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

Rock – Ola

Philadelphia, PA – The early 70s

My dad had this couple he was friends with back in the late 60s and early 70s. He met them through the bank where he worked in Northeast Philly. They were a cool sort of hippie couple in their 30s. That period in our history was a great time of change in this country. But my dad liked them and they were nice people. They turned him on to the counter culture of music, film, and of course marijuana.

I remember going over to their house when I was a kid and they had a lot of cool, artsy stuff around the place. One of the things that struck me was this old-time jukebox. It was an actual working antique even back then. It was chock full of over fifty 45rpm records from the 50s and 60s. Cool!

My sisters and I were captivated by this massive cabinet full of flashing lights, swirling colors, and loads of great songs inside. It was an incredible piece of technology. It must have weighed over 500 lbs and made of solid oak. The front door swung open and you could see how it worked. You could also watch the operation through a little window in the front of the unit. The 45 rpm records were all stacked on metal plates and when you pushed the play button, would swing out and a little turntable would rise and pick up the platter and it would meet the stylus and play the record. Neat to watch. The heavy sound blasted out of a 15-inch woofer in the front.

Check this out:

My dad’s friends were going to be moving to a smaller place and told him that the jukebox was just too big to fit through the door of their new home. They asked if they could loan it to him and keep it at our house. Of course, my dad agreed, much to the joy of my sisters and me.

It sat in the corner of our enclosed porch at the house at 312 Magee Street for the rest of the 70s. We slowly began adding new 45 rpm singles that we had bought so we could listen to our music in this booming beast.

This will give you an idea of what it was like even though this one in the video is a little different from ours. (But we did have Jailhouse Rock in ours and played that song often. I think Treat Me Nice was on the B side of that single)

It was almost like we had this big entertainment robot living on our porch. Any of the kids could just push a button and music would come on. The girls could dance and the boys would simply rock out to the tunes.

I think the most memorable time of having this jukebox in our family was on Halloween. We’d have it lit and playing music, and when kids came to the door trick or treating they would all see it. No one had ever seen anything like it and they were all amazed at the sight of this technological musical marvel.

We had it on loan from them for over 40 years. It went to the shore house in North Wildwood in 1979 and remained there until a few years ago. The grown son of the couple wanted the jukebox back. In my opinion, after having the jukebox in our possession for over 40 years that it was rightfully ours. Possession being 9/10s of the law. But the right thing to do was to give it back to the family. We were no longer interested in the unit and it had been on loan to us that was an agreement my father had made with them back in the 70s so my sister wanted to honor that decision.

So it’s been gone for a while but I sometimes think back to all the fun we had listening to our music through that booming beast from a bygone era.

There I am in the early 80s next to the Rock-Ola!

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Home for Christmas

I’m going to begin this piece with a few funny bits I remember from a couple of late-night TV hosts.

“I was driving through LA the other day and I saw an adult book store with a sign on the door. The sign read: Open all day, Christmas day.

“Does anybody ever wake up Christmas morning and say to themselves, ‘I’d love to look at some filthy magazines today. I wonder if anything’s open?” – Jay Leno

“Remember when you first got your Christmas tree home? Don’t put the screws on the stand into the tree too tight. Put a little sugar in the water, and keep it hydrated. Then… the day after Christmas… “Get that fire trap outta here!” – Jay Leno

Okay, last one.

“What does Christmas look like at my house? I’ll tell ya. I get up really early, I get really drunk, knock the tree over, and start a small electrical fire.” – David Letterman

I love those bits!

 

Philadelphia, PA – 1930s

The Christmas season was always a magical time growing up in our house. When my father was a kid he loved Christmas and this carried on throughout his life. He was the architect of the best Christmases any kid could imagine.

But when he was a kid I suspect his Christmases weren’t all that bright. His father was sort of disconnected from his family. Although an honorable man of principles, he was more interested in his work and hanging at the bar with his buddies. Not a drunk, but enjoyed drinking and adult fun instead of spending time with his wife and two sons.

At Christmas, he would hand his wife money and tell her to get the boys whatever they wanted. Not a lot of money, but enough to get maybe a couple of sets of toy trains and some other various trinkets. he just wasn’t that into family or Christmas.

His son on the other hand who would eventually become a father to me and my three sisters was determined to change all of that.

Philadelphia, PA – 1950s

My parents were married for 5 years before any of the kids appeared in their lives. They made a big deal about Christmas. (There is even a home movie somewhere that he shot of them preparing and celebrating Christmas together. We should probably have those videos converted to digital files so they can live online forever.) I remember in this one home movie he shot it was my mom pulling boxes of decorations and goodies out from under a bed.  He edited it so it looked like she was pulling an endless amount of stuff from under the bed. I liked how he didn’t simply document the Christmas season he made a fun little movie about it with his wife.

Philadelphia, PA – 1960s-Present

One of my earliest memories of Christmas was my sisters and I as little kids standing at the top of the steps in our pajamas. My mom would give the signal and we’d all slowly descend the steps carrying our stockings. What you couldn’t see was my father filming the whole thing in 8mm. He had a rack of really bright lights set up so he could get a quality shot. (All of the cameras and film were low lux back then)

Here we all come down the stairs squinting because the lights were so incredibly light. It was like something out of the film Close Encounters! We’d walk across the living room and try in earnest to get up on our tiptoes to hang our stockings over the fireplace on the mantle. We’d all smile and wave still squinting like mad. My mother would be holding my youngest sister in her arms and hang her little stocking for her.

This went on for years. My dad loved to document all the holidays with his trusty movie camera. I don’t think any of the other kids in the neighborhood have the massive catalog of films that my family has about family events.

