Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Spicoli & Rat and the Long Walk of '81 - A Tribute To Jimmy Quinn

Sometimes in life, what we remember the most, may not perhaps be our achievements, but rather the anomalies that stand out.  And, I am blessed to have had many achievements.  After a while however, it can be a blur to recall them all.  Some of those successes were anomalies as well.  And when they are both, the result is usually a memorable one.

This one feat was so bizarre, and all the while so amazing that it must be explained here on this blog.
It was August of 1981.  The top shows on TV were Dallas, Dukes of Hazard, the never-ending M*A*S*H, and the Love Boat.  If you tuned in on the FM stereo of your compact stereo and played WPLJ, you probably would be hearing songs like The Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue", AC/DC’s "Back in Black", and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”

I was living in Laurelton at the time, and outside of rubbing legs under the desk with one Ellen Corker at St. Francis Prep, I basically was an utter nerd.  My moments of "cool" were limited to when I went over to Jimmy Quinn's house down the block from me, and listened to his AC/DC albums, like Powerage, and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.  And now, "Black In Black" was a big staple of ours as well.

One could swear that the movie ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’, which would be released a couple of years later in 1982, was a dead ringer for Jimmy and I.  Jimmy was Jeff Spicoli, and I, unfortunately, was Mark 'Rat' Ratner.  And if you don't believe me....
How is this for an uncanny resemblence?

Jimmy, like me, lived in a connected Tudor.  Except, his was the corner house, so he had a little more property than I did. The street behind us was a driveway to all of our backyards.  Backyards of which served for both many fond and painful memories for me.  

The neighborhood was largely African-American, and when I mean 'largely', I mean that there was like 17 white people in a town of 3,000 or more.  Besides my family and Jimmy's, the only other whites on our street were Manny and Connie, who lived almost directly across, and Jack and Reba, who lived right next door.  Jack was like 150 years old but was a very active man.  Unfortunately, he was not the most modest of men, as he also thought his IQ was the same as well.  I remember him coming off to my father as a know-it-all.  He had a tendency to act very pompously in front of us, lol.

Jimmy came right to my door one day in the Spring of 1980 and asked if I wanted to play or do something together one day.   My relationship with my best friend from OLQM in Forest Hills, Doug, was unfortunately not as great as it once had been earlier, and this was due to the fact that I no longer lived in Rego Park, so the commute between Laurelton and Flushing was reserved for the weekends at best. 

The drift seemed to begin by the end of 1980, which ironically was sometime after the death of John Lennon.  However, Lennon’s death and our temporary break from one another was purely coincidental.  So in Doug's absence, it was only natural to become close friends with the kid right down the block from me.  Oh, and he found me.  Earlier that summer, and after we finished school in June of 1980, I guess someone had told him,

"Hey Jim, there's a new kid your age, down the block from you!!". 

And yes, of course, I am being comical about it, but it was probably an incentive for him to know that besides his older brother, that I was the only other white kid, who lived just a half block down from him. 

Anyway, Jimmy showed up and rang my doorbell.  My stepmother (at the time) Carmen, opened the door, and yelled upstairs that someone was here to say hello.

From that point and for nearly 3 years we became the closest of friends.  We did so many things together that we were like brothers.  In fact, we considered ourselves to be each other's brother even though Jimmy had an older brother.  Joe was/is an awesome guy.  We always looked up to him.  At the time he played guitar, and we all looked up to him.  Little would I know, that Jimmy would not only become a great musician himself but wind up being publicly mentioned at the Blues Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.  I guess that the 2+ year disparity that the Quinn brothers had amongst each other was too much of a generation gap.  Plus, and like all brothers, they fought.  Some good ones too, I recall!  Jimmy and I bonded well.

During our idle time, we'd come up with the wackiest shit to do.  We conjured up so much crap together, that I swear that if we had lived in Silicon Valley some 7 years earlier, that we would have probably given Gates and Allen a run for their money!  I was slightly more than a nobody at St. Francis Prep High School, but Jimmy was a star at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.  Fortunately, just being with him at his school, made me one too (to a sometimes geeky extent, lolol).

