Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, December 31, 2016

God in a Heartbeat

Old Man 1974 shuffled off into history to let Baby 1975 begin its short life. For us it slid over from one year to the other with very little change. We left behind 1974 and welcomed 1975  drinking at Bill and Grace Stones. Bill didn't get into harapozoids until sometime after midnight. Lois was feeling good early on and I felt no real effect.
There was no reason to see anything significant in a new year, just a flip of the calendar page from December to January.   .If I had been writing a memoir back then I would have expected to just repeat the year past. It would be more of the same-old-same-old.
About the only difference was buying a new car and that wasn't so unique anymore. It seemed I changed vehicles about every three years. Auto loans were the only debt we had and it was perpetually there. I'd get one auto paid off, have some problems with it and purchase something else. 
I began with a 1954 Ford, which I inherited so no debt there. Then a 1960 Studebaker Lark
followed by a 1963 Lark, which I bought from my parents in '65. I purchased a VW Beetle new in 1966 and sometime about 1970-71 a Chevrolet Chevelle. In 1975 I traded that in for an orange Toyota Corolla with 5 on the floor (pictured right at Chalet).  It was a car I really enjoyed because I felt part of the road every time I drove it. There was something sporty about driving a stick shift rather than an automatic. 
I was going into my second year working at Welded Tube. I was only the Assistant
Controller  still, I wouldn't add systems manager to my roll until halfway through the next year.  Victor Ernest and I had cemented our friendship. We played tennis almost every week day at lunch and continued through the winter playing golf every weekend. It might seem we would have put the clubs away once the cold and snow set it, but the main concession to the season was to purchase a set of orange Titleist that would be visible in any snow covered fairway.
Victor had met and married Marsha in the late fall of the previous year and Lois and I were getting together with them more often. They had moved into a West Deptford condomenium, which had a real tennis court where we sometimes played on weeknds.
They never had any children.

I was now certain we would never have children so the idea of enjoying ourselves was an even greater goal. There was no reason to be saving money, especially for things like retirement. That could wait until I was forty or older. Lois wanted to get a house, but why? We could afford to live in very nice apartments now with no upkeep to concern us and if the place deteriorated we could easily move elsewhere. Our money could go for travel or having fun. (My, my, my, the 1970s sure had ugly clothes.)
May 10 we went to my parent’s for dinner. That Sunday, the 11th, was Mother’s Day and I gave my mother an African Violet. That same weekend Lois announced she was pregnant again.  She wasn’t doing very well; she feared she was going to lose another one.
On May 16 she was in the
hospital getting her cervix sewed up again. This would be the second time she tried this procedure called a Shirodkar cerclage. She had the Modified Shirodkar that would not be permanent and require a caesarian birth.  This hadn't really worked the first time. On the 17th she said she was feeling better.  Everything was okay so far.  I was not happy about this turn of events. I felt she was taking a chance with her health and suggested she give up any further attempts after this one ran its course. She was optomistic that the this time the procedure would succeed.

My family celebrated our batch of June birthdays on June 22. We did this because my  
grandmother, mother and my birthdays were all in June, as was my parent’s wedding anniversary and Father’s Day. It seemed practical to have one big celebration. We went to The Farm for dinner. It is odd, we seemed to go to this particular restaurant quite often in those years, but I can’t remember the place at all. I have tried an online search with no success.  (Right, Lois and me sometime during 1975 in our Chalet living room.)

On the 29th my grandmother came to Chalet to stay with Lois, who after a second time in the hospital was restricted in what she could do as a further precaution. Despite these efforts,  I was awakened by Lois’ cries in the early morning of June 30. At 5:40 I drove her to the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Stratford, New Jersey on East Laurel Road. The irony of this address escaped me until I began writing this account.

They took Lois directly into a labor room and hooked up an IV with some drug designed to

retard labor. There was a monitor strapped about her midsection that amplified the baby’s heartbeat into the room.  I sat with her most of the day and night surrounded by the steady drumbeat of that fetus. Sometime in the wee hours of July 1 they sent me out to a waiting room.
I paced a bit. I sat and tried to read one of the magazines scattered on a table to no avail. Finally, I just sat. My mind kept coming back to those heartbeats heard all day. They sounded very strong and determined to me. That baby was fighting hard to live. Why?
Heartbeats thumped in my brain and it seemed they were the voice of God. But I didn’t believe in God so why should I feel that way? Yet the more I listened to the heartbeats in my head  the more I concluded there had to be something else, something greater than we were. That idea simply would not leave me alone.
At 4:30 AM, Lois delivered the baby, which died. It was a girl. She did not make it past 22 weeks of pregnancy, the dreaded, dooming 5th month. We named her Amy.
I went to work for half a day and then back to the hospital, where my grandmother joined us for the night. I went for a full day’s work the next day and back to the hospital that evening. On July 3 Lois came home. The hospital handled the remains. On the way home Lois said that had been it; she had them tie her tubes after she lost Amy.

