What can I say about the year, 1969? When I think back on all that took place in my life and around me, during that year; all I can really say is wow! It was my thirteenth year on the earth. That’s considered the beginning of manhood in Jewish years. However, in mom and dad years, I was still their little boy and the baby in the family.
’69 was definitely a year of growth and change. The New Year kicked off with mom’s breast cancer surgery on January 17th. That was a tough one for a thirteen year old momma’s boy, who depended on his “mommy” for everything. How could mom be so sick and possibly dying? She was still a young woman and – of course - she was mom – the rock of Gibraltar in our family. Not knowing if she would live or die, taught me just how fleeting, inconsiderate and nasty life can sometimes be. Later in life, I would draw strength and perspective from this lesson and turn it to my personal advantage when faced with my own health crisis.
My Bar Mitzvah in October of ’69 taught me that I could actually finish something; get it right; and feel good about it. I disagree with the Talmudic experts, who consider the Bar Mitzvah to be a passage into manhood – at least, not the kind of manhood that other adults respect or reward with additional freedoms and responsibilities. No, for me my Bar Mitzvah earned me some nice gifts and got me out of the business of conservative Jewish religion. In my later years, I would find spirituality in less rigid Jewish places and re-discover a more user-friendly form of Judaism. A brand of spirituality that is much more in touch with the realities of today’s world.
1969 was also the year I discovered some additional interests and developed specific tastes. For example, it was an especially good year to begin an interest in sports if you were growing up in the New York metropolitan area. Did I enjoy sports prior to 1969? I can say that I had a casual interest in some aspects of sports. I couldn’t sit still and watch an entire baseball game on television, but I did love flipping and trading baseball cards with my friends. Does that count as an interest in sports? I didn’t think so either, but at least it helped me become a little more familiar with the teams and the players by position. Baseball cards also helped me learn how to read and interpret stats, so I could more easily distinguish the stars from the average players.
Grandpa Ben was a huge Yankee fan. I – for some reason only known to God –
decided that I liked the NL expansion Mets from about 1965 on. At least my love for the team began after the Marv Throneberry years, which featured 17 errors covering first base!
I didn’t watch a game back in those early years, but I told everyone that the Mets were my team. I guess I was cheering for underdogs even back then. After all, in 1965 the Mets were still the laughing stock of baseball and little more than pretenders to the legendary Yankee dynasties of professional baseball history. For the record, the 1965 Mets won 50 games, lost 112 games, and finished in tenth position.
In 1969, the New York Mets made it to and won the World Series. My team would finish 100-62, eight games ahead of the Cubs. They went on to defeat the National League West champion Atlanta Braves three games to none in the inaugural National League Championship Series and went on to defeat the American League champion Baltimore Orioles in just five games. That sealed the deal for me. I watched many Mets games that season and cheered for my team right through to the world championship.
Now, I was a real baseball and sports fan. Since 1969, I have never shifted my baseball allegiance away from the New York Mets. Sure, I’ll root for the Yanks, when they are doing well, but not when they get in the way of the Mets’ success (not that this has happened very often).
Football? Well, 1969 was also a great year for the New York Jets. Super Bowl III was actually the very first full football game that I ever watched from beginning to end. That Super Bowl Sunday, mom was still in the hospital recovering from her breast surgery. I was staying with our next door neighbors, Phil and Lee Smith. We watched the game together and I realized just how much I enjoyed professional football and loved the upstart New York Jets. Maybe it was their green and white uniforms or, perhaps, the legend of Broadway Joe Namath that hooked me. But, whatever it was, I was hooked and to be a devoted Jet fan for all time.
Only once did I briefly move my football allegiance from the Jets to another team. That great, unbeaten Miami Dolphin team with Bob Griese, Larry Czonka, Jim Kiick, Paul Warfield and Mercury Morris temporarily captured my interest. Since my only indiscretion, I have been a loyal Jet fan and probably will die one.
