Whammer Jammer

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Little used for the better part of a decade, we called it Godwin, the 1980 Oldsmobile Brougham Sedan that my Dad signed-over as a wedding present. And once the lines and hoses had been checked, the gaskets replaced, the front plate – that said Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren – set aside, it was the perfect vehicle for an awesomely harrowing commute.

Paying the price in worn rotors, ball joints and brake pads, Godwin made it through two metropolitan rush hours each day, from Old Town Alexandria, south of Washington, to Hunt Valley, north of Baltimore, in around 90 minutes. Put to music with an immense 7-Eleven coffee in your cup holder, it’s not hard to imagine Magic Dick (J. Geils’ harmonica player) riding shotgun on any given weekday in the fall of ’88.

First you cruise south down the George Washington Parkway, then east on the Capital Beltway over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then, foot-decisively-on-gas, you exit for that topsy-turvy, white knuckle ride up the shoulderless Anacostia Freeway through notorious – as in the highest murder rate in America and lately they’ve been favoring automatic weapons – Southeast Washington, DC.

Bumpy, poorly maintained, occasionally desolate, you get used to it. It’s the most direct route and at least the morning drive isn’t in the dark. Soon enough you’re driving north on Kenilworth Avenue into leafy P.G. County, while the rest of the world heads south, then over the Capital Beltway and onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

In an age before texting (and barring the occasional idiot) it’s full-bore fast-lane sailing for another 30 miles until Godwin crosses under the Baltimore Beltway and, with the Bromo-Seltzer Tower dead ahead, into the very heart of Charm City. Someday this cluttered expanse around Russell Street will feature Oriole Park and M&T Stadium, but today it’s simply the Camden Industrial Park.

Time to pay attention. Right at the light onto Pratt, past the Inner Harbor, left on Gay, right on Baltimore Street, then left onto the elevated Jones Falls Expressway. Now go ahead and mash that thing. Chewing up the 10 miles of JFX pavement in 7 ½ minutes is a cinch as long as you brake before the Beltway. That’s where the Troopers lie in wait.

Go east for an exit, then north for another three, up the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway to Shawan Road and your destination, Executive Plaza III just off the ramp. Sixty-five miles on and totally amped, your day’s work awaits you, as does your evening commute.

Released in 1971, Whammer Jammer is the second track off the J. Geils Band’s second album, The Morning After. Little wonder that it’s far more enduring than poor Godwin.

When we traded it in a few years later, I asked the salesman what they’d do with it. “I dunno,” he shrugged. “Probably a demolition derby…” Never mind the grandkids. That car was a whammer-jammer to the end.

Home is wherever I’m with you

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Time is an ever-sliding puzzle. You piece together what you can in hopes that everything will fall into place, before it all slips away.

Having pieced together a continuing hodgepodge of permits and visas, such was my seventh year abroad. At long last I was on track for permanent UK residency. Just a couple more years as a self-employed writer and I could broaden my vocational horizons and forever remain. That was the plan.

As I’d discovered during my first time back in the States, home as I knew it no longer was. That world had moved on without me, and me without it.

Of course it was wonderful to see friends and family (who even expressed interest in my stories and pictures) but an odd melancholy soon replaced the novelty of this prodigal’s return. I was a marginal man, a cultural misfit suspended between two societies, who needed to get away. Not that I wasn’t also a misfit in England (still flew Old Glory on the 4th of July) but England was home.

Nowadays I lived in a South London terrace house with close friends who had a room to let. Residing on the third floor like some beatnik cousin the party never stopped, much to my liver’s dismay. Decidedly libertine at times, surprisingly genteel at others, it was some kind of life, with weekends in the country, holidays on the Continent, and evenings at the Lamb & Flag with the best mates there ever were.

Granted, some months were more flush than others. While the growing collage of rejection slips plastered to my wall (for unsolicited manuscripts) served as a colorful conversation piece, there were times when the random £100 payments for contract work barely covered rent, groceries, and enough paraffin for the heater to keep my typewriter keys from sticking in the cold of winter.

No matter, just a couple more years and I’d be home free. Then I met Linda.

Bright, lively, the very embodiment of the winsome girl-next-door, I first saw her across the floor at a wedding reception in New England of all places. Straightening out my consignment shop jacket and tie, I ventured over and struck up a conversation, which miraculously led to a date. She came for a visit in April, and a longer one in July, and now we were tangled in a crazy, long-distance relationship. “She’s got brains and beauty,” chided a friend. “What she sees in you I’ll never know.”

When thousands of miles of ocean and half a dozen time zones separate you, new love ain’t easy. In those pre-Skype/pre-Internet days all we had – barring an exorbitant international trunk call – were words on paper to pull us through. Here are a few excerpts from my end:

…It’s the morning after the great Thanksgiving celebration and I’m scratching my head all the way to Strasburg …I, Winslow Pettingell, have a HANGOVER! It went well, everyone had enough to eat and we were all able to shift ’round to more important things… like drinking. Though I cruised through the party with my usual “big boots” something was amiss this year. Friends noticed, couldn’t believe it; I tried to hide it (reputation and all) but my mind and heart were somewhere else… across the pond… with you….

 …Pity you missed the recent weather we’ve been having. There’s nothing on earth like a balmy day here in the Home Counties. The assuaging effect is magic. Now the roses are out in time for your return. With any luck the vegetables in the garden will be ready as well…

 …This is in response to the void in my heart whenever I walk past the flower lady and realize there’s nobody to buy a bunch of mums for…

Thirty years on, it’s plain to see where things were going, and by now there was only a year to go for that permanent residency. She promised she’d wait… but what did that mean? A change in my immigration status wasn’t going to change hers.

Despite a Stateside visit and a New Year’s in Dublin, the future remained uncertain. No demands were made, but romantic relationships are based on intimacy and growth. If you can’t evolve and build memories together, you eventually evolve apart.

I wasn’t afraid of commitment, not with Linda, but giving up these friends and this life would spell the end of a looooooong adventure. To complicate matters she’d been offered a new position down in Washington and … ever wonder how to make an impossible decision? Try changing your perspective.

With the slightest of tweaks the way was suddenly clear. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her, and Washington, DC could be a grand adventure for the both of us. True, abandoning this hallowed home would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but just what is “home” anyway?

Home is where you’re safe and can be yourself. Home is where know you belong. Home, in other words, was wherever I was when I was with Linda. And I’ve been there ever since.

