Sunday, August 03, 2008

Close the Door, You're Letting the Cold Air Out!

Summertime! Admit it. When you were a kid, you couldn't wait for it. If you were like me, you counted down the days before summer vacation, and dreaded the final days of August when our summer came to a close. Not the official summer of the calendar, but the one that left when the school doors opened again. Then it was time to face the yardstick-wielding nuns again for another nine months and wait once again, for June to roll around.

Back in the 60s and 70s, we were fortunate to have air conditioning to cool the living room, but hardly any of our parents had frigid air in their bedrooms. You could forget about the kids rooms being chilled. On the hottest of nights, my father would let us run the air downstairs to stay cool. He slept on the couch, my brother, sister, and I were relegated to the living room floor. Hey, it was carpeted and we spread our bed sheets across it to prevent rug burn. Even my mom slept on the floor. What did we expect? Dad had his chair that no one could sit in when he was home, why would we think we'd sleep on the sofa in his presence?

If the night wasn't too hot, surely Dad wasn't going to spend good money running the AC through all hours. We'd have to do with an old steel fan with openings in the guard large enough to put your hand through. Fans like that would be banned as safety hazards today. The one my brother and I had in our room was dark green, and looked like it was a relic from some military barracks.

Kids don't know how good they have it. I hardly ever hear kids say that it's too hot anymore. Maybe that's because I hardly ever see kids on the streets during the hot weather. Hey, come summer, we were all out from morning until our parents made us come in. We made the most of every minute. It was OUR summer. Even the older folks stayed out late and sat in their beach chairs and talked all night. I remember my parents used to sit with a number of the neighbors across the street and order pizza from DeFabio's (used to be at 12th & Snyder) about twice a week and just sit and talk. Man, that socialization is disappearing from South Philly. No one spends that quality time anymore, or maybe I'm missing it somewhere. If you remember your mom or dad yelling, "Close the door, you're letting the cold air out!", you know what I mean. They used to worry that the "parlor" (another word that seems to have fallen from the lexicon) would get too hot if you kept the front door open for longer than five or six seconds. Now, hey, we all have air, and no one thinks at all about it. Long live the dog days of summer!

...your parents telling you that it used to be so safe, they could sleep on the step at night, or at least leave the door unlocked. I don't know, I think I'd rather sleep on the living room floor than on the concrete.

...when the weatherMAN used to tell you it was hot, and gave you the temperature and humidity. No "heat index", at least none that I remember. And no weatherbabes, just guys in suits who looked like you and me. Not that I've got something for guys in suits mind you (surely my wife will vouch for me), but as the characters on Saturday Night Live used to say years ago, "That's the way it was, and we liked it!" The weatherman told you about the weather, not leered at you, looking like some today who seem close to lunging into your living room.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Old Center City Theatres - Group Participation Time!

Inga Saffron's article in the Inquirer this morning about the Boyd Theater brought back some memories today. If you missed it, you can read the story at the site. Most of us remember this place being called the Sameric, both before it became a multiplex and before it's demise. It was a grand place - still is, though without moviegoers and movies - much grander than the sterile boxes that you go to today. Now it sits vacant on Chestnut Street with many hoping that someone will purchase it and save it as is.

I wrote about the South Philly theaters back in May of 2006. That piece is archived here (see the archives list and select May 2006, Going to the Movies...). Let's move a bit farther north now. For those of you forty years of age on up, you'll most likely remember all the movie houses in Center City west of Broad Street that are long gone with the development of skyscrapers like the One and Two Liberty Place complex and others. Many of us spent a lot of time in those theaters. Like so many other things, nothing lasts forever. Now, if you want to see a flick in Center City, your choices are limited to the Ritz Theaters and the Roxy Screening Room. The only place to go for standard fare now for those in South Philly and Center City is the Riverfront on Columbus Blvd.

Doing some mental gymnastics today, I remembered around a dozen of those theaters between Broad Street and 20th, Walnut and Market Streets. And I remembered most - but not all - of their names. So, not being one to pass up on memories or having someone help me refresh those that I've forgotten, you can participate in listing the names of those movie houses. Let's see how many you can name and if y0u can tell me where they were located. No cheating! See if you can do it from freeing up what's in your gray matter. I'll be waiting for your reply. I've named ten of them, I know there were at least a couple more, and I'm wondering if there were some that I had not heard of that you may have. Make it interesting too. Tell us of something fun or interesting that you remember from when you went to the shows.

