Posts Tagged ‘new years eve’

Dec. 30, 2017: I believe my grandpa’s calendars have yielded just about all the inspiration they have to offer, and so I am taking another break, perhaps permanent. (I may write about more of his photographs, as I’ve done from time to time. But if I take that up it won’t be for a while.)

While I put my feet up and decide what to do next, I am reposting/sticking the farewell entry I wrote in April 2015, when I first decided to stop writing here. It has not been edited or updated.

Bill Blumenau would have been befuddled by this blog, probably; but he would have appreciated your interest, as his grandson does.

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Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Having come to the end of Bill Blumenau’s story online, it seems like I should mention how it ended in real life.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack — his third — in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2001, and was found dead later that morning in the nursing-home room he shared with my grandma. He was 90.

If memory serves, he also was suffering from prostate cancer, but could not be operated on because of his advanced age and the fragility of his heart. I suppose it is better to die quickly than slowly, though the outcome is the same either way.

My grandpa is buried not in Stamford but in Rochester, N.Y., his last home. I do not remember the last time I visited his grave. I prefer to think of him as he was in life, and I do not think my absence (or anything else on the earthly plane) matters to him at this point.

Having just mentioned all that, I have not spent the past four years bringing my grandfather to life on this blog just to have him die at the end.

Instead, we’ll round out our explorations in a sensible place — at the very last calendar entry available to us, on a day my grandpa probably spent quietly puttering around his house.

Since the calendars we have on hand span the years 1961 to 1975, we’ll be setting the WABAC machine to …

December 31, 1975.

December 31, 1975.

Wednesday, December 31, 1975, is a full working day for President Gerald Ford. The president spends the day talking with such distinguished personages as Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, Alan Greenspan and James Brown.

(No, not the Godfather of Soul; this James E. Brown is an executive at Thiokol Corporation. He gets a seven-minute phone convo with Ford shortly before 11 p.m., while the rest of America is icing down its Champale.)

The year seems to be winding down fairly quietly, without much in the news. As the new year dawns, the Liberty Bell is about to be moved to a new enclosure in time for the bicentennial. The movers say they can do the job without further damaging the symbol of liberty, and they are as good as their word.

Investigators are probing a bomb blast two days earlier that killed 11 people at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, fewer than 40 highway miles from Hope Street. Presumably the investigators are still probing, as the bombing has never been solved.


Guy Lombardo plays one of his last New Year’s Eve specials, joined by guest Aretha Franklin. Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve fights back with Neil Sedaka, KC and the Sunshine Band, Melissa Manchester, Freddy Fender and the Average White Band. And — this being a regular workday for Johnny Carson, just as it is for President Ford — The Tonight Show features Joan Rivers, Orson Bean and Charles Nelson Reilly as guests.

Frances Drake’s syndicated horoscope warns Capricorns against a “tendency toward indiscretion,” cautions Scorpios to “be prepared for all contingencies,” but tells Cancers that travel could lead to “a most unusual and highly stimulating experience.”

According to the morning front pages of December 31, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger denied a request the day before to delay a multibillion-dollar increase in the nation’s postal rates.


And that — not the airport explosion, or Guy Lombardo, or preparation for all contingencies — is what’s on my grandpa’s last calendar entry of this sequence.

It’s a natural thing for my grandpa to make note of. Postal rate increases are scattered throughout his 15 years of calendars.

At least one of the other postal rate hikes is illustrated with a drawing of a letter with wings. But this one seems hefty enough for my grandpa to skip the whimsy.

I’m sure he counted every cent, and an increase from 10 cents to 13 would have been something he noticed — another sign that the basics of American life just kept getting more and more and more expensive.

Other items of interest at 1107 Hope Street that day:

– My grandfather didn’t have a watercolor painting class. (His teacher, unlike President Ford and Johnny Carson, must have taken the day off.)

– The weather was pretty unmemorable — overcast, nippy and rainy, more Novemberish than wintry.

Despite the rain and the postal rate increase, there were other things on the horizon in December 1975 that would have made my grandfather happy.

He had two healthy grandchildren, and had just found out a third was on the way in the new year. His kids were both within visiting distance, more or less, and visits were not rare.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. It's December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. This is December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

He’d been retired a few years, and he hadn’t had any more heart attacks, so he was probably pretty well comfortable with his lifestyle at that point. He knew what he could do and what he shouldn’t, and he’d made his peace with it.

(My dad has said many times that my grandpa adapted after his heart attack in ways that many people don’t. He not only made lifestyle changes, but figured out how to relax. The Bill Blumenau of December 1975 was a different man, and in some ways a better one, than he was in January 1961.)

The bicentennial year was coming up, too, and as a patriot, my grandpa would have bought into the idea of celebrating America. I can see him being interested in what was to come.

So, I think my grandfather would have seen out the old year 1975 on a positive note. Life was pretty good on Hope Street. My grandpa had paid his dues in the rat race; now he could sit back and watch the wheels.

And that’s where I think I’ll leave him.

He is sitting on the couch in the front room, a skinny older man in a plaid shirt, reading about Mother Theresa in the latest issue of Time. There are no end-of-year holiday visitors; he is alone in the house with his wife and mother, who are already upstairs, quietly preparing for bed.

The nighttime rain patters gently outside, as it has all day, but he doesn’t pay it much attention. He has nowhere to travel, and his roof will hold.