 Home

Released in 2010 as a single from their album, Up from Below, this particular concept of Home was written and recorded (with Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos sharing vocals) by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my Ma and Pa
Not the way that I do love you
Well, holy moly me oh my
You’re the apple of my eye
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you
Man, oh, man, you’re my best friend
I scream it to the nothingness
There ain’t nothing that I need
Well, hot and heavy pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy, Jesus Christ
Ain’t nothing please me more than you
[Chorus:]
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
La la la la
Take me home
Mama, I’m coming home
I’ll follow you into the park,
Through the jungle, through the dark
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you
Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
Alleyways, and payphone calls
I been everywhere with you (that’s true)
Laugh until we think we’ll die,
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you
And in the streets you run afree,
Like it’s only you and me,
Geez, you’re something to see.
[Chorus]
La la la la
Take me home
Mama, I’m coming home
‒ Jade?
‒ Alexander?
‒ Do you remember that day you fell outta my window?
‒ I sure do‒you came jumping out after me.
‒ Well, you fell on the concrete, nearly broke your ass, and you were bleeding all over the place, and I rushed you out to the hospital, you remember that?
‒ Yes, I do.
‒ Well, there’s something I never told you about that night.
‒ What didn’t you tell me?
‒ Well, while you were sitting in the back seat smoking a cigarette you thought was gonna be your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you, and I never told you ’til just now!
[Chorus]
Home, let me come home,
Home is wherever I’m with you
Our home, yes, I am home,
Home is when I’m alone with you
Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my Ma and Pa
Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
Alleyways, and payphone calls
Home is when I’m alone with you!
Home is when I’m alone with you

 

 

‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around

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If you’re in the right place sometimes the world will revolve around you. In 1987 that was certainly my impression of the Blake Building in downtown DC. Rising above the Farragut North Metro Station, 1025 Connecticut Ave and its environs offered a perpetual brush with history.

It was the year of Broadcast News and the lunchtime pavement teemed with those who delivered the news – rumpled newsman David Brinkley for instance – and those who made it, such as Robert Bork. Nominated to the Supreme Court in July, by summer’s end rejection seemed imminent – as confirmed by his sullen expression while waiting for a ride.

This was also the summer of the Iran-Contra Scandal and during a quick nosh at Duke Zeibert’s across the street (that chicken-in-a-pot special of theirs ruined two of my favorite ties) I saw Colonel Oliver North’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan (“I’m not a potted plant. I’m here as the lawyer”) genially seated by… a potted plant.

As for Ollie himself, he was much slighter without the medals and ribbons. We’d regularly share an elevator in the Blake Building, where his offices were a few floors above mine. But while I churned out trade magazine pieces on a Canon Typestar 110 (“the latest in typewriter development”) and dreamed of the day when my company would spring for a DOS word processor, he and his fellow defendants were up there examining classified government documents with “tempest tested” spy-proof computers.

From an historical perspective, perhaps the most thrilling episode was when Soviet Premier Michael Gorbachev’s motorcade screeched to a halt on its way to the White House, right outside my window, and a smiling “Gorby” stepped out of his boxy ZIL limousine to shake hands with the crowd. I caught that one on camera.

Still, from a personal perspective, nothing compares to a revelation about a colleague in the office.

As writer and editor, I rarely got a chance to mingle with those in advertising sales. Then one day we were forced to evacuate our building. Whether it had something to do with the goings-on upstairs or the Secret Service field office discreetly located across the street, someone called in a threat and there went the next few hours.

Dapper, in his early 70s, and with an indiscernible accent, word had it that Ilya was a retired biochemist who spoke seven languages and had taught at Oxford. Intrigued, I suggested a cup of coffee down the street. “Oh I taught there for years,” he said, “and I still maintain a healthy income from patents on my soybean fermentation process, but Winslow, it’s important to keep your mind active. That’s why I’m here.”

I mentioned that I’d lived in England myself. “There are still some things to attend to in London, so my girlfriend, Linda and I are going back for a visit. But first we’re going to spend a few days in Paris, and (shhhh) I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“Of course you must propose in French.”

Since the one thing I can say in French is that I don’t speak it (Je ne parle pas Français) he grabbed a napkin and wrote out a little script, dropping by my office from time to time to see if I’d learned it by heart: Savez-vous pourquoi nous sommes ici? Je voudrais que tu sois ma femme (“Do you know why we’re here? I’d like you to be my wife.”).

It wasn’t quite how I’d have put it in English, but his was a more paternal generation and I didn’t have the wherewithal to soften it. I was therefore much relieved that producing a ring and phonetically reciting my script on the steps of Sacre Couer still resulted in a joyous, “Oui.” After we were married Linda and I moved to Toronto and I lost touch with Ilya.

Considering his age I wasn’t surprised to see that he’d died in 1995. What did surprise me however, was the astonishing number of Google listings his name brought up, starting with a 1949 issue of Life Magazine.

Entitled Mr. Lucky Has a Roman Holiday, there was an article about deported mobster, Lucky Luciano who shared a suite of rooms in one of Rome’s best hotels with a ballerina, Signora Igea Lissoni, and his “good friend Ilya, a onetime New York press agent” who was recuperating in bed after an auto crash … And there was Ilya, 40 years younger but eminently recognizable, being read to by the Godfather of Organized Crime.

Then there were the other assorted listings, mostly newspaper clippings, and it was with an increasingly jaundiced (though fascinated) eye that I worked my way through them.

Taking it all at face value one was to surmise that Ilya was born in London to parents who held Russian passports but were of English descent. As a violin prodigy at age eight, he toured Europe in concerts conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, and went on to study Philosophy at the Sorbonne.

By the mid-1930s, he was assistant conductor at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. Then he worked for a PR firm in New York, where he created a winning campaign for the Brazilian Coffee Import Bureau to convince Americans to drink more coffee.

In the decades that followed he was identified as a London-based music and stage director, the president of a major food processing company in Florida, an artist, a hotel/night club owner in Cozumel, a symphony composer, an Austin-based art promoter, a world-class chess tournament sponsor/organizer, a Washington-based auto dealer (in which he utilized his knowledge of Russian, Japanese, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese to sell Volvos to foreign diplomats), an Oxford professor and biochemist… C’est la vie.

