Wildwood Daze – Betty Ann – Part 6 – Game of Chance

Wildwood, New Jersey – Spring – 1984

It was great dating, Betty. She was the perfect girlfriend. Smoking hot and not around all the time. We were walking on the boardwalk in Wildwood one night. I just loved strolling with her. Holding her hand. Occasionally glancing over at my gorgeous girlfriend or stealing a sweet kiss.

Betty saw this game of chance that had these beautiful plush stuffed animals all around it that you could win. (Or in the case of most games of chance on the boardwalk, NOT win)

“Oh my god. Look at that big white lion, I bet my little Kelly would love that!”

“Yea, those prizes rock because that game is nearly impossible to win. Look at all those people tossing their dimes onto that board. Now watch how the attendant is literally sweeping piles of dimes off the board. They’re raking in thousands of dollars a night. I’ve won lots of stuff on this boardwalk over the years but that game is nearly impossible. They’re selling hope and crushing disappointment all at the same booth!”

“You’re funny, Chaz. Ready to go back to the motel?”

“That’s a game where we both win, Betty. Let’s go.”

I told my friend Pitchy about her. I’d been friends with him since we were 9 years old. He lived around the corner from me down the shore in the Summer. He has always had an incredibly dry wit. I was explaining to him my current romantic situation. Pitch was never a ladies’ man and liked that I always had something interesting going on. In 1984 he was already married and had a baby on the way.

On the boardwalk, there were many games of chance. Most cost a quarter and you bet on a number on a spinning wheel and if your number came up, you won a prize. I was a pretty lucky guy and won many a T-shirt or record album on the boardwalk. I remember winning Iron Maiden, Killers on a wheel one night out front of Morey’s Pier. I just liked the cover. Turned out to be a magnificent metal record that I loved but most of my friends thought was too fast.

But my buddy Pitchy had an incredible skill. A skill that wasn’t really based on chance. I don’t know when he discovered this ability and I’ve never seen it replicated by anyone else in all of my years on that boardwalk. There was a game called The Dime Pitch. This game had been around for decades. Customers would hand the attendant a dollar or two and would be given the appropriate amount of dimes. Which was cool, because it gave you 10 chances to win for only a buck. The way the game works is this. This huge wooden board is in the middle of the floor of the game booth. People toss their dimes onto the board and try to get their dimes on one of the red dots on the board.

Dime Pitch

Classic Dime Pitch Game - Lets Party

But here’s the thing. There are hundreds of them and a lot of spaces in between. You have to throw your dime and get it to land in the very center of the red dot. Not just on the red dot but there has to be red showing all the way around your dime. You’re throwing dimes at this board from 4 to six feet away. They made a fortune on this game because it looks easy, but is nearly impossible. But here’s the thing, with great risk comes great reward. If by some rare chance you got a dime on the red circle and there was red showing all the way around it, the prizes were massive. Not some small trinket from the lower shelf of junk. I’m talking huge plush stuffed animal that any kid would adore. If you were a guy and won a stuffed animal like that and gave it to your kid, or girlfriend, you would be looked upon as a local legend for the night.

Pitchy was so good at this game, they had to ban him from the game. Not entirely, but they had to limit his time at the board because those giant plush animals were expensive. I kid you not. They would restrict him from the game to maybe once a week. They all knew him up there and understood his power.

They feared him.

He and I were up on the boardwalk one night and we were chatting about his special gift. It had gotten to a point where it was no longer a game of chance for Pitchy. It was a revenue generator. He would go to the first dime pitch game and after about 15 minutes he’d win a giant stuffed animal. He knew which ones were the most popular with the tourists. He’d hand it off to me and I’d start walking up the boardwalk with the great beast under my arm.

Within minutes people would be saying things and complimenting me on my prize. I’d always target guys with women with them. I’d respond with the same statement to everyone. “Wanna buy it?”

“How much?”

“Forty bucks and it’s yours.”

“Seems a little high.”

“You’ll spend twice that trying to win a prize like that for her this vacation.”

In the meantime, Pitchy was already at a different dime pitch game and playing. By the time I sold the stuffed animal he’d be approaching me with another one. We’d sell it too and then he’d give me a cut for doing the sales end of the deal. Then we’d go spend the money on beer and pizza.

This was an ongoing grift we worked all summer. I spoke to him about doing me a favor in regard to his special power. I’m sure you can guess what it was by now.

The next time I went over to Betty’s house to hang out with her. I got out of the car and had a little something under my arm for her to leave in her daughter Kelly’s room.

Amazon.com: American Made Giant Stuffed White Lion 48 Inches Soft Made in The USA America: Toys & Games

“Chaz! Oh my god! How did you? Where did you?”

“Don’t worry about it, Betty. I got a guy.”

On a final note to this chapter. One night I was over at Betty’s house and the babysitter had brought her daughter Kelly home. She immediately made a beeline to her room to go see her big white lion. I had to hide in a closet across the hall until the coast was clear!

Crazy times, man.

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

You can buy my latest book LAWNDALE on Amazon! It’s stories from my childhood, growing up in Northeast Philly in the 60s and 70s. 

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

Wildwood Daze – Betty Ann – Part 5 – Summer Nights

North Wildwood, NJ – May 1984

The saga continues…

I was sitting on the porch at my friend Pitchy’s house and telling him all about my exploits with Betty. He was amazed by the tales of my recent prowess. Pitchy was my best summer friend at the seashore since 1971 when I first met him as a kid. He lived right around the corner from me at 7th and Ocean Ave. We had a rich history together hanging out all of those summers in the 70s. He was a close friend and we’d had some great times together. He had a lovely dry wit that was uncanny. He was also a person I could always trust.  One of his gifts was that he had always been the master of the dime toss game on the boardwalk.

But he was never that good at talking to girls. I noticed a lot of young men struggled with that back then. (And even today!) I never understood that but I guess we’re always good at things we like, and I loved the company of pretty women so I was okay.

I would tell him… “If you think you’re going to be tongue-tied on a date with a girl… take her to the movies. That’s two hours right there where she’ll be entertained and fed. You don’t have to say or do anything at all. Just hold her hand during the picture. If the film is fun and exciting, she’ll associate those feelings with you and you’ll be fine.”

Pitchy was working as a summer cop in North Wildwood by 1984 and really enjoyed police work. He had always wanted to be a cop and was beginning his career as a summer cop to gain experience.

I’m happy to say that through the years, he stayed in law enforcement and became a roaring success. He achieved success beyond anything I could have imagined for him. 

We sat on his porch in the quiet evening silence of North Wildwood. All the craziness was happening 25 blocks away on the boardwalk and in the clubs on Pacific Avenue. But we both had a moment of repose from our jobs this evening and were just chatting and sipping a few cold beers. The glow of the neon signs from the motel, The Friendship 7 across the street was the only light that illuminated our presence on that porch. 

He would do these comedy bits like he was the voiceover guy for a movie preview. It was hilarious and I loved when he would come up with these things. It was like he was describing me as a character in a horror movie. He would say; “In 1980 you loved him as the Wildwood Gigalo. But now…he’s back. It’s been four years… but he’s back. Chaz is… THE HOMEWRECKER. This time it’s not your girlfriend…It’s Your WIFE!”

