This morning I awoke to the news that Woodstock 50 has been canceled. It’s probably a good thing, since sequels never are as good as the original. That said, the various anniversaries that have been celebrated this year got me thinking about what life was like for me 50 years ago in Silver Lake, an unincorporated swath of land sandwiched in between Belleville, Bloomfield and Newark, New Jersey.
Summers in Silver Lake were filled with long days playing stickball, boxball, and ringo leario, often followed by a brief dowsing under the fire hydrant before the firemen were called to shut us down. As kids we had the run of the neighborhood, since most parents went to work. Family vacations were not something we thought about. Vacation meant that your parents take a week off from work and relax at home, which translated into adults interfering with our free rein. If you were lucky there might be a day trip to the Jersey Shore (No, Snooky and friends had yet to cross the Verrazano Bridge) People were still talking about the moon landing. Equally as impressive was the NY Mets run for the pennant. Allegiances quickly shifted and kids pretended to be Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, or Ken Boswell as they took their positions in the daily stickball game. Mickey Mantle announced his retirement, but not before I got to see him play and get a Mickey Mantle bat at the old Yankee Stadium. Bell Bottom jeans were all the rage and the hot musical on Broadway was “1776.”
As kids in a blue collar neighborhood we weren’t spared other realities of the times. Every evening families would gather on their stoops (front porch to most Americans) and discuss current events. The U.S was bogged down in a protracted war in Vietnam. Two of my neighbors, Sal Bivona and Bobby Druther were drafted and sent overseas. Several kids in the area had gotten into drugs and a some overdosed. Two years earlier our streets were filled with National Guard trucks as concerned parents who feared that the race rioting a few blocks away would make it to our street. My father kept a loaded gun in the closet and two summers later it was still there as racial tensions remained high. Sirhan Sirhan went on trial for the murder of Bobby Kennedy and James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to killing Dr. Martin Luther King. It seemed as though every week an airplane was being highjacked to Cuba and student groups, sometimes armed, were protesting everything from free speech, the environment, the war, to race relations. Richard Nixon, U.S. President, proclaimed Americans "cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another." Parent’s seemed anxious, which made us kids anxious. “This country is going to the dogs,” was an expression frequently heard on the street. One night the conversation turned to a parochial, but nevertheless important matter, whether Lucile Bivona would be allowed to go to Bethel, NY with the “long haired hippie freaks” to attend what came to be known as Woodstock. She would indeed go and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, here we are 50 long years later. Once again we find ourselves in a protracted war on foreign soil, students are raising hell on college campuses across the country this time attacking free speech, there is a national drug epidemic, the environment is still an issue, “Hamilton” is the best play on Broadway, racial tensions remain high, everyone seems anxious, and Americans are still yelling at one another. All we need is for the Mets to turn around their season and the new cocky kid at QB for the Jets to guarantee a SuperBowl victory and we might as well be back in 1969! Thank goodness they canceled Woodstock or I’d wake up one day in August thinking that I climbed through a wormhole.