At a time when truth and honesty have become increasingly elastic concepts it’s not hard for your garden variety cynic to separate what Ilya said he was from what he surely was – mobster, bon vivant, hotel/night club owner, art maven, car salesman, linguist, confidence man. I knew him when he was in advertising sales.

Whoever he was, his was an interesting journey and naturally I’m reminded of this Dean Kay/ Kelly Gordon song, most famously sung by Sinatra, who’d chummed around with Lucky Luciano himself, back in the day.

That’s Life

That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June

I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) that’s life
And I can’t deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shakin’ come here this July
I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die
My, my

 

 

These are the days…

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I came of age in our nation’s Bicentennial year. Celebrating with beloved friends and angels, I raised my glass to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which had recently granted 18 year olds the right to drink. If we were old enough to fight for our country, we were old enough to have a beer. But now the fighting was over, the draft abolished … it was a glad wrinkle in time.

It was also a time when people wrote letters and as a college freshman in Boston I maintained a lively correspondence with my sister in San Francisco.  Naturally the merest hint of an invitation was all it took to envisage myself rolling across the transcontinental pathway come summer like some latter day Woody Guthrie, or John Steinbeck, or Jack Kerouac…

Working double shifts in the dining hall,  I found a posting on the Student Union ride board.   Ella and her friend, Shirley were going to Eugene, Oregon and wanted someone to split the cost and share the driving. “You know it’s over 500 miles from San Francisco, don’t you?”  Hey, it looked close enough on a map. Figuring to hitch that final leg I was ready to roll.

Written years later by Natalie Merchant and Robert Buck, and performed by 10,000 Maniacs on their album, Our Time In Eden – and as an alternative to its intended meaning about falling in love – for me this song captures a bit of the venturesome euphoria found in tying your dad’s old army duffel to the roof of a careworn Plymouth Duster, with $200 in your pocket and a head full of unlikely notions…

These are the days.
These are days you’ll remember. 
Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this. 
And as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. 
It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you. 
These are days you’ll remember. 
When May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in 
Every hour. 
You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. 
It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you. 
These are days. 
These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break. 
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face. 
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be. 
See the signs and know their meaning. 
It’s true, you’ll know how it was meant to be. 
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.

That $200 represented my life’s savings so I’d planned to economize by fasting the entire way – I also just wanted to see if I could do it – until Ella asked if we could stop at her grandparents’ house in Scranton for lunch. Second helpings of stuffed lamb chops and green beans made up for any lost time in my book, and I have yet to get back to that fast. Even better, the stuffed gorilla that had taken up half the back seat all morning had been a present for Ella’s niece. Now there was room to stretch out….

Back on the road I came to appreciate just how looooooong the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is and was happy to take the wheel somewhere north of Pittsburgh. Relaxing in the cozy space I’d established in back, Ella began to roll a joint. “You smoke right?” I explained how it mucked up my situational awareness, said I’d pass, and regaled them with past escapades. Plenty of time for that. Around sunset we pulled into a Motel 6 in Youngstown, Ohio, split the $9 fare three ways, and took our turns – 25 cents “for your comfort and relaxation” – on the Magic Fingers vibrating bed.

The next morning the girls felt ill after a Stuckey’s stop. Thankful not to have gone with the Breakfast Special, I put in a good 10 hours of driving through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and into Iowa when the ‘herb superb’ appeared again to “settle the queasiness,” and Shirley said she felt okay to drive. Immediately falling asleep, I woke up when the car slowed to a crawl. “Everything okay?” Shirley was bent over the wheel looking at the sky.

“They’re talking about tornadoes on the radio,” she was more intent on watching the clouds on the horizon than the road beneath us. Even I could see that the distant sky was taking on a greenish-yellow hue. But ‘distant’ was the optimal word. I offered to take the wheel, stepped on it, and we made it all the way to Council Bluffs.

This time we pulled into a Depression-era motor court with a chain of cabins, each with an open-faced garage. Seeing that they charged by the head I told Ella to stay down in back while Shirley and I went in to register, which didn’t endear us to the canny proprietor. “And what about the person hiding in your car?” Like sneaking into drive-ins, this was not a Boy Scout move.

That motor court, those Magic Fingers, even some of the route numbers are now gone, as is a time of life when price and novelty took precedence over comfort and new-fashioned amenity.

Geographically we hadn’t hit the halfway point, but with the eastern traffic behind us we could go farther faster and set our sites on Salt Lake City, Utah, a day’s drive from Eugene. We might have made it too, had it not been for a blowout somewhere around the chilly Great Divide in Wyoming. Of course changing the tire meant emptying the trunk and I was reminded why my duffel was on the roof.

“I see you’ve got a tent.” I’d replaced the tire and was repacking the trunk. “It’s getting dark. Why not camp here and get an early start in the morning?”

Ella loaned me her sleeping bag and the girls slept in the relative warmth of the car. As there were no stakes I anchored the tent with some ski boots. This was no Boy Scout move either, but it worked, until the tent collapsed under half a foot of snow. “Hey,” I banged on the windshield, “remember what I said about that early start?”

There was heavy snowfall around Salt Lake City and our last 400 miles were spent on a two-lane highway (Route 20) through the Cascades. But we rolled into Eugene with time enough for beer, pizza, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in the bungalow the girls were sharing with friends. Up early, I made a sign for SAN FRAN over a cup of coffee and hugged Shirley goodbye. Then Ella gave me a lift to the I-5 onramp, hugged goodbye and – such is the way of the road – that was the last I’ve heard of them.

Five hundred miles seems a lot further when you’re looking at a road instead of a map.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I hoisted my sign, certainly not the rusty ’55 Chevy Bel Air with balding tires that immediately pulled over. Driven by a no-nonsense hippie chick who told me to throw my duffel in the trunk, there were also a couple of guys in the car. “How far are you going?” I eased into the back seat.

“All the way to San Francisco,” said the driver. “This thing has a habit of stalling and I could use the extra help to pop the clutch. Looks like we’re okay this time,” she pulled onto the highway. The guy in front told me he was a musician, while the older, bearded guy next to me said he was a hobo who’d “been everywhere.”

Cruising along at 60 mph there was surprisingly little conversation, except after a couple of rest breaks when we each manned an open door and, “one, two, three, push,” got the car rolling fast enough for the driver to pop the clutch.

