Monday, August 25, 2014

“Going where the weather suits my clothes…”

Everybody was talking about the soon-to-be best picture of the year in 1970, “Midnight Cowboy.” The year was 1969 and this movie is one of my favorites of all time. Jon Voight plays Joe Buck, a greenhorn from Texas; and Dustin Hoffman plays Ratso Rizzo, a street savvy New Yorker. I think those two roles are the best these two actors have ever done.

The theme song of the movie, “Everybody’s Talkin’” was a winner in its own right. I always turned the radio up when it came on. Here’s a clip of that song sung by Harry Nilson.

The film was based on a book of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The screenplay, written by Waldo Salt, and directed by John Schlesinger, won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture.

Actually Dustin and Jon were nominated for Best Actor but they both lost out to John Wayne who won for "True Grit" that year.
As the story goes, a naïve Joe Buck decides to try his luck as a hustler with the rich women of New York City. He gets off the bus in the city dressed in his cowboy clothes including a Stetson and cowboy boots. Whoever decided to have Joe chewing gum was brilliant. With the gum chewing; the smirk on his face; the clothes, the cowskin-covered suitcase; and the music, the character of Joe Buck was defined in the opening scenes without a word of dialogue being spoken.
It’s not long before the character of Ratso rips him off. The two end up as unlikely friends—the city slicker showing the country boy how to make it in the city. Ratso Rizzo, a sickly yet street-wise man takes Joe under his wings. He finds wealthy women for Joe, both hoping to make a fortune from them. Here’s some of the dialogue between the two new friends:
Ratso Rizzo: “I gotta get outta here, gotta get outta here. Miami Beach, that’s where you could score. Anybody can score there, even you. In New York, no rich lady with any class at all buys that cowboy crap anymore. They’re laughin’ at you on the street.”
Joe Buck: “Ain’t nobody laughin’ at me on the street.”
Ratso: “I’m walking here! I’m walking here!”
This is probably the most famous line in the movie as Ratso, with his bad foot, tries to cross a street and puts a hand out against a taxi who doesn’t want to stop for him. I used those same words myself on a trip to NYC. I just couldn’t resist that opportunity to be a real New Yorker if even for just a few seconds.
Actually, the appearance of the taxi was not scripted. When it appeared in the shot, Dustin automatically said the line and the director decided to keep it in.
I always wondered if Dustin Hoffman had to go through physical rehab after they were through shooting the film for the foot he dragged all through the movie as Ratso. They put pebbles in that shoe to remind him to limp on it.
Here’s another moment between friends:
Ratso: “You know, in my own place, my name ain’t Ratso. I mean, it just so happens that in my own place my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo.”
Joe Buck: “Well, I can’t say all that.”
Ratso: “Rico, then.”
And Joe did call him Rico after that.
As Ratso’s health continued to worsen, (we assume he had tuberculosis) Joe took the bull by the horns and decided to take his friend on a bus to Miami as Ratso had suggested earlier. He ditched his cowboy clothes and bought short-sleeved shirts for the both of them and together they boarded the bus.
He was hoping that where “the weather suits my clothes” was true and that the warm weather would cure his friend.

The scene on the bus where Ratso dies is probably the saddest scene I’ve ever witnessed on the silver screen. Here’s a clip of that scene:

“Midnight Cowboy” has been called one of the best movies of all time. I would agree. Things haven’t changed much as far as the theme of this movie goes.  Today there are still lost souls like Joe and Ratso in every big city. They are also ignored by the bulk of the population just like they were in “Midnight Cowboy.” I think of that movie every time I see similar scenes on whatever big city street I may be on at the time. Here’s to lost souls everywhere.
Thanks for listening.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"I'll Meet you at Sims Lunch Later on, Rose"

