Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!!

Image result for custer TV showWhen I was a little kid in the 1960s the only TV shows my mother wouldn’t let me watch was The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits (she thought they had something to do with the occult and were possibly satanic) and the Custer TV show.

It annoyed me that my mother wouldn’t let me watch the Custer show. Because the kids I hung out with at school used to watch it, and they’d all discuss the latest episode the next day in the cafeteria at lunch. So I felt like I was out of the loop. But my mother was adamant. No Custer. “I don’t like that they portray someone like THAT as a hero,” she said, in an uncharacteristically serious tone.

My mother felt it was “demeaning” in its depiction of Indians (as they were called back then). Which was odd. Because in all the years growing up that was the only time I ever heard her voice an opinion on the Indian issue. Her grandfather was a full-blooded Iraquoian Indian. And she was a quarter Indian and had an Indian maiden name, which is still on my birth certificate to this day. But she never really talking about it while I was growing up.

I think maybe because, when I was growing up in the late-50s, early-60s, America was such a homogenized culture — it was nearly 90% white. And there was a lot of pressure to fit into this mass culture. “The Conformist 50s” as they came to be known. And you deviated from the norm at your own risk. The complete opposite of today’s fragmented culture where everyone is proclaiming “identity politics” (and everyone is just as desperate to conform to THAT, ha ha).

When I was a little kid I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” like all the other kids. But none of us kids looked at it as a good guy-bad guy thing. We all respected the Noble Injuns just as much as the Cowboys. Because we knew they were the underdogs and were vastly out-numbered. And they were more like “rebels” than “outlaws.” And we all respected how they could put their ear to the ground and hear the Calvary coming, or send smoke signals (how cool was THAT?), and how they used every part of the buffalo, and especially how they were so quiet and stealthy that they could sneak up to you in the woods without disturbing a pebble and slit your throat. And what kid didn’t want to live in one of those awesome teepees. Not to mention smoking the old peace pipe.

The story of what happened to my family is largely the story of what eventually happened to Native Americans in the U.S. They weren’t so much assimilated as they were absorbed. 70% of Native Americans marry outside their race. The highest percentage by far of any race in the U.S. What happened in my family is fairly typical. My mother’s grandfather was a full-blooded Native American. But by the time it got to me four generations later that aspect had pretty much been washed out.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day, everybody!!

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Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!!

Image result for custer TV show

When I was a little kid in the 1960s the only TV shows my mother wouldn’t let me watch was The Twighlight Zone and The Outer Limits (she thought they had something to do with the occult and were possibly satanic) and the Custer TV show.

It annoyed me that my mother wouldn’t let me watch the Custer show. Because the kids I hung out with at school used to watch it, and they’d all discuss the latest episode the next day in the cafeteria at lunch. So I felt like I was out of the loop. But my mother was adamant. No Custer. “I don’t like that they portray someone like THAT as a hero,” she said, in an uncharacteristically serious tone.

My mother felt it was “demeaning” in its depiction of Indians (as they were called back then). Which was odd. Because in all the years growing up that was the only time I ever heard her voice an opinion on the Indian issue. Her grandfather was a full-blooded Iraquoian Indian. And she was a quarter Indian and had an Indian maiden name, which is still on my birth certificate to this day. But she never really talking about it while I was growing up.

I think maybe because, when I was growing up in the late-50s, early-60s, America was such a homogenized culture — it was nearly 90% white. And there was a lot of pressure to fit into this mass culture. “The Conformist 50s” as they came to be known. And you deviated from the norm at your own risk. The complete opposite of today’s fragmented culture where everyone is proclaiming “identity politics” (and everyone is just as desperate to conform to THAT, ha ha).

When I was a little kid I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” like all the other kids. But none of us kids looked at it as a good guy-bad guy thing. We all respected the Noble Injuns just as much as the Cowboys. Because we knew they were the underdogs and were vastly out-numbered. And they were more like “rebels” than “outlaws.” And we all respected how they could put their ear to the ground and hear the Calvary coming, or send smoke signals (how cool was THAT?), and how they used every part of the buffalo, and especially how they were so quiet and stealthy that they could sneak up to you in the woods without disturbing a pebble and slit your throat. And what kid didn’t want to live in one of those awesome teepees. Not to mention smoking the old peace pipe.

The story of what happened to my family is largely the story of what eventually happened to Native Americans in the U.S. They weren’t so much assimilated as they were absorbed. 70% of Native Americans marry outside their race. The highest percentage by far of any race in the U.S. What happened in my family is fairly typical. My mother’s grandfather was a full-blooded Native American. But by the time it got to me four generations later that aspect had pretty much been washed out.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day, everybody!!

