Rag Doll- Always in My Heart

The three of you listened to your music on your boom boxes and walkmans. My source of music was my record player, which I got when my tonsils were removed. (Just Yank Them Out), and a portable radio, known then as a transistor radio, which I was given for my ninth birthday.

Apparently, these radio were manufactured in an array of colors, but I am guessing they cost more than the black one I had, which would explain why this was news to me. My research revealed that the transistors, which is the boring electronic part of the radio that I don’t care to learn about, was invented at Bell Labs, the place where I worked and “invented” the cell phone.

My radio was small—about the size of a cell phone—and played only AM stations. It came with an earplug so that I could listen without annoying Grandma and Grandpa. I remember there was one kid in my elementary school who was always plugged into his transistor radio. He had it hidden in his pocket and wove the cord underneath his clothes. I first thought it was a hearing aid until I learned the truth.

Supposedly, a transistor radio sold for around 15 bucks, which seems like an insignificant amount. However, my inflation calculator puts that at $115 in 2016 dollars, which is a huge amount for my family. I have no idea how my parents afforded it.

I will admit that the only reason I know that I received my radio for my ninth birthday is because the song, Rag Doll, by the Four Seasons, was released around the time of that particular birthday. Whenever I hear “such a pretty face should be dressed in rags,” I am suddenly whisked back in time, landing in my grandmother’s dining room. That song was played over and over, and although I know it was not the number one song on my birthday (#1 was Chapel of Love), I guess that a song set to soar to the top of the charts four weeks later was played a lot.

There was one radio station we all listened to back then—“77- WABC.” Everyone listened to WABC and its famous DJ, cousin Brucie. When I was in high school, he came to our high school for some sort of assembly. How lucky were we!

Occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, I would switch to the other am radio station which also played the songs from the top 40 —WMCA. But WABC was the big station.

It is hard to believe how far the technology has come today. Think about how many stations are available to you just on FM alone—smooth jazz, rock, news, country—to name just a few. When you add the myriad (another word from my favorite word list) of satellite stations available to you, and compare those numbers to my childhood when there were just a few, I have to ask you: do you feel sorry for Dad and me?

Tissues Make Wonderful Earplugs

When you all were growing up, you each amassed a collection of CD’s of your favorite music. Since no one still listens to music on CD’s but me (on occasion), they have been left at my house.

I was originally going to discuss the music of your childhood as a segue to music from my early years. However, once I started going through the boxes here, I decided there are enough memories from your youth to abandon my original thoughts for now.

We had at least two boom boxes in our house, which is how you first listened to your tunes. They were big and cumbersome and therefore not very portable. I was glad when the smaller compact CD players came along, which were so much easier to transport, particularly during trips.

Each CD evokes a different memory. When I saw the Brittany Spears disc, I recalled Kelly’s first concert that Dad took her to—the NSYNC concert in Newark with Brittany as the opening act. This was, I believe, for Kelly’s tenth birthday, on the day before Dad’s birthday—Thanksgiving weekend 1994.

Casey reminded me that NSYNC was the first concert she (and Jamie?) went to as well. They were playing at Madison Square Garden during the summer of 2000.

The screeching sound of the boy-band crazed girls pierced my ears. That is when I leaned that tissues, rolled up in tiny little balls, is quite effective in drowning out those sounds. I made many friends with other mothers nearby as I shared my tissue balls with them.

The O-Town CDs need no explanation. They were Jamie’s birthday concert. It was her fifteen birthday, and we were visiting Carolina colleges for Kelly during the summer of 2002.  It was the second time Jamie’s birthday was celebrated on the road (the 13th was actually spent at 30,000 feet en route to Aunt Linda’s wedding in 2000), so it was fortunate that they were playing in Carowinds, just up the road from USC on Jamie’s birthday. We coud do a college visit and have a fun birthday in one fell swoop (another favorite word), and it was another opportunity to share my tissue-ball invention.

