"From the Desert to the Sea, to All of Southern California." - Jerry Dunphy

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Van Nuys Demolay Reunion

The main reason for starting this blog, last November, was to get back in touch with friends from our Demolay/Job's Daughters/Rainbow, work and school days. To that end we have been very pleased with the response. So much so that a few of us are wondering if a small reunion might be possible. It can as simple as meeting at a restaurant such as "Bob's" or gathering at someones house.

If you are interested please contact me at this blogs E-mail: vannuysboomers@gmail.com

Since I am 2400 miles from Los Angeles I will forward all communications to Phone Rat who is more able to handle the logistics. Many thanks to everyone for your comments and memories and here's hoping we can all make new ones.

Please visit our Van Nuys Boomers YouTube page for more trips down memory lane.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tape Geeks

The ION turntable is a record player that hooks up to your computer USB port so you can transfer your LP’s to a digital format and put them on a your computer, CD or portable music player. You can also run another device through it, such as a tape player and transfer tapes as well. Phone Rat has kindly sent me his ION turntable so I can transfer my personal tape archive and maybe my promotional copy of Bob Seger's album "Back in '72".

My personal collection consists of tapes of family, friends, our band, and other various people and events. I may also copy a few tapes I made off the radio over the years. Us tape geeks used to sit at our desk with our radio and tape recorder and try to catch a song we couldn't get out of our head. I remember sitting at my desk on Haskell Ave. for hours trying to catch a clean copy “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors. I finally nailed it, minimal DJ interruption aside.

During the early 1980’s I would tape such things as Roy of Hollywood from KPFK, who from the Midnight hour on played tapes of Alan Watts, Mae Brussell, Dave Emory and a whole host of alternative programs. I also taped Bill Jenkins of KABC 790 AM who used to have a weekly paranormal show called "Open Mind" that was a precursor to shows such as "Coast to Coast AM " with Art Bell and George Noory. Late at night I would catch Ray Briem of KABC in the middle of a rant about politics or how much he hated electrified musical instruments. Other nights I taped the world with my Tandy recorder and Radio Shack (Sangean) DX-440 shortwave radio.

I have uploaded a few clips from my collection and of Phone Rat’s to the vannuysbbomers audio blog. It includes air checks from Phone Rat using his Pioneer RT 707, and a few snippets of comedy (Or not) skits we used to produce back in the 1970’s. While in retrospect these are silly, they were great fun for the Three Rats to make. We taped spoofs of TV shows and popular TV and radio commercials of the day. In 1975 Phone Rat and I visited Radio Rat when he lived in Phoenix Arizona. When we got back home we produced a tape to send back to him which included comedy bits and messages from many of our pals. When Radio Rat and I worked at Builders Emporium we made a spoof tape for a party we were having, of TV Shows we’d like to see with co-workers as the stars. I recently listened to it and had forgotten so many names.

Phone Rat’s main rig back in the 1970’s was a Teac 4300 reel to reel recorder which he used to record air checks and music. I started with a modest Panasonic stereo cassette deck I bought on layaway from Butler Brothers in Van Nuys where I worked. I later upgraded to a solid Pioneer cassette deck which I wore out. My portable recorders began with a cheap Electrophonic mono recorder bought at Hy-Lo Drugstore on Sepulveda Blvd in Van Nuys. When I wore it out I switched to numerous Tandy models. When I was in Junior High our neighbor Lucille gave me a portable reel to reel recorder. Unfortunately I no longer have it, or the tapes I made with it.

When I attended Los Angeles Valley College I had a modern art class for which I had to turn in a semester project. The class and the teacher were a bit silly. So I decided to forgo paint brush and pencil and make an audio piece of "art". One day I taped a microphone to my rear bumper and drove through the Hollywood Hills capturing every gear change and tire squeal. I then took the tape home and mixed the tape with Richard Nixon's Inaugural address and the song "One" by Three Dog Night. Ridiculous you say, well I got a "B" on the project.

During the 1970’s I made numerous trips to my hometown of Cleveland Ohio to visits my Mom’s family. I always brought my portable cassette recorder. Sometimes I would be sneaky with it but most times I would set it on the table and try to draw people out. Sometimes it was a conversation and other times a party. These tapes are priceless now that so many family members are now gone. Some family members, such as my Uncle Ed got into the tape thing and made tapes for me. We got silly and created fictional characters (Spies) for ourselves and we sent tapes back and forth across country.

