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Two Guys Part I

Posted March 3rd, 2011 at 10:48 AM by chas
TWO GUYS PART I

“And now; let us spray!”
--Frank Fixit

“Welcome to The Great Cultural Cul-de-Sac.”
--Doctor Scott

The only year I ever had to take a bus to school was during seventh grade in 1964, when I rode to J.H.S. 74, Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High. There I made my last Queens pal in Jesse Asbestos, who could eat hot or spicy food without blinking, because he had metal plate covering the roof of his mouth, which kept a false tooth in place. He also had a white lab rat for a pet, which was very cool; its long, thick naked pink tale rather disgusting until you got used to it. But it was a friendly creature—more Pinky than Brain. On that first day of eighth grade, my conscientious mother insisted that I go to school, even though we were moving out the next day to Suffolk County, Long Island! M Dad had gotten a new job out there teaching high school, where he would eventually change from teaching Shop, which was a dumping ground for all the worst disciplinary problem kids, to a kamikaze position in Driver’s Ed, which he liked because it got away from the school administrators for most of the day. It occurs to me right now for the very first time that perhaps Mom just wanted me out of the way on the day before the move! So I oddly got to spend one day seeing how hard the NYC school system would have been for me, attending introductory classes in most of my subjects where they outlined an impossibly tough educational schedule of work. Finally, before the school day ended, an administrator saw the total absurdity of it and sent me home! Too bad mom passed on a few years ago; or I’d definitely bug her about it now, just to bust her chops. It did make me appreciate the more relaxed pace of the Suffolk County school system after I got out there.


Long Island is over 150 miles long, and after the two city boroughs of Brooklyn, where I was born, and Queens, where I was raised, comes Nassau County, which is not technically part of New York City, but part of what is now called the ‘Greater Metropolitan Area, which includes parts of New Jersey as well. Long Island’s largest town, Hicksville (go figure) was where we spent a few years between the two, where Dad and Cousin Jim’s father Uncle Leo ran their own gas station until it failed. Nassau is as big as both large City borough’s combined, and together with them forms the first half of Long Island. After that it’s Suffolk County, as big as all three areas, then a rural country of famous duck and potato growers, and lots of scrub pines. When we moved out there, near MacArthur Airport and the ferry to Fire Island at Sayville, we were at Exit 57, then the last exit on the Long Island Expressway, which would eventually be extended all the way out East to the end of the continental United States. Here was Montauk Point, where stood the famous light house at the end of the South Fork. The end of the North Fork was Orient Point, with a similar structure to warn passing ships. On a teen group drive out to Montauk once, we got our car stuck in the sand on the beach at night, and had to be hauled out by a night fisherman’s truck, under the rotating beam of the world’s biggest night light. Crazy kids…

Do you know that joke--it’s told in training seminars about the need for managerial flexibility. A Navy captain is told of sighting a light off the bow (out front) on a dark, stormy night in the days before radar. He sends the radio message: “This is Admiral Nasty of the battleship U.S.S. Bigboy. Get your ship out of the way; I’m coming through!”
The reply comes: “This is Seaman Second Class Albert Little. I will not move--veer off immediately!”
The Captain sends: “Listen, seaman, heave to this instant, or I’ll have you up on charges!”
“No can do, Captain; you turn off!”
“You little punk. I’m the Captain of the biggest ship in the U.S. Navy. You move aside.”
“This is Seaman Little. I’m a light house keeper!”

That summer we took over my parent’s first and only dream house, a ranch in a brand new development. The quarter acre had to actually be cleared. We dug up many rocks out of the backyard, and one huge stump root that Dad had to break up with an axe to fit into a garbage pail. We worked so hard that I ended up hospitalized for an operation to fix a hernia! Here I received a rare visit by a couple of the kids from Queens. Too young for a car, I now had to meet kids in school for new friends, as there was no local public transportation to the sleepy small towns nearby—where there wasn’t much to do for teens anyhow. The single shopping mall, Walt Whitman, was far away, and only accessible when someone’s mother felt like taking us, which more often was a family trip—for me with Mom and sis, rather than with my buddies.

I’ve always been close to learning. With an elementary school across the street in Queens, I now found Connetquot High School (it’s an Indian name, not far from the river of the same name) just around the corner from my house. I remember Mr. Randazzo letting me walk home one day to get a lunch I’d forgotten—“Why can he go and you can’t—because he can be trusted; that’s why!” Good old Mr. Randazzo—he’d compensate the kids if they’d be good during class; he used to have water pistol fights after school was over with them! He was home schooling his own kids years ahead of the wave, as his wife was a teacher too. I remember his comment about insane asylums: “If there were more of them than there were of us, they’d be on the outside and we’d be in there.”

