Too busy to read? Link to podcast at the end of this post
It’s like this. I’ve got a stack of matzo, wine glasses, six colored eggs and a bunny on my dining room table. Add a Hagaddah and a hymnal and the picture of our ecclesiastical schizophrenia is complete. It’s a condition my daughter aptly named EastOver–that confluence of Easter and Passover where it’s OK to eat Peeps but not bread. That’s our family. As Marisa Tomei memorably squawked in “My Cousin Vinny,” “like you blend!” We do.
Most years each holiday gets its own due. Typically Passover starts before Easter and we do the traditional seder. My Episcopalian wife makes her sublime matzoball soup..a fact that royally ticked off my late, Jewish, mother who demanded her secret. “Just follow the directions on the box,” my wife deadpanned. I always feared that once Protestants figured this out, beyond my kitchen, they would co-opt the dish, the holiday and take credit for conjuring up the potent agent of constipation.
I always enjoyed the seder, even when I was very young and Passover tradition was held at my maternal grandparent’s apartment in Flatbush. My grandmother Perlberg was calm and gracious and made these killer french fries in the oven that were joyously greasy and crunchy. My grandfather insisted on reading the Passover story in Hebrew even though he spoke not a word. Indeed, every passage came out as “zummmmmzummmzummmcha!”” Sometimes he would nod off in the middle of the story which didn’t please us because it only delayed getting to the big meal, which was generally roast turkey and those rock-hard fries. We often were told the Last Supper, noted by Christians was probably what we were served because we were convinced Jesus actually died choking on a hard, greasy fry. The cross thing was just to cover up for the cook.
Which brings us to Easter. My wife has a deft touch when decorating the house for every holiday. For the Resurrection she exhumes a host of colorful, sparkling eggs and they rise to hover over us from various light fixtures. This not only adds the bright hues of Spring and hope to the house, it provides a reminder that between Easter and Passover ….eggs suffer from a high mortality rate.
We always enjoyed creating fun Easter baskets for the kids, stuffing them with toys and candy, which invariably led to the question, “hey mommy and daddy, what’s this stuff have to do with a guy going down then coming back up and what does the word ‘Easter’ mean?” Our explanation centered on the joy of the season and happiness that a very important person got a second chance… and our awesome dental insurance. No, I do not know what the word “Easter” means although I suspect it’s a Welsh interpretation of the word “Cadbury.”
The way we handle the confluence of Easter and Passover pretty much mirrors our even-handed approach to the intersection of Christmas and Chanukah, as I explained in the 2016 post “Holiday Turf War.”
It’s nice to see how our now, adult kids respect the different celebrations and beliefs, while hedging their spiritual bets. After all, you don’t want to put all your eggs.. matzoh or Easter, in one basket.
(link to podcast version at bottom)
No, this has nothing to do with Woody or Buzz. It has everything to do with red ink, Chapter 11 and the loss of places parents could rely on to be tortured by their children.
In other words, it’s sort of sad, but not in an Old Yeller way. The only guns shoot water or air and nothing dies but mom and dad’s sanity.
What’s sparked this HO-sized train of thought is the news that Toys R Us is liquidating. Yes..every Barbie, Monopoly set, pop gun, billion-pack of Pampers, two-wheeler, three-wheeler, Big Wheeler, doll house, swing set, bouncy ball, battery and jump rope..out the door at deep discounts before the giant toy chain closest its doors forever.
That news comes in the wake of the closing recently of beloved Detroit-area Doll Hospital and Toy Soldier Shop and who knows how many other independent toy stores around the country.
Yeah, sure, it’s cool for parents to find something their kids want by searching online or prowling the neighborhood Walmart, and probably spending less money, but what’s missing here is the chance for children..and sometimes adults… to be children. To explore the shelves of cool stuff, pick up a doll or ball or Super Soaker or puzzle and feel it, imagine what it would be like to actually own it and play with it and show it to your friends then beg your parents to buy it, pleading you just HAVE to have this or your life will instantly become meaningless.
