Do You Remember Me? I Remember You!
by Gary D. Reiner
An interesting question is why the anticipation of a high school reunion creates such incredible enthusiasm for getting together with persons that we haven't seen in many years. Outside of being in a coma, certainly decades of time gone by will have some influence on how much and who we actually remember. In spite of the time warp in which we all jumped from adolescents to mature adults, the intermittent joys of life we experienced throughout our adult lives were likely due to the common bond of our childhood environment unique to all the rest of the world. In this context, our connection to Long Beach and all our classmates are deeply rooted. "Do You Remember Me?, I Remember You!" is about friendship and bonds that evolved from our youth in LB and remain deeply entrenched in our memory bank despite the human frailties of life.
Do You Remember Me? I Remember You!
WOW! Our class is having a reunion. Did you see the RSVP list? Jake, Rollo, Ellen, Josie, Fabian, Lesley, Bobby. Everybody. The Survivors. The ones who care. The ones that matter. (Who cares about the ones that don't care or don't matter?)
I read your name and saw your face. Do You Remember ME? I Remember YOU!
Despite the fact that I was not exactly a scholar, I am sure that most of my classmates know who I am. I was the guy that occupied the reserved, empty seat in Mr. Walrath's history class for the entire 1962 senior year. I was the guy that held onto the back bumper of the yellow school bus, sliding my shoes on the snow all the way up Broadway to Long Beach Road. I was the guy who had a class ranking of 364, only one person shy of graduating from the very bottom of the class. Undeterred, I became committed to one day becoming a doctor. Well, that never happened.
So much for high school dreams. Ironically, other dreams did come true even if that one didn't. I remember desperately wanting to grow up. Now I regret ever wishing for that. In a few years I'll be sixty.
You must remember me! I had the number GE1-2345. No kidding! We got every phony phone call in town. I wonder who has that number now? Maybe I'll give them a call. "Hello, do you know the Baron? I was the guy that............................................."
Hey, remember when 25 cents got us over the Atlantic Beach Bridge, the same price as a gallon of gas? (Do you think the AB Bridge is paid for yet?) How about when Long Beach Road had only one traffic light and the Jones Beach toll was only $1.50? (Did anyone from LB ever go there?) What about when the LB Railroad station had two ticket windows (or was it three?) and a newspaper stand and the Capri and Wing Loo's Restaurants were the best "take-out" places in town? (That does it for Italian and Chinese). And don't forget the fabulous amusement sites on the boardwalk: Faber's and the Penny Arcade. Oh my God, Fascination! A time when only 2800 tickets won a new am/fm radio and a rubber snake went for less than 12 tickets. However, trying to get five lights in a row without getting your forearm caught under the glass protector while rolling that little ball toward the winning hole before the buzzer went off was too stressful for me. I much preferred spending my time at Seidel's Skee Ball or trying to knock down the pyramid of steel, milk-shaped bottles with a baseball at the next door boardwalk concession stand.
My beginnings were from the West End, the narrowest part of the Long Beach sandbar. It is from there that I daily walked, unsupervised to the West End Elementary School, a red brick building with concrete playgrounds. The ten minutes it took me to walk to and from elementary school was somewhat hazardous only because it was during that time that I was harassed by the West End "rocks" or hitters up until the time I reached puberty when I finally discovered that US Keds' sneakers could easily outpace an entire gang of bullies running after me wearing black "motorcycle" boots with metal clicks nailed to the heels. Later, I bought an elevator pass for my freshman year at high school as a form of insurance protection (there was no elevator). That pass did nothing for me. I still managed to get beat up on a regular basis sometime after the final bell rang at 2:20 pm. In those days, virtually every male kid not on the football or basketball team was subjected to spit wads, wedgies, the Quinby Itch (twisting of the side burns) and a daily dose of wet towel snapping in the locker room. Such shenanigans stopped only when you proved that you were no longer a wimp. In my case, I was left alone after I stole my parent's car and purposely drove it at 60 miles an hour into the high school auditorium. I was immediately accepted as crazy but cool. Well, at least I was left alone.
You must remember me! I remember you! I lived on your block. We both hung out at Georgia Avenue and Beach Street, the corner adjacent to Herman's and later Wurman's (were they related?). I have to confess; I was not always the victim or that entirely innocent. On one occasion, I got mad at Mr. Wurman for his kicking me out of his store when I stole a 15-cent tip off the soda counter.
That day was the last time I ever had an egg cream. It was also the day I made a delayed fuse out of one of those long brown stick punks, attached it to a cherry bomb in the back of Wurman's store and in stealth fashion left the crime scene for safer surroundings. I later watched the frantic commotion from Larry's Corner across the street and chuckled to myself about my brilliant act of terrorism. I am only telling this now because I have been driven crazy with guilt over the past 40 years. I hope the statute of limitations is up. Mr. Wurman, I'm sorry!
