Sunday, July 31, 2016

On The 500th Anniversary Of The Passing Of Great Painter Hieronymus Borsch

Josh Breslin comment:

Back in the day, back in the later part of the 1960s day when guys like Peter Markin, Sam Lowell, Jimmy Jenkins, Frankie Riley and a few other guys whom I don’t remember headed west to see what was happening in California, what the fuss was all about we were crazy for reproductions of Hieronymus Borsch’s intricate, highly symbolic and to our eyes weird paintings. Now we were all corner boys from North Adamsville who could have under other circumstances given a rat’s ass about art, paintings, or painters. Would have passed on such weirdness.   

Except in the wild world of the 1960s when anything was possible, for a while anyway before the tide ebbed and we had to fight a rear-guard action that we are still fighting to this day, we had through Markin who had headed out there first wound up on Captain Crunch’s merry –prankster-like yellow brick road bus which travelled up and down the West Coast for a few years searching, well, searching for something, for that good night or dreamland. And along that well-travelled road we all had as many drug experiences from pot (marijuana) to LSD, mescaline  and peyote buttons as any other travelling members of 1960s “youth nation.”  

Well, you may ask how does the bus, the drugs, the fuss of the 1960s, fit in with a 1500s masterful mad daddy painter of exotic panels and scenes. Here is where it fits, okay. Captain Crunch had a girlfriend, Susan Stein, road moniker Mustang Sally, who had graduated from Michigan in 1960 as an art major. She had prior to our time festooned the yellow brick road bus with several prints by Borsch. And we, all of us who travelled on that wicked highway, would when high, very high late at night would talk endlessly about what we “saw” in Brother Borsch’s paintings. And I for one hope they will be doing it when the 600th anniversary of the mad monk’s death rolls around. Hats off!        

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When Frankie Roamed The Teenage Dance Clubs

By Josh Breslin

A YouTube film clip of the Falcons’ performing their classic Your So Fine to add a little flavor to this sketch.

[Recently as Sam Lowell, the small town lawyer who had his practice in his old growing up hometown of North Adamsville, in the process of cleaning out his office file cabinet in order to turn over the day to day running of his practice to his younger partner and become, in effect, of counsel, found an old sketch by his late lamented writer friend, Pete Markin. Markin had written the sketch as a part of a series about the old-time corner boys that he had grown up with in North Adamsville, guys who “held up the wall” in front of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor all during high school. The sketch itself had dealt with the incessant need for Markin and the acknowledged chieftain of the corner boys, Frankie Riley, to bet on almost any proposition, from sports to which  girls did “do the do,” that one dealt  how high Tonio could throw pizza dough to give you an idea how they could push each other’s buttons.

That series had been published back in the early 1970s in the now long defunct alternative newspaper East Bay Other out in the Bay area of California. After finding that “gem” Sam thought hard about whether he could through various means find other sketches from that series. Obviously these days he went to the Internet to see if somebody had put up an archive of East Bay Other material. No luck as he had half expected to be the case since such alternative newspaper operations did not have a long shelf life and nobody back then would have thought, given other pressing needs mostly financial as the 1960s euphoria ebbed, about saving stuff that might one day wind up on the Internet.      

Sam, after contacting all the corner boys, their wives or whoever else was left standing from the old days, finally hit pay-dirt. Josh Breslin, who was cleaning out his parents’ house in order to prepare it for sale to help pay his father’s medical bills, had gone up into the attic one day and found an old knapsack. That knapsack that he had kept from the days when they had all, Sam included for a time, headed west at Markin’s beckon and he had saved, unintentionally he thought when asked about it, some articles, saved the one below, the one about Markin’s favorite corner boy subject, acknowledged leader Frankie Riley. Read on.        


By the later Peter Paul Markin

In a recent series of sketches that I did in the form of scenes, scenes from the hitchhike road in search of the great American West night in the late 1960s, a time later than the time of Frankie’s early 1960s old working class neighborhood kingly time, I noted that I had about a thousand truck stop diner stories left over from those hitchhike road days. On reflection though, I realized that I really had about three diner stories with many variations. Not so with Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories. I have got a thousand of them, or so it seems, all different. Hey, you already, if you have been attentive, know a few Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories (okay, I will stop, or try to stop, using that full designation and just call him plain, old, ordinary, vanilla Frankie just like everybody else alright).


Yah, you already know the Frankie (see I told you I could do it) story about how he lazily spent a hot late August 1960 summer before entering high school day working his way up the streets of the old neighborhood to get some potato salad (and other stuff too) for his family’s Labor Day picnic. And he got a cameo appearance in the tear jerk heart-rendering saga of my first day of high school in that same year where I, vicariously, attempted to overthrow his lordship with the nubiles (girls, for those not from the old neighborhood, although there were plenty of other terms of art to designate the fair sex then, most of them getting their start in local teenage social usage from Frankie’s mouth). That effort, that attempt at copying his “style” like many things associated with one-of-a-kind Frankie proved unsuccessful as it turned out.


But as this story will demonstrate old Frankie, Frankie from (oops, I forgot I am not doing that anymore) was not only the king of the old neighborhood but roamed, or tried to roam far afield, especially if the word "girls" was involved. So this will be another Frankie and the girls story, at least part way. The milieu though will be somewhat different for those who only know Frankie in his usual haunts; the wall in front of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor where he was the undisputed king hell king of the high school corner boy night all the way through high school, the wall in front of Doc’s drugstore where he was the undisputed corner boy king of the junior high school night and later when he merely held up a wall as a corner boy prince of various mom and   pop variety stores. This time, in a way, Frankie goes “uptown.”