But seriously...we came up with the craziest shit.  One day, while we were playing Wiffle Ball on my front stoop (a perfect set of 5 brick steps for the strike zone), he was talking about how he likes it when we would do those walks to the Sunrise Multiplex Movie Theatre on Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream.  I told him that maybe that was because we had earlier devised a failproof scheme to watch as many movies for the price of one.  But THAT my friends will be another great story about Jim and me for another day...

Anyway, I had told Jimmy that I liked it too, but that my longest walk was a 10-mile walk sponsored by March of Dimes that featured a finish line on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, Queens near where an X-Rated club (Goldfingers) made its way to the scene a few short years later.    Jimmy got excited (not about Goldfingers, lol), but over what I said, and thought that one day we should do a huge walk like that.  I remembered being totally off the cuff and saying, "Why Wait? Why don't we plot something out now, and do it tomorrow?" 

That's the wonderful thing about being a kid.  Summer vacation.  Talk about feeling free.  Working now for the last 37 years, I can tell you that not a moment goes by where I don't long for those kinds of days.  I felt like a king back then.  Wake up when I want, living like a bachelor in my basement 'apartment', and basically went to bed when I wanted to too. 

Well, we went back to Jimmy's house, pulled out some good ol' fashioned Rand McNally and Hagstrom maps (There was no such thing as Google anything back then...We don't need no stinking Google maps!!) and started mapping out our quest.   Jimmy and I both had knowledge on how to get to Queens Boulevard in Jamaica from our house, but only I possessed the added knowledge needed to complete the journey back via Northern Boulevard, Little Neck Parkway and all else.  

We agreed that we needed to rest, and as Jimmy was telling his mom, Ann, about this exciting jaunt we were about to embark on, I was heading home to 130-38 229th Street to do the same.   Despite how much I may have complained about how strict or unfair my father and stepmother might have
been to me back then, there were other times that they were liberal, too liberal.  True, I was 15 years old, but I don't think that if my son told me that he was going to walk dozens of miles through the streets of God-awful neighborhoods, that I would have permitted it.  Then again, things were different back then...Yes, they were.  It was a more violent place!   Perhaps, I was afforded the luxury to do what I'm about to tell you, simply because I did a good job at concealing the truth, even at the young tender age of 16.  Try asking me now if I would allow my kids of the same age today to do that.  No way, Jose!

Anyway, the next morning, I woke up at 5am.  The sun wasn't even out yet, and it was already warm.  Typical for an August morning.  As I was finishing my Pathmark no-frills brand corn flakes, I could already see a shadow approaching the front door from our stained glass windows in the living room just off the front door.  It was Jimmy. 

I didn't want him to ring the bell, because as it was, I already felt I was getting away with murder, and didn't need to draw any additional attention to what I was going to do.  All I know is that I was excited, enough to wake up at 5am.  Jesus, I don't even get up that early when I would get up to go to school, and as it was I had to walk several blocks and take 2 buses just to get to Prep!

I gingerly high-footed my way to the front door, and let him in, shushing him before he could make a peep.  He wanted to laugh because he knew he was just as crazy as me.  A few minutes later, after I had remembered to take the maps and my keys with me, we left the house.

We started up 229th street towards Merrick Boulevard.  This was the way I would walk to get the 1st of 2 buses en route to High School.  Only, when we got to Merrick, we made a right turn and proceeded to follow its straight path northwest.
Singing--"The Q5, backing into the suuuuwahhhhh!!!"
(This is a funny expression - Doug knows this well - One of those, you-had-to-be-there to understand the context, lol!)

Merrick Boulevard is not a place where one would want to walk thru if you were white.  At least back then, anyway.  But even as a master tactician, I had figured we would only go through here once, in the early morning, to ensure that we would be safe.  Hence, I was right.  The stores were all closed that Sunday morning, and the streets utterly bare and void of any life.

By the time, we finished talking about the Boston Red Sox (Jimmy's favorite team), girls, our parents, more girls, our siblings, girls again, Rubix Cube, fine girls, and Rush and hot girls, and the Marshall Tucker Band, we were already 4 miles into our jaunt and making a left onto Hillside Avenue.

