When I think of the movie "Stand by Me," it takes me back to my own childhood in Northport. We were the little ones who were kicking the can, awakening to gender, cussing and smoking cigarettes, and a little later, experimenting with alcohol.
Around 1955, the Northport educational system decided that it was time to introduce the concept of human reproduction to the children. It didn't seem to matter what age you were, if you were a student at Ocean Avenue, you got the clinical explanation all in one evening so that you "wouldn't have to hear it on the street." At the time, I thought "hear what on the street?" When we went to the school that evening, in proper medical terms, the truth was laid before us. I thought, my God, Mom and Dad did this? This little tidbit tutorial was never mentioned again by our parents or the educational system, but was supposed to somehow prepare us for adulthood. As I recall, it just magnified our interest in the subject and really got some conversation going among the kids. For better or worse, I got most of my sex education there on the street, right along with everybody else. Clinology evolved into gutter slang. I remember the first person to ever give me the "finger" was a girl. I might add that she was not the last. Obviously, her street information source was more efficient than mine because I had no idea what she was doing. She had to spell it out for me.
Kicking the Can and Cussing
Kicking the can and cussing were very important rites of passage for us young Northporters. My shoes were always beat up from kicking rocks, cans and anything else that may have been lying on the street. My mother, bless her soul was very patient and must have understood this important part of growing up. When my shoes got real bad, she would tell me "after school, I want you to stop at Ingerman's and have Boris fit you for new shoes." We had a charge account there, so I just signed for the purchases which was "cutting-edge living" for those days. My mother trusted Boris implicitly, as he knew my sizes better than she did. Boris would always try to "sell the mix" but a young boy like myself had no interest in accessorizing. I wanted to get back out onto the street and resume kicking cans and rocks (and cussing). I must say, there was one instance of exception to the patience rule when I forced Mom to the end of her rope. I had on a new pair of black shoes (they were the kind with the mechanically hinged tongue that drew the shoe tighter to your foot as you made the closure). When we were assigned a science project in Junior High, my partner and I built a Plaster-of-Paris volcano and I got plaster all over my shoes. His mom remarked that my mother would be furious, a comment that I tossed aside as small-talk. But when my Mom came and picked me up, SHE WAS FURIOUS.
Actually, I had a rather poor track record with plaster volcanoes. A few years later, I drew upon my volcano building experience for another science presentation (the theory was; different teacher, whole new idea). My partner this time was my neighbor and smoking buddy who lived in the same apartment building as our family at 52 Bayview Ave. We built this disaster on the sidewalk outside my door and got plaster all over the concrete walkway. My mother (and father) were enraged at my thoughtless volcano building practices. We did manage to clean most of it up, but it was really tough to get loose. I revisited there, 30 plus years later and didn't see any plaster on the sidewalk, so I know the years worked their magic.
I remember when I first lit up. I was 10 and we were playing over at Rowland Kitchel's house on James Street. In those days, the house overlooked the sand pit and it wasn't very far to the "edge of the cliff" which had no plantings or ground cover to retard erosion. Rowland, Freddy Piercey, and myself were there that day in 1956 to usher in a habit that would ultimately take me 39 years to break. We found a spot, down the cliff from Rowland's house somewhere out of sight and Freddy introduced "Big Tobacco". I had to take instruction on how not to "lip" those unfiltered cigarettes. As I put a match to the end of my cigarette and tried to blow through it they laughed, but I quickly got the hang of it. Soon I "ran with the big dogs" and would be smoking in a leaky rubber raft down at the harbor. In those days smokes were a quarter and I quickly found out that it was socially important to buy "Luckys" which could be prominently displayed in the pocket of a
white dress shirt (sans tie) because the Lucky Strike logo could be seen
through the pocket. Also, because Luckys were unfiltered, you validated yourself
as a heterosexual. Naturally, this was of major league importance at age
twelve. We were legends in our own minds. Today, we would be labeled
A & P Tea Co., Purveyors of Fine Smoking Products
The Bayview Avenue crew carried their own private stock. It was not uncommon to hear "Tea-gar?" "No thanks, I've got my own," or "No, thanks, I'm trying to cut down," phrases that we had all heard from our parents who, in retrospect, are really the ones that taught us to smoke by their example. We even talked my maternal grandmother into smoking this stuff and she became a co-conspirator! When we got busted by Mom and Dad we all got in trouble, including my grandmother.
Meeting in Smoky Places
Places to smoke included the Wingfoot Rollerdrome. Nobody there cared what you did. Remember that place? Who cleaned the bathrooms there? I was always afraid that I would fall off my skates while in the bathroom. Fortunately, that never happened, but I know I fell my share on the floor during "All Skate." I recall the loose floor boards in one of the corners of the main floor. When you hit them at high speed, the vibration presented a fall challenge. That was the Wingfoor Rollerdrome, then there was the smoking lounge at the Middleville High School behind the maintenance building on the west end of the campus. There was an old car seat back there and if you were early enough, you could sit and smoke while everyone else had to stand. We even joked about "reservations" in the smoking lounge. Actually, I think the seat came out of that old gray '51 Hudson which was donated to the auto shop by my father after he drove it until the wheels fell off. It had been our family car which I was highly ashamed of since it was so uncool. For some reason, social pressure mandated scoring for the kind of car your parents drove. It was later replaced by a '55 Plymouth wagon with collapsible seats which I'm sure my older brother could tell some tales about since he was then approaching driving age and would soon be "cruising" with his date. What were my parents thinking when they bought a wagon?