So thanks to Radio Shack, Sandy’s Electronics, Electronic City, Cal Stereo and all the stores we haunted looking for electronics, stereos and tape stuff. May the big reel keep on turning.

P.S. Happy Birthday Radio Rat, you caught up to me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parlor Games of the 1970's

Within Demolay there were two types of parties. Sanctioned and unsanctioned. Having a responsible adult at sanctioned parties is a good idea for kids that age. There is nothing wrong with good clean fun. Unsanctioned parties were for the most part still tame, but a bit more fun. One of the popular parlor type games at these parties was called "Choo Choo." The game requires one bloke who has never played the game. Everyone lines up alternating girl than boy and so on. The new guy is put at the end of the line as the trains caboose. Music starts and everyone does a line dance walk of sorts around the room with their hands placed on the hips of the person in front of them. When the music stops the first girl turns around and kisses the boy behind her. The music starts up again and the line works its way around the room again until the music stops. This time the boy turns around and kisses the girl behind him. This goes on until the music stops for the last time and it's time for the the caboose to receive his kiss. The last girl turns around and smiles at the guy as she leans her head slightly forward. As the guy closes his eyes and sets himself up for a big wet one the sharp sting of a hand slap snaps his head sideways as his deflated ego crashes to the floor. He stands there stunned as everyone laughs and he tries to assemble a good natured smile from his aching cheek and bruised ego. Many years have now passed and I think I can say, I have forgiven Michele.

Another popular game was called "Black Magic." This is a two-man game performed on an unsuspecting group. The object of the game is for one of the men to identify an object in the room that the crowd picked out while he was away. This clairvoyant is asked to leave the room while his accomplice explains what will happen and asks the group to pick out a special object from the room. The clairvoyant comes back and takes a seat. His accomplice then moves about the room pointing out various objects until the clairvoyant correctly identifies the chosen object. What the crowd does not know is that somewhere in the game a black object is picked and found not to be the object. That is the clue to the clairvoyant that the real object will follow after a agreed upon number of objects are offered up. If your number is two, then the second object picked after the black object will be the real object. Hence the name "Black Magic."

A popular game when I worked at Builders Emporium was called "Truth or Dare." It was a step up from the clean cut level. We were a group of people who worked hard and played hard and there was at least one party a week, often more. If the crowds mix was right we'd tempt the hormones and play a game called "Truth or Dare." Most of the questions and dares involved mildly embarrassing sex questions. Even the dares were tame by today's standards.

Over the years the parties and games grew a little wilder. I'm sure we all have our own R-rated 'Twister" story. These are just the games it is safe to talk about. Most of our parties did not involve games. Most nights we would meet somewhere, talk, drink, flirt and find a dark corner if there was one. If not we were off to the Submarine Races...up periscope!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Whoa, Aaay

This worn leather coat is now retired, hanging in my closet. Sadly it no longer fits, rather I no longer fit in it, its not the coats fault. The last person to wear it was my grandson who recently wore it, along with a safari hat I have. He had seen the coat in my closet and wanted to dress up like Indian Jones and have me take his picture.

He asked where I got the coat and I told him I used wear it on my adventures with Indiana Jones. His mouth dropped and he said "wow Grampy". I told him I used to have a yellow whip (True), but I lost it in a battle with bad guys. He is six and a half, so I can still have fun with this stuff. To complete the look I gave him a sword to pose with that my Dad brought back from Japan after the war.

Though this coat now looks as if it's been through many adventures and battles, the real story is far less exciting. I started wearing this coat in 1974 as a lark after my girl friend made a remark over one of my "Fonzie" moments. You'll remember "Happy Days" the TV show was new, and many of us adopted Fonzie mannerisms as a joke. That night I remembered there was an old leather jacket in a closet, so I decided to wear it on our next date which was to the beach. On the way I told her we were going there to see the "submarine races". She said "the what?" I said you'll see. Yes we were that silly sometimes. It was the 70's! Thats my defense and I am sticking to it.

