It couldn't have happened this fast, but
the evidence is overwhelming. I suppose I should have expected it,
but the years slip by, and suddenly you find yourself face-to-face
with the inevitable. You and your friends are getting older, and
what you remember of youth recedes inexorably into the far past,
incomprehensible to today’s youth--but the best memories remain
warm and green, captured in fragrant, fuzzy-edged, summer evenings……….
I know Kenny so long, I cannot remember not knowing him. It's
a scary thought not being able to remember anything before him;
but that's the hand I was dealt, and have played for more than 5
decades now. I'll guesstimate our friendship to have started in
kindergarten in Abington Avenue Grammar School in good old Newark.
If pressed to put a year to it, I’d say 1954.
Our childhood was mundane, no stand-out episodes or seminal moments.
That changed with puberty. By high school Kenny and myself, along
with Jim and Dennis were a tight group that walked to Barringer
High every day and convened usually at Ken’s house afterwards
to sing, goof around, and make up comedy routines and do a little
creative "schtick". Ken's fellow guitarist Tony rounded
out the group.
We sang often in the St. Francis choir, much to the chagrin of
our kindly organ master, as he was at that time totally unsympathetic
to having Gregorian chant performed in 4 part harmony-although several
1960s era priests, flush with the spirit of ecumenical experimentation,
felt we might be on to something. Our singing style, along with
those pioneering priests, did not endure for long.
Ken was and remains a dedicated and talented guitarist, but the
old boy couldn't get past algebra for nothing. It was during this
academic show-stopping epiphany that he conceived of a master stroke.
He would teach me guitar and I would teach him algebra, and thus,
both our souls would be saved. I believe I had the better part of
the bargain as I can still fumble out a song on the old string-box,
but alas, poor Ken probably cannot solve for "x" the unknown.
Yet, he plays like a virtuoso still. Life can be interesting in
the way it doles out skills and talents.
About this time, we all learned to drive. Our collective ability
to wreak havoc on the streets of Newark exponentially increased.
Any resemblance between the cars that Ken owned and the rest of
the vehicular population was at best serendipitous. Not one of his
early models could have been said to have had any color. The paint
was so badly faded on all of them, that they can best be categorized
as "dull". No other description can suffice. Their running
condition was equally suspect.
When they ran at all, their ability to remain as such was a constant
concern. They were strictly intermittent, with long periods of rest--generally
a neighborhood car that could be pushed back home for a quick nap.
I noticed early on that Ken’s cars had a propensity to sweat.
All his car batteries were third hand, and tires almost always
bald. Our best record of a tire change, and we had plenty of practice,
was just under 2 minutes; and that includes driving off a jack that
had become hopelessly jammed. The flat tire was so badly mauled
that woven cotton fabric was showing through the blowout hole. In
fact as I remember the episode, there was no blowout bang as we
had come to expect. The tire just let out a great “whoosh”
and began “flap-a-dapping”. Never let it be said that
Ken didn’t get his money's worth out of tires. His trunk or
station wagon back was always filled with more “baldies”,
mounted on battered rims and ready to meet their fate.
There was the time we attempted to fix the radio in his old Plymouth
station wagon. Soon after my inspirational removal and temporary
fix of his radio, we were passing by St. Francis, when smoke began
curling out of the dashboard. A noxious odor quickly filled the
already overfilled vehicle. Coming to a panic halt, the doors flew
open and a rapid exit of the vehicle ensued, amid coughing and cursing…..
aimed at yours truly-aspiring electrical engineer and master electronics
wizard. Damn vacuum tubes will get you every time if you don't watch
out. A quick and vicious tear out of several wires solved the problem,
rendering the old vehicle void forever of any audio entertainment.
There is always a price to be paid I suppose. Little harm done anyway
as Kenny's car never stayed running long enough to hear a complete
song anyway. We sang in the car ourselves most of the time.
A most memorable moment I savor is the time Ken's blue station
wagon became stuck on Bloomfield Avenue. Jim borrowed his Dad's
welding truck and there we attempted to push start Ken's pride and
joy. By now, he had started buying cars that actually had a color,
and insisted we use a heavy blanket on the truck bumper to preserve
his paint job. So we did, and with a mighty groan, the old welding
truck heaved that Ford along the avenue. Ken popped the clutch and
amidst a roar that still reverberates in my psyche, a huge cloud
of rust colored smoke heralded Ken's explosive ignition. Several
then pregnant women claim to this day they went into labor at that
very moment. I distinctly remember a tongue of flame emanating from
the tailpipe of his trusty “Belchfire V-8” engine as
he achieved Worp Factor 2 just in front of the old Stadium Bowling
I got into more late night trouble with Ken than any other friend
I had. No matter where we went, somehow I ended up coming home late
due to a car problem or some other complication. But the years now
in-between impetuous youth and fatherhood have worn the edges off
those gnarly late-night encounters with my parents.
I am forever indebted to the old boy for putting me back in touch
with a girl I now call my wife of 25 years. That’s a whole
‘nuther story folks.
Just a few weeks ago, Kenny e-mailed me to say his son’s
wife had delivered a bouncing baby boy, destined no doubt like his
proud son to also play the guitar. He tells me he and his son already
play mini concerts for the little tyke. Rock-a-bye rhythm is what
the little guy will remember.
It’s a long way from those streets of Newark, and our old
stomping grounds around Bloomfield Avenue and St. Francis. I’ll
bet Kenny is looking back now too, trying to figure out where all
the time went. Perhaps I’ll give the old boy a call. Maybe
remind him of the afternoon his Mom’s refrigerator chased
us down a flight of stairs when it slipped out of our hands during
a house move. Or the New Year’s Eve Mass we sang, slightly
high on some celebratory beer, our own version of holy water.
Congratulations Ken !
May you have many more little grand kids to tell our stories to.