(That’s me in 1966)

One of the main components of the Christmas season was putting the toy trains up. My father had a wooden platform in the basement with tracks nailed to it. He would gather some old orange crates out of the garage and set them up in the corner of the living room. The platform would sit upon it and then the Christmas tree would be placed on it in the corner.

Then he’d bring up a couple of his model trains and we’d play with them and run them around the platform. He had little houses, cars, and people to complete the village. It was great because you only got to play with these specific toys the month before Christmas. So it was a cool pre-holiday treat. My sisters and I would run the trains and play for hours with these little people in their town in the days leading up to the big day.

Christmas carols and holiday music would play throughout the house, relatives would visit and usually, my grandmom would come and stay for the week leading up to Christmas. They would give her my room and I’d sleep on a cot in my sister’s room. This was fine because this way the kids were all together as Christmas approached and we could all talk about it. What we had on our lists, stuff we hoped we’d get, and just vibe with the season.

My mother would bake these glorious butter cookies from a recipe she found in a magazine. To this day they are my favorite cookies on earth. Thankfully my middle sister has been able to replicate that recipe and make cookies that look and taste exactly like mom used to make. I love them. each year she gives me a Tupperware container full of them and it takes me three months to slowly consume them all.

I remember as we got a little older we’d help my mom make the cookies. I think my older sister would help my mother mix the batter, my middle sister would roll them out, I would cut them into shapes and my baby sister would decorate them with sprinkles. I know my youngest sister is going to read this but I’m going to say it anyway. Once when she was maybe 2 years old I remember her standing on the chair at the end of the table and decorating the cookies and she suddenly sneezed.

“Good job! You just decorated the cookies!”

“Ewww!”

Poor kid. She was just a baby and didn’t even know what she did! That story still circulates the table at annual holiday gatherings.

As usual, I was a disaster in school. So my dad had taken it upon himself to sort of home school me during the early 70s. I still went to school, but he would give me books and make me read them and then test me on the subjects. It was torture for me back then, but I learned so much about so many aspects of the world that many of my peers don’t know even to this day. He even would assign me poetry to memorize and recite to him after I’d learn it. You’d think verse would be a little easier for me to memorize word for word but try to read, and understand, The Tyger by William Blake!

One Christmas one of his assignments was for me to read and memorize “A Vist from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, and I did it! I memorized the whole thing and recited it word for word for him. Even though this felt like some sort of extended punishment from my everyday life, it wasn’t. He was exposing me to great literary works and building the neurons in my brain for better recall. He knew I had a good mind, he just didn’t want me to waste it.

Anyway, Christmas was always a magical time in our home each year. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. My middle sister and I would conspire to figure out ways to sneak downstairs early Christmas morning with a flashlight and take a look at what Santa had left for us. This was always met with inquiries from my other sister, “Well, what did you see down there?”

My father and sisters and I would trim the tree and my mom would sit in her chair and direct us as to where each ornament should go. My grandmom would be there giggling and sipping eggnog.

When some of us were old enough to realize the truth about Santa Claus we took it upon themselves to do something my father referred to as “rooting”. This was when one of the kids would look under the pool table or in a closet for potential future Christmas presents. My dad quickly caught on to this practice and make sure everything was gift-wrapped immediately upon acquisition of the gift.

Once he even stuck a little postcard between the door of a closet and the molding near the upper hinge of the door. If anyone opened the door, the card would fall and he would know some little elf was “rooting”. So he would simply move the presents to another secret location.

Watching all the great Christmas shows on TV only added to the excitement of the season. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is coming to town were all wonderful, just to name a few!

Christmas morning would finally arrive and we’d all head downstairs to see the bounty of gifts that old St. Nick had dropped off. Each child had a designated area for their presents around the living room. Each kid went to their spot and started to rip into the wrapping paper. My parents would sit back, sip their coffee, and just smile.

You had to take a break after the main presents and stop and eat breakfast before ripping into your stocking. There were more goodies in each one of those! Sometimes something wonderful, like a watch or a piece of jewelry for the girls.

What set my parents apart from many families is, they shopped for Christmas all year round. So they never had to stress about the hustle and bustle associated with any last-minute shopping issues. They were done and wrapped months before Christmas day ever arrived. They were so organized and such great planners.

Thanks to my mom and dad every Christmas was unique and incredible in its own right. There were always some special gifts that you really wanted and some unexpected delights that appeared each year. This family tradition continued on into our twenties down the shore in Wildwood, NJ when we moved there in 1979.

Christmas was bigger and better than ever. He had not one but two completely decorated trees in the house. One downstairs in the dining room and the other one upstairs in the front window of the house. The trees always had to be Fraser firs because they were the bushiest and smelliest trees money could buy. (No dropped needles on the floor!)

My father would have mini lights running along the ceiling down the hallway just to keep the Christmas vibe going throughout the house.

It would be a couple of days before Christmas and he’d suddenly make this statement each year. “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve… of Christmas Eve.”

This became part of our mythology through the years and someone would always say, about a week before Christmas… “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve of Christmas Eve!”

Yea…we’re a Christmas crazy family.

We would exchange gifts between the kids and my parents on Christmas eve. I don’t remember when this started, but it added to the holiday energy because you got that extra night of opening presents even before the main Christmas day event! We would stack them on a card table in the living room and sometimes one of the kids would be sniffing around them wondering what was in them.

My mom put up a sign and rested a whiffle ball bat against the table. The sign stated that if you were caught touching the presents on the table you’d get “the bat”. (This was all in fun, but we had that thing there every year)

Even though by then my dad was into his 60s, he’d be sitting on the sofa next to me with his finger under the wrapping paper on one of his gifts. “Is it my turn yet?” he’d exclaim. He loved Christmas so much!