The tall building dead ahead?  175-20 Wexford Terrace.  My home from 1970 until 1975.

Hillside Avenue already held a plethora of memories for me, for when I was 5, my mother Salud and stepfather, George Seims, had moved us into the Camelot at 175-20 Wexford Drive, Jamaica Estates, NY.  It was right up the road from where we were walking through.  Just a look to our right and one could easily see the big yellow building, prominently displayed at the fork ahead.  It was also near Immaculate School, the first school that I went to in my life.  The school where my grandmother, Rosario Rodriguez would walk me by the hand to the Dalny Road entrance.  Memories, memories and more memories.  Memories I already had had.  Memories still being forged, and more memories to come for sure, especially the ones with a girl who had gone to Mary Louis Academy school for girls directly across the street from the Camelot.  But I digress!

Jimmy and I made a left on Hillside instead however and went into a direction that I was much more familiar with.  Fresher memories of those in Forest Hills, a great place to live and grow up.  When we approached the "Ideal" motors sign, which BTW, is still there, we made a right-hand turn and headed up for what seemed forever up Queens Boulevard. 

It was a sunny day with a warm, but dry wind.  The weather conditions were perfect for this walk.  Of course, when one is a sixteen-year-old boy, the last thing on your mind is sunscreen, or back then, suntan lotion.  I did pay for it dearly the next day for sure.  I felt like the 'extra crispy' recipe at the Church's Fried Chicken on Merrick in St. Albans, Queens.

The Kennedy Building - Forest Hills, NY
At OLQM...Dawn Kane, 1st true crush. lol!
Portofino's on the left and just across on the right my Catholic School, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, where I attended Grades 6-8 (Sep 1976 thru June 1979). Made a lot of friends, including my best friend ever, Doug.
As we passed my newer-old neighborhood of Forest Hills, memories of my first job ever at the "Card Such", a few doors down from where Portofino's Pizzeria was (and still is) on Queens Boulevard came to mind.  Along with that, none other than OLQM, my third school, which I attended grades 6 thru 8.  The Kennedy Building stood tall and proud right in front of us.  All 30+ stories, and at the time, the tallest structure in all of Queens.  And last, and definitely not least, the Dorian Apartment building, a six-story prewar tenement building, typical of the area, just across the street and on the same side of Queens Boulevard as that of the Kennedy House.  This was where I reached puberty, lost my virginity, got beat up, got my first stereo, had a nice sized bedroom, and yes, the last time I ever lived with my mother.

My Step-Mom, Carmen in front of what once was Alexanders'
I can't recall all of the details, but I'm sure I was the one doing a lot of the talking around this neighborhood.  And with all the talk, no sooner was I reminiscing about Forest Hills, we were already passing my father's office at Iberia.  97-77 Queens Boulevard at the 8 mile mark. Shortly after, we passed the stationary store of  where Mike Mancino and I would sometimes buy (or not buy) baseball cards. We passed the Chock Full O' Nuts coffee store, and Alexander's Department Store, now the home of several stores, including Marshalls.

As impressed as we already were with how far we had traveled, I didn't even want to think of how much more we still needed to go, so we pressed onward.  Next came L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway), then the Macy's rotunda along with the little house that refused to move that was tucked between it and the Citibank. Next was the Elmwood Theatre, the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), and on and on it went.  One landmark at a time, one memory at a time, and all good things going on throughout. 

Before long, the "7 el" ("7" train - elevated on the street) was alongside us, as we marched down Sunnyside. On the other side of the 'El' would be White Castle's.

It was of no significance to me then, but years later when I would make movies about my family, I would come to learn that this White Castle was where my father got his first job ever while in the United States back in 1961. 

Another reason for doing this trek on a Sunday morning, was because we had to make sure that the pedestrian footpath on the Queensboro-59th Street bridge would be available to us at that time.  Crossing that bridge seemed like it took forever for Jimmy and me, the wind howling and making a mess of our long hair.   