I liked that he referred to me as the homewrecker as if I were the villain in a movie. So funny. I told him how Betty drove a light blue BMW 5 and that she and I stayed in motels in Wildwood to hook up. I never thought back then how much Betty must have spent on babysitting fees for someone to watch her daughter, Kelly while she galavanted around Wildwood with her young boy toy, ten years her junior.

But as much as I had built up a reputation as a rocker and charmer of women, it was nice to reach that legendary status with my friends. It’s all so silly when I think about it now.

I’d be on the phone with Betty.

“I want to come to Wildwood to see you this weekend, Chaz.”

“That would be great, Bets.”

“Can you maybe rent a room for us?”

Because the season hadn’t started yet, the rooms would not only be available at several motels in town, they’d be much cheaper. 

This became a regular thing with Betty and me. She liked her anonymity in Wildwood. She had no fear of running into anyone she and her husband knew up in Absecon. Plus, she had that whole rule about not having sex with her in her house, car, or matrimonial bed.

I was totally fine with it. I was working and had money to burn, and Betty always had cash. Most times she would pay for everything. I remember one day I was at her house and she gave me a brand new Gucci watch. It was beautiful. A 14k gold timepiece with a lizard skin strap.  I wore that watch until the strap practically dissolved on my wrist. I loved that watch. It was the nicest piece of jewelry I had ever owned.

At this point, I wasn’t falling for Betty…

I had already fallen.

I always shared with my mother what I was up to romantically in my life. I would sit at the kitchen table chatting with my mom and profess my love for my new, older girlfriend. I told my mom I was done dating girls and only wanted to date women now.

“Oh, you mean that alley cat you’re currently running around with?”

Mom did not approve. I think she had some concerns about the seed not falling far from the tree in this family. She had already had enough of my father’s many dalliances and probably feared I was becoming like him. On the other hand, I know my dad secretly loved the idea of his son capturing the heart of such a lovely woman that was in his wheelhouse.

(This polaroid was taken in a little photo booth in an arcade on the Wildwood boardwalk. It was her idea. I’m so glad we did this. I was so happy.)

We stayed in several different motels that spring and it was awesome. We once stayed in a motel that was right on the corner of 8th and Surf Ave. That was around 100 yards from my parent’s house! Crazy night!

We’d do fun things like go to the boardwalk, and it was amazing. Going out to eat and just spending time together. I just loved being with Betty. I know she enjoyed my company too because I think I helped her retain her youth and show her how fun it was to date again. I think she needed that in her broken marriage. 

The passion we shared.

I remember we once pulled up at a motel where one of my friends was working as a lifeguard and I introduced her to him. Betty Ann stepped out of the car in a white mini-dress. Her caramel skin glowed in the sun and her raven tresses tumbled over her shoulders like a moonless river.

I didn’t really hang out with this guy/clown anymore. He had burned too many bridges with me by then. I really did it just to show off my spectacular girlfriend to him. He later told me that if he ever got a girl like that he would never let her go, but I knew by then I was now operating at a level that he’d never understand, or ever be able to achieve. 

I was so proud to be with such a beautiful, sweet woman. Just kissing Betty was like waking up on Christmas morning. We’d kiss, and she always ended it with a little extra peck on the side of my lips. It was like she was putting her signature on that last kiss… just to remind me I was hers. 

But no matter what we did during the afternoon on our dates, it was all simply delaying the inevitable. We always ended up back in the room…and back in the saddle. 

(Cue up: Aerosmith – Rocks – Side 1, Track 1)

One night, we stayed in a motel on New Jersey Avenue. As summer approached it was getting harder to find available reasonably priced rooms. But it was a nice place, and of course, at the end of our fun day we ended up back there. I remember it being especially hot outside, and the air conditioner was right over the bed. It kept us cool while we passionately tore each other to pieces like teenagers through the night.

The next morning we walked out to the car and there was a piece of paper clipped under the windshield wiper. It looked like a ticket.

It was an official warning from the police.

The notice stated that we had violated the local noise ordinance in North Wildwood. It said that neighbors were complaining about the loud sounds of, “Moaning, Screaming, and a Squeaking Bed… Nonstop”.

I was obviously stunned, and Betty was horrified.

But as I read down toward the bottom, I recognized the name of the officer who had issued the warning last night. It was my buddy, Pitchy. He knew I was staying there and recognized Betty’s BMW.

Nice shot, dude.

(I may still have that warning ticket packed away somewhere!)

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

You can get my latest book LAWNDALE, now on sale on Amazon!

My next book, DOWN THE SHORE, is coming Memorial Day Weekend, 2023

It’s gonna be another burner!

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Wildwood Daze – Betty Ann – Part 3 – Lipstick on your Collar

Spring, 1984

I called Betty and assured her I was on my way. I had the necessary videos on the front seat of my car.

Betty lived in a nice house in a lovely neighborhood in Absecon. As I pulled into the development, it was as if they had simply poured asphalt into the shape of a road through the woods and dropped a few elegant houses in there.

I parked away from the property and approached her house. (What if something crazy happens and I have to make a quick getaway?)

Betty Knight. The prettiest lady that came in our video store. How was this different from California? Those days in the early 80s were full of debauchery and recklessness. I was back. But I lived with my parents for god’s sake. I failed out there in L.A. My career or, my imagined career in music was already over. Why? How did that happen? All I ever wanted was to be a rockstar and now here I am.

I sang in a band in Philly, played guitar in a band in Wildwood, and played more rock in L.A., and none of it amounted to anything. My favorite thing in the world wasn’t going to happen to me. What was to be my fate now? Was I just a leaf cast upon the winds of my whims and dreams only to be cast asunder in some grinding domestic life from now on?

But all of the magic things happened in the summer of 1977, 1980, and 1983. I was on a 3-year success cycle there. What happened? It’s 1984, and I thought my luck had run out. My transformation was over. I’ve had my laughs and had my fun with all the girls, I need to buckle down and fly right.

But here I am. Walking up the pathway to this lady’s house. This stranger. This beautiful woman that looks like a Mayan queen and smells like the first day of spring. No matter what I do I always end up here. Walking up to the next adventure. The next extraordinary affair in my life. Why do I keep doing this? Maybe it’s not me, and it’s the forces trying to get me back on track as to where I’m supposed to be.

(This is her front porch. What’s behind the Green Door?)

I was nothing in the ’70s. Then I rose up. But there were those who seemed superior to me. Undoubtedly these things had been allotted to the beautiful, the athletic, and those with clear skin. This stuff was for them. Not a loser like me.

But here she is. I’m at her house. Not a girl. Not some teenager hanging at my side by the pinball machine. This was a woman. 10 years my senior. For some reason, she’s chosen me. It can’t really be happening.

Is my co-worker Tyrone some sort of cupid or even a wizard in matters of love?

I didn’t know what love was back then. Any love I ever felt for anyone came at a price. Whether it was scorn or the sweetest touch of a hand in mine.

I knocked on the door. There’s the moment. You’ve made a sound. Has it been received? There is nothing in the world right now but you and your waiting.

Do you knock again?

No.

Wait.

Knock again. Use the brass knocker on the door this time, buster.

I can’t believe I’m standing here right now. In this neighborhood, knocking on this customer’s door. I look down at the two plastic tape cases in my hand. Rod Stewart and Eddie and the Cruisers on Beta.

The door opens.

Betty is dressed in casual clothes. Light blue button-down blouse and jeans with white Keds. Those dark eyes and raven mane though…

Nothing alarming here. Gotta stay cool. She welcomes me into her home.