My first recollection of going into a toy store was a little place in the line of stores pictured above on Union Turnpike and 248th Street in Queens, where I grew up. Stuck in a strip near a bar, booze shop and deli, It was called Mitchells. Yup. Owned by a guy named Mitchell. Wasn’t sure if it was his first or last name and didn’t care as long as the names he carried included Mattel and Remco and Parker Brothers and Hasbro, Lionel and Ideal and Gilbert. Mitchells wasn’t a big place. It was about the size of a small deli, only instead of pickles and pastrami his shelves were stuffed with toys of every kind. I hardly had more than a buck on me, a week’s allowance, when I’d pop into Mitchells. He knew all I could probably buy was a Tootsie Roll or some tiny water gun he sold for a nickel. Sometimes I’d buy a box containing a couple of rolls of caps for my toy Matt Dillon six-shooter. Bang! Bang! Bang! Those caps were awesome because most anything that made noise was awesome.
Mitchells lasted only a few years before he was bought out by a dry cleaner. How boring is that! But all wasn’t lost. A mile or two down Union Turnpike, just over the city line in Nassau County, was a cool place called Hush-a-Bye. It sold lots of furniture for children’s rooms, but the lower level was all toys. The coolest toys. Toys that wouldn’t fit in Mitchells’s small space. Knock hockey tables, elaborate electric train sets, all sorts of bikes, pogo sticks and Hula hoops. All it took was 20 cents to get on the bus, take it to the City Line stop and walk about three block to Hush-a-Bye. When you’re talking cool toys, that’s a small journey. My friends and I were almost always too broke to actually buy anything, but just plying the aisles of this new wonderland was entertainment in itself.
Fast forward to a time my older brother and I were in college. We decided to go into Manhattan and the flagship FAO Schwartz store where Tom Hanks jumped around on a giant keyboard in “Big.” We needed to buy a special toy for one of our cousin’s birthday. But we became hopelessly lost in the giant store, forgot our mission and started tossing around a football my brother picked up from one of the shelves. The other customers were smart enough to realize neither of us were adept at passing accurately…or catching the ball, for that matter and got the hell out of the way. The nonsense finally ended when a smartly suited salesman suggested we remove our sorry selves from the esteemed purveyor of playthings. Ha! We never did get around to buying that gift. The poor kid received a nice card and our best wishes.
By the time my two kids were born in the 1980’s my wife and I never forgot the wonder of exploring toy stores and let our son and daughter take all the time they wanted when we hit the neighborhood Toys R Us.
The stores sold these big plastic playhouses and had the samples lined up like little Levittowns in a center aisle. Our kids would check out every one of them and, like adult lookie-loos, would advise us of which one best suited their dreams. One year we actually bought on of them. It sat in a special corner of our basement and the kids filled it with balloons…naming the plastic cottage the Balloony Goony House. They had a lot of fun in it until they outgrew the three-foot high doorway and we sold it to our neighbors at one of our garage sales.
Maybe it’s true today’s kids would rather bang on a keyboard, fry their eyes gaping at one screen or another or perform every task on their little phones…just like adults. As Joni Mitchell wrote, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” but I hate to think of a time when kids never know of places where fun, exploration, surprise and discovery were were right out there. Not online on a screen. But right there…to touch and see…sitting on shelf..and shipping was always free..because it came home with you, in your parent’s car.
There are several ways to figure out who a person really is, but to me, the best and most reliable way is though that person’s music collection. Could be records, CDs, cassettes, even 8-tracks. I don’t wanna see their book shelves because some people buy the classics or high-minded tomes but never cracked the covers. It’s all pretentious bullshit. But a person rarely buys music and doesn’t listen to it. Doesn’t matter what the format is. They own the music and when the mood strikes for a particular song, artist or genre, just the right selection isn’t far away.
I especially love collections that aren’t all one genre or center on a few select artists. The more eclectic the better with oddball selections mixed in with the more popular choices. That tells me you’re a person who’s open to suggestion and are courageous enough to take a chance on music beyond the mainstream. All the same stuff? Ok..your choice but that tells me you’re neither creative nor an especially adept conversationalist.
