Friday, February 22, 2019

The Matron of Mealtime

Here’s an old joke.
How do you quiet a room full of antsy, hungry, exuberant kids?
You clunk the mic.
Get it?
No, of course you don’t. I made it up, which subsequently may account for the lack of pre-perceived laughter that I – you know – pre perceived.
Well, you may not get it, but the kindly cafeteria matron sure did. She was a gray haired little old lady ancient enough to have taken tutelage from Pavlov himself. You know, the guy with the bell and the dog? Every time he rang the bell, the dog knew it was mealtime.
In my earliest elementary years, I had thought that maybe she had these frail, clumsy hands that couldn’t hold tight to the mic and that’s why it bumped so loud, so often.
Whenever that thump pounded from the PA, the room turned from unruly anarchy to one of hushed expectance.
It was genius.
There was no call to quiet down, no teasing taunts of “I can wait,” while we sat there, stomachs rumbling, tongues gliding back and forth over lips soon chapped. She would click the mic on with a flick of the thumb, from the speakers above came an audible hum.
That’s about as poetic as it gets.
Thunder rumbled when that microphone clunked once and then twice over the aged wooden stage like a prop plane bouncing along the runway before reaching take-off speed. Airborne, it hovered before her mouth. The assembled grew silent.
“Table one for hot lunch,” her rasp reverberated in mirthless monotone.
Sans salute, the structured students stood.
Tables two through five looked on in awe.
With a side dish of jealousy.
Table Five, forever last to be summoned, salivated
I saw it.
I was a Table Five tenant.
“Table one,” her voice echoed. “Proceed.”
With Cub Scout cadence, the troop tromped to their spoils, simmering in silver shimmering
(not really)
troughs beneath a mounting misty miasma of fragrant fog that promised quintessential cuisine reserved for only A(B-C)-list clientele.
I didn’t think the school Principal could have commanded the respect that this woman held. It was impressive, it was daunting, and I remember from the earliest days of taking my meals in the school cafeteria that it was a little scary too.
The order was given.
The order was followed.
I never stood.
I didn’t have to.
You see, while I was taking my meals in the cafeteria, I was subsequently taking my meals to the cafeteria.
I was a brown bag lunch kid.
It’s not that I was poor.
I was picky.
A childhood affliction for which no cure could be found.
Mom packed my lunch each day, and I was always okay with the butter and jelly on white bread sandwiches.
Yes, I said butter.
I have an issue with peanut butter. I don’t think it’s a peanut allergy, though it might be. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never tried peanut butter. The smell alone forces my throat closed. A knife with peanut butter remnants left in the sink for me to wash
(I’m always doing dishes)
could mean certain death.
A constricted airway leads to restricted oxygen flow to the brain and well… Land O’Lakes lightly salted butter and Welch’s grape jelly between two slices of Wonder white bread made a fine meal.
So did Spam.
You know, that gelatinous luncheon meat that comes from the Spig?
Mom would fry up the Spam the night before, put it between two pieces of (not so) lightly buttered white toast, wrap it, brown bag it and throw it in the fridge. The following day I would carry it around in my book bag until lunchtime.
Nothing said nutritional Nirvana like day old Spam served at room temperature.
My grandfather would beg to differ. Having served in World War II, he had had his fill of Spam, which was never in short supply. His nose would wrinkle and his eyes would narrow every time I mentioned it. It did help to further my educational studies however.
“Where I come from buddy, Spam is a four letter word,” he would tell me.
Well, it didn’t take a 5th grader to figure that out.
Even in abundance, it must have been worth something back then. You needed a key to open it! Every package of yummy Spam came complete with a small metal key affixed to the bottom of the round rectangular can. Cooking it was the easy part. It was the pre-pan procedure that took a little work.
Step 1: Locate the small metal tab on the right side of the can.
Step 2: Work the tab open using the fingernail of your choice being careful not to cut the tender skin underneath. Nothing says worse pain than paper cut than an abrasion beneath the nail.
Step 3: Insert the protruding tab through the rectangular hole in the top of the key. (It’s sort of like threading a needle, something that I would know nothing about because I don’t sew).
Step 4: Twisting in a counter-clockwise direction (south, if the can is facing north, west, if facing east), peel away the strip of metal until a full rotation of 360 degrees is completed. This refers to the journey around the can as opposed to the consistent twirling of the key in motion, which will have achieved a full 360 degrees many times before reaching its final destination.
Step 5: Remove the top portion of the can, and very unceremoniously dump the lump of greasy goodness into the pan. Don’t worry about the protective slime like jelly that oozes out behind it. It’s edible.
I think.
Yes, lunch was an education. In this lesson alone, we have breached math, spelling and physics.
“Table Five for extra’s,” the never merry matron intoned.
In the interest of time, I have skipped tables one through four to leave room for this next piece of vital grade school trivia. It was neither snacks, nor dessert. The call to arms following the main meal was a call to extras. I don’t even know what that means. Maybe the nice old lady possessed some type of crystal ball, had seen into the future (our present) and had reached the realization that the terms snacks or dessert were unacceptable. Extras had a nice ring to it. It was generic, it did not draw attention to the food class system – meat and vegetables being upper class, fruits and dairy being middle class, snacks and desserts…well, from the wrong side of the tracks. Extras was politically correct in a time when political correctness had yet been considered. Extras made us all better children. A little larger in girth maybe, but overall, we were fine, upstanding, respectful little citizens.
Lunch in elementary school was so much more than feeding, frolic and the occasional food fight. The cafeteria with its long metal tables rife with sharp edges (that would never fly in today’s super safe-conscious society) and warped wooden stage pulled so much more than double duty as an eatery at mealtimes and an auditorium at others.
It was a classroom too.
And to the matron whose name I never knew,
I take this moment to offer a heartfelt thank-you.

