Friday Night Dinner

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

When I was a kid, several people in the neighborhoods had what they called cookouts. You could smell it in the air when it was happening. I always loved that smell, but my family never did it, nor did we ever attend a cookout. Now it’s called grilling or barbecuing.

I always knew when my friend Michael’s family had a barbecue because it was all over his shirt after dinner.

I always loved that smell of a cookout, but would never even try anything like that until my early twenties. Just that aroma of burgers and chicken sizzling over the fire, slathered in barbecue sauce, smelled amazing. But It just wasn’t something we did as a family back then.

We rarely ever went out to a restaurant as a family when we were kids. I remember my mother telling me that when we were really little if they took us to a restaurant and somebody started fussing, it was over. My parents were very proud and respectable people. They never wanted their kids to be the ones disrupting other people’s dining experience, so we simply stayed home for dinner. Plus, I was a fussy eater, and going out to a restaurant even back then was expensive for a family of six, so it was too much.

But as we got a little older, sometimes on a Friday night my dad would come home from work and we’d all pile in the car and he’d take the family to a place called Burger Chef up on Cottman Avenue.

We loved it. The food was good and it was a fun night out as a family. My mom hated cooking so I’m sure it was nice for her to have a night off. Can you imagine hating to do something, and you had to do it every night for six people for over 25 years? She always told me she’d rather do all of the dishes than have to cook. But my mom was a good soldier and did what was needed for her husband and kids back then.

Years later, some of my fondest memories of my mom was when I was a teenager. She’d wash, and I’d dry the dishes for her. It was a time after dinner for us to bond, chat, and listen to the radio together. I’d tell her who all of the artists were and why they were so good. My mom always loved music, so we always had that in common. Sometimes we’d even sing along together.

Anyway, here’s a link about this remarkable predecessor to Macdonald’s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burger_Chef

I would get a kid’s sized hamburger and we’d all share the french fries. We never had fries like that at home, so I loved them!

We’d all be on our best behavior for obvious reasons. We were all taught early on how important good manners were and how to behave in public. My sisters and I were so well-behaved in public that my mother once told me that people would come up to her and tell her how lovely her children were. What those strangers didn’t know, was the unbridled wrath we would be shown if we ever acted rude or disrespectable in public. We were raised correctly. Sadly, much of that is lacking today. Good manners don’t cost a thing and everyone should practice them every day. If you’re raised properly as a child it will carry you forth through your whole life. But you’ll always have to navigate your way through all of the animals on this planet. But I digress…

We were good kids on our best behavior happily munching our burgers and sipping our delicious milkshakes. You really can’t find a good milkshake anymore in any fast food restaurant. You actually have to go to an old diner where they make it with real milk and ice cream. When you can find a good milkshake it’s a thing of beauty.

We eventually switched from Burger King to MacDonald’s but it was all the same to me. I was just happy to be out munching on delicious fast food!

Look how cheap everything was back then!

1970's McDonald's Menu : fastfood

We were just chilling at the table and chatting with our folks, just being our little unit among the other diners. But my sisters and I had bigger hopes for the evening beyond delicious fire-grilled burgers and golden buttery fries. There was something else. Something unspoken between us kids. We quietly prayed that after dinner something else might possibly happen. And if it did… it would be a glorious event.

Because up the road was a magical place.

Even as my father pulled the vehicle out of the parking lot of the restaurant, we would all look out the windows knowing if we were headed home, or if we were headed in a different direction. We would know, and the anticipation would begin to build.

As long as dinner came off without a hitch, we’d be rewarded with a little trip to a second location. A place beyond a child’s imagination. A place rivaled only by what we imagined that the warehouse behind Santa’s workshop at the North Pole looked like.

We would make our pilgrimage to this oasis of sheer joy.

Yes… Kiddie City!

Remembering LIONEL Playworld & Kiddie City stores on Twitter: "EXCLUSIVE: Remembering LIONEL Kiddie City in Rochester New York! đŸ„° FOLLOW us on Twitter JOIN us on FACEBOOK @ Remembering Lionel Playworld &

Here’s a couple of actual shots of the place in the 70s.

Kiddie City. Castor Avenue--we got t go here and pick out one reasonably-priced toy each birthday. | Favorite city, Toy store, Childhood memories

Kiddie City | bluesmavin | Flickr

There was a 5 & 10 in our neighborhood. There may have been little toy shops on Rising Sun Avenue near our house in Lawndale. There was even another toy store nearby, called Baby Town. But this place…. this was a gigantic store. A destination. A brilliant building filled with every toy a child could possibly ever want in life. I mean… everything!