One of the other places where Frankie tried to extend his kingdom was the local teen night club (although we did not call it that then but that was the idea). You know a place where kids, late teenage kids, could dance to live music from some cover band and drink…sodas. Yah, the idea was to keep kids off the streets, out of the cars, and under a watchful eye on Friday and Saturday night so they didn’t drink booze and get all crazy and messed up. Of course, anyone with half a wit, if they wanted to get booze, had no real problem as long as there was some desperate wino to make your purchase for you. But, at least, the idea was no booze on the premises of these clubs and that was pretty much the case.


Now this club, this teen dance club, that Frankie has his eye on, was the primo such place around. Sure, there were other smaller venues, but that was kid’s stuff, young teen stuff, no account, no matter stuff. If you had dreams of kingship then the Sea ‘n’ Surf Club was the place to place your throne. But, see, this club was several miles away from the old neighborhood, and that meant several miles of other guys who were kings of their neighborhoods, but also several miles of all kinds of different girls that Frankie (and I, as well) had no clue about. And the beauty of this, the real beauty for Frankie was that it was do-able. Why? Old ball and chain girlfriend forever, junior high and Doc’s wall girlfriend forever, main squeeze and one thousand up and down flame battles that I have no time to speak of now foreve, Joanne was not allowed by her parents to go to teen dance clubs, period. And period meant period, to old Frankie’s smiles.


This club had the added advantage, as its name gives away, of being by the sea, by the ocean so that if the dancing got too hot, or it was too crowded, or if you got lucky then there you were handy to a ready-made romantic venue. Now American Great Plains prairie guys and dolls may not appreciate this convenience (although I am sure you had your own local lovers’ lane "hot spots") but to have the sea as a companion in the great boy meets girl struggle was pure magic. See, and everybody knew this or found out about it fast enough, if a girl wanted to catch some "fresh air" and agreed to go with you then you were “in like flint” for the night. That also meant though that, when intermission ended, or when the steamed-up couple came up for air that nobody else was supposed to cut in on their scene. This all may sound complicated but, come on now, you were all teens once, and you figured it out easily enough, right? This in any case is what Frankie wanted to be king of. The scene, that is.


This club, by the way, this hallowed memory club, could not stand the light of day, although at night it was like the enchanted castle. By day it looked just like another faux Coney Island low-rent carnival, bad trip place ready for the demolition ball ballroom. But the night, oh, the night was all we cared about. And for weeks before Frankie was ready to make his big move the conquest of this place thing, the imagining of it, took on something like the quest for a holy grail.


Finally, Friday finally, summertime Friday night finally, came (he had a date with his ever- lovin’ big flame Joanne for Saturday that week so Friday it was) and he was ready to make his move. Let me outline the plan as he told it to me. The idea all depended if Tommy 40 Winks showed up (I did not make that name up; I don’t have that kind of imagination. That was his nickname, hell, mine, was, for a while, Boyo, and later Be-bop Benny, go figure), showed up was for Frankie to make the scene with whatever girl he was dancing with, at least that was the idea. 40 Winks, for lack of a better term was the “king” of the club, although by default because no one had messed with him, or his crowd before.


And also he, Tommy 40 Winks,  was the “boss” dancer of the universe and the girls were all kind of swoony, or at least, semi-swoony over his moves, especially when he got his Elvis swivel thing going. Yah, now that I think about it he did seem to make the girls sweat. Sure, 40 Winks was going to be there. See Frankie was going to upset that fresh air “rule” and since nobody, not even me, ever accused Frankie of not being in love with himself, his “projects,” or his “style” he figured it was a cinch. Now, a decade or so later I can see where there was a certain flaw in the plan.


Why? Well, let me cut to the chase here, a little anyway. When we showed up at the club everything was fine. Everybody kind of conceded that this was “neutral” ground, at least inside, and the management of the place had employed more college football player-types than one could shake a stick at to enforce the peace. So any “turf” wars would have to be fought out on the dance floor, or elsewhere. That night the music, live music from a local cover band that was trying to move up in the teen club pecking order was “hot”. They got the joint, 40 Winks, and old Frankie fired up right away with a big sound version of Good Rockin’ Tonight. Eventually Tommy 40 Winks eyed this one sneeze (girl, blame Frankie and his eight hundred names for girls) from our school, although none of us, including Frankie, had even come with fifty paces of her, here or in school.


Her name was Anna, but let’s just call her a Grace Kelley-wannabe, or could-be or something, and be done with it. In any case when she had finished dancing that Good Rockin’ Tonight with some goof (meaning non-Frankie friend or associate) the temperature in the place went up a collective bunch of degrees. Even I was thinking of getting closer than 50 paces from her. Okay this was going to be the prize, boys

40 Winks and Frankie both approached Miss Wonderful for the next dance (and, hopefully, for the full dance card), a slow one it seemed from the way the band was tuning up. Yah, it was, The Platters, Stand By Me. 40 Winks got the nod. Oh, boy. First round 40 Winks. They started dancing and other couples gave them some room because they were putting on something of a show.  I didn’t tell Frankie this but he, his plans, and his teen club crown were doomed. His look kind of said the same thing. But here is where you could never tell about Frankie. After that dance was he went back over to Anna for another ask. Again, no go. And no go all the way to intermission.


Christ, Francis Xavier Riley, pure-bred Irish man was red, red as a Dublin rose by then. He was done for, especially as this national treasure of a girl took the air, the “fresh air” with 40 Winks. And she made  a big deal out of it in front of half the couples attending, and more importantly, in front of Frankie. Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood but not of the wide teen kingdom. For one of the few times in our junior high school and high school careers together I saw Frankie throw in the towel. It wasn’t pretty. He didn’t show up at that club for a long time afterward, and I didn’t blame him.