Clay Aiken’s Christmas CD brought back memories of our three years spent in Chapel Hill. All I can say to Jamie and Casey about that move is that I know how hard it was, and I am sorry.

“Relax—Sublime Music for Relaxing and Lounging” brings back those awful five years of Casey’s migraines, which began in New Jersey after Casey’s stint with mono and ended with many treatments of acupuncture in Chapel Hill. Many times she would try to relax with this particular CD.

I was surprised to find a Prince CD. That was so timely in light of his recent death. I didn’t know any of you were his fans.

As I continued to peruse the assortment of music I saw Ashlee Simpson, 98º, Dawson’s Creek, Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls. There were a few personal ones, such as one labeled “Megan’s Bat Mitzvah” (Ah, those bat/bar mitzvahs years!).

Each disc was a different song, a different memory. But my favorite discovery was one labeled “I Love Mommy.” I am sure you all know who that belongs to. I will have to listen to that one—for sure!

Now you load them on your computers and your phones. There is no longer a physical record or CD for you and your children to know what your interests were. Just like the photos that sit in those same places—your computers and phones. The technology is great, but as means of learning your history, I think it’s problem.

Would You Like a Box of Thin Mints?

Two little neighborhood girls knocked on our door the other night and asked if we were interested in making a purchase for “a charity.” What they were selling and who the charity was does not matter for the purpose of this post. After they left, I got to thinking about the days when my friend Karen and I were those two little girls.

It was sometime in the sixties, and Girl Scout Cookie Season had arrived. Karen and I decided that selling to our relatives would get us nowhere. With my large family, there was too much competition, and Karen had a very small family. She and I decided to expand our territory and sell to the residents of the nearby apartments on Cherry Lane.

We explained to our moms our business plan, and they gave us their blessing. That was such a different time. Thinking back on it now, I am shocked that we were allowed to go door to door selling cookies to strangers. No one came with us. We were on our own. But those were the days when, as you all know, Karen and I walked to school together unaccompanied when we were in kindergarten.

Our parents did not worry that we would get injured crossing the streets or that some unsavory person would snatch us off the streets of Boonton, never to be seen again. It was a time of trust and innocence.

So off we went with our order forms and pencils in hand to convince the residents of the Cherry Hill Apartments to buy our fifty cent boxes of Thin Mints, Shortbread, or Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies. It was a brilliant idea, because we were able to hit a lot of people in a very small area.

Now no one rings our doorbells selling cookies anymore, and I admit I am happy because I prefer my Tollhouse cookies to a box of Samoas or Thin Mints. Now the scouts can be found lurking outside Walmart or my neighborhood bodega (Dad knows that is one of my favorite words from “the list.”) with their moms selling all the favorites, including gluten-free cookies. It is easier for me to refuse their stares and sales pitches at those locations than when they come to my house. I just have a hard time saying no to cuteness at my doorstep.

Children Just Don’t Care

We are in the middle of the 2016 presidential election primary season. I like spring, summer, and fall much more. I am tired of the length of the process. The British and Irish are so much smarter, because it’s done in 4-6 weeks.

All I want is to be happy, safe, and to have enough money to last until my unfortunate demise. (And to be able to get my favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). This is what I want for all of you, but I am sure your definitions of happiness are not the all same.

I don’t care who anyone marries or where they go to the bathroom, and I don’t think children will be scarred by gays, lesbians and transgender people. In fact, I believe that my future sixteen year old granddaughter(s) could potentially be threatened more by her twenty-two year teacher than a gay man. During my high school days, I know of at least two cases when teachers married their students, and even then, the sky did not fall.

I did not realize that I held these liberal (evil word) views twenty years ago until Casey pointed this out to me this week. She told me about an event that happened to her when she was a little girl.

So when I was six, I was playing with my dollhouse, and I was placing them all into little families, etc. I obviously had more girl dolls than boy dolls, and I wanted them each to be paired up—nobody to be alone.

So I asked you if girls ever marry girls instead of boys. I’m 99% sure you were on the phone at the time with someone. So you paused and said, “Sometimes in some places.”