Importantly, those early days of our youth were a time when we still knew every teacher at school and everyone in the neighborhood, in LB for that matter. Mr. Smorack of Smorack's Clothing, Mr. Hittleman of Hittleman's Bakery, Coach Tony Piazza, Mrs. Sherman (my speech teacher), gym teachers Ike Dubow and Irving Gold, Roy Illowit and many others. Today, unfortunately, most of our teachers are long gone. Many of our neighbors have left. Most of our old friends have deserted us for new relationships. Some of us have even been abandoned by our wives or husbands (Not always a bad thing). Today, the 45-RPM record "Where have all the flowers gone" is lying in the city dump next to the sign, "Long Beach, America's Healthiest City." Central School is a condominium and the "Taliban" is some terrorist group in contrast to the simplicity of a new dance craze with a neat name like the "shuffle" or "monster mash."
Despite these misgivings, we can still reminisce about what was most important. Like the summer I worked in that little blue booth at the entrance to the beach punching holes in the season passes. Around 1958, Hurricane Carol or Barbara took that little booth on a ride down our block. Now, all the great landmarks are gone except for that little blue booth. I know, because the Laurel Theater is gone. I know, because the roller coaster and rides on Edwards Blvd. are gone. I know, because last summer I handed over five bucks to some stranger and told them that I remember when the beach was free, how it was my beach and how they couldn't take it away from me no matter what! I paid the five bucks and pressed my toes into the smoothest, purest, whitest, crunchiest hot tasting sand on the planet. I slowly waded into the water up to my neck, Hawaiian sun oil #1 helped bask my body to a perfect golden tan as the soft, top splashing of the waves gently cooled my burned shoulders. All the while I am squinting directly toward the horizon and thinking about how lucky I am to have grown up in Long Beach.
I leave later in the day and pass that no name person in the little blue booth. I think to myself, "Hey, this is my beach."
In 1962, Long Beach High School was still situated on Lindell Blvd., just down the street from Harry and Max's. I only ate there once but remember that it was a grilled salami on rye. If you think about that flat grill my salami was placed on just only after the bacon from the last order was scraped onto the plate of the person sitting on the stool next to me, you can vividly imagine why the place was universally referred to as the "greasy spoon." Most nostalgic were the times we went together as a group to Friday night basketball. Barbara, Karen, Buzzard, Bonita, Fred, Gary----the entire gang cheering for Shipman, Gordon, Carney, etc. "2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate, LB, that's who. Go Marines."
That night we all cried when we lost to Oceanside Basketball, 78-32.
That same year I sat next to you on the bleachers at the Lawrence Football Game. Alex Gross kicked the football into a stiff, icy wind coming off the bay. We anxiously watched the ball sailing through the air as brown dust peeled off the dry field and was carried into the hapless faces of the enemy. "Sis-boom-bah, kick them in the knee. Sis-boom-bah, kick them in the other knee. Go Gerard, Kenny, Harmon."
That day we all cried when we lost to Lawrence, 6-0.
Hey, things could have been worse! That same season our soccer team went 0-10.
Do you remember ME? I remember YOU!
We watched in awe as the National Hotel burned to the ground. Or, was it the Nautilus Theater? Or, was it the West End Bowling Alley? Or, was it the El Patio?
Is Long Beach still burning?
We watched in awe as the Hells Angels, Corvette Motor Club and Goldbergman wedding party all sat down and ate at the same table together at Nathans.
We watched in awe as Mrs. Goldbergman yelled at "Mad Dog" (The Hells Angel Leader) for eating like a pig.
Remember Johnny Dio? Remember Lucky Luciano? Remember the Long Beach Mafia? Forget about it!
Remember "one on one" basketball at the Central School playground? I actually stole a pass from Long Beach star Larry Brown (NBA, Coach of Philadelphia) during a pick-up game. No Bullshit! Hey Larry, remember me? I stole a pass from you at the Central School playground!
Remember Rocky Graziano, the fighter? I dated his daughter, Audrey. Are you kidding, not once did she ever look at me. (Was I invisible or what?)
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Remember the Drama Club. I lost my starring role in the class play to a Freshman, how humiliating was that? Thanks for nothing, Billy Crystal!!
You must remember me! Your mother and my mother were best friends.
My mother always told me how nice it would be if I were like you and got your grades and had your manners.
Your mother always told you how nice it would be if you were like me and got my grades and had my manners.
Later, your mother heard a rumor that I was having sex. Your mother stopped talking about me. Not once did she ever say hello or look at me again (Was I invisible or what?)