At one point my hobo compatriot opened a loaf of Wonder Bread he’d picked up at the last stop and offered me a slice. “This reminds me of when I was kid,” he breathed in the aroma before rolling the bread into a ball and eating it like a roll. “It builds strong bodies 12 ways ya ‘know. Ain’t nothin’ like Wonder Bread, especially with a nice cold glass of milk.”  …These are days you’ll remember…

The sun was setting as we pushed the car through the Bay Bridge tollbooth. “California here I am!” Hopping out near the waterfront I found a dive bar, ordered a beer, took a deep quaff, and called my sister from a pay phone on the wall. “We’ll meet you there,” she said. “Enjoy that beer, and just so you know, in California the drinking age is 21.”

 

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance…

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I suppose you could call this another ‘tale of the venturesome gene’ in which dopamine receptor DRD4-7R, renders those splendid drips of madness that impel a certain percentage of us to want to “ask the world to dance.” I’ve written in the past about its sudden appearance in the human genome about 40,000 years ago. But where did it come from? Well, amid many competing theories here’s what I think:

If you’re of Asian or European descent it’s widely accepted that your early ancestors wandered out of Africa some 50 millennia ago. Stirred by adverse conditions, this particular group of “proto modern” Homo sapiens crossed the Arab Peninsula into Persia and encountered their distant Homo neanderthalensis cousins along the way.

Contrary to popular portrayal, Neanderthals – who’d inhabited Europe and Asia for thousands of years –had larger brains than the humans. They also used advanced tools, buried their dead, painted pictures, crafted jewelry, cooked vegetables with their meat, and even created musical instruments, including a precursor to the bagpipes. What forced their displacement is unknown, but paleontologists speculate that rather than dying in battle they may simply have lost out to humankind’s superior ability to copulate-and-repopulate.

Which brings us to the key issue at hand, S-E-X. Unless you’re of pure African descent, you’ve got a spot ‘o Neanderthal DNA in ‘yer makeup. And whether it was a massive orgy between the species or, after a steamy midnight on the oasis we all share the same Neanderthal grandparent to the 250th degree, the results were like a shot of Vitamin B-12 for much of the human race.

Within a tick of the evolutionary clock the speed of cultural progress accelerated from 0 to 100 when, farther along the migration route in the steppes of Central Asia, the appearance of straight-limbed, Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) spelled the beginning of a “great leap forward.” Taller, sturdier, and more muscular than their human forebears, with broad, upright faces and a cranial capacity greater than ours today, these amped AMH ladies and lads were by far the most adaptive, resourceful beings the world had thus far seen.

Theirs was truly modern human behavior, which included an ability to innovate and plan, and a capacity for abstract thought. With this they invented the concept of time, which they measured in lunar phases. And amidst the waxing and waning of many a moon they invented agricultural techniques, domesticated animals, engaged in religious rituals, and created various forms of art.

Galvanized by advances in technology and especially language, and with a righteous abundance of physical and mental energy, their immediate descendants displayed all the hallmarks of that venturesome gene. Beset by an urgent desire to explore, some journeyed west to populate Europe; others east to inhabit much of Asia; and still others north through Siberia and across the Bering land bridge to settle the Americas.

As geneticists will tell you, the quickest way to acquire an adaptive biological advantage is through introgression, i.e. the transfer of genetic information from one species to another. Though the best-held opinion has it that the “great leap” was fueled by just such a genetic “transfer” somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, additional coupling in later generations is also a possibility.

Along with other hominids, Neanderthals continued to co-exist with our randy AMH ancestors for another 10 millennia, until their species finally died out in the caves of Gibraltar around 24,000 years ago. Ranging from 1 to 4 percent of our genetic makeup, how much of their DNA remains in us varies – personally I’m in the 94th percentile of 23andMe customers – as does its significance to our contemporary lives. A biological trait survives the natural selection process because it offers an adaptive strength, but not all traits are favorable at all times.

Say you’ve inherited a certain venturesome streak and the world you inhabit no longer finds it laudable to throw caution to the wind and act on a sudden flash of insight, or has little need for that restless yearning to explore new places, practices, foods, libations, ideas, opportunities, and relationships.

In that case perhaps you’ll empathize with the frenzied sentiments of Billy Idol and Tony James in a song first performed in 1979 by their band, Generation X.  Oh, and here’s to Petra, one of the best dance partners ever.  None of this “dancing with myself” stuff back when we were in high school.

Dancing With Myself

On the floors of Tokyo

A-down in London Town’s a go go

A-with the record selection,

And the mirror’s reflection,

I’m a dancin’ with myself

A-when there’s no one else in sight,

A-in crowded lonely night

Well, I wait so long for my love vibration

And I’m dancing with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

If I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

Well if I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing a-with myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

Oh, oh, oh, oh oh

Oh, oh, oh dancin’ with myself.

Oh, oh, dancin’ with myself, oh, oh,

Sweat, sweat, etc.

 

Phase One, In Which Doris Gets Her Oats

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I really pushed the envelope on this one. Trying to patch up a failing relationship meant skipping out of work and hitchhiking to Tel Aviv. As time would tell, our memories were “longer than the road that stretches out ahead,” but that evening I felt pretty good when I caught the last southbound bus. Well, felt pretty good about the two of us at least.

My livelihood was now in serious jeopardy. Work started at 6:00 a.m. No excuses. I couldn’t afford to be late and this bus would barely get me a third of the way to the Ovda airbase construction site. From there I was on my own.

It was after 11:00 p.m. when I finally caught a ride on the outskirts of Be’er Sheva.  Fortunately the guy had a lead foot. Unfortunately he was only going as far as Mitzpe Ramon and when he heard my intentions he did a double take. “Hitchhike through the makhtesh? Tonight? I advise you not to do that. We have a hostel, you should stay there.”

I had no choice. It was after midnight when – with a shake of his head – he dropped me off near the edge of the makhtesh or as most of us called it, the Ramon Crater.

About 24 miles long and with a vertical drop of 1,600 feet, the crater has variously been described as a “combination of the Grand Canyon and the surface of Mars,” “a titanic optical illusion,” “a massive, twisting fantasy of orange and black,” and “an enormous panorama of what the Earth looked like 200 million years ago.”

I’d driven through here many times, always thinking, “what a hell of a place to get stuck.” Now here I was descending the deserted triple-hairpin road on foot beneath a waning crescent moon, while the mountainous wall sucked-in a little more ambient light with every downward step. From the inky darkness at the base it was a five mile walk to the other side, where the ascent was more gradual and the night sky brighter; then only 55 miles of barren desert and pitted two-lane blacktop to Ovda.

