Back The Tracks – Part 1 – Forts

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

As a kid, we all loved our toys. Toys were our stuff. Toys were exclusively for kids. Parents had no use for them. When I misbehaved my dad would take things away from me. No TV, or take away certain toys. To me, this made no sense. I loved TV and toys, but without either of them, I always found something else to do. I had just as much fun with found items or making stuff. I could be just as happy with nothing as long as I could go out and play in the big lot at the end of our street. It was full of rocks, weeds, and bushes.

At the far end of the lot was a solitary tree that we fashioned into somewhat of a treehouse. It was really just a few long two by fours we found and stretched across a few of the limbs to make the ledger boards. We drove a bunch of nails into the limbs and then placed any boards we could find for the floor. It didn’t have any sides. It was simply a platform about 20 feet off the ground. We found some shorter bits of wood and nailed them into the trunk so you had something to grab onto and put your feet on to climb up and down to the platform above. It stood at the edge of the lot at the top of an embankment that led down to the railroad tracks.

Sitting in the treehouse just felt good. You were with your friends and safe from anything approaching on the ground. It’s an ancient feeling that washes over you. I’m sure primitive man did the same thing to escape ground-dwelling predators. It also gave you an advantage over your enemies. We always kept a box of rocks up there in case we were ever invaded. No one’s going to attempt to take your fortress if you have potentially lethal projectiles. We never needed them, but it was comforting to know you had them, just in case.

In Carl Sagan’s book, The Dragons of Eden, he stated that there was a theory that when you’re in your bed at night and just about fall asleep, you sometimes feel that sudden jump. He thought that it was a primitive mechanism that was in place to stop us from falling out of the trees as early hominids. When you’re a kid, it seems to occur with greater frequency but could be a long lost survival safeguard. But as children, we just loved to climb up on things. Old instinct? Maybe.

We’d built many forts over the years when we were kids. We kind of liked having several places we could go to hang out whenever we were wandering in the woods across the railroad tracks. Numerous little campsites that were exclusively ours.

One day, we were back in the lot. There was a fence that went all the way around the Peerless Steel factory back there. There was the fence, and along it was a dirt path. If you walked about thirty feet along the fence, at the edge of a hill was suddenly a small fort built there. It had almost appeared that it had gone up overnight. We were a bunch of 9 and 10-year-old kids. It had four walls and a roof. On the ground were pieces of old carpet so you could sit down. It was better than anything we’d ever seen. We figured some bigger kids had constructed it. We knew that older boys would go back the tracks at night and drink beer and smoke weed. It was really the only place to hide in my neighborhood. It was a really nice community, but full of watchful eyes. So they must have constructed it at night. Of course, being the curious boys we were, we went inside and hung out.

Such a primitive thing. A small tribe finds shelter in a place made by bigger more advanced beings. Empty beer cans and bottles littered the area. We would collect the bottles and cans and take them down the embankment to the railroad tracks below so we could set them up and play target practice with them. The trackbed was full of grey stones. So there was an endless supply of ammo to throw at the bottles and break them.

One afternoon we were sitting in the fort and a big kid appeared at the door. It startled us all and we were a bit intimidated by this formidable figure. He told us the fort belonged to him and his friends. We immediately told him we meant no harm and would vacate the premises immediately, but he sensed our fear and respect and told us to keep an eye on it for them. Of course, we accepted the job. We told him we’d clear all of the trash out so if there were any cops or railroad detectives around they wouldn’t find anything. When I think about it now, the older guy seemed like a man, but when you’re 10, a 16-year-old looks like an adult to you.

We played back in the lot and on the railroad tracks all the time. It was our place. No parents ever went back there. Think about how different things were back then. Today most children have organized play in sporting events and teams. They have video games that would have seemed like science fiction to us in the 70s. They wear all sorts of protective gear just to ride their bicycles. We had none of that. It was just your young hide against the elements. There were plenty of injuries back then. Who would let their kids today go play back in a vacant lot, wander through the woods, and play on railroad tracks? You’d be labeled a neglectful parent. But we loved it back there.

About a mile south, there was a church at the top of the hill where Levick Street crossed over the railroad tracks into Cheltenham. Behind its parking lot was a vacant lot. Sort of a landfill. It was just tons of broken rocks and cement that created a cliff on the edge of the woods. We moved some of the rocks and cleared a small enclosure we could get inside to call a fort. It was fun to dislodge giant stones that probably weighed 800 lbs. with our feet, and push them down the side of the hill. There was a certain triumph in being able to collectively move and object of such weight as kids. The joy of watching the boulder roll down the hill like it was all happening in a Road Runner cartoon. Once a space was cleared, we’d claim it as one of our many forts. The Rock Fort was born. We had found some boards and covered the small shelter so it had a roof. Of course, we’d carve out a hole in the dirt wall for the fireplace. My friend Michael had found an old rack from an oven in the trash and we shoved it in the wall over the fire pit. One morning my friend RJ, showed up with an open box of frozen Canadian bacon. I had never heard of that but I was willing to try it. We stuck the patties onto whittled sticks of wood and held them over the fire in our little fort until they sizzled. They were quite good actually, and we really felt like true mountain men that day. I wondered if RJ’s mother ever noticed them missing from her freezer.

Another style of fort we had back then was to dig a hole in the middle of the woods. We would carve out a space about eight feet square and maybe three feet deep. We’d take pieces of the roof from a broken dugout from the ballfields above the woods to make our roof. I liked the idea of the corrugated fiberglass. It was sturdy enough to stand on and any rain could be channeled and runoff during inclement weather. We’d find bits of old carpet from people’s trash and line the floor of the fort. As I said, it was only three feet deep, so you had to lie down in there. I used to love the idea of being in my little Bomb Shelter Fort. It felt safe in there. You could smell the soil in the air of the place. That rich dark clay smell of the earth around you. I would lie on my back in there with my friend and we’d read digest editions of the old EC Mad comics. These were in paperback and black and white reprints of the old comics before there was a Mad magazine.

We’d cover the corrugated roof with soil, rocks, and leaves so the fort was completely camouflaged. No one could see or find the place unless you knew where it was in the woods. It was actually comforting to have my back on the carpet knowing the only thing below me was the Earth itself. No wooden floor. No basement or foundation of a house. Just dirt. If I lifted the old bit of carpet under me and kept digging long enough, I’d hit China.

We had a bunch of forts back them. We always had the treehouse, that was ours, but sometimes we’d venture away down the path past the big kid’s fort, and just hang out behind a big mound of dirt on the side of the railroad tracks. There were plenty of trees and it was just a chill hiding spot.

We called that hangout spot The Dirt Fort. Beyond that about thirty feet away was a lower area that was a nice flat piece of land under a single big tree. We called it The Flat Fort, and let the girls have that space. Of course, they always want to do the cool stuff that boys came up with, so we sublet that bit of real estate to my sister and her friends.

These weren’t really forts per se, they were just little spots by the tracks we liked to hang out in.

One day there was a group of us down in the Flat Fort. I think it was me, my sister Janice, Margie, her brother Michael and my friend RJ. (I think!) We were all just hanging out chatting when this man wandered up. He looked like he was maybe in his twenties. He was skinny and had a t-shirt on and a pair of shorts and sneakers. We greeted the stranger, and he asked us if we had seen anyone else around the area. We told him we hadn’t. The first thing I noticed about him was how his eyes darted about when he spoke. Nobody I knew did that when they spoke. He stated that he was looking for his friends with whom he was out jogging. I was thinking who would go jogging back here by the railroad tracks? Bad place to twist an ankle on all of the irregular ground. He asked again if we had seen any of his friends because they were wearing shorts like his. Then he proceeded to pull down his pants. He had what appeared to be underwear on, but left his shorts down around his thighs and kept talking. We were all getting pretty weirded out at this point and told him again we hadn’t seen anybody else back here. We had him terribly outnumbered, so he pulled up his shorts and moved on.

We all immediately left the area and went straight home and told our parents. I’m glad the incident didn’t go any further and the guy just seemed odd and maybe just what he did in front of us was enough to satisfy his whatever. But after that, the mothers forbade the girls from going down there anymore. Just the boys. Kinda sucked because we didn’t mind having them around that much. But it’s funny how just the girls had to stay away. Like young boys couldn’t get molested too? I’m just glad nothing happened.

There was one other similar incident once when my friend Michael and I were just hanging out on the corner of Magee and Hasbrook Aves. I don’t remember how old we were but we were pretty young. We were both sitting in a wagon. It was right on the corner near our houses. Some guy rolled up on a motorcycle and stopped to chat with us. He seemed cool and we liked his bike. I don’t remember what we were all chatting about but at one point he asked us if we wanted him to pull down his pants. We immediately knew that was weird and got the heck out of there. He rode off but we went and told Michael’s dad about it. We never saw that perv again either.

Can’t be too careful out there, kids.

Part 2 of Back the Tracks will publish next Thursday.

