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Personal Interest

A Passion for Cars

Matchbox collectors case

 

Like many boys, I loved playing with toy cars (which I called "car-cars" as a toddler).  I had Matchbox cars, Hot Wheels and scale models of cars that my godfather would give me (he got them from his brother who worked in an auto showroom).  One of my all-time favorite toys was the Deluxe Playmobile, which was a battery-powered dashboard of a car with a steering wheel, ignition that created a purring motor sound when the key was turned, a horn, turn signals, and moving windshield wipers.  And while I got a lot of pleasure playing with my cars, I also enjoyed destroying them, smashing them with bricks.  I'd become very excited whenever we drove past junk yards stacked with smashed autos.  However, by the time I began collecting Matchbox cars at age 11 or 12 I had aged out of that destructive phase (I still have these cars).

 

Deluxe playmobile

 

Matchbox car
This little green Mercedes was my first Matchbox Car.  Given to me as a gift in  Nov. 1968 (to reward me for a good report card), it cost 50 cents.

 

I remember every September in the 1960s being a time of high anticipation as the new model year was introduced (back then it was a big deal).

 

1965-mustang-ad

  1963 cars

 

It's ironic that despite my love of cars I've never owned one, largely because I've spent my adult life living in Manhattan (but I have a drivers license).  Later, perhaps to fill this hole I bought wonderful scale models of classic cars from the Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint and Dinky.  And the first account I worked on at my first job at an ad agency was the Volvo auto account. 

 

1949 mercury club couple
1949 Mercury Club Coupe (from the Danbury Mint collection)

 

RobFrydlewicz.NWAyer1995
Here I am in my office in 1995 with the car pictured above.

 

Scale model car red
Admiring a Pontiac GTO while shopping

The Evolution of Office Work In the Past 40 Years - A First-Hand Account

Selectric with correcting tape

 

2019 was the 40-year anniversary of me beginning my first job out of college (Penn State), which was working in the media planning department at New York ad agency Scali McCabe Sloves.  This milestone had me thinking about the "primitive" work conditions I encountered in the spring of 1979 and the changes I've witnessed since then (most which didn't take place until the 1990s).  At this first job the big advance was the IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter, which had a cartridge that enabled allowed the user to go back one space and erase a typo.  Here are some other big advances:

 

Caller ID

This advance, which was first introduced to our office in the early 1990s, is the one that I still marvel at the most.  Before caller ID we answered our desk phone without knowing who was calling (shudder!).  Since there was no voice mail, if I didn't answer the call it bounced over to my secretary who scribbled down a message on a pink "While You Were Out" tablet.

 

Caller id phone
 

Desktop Computers

They arrived shortly after Caller ID.  Before then we accessed research databases using a few computers that were kept in the research library.  And users had to use a sign-in sheet to reserve time.  About 15 years later (2010) laptops, for the most part, replaced desktop computers.  This portability allowed for working from home and taking them to meetings (but making it a challenge for a presenter to make eye contact).  

E-Mail

Replacing paper memos, e-mail emerged in the mid-90s but its availability for the first year or so was limited to staff who were in upper management positions.  Similarly, web access was initially restricted.  Then about ten years later e-mails could be accessed on employees' company-supplied Blackberries, then to personal smartphones.

Dress Codes

Not a technical breakthrough, but the loosening of dress codes coincided with the proliferation in technology.  Before then suits, or at least shirts and ties, were expected to be worn every day until Casual Fridays started in the mid-1980s.  As you can imagine dressing up every day could make working in the summer very uncomfortable (especially since the subways weren't air conditioned until the 1990s). 

Secretaries

These hard-working employees (whose title was changed to administrative assistant 25 years ago) carried out countless tasks that were largely menial, but crucial.  Today, alas, we perform tasks that they once did, making us a bit less productive as we spend time doing timesheets, making travel plans, filling out expense reports, scheduling meetings and reserving conference rooms.  However, one task that we now do that has actually made our lives simpler is doing our own typing and preparing reports and presentations.  This enables us to make revisions immediately and do things in exactly the way we picture them in our head.  Also, we can complete projects without negotiating time with others when we had to share secretaries.

 

Tess in working girl

 

Research Library

All of the audience and media/marketing research data we used came in the form of hardbound books and "pocket pieces", and there was a substantial library full of these books; they were constantly being updated (monthly and weekly).  Sources that were used extensively would end up having torn or missing pages, or the binders were put back on the wrong shelves or taken from the library and not returned.  40 years later there are no books published, or libraries, as everything is digitized and accessed from websites. And although missing pages is no longer an issue a new hassle is keeping track of personal passwords for each database.

