Sunday, June 9, 2013

Travels With My Friend's Aunts

Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for “The Doors,” whose more famous member was Jim Morrison, passed away recently, and I was reminded of one dangerous summer, during which “The Doors” hit the top of the charts.

Growing up, my best friend and I lived in apartments at opposite ends of a long corridor. His mother suffered from a long illness and passed away when we were both thirteen. My friend had several aunts, his mother’s sisters, who tried to spoil him and his brother rotten. It didn’t work. I mean the rotten part. Spoiled worked pretty well, and I, by extension, loved being spoiled right along with them.

Take his Aunt Ruth, whose boyfriend had access to a box at Yankee Stadium right behind home plate. In the early 60’s, we rocked in those seats. Ruth ( a babe, but no relation to The Babe), ignored  all of my friend’s father’s instructions, and must have spent a hundred dollars, real ones in those days, on everything being vended in the aisles, except the beer. And that was before the first pitch. The name on the metal sign in the box read “Dan Topping,” the principal owner.

And, how about Aunt Helen, who lived on Park Avenue and invited a group of our friends to spend some time at her house on Cox’s Curve Lane in Westhampton Beach. She also had her husband, Alfred, take us on an excursion to the grass courts and beach club at Westchester Country Club, where he wore a funny look on his face when he took a look at the bill we’d run up at various snack bars.

Or, Aunt Mary, married to Uncle Jack, who lived in a gracious apartment building near us. She gave us access to her son’s Corvair, one of those engine-in-the-back things with push button drive, which Detroit made in order reinvigorate the Japanese economy. Come to think of it, maybe that was actually payback for something, maybe like the time we partied in, and totally trashed their cabana at Sun & Surf Beach Club in Atlantic Beach. After that foray into delinquency, a group of us decided to run away from home, rather than face the music as composed by Uncle Jack. He just didn’t get it at all.

Dan Topping Autograph
Our pièce de résistance of sorts involved Mary and Jack’s apartment, in which my friend was living during the summer of 1967 after our first freshman year at college (some of us liked it so much, we did it again). Our friends began meeting there before going out, and then we just forgot to go out, or home, for that matter. Basically, we moved in, perhaps forgetting about Uncle Jack under the influence of the kind of forgetting-related habits we were acquiring at the time.

Towards the end of our stay, on August 12, 1967 to be exact, The Doors, whose album we had been treating our new neighbors to at high volume all summer, played the stadium at The West Side Tennis Club, which was close by, and we were there. As in really close there, since most of us were members of that otherwise august place and had developed advanced free-concert attendance skills. We sat on the lawn right in front of the stage.

The Doors came on and played their entire first album, including a perfect rendition of their huge hit, “Light My Fire.” We loved every minute of it, but the crowd seemed very subdued, impatient. When Jim Morrison slowly, morosely as only he could, sang the words of what was to be the last tune of their set, “This Is The End,” the stadium erupted in loud, prolonged applause.

They were happy: couldn’t wait for our boys to get off the stage. What were they thinking?

The crowd had really come to hear two local boys from Forest Hills High School, who had begun singing doo-wop on corners not too far away from the stadium: Paul Simon & Art Garfunkle, whose melodic duets soon doused the remaining embers from The Doors' set. We stayed until the concert's real end.

Those were good days, despite our being somewhat bad boys.

My friend’s name was Kurt Sanger, who died in 1989. He would have been 65 on June 2, seventeen
Aunt Mary and Uncle Jack's
days before me. I miss him and always think about him each year around this time.

I’d like to think that he’s having a ball somewhere with his aunts right now, and handing the bill to Ruth, Helen, Mary, or, even better, Uncle Jack.

You can read more about the 1967 Simon & Garfunkle/Doors concert at:

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