You must remember me! I remember you! We walked to school together through a blizzard and the snow was up past our waists. Despite the weather, we would walk to school even during the coldest of days. I can still hear the wind whipping around my face and feel it tearing at my cheeks, ice forming into little beads that covered the scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose. Giant icicle formations dripped from the edge of every roof we passed, eventually falling from the mass of their own weight and making a startling but muffled clunk sound. The snow was of pure white soft crunchy cold taste. We could eat it then. When was the last time snow tasted that good? When was the last time we felt that safe?
By the way, did you ever notice that snow never piled up at the beach? Why is that? Where does it go? Does it just sink into the sand or does it melt? Not once do I remember going to the beach after a major storm and seeing a snowman. I am only asking because I once climbed up on a lifeguard chair during a snowstorm and stared into the ocean asking those very questions. I would also ask whether or not the fish knew it was snowing or whether the snow melting into the ocean would make the water get so high that it would flow all the way to Park Avenue and flood the entire Long Beach Library (wishful thinking). I never asked why it was that I was on the beach during a snowstorm sitting on a lifeguard chair.
You must remember me! I remember you! You introduced me to B-Sauce at the Texas Ranger. We went to Roosevelt Raceway every Thursday night during the summer and lost our entire pay check. We built a fire on the beach when it was still legal and cooked one of those disgusting horseshoe crabs with blue blood. (We used the wood from the lifeguard chair). We got chased by the summer patrol (otherwise known as "keystone cops") after jumping onto the beach from the boardwalk.
Do you remember how every summer on Orphan's Day the orphans from New York would ride down Beach street and then Broadway in dozens of busses and we would hand out our old toys and comic books from the street corners?
I do. I remember everything. Like the time the original owner of Gino's Pizza spoke to us in English for the first time. Like the time I threw up my hot dog and cotton candy after immediately getting off the "big" Ferris wheel. Like the time our principal, Dr. Kuhn told me I would never graduate unless I went to all of my classes for the rest of the year and then he proceeded to suspend me for two weeks. How did that make any sense?
I also remember that you actually went to all your classes. What that has to do with anything I have no idea--except that back then we always said something that had nothing to do with anything and frequently did things that made no sense. Remember when we were stupid enough to walk along the West End beaches on July 4th without full protective Army gear? One Independence Day, someone actually fired a real cannon out to sea from the beach at New York Avenue. I think they were aiming at a porpoise and missed. We all laughed when the cannon ball sank a ship. Yeah, it was a job well done by the boys from the West End! Hey Punk! Don't mess with the boys from the West End! (I told that story once to an East End person that actually believed it to be true).
You must remember me! At the Age of twelve we both commuted to Lido Jr. High. The principal was Mrs. Kelly. Actually, that's about all I can recall about Jr. High, except that the hall corridors went on for about two miles; and that there were these great big partition doors that divided the gym into two parts, one side for boys and the other for girls; and that the whole class had to take Arthur Murray dance lessons. Mercilessly, all the boys were forced to dance with girls who were a foot taller. Not such a bad thing when the girls started to grow breasts. It was the first time that boys thought evil thoughts and the girls giggled. I remember learning the "Lindsey dance" and the box step, a move that really works well for me at bar mitzvahs and weddings since these days I can barely pick up my knees.
Do you remember me? I remember you!
I stole Jell-O from your tray in the student cafeteria.
We sneaked into the El Patio together, or was it the ABC?
I caddied for your father at the Lido Country Club.
I parked your parent's car at the Colony.
I bought you a "Carvel" at the Lido "Marvel" stand.
Our parents stood in line together waiting to get into Lenny's Steak House.
We stood in line together waiting to get into Leonies.
We slow danced at Deans. Two years later, we fast danced at Timothy Tubbs. (Things change).
I got drunk with you at the Channel Inn in Island Park. It was the last time I saw you.
To tell you the truth, I hated High School.
It wasn't that no one liked me. No one knew who I was. How could they like me or not like me? Anyway, I hated myself, so what difference does it make? You never hated me, did you? What am I saying? Actually, I really liked school. I was fairly popular. My grades sucked, but I had a great social life. Too bad, I could have been a great doctor. Oh well, life hasn't treated me all that bad. I do own a giant large screen TV and a satellite dish with 256 channels. What more could I want? I know. I could use a friend, like the ones I had in high school. Where are they? Where are you?
Are you going to the reunion? I can't seem to make up my mind. I don't really know that many people. Plus, look how old I look. I mean I look--well, to be truthful, I look my age. What do we have in common anymore, anyway? Just a bunch of old farts with Alzheimer's peering into a name badge from two inches away trying to read your name. That's right, it's me, the person you sat next to in English class for four years--the person who you threw up on when you had your first rum and coke---the person who you never looked at once (was I invisible or what?)
Hey, it will really be good to see you again. Where are you Pam Grossman (Best Looking), Nina Present (Most Likely to Succeed), Stuart Goldhirsh (Class Politician)? Are these people still the seventeen year olds we remember from back then? Are you? Does anyone care? OK, then, don't come to the reunion. Nobody will miss you anyway.