The New York Knicks also were playing some great professional basketball as the 60’s were coming to a close. Several of my friends at Ranney were Knick fans with season tickets. We would talk about the Knicks the morning after they attended games. The New York Knickerbockers became the unofficial Pro basketball team of the Ranney School. They soon became my favorite team in all of professional basketball. Little did I know back then that I was enjoying the best days of the game. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, most teams played hard on both ends of the floor. Back in those days, the stars were well-rounded stars. They were not the laughable “hot dogs” that they are, today. When the game became a circus, I gave up on the pros and became much more interested in the college game. College basketball demands better fundamentals and greater team effort. With over 350 Division One basketball schools, there are many more teams to play; often leading to unpredictable results.
In 1969, I also discovered that I had a real interest in music. As a small child, I remember playing a weird assortment of 45’s that included everything from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” to “Paul Revere and the Raiders”. I have no clue how I gained access to such an eclectic collection. I probably “liberated” a few records from my sister’s record case to add to the traditional “little kid stuff” my parents bought me. In any case, I loved playing music on my small portable record player.
The very first record album I bought using my own money was “Blood, Sweat and Tears” self-titled album, first released in December 1968. It featured the songs: “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” and “God Save the Child.” Boy, did I love their big brass sound. I probably wore out the vinyl tracks of that album just in the first couple of weeks. I found myself playing this record over and over again, ad nauseum. Most likely - out of annoyance - my parents “encouraged” me to by another album. That one ended up being “Gary
Puckett and the Union Gap.” The truth is that I probably picked this one out primarily due to the cool civil war photo on its front cover. It eventually became
an early favorite of mine and a launching pad for me wanting and buying a new album every week or two. Albums cost something like $3.97 each in those years. It was, perhaps, a luxury back then. But, it was an affordable luxury and it was always a good entertainment value for an interested teenager.
1969 also continued another fond interest of mine – space exploration. From the day Alan Sheppard blasted off into space, I maintained a keen interest in the US space program. So, on July 20, 1969, there I sat with grandma Pearl and mom and dad in our very small porch-like Bungalow den at 104 ½ Brinley Avenue in Bradley Beach. We were all waiting for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Armstrong to take an historic and “giant leap for mankind.”
After several NASA delays, Armstrong planted his boots firmly onto the surface of the moon at 10:56 EDT. We all cheered and were relieved that he didn’t sink into the moon’s surface as some cynics had predicted would happen.
Yes, the first men walking on the moon were a big deal for nearly everyone all around the world. But, all that I can think of – that night - was that I was not only watching the event for myself, but I was also watching this with my grandmother. After all, she was viewing this historic moment through eyes that once watched horse and buggies cart giant ice blocks to and from neighborhood homes that needed them to keep their food fresh.
As a child of the Star Trek generation, the moon landing was way cool enough for me. But, I could never really imagine how this all looked to someone born in the late nineteenth century; decades before the Wright brothers first flew a primitive winged aircraft at Kitty Hawk. Grandma looked amazed watching our astronauts and could only remark, “How about that? I lived to see men walking on the moon.”
Later that same summer, “Woodstock,” happened and created a new generation of youth. The “summer of love” didn’t really affect our family, though. I was a little too young and Desly was far too square to be moved by all of the media attention given to Woodstock’s event’s emphasis on sex, drugs and rock and roll. I am sure that my parents were glad about this. Anyway, Desly was much more likely to listen to a Barbara Streisand show tune than a Janis Joplin
scream-fest. And, the only evidence of any rebellion in my sister showed itself whenever she locked horns with our parents to extend her night curfew on a date night. Desly was also far too afraid of baby aspirin to ever be involved with hard drugs; so this new generation of youth, never arrived at our front door.
Now, the impact of musical revolution taking place in a dairy field in upstate New York, wasn’t totally lost on me. I liked some of the great music coming out of
“Woodstock.” Over the years, Crosby Stills and Nash, Blood, Sweat and Tears and The Who have remained classic favorites of mine. And, I did eventually
buy the “Woodstock” concert album, which most kids of the day added to their
It turns out that Desly did eventually develop a connection with “Woodstock.” She met and became close friends with the singer “Melanie,” while attending Monmouth College in West Long Branch (NJ). Decades later, mom and dad met and became friendly with Melanie’s father, Fred Safka. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Fred was selling items at Englishtown Auction Sales, just like they were. By then, “Melanie” was firmly entrenched as a member of the adult establishment; married and a mother of pre-teens.
