In the summer of 1974 my father needed help with
his painting contracting business and although our relationship was strained I took a job painting a large house not
far from where I lived.
Warm weather was upon us and I spent time
going up and down ladders, painting shutters and being left alone with my thoughts.....
night I began hanging out in the gin mills, one of which was The Suburban in Montclair.
It was an old fashioned place but when
the drinking age had been lowered to 18 the owner jumped on the bandwagon, appealing to a younger crowd and the place
turned into a Zoo....
In the middle of the circular bar was a perch where a guy played Guiter and sang the hits
of the day.
His favorite song must have been "Moondance" because over the summer I must
heard him play it two hundred times.
The back room was decked out with tables and chairs allowing
for a large crowd.
Each evening I'd bump into people I knew from surrounding towns.
One of them was "Ollie," an old friend
from Cedar Grove.
He and I went back to the time when we were about nine years old.
Like Alf, he and I shared lots of adventures
although personality wise, the two were totally different.
Where Alf was Urbane and into Music, Ollie was
into physical things like fishing and shooting bows and arrows.
Our childhood years ran the gamut of going to the
movies on rainy days to running our dogs to flying kites.....
A few vivid memories:
The time his mother
gave him money to get his haircut but on our way to the Barber we decided to invest in a scissors and have me cut his
hair so we could pocket the change.
His mother would never know, right?
I could tell right away that cutting
hair was more difficult than we thought.
First, one side was too short then the other. Soon, Ollie looked like a lawn mower
had run over him.
When we walked in the front door his mother's eyes widened and a look of horror came
over her face. Ollie did manage to attempt to explain.
"I jerked my head in the chair," was
all he could say before she let out a piercing shriek.
A minute later Ollie was up in his room and I was on my way home.....
Another time we decided to create a Civil War scene using toy soldiers.
In his attic was an old table top which
would serve as our base.
We used Elmer's Glue to secure the soldiers. Now all we needed was some dirt and grass.
No problem, there was plenty of that outside.
All we had to do was get it into the house without his mother seeing.
This was done by lowering a shopping bag out
the window several times until we had enough.
We then "glued" the dirt to the table top.
Now all we had to do was tilt it to get rid of the excess.
Any residual dirt we could vacuum
Fifteen pounds of muddy sludge now covered
the bedroom rug.
His mother had been wondering what we were up to and opened the door to see us
frantically trying to clean up the mess. She freaked out and moments later I was on my way home.......
On another occasion Ollie and I went to the Candy Store and bought a couple comic books.
we needed to place to sit and read them.
For some reason, the truck parked at the loading dock behind
the Shop Rite on Pompton Avenue seemed ideal.
In the back of the truck were tons of cardboard boxes that had been broken
down and were waiting to be hauled away. We climbed in and soon were totally absorbed in our reading.
didn't realize how much time had passed but were beginning to wonder if it was past dinner time.
A moment later we heard someone calling Ollie's
name...... It was his father.
Somehow he'd found us in the back of that truck.
He was ticked off and started
swinging his belt, landing some shots as Ollie tried his best to block them. He was whisked away in his fathers car and I
was on my way home.......
There were lots of other stories like these but most had happier endings.
Suburban and Meeting Veronica
One night Ollie walked into the Suburban and a
friendship that had been dormant for years was rekindled.
We talked about the old days while socializing
with acquaintances from surrounding towns.
Among these were Roger Beaman from Caldwell and a guy from Verona named
Toad, two street wise characters who partied all the time and were friends with my brother Eddie.
Unbeknownst to me then, Ollie, Roger and
Toad would play vivid roles in my life in the near future......
On an otherwise uneventful night while drinking
beer I'd gotten up from the table to use the bathroom and on the way bumped into Toad who was chatting with a trio
of young woman, one of whom I found very attractive.
He introduced me and although we'd never
met I felt as though I already knew her.
Later when the girls walked by our table we invited them to
join us. That's how I met Veronica.
She had just graduated High School and she and her friends were making the rounds.
drinking age then was now 18 years old )
Veronica and I were attracted to each other and soon a romance blossomed.
She was good looking, intelligent, had
a good sense of humor and it seemed that she held the key to happiness........
At the time I was living two separate
lives, one partying with the crowd and the other caught in the middle of the collapse of my family and the struggle to find
piece of mind.
It was a balancing act I was perilously close to losing.
Emotionally, I was
all over the map and there was no place to go to escape the pressures.
I was just too young to know what to do and
Meanwhile the Summer was tumbling by.....
In September, Veronica was
going away to college which meant goodbye.
From my point of view it was the end of a good thing that had barely begun
and I was feeling a sense of loss.....
What was supposed to have happened was that she would somehow see who I really was, what I was about, the real
me the world didn't know, my search for Understanding and all that went with it.....
But there was no way she
could comprehend any of that and our paths were already diverging......
At the end of August she and her friends
went down to Belmar at the Jersey Shore and the following afternoon Ollie and I joined them. They drove, we hitchhiked.
While the others hit the beach Veronica and I shared one last transcendent interlude........
There were so many things I wanted to say but there was no time.
She was distracted anyway with thoughts of
going away to College.
As she herself once said "It seems like everybody is against us."
No mention was made of the future. It was just goodbye. A chapter in my life was over and the book slammed shut in
I felt like Humphry Bogart in Casablanca and no one, not even Ollie could console
Back at the Suburban the crowds had thinned and things were not the same.
All I could do was return there a few nights a week for the sense of diversion it offered.......
a few beers and I could temporarily forget
Little did I know that just around the corner an amazing and unforgettable Adventure was awaiting........