By Cecil Hoge
In this present time of worldwide pandemic, shifting political tides, disinformation, misinformation, high unemployment, impeachments, fake news and stock market speculation, I thought I might return to an earlier time when things were simpler and choices were easier. At least, they seemed easier at the time. So I am continuing my blog series – “It Was The Music” and going back to 1967. This one is Volume #5 of the series.
In the years I had spent in college, I had developed a greater and greater appreciation of music. My appreciation was not focused on the lofty heights of classical music or opera. No, my interests were in popular music. More specifically, in folk and rock music. Certain songs would come out and you would hear them on a radio in car or someone in my fraternity would have a new album and there would be one song playing that would infect and almost permanently sear into your brain. Somehow those songs became associated with a certain moment or a certain mood of the time. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem was one of those songs. Certain words and phrases clawed into my mind:
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for a drink
The waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later
As the Miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale
I did not know it at the time, but the lyrics above were influenced by certain drugs. My colleagues and I were into beer and while the influence of drugs was being discussed and reported at the time, the actual drugs had not made their way into our fraternity house. That changed one or two years after I left college, but at the time we were just awestruck by the new music that we were hearing. Of course, it was not just the words, it was the instruments that blended with the words to create a new mood and a new rhythm …haunting, doubting, beautiful, melodic and dangerous.
I, like many of my generation, was struck by the sudden emergence of new popular groups and the rise of The Beatles was a prime example of that. At first I thought of those 4 guys as just producing pleasant tunes for the ears of young teenybops – “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me”, “She Loves You” – these songs seemed composed by teenagers, sung by teenagers, for teenagers. But as time passed and more albums came, I came to think that they were a much more complex band.
When I last posted “It Was The Music – Volume #4”, I had just managed to graduate from the University of Virginia. A few days before my graduation, The Beatles latest album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had just come out. It was that surprising album that made me and many others think that The Beatles were much more than just four guys who could sing some pleasant melodies for teenybops. That album, far more complex and utterly surprising, made me think the Fab 4 really were Fab.
In my last 2 years of college I also developed a love/hate relationship with The Rolling Stones. At first I thought they were just some scruffy druggies with these hard and harsh sounding songs that made no attempt to sound pleasant or nice or kind. As time went on, I came to think of them as truly great. Their songs, while snarling, dissatisfied and dissatisfying, had a different and more dangerous take on the times…whether it be wishing to Paint It Black or dissatisfaction with the commercial world or fleeting, tender and passing moments of new relationships…they had a sense of frustration, anger and change that was in the air.
And of course, there was folk music which seemed to start out with the likes of Joan Baez on the banks of the Ohio only to develop into parables of truth from the likes of Mr. Bob Dylan. And it was Bob himself who shape-shifted from old and semi-pure folk fables to harsher electric chair truth serums. The music was changing rapidly in those days and it was new and evolving. It was, to quote some opening words from Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”:
“Because something is happening here but you don’t know what that is…Do you, Mr. Jones?”
In the last year of my long and winding journey to graduation, my hastily chosen major was Philosophy. That choice had been necessary since I failed all the other humanitarian alternatives and I had rejected scientific, engineering and mathematical courses as outside of my wheelhouse. After 9 separate courses in Philosophy in the last year at The University, I emerged, ready for life, with a degree in that vague art.
To celebrate the occasion, I headed home with a small entourage – 3 fellow graduates from The University and a girlfriend…Miss Penny Zetterstrom.
I knew my life was at a turning point and soon I would have to decide on my path in this world, but I figured there was time for all that. So we headed to my family’s summer rental house a few days after graduation and a fine time we had. My girlfriend and I held hands, and together with my fellow graduates, we all went to the local discos and bars for dancing and celebrations, visited the Southampton Bathing Corporation for swimming and sunning and went to the Meadow Club for tennis and, as I said, we all had a fine time.
My fellow Virginia graduates could not help noticing that I had some drop dead beautiful female cousins who were living in the same house and who were kind enough to accompany us on some of our nighttime activities. At the time, they ranged in age from about 18 to 21, so the stars were aligned for my college buddies. However, my female cousins at this time had discovered new forms of mind stimulation, developing their own new boyfriends and theories on socially acceptable activities. At the time they were seriously involved in listening to the Doors, The Moody Blues and, of course, The Rolling Stones. So, while they were happy to run around with us for a day or two, they went their way and we went ours.