But here is where life, teenage life was (is) funny sometimes. My brother, my corner boy king, my be-bop buddy Frankie was set up, and set up bad. How? Well, Anna, old sweet Grace Kelley wannabe Anna (and now that I think about could be), actually was smitten, or whatever you want to call it, with Frankie from seeing him around school. Yes, Frankie. But, and this is the way Frankie told me the story some time later after the event, Anna and firebrand Joanne, sweet Frankie girlfriend Joanne, had classes together and, moreover, were related to each other distantly like a lot of kids were related to each other in the old neighborhood. Anna knew that Frankie was Joanne’s honey (I am being nice here, we didn’t get along well many times) so they talked it out and Anna passed on old Frankie. But, see, Joanne got wind of Frankie’s “no ball and chain Joanne” teen dance club scheme and she and Anna patched this deal up to keep Frankie out of harm’s way. Women!


Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- The Teen Queens’ “Eddie My Love” (1956) - A 55th Anniversary, Of Sorts- Billy’s View


A YouTube film clip of the Teen Queens performing the classic Eddie My Love.

By Frank Jackman


This space is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of my interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hardworking, hard drinking blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off from earlier generations has drawn my attention. Mostly by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally, specifically songs that some future archeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived, and what we listened to back in the day, back when rock and roll let us breathe a little before they, the other side okay, clamped down and we fell into an ebb tide we are still fighting a rearguard action against.  

I might have mentioned this before elsewhere but it bears repeating here back in the day the lord and king of the be-bop rock and roll night around my way, around where I grew up in the low-down Acre section of North Adamsville was one William James Bradley, Billy to one and all. For a long time he was my friend, best friend if anybody is asking, until eventually disappointment at being rooked by the real world, being cast aside in his fight to become the next Elvis at least in his mind, he did like a lot of low-rent Acre guys did once they recognized that the cards were stacked against them and quickly got attracted to a life of crime, serious crime like armed robberies and such.

But that was later when all the things he cared about fell through.  In our time, my time, his time everybody around the Acre, everybody that counted, meaning those young enough to be devotees of rock and roll and old enough to wonder what all the lyrics meant would listen to whatever Billy who really did have a serious knowledge on the subject as well as a sense of humor and irony about what was coming down had to say about the latest platters to hit the radio stations and record shops (this record shop business well before Amazon downloads and ITunes). Many nights Billy and I would go back and forth about particular songs and what they meant. Mainly I was clueless then about the girl thing having no sisters while Billy had three and a couple of girlfriends even when he was young. The sketch below is my attempt to reconstruct what Billy had to say about the classic record Eddie, My Love. Listen up.      


(Aaron Collins / Maxwell Davis / Sam Ling)

The Teen Queens - 1956

The Fontane Sisters - 1956

The Chordettes - 1956

Dee Dee Sharp - 1962


Also recorded by:

Lillian Briggs; Jo Ann Campbell; The Sweethearts.


Eddie, my love, I love you so

How I wanted for you, you'll never know

Please, Eddie, don't make me wait to long


Eddie, please write me one line

Tell me your love is still only mine

Please, Eddie, don't make me wait too long


You left me last September

To return to me before long

But all I do is cry myself to sleep

Eddie, since you've been gone


Eddie, my love, I'm sinking fast

The very next day might be my last

Please, Eddie, don't make me wait too long


You left me last September

To return to me before long

But all I do is cry myself to sleep

Eddie, since you've been gone


Eddie, my love, I'm sinking fast

The very next day might be my last

Please, Eddie, don't make me wait too long


Please, Eddie, don't make me wait too long


Billy here, William James Bradley, if you don’t know already. To “the projects” born but you don’t need, or at least you don’t absolutely need to know that to get the drift of what I have to say here. I am here to give my take on this latest song, Eddie My Love, that just came out and that the girls are going weepy over, and the guys are saying “that a boy, Eddie.” At least that’s what the wiser guys I hang around with say when they hear the record played on the radio. Except, of course, sappy Jackman. Frankie Jackman if you don’t know, my best friend at Adamsville Elementary School (or maybe best friend, he has never told me one way or the other what it was with us from his end, but sappy as he may be at times, he is my best friend from my end) who thinks Eddie should be righteous and return to his forlorn girl. What is he kidding? Eddie keep moving wherever you are, and keep moving fast. And please, please don’t go within a mile of a post office.


Why do I hold such an opinion and what gives me the “authority”, some authority like the pope of rock and roll, or something to speak this way? Well, first off, unlike Frankie, I take my rock and roll, my rock and roll lyrics seriously, hell, I have written some myself. Also I have some talent in this field and have won vocal competitions (and dance ones too), although there have been a few more I should have won. Yah, should have won but the fix was in, the fix was in big time, against project kids getting a break, a chance to make something out of the jailbreak music we are hearing. I’ll tell you about those bad breaks some time but now I am hot to straighten everybody out, even Frankie, on this one. Jackman pays attention to, too much attention to, the “social” end of the question, looking for some kind of teenage justice in this wicked old world when there ain’t none. Get it, Frankie.


Look, I can read between the lines of this story just like anybody else, any pre-teenage or teenage anybody else. Parents, my parents, Frankie’s parents, Ozzie and Harriet, whoever, couldn’t get it if you gave them that Rosetta Stone they discovered to help them with old time Egyptian writing and that we read about in Mr. Barry’s class. No way. But Billy, William James Bradley, who will not let any grass grow beneath his feet, is wise, very wise to the scene. Hey, it’s not rocket science stuff; it’s simply the age old summer fling thing. Eddie, handsome, money in his pocket, super-charged car under his feet, gas in the tank, and an attitude that he is king of the known world, the known teenage world, sees this cutie, makes his play, they have some fun, some teenage version of adult fun for any not wise kids, school days come and he is off to his next cutie. Yah, he said he would write and, personally, I think that was a mistake. A quick “I'll be in touch,” and kiss on the cheek would have been smarter.