Walking into that store and seeing aisle after aisle of every toy you could possibly ever imagine was an amazing occurrence. I think I would never have that level of excitement until Christmas morning. This place was so exciting to kids, but Christmas was pure euphoria.

We’d all wander around the store looking at all of the toys. Our parents were always close by and making mental notes for our Christmas lists. Unlike most families, my parents never got caught up in Black Friday or any of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping crush that most people experience each holiday season. Unbeknownst to us, my folks shopped for toys for us All Year Round.

Do you know anyone who did that? I don’t. They bought for us all year round. They would hide them all in the basement in the back of closets and under tarps in boxes under the pool table. Probably in their own bedroom closets or even at my father’s office. No one was the wiser and my parents were like elves doing Santa’s work on a monthly basis. Which not only was easier on their finances and budget but resulted in the collection of an absolute bounty of toys for us kids.

My father had kind of a crap childhood, and his father, although a great earner at an insurance company, showed little interest in his two sons. He’d rather be at the bar tossing back a few with his buddies.

He’d simply toss a few bucks to his wife and tell her to pick up some toy trains and some other stuff. My father in turn did not repeat his father’s lack of performance. My dad went the other way. He loved Christmas and every aspect of the holiday. He went crazy at Christmas and I’ll cover that in a future post. But let’s just say, I’m surprised my father didn’t have a direct line to the North Pole to the big man himself. (I’m kidding… My dad WAS Santa Claus!)

We’d look at all of the goodies and drool over all the stuff we wanted to get. And… if… IF… we were good, we might even walk away from the night with a little something. Maybe a little doll or a car, but better yet… possibly a book.

We didn’t get many toys throughout the year. I don’t know what other kids got, but in my neighborhood, I’d know if a kid got anything new. But at Christmas, that’s when you got all of the things you wanted the entire year.

So, I’ve always associated fast food with good times with my family. It was a rare occurrence, but when it happened it was magic!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Weirdest, Creepiest and Most Annoying Songs of the 70’s – Part 4

If you were like me in the 1970’s you listened to top 40 radio most of the time. You heard a lot of great songs and instant classics. But among them were many unforgettable songs that were just weird or strange. I’ve tried from memory to remember the ones that stand out in my mind.

For weird reasons they became hits. They either made no sense or having any musical merit. Just a bizarre era of story songs.

Of course, this stuff is all pretty subjective but I did have a few criteria for what should be here. I decided to include a song if it:

    • made me sick without even listening to it again
    • made me want to break my radio
    • made my stomach turn
    • brought out violent thoughts of hatred, revenge, etc.
    • reminded me how lame the radio and record companies are
    • could make me want to break my stereo
    • would make me leave a bar or club if they started playing it
    • would make me boo a band who started playing it
    • suspended my belief in a divine force that governs the universe
I’m not saying that there weren’t ANY good songs during the 70s but there was just a truck-load of waste back then. If anybody’s stupid enough to think that ALL disco sucks, remember that it’s just a bastard son of rhythm & blues just like rock’n’roll is- so they’re related, see? Also, the 1970s definitely didn’t have a monopoly on shitty music- there was tons of crap unleashed on us in the decade before and after and now also (there’s a future article there somewhere). Clothes-pin anyone?

The 70’s was an interesting time for music. There was a lot of experimentation and creativity from that decade, but there was also plenty of crap as well. Here is my list of the worst and most irritating songs of the 70’s.

 

Tony Orlando & Dawn -Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree – 1973

In the history of ubiquitous music, none are more annoying than Tony Orlando and Dawn’s peppy, 1920s-retro brain worm of a song. In May of 1973, the record sold 3 million copies in three weeks, and the song received three million airplays in 1973. Lounge singers immediately added it to their repertoires, and washed-up crooners like Jim Nabors, Connie Francis, and Bobby Goldsboro recorded their own versions. By the following summer, CBS gave Tony Orlando and Dawn their own TV variety show, replacing The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

My Ding a Ling – Chuck Berry – 1972

My Ding-a-Ling” is a novelty song written and recorded by Dave Bartholomew. It was covered by Chuck Berry in 1972 and became his only number-one Billboard Hot 100 single in the United States. Later that year, in a longer unedited form, it was included on the album The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Guitarist Onnie McIntyre and drummer Robbie McIntosh who later that year went on to form the Average White Band, played on the single along with Nic Potter of Van der Graaf Generator on bass.

I remember sitting in my friend RJ McMeans’s living room listening to records when somebody put this song on. Chuck Berry is a legendary guitarist and rock ‘n roller and he’s a brilliant artist. But when I heard this song, I was like… what the hell is this? Oh, it’s supposed to be funny. But it’s not. It’s juvenile.

