Posts Tagged ‘1972’

Last week, the mayor of Stamford and the U.S. Representative representing the city made a cameo appearance.

This week, we’re going to circle back to a prominent public figure of a different sort who showed up on my grandpa’s calendar:

September 1972.

September 1972. Please don’t call the number; God only knows what it connects to these days.

Don Russell, born Rustici, got in on the ground floor of television in the 1940s and seemed poised to make a big-time career of it.

He worked for the DuMont network, served as Jackie Gleason’s on-camera announcer, and anchored the first national broadcast of a presidential inauguration in 1953. He hosted early TV news programs in New York, and produced broadcasts of the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.

But, having made his mark on a larger stage, Russell apparently decided he preferred the comforts of home. For the last few decades of his professional life, Russell split his time between WSTC-AM — Stamford’s local AM radio station — and the local daily paper, the Stamford Advocate, where he wrote a column about current and historic local events.

It strikes me that — with the decline in newspapers and local radio — the likes of Don Russell may be on their way out. The local media celebrity may be an endangered species.

On the other hand, the media outlets I worked for in the ’90s and 2000s were eager to create their own local celebrities, crafting ads that promoted reporters who had no deep ties to the local area and were likely to be gone in two years’ time.

(I worked for one such chain of papers in Massachusetts in the Nineties. I left the chain just as it was about to promote me; but I know it advertised others whose attachment to the company was just as short-lived.)

Perhaps the issue is not that Don Russells do not happen any more, but that they do not happen organically.

You can’t really fake a connection to a community, nor can you douse it with Miracle-Gro and hope it develops overnight.

“He loved this city like few people have, and while he was not afraid to criticize it, he always looked for the best in Stamford, throughout its history, up into our time of momentous change,” Stamford Advocate editorial page editor Tom Mellana is quoted in Russell’s obit (linked above).

Every city needs a Don Russell to tell its stories. And while Russell’s coverage probably seemed provincial at the time, it probably looks deeply informed and sincere by comparison to whatever passes for commentary these days.

I have no way to know what my grandpa called Don Russell about. Perhaps the great man did a news item about one of my grandpa’s local art exhibitions. Or maybe he wrote a scathing column about dirty water in the Springdale neighborhood, using my grandpa as a source.

Either way, I give Russell credit for knowing who Bill Blumenau was. A truly top-class local columnist or reporter can’t just rely on their own experience. They have to have a network of townies willing to pass on the scoop from their neighborhoods.

The truly great local reporters have to have an amicable relationship with City Hall, but must also be able to rip open its poses and bluffs using the word of real people. If my grandpa was one of those real people, it’s a credit to Don Russell that my grandpa felt he could pass along information and get results.

Don Russell died in 2010, nine years after my grandfather. The old WSTC disappeared a year later, when the station was sold to a nonprofit organization broadcasting National Public Radio programming.

I have no idea what means a Stamford resident might use nowadays to get publicity for a local story. They probably have to call some twentysomething reporter who’s already busy covering three events at once.

Good luck to them both.

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There are a bunch of weighty subjects I never had the opportunity to discuss with my grandpa, just because they didn’t come up in the normal course of a grandfather-grandson relationship.

And I never asked about them, ’cause I never thought I’d find myself 40 years old, sitting rye-soaked in front of a computer screen, wondering what my grandpa thought on such-and-such subject.

One of those subjects, I suppose, is homosexuality.

I imagine that my grandfather was the product of an era when LGBT recognition was not what it is today, and we are all, for better or worse, the product of the times when we grew up.

The typical social attitude toward gays and lesbians was none too progressive even in the ’80s and early ’90s, when I was growing up. I still remember the popular schoolyard game “Kill the Carrier,” which was commonly known in my schoolyard by its alternate name, “Smear the Queer.” My children claim not to recognize the name “Kill the Carrier,” which gives me hope that they do not know its homophobic cousin.

If I did not grow up in bastions of acceptance, I suspect my grandpa’s attitude toward gays and lesbians was even less enlightened. Again, I’d like to think that he was open-minded enough at his core, but that he was simply touched by the world in which he grew up.

It’s never easy to confront the potential biases of your ancestors.

I’ve written in other forums about my Great-Uncle Jimmy, who served on the Detroit police at the time of the 1967 riots. I’ve read that those riots were caused, in part, by the chronic abuse of Detroit’s black community by the city’s police force.

So where does that leave my Great-Uncle Jimmy (a sunny, amiable, fair-minded sort, by all family accounts)? Did he look on and say nothing while his colleagues wielded their swagger sticks?

Was he blind that day?

All of this reflection comes about as a result of a calendar item in which my grandpa’s path crossed that of a prominent person who was homosexual — or, more accurately, bisexual.

October 10, 1972.

October 10, 1972.

Stamford Mayor Julius Wilensky has already made one or two appearances on this blog.

The new arrival is U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney, who represented Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District from January 1971 until his death in May 1987 from complications of AIDS.

At the time of McKinney’s death, his physician (according to Wiki) suggested he had contracted AIDS as a result of a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery.

Two days later, the New York Times reported that McKinney had taken part in homosexual encounters, while downplaying the chances of his having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.

McKinney didn’t come out during his lifetime. But I imagine that rumors about him almost certainly circulated, as they always do about people who don’t seem to follow social norms to the letter. (McKinney was married with children, so perhaps he was not talked about. But, like I said, rumors do tend to spread.)

I wonder whether my grandpa gave two thoughts to the gay Congressman, or whether he simply queued up for a handshake with all the other congregants afterward.

I know what I’d like to think, but reality might have been different.

Conveniently, there is no historical record.

So I will assume the best; and forget the ensuing decades of social contempt and stigma; and go to bed content in the thought that my grandpa treated everyone the same way, and that he managed — in the language of later generations — to be straight, but not narrow.

I may be lying to myself.

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Another trip through the warmth.

Another season of growth and wonder.

Another graceful, spiraling dance ending in forgotten stillness.

Am I writing about the lifespan of a leaf?


September 22, 1972.

September 22, 1972. I do not exist yet, but I will in roughly two weeks.

I am reaching for new things to say about autumn but it all feels like cliche.

Life, death, the onslaught of cold, the encroachment of darkness, the crispness in the air, the last brilliant flames of foliage — you don’t need me to lead you through the drill.

My grandpa has more nuance to offer on the subject than I do.

Look at the shading on his leaf, and the pattern it traces through the air. Another instance where a picture is worth a thousand words.

Look also at the equinoctial temperature that complicated year — a high of 78, and a quite temperate low of 60. Short-sleeve weather, not flannel.

Another reminder that life is not as clear-cut as we sometimes make it, and that the calendar doesn’t really get the final say. When does summer really end and fall begin? How about youth and middle age? Middle age and old?

(David Crosby, who was in some position to know, once suggested that what people thought of as “the Sixties” actually lasted from 1965 to 1975. I’m not sure what Crosby was doing in September 1972, but I bet it was potent.)

A more complicated subject than it seems, autumn … and I am coming up blank trying to find interesting things to say about its arrival.

I look forward to inhaling its essence for the next couple of months, anyway.

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An old man in worn clothes kneels before the gods of Propriety and Duty.

There is no prayer in this al fresco moment, just an efficient, precise motion and a soft slapping sound scarcely audible over the Chryslers and Ramblers and milk trucks rolling past on Hope Street.

The task cannot be delayed. The kneeling man can feel it in his bones — a foreboding sense that, over some barren tundra far to the north, winter is already massing its forces for an invasion that seems to get earlier every year.

In a month there will be no time to do this.

Slap. Slap. Slap.

Could he skip it? Sure, maybe. There would be no immediate price to pay. But let one detail go, and soon others will follow. And after a while the center falls out.

(Rust never sleeps.)

The old man has something to prove to himself, perhaps, too. He’s not been entirely well over the past year-and-a-half. He’s made changes to accommodate that; but he’s damned if he surrenders to it.

He will not sit on a shelf, nursing himself, while Duty and Propriety are shortchanged. Obligations still hover unseen in the air, and there is no one else he cares to ask to assume them.

And so, he bows his head to the task.

Slap. Slap. Slap.

He is not kneeling long. Even with his exacting methods and careful pace, his obligation is quickly fulfilled.

Duty and Propriety get what is theirs; and no visitor walking past 1107 Hope Street would ever worry that the center had fallen out.

In the years to come, scuffing feet and pine pitch and grime from a busy street will undo the old man’s handiwork and force him to his knees again.

But for now, he is triumphant over the forces of age and illness and winter and slackness and resignation and decline. He is not going gently.

Perhaps, for a moment, he convinces himself he is not going anywhere at all — a thought as intoxicating as the crisp fall air.

September 1972. "Paint porch steps."

September 1972. “Paint porch steps.”

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A little thematic music. I’m paying taxes; what am I buying?

Ever had to put money into a car you planned to get rid of, just to keep it running for those last few weeks or months until you replaced it? Intensely frustrating, that.

Or, have you ever had to sink money into a house you were selling, just to make it more attractive to buyers? Sure, that pays off in the end, but it’s not very much fun when you’re doing it.

Paying taxes to the city right when a major municipal service fails you can kinda grind your gears, too.

That’s where my grandpa was around this time 41 years ago:

July 27-28, 1972.

July 27-28, 1972.

Not sure what caused the problem. Unfettered access to the Stamford Advocate’s archives would be a wonderful thing, but such a thing does not exist in my world.

So I don’t know why the city — or, at least, my family’s humble corner of it — was having water trouble.

(The Advocate reported earlier this year that much worse things than mud are coming out of Connecticut’s wells nowadays. Maybe my grandpa got off easy.)

The house on Hope Street was probably about 60 years old then, which seems a little too early for the water lines to start giving out. But, that’s just my perception. Maybe it was cheap pipe.

The problem popped up again the following month before vanishing from my grandpa’s calendars:

Aug. 14-15, 1972.

Aug. 14-15, 1972. Not sure why it was a “vacation week,” as everyone in the house was on permanent vacation at that point.

How common was bottled water 40 years ago?

I’m sure you could find a couple jugs of it at your local supermarket, but probably not nearly as much as you can find now. I imagine there was enough bottled water around to get you through  a day or two of muddy tap water, if you had to.

I can imagine my grandfather grumbling, though, as he went out to buy something he was accustomed to getting delivered right into his house.

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