See Eddie, love ‘em and leave ‘em Eddie, is really a hero. What did this teen queen think was going to happen when Eddie blew into town? Love, marriage and here comes the teen queen with a baby carriage. Please. Eddie, Eddie your love ain’t got no time for that. And that old threatening to do herself in or whatever she means by “my next day might be my last,” is the oldest trick in the book, the oldest snare a guy trick that is. Yah, maybe someday when things are better, and guys don’t have that itch, that itch to move on, and maybe can settle down in one place and have plenty of dough, plenty of ambition, and the old wicked world starts taking care of its own better. Whoa… wait a minute, I’m starting to sound like Frankie. Jesus, no. Eddie just keep moving, okay. Billy’s pulling for you.

The Not So Sweet Life-Billy Crystal’s America’s Sweethearts (2001)-A Film Review  

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

America’s Sweethearts, starring Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, 2001   


Quite unintentionally, I think, I have been on something of tear reviewing films about film-making (or in the case of one mostly of not making a film). This is the third straight such film review. Of course the others were two films which have been long considered classics of movies about film-making; Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, his homage to his craft, and Frederico Fellini’s  8 ½ about what happens when a director runs out of ideas about making a film. The film under review, Billy Crystal’s America’s Sweethearts, will never be mistaken for a classic about the trials and tribulations of getting a film in the can. Despite a high profile cast of talented actors this one fails, falls flat.

Blame the weather in the Northeast this summer, hot and humid. Blame trying to take a break from heavy-duty high-toned film classics of the genre like those films mentioned above. What the heck, blame it on being hooked in by the all-star cast who in other film vehicles have won plenty of accolades for their performances. But I sat through this one grinding my teeth.   

Here’s where this one was both too predictable by the script as the story line played out and frankly was not that funny except in spots despite funnyman Billy Crystal’s efforts as actor in the film and the writer of the script. America’s sweethearts, Gwen (played by fetching Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (played by all-purpose actor John Cusack) who not only have successfully acted together but are married as well, who due to their run of hits had been crowned with a title that many previous real acting couples like Fairbanks and Pickford, Powell and Loy, have had bestowed on them, have had a falling out. A big time falling out once Gwen slipped over the line and has an affair with one of the bit actors in their last fateful film. A film that for a couple of reasons has not been released but mainly because the director has been holding the film hostage for his own reasons (mostly when all is said and done that the thing was a stinker, was nothing but a formula piece and that the sweethearts had run out of steam).         

Naturally the studio boss was going crazy since the studio had spent plenty of money banking on Gwen and Eddie being able to produce one more block-buster. So Lee (Crystal’s role), a publicist had been sent out by the frantic boss to make the thing go. But Eddie, who thought he still loved Gwen had a breakdown over the split, had no desire in his condition to go out and promote the film to the critics, to go on the press junket that is a staple of the release of every film, good, bad, or ugly. Lee eventually by fair means or foul got the pair on the junket trail. Got a little help on the Gwen side from her sister and personal assistant, Kiki (played by fetching Julia Roberts who during parts of the film was bizarrely cast as overweight-what are you kidding me didn’t Billy see Mystic Pizza and Pretty Woman). Yeah, but see Kiki had it bad for Eddie, had that secret crush but had held back because, well, because Sis was nothing but an airhead and thought everything in the world revolved around her.        

So the tensions and comedy such as they were got played out on the press junket being held a swanky hotel. Eddie finally “got religion” on the need to move on from perfidious Gwen, finally “got religion” on Kiki whom he took under the sheets and eventually wound up walking arm and arm with her in the sunset despite his ambivalence about not so sweet Gwen. But that outcome was telegraphed almost from the minute Kiki showed up on the screen early in the film. In the end the director showed up with said film, or a film, a film exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of the main characters. Yawn, a waste of a talented cast on a thin idea and few funny lines.    

Friday, July 29, 2016

Out In The Be-Bop 1960's Night- The Tonio’s Pizza Pie Dough Toss Bet

By Frank Jackman

[The late writer and journalist Peter Markin, a friend of Frankie Riley’s,   the subject of this recently found sketch that he had written in the early 1970s in the days before he let his formerly in check “wanting habits” get the best of him and turned him to an early grave alone down in Sonora in Mexico after a busted drug deal loved to write about the corner boys around his old neighborhood. This short sketch about his and Frankie Riley’s crazy need to always be betting on some proposition from Red Sox games to whether a girl did “do the do” or as here how high Tonio could toss some pizza dough had been found in Sam Lowell’s file cabinet when he was beginning to clear out his old files in the process of turning the day to day operations of his law firm to his younger partner.

This was one of a series of sketches in the East Bay Other out in San Francisco, really Oakland on the East Bay at the time, an alternative newspaper that also printed his award-winning series on his fellow Vietnam War returned soldiers. Soldiers who had nothing but problems dealing with the “real” world when they came back from that hellhole and so some of them had banded together down in Southern California in order to do “the best they could” was the way he had put it in the introduction to the series. Yeah, Markin was really a man’s writer, had most of the aspects of a thinking man thinking about what funny things men do down pat. Had been a guy who had been through enough so that telling the stories of guys he met was pretty easy. He was always less successful dealing with women, except as tooth and nail adversaries or love interests, so he tended to shy away from writing much about such misunderstood by him members of the species.  

Yeah, Markin loved, like only a guy who lived the corner boy life to its fullest, to drag up memories later on after he had left the neighborhood, the Acre section of North Adamsville, to travel the great wide world. Loved to write about Frankie best of all since Frankie was the acknowledged leader of the corner, the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor corner reserved by tradition for high school guys (Doc’s Drugstore was for the younger set, Jimmy’s Diner for junior high kids, and Harry’s Variety Store for highs school drop-outs and will be felons),  where they held up the wall in front of that establishment all through high school (Markin had actually met Frankie in junior high school where Frankie had snubbed him, had kept an arm’s length since Markin had just moved into the neighborhood from across town, so he did not get close to him until later).

Loved that Frankie had dubbed him “the Scribe,” a moniker that would travel with him when he headed west to the Coast to take part in whatever was happening out there in the 1960s before he was drafted into the Army. Loved to let the world know that despite their poverty, despite their unalleviated “wanting habits,” the working poor corner boys of his old town had their own ways of coping with a candid world (Markin’s phrase). Here after some forty years of gathering dust is Markin at his corner boy high style working his madness against Frankie’s- mano y mano, winner take all.        


You all know Frankie, right? Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, map of Ireland, fierce Frankie when necessary, and usually kind Frankie by rough inclination when it suits his purposes. Yah, Frankie from the old North Adamsville neighborhood. Frankie to the tenement, the cold-water flat tenement, born. Frankie, no moola, no two coins to rub together except by wit or chicanery, poor as a church mouse if there ever was such a thing, a poor church mouse that is. Yes, that Frankie. And, as well, this writer, his faithful scribe chronicling his tales, his regal tales. Said scribe to the public housing flats, hot-water flats, but still flats, born. And poorer even than any old Frankie church mouse. More importantly though, more importantly for this story that I am about to tell you than our respective social class positions, is that Frankie is king, the 1960s king hell king of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor, if not then North Adamsville’s finest still the place where we spent many a misbegotten hour, and truth to tell, just plain killed some time when we were down at our heels, or maybe down to our heels.


Sure you know about old Frankie’s royal heritage too. I clued you in before when I wrote about my lost in the struggle for power as I tried to overthrow the king when we entered North Adamsville High in 1960. By wit, chicanery, guile, bribes, threats, physical and mental, and every other form of madness he clawed his way to power after I forgot the first rule of trying to overthrow a king- you have to make sure he is dead or forget it, and not forget that you will wind up on the wheel or drawn and quartered for forgetting that first rule. But mainly it was his "style,” his mad-hatter “beat” style, wherefore he attempted to learn, and to impress the girls (and maybe a few guys too), with his arcane knowledge of every oddball fact that anyone would listen to for two minutes. After my defeat we went back and forth about it. He said, reflecting his peculiar twist on his Augustinian-formed Roman Catholicism, it was his god-given right to be king of this particular earthy kingdom but foolish me I tried to justify his reign based on that old power theory (and discredited as least since the 17th century) of the divine right of kings. But enough of theory. Here’s why, when the deal went down, Frankie was king, warts and all.


All this talk about Frankie royal lineage kind of had me remembering a story, a Frankie pizza parlor story. Remind me to tell you about it sometime, about how we used to bet on pizza dough flying. What the heck I have a few minutes I think I will tell you now because it will also be a prime example, maybe better than the one I was originally thinking about, of Frankie’s treacheries that I mentioned before. Now that I think about it again my own temperature is starting to rise. If I see that bastard again I’m going to... Well, let me just tell the story and maybe your sympathetic temperature will rise a bit too.


One summer night, yah, it must have been a summer night because this was the time of year when we had plenty of time on our hands to get a little off-handedly off-hand. In any case it would have had to be between our junior and senior years at old North Adamsville High because we were talking a lot in those days about what we were going to do, or not do, after high school. And it would have had to have been on a Monday or Tuesday summer night at that as we were deflated from a hard weekend of this and that, mainly, Frankie trying to keep the lid on his relationship with his ever lovin’ sweetie, Joanne. Although come to think of it that was a full-time occupation and it could have been any of a hundred nights, summer nights or not.


I was also trying to keep a lid on my new sweetie, Lucinda, a sweetie who seemed to be drifting away, or at least in and out on me, mostly out, and mostly because of my legendary no dough status (that and no car, no sweet ride down the boulevard, the beach boulevard so she could impress HER friends, yah it was that kind of relationship). Anyway it's a summer night when we had time on our hands, idle time, devil’s time according to mothers’ wit, if you want to know the truth, because his lordship (although I never actually called him that), Frankie, out of the blue made me the following proposition. Bet: how high will Tonio flip his pizza dough on his next pass through?


Now this Tonio, as you know already if you have read the story about how Frankie became king of the pizza parlor, and if you don’t you will hear more about him later, was nothing but an ace, numero uno, primo pizza flinger. Here’s a little outline of the contours of his art, although minus the tenderness, the care, the genetic dispositions, and who knows, the secret song or incantation that Tonio brought to the process. I don’t know much about the backroom work, the work of putting all the ingredients together to make the dough, letting the dough sit and rise and then cutting it up into pizza-size portions.


I only really know the front of the store part- the part where he takes that cut dough portion in front of him in the preparation area and does his magic. That part started with a gentle sprinkling of flour to take out some of the stickiness of the dough, then a rough and tumble kneading of the dough to take any kinks out, and while taking the kinks out the dough gets flattened, flattened enough to start taking average citizen-recognizable shape as a pizza pie. Sometimes, especially if Frankie put in an order, old Tonio would knead that dough to kingdom come. Now I am no culinary expert, and I wasn’t then, no way, but part of the magic of a good pizza is to knead that dough to kingdom come so if you see some geek doing a perfunctory couple of wimpy knead chops then move on, unless you are desperate or just ravenously hungry.


Beyond the extra knead though the key to the pizza is the thinness of the crust and hence the pizza tosses. And this is where Tonio was a Leonardo-like artist, no, that’s not right, this is where he went into some world, some place we would never know. I can still see, and if you happened to be from old North Adamsville, you probably can still see it too if you patronized the place or stood, waiting for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus, in front of the big, double-plate glass pizza parlor windows watching in amazement while Tonio tossed that dough about a million times in the air. Artistry, pure and simple.