The previous owner of the jacket was my Dad. He wore this coat back in the 1950's when he was a cargo handler with Flying Tiger Airlines in Cleveland Ohio. After he graduated to an office job the coat went into the closet until I liberated it some 20 years later. I wore it for quite a few years until it became too fragile to wear on a regular basis. It served Dad well at work during the 1950's , and me during my Happy Days of the 1970's. "Aaay".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shaking Hands with the World

Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" is a seminal book for many baby boomer's. I confess I never read the book, but I am familiar with its premise. One day when I am less anxious or able to explore, I will sit and read the story of a man's journey across this country as youthful optimism turns to a weathered realization that things are not always as they seem. The disappointment is inevitable in any story, but what matters for my purpose here is the journey, the physical act of exploring. I am thinking back to my previous post, "The Wireless Home", in which I wondered if our kids even see their country as they travel through it. The enemy is not technology but the sense of adventure which its omnipresence diminishes. There is no discovery in a video game or a movie. The only way to really discover something is live and in person, exposing all your senses to the mundane and magnificent.

At the age of 15 I stood in front of the Grand Canyon looking out at the vast expanse. I never understood what my eyes saw until I leaned over the rail and threw a rock down into the canyon. I was a kid doing a kid thing to test the reality before me. I required all my senses to discover how deep and real it was. I did not comprehend the size until my rock landed many seconds later far below me. I'll never forget how long that rock took to land. I then shouted out into the canyon to get a sense of its width as my voice echoed off the canyon walls and back to me. No photo, no IMAX movie or video game can replicate that moment. It is the same impulse that makes us skip a rock across a pond. Or walk the rails of a neglected train track in Gallup New Mexico. Exploration is how we shake hands with the world and life.

Kerouac's book takes you many places to meet a variety of characters. When you are finished reading it I imagine wanting to rush out the door and discover world, for yourself. Video games are fine, but they can never do that for you. Lets not park our sense of adventure and the discovery it brings. If you're "On the Net", get off and get"On the Road" and shout at the world, throw your own rock of curiosity and shake hands with the world.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Wonder Years Tour

A little over 2 years ago Phone Rat, Radio Rat and myself went on what I called "The Wonder Years Tour'. I was moving out of town and wanted to visit some old friends and hangouts before I left. I wrote up an itinerary and one rainy March morning we went back in time.

Our first stop was in Burbank to pay allegiance to our tours namesake by visiting the house used in the TV show The Wonder Years. A picture I took of the house is on my Flickr site link to the left.

Our next stop was Van Nuys Masonic Temple, site of our Demolay meetings, installations, and band gigs. Here is a picture of the dinner and dance hall. I took this picture in 2006 but it could be 1971, it hasn't changed much. Here our band played on the stage as kids danced below us. When we weren't playing we were those kids out on the dance floor.

Next we drove out to Canoga Park to visit Gary who now rides around in a bright red truck with a long hose and a siren. We swapped old stories and new ones. Mostly we talked about old girlfriends and cars. We love our wives but part of us never gives up the ghost, and that is ok. After that we picked up Radio Rats sister and drove to Bob's Restaurant in Toluca Lake for lunch. After lunch we checked out a few more places and then made our way home.

It was sad to imagine moving away from the town where we all met, bonded and went out to take on the world on our terms. For me these relationships are the most powerful of my life. These are the friends who were there with me through many important rites of passage. It is to these friends that this blog is dedicated. Thankfully this blog keeps the Wonder Years Tour alive.

We might be accused of living in the past but I don't believe we are. By staying in touch we keep the past vital while still living in the present, where we make new memories. So this blog has brought some old friends back into our lives, and given us support through some trying times. Call up an old friend this weekend and meet them for lunch and a short trip around the old neighborhood. Perhaps one day we will all meet again for a sequel.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Wireless Home

Last night my wife and I met a few of my cousins at a local Pub called Merry-Arts Pub & Grill in Lakewood Ohio. We met to say goodbye to my cousin Eric who is moving to another state. Thursday night at Merry-Arts is also taco night so that was an added bonus. In all my time in Lakewood I had never been to this, the oldest pub in the city. I wish I had gone there when the pub was a refuge from our homes and work, and a place to met friends.

We sat in a large corner booth by the front window. From my seat I could see 7 televisions, not including the booth's that had small TV's. The Cleveland Indians game was on. They were finally winning so the chatter and clapping combined with the music made it even harder to talk. I hadn't expected the place to resemble a sports bar. I failed to realize that TV and loud music is everywhere we go. Aside from my cousins, my endearing memory of last night will be the noise.

