Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cake and the Moon

[The Summer of '69 stories start here.]

My "weekend" from the Schoolmaster Books job was Monday and Tuesday. This suited me fine. I liked to go in to the city, and all the bus and subway lines had better service on weekdays. I'd go in one of those days at the end of the morning rush hour, and I'd try to get back before the evening rush.

And if you know me, you can guess one thing I did. I wanted to see what all of the subway lines in the city were like.

I never wanted to do that thing where you ride continuously over every part of the entire system on one fare. It takes 24 hours or so.

I wanted to get to all of the lines, but just eventually. No rush. I would pick a little area of the system to do on each trip. I had to start each time at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station way up at 181st St, and almost always the A train from there, because it got downtown fast, got that out of the way, and I could get onto the lines I wanted.

Thanks to my Huge Hall days I knew a few ways to the Bronx by bus, if I wanted to start on a Bronx subway and run down the East Side for example. I was very cheap though. I didn't like having to pay for a bus and a subway. It was 15 cents a ride, after all. That was real money. I didn't even want to leave the subway to eat. There used to be hot dog places in certain stations. There was one at Fulton Street that I liked. I don't remember what was so good about it.

I did leave the subway once each trip so I could check for new records. I remember going to Sam Goody's in the Chrysler Building (or was it just next to the Chrysler Building?) for new LP releases and a full top 100 of singles. And I had a little route I'd worked out in the Village that took me into a series of shops that had used records, imports, and (dare I say) bootlegs. That's where I picked up my English Beatles LPs, and some Kinks stuff you couldn't get in the States. I continued that through college. I think LPs cost about three dollars then.

And I liked to take the Village Voice each week. It was a real counterculture paper then, tougher than it was later, lots of radical opinions in ink that came off in your hands.

One of my favorites in it was Jill Johnston's "Dance Journal". I guess she was originally supposed to be reviewing dance performances, but almost all the time what she really did was just ramble on and on about politics and feminism and friends and anything else that was on her mind, with page jumps leading farther and farther back in the thick paper until I couldn't read any more.

I don't think I knew what Dada was yet, but I liked it. Imagine, just writing whatever damn thing comes into your head and churning out long rambling articles every week that almost defy anyone to read all the way through to the end. Was Jill Johnston the first blogger?

I always felt like I was smuggling in the Voice at Huge Hall, or home for that matter. I happened to mention something in it to Terri pretty soon after I started working, and she wanted to see it, so I started bringing it in to Schoolmaster Books each Wednesday for her to have.

That summer something crazy happened. Some people took a rocket to the moon, and got out and walked around there in space suits, and then came back.

I wrote earlier about how the past seems a little unreal to me. But things I remember myself are real. It's that older stuff that bothers me. Are you having trouble with this moon thing? The last-ever moon landing was in December 1972. If you are not at least 38 years old, there has not been a moon landing in your entire lifetime.

My friend Michael has observed that of all the visions of the future in the old science fiction magazines, the thing no one ever predicted was that people would go to the moon a few times and then stop going. Forty years later, we should be going to amusement parks on Mars by now, right?

But we didn't know that would happen the first time they went. The newspapers pulled out the Second Coming fonts they had last used on VJ Day. I think the Daily News filled the front page with just the words MEN ON / MOON. The Times retained its dignity but still had a slightly larger head than they had used before. Maybe you had to be there to realize how spot-on The Onion is with the feel of that day (NSFW).

They were nice enough to land in the afternoon, New York time, and on a Monday, so I could be home to watch it on TV. I didn't have a chance to share with Terri how mind-blowing it was for almost two days.

You know me. I met Terri at the door when we opened up on Wednesday. "So, they walked on the moon," I observed casually. I was going to gauge her degree of excitement first.

"Yeah, they did." Oh we were so cool. And then she perked up. "Ooh, the Voice. Gimme." Yup, that was about it. If you wanted to impress us you needed to do better.

Bringing Terri the Voice might have been what got me a nice present. What else could it have been?

I think it happened the next week. Terri arrived carrying a plate covered with aluminum foil. She gestured at me to come into the office, and pulled off the foil.

"Look, I made you a cake."

Well. I never had a friend bake a cake for me before. It was a nice little layer cake with vanilla icing and some sprinkles on top. It took me a moment to say something brilliant along the lines of "Wow, this is great." My head was going to explode.

"You better let me have some." Thank you, Terri. Down to earth.

So I did. Around lunchtime we went out on the porch in the front of the shop, and I cut the cake in half and half again, and Terri and I each ate a quarter cake. It was good. And later in the afternoon we polished off the rest of it.

We had offered some to Sue when she got in but she smiled and said "not for me". Terri and I were pretty thin, so we didn't care how much cake we ate. Now that I've passed Sue's age then, I can see why she'd skip it. Come to think of it, that's not true. I would accept a small piece. You only live once.

My mom wasn't impressed with the moon landing. I can't remember when someone first proposed that the moon walk had been staged in a government movie studio. My ever-hazy memory is that she said so as soon as it happened. But maybe it wasn't till later.

Whenever the subject was mentioned, she'd say the landing was faked. The trouble is that my mom had a great sense of humor. She might have been playing the same joke every time a different person mentioned it, to see what they would say.

Anyway, we all got over it. Moon landing, shmoon landing, big deal.

It could be that by the time Terri made me the cake, she was already thinking of asking me something else. Remember, I was pretty clueless.  So how would I know that soon we were going to do something that, as far as I was concerned, was even more crazy than going to the moon. But that's enough for this week.

The Moon Landing photo was shot on location (I think) by Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin.

[ The next Summer of '69 story is Truth and Soul. ]

Next time: Christmas.


  1. I like everything I've read on your blog so far!

  2. Stumbled onto your blog from a Subchat link about the Hoboken-Jersey City elevated. Yeah, I'm a railfan, inactive ERA member from way back (active from about '67-73 or74). Went on several fantrips during the late 60s, including one the day after Myrtle Ave. el closure. Over the years I rode the entire system (fan trips helped), EXCEPT: the two short branches - 4th ave's 59-95th St. (finally rode it in 1993 or '94), and the A train's Rockaway Boulevard-Lefferts Boulevard branch (rode that several years later). I post on Subchat as Express Rider, you can email me if you want at:
    Once again, great blog. Found your 9th ave. el pages several months ago - very well done!