She’s lovely and relaxed. I on the other hand am a cluster of nerves and anxiety. I almost can’t describe the feeling. It’s as if I’ve been the miraculous winner of some exotic lottery.

We exchange pleasantries and I set the vids on the table. Her house is how one would picture the home of what appears to be a wealthy person. I know she drives a light blue BMW 5 series, but I don’t know what Betty does for a living.

She takes me on a tour of her house. It’s clean, neat, and nicely appointed, but nothing that points to extravagance. But it’s a really nice house in a very nice neighborhood. We go down a flight of stairs that lead to the basement. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean the basement in some John Carpenter film, it’s a finished basement. As we head down the steps I see some framed photos that appear to have been taken at the Grand Prix. This part of the house is giving me a strong male vibe here.  We walk through a finished playroom area complete with a bar and pool table. Spider sense is tingling like mad now.

“Well, I guess you know I’m married.”

“Umm… No, I didn’t. I hadn’t thought of that, Betty.”

To be honest, if a lady is renting little mermaid videos she obviously has a little daughter. If she has a little daughter, she might be married. But in my blind desire for her back at the store, I can honestly say I didn’t think about any of that. I know I should have, but at that age, I only saw what was before me and what I liked and wanted. I think that’s simply a trait of youth. You act before you think of the repercussions of your decisions. I know I did that well into my 40’s! You want what you want when you want it, and nothing is going to stop you from getting it. You only see the end goal and not all the hazards along the way to your destination.

“My husband, Dick works at the Showboat Casino.”

“Is he in the mob?”

“Oh gosh, no. I wish everybody would stop assuming that just because someone works at the executive level in a casino they’re associated with the mafia.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Follow me.”

Betty then takes me into the laundry room. (Is this where I get murdered and no one ever hears from me again?) I doubt it. Betty is 5’3″ and 100 lbs. She reaches into the dryer and pulls out a man’s dress shirt. She holds out the collar to me.

“Look at this.”

“Okay… Hmm…”

“What does that look like to you?”

“That looks like lipstick, Betty.”

“Yea. The lipstick on your collar always tells the tale on you.”

“I suppose so… I wouldn’t…”

“And look at this.” She reaches behind a cup on the shelf above the washer and produces what appears to be a woman’s earring.

“I found that in his car.”

Things don’t look good for Dick at this point. Who named Richard goes by the name Dick anyway? I would love to know the question’s when, how, and why.

“Wow.”

“Yea, what does all of that make you think of?”

“Well if that’s not your earring and that smear on the collar of his shirt is clearly not your color, I’d say your husband is probably cheating you, Betty.”

“Yep. That son of a bitch.”

Clearly, she’s pissed.

Why is she showing me all of this so early in our first meeting? It’s as if a message and a motive need to be sent. As nervous as I am at this moment, I kind of like the rush and intrigue of my current situation. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been like this. The nice innocent guy who is somehow drawn into the darker aspects of existence. This is a precarious position I’m in and the bigger question is… where is Dick right now? Cheater or not, I’m in the basement of the guy’s house with his wife right now. I don’t know where the escape routes or heavy sharp objects are in the house. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Where is he right now?”

“He’s in Chicago on business until Tuesday.”

(Sigh of relief.) Oh… okay. Well, I’m sorry this is happening to you, Betty. You seem like a really nice lady.”

“I am, but I should have expected something like this to eventually happen. Let’s go back upstairs. Would you like a beer?”

“That would be awesome.” (Alcohol would be the perfect remedy for my nerves right now.)

We get up to the brightly lit kitchen. “When you said you should have expected this, what did you mean?”

She takes a bottle of Heineken from the fridge and pops the cap. Pouring it slowly into a pilsner glass I notice how dainty her hands are and how lovely her vermillion nails are. “Well, that’s how I met Dick. A leopard doesn’t change his spots.”

“Go on…”

“I was his secretary. He was married before. I worked for him in my early twenties and he started having an affair with me.”

“He left his wife and married you?”

“Yep. So I suppose I should have seen this coming. Maybe he’s tired of me now that I’m 32. I wonder who he’s fooling around with this time.”

Her sadness mixed with betrayal and scorn flashed before me. She’s so beautiful and perfect that I can’t imagine a man wanting anything but her. But I was young. I’m jaded from being in bands and living in L.A. for a couple of years, but youth is still a place I can’t escape. I take a deep swig from the ice-cold beer for solace.

“I’m sorry, Betty. I’m glad you feel comfortable enough with me to tell me how you’re feeling.” (I’m navigating new waters at this point.)

“Yea… Hey, come look at my cul-de-sac. I love my cul-de-sac.”

Okay, at this point I have no idea what a cul-de-sac is. Is it french for some sort of sexual thing? No. Can’t be. Is it something in the house? I’m lost here. I had heard the word but never knew what it meant or what it was.

She walks me over to the kitchen sink. I look down. Okay… drain, spigot, dish sprayer thing. What am I supposed to be looking at?

She points out the window over the sink. “Look. Isn’t that a lovely cul-de-sac?”

All I see out there is the end of a street surrounded by other nice houses in a circle with no apparent exit. It’s just a street that ends with no passage. I’m confused but I have to play along. I look intently out the window at the view. “Well, I must say, Betty… that’s about the best-looking cul-de-sac I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“I know, right?”

But as I turn around and away from the window, Betty is standing right there in front of me. Like, right there. Like six inches in front of me. My heart quickens as I look into her dark eyes. I can feel the familiar searing burst of warm color that explodes in my mind and heart.

This is ignition.

I set my glass on the counter and kiss her lips. It feels like I’ve kissed her before. But it’s brand new. But there’s a friendly familiarity to her kiss. We fit naturally together like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in the universe right now. I take her in my arms and we kiss deeply. It’s amazing. I’ve been kissing girls all of my life. but now I’m kissing a woman. A beautiful, exquisite, experienced woman. My god, she’s beautiful. If Dick walks in here right now and shoots me dead, I’ll die willingly knowing the last thing I ever did in this life was to kiss this lovely woman.

The kiss comes to a conclusion and she hugs me tightly. She smells incredible. What is that fragrance? Is that Red Door? I don’t know. I can’t think straight. There’s too much dopamine firing in my brain. I lean back on the counter and look at her. She smiles and her eyes twinkle as she tosses her raven mane to the side. My god… what did I do to deserve this moment?

Instant love.

“You’re cute, Chaz. I like you. Bonus points for being a great kisser.”

I blush like mad and look down. “I always liked you, Betty. Ever since the first time you came into the store. You were my favorite. You’re the prettiest girl that comes in the store. I’m glad Tyrone said something to you now.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is probably what she needed to hear from her husband. She was over 30 and had a 5-year-old daughter now. No longer the spring chicken she was when she met her husband. No longer the forbidden fruit that he spent time with at the office every day. Most men never leave their wives for the mistress, but this guy did, and then cheated again.

“I always thought you were cute and nice, Chaz.”   Get your beer. Let’s go into the living room. and watch a movie.”

We watched Eddie and the Cruisers. It is a cool story, with a great soundtrack, but is a cliche-ridden mess. But I didn’t care, I was just happy to be sitting on the couch with this pretty lady. There were more beers drank and more sweet kisses stolen.