So then none of my dolls were alone and I wasn’t emotionally traumatized or confused. And that was the story about how I learned about gay marriage.

I was happy to learn that she remembered this and that I answered her question honestly and age-appropriately. Why can’t people stop worrying about everyone else? Go to work, come home and have dinner, and just worry about your own business. (And, as an aside, if someone wants to blow themselves up, then be my guest, but leave everyone else out of your plans.)

Clearly Casey’s life was not ruined by our conversation. I think children are much more accepting than some people believe. They learn to happily play in the same sandbox with other children. They do not see the differences, and they don’t refuse to interact with others who look or talk differently. Adults can learn a lot from children.

Don’t Drop the Cards!

You all have your own little compact laptop computers, which you use to find things on the Internet, write documents, keep in touch with your friends, edit pictures, or maybe keep track of your personal finances. You have no idea how differently it was back in the day. I realize that you will read this and probably think it’s kind of boring—not quite as whimsical as some of my other posts. But I am trying to give you a window into how it was in my day—when I walked many miles to and from school each day.

As you recall hearing many times, I worked as a computer programmer, which was a skill I learned in college on Grandpa’s recommendation. There were several computer languages which I learned—FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, PL/1. I used three of them in my four programming jobs.

The process was extremely tedious but improved greatly through the years. Both in college and at my first job as an intern at Grandpa’s company, Allied Chemical, the process of writing computer programs was very un-green.

First we wrote our code on paper, and then we had to type the code onto special cards using a typewriter-like machine—one line of code per card. Depending on the intricacies of the program, there could be several hundred or thousand cards per program.


The cards were numbered, so that in the event of a klutz episode and you tripped with your cards in one hand and coffee in another, you could put your program back into the correct order. Then you stuck them in a box which was about the size of a shoebox or you bound them together with a rubber band and hoped it didn’t break and scatter them all over the office.

These cards together comprised a single program called a “job”. They were fed into a machine called a card reader, and then you waited for a printout of your program (sometimes many hours or even a day later), which you now checked for errors..

There were many rules for writing these programs, and if you did not follow them precisely, error messages informing you of a missing comma or missing word would greet you. Then you would hit your head against a wall, correct the mistakes—called debugging—and repeat the process. It was not fun.

After graduation the technology improved so that we could bypass the cards and type the instructions directly into the computer. That was a huge improvement.

When I went to IBM, which is when we moved to New York, I got a job working in a group that basically wrote programs to generate reports. This can now be done with Excel and Word, which would have been the end of my job.

What I remember vividly about my later days at IBM was when one of the young programmers whose office was near mine announced he was getting his own personal computer. I could not wrap my mind about such a purchase. Why, I thought, would anyone want a computer in their own home? What a ridiculous waste of money, and what could he possibly do with it at home? Was I short sighted!

Dipping Our Toes in the Pacific

Since I mentioned one of the less desirable hotels we stayed in as a family, I thought I would share some stories about some of the hotels Dad and I were guests in before all of you were born. The most unique hotel was a cruise ship that is now permanently docked in Long Beach, California—The Queen Mary.

I accompanied Dad on a business trip to California. We flew into Los Angeles and spent time there prior to his meetings in San Diego. We did not plan to stay on the Queen Mary. I believe it was one of our spontaneous decisions which turned out to be a lot of fun.

The Queen Mary took its maiden voyage from Southampton, England in 1936, the port Grandpa and his family sailed into five years earlier. For three years, it was considered the grandest ocean liner of its time but was retired for civilian travel during World War II.  It eventually resumed passenger travel for twenty years until its retirement in 1967, when it became permanently docked in California. While we have spent a lot of time on cruise ships, there was something special about staying on a vintage luxury liner from the thirties.

While  in LA, we checked out the fancy stores on Rodeo Drive, drove around Bel Air looking at celebrity homes (I still have the map), looked at the handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, went on the Universal Studio tour, and of course, saw the infamous Hollywood sign on the hill. We went to the Santa Monica pier, walked around Venice, and dipped our toes in the Pacific. We were typical LA tourists.