So you can see now, if you didn’t quite get it before that Frankie’s proposition was nothing but an old gag kind of bet, a bet on where Tonio will throw, high or low. Hey, it’s just a variation on a sports bet, like in football, make the first down or not, pass or rush, and so on, except its pizza tosses, okay. Of course, unlike sports, at least known sports, there are no standards in place so we have to set some rules, naturally. Since its Frankie’s proposition he gets to give the rules a go, and I can veto.


Frankie, though, and sometimes he could do things simple, although that was not his natural inclination; his natural inclination was to be arcane in all things, and not just with girls. Simply Frankie said in his Solomonic manner that passed for wisdom, above or below the sign in back of Tonio’s preparation area, the sign that told the types of pizza sold, their sizes, their cost and what else was offered for those who didn’t want pizza that night.


You know such signs, every pizza palace has them, and other fast eat places too, you have to go to “uptown” eateries for a tabled menu in front of your eyes, and only your eyes, but here’s a list of  Tonio’s public offerings. On one side of the sign plain, ordinary, vanilla, no frills pizza, cheap, maybe four or five dollars for a large, small something less, although don’t hold me to the prices fifty years later for christ sakes, no fixings. Just right for “family night”, our family night later, growing up later, earlier in hot-water flats, public housing hot-water flats time, we had just enough money for Spam, not Internet spam, spam meat although that may be an oxymoron and had no father hard-worked cold cash for exotic things like pizza, not a whole one anyway, in our household. And from what Frankie told me his too.


Later , when we had a little more money and could “splurge” for an occasional take-out, no home delivery in those days, when Ma didn’t feel like cooking, or it was too hot, or something and to avoid civil wars, the bloody brother against brother kind, plain, ordinary vanilla pizza was like manna from heaven for mama, although nobody really wanted it and you just feel bloated after eating your share (and maybe the crust from someone who doesn’t like crust, or maybe you traded for it); or, plain, by the slice, out of the oven (or more likely oven-re-heated after open air sitting on some aluminum special pizza plate for who knows how long) the only way you could get it after school with a tonic (also known as soda for you old days non-New Englanders and progeny), usually a root beer, a Hires root beer to wash away the in-school blahs, especially the in-school cafeteria blahs.


Or how about plump Italian sausage, Tonio thickly-sliced, or spicy-side thinly-sliced pepperoni later when you had a couple of bucks handy to buy your own, and to share with your fellows (those fellows, hopefully, including girls, always hopefully, including girls) and finally got out from under family plain and, on those lucky occasions, and they were lucky like from heaven, when girl-dated you could show your stuff, your cool, manly stuff, and divide, divide, if you can believe that, the pizza half one, half the other fixing, glory be; onion or anchovies, oh no, the kiss of death, no way if you had the least hope for a decent night and worst, the nightmarish worst, when your date ordered her portion with either of these, although maybe, just maybe once or twice, it saved you from having to do more than a peck of a kiss when your date turned out not to be the dream vision you had hoped for; hams, green peppers, mushrooms, hamburg, and other oddball toppings I will not even discuss because such desecration of Tonio’s pizza, except, maybe extra cheese, such Americanized desecration , should have been declared illegal under some international law, no question; or, except, maybe again, if you had plenty of dough, had a had a few drinks, for your gourmet delight that one pig-pile hunger beyond hunger night when all the fixings went onto the thing. Whoa. Surely you would not find on Tonio’s blessed sign this modern thing, this Brussels sprouts, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, wheat germ, whole wheat, soy, sea salt, himalaya salt, canola oil, whole food, pseudo-pizza not fit for manly (or womanly) consumption, no, not in those high cholesterol, high-blood pressure, eat today for tomorrow you may die days.


On the other side of the sign, although I will not rhapsodize about Tonio’s mastery of the submarine sandwich art (also known as heroes and about seventy-six other names depending on where you grew up, what neighborhood you grew up in, and who got there first, who, non-Puritan, got there first that is) are the descriptions of the various sandwich combinations (all come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, the outlawed onions, various condiment spreads as desired along with a bag of potato chips so I won’t go into all that); cold cuts, basically bologna and cheese, maybe a little salami, no way, no way in hell am I putting dough up for what Ma prepared and I had for lunch whenever I couldn’t put two nickels together to get the school lunch, and the school lunch I already described as causing me to run to Tonio’s for a sweet reason portion of pizza by the slice just to kill the taste, no way is right; tuna fish, no way again for a different reason though, a Roman Catholic Friday holy, holy tuna fish reason besides grandma, high Roman Catholic saint grandma, had that tuna fish salad with a splash of mayo on oatmeal bread thing down to a science, yah, grandma no way I would betray you like that; roast beef, what are you kidding; meatballs (in that grand pizza sauce); sausage, with or without green peppers, steak and cheese and so on. The sign, in all it beatified Tonio misspelled glory.


“Okay,” I said, that sign part seemed reasonable under the circumstances (that’s how Frankie put it, I’m just repeating his rationalization), except that never having made such a bet before I asked to witness a few Tonio flips first. “Deal,” said Frankie. Now my idea here, and I hope you follow me on this because it is not every day that you get to know how my mind works, or how it works different from star king Frankie, but it is not every day that you hear about a proposition based on high or low pizza tosses and there may be something of an art to it that I, or you, were not aware of. See, I am thinking, as many times as I have watched old saintly Tonio, just like everybody else, flip that dough to the heavens I never really thought about where it was heading, except those rare occasions when one hit the ceiling and stuck there. So maybe there is some kind of regular pattern to the thing. Like I say, I had seen Tonio flip dough more than my fair share of teenage life pizzas but, you know, never really noticed anything about it, kind of like the weather. As it turned out there was apparently no rhyme or reason to Tonio’s tosses just the quantity of the tosses (that was the secret to that good pizza crust, not the height of the throw), so after a few minutes I said "Bet." And bet is, high or low, my call, for a quarter a call (I have visions of filling that old jukebox with my “winnings” because a new Dylan song just came in that I am crazy to play about a zillion times, <i>Mr. Tambourine Man</i>). We are off.