(Hey, check it out. The poetic part didn’t end where I thought it would).

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Anew Year

A new year.
A new page.
A blank canvas.
A new start.
New habits?
Or old habits only anew?
Right the wrong?
Write the page.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Prose on the Fly

Why not? Prose is not my thing at all. I attended a recent writing group conducted by the NY Writer's Coalition at a library in Queens, NY. As Spring is supposedly upon us albeit pretty elusive, we were asked to construct a "Found Poem" pulled from a Shakespeare sonnet. I don't know how much I grasped, not being a Shakespeare fan nor understanding his prose/dialect, yet this came out of me in mere minutes. maybe there is something to this whole Shakespeare thing.

Does Spring birth poems?
Words in bloom
A quiet room
A sunny day,
Summer soon
Days gone by
Days long gone
Carefree youth
A boy’s first kiss
A boyhood crush
A boy

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

25 (Not So) Big Ones

Recently while surfing (semi-pun intended) the web, I came across this article published several months ago in Rolling Stone.

Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Beach Boys Deep Cuts:

10. California Saga ("Holland" - 1973)
9. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times ("Pet Sounds" - 1966)
8. Let Him Run Wild "(Summer days (and Summer Nights)" - 1965)
7. Darlin'  ("Wild Honey" - 1967)
6. Feel Flows ("Surf's Up" - 1971)
5. The Warmth of the Sun ("Shut Down Volume 2" - 1964)
4. All I Wanna Do - ("Sunflower" - 1970)
3. Sail On Sailor ("Holland" - 1973)
2. 'Til I Die ("Surf's Up" - 1971)
1. Surf's Up ("Surf's Up" - 1971)

        While I agree with a fair number of cuts voted there by readers, I loosely disagree with the sub-heading "Deep Cuts," as some have either achieved chart success or at the very least "hit" status having appeared on one or more "Best Of/Greatest Hit" compilations. Naturally, my editorial side kicked in and I decided why not come up with ten of my own?
        Make that 15.
        Or 20.
        I'll stop at 25.
        With a career that has spanned more than half a century and me as the self-titled world's biggest Beach Boys fan, keeping the number to just ten proved an impossible task. The only rule I imparted upon myself was that no tune from the Rolling Stone list could appear here. Keep in mind that this list could change (and likely will) many times. This is simply a matter of personal preference and favorite tunes that just resonated with me over time. Like it or not, I bestow upon you my faves in chronological order.


 1. Lonely Sea (1963)
Very early on in the Beach Boys career, this beautiful ballad just barely hinted at the genius yet to emerge from Brian Wilson.

