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Posts Tagged ‘1970’

It was a big day in New York City on Sept. 24, 1970.

Of course, I guess it’s always a big day in New York City. But if you were able to walk through walls, ghost-style, and also able to park in front of any building you wanted, Theo Kojak-style, you could have seen the following eminences that day in the five boroughs:

Muhammad Ali met with boxing officials and underwent a physical examination at the offices of the New York State Athletic Commission, about a month before his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. The New York Times described him as “subdued,” showing a “quiet demeanor and disinclination to boast.”

Sophia Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, were in town to promote Loren’s latest movie, “Sunflower.” (According to Wiki, it was the first Western movie filmed in the U.S.S.R.)

-Director Otto Preminger was in town too, though not to shoot or promote a film. According to the Times (which will be my source for info henceforth unless otherwise credited), he attended a fundraiser at Sardi’s restaurant for U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

-Canadian actor Christopher Plummer stopped in town briefly, en route back home to be installed as a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Times reported him speaking enthusiastically about his next role as Frederick the Great, in between sips of a Bloody Mary in the Algonquin Hotel lobby.

-Other performers in town included comedians Bob and Ray, performing at the Golden Theater; gypsy violinist Sandor Lakatos; and Cleavon Little and Melba Moore in “Purlie” at the Broadway Theatre.

-Photographer Bruce Davidson was back in Harlem, showing copies of his book¬†East 100th Street to some of the people he’d photographed for it two or three years prior.

-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was in town to pick up a re-election endorsement from the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. (Mayor John Lindsay was in town too, of course, breaking ground on a new police station in the Bronx.)

-The Mets were on the road and the Yankees idle, but Joe Namath and the New York Jets were practicing at Rikers Island ahead of their Sunday, Sept. 27, game against the Boston Patriots.

(This roundup doesn’t include Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, who were in New York in character though maybe not in person. Their Manhattan-set The Odd Couple made its network TV debut the night of September 24.)

The usual bustle of life in New York went on that day despite a serious power shortage caused by unseasonably warm weather. Con Ed imposed voltage cuts for the third straight day, causing shrunken images on TV sets, while the New York Telephone Co. fired up auxiliary generators for the second day to power its offices and network.

And, amid all that, my dad was in New York City too.

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No one seems to remember what led him there, except that it must have been work-related, as he wouldn’t have just gone to New York by himself.

(The note “Stuff to Jac. Penfield” probably means that my grandparents dropped off some things with my other grandparents in Stamford, the Jacobellises, so they could bring it to my parents in Penfield, N.Y. That further suggests that my dad was in New York City on work duties: He would have stopped off in nearby Stamford and picked up the stuff himself, if he’d been able to.)

Inevitably, there is a record of this exchange, as there was for every long-distance call my grandparents were involved in. I wonder when they started that practice and why: Did they get hit with false charges at some point?

My parents have never much enjoyed going to New York City, so it doesn’t surprise me that a brief work trip would be forgotten all these years later. I don’t remember every single place my employers have ever sent me, either.

If anything, then, this calendar entry serves as a reminder of how fast things fade.

Work meetings and projects seem so important when you’re doing them — and if you’re getting sent out of town, that must be even more important.

But try remembering what you were working on five years later — much less 47 years later — and unless it was really major, like a corporate takeover or something, you’re bound to have forgotten.

Work stuff drives us gray, and gives us heart attacks and ulcers and restless nights … but it doesn’t take long for those super-important tasks to vanish into the dustbin and never get seen again.

(If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go apply to be a lighthouse keeper or a tree farmer or something.)

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Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

I’m imagining the cuckoo clock at 1107 Hope Street counting down the minutes, as the occupants of the house sit quietly locked into small tasks — peeling potatoes, washing dishes, reading Time magazine.

I’d love to imagine them doing something more interesting or significant. Unfortunately, in this week’s post, the silence is the story.

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July 1970. The Mets spend the month in first place. The Yankees start it in second, but drop to third.

There are very few months on my grandpa’s 15 years of surviving calendars where he does not make his presence known.

I’ve mentioned that May and June 1971 were slow months for calendar entries, and for good reason. My grandpa’s heart attack at the start of May laid him up for a while. He wasn’t keeping lots of outside appointments, except with the doctor, and he apparently lost his usual interest in the weather.

July 1970, shown above, was another slow month. Almost half of the days are completely blank. Many others are close to it.

And on some days — such as the 8th, the 19th, 22nd and 23rd — the writing appears to be my grandmother’s, not my grandfather’s. He’s not much in effect until the very last week of the month, when he turns in the kinds of entries that I’ve come to identify as much more his style.

Of course, I wonder why he was so quiet.

I haven’t read day-by-day through the month’s newspapers, but a look at Wikipedia suggests July 1970 was a quiet month on the national scene. No space flights, no assassinations, no increases in the cost of postage, and none of the other stuff that used to make it onto calendars.