Please come. I was only kidding. I read your name and saw your face. Do you remember ME? I remember YOU!
Do you remember being young? Look around. Have you noticed what today's 17-year-old looks like? No one could ever look that young and be as smart as we were at that same age. Even more foreign is the way they speak and think. No one could ever be as smart as we were and talk and giggle like they do. Silly kids, what they need is a good war that no one wants (like Vietnam or even Iraq), some Acid (that everyone wants), a little Bob Dylan (Joan Biaz) and maybe, just maybe, some Chubby Checkers or a little of that "Shout" stuff alternating with the "Mashed Potatoes." Likely, it was the Shirelles (Did I spell that right? [Tonight's the Night]) or Genies (Whose that Knocking), or the perpetual sand in our shoes that made us significantly more mature than today's generation. Who knows! Could be! It was something special back then, a time when all you had to do was close your eyes to see the "Pyramids Along the Nile."
Do you remember ME? I remember YOU!
We shared a root beer float at Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor.
We shared a vanilla malted at Gecker's on Park Avenue near Central School.
You bought me a burger (What else?) at the Beachburger. (East End)
You helped me pick out a Bobby Darren album at Tilben's Records.
I watched you pigging out on French fries from the Cozy Nook.
You were stupid enough to look for eagles at Eagle's Pier.
We shopped together at the McClellan's five and dime for a pair of socks, lots of knitting stuff and buttons. I still remember the old wooden trays and floors. Did you ever finish that sweater?
We shared a hamburger special at the Laurel Luncheonette and spilled ketchup on a comic book taken off the racks. (Did we buy it or put it back?)
We took a bicycle ride to a part of Long Beach that no one knew and discovered the dog pound.
We took a bicycle ride to a part of Long Beach that always seemed deserted and discovered Point Lookout.
Mr. Nobody. Ms. Nothing. The Schlubs! The Rejects! Where are they today? For your information, they are 100 percent success stories. Good. Way to go! Who would have thought? Well, there are one or two in jail. But, whose keeping count? And, of course, there is that guy who went insane and killed himself jumping from the Lido Water Tower! Is that true or just a rumor? I hope its true, because it would be sowe'll, so Long Beachy, if you know what I mean. What that has to do with anything I have no idea except that back then we remained friends with a crazy person because being friends with someone who was crazy was really quite normal.
I must confess.
I always wanted to ask you out but I was afraid to ask. I later heard that you wanted to go out with me but couldn't because your best friend would hate you forever because she (he) also liked me and anyway you were always too busy. I always wanted to be your friend but was too shy to even say hello. One week, I was your best friend. For one month I hated you forever. I was your best friend forever until I never saw you again. Somehow, you disappeared.
We both disappeared. I got married. You left for college. Vietnam. Drugs. Children. Divorce.
Do you remember me? I read your name and saw your face!
Debate Team. Arista. French Honor Society. Movie Producers. Movie Directors. Harvard Medical. Medical Schmedical. Big deal. Wow, did you really invent DNA?
Cheerleaders. Football Stars. I wanted to be like you. OK, so you wanted to be like me. Why didn't you tell me decades ago? Hmmm! Interesting! So you thought I was too good for you. Yeah, right!
Mr. Popularity. Ms. Prom Queen. The envy of the senior class. Where are they today? Hey, you didn't do so bad either. Two kids, a house, your own business, really?
I personally knew at least five guys from our school that became cops. I personally knew at least five guys from our school that became firemen. A cop? A fireman? Today's heroes! Who would have thought?
I personally knew at least five guys from our school who got lost on drugs. Some survived. Some didn't. I personally knew at least five guys who went to Nam. Some survived. Some didn't.
What about you? Are you a hero?
"No, just a mother."
"No, just a father."
Ok, then you most certainly survived.
Ok, then you are most certainly a hero, don't you think?
The in-crowd, out-crowd, glue sniffers (later to be potheads), jocks, West Enders, East Enders, Rocks, Punks, Schmucks, Brains [intellectuals] (there was no such thing as a nerd or geek in the 50's and 60's) and morons. Who are these people to me now? Are they the same as they were back then? Are you the same as back then? IS life even close to the same as it was back then? Where are the "Nice Whip" mentors of the new generation? Where is Larry Blum? Where is Ricky Maltz? Where is Alan Schwartz? We need our leaders! Not you really, but Nice Whip, Guys!
It was decades ago when last I saw your face. Today, I thought of you and remembered days long past. It was a time of innocence and youth. You haven't changed at all. Yet, everything about you is different. I heard that you have two kids, a house and your own business. Pretty cool.
I must confess.
I miss high school. I miss the 60's. I miss you.
Do you remember ME? I remember YOU. I read your name and saw your face.
I must confess.
The thought of you makes me smile.
I love you guys (gals).