 

Classic - library 1991
Here I am in Foote Cone & Belding's meda research library, circa 1998.

 

Arts & Crafts

We created flowcharts of advertising schedules by manually drawing arrows and writing in numbers.  And when the flowcharts were shown to clients they were often enlarged on huge white boards.

Evolution of Audio-Visual Equipment & Copiers

We progressed from overhead projectors with acetates to Powerpoint presentations, then to webexes that enable us to view presentations remotely.  Scanning documents replaced faxes, copiers replaced carbon paper - and copiers evolved to be able to collate, staple, produce color copies and copy on both sides.  And Excel replaced paper spreadsheets and pencils.

The Clean Air Act

Through the mid-90s smoking was permitted in offices and conference rooms.  Then it was allowed if those in a presentation or a private office agreed.  However, drinking liquor/beer at the office still occurs (at least at ad agencies).

 

Smoking in the office_shutterstock

Leisure Time at the Office

40 years ago no one would think of openly playing solitaire at their desk or doing shopping, but now lots of time seems to be spent playing around because if it's being done on a computer it looks like work (or listening to music through headphones or earbuds).

Farewell to Face-to-Face Encounters

Finally, an increasing number of of meetings/presentations are now done via Skype or webexes.  Recently, the agency where I work announced that it was doing away with landlines; calls will now come thru our laptops or cell phones using a phone app found on Microsoft Teams.  Some frustrating drawbacks to these new forms of voice communications are technical glitches, audio issues, and persons asking questions/making comments from different locations talking over one another. 

 

When I began my career, "old-timers" would tell me about how work used to be done - adding machines, doing calculations by hand, working in the summer when air conditioning wasn't a given (offices had ceiling fans).  Today I find myself in that role, but I often remark to younger colleagues that relative to the ways business was conducted in the past, today's technological advances seem magical, making the responsibilities I have now seem almost fun rather than being tedious.

 

Changing times

 

 

 

 


New York City in the 21st Century - A New Type of Ghost Town

Risoteria for rent

 

When I was a kid we learned in school about "ghost" towns, which were once bustling towns in the West and Great Plains that popped up due to farming or the mining of natural resources.  They thrived until the minerals were depleted  or because of persistent drought and were then abandoned.  This was also the fate of many factory towns in the Rust Belt in the last few decades of the 20th century.  Now, in the 21st century, some neighborhoods in Manhattan are bringing to mind ghost towns as their stores and restaurants go out of business on an all-too-regular basis after landlords jack up their rents to unreasonable levels.  Each day when I return home from work I brace myself for yet another "Space for Rent" sign in the window of a store I used to patronize.

 

Retial space available

 

To quantify the magnitude of these closings my friend Maury and I spent a recent weekend canvassing Greenwich Village and Chelsea to see for ourselves how pervasive the situation was, and we came across not 50, not 100, not 150, but 208 retail spaces that were closed.  We found the omnipresent "For Rent" signs on fifteen streets, with the greatest concentration on Bleecker St., 8th St. and Christopher St.  And if we had walked on every street in the West Village and Chelsea the number would likely have exceeded 250.  While this is a disconcertingly high number, an article on the website DAN Info reported that the area with the most empty storefronts wasn't Greenwich Village, but SoHo and TriBeCa.

 

Vacant Stores and Restaurants

What's so troubling is that many of these vacant storefronts were businesses that served the residents of their neighborhoods - delis, laundries, shoe repair stores, and barber shops - only to be replaced by high-end retailers that cater to tourists.  Some of these storefronts can stay empty for a year or longer (the spaces formerly occupied by Manatus restaurant on Bleecker St. and Barnes & Noble on Sixth Ave. have been vacant for more than two years), but landlords have no incentive to find new tenants in a timely fashion.  In fact, it's considered a business loss which is a tax write-off.  As these establishments sit empty, they detract from the quality of life of the streets they're located on (especially since there are multiple locations on each street).  I feel rage boiling up inside of me when I walk by these eyesores knowing that the primary reason for them sitting empty is unrestrained greed.

 

Retail space

 

A SAD GALLERY OF EMPTY STOREFRONTS

 

Space for Rent
On Christopher St., the sign on the window reads "Trendy Retail", which is code for "rent is $25,000 per month".

