When I was a young teenager, the local Catholic parish, The Church of the Holy Trinity, would sponsor what they called a Friday Night Social. This was held at the Norwegian Hall, right across from the Los Angeles Hotel in the Berea neighborhood of Durban, South Africa. A few years later, I became a denizen of the LA Hotel public bar. In those days, it was a white men’s only joint, except for the Indian bartenders. Upstairs, there was a ladies lounge. It was called the Robert E. Lee. When I was last in Durban about ten years ago, the LA Hotel had become an old-age pensioners’ retirement home.
The bonanza about the Friday Night Socials was that girls and boys were invited to attend. Apart from the bars being segregated by race and gender (everything was), the high schools were too. The only time boys saw girls officially was at mass on Sunday or at these Friday night hoedowns. Father Kelly and Father Boggis, the parish priests, were on patrol at these events. They brought along a few heavy hitters as deputies and muscle too, members of the Saint Vincent De Paul Society. These Catholic Mafiosi were their seeing-eye dogs, the spying police. Monkey business was not tolerated. The music was top twenty stuff, which in those days was quite bearable…think The Shadows and The Ventures. There was the occasional grinder song, e.g. slow doo-wop numbers like “Unchained Melody.” The Catholic Bureau of State Security would pay special attention here. White buck shoes were all the rage then. That’s what it was like. We were a few years behind the times.
In fact, when the English pop and soul singer Dusty Springfield was booted out of South Africa before she even sang a note on stage, she was guilty of the following crime. She was instructed by the pilot of the jet liner as the plane landed to set her watch back six hours. She immediately told the press upon arrival at the airport that she should have set it back sixty years. Bang, Dusty was gone, her visa was revoked. That’s how far behind we were, more than just a time zone or two.
The reason why I am gabbing on about these childhood memories is because I have always felt a certain affinity toward Fridays (not to mention bars). For all of my years as a working stiff, Friday evenings have been special. Visits to the record den, a bout of darts, imbibing at the local, new faces to meet and old ones to reconnect with and all of that business was the line of march. Now with the virus, these have taken on a different significance. Boy, it took me a while to get here but this is the point of this exercise.
Charlie is my roommate at the old Eastern Parkway abode in Brooklyn. He joined me after his marriage went south. We are sympaticos on most questions, but especially on the music ones. Charlie is a carpenter, painter and a drummer. He happens to be an ex-Catholic too. He works in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn shop that mostly makes sets for Broadway musicals and plays. Charlie grew up in the working class part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. When Roger Daltry of The Who was asked what his life might have been like if The Who hadn’t come along, he replied that he would either be in prison or dead. Charlie’s life history as a young man is not that different. Many of his friends disappeared down that lonely avenue. Charlie is an all round good man. We are old mates.
Of course when Charlie moved in with me over two years ago, we never foresaw any of this. We tried our hardest then to get on, respected each other’s privacy, did all of the right things. Charlie came with his cat, whom we call David Sheets, even though he is a she. David Sheets was a mutual now dead temper-tantrum throwing friend, who would storm out if things weren’t going his way, or he wasn’t being paid enough attention to. But then this COVID nonsense came along.
When the Mayor and Governor started out with their lockdown dictates, I was worried that Charlie and I would not pass the test. Bullshit, we have aced it. I know couples that have been married for decades and who have been through some very rocky moments lately. For them, it’s like Ralph Kramden is sentenced to having the mother-in-law spending endless nights in their tiny apartment on the poor side of Brooklyn town. Out, Get Out!
So I have stories here. It’s a matter of survival. First off, Charlie and I recognized the importance of Friday nights. This was designated as our music spinning evening. Early on, we were haphazard here. But because of our mutual prowess, there was value to be found in themes. We have gone through styles, regions, cities, and even individual performers. I’ll give you some clues: Southside Johnny, Texas, Rockabilly, Instrumentals, Sixties Soul, Wonder Women with Screaming Soul Sisters and the Girl Groups, The Drifters and The Coasters, California, The Clash, Do It Yourself punk, Do it Yourself power pop, NYC, The Beatles, The Beatles after The Beatles broke up, blues, rock and jazz in any of those formats, each week has a new idea. The great thing is that we both start thinking about this early on and reach an agreement. “Monday when the foreman calls time, I already got Friday on my mind.” We both look forward to our Friday night record spins. We have the material to do it, the old style equipment to do it on, and we make sure we have the necessaries to help it along. Saturday morning is sleep-in time. The whole endeavor has become a lifesaver.
Here’s what is funny. Charlie’s pot dealer stops by outside early every Friday night. We only start our session once he has visited (not for me, I’m a relatively clean old man on that bit). Now not all drug dealers are reliable, but this bloke is a Red Hook character, and they apparently pride themselves on TCB (Taking Care of Business, courtesy of Elvis Presley). So our blast-off time is reliant on what Ronald Reagan used to worry about in terms of what was going to happen to our minds. Remember that bilge…this is your brain (an egg), this is your brain on drugs (the egg then fries). Reagan should have known, he was not particularly smart in the upstairs department. Remember when he played George Armstrong Custer in Santa Fe Trail, (the Raymond Massey film about John Brown) and was confused about the slavery issue, unlike Errol Flynn who was Jeb Stuart and wasn’t (confused about slavery, that is).
Here’s the lifesaving bit. Early on during the pandemic, I bashed my head and my ear started to bleed at the end of an initial record spin. Charlie did some emergency medic work that night. The following day, we took his bandage off and my ear just started pumping blood again. Charlie did everything he could, including multiple visits to the pharmacy. Nothing was working. I was beginning to feel dizzy. We called the local 24/7 emergency street joint and the doctor told us to go to the hospital…something about plastic surgery. Ordinarily, I would have just wandered over to the nearest hospital ER and gotten a stitch. But his was when somewhere between 700 to 800 people were dying daily in NYC from the COVID. I told Charlie that if we called an ambulance, I would probably never see him again. This wasn’t an option. We racked our brains, by then mine seemed to be running out of my ear. Finally Charlie found an Ace bandage, and he wrapped the wound tightly. It felt right and the bleeding stopped. I watched Deliverance and we all slept. The next day Charlie methodically cleaned the wound. It took him a long time. It was a small cut, but ears have a way of collecting blood. The crisis was over. If an ambulance had come, God knows where I would have ended up, maybe on Trump’s navy medical ship. I do believe that Charlie saved my life then. And that was a Beatles night too…Help, I Need Somebody. For a few days I looked like Vincent Van Gogh. So what. I will never forget Charlie for what he did. A lesser or queasier person might have bowed out.
So that too is part of our struggle as comrades. What I remember, apart from the bloody ear incident, is the weekly joy of listening to the old tracks, telling each other tales about who wrote what songs, when and where we might have seen the artists, in other words, war stories. I have never forgiven the Catholic Church for bagging the no meat on Friday rule. I have vivid memories of boiled haddock and fish sticks. How dare they put us through that and then change the law. Clearly, the Pope and his Cardinals did not confer with Charlie and me. Thank God it’s Friday.