She would have crying spells the rest of the month. We escaped some of our current upset when I got vacation during the week of August 8. We spent a day in Pennsylvania Dutch Country with Joe and Linda Rubio, taking in the Strasburg Railroad, The Amish Farm and the general store in Bird In Hand.

On September 9 I attended my cousin, Little Francy’s wedding and reception in
Coatesville. I don’t believe Lois went with me. By September she had sunk into a deep depression, the worse I had ever known her to have. She lay in bed most of the time and didn’t want to do anything. I was at my wit’s end.
I sat down next to her on the bed. “Maybe,” I said, “we should try church again.”
“What church?” she muttered.
“How about the new one they build down at the bottom of the hill.”
Yes, a brand new church building had opened only a couple weeks before. It was along Blackwood-Clementon Road less than a mile from the exit of West Branch Avenue, the road our apartment complex was alongside.
“What good will it do?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but we have to do something. It can’t hurt."

That Sunday we drove down to this church, both nervous about it.  It was a large red brick structure with a giant cross against a white background down its front.  The parking lot was in back.
We walked around the side on a sidewalk and entered the front door. A man greeted us as we entered and handed us each a bulletin. A couple other people smiled and said hello as we went into the sanctuary and down the center aisle. We selected a pew halfway down and took the two spaces near the opening, so we could easily escape if need be.
A tall man in a gray suit came over to us and welcomed us and shook my hand. He chatted with us a bit. After he returned to his own seat, I finally glanced at the bulletin. My gaze stopped on the next line  after the name Laurel Hill Bible Church. I read "A Fundamentalist Independent Baptist Church".

A what?
Fundamentalist? What have I got us into?
I nervously looked about. The people absolutely looked normal, but I expected some would begin rolling in the aisles at any second. My instinct was to flee, to grab Lois by the hand and pull her out of there, rescue her from what was about to befall us, but the service had started and I didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to us. We would wait and slip out as quickly as possible when the service concluded. I looked around for a side door or some quick exit. There was none. From all I had ever heard about Fundamentalists was they were cults full of religious nuts, who screamed in strange tongues and tried to scare you with fire and brimstone rants about Hell.

I was sweating as if the flames of hell were already close. I was scared to death of these people. Heaven help us...assuming there was such a thing as Heaven.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Indian Curry, Ski Machines at Midnight, Sexland Anywhere and Donald Trump Ts Off

There was a problem, well, more than one, with the Cherry Hill Towers. It was kind of disheveled when we moved there. I got stuck in the elevator once, which is less than a comfortable experience, but since we lived on the twelfth floor I wasn’t about to skip using the lift. One, two stories, maybe three I'll walk, but four or more is pushing it. Being on a high floor gave us a great view, but it did bring inconveniences.
After we moved in, I bought us a living room suite.  It consisted of the usual components, coffee table, an end table and this gigantic sofa and love seat. The sofa was super long and you slid the love seat up against one end to form L-seating. It was called a sectional. It was gold in color, a much brighter gold than it appears in the photo, like a summer sun it was. 

We had bought it and paid for delivery and therein lay the difficulty. Two burly men showed up at our floor and hauled in everything except the long couch. One handed me a sheet to sign and said they couldn’t fit the sofa in the freight elevator.
“Oh, then take it back,” I said.
“Can’t do that,” he says. “Against company policy. You gotta call the store and make arrangements. We left it down in the basement for you.” And he left.
Being as how in those days I was obstinate, stubborn, stronger and confident in my problem solving abilities, I rode down to the basement to check out the situation.
Man, yes, that sofa was big. I’m six foot and pushed up on end that blsted sofa towered over me. There had been two of those guys, but only just one of me, which made handing that monster a bit awkward, but after an hour of twisting, turning and muttering, I got it into that elevator, out of that elevator, down our corridor and through our apartment door to the living room. (That is Lois standing at attention in the living room. Don't you just love those 'seventies fashion?)

Ah, the sanctuary of your home where you can keep the
world out, but not necessarily the odors of the neighbors. Across the hall from us lived a family of Indians (not the cowboy and indian indians, but India Indians). They were very nice people and we visited with them in their India decor apartment with the Hundu Alter against one living room wall.
They always dressed in traditional native clothes, he usually in a Mundu and short jacket, her in colorful Saris. (They were considerably older than the male model.) This was all fine, but they also ate their native foods cooked with a lot of curry, I would almost swear   every meal. The odor of curry permeated the hallway and it snuck into our living room from the space beneath our front door. We took to stuffing this crack up with towels, but nothing was 100% guardian against the curry clouds.