We watched some of the Rod Stewart video because she loved him. Most girls from that generation loved Rod Stewart. I never understood it, and neither did my mother. “What do they see in that skinny big nosed Scotsman?” she would say. But what was happening here now was no place for thoughts about my mom.

After some cuddling on the couch and more kisses, it was time to wrap up the day. I smooched her one more time before opening her door and making my departure. We planned on getting together soon, and I didn’t ask any questions. It was her movie and I was merely an actor in this one. A very willing actor.

I think this was an audition for me. Betty wanted to see what I was like outside of the store. She felt comfortable enough to bring me to her home, so at least there was that.  But would I get a lead role in this affair?

Only time would tell.

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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Shipwrecked with Alessandra – 5 Minutes

Here’s an unfinished fiction series I once started to write. I wanted a series that was 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, 5 months, and 5 years. But I never made it past 5 minutes. It sat in my drafts for years, so here it is.

The name’s Erik. I’m a photographer. I shoot mostly fashion stuff for magazines and shows. I’m out on assignment today. We’re on a boat somewhere west of Australia. It’s a beautiful day. I’m doing a shoot for a new swimsuit line worn by model Alessandra Ambrosio.

I work with models all of the time. After a while, it’s like working in a bank. You’re surrounded by millions of dollars in cash, but after a while, it’s just the thing you work with every day. It’s not yours, and it’s just business. All of the women are beautiful. Probably some of the most beautiful women in the world. But it’s just a job like any other. You work, you hope you get the right shots, and you get paid. Sometimes you put in long hours. The travel wears you out, and life on the road gets lonely.

What concerns me today is the skipper was complaining that the port engine on this 1996, 37-foot flybridge motor yacht just wasn’t right; the gas engine was running rough and losing power. Something about loose valves or pistons. He’s below now taking a look at it.

It’s just the four of us out here. Me, the captain, Alessandra, and her makeup artist, Sidney.

Out of all of the models I’ve ever worked with, Ale’ has always been my favorite. She’s a sweet woman with a great sense of humor. Always on point and ready to work despite her fame.

Right now I’m out on the bow with her. She’s wearing a lovely multi-colored bikini. My Nikon D3X Digital SLR camera is clicking away. These shots are going to be great. They better be. This baby cost me seven grand.

“Sidney! Can you help me out a sec?” The captain shouts from below. Sidney rolls his eyes and heads to the back of the boat. “Coming!”

I turn my attention back to Alessandra. “Ok, dear. Give me a little smile. Turn. Little more to the left. Okay, look up just slightly. Perfect.”

Out of nowhere, there’s an explosion. Ale’s eyes were wide as she clutches the grab rail on the bow. I fall backward onto the deck. “What the hell?” she exclaims.

That’s when the screaming began. Screaming from below deck. Screaming I’ll never forget. It was the captain.

“Fire! The boat’s on fire!” Alessandra cried.

I looked backward, still reeling from the shock. Flames burst forth from the hold in the back of the boat. I scrambled to my feet. I glanced back at Alessandra. “Stay here.”

This was a fuel fire. I could smell it. Large billows of black smoke poured skyward from the flames. I could hear them screaming, but I couldn’t get to them. The heat was so intense. I clambered to the bridge looking for a fire extinguisher. I got inside and looked wildly about. Then I saw it. The metal hook on the wall to where the fire extinguisher was supposed to be but wasn’t.

I went towards the helm. I located the distress button and lifted the cover. I pressed and held the button until it beeped. Hopefully, the DSC signal will tell the Coast Guard the ship’s information. I grabbed the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the Lady Louise! We’re on fire!”

I could feel the panic clutching me like a giant claw. I couldn’t give a location. I didn’t even know where the hell we were!

God, it’s getting hot in here. The heat is taking me and I can’t stop coughing. Smoke is filling the cabin. I looked out the windshield at Ale’. She had a terrified grimace of mute protest on her beautiful visage. A look I had never seen before. Then she said something I wished I’d never heard.

“We’re sinking!”

I grabbed what I could and threw it in my bag. Then reached for the only two things that could keep us from dying here in the next few minutes. I scrambled out the side door of the cabin. The flames licked my left arm. Searing it instantly. I screamed in pain and made my way toward Ale’.

The boat was going down, and the screaming from below had stopped. The thought turned my stomach. Hopefully, they didn’t burn to death and the smoke took them instead.

“Put this on.” I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks and her lower lip quiver as she put on the bright orange life jacket. She snapped it in place. She was hyperventilating. I grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her. “We’re going to be okay, honey. We’re going to get out of this.”

“Are we going to die?” She squeaked.

“No!”

“What about Sidney and Captain Pike?”

“They’re dead. We have to go.”

She started crying more, but then suddenly stopped. “Wait. Look!” She pointed behind me. I wheeled around. Strapped in a rack at the foot of the bridge was what appeared to be an inflatable raft and two oars.  I yanked it out. “How are we going to get it inflated in time?” she said.

“With this.” I affixed the CO2 cartridge into the nozzle. Thankfully it began to inflate. The ship was now tilting to the side. Lady Louise was going down for the last time. But we were going to get out of this if we could just get off her and into the raft.

“Alessandra. I need you to listen to me. I’m going to lash this raft to the side of the boat here. Then I’m going to throw it overboard. I’m going to drop this bag here into the raft. Then I’m going to go in. I’m going to ask you to then untie the raft and jump. I’ll catch you. I promise.”

“What about women and children first?”

“Just do it, Ale’!”

The raft went into the water. Followed by my bag containing my camera and what supplies and tools I grabbed from the cabin. I then climbed down and dropped into the raft. I looked up at her crouching on the deck. “Okay, Ale’. Come on!”

She was about to climb over when she suddenly hesitated, glancing backward. “What are you waiting for? Come on!”

“One sec.” She said, holding up her perfectly manicured index finger.

Then she was gone. Just the sun glinting in my eyes as I looked upward. “Ale’! Come back! What are you doing? They’re dead! You can’t do anything. We have to go! Please!

Suddenly she reappeared, coughing and gasping. “Here. Catch.” A huge duffel bag landed on me, knocking me to the floor of the raft.” I pushed it to the side, as it was followed by the slender 5’9″ 119 lb frame of a global supermodel. She fell into my arms as I broke her fall. Her face was inches from mine for a moment. She didn’t move. Her breath came in short gasps of fear.

“Jesus, You scared the hell out of me, Ale’. You could have been killed running back for that!” She could sense the anger mixed with terror in my voice as I gazed into her lovely feline eyes.

“What? If you’re entitled to one carry-on bag, then so am I,” she said, rolling off me.

I just shook my head but was somewhat relieved. The raft drifted away from the sinking Lady Louise. She was engulfed in flames now. Maybe someone will see the column of black smoke that poured from her, I thought.  We both watched as she disappeared beneath the waves. The ocean hissed, mocking us. Extinguishing the flames in a final puff of smoke.

“Grab an oar. I’ll try to get our bearings as to where we are.” I said, looking around. I squinted in the hot sun.

Ale’ scanned the horizon. “Look!”She turned toward me. “Land! See it?” She pointed to what appeared to be a small island in the distance to our west. She grabbed an oar and locked it in place. I did the same. “Well, let’s hope there are people there that can help us.”