What I didn't know then, that I know now, was that upon crossing that bridge, Jimmy and I had just completed a half-marathon in distance walking.  This outdid my "march of dimes walk" years earlier, and blew away any track 'n' field event that I had done at Van Cortlandt Park and as a Frosh for the St. Francis Prep Terriers.

A few years earlier, I had taken the subway with Marcus Colon and we went down to visit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.  I had wanted to go to Central Park, but we never did have time.  I also remember the time before then, when I was 12, and actually went by myself to Manhattan with my new camera to take pictures.  I went to Central Park South, took photos of the park, the Plaza, and the building with the Playboy sign on it (yuk-yuk!).  Amazing, how my mother never even cared.  Or perhaps, she never even knew?

Anyhow, including that jaunt when I was 12, the only other time I remember going to Manhattan since then was when my Dad took me to Benihana's in the city when I graduated OLQM, and one time later, when Jimmy's dad and his girlfriend took us to the Museum of Art on the Upper East Side.  I was really itching to go back to Central Park and explore everything.

Jimmy and I didn't have enough sense or perhaps courage to walk into the park without getting lost, so we agreed to walk the rectangular perimeter of the park.  We walked towards Columbus Circle, then north on Central park West, all the way to 110th Street, and then finally down on 5th Avenue, before heading back out and towards the bridge that we came over on.

Amazingly, by the time we walked a few hundred feet over Roosevelt Island, along with its tram that was made famous by "Nighthawks" a movie that I had seen just a few months earlier, we had just broken 22 miles.

22 miles and I hadn't done anything to train for it prior to this day.  22 miles, and I was still feeling fresh.  22 miles, and prior to this the most I had ever done was 10 miles.  The day was still young, and I was still full of energy.  Jimmy too. 

Oh, to be young!

Coming off the 59th Street bridge, we decided to veer left and take the northern route, or Northern Boulevard.  After we passed all of the subway tracks overhead near Queensboro Plaza, I remembered passing Doug's mom's place of employment.  Clara, a wonderful woman, and mother of 5, who once had to work hard labor at a machinery shop on Northern Boulevard, was like the mother that I never had.  I had been to Doug's home so often, that I felt like a sixth child to her.  Clara was about the nicest human being one can ever find.  Every time I came over it was nothing but sancocho (a type of soup), good times, and smiles all around.  Just like my grandmother, who had saved me from total emotional ruin growing up with my mother,  Clara was the antithesis of Mario,  Doug's scumbag stepdad.  She was his salvation during those years, IMHO, and she no doubt helped him to get past the madness that he had to endure during those years. And of course, between his step-dad and my own problems with my mom, that had to be the biggest reason why we became so close, such that just celebrated 40 years of friendship.  Yes.  Forty.

Little did Jimmy and I know that by the time we reached Jackson Heights, we had completed what was essentially a marathon. 26.2 Miles.  We were a little tired but nothing to get concerned over.  Back then, I don't even know if I knew what a marathon was, let alone the distance behind it.  All I knew is that we needed to keep going. And so, we did.

Still while on Northern (Blvd).  we passed Shea Stadium and not long after that, we came up to the RKO Keith's Theatre on Northern and Main.  I mentioned to Jimmy about potentially roping Doug in.  It was already about 1:30 in the afternoon, and we had already walked 30 miles by now.  So, we went down Main Street, passing by the McDonald's where I would inevitably wind up just a year later in October, and made it to Blossom Avenue.

I buzzed from downstairs, and after a few, we got buzzed in.  Doug opened the door.  It was dark inside.  He looked like he was sleeping, or perhaps listening to his music.  Whatever the case was, the lights were all off, and the shades were drawn.  Normally, I would've instantly recognized this as the Universal Sign for "Leave Me Be", lol.  Growing up dissolution quite a bit, I too had several 'dark' days myself, where I just wanted to be left alone.

My testosterone, adrenaline, what have you, disregarded these 'signs' and in my 'gung-ho' behavior, tried to get Doug to come with us.  Funny as I look back now, for where was he going to go?  Walk to my house and go back in the middle of the night?  Though I'm sure my Dad would have let him sleep over, so it wouldn't have been a problem.

Doug wasn't up to it, however.  Jimmy threw his hat into the ring trying to convince him that it was so sunny outside and that it's too late in the day to be in such darkness.  Big mistake, lol!  In one of the many famous phrases that he and I have coined over our 40 years of friendship, Doug uttered,  "I like the dark."  Looking back, it was a hilarious moment, despite how serious he was.  And with that contribution having finally seeping through our 'gung-ho-take-no-for-an-answer' attitude, we finally realized that he wasn't coming.  Perhaps if I had been a better friend, and had told him in advance or our insanity, he might have opted to come.  Then again, since when do teenagers plan anything correctly?  I was a typical teen, I guess.

I remember Jimmy and I leaving feeling bummed, and talking about Doug for a while there while we headed back north on Main, and continued east on Northern Boulevard.  It was already 3 in the afternoon.  But we still had a l-o-o-o-o-n-g way to go....

Foodwise, I don't remember much at all about this journey, except for some reason, the thought of White Castle on Bell & Northern seems to ring a bell to me. Two miles later, after we had left Bayside, we were passed the Cross Island Parkway, and in Douglaston.  It also had meant, that soon we would be heading south, and heading home.

I deliberately chose this longer route, because I was deathly afraid of going through the heart of South Jamaica during the sunset and night hours.  Good choice.  

We made a right turn onto Little Neck Parkway and were now heading south, and crossing the 36 mile mark.  THAT IS 60 KILOMETERS!

By now, physiology finally stepped in.  IN.  A.  BIG.  WAY.

I could feel my legs were sore, and even my arms too.  Jimmy was also hurting a bit.  Both of us were sunburned from lack of proper planning, and our pace was getting slower (no longer the 13-15 minute per mile pace, it seemed, though what did I know?  OMG! I don't even think I had a watch on!!!!)

We crossed under the Grand Central and then the LIE highways finally coming up to Union Turnpike in the Bellerose section of Queens.  We had gone 38 miles by now, our bodies holding up, but barely.  Still, I was amazed at what we had done thus far, as we kept conjecturing how many miles we had traveled.  40? 50 miles?  Nah, just 38.  JUST 38. LOL.

We kept heading south and were now in Floral Park. 40 miles. Prolific.  Intense.  Insane!  And beyond explanation!!!!

My legs were getting worse.  We would stop from what seemed like every block, just to collect our thoughts, and energy.  I remember being low on cash, thus, yes, we did spend money for snacks along the way.  And no, we didn't eat PowerBars to maintain our output.  There was nothing like that at the time.  Twix Bars and Snickers were about as much energy as one could get back then.  Oh yes, and Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs and Dolly Madison Zingers too. :-)

We were walking in a strange neighbohood now, and on a strange road (Plainfield Avenue), and while we weren't walking through such a bad neighborhood, like Cambria Heights (as it was bad back then-and maybe now still), it was getting unnerving.  It was already 6pm in the early evening, and it took us 3 hours to go 10 miles, meaning we were only averaging slightly under 20 minutes per mile.

Jimmy and I made a right hand turn onto Hempstead Turnpike, and before long we were passing along side the Belmont Race Track on our right hand side.  The sun was beginning to dip, and sunset meant we needed to hurry.  At this point, we were so exhausted that we were flailing our arms back and forth like broken pistons, in search to get some new found energy.  Instead we found some newly found chaos, as we both starting getting a bit lost with where we plotted versus what we did.  We wound up having to make a left turn onto Springfield Boulevard and headed south, directly through the neighborhoods that we didn't want to go through.  But at this point we were so tired, that we didn't even care.  And when we passed Montefiore Cemetery, I swore I looked at the headstones and mentioned how jealous I was that they were at rest!

When all was said and done, we got back to our home nearly at 8pm.  We had left the house at 6am, and 14 hours and 46 miles later, our mission was complete.  For many years, I had thought I had done 60 miles, but 46 miles is nothing to sneeze at.  In fact, I wonder if I could ever do that much mileage again running OR walking!