As page follows page, he starts to think about turning in for the night and saying goodbye to another year. It scarcely seems like another 365 days have passed, but here it is, a new year coming. And if the taxman doesn’t ratchet things up too many more notches, it could be a pretty good one, he thinks.

He yawns, gets up and switches off the light, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table.

As his footsteps disappear up the stairs, the first floor of 1107 Hope Street settles into darkness and silence, with only the eternal streetlights and the occasional tire-slick of a passing car on the wet street to interrupt the stillness of the night.

April 2011-April 2015


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“Me and my stupidity, sittin’ on a fence
Digging what I thought was New York City.”
Ian Hunter

This is another post in which my grandfather does not figure.

My aunt’s in it, near the end, but it’s not really about her either.

It’s about New York City. Two New York Cities, actually … as different from each other as Mona Lisas and mad hatters, but equally fabled, and equally real.

Climb the grimy stairs from the subway to the sidewalk, turn your shoulder into the wind, and I’ll tell you about them.

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From cultural scraps and second-hand narratives, half-hour scripted dramas and faded ads on the sides of brick buildings, I have constructed a mental narrative of two sharply different worlds occupying the same scattered geographic footprint.

We’ll call the first one “Golden New York,” and presume it existed from the end of World War II until sometime in the 1960s.

In my imagination, Golden New York is a place of cool confidence … a city where well-barbered men in crisply pressed business shirts make lots of money during the day and drink bourbon on the rocks in conservatively decorated penthouses at night.

You know this city as Sinatra’s New York, and Don Draper’s as well.

It is Holly Golightly’s playground, and Murray the K’s, and Harriet the Spy’s — a metropolis benevolent enough to protect tomboys who peer into skylights and squeeze into dumbwaiters.

This city of promise and adventure is also home to the Yankees, who roll to championship after championship with the same unruffled confidence shown by the bourbon-drinking business magnates; and the football Giants, who are not quite as dominant but capable of beating any team in the league with points and personality to spare.

Life in Golden New York is burnished and radiant and early-autumnal.

And it will not last.

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We’ll call its replacement “Tarnished New York,” though you might know it by its sardonic early-’70s nickname, “Fun City.”

It’s the squalid, bankrupt, grime-tattooed city Sinatra bequeathed to Lou Reed and Johnny Thunders when he pulled up stakes and moved to Palm Springs.

No one knows what happened to Don Draper and Holly Golightly — death? The suburbs? A quiet life somewhere upstate? — but they don’t walk the streets of this New York.

(Most people don’t, if they don’t have to. Even Theo Kojak tends to stay behind the wheel until he gets where he’s going.)

It’s no place for inquisitive schoolgirls with spy-notebooks. Life is cheap in Tarnished New York, and even getting onto a commuter train is a matter of taking your life into your hands. Never mind who you might meet if you step into a cab … or, hell, if you simply try to cross the street.

The Yankees? They’re struggling to win more games than they lose. And the football Giants? They’re in New Haven.

Tarnished New York, like Golden New York, will pass away with time. But it will leave its own counterbalancing impression, a burnt taste shadowing the autumnal crispness of its predecessor.

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If you buy the vision of two New Yorks, an inevitable parlor game follows: Where was the tipping point? Is there a single central moment of transition, or does it depend on the beholder?

(Exceptions and outliers can be found on both sides of the divide. The brutal murder of Kitty Genovese belongs to Sinatra’s New York, while the joyous, improbable victory of the ’69 Miracle Mets belongs to Ratso Rizzo’s.)

For my Aunt Elaine — who has been patiently riding the train in from Stamford during this entire rambling exposition, and is about to disembark in Manhattan — Dec. 31, 1966, might well have been a personal tipping point.

New Year's Eve, 1966.

New Year’s Eve, 1966.

What was supposed to be a fun trip to watch the ball drop turned out to be something disillusioning. In my aunt’s words:

 I went  to Times Square on New Years Eve 1966 to watch the ball drop. It was the only time I did that because at that time I thought I was going to be trampled to death!  I traveled into NYC w/a male friend from Stamford, as I was home from college for  Christmas break.

We took the train to avoid drunken drivers. It seemed like a fun idea, but soon became apparent that the people in the larger area surrounding the ball were bombed and stomping around without regard for those under their feet!
I tried to get a drink at a bar, because I was 18, and it was legal in NY to serve liquor to 18 year olds, but they would not serve me. Then I tried to hide in doorways of stores to avoid serious injury and my friend tried to shield me, but that didn’t work very well either. So I watched the ball drop from this vantage point, but it was not nearly as exciting as it looks on TV!  

Perhaps if we had arrived in mid-afternoon to get a front row spot and had brought our own flask, this endeavor would have been more successful!

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Which New York will the ball drop on tonight?

A decade after its lowest low, the city appears to be riding high — maybe not as high as it did in Sinatra’s day, but successful and spirited nonetheless. (In fact, the well-being of New York City seems to be outpacing the well-being of the country as a whole, fraught as it is with shootings and fiscal cliffs and government gridlock.)

The city is closely connected to its suburbs, as it has always been. Perhaps tonight will be a night to remember, one way or another, for some 18-year-old taking the train in from Stamford.

That will be someone else’s myth to create.

For now, Golden New York and Tarnished New York are growing hazy and disappearing before my eyes like steam from a manhole … and a salaryman going on 40 in eastern Pennsylvania will take to his bed well before midnight tonight.

Happy New Year.

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