Wildwood Daze – The Button Master

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1979-1980

There was a little unique shop on the boardwalk called The Button Master. My friend, Wolfie who was in a band with me at the time used to call the place, The Button Bastard. (I don’t know why, but why not?)

The shop was nothing but buttons. This was a trend in the mid to late 70s. They had all kinds of cool phrases on them and they could even make custom buttons for you if you brought them an image.

I always had a few buttons stuck to my green army jacket, which had the logo of my band on the back, The Union Jacks. I also had several buttons on the black guitar strap for my guitar. They were one of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, (Read the book by Anthony Burgess in 12th grade in American Lit class and loved it but hadn’t seen the Kubrick movie yet because it was no longer out in theaters and they would never show something like that on TV back then!) I had a button that said; I Want It All, Total Control, and a custom button I had made of Farrah Fawcett. (Because I LOVED her back then)

The owner was never there and I only met him once. But there was a guy who was in his 20s from New York named Tom Duke who worked there. He was a nice guy and would always let me hang out there and talk about rock music. Which I loved. I would sometimes just go up there on my day off and just browse the buttons and chat with him. They were all super cheap. Maybe a buck apiece.

I think Tom lived there, because there was a mattress on the floor in the back room, and I assumed he crashed there all summer. He was skinny and sort of gaunt, so he may have been a random drug user who didn’t seem like a person of means. But he had vast musical knowledge and I loved talking about rock with anybody who knew what they were talking about back then.

He was a big, YES and Genesis fan, and told me he knew some of the guys in those bands which I thought was super cool. (Could have been a lie, but who’s checking?) He liked that the latest Genesis album was entitled, Duke, because that was his last name. Just a weird coincidence I suppose.

Sometimes he had beer and we’d drink and chat and make it a fun night laughing it up in the store. Alcohol was new to me back then and I could get a nice buzz from 2 bottles of Bud. I remember Tom going out the back door of the store once and peeing right off the edge of the boardwalk into the parking lot below. Somebody yelled at him to stop, but he just laughed and shouted, “What? It’s my F*cking parking spot!”

I thought that was hilarious.

One night I was hanging out in the store and it was getting late. I knew he’d be closing soon and I’d be going home. I was just hanging in the store and talking rock with him, and helping customers find different buttons. I had spent so much time in that store I sort of knew where everything was. Just sheets hung up around the room and thousands of colorful buttons pinned all over them. Pretty simple setup and cheap inventory with low overhead.

This couple came in and they sort of looked like hybrid hippies. In their late 30s or early 40s. Like, maybe they used to be hippies but cut their hair but still had that hippie vibe to them.

I noticed the guy had an iron-on of Wile E Coyote on his yellow T-shirt. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an image licensed by Warner Brothers. It was Wile E, in a diving position with his mouth open and the message said: Muff Diver.

I’d seen that image before, but it just seemed kind of creepy even back then. We only wore fun images and rock band names on our shirts, and here was this old guy with this weird awkward shirt on.

I pointed to the wall of buttons and asked him if there was anything he was interested in. His response was:

“Other than f*cking?”

Okay, that’s weird.

So then, what I’m assuming was wife starts flirting with me right in the store. I’m getting nervous because her husband is right there on the other side of the store. She’s touching me and rubbing my back and stuff. I’m 17 years old and still pretty naive. I’ve been dating girls since I was 14 years old, but this was some new adult ground for me back in 1980. But I have a couple of beers in me, so I’m not having an anxiety attack.

She says she wants me to come back to their motel room for some fun. She was kind of hot and I was debating whether I should do it, but something was telling me I shouldn’t. I was experiencing some classic stranger danger. I didn’t know these people. What if they took me back to their room and killed me? I liked horror movies and my mind went right to that image.

Her husband was sort of just standing off in the distance watching all of this. He was smiling and nodding his head. I’m thinking, is this something these people do? Hunt young teen guys for their kinky debauchery? I wasn’t stupid and I’d heard of people who were swingers but I hadn’t encountered anything like this before.

So, Tom Duke says, “Why don’t you two just go into the back room and have at it. I felt a little better about that idea because he was there and if anything weird went down he could come and save me.

But, here’s the thing, they were in agreeance only if her husband could join in. I was like… No way. No three-way with an old dude. His wife continued to stay close to me and rub my back like I was some sort of pet.

I told them I appreciated their offer, but I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. They were nice about it and just laughed. She turns to her husband and says: “I think it’s just a lack of experience.”

