A Newark Love Story Part 1

by Ralph J. Chin


A Newark Love Story
Part 1

March 25, 1969

This is a true story of love that begins innocently enough on a cold winter’s night in the month of March. The setting is the Forest Hill section of North Newark, New Jersey. The story begins on an unusual late March night that was still cold enough to warrant the wearing of a heavy winter jacket and a thick set of your best thermal underwear. The night air was cold and dry. The sound of your footsteps off the cement sidewalks seemed to be deeper in tone and was probably due to the freezing of the moisture that was trapped in its pores. You could easily see your breath as you spoke because on this night, the weather had somehow defied its own traditional cycle and made it seem as though winter was here to stay.

It began with a smile and an instant attraction that was unmistakable. A young lady of Russian descent was instantly attracted to a young man with the unusual ethnic mix of Chinese and a dash of Irish on his mother’s side of the family. But they didn’t see themselves as pioneers crossing some forbidden racial boundary. To them, they were just another couple falling in love in a city called Newark. Nothing was ever mentioned between them about their ethnic backgrounds because their type of love saw nothing but the love in each others heart and that spoke volumes to them. This is not, however, a fairytale story of love where everything is perfectly neat and tidy with a happily ever after ending. Far from it, there were serious challenges to their relationship from the very start but this couple faced each and every of them together. Whatever the hardship, they stood together as one.
And so it began……….all those years ago.

Bingy’s Story

I was born in the Manhattan district of New York City but when I was just a baby, my family moved to New Jersey and I grew up playing in the streets of the Weequahic section of Newark. Bingy was a nickname given to me by my grandfather in an effort to overcome the dilemma of two people with the same name in the same family and living in the same house! How he came about picking that nickname I have no idea but it stuck and I grew up using it for family and friends. In school and eventually in work, I would use only my birth name for those purposes. We were the only Oriental family living on Clinton Place in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood but the neighborhood also had its pizzerias, so there were some good Italian families that were thrown into mixed also. It was just a great city neighborhood with tree lined streets, good schools and great people!

I remember three characteristics of my early childhood……being scared of the dark, crying because the Yankees had lost the World Series and growing up hating music because I thought that all musicians were sissies. I vowed that I would never be a sissy and that early life attitude prevailed until the Beatles and the Rolling Stones broke the music scene in the mid 1960’s. It was then that I started to pay attention and despite my childhood vow, I eventually did become a rock musician in my early high school years. I had gotten into the rock music scene in stages. First, I was wearing the clothing styles introduced by the new British bands, then I was talking the talk (Can you imagine an Oriental kid with a British accent in a Jewish neighborhood?!!) and finally I started playing the music that continues even today.

At the tender age of twelve I bought a cheap acoustic guitar from the neighborhood Italian kid who lived down the street and began learning guitar. It didn’t come easy to me and I really had to practice hard to become proficient enough to play the songs of that day. Many times I became so frustrated with it that in raging temper tantrum I told my Mother that I never wanted to see that guitar ever again and gave it away to her. But Mom knew me better than that. She kept it in her closet until finally, one day; I sheepishly asked her if I could have it back. I again attacked it anew but this time with a different attitude. I started taking private lessons at a music school that was located down on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Bergen Street. It was on the level above the ground floor and had an entrance on the side of the building. These lessons taught me how to sight-read a music score, play it on my guitar and improved my picking technique dramatically. My teacher would tell me how he played six-string guitar in one band and bass guitar in another so that he could stay busy along with his day job of teaching. After he saw the improvements in my playing, he suggested that I also take up the bass guitar. Even though I thought it was a good idea, I had other plans at the time and when I finally mastered the technique of playing barre chords really fast, I decided I was ready for my first rock band but college came first!

In 1966, I enrolled as a Music Major in college and did very well with my music theory classes in my freshman year. I also had to learn to play the piano as part of my prerequisites but unlike the guitar, I had no real love for that instrument and only learned it well enough to pass my music classes. When it came to ear training I couldn’t cut the mustard because of my hearing loss in both ears. It got harder and harder for me to keep up with my classmates and eventually I decided that I couldn’t be successful as a college educated musician. I decided to drop out of college and return home to Newark.

It was 1968 and not yet the Age of Aquarius. My first rock band was just a bunch of neighborhood kids sneaking beer and getting drunk. Occasionally, we’d actually play some Beatles or Rolling Stones music to keep ourselves entertained in an empty garage or an unused basement that was so common in Newark. I was ambitious enough to quit that first band and started to hang out in downtown Newark near the Rutgers University campus where a lot of the college musicians congregated. The campus was more like a big parking lot than a field of grassy knolls with trees that you see so often in the college brochures.