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Hsbc 14th and 6th
Stories about the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl era were often accompanied by a photo of a shuttered bank. However, this photo isn't from Nebraska, but the bustling corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave. where HSBC boasted a once handsome branch office which has now sat empty for 18 months.

 

Chelsea vacancy
8th Avenue in Chelsea

 

Chelsea
Across the street from the Chelsea storefront above.

 

Corner of bleecker and sixth former american apparel
The corner of Sixth Ave. and Bleecker St. was briefly an American Apparel store. Before that it sat empty for a year after being a Banana Republic for many years.

 

Hairdresser note to clientele
On this door of a shuttered hair salon on W. 10th St. the owner has a message of thanks to customers. The salon had been in this location since 1997.

 

Restaurant across from me
This site of a former restaurant is at the corner of Barrow and West 4th Streets and is across the street from my apartment. It has sat empty for two years.

 

Eighth street eyesore
This eyesore on W. 8th St. is just off tony lower Fifth Ave. Once a branch of HSBC Bank, it's been in this condition for years.

 

Spa belle
Nearly as ubiquitous as Starbucks, six Spa Belle's have been shuttered in Chelsea and the West Village due to a glut of competing nail salons.

 

Associated
The closing of a supermarket is always a concern for residents, especially one like Associated, known for its low prices. It had been an anchor on W. 14th St. for more than 25 years.

 

Polo store
The retailer with the most square footage on Bleecker St. was Ralph Lauren's Polo store, but apparently the bragging rights were no longer worth the expense.  On the window shoppers are directed to other stores in trendy neighborhoods: East Hampton, West Broadway and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

 

Simplicity
Just one of 25 empty storefronts on 8th St. - only Bleecker St. has more.

 

Restaurant for lease on bleecker
This restaurant is east of Sixth Ave. Empty storefronts can be found in equal numbers regardless of which side of Sixth Ave. they're on.

 

Big blue for rent sign
I have enough photos to create a decent-sized Pinterest board. This empty store is on W. 14th St. between Fifth Ave. and Union Square.

 

Store for rent
Not all signs are fancy ones. This one is on the window of a former consignment store that had been at this Jones St. address for more than 30 years.

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Update. Since writing this post in September 2016 the vacancies continued to grow, especially on Bleecker St. in the West Village  The space that used to be Manatus restaurant on Bleecker St. has sat empty for six years, the former site of Barnes & Noble at the corner of West 8th St. and Sixth Ave. has been empty for seven years and the grand building at the corner of Sixth Ave. and West 14th St. that was occupied by HSBC Bank had languished for nearly four years (before it was taken down to make room for condominiums).


Favorite Toys of Christmases Past (1960s)

 Santa putting gifts under tree

 

If you were a kid in the 1960s, historical events of that decade may not be easily remembered - but what Santa placed under the tree on Christmas morning is probably still etched in your mind.  Here are some of the presents I remember most fondly:

 

DELUXE PLAYMOBILE (1962)

This ranks as my all-time favorite present.  It was a full dashboard of a car with working windshield wipers, turn signal indicator and ignition which made a purring motor sound when the ignition was turned on.  Little did I know back then as a 5-year-old that this would be the closest I'd come to owning a car since I've lived in Manhattan for my entire adult life and haven't needed one.

 

Deluxe--playmobile 

 

LINUS THE LIONHEARTED LION (1963)

"Krispy Kritters" was a new breakfast cereal with the maniacally sung tagline of "The one and only cereal that comes in the shape of animals!" as an array of animated creatures from the savannas of Africa scooted across the TV screen in a stampede.  Linus was the spokes-animal and his stuffed likeness was a premium with box tops.

 

Linus the lionhearted

 

KENNER'S GIVE-A-SHOW PROJECTOR (1964)

The projector showed slides of various Hanna Barbera cartoon characters.  I got a kick out of projecting the images on the ceiling of my darkened bedroom or on my pillowcase and playing around with the focus band to show the images as huge or tiny.  

 

Giveashow_projecter

 

HANDS DOWN! (1964)

This was a game that required hand-slapping action onto one of four plastic hands (called the "Slam-o-Matic").  Suspense was created when a player picked a card from the deck and the other players wondered if he/she had two-of-a-kind, which would instigate slapping down of his/her assigned hand.  The last person who slapped was penalized.  Fun came when someone faked and got others to foolishly slap their hands. Because of the vigorous slapping action I worried about the plastic hands breaking off.