I know there were fewer people in the house to generate calendar entries. My dad had long since married and moved out, while my Aunt Elaine — not yet finished with grad school — was apparently in California. You’ll note a visit from Rod and Lynn — my as-yet-childless folks — from the 9th through the 12th, and a phone call from Elaine in Palo Alto on the 19th.

 

That doesn’t explain the near-complete absence of weather, appointments, gasoline prices, long-distance phone calls, church events, meals out, and the million other things my grandpa used to write down, though.

I know he was still working at John McAdams and Sons in Norwalk in the summer of 1970. So he wasn’t out of town all those days in July; he was home and on duty.

(His entries near the end of the month mention a vacation, which we’ve written about before.)

I concocted a theory that John McAdams and Sons had told my grandpa in advance about their plans to let him go at the end of the summer, and the news had depressed him to such an extent that he’d lost interest in his daily routines for a while.

But I don’t think that’s a realistic read. My grandfather was committed to providing for his family, but he wasn’t a wage slave.

It’s also possible that my grandpa was in a funk for no particular reason. I didn’t know him to be depressive, but we can all land there sometimes, and maybe he did.

(His description of the Fourth of July holiday as “CLOUSY” could be interpreted in that direction. It was common for him to note rainy, overcast or depressing weather in straight descriptive terms; it was less common for him to pass any kind of judgment on it.)

All I know for certain is, whatever stilled his hand in July 1970 wasn’t there before or after. I guess that’s a good thing.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

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How upright were the Blumenaus of Hope Street?

Why, they wouldn’t even cheat Ma Bell.

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February 22, 1970.

It’s early 1970. My Aunt Elaine is in grad school at Boston University, leading a life of her own, but still seeing her folks and her grandma from time to time.

On this particular day, she’s left Hope Street to go back to school (a trip that should only take three hours, according to Mapquest; perhaps the weather or traffic slowed her down).

To let her family know she dodged the maniacal New England highway drivers and got back safely, she’s made just about the shortest possible telephone call you can make and still be polite.

And it’s still cost somebody 3.5 cents per second.

(Not sure whether the call was collect, or on my aunt’s dime … but my grandpa made note of the cost, so he must have known. He may have been paying the bill either way.)

This makes me think of the old practice of collect-calling a previously agreed-on name as a means of delivering a message. The person being called would turn down the collect call request, because hearing the pre-arranged name told them all they needed to know — at no cost to anyone.

As I’ve mentioned before — five years ago to the day; how weird is that? — the name used on my mom’s side of the family for that purpose was “Evelyn Keyes.

In the mid-’80s, when my maternal grandparents either sold their old home in Stamford or closed on their new home in Rochester, we got a collect call for Evelyn Keyes — which we turned down, knowing events had gone according to plan.

My maternal grandma’s name was Evelyn; the “Keyes” part referred to Evelyn either getting the keys to her new home, or handing over the keys to her old one.

(I believe Evelyn Keyes was also pressed into service on prior occasions for we-got-home-safe purposes, though my memories of that are not as specific. Of course, once those grandparents moved to a home five minutes away from ours, our need for such deceptions declined sharply.)

My younger readers — if indeed I have any — might wonder why people went to such lengths to avoid putting through a short phone call. Was it really that big a deal?

Well, 35 cents in 1970 equals about $2.20 today. That’s not a budget-breaker for most people … but it’s a hell of a lot to pay when all you want to do is tell a loved one in Connecticut that you got to Boston okay. From a 2017 perspective, something like that should be free, right?

Plus, your regional phone company was a monopoly back then, and it kinda had things all its own way. It wasn’t doing you a lot of favors, so the tendency was to get your own back, in small ways, where you could.

To accomplish the same errand today, you might send your family an email or a text. Or you might mention on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that you got home safe. Or you might use your free friends-and-family calling plan and make a quick call. All user-friendly options; all instantaneous; all more or less free.

(What do you think the executives of Southern New England Telephone in 1970 would have said if you’d told them that, in the future, calls to friends and family would be free? They’d have metaphorically hung up on you.)

Personally, I kinda wish the ways Americans communicated hadn’t changed so radically, because I miss the fun of the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

If Ma Bell still had a monopoly, I would revel in creating so many collect-call aliases, my friends and family would need a folder to keep track of what they all meant.

A collect call from George Deukmejian? That means “too tired to cook tonight; order a pizza.” James Jackson Storrow? That must be “working late; eat without me.” Tristan Tzara? “Kidnapped by aliens; will be home in four days with curious rashes and significant memory loss.” (Hey, you gotta be prepared for anything.)

But, times have changed, and the old ways have gone.

And anyway, the underlying point of this whole essay is that the Hope Street Blumenaus didn’t take the easy way out. My Aunt Elaine didn’t make a collect call to Montgomery Clift or Kevin White at my grandparents’ phone number, and my grandparents didn’t turn it down with a wink and a nudge.

She put the call through, and however begrudgingly, my grandfolks took it. They noted every cent and every second, and they knew they would pay for it, but they took it.

I guess you need some folks like that in the world, to keep society on the rails and everything working right.

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My grandpa was so close to some of his co-workers at Time Inc., they were on a last-name basis.

