David

David was an unlikely role model.  Alcoholic,  unable to hold a job for long,  drifting from sibling to sibling dependent on their love of family to put him up in their homes.  They were a good sort, his brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles.  And so they put up with David.  And his nieces and nephews got used to him as a sort of flawed authority figure.

But here is the thing about David.  He was not lazy.  He worked hard wherever he was.  He was an easy guest that fixed things, made food, and kept a low profile.  He watched over us kids, and while we thought he was a bit grouchy,  we respected him.

David was also a reader,  and that was probably his biggest gift to me.  He read voraciosuly,  and he and my Uncles Andy and Bobby would discuss the books in front of the kids.  TV was not really a thing for us.  Maybe some football, or a movie like the Wizard of Oz.  But generally, we consumed books.

David was also a walker,  somewhat common in a city like New York,  but even more common in our family.  Most of my Aunts and Uncles did not own cars.  They didn’t even have drivers licenses.  You took public transit or you walked.   Taxis?  That was for rich people.

I don’t know what made David like he was.  He fought in Korea, so it could have been something, a scar, or a nightmare he carried from that experience.  I will never know.

And so I became a walker.  And I became a reader.  And I learned that books were something to be discussed and debated.  And I learned to be a polite guest and to always lend a hand.

Not a bad legacy from an alcoholic, unemployable, drifter.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

The Marine Theater

The ushers hustled everyone to their seats.  They wore the Jones Beach State Park uniform.  Blue and white.  There were seahorse emblems on their hats and epaulets.

Limousines were parked in their special lot while VIP guests ate 5 star meals in the dining room.  Soon they would be whisked to their special box seats right up front with each box manned by an attendant to bring food and drink at their whim.

Guy Lambardo’s Royal Canadians were warming up in the orchestra pit on the audience side of the moat.   They were the house orchestra for the lineup of Broadway shows produced especially for Jones Beach Marine Theater.  These were not travelling shows, these were dedicated productions starring the biggest names in musical theater.  There was a hum of outboard motors as the ramps between the stage and the shore were retracted from the moat.

Suddenly the orchestra launched into a fanfare and the house lights dropped.  The only lighting was from the stand lights in the orchestra pit and navigation lights out in the bay.  Suddenly there is the roar of twin marine engines at full power.  A spotlight searches the water until it lands on a speeding wooden Chris Craft runabout.  Guy Lambardo is at the helm and he comes to a dramatic stop right in front of the conductors box.  He hops out of the boat and onto the stage and immediately he strikes up the Star Spangled Banner.

The spectacle complete, the lights come down and the Orchestra begins the overture.  And this was what it was like to see a show at the Jones Beach Marine Theater.   And this was a State Park,  one of the finest in the world, which is just as Robert Moses had intended.  People will rave about Radio City Music Hall,  but in its day, Radio City was just another big theater in a city that was full of big theaters.   The Marine Theater was something totally unique.

It still operates today as a concert venue.  The moat has been filled in with seats and the dining rooms are gone.  It is undoubtedly an amazing venue for an outdoor concert,  situated on a bay next to the Atlantic.  But at one time,  it was something only Robert Moses could have pulled off.

USDA

Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

US Department of Agriculture.  That’s what was printed on Food Stamps when they were actually physical paper currency.  Actually, the word “Food Stamp” did not appear, the proper name was “Food Coupon”.    I would know.  They are what kept food on the table in our little household after my mother was disabled.   But I know,  people use them to abuse them.  A few I suppose,  but mostly, they were, and are,  used to buy food.  Do you doubt that?

Here I am as as a 12 year old boy. Now come along with me to Key Foods on Jamaica Avenue in Hollis, Queens.  Come to the register,  as I remove the multi-colored currency from my pocket and try to sneak it to the cashier who is annoyed.  She is annoyed because it changes her flow.  There are impatient people in line with actual money.  They are watching.  The bag boy is watching.   They are all watching as she carefully counts out my change in the currency of poverty and hands it back to me.  Look around to see if anyone from school has seen me, especially the girls. Grab the groceries with me and slink out of the store.

Now take that experience,  multiply it by the lens of adolescence,  that same lens that thinks every slight is the end of the world.  Now tell me,  that people want to be on Food Stamps.

One summer, during my college days I was starving.  I had no money.  I had no food.  I lived in a dorm which was probably a salvation but it was hard to find a job.  I was eligible for food stamps.  I lived on puffed rice cereal, usually without milk or sugar rather than take food stamps.  I knew, that hassle of trying to get them and the embarrassment of having to use them. No one wants that.  People take them because they are desperate.  Because they need to feed their children.  Because they are less fortunate.  So stop being selfish ,  and enjoy the fact that we live in a country where we can afford to help people less fortunate.

Don’t get me started on how my mother was disabled in the first place.  That is another, angrier story.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

The Flag

“Kessler does not raise flags.  Kessler burns flags!!!!!”  And so that was that.  There would be no flag-raising today, and the flag pole stood unadorned all day.  No one batted an eyelash.  Such was life at Camp Da-Ro, a summer camp, populated by about 400 Jewish campers and counselors…and me.

Before you get all up in your righteous flag respecting, My Country Tis of Thee rage keep in mind this was 1970.  These counselors, like Kessler, were faced with the draft and possibly going to fight in a war.  A stupid war, an insane war.  Kessler was a big intimating guy from Brooklyn and if you didn’t like what he had to say, he’d just as soon bust you in the mouth.

And so there was no flag that day.  But the next day there was, and the day after and so on until the end of the summer.  We were only 13 years old in our cabin, and so we did not quite get the significance, but the other counselors did.

Kessler had said his piece, and overseas young boys continued dying and civilians continued to be caught in the crossfire.  And we rode horses, and we water-skied, and we had color wars, and we launched panty raids.  I got a little teasing for being the only non-Jewish camper, but they mostly didn’t care.  I remember the other campers being whip-smart and the adults being kind.  The camp is closed now but if you visit the Hudson River Valley around Germantown the grounds are still there, undeveloped.  It’s a lovely spot.  And that was a wonderful summer spent with kind souls living in the midst of a crazy world.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved