Tag Archives: growing up

Lame Adventure 452: Hello, Old Friend!

As usual at quitting time, I bolted The Grind seemingly jet propelled. I was meeting a friend for dinner at a restaurant near my workplace in Tribeca. To get there, I had to trudge through the biting winter cold coming in off the Hudson River. Biting winter cold is a reliable motivator to pick up the pace, but when I eyed several Sixties-era sedans parked down Franklin Street, my feet slowed to a crawl so I could ogle like it was spring. Tribeca is a very picturesque Manhattan neighborhood with quaint, cobblestone streets and buildings constructed in the 19th Century resplendent with old world charm and costing stratospheric 21st Century ransom. It’s a popular location for film and television shoots — the reason why so many vintage American cars from my youth were parked curbside. As I passed a black Chevy Impala circa 1964, I recalled my mother’s four door 1963 Chevy Belair, the one we called “the blue Chevy” that looked exactly like:

This one!

This one!

There it was, parked mere paces away from The Grind, a monster of a car from my childhood that was solid as a tank. It had a two speed automatic transmission, weighed 3,424 pounds, measured 210.4 inches long, 79.4 inches wide and stood 55.5 inches tall. The trunk capacity was 19 cubic feet, perfect for stuffing a body. Mom preferred to use it for groceries.

A family of four could almost fit in this trunk.

A family of four could fit inside this trunk.

It had a 20.1 gallon fuel tank when gas cost 30 cents a gallon. The engine was a 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder with 140 hp. Mileage on this gas-guzzler was 10.9 – 13.9 mph in the city and 12.4 – 15.8 mph on the highway. It went from 0-60 in 14.1 seconds. It had two seatbelts: one for the driver and the other for the front seat passenger. Whenever I’d sit up front with my brother, Axel, we made that passenger seatbelt communal. We shared it and buckled up together.  Gas cost 53 cents in 1974, the year my parents traded it in for a Chevy Vega.

52 year old fender.

52-year-old fender still looking good.

My dad drove the Belair for two years before upgrading to “the brown Chevy” a snazzy gold 1965 Impala four door sedan with white sidewall tires.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

He handed down the Belair to Mom who chauffeured me to and from grade school in it. Both of my siblings, Dovima and Axel, learned how to drive off of it. It was the car I rode in when Dovima drove Axel and me all over the San Francisco Bay Area to puppy shop on the day after Christmas in 1969. Dad only allowed our dog, Mean Streak, to ride in Mom’s car. Meanie loved to hang his head out the Belair’s rear window where he’d slobber with gusto.

When an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

From the era when an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

My most memorable ride in that Belair occurred in summer 1968 when I was nine-years-old. Dad decided that we should go on a family picnic to Curry Creek, a campground near Clayton, about 33 miles and 33 hundred light years outside San Francisco. There were towering oak trees with tire swings, a swimming pool, a dusty ball field, swarms of bugs and because it was the outdoors, dirt simply everywhere. I was a scrawny, city slicker kid who was only into this affair for the car ride and the food: my grandmother’s fried chicken and potato salad.

It seemed that all the kids at this retreat moved in packs and were natural athletes glowing with golden tans. I was albino white and so painfully uncoordinated I could barely climb out of the car without falling down. There’s a home movie of me running spastically in a circle and wiping out. Furthermore, I could not swim and I despised the sweltering heat. What I excelled at most in this hellhole was reading comic books in the shade and hiking dirt paths where I’d fantasize about returning home and taking a bath.

On this family outing, my father shunned long established protocol, and we headed there in the Belair. Typically, when we went anyplace incurring any distance, we took his car, because his was the better car. But, for some inexplicable reason he decided to drive Mom’s Belair.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

About two thirds of the way there, with Donovan’s hit single, Hurdy Gurdy Man, playing on the radio station, 1260 KYA, the Belair began to overheat. Our car was smoking as Donovan was singing the trance-like chorus:

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang

My mother, coincidentally, was smoking mad at my father. He pulled the Belair to the side of the road. He got us into this jam and it was clear that he was under a mountain of pressure to get us out. He opened the car’s hood. A massive cloud of white smoke billowed out. He used a beach towel to undo the steaming hot radiator cap. I stood near him, at the ready to do nothing, watching this family fiasco in fascination. Mom, who was always wound tight, was seething harder than our car’s engine. Dad had to think fast and improvise a miracle. He opened the trunk, took out the lemonade dispenser and poured a long drink into the radiator. Quenched, our engine cooled. We returned home where we ate the fried chicken and potato salad in the dirt-free comfort of our own kitchen.