We get it, Chuck. You’re singing a song about your dick.

No.

Half Breed – Cher – 1973

Half-Breed” is a 1973 song recorded by American singer-actress Cher with instrumental backing by L.A. sessions musicians from the Wrecking Crew. Recorded on May 21, 1973, at Larrabee Sound in Los Angeles. Lyrically, the song describes the life of a biracial girl from a white father and indigenous mother and it contains themes of racism and double standards. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Cher’s second solo number 1 hit in the US. The single was certified Gold in the US for the sales of over 1 million copies.

CHER HALF BREED MP3 | ukuzaderax

Cher… you’ve made the list again. We get it. You’re hot, but you’re Armenian, not Native American. Just because your then-husband Sonny Bono used to refer to you as Pocahontas on your TV show, this all seems inappropriate. But as always… we love you and your outfits.

Alone Again (Naturally) – Gilbert O’Sullivan – 1972

“Alone Again (Naturally)” is an introspective ballad, starting with the singer contemplating suicide after being left at the altar after his bride deserted him, and then telling about the death of his parents. O’Sullivan has said that the song is not autobiographical, as he did not know his father (who died when O’Sullivan was 11) very well, and that his father had mistreated his mother. Also, his mother was still alive when the song was written. O’Sullivan later commented “Neil Diamond covered “Alone Again (Naturally)” and said he couldn’t believe a 21-year-old wrote it, but for me, it was just one song I had written”. Neil Sedaka was similarly effusive in his praise for the song, stating as he covered the song in 2020 that he wished that he himself had written the song because its complexity was more typical of a man much older than 21. The song is included on O’Sullivan’s The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan album (2004) on the EMI record label. Big Jim Sullivan plays the guitar break in the original recorded version of the song.

I remember hearing this song non-stop everywhere I went in 1972-1973. It was a sad song that eventually got on everyone’s nerves. But, I will say this. It’s a very sad, and melancholy song about depression and loss. I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression most of my life and I always had a place in my heart for this song. Something about the sound of his voice brings forth the story in a compelling way. It belongs on this list not because it’s weird or annoying, but because it’s a very unique work by this artist.

Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul – 1977

Soul is the “actor” from the hit TV show, “Starsky and Hutch” This is when anybody that was on TV thought they could sing and capitalized on their stardom thinking they could sell records. This clown can’t sing and he allegedly hit women. ‘Nuff said.

Da Do Ron Ron – Shaun Cassidy – 1977

Ahh… I loved his half-brother David in the early 70s. I watched the Partridge Family every Friday night after the Brady Bunch. David was hot and had amazing hair and was a heartthrob for years.

The song is the first collaboration in songwriting by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector. The song was composed over two days in Spector’s office in New York. The title “Da Doo Ron Ron” was initially just nonsense syllables used as dummy lines to separate each stanza and chorus until proper lyrics could be written, but Spector liked it so much that he kept it. Phil Spector did not want lyrics that were too cerebral that would interfere with a simple boy-meets-girl storyline.  The rhymes of the opening lines, “I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still … Somebody told me that his name was Bill” was inspired by Bill Walsh, a friend of Spector who happened to visit Spector while the three were writing the song.

If you’ve ever wondered what in the hell “da doo ron ron” means, stop worrying: it means nothing. The phrase was apparently just a filler phrase that songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich put in the lyrics until they could come up with something better, and Phil Spector told them it was perfect as it was. Really, dude?

This clown comes along and decides he wants to be a star, and we have this mess. It’s awful. Somebody realizes David Cassidy has a cute little brother. Let’s make money off of him. He comes running out onto the stage in this clip in what looks like silky pajamas. He has zero stage presence and keeps flipping his hair. Just awful!

I remember my sister met some guy named Chuck who so wanted to be this guy. He even wore a white silk jacket with no shirt. A ridiculous fool that my sister hated. I remember that idiot came sniffing around my house looking for my sister and talking to me. He seemed like a jerk as he gyrated his hips in his dumb jacket thinking he looked like Shaun Cassidy. Please go play in the rip-tide, Chuck.

Oh, one final thing. Listen to how the English guy announces the name of the song at the beginning of the video.

Shdadoo Ran Run?

Let Her In – John Travolta – 1976

This is the 1976 debut single by John Travolta, the first release from his second album. It spent five months on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 10. It also reached number 16 on the Adult Contemporary chart. On the Cash Box chart, the song peaked at number five. In Canada, “Let Her In” reached number seven.

“Let Her In” was released at the end of the first year of the four-year run of Welcome Back, Kotter, in which Travolta starred.

