Friday, December 30, 2016

The 5 Records I've Been Listening To This Week

As you may already know, I have a deep collection of records from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Just recently, I purchased several more and I've been playing these new purchases a lot.

These are the ones I've been enjoying this week:

1- "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" - Buck Owens And The Buckeroos - This is the mono single version, recently reissued on a fine collection titled "The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966".  Owens, of course, worked out of Bakersfield, California at a time when almost every major Country & Western artist was based in Nashville. He had his own unique vision of what the music should be and this record nails it from the opening note.

2- "Brown Eyed Girl" - Van Morrison - Yes, it's overplayed on oldies radio. But I still like it. The version I have is the censored mono single that uses the line "laughin' and a runnnin' behind the stadium with you". The original uncensored version is almost impossible to find on compact disc in its mono mix. The censored version is on the release titled "The Best Of Van Morrison", the one with a photo of a microphone on the cover.

3- "Gimme Shelter" - The Rolling Stones - Okay, let's give the boys the credit they deserve. In one year they've given us a new album that's worth taking the time to listen to, and they've given us an insanely good box set covering their entire 1960s catalog. Fifteen discs of mono goodness, with very good sound. The mono mix of this record is one of the most intense singles ever released by any band. The box set is, of course, expensive, but individual tracks are available on Amazon as MP3 downloads.

4- "Out On The Street Again" [Single Edit] - Etta James - From the album titled "Come A Little Closer", an album that Etta James made while she was in rehab. This is raw and bluesy and I love it.

5- "Sally Go Round The Roses [Single Version] - The Jaynetts - This is a very weird record. You either hate it or love it and I love it. For many years, the only two versions available on compact disc were the weak sounding stereo mix and a mastering of the mono mix that had severe phasing issues. This newly remastered mono version is on a great set titled "Chess Pieces: The Very Best Of Chess Records". 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Christmas Eve Tradition

Let's go back in time, to 1985. The date is December 24th and I've spent most of the day working. I was, at that time, the janitor's assistant at a department store named Philadelphia Sales Company.  We were very busy all day. Not only did I do my normal duties, but I also helped carry items for customers. Normally, I worked from 7 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, but that day, I worked until we closed at 4 in the afternoon.

When I walked out of the store, my brother was waiting to pick me up. He had already picked up our father and they had gone to his parents' house. It was a short drive, but something went wrong along the way. The car stalled at a red light and, thankfully, a total stranger helped push the car to the side of the road and then gave our battery a jump start.

Five minutes later, we were in the driveway, where my grandfather got out his battery charger and we hooked it up.  We stayed at my grandparents' house until about 6:30 or so.

We got home at 7, and by that time, I had no desire to cook dinner. I asked my dad for the car keys. He asked me why I wanted them. I told him I was going to go get a pizza for dinner. That sounded good to him, so he gave me the car keys. I told my brother to go next door and ask his friend Marty, and Marty's sister Sherry, if they wanted to go with us. While he did that, I went out and started the car.

A few minutes later, Mark and Marty got in the car (Sherri had already left to go on a date with her boyfriend, who she has now been married to for thirty years), and we drove from Glen Aubrey back into West Corners.

We got to the pizzeria just as its owner was getting ready to close but she very nicely made one more pizza.

While we waited, Mark and Marty played video games and I played pinball. When the pizza was done, I paid for it and we took it back home.

That started a tradition for me, one of having pizza for lunch or dinner on the day before Christmas. I've had pizza that day every year since, and will do so again later today.

Some years it's a single slice and some years it's an inexpensive frozen pizza. There have been times I've ordered a whole pizza, and times I've made one from scratch. The point is, it's something I do every year.

Wherever you are, dear reader, please accept my wishes for a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Some Things I Miss And Some I'm Glad Are Still Around

One of the things that can happen to someone when they get to be my age (50) is that he or she starts to realize how much has changed and also, to appreciate some of the things that are still pretty much the same.

I miss pay phones. They were simple to use and you could find at least one in every single town and city across the country. I understand why there are so few of them left (they usually cost more money to operate and maintain then they return in revenue) but that doesn't change the fact that I miss them.

I miss the original menu at Wendy's. The first time my family ever ate at one, all they offered were hamburgers, french fries, chili  and the chocolate Frosty. It was a simple menu and the food was really good.

I miss taco flavored  Doritos.  They are still being produced after having been off the market for several years, but they are no longer sold in my area. I just checked, and a single bag 10-ounce bag from re-sellers on Amazon is selling anywhere from $10 to $20. If I had that kind of money to spend, I'd do it without thinking twice.

I am grateful that Brozzetti's Pizza is still in business. Founded in 1949, it has just one location. It is strictly take out. No credit cards are accepted, nor are checks.  It has been run by the same family for sixty-seven years, and the pizza tastes exactly the same as it did the first time I had it over forty years ago. They still use the original recipe and the original oven.

I am grateful for the public library in Johnson City, New York, which has been in the same building for more than 100 years. The wicker chairs in the area where the magazines are displayed have been there since 1912 and they are very comfortable to sit on.

Thank you for reading. I plan on making at least one more post before Christmas, but in case you don't read it, let me wish you a Merry Christmas at this time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Some More Thoughts On The "Retro" Lifestyle

Hello, again, everyone. Last night I was thinking about what to post here and I decided to talk some more about the "retro" lifestyle I've adopted.