We stayed at the snazzy Century Plaza Hotel in LA, but the only celebrity we saw was an actor named Gordon Jump, who was on a television show called WKRP in Cincinnati.

Jamie, you in particular would have loved this trip. Dad was not impressed with spotting famous people. It was the Lamborghini Countach he viewed from the balcony of our room that got him excited. Apparently, it was quite the impressive automobile, and you know how he is with cars.

Squint. It's the Lamborghini
                                                             Squint. It’s the Lamborghini

We went to an amusement park called Knots Berry Farm. Perhaps that’s when we stayed on the Queen Mary. I believe it’s just a 30 minute drive from the ship.

Then we headed down the coast, ending in San Diego, where we dined on Mexican food outdoors and went to the fabulous San Diego Zoo. (It was January so this was a real treat.) I did some shopping while Dad went to his conference.

San Diego Zoo

Before heading home, we went to Tijuana. Mexico, where I learned that I had no clue how to haggle, so we bought the gray and white chess set for more money than we could have if I had just kept my mouth shut.

Still, for someone who had done very little traveling outside of the New York area before I met Dad, this was a fabulous trip. And the hotels were all so much nicer than that hotel near the Outer Banks!

We Should Have Stayed Home

With Jamie coming for a visit, I started thinking about some of our past hotel stays. I found a letter written by her during the The Summer of Awesome. Apparently, thirteen-year-old Jamie was happy with the accommodations, but not the service. I found this letter which she wrote, but never sent.

At breakfast, it took forever 4 our food to come. When it came, it was missing, but it wasn’t missing from our bill (u still charged us 4 it). Plus it took ages 4 my daddy 2 get some coffee, so try 2 improve on this . By the way, your crab bisque soup is FANTASTIC! Have a great day! (Only if u improve your service)— A CONCERNED CITIZEN.

It is obvious from this letter that we had been guests at hotels with better customer service, yet despite her displeasure, Jamie still found something nice to say. Yet I believe if we had stayed at this hotel after our visit to the Outer Banks, that letter may never have been written. I am positive none of you will ever forget that place.

We had been invited by Aunt El to visit them at the beach house they had rented with Shannon, but our plans were in jeopardy because of Hurricane Alex. I tracked its path during the days preceding our trip, and when I awoke the morning we planned to leave our Chapel Hill house, all indications were that the storm was moving out to sea. So we all hopped in our car (Dad wasn’t with us), confident that all would be calm when we neared the beach four hours later.

I had never been to the OBX, so I did not realize we would be crossing several bridges. As you know, my bridge fears have just recently subsided. If I had a crystal ball, we would never have left our house.

As we got closer to the coast, I began to doubt the forecast that Alex had left the room. The sky was gray and ominous looking, and the wind was increasing as was the rain. Hey, I trusted weather.com and my local weatherman!

If memory serves me correctly, we crossed more than one bridge before I announced that we could go no further. Although the bridges were close to the water (So if we drove off, we would have survived the plunge to the murky waters below us.), that also was the problem. The water we crossed appeared to be close to coming onto the bridge.

We stopped at a tacky souvenir/gas station where I asked for directions to the nearest hotel. “There is one right around back, ma’am,” I was told. Those were the days when being called ma’am was an insult, but I was too frightened with the weather and relieved that I didn’t have to drive further to get angry over being “ma’amed.”

Once we opened the door to our room, I wondered if it would have been better to face the storm. The room was so creepy that I was uncomfortable even using the bathroom. With nowhere to sit but the bed, we climbed on top of the bed fully clothed, and took out a deck of cards. We continued to monitor the weather, because I was determined not to spend the night at the “roach motel.” I don’t think we saw any bugs, but I am positive they were lurking about.

Thank goodness Alex did turn out to sea and we were able to continue our trip to the beach. We all got our “I survived Hurricane Alex” tee shirts. Do any of you still have yours?