My first sister picked up the torch of the Christmas spirit in the 90s. She still hosts a holiday party every December at her house and it’s wonderful! The food is great and the company is always amazing. I remember going to her house back in the 90s and my parents were still alive and there could be a few uncles and aunts there, and the rest of us. They were the oldest people in the room. The senior members of our tribe. But as time has passed, I looked around the room and saw my daughter and all the nephews and nieces, and now my sisters and I are the old people in the room!

Time slips away so fast.

This is another one of those instances where it’s difficult to put into words what our Christmases were really like. It was more of a feeling.

You just had to be there.

My mother and father have been gone for many years, but Christmas continues to live on in the hearts of my sisters and me. My first sister has continued to have her annual holiday party every year for decades and we are all so grateful for her.

Here we all are now!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

 

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

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

Trick or Treat

Is that Yvonne Craig, Sally Field, and Lynda Carter? (I don’t think so!)

Philadelphia, PA – 1970s

That special time rolls around every Autumn. It’s not as great as Christmas, but it’s right up there.

Halloween!

There’s all the preparation leading up to the event. It’s almost too hard to believe. We get to dress up as cool characters for one night a year and collect candy from everybody in the neighborhood. Do you mean to tell me we just knock on doors and they give us free candy? How is this possible? We love candy!

Halloween in our neighborhood was especially good. You paint or carve pumpkins into Jack O Lanterns. Each kid in the family picked out their own pumpkin and created their own design. We’d sit them out in a descending line down the steps to show off our handiwork.

Watching Doctor Shock on channel 17. Mad Theater and Horror Theater. All the classic monster movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolfman were the best! Doctor Shock was the host and practically invented the genre long before Elvira and MST3K! He even brought his little daughter, Bubbles on the show.

Remember the real horror stories you heard as a kid? That bad kid from around the corner who’s going to be out with his minions to cut kids’ bags and steal their candy! (The mothers were ready with firearms!)

Not really.

It seemed like when you were a kid there were always horror stories. It’s as if they were all made up by adults as words of caution to children in general. There was no such thing as the boogeyman. But many were told of his existence. But it was to scare kids into not wandering off at night. Because in reality there were bad people out in the world who could hurt you. So they gave him a name.

Razor blades in apples? Did anyone ever get one? Of course not. But I think everyone would agree that if any kid ever got a piece of fruit in their trick or treat bag, that sucker went straight into the trash.

And what sort of person gives out fruit on Halloween? How have they not heard of the protocol? Did they not get the memo?

CANDY! WE ONLY WANT CANDY!

I want store-bought, name-brand candy ONLY. I want full-sized Snickers and Hershey bars. What’s with this new thing called “Fun Size?” There’s nothing fun about a tiny version of the real thing you want.

Image result for best candy bars

That’s what I’m talking about.

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Yes, please!

Remember there was always that random neighbor who gave out little bags of loose candy? What sort of crap was that? Juju bees, hard candy, Dots, and candy corn? No one wants that loose candy that you’ve had your hands all over! Straight to the trash! 

We’d get so much candy, we’d have to stop home and dump it because our little orange buckets were brimming with treats. Once our bounty was secured, we’d head right back out again for more. Did we get tired? Hell no! Sugar kept us going, baby!

You wanted to eat it all at once! But your mom was always there with… “You can have ONE!”

Some people even gave us money! It was a bunch of pennies and nickels but hey, we prefer the candy but if you want to give us cash that’s okay too! (How about you toss a few bills in there, pops?)

Back then I remember people doing some decorating to their homes but not at the level at which people celebrate Halloween today. Halloween has become the most profitable holiday behind Christmas. You don’t even get a day off from work.

A few years ago, My friend Scott had come up to visit. I remember us walking into one of those seasonal Halloween stores that pop up around September each year. There was every terrifying nightmarish object imaginable in that store. The place looked like the prop department for Hammer Films!  My friend said, “I remember when Halloween was about getting dressed up, carving pumpkins, and trick or treating. Now it looks like Hell hath come to Earth!”

I found that very funny.

But I think I know as an adult why people love Halloween so much more now. For one night a year, you get to pretend to be someone else, party and drink, and you don’t have to spend time with your family!

But I digress…

When we were in grade school, you got to wear your costume to school on Halloween. That was so cool. You got to see what all of the other kids were wearing that year. The teachers would take us all outside in our costumes and walk us around the neighborhood near Lawndale School. We were like little celebrities in our Halloween parade. People would stop and say how cute we all looked.

Pictured: Melissa, & Deneen Hanley, Sandra Hoffer, Wayne Kacheleries, RJ McMeans, & my sister Jane

When you’re little your parents take you to the department store and you get to pick out your costume. They were all stacked on the shelves in boxes with the clear cellophane window on the lid so you could see the character’s mask. There was a great assortment of costumes for kids of all the things we liked. Most of all, the characters we wished we could be every day. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.

The funny thing was, you thought you were getting this:

Image result for batman 60s

…and this.

Image result for superman

But you ended up with this:

Image result for 1970s batman halloween costume

Yea… Lame.

Girl: I wanna look like Lynda Carter in the show, Wonder Woman!

Yea… good luck with that. Not happening. WW doesn’t wear a polyethylene bag to fight crime.

Those cheap costumes looked more like pajamas than superhero outfits. But at least they were flame retardant. (It said so on every box) At least you knew the superpower you possessed dressed in one of these ridiculous costumes was you wouldn’t burn to death. Big deal.

Then there was that plastic mask with its razor-sharp edges.

Image result for 1970s batman halloween costume

I was always afraid I would cut my eye on one of the eyeholes in those kinds of masks. You’d be wearing it and the flimsy rubber band that was stapled to it would always come off. It would always somehow pull out of the sides. It never happened at home. It only gave way when you were blocks from your home.