Then everything changed when Jimi Hendrix hit the scene with “Purple Haze”. I went out and bought a Gibson EBO bass guitar just to be able to play the bass line in “Purple Haze”. The Fender basses were my first choice but I found that their fret scales were just too large for my small hands. Besides, I thought the sound of the Gibson EBO pickups had a lot more “bass”. I eventually would own the premier bass amp of the time, an Ampeg SVT with 300 watts of power. It was enough to create a wall of sound that became an addiction to me. I fell in love with the bass playing concept and became, what I thought, was a really good bass player.

In the downtown Newark Rutgers scene there weren’t many serious musicians and the talent level varied greatly. It wasn’t hard to say no to the guys that could hardly play a barre chord in any position and then I met a group of guys who definitely had talent but no ambition. But despite their lack of this vital ingredient, I audition for them and was accepted into their band as a bass player. My fondest memory from that time was when I was playing a college fraternity gig at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was break time but instead of taking a break, I got up there on the mini stage and started to jam on my bass guitar and brand new SVT amp by myself. The next thing I knew there was a bunch of people around me getting into what I was playing. I didn’t realized they were even there until I was more than halfway through this creative outburst because I was playing with my eyes closed, standing in front of my bass amp and feeling the bass pounding through my body. I was feeding my addiction and bringing along some people at the same time. It was a good time!

The Love of My Life

It was all because of my musical interests that I came to meet a pretty hot young lady by the name of Denise. I had been at band practice in downtown Newark going over our intro/break song when one of the guys mentioned that there was this place called the Grotto that had a lot of people going to it over in the North Newark area. The Grotto was a church basement that was letting the neighborhood kids hang out and play their rock music at night. No dope, no sex and no wild parties. Just rock music played loud the way we liked it…cool!

Our band’s practice hall was actually an empty storage place that was rented out by our guitar player’s college fraternity for their parties, meetings and the like. It was atop one of the backstreet stores not far from the Rutgers campus and just up the street from the Down Under café that was so popular back then. It was Saturday night so I decided to check this Grotto place out since I had to drop my keyboardist off at his house and the Grotto was less than a quarter mile from there. After dropping him off, I drove up the street and made a left on Park Avenue. I parked my trusty little blue six cylinder ’65 Rambler American car on one of the side streets that connected Park Avenue with Bloomfield Avenue and walked to the entrance of the Grotto with my bass guitar case in hand.

It was then that I saw Denise for the first time. Little did I know that my whole life would change because of her! She was sitting there alone on the steps of that little church being cold in the winter. A Navy Pea jacket was doing a poor job of keeping her warm and she was wearing blue denim bell bottom jeans that were all the rage at the time. The combination of the two made her look really hip but you could tell she was also very cold. Her hands were thrust deeply into the pockets of her jacket and she was crunched over trying to stay warm. She turned to look at me as I approached and smiled. I immediately said “Hi” because my hot chick radar was beeping furiously and telling me she was real babe. Long, beautiful dirty blonde hair with gorgeous eyes and lips that took my breath away. Even though I was stunned by her beauty, I talked to her for a little bit and asked her to come inside while I jammed on my bass guitar. She refused because she was waiting for some friends to give her a ride home and so I very reluctantly left her sitting there. I entered the Grotto in a daze, I was thinking about how special I thought Denise was and after a few minutes, I realized where I was and yes, the Grotto was everything it was stacked up to be! To my surprise, I didn’t observe any church elders that usually chaperone these types of events. I imagine there was someone there but it must have been a very young priest because it was a young crowd as far as my eyes could see. All in all it was a pretty cool place! I jammed for about half an hour and had a good time. No one knew each other so it was a pretty basic jam with three chords that were played over and over again.

When I came out, Denise was still sitting on the steps so I decided to talk to her some more. She was so friendly and she had this beautiful smile that hypnotized me. We talked about the kind of music we both liked and eventually I got up enough nerve to ask her for her phone number. To my surprise, she gave it to me! I was so bewildered by my good fortune and wanted to talk to her at length but then her friends finally showed up so I said a quick goodnight and thought about her all the way home. I called her the next day to make a date and for the next greatest surprise of my life she accepted. Lucky me, I was definitely floating on cloud nine!