The Cherry Hill Mall was directly across the street from us and a couple block around the corner was the home of a TV pitchman named Gray. He had a mirror company. There were a couple companies hyping their mirrors on TV and I think both companies went down in scandals and ripoff. Anyway, this guy Gray saw him self as a big celebrity and he owned a house in Cherry Hill. I would walk by it and he had two cadillacs parked in his driveway. They were gaudy vehicles, trimmed in gold with gold hubcaps. Each had a vanity licence plate, the one read "Super" and the other "Star". Well, Mr. Superstar went to prison. I wonder if he starred there? 

We endured any and all inconveniences at the Cherry Hill Towers until the hot water pipe began hissing steam into the bathroom, I was defeated. I could not fix it and it made going in there a miserable proposition, plus I kept expected our red-flocked wallpaper to unflock. Didn’t want to ruin the d├ęcor, you know, even if it did look like a bathroom in a brothel.

I contacted the rental office, but this accomplished nothing but empty promises. They would take it up with the management, so they said. The landlord was holed up in New York City somewhere and cared not a fig for his South Jersey residents. The steam heated faux spa continued unabated and unfixed. When our lease expired we moved for the seventh time in our dozen years of marriage. Counting my first home after birth, this would be the twelfth address for me.

People sometimes find it hard to believe how our new address was possible in the flat land of South Jersey. We moved from Cherry Hill, where I never saw a cherry tree or a hill to Pine Hill, the highest elevation in Camden County, where I saw both, a big hill and many, many Pine Trees. 

We had a second floor apartment in the two-story Manchester Building within the clusters of Chalets at Ski Mountain. It was a new and lovely complex when we moved there on December 1, 1973, having many modern conveniences, including a trash compactor in the kitchen.
The backend of the complex backed right up to the edge of Ski Mountain, meaning all winter we had to bare the hum of the snow making machines running from midnight to morning light, but you get used to it. Of course, it snowed for real just after the new year. On the 8th we left work at noon and the snow continued all the next day. On January 10 it turned bitterly cold and everything froze.

Ski Mountain remained a popular winter attraction during the five years we lived at Chalet. The whishing and slushing and wind of the two line motors went on for several months until the blessed spring thaws.
The summer attraction was Clementon Lake Amusement Park,  on Blackwood-Clementon Road just two and a half miles away. Clementon, you might recall,  was the home of Tom Newman, my 1959 friend and fellow correspondence school art student also attending the Florence Utz IBM School. The park was only two blocks from his house where I stay a couple of times that summer not realizing the future would bring me back to the area.

Clementon Park is still operating, but Ski Mountain is
long gone now. That hill it utilized went through several iterations after we moved away. In the 1980s a water park was built on the site and called Action Mountain Park.

It was an offshoot of the infamous Action Park, a Vernon, North Jersey amusement park, known as “The most dangerous amusement park in America” and listed in “Weird New Jersey”.  Action Mountain Park was perhaps not as dangerous as its parent, everyone seems to have gotten out of it alive, but from what I have learned people generally came away from it bruised and banged up.

Action Mountain closed down sometime in the nineties and in the year 2000 the Trump National Golf Club-Philadelphia was built upon the site. (Yes, that Donald Trump.) It remains a resort to this very day and has a five-star rating.

I wonder if will be the official Presidential T-off spot?