But before that even happened the mask would get all steamed up inside. Sure, there were nose and mouth holes but the whole mask would get wet inside. It was gross. Your face would be soaked as you walked around your neighborhood collecting candy.

The first costume I can ever remember wearing was The Green Hornet. I was just a little guy, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I put it on thinking it was cool, and my dad would laugh because he said I looked like an adult midget! (No offense to little people, but it was the 70s and my father was not politically correct)

Image result for 1970s green hornet halloween costume

Does that look like the Green Hornet to you? No. It looks like the Green Hornet’s jommies.

Almost as bad…

Yea, that’s me.

But we didn’t care. As long as you had something that resembled a costume, you were good to go. My friend RJ would go out as the same thing every year. He didn’t care. Put on some banged-up ragged clothes, burn a cork and rub the charcoaled end all over your face, and grab a pillowcase for candy and your good.

Me: What are you supposed to be?

RJ: A bum.

Me: Cool. Let’s go get loads of candy!

It was that simple.

Remember when you were all fired up in your costume and chomping at the bit to get out there and start trick or treating and your mom would say this?

“It’s cold out. Put on your jacket.”

“Really mom? Batman doesn’t wear a coat over his costume!”

I remember as I got older we went with more creative costumes. If we had store-bought costumes we’d grown out of, we’d simply give them to younger kids in the neighborhood.

One year, someone in the local government came up with the brilliant idea of making the kids go out in the late afternoon. We thought this was a terrible idea. Halloween was meant to be played out at night.

I had passed on one of my old kid’s costumes to this kid who lived up the corner named Douglas Miller. It was a store-bought astronaut costume.

Image result for 1970s astronaught halloween costume

I remember the only cool thing about it, was that they had built in a tiny light bulb in the mask that could be operated by a little battery pack you had to carry. I give the company points for creativity and making a costume that is more visible at night. But here comes Douglass with the costume on carrying his trick or treat bag in broad daylight. I think he was the only one out at 4 pm in the afternoon!

That rule was quickly abolished the next year. The costumes looked bad enough at night let alone in daylight!

But the costumes did get better as we got older. I remember going out as Dracula one year. A friend of my dad’s had made a really amazing cape that was red on the inside and black on the outside. I slicked my hair back, popped in some fake fangs, and became a vampire that night.

I was a cowboy one year, complete with a cool hat, vest, boots, and a pair of toy Rango guns on my belt. Being a hippie a year or so later was also good. I really didn’t look that much like a hippie though. More like a biker or Jerry Garcia.

My older sister was a pilgrim one year and the costume looked really authentic.

And of course… there’s my absolute favorite Halloween costume of all time.

Pictured: Chaz (Gene Simmons)– Steve Peoples (Peter Criss) – Jimmy Hunsinger (Ace Frehley) Jimmy did all of our makeup. Such a talented fellow.

But the absolute most creative Halloween costumes I ever saw were made by our neighbor, Mrs. Hanley. She was an expert seamstress, who could make anything out of fabric.

Although brilliant designs with expert craftsmanship, they weren’t always that functional. Case in point, one year her two daughters went out as Witch Hats. Not witches. Just hats.

Image result for giant witch hat as a costume

This is the only image I could find on the internet that even remotely resembled the costume. Just picture a giant black witch hat, with a wide brim and a hole cut out for the child’s face. I couldn’t find the costume online because they were custom-made and completely original designs created by Mrs. Hanley. Elegant in theory, but as I said. Not very functional. You can’t climb steps in it. You can’t clear a doorway either. So, sadly the Hanley girls had to stand down at the bottom of people’s steps, and whoever they were with would have to point to them and say to the neighbor. “Oh, and can you give me two more candy bars for the Witch Hats down there?”

But she made them better costumes the next year. A more functional model. Mrs. Hanley made her girls into Mice. They were really cute costumes and the girls looked adorable. Again, custom designs and fully handcrafted. Something like this, but better.

Image result for cute mouse costume

But here’s the thing…

The tails on the costumes were made of stiff wire. They even curled up at the end. So sadly, the girls’ little tails were getting hooked on everything! Doors, doorknobs, door frames, railings, street signs, fences, and other children.

Clever costumes, but be careful! They’ll put your eye out!

We were happy just to go from door to door with our little bags out and the neighbors would make a fuss and dump the treats into our bags. It was simple and efficient.

But there was always that one family…

We’d stop at the Hunsinger’s house at the corner of Fanshaw Street and Hasbrook Avenue. They had a super ferocious dog named Jason, so there’s that. But the worst part was, you couldn’t just stand on the porch with your bag out.

You had to go in the house. Say what your costume was, and tell a joke to EARN your treat. (Did they not get the memo either?) We’re not here to perform like chimps for your entertainment. We walk up. Bag open. Say Trick or Treat, and you turn over the goods to us and we thank you. Period!

I get that they wanted to see us, take photos and engage us. It was all in the spirit of the holiday, but come on. I have 39 Reeses Cups in this bag. How about we make it an even 40 and I’ll be on my way. Okay? We’re on a tight schedule here. We got rounds to make tonight!

We’d have a whole route mapped out to maximize our return on Halloween. But the final destination and most glorious was Rising Sun Avenue. It was wall-to-wall stores for blocks. We’d start at the beginning and go in and out of every single store getting candy. And it was the good candy too. You know what I’m talking about. We’d work one side of the street down to about Levick Street and then cross over and come down the other side and hit every store over there too.

Funny thing was, there was a really nice candy store called Bauer’s on Rising Sun. You could go in that store any time of year and it smelled like what a child would imagine what Heaven smelled like. Just delicious chocolates and sweets of every kind imaginable. A nearly mythical place from fables and storybooks.

