Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. Used with permission.
From the book by Fred W. McDarrah: New York Scenes
The Art of Storytelling
Where the smoke was thick, the language was rough,
and the cue ball smashed into the pack as our buffer and source of bonding.
Arty's was a sacred place and a rite of passage where our parents always knew where to find us.
Old Dutch Diner
Where the coffee was undrinkable and the conversation was unthinkable—
to our parents and teachers—but who cared?
Bernie's Candy Store
Where the chocolate egg creams were creamy, delicious, and soothed the soul;
and the cherry lime rickeys were a mysterious culinary delight.
It was also where I met my father after work
to walk home together after a stickball game.
Where Dominic set the gold standard for all pizzas to come at 15¢ a slice.
A saga in itself where storytelling was like breathing and gave meaning to life.
It was dancing in the streets during the birth of Rock, debating and arguing over the growing tensions of the civil rights movement and the body bags coming home from the Vietnam war.
It is where creativity and originality were nurtured with politics to change our lives forever.
Part-time and doing whatever took the least effort to pass my classes,
I was able to graduate from Midwood High School half a year early
... because I just couldn’t take it anymore ...
and I managed to slip unnoticed through the back door of CUNY
(for February entrance because no one else even thought of applying midterm
for a college education that, by the way, cost an income-breaking $23 for registration).
God! What are they thinking making kids go to high school from 8AM to 2PM?
I was a zombie all morning until lunch at 11 and then promptly fell asleep in the next class.
Oh, was that a test you put on my desk 40 minutes ago?
10AM to 4PM would have been perfect …
And still the schools haven't learned.
So I either went to Arty’s to play Razzle, a game of pool that required exactly no skill,
but delighted everyone for that reason,
or I went to work to deliver prescriptions for Goody, the local pharmacist.
Preferred activity was to go home and take a nap.
In any case, I was up all night listening to Jean Sheperd and Long Jon Nebel
and barely studied if I got that far.
Someone please tell me how I passed something called the Regents that,
I am told, students must still take today,
but not in the same 4-inch bound, soft cover brown toilet paper that served as education.
Greenwich Village and the City University of New York
Where I walked the halls with poets, novelists, playwrights and protesters.
Where I haunted Cafe Borgia, Figaro, and Reggio when wireless technology was a pencil,
a worn out old notebook and—get this—conversation:
We talked to each other. Oh, My, God! Allen Ginsberg! Bob Dylan! Do you hear me?
Concentration of Studies: New York, The Sixties
Major: English Lit. Staying awake. Coffee.
No smoking. No drugs. No alcohol.
And no one believed me.
Working 50 hours a week until 9PM, six days a week in the Village on West 8th St.
where rock filled the air in stereo
from the open doors of the shops that lined both sides of the street,
and the pimps paraded in their lime green and neon orange Cadillac chariots
past Orange Julius, the celebrities entering and exiting the Electric Lady Studios,
and the poets and novelists reading and arguing in and out of the 8th Street Bookshop.
Immersing ourselves in Max’s Kansas City and dancing until 3 AM.
Then continuing the curriculum directly at Brasserie
where we took in visual art during the early morning fashion show
as the most magnificent young women in the most shortest mini-skirts waited at the street level stage to promenade down the stairs to be seated, admired, and appreciated.
Breakfast at 4AM at Brasserie or in diners that are now only memories:
The Foursome and The Flame. Sleep?
What’s that? Typed the day’s essays the morning before class.
On a typewriter. Anyone know what that is?
Everybody worked. Everybody danced in the discos and on the streets
until someone threw a bucket of ice water on us from the apartments above.
Noise. Everybody talked to each other. No texts. No email. No online chats.
Wow! What a concept!
And when a new Beatles or Stones album came out,
it was an unparalleled event!
BMT Express to Sam Goody downtown Brooklyn immediately.
Surviving the streets of South Korea and Japan
Teaching ESL at Yonsei University in Seoul until martial law was declared by Park Chung Hee
and I was accused of fomenting student unrest and followed by the KCIA
who disguised themselves as Spy V. Spy from Mad Magazine so I wouldn’t notice them—
in black leather bomber jackets with the collars up,
slicked back black hair, and dark aviator glasses.
They blended right in with the college students. Who knew?
Took my stories and skills to Sony Language Labs in Tokyo
where I luxuriated in walking 15 minutes through Inokashira Park to teach every day.
The Delight: Studying languages and culture, enjoying sensational food
in alleyway “yakitoriyas” and “izakayas” that sat six diners
when they were busy as the trains rumbled above.
Thrilling over English language books at Kinokuniya in Shinjuku
and reading in Fugetsudo Cafe
where I swear I saw some of the same people slumped over the tables and chairs in the Village.
Celebrating at Ann Dinkin’s Deli in Roppongi with a Miami Special:
a hot pastrami and chopped liver with mustard on rye.
What was she doing in Japan?
Naturally, friendships and learning what it is to be American
in someone else’s eyes was the beginning of more stories and a profound insight
into who I was and who I was to become.
Established U.S.-Japan Language & Culture to teach ESL, English, Writing, and Japanese
in addition to Bicultural Consulting, Interpreting and Translating.
First in LA where I had to deal with a wannabe Yakuza from Tokyo who tried to muscle in on my new ESL tutoring service. He didn’t know I was from Brooklyn and learned his place soon
when I terminated our relationship.
He departed with all his fingers. Then on the East Coast—happy ever after.
Created to work with authors who wrote about life here and in Asia
and were often caught between cultures.
This was a hard sell in those early days of American publishing over 40 years ago
because of the narrow, white-minded, maleness ruling books.
Thank you, Juris Jurjevics and Laura Hruska, publishers of the very independent SoHo Press,
and Michael Denneny, then editor at St. Martin’s,
for your open-mindedness, courage and determination
at a time when those qualities were hard to come by.
My father. Books, Writing, Teaching,
Walking the streets. Foreign cultures and languages,
and eating the foods of new and mysterious lands.
Inhabiting cafes and talking to anyone and everyone,
Theater, TV, Film, Pool, The Sixties, Classic Rock, Jazz, Cubism, more Classic Rock,
and the non-linear dreamscape that artists create to change culture and society.
Except for the 60’s. That never changes.