Me And The Boys Of Alden Terrace: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

Only now, though, do I realize how odd it was for us to play football in the street. We lived in the suburbs, after all, with a grassy, sloping park barely 100 yards away. Maybe it was because the street gave us readymade end zones and boundaries, whereas in the park we would have had to create our own demarcations.

Or maybe it had to do with where our parents came from, New York City, mostly the Bronx. In the city, you played mainly in the street, close to the apartment you called home. So maybe we played in the street as some kind of unconscious carryover from our old neighborhoods, an unacknowledged inheritance from our parents.

At any rate, those games represented a special moment in my life. We all came together, me and my chums, to play ball. We huddled and called our plays, our buttonhooks and down-and-outs and our going-longs, and played football all through the January and February afternoons.

Nothing else going on in the world mattered and, as far as we could tell, nothing else ever would. All that counted was to be out there playing a game in the cold with your friends. We came together almost magnetically, gravitationally, without even a phone call first, to test ourselves against each other, to see who would win, to mimic everything we saw the Packers and the Cowboys do on TV.

We all knew each other so well, knew each other’s mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, had gone to each other’s houses. We took the same classes, had the same teachers. We all loved to play – that was the real common denominator on those winter days. We all wanted to excel as athletes.

I never had anything like that again, a band of friends with whom you could kid around and burp and fart. Never again would I feel so close to other males, in friendships that ran so deep, so unquestioning. I never even came close, neither in college nor at any office.

It was the circumstances that made it possible, I suppose, the time and place and our proximity to each other, all of us the same age. We had something special, irreplaceable, a closeness.

But at least I had that once, and sometimes once can be enough.

It might have to be.

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Me And The Boys Of Alden Terrace

Dear Michael and Caroline,

Every Sunday afternoon, with something like clockwork regularity, we boys all gathered at Paul Solomon’s house. Me, Don, Andy, Carl, Steve, sometimes Mike and Larry. We had to be 12, 13, 14 years old, all of us living on the same block or two, in the same kinds of split-level houses built in the 1950s, going to the same school.

We watched either pro football or pro basketball, on the only color TV in the neighborhood, the football field suddenly lush green, the basketball court suddenly a golden hue. It might be the Green Bay Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, both teams then dominant, or the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics, also powerhouses.

After the games, we would all put on our overcoats and caps and go outside to play touch football in the street in front of Paul’s house. Our field went from telephone pole to telephone pole, probably about 50 yards, with the sidelines marked by the curbs on either side. Sometimes a car or two would be parked out on the street (most stayed in driveways) and we had to play around those (though sometimes we accidentally collided into one going out for a pass).

We played two-on-two or three-on-three, depending on how many guys showed up, and we went at it all afternoon, oblivious of time and responsibility and the world at large, our minds intent on the next pass, the next catch, scoring the next touchdown.

Paul, the biggest and strongest then, played the best (he would later be the only one of us to join the high school football team). He had the calm air of the superior athlete, and usually played quarterback.

Don, my best friend, a lefty, could run fast, and so could Andy.

Me, I could throw and catch pretty well, always equipped with better arms than legs.

P.S. – See Part 2 tomorrow.

Guest columnist David Adelman: A Letter To My Unborn Children

Adelman

David Adelman is the founder and CEO of Reel Tributes, which turns personal history into artistic, broadcast-quality films. Watch sample films, and learn more about how Reel Tributes can help create your documentary of a lifetime, at www.reeltributes.com. Recently he also started a blog, www.reeltributes.com/view

To my unborn children,

Who knows when you’ll be reading this letter. As I write, I have no plans to have children for a few years. But it’s something Melissa and I talk about, and we’re excited for the day when our family will grow from 2 to 3 to 4 (and more?).

So it may seem odd that I’m writing you a letter long before you can read, or, for that matter, before I know your name or even your gender. But it all makes sense, because family history is a critical part of my life. I know it’s never too early to start telling you stories. Hopefully this will be the first of many. And I truly hope that you carry on the tradition by sharing stories with your children, and they tell their children, and on and on for generations yet to come.

For the first story, I’ll tell you a little about why I founded my company, Reel Tributes. It all goes back to Grandma Eunice, your great-grandmother. Eunice was a force. She was a fireball. Even in her 80s and 90s she could remember the smallest details of her life, and the lives of those around her. If there was an ear nearby, a story wasn’t far off.

When she died at the age of 94, my mom, your grandmother Paula, honored her love of storytelling by putting together a film about Eunice’s life and the history of the Brill-Meltzer family. She spent 3 months working on it, full-time. A “labor of love”, she called it. When she gathered everyone together to premier the film, the response was incredible. Four generations together in one room, watching the pictures, hearing the stories, and jumping in with their own memories and jokes…It brought the family closer than it had been in years, and turned Eunice’s passing into a celebration of her life and of our family history.

I left that room thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to give other families the opportunity to experience that joy?” And so I spent the next few months figuring out how to turn that idea into a reality.

That reality is now called Reel Tributes. We produce films like the one your grandmother made, combining interviews, pictures, home videos, and music into professionally edited documentaries.

So far, so good: our first few customers had the same reaction our family did. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we premiered it,” one early client told me. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, thousands of families around the country—heck, around the world—will have the pleasure of watching a Reel Tribute filled with their own incredible stories.

Only time will tell how Reel Tributes’ story will play out. But one thing is certain: I’ll keep sharing and recording my own adventures, so when the time comes for the Adelman Reel Tribute, we’ll be ready.