In times like this, exhausted and alone, I take comfort in song. And rest assured I sang – sometimes at the top of my voice – every song I could remember the lyrics to. Of particular resonance was this, the opening track to the Beatles’ Let it Be album, which I first heard on a reel-to-reel deck my brother brought back from Korea, after leaving the Army in 1970.

Written by Paul McCartney, who ostensibly dedicated it to his other half, Linda, some of the lyrics clearly refer to his other, other half John. Sharing the same microphone as they sang it, each surely understood that the storied Lennon/McCartney partnership had reached an end. The song was also a point of contention between Paul and George, as played out in the film of Let It Be:

Paul: It’s complicated now. We can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications.

George: It’s not complicated.

Paul: This one is like, shall we play guitars through Hey Jude. Well, I don’t think we should.

George: OK, well I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if  you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.

The finished version of Two of Us (as shown in the film) was performed live at Apple Studios on the last day of January 1969 and first broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show on March 1, 1970 as the Beatle’s final appearance.

Back in my world, it was around 4:00 a.m. on a July morning in 1981. With the prospect of salvation dimming I was encircled by wafting mirages – at least I think they were mirages – when lo, headlights appeared in the direction of the crater.

Coming into view was a derelict flatbed lorry, which – without completely stopping  -slowed enough for me to clamber on and join an Arab work crew huddling with their shovels on the back. “Ovda?” I called to the driver. He nodded.  In response to some quizzical expressions I mumbled one of the few Arabic words I knew, “Fatatan” (a girl). Wry smiles all around.

No time for sleep, but just maybe time for breakfast, I sat cross-legged in good company, nodding off to visions of buttered toast, fried eggs, coffee; hearkening again to the trill of Lennon’s whistle, while McCartney affirmed, “We’re going home, you better believe it…”

Two of Us

I Dig A Pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids.

Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats.

[Note: Charles Hawtrey was a British comedic actor,

and The Beatles called their Vox Amps “Deaf Aids.”]

Two of us riding nowhere

Spending someone’s

Hard earned pay

You and me Sunday driving

Not arriving

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

Two of us sending postcards

Writing letters

On my wall

You and me burning matches

Lifting latches

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

You and I have memories

Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats

Standing so low

In the sun

You and me chasing paper

Getting nowhere

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

You and I have memories

Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats

Standing so low

In the sun

You and me chasing paper

Getting nowhere

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

[We’re going home, you better believe it. Goodbye.]

Wish I Was At Home For Christmas

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Just how long has this lament been uttered by soldiers, sailors, students and expats of all stripes at this time of year?  By Jove, that’s an interesting question.

For over three centuries Easter was Christendom’s foremost holiday. Since there is no mention of Jesus’ birth date in the Bible, Christmas was an abstract notion until 350 AD when Pope Julius I decreed that a Feast of the Nativity be celebrated on December 25th.

It was a well-considered choice in an age when Christianity was not yet the official religion of Rome.  Observing Christmas on the Winter Solstice – which fell on the 25th under the Roman calendar – enabled the Church to convert legions of pagans with the assurance that, as Christians, they could still celebrate the ancient festival of Saturnalia.

Commencing with a human sacrifice before the Temple of Saturn, and then carrying on for a number of days, Saturnalia was beset with overeating, intoxication, gambling, nakedness (especially while singing  in the street), flagrant sexual indulgence, and – one mustn’t forget – gift giving, all of which ended on the 25th with the pagan rite of Natis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Sun God) that promised the return of daylight in the months ahead.

As Christianity supplanted paganism throughout Western Europe, the vestiges of this not-so-pious celebration tagged along (minus the human sacrifice and with Baby Jesus far outshining the Sun God) while adopting other pagan customs along the way.

Yule, for example, had long been celebrated in Scandinavia. For the great 12-day Solstice feast enormous Yule logs were burned and having festooned their homes with holly, ivy, and other evergreens in the spirit of rejuvenation, revelers feasted, sang, and danced in praise of light and life.

Christmas reached England in the 6th Century and by the reign of Henry VIII the holiday had become quite the Yuletide extravaganza with lavish pageants and sporting events, feasting and dancing, and the customary debauchery that squares so nicely with a Midnight Mass.

This midwinter bacchanal was merrily upheld by Henry’s Tudor and Stuart successors into the 17th Century until  – sigh, no party lasts forever – the rise of the Puritans and Lord Protector Cromwell, who forbade all religious festivals especially Christmas with its gluttony, drunkenness, promiscuity … and lewd caroling. Such distain was shared by the Pilgrims of New England, who demonstrated their contempt for the New World’s first Christmas (and those that followed) by treating it like any other working day.

Although it was modestly observed in the Southern Colonies, Christmas was out-and-out outlawed in Boston as it had been in England and Scotland. “The early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that month,” wrote the Reverend Increase Mather, “but because the heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”

Fortunately (for all those Whos in Whoville) Christmas did return, albeit as a ghost of its former self (goodbye gambling, drunkenness, promiscuity, and lewd caroling). It returned to England (but not for a long while to Scotland) after the coronation of Charles II. And with the advent of the Enlightenment, Christmas muddled along in the Colonies, where there was little agreement as to whether it should be seen as sacred, secular, or simply sacrilegious.

It wasn’t until after the American Revolution, when New Yorkers expressed an interest in the city’s non-English past, that Washington Irving began to make his indelible impact on the season. Published in 1809, his Knickerbocker’s History of New York, included a story about the Dutch Sinterklaas, aka St. Nicholas, who smoked a pipe and rode in a wagon over the tree tops to place gifts in the stockings that children had hung by the chimney.

Years later his friend, Clement Clarke Moore would further define the modern image of Santa Clause (and Father Christmas) by turning the wagon into a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer in his iconic poem that began with the lines“Twas the night before Christmas…” Yet by the time Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen had become household names with the publication of Moore’s poem in 1822, Irving had been instrumental once again in helping to shape the holiday as we know it.

While living in England he serially published his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819/20), which in addition to Rip Van Winkle and  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, featured tales of near-forgotten English holiday traditions such as the charitable ushering of the poor into the homes of the wealthy for dinner with all the trappings, and the essential ground rules regarding mistletoe.

“The mistletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and kitchens at Christmas,” he wrote, “and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases.”