In September of 1969, I first arrived at the Ranney School in Tinton Falls, as a student. Dressed in my required blue blazer, gray slacks, pastel shirt and respectable tie; I became what others outside of the school (and oddly enough some of the students also attending there) often referred to as a “Ranney Retard.” Just seeing us in our school uniforms made other kids think of us as egg heads and nerds. what Who we actually were, were educational elites. Well, my classmates were the elites. I was simply an underachieving student in need of further remediation. I was enrolled to have undone the damage our local public schools did to me over the years. I was not talented and gifted, just lucky to be at Ranney.
There was another major difference between me and the other Ranney students. They were mostly the children of the wealthy from towns like Rumson, Deal, Elberon and Spring Lake. I was the child of flea market merchants from old time Manalapan – not the upscale Manalapan of today. I can’t say that I received much constant bullying at Ranney. It was more like routine ribbing. Knowing the answers before their questions were asked, I was ribbed for owning a Macy’s brand multiplex stereo system rather than the state-of-the art “dream” sound system of the day, which usually included: a Marantz 2330b receiver, Thorens TD-165 turntable (or Thorens TD-126 turntable), Frazier Model Seven speakers, and Akai GX-266D reel to reel tape deck. That’s what they would have in their own rooms.
Trips? Mom and dad took us to Gettysburg. They came back from a week of skiing in the Swiss Alps. It was no use competing with these kids and I never really tried. They had what they had and I had what I had. There was no sense being jealous and unhappy. My parents struggled hard enough just to send me to a top prep school. I would never show them that I did not appreciate their sacrifice by asking for more of what they couldn’t possibly afford to give. Besides, it was just “stuff.” I enjoyed my music just as much as I am sure they did.
Over the years I discovered that – in many cases – I had something much more important than the “things” that most of my classmates had. I had loving and interested parents. Many of my fellow students were the products of unhappy marriages and often, broken homes. Many of their parents were either separated or divorced. Sure, their fathers and/or mothers bought them many nice things and sent them all over the world on wonderful vacations, but these “things” were usually only a replacement for the love and family stability they couldn’t give them. As we grow older, we learn about what things are truly important in life.
I realized that I had a lot more parental love and support than many of them had material things.
After a while, the ribbing stopped and I was enthusiastically welcomed into the group as – get this – the class clown. Over the years, I was developing a good sense of humor. In fact, I ad libbed my own jokes and did some great impressions of actors, actresses and even our usually very stoic Ranney School teachers and administrators. This earned me much applause from my friends
and lunchroom detention from the teachers and administrators I was making fun
of. All of this was shades of my old days in Hebrew school. The one difference here is that this was academic education in a very demanding educational environment.
During my first year at the Ranney School, I began to enjoy my eighth grade experience. The problem was that I wasn’t really in eighth grade. I was in seventh.
I kept telling my mother and father this, but they wouldn’t believe me. After all, they paid Mr. Ranney for an eighth grader, not a seventh grader. Why would a respected school owner and headmaster like Russell G. Ranney lie to them? And, he was also causing their son to suffer from the ribbing he took from other students and teachers whenever he insisted he was in the eighth grade. That’s exactly what happened. The kids thought I was nuts.
Finally, my parents came to the school and forced Mr. Ranney to admit that he stuck me in seventh grade to “help me adjust to the faster pace of learning required for success at Ranney.” That was partly BS, since he also was creating a scenario for an additional year of tuition for my parents to pay.
After going round and round, I was moved up to the eighth grade and I managed to make it through that grade without any additional difficulty. It was where Mr. Ranney originally said I was going and where I was supposed to be.
At the dawn of the 70’s I was preparing to move into the college prep program at The Ranney School. I was also maturing into a more serious student and a more social one. To be continued…