When The Beatles broke up in 1970, I was not aware that it happened. If I'd known at the time, it would have been one more factor contributing to the growing sense of upheaval in my life. I was ten years old. And things were changing too goddamned fast.
As fourth grade ended in June, I was apprehensive about what awaited me in the fall, nervous about what it meant to leapfrog right over fifth grade, to leave all my friends in elementary school behind, and to be forced to start fresh in sixth grade--middle school!--in a new place, a new class, at a school where I would be one of the youngest students in the whole building. Great. And while Bear Road Elementary School was a mere half-mile walking distance from my house, Roxboro Road Middle School was in Mattydale, much too far for a ten-year-old to walk. So it would be bus or bust. Wonderful.
It's worth noting that this situation was not forced upon me; I was given a choice to accept or decline the invitation to bypass fourth grade. I was intimidated by the prospect of going directly to sixth grade--do not pass Go, do not collect a fifth-grade experience--but I reasoned with myself: hey, this is an honor! How could I possibly say no? It was an offer I could not refuse.
I've made many unwise decisions in my life. This was likely the worst of them. Guess it was good to get that out of the way so early in the timeline.
But this was not the only seismic event rocking the Cafarelli household that summer. My sister Denise--by that time, I no longer called her Nina--had just graduated from high school. She would be a freshman that fall at Adelphi University. My sister would be leaving home.
Before Denise actually went matriculatin' her way out of North Syracuse, we took a drive downstate to visit the campus. This was actually kind of exciting: my first visit to New York City! In 1970, I was of two minds about the Big Apple: I knew it was a dirty, polluted place, rife with crime; I also knew it was the capital of the world.
By the age of ten, a lifetime of reading comic books had already instilled in me a pervasive, starry-eyed reverence for New York. First of all, New York was where (almost) all of the comic books came from, with both DC and Marvel headquartered in Manhattan. In the comics themselves, most of the Marvel superheroes also lived in Manhattan; and, although DC favored fictional cities for its heroes to protect and serve, I think we all knew what city Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham represented.
More importantly, the comics had convinced me of New York's vibrance: everything happened in New York! The best, most exotic foods, the richest entertainment, and--oh yeah!--you could buy every current comic book imaginable at any of New York's 27 gazillion newsstands. Heaven!
Little did I realize that Adelphi isn't actually in Manhattan; Adelphi is in Garden City, out on Long Island, so my introduction to the presumed wonders of The City That Never Sleeps would be deferred. But there were still NYC TV stations available in our hotel room--and WPIX was rerunning The Adventures Of Superman! Not only that, but commercials on PIX were teasing the very first episode of Superman, "Superman On Earth," to be shown the very next day! Great Caesar's Ghost, this would be a treat!
Bad news from Syracuse put a stop to that.
That evening in the hotel, my parents sat with Denise and I, and gently told us that our Uncle Danny had passed away. We would need to cut this trip short and return to Syracuse the next day. We understood. We watched TV in silence, as my eyes filled and I sat there on the hotel bed, weeping silently. I had not been especially close to Uncle Danny, but he was my uncle, for God's sake. It hurt so bad. I tried to hide my little boy tears--I was on my way to sixth grade, dammit, and big boys don't cry--as my family politely and lovingly let me process my grief, without comment. It's not like it was any easier for them.
Once again, comic books were my salvation. Denise's boyfriend George was also moving on from high school, and I guess he felt it was time to let go of childish things. So he gave his entire comic book collection to his girlfriend's kid brother. And it was a big collection of comics, two very tall stacks tied with twine, including a lot of key early Marvel books. If they'd been in better condition, those books would have been worth a small fortune today. But they were worn, tattered, and many were coverless--worthless to a collector. Priceless to a fan. These books had already been read and loved. I would do the same.
Somewhere in this time frame, I acquired two new interests. The first was baseball. Dad loved baseball--he was a clubhouse manager for the Syracuse Chiefs, our local AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees--but I had never shown even the slightest interest. But one day, just playing informal ball in my friend Dave Watkins' back yard, something clicked. Just like that, I was a baseball fan. I picked the Yankees as my team, played street and back yard ball as often as I could, and eventually joined Little League. I was...well, "terrible" is probably unfair. I could hit a little. I could catch adequately, if not spectacularly. But I simply could not throw--I had no throwing arm at all. Dad worked with me patiently and diligently, but it was of no avail. He would later look back and say firmly that he couldn't fault my effort--it may have been the first time I ever really demonstrated any determination to work hard at something--but that I just didn't have it. I continued to love the game nonetheless, and it briefly rivaled comics as my main interest. We'll speak more about baseball when this series resumes, and moves into the early '70s.
|My Topps Mickey Mantle poster. My favorite player retired before I became a fan! But I got to see Mickey Mantle hit a home run in the 1972 Old Timer's Day game at Yankee Stadium in 1972.|
The other interest? Heh, heh--Playboy. Found my brother's stash, and promptly fell in love with Lorrie Menconi, Miss February 1969. Among others. I was fickle, but don't try to tell me this wasn't true love.
|Miss February 1969, and my (presumed) future wife in 1970. Lorrie Menconi Cafarelli--nice ring to it!|
But, above everything else that happened that summer, an old interest reasserted its hold on me, and it has never let go. Music was my first love; perhaps we'd drifted apart in the late '60s, but it was never far from my thoughts, like, ever. In the summer of 1970, I began listening to the radio on my own--not just in the car, not just when someone else turned on a station he or she wanted to hear. I became fond of listening to the radio at night, as I lay in bed, wondering where my dreams would take me, worrying about how the real world might ground me. Mom and Dad objected to the notion of letting the radio play all night long, while I slept; over time, their objections withdrew, and my evening soundtrack was tacitly approved. Music. Whatever stations I listened to initially, I remember a mix of recent and not-quite-as-recent pop: Bobby Sherman; Bobby Goldsboro's "The Straight Life," from 1968; Sandie Shaw; Three Dog Night; The Beatles. The radio would be my friend--sometimes, it seemed, my only friend--for years to come. It would be an exaggeration to say I listened to the radio every night from the summer of 1970 until I myself left for college seven years later; it would not be as much of an exaggeration as you think.
The early- to mid-'70s was AM radio's last golden era. Decades later, I remain grateful that it was there for me when I needed it the most.
NEXT: A gallery of images from my 1960s.
WHEN WE RETURN: This series will pause for now, but we'll back with tales of me in The Me Decade, in SINGERS, SUPERHEROES, AND SONGS ON THE RADIO: My Life In Pop Culture--The '70s. Far out!