 2. Surfer's Rule (1963)
Following the success of Surfin' Safari, Surfin' USA and Surfer Girl as bona fide hits, I always felt this one should have been released as a single as well. Dennis Wilson on lead vocals.


3. Car Crazy Cutie (1963)
Infectious tune to sing along to and good clean fun. Another album cut that remains a long time all-time fave! No-Go Showboat runs a close second however.

4. In the Parkin' Lot (1964)
Another formulaic early Beach Boys hit moving things from the beach to the high school parking lot. I love the slow harmonic buildup that bookends this tune. Further proof of Brian's continued progression.

 5. Kiss Me Baby (1965)
Hands down my favorite Beach Boy ballad. From vocals to music, this one is flawless. Having seen the band live a multitude of times dating back to 1980, I had never seen this performed until 1999 when Brian went out on the road supporting "Imagination" and reigniting a career all thought long dead. Ironically, I think I was in college the first time I ever heard this song having not acquired a copy of this LP until that time.

6. Please Let Me Wonder (1965)
Another lush ballad from the Today album, though I had heard it when I was much younger compliments of this hand me down compilation LP from a cousin. I was only 13; an age where most ballads bored me. This one did not.

7. You're So Good To Me (1966)
I don't know if this one would be construed as a true album cut and should likely defer to "Girl Don't Tell Me" here, but as this list reflects personal preference over lush artistry, I just love this song.

 8. Here Today (1966)
I was always one for checking out B-sides and somewhere in my early teen / Beach Boy discovery years, I came across the "Darlin'" single b/w with this great nugget from Pet Sounds. Granted, at that time in my life I knew nothing about Pet Sounds or the indelible footprint it left on the pop music landscape. Knowing what I know now however, this is still my favorite cut from the album.

9. Aren't You Glad (1967)
With an unquenchable thirst for more Beach Boys product. I purchased the Warner Brothers 2 LP repackage of "Wild Honey" and "20/20." Decidedly different from the overall Beach Boys sound I had become accustomed to, my mind was open to the tracks on both of these LP's. Initially, my favorite track on Wild Honey was "Here Comes the Night," followed closely by the cut chosen here. As the years progressed and with it my musical maturity, "Aren't You Glad" now holds the number one position. (And no, the 1979 disco remake of "Here Comes The Night" did not ruin it for me).

  10. Be With Me (1969)
A Dennis Wilson penned ballad that proves Brian wasn't the only genius. Ethereally beautiful and the clear cut favorite from this LP.

A second Dennis tune; "Never Learn Not to Love" (co-authored by Charles Manson) remains another highlight for me. While I won't include it here so as not to surpass my 25 cut limit, I would suggest searching this one out and judge for yourself.

11. Break Away (1969)
 This one was included on the compilation record pictured here. Released sometime following the 20/20 LP and only as a single record, father Murry Wilson was credited as lyricist under the name Reggie Dunbar. I knew very little of Beach Boys lore at that time and the fractured relationship between father and sons. History was unimportant. The music spoke for itself and the vocal chorus on the tail end always felt magical to me.

12. Add Some Music To Your Day (1970)
Sunflower is my favorite Beach Boys LP. Popularity may well have waned at this point, but Add Some Music showcases a band still in top form musically and vocally.
13. Forever (1970)
Clearly the most well known Dennis Wilson tune, I'm surprised it didn't make the Rolling Stone readers poll top ten. I knew from the first time I heard it, it would make mine.

14. Long Promised Road (1971)
I remember the day I purchased Surf's Up (still a young teen) thinking that this would mark a return to the fun, carefree tunes I longed for. I didn't judge the album by its cover, just it's title. I was wholly disappointed. Even now, this album is not the easiest one for me to listen to all the way through, yet three of its songs made the Rolling Stone poll. I completely concur with both "'Til I Die" and "Feel Flows." The title cut, which made it to number one on their list does not constitute a deep album cut in this humble blogger's opinion. As "Feel Flows" is already taken, I have no problem including this (my second favorite cut from the album) on my own list.

15. All This Is That (1972)
The first time I heard this one was when the band performed it live in 1994 while supporting the Good Vibrations CD box set. I likely missed this tune in the past having never been a big fan of the album that it derived from. Dennis Wilson's "Cuddle Up," with its sweeping orchestral, almost operatic feel had long been the number one deep cut for me here until I discovered (yes 22 years too late) this priceless cut.