Until next time, with love,

David

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Father Appoints Me A Member Of The Bar: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

One day we mapped out the site for the project, in the corner near the door to the basement. He had some measuring to do, and needed another body.

He had to line up spots on the ceiling with corresponding locales on the floor. So he held over my head a string with a metal weight on the end that stretched down to the floor. He jotted a dot on the ceiling with his pencil and I, following his instructions, did the same below.

I remember feeling a deep sense of satisfaction at this modest mission, even though my apprenticeship turned out to be short-lived and my father, intent as ever, took it from there.

In the end, the bar curved in a semi-circle from wall to wall, complete with a runner for your feet and a flip-top entrance-exit, the surface a bright white Formica, quite a handsome number all in all.

He built the bar, come to think of it, more to express himself, and probably for social reasons, than because he drank much. In fact, my father once told me, apropos of who knows what, that he never really liked liquor. “I might have one drink,” he said. “But alcohol leaves me depressed. My first drink is usually my last.”

Maybe he sought, in so saying, to warn me about booze. But certainly he played bartender, serving drinks to friends at parties my parents gave, just as my grandfather, his father, had made a living as a bartender, in a bar he owned in Newark.

So much else happened in this house, of course – my parents arguing at the kitchen table, the arguments audible from my bedroom; bringing a girlfriend to my bedroom for a makeout session; my grandfather Sheft visiting on those long-ago Friday afternoons, primarily to reassure my mother with promises and cash; playing my four-piece Ludwig drum set in the basement, making believe I was in a band and really cool; my sister bringing over her girlfriends for sleepovers, arousing my early curiosity about girls.

If I realize anything at all, it’s that a house is more than rooms and a roof. It’s an organism pulsing with life, and now, all these years later, it pulses still, pulses in memory.

Here in this house I came to love the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, to marvel at the movies “King Kong” and “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” to read Mailer and Roth and Updike and Vidal, to forge my friendships with Don and Larry and Bob, to admire my extensive collection of Playboy issues, to perform with solid mediocrity as a student, to recognize, however dimly, that my parents so often seemed at odds with each other, with my sister and I strictly secondary players in the family drama.

So much started there.

So much ended there, too.

And so much, at least in my memory, goes on still.

My Father Appoints Me A Member Of The Bar

Dear Michael and Caroline,

Back again we now go into our house, home to so many memories, key to so many secrets, back we go to discover ourselves anew.

Let’s go down to the den, at the second lowest level, to the recliner where my father watched TV and, more often, napped. There he would lay, sleeping, snoring away, tired from working all the time, tired, too, no doubt, from everything else, from being a son, a brother, a husband, a father. No wonder he needed a nap.

And as he napped, all I might think was, it’s another opportunity missed, another chance for us to talk, to play, to hang out. He sought refuge from us all, political asylum, and sleep turned out to be the only neutral country that would take him in, a zone of his own, the better to zone out.

Now let’s step lower still, down to the basement, where for a while we set up a ping-pong table right alongside the washer and dryer. My mother and I played ping-pong there, probably pretty often, too. She had played as a girl, and grown into an accomplished player, winning tournaments and maybe a trophy or two, and she played well all right.

But what I remember most affectionately about those contests with her had nothing to do with the swiftness of her serve or the smoothness of her backhand or her sharp reflexes on return shots. No, it’s how much fun she had playing.

She would laugh as we played, a laugh here and a laugh there, whether she scored or missed. She simply delighted in the sport. Ping-pong remains among the few activities I can recall my mother and I undertaking enjoyably together.

Back to the den we now go, because there, in the mid-1960s, my father built a bar. Where other men would have bought a piece of furniture to serve as a bar, my father actually constructed one from scratch. He appointed me, then maybe 11 or 12, to be his helper.

P.S. – See Part 2 tomorrow.

Crossing The Hudson, From Then To Now

Dear Michael and Caroline,

For years all through my boyhood, my father drove our family over the George Washington Bridge. Almost always we were going from our house in Fair Lawn to visit my maternal grandparents, the Shefts, at 79th Street and Second Avenue, and always we took the George Washington Bridge.

It would be the four of us, my sister and I in the back seat, headed in for Passover or Thanksgiving or just a Sunday dinner. The bridge was tall and long and wide, all steel and cables suspended over the Hudson River. And as we crossed, I always looked to the right, toward the south, because there, spread out along the horizon, lay the towers of Manhattan.

We lived in a town of maybe 35,000 in Bergen County, where almost everyone had a house and was white and had some money, and on weekend mornings you heard all the lawnmowers going. So the George Washington Bridge came to mean something special. It connected us to a different universe, another dimension.

For here in Manhattan, as I learned as a young boy, was everything I saw in the movies and read about in books. Here, I knew, were the Wall Street tycoons and the ladies who lunch, the Broadway theaters and all those yellow cabs streaming through the night. That bridge, with its structure so muscular, those cables like tendons in the arms, linked my past and present to what would become my future.

I had no idea back then, at the age of 6 or 10 or 14, that Manhattan would remain my destination. Then again, maybe I suspected it. Certainly I always felt a gravitational pull toward that skyline. Certainly so much that I came to love was there.

Little did I realize, back then, that I would at the age of 23 move there and work there and meet Elvira there. And it was the George Washington Bridge that transported me to the rest of my life, that conveyed me all those years, in the 1950s and 1960s, from my old home to my new one.