I have this old school notion that the reason to get "out of the house" is to escape what is at home. Not anymore. Picture this; Mom is talking on the her cell phone, dad is watching TV and the kids are engrossed in their Game Boys. A scene of domestic bliss from any home across America? No, it's a scene from any restaurant, waiting room, or gathering place outside the physical home. The new home is wireless. We are a nation of virtual homebodies. You can walk the streets connected to your ipod or cell phone, oblivious to the world around you. You carry you comfort zone like you carry your wallet. The new definition of an outdoors man might be someone who travels around town unconnected to a cell phone, ipod, Game Boy or other electronic distraction.

On a larger scale we travel the country without looking at it. Dad drives us to our destination while his kids watch movies in the back of the van unaware of the countryside on the other side of the shatterproof glass. You get to your destination and check into your hotel where there is more TV and more movies. One of the 10 most important books I've read is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. The subtitle is "Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business". Mr. Postman's book addresses the media onslaught of modern times, with particular attention to the power, and dangers of television, and how it's altered the way we relate to information, that is now presented as entertainment. He pulled the curtain on this aspect of our future. I will have to re-read it to see if his words foretold this ugly detour.

I remember our family trips when I was a kid and asking the age old question, "are we there yet". I remember being bored to tears driving across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. I still remember those trips. They gave me a sense of my country, of the people how different their worlds were from mine. Yet we seemed to share a core essence of a place outside ourselves. I realized over the years how much I learned from those seemingly boring moments. My memories are filled with ordinary small towns, old barns, Burma Shave signs, Howard Johnson Restaurants and all the things that used to populate Route 66. What we used to experience as America. I pity a generation that will not even remember the video game or movie that occupied them as they drive across New Mexico unaware of the simple majesty. I can envision a day when each home might have a "Star Trek Holodeck", into which we program the sights and sounds of the world we missed, or the world as it is then. Actual Homebodies once again.

Goodbye Eric, we will miss you. One day we will drive down to see you, once I stock up on batteries for my MP3 player.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Our Cars

Last week Phone Rat and I got on the subject of cars. Cars we owned and those our friends had. Clearly the car in this picture is not a muscle car, but I am sure a lot of you will remember this car, its owner, and this charity event at the Shell Station on the corner of Van Nuys Blvd. and Sherman Way.

Phone Rat was remembering his 1966 Blue Ford Fairlane. Aside from numerous TP missions, what I remember most is the day a certain Sweetheart decorated his Fairline with shaving cream. Typical of the stunts many of us indulged in. Though it was just innocent fun this particular stunt set off a whole round of regrettable fireworks we still talk about.

My first car was a 1966 Pontiac Lemans. I used to drive it like a maniac through the hills. One of my favorite roads then was the dirt road section of Dixie Canyon. One day we were up there racing through the turns like a Midget car when Phone Ray shouts out, "Lock 'em up!" Like a damn fool I slammed on the breaks and we skidded left, then right until we came to a stop about a foot from the edge, which had no rails. After I restarted the car we continued on like nothing happened, such is youth.

Another memory is of an old Blue Chevy truck owned by one of the taller members of our group, "GZ". One day we were in the parking lot of the Van Nuys Temple. For some reason I was standing on the back of his truck, holding my acoustic guitar. All of a sudden the truck surged forward and I went off the back of the truck, face first with my guitar in front of me, onto the pavement below. When I got up I saw my guitar had taken the brunt of the damage. I was ticked off but the guitar did save me from serious injury. The fault was mine for standing on the back of an idling truck with a touchy clutch. The next time I rode with our tall friend was in his 1968 Plymouth Fury, which he called his "Grandfather Car".

Radio Rat used to run around town in an older Datsun station wagon blasting Deep Purples "Machine Head" on his 8-track player. Since that wasn't the ideal projection of cool he soon upgraded to a Chevy Vega Station wagon. Still not the epitome of cool, but functional for the things he needed it for, such as toting his drum kit to gigs, and so on, lots of so on. My fondest memory of the Vega was driving to the Ontario Motor Speedway the night before the race to hang out with another friend. But this was the era of van culture so Radio Rat traded up again for a souped up florescent yellow/orange Ford Econoline van. Into this "Love Truck" went the requisite shag carpet, television, refrigerator, quad stereo and I forget what else. There are too many escapades with that van to name one above the other. Perhaps Radio rat will elaborate. I hope he remembers this is a PG-Rated blog.