My girlfriend, Penny, could not help but be overwhelmed and taken by the beauty and style of Southampton. The high hedges, the big, sprawling “summer cottages”, the lush green lawns of the Meadow Club’s tennis courts, the nearby beaches all enthralled her. My family were blessed that summer because this was one of their more flush financial years and they had rented the Zirinsky House. That summer palace, shown in the painting above, had 13 or 14 bedrooms, a wrap around porch able to accommodate hundreds, about 3 acres of land and a cottage out back designed for young folks to disappear and do naughty things. And, as Mr. Dylan says, it was all good.
I Decide To Become a Clam Digger
They say all good things come an end and so it was that summer. Two of my college mates soon realized that they had scheduled appointments for real job interviews. Penny Zetterstrom, my beloved girlfriend, came to the sad realization that I was not prepared to marry her that summer and so she returned to Virginia to be a Super Woman in the future. That left Rich Miller and myself to cogitate on our our situations and ponder our options. Neither of us had the presence of mind to schedule potential work interviews, perhaps because we thought, after just completing the arduous work of getting college degrees, we should lay back for a while before doing anything rash.
And that is what we did for a week or so after my other good college buddies and girlfriend deserted us… while they went off to pursue actual careers and life style changes, we settled into a life of swimming, beaching, sunning and playing tennis. In the evenings we would return to the hacienda with a couple of six packs of the less expensive bubbly to properly consider our options. One thing became very clear… neither of us wanted to pursue anytime soon a responsible career… it was just too early to put on the harnesses of life. Another thing became clear… we were quickly running out money in our efforts to maintain a life of style and leisure.
We considered these problems for another one or two days, maintaining our healthy schedule of swimming and tennis during the day and not so healthy schedule of beer consumption during the evening. As the days passed and options available dwindled, a sudden inspiration came upon us one evening after several of the said beers.
“I own a boat,” I said.
“I own a motor,” Rich said.
We had been ruminating what a great thing it would be if we could remain in the Zirinsky House for the summer. To do that, we would have to find some form of employment. That was a serious concern on my part. I had actually never held real job before, other than occasionally helping out in my father’s factory/warehouse. I know that is shameful but it is the truth. It occurred to me during this conversation of boats and motors that many years ago as a young boy, I had learned to dig clams.
As the beers dwindled and our conversation became more focused and animated, Rich Miller took a quantum leap in logic and made the following suggestion:
“Why don’t we become clam diggers?”
The logic of that was overwhelming.
“That’s a cherry idea,” I said.
Rich put his hand to his chin and asked.
“What do we have to do to become clam diggers?”
That set off more thinking and the requirement for two more beers. I posited we probably would need a clam digging license. Where would we get that Rich queried. The Town Hall I said…because we are living in a rented house I could claim to be a resident.
What else would we need? Implements of the trade. What were those implements? We did not know. Then, if we get the boat, the motor, the license, the implements of the trade, where do we go?
Easy, I said, Shinnecock Bay. Then how would we sell the clams if we got the clams?
We had a lot of things to work out, but our minds were moving swiftly and so did the remaining beers.
The next few days, we were all about activity – I headed over to the Town Hall. I found out that it was all pretty simple. You just walk in, ask for the clam digger license form, fill it out and pay $25 bucks. The folks at the Town Hall were very kind and accommodating… they even told us about Ray the Clam Digger… he apparently made all the implements of the trade… baskets, graders and the all important clamrakes… he was in nearby Hampton Bays. So things began to come together.
The day after Rich headed to faraway New Jersey to retrieve the motor – a mighty 5hp Johnson. The day after that, Rich and I headed to Bellport to retrieve my 16’ boat.