Living in such a way has really changed my life, for the better. I'm much more relaxed and calm. Living such a lifestyle requires doing some things that some people will never be able to do.

As I've said here before, I do own a cell phone, but I use it just to make calls and to text when that is the method preferred by whomever it is I need or want to contact. I will never own a smart phone. I see all kinds of wonderful apps sometimes and do, at times, think they must be so cool to use.

But in the end, they're just not worth the time or money that buying and learning how to use a smart phone would involve for me.

If someone were to ask me for some basic concepts of this way of living, I would offer that person these five ideas as a starting point.

1- Turn your cell phone off when you go to bed, unless you do something that requires around-the-clock availability. Turn it off when eating, as well, if you can.

2- However much time you spend on your computer for things that aren't related to work, cut it by one-third. Use the extra time to do whatever makes you a better person. Read a book (I've read three novels this week). Listen to music without any distractions. Take a walk. Write a letter to someone who you haven't reached out to recently. These are things that will make you feel more alive and more connected to your fellow man.

3- Whatever kind of movies you enjoy, there are a lot of worthwhile ones from the past. A great starting point is the list of great films compiled by the late, great, Roger Ebert that is on Netflix. You can have one disc at a time at home for just $7.99, or for $4 more, you can have two discs at a time. That's less than the cost of seeing a single new release in many cities.

4- When you do spend time on the computer, make it time well spent. Read articles from reliable sources about current events. Join a forum that caters to some interest you have. Play a game that's silly but fun.

5- Find a social group or organization that does something you enjoy doing, or think you might enjoy. If there's nothing like it in your area, start one.  

I've said it here before and I'll say it again. The way I live is not 100% authentic to the 1970s. But it's about 90% of the way there. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. You may want to go only half way. Or you might go all the way. You might try this and wind up realizing it's not for you. Or, it might be one of the best things you ever do.

As always, I thank you for your time and attention.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Jobs I Have Held

When someone asks me what I do for a living, or what I've done in the past, I have to tell them that it's a long answer. I have held many jobs. Some I loved, some I hated, and some were just sort of in between.

I'm going to list some of them and discuss them briefly.

1. Long Distance Information Specialist For AT&T - This was a position in the division of AT&T that had a wonderful service called "AT&T Info".  For 99 cents, AT&T customers could get any phone number in the U.S.A. as long as it was listed. If coded "NP", that meant the number was not published (unlisted). If someone needed to reach someone else whose number was "NP", another specialist at the help desk would place a conference call, ask the person getting the call if they wanted to speak to the caller, and if so, would then drop out of the call.

This was a fun, challenging, well paying job. We were unionized, and we had great benefits. There were two calling centers for the service. One was located in Georgia but the one I worked at was in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I was great at this job. I set the record for making it out of training fastest and I also set the record for most calls in a single shift. We were expected to do somewhere between 250 to 300 calls in eight hours. On a warm day in early autumn, a day in which I was in a great mood, I got into a real groove and did 500 calls in eight hours. My supervisor, when she saw the pace I was setting, monitored me for three hours and told me the next day that I was perfect. 

At&T goofed, at a very basic level, by expanding the service much too quickly. They added the ability to get movie times and restaurant reviews. This drove those of us who did the job absolutely nuts. The Scranton call center started having people quit and wound up having to merge with the center in Georgia because they didn't have enough of us on the floor taking calls. I was in no position to move to Georgia, so I reluctantly gave the job up.

2. Fast food closer at Wendy's - Wow. Did I really do this for almost five years? The first four years, we had a store manager that was great. She was funny, smart, and never asked any of us to do a task that she herself wouldn't do. Great hourly rate, great benefits, and great co-workers made this job fun.

Until our store manager took a promotion. Her sister, who was a real you know what, took over. This woman was totally incompetent. Our store was so good, it was designated as a "Class A" training store. That meant we not only trained managers, we also trained new franchise owners. When Sue took over from Ann, things went bad very quickly. I was fired just a month short of five years, and my firing was a total joke.

I had put together a string of three years in which I worked 975 nights.

One of those years was a leap year,  so that made it a total of 121 nights in those three years that I didn't work.

The night I was fired, I told my co-workers that I was the first but would not be the last. I predicted that within six months, all six of them would either be fired or would get so fed up that they had to quit.

It took four months. For the record, three quit and three were fired. The three firings were as much of a joke as mine had been.

3. Master Control Operator at WBGH-TV - This was a weird situation. I really liked the job and found it to be challenging. Running the board means making sure that nothing but nothing goes wrong. Or if something does, dealing with it quickly.

I got really got good at it, but as I said, it was a weird situation. My station manager disliked me and made no secret of that fact. Most nights, he was gone by the time I got to the station. That was just fine with me.

Some of the things I remember are the time I hit the wrong button and started playing "Wheel Of Fortune" in reverse (yes, we were still running shows off recorded tapes), the day I filled in for a co-worker who had a family emergency, covering both his shift and my own for fourteen hours, and the night I ran control during Game Seven of the N.B.A. finals. That night, I had to be, and was, the sharpest I had ever been.

As always, I thank you for reading.