This song was his first and only top-ten hit as a solo artist in the United States, and the biggest hit of his in any country not to be tied to the movie Grease. It was included in his 1978 double-album compilation, Travolta Fever.

Vinnie Barbarino, one of the sweat hogs on Welcome Back, Kotter makes good. John solidified his stardom with that show, Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Travolta was a huge star for a minute back then. He later dissolved into a bunch of forgettable roles, but his career was later resurrected by Quentin Tarantino in 1994.

God… this song is terrible.

 

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Back The Tracks – Part 7 – The  Journey to Metamorphosis

Philadelphia, PA – 1970s

Some days when the weather was nice and you had nothing to do, we’d just go back the tracks and go on a journey. That’s what we’d call it. “Let’s go on a journey.” That meant we had to explore some part of the tracks or woods we hadn’t been to before. I loved our little journeys.

My friend RJ had a sweet tooth and he always spent his paperboy money on Reese’s cups. He loved them, and back then they were only a nickel. Two for ten cents. He would buy a whole box of them and eat them all.

One of the most memorable candies he ever brought with him on one of our journeys was a box of sixlets. There are these little round colored candies in a sealed cellophane packet of six. Think of little round M&M’s, but cheaper chocolate filling.

Sixlets 8-Ball Tubes - 20lb Bulk | CandyStore.com

You could hold one end of the packet, put the whole thing in your mouth and pull… and it would unload the full clip of all six candies into your mouth. We ate so many of those that day, we never finished the box and probably never ate them again after that.

There was a bunch of weird candy back then. Pixie sticks, the little wax bottles with the colored liquid in them, (I think they were called, Nik a Nips) Candy cigarettes, (The little chalky white ones and the gum ones wrapped in paper so they looked like real cigarettes. You could blow into it to emit a puff of sugary smoke. What a brilliant way to teach children the dangers of smoking!) Wax lips, (You wore them as a comedic gag, and then ate them? (Tasted like wax. Surprise, surprise.) The gum in bubble gum card packs, (Literally shattered in your mouth) and who can forget the little necklace of cheerio sized candies you could bite off and eat? (What’s better than edible jewelry?) Or, the sound Pop Rocks made as they sizzled on your tongue!

Wasn’t there some story about how some kid died from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda?

https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/pop-rocks-urban-legend-mikey-death

Image result for candy 1970s

Razzles, Choc O Lite bars, Mallow Cups, Marathon Bars,  and Blackjack gum. Oh, remember the long strips of paper that looked like cash register receipts but had little dots of candy stuck to them? They were all different colors and the colors changed as you went down the paper. You literally bit those tiny morsels of sugar off the strip. How much paper did we consume as children? (spitballs don’t count!) remember Bottle Caps? (Cola flavor? Yes, please!) Mike and Ike’s, Good ‘n Plenty, Good ‘n Fruity, Laffy Taffy, (with the joke on every wrapper), Bazooka Gum, Bubble Yum, Charms Blow Pops, and who can forget Lik M Aid Fun Dip?

I’m sure there are dozens more I can’t remember off the top of my head. Okay, let’s clear my sugary palette before I need an insulin shot with this vintage photo.

Here’s an old pic of RJ threatening to shoot a paper clip at me!

One day my friends and I went on a journey just following the tracks north. There was always this feeling you’d get when you were a boy when you realized you’d gone further than you’d ever ventured before. We knew all of the sights and sounds of the whole area. We knew miles of the tracks and the woods back then. All of it. You could drop me anywhere in those woods and I would have been able to navigate my way out of them in at least three different ways or paths.

We’d walk along and things would start to look different and we knew we’d reached the end of our proverbial sidewalk. This was new territory and new things to discover. But you had the train tracks as your foundation. No matter how far we went we figured we couldn’t get lost because we’d simply follow the tracks back in the other direction to take us home. It was so cool.

So we’re walking north on one of our journeys and we reached what I believe to be the Cottman Street car bridge that crossed over the tracks from Cheltenham into Philly. There were some kids playing down there on the sides of the tracks who we didn’t know. They seemed to be doing something with some ponds of water that had pooled on the side of the tracks.

It was stagnant rainwater that had formed these pools. But things grow in stagnant water. Mostly mosquitoes, but there was something else going on here. These kids were catching tadpoles! We approached them to watch what they were doing. We had never seen tadpoles or anything like that before. They were catching them and putting them in jars of water. We knew what had to be done.

For today our journey had reached its end. We had found something new and would be coming back to this place.

My friends and I put our heads together on how we would proceed in this new adventure in an attempt to acquire some free wildlife.

We gathered some baby food jars and some little nets somebody must have clipped from their family’s fish tank (probably me) and the next day we were off again.