Well, as they say, the rest was history. Rich and I had a truly fantastic summer. We spent our days gathering one or two bushels of clams each and selling them that day to Catena’s, the local seafood market, at $32 a bushel. We spent the afternoons and evenings spending our hard-earned cash pretty much as soon as we got it. Should you wish, you can read all about Rich’s and my adventures as summertime clamdiggers in my nearby blog story, “I Graduate to Clamdigger”.
Around this time, 1967, a bunch of things were happening in what might be said to be the real world.
Just as Rich Miller and my other college buddies were graduating, in mid June of 1967 Jimi Hendrix was playing at the Monterey Pop Festival along with a raft of other music celebs or soon to be celebs…The Grateful Dead, Janus Joplin, Otis Redding, Buffalo Springfield and many others… it was the first of many giant concert venues with dozens of great or soon to be great music stars. This concert had a kind of vibe and there was a feeling that “Something Was Happening Here” and indeed it was.
But life was not all music. Other things, not so optimistic, not so fun, we’re happening around the world. General William Westmoreland asked Defense Secretary Robert McNamara for an extra 100,000 troops for Vietnam. We needed to finish the job, he said. There were already 464,000 troops in South Vietnam, but the General said we were winning slowly and we needed more troops to polish off the VietCong…that proved optimistic.
Just as our summer clamming season was coming to an end, in early September, Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, urged the U.S. do more in Vietnam, suggesting we should consider nuclear weapons. Fortunately, that suggestion was never adopted.
My summer job as clamdigger came to a conclusion. Rich Miller, my college buddy and clam-digging partner, decided it was time to get a real job. He went off to a bank job interview and within weeks he had put the harness on and was going out into the world as a young banker. That was not to last, but that is another story.
That left me without a job at 6s and and 7s. The weather was becoming chillier by the day, it was no longer practical to continue my summer job as a playboy clamdigger.
So that fall, I stayed on the Hamptons and once again, considered my options. During that summer, I had noticed a new publication called The Southampton Summer Day. It had quirky and offbeat stories that pricked my imagination. I liked the humorous and irreverent style of the publication. Throughout most of my life, I had harbored a desire to become writer. I was not sure how to go about that, but I decided to call the paper and find out if they wanted to hire someone who wanted to be a writer. I got a fellow on the line who said he was the publisher. That surprised me. I was expecting a secretary to answer the phone. But, no, it was a leaner operation than I had mind.
I asked if they might be looking for a writer to help out with the work involved.
“Yes and no,” was the answer. After some further questions, the guy who answered the phone, suggested that I send some samples of “my work”.
I mailed some short stories I had written to the guy I had spoken to. His name was Dan Rattiner. The stories were not very pertinent to the paper, but at least they indicated I could type somewhat and put words down on paper in sentences. That apparently was enough for Dan to suggest a follow up meeting. That was arranged and a few days later I found myself sitting next to a thin guy with glasses in a diner that was near to East Hampton. I remember the Diner very well because it was next to a tank just off of the main drag leading into Easthampton. I never learned just why the tank was next to the Diner, but I gathered it commemorated something.
Anyway, the young man opposite me explained that while he might be able to use a writer and even publish some of my writer’s stories, he could not do so full time. He did say that my writing showed “promise”. I did not know it, but Dan Rattiner was to become rather famous over time and in the future, his paper, or papers, became mainstay publications of the Hamptons, growing from a small 18 to 24 page black and white tabloid format to over 100 pages an additional 24, 36 or 48 page color wrap featuring famous local painters on the cover. All that was to come.
When I first met Dan, his paper was mere shadow of what it became. It was 18 or 24 pages, all black & white featuring some scribble cartoons that Dan regularly turned out. But, Dan’s stories were humorous and light-footed and the cartoons he drew to illustrate his stories were simple and crude, but they fit the paper and it all worked.
In our first meeting, Dan pointed out that the paper was closing down for the winter and would not reopen until the next season. This was a disappointment since I was hoping to start my new career that very Fall, but apparently, I would have to wait about 6 months.
And then the young publisher revealed the fact that what he really was looking for the coming year was one or two delivery boys. Someone who could drive around a truck/van and drop off the papers at each and every location. Apparently, there were quite a lot of locations to drop his papers off to. It turned out that Dan was regularly publishing 4 papers, most of which were the same, but there were special editions for each of the Hamptons…so there was a paper for Hampton Bays, Southampton, Easthampton and Montauk. Each had a different name and each had some local content, but most of the inner content was the same for all the different papers.