Any mention of the song, Hurdy Gurdy Man, always guaranteed groans from my parents. But, whenever I hear that song, I recall the best picnic ever thanks to that Belair.

Ready for its closeup.

Ready for its closeup.

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Lame Adventure 441: My First Public F-bomb

If dogs had life spans that equaled humans, my childhood canine companion, Mean Streak, would have turned forty-five this Friday. Meanie only made it to sixteen years and four months before he started leg lifting on the Pearly Gates.

Mean Streak was my brother Axel’s dog. We got him on December 26, 1969.  Axel wanted a dog for Christmas, but our parents were anti-dog. There was no puppy under our tree. Instead, they gave my brother $20 and extended anemic approval to him to find his pet.

With our sister, Dovima, driving our mother’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air, we spent December 26th combing San Francisco Bay Area pet shops in search of Axel’s four-legged friend. We discovered that the day after Christmas all that remained were the rejects. Axel felt that if we did not return home with a dog that day, we ran the risk of our parents changing their minds and telling us that we had to remain dog-less. We were determined to find a dog.

We met an adorable tan Cockapoo, but that dog was too small. We encountered a very exuberant Bluetick Coonhound mix that so desperately wanted to go home with us, her nails got caught in Dovima’s wooly sweater. Axel was concerned that she might be too big when fully grown. If he came home with the second coming of Marmaduke, he’d never hear the end of it. We kept looking.

As our hunt drew to a close, we went to Teddy’s Pet Shop in West Portal, not far from where we lived. A litter of just weaned puppies was playing in the window. The pet shopkeeper told us that these pups were exactly six weeks old. Off to the side, Mean Streak snoozed by himself. Axel selected the little sleeper, erroneously assuming that that pup was the most peaceful one of all. We later realized that Meanie was just being his usual anti-social self.

Meanie was a feisty, mighty mutt who was born to bark. He was very protective of our house and made it clear to all visitors — friends, neighbors and extended family members:

Mean Streak: I take no prisoners!

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers, or anyone.

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers or anyone.

Even though Meanie weighed only thirty-five pounds, no one ever called our dog’s bluff. He was equal opportunity and would gladly rip out the lungs of any perceived intruder i.e., every single visitor outside of my siblings, parents and grandmother, but he granted an exemption to my pet turtle.

Mean Streak: I cut the turtle a pass.

When my turtle died and I buried him in the back yard, Meanie, who was not a digger, dug him up. I could have lived quite nicely without ever having seen that sight. My dad reburied my turtle in another hole so deep in our yard Meanie would have had to dig all the way to middle earth to reach that corpse again.

Axel said I could own a five percent stake in  Mean Streak. I was allotted Meanie’s tail. A few years later, when my brother got a part time job, he paid me a dollar a week to walk Meanie when I got home from school. I  liked the job, but there were these two old guys with big dogs that were bad news. They walked their dogs unleashed, flouting the leash laws. They lumbered slowly and their dogs walked far ahead looking for trouble.

One day when I was walking Mean Streak, we encountered the two old guys exercising their pony-sized unleashed beasts. Both hounds from Hell came barreling at us. They pounced Mean Streak. The two old guys thought this was hilarious. I was a whippet thin twelve-year-old whose dog was under attack. I didn’t get the joke.

Me: Get your dogs off my dog you bastards!

They quickened their pace and pulled their dogs off of mine.

One Old Guy: You’ve got a mouth on you, little girl!

Me: Fuck you!

That was the first time I dropped the f-bomb on anyone in public. I reported back to Axel what had happened, including my use of profanity. Axel approved. He hated those guys and had his own share of run ins with them. One of the bullying big dogs died prematurely. We attributed it to the owner’s bad karma.

Looking back, those “old” guys were younger then than I am now. If there is an afterlife, I hope that Mean Streak is nipping them in the ankles for eternity.