 

Hands_down 

 

KING OF THE HILL (1965)

Using marbles as playing pieces, the route to the top of the hill included detours/holes that could lead your marble to reappear far away.  If your marble made it to the top a crown would pop up.  This game brings back a nasty memory.  On Christmas night we drove my grandmother home and upon arriving at her house I got out of the car to let her out and stepped in a large puddle of dog excrement.  On the drive home we kept the car windows rolled down and I hung my shoe out the window.  It was one of those "we'll laugh about this later" moments.

 

King_of_the_hill 

 

"LOST IN SPACE" LONG-SLEEVED PULLOVER (1965)

Clothes as a favorite gift for a child?  Absolutely!  This long-sleeved pullover jersey was in the style of the outfits worn by the male characters of the new CBS show Lost in Space.  I think it was the first time I was excited to get clothes for Christmas and I couldn't wait to wear it to school.  My older brother, Darrell, also got one; his was blue, mine black.

 

Lost-in-space-cast 

 

BATTERY-POWERED TWA AIRPLANE (1968)

It made separate sounds for taxiing and for flying and had flashing red lights.  It was about 12 inches in length and made out of metal.  I'd walk from room to room imagining routes the plane was traveling to all over the world.  That Christmas was made memorable by the Hong Kong Flu which was raging throughout the country.  Because everyone in my family had a touch of the flu we didn't go to Christmas Mass.  Also, the first space mission to orbit the Moon, Apollo 8, took place during the holiday.

 

TWA_toy_plane

 

SPIROGRAPH (1968)

This arts/crafts kit enabled aspiring juvenile artists to make beautiful, somewhat psychedelic images through a selection of colored pens, pins and design templates.  It was a safe way for a child coming of age in the "Age of Aquarius" to experience mind expansion without using pot or LSD.

 

Spirograph 

 

SKITTLE BOWL (1970)

I spent many a weekend in the winter of 1970-71 in heated competition with my parents and older brother playing this variation of bowling.  We'd place the board on the kitchen table and each of us took a turn pushing out the billiard-sized wooden ball (attached to a post by a chain) in an arc.  The ball would strike miniature bowling pins.  Me and my mother were rather mellow players but my dad and brother were hyper-competitive which sometimes led to tension that occasionally lasted beyond the match. 

 

  Skittle_bowl

 

 

My gushing over these cherished toys is not meant to slight the myriad other wonderful gifts I've received over the years, such as Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, the games Operation!Yahtzee and Mousetrap, a miniature Lionel train set and many more.  To immerse yourself in even more toys you may want to consider the DVD Classic Toy Commercials of the 60s or the book Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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Holiday Ads That Spread Christmas Cheer

 

Coke.holiday.ad

 

On a Sunday evening in early December 1971 I was watching a long forgotten Christmas special.  But what I remember was a commercial for Coca Cola in which a group of young people of various ethnic backgrounds was gathered on a hill singing a song called I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke.  It was also released as a single which became a top-10 hit for the New Seekers.  However, because of radio overplay I came to despise this treacly song (akin to Disney's It's a Small World).  Still, whenever I hear it I associate it with the holiday season.

 

Some holiday commercials can be very cloying, especially the plethora of those for cars with big red bows on top (seriously, how many people really give cars as gifts?)  However, I don't want the theme of this post to take on a negative tone since there is a bounty of wonderful Christmas ads to celebrate.  For instance, some of those by the GAP are delightful.  I dare you not to smile or have the desire to do some toe tapping ...

 

 

 

 

 

Target ran a beautiful dreamlike series of ads during the 2006 Christmas season that combined ethereal white and blue hues with soft techno music by British duo Goldfrapp   

 

 

 

In 1999 Amazon ran wonderfully kitschy ads that were take offs of the Sing Along with Mitch TV show from the early 1960s.  But despite the acclaim this campaign received Amazon put its account up for review the following year and the ad agency that created these ads, Foote Cone & Building/San Francisco, resigned the account.  

 

 

 

And during the 2013 holiday season staid K-Mart created controversy with its racy ad for its Joe Boxer line of men's briefs which showed a line of beefy gents in holiday attire performing in quasi-Chippendale's fashion to Jingle Bells (or was it Jingle Balls?).  