But… on Halloween, I remember getting a giant taffy from there. It looked like an oversized lollipop on a wooden stick. The business end was carefully wrapped in wax paper and it was gently placed into my bag for transport. But wouldn’t you know, the very next place I walked into, I was given a candy apple? The clerk would blast that thing into my bag like they were Steve Carlton and it would shatter my lolly from Bauers! Thanks, Lefty!

After a few exhausting hours of trudging around in our costumes to as many places as possible, we’d head home.

But that’s when the inventory and trading took place. We’d lay out all of our candy onto the carpet. Counting how many of certain brands we got that night, and exchanging them with our family and friends. It’s probably the only time in your childhood where you actually can possess a substantial amount of something you love, and it’s absolutely FREE!

Pictured: RJ McMeans, Jane, Chaz, Nancy & Gail

But what I remember most was the excitement on the street itself. Kids running up and down the sidewalk in their costumes. The crisp snap in the Autumn air. The smell of the Fall. The leaves crunched under your feet as you ran from door to door.

The night wasn’t filled with ghosts and goblins. It was full of happy children and the sound of laughter.

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

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

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

Breakfast Cereal – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – 1960s-1970s

Frosted Flakes: These were great. Tony the Tiger as their spokesperson always yelling They’re GRRRReat! Can’t beat him as a pitchman.

Froot Loops: Those colored fruity Cheerios. (They all tasted the same to me)Toucan Sam telling us about how his Nose, Knows that this is a delicious cereal and we should eat it every day.

Apple Jacks: Just another variety of Fruit Loops. But didn’t these have some sort of crystalized dark bits on them or am I thinking of something else? I liked these just the same.

Rice Krispies: Three little chefs named Snap, Crackle, and Pop represent this brand. Remember how if you put your ear to the bowl to listen for that sound? Just little puffs absorbing the milk made that sound. It was more like a hissing sound to me.

Cocoa Krispies: Same thing except with a chocolatey taste added.

Lucky Charms: A sustaining classic. I had these once as a kid and liked them. But I think my dad put the kibosh on this cereal early on. Just more sugary crap! So we didn’t really eat this cereal as a kid. But I would never turn it down if ever offered this as a snack. But here’s the thing. Because the marshmallow stars, moon, hearts, and clovers were large, (The size of m&ms) the dish was very sugary. So if you ate the cereal by itself, it was sure plain and boring. (Like original Cheerios) But who didn’t love the little Leprechaun? Everybody was always trying to steal his Luck Charms to no avail.

Trix: This cereal began as these tiny hollow balls that were different colors like fruit loops. They eventually changed their shape in later years. Maybe the balls became too expensive to make anymore. But How can we forget that screwy rabbit that was always trying to get the cereal away from the kids in the commercial? “Silly Rabbit! Trix are for kids!”

Alpha-Bits: I liked these. A cereal takes on the alphabet soup theme. They tasted just like Honey Comb to me. I used to try to make bad words out of the letters in my cereal bowl. Nothing like starting your day with a nice bowl of Alpha-Bits where you see the word Sh*t floating in there. Kids!

Super Sugar Crisps: These were good but got soggy quickly. Wasn’t the mascot a bear in a striped sweater who acted cool all the time? Did he sing like Bing Crosby or something? Bizarre.

Sugar Smacks: I think this was similar to sugar crisps but were represented by a frog maybe?

Sugar Pops or Corn Pops: This is a good cereal that I like to eat to this day. But aren’t they the same?

Cap’n Crunch: This guy is the CEO of breakfast cereals. I loved these crunchy little squares. They didn’t get soggy, and I could eat bowls of this fine cereal. He was cool, because he had a crew, and there was even a bad pirate in the commercials I think. John La Foote? Lafite? Not sure. But a damn fine cereal and one of my all-time favorites.

King Vitamin: Just when you think they can’t make a cereal that’s better than Cap’n Crunch, they make this cereal. It was exactly the same product as CC, but they were in the shape of little crowns. (They looked more like little gears to me) But, they were crunchier and sweeter than CC. So this became my favorite cereal in the early 70s. I remember the song. “King Vitamin! Have breakfast with the king!”

Franken Berry, Count Chocula, and Boo Berry: Again… flavored Cheerios. Strawberry, Chocolate, and I’m assuming Blueberry. I loved Franken Berry cereal. It was another one of my all-time favorites. I wasn’t a fan of real strawberries but I liked this cereal. I consumed tons of it back in the 70s. One of my favorite things to do was have it as a snack too. My mom would pour it into a bowl and I would eat it dry. But there was a method to my madness. I would first consume all of the cereal and leave all of the tiny marshmallows at the bottom of the bowl. I would then gather them all up in my hands and form them into one big ball with my fingers. It would be a little bigger than a golf ball. I would then proceed to eat it. It was like a ball of candy at the end of your snack. A fitting, sugary dessert to top off your day. I remember the characters referring to the marshmallows in the cereal as “Sweeties” which I thought was weird because it was obvious what they were. They later referred to the sweeties as marshmallows. (Probably got a call from my dad)

I never had Count Cocula, but my friend Wayne used to eat it religiously. He said the only thing was, it turned the milk nearly black at the end and that just seemed gross. Boo Berry? he came late to the game and I never had that one either. Nobody cares about Boo Berry. He’s just a ghost.

Honey Comb: “Come to the Honey Comb hideout. Gonna eat and gonna play. Gonna live in the Honey Comb Hideout! Eatin’ Honey Comb every day!” That was the jingle from the commercial. It would be my dream in life to live in the Honeycomb hideout and eat honeycomb every day, sir. I like this cereal. It was big. Bigger than it probably is now. each bit was bigger than a quarter. It looked like a little beehive and those holes held the milk. Delicious. But that wasn’t the best part of this great cereal.