Throughout 1974 and well into 1975, Lois and I provided our own amusement park, Sexland. The only rides were us. Sexland would exist anywhere and anytime we chose. There would be fondling under the table in restaurants. When we ate out we sat on the sides that formed the right angle of the table corner; not across from each other. This allowed easy reach.
Although we had stopped any group sex activities after Wayne and Bunny, we were prone to risky public acts and displays. Lois bought a wrap dress, something introduced that year by Diana Von Furstenberg. As its name implied, it was a dress of one piece, but had no buttons. A woman put her arms through the sleeves and then wrapped the material about her, doubling one side over the other in front and tying it in place with a belt or sash. This made the thing easy to manipulate. The bodice could be pulled apart to differing widths to show cleavage or more skin. The exposure of legs could also be adjusted.
Lois would not wear underwear many times when we went out (nor would I). We often left certain restaurants and as soon as we started across the parking lot, she would undo the belt, which allowed the wrap dress to unwrap fully in the front. Eventually, as our activity grew more emboldened, we went to a lounge nearby. It had a L-shaped setup with the bar on the short part. This was where most people were when we went there, but the long side was general empty toward the back and we took a booth in that section. This allowed Lois to undo the wrap dress and basically sit there nude, though whipping the material around her if a waitress approached.
Our bathing suits also grew steadily smaller and we would fool about in any water we ever entered, even sometimes slipping out of the suits.
(We also had erotic statues about our apartment, such as the Lovers and David seen in the right of the photo.)
We’d play games in elevators taking the chance it could stop at any moment to pick up passengers. In a crowded elevator I would back against the back wall and Lois would back into me and grind. I might slip my hands up her skirt or down her blouse in empty lifts. We constantly engaged in sexual play, including while driving, Lois sometimes completely disrobing, something that had to be a treat to semi drivers who came alongside. We would drive onto the back country road of Chester County just to extend sexual play.
 One such evening while engaged in oral sex I drove off the road into a ditch. It was a deep ditch and I couldn’t get the car out. There was a farm house across the road, the only house anywhere in sight. The noise my car made attracted the residents. The porch light came on and several young women came out the front door to see what the commotion was. Meanwhile I was struggling to get my pants up and fastened as they approached us. They were giggling, so perhaps they had some idea what we had been about. Nonetheless, their dad or brother or cousin, some male anyway, got the tractor and pulled us free.
We took to having sex in public places during the day. We did it behind a tree next to a springhouse behind Lafayette’s Headquarters in the Brandywine Battlefield. In Downingtown, where I spent my boyhood, where I once stole girlie magazines from Charles’ Newsstand, we wandered to the back of Kerr Park along the Brandywine. There was a natural stage there before a grove of pine trees. They used to put on plays during summer eves, using the pine grove as the dressing rooms. We went back and had sex pressed against one of the pines. I could see out through the trunks at the people strolling the area and some kids playing tag or some such game.
In Valley Forge we did it down in a field of tall weeds just off the parking lot for the Washington memorial Chapel, where once Bob Condon and I wrote songs up in the bell tower. There was a picnic area maybe 50 yards away, perhaps less, and I watched a family set up their picnic during our activity hoping they couldn’t see us through the grass.

So why relate these secret things from the past that no one need ever to know? Because one must show what they once were in order to show change. People who had been alcoholics relate how they were fallen down drunk, how they threw up on the hostesses dress at parties, how they had accidents on the highway when in their cups. Reformed druggies might confess to days of thief or muggings to support their habit, how they boosted hubcaps from parked cars or snuck into buildings to rip off items to fence.
I wasn’t a drunk or a crack-head or a thief. I was simply a sex addict. I wasn’t raping or assaulting any one. I wasn’t jumping out of bushes to expose myself to strangers passing by. This was, of course, my rationalization and my justification that I was harming no one and no one really knew, so what was the harm. It certainly made practicing such behavior easier not believing in any God that might be observing disapprovingly. As I stated before, as an Atheist I believed the only real purpose to life was seeking pleasure.
Perhaps pleasure wasn’t so prevalent as I tried to believe if I had honestly accessed my life. I was 33. I had changed addresses 12 times, been rejected from the armed services because of psoriasis, was working at my seventh employer in 16 years, dropped out of art school and quit Temple University. Yes, I had writings published, my latest being an article in “Animal Lover’s Magazine”, but it hardly supported a living.  I didn’t feel satisfied with anything and was often angry. I marched in protests and argued with ministers and saw friends, the few I had, come and go. I spent a lot of time drinking with those I kept. I had 6 dead babies, too. I was 33 and saw no future for myself other than drifting along as I had been and hoping more stories would sell, while in reality I was selling less.
The movements of the 1960s were fading away. Once we sang “Where have all the Flowers Gone?”, now we could ask, “Where have all the Hippies Gone?” It appeared creativity was dissolving into the recent past and protests as well as the long Vietnam War ended. It was an age of disillusion; perhaps we were a new Lost Generation. The Beatles disbanded. The Trauma and Kaleidoscope (the remains of which are pictured right) were closed. Folk music was disappearing from the hit parade and the bland music of Disco was beginning to dominate. People escaped into the beat that was good to dance to and disengaged from causes. The Fugs and Country Joe and the Fish had been replaced by the Bee Gees and Village People.

Richard Nixon became the first person to resign the presidency. The moon shot was disappearing into history.

In 1973, Elmer Wilson, the father of Richard, Tommy and Suzy, died at the age of 59. In 1974, my father’s longtime friend and the father of my boyhood babysitter, Dotty Bender Walls, died in May, also at the age of 59. Dotty’s marriage had broken apart, she had been incarcerated at Embreeville State Hospital and her ex-husband was sent to jail for child molestation. In November, Joe Rubio’s mother died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 45.

I wondered what 1975 would bring. Probably more of the same old same old. I didn't expect more, and I had given up hope of ever being a father.