 

Joe.boxer.jingle.bells

 

Magazines also have their share of stylish holiday-oriented ads.  Here are three from Smirnoff, Tiffany & Co. and Absolut:

 

This ad for Smirnoff is from the early 1990s.  It was before the flavored vodka craze hit so if you wanted a taste of peppermint back then you'd need to dip a candy cane into your drink.  Perhaps the candy cane in this ad was a subtle way of enticing kids (or kids that read The New Yorker)?

 

XmasLiquor 

 

Befitting its image, Tiffany's holiday ads are classy and stylish - and, of course, they always display the famous Tiffany box.

 

Tiffany_xmas 

 

Absolut's venerated all-print campaign has been running since 1980 and was chosen by Ad Age as one of the 10 best campaigns of the 20th century.  Close to 2,000 ads have been created using clever wordplay, names of cities and designers, holidays and creative depictions of the iconic Absolut bottle.  This lovely holiday ad is from the early days of the campaign.  (If you like ads you may enjoy a coffee table book titled Absolut Book which includes 500 of the ads.) 

 

Absolut_joy


Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)

 

Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  

 

TIME_Magazine_MarilynMonroe 

 

In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.

 

Time_Magazine_AndyWarhol

  Time_magazine_rfk

  Time.mag.leonardbernstein

 

As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.

 

Time_mag_highoncocaine 

 

Time_Magazine_Herpes

 

Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)

 

Time_Magazine_CharlesandDiana

 

A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:

 Time_magazine_brucespringsteen  

 Time_juan_eva_peron

 Time.ellen.yep.im.gay    

Time_Magazine_IsGodDead

Time_magazine_ ojsimpson

 Time_how_gay_is_gay

 

 

 

 


Hurricane Gloria Smashes Long Island, Lashes New York City (September 27, 1985)

Glorianewsday At one point earlier in the week Hurricane Gloria was a formidable category 4 storm with winds approaching 145 mph.  However, by the time it made its way up to the Mid-Atlantic region (after making an initial landfall in North Carolina) it had weakened somewhat, but was still a worry since hurricanes make so few landfalls in the New York metro area.  And although a hurricane warning had been issued for Manhattan at 4 PM on Thursday, it didn't keep me from attending a cocktail party that evening hosted by Travel & Leisure magazine to promote its jungle safari-themed November issue.  The event was held at The Safari Club, a few blocks north of Bloomingdale's. 

 

 

For whatever reason, I wasn't feeling alarm over Gloria so when I arrived home I was surprised to hear on the news that the World Trade Center would be closed the next day as well as New York City schools.  Furthermore, residents of high-rise buildings were advised to tape their windows to keep glass from showering sidewalks below if they were blown in.  I didn't worry about that since I lived in a basement/garden apartment, but I had concerns about potential flooding. 

 

Hurricane_evacuation_route 

 

To get in the spirit I went to the supermarket and bought candles (not that there were any above-ground power lines in Manhattan to be blown down).  It was the first time I experienced panic-shopping and hoarding.  Since a hurricane was a novelty in these parts few of us knew what to expect as we turned in for the night. 

 

On Friday morning (Sept. 27) I got a call from my boss at 8:00 telling me that the office (ad agency Young & Rubicam) was closed because of the storm.  However, not everyone got word and after coming in they were stranded when rail and subway tunnels were closed due to flooding.  I ventured out to pick up the paper and breakfast but I mostly wanted to experience the storm.  As I walked along Bleecker St. in the West Village I saw awnings tested mightily by the rain-blown gales and a few trash cans blowing down the street.

 

Hurricanegloria

 

Manhattan was spared hurricane-force winds as the storm stayed to our east.  Gloria's "eye" moved over the Nassau/Suffolk county line (50 miles east of Manhattan), with Suffolk Co. bearing the brunt of the storm.  My friend Nina was impacted because she lived in a beachfront condo in Long Beach.  Another friend, Marina, had just moved to Southampton in Suffolk Co. and her yard suffered extensive tree damage and power was out for more than a week.  And out on Fire Island, Calvin Klein's oceanfront home in the community of the Pines lost part of its roof which landed in the swimming pool of the property behind it.

 

Hurricane_gloria 

 

More than three inches of rain fell in Central Park that morning but skies cleared rapidly early in the afternoon. (This was much needed rain as New York was in the midst of a serious drought.)  I went out for a jog to survey the damage, which was minimal.  All I came across was a small tree blown down in the plaza of the World Trade Center.  The storm was a quick mover so it spared us from more wind damage or flooding.  I was relieved that disruptions were minimal because I had a date that night.