So here I am. Out in the middle of the ocean. Miles from the mainland of Australia with a gorgeous, international supermodel. Possibly one of the most beautiful women in the world. Here we are. Shoulder to shoulder, paddling an inflatable orange raft to who knows where.

Should I finish this? Let me know in the comments if you think it’s worth pursuing!

(If you click on the link of her name in the story above you can read the blog post from a few years ago when I met her in New York!)

 

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Tales of Rock: Who’s Libretto?

Philadelphia, PA – 1968

My uncle Jack used to work for Columbia Records back in the 60s. He was a well-known producer and had lots of connections in the music industry. When I lived in Los Angeles in the early 80s he was out there on business and called me to meet up with him for lunch.

I was happy to meet up with him. It would be nice to not only see a member of my family because it was my first time far away from home. But also because he was my favorite uncle. He was a brilliant guy with a lightning-fast wit. He was an easy-going dude that everybody liked.

I drove out to Century City in my 1969 VW minibus to meet him for lunch. We were joined by the former president of Columbia Records who was a buddy of my uncle’s. I remember it was cool to hang out with these guys and listen to their stories of the glory days of popular music in the 60s.

During his time in the business, my uncle met many musicians and celebrities like Andy Williams, and Barbra Streisand.

One story that stand out in my mind is when his buddy told a story about how the Jefferson Airplane had recorded a demo for Columbia and they didn’t like it and turned it down flat for a record deal. He said one of the guys in the band urinated into the planter in the corner of his office upon hearing the news. He said they later signed with RCA Victor and got an unheard of $25k advance to get on board with them. (which was a fortune in 1965)  “They were a bunch of crazy people.” he said about the band.

Anyway, I always loved my uncle and still miss his wry wit to this day. But back to the story at hand.

Because my uncle was in the industry he would be given lots of vinyl demo albums to check out and review. Anything that was popular or mainstream he could relate to, but when he was given anything relating to classical music or opera, he would give them to his brother.

Which was my father. My dad loved classical music and opera and it was probably his favorite kind of music. Since my uncle was clueless to that kind of music he’d pass them to my dad to give him the lowdown on each orchestra and album.

This went on for many years and my dad got loads of free music to add to his collection. As a kid, I always wondered why on many of his record albums there was always a red stamp on the back. It read: “Not for Sale. This album is for demonstration purposes only.” Those were the ones my uncle gave him. If for some reason there was some unknown rock band in one of the many albums he gave him, my dad would pass it to me. Even as far forward as the late 70s. I remember my dad handing me the soundtrack to the animated film, Heavy Metal based on the comic magazine. It’s where I first heard the song, Mob Rules by Black Sabbath. There was even a record that consisted of a collection of songs by different artists, and one of them was a really old recording from the German metal band Scorpions (Whom I loved) it was a song called “Am I Going Mad?” from the album Lonesome Crow, which I didn’t even know existed back then.

Anyway, back in 1968, my uncle was chatting with my dad about music, and an interesting question came up. He said he had a buddy over at Decca Records that was working with a somewhat popular band from the UK. The group had been generating some buzz as an up-and-coming mod/rock band. They were trying to find their voice and identity and had released a few small hits.

Back in the 50s and early 60s, bands and singers only released singles. Short songs that were never longer than 3 minutes long. If that artist had generated enough popular songs in a period of time, the label l would put the songs out as a collection on an LP.

But the Beatles changed all that when they started to release albums of all-new material. No longer would albums be collections of hits but bonafide creative works of music.

But the main guy in the band over at Decca was a brilliant songwriter and wanted to take his band’s music to the next level. He came up with a unique concept. He ran the idea and played a few songs for his producer. It was a groundbreaking idea for an album that hadn’t ever been done before.

The producer over at Decca ran the idea by my uncle to get his thoughts on the subject. He of course spoke to his brother, (my dad) about it. My father listened intently to the idea and gave him this response:

“Do they have a libretto?”

“A what?”

A libretto. Every opera has a libretto. It’s the text and the substantive ideas that inspire the composition, including the dramatic structure, characters and scenario of the opera.

“Okay…”

“Well, tell your friend that if this band is going to do some kind of opera, they’ll need a libretto so when people buy the record they can read along and know what’s going on with the story of the songs even if it’s in a different language.”

So my uncle goes back and tells all of this to his buddy over at Decca, and he tells the guy in the band who’s writing the album. He loves the idea and they decide to include a libretto with the new album. My uncle tells my dad and he’s happy he was able to help out based on his expertise with classical music and opera.

“By the way, Jack, what’s the opera about?”

“It’s about a deaf, mute, and blind boy who is abused as a child and becomes an incredible player at the game of pinball.”

“Okay, well that seems a little weird, but I hope they have success with that. Glad I could help.”

My dad obviously got a free demo copy of the album before it came out and turned me on to this incredible band and their music.

So my father had something to do with the creation of Tommy by The Who.

 

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Fifty-Nine

Philadelphia, PA – August 2021

It’s not a significant birthday. It’s just the year before you hopefully make it to 60. I suppose that’s a milestone. I’m too old to care about my birthday and haven’t for many many years.

As my father said, birthdays are for little kids.

Each year is a milestone when you’re growing up. I understand turning 18 and 21 and even 30. But beyond that, just stop it.

I see all of these silly twenty-something girls celebrating their birthday weeks and it’s so juvenile and ridiculous. We get it. It’s your birthday. Another year of you doing the same stupid stuff with a drink in your hand in every photo on your Instagram. Come on, ladies!

But I turned 59 and really didn’t pay any attention to it. But my friend James took me out a few days before and we had some lovely cocktails at 1 Tippling Place  and he bought me a bottle of Creege Isle for my small collection. (My collection is getting smaller because I rarely drink anymore. I’ll probably end up regifting that bottle away.) But I appreciate the sentiment.

On my actual birthday, I was surprised that my daughter took me out in the morning for a healthy smoothie at a place I’d never been. It’s a new spot called Playa Bowls up at 18th and Chestnut. I love that I’m writing about smoothie shops now instead of bars and drunken antics.

I went to work and was home by 6 pm. My daughter then suggested she take me out to dinner. Again, I was surprised. She doesn’t have to do anything for her old man for his birthday, and she knows I no longer care about such nonsense, but she wanted to do something for me.

We were going to go to the Korean BBQ spot just south of our house in Rittenhouse but soon discovered they were closed on Mondays. Thinking quickly, she suggested we hit Tio Flores down at 16th and South streets.

I had never been there and at the time I was only about 3 days into my Paleo diet, but I figured what the heck It’s my birthday and I’m happy just to be spending time with my daughter.

She’s lived with me for the last 7 years and it’s been great. We co-habitat well and we’re chill people who give each other their space. In the past when she was growing up we’d hang out on the weekends and spend the whole two days together. But once you live with someone it becomes more casual. So any time I get to hang out with her now it’s a blessing. Because I know someday soon, my little bird will fly away. (As she should!)

The dinner was delish and we loved our tacos. She got a vegan version and I went with the chicken. It was amazing and we had two rounds of margaritas. (They were strong!) So that was a great birthday thanks to my daughter.

I will say, that getting 40+ happy birthday wishes on Facebook was nice. I would say it was equal to getting little cards from people when you’re a kid. But once you “like” them all and thank everybody for the “love” you’re over it.