Or so I gather from today’s calendar entry, which has me pondering the curious ways in which grown men interact.

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January 15, 1970. The New York Rangers have a slim lead over Boston in the NHL’s Eastern Division.

This entry marks the second-to-last day of my grandfather’s 23-year employment at Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs. The following day, he packed up his desk and left forever. (He landed one final short-term job, then worked the last rat-race day of his life in mid-September.)

I am intrigued by the short list of colleagues who accompanied my grandpa to the Darien Holiday Inn for his going-away lunch.

I don’t know anything about them as people. Instead, I’m interested in my grandpa’s differing methods of presentation.

Al. D. (I cannot help but think of him as Al D. Sure!) and Charlie S. get first names, but Engel, Simonson, Sutter and Rice get last names.

Perhaps the guys with the first names were the real close friends and running buddies, and the guys (ladies?) with the last names were the boss types who were there because they were obligated to attend.

Or maybe the guys with the first names just had last names that were too complex to fit on the calendar. Al. D. might really have been Albertus Dinatatropolis, or something like that.

Whatever the possible explanation, I’m intrigued by the variation.

In my own corporate (and non-corporate) work experience, it’s been rare for me or anyone I know to refer to people generally by last name. Mostly the more convivial first name is used, or sometimes first and last to differentiate one Dave or Paul from another.

My memory of my dad’s corporate career says that his dinner-table conversations were a mix of first-and-last and just last names. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how that was classified — whether superiors got last names and peers got both names, or any such taxonomy. I suspect there was rhyme or reason, even subconscious, but I don’t know what it was.

And it appears that, left to his own devices, my grandpa was most apt to use last names alone.

Does this reflect the ongoing casualization of the American workforce over the decades? Will my kids’ generation refer to their co-workers simply using tiny electronic portraits? Emoji, even?

(Or will they hold home-based jobs that prevent them from forming any relationships at all with co-workers? Perhaps my grandkids won’t even know what co-workers are. It’s hard to have going-away lunches when you’re in Omaha and your partner is in Poughkeepsie. But I digress.)

Or, maybe this reflects a declining number of veterans in the workforce. Maybe the people who were roughly of my grandpa’s generation got used to using other peoples’ last names (rank permitting) while they were in Europe fighting World War II, and it stuck with them when they came back home. But now that every able-bodied boy isn’t enlisting, the method of address has changed.

(This is just a wild guess; it may be that those in the military address each other using altogether more creative things than their last names.)

Of course, the quirks of nomenclature go both ways. It would be interesting to know what Al, Charlie, Engel, Rice, Simonson and Sutter wrote on their own calendars.

Was it Bill’s Going-Away Lunch? Blumenau’s Going-Away Lunch?

The answers, alas, are under 46 years of dirty diapers in whatever landfill Stamford employed to stash its trash. My research capabilities do not extend quite that far.

And it does not matter to my grandfather, who has, in more ways than one, gone away.

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It’s been a challenging winter for a lot of people, including me.

As I write this, the Lehigh Valley is about nine inches shy of setting a new record for its snowiest winter ever.

Temperatures this winter have threatened or surpassed records for cold, as well, and the local electric company reported a new one-day record for power demand. (A fair amount of the heating in central and eastern Pennsylvania runs on electricity.)

I used to eat these winters for breakfast when I was a kid in upstate New York. They were just standard operating procedure. I had no more idea than a penguin has that other climates existed.

And I still profess, as an adult, to like this weather. I watch hockey; I wear layers; I eschew a snowblower and hump the snow myself. I’m not near moving to Florida yet. I declare I never will, me, stomping my boot in the ice and setting my jaw firmly against the cold wind.

But … these real severe winters are not as much fun as they used to be. I can only close my eyes and pretend I’m in Quebec (or Rochester) so many times. I can only go back outside to clean up the snowplow’s wet, heavy leavings so many times.

And mentally evoking the hardy ancestors on the New England and French-Canadian branches of my family tree doesn’t work any more.

Tabarnac! they say. You look back too much. Stop invoking your ancestry as though it meant something. We lived our lives; this one is yours. Go live it as if someone 200 years later was looking back at you. And stop whining.

It was nice this past weekend — close to 50 degrees on Saturday, with an invigorating breeze. It felt like the dawn of spring.

But, as my grandpa’s calendar reminds me, we’re not out of the woods. Winter can stick around for weeks yet.

March 29, 1970.

March 29, 1970.

I seriously don’t know what I’ll do if we get nine inches of snow on Easter, in one of those snowstorms that begins with the work day and ends close to bedtime.

Well, yeah, I know what I’ll do. I’ll put on a flannel shirt and my trashy jeans, and go out to the driveway again, and spit defiantly into the snowbank, and start shoveling. That’s what my grandpa did in 1970, give or take a few details.

It will seem like a cold eternity … but I will once again shovel until the driveway and sidewalks and mailbox are cleared.

And when the snow finally melts, I will treasure the first crocuses of the permanent spring as though they were the Stanley Cup.

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