On the back of each box, they had somehow through the miracle of modern 70s technology managed to press a record on the back of the box. yes, my friends. When you were done eating all of the cereal, you could cut the record off the back of the box and it would actually play on your record player. The first ones were Archie songs but the later ones were by The Monkees! I played the song Mary, Mary by the Monkees so many times once my mother told me if she heard that song one more time she was going to strangle me.

The best part was, I never waited to finish the box of cereal. We would be home from the market and I would convince my mom to dump out the cereal into jars so I could get at that record on the back of the box TODAY!

Thanks for always letting me do that, Mom.

Freakies: This was actually a really tasty cereal. It was O-shaped and sort of tasted like a cross between Cap’n Crunch and Apple Jacks I think. I liked it and in each box, you got a different little Freaky character from the commercial. They were just little plastic figures that were like army men. Boss Moss was green. He was the leader obviously. Grumble was orange and always miserable like Oscar from Sesame Street. I think there was a girl freaky as well. They were cute little creatures and I liked the cereal. I remember we kept getting Grumbles over and over. At one point it was like… “Ahh… another Grumble. (Just pitches him into the trash)

Quisp and Quake: I love this one. I only ate Quisp as a kid. The cereal was shaped like little bowls. (flying saucers) Quisp was a little cartoon alien dude, and Quake was a burly man. In the commercials, they were always trying to prove who was the better cereal. It was a cute marketing campaign. Create a completion between the two brands. But here’s the thing we all knew even as kids. Quisp and Quake tasted exactly the same. They were just different shapes. Who were these clowns fooling? Not us kids!

I remember once they decided to have the two characters compete in a race from Long Island New York to Lompoc California. This was to settle who was the better cereal. I followed this competition very closely on TV commercials and the backs of the cereal boxes. Here’s the thing. Neither of them ever made it or completed the race. Quisp was left on the market and Quake disappeared from store shelves. It was bizarre.

Kix: I think I had this cereal once in the late 70s or early 80s. Just another cereal that tasted like puffed balls of Cap’n Crunch. They really only had a few recipes for cereal back then I guess. Just change the shape and the marketing campaign and you got yourself a brand new cereal. Bu the one thing that really stands out in my mind was the jingle on the commercials. I would be watching TV with my friend, and it would come on.  The little kid would start the song, “Kids like Kix for what Kix has got!” and then the mom would finish the line, “Mom’s like Kix for what Kix has not”. (this meant kids liked the taste, and moms liked that it was low in sugar) But when my vile little friends and I would hear this little diddy we’d always change the lyrics to something dirty. I won’t repeat it here, because Google Adsense will probably suspend the advertising on my site. But you get the idea. See what you can come up with…

Oh’s: My favorite cereal of the 80s. I loved this cereal. I should probably see if they still make it. Again. Cap’n Crunch-shaped O’s with some sort of sugary substance in the hole. Loved these crunchy morsels. Great cereal!

Fruity Pebbles: This is just fruit-flavored rice crispies.

Here are some links to some further reading on this subject:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breakfast_cereals

https://clickamericana.com/topics/food-drink/40-favorite-breakfast-cereals-1967

https://www.metv.com/lists/lost-breakfast-cereals-of-the-1960s-and-1970s

https://delishably.com/breakfast/Breakfast-Cereal-Favorites-of-Yesteryear

The 50 Greatest  Breakfast Cereal Prizes of all time:

https://www.mrbreakfast.com/list.asp?id=6

 

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

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

California Dreamin’ – A Look Back at California’s Car Cruising Scene In The 70s

STUNNING photos show the ultra-cool cruising scene of Southern California in the early 1970s.

Teens would take their Camaros, Corvettes, Volkswagen vans, and other shiny gems up and down the main drag of Van Nuys Boulevard.

 Teens hang out on a warm night in Southern California in the 1970s

Teens hang out on a warm night in Southern California in the 1970sCredit: Rick McCloskey

 It was quite an era that will likely never be repeated

It was quite an era that will likely never be repeated. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 Cars were the focus of social gatherings five decades ago

Cars were the focus of social gatherings five decades ago. Credit: Rick McCloskey

Gas only cost 33 cents for young motorists in 1972 in the San Fernando Valley.

The art of cruising was displayed all over the country for decades, up until about 1980.

“Every town in America had a strip where kids would take their cars and go hang out whether it was only a block long – big towns, little towns, cities,” said photographer Rick McCloskey.

“It was really a thing for everybody to be involved at some point.”

 Teens congregate and have a good time in the 1970s

Teens congregate and have a good time in the 1970sCredit: Rick McCloskey

 The price of gas shockingly low

The price of gas shockingly low. credit: Rick McCloskey

 The stylistic cars were big and small

The stylistic cars were big and small. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 

 Teens gather between two cars to socialize

Teens gather between two cars to socializeCredit: Rick McCloskey

 Two friends hang out on the side of a car

Two friends hang out on the side of a carCredit: Rick McCloskey

 Much of the cruising took place at night

Much of the cruising took place at night. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 Glitzy Southern California was the scene

Glitzy Southern California was the scene. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 Mall culture took over years later

Mall culture took over years later. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 Teens enjoy the Southern California nightlife

Teens enjoy the Southern California nightlifeCredit: Rick McCloskey

 Cruising did play out all across the country

Cruising did play out all across the country. Credit: Rick McCloskey

 Teens hang out in the back of a pick-up truck

Teens hang out in the back of a pick-up truckCredit: Rick McCloskey

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

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

Hunt’s Pier – Epilogue

Philadelphia, PA – 2021

The reason I’ve struggled with writing this story is that it can’t really be written. It has to be felt. To be lived.  It was just a summer job on the boardwalk in wildwood. But it was something else. We did the same job over and over every night. It was us on the ride, and the people lined up and boarded the ride and we sent them up. That’s it. Over and over again. A sea of faces. Thousands of happy smiling faces night after night. Non-stop. We keep loading them in and they keep coming back for more. They’re on vacation. We’re there to serve them entertainment. Welcome to the show, I’m Chaz and I’ll be your host. It’s a circus. A carnival. A place where the freaks run the rides and you enjoy the show.

