more cool when they know you...and lend you five bucks.
I'll never forget my gush of pride when I saw the look on Floyd's face when I introduced my hottie to him. Before we left, that pride was washed away when I was left nearly empty-handed all over again by a soft pretzel, some chips, another soda and a visit to the souvenir stand.
Back home, I realized what it felt like to be broke AND in debt. When I considered how much of an allowance I got, I had no choice but to cut my expensive Venus loose.
Unfortunately, Floyd did not achieve the greatness of George Foreman. His lightning bolt to success only lasted a little longer than my first relationship, (a mere twelve fights). During his first loss, Floyd's knee locked-up during a bout with Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner... and was butchered. He continued to box and kept winning but his mobility was minimized. Whether his recovery was hindered by a physical or mental problem, we'll never know. The bottom line was, he never regained his true form. On October 31, 1969, he lost for the second time and never fought again. Far worse, my family never saw or heard from Floyd again.
To research this column, I googled Floyd's name and found nothing personal...only individual fight information and statistics.
The last time I saw the girl was when I was driving a cab to pay for dealer school in 1978. On a lark, I went out of my way to go past her house. I never expected to see her but she was indeed out front walking a tiny foo-foo dog. She was more stunning than ever in a bare midriff blouse, hot pants and stiletto heels. I was embarrassed to have her see me driving a taxi. To duck her, I looked the other way. To further my innocence, I began whistling, poorly. I now wonder if the tune I chose was, "Johnny One Note?"