 

For a fascinating first-hand account of what it was like to experience Gloria out on Fire Island, you may want to read John Jiler's book Dark Wind: A True Account of Hurricane Gloria's Assault on Fire Island.

 

 

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Memory Jog - 1960's Primetime TV

Although viewing choices in the primitive 1960's were limited to just three broadcast networks they produced an abundance of programs to choose from when reminiscing about favorites.  And what I remember best about some shows isn't necessarily individual episodes but, rather, peripheral aspects - which I've written about below.

 

Andy_griffith_showI'd be getting ready for bed when the Andy Griffith Show aired on Monday evenings.  Funny, but what I associate most with the show is a commercial for Maxwell House coffee that seemed to air every episode.  It showed coffee starting to perk in the little window atop the coffee pot and a catchy jingle derived from the sound of the rhythmic perking would begin to play. 

 

 

The Pruitts of Southamption was a way-wacky, and short-lived, sitcom that aired on ABC during the 1966-67 season starring Phyllis Diller.  It's seared into my brain because of its surreal, so-bad-it's good opening.  Interestingly, 20 years later my friend Marina moved to Southampton and opened a bed and breakfast there that I'd visit regularly.

 

 

 

Petticoat Junction was a CBS sitcom that aired on Tuesday evenings, coming on just as my mother was leaving for her bowling league.  During the show's opening credits I was fascinated by the big water tank in which the three daughters were either swimming or bathing in.  I always wondered how deep the water was - and whether the girls were skinny dipping.

 

 

 

Addams_family

The Addams Family and Patty Duke Show aired on Friday nights on ABC and when they were over I'd take a drive with my parents into downtown Pittsburgh to drop-off a stack of weekly football contests at the Pittsburgh Press/Post-Gazette building.

 

Although I was only 7 or 8 I had a pre-conceived notion that Brooklyn wasn't a great place to live so I was intrigued that Patty Lane's family lived in Brooklyn Heights - which seemed like a very nice place.  Both shows had classic theme songs, and one of my all-time favorite lines is Patty Duke's - "A hot dog makes her lose control".  I don't know what it says about my family but we preferred The Addams Family over The Munsters.

 

The Mod Squad was another show with a great opening.  I was winded by the time Pete, Peggy and Link completed their run through that dark & dank tunnel.  Even 40+ years later the theme song doesn't seem dated - and it can be great for inspiring a sprint when you're on the treadmill!

 

 

  

Buffy_familyaffair When thinking of the CBS sitcom Family Affair many think of Anissa Jones, the child actress who played Buffy and who died from a drug overdose as a teenager in the mid-70s, but I first think of the twinkling crystal chandelier from the opening credits.  And even though I was just 10 years old I was curious about the relationship between Uncle Bill and Mr. French (his "gentleman's gentleman"), especially when he'd draw his bath.

 

   

 

I was never a fan of the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres or Gilligan's Island - perhaps because they were a bit too zany or ironic for my prepubescent brain.  However, I did love the opening of Green Acres.  Intererstingly, when I'd occasionally catch a repeat of the show as an adult I appreciated Arnold the pig.  Another show I wasn't too keen on was the Brady Bunch.  However, I really got a kick out of the two movies from the 1990's that spoofed the show.

 

 

 

A long-forgotten show from the late 60's - Here Come the Brides - had a catchy easy-listening theme song which made it onto Billboard's top 40.  This one-hour show wasn't quite a Western or a sitcom although it had elements of both.  Set in the Pacific Northwest in the 1860's it told the story of a lumber mill owner who brought marriageable women from Massachusetts to serve as potential brides for the lumberjacks.  It introduced Bobby Sherman and David Soul before they became pop idols.  Also featured was 1930's actress Joan Blondell as Lottie, the owner of the local saloon who also watched over the girls (unbeknownst to benighted viewers she was probably a "madam".).    

 

 

 

Laugh_in Finally, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was a jolt of electricity and watching it Monday night was a great way to start the week.  I loved the Farkles and all of Lily Tomlin's characters (e.g. Ernestine, Edith Ann, the Terribly Sophisticated Lady) and I got a kick impersonating some of the characters in front of schoolmates.  Besides the regular cast the show also featured a cavalcade of stars who'd make cameos throughout each show (e.g. John Wayne, Sammy Davis, Jr., Raquel Welch).  Its over-caffeinated pace was a pre-cursor to the MTV era.  