But it’s more than that. We sell happiness. Joy. Excitement. Thrills. Anticipation. The list goes on and on. What job have you ever had in your life where you can deliver that to your clients every single day? That’s the only product we make and our customers can’t live without it.

I’ve never ever had a job like that again. I can name every job I’ve ever had and none of them will be any of the things I just mentioned. That’s why many of the people who work there never leave.

There are worse vocations in this world.

It’s as if we worked in a place that existed in another world. A sea of joy and happy faces. Of children giggling and laughing and having the time of their lives. we’re the hosts bringing them fond memories. The type of memories they carry with them forever. The old memories. The ancient senses developed in our species millions of years ago. 

The excitement in the air crackles around you with your every move along that boardwalk. The music that fills the air whether it’s something on the radio or the crashing symphony of the calliope from the merry-go-round. That merry-go-round that you only get to ride once in this world.

One time around. Maybe you catch the brass ring, maybe you don’t. Maybe you rode all the way home on that mighty steed or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you fell off the horse a few times but you had a good time doing it. You get one ride in this life and we all have to make it. Make yours count. Maybe not for yourself but for someone else in this life.

 

Can you smell it? Is that Curly fries, or is it the sweet fragrance of a fresh funnel cake? When you bite that soft pretzel and the mustard drips on your polo shirt, and your wife pulls out a tissue to clean you up. She and the kids are so happy you’ve got a job where they can take a vacation for a week at the seashore. To play with the kids on the beach and swim in the sea, and see things you never imagined come to life. The stroll on that boardwalk, where you stuff your head with delicious pizza from Sam’s or Mack’s. 

I’m here to help. I will facilitate your joy, sir. We all will. And we’ll deliver you a show you won’t soon forget every night. That game you played. That teddy bear you won. We’re here to deliver.

But all the while we’re loving our very existence. Really living. The sun shines above our young heads. Our skin browns in the sun and our hair turns a lovely flaxen color. We feel it too. You’re here for a week or two. But we’re here every day. We get to live this life for two months every summer.

And when the shadows grow long in the autumn twilight, you’ll remember us. Because we’ll always be with you in your memories. A place that can’t be seen or touched, but you can feel it. You can smell and taste the memory. That first bite from your favorite burger spot. That first kiss of that person you just met on the beach today or this very boardwalk. The possibilities that can happen. It’s all yours. But only for a week. I get to do this every day.

It’s my life.

For now.

But one day I will join you in your world. But, we’ll all be able to look inward and feel that bit of magic in our hearts that came to life when we were young. That place that you loved that you can never revisit. 

Only in your dreams and memories.

Other people have written about Wildwood. I’ve read what they’ve written and it’s been simple documentation of what the place was like. But not how it felt. That’s what I’ve tried to describe here.

You don’t know it if you didn’t really live it. My sisters and I really lived it.

Every summer in Wildwood was different. The weather was the same and some of the things stayed the same but that was the beautiful constant.

It was always Summer there. Eternal. I only felt its dark side when I spent my first winter there. That was when the spell was broken. But only for a while. Every summer we spent there we changed. Because we were growing up. It’s not like now when another year goes by and you’re feeling the same as last year. We were growing. We were growing up. From little children to teenagers to adults. You spent your winters in Philly and went to school in the cold and waited for the bus. But in the summer you returned to a magical paradise with days filled with sunshine and joy. Only joy. You can never get that back. Those formative years are fleeting, and once they’re gone… they’re gone forever. 

I finished writing this series after a long time. I covered everything but I knew something was missing. I scheduled it and put the finishing touches on my work because it was done. I would only return to it in a month to do final edits.

But one night I was sitting in my room watching my show, and it kept gnawing at me. Something was missing from the long series. That’s when I stopped watching TV and opened a new doc and started pounding out these words. This may not even be enough. But maybe it’ll be enough for now.

The carnival. The amusement park. The sweet sea air as it blows in warm from the beach onto the crowd as they laugh and sing through the night.

The more I wrote the more I realized it’s almost something that can’t be written about. It can’t be documented. It’s a feeling. You can write what you saw and what you did, but it’s not the same.

You have to remember the feeling. 

A dear friend once told me, “It’s not what you said or what you did. It’s how you made them feel.” 

Thanks to everyone that follows my blog and also to everybody who dug it from Facebook and Instagram. I reconnected with some old friends from these posts, so it was totally worth it.

A book about my youth in Wildwood entitled, Down the Shore will publish in 2023.

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

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

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 8 – Living The Dream

“Nobody ever says, “Remember that Spring?”

But people do say… “Remember that Summer?”Chaz

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

One night we were all working. It was early, maybe 6 pm. Each shift was from 5 pm until 11 pm when the pier closed. As one of the cars came in full of people and they exited the ride, someone left a camera on the ride. Danny brought it to me, and I remembered the guy and his family. I was like, “Wait…there he is over there with his wife and kids. I’ll run over and give him back his camera.” But then an idea came to mind. I went over to Louie and told him what was up and handed him the camera. He gathered the whole staff together on the platform and took a photo of all of us guys with the man’s lost camera. He handed it back to me and I ran down the ramp and tapped the man on the shoulder. “You left this on the ride, sir.” The gentleman was very grateful and relieved.