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Halloween in High Bridge

Image result for "High bridge" new jersey "Church street"

 

I lived next door to this church for 7 years. From 1961 to 1968. From kindergarten through 6th grade. It was the best home I ever had. My life actually seemed normal back then. A feeling that wouldn’t last.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking of memories of my father. There were 7 of us in the Backwords family. Mom, Dad, and 5 brats. So the family car was always a VW bus, because there were enough seats in it for the whole family to pile into when we went on family trips. And the bus used to be parked in front of our house. This one Halloween night, this older high school kid who was a bit of a local tough soaped up all the windows of the bus as a Halloween prank. Well, my father caught him in the act. He collared the kid and told him he better wash off the soap or he’d be in big trouble. My Dad brought out a bucket of water and some rags and watched over the kid until he had repaired all the damage. I remember looking out the window of our house and watching the action. And I felt proud of my father. Like he was standing tall, protecting the family from harm.

Just a memory from the ancient past.

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Things go better with Coke

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This photo captures a lot of what my childhood was like. To be a little kid in the early 1960s in this little town in New Jersey in the center of the Universe.

There was a soda machine at Gasperelli’s (sp?) grocery store downtown, that sold bottles of Coke for a nickel. The machine had the built-in bottle-opener. And you’d flip the cap off — feeling very cool. And take that first big hit of ice-cold Coke out of the bottle. And the soda never tasted any better than that!

Then you’d go nextdoor to the candy store. To buy the latest Superman or Batman comicbook for 12 cents.

And if you had any of your allowance money left over you’d buy a candy bar too. For a nickel. Either a Payday or a Chunky or a Tootsie Roll.

And life was about as good as it would get.

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Some random thoughts for Father’s Day

 

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Like a lot of people, I have complicated feelings about my Father. And when I try to describe those feelings, it’s like a FLOOD of feelings. An over-load of emotion. Like a radio that’s picking up 10 stations at the same time. And all you can hear is static.

My Father’s parents were Italian peasants from Sicily who immigrated to America in the 1920s. Barely spoke English. Owned a little home in Passaic, New Jersey. Every now and then when I was a child we would visit them. My Grandparents. They always seemed like they were sluggish or in a stupor. I don’t remember them ever saying a word to me. And everything in their house seemed old and covered with dust.

Both of my Dad’s two brothers (older than him) saw some of the worst fighting in World War II. I was always struck by the irony of that. My family coming to America for a better life. Only to be shipped back to Europe to be ruined. They spent most of their lives in mental institutions. And my father would always watch over them through all the years, acting as their caretaker, to make sure they were doing all right

My Father was probably the first person in my family to graduate from college. Went to New York City to be a commercial artist. Worked in advertising for awhile. Realized it was a soul-less occupation. Took a stab at developing a comic strip. Finally opted for a career as a Methodist minister. Had his own churches where he preached every Sunday for 30 years.

I was enormously critical of him for many years for his various human foibles. He was a very nice guy, always meant well, deeply cared about people in his own way. He was a “hail fellow well met” type (think Ed McMahon). Always happy to meet you and greet you. But he was  flawed in other ways.

But I respect that he came from nowhere — this sort of Italian peasant stock with a strong strain of mental insanity to it that was our family tree. And pulled himself up. And developed elevated interests in art and literature and religion and etc. And made a life for himself.

Plus. He created me. So I suppose I should be grateful to him. The bastard.

He’s around 85 now and still hanging in there.

Happy Father’s Day everybody!!

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The Candy Store of my childhood

 

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Probably the closest I ever got to experiencing Heaven was hanging out at the beloved Candy Store of my childhood. Whenever I got my allowance every week I’d walk straight downtown to the Candy Store. They had a wall full of all the latest comic books. The first couple of comics I bought were 10 cents. This must have been around 1962, age 7. Then they raised the price to 12-cents, where it stayed for most of the rest of my comic-buying career.

Superman and Batman were my first choices, always. And all the related books. Superboy, Justice League of America, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Legion of Superheroes, etc. But I’d also buy an occasional Green Lantern, Flash, Atom, Teen Titans or anything else with a hot cover. And if I could afford it I’d splurge and buy the big fat 25-cent Annuals.

After a couple years I got turned on to Spiderman, and completely switched over to Marvel. DC would always look hopelessly square after that. The Avengers were my favorite, with Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, etc.

And I’d always buy a candy bar to go with my comic book. 5-cents out the door. And I’d agonize over the decision: Chunkies versus Tootsie Rolls. Chunkies were better but Tootsie Rolls lasted longer (the old quality versus quantity debate).

Every now and then me and my buddies would sidle up to the counter of the Candy Store and order ice cold Cherry Cokes at the soda fountain. And we’d sit there on our stools, reading our comic books and feeling very worldly.

My family moved away from that town when I was 12. But when I graduated from high school at age 17, the first thing I did that summer was hitch hike back to my old childhood town. And the first place I went to visit was that great old Candy Store of my childhood. I couldn’t wait to buy a couple of comic books for old time’s sake, and sit there at the counter reading them while I quaffed an ice cold Cherry Coke.

So I was more than a little disappointed when I discovered that the beloved Candy Store of my childhood had been converted into a not-so-beloved Laundromat.

But at least I learned a valuable life lesson right off the bat:

Being an adult sucks.

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