That was Monday. On Wednesday, my daughter asked if I would go with her to the eye doctor at Will’s Eye down at 8th and Walnut. She’s been suffering from a stye she had somehow acquired from maybe wearing her mask too much and sweat and bacteria building up in there.

A stye is a red, painful lump near the edge of the eyelid that may look like a boil or pimple. A stye can develop after the small glands that line the eyelid get plugged. Styes are often filled with pus. Sometimes a stye can form on the inner part of the eyelid. In most cases, a stye will begin to disappear on its own in a few days. A warm washcloth applied to the eyelid may relieve pain and discomfort.
My daughter is a night owl. She does all of her best creative work at night. I’m the opposite. I’ve always been a morning man who likes to be up and active during the day. She made the appointment for 8 am and that is super early for her. But she wanted to get in there and get it over with.
She got up and got ready and we took a Lyft down there. We were right on time and they took her in immediately. She’d been suffering from this for months and it should have been gone by now. She’s had it looked at by several doctors in New Jersey, but it was time to let a seasoned professional from Philly take charge and get this done right.
The doctor was on point and did what he needed to do. I was able to sit with her during the operation which I was happy to do. At one point he was really going to work on her and even though they had numbed the area, I could see she was feeling some stress. So I reached out and placed my hand on her foot and spoke to her.
“You’re doing great. You’re almost done. Just focus on your breathing. It’ll be over soon.”
She later told me that it helped and since I’m her dad, and I knew it would. It’s what we do. Look after the well-being of our kids no matter how old they are.
Once it was finished, we headed out and went to a very popular breakfast spot in mid-town village called Green Eggs. It truly is a magnificent breakfast spot. She’d been brave and I was hungry so I said, my treat! She was down for it and we had a lovely breakfast together.
So this was the third time I got to hang out with my daughter that week and that felt great. So even though I say I don’t care about my birthday anymore, it was nice to spend time with my daughter and celebrate my BIRTHDAY WEEK!

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California Dreamin’ – Ashley – 3 Strikes – Part 3

Wildwood, NJ – 1984

When I got back to Wildwood, NJ I would write letters and sometimes talk to Ashley on the phone. One night I had been drinking while I was on the phone with her and the conversation turned to sex.

Ashley became enraged, that I was gone from her life and all I wanted to do was talk about how great our sex had been. She yelled at me and told me she never wanted to speak to me again. She was peevish, ex-lover spurned with jealousy and rage.

I was fine with that. I was already seeing someone else by then.

Philadelphia, PA – 2008

25 years later, I’m living in Rittenhouse with my girlfriend, Michelle. One day I go on Facebook, and I have a friend request from Ashley! I was happily surprised to hear from her after so long. Facebook was still pretty new back then and people were reconnecting with all of their old friends from the past. Whether that’s a good idea or not, I don’t know. I’m going to say it’s a good thing. I’ve been able to chat with many of my old friends and it’s nice to see some of them after all of these years.

But after about a week or so, Ashley writes me a message that I’m not being a good Facebook friend and she’s cutting me off. I didn’t understand what that meant. I guess I was supposed to be more attentive on this social media platform. It seemed weird to me at the time, but after all that time I didn’t care. She just seemed crazy. Mental illness is an insidious thing. I’ve met enough crazy people here in Philly, and I just don’t care anymore.

Philadelphia, PA – 2020

Here we go again. We’re all in lockdown due to the global pandemic. Out of the blue, I get a message on Facebook from Ashley. Now it’s been 37 years since I laid eyes on her.

She and I would message each other on Facebook. It was nice to chat with her again after all of these years. We had a shared history from a long time ago when we were young and free in L.A. in the early 80s.

She had been to school and became a chef, married for over 30 years, had no children and had been living in Italy for many years. It was fun to catch up.

But after a short period, I started to notice a very angry tone in her messages. She seemed bitter and preachy about certain subjects. I’ve been around for a long time and have a wealth of life experience. I can pretty much read people through the written word as if I’m listening to them in person. It sounded like when she’d get mean in her messages, she was drunk.

I think she searched my blog looking for some heartfelt story about her and there just wasn’t any. I wrote about a bunch of wild things that happened to me and the boys when we got to LA but never got around to writing about her.

She gave me a really hard time about some of my posts. I felt violated and insulted by how corrosive her words were about my blog. So many cruel, words. It hurt, but I’m accustomed to trolls by now. I’m sure it was just her drunken bitterness coming forth from a life not lived. Just silly, juvenile, embarrassing behavior from a middle-aged woman.

It’s a shame when you find out a person has lived over half a century and hasn’t ever evolved as a person.

I have a low tolerance for drunk people even though I have a high tolerance for alcohol. (Not anymore, thank you) But she seemed drunk and rambled on in some of her messages. It felt uncomfortable and I felt bad for her. When I looked on her Instagram it was just a bunch of pictures of locations where she lived. She seems lonely. That’s the vibe I got. No kids, married for 30 years and has almost no info or photos of her husband.

I suppose what happened to her is that she’d sadly lived a life that’s been unfulfilled. She speaks and acts as though she hasn’t grown as a person or matured as an adult. She was still pissed about me leaving her back in 1983!

We spoke on the phone one morning and it was lovely. But she wanted to chat so much on Facebook messenger that it started to feel like too much. She said, “Promise me we can do this every week.”

Who says that? Promise me? I’m not making any promises to some 60-year-old woman who lives on the other side of the planet. I haven’t seen her in 37 years! Anything we ever were was finished a long time ago.

I also noticed how she would message me on Facebook, and if I didn’t respond, she would delete them all which seemed juvenile and weird. Sadly, Ashley’s never matured as a person and hasn’t evolved through the years. I can’t relate to any of that nonsense.

I think poor Ashley’s bored in her life and where she’s ended up, and has turned to alcohol for solace. But that never works. That’s just a band-aid covering up your real issues.

I spoke to my daughter about it and she said it all seemed kind of weird after all of this time.

I would have been happy to chat with her ocassionally on messenger. That would have been nice. But I don’t want to be in constant touch with someone and have them sending me clips of a bunch of music and songs I have zero interest in. It all seemed juvenile. I guess if you marry too young and don’t live a full life, you kind of get stuck behaving a certain way. I don’t know how her husband has put up with all of this childish behavior for so many years. I’d have divorced this woman/child years ago. But that’s his life, not mine. I don’t know the man.

So, at one point she sends me a message about how it’s been great talking to me and hopes I have a nice life. I saw it and didn’t respond. I could tell it was just an attempt to get my attention. But I simply don’t care. I feel nothing for this person.

There were a few more drunken messages that were later deleted. I’m assuming she writes a bunch of wild things when she’s half in the bag, and then the next morning when she’s sober, takes them down.

I figured she’d wait until the end of December of last year. If she hadn’t heard from me, she’d cut me off for the third time.

Had she just reached out to chat and behaved like an adult, we could have remained friends, but she hasn’t the ability to do that. I’m thinking possible bipolar and alcoholism at this point. But I’m not spending any time thinking about it at all. I’m too busy.

I was promoting some of my stuff on Facebook the other day, and I noticed the message chain from her was gone. I thought, “This is it.”

I searched for her on Facebook. She didn’t cut me off or block me, but she had unfriended me. So silly.

So, 3 strikes and it looks like I’m out.