I protested that I was hip to all things like that but just wasn’t into that particular thing. But they knew. I did lack experience. But in all honesty, there was no way I was fooling around with a lady and a man in some sort of sexy tryst.

They smiled, said goodbye, and left the store to go hunt down some other hapless teen. I hope they didn’t find anybody.

The next day I went and told my boss Louie on the Golden Nugget the whole lurid story. He told me I did the right thing by declining their offer. I’ll never forget what Louie yelled to me over the noise of the ride.

“You could have been screwing the lady and then all of a sudden, you feel some guy getting you from behind!” (add expletives and profanity from your imagination)

Just another crazy summer night in Wildwood.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

Here’s my latest book. There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood coming Memorial Day 2023!

You can check out all of my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

LAWNDALE – The 312 Magee Avenue Playlist

The Lawndale book is just one week away from being published!

While writing the Lawndale book I started to think about all of the music we listened to growing up in the house on 312 Magee.

There was always some sort of music playing somewhere in the house at any given time. Whether it was my mom listening to Andy Williams on the record player in the dining room while she did her housework, or us kids listening to our records.

My father always loved music and would listen to classical and operas in the basement while he worked or read his books.

We had the jukebox on the porch that had been loaned to us by a couple that my dad was friends with and we loved that thing!

There was the the 8-track player in the 1969 VW minibus that we all rocked out to on trips on the road with dad.

We listened to the radio in the kitchen and would hear all the new popular songs of the day.

I would sometimes bring a little record player to the dinner table and sit it on the seat next to me. My dad wasn’t home, and it would be just my mom and my sisters. I would put little 45 rpm records on and we would all sing to them. It was a riot!

I got into listening to some of my favorite songs and bands recently on Spotify and thought about creating a playlist of all the music we heard in our house growing up as kids. Not just the music we owned, but all the theme songs from our favorite shows that were on TV in the 60s and 70s.

At first I thought it would be cool to share it with my sisters for nostalgic reasons. But then I thought, wouldn’t it be great to share it with all of the people who might remember some of these songs from their past as well.

So I’ve decided to add to the anticipation of the Lawndale book coming out next week and share it with everybody as a soundtrack to the book.

Some of the songs you may not recognize but some will make you smile and take you back to a simpler time. This is an eclectic mix of music and themes from the 60s and 70s that were alive in our house at 312 Magee growing up.

I hope you enjoy it, and maybe you’ll listen to it in the background while reading my book! (Don’t worry if you don’t have a Spotify account. It’s free and you can just go on and check it out!)

Here it is! The 312 Magee soundtrack!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/5nQ0QYz4dBIphiU7hiIZR4?utm_source=generator

I hope you all enjoy listening to this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I’d also be happy to add any songs I may have forgotten!

Enjoy!

LAWNDALE the book will be available on Amazon next Tuesday on August 9th!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please like, comment, and most of all, FOLLOW Phicklephilly! I publish every week on Tuesdays.

Wildwood Daze – Botto’s and the Office

North Wildwood, New Jersey – Late 1970s

Botto’s

One of our favorite hangouts growing up at the shore was the beloved Botto’s Arcade at 10th and Surf Avenue. It was 2 blocks from our house and was a meeting place for the local kids.

In the first half of the decade, it was a small market full of food staples, sundries, and beach stuff. It’s where we used to go to buy our kites and string. But because Russo’s Market at 9th and Ocean was such a juggernaut and go-to spot they sort of ran Joe Botto out of business. Just geographic competition. Botto, a retired Philly cop, was never happy about that, but shifted gears and turned it into an arcade much to the joy of the neighborhood youth.

Botto’s had everything we needed for an enjoyable afternoon or evening as an alternative to the beach and boardwalk. A phonebooth outside in case you had to drop a dime and make a call, and a soda machine full of ice-cold beverages stood out front. Joe’s wife normally worked during the day, giving out change for the machines inside and operating the bike rental part of the business.

The place was small, but just the right size for us kids. A regulation-sized, slate pool table in the center of the room, and a thunderous jukebox packed with 45’s of all the hits of the day parked against the front wall near the entrance. (It played A and B sides! This way, I could listen to Walk this Way and Uncle Salty!)

All around the perimeter of the room were pinball machines and video games. My favorite pinball machine, Flash was where I spent most of my time and quarters. They had some of the greats… Eight Ball Deluxe, Gorgar, Wizard, Playboy, El Dorado, and Joker Poker, to name a few.