The next day when I finally found her apartment on Verona Avenue in North Newark, I was so nervous that I could hardly talk to her. But Denise put me at ease very quickly by making me laugh; she was so very good at that and from there on in, we were totally relaxed in each others company. We got along very well. We talked, we laughed, we did things together with a grace that many older couples had trouble doing. I found it quite natural to kiss her in public and to show her my affection wherever we went or happened to be. I didn’t know why she was attracted to me and I felt so very lucky to be dating her. She never mentioned my ethnic background but just accepted me for who I was. Whatever it was that she saw in me, I thanked the good Lord that I had it many, many times over.

After that first date, I courted her almost every day and quickly fell deeply in love with her. She always returned my affection and we would steam up my car windows after every date as I dropped her off at home. We went every where together and were virtually inseparable. My little Rambler had its work cut out for it because Denise lived in the Forest Hill section of North Newark whereas I resided in the Weequahic section. These sections were almost at the total opposite ends of the city and it took at least three quarters of an hour or more depending upon traffic to drive from my house to hers. Gas was not a problem back then because it was less than $.30 a gallon for regular and at that price; I saw more of North Newark during our dating period than anyplace else! I genuinely liked North Newark and as Denise would say, “It was home to all things Italian” and it even had a rumor of a reputed Mafioso boss living amongst the common people!

It turned out that Denise was the type of person who attracted some loyal friends and her friends became my friends. I remember going to a lot of parties and visits to her friend’s houses as she showed me off to everyone. She was so honestly in love with me and proud of me at the same time. I was so completely honored that this beautiful young woman would be attracted to me that I could not think of anybody else but her. In the first few months of our courtship I decided that I would be a patient lover and let our love grow naturally despite the raging hormones of the teenage years!

I was working at a two bit job and still playing in a band at night. I would drag Denise to band practice so that I could spend some time with her but eventually learned that she was bored to death of listening to the same songs over and over again. So I set her free of this drudgery and let her mingle with her friends. Then, one day, I decided to take the day off from work after a particular late night practice. I was tired of going into a job that I hated. Besides, I’m sure they wouldn’t miss me for a day! I slept late and was awoken by a knock on my bedroom window. I shook the sleepyheads out of eyes and looked out the window. There she was, my girl Denise! She had surprised me by taking the day off from Barringer High School which was near Branch Brook Park and had taken a bus all the way over to my house. It was over an hour bus ride for her. I couldn’t believe it! I let her in and she flew into my arms. I kissed her and quickly ushered her into the house. I was still living with my family at the time and they were dutifully working at their respective jobs so we had the entire house to ourselves. We spent the entire day laughing, talking, listening to music and making out! It was an unbelievably happy day that I would relive in my memories for many, many years to come!

The first trauma of our relationship came about when Denise and I were involved in an accident that required a visit the local hospital’s emergency room. I was extremely upset that she was hurt and wanted to be with her to comfort her but that was not to be, we were separated and taken to our respective homes. The very next day I was over at her house to take care of her. I was afraid to even kiss her at this time but I did and her lips were soft and full of the love that she held for me. The days went by and Denise healed quickly. I remember that I was by her side caring for her almost every minute in the days following our accident. I felt very close to her and I could sense her deep attachment to me, it was the best of love and I cherished it.

When Denise got called down to juvenile hall because of the accident, I was right there beside her to protect her. I was ready to accept all blame for what happened by myself. It was then that we met this flag waving idiot of a women that tried to belittle Denise in front of me because of the circumstances of the accident until I spoke up and told her she had no right to say those things. I said it loud enough for everyone in the area to hear it and this woman never said another word to us because I turned a lot of heads with my outburst. In retaliation, she took it upon herself to press charges, fingerprinted me and succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of both of us. When she put me in a holding cell, it was then that I requested a phone call and broke the news to my mother.

My Mom was very calm about the whole thing and took time off of work to get me out of that place. While she was there, she began to turn the wheels of justice almost immediately in my favor, it was amazing. A lawyer was hired to represent me but Mom’s attitude towards Denise was all wrong. Denise wasn’t the enemy and after a short while, I said “Mom, no. I love her”. She looked at me with a quizzical look on her face and then said “Okay” My older sister got into the fray by acting as a go between with my mother and the lawyer. My Mother had so many calls from this woman’s desk that she finally gave up her seat to my Mother. I believe her comment was “Mrs. Chin might as well work here!” Hours later, we were finally released and much to my dismay, we were separated again until our court appearance was required. I remember that both of us were scared to the bone. What did we do wrong? All we were guilty of was being in love with each other and being in an accident together, since when were you punished for that? And why punish us both? Why not just me? These things raced through my head as I stood numbly in the area outside the courtroom. I managed to catch Denise’s eyes and though she was too far away to hear me, I manage to mouth the words “I love you” to her. She smiled that famous smile of hers and said it back to me. I knew then that we were going to be alright.

