With a little help from my friends (‘Why I may appear to have been writing less, of late,’ Part One of Three)
Friends and fans — if few in number then all the more cherished — have been asking why I seem to have been writing less this year.
I hope I don’t take too much on myself if I’m reminded of Paul McCartney reporting the press reaction when the Beatles stopped touring and went almost a year from August of 1966 without releasing any album other than some oldies compilation.
“The music papers had been saying, ‘What are The Beatles up to? Drying up, I suppose,’” Mr. McCartney smiled.
So they called the press conference, June 1, 1967, and asked “What do you think of this, then? We’re calling it ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’”
(Actually, producer George Martin says the album’s autobiographical theme would have been furthered if he’d included “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields,” as originally planned — he didn’t do so because they’d just been released on a single. So maybe he should re-build the album the way it should have been. They could do that with today’s technology, couldn’t they?)
At any rate, daily newspapers printed on dead trees (a renewable resource!) are going the way of the Dodo. This slow-motion nationwide collapse brought in a new management team that took the opportunity to spend 2011 and 2012 purging all the antiquated conservatives and Libertarians from their positions on the once refreshingly iconoclastic editorial board of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal. (Collectivism Forever; Resistance is Futile!) For whatever reason, after 20-some years, I was about the last to go — May of 2013.
(Could they really have believed they’d get me to write nice things about Obama and his totalitarian scoundrels? They had copies of my books in their library. The last straw, weirdly enough, seems to have been when I wrote a brief and balanced editorial, as requested, in response to the announced retirement of that old Nazi, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, praising the man for setting a good example by retiring before he became infirm. The publisher was outraged that I mentioned in passing that this pope had not, however, really dealt as promised with the scandal involving the church’s legion of gay, child-molesting priests. Why, the retiring pope was “a saint; billions of people worship him!” the gentleman frothed. As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that.)
It was clear by then we couldn’t keep our lovely (but “upside down”) cottage in recession-racked Las Vegas. But on the hottest day of summer, 2013 (and mind you, Nevadans say “Warm weather’s coming” when it passes 110), the brunette pointed to a dim color photo of a big empty room on her computer and said, “This one; let’s go.” Sure enough, it turned out to be our new mansion in the desert. (OK, it may not look like a mansion to EVERYONE . . .) The only useful photo posted online was of the ballroom, now in all likelihood Nevada’s largest combined storeroom of collectible books and vintage clothing.
But that’s not the reason I may appear to have been writing less, of late.
My dad died in January. He died at home, keeping his dignity to the last, as he and my mom wanted it. He was 90, and quite a fellow.
As a poor Polish kid in Middletown, Connecticut, in the mid-1930s (the boys slept three-to-a-bed), he would listen to the syndicated Jimmie Allen radio show. The sponsor, Skelly Oil, came up with one of the great promotions of early radio. A Jimmie Allen Flying Club was created: all a kid had to do, supposedly, was visit his local Skelly station to receive a set of wings, a membership emblem and a “personal letter” from Jimmie Allen.
But when my dad bicycled down to the local gas station for his free premiums, the owner got fed up, explaining the promotions were supposed to attract customers; the kid would have to come back with his parents to gas up their car. Dad said he broke down in tears: “We don’t have a car.”
A few years back, my little sister and her husband combed the antique shops, looking for the Jimmie Allen wings and membership card. Well past 80, I believe my dad may have been the oldest kid ever to be inducted into the Jimmie Allen Flying Club. And unlike most members, he still had his wings when he died.
As a kid, dad wanted a radio, so he built himself a crystal set. He was the youngest of eight kids (we still have photos of a blonde “Buster” being pushed around in a baby carriage by his older sisters, wearing those charming 1920s cloche hats) in an immigrant family from which no one had ever gone to college. Nonetheless, he applied to the University of Connecticut and was accepted. (I suspect he easily exceeded the modest admission standards.) But when he got to the land grant college in Storrs he found they had no dormitory room for him.
He returned to Middletown, but he did not give up. He marched up the hill and asked to see Wesleyan Dean of Admissions Victor Butterfield, who would become president of “draft-notice-racked” university two years later. Butterfield admitted the skinny young “townie” to Wesleyan. It was September of 1941.
NEXT TIME: ‘Survival could not be expected.’