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

Tales of Rock – Lori Maddox – Part 1

“I LOST MY VIRGINITY TO DAVID BOWIE”

IN THE EARLY 1970S, the Sunset Strip was a magnet for rock stars: Bowie, Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, The Who. They all hung out in the VIP rooms of louche LA nightclubs like E Club, the Rainbow, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. And with them, of course, came groupies. Scantily clad 14- and 15-year-olds like Sable Starr and Lynn “Queenie” Koenigsaecker sipped cherry cola, dropped pills, and evolved into pubescent dream girls for the platform-shoed rockers who could get anything and anyone they desired. 

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

 

 

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

Instagram: @phicklephilly                            Facebook: phicklephilly

Tales of Rock – Sly Stone

He became addicted to cocaine among other substances, and supposedly kept a violin case filled with drugs with him constantly.

Sly and the Family Stone’s first four albums were the work of a man in total control of his talents and craft. By the time of his band’s fourth album, the monumental Stand!, Sly Stone was applying remarkable discipline to his work: writing, performing on, producing and arranging all songs.

But with the massive success of Stand! and the band’s subsequent appearance at Woodstock came a big change in Stone and, as a result, his band. He became addicted to cocaine among other substances, and supposedly kept a violin case filled with drugs with him constantly. Stone’s Bel Air mansion took on a cult-like atmosphere, with Stone dispensing drugs to his fellow band members and assorted hangers-on.

Some of the band’s next album, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, was recorded in a home studio here, with Stone recording much of his vocals lying down. He’d also allow groupies to sing over the album’s tapes as “auditions,” then once he’d had his way with these women, send them on their way and wipe the tape. This eventually diluted the fidelity of the actual recordings themselves, contributing to the album’s murky sound. Given all this chaos, it’s a testament to Stone’s talents that the resulting album is still one of the greatest ever made.

Stone made a half-dozen further albums of varying quality after this; by the end of the ’70s he’d started giving them sad titles like “Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back and Back On The Right Track” and the songs contained within were largely lame retreads of his earlier material. In the 1980s, Sly basically disappeared. He’d pop up for an occasional live performance, cameo on someone else’s album or arrest for cocaine possession, but beyond that was rarely seen.

In the mid-2000s there were hints of a comeback; he appeared with his old band and other musicians for a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone at the 2006 Grammy awards, but Stone left the stage before the performance was over. In 2011, reports surfaced that Stone was homeless and living in a van in L.A. He was quoted as saying, “I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”

 

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

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly

Celebrity Sightings: Farrah Fawcett – 1947 to 2009 – Life Uncovered – Part 7

Stick Figure Thin

When Farrah was hospitalized, she seemed to fade in and out of consciousness, mumbling incoherent matters in between. She was stick-figure thin, so her dear friend Alana Stewart made every dish on Farrah’s former favorite food list so that she and O’Neal could try to tempt Farrah to eat. She made macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and ginger cookies – but there was no use. Farrah would take a cookie, stroke it gently and hand it back to Stewart with a smile, saying “that’s so beautiful.”

Marriage Wasn’t In The Cards

Fawcett and O’Neal had danced around the idea of marriage since before their son Redmond was born in 1985, with Farrah sometimes pushing it and O’Neal sometimes pushing it. But with three failed marriages between them as well as the difficulties in their relationship, a wedding never happen. One time, O’Neal even proposed to the actress using a cigar band as an impromptu engagement ring, but a flat tire on the way to the shotgun wedding ruined those plans.

O’Neal’s Last Chance

Just before Fawcett’s death, O’Neal decided to ask Farrah one more time to marry him and with tear-filled eyes, she accepted. While speaking about it in an interview, O’Neal said,” The priest at St John’s Hospital arrives to marry us but administered the last rites instead.” The next day, the doctor was ordered to remove the actress’ life support, and Farrah passed away just a few hours later with O’Neal at her side.

In Denial

Before her untimely and saddening death, Doug Vaughan, an NBC senior vice president, worked with Farrah on Farrah’s Story – a type of video diary she made detailing her battle against the disease. Doug was quoted saying: “This is so not the way she thought it was going to go, Farrah was certain that she was going to beat this.” Truth be told, Farrah was so profoundly convinced she was going to make it, the entire point of the video was to show other patients the fight is worth it.

In Sickness And In Health

O’Neal would not leave Farrah’s side during her last days. When he was asked why, he gave a rather unpredictable answer: “She’s never been more lovable,” he said. “There’s a sweetness – she’s skin and bones, but she’s got this beautiful look. I don’t know how long I’m going to get it, but I know why I’ve been around for 30 years for this person.” Although they have certainly had their rough patches over the years, some things never change.

Fighter Right Until The End

For two years Farrah moved back and forth between her comfortable California home and a personal German clinic. In the clinic, she underwent alternative treatments, some extremely painful and invasive. Suffering through the pain and clenching strongly to her mattress, Farrah insisted her best friend Stewart would film every single procedure she had to go through so that the documentary would chronicle her achievement in finding new means of combatting cancer. “She’s had terrible luck,” said O’Neal, “she tried so many different approaches.” Sadly, nothing worked.