16. We Got Love (1973)
This live album highlighted a musically changing band and would have been another disappointment for me at the time I had purchased it, but then again I always had a thing for live albums. We Got Love was the least Beach Boy sounding tune I had heard to date, yet I always loved the energy and the (almost) jam at the end. Great cut!

17. It's OK (1976)
Sure 15 Big One's was generally lambasted by critics and fans alike, but as the group hearkened back to better days following the release of Endless Summer and the "Brian's Back" campaign, this mid-70's tune penned by Brian and Mike Love totally captured the old school Beach Boys vibe. (I won't mention the "formula" here.

18. Just Once In My Life (1976)
Did I mention lambasted by critics and fans alike? Yes, this album finds two cuts on my "personal preference" list. I never realized until years later that this remake had originally been recorded by the Righteous Brothers. Brian may not have been in great health nor voice at this juncture, but this is a powerful performance and worthy of honorable mention.

 19. The Night Was So Young (1977)
From the moment the needle landed on the turntable for the first time, I told myself that this was the most ridiculous Beach Boys album I had ever heard. If 15 Big One's thrust the band back into the limelight two years prior, 1977's Love You unraveled everything, leaving most scratching their heads asking what the hell happened? I never realized what a great tune this one was until years later when I heard it again on the aforementioned '93 box set. ('Nuf said).

20. Winds of Change (1978)
Another album wholly ignored and probably with good reason. Three tunes on here held my attention. "Pitter Pattter," "Kona Coast" and this one. Winds of Change was to M.I.U. what "All This is That" was to "Carl and the Passions." This alternate version accidentally landed on the CD as CBS records had purportedly acquired the wrong master tapes for digital remastering. While others might disagree, I found even more beauty here in a cut that was never lacking anything in the first place.

21. Lady Lynda (1979)
A new record label with no new direction and another album primarily passed over by all. The foray into disco with their own remake of 1967's "Here Comes the Night," fell flat and pissed off fans. Apparently, Kiss fans (I was made for Loving You), Rolling Stone Fans (Miss You) and Rod Stewart fans (Do Ya Think I'm Sexy) were more (dance oriented) forgiving. While the "Light Album (L.A.) did little to bolster the Beach Boys career, it did have its moments including this Bach inspired Al Jardine tune, which vaulted into the UK top ten. What did they know that we didn't?

22. Getcha Back (1985) 
Not an album cut. Mike Love returned to the "formula" recapturing the old Beach Boys sound and as a result Getcha Back broke the Top 40. Fun, refreshing and one of my top three Beach Boy faves, this one deserves its spot here.

23. Somewhere Near Japan (1989)
The title track of this CD that offered a mixed bag of new compositions and classic faves would have been the clear cut winner here as it made for a great 80's summer tune (though let's face it the semi-accapella opening reeks an obvious attempt at another Kokomo). The Beach Boys / Fat Boys team-up on Wipeout is great fun and fans here seemed as forgiving as Aerosmith fans (Walk This Way w/ Run DMC). The clear standout here however was the very classy Somewhere Near Japan, which showcases prime songwriting, instrumentation and vocal prowess.

24 Lahaina Aloha (1992)
1992's Summer in Paradise goes down in history as the worst selling Beach Boy album of all time. Sure there were some misses here (I won't go there), but it did have some highlights. "Lahaina Aloha" is as beautiful and majestic as the cut that precedes it here.

25. From There To Back Again (2012)
Here's an album that is wholly listenable, but could have been so much better had there been more group input. Most of the tunes date back to the Brian Wilson/Joe Thomas Collaborations from the 1998 "Imagination" sessions. Sadly, Mike Love's input was minimal, though his self-penned "Daybreak Over the Ocean" is simply gorgeous. "From There to Back Again" begins a suite of three songs that close the record.
In order to appreciate it fully, it should be listened in succession with "Pacific Coast Highway" followed by the melancholy and telling "Summer's Gone." The entire suite embodies a modern day Pet Sounds feel. If I've chosen the right link below, the three tunes should play in the order they appear (hopefully without YouTube ad interruptions). 

Good vibes and thanks for indulging me.

Jan. 2017