So when reading a story in the The Detroit News today about the imminent death of the CD, and music on physical media in general, in favor of streaming, I’m fairly sickened. What am I gonna do, go into someone’s home, ask them to open their Spotify app and show me what they’ve been listening to? That sounds incredibly stupid, if not invasive. I wanna be able to discuss one’s collection. There are often great stories about how a person came to own a particular album, regardless of the medium. I can tell you I was 13 when the Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour was released. Too young to drive, so I rode my black Columbia two-wheeler, no gears, miles and miles from store to store until I found a copy. Then the bag with the album banged against my leg as I held it in my left hand while trying to hang onto the handlebars to steer the bike.
A guy in college was getting rid of all his record albums after (stupidly) converting them over to cassettes. I traded him an album by Mountain for the Stone’s “Let it Bleed.” I believe I did well for myself, but years later I was haunted by “Mississippi Queen” and re-bought the Mountain LP at an antique mall. Yeah..I could have streamed the song, but the deep cuts were just as satisfying and I wanted that album jacket on my shelf.
One of high school buddies was a nut for the guitar group, The Ventures. He had every album. I have of few from them as well, but Manny Hershkowitz was thoroughly hypnotized by them…especially by one of their biggest hits. In fact, it got a little obnoxious when, if you tried to rush Manny, he’d invoke the title every time, saying, “walk…don’t run.” Oy. What did that tell about Manny’s personality? Well…it predicted his future…as a school crossing guard.
Then there was Al Schmertz. He only collected comedy albums. Especially live performances. He had ‘em all. Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield. Couldn’t carry a tune. Ever. But he was awesome at saying, “thanks. you’ve been great.” We’d sit in his room listening to the laugh masters while eating his mother’s awesome homemade french fries. When it was time to leave, Al sent us off with an enthusiastic, “thanks..you’ve been great!”
I’ve never been the biggest music collector. I have a few hundred LPs as well as CDs. I digitized what few cassettes I had because it’s difficult to find a player and I trashed the few 8-tracks I owned because the quality was such garbage. If you came to visit me, you might be both impressed and appalled. From my college freshman year until five years after graduating, I was employed as a DJ at various radio stations in Central New York State and Arizona. You kinda get sucked in by what you’re playing and I succumbed to the zeitgeist and purchased several Barry Manilow albums and even Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits. They both still skulk on my shelf, but perhaps the shame of it will catch up to me one day. Barry will be banished to the Goodwill sack and Helen will be pitched into a pond early one Delta Dawn. I do own some strange stuff like the album by the “Masked Marauders,” a total hoax created by Rolling Stone magazine pitching it as a “supergroup” comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. Singing on the ersatz gem were some friends of the writers from Berkeley’s Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, whoever they are. But I have the record, and chances are you don’t.
I cherish my set of Laura Nyro LPs, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “Abandoned Luncheonette” by Hall and Oates. I own albums by comedy troupe Firesign Theater, a double LP of early live performances by Woody Allen before he became creepy. How about a live double LP from a rock festival in the early 70‘s in Puerto Rico called Mar y Sol, featuring, among others, Long John Baldry the Allman Brothers and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the album Carole King cut before “Tapestry,” called “Writer.”
I do own some 45’s including Fabian’s “Hound Dog Man” bought by my brother and a bunch of other singles that were sent to me by various record companies when I was a radio station program director, including this total oddball from actor George Segal called “What You Gonna Do When the Rent Comes “Round.” It was free. A target of opportunity. It’s not really half bad. Let’s not forget a bizarre Steve Martin platter called “What I Believe..A Patriotic Statement). I can only imagine. A needle hasn’t ridden its grooves since before the Bee Gees turned disco. Perhaps this means I was either very open minded… or tone deaf.
I know things change, and that’s fine. But I still comb used record…yes..record stores for vinyl or CDs that catch my interest and as long as I can find a rare live performance or long-forgotten collection, I’ll continue to add them to my collection. Because my collection is physical evidence, aside from some unfortunate stains, of what I’m all about. Plus, you’re not getting near my phone.
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