An intriguing aspect of Dan’s business model was that the papers were free to anyone who wanted to pick them up. I thought that was unusual and I liked the concept.
Dan suggested we have lox and bagels for lunch. I did not know what that was, but being adventurous, I went with the flow.
Well, Dan, spoke glowingly about all the opportunities his paper offered. He explained how he had started his first paper, The Montauk Pioneer, a few years earlier and how each and every year it had made money, in just the last two years, he added new papers in Easthampton, Southampton and Hampton Bays. He had high hopes that one day his papers would become an important publication on The East End.
In addition to needing a delivery boy and a part-time writer, Dan pointed out I could be a part time type-setter, a part-time ad salesman, and/or a part-time secretary. Well, I did not know what to make of this job interview, but I liked the idea of working in the Hamptons as writer and if I had to be a delivery boy as well, that was all right with me. I had to start somewhere. So, I agreed to the plan.
That meant making some further compromises, so that fall, winter and spring I went to work for my father. I told him this was just a job to get through the next six months and I insisted on working in the factory, rather than in the office. During the days, I packed fishing lure orders, built frog lures, assembled some weird fishing rods my father had acquired. I learned to unpack, repack boxes, tape boxes, mail out boxes, load boxes on trucks, bring boxes to the post office, pick up the mail, deliver the mail and many other exciting things.
In the evening I wrote stories that I thought Dan Rattiner would like for his paper. That was not easy since I was writing them at time of season that paper did not operate telling stories that did not have much to do with the East End of Long Island.
The months passed quickly and quietly on the North Shore of Long Island as 1967 slipped into 1968. I worked that winter and spring in my father’s warehouse, packing, shipping, making rods and lures, learning many things that I then thought worthless, but came later to consider valuable. In my father’s warehouse, I ended up running a fishing rod production line. Considering my zero knowledge of manufacturing and my eclectic approach to it, it is truly a miracle that any of it worked. And for while, it seemed I was on the road to establishing myself as a failed producer of fishing rods, but I endured and somehow it all worked out.
My production team was a mixed group of high school burnouts, dis-employed and displaced workers and drug addled teenagers. At this time, many things were changing. At the same time I was trying to develop writing skills for my summer job to come, I moved from packing, taping and shipping things to making fishing rods. At first I worked during the day and wrote at night, then I worked at night and wrote during the day. The latter schedule seemed to work out quite well, even if it started in chaos and disaster.
What had happened is that several years before my father bought the rights to this weird fishing rod product. It was called the AutoCast rod. It was a spring loaded, automatic casting rod. Not that the distances covered by this device were very impressive. In my father’s ad copy it said you could cast 50 to 70 feet, but I was never so lucky as to get it to cast more than 30 or 40 feet. No matter, it turned out that there a real market for this product. The best customers turned out to be paraplegics because they were generally physically unable to cast a fishing rod. So, the product had a true market base.
The sales of this thing were never that great, 5,000 or 10,000 units a year. My father was used to selling things in the hundreds of thousands, so you can say it was a lost child. That was up until the time my father struck up a relationship with a guy named Ed Downes. Ed turned out to be a kind of mail order / marketing / publishing genius. He owned a mail order catalog company called Madison House, which was bought with the proceeds of a product that Ed successfully sold as he emerged from college. That product was called “The Fur-lined Potty”. Ed ran a tiny classified ad in Esquire Magazine using this classic copy: “Gentleman, This Is It…The Genuine Fur-lined Potty!”
Now the product itself was pretty simple – a white enameled pot about 5” high, 10” around with a 1’ lip on top. To dress it up, Ed glued some squirrel hair around the flat 1” lip of the pot, hence the name, “The Fur-lined Potty”. To make a long story shorter, Ed had a hit on his hands. In doing so, he learned how to acquire, refashion and sell tens of thousands of the fur-lined potties. He also learned about advertising in magazines and he made $100,000 while still in college at a time when when $100,000 was really a lot of money. Esquire was so impressed by his regularly running little classified ads that they suggested he become classified advertising rep, which he did.