 

If you'd like to read even more about TV you may want to consider two books: The 101 Greatest Sitcoms and The Complete Directory to Network & Cable Shows.     

   


The Power of Pop Music: Summertime Memories

Radio_jpg Although I have 9,000 songs on my iPod just a few have the power to trigger "a-ha" memories (e.g. I equate In the Year 2525 with the first Moon landing; The Night Chicago Died with Nixon's resignation).  The earliest I remember were novelty songs when I was a wee lad of 3 or 4, e.g. Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop; Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini; and Alley Oop.  What follows are some songs of summers past that bring to mind memories from my personal history. 

 

Lesely_gore Hearing Judy's Turn to Cry (Lesley Gore), Nat King Cole's quintessential summer song Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer or the popular Australian folk song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport takes me back to the summer of 1963.  I was 6 years old and remember those songs playing on the car radio while I sat in the front seat of our Rambler station wagon as we drove to Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo.  My sister Linda, two of her girlfriends and my brother Darrell were in the backseat.  At the zoo a baboon took a liking to me, followed me around and constantly showed me his multi-colored behind.

  

 

1965Dodge_Coronet The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction was the first rock song that registered with me.  It got plenty of airplay in August 1965 when my parents bought a new car, a steel blue Dodge Coronet sedan.  It replaced our 1960 Rambler station wagon which on two occasions lost its front wheel - once in the parking lot at Kroger and the other time at an intersection as we waited to pull into traffic.  But despite this potentially fatal defect (for both us and the car) I had a sentimental attachment to the car (in lieu of the dog I never had).  On the evening we left it at the dealership I sat in the car and cried.  We had the Coronet for 8 years until the fall of 1973 when we got an Oldsmobile Cutlass (for $3,300, the same price I'd pay for my plasma TV in 2003). 

 

Then in the summer of 1966 my sister Linda swooned for the guy group Wayne Fontana & the Mindebenders and their hit Groovy Kind of Love (another guy group, The Association, got her attention as well).  That same summer I got creeped out by the novelty song They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha), about a man going mad and being taken to an insane asylum.  In a chilling coincidence, later that summer a young man in Austin, TX snapped, climbed a water tower and randomly shot to death 15 people on the ground.


 


 

Big_apple_nyc During the summer of 1976 I visited New York City for the first time.  The songs burnt into my memory were Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John/KiKi Dee); Kiss & Say Goodbye (Manhattans); and Turn the Beat Around (Vicki Sue Robinson).  I was 19 at the time and drove to NYC with my brother who had begun working in Bayonne, NJ the year before as band director at the town's high school.  It was also the first time I stuck a toe in the ocean, at the beach in Belmar, NJ.

 

Bill_idol_rollstone Skipping ahead 6 years, I was in the middle of vacation with my boyfriend Rick in August 1982.  We were on our way to Provincetown after having spent a few days in Ogunquit, ME and were stuck in traffic in downtown Boston (my first time there).  The New Wave song Kids in America (Kim Wilde) came on the radio and it was followed by Billy Idol's first hit Hot in the City (not to be confused with Nick Gilder's Hot Child in the City from 1978).

 

Men_without_hats Whenever I hear Every Breath You Take (The Police) or Safety Dance (Men Without Hats) it brings to mind the birth of my nephew, Corry, in July 1983 (on the very same day as his father's 30th birthday).  Curiously I don't have any such tuneful memories from when nephew #2, Nick, was born in December 1985.  

 

 

Fip_ferryMusic sounded just a little better to me when I was floating on a raft in the pool at my weekend share at Fire Island.  In the summer of 1999 one of my housemates, Matthew, loved No Scrubs by TLC and played it incessantly.  And Cher's comeback song Believe was the dance anthem of that summer.  I also recall that during my first visit out there in 1982 ABBA's Lay All Your Love On was big in the clubs and the summer of my first share, 1996, the debut CD by Kristine W. (a club star rather than mainstream) was a popular one at our house.

 

XM-Logo-2006 Finally, during the 2000's my summer share at Fire Island had XM Satellite Radio which introduced me to a lot of great songs from the 1960's and 1970's, largely R&B, that I was unfamiliar with.  Ultimately I purchased a few hundred of them on iTunes.  Some of the best were Edwin Starr's Headline News; Eddie Kendricks' Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need; and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' Satisfation Guaranteed.