I admit that I did pretty well for while that night and maybe was up a buck, and some change, at the end of the night. Frankie paid up, as Frankie always paid up, and such pay up without a squawk was a point of honor between us (and not just Frankie and me either, every righteous guy was the same way, or else), cash left on the table. I was feeling pretty good ‘cause I just beat the king of the hill at something, and that something was his own game. I rested comfortable on my laurels. Rested comfortably that is until a couple of nights later when we, as usual, were sitting in the Frankie-reserved seats (reserved that is unless there were real paying customers who wanted to eat their pizza in-house and then we, more or less, were given the bum’s rush) when Frankie said “Bet.” And the minute he said that I knew, I knew for certain, that we are once again betting on pizza tosses because when it came right down to it I knew, and I knew for certain, that Frankie’s defeat a few nights before did not sit well with him.


Now here is where things got tricky, though. Tonio, good old good luck charm Tonio, was nowhere in sight. He didn’t work every night and he was probably with his honey, and for an older dame she was a honey, dark hair, good shape, great, dark laughing eyes, and a melting smile. I could see, even then, where her charms beat out, even for ace pizza flinger Tonio, tossing foolish old pizza dough in the air for some kids with time on their hands, no dough, teenage boys, Irish teenage boys to boot. However, Sammy, North Adamsville High Class of ’62 (maybe, at least that is when he was supposed to graduate, according to Frankie, one of whose older brothers graduated that year), and Tonio’s pizza protégé was on duty. Since we already knew the ropes on this thing I didn’t even bother to check and see if Sammy’s style was different from Tonio’s. Heck, it was all random, right?


This night we flipped for first call. Frankie won the coin toss. Not a good sign, maybe. I, however, like the previous time, started out quickly with a good run and began to believe that, like at Skeet ball (some call it Skee-ball but they are both the same–roll balls up a targeted area to win Kewpie dolls, feathery things, or a goof key chain for your sweetie) down at the amusement park, I had a knack for this. Anyway I was ahead about a buck or so. All of a sudden my “luck” went south. Without boring you with the epic pizza toss details I could not hit one right for the rest of the night. The long and short of it was that I was down about four dollars, cash on the table. Now Frankie’s cash on the table. No question. At that moment I was feeling about three feet tall and about eight feet under because nowadays cheap, no meaning four dollars, then was date money, Lucinda, fading Lucinda, date money. This was probably fatal, although strictly speaking that is another story and I will not get into the Lucinda details, because when I think about it now that was just a passing thing with her, and you know about passing things- what about it.


What is part of the story though, and the now still temperature-rising part of the story, is how Frankie, Frankie, king of the pizza parlor night, Frankie of a bunch of kindnesses, and of a bunch of treacheries, here treachery, zonked me on this betting scandal. What I didn’t know then was that I was set up, set up hard and fast, with no remorse by one Francis Xavier Riley, to the tenements, the cold-water flat tenements, born and his cohort Sammy. It seems that Sammy owed Frankie for something, something never fully disclosed by either party, and the pay-off by Sammy to make him well was to “fix” the pizza tosses that night I just told you about, the night of the golden fleecing. Every time I said "high" Sammy, taking his coded signal from Frankie, went low and so forth. Can you believe a “king”, even a king of a backwater pizza parlor, would stoop so low?


Here is the really heinous part though, and keep my previous reference to fading Lucinda in mind when you read this. Frankie, sore-loser Frankie, not only didn’t like to lose but was also low on dough (a constant problem for both of us, and which consumed far more than enough of our time and energy than was necessary in a just, Frankie-friendly world) for his big Saturday night drive-in movie-car borrowed from his older brother, big-man-around- town date with one of his side sweeties (Joanne, his regular sweetie was out of town with her parents on vacation). That part, that unfaithful to Joanne part I didn’t care about because, once again truth to tell, old ever lovin’ sweetie Joanne and I did not get along for more reasons than you have to know. The part that burned me, and still burns me, is that I was naturally the fall-guy for some frail (girl in pizza parlor parlance time) caper he was off on. Now I have mentioned that when we totaled up the score the Frankie kindnesses were way ahead of the Frankie treacheries, no question, which was why we were friends. Still, right this minute, right this 1971 minute, I’m ready to go up to his swanky downtown law office (where the men’s bathroom is larger than his whole youth time old cold- water flat tenement) and demand that four dollars back, plus interest. You know I am right on this one.

Day and Night-Italian Style –Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963)-A Film Review   

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

8 ½ , starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, written and directed by Frederico Fellini, 1963  

I have admittedly been on a tear lately watching (or in some cases re-watching) some foreign films that were all the rage among college students and young professionals in the 1960s and 1970s. Recently in reviewing Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night, a film like the one under review, Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½, which both dealt with making films (or as here not making them) I noted the following that applies here as well:       

“In the old days, the stretch between the early 1960s and early 1970s, around Harvard Square on the days, or rather nights, when you were not listening to folk music at one of the myriad coffeehouses around the Square or stretched out on Cambridge Common listening to some up and coming young rock and roll talent blast away you would in the interest of having a cheap date based on  your low side funds wind up taking your consort to the Brattle Theater or some such place (sometimes local churches or the various houses at Harvard also ran films) to watch a film. Not usually one of the then current American Hollywood productions, a place which seemed to be in a trough in the movie-making cycle, but some film noir revival with entries like The Maltese Falcon or To Have Or Have Not or foreign, mainly French films, like those of Jean-Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut (at one time friends but because of differences about the film under review that friendship was busted up). At that time anything by a French director like this one by Truffaut, Day for Night, was an automatic go see, whether it was up to snuff or not.”   