One thing led to another and when Ed got out of college, he went on rep more magazines and take on more products for mail order advertising. When my father met Ed he was already doing over $6,000,000 a year in mail order products and earning a hefty income from representing direct mail print advertising in number of magazines and newspapers. The match between my father and Ed proved to be made heaven. Ed put our AutoCast Rod into his Madison House catalog and soon he was selling over 5,000 rods year himself. Shortly thereafter a multitude other mail order catalogs took it on and pretty quickly the demand jumped up to over 50,000 units a year.
Enter humble me into the business…I only wanted to tape, pack and ship, but within a month or so, I found myself in charge 10 or 12 drug addled 18 to 22 somethings. A ragged crew it was. And need I mention, not only we’re the times and the music a-changing, so were range beverages and stimulants. Now all through college we were weaned on a steady diet of beer and other forms of alcohol, but now out college, in the real world, other world stimulants were coming into favor. In particular, wacky tabacky, also known as pot, ganja, weed, herb, grass and reefer, had become known to me and my nighttime workers.
It must said here that such things are not recommended for cohesive and precise manufacturing, but as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You don’t go to war with the army you want, you go to war with the army you have.”
And so it was. My team of exiled high school drop-outs and some older, not so alert blue collar guys, were assigned the task of speeding up fishing rod production. I have to give some description of the manufacturing production line, which while not very sophisticated, was just that – a manufacturing production line. There 21 different production stops, drill presses, riveting machines, cutting machines, slotting machines. Along the way there were different parts that needed to be added or screwed on to the product, so there also things to pick up and put together and hopefully, we remembered to add the required elements.
You may imagine that my team was somewhat taken aback by the task before them when being confronted with a line of machinery and parts. Of one thing you could be sure, before starting every single evening, we would begin with a group meeting which included a discussion of production goals followed by passing around the sacred herb. After 20 to 30 minutes of mind stimulation and preparation, the evening production would get underway.
Now these corporate methods were not immediately successful as you might imagine. I believe the first evening we produced a total of 7 AutoCast fishing rods and several of those needed to be discarded due to “shoddy construction” or missing parts. The second evening was not much better. I think we got up to 9 units and our defect rate got down to 1 or 2. Considering the the day shift, run by my German stepmother, and some quite together young guys and gals, were churning our 200 to 300 units a day, our performance left something to be desired.
What to do? I thought. Actually, I had no idea, but I began to try things. The thing is, no matter what my approach, I tend to be competitive and persistent. So, I persisted. And gradually the production soared to 20 or 30 units a night. That still left some things to be desired. So I tried more things and the production did rise the next week to almost 100 rods per evening. In the end, what seemed to work best was me being at the end of the production line finishing things faster things just a little faster faster than the guys directly in front of me. That encouraged them to speed up. When they speeded up, the guys in front of them also speeded up, when the guys in front them, the rest of guys speeded up. Then I tried getting at the beginning of the line and feeding the first parts faster. Both systems seemed to work.
To finish this strange interlude, within a month or two we were producing 500 to 700 rods a night. And that was how I spent most the fall of 1967 and the winter of 1968. So my schedule became pretty set: I wrote short stories during the day and produced fishing rods at night.
Other things in the real world occurred. In October of 1967, Che Guevara, the famous revolutionary, was killed by Bolivian rebels. He had gained a cult following among lefties and revolutionaries and Vietnam protesters. And suddenly, he was gone. The myth had evaporated.
I was not a Vietnam protester, but certainly I felt the Vietnam War was crazy. Each night on TV, they would announce the number of U.S. casualties in dead and wounded, much as they have been announcing Coronavirus cases and deaths this year. In November, Joan Baez was arrested during an anti-war protest. In December, the British/French Concorde Jet was unveiled in Toulouse, France. A trip on that new plane from London to New York took only 3 to 4 hours versus the regular 8 to 9 hours by Boeing 707. Yes, things were happening.