The good news was that there was a change in the educational structure out here in the country. Just as I’d been skipped out of kindergarten (does that explain anything about my personality?) when moving from Hicksville to Bayside, Queens, I now found that eighth grade was part of High School out here, and the work load was nothing like it would have been had I stayed in Queens. The very modern, sprawling one story glass walled building had a second floor on stilts above the bus entry way, where people could wait underneath in bad weather. Behind were an open field and then Sportsmen’s Park, from which a deer would occasionally come to graze on the grass in the field! There was even a swimming pool. My only known pal was Cousin Jim, whose family had made the same move a year before ours, and now lived five of exits to the west of us. But that made visits between us few and far between. Two guys who were also isolated from the local society at Connetquot became my best friends.

Frankie Fixit was another transfer student. A blonde haired blue eyed Lithuanian; he was head and shoulders taller than even my six feet. Always friendly and charming, as the oldest son in a large Catholic family, his Dad would actually give him adult chores. For instance, he might leave Frank plans for shelves that needed to be built in the garage over the weekend, and Frank would make them himself! His Dad worked back in The City in a NYC Police Body Shop--you’ve seen it in the film The French Connection, where they take the crooks car apart to find the drugs. He and Frank did body work on cars for extra cash. I remember sanding a Plexiglas Corvette Stingray body under Frank’s direction. When we were finished, he prepared an industrial class paint sprayer, and bowed his head as if in church, with a twinkle in his eye: “And now—let us spray!” This was the opposite of my own attitude. I declined working with my Dad except for clearly defined chores like mowing the lawn, and never learned to make things in Dad’s basement shop, with its table saw and tool bench. Strangely enough, years later I found I loved working with my hands while trimming and painting my toy soldiers. Or maybe it wasn’t so strange, after all.

Doctor Scott was a local, who had grown up with the Sayville kids, but been one of those sent over when their older school district became overcrowded. His Dad had died young, and so he lived a very independent life within his family. He came home from school and went to bed. Then he’d arise at night in his own separate large basement bedroom and den area under a two story house, and write autobiographical fiction all night long. Then he’d head out for school. One of the smartest guys I’ve ever known, he’d teach me about rock music by drawing a diagram about how various rock musicians had moved between bands in the last ten years, with lines showing the transfers, until the entire piece of paper was so thick with lines it was almost solid ink. Although he was a school year behind me, we met during school plays in which we’d both have tiny parts, at long evening rehearsals. There we played chess in the first row of the auditorium while others were acting onstage, as Miss Baer made notes and gave orders to the Stage Manager, who wrote them down in her Prompt Book. One of the high academic achievers, Scott would smile about the local scene of small towns and garage sales and say of Long Island: “Welcome to The Great Cultural Cul-de-Sac.” A true polymath, he’d later teach the history of science, where he could explain almost everything like my childhood TV star “Mr. Wizard.”

We’d visit back and forth to each other’s houses, especially when we got old enough for Driver’s Licenses. One wintry school morning Frank skidded on Veterans Memorial Highway, overturned his motorcycle on the ice, and flew across the highway just behind it, in front of two lances of oncoming traffic! Unhurt, he walked the bike over to my house, where my Mom sewed up his split pants for him. He showed up a bit late at school as if nothing had happened, and I didn’t hear the story until I saw my mom after school. That guy raised nonchalance to a new level!

In the spring, the local road to his house would crack open due to being paved with cheap asphalt, and I’d have to drive between the large chunks that had spewed up onto the roadway, avoiding at the same time the huge potholes that resulted. But it was always worth the trip. Frank had a separate speaker hooked up to his room, so he could put a vinyl record on the family stereo in the living room, but pipe the music into his bedroom, which we’d painted avant garde murals and wallpapered with very weird psychedelic patterns. Frank was an artist, whose work would reflect the wild cultural times. We’d listen to everything from Mario Lanza’s old operatic solos to The Beatles profound new White Album. Frank would later become an art director in an ad agency. He was the wilder kid culturally. I got him back one day when he showed off his Dad’s new riding mower, and I made him nuts by riding it between two trees in his front yard that I cleared only by inches on either side! He didn’t complain, was very quiet for a while. Hey, I could be crazy too!
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