What went for the French directors applied as well to the Italian film-maker Fellini, especially after his early film La Dolce Vita blew us away with it cinematography and its meandering message about the “sweet life” that many of us were seeking then (although our forte was drugs, sex and rock and roll not among the high society types though). And so when we were older, old enough to go see Fellini films on our own in revivals, which we were not permitted to see earlier  since the good Fathers at Sacred Heart warned us off such fare we would grab a date and go to the Brattle and check it out.   

If Truffaut’s Day for Night was about the craft of film-making Fellini’s film is centered elsewhere with what one critic at the time called the travails of Guido’s director’s block and the facts of his life at that point which had helped him freeze up in trying to create something for the screen that could be produced and produced increasingly under time pressures (the film director is played by Marcello Mastroianni here). So we get, maybe more than we want to get, a full view of Guido’s life, his on again off again relationship with his estranged wife, with his mistress, recollections of childhood (a scene we all could appreciate of Guido as a youth dancing with a prostitute and then being punished by the good Fathers at his boarding school for such behavior-very familiar), a visit to a Cardinal, and all the attempts to appease Guido, or goad, him by bringing the film crew to his hotel to make the damn film. In the end something got produced, some sexual problems got resolved, and some of the greatest scenes and close-ups in film got produced. And Mastroianni was masterful in his role as Guido, was on a roll as an actor in those days. I never liked this one as much as my first Fellini film La Dolce Vita but it was close behind as a great film.        

Day and Night-French Style-Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night (1973)-A Film Review   

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Day for Night, starring Jacqueline Bissett, Francois Truffaut, written and directed by Francois Truffaut, 1973  

In the old days, the stretch between the early 1960s and early 1970s, around Harvard Square on the days, or rather nights, when you were not listening to folk music at one of the myriad coffeehouses around the Square or stretched out on Cambridge Common listening to some up and coming young rock and roll talent blast away you would in the interest of having a cheap date based on  your low side funds wind up taking your consort to the Brattle Theater or some such place (sometimes local churches or the various houses at Harvard also ran films) to watch a film. Not usually one of the then current American Hollywood productions, a place which seemed to be in a trough in the movie-making cycle, but some film noir revival with entries like The Maltese Falcon or To Have Or Have Not or foreign, mainly French films, like those of Jean-Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut (at one time friends but because of differences about the film under review that friendship was busted up). At that time anything by a French director like this one by Truffaut, Day for Night, was an automatic go see, whether it was up to snuff or not.   

This one was, was up to snuff, although not for the powerful story line like there was in say his 400 Blows but for the almost parody-like way that he was putting on American movie-making (the whole bit about shooting night scenes in a studio during the day that was taboo in French films then but a process which produced the English title). Not a parody of the great American-made films but the melodramas Hollywood was increasingly churning out to satisfy the midlands mainstream audiences. So this is a film about making a film, a run of the mill film for mass distribution starring older faded stars who still had some box office appeal and about younger stars who seem to have lost their way.         

The most interesting parts of the film centered on the problems that any such production is liable to encounter from cranky stars to an inability to get scene sets to work the way the director expected them to. Of course it helped to have a real director, Truffaut himself, directing this film within a film to push the film forward. Other than the inner workings of a film though there is plenty about the lives and loves of those behind the scenes you know the ones whose names and job descriptions like script girl or best grip you see at the beginning or ending of a film.

You know watching this film some forty years later and still finding it interesting tells a lot about how good it was. Maybe though back in those cheap date consort nights I wasn’t always totally focused on the screen, okay. Some say this is the greatest film ever made about making a film. Perhaps. But I think that it had to do more with Truffaut paying homage to the ups and downs of his craft, and it showed.       

Fools Rush In-French Style-Francis Veber’s The Dinner Game

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Dinner Game, written and directed by Francis Veber, 1998   


Yeah, like the old song went “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” but in the comedy of errors under review, Francis Veber’s The Dinner Game in French with English subtitles, one is never quite sure, at least of the characters on the screen, who the fool is and who should have paid attention when those damn angels stayed away. This one is an hour and twenty minutes of guessing just who is the fool and who is being taken in. In places a bit heavy-handed with some too intricate or implausible occurrences but overall worth your time if you have the time to spare.    

Here’s why I, for one, am wondering who the fool was. One Brochant, a prominent bourgeois publisher belongs to an exclusive club of prominent businessmen who, having apparently nothing better to do, have an “idiot’s night” at their weekly soirees. This “idiot” business for the seemingly chic and high-toned members is for each one to bring an “idiot” to the meeting and have the various guests compete, unknown to them, for the champion idiot of the night. Yeah, already I can see you are rooting for the idiots just like I was on this one.

These “idiots,” harmless men like the “star” of  the film, Pignon, an employee of the Finance Ministry, a tax guy okay, who had a maybe outsized  passion for building replicas of famous landmarks-out of match sticks  are the kind of contestants for the meetings. So the question of idiot might be just a bit overplayed by the club members. In any case the fools, the club members that is, have “talent” spotters searching Paris for appropriate candidates. That was how Brochant wound up with Pignon. Old Brochant would come to rue the day that he went up against old Pignon and that is where the comedy of errors come in. Prior to meeting Pignon he had had a back injury that put him out of whack and in the end would depend on our tax guy to get around. Would also come to depend on Pignon trying to find out where his estranged wife was after she could not, rightly, persuade him to give up the juvenile activities around idiot night. One thing Pignon did as the errors escalated was to expose Brochant’s mistress to his wife. Oops! For other such mishaps on the way to resolving the relationship between Brochant and Pignon watch this one.  Yeah, fools rush in.