Back home, Washington Irving’s countrymen delighted in his seasonal stories of hearth, home and humanity; as did another friend of his, Charles Dickens, who in 1843 hugely inspired his Victorian readership by capturing the spirit of goodwill, family gatherings, and festive generosity with A Christmas Carol.  And then there was the greatest doyen of Christmas Future, Queen Victoria herself.

The holiday may have endured a long fugue state in Britain and America but with its lovely caroles (carols), plätzchen (Christmas cookies), hexenhauses (gingerbread houses), glühwein (mulled wine), christstollen (fruitcake), and especially with its tannenbaums (Christmas trees), Christmas in der Fatherland had always remained clean and bright.

With a German mother (Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Victoria fondly remembered  childhood Christmases spent with her family opening presents around a beautifully ornamented tree; a tradition that was expanded upon by her beloved German husband, Prince Albert, who encouraged his family to decorate the tree themselves.

However, not until The Illustrated News (1848) published a rendering of the Royal Family with their Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, did many of her subjects even consider such a thing (a tree inside your home?).  Once they did, most clamored to get one too, as did many  of their fashion-conscious American cousins.

By the time Christmas became a recognized U.S. federal holiday in 1870, the jovial celebration with presents around the tree and a festive meal with turkey, goose, or ham followed by mince pie and plum pudding, was well on its way to becoming an All-American tradition.

Meanwhile across the waves, Christmas had become firmly re-established as Britannia’s most beloved holiday. Realizing this, Victoria – who felt great sympathy for those who fought for Queen and Country in the far reaches of her empire – began to send ornate tin boxes of chocolates as a present from their grateful sovereign. It was a practice that (even after her death) would be repeated on each Christmas day of the Great War (WWI).

Which finally brings us to this, Jona Lewie’s December 1980 song (peaking at Number 3 on the UK Singles charts) about the eternal plight of those who in this season of light, would rather be dancing in the arms of the ones they love…

Stop the Calvary

Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here

To say we’re doing splendidly

But it’s very cold out here in the snow,

Marching to win from the enemy

Oh I say it’s tough, I have had enough

Can you stop the cavalry?

I have had to fight, almost every night

Down throughout these centuries

That is when I say, oh yes yet again

Can you stop the cavalry?

Mary Bradley waits at home

In the nuclear fall-out zone

Wish I could be dancing now

In the arms of the girl I love

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Wish I was at home for Christmas

Bang! That’s another bomb on another town

While Luzar and Jim have tea

If I get home, live to tell the tale

I’ll run for all presidencies

If I get elected I’ll stop, I will stop the cavalry

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Wish I was at home for Christmas

Wish I could be dancing now

In the arms of the girl I love

Mary Bradley waits at home

She has been waiting two years long

Wish I was at home for Christmas

You’re 25, there’s money in your pocket, and this is London

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It’s 1984 on a Friday afternoon in Aberdeen, Scotland. After fourteen 12-hour shifts of offshore servitude you have two weeks to unleash the restless gene. Now with receipt of your paycheque your priorities are as simple as:

  1. Make a deposit and get some cash at the Barclays on Union Street,
  2. Slip into an off license for a bottle of whisky from one of this country’s 130 or so distilleries; one that you have yet to try,
  3. Secure a train ticket before joining your southbound crewmates in the railway bar and – “Here’s to the unwinnable race” – raising a glass to the station clock.

Departing at 2030 and stopping in Edinburgh, Newcastle (“So long Geordie lads!”), York, and Peterborough, British Rail’s Nightrider will be half-empty by the time it completes the ten-hour journey to London.

At £19 you can’t beat the inter-city fare, which is why the train is often packed on a Friday night with a mishmash of simpering geriatrics (bless them) and drunken ruffians. Occasionally this has included you, though your antics will never come close to the rugby players a few trips back who drank the bar car dry and rampaged through the carriage in the nude. A wild scene, they never made it beyond York.

Tonight you’re happy to stick to a few beers, unless the conversation turns philosophical and that whisky somehow maneuvers its way out of your duffle and around the compartment. In which case you’ll doze a bit after your lolling head thunks against the vibrating window.

And dozing is as good as it gets. At dawn the train pulls into King’s Cross Station and you take the Tube to South Kensington to catch a Number 45 bus, or a 49 if that appears first. Like most London busses, yours is a classic London Routemaster double-decker and at any other time you’d head straight upstairs to grab a front seat and observe the sceptered city from on high.

But with your work gear bulking out the duffle – along with some duty free perfume for your girlfriend and, hopefully, that bottle of single malt – you sprawl instead on an aisle-facing seat near the exit, trying to get comfortable as the bored conductor collects your fare and the “tick-tick-ticking” engine forever idles at the station. It’s early Saturday morning. You’re the only passenger. The world is in no hurry.

While the 49 trundles down the King’s Road past the Roebuck (where Johnny Rotten joined the Sex Pistols), the preferred 45 lumbers up Fulham Road by the ABC Cinema, which allows you to see what’s playing. Either bus will then cross over the Battersea Bridge and past a pub fittingly named the Prodigal’s Return. Nearly there, you grab the pole on the rear platform, lean out into the brisk air like Gene Kelly on a lamppost and – careful now – prepare to hop off when the bus brakes for a turn near the top of your street.

Home at last. Though you mean to spend this downtime profitably, to secure your future perhaps, that dopamine-deficient/ADHD tag team in your head, which won’t be diagnosed until some time in the next century, rarely recognizes such circumspection.

Instead it’s time to start the music – in this case the opening track to the Penguin Café Orchestra’s 1981 self-titled album – because nothing imparts the glorious, carefree sensation of going nowhere-and-everywhere while time rushes by like Air a Danser.

You’re 25. There’s money in your pocket, this is London and – oh what a mad existence – the world’s your oyster.

Canoodling with your sweetheart takes first priority of course, with the promise of evening strolls through the park and leisurely brunching over Sunday papers; and of experimentation in the kitchen after you re-acquaint yourself with the local butcher, baker, greengrocer, fishmonger, and deli man. Tonight there’s a party at Lesley’s. Tomorrow it’s tea at Trish and Michael’s. Nobody throws an afternoon tea like Trish.

There will be dinners with Heidi and Jürgen; maybe a fringe production with John and Jo; or a jazz performance in Brixton with Ann and Hans; and you’ve vowed to see that Cubist exhibit at the Victoria & Albert with Wendy and Lawrence.