But… like I always say. No matter what happens, good or bad… at least I got a story out of it…

 

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California Dreamin’ – Ashley – 3 Strikes – Part 2

Los Angeles, CA – 1983

One day I somehow acquired tickets to a David Bowie concert out in Anaheim. (It may have been the Glass Spider tour) We were on our way to the show when my van suddenly stalled. I had never had any problems with it before, but this was the worst thing that could have happened at the very worst time. I remember a truck full of Mexicans was kind enough to push my disabled vehicle off the highway.

We missed the show, but I got the van running again. Ashley was incredibly disappointed so I made it up to her. I took her to a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was the very first time I tasted veal.

On another occasion, we were out partying in a bar somewhere and were on our way to her house. I was on the freeway when the cops pulled me over. They said I was swerving, but I know that I wasn’t. I think they saw the New Jersey tags on an old 1969 VW minibus and decided to stop me.

They took me through a sobriety test which I passed, but when I blew into the breathalyzer, I failed. I remember Ashley telling me that while this was happening, one of the officers was hitting on her. “What’s a nice pretty girl like you doing with a loser like him?” the cop said.

So, they arrested me and took me to jail. They photographed and fingerprinted me and tossed me in a cell with a couple of drunk guys. I remember sharing a cigarette with one of them. It was a rare bonding moment with another inmate. Odd thing was, I wasn’t even scared at all. I was only 21 years old when all of this happened.

I guess one of the cops took Ashley home and they left me in the can to chill. I got my one phone call and spoke with my roommate. I told him where I had some cash hidden in the apartment. He hopped in a cab and came to bail me out.

The cops told us where the van was impounded, but said not to get it and drive it because I could be stopped again. Which would make my current infraction even worse. We agreed and left the precinct.

We immediately went to the impound lot and got my van out. I drove my roommate and me home and we were fine.

Bad night.

I called my father and told him what happened. He was cool about it and was just glad I was okay. I had left a grand in my bank account back in Wildwood, NJ in case of emergency. This was that emergency.

I had to go to court, plead no contest, pay the fine, and attend classes. (All of it seemed like fee income for the city of LA and a waste of my time.) After all of the negative experiences in LA and the feeling that it didn’t matter where you were in the world, it really came down to who you were at that given time in your life.

No matter where you run to in this world… there you are. You make or break the place where you live. I was fed up with all of the phoniness of LA and didn’t see any point in staying out there anymore. I wasn’t going to become the next heavy metal god and was really feeling despondent about my life there. It had all become very mundane. (I’ll write about the deeper parts of this decision in some future post)

My roommate and I eventually decided to pack it in and return to New Jersey. I was tired of LA and missed my family and friends. I was just done with the whole scene out there.

Of course, Ashley was heartbroken that I was leaving, but I had to go. There was nothing I could do. I wasn’t staying out there. She was, and our relationship was over.

I guess that’s how I was back then. My whole existence was about survival and dealing with my anxiety and depression. But I thought nothing of just doing what I needed to do to survive. I know now that I broke some young hearts back then. I never intended to hurt anyone intentionally, I just kept moving. But I see now I was running in circles.

More tomorrow!

 

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California Dreamin’ – Ashley – 3 Strikes – Part 1

Santa Monica, CA – 1982

When I first got to Los Angeles in 1982, I got a job as a busboy at a local restaurant in Santa Monica called Cafe Casino. It was located in the Wilshire Pallisades building down by the beachfront. Someone had come up with the idea of serving French cuisine in a cafeteria model. People would enter the restaurant, grab a tray and get in line for their meal. They would point to the things they wanted, and there were a couple of girls that would serve them. It was like an expensive high school lunchroom experience. We had a fun crew of people working there and we had a good time.

I had become friends with one of the girls who worked there named Kellie Lawson. She was from Kenosha, Wisconsin. She was one of a million people who had migrated to Los Angeles to become an actor. Most people that you met out there back then all wanted the same thing. Every person in the service industry was waiting for the big break that would never come. Every waitress was either an actress, singer, model, or dancer. Most of the men you met were actors, musicians, or screenwriters. None of them working in the industry, but waiting…

Kelly had got on a greyhound bus to escape the grinding boredom of her hometown in an attempt to make it big in Hollywood. A classic scenario seen a thousand times out there. We had started dating and would frequently fool around at her apartment. We sort of grew out of touch after I left that job to work at Merlin McFly’s down near Venice.

One afternoon, we’re at the restaurant and the guys and I were hanging outside the dining room by the doors. The lunch rush was over and the two glass doors swung open. Who comes rolling in with his squad but Heisman Trophy champion, O.J. Simpson!

I knew him more from the Hertz commercials, but the other guys all cheered when the athlete entered the restaurant. He was a good-looking guy and said hello to us all. When I shook the hand of this man, who could realize that 10 years later he’d be famous for something else.

One of the girls who worked there that I befriended was a charming beauty named Joelle. She was a part-time model and her boyfriend worked at Disney studios.

Here’s her modeling photo card. Beautiful!

A lovely girl. She was not only beautiful but full of sass. She’d laugh at all my jokes and seemed to find me amusing. I liked working with her and having her as a friend back then.

One day, I came to work and she was standing there with another girl. She was 19 years old, cute, and Joelle told me she was her cousin from Philadelphia. I chatted with her and thought she was cool. Since I was originally from Philly we had a small connection.

She was new to California, and I told her we should hang out. She gave me her number and we made plans to do something together.

Eventually, we started dating and things became romantic. I had already been out there for over a year and was pretty jaded. But Ashley was new and was a fun, sweet girl to spend time with. Sometimes we’d just drive around LA in my van and end up down by the beach. We’d make out in the VW minibus and it was a romantic hot time.

We went on several dates. We went to see, ET: The Extraterrestrial, (I cried like a baby) The Dark Crystal, (A bunch of muppets with David Bowie), and Flashdance. (Chick-flick, but the great soundtrack.)

Sometimes we’d just hang out at my apartment, but many times I’d finish work and come visit her at her cousin’s house out in Culver City. It was fun to hang out in her room and watch TV and make out. We were just a couple of teenagers enjoying life and our youth together. We were a couple of kids on the loose in LA. She loved Richard Gere and I loved Farrah Fawcett.

One night I stayed over there late. We stayed up all night as young people do. When I came out to get in my van to go home, I saw that the driver’s side door was standing wide open.

My minibus had been broken into, and the thieves had stolen my entire stereo system. This was heartbreaking to me because I loved my van and listening to my tunes. They even took the boom box that I used to listen to on the beach back in Wildwood, NJ. I felt so violated by that incident, I was reluctant to go back to her neighborhood again. It was a planned professional job. They had hit several cars on the street that night.

The more Ashley and I spent time together the closer we became. She would stay over at my apartment in Mar Vista on the weekends. That eventually turned into our first intimate encounters. I don’t think I realized at the time that I was Ashley’s first.

But after that, it was really fun to be together, and fooling around became part of our relationship. It was a natural progression back then. You can only make out in my van for so long before the bigger things start happening.

One night while we were in my apartment fooling around someone broke into the apartment next door and robbed the place. My neighbor was in Greece at the time with her boyfriend so nobody was home. The thieves ransacked the place and I suppose stole anything valuable.  I later heard from one of my neighbord that they saw some guys listening next to my window to see if anybody was home. But I guess hearing our laughter they moved on to next door and ripped off my neighbor’s place instead of robbing us. Crazy!