What's the prize? There is no tangible reward, but you get to share in the memories with me. That should make it worth your while. I'll look forward to your comments.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Neighborhood Record Stores

"I see you sent my letters back, and my LP records, and they're all scratched..."
From the song "I Can't Stand Losing You" from The Police

One of the things that has constantly evolved is the way we buy our music. If you're as old as I am, you remember buying 45 RPM records as a young kid and then LPs as you became a teen and got older. Hey, you may even remember the first album that you bought - for me it was Stevie Wonder's "Innervisons" album, the one with "Superstition" and "Living for the City" on it (there's a challenge for you, do you remember your first LP? - for those 35 and older, if you're younger than that and can't remember, you're beyond help). 

Maybe you were one of those who bought your sounds on 8-track tapes or later on cassette. If you're under 20 years of age, all you'll probably remember are CDs and downloading. You've never had the pleasure of hearing a pop or click or the misfortune of buying and album and having to return it because of a long scratch that made the needle skip as the vinyl record turned to that same spot.

If you're one of those from the CD/download era, that means you probably have no knowledge of neighborhood record stores either. Places where the guys who sold the records knew about the music they sold. And that's what you got there - records. No movies and other stuff, just music. Today you will be hard pressed to find such a store. Now all you have are the places in the mall which have clerks who know nothing about music, big-box stores that sell everything from CDs to washing machines, or bookstores that sell music (although those are probably your best bet, the people working there may know more about music than someone at Best Buys. I defy you to get a worthwhile opinion at the big-box or mall stores when asking someone which album they feel is the best of any given artist.


...The local record stores here in South Philly. One actually seems to still exist. Every once in a while driving up East Passyunk Avenue, I see that the Record Bar still stands. I don't know if they're still busy or what they sell, but it looks like they've survived.

Remember Nick Petrella's on Snyder Avenue? My aunt used to tell me he was a talent scout, but I don't know if that was true. The Mario Lanza Museum was housed in the back of the store, and Mr. Petrella could often be seen sitting outside the store during the warmer months. Talent scout or no, from what I'm told he did know music.

There was another store up on Passyunk that I used to go to ever few weeks, but I can't remember the name of it to save my life. If you remember, tell me by dropping me a note in the comments to this post. I remember that's where I bought my first Bob Seger album back in 1978, "Stranger in Town" and became a long-time Seger fan.

You may remember the chains and independents that are long-gone too. Remember Platters Ltd. on Chestnut St. near 10th? There were always punk rockers sitting outside that place, maybe employees, but probably just music fans. Wall to Wall Sound and Listening Booth were to of the major chains back in the 70s, names now committed to record store history. I think even Sam Goody is now gone, at least most of their stores. Then again, they're one of the mall stores where you usually wound up paying a few bucks more for an album than at the neighborhood joints.

There was a big record store called Jerry's Records on Market St that went bust in the late 70's. I remember they had this blowout sale which was more of a teaser to get you in the door. They had a weekend where they sold albums for I think it was a buck, but when you got there it looked like they broke out the stock of albums from artists that no one heard of or wouldn't care to listen to. Shortly afterward, they were gone.

But the granddaddy of them was not a neighborhood store, but close enough to hop a bus or train to get to. Third Street Jazz & Rock stood on - you guessed it - 3rd Street just north of Market Street. You had to go to the basement if you were into rock music, and it was by no means like your mall or big box store with promotional displays and whatever. You found your artists records by thumbing through racks with signs written in magic marker (kids, those are what you call Sharpies today) on corrugated cardboard box . If you wanted to know something about music, you asked and got an opinion. When I was 18, I worked loading trucks and packing cartons at the slipper factory above the old Stanley Hardware store on Market at Bank Street. Every Friday, almost without fail, my friend "Professor" and I would head to the bank at lunch time to cash our measly pay checks. That meant that when quitting time came, we headed right over to Third Street Jazz and bought a few albums. Imports, bootlegs, hard to find artists, they had it all.

Speaking of Professor, there's someone whose antics deserve a post here at PhillyMemories. His "Burn the Pope's Picture" or "Beat the Skunk" parties were legendary, at least for those who called in sick from work to hang out at his house for those events. I could only imagine what went through his dad's mind when the house filled with young guys and girls with their minds bent on senseless things. Stay tuned.