Popuar music kept turning out new offerings that fall and winter: “Ode to Billie Joe” that mysterious and seductive song by Bobby Gentry about a couple throwing something off of the Tallahachie Bridge. Other songs came along and provided haunting warning signs that not all was right in the world. A prime example of that was Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s song, “All Along The Watchtower”. In that song, it was not just Bob Dylan’s lyrics, it was also Jimi Hendrix’s solitary voice and fearsome guitar that gave the song power.
In January, 1968 the Tet Offensive took place and sowed doubts that we could ever win the Vietnam War. It is hard to understate the effect the Tet Offensive had. For years, leading up to it, our leaders, mathematical geniuses like Robert McNamara, President Johnson, and military leaders like General William Westmoreland had said that Vietnam was a crucial key to America’s effort to keep Communism contained worldwide and as we went from a few hundred troops in 1960 to over 500,000 troops 1968, the general, the Secretary of State and the President kept saying that victory was right around the corner.
All of that 8 year history of hard efforts and high hopes, as our country went from sending a few hundred American “advisers” to Vietnam to hundreds of thousands American troops to Vietnam, was effectively denied, refuted and obliterated by the Tet Offensive. How could the North Vietnam launch an offensive and invade all the major cities of South Vietnam if we were winning the war, if after 7 years of efforts, after tens of thousands of American dead, after hundreds of thousands wounded, how could we be winning that wear?
In short, the Tet Offensive changed many minds, convincing many who had previously believed the cause was righteous, that the cause was fruitless and the effort to win was impossible. By this time, most of America’s youth, in addition to listening to new and daily emerging kinds of rock music, in addition to quickly acquiring addictions to all sorts of drugs, had already decided that the Vietnam was wrong, fruitless and a waste of blood, money and trust. So, for those of us who were young, most of us had long since lost faith in the war effort. Most of us had decided that it was the wrong war in the wrong place.
Now, of course, there was a big body of young men who were actually in the war in Vietnam. And their opinions about the war were nowhere near as clear. Many of them believed in their country’s need to be in Vietnam, many of them had lost buddies in the war, many of them had friends who had been wounded either physically or mentally during the war. And at the same time, the same rock music and the same proliferation of drugs was finding their way into Vietnam. And so, when these young men and women returned home, they found that they were held in contempt by their own contemporaries. This created more conflicted emotions between their patriotic duty and their actual combat experiences in Vietnam. And when they did return to what they considered their homeland, they found it different from the place they had left.
The Tet Offensive started at the end of January 1968. It came in three phases. January through March, May through June and August through September. By the end, it was said that we had won and the Viet Cong and North Vietnam had lost. But truly, that was a Pyrrhic victory. It turned out we had won the battle, but lost the war.
So the country was torn and divided about Vietnam, as I worked through that winter, with my band of somewhat befuddled and dazed and confused workers. It was a strange time in America and for me it was a transitional period from clam digger to factory worker on my journey to newspaperman.
Other disturbing things were happening on the American scene. In April, President Johnson decided not to run for President and that same month Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter black riots erupted across the country. So there was, in addition to widespread protests in the U.S., a lot of of turmoil and doubt. And this general atmosphere of new music, proliferating drugs, ongoing war, rebellious and confused youth and the assassination of a black leader was all part of the tapestry of our lives in the first half of 1968.
And the turmoil that was going on in Americas was worldwide. In May, student demonstrations clogged the streets of Paris. In June, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated. In July Andy Warhol is shot by a model.
And this was happening just as I was returning to the high hedges and green lawns and sandy beaches of Southampton to start my new career as a newspaperman.
In the beginning my real job was delivering newspapers. That turned out to be far more elaborate than I imagined, although I must say, it was interesting. I would drive to a printer somewhere and pick up the papers…at first the location was somewhere on Long Island, but soon that changed to New Jersey. Dan had given me full control of a beat up Volkswagen Van. That van, I can say this because I have a long history of using them (in the coming years I was to use or own no less than 5 Volkswagen Vans), was very utilitarian, but it had some weight limits and disadvantages as a craft negotiating America’s highways.