My neighbor moved out shortly after that and I moved into her apartment. It was bigger and installed a waterbed I had gotten from a chef I worked with at McFlys who had back problems. That waterbed only cost me $120 and was awesome! It was so cool having a waterbed. I remember one night the thermostat in the unit went off and the whole side of my body was cold when I woke up. I thought I was half dead! I had a lot of wild times on that waterbed.

More tomorrow!

 

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Double 8

Philadelphia, PA    1973-1975

Before I begin this story I have to tell you something about my father. I said this about him in his eulogy. With my dad, anything worth doing was worth overdoing. Now, that didn’t apply to anything negative like booze or drugs or anything. My pop was a pretty straight shooter but what I meant by that statement was, he went big on anything he liked.

I mean, BIG.

I’ll give you an example. I think this was back in the ’90s. When my older sister’s son was little he spent a lot of time with his grandpop. (My father) He loved playing with toy trains with my dad, and of course, my father was a huge toy train collector. He had tons of toy trains. Lionel trains were his favorite.

He set up a little ring of track on the floor in a corner of the attic. This way they could go up there and run the trains and watch them go round and round. I’m sure this delighted my nephew. But when I saw it I said to my father, “Isn’t this just the beginning, dad?”

“What do you mean?”

“This is how it starts.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Aren’t you going to start building this little ring of track out bigger and bigger until it’s gigantic?”

“No. It’s for the boy.”

I even joked that he’d build a train layout so large that it would run the entire length of the attic. It would be an enormous museum-quality setup, with multiple lines and trains running on it, villages, buildings, cars, people, and whatever else he could turn it into.

 

Cut to a year or so later, and he did just that. It was the biggest train layout I’d ever seen. A giant wooden platform was constructed three feet off the floor. Multiple trains running on several different tracks. Lights, switches, several transformers to run it, whole villages and towns built throughout. It was absolutely brilliant.

If you went into someone’s house and went up in their attic and saw something like this, you’d say, “Who the hell built all of this?”

So, you get the picture. He liked to take something and go big with it. It was massive and beautiful. My father loved it. He once said, “My toy train layout. It’s the only world I can truly control.”

LAWNDALE

Let’s jump back to Christmas, 1972. We were celebrating the holidays just like always and it was great. We all got plenty of toys and everybody was happy. It was probably the happiest day of the year in my house growing up.

My dad knew a younger couple he was friends with that he knew from the bank where he worked. They were cool people and we all liked them. They were around a lot and were interesting, fun people.

They gave the family a present that year. Or, maybe it was for me. Maybe they gave something to each of my sisters but I didn’t notice. Because the present they gave was a little racing set.

Aurora made plastic models and HO slot car race tracks.

No one I ever knew in the 60s and 70s dressed like this in real life to play. (And who are those little guys driving the cars?)

I knew the name Aurora because I liked building little models when I was a kid. Aurora and Monogram made the best models, but Aurora had this line of slot cars and racing sets they manufactured. This was a fantastic toy.

In the box is enough track to make the double eight configuration, two controllers, and two cars. One was a little red Mustang that was okay, and an old tan Lincoln that looked like it was modeled after a car from the 40s. I liked the idea of a racing set and playing with little cars but these two they gave you in the set were kind of lame. But… it was so you would go out and buy more of the cooler cars they made.

Weekend Mornings with Slot Cars: Throwback Thursday

That’s a yellow late 60s Corvette. They didn’t give you that car. I can’t even find a picture on google of the old Lincoln the set came with. (I love how it says: The Double 8 is the most exciting road racing set in the WORLD!)

Here’s what the controllers looked like. You turned the wheel to the right to accelerate and left to slow down. There was a little switch on the right to change directions, and a brak button on the left which killed power to the car and it would stop short. It was so intense sometimes the little steering wheels would end up breaking from the sheer pressure of the hands upon them. Thrilling racing action! (lol)

In our basement, we had a pool table. We also had two boards that made a ping pong table you could place on top of it. So my dad set up the small race track on the ping pong table. He wired it all up and it was cool to race the little cars around the track. But my dad being the man he was, got interested in this little pastime. Not just for us kids, but for the adults.

He went out to the local Kiddie City and hobby shops in the area and started researching how he could expand the layout.

I don’t know how long it took, but probably only a few months into the Spring of 1973, and the little racing set was rapidly becoming larger.

I liked it because I could have some of the boys in the neighborhood over and we would play for hours down in that basement with the racing set. The raceway kept getting bigger and better.

From that one little gift, my dad turned it into an incredibly fun racing track. At one point he made a layout that was four lanes wide, with four controllers, and electric lap counters. He and my mom would be down there entertaining their friends, having drinks, and having these epic auto races while we kids were asleep in bed. I’m talking 100 lap marathon races that went on for a long time. Some people would be racing cars and others would act as spotters if a car fell off the track during the race. It was like Indianapolis down there.

My dad and his friend were famous for whipping out a “secret car” that no one had seen before just to make the racing more thrilling!

Dad even went out and bought a record album that was just the soundtrack from different real races around the world. Like Grand Prix and Le Mans! This way when they were racing the sounds in the background made it seem even more real. It was great!

Check this out!

Then the cars started. The Batmobile. The Green Hornet’s car (Black Beauty) A few Corvettes, Ferraris, Cheatahs, etc. In no time we had over 40 cars. All different colors, and even fleets of all the same model. (Like real racing teams!) I feel like at one point we had at least one of every car that Aurora made for slot car racing.

Yep, dad always went big and it was glorious.

Everybody had their favorite car, and mine was a white Mako Shark. I loved it because it looked like a Corvette Stingray and that was my favorite car in real life back then.

Boxed 1960s White Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark Aurora Slot Car - TPNC

My dad was always bringing home new cars and cool accessories for the layout. The coolest thing ever was something called a Hop-Up Kit.

Inside this little box was equal to finding the Ark of the Covenant to me and the boys. For under a dollar you could soup up your car to make it not only faster, but handle better on the track.

Better pick up shoes and brushes to generate better power current into the motor, Bigger crown gears to make the wheels turn more revolutions per minute, fatter tires, bigger rims, and cool decals to dress up your cars. This little box of goodies changed the whole game. We had a few of these on hand at all times. My friend RJ and I would soup up our cars and beat everybody else’s cars.

I never bought any of this stuff. My dad just kept finding more cars, curves, controllers kept bringing them home. It was a toy that kept on giving and kept all of our friends entertained for hours. (My sisters and their friends too!)

Here’s my friends RJ McMeans and Wayne Kachelries going head to head, while my middle sister and I keep our eyes peeled in case a car goes flying off the track. (Look at that 8-foot straightaway!!!)

That curve you see closest to the camera is called a Daytona Curve. It was banked so you could go around it faster without crashing. We later added a Monza curb beside it. This was an amazing racing layout!

I’ll never forget all of the hours of fun we spent as kids in that basement at 312 Magee St. It was nice and cool down there and just a fun rec room for us growing up.

Later as teenagers, we’d play ping pong and shoot pool down there while listening to all of our records on my dad’s stereo. (The GOOD stereo!)

Even now, at almost 60 years old, I’d still love to play with a racing set like this!

I think a lot of people would agree with me.

Way better than video games!

Final Note: My youngest sister read this article and sent me the following photo. Apparently she saved 3 of her little slot cars all of this time and still has them! Amazing!!!

 

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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