 



   


A "Census-ational" Summer (August 2010)

Its_in_our_hands It's hard to believe my 13-week stint working as a Census enumerator has come to an end.  And I can't believe I actually went through with it - but I'm glad I did.  It was an enriching experience that was fascinating (yet at times frustrating) and exhilarating (but often exhausting).  After working for 30 years in the corporate world, insulated from the "unwashed masses" (i.e., the general public), the thought of interacting with them face to face wasn't something I relished.  But at the same time the researcher in me was curious about taking a peek behind the curtain to see how the Census sausage was made (and I was unemployed at the time).

 

 

As an enumerator my job was to collect Census information from households which hadn't returned their questionnaires.  75% of households nationwide return their Census forms but the rate of return in Manhattan is only around 55%. This might be due to unique circumstances such as vacant apartments and high-end co-op buildings which had a sizable number of units used as  "pied-a-terres" by their owners (a person is counted only at his/her primary residence). 

 

Census_shoulderbag

 

Neighborhoods were divided into sub-groups, each with 8-10 enumerators assigned to a four or five-block area.  Enumerators were usually assigned the neighborhood they lived in to make it convenient for us to go out at any time of the day.  My group was a mix of aging Village "bohemians", a photographer, actor, a few waiters and some of us with corporate pedigrees.  Those of us with corporate experience appeared to have an edge over the others when it came to completing the large volume of paperwork that was part of every aspect of the job - and required meticulous attention to detail.  

 

Before we hit the pavement, a full week of training was conducted.   The seriousness of the job was impressed upon me the first afternoon when each one of us was fingerprinted.  We were also required to sign a confidentiality agreement that carried with it a stiff penalty for revealing any personal information collected during interviews.  Training materials seemed geared largely to suburban settings, so while we were instructed on how to go about surveying trailer parks and private homes, and received tips about safe driving, there wasn't a whole lot about how to approach apartment buildings in a large urban setting such as Manhattan.  Minimal guidance was offered on how to negotiate buzzer systems or cajoling doormen or building supers into letting us into a building. 

 

Census_postcard.jpg

 

 

Although it was relatively easy to get people to cooperate when you were at their door, getting to the door proved quite a challenge.  When speaking on intercoms there was Manhattan's street noise to contend with and some buildings had poorly wired systems that made it nearly impossible to communicate clearly.  The biggest challenge, however, was being at the mercy of tenants.  Often they didn't reply when you announced yourself or they'd shut you off before you finished explaining the purpose of your visit.  

 

Census_becounted

 

I'd usually put in three to four hours of work each day (weekends too) but it felt like a full day, probably because I was always "on" during each visit as if it were a performance, a one-man show of sorts.  After I was finished for the day my adrenaline would be pumping, similar to how I felt after finishing a client presentation.  To get a completed Enumerator Questionnaire gave me such a rush.

 

If people refused to cooperate we had to be polite and diplomatic while getting the point across that "no" wasn't an option as compliance was mandated by law - as per the US Constitution.  (We were told during training that not cooperating was on par with refusing to pay federal income tax.)  Under no circumstances were we to call someone an "idiot", "pinhead" or "un-American" - no matter how much they may have deserved it.  Some respondents were very gracious (even contrite) while others were nasty, treating us like we were waiters or squeegee men.  However, I came to realize that how we were treated wasn't necessarily because we were Census workers (OK, sometimes it was) but simply because these people had nasty dispositions - or just had a bad day.  (By the way, that's me in the photo sporting my badge and official Census shoulder bag.) 

 

Me_census_enumerator.jpg

 

When enumerators got together we had a chance to share our experiences and the neighborhood Starbucks (and probably most throughout Manhattan) became Census Central since it was the most convenient and congenial place for us to have meetings with our crew leaders.

 

Despite the hurdles encountered I managed to complete about 250 interviews.  Upon finishing my stint a friend who works for a large marketing research company offered to pass my name on to the person who hires people to conduct door-to-door surveying.  I begged off because it was difficult enough getting people to cooperate for a survey mandated by law so I couldn't imagine what it would be like trying to convince people to do it just for the benefit of marketers.

 

USCensus

 

My Census experience proved to be a largely rewarding one because it allowed me to take part in a vital civic task with a rich heritage.  Plus, it made me feel even more connected to my community.  And although there were frustrations the various challenges I encountered made getting a completed interview that much sweeter. (To learn more about how Census data is used by the federal government to help it run the country you may want to read the book Who Counts: The Politics of Census Taking.)     


 Remembered by Rob Frydlewicz