Singly, there will be pints aplenty with Giles, a kindred spirit who once took an inebriated observation [“Why do you suppose lampposts have crossbars?”] and turned it into a two-man acrobatic act [“Not sure, but you know a chap’s not a chap until he hangs upside down by his knees from a crossbar. Shall we?”]

And Tony, who can adroitly hold fourth on topics ranging from folk music, to space travel, to the dynastic succession of China’s emperors, and whose cryptic ability to write backward was once featured on a national television programme;

And Terry who, in a rush to catch his train after last call at the Maple Leaf, gladly accepts a lift down the Mall on the handlebars of your bike while smoking a hand-rolled cigarette [“Oh look the Queen’s in. That’s her standard flying above the Palace. Hallo Ma’am.”]

One and all these are among the finest friends you’ll ever have. But they all have day jobs and your weekdays are free. So taking your cue from the copious listings in Time Out, and your 3-Speed Hercules Commuter (once a Metropolitan Police bike) from out of the shed, you live each day anew.

You see that Allen Ginsberg will be reciting a selection of William Blake poems while accompanying himself on squeezebox at Covent Garden. Can’t miss that. There’s a new Bergman film at the Chelsea Cinema, and – Boom! Crash! – the latest Spielberg blockbuster shown in 70mm Dolby Stereo at one of the massive Leicester Square movie houses.

Around and between your 14 offshore stints you’ll watch more than 60 films here in London, with evening extravaganzas like Abel Gance’s Napoleon (in triptych) at the Barbican Centre, and various screenings (such as the Brighton Film School 1895-1906) at the National Film Theatre and Institute of Contemporary Arts, along with retrospectives at the Ciné Lumière, Minema, and Gate Notting Hill, and late-night features at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road.

While every day begins as a reading and writing day, there’s often incentive to take in a matinee at one of the ABC/Classic/Cannon/Odeon cinemas around town. You’ve come to know them well, along with any notable public houses in their vicinity. Because there are few better ways to set the stage for viewing indulgence than a ploughman’s lunch and an (Imperial) pint of premium bitter in a venerated English pub.

Starting with your local, the Latchmere, and including such enduring haunts as the Lamb & Flag, the Grenadier, and the Windsor Castle on Campden Hill Road, you’ll visit upwards of 70 London pubs during your 18 months as a rig worker. Most of them named for some blood sport, distinguished Englishman, popular myth, heraldic badge, legendary countenance, celebrated fauna, time-honored vocation, religious symbol, exalted figure, historic event, found object, or whatever other folk rendering graces its signage.

But man cannot live by a ploughman’s and ale alone. Whether cockles and whelks at a stand in Cambridge Circus, or whitebait and roes-on-toast at Sweetings in the City, when you see seafood you like to partake. The same goes for Chinese takeaway – as at the superbly named Ho Lee Fook on King’s Road – and various dishes from the far reaches of the Empire, as those found at Eve’s Singapore Curry, Old Rangoon, The Last Days of the Raj, and especially at cavernous, cheap and bountiful Khan’s.

Relishing the restaurant reviews as readily as one might The Times Literary Supplement, you divine gastronomic themes, such as the “Cold War cuisine” enjoyed at Nikita’s (caviar and vodka), Luba’s (goulash and vodka), and Daquise (borscht, herring, and … vodka); and the “Franglais fare” found in London’s bistros (like Le Café du Jardin), patisseries (the Richoux chain), brasseries (the Dôme chain), and brassieres-that-serve-pizza (Kettner’s).

And though you occasionally resort to Anglicized takes on what you ate in college (Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, Café Pacifico) you firmly believe that the best way to experience a place and time is to dine like a local, especially if he or she happens to be among the London cabbies sitting down to a fry-up at Peter’s of Pimlico, or a serving of eels, pie, and mash at Harrington’s in Tooting.

By the arrival of a new weekend you’re truly steeped in the Englishness of it all, heading downriver for Thames Day at the Waterloo Bridge, or upriver for the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race with a side trip to Geale’s for the best fish and chips in town.

Now you’re off to Hyde Park for the sunrise start of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. And now you’re lazing in your local park – once part of Battersea Fields where the Duke of Wellington famously dueled the Earl of Winchilsea – for any number of cultural festivals (“Penny for the guy?”) within the shade of the iconic brick power station featured with a flying pig on the cover of that Pink Floyd album.

Here you’ve purchased return tickets from Paddington for a weekend in the Cotswolds. With rucksacks and bicycles stowed in the luggage car, your Ordinance Survey map is duly marked for a journey through the “Land of Counterpane” and its attendant farmhouse breakfasts, cream teas, and pub suppers.

And here you’ve purchased return tickets for the boat train from Victoria to Dieppe, for a long weekend in Rouen or Paris. Easily done when there’s a bank holiday and your girlfriend has Monday off.

Scotland too has its charms. You’ve wandered many of its city streets and, from the Kyle of Lochalsh, taken a bonnie boat to Skye. Just as you’ve rambled lonely in the Highlands and, in a leaky pup tent, camped across from Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.

You did the same in Orkney but (tied to some lobster pots on Stromness Point) the old tent sadly succumbed to a deluge, vividly reminding you of the drudgery you’ve experienced – and will anew – beneath those Caledonian skies. No, you much prefer the Home Counties of England where life is good … ’til the music ends and your time ticks away.

It’s 1984.  Yours is a rotational shift. In the words of Orwell’s doomed protagonist, Winston Smith, “the end was contained in the beginning.”  And while the 2230 Nightrider – half-empty on a Thursday night – pulls out of King’s Cross bound for Aberdeen, you contemplate the near-dystopian days ahead.

But not for long. This spinning through time has its merits for one who can rarely keep still.  A world in a whirl can be your oyster again.

I know not how I sink or swim

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Surely it was heartbreak that fueled his devotion to the cause, this once-sanguine young man whose quiet despair now accompanied him thousands of miles from home. That this, my great (x 4) grandfather, was prepared to die is made abundantly clear in a hand-written message, dated August 16, 1776:

I, Shadrach Winslow, of Rehoboth, in the State of Massachusetts Bay, being sensible, although now in a comfortable state of health, that life is uncertain, and being bound on a cruise in the privateer sloop-of-war called the Joseph against the enemies of the United American States, and knowing the many contingencies that in the Course of Divine Providence daily must and do await mankind in every age and station of life, and willing that those temporal goods, and such estate as God has blessed me with, should be so disposed of in case I should not return, as would be most satisfactory to me; Do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament, recommending myself through Christ, first of all, to that merciful being who gave mine and what I possess, and hoping through him to enjoy felicity hereafter.