Getting around town in Northport meant you walked everywhere, or you rode your bike. In the early days, I didn't have a bike, but my good friend, Richard Conklin had one. Boy, it was beautiful black English racer with gold pin striping, white trim on the rear fender and a very red reflector. It had a bicycle pump mounted on the frame, three speeds, and hand brakes. I wanted one like that very badly. That must have been the year that George Krebs went sailing over the handle bars on his English racer by quickly applying the front brakes only, while going down James Street. Poor George required the services of the Northport Rescue Squad after sustaining a serious head injury. It was the talk of the town. We heard about it from our volunteer fireman neighbor, Eddie Mulenhaupt. Did I get an English racer for Christmas? Hell no! This was my introduction to the word generic. I got a used bike from the Jester Thrift Shop on Scudder Ave. It had no name, fat tires, fat fenders a heavy frame and foot brakes! It was a far cry from the sexy English
racer that Richard had. I parked my fat fendered bike in the our garage which we
shared with our neighbors, the Fitzpatricks. Janie Fitzpatrick had a very sexy
English racer with 3 speeds and hand brakes (even though it was a girls bike!).
I think it was green. Seemed like everyone had an English racer but me (and
perhaps by now, George Krebs). I decided that I would not give up. I put my
folks on notice that I still wanted an English racer and when the next Christmas
came around, did I get an English racer? Hell no, I got a Dutch racer! Who ever
heard of a Dutch racer? It looked just like an English racer, but had just one
speed and foot brakes. Essentially, it was a regular bike, but with a light
frame and thin tires. I guess my days of being cool were not going to
materialize. By now, I was nearly to the age where having any kind of
bike was uncool. I do remember when I got rid of the bike. I rode it
downtown to get the newspaper for my Dad and ran into Timmy Lewis who was
standing in front of the Skipper, about to cross the street. For some reason,
right then and there I decided that I was too old to be riding a bike and needed
to shed the juvenile image. I asked Timmy if he wanted my bike and he said
"sure", so I gave him the whole thing right there, tax, title and delivery, FOB
Skipper's Tavern. I walked home, undoubtedly with a pack of Lucky's in my
pocket, but am happy to report that I never went sailing over the handle bars!
Thanks, Mom and Dad.
We had the opportunity to live on Northport Harbor which provided us with freedom that many other kids may never have enjoyed. My world was power boating and water skiing. The Bayview Bunch all had boats. In the early years (1956), our Dad's rule was "no going past the 5 mile sign." Translation: Sand City is okay. When we were finally cleared to go to Sand City, we immediately interpreted that to mean Norwalk was okay. We would regularly take junkets to the other side of the sound and many times, by dead reckoning to Rye Beach (Playland). We would tie up at the large pier where the NYC ferries would dock and spend the whole day riding the rides. Sometimes, it would get a bit rough out there in the middle of the Sound, but we felt like our boats were up to the task. The largest boat in the flotilla was a 14 footer and the smallest, 10 feet. What were we thinking?
The next logical step to boating was driving. The first guy in my crowd to clear the bar at the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles had a '48 Ford Hot Rod Pickup which we commonly pushed beyond all limits doing the unsafe, uncouth and unforgivable. Somehow, without injury we made it through that infamous year of 1962. I could write a book on that subject alone. Then came my first car, a black and yellow '56 Chevy Bel Air. It was "nosed and decked" and I bought it from my old buddy of years past, the guy with the English racer. It was real cool and despite my Dad's warnings not to buy an oil burner, it was an oil burner. But what the Hell, it had a V8 with a 3 speed Hurst on the floor, what could be sweeter? It burned oil so badly, I couldn't go more than one day without fouling the spark plugs and removing them always meant burning my arms on the exhaust manifolds. My engine overhaul technology consultant was now Doug Bethel, a good talker who assured me in his vast mechanical experience that a ring job was easy. I borrowed the specialty tools from Mr. Phillip's auto shop (believe it or not, with
permission) and secured safe harbor for the operation in Pete "Yuk" Young's
garage in Asharoken. Pete was an enthusiastic and aspiring mechanic, but his
resume was limited to that which he read in "Hot Rod Magazine". His dad, John
Young (we all called him John for some strange reason) assured me that Pete was
excellent in dismantling engines, but had never been known to put one back
together. He referred to Pete as a "junkman." Now, Pete, Jimmy Ball, and I would
apply all of Doug Bethel's mechanical wisdom to this project. The result?
A Little Drinking
Nobody got to maturity without a little too much alcohol. For me, the magic age was 16. It was a hot summer evening at Jimmy Ball's house on Norwood Ave. and we were drinking beer in the garage. We had just finished restoration on a joint-effort boat that had once belonged to Jamie Quinn, and Brian Cheshire before that. The new mahogany decks were gleaming with 6 coats of spar varnish and the fruits of our labor had been realized. We were drinking those large 1 Qt. bottles of beer and all of a sudden, it hit me. I picked up a screwdriver and said "watch me stick this screwdriver into the wall." I threw it like a throwing knife and
it ricocheted off the wall, and hit the new foredeck point first, making a large
gouge. Needless to say, Jimmy was upset. I thought it was very funny at the
time, but the next day, had a different view. Some refinishing and repair was in
order, but the gouge was always noticeable, an illustration that no good ever
came from excessive drinking. Other drinking soirees included "drink-outs
(cleverly disguised as "camp-outs" to our parents). Drink-outs occurred at the
old Metropolitan Sand and Gravel site, where the LILCO plant is now located,
Sand City, Target Rock, at home, when parents were away on business trips and at
other friends houses when parents were away. Sand City and Target Rock
drink-outs always involved a flotilla of boats which rarely numbered less than a
I suppose at the time, we were labeled as troublemakers, misfits, incorrigibles, juvenile delinquents, malingerers and a few other negative adjectives. I'd like to think we were just kids.