Let me address the weight limitation issue. If one read a Volkswagen Van owner manual (Dan’s had long since been lost), one would find, somewhere buried in the many pages of text, that one should not carry much more than 1,000 lbs. of cargo weight. I did not know that at the time, but some things you learn from experience. Now, I am not quite sure exactly how many pounds each load of Dan’s Papers amounted to, but remember, in those days it was not called Dan’s Papers. In those days, there were four separate papers that Dan was producing weekly. As mentioned before, these were not too hefty for one paper considering it 18 to 24 pages of tabloid newspaper stock, but if you multiply that by 15,000 or 20,000 by 4, it adds up to anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 papers, each 18 to 24 pages thick.
I do not know what the total weight was, but I can tell you this, it was way more the recommended max cargo weight for a Volkswagen Van. The added weight changed the driving characteristics of the intrepid van. Pickup, which with only one person and no cargo, left something to be desired, when loaded with me and 60,000 to 80,000 newspapers, left a lot more to be desired. Let give you a picture. Have ever come across a heavy loaded truck heading up a high hill? You might notice that the speed of the heavy truck is dramatically reduced, especially when loaded with 10 tons of gravel or 6,000 gallons of fuel. The case was essentially the same with Dan’s Volkswagen bus loaded with me and one week’s quantity of Dan’s different papers.
Now trucks carrying 10 tons of gravel or 6,000 or more gallons of oil or gas, are actually designed to do that, so even if they are slow, they keep a solid grip on the road. Not so with Dan’s Volkswagen when heading from New Jersey to the shores of the Hamptons. The weight in the van had a tendency create what I would call a free floating effect every time the vehicle came to any bend or curve in the road over 15 mph. That meant one had to compensate for the listing effects to the left or right. So just learning to drive Dan’s van was a real experience.
Combine that with the fact that once I got to the Hamptons I was expected to deliver the papers to each and every location that Dan had selected. And that, as I mentioned earlier, turned out to be one heckuva a lot of places. Specifically, I dropped off papers at every store, barbershop, restaurant, bar, supermarket, deli, dry cleaner, florist in the Hamptons. That is to say, every one that would accept the Free Papers. Not everyone was enthralled to have 30 to 50 newspapers set up somewhere in their location, but most accepted it as OK. At the time, Dan’s Papers was not so well thought of. Some people liked the papers, but many were indifferent and some were antagonistic.
In between delivering papers, I endeavored to write articles suitable for the unique blend of satire, frolic and quasi news that Dan spun out. It turned out that most of the stories that I had labored on the winter or spring before were of no interest to Dan, primarily because they had no Hampton or Long Island content.
There was one first writing assignment that I did get an early start on. And that was Dan’s “Guide to The Hamptons”. This was an additional publication that Dan printed at the beginning of the summer and my first real writing project started with working on that project. Parts of the guide were very boilerplate…like descriptions of local restaurants and bars that advertised. That consisted of 3 or 4 lines of copy. These were little blurbs that generally just regurgitated some advertising points about the different bars and restaurants. So they all had the same feel to them.
The part that turned out to be quite interesting, to me at least, was a history of the Hamptons. Dan explained the the Hamptons were really were a very old part of the country. I knew some of that because my family had rented one summer the oldest house in New York State. That was the Halsey House on South Main Street in Southampton. In order to widen my knowledge all things regarding the history of the Hamptons, I went to the local library in Southampton. At the time that was on Jobs Lane.
In working on “The Guide to The Hamptons” I learned many interesting and surprising historical facts about the The Hamptons, such as the fact there were over 100,000 Indians (aka native Americans) living on Long Island when the first Europeans arrived. What really surprised me was that there were many separate tribes and each controlled their own designated areas…there were the Shinnecocks, the Montauks, the Setallcotts, and several others. And apparently, from what I read, most of these Indian tribes were peaceful, but occasionally some other more warlike tribes would come over from the mainland to plunder the local crops and acquire some of the local Long Island Indian ladies.
I was also surprised to learn that it was the Dutch who first came to New York and Long Island and began purchasing land from the Indians. The Dutch settled in New York City and on Long Island, from the 1620s until around 1665. Then the Brits came along and displaced them. I think that is it a nice way to put it. So, New York City and parts of Long Island were first settled by Dutch settlers, then English settlers arrived with some large, well armored warships and quickly said, this land is ours. Now, some the Dutch remained, as did many of the Indians, but the English were the new guys in town.