 

Rest in Peace, Farrah. I’ll always love you because you were my first.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish Monday through Friday at 8am EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly Facebook: Phicklephilly

Celebrity Sightings: Farrah Fawcett – 1947 to 2009 – Life Uncovered – Part 6

Mystery Scar

The red, one-piece bathing suit that Fawcett wore during this photo shoot was chosen to cover up a scar she received in her youth. While the exact story behind the injury that caused the scar remains a mystery, sources that were close to her say that it was from an accident while trying to learn to ride her bike. Either way, it all worked out because without the scar to be hidden the red bathing suit wouldn’t have been chosen.

Friends Or Enemies?

After taking a brief break with her former flame, Ryan O’Neal, Fawcett later began dating producer James Orr in 1997, but the relationship almost as soon as it started. In 1998, Orr was convicted of assaulting Fawcett in a highly publicized scandal that was majorly played up in the tabloids. Neither came out from the legal battle unscathed, and since then became enemies. The bad publicity Orr received seriously hurt his name in Hollywood and had trouble finding work.

Kids Before Marriage

Fawcett and O’Neal may have never made it down the aisle, but famously dated from 1979 until 1997 and even had a son together, Redmond O’Neal. Although the couple broke things off more than a decade before her battle with cancer began, O’Neal appeared to be a constant presence in Farrah’s life. While the pair seemed to be picture perfect, their relationship was described by some as stormy and temperamental. There was certainly more than what met the eye.

Sticky Fingers

Just three months after ending her 17-year relationship with Ryan O’Neal, Fawcett began dating James Orr, who directed her in the 1995 comedy Man of the House. Orr’s close friend and sometimes actress Kristen Amber claimed that Fawcett had stolen $72,000 worth of her clothing that she had kept in his home. After a thorough police investigation, and Farrah’s name being dragged through the dirt, investigators failed to substantiate the charge, and Farrah was let off the hook.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

It’s true that hardships can bring people together, and this is especially true in the case of Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal. The relationship was put to the ultimate test after O’Neal fell ill and Fawcett was there for the whole ride. Although they split up in 1997, Fawcett called Ryan the love of her life, and they but got back together in 2001 after he was diagnosed with leukemia. They remained a couple until Fawcett’s death.

Battle With Cancer

O’Neal wasn’t the only one to fall victim to cancer as in 2006, Farrah was also diagnosed. For three years, Farrah fought hard against the disease and sought various types of treatments, but her efforts were to no avail. Cancer quickly spread to the rest of her body, and she unfortunately passed away on June 25, 2009. Farrah was surrounded by Ryan and her son Redmond at the time of her death as well as the final moments leading up to it.

Kicking And Screaming

The first time O’Neal and Fawcett decided to cease their relationship, back in 1997, was not a pretty sight. The two were screaming, scandals of infidelity hit the fan, and even news of low-level violence would surface in tabloids thirsty for information. However, just because they could no longer keep their cool enough to be interlinked romantically, did not mean they were willing to terminate any further interaction with one another altogether. Therefore, the second and last time the two parted was when Fawcett was on her death-bed.

Photo Fight

In 1980, O’Neal set up a meeting between Fawcett and artist Andy Warhol, where Warhol created two portraits of Fawcett. The one of a kind portraits were later loaned by the actress to The Andy Warhol Museum. After a 2013 court case between O’Neal and the University of Texas, whom Fawcett named as the recipient of her artwork, one of the portraits was deemed the property of O’Neal. During the court case, the portrait was valued between $800,000 and $12 million.

Michael Jackson Overshadowed Fawcett’s Death

Fawcett died at age 62 on June 25, 2009, the same day pop icon Michael Jackson died, at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, with O’Neal and Stewart by her side. Unfortunately, the news of Fawcett’s death was largely overshadowed by the coverage of singer-songwriter Michael Jackson’s death, which occurred a few hours later in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles. Even in her final moments, O’Neal said that Fawcett managed to keep a smile on her face.

Permanently Damaged Their Son

O’Neal was quoted recently explaining he fully understands the extent in which his fighting with Farrah deeply damaged their son. He elaborated: “One of us should have been the grown-up. Instead, we were two single-minded people who gave into our baser impulses…Our moral compass had become submerged in a sea of ego and confusion and our sweet little boy would bear the brunt of the corrosion.” Because of his unstable childhood, Redmond turned to substance abuse.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am & 12pm EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly      Facebook: Phicklephilly   Twitter: @phicklephilly