When we were called into the courtroom, I remember that it was so small that it didn’t impress me nor did it scare me. I stood by silently as the judge address Denise and her mother. Her Mother refused to press charges against me but wanted to make sure that Denise’s juvenile record would remain clear. Her Mother wasn’t the sharpest person on the earth but I could tell that she did care for her. The dialog was not all that discernible to me but I do remember Denise saying at one point to her Mother “Leave him alone!” What a brave soul my girl was to speak up like that to not only her Mother but to the judge. You must remember that this was 1968 and not your present day attitudes coming into play. My lawyer was almost invisible to me. He never spoke to me and said very little to the judge and I wondered what we were paying him for, he hardly did anything! This fiasco ended with the court recommending probation for both of us. There was also a mentioning of putting Denise into juvenile hall and that absolutely scared the living hell out of Denise. I remember my heart went out to her as we examine the possibility of that happening. She told me she couldn’t handle it, those girls in juvenile would beat her silly! I could tell she very scared so I called my lawyer and asked him why this was happening. The lawyer explained to me that he had presented the case to the courts so that it favored me since he was representing me and not her. What could I do? I was fuming mad but decided to talk it over with our probation officer.

It turns out that our probation officer was barely out of college and I estimated him to be at the most 24 years old. His name was Dan and lucky for us, Dan was on the verge of becoming a real hippy himself. He enjoyed my artwork with day glow paint that came alive under my black light and took a genuine liking to both Denise and I. We, in turn, liked him. He could not believe the city would waste their time and money on our case especially when neither family was pressing charges against each other. He asked us “Who filed the charges?” We told him that it was some woman in the juvenile hall. He scoffed at that and dismissed her as an overzealous public servant. It was obvious to him that we loved each other and so our time reporting to him became more of a friendly visit than anything else. When asked about the juvenile hall possibility for Denise, he said absolutely not and not to worry about it. Thus, we were free once more to love and enjoy each other.

As time went on, Denise showed me such love and devotion despite the circumstances that it was beyond all comprehension to me at the time. I knew her love for me was very special. She was a gentle, loving soul even though a lot of times I wasn’t. She would overlook my faults with eyes of love and taught me a lot about being in love and being totally committed to a relationship. We were so compatible that when we took a nap together, we would fall asleep in each other’s arms and woke up in the same basic position even though we had shifted our bodies during our nap, we had moved as one in our sleep. It never ceases to amaze me when I think of it. When you go through something like this and you care about the person, you spend many hours of sharing your soul just by talking and being honest with each other. In the end, we formed a bond that would prove to be unbreakable in the ultimate test of time.

The major event of our young lives was called “Woodstock”. I don’t remember who told us about it but I remember all our friends were planning to attend this event. Some of our favorite groups were appearing and I remember being really excited about it. Denise and I quickly decided that we were definitely going despite what her mother and family had to say about it. I was probably the only person in Newark to buy tickets for all three days and proudly displayed them to all our friends. Gosh, it felt so ultimately cool to have those tickets and it still does!

We both were at Yasgurs’ farm in 1969 in the month of August for three wild and rocking days at the historic rock music event called Woodstock. My friends and I were experienced campers but by the time we got to Woodstock it was totally dark, us city folks had no idea that there would be no moon for this night in the cow pastures! So we pulled our vehicles over to the side of the road and slept in our cars, on the ground and anywhere else we could find a spot for our sleeping bags that was considered safe. The next morning we established our campsite on a hill that was behind the stage. It was then that the public address system on the stage started to play some Crosby, Stills and Nash music. Some of our friends rushed down the hill to see if it was an actual performance but when they saw no one on the stage, they realized that it was just recording.

Denise was my constant companion at Woodstock and when someone would offer me some drugs that I didn’t really want to experience, I would explain to them that my woman was my high and that I didn’t need anything else but thanks anyway. They almost always laughed and said “That’s cool!” But what they didn’t know was that I was serious, Denise was the greatest high of my life.

After Woodstock was over and done with, we went back to the site a couple of months later with a close friend and marveled at how they were able to clean it all up! We revisited our campsite, the stage area and the lake where we saw a lot of naked bodies in and out of the water. Denise was very adamant that I not go naked and if I did, I would be looking for another girlfriend! Needless to say I kept my pants on to appease the love of my life. I thought she was really funny when she said that but she was serious so there was nothing more to be said!


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