         A Visit to  Sim’s Lunch            
(This story is about my friend, Rose Marie Malburg Sorbello who was a childhood friend on Mcloud Street in the Southend in the 40s. It was one of the first stories I published in my blog, “On Being a Southender,” now called “Beyond the Southend.” She contacted me a few years later and corrected a few things about this story. She also became one of my Facebook friends. My sympathies to her family. I will miss her.)
Several years ago, one of my favorite shows on TV was “Evening Shade” with Burt Reynolds as a high school  football coach. It took place somewhere in a small southern town by the same name. Burt and his wife had three children I think, one of them a baby. Both Burt and his wife worked during the day; therefore, the baby got shifted around from one person to another.
In my favorite episode, the baby gets lost. But no one panics. It is assumed that someone responsible is taking care of him and he’ll show up at the end of the day somehow. As it happens, the baby is passed around and finally ends up with a man who travels around town with a child’s red wagon. The baby was quite content to sit in the wagon while this character did what he had to do that day. The man, the baby, and the wagon end up at everyone’s favorite restaurant in town. I think it was a barbecue place. Guess who is there when the little red wagon with the baby in it comes through the door—Burt.
What an ideal world, I thought, and then I remembered a similar story that happened right in the South End. I “pinky swear” the following story is true. I may not have all the facts right, but it’s true just the same.
When I was about four or five, there was a big family who lived just across the street from us. The mother had a lot of kids to keep track of and she used to tie one of the little girls out by the front of the house so she could get some fresh air. She checked on her often I’m sure, but on this particular day, she didn’t check well or often enough.
The little girl was younger than I. I was allowed outdoors by myself, and it didn’t take long for me to notice the little girl tied up by her front steps. She was very unhappy to be tied up like that and convinced me quite easily to untie her. OK, now what?
My memory is a little hazy here, but at some point, she or I or both of us decided to take a little trip “upstreet” to her Uncle Sim’s restaurant on Park Street. If you know the South End at all, you know it is about a mile from Mcloud Street to Park Street where Sim’s Lunch sat, next door to the Park Theater. If you’re my age, you also know that in the 40s, mothers didn’t work. Therefore, what is amazing is that not one mother was looking out her kitchen sink window, or hanging out clothes or something. If they saw us that far away from our homes, they would have called one or both of our mothers, or better yet, walked us back to where we belonged. In those times everyone knew what kid belonged to what family and where that family’s house was.
So there we go hand in hand up the street, crossing Suffolk Street, going down the hill, crossing to the Water Street sidewalk and walking up that long street to the South End business district. We had to cross busy South Main Street, then a couple more small streets before we got to Park Street. Thank God Sim’s was a short walk if you turned left there at the corner of Park and Main Streets so that we didn’t have to cross the very busy Park Street.
You might wonder how children so young didn’t’ get lost along the way. The answer to that is the fact that I walked that route many times with my mother, as we had no car. I also knew Sims because my father often took me there to pick up a greasy bag of French fries for our usual Friday supper of Sim’s French fries and boiled hot dogs my mother made to go with them. Sim claimed to have invented the original lobster roll, by the way. It was a well known place in town and often overcrowded with diners.
Well here comes two little girls in the door of Sim’s Lunch. Sim recognized us immediately and looked behind us expecting to see an adult. When he didn’t see anyone, he beckoned for us to sit down in front of him on the counter stools. He questioned us and found out pretty quick that we’d come all alone because we wanted to visit him and maybe get some of those famous French fries.
I think he did give us something to eat, probably French fries, and something to drink, while he called one of our homes to tell people where we were. I think my father was dispatched to bring us home. I wasn’t punished in any way, but told not to untie my friend again. My mother wasn’t too happy I’ll tell you.
We were all saddened when Sim’s burned down during the ’52 fire that took a big part of the southern business district with it. There will never be another place quite like it.
Thanks for listening.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Peace Symbol


Did you know that the peace symbol so often viewed in the 60s was originally a symbol for nuclear disarmament?

In 1958, a British artist, Gerald Holtom created the symbol which consisted of a circle with three lines inside it, intending the design to be a symbol for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC).

The lines within the circle are simplified Naval semaphore letters. The N for nuclear is formed by a Navy flagman holding a flag in each hand and then pointing them toward the ground at a 45 degree angle. The D for disarmament is made by holding one flag straight up and one straight down.

In Britain the symbol was the emblem for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), thus making it synonymous with nuclear disarmament. It migrated to the United States in the 60s and became a symbol for the peace movement. Today the symbol is recognized internationally and is still used by peace activists today.

The Summer of ‘69

Sometimes it takes years for you to realize the history you have lived through. Lately I have revisited 1969, especially the summer of ’69 and all the events of that place in time, and realized that this particular summer in my life was full of history-changing, history-making events; societal changes we see the results of today; and just plain unrest and mayhem, some of it meant to mock the political system of the day and some of it meant to spur whatever the cause of that particular day was.