But, they had all the classic video games of the day in there too. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Breakout, and Asteroids.

Botto’s was a place where teenagers could hang out, play games, chat, flirt, shoot pool, drink soda and smoke cigarettes. The owners were cool, and there was never any trouble there. I’ve spent many a rainy day or health night in that arcade. The phrase “health night” came from my mother. She used to say to me, “You’re out every night! Take a health night!”

You never knew who you might run into while you were there, but it was always a solid meeting spot to hang and make plans for where you may be heading afterward. It was surrounded by motels so even though its core audience was kids from the neighborhood, they always got a few tourists in there as well.

Across the street was a place called Golf City. It was pretty much a waste of valuable real estate that was home to a miniature gold course. Fun for the little kids and they had a small arcade as well, but overall it was lame.

Botto’s was the cool kid’s place. I spent many wonderful times in Botto’s in my youth, but sadly it’s now long gone. What stands in its place now is an ice cream stand.

All that’s left to remind me of the original Botto’s in the brick face and the door and windows. So picture this place without the A-roof, the awning, the sign, the benches, the lights, and the rest of anything pink.

What’s left would be a pretty boring-looking spot. But, none of that was important. Botto’s was about what was inside. The people, the music, the games, and the laughter.

The Office

That’s not what it was called. It was a little game room on the third floor of The Flying Dutchman Motel.

Right there on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor!

The photo I used at the beginning of this post is the motel before they added the 3rd floor. But that’s what The Flying Dutchman looked like in the 70s.

We knew the owners and they were cool with us going up there to smoke cigarettes and spend our quarters on their vending machines in their game room.

The reason we called this little spot The Office, is because we used it not only as a place to hang out and play but to have meetings. If there was some local drama going down or some stories to be told, this was the place it all took place.

I remember trying to tell my older sister some convoluted story about some things that had gone down on Morey’s Pier or some other crazy news from the neighborhood one day. She was trying to understand what we planned to do about this matter and I simply said: “Office…now.”

We liked it because it was high up off the street. We had a view and also liked the games they had in there. Just two pinball machines and an old 1972 Pong machine. There’s a link I provided, but it was so basic it may have been the first video game ever invented. But a fun game! Pinball was still king, but video games were getting better with every coming season.

The biggest difference between this place and Botto’s was, this spot was quieter and more private. You could hang up there, sit at the card table they had set up in there, and just chat. It didn’t have the number of games and music that Botto’s had, but this was our spot. Most of all, it was unsupervised.

This is probably one of the most important aspects of this little game room.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Pinball machines are designed so that you can’t rock them around too much or they’ll “Tilt.” What that means is, if you shake the machine too much or lift it up to slow the ball down or anything else to upset the machine while the ball is in play, it’ll light up, TILT, and the unit goes off and your ball drains down the hole. You’re done for being too rough with the unit and most of all trying to cheat.

But kids are creative, cunning, learning machines. You know that if the adults come up with some solution to thwart our fun or sustained play, we’ll probably work to come up with a solution to beat it.

So while the machine was on, we’d have one kid gently lift the lower front up off its legs and stack quarters under the legs, one or two at a time. This would flatten the play area on the board but not enough to TILT the machine. We’d get that baby up as high as possible. This would slow down the gameplay and go virtually unnoticed if someone walked in.

By applying this simple remedy, the game would be easier, you’d get a higher score and rack up more free games. That was the main goal. Free games! 

This also assisted with the legendary, “Back from the Dead.” What this meant was if you were in the middle of a game and the ball somehow got past your flippers, and towards the hole… if it was moving fast enough to bounce back out of the hole and back into play, it was always deemed a miracle, which was met with cheers from any onlookers. The ball literally came back from th dead!

So, we did that all the time up there.

Sometimes I would just go up there on my own and play pinball. I just wanted a little time alone to think and reflect on my life living at the seashore all summer. It was a brilliant and unforgettable few chapters from my young life.

Braces off, skin clear, and finally emerging from puberty!

Here’s a pic of me in 1978 on the 3rd-floor sun deck of The Flying Dutchman. The Office wasn’t just for pinball. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet the vacationing talent.

Pictured: Me with Ann and Gina Dougherty on the roof deck of the Flying Dutchman Motel -1978

Yea… tough times for Chaz in Wildwood!

If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

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