Other memories include me in my 1973 Ford Pinto racing "AT' and his Blue Ford Mustang down Sunset Blvd. It is written in my contemporaneous notes we reached speeds of 80 mph. I think that was top speed for my Pinto, while he was still in second gear. I recall another friend, "AB", who owned a Pinto, but this Green Pinto had a Mustang engine lurking under the hood. Another friend, "CF", had a Toyota Celica until one night when it met its fate. His next car was a low slung Lotus sports car. He told us he paid $10,000 for the Lotus. Exotic as it was, we all gasped and said we would never pay $10,000 for a car.

I also remember "JB" briefly owned a souped up Ford Mustang that I think he shared with his dad, "JB Sr". I seem to remember a Porsche 914, belonging to "GR". My favorite car was a Chevy El Camino owned by he father of our tall friend. Phone Rat remembers a 1964 Copper colored Plymouth Fury owned by "HW", and a 1954 Pontiac owned by "HM". I know there were a few more muscle cars out there you might remember?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Humble Harv, KHJ Boss Radio

Where is Humble Harv now? The last I knew he was at KZLA, but that information is over 10 years old. I found that information in Don Barret's book, Los Angeles Radio People Vol. 2. I remember when Humble Harv came to KHJ back in 1967. Here was a deep soulful voice speaking to me over the din of pop music and bubblegum. Here was a man who seemed to introduce each song as if it was the soundtrack of the apocalypse. The Rolling Stones were not just The Stones, they were the Stoooooooooooones with all the echo the L.A. canyons could provide. I remember that night in late 1968 or early 1969 when he introduced a song called "Games People Play" by Joe South. He told me all about Joe and the songs he had written that we all knew by heart. As that unique guitar intro jumped out of my radio I knew I was listening to one of the greatest records ever made, by a man who belongs in the Rock Hall of Fame. But that is another crusade.

Humble Harv was one of the first voices that made me listen to the jock and the music. The only other figure to capture my attention is those early years was Wolfman Jack from over the border in Mexico. As I write this post I have a Cleveland oldies station playing in the background. The playlist is a bit different than you hear on K-EARTH but the flavor is similar. The disk jockey is doing a journeyman's job but boy could I use Humble Harv right now.

I have this distinctive memory of sitting in my dark bedroom one night listening to the "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors and feeling a chill when Morrison sang about a "killer on the roam". I pictured the one armed man from the TV show The Fugitive roaming Mulholland Drive in the rain. Now I can't remember if Humble Harv introduced the song, but based on the mood I created I have to believe it was his voice that drove that killer right into my room. That is what a great disk jockey can do for the music. Thanks for the chills Harv.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A First Kiss

My first kiss happened while I was sitting on a bench next to the monkey bars at Robert Fulton Jr. High School. It was the summer of 1969 and our graduating class, The Elysians, had just completed our final day at Fulton Junior High School. A slow parade of students were passing in front of me when I heard a voice to my right calling out, "Goodbye Carey". It was Chris and she was waving goodbye to me.

Chris and I had one of those love/hate relationships in which you never seem to speak a civil word to each other. For three years we traded barbs and good natured insults. I waved back and said "goodbye" with a tone of sadness since I really did like her, and I knew I would not see her at High School. I watched her slowly walk away when she suddenly turned and ran toward me. I sat up expecting a goodbye whack on the top of my head. In an flash Chris was standing in front of me with her yearbook pulled tight to her chest and a somber look upon her face which I instantly understood. She paused for a second then bent down and gave me a quick, soft kiss on my cheek. She said "Goodbye" again and ran away. I watched her run across the Noble Ave. field, out of school and into my heart.

I was stunned and as happy as I could remember being in my short life. I got up and followed her path out of school, smiling all the way. There would never be another kiss or purely sweet moment quite like this. Thank you Chris.

Bill Smith of KTLA

I just read on L.A. Observed that KTLA Channel 5 has laid off field reporter Bill Smith along with other on-air and behind the scene employees. It is difficult to judge the quality of the news shows when I cannot view it, but based on what I have read the unique quality and position of KTLA since the death of Hal Fishman has been severely wounded. You have to wonder if Stan Chambers is next in the cross hairs.

In this era of TMZ style news I have to wonder if Mr. Smith will find another home on the public airwaves in Los Angeles. Television for me has been a lost cause for many years. Perhaps however a station such as KCET might pick him up for their news department. A Ralph Story type show or report would be a welcome addition, and a great venue for Bill Smith's unique perspective.

Changes are inevitable and we have all grown used to them. However changes in quality are disturbing in the news arena where quality is at a premium these days.

Please read Phone Rat's post on this blog for a past memory of Bill Smith in his days with KGIL.