Upon reading this I had no choice but to delve deeper into the story of Shadrach Winslow MD. So I turned to our family genealogy and learned that the good doctor was a devout Calvinist and superior Latinist who graduated from Yale, Class of 1771. Then, with the outbreak of Revolution

“… his patriotic feelings were aroused to the highest pitch and he resolved to do all that was possible for the cause. Being a gentleman of means he contributed largely to the outfitting of a warship to attack the enemy on the high seas and went aboard her as a surgeon … The ship was captured off the coast of Spain and all onboard were taken prisoner and brought to Wallabout Bay off Brooklyn and placed aboard the dismal prison ships … Here Dr. Winslow was detained as a POW about one year and suffered much. He never fully recovered from the damage to his health, aboard these prison ships where 12,000 soldiers and sailors perished.”

That he did return is certainly “most satisfactory to me” and mine, because he went on to marry the pleasant Elizabeth Robbins, with whom he fathered ten children as was then common, including my great (x 3) grandfather, Isaac.

I could have left it with that. But I didn’t, and so learned of a love story that never quite made it into the family history.

The hand-written will was referenced in an 1878 centennial address for the Town of Foxborough.  Given by the son of one of Isaac’s brothers, John Winslow (who had a penchant for lame Calvinist jokes), the speaker also recounted a conversation he’d had with an old man who knew Shadrach well and spoke of the winsome Betsy Peck to whom the young doctor, just out of college, was soon to marry.

Sadly, young Betsy was “suddenly removed by death” and his inability to save his truelove “produced a deep and lasting influence upon Shadrach’s sensibility.”

Though the romance was cut tragically short leaving little time for love to fade away like morning dew, when I think of that pensive crossing, I’m reminded of this variation of a popular 17th century Scottish ballad, sung by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff.

In 1776 the strapping young doctor was the same age my son is now. Throwing himself into the cause of independence surely helped to assuage his anguish, and though there are no records the old man spoke of Shadrach’s wanderings in France, Turkey, Portugal, and Spain, using his Latin to communicate, prior to his capture and ghastly imprisonment.

When at last he was released, emaciated and rather cynical, his great good fortune in meeting Elizabeth is the stuff of legend. Not only was she amiable and attractive, but she was a woman capable of such fathomless, redeeming compassion that their first child was named Betsy Peck Winslow. 

The Water is Wide

The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

And neither I have wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row – my love and I

Now love is gentle, and love is kind

The sweetest flower when first it’s new

But love grows old, and waxes cold

And fades away like morning dew

There is a ship, she sails the sea

She’s loaded deep as deep can be

But not as deep as the love I’m in

I know not how I sink or swim

The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

And neither I have wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row – my love and I

And both shall row – my love and I.

 

We will yell with all of our might

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With a number of chapters nearly complete I have come to one of those “cutting” stages on my current book project, where entire passages are cut for the sake of flow. Sometimes they’ll find their way in elsewhere, sometimes they won’t. Since what follows is unlikely to see the light of day anywhere else I thought I’d give it a good send-off here.

…By all outward appearances our ever-adaptable family had left the storm behind. Wheeling along like the cogs of my father’s career we moved from Ashland in ’61 – to Concord, NH in ’62 – to New Bedford in ’63 – to Evansville, Indiana in 1965.

Now we were “Hoosiers.”  As if to underscore that fact our suburban split-level house was next to a cornfield.

Situated across the Ohio from Kentucky, the locals spoke with a twangy drawl, often dropping in a genial “y’all” for good measure and once we figured out we had them, we hastened to moderate our Yankee accents. What we called “soda,” they called “pop;” “bag” (as in lunch bag) was “sack.”

Back in New England we’d had our milk (or “melk” as they pronounced it) delivered in bottles by a milkman. Here it came in cartons purchased at the grocery store. The “melkman’s” demise had already occurred.

Not that there wasn’t a prevailing respect for traditional values. Nearly everyone went to church and we began to attend the First Presbyterian Church of Evansville.

In general people seemed friendlier and more open here. Neighbors actually said “hello” and it was easy to meet kids in the suburban complex that was our neighborhood. Most of them introduced themselves to us.

That’s how we met the Johnsons across the street.  As it turned out Mrs. Johnson was a friend of Miss Winnie.

Many will remember the children’s TV series, Romper Room. A national program geared toward the 5-and-under crowd, Romper Room was franchised out to local affiliates who generally used the same script but with resident hostesses.

In Massachusetts it had been “Miss Jean” who, like every Romper Room hostess, ended the broadcast with a look through her magic mirror while she recounted the names of all the children she “saw” out in Televisionland. For some reason she never saw ‘Winslow.’

Miss Winnie was Evansville’s Romper Room hostess.  Although I no longer watched it my younger brother, Warren did.  It was a big deal when she came to call in her floral poema dress and held court on a patio chair in the Johnson’s back yard.

Instructed to be on our best behavior, we were formally presented and had the honor of shaking her hand. Only later – after we’d  grabbed some cookies and wandered back home – did it occur to me that I’d blown my chance to ask her why she and Miss Jean never saw me, or Warren for that matter, through those magic mirrors of theirs…

Cut. So much for that. Perhaps your name was never called out either.  Here’s something at least to bring you back to a simpler time.

Formed in North London as the Dave Clark Quintet in 1957, the Dave Clark Five were the second “British Invasion” group to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, two weeks after the Beatles in 1964. Thanks to the impeccable timing they were more popular in the States (for  a while) than they were in England.

Written by drummer, Dave Clark and guitarist, Lenny Davidson, this song was released in 1965, hitting Number 4 on the US charts and Number 5 in the UK. After the Beatles struck lucky with their film, “A Hard Day’s Night” it also served as theme song for the DC5’s cinematic response, “Catch Us if You Can.” So let’s get those fingers snapping, mmmm-mm-mm…

Catch Us If You Can

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm

Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm

Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Now we gotta run, mmmm-mm-mm

No more time for fun, mmmm-mm-mm

When we’re gettin’ angry, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm

Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm

Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can