1969, especially that summer, was full of riots for civil rights; anti-war demonstrations to call for an end to the war in Vietnam;  riots for gay rights; and a youthful outcry from the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) for a major reboot of the way our leaders ran the country.

Young people ran the show. Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and the Village (Greenwich Village) in New York City were the centers of their dissent. Out of those two places the hippies and the flower children stirred the pot as often as they could to see what they could make happen next. As the decade wound down it was almost as though every protestor and dissenter in the country wanted to get their last licks in.
In this blog I will discuss some of the major happenings of the Summer of ’69. I’ll also discuss some of the music and in a later blog one movie of that August.
Some of the happenings we remember were:

The August killing spree of Charles Manson and his “family,” which resulted in the death of Sharon Tate and others.

The Stonewall Riots in New York City

The “Amazing Mets” who won the World Series on August 14 with the amazing performances of Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver.
Category 5 Hurricane Camille which touched land in Mississippi and Louisiana on August 17, killing 250 people.
The Stonewall Inn, taken September 1969. The sign in the window reads: “We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village.”

The Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall riots came about because of a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in June of ’69. That raid, one of many by police against gay bars in the village at that time, became the impetus for the whole gay liberation movement that resulted because of discrimination against gays in the Village.
The bar itself on Christopher Street, was actually owned by the Mafia. It catered to the lowest level of people in the gay community at that time: drag queens, transgenders, effeminate young men; male prostitutes; and homeless youth.
This particular raid got out of hand as the police attracted a crowd who was incited to riot. More riots followed on successive nights.
The best thing to come out of all this violence was the organization of gay and lesbian activist organizations and the myriad of gay organizations to follow in the years to come.
In 1970 the first “Gay Pride” parades took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Today the event known simply as “Pride” has activities and parades at some point in June in most major cities in the country, to commemorate the Stonewall riots.
Man on the Moon
On July 20, 1969, man first stepped on the face of the moon. “The Eagle has landed” was heard all over the world as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended in a small space vehicle to the surface of the moon while Michael Collins, the other astronaut on the mission, orbited in Columbia. It was on this mission that we heard the now famous quote by Armstrong, “One small step for a man, one great leap for mankind.” This year is the 45 anniversary of that flight.
Protestors of one kind or another would often use the space program as a scapegoat for what they saw as being wrong with the country saying, “If we can put a man on the moon, then why can’t we…” Fill in the blank.
I heard the words in the video below over the loudspeaker at the Hartford Courant as I sat proofreading on that July night.
If you ask someone who attended the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, N.Y., from August 15-18, 1969 if he considered Woodstock or putting a man on the moon to be the most important event of the summer, I bet you a lobster roll from the Keag in South Thomaston that he’d shout as loud as he could, Woodstock!
By the way, the joke about Woodstock goes like this: “If you remember Woodstock, you probably weren’t there.”
The four days of the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair: An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” as it was officially billed was one of sex, drugs and rock and roll. This August is the 45th anniversary of that event.
From Photo Bucket  By the end of the festival many of the audience was covered in mud because of the rain.
This festival was the epitome of how NOT to run a music festival. The 400,000 people more or less who gained free admittance to the grounds created one massive traffic jam that was backed up for 10 miles and which closed the New York State Thruway. Many fairgoers ended up walking a good distance to get to the festival when they became stranded in the pile up. The same goes for getting home afterwards.
Those gathered at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm heard some awesome music. There were 32 acts including Santana, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and more.
The massive mess and garbage they left behind had to be cleaned up by volunteers.
Here’s a couple of YouTube songs from Woodstock by Jimi Hendrix and my girl, Janis Joplin.
Here’s another video about music in The Village at that time. I believe some of these artists were also at Woodstock.
Class Reunion
On top of everything else that happened in the summer of 1969, my 10th 1959 Class Reunion from Rockland High School was held at Beaver Lodge up home. I attended. This year, in 2014 we had another reunion, our 55th. It’s the only class reunion I’ve ever missed in all these years
Next time I’ll bring you a tribute to one of my favorite movies, “Midnight Cowboy” which came out in 1969 and won three Academy Awards.
Thanks for listening.