We followed the tracks back to where our last journey took us and happily the long pools of stagnant water were still there. Think about that. A bunch of nice kids from middle-class families with plenty of toys to play with, play on the railroad tracks, and are going fishing in smelly stagnant pools full of who knows what kind of disease and vermin, and it was awesome!

I surveyed the area. The pools were 20 to 30 feet long. There were several. I walked down to the very beginning where it was the most shallow. I wanted to start slowly, rather than just dig right in with nets into the deeper water. Who knew what was in there? What if there was some kind of evil snake that lived in there? (The water was only 6 to 9 inches deep at the deepest point.)

So I’m walking along the edge of the shallow end which is maybe an inch deep. I like the origins of things so I wanted to start at the beginning. My friend RJ and Paul were just dipping nets into the bigger pools where we had seen the other kids working the day before.

I noticed in the shallow end there was hundreds of tiny black tadpoles. Just writhing and wiggling their little tails no bigger than your pinky nail. But as I walked north along the side of the pool the water got murkier and you couldn’t see anything. You had to blindly just dip your net in the water and see if you got anything.

But lo and behold we started to catch some tadpoles. They were all about an inch and a half in length, and we would dip our jars into the brackish water and pop the tadpoles inside. We only captured around four of five of them, and neither RJ nor Paul had anywhere to keep them, so custody of our new pets fell on me. I didn’t mind. I was happy to have some new living creatures that I caught on my own and didn’t come from a store. Free pets!

I recently started watching a terrific series on Amazon Prime about a family that moves from England to the island of Corfu in the Greek isles in the 1930s. The youngest son Gerald loves wildlife and is always out studying and catching animals and bringing them home. It reminds me of how much we loved nature as kids. He’s my favorite character and based on the author of the original books. It’s a wonderful show and worth checking out!

Image result for durrells of corfu

Anyway…I had an old plastic tank that I found in the trash somewhere. We were always trash picking as kids. It was great. I found the best stuff in other people’s trash! I still had the plastic tank left over from the whole Rosalie’s Rodents incident.

(If you didn’t read this on Tuesday, here’s the link again.)

Rosalie’s Rodents

So we filled it with water from the hose out back of my house and put our tadpoles in. I didn’t know how they would do coming from a stagnant pool into Philly tap water, but the little guys thrived.

Stressed-out tadpoles grow larger tails to escape predators | University of Michigan News

I don’t know if I put anything in the water to feed them but I must have. I think RJ got some fish food and we sprinkled that into the tank on a weekly basis. I kept those little tadpoles for a couple of months, and of course, some miraculous things began to happen. You can be taught things in school and read things in books, and look at diagrams and photos of wildlife. But to have the actual creatures in your possession and witness it first hand is something grand. I’m talking about metamorphosis.

One by one the tadpoles began to sprout legs! It was incredible to see. A living thing in your own life that is slowly changing before your young eyes. Not in a textbook but in your hand. Of course, we wanted to touch everything as kids, and you could bring them out briefly and hold them. We would put them back in the water and they would continue on their journey.

Then you’d see a little arm sprout from one side, followed by another one shortly thereafter. That’s when I loved them best. Their tails were shrinking, but they had arms and legs. They started to look like fat little salamanders or newts. But they were still changing so you could hold them for brief periods but had to put them back in the water so they stayed wet.

Tadpole | EEK Wisconsin

But within a few weeks, they had transformed into lovely little frogs. I always wondered if it hurt for them to change from one thing into another thing so quickly. (around 12 weeks) But they always seemed fine to me.

Eventually, once they matured, they simply hopped out of the tank and went on their way. I always believed they probably lived out their lives in my backyard.

A brilliant science lesson about amphibians all from just following the railroad tracks a little further from home.

I loved playing back the tracks as a kid. I spent so many happy hours back there with my friends. It was close to home, but a place to disappear into nature and our own little world.

I guess I could always relate to the little tadpoles eventually becoming frogs. Because as children we were like them. Just all together swimming around in the little pond of our neighborhood. Then one day we all grew up and hopped away into adulthood.

What would life have been like if we hadn’t moved away back in 1979? We’d probably have a lot more stories.

But some days when the day is warm, we can all pause and think back to a simpler time. When we could simply just go out and play.

There comes a day when you hang out with your friends. Just going to play outside. You never know when that day is coming but it does to us all.

There’s that day where none of you realize it, but it’s the absolute last time you will all hang out and just play outside.

Morning Briefing: The Details On Playgrounds Reopening

I hope you enjoyed this little series. It began as a short piece from my past and grew into an epic tale!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1