It was one of those jokes you do where you’ll never see the outcome, but you know when he gets home from vacation and gets his photos developed, he’ll find a mysterious photo of the whole Golden Nugget team among his pictures! Great idea, right?

When the pier closed at 11 pm, they always put up a big wooden fence to close off the area. There were guards and dogs always present at night to protect their assets. But the fence was in large sections and each piece was really heavy. After working all night on our feet and taking care of thousands of tourists, the last thing we wanted to do was carry big sections of fence and set it all up each night. So all the flunkies (as Louie called them) who worked all the rides up at the front of the pier were the first ones called upon to help put up the fence. We at the Nugget and the Log Flume would take our good old time closing our rides and walking up to the front of the pier to help. I can honestly say I have maybe only helped with one small section of fence on only three occasions. We were the elite weasels on that pier.

One of the amazing benefits of working for the Hunt’s Corporation was that they also owned every movie theater on the island. So as a perk for being an employee, each Saturday night at midnight, they would have a private screening of one of the latest movies playing in the theaters.

It was awesome. You’d finish your shift at 11 pm, and then had an hour to get something to eat, hit the liquor store to buy some beer, and then head over to one of the theaters and watch a movie with your coworkers. It was glorious. The cool thing was, you could bring a guest. So I could bring my buddy Wolfie with me and we could check out a cool new movie for free. (And drink beer!) But most of the time if one of the guys and I had met some girls that night on the ride, we’d take them to the movies with us. That was fantastic. Free movie with a new girl. Unless it was something we didn’t want to see, we would go every week all summer long. (Even back then, 40 years ago I was providing the hookup to the ladies in my life!)

Seeing The Empire Strikes Back in an empty theater with just my buddies with me was an unforgettable experience. The film as we all know was a long-awaited blockbuster and seeing it for free for the first time was amazing. I remember taking my buddy Wolfie with me to see the film, Airplane! And at the time it was the funniest film I had ever seen. It’s still in my top five of the funniest most creative and madcap movies I’ve ever seen. The Cannonball Run also comes to mind as one of the more memorable films we saw that summer. Just great times!

I even got my friend Pitchy a job up on Hunt’s working at the Log Flume. He was my summertime best friend who lived around the corner from my house. He and I had been friends since the early ’70s and had a rich history of summers together. He had worked as a stock boy at a local grocery store at 9th and Ocean avenue and was looking to do something different for the summer. I got him a job on the pier. He liked working on the flume and got along with all of the guys over there. One night he started chatting up a really cute little Italian girl from South Philly and later made a date with her. A few years later they kept in touch and he eventually married her and they have three great grown kids now. Met his wife on the Log Flume!

I remember it was the 4th of July weekend which is an enormous time at the shore. The island is packed with tourists and the boardwalk is mobbed every night. I went on my break and walked over to the snack bar across from our ride and got a soft pretzel and a fountain coke. I went back to the Nugget and went in the back and up the fire escape to the top floor of the ride. The ride was obviously going non-stop so you had to be careful up there navigating the tracks so you didn’t get run over and killed by the ride. On the roof, (you’ll see in some of the attached videos) had several dead man’s gulch attractions on it. Tombstones, skeletons, prospectors, etc. There actually was a replica of a gallows up there. I climbed the rickety wooden ladder up to the top of it and had a seat at the hangman’s pole.

There it is. Three stories above the boardwalk. 100 feet up from the beach.

The mine cars full of tourists would actually pass under it. So, I parked myself up there and munched my pretzel, and sipped my soda. The view was incredible and I suddenly felt an incredible level of exhilaration sitting up there. Here I was on the roof of a three-story dark ride I once rode terrified with my father and sisters. I lit a cigarette and looked out at the entire sea of people below me. The pier was packed with people, and that flowed out onto the boardwalk that was in full swing. Amusement rides going, people screaming, laughing, and filled with joy. Happy to be at the seashore and away from the heat of the city and work. They were all on vacation and having the times of their lives here in Wildwood.

The smell of french fries, caramel popcorn, funnel cake, cotton candy, and pizza filled the air. The sights and sounds of summer. I sat under the stars and watched as fireworks exploded in the sky in the distance.

I knew in this perfect moment that I was in the most pristine place in my life. I sat atop my castle as the self-proclaimed King of Wildwood. Finished with high school, tan, fit, clear skin, healthy, and immaculate. My painful past barely visible now. I had game and could talk to girls and they liked me enough to date and kiss me. I was in a rock and roll band, and didn’t have to be anywhere I didn’t want to be.  The island and this ride were mine.

But I could feel as I finished my cigarette I wouldn’t come up here again.

This moment would vanish and never return.

Like a child’s balloon that had escaped their grasp. You watch as it rises higher and higher into the night sky. But you’ll never get it back.

All you can do is make a wish…

The sax solo in this song (4:00 minute mark) by the late, great, Clarence Clemmons, and Bruce’s howl at the end of the song is about as close as I can get to what my heart felt like on any given summer night in Wildwood.

But, even as I write these words, I feel I just can’t do justice to those summers at the seashore.

You had to be there.

Hunt's Pier At Night | "Watch the tram car please!" 1970s Po… | Brian | Flickr

I’ve lived and worked in many places throughout my life.  But I still say to this day, working at Hunt’s Pier on the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was The Greatest Job I Ever Had.

 

This is sort of what it sounded like to be on the boardwalk in Wildwood.

Here are a link and some videos I found to give you an idea of what the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was like:

http://www.funchase.com/Images/GoldenNugget/GoldenNugget.htm

This series is not over yet. There’s more to come every Thursday through July.

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

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

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