I learned other things as well as I did my research. Somewhere in the late 1600s, the local Southampton drunk was punished for repeated offenses. Apparently, the jail facilities and amenities were limited and so they used a different form of punishment. Imagine the town drunk out on a big bender one night staggering around and howling at the moon, even scaring the local ladies and children. The next day he wakes up on a mud path that happened to be the main thoroughfare into town. So the good people of Southampton find this eyesore sprawled in the mud as they pass by in their local finery…well, maybe finery is too strong a word.
Anyway, you can imagine the local residents highly disturbed because this the third time they have found this guy sprawled in the mud after a night of keeping the owls awake. Something has to be done – so they put him on wooden platform with a large wooden post. The post has 2 wood cross boards that are attached to a hinge at one end. In between the 2 cross boards are 3 cutouts – one large, the other 2 small. The large cutout is for your head to go in, the 2 smaller holes are for your hands to go in. So, the town gets you to stand up on the wood platform and place your head and hands in this device. They lock you in for one, two or more days. Of course, the drunk gentleman stands outside with his torso and legs behind the post and his head and hands locked in between the boards in front of the post.
What a tempting target that must have made for the local kids as they pass by. A perfect excuse to throw some rotten tomatoes or melons or clam shells or other refuse. In the meantime, the guy stands there for hours and days, in bright sunlight or frigid darkness or on hot summer days or frozen winter days. The target of kids, flies, mosquitoes and perhaps manure. And as you can imagine, bathroom facilities were slim so whatever happened, happened. It is all enough to make guy reconsider his drinking habits.
So I learned a lot about the older times, past or present. Speaking of the present, important events were then happening in the Hamptons. I even got to include one such event in writing the Hampton Guide. That was the marriage of Zal of the Lovin’ Spoonful. I happened to be passing Saint Andrew’s Church on Dune Road one morning when several members of the Lovin’ Spoonful emerged from that church, gaily dressed in bell bottoms and tie die tee shirts. There were men, women and kids all spilling out of the Church…harmonicas, guitars and symbols were playing, rice was flying. It was the late Sixties, man. It seemed like a perfect example of new things happening in the Hamptons.
So, for most that summer I delivered newspapers and wrote articles for the papers. As the summer dragged on it came to my attention that I was delivering papers more than getting stories published. It was true that I wrote many of the blurbs describing local restaurants, but where was the art in that? So, I confronted my boss, Dan. He did not seem to react to my pleading to get more stuff published, but I kept pestering Dan and then one week he must have felt sorry for me because published 4 stories at once. That made me happier, but I could tell the writing on the wall…there was a finite limit to how much stuff Dan was going to publish!
More sadly, I found out there were not many other publishing companies that were interested in my quaint and quirky stories about the Hamptons. They were humorous and pleasing in their way, but no one took them seriously. I got bunch of interviews with different publications…The New Yorker, Esquire Magazine, Newsday, The Daily News, the New York Times, but none of those folks felt my work and my abilities were for them.
That led to me ultimately returning to my father’s business. My interest at the time was still not serious. I still viewed working for my father as a station along the way to finding my true career. However, something had happened that changed my view of father’s business. He had just acquired a strange new business that sold something that I had never heard of before. That was inflatable canoes. I did not know what that was at the time, but that business ended up attracting my attention and, ultimately, it became my long term career. And so it goes.
In August of 1968, Soviet tanks invaded Prague, Czechoslovakia. Later in the month there were demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago and all the TV stations covered that.
In October, Jackie Kennedy wedded Aristotle Onassis, the shipping magnate. That seemed like a big come down after being married to the President of the United States. But, the handsome, young President had been assassinated and the living have to make their own life decisions and Jackeline Onassis Kennedy made hers.
In November of that same year, Nixon and Agnew went on to win the 1968 election.
In December, the first U.S. Astronauts orbited the moon.
Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam continued to spin out of control.
Yes, there was something happening here and no one was quite sure what it was.
Through it all, music helped me navigate this topsy/turvy period.