Home Sweet Home or Hole Sweet Hole? (after all I was a basement dweller...)

I was sore and burnt from the walking and the sun. And the next day, I could hardly move, but I think I accomplished something for which very few New Yorker, heck, humans, could muster to accomplish.

This was but one of the many memories that Jimmy and I had.  As with the learning of his passing yesterday, I was warmed over to hear from his brother Joe, about how Jimmy himself had mentioned about our walk to him and his family.  And it was recently too, perhaps not more than a year or so ago.  I am happy that he remembered, as I will always remember him for all that he was.  Jimmy was the embodiment of fun, as we cracked each other up quite often (the story of my haircut, being one, which too will be shared and forthcoming stories during my tributes to Jim Quinn).

Until the next tribute to Jim.  Rest In Peace my Brother and Amen.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Glitzy Gonzo

I wrestled with this title, because it's 6:30am and because I am in a unique situation. I arrived late yesterday afternoon in Reno, Nevada. Prior to this, I had only but once stepped foot in Nevada and that was to change planes in Las Vegas. My Jack Daniels Run S.M.A.R.T. training program began today. Electing to choose Mondays and Fridays as "rest" days, I chose to go to the hotel gym to do some upper body. It was very little really, maybe about a half-hour's worth. Need to start turning some of that stomach jelly into muscle, but I also need to listen to my lower back to. Everything in moderation The fitness center is fantastic. I guess it should be expected since this is not a hotel but rather a resort spa & casino. Yesterday, after eating dinner, I went and did 3 miles on the treadmill. It was preceeded by walking down a hallway of chandeliers, and was capped off with some fresh Eucalyptus Mint Oil towels. Not too shabby, right? LOL.
Straight bench doing some ab work early at 6am today at the Peppermill Fitness Center.
My weight had hit 170 (trying to get to 155 which is race optimal weight for me), on Friday.  Of course, that all went to hell at Dawn's Christmas Extravaganza Saturday night (I won't even post those calories here, lol).  I got up to 172.2, but have rebounded nicely this morning tipping the scale at just 171.

Recording and reporting are going to be key measurements in my endeavor to hold myself accountable to make my goal.

Here was yesterday's caloric intake:

As you can see, these are my dietary choices of what I still consider the "old" me.  I'm not saying that I will abandon the tastiness of  bacon and sausage for ever.  Again, the key word is moderation.  To make up for yesterday, I will be testing my will power today.  In a traveling scenario, with an entourage of others, it will be a major challenge to refrain from eating what you like when you are seated alongside your peers who are doing the same.  

Remind myself of my goal.  It's far-reaching, but it will never be within my grasp unless I have faith in what needs to be done and follow through.  So I will do this! :-)

My run yesterday:

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Spring Training Has Begun. Why Yes It Is November....

November 27th is my "Spring Training",
December 1st is when I start the changeover in earnest.
December 4th is when I throw down.

 A commitment to re-invent who the Machine was, and who he will be, will begin in earnest on Monday, December 4th.

And what a way to start too.....I'll be in Reno on business that entire week. And what starts on December 4th?

Build-up of muscle, especially in the core, to burn calories quicker A regular regimen of Yoga (both Vinyasa and Hot) to improve my flexibility.

Insurance-covered, registered dietician/sports nutritionist to provide assistance as required. Near 100% elimination of pizza, bread, soda and refined sugars. Calorie/Nutrition Counting of all foods/drinks/calories via My Fitness Pal (syncs with Garmin)

Legendary Daniels VO2 Max Training schedule (S.M.A.R.T. Goals) 5-day per week run schedule. A pre-work morning routine to balance my normal after-work exercises.

A mandatory 8+ hour sleep schedule. 2017 was an off-year. I'm campaigning for myself to make 2018 a great year.

Perhaps the hardest of all.  Catalog, measure, blog, and VBLOG!  Yes.  I better brush up on my on-camera performance.

Listening to myself. pushing my limits safely, and making sure I treat my body as my church.

The MACHINE is going to make a comeback!

My 16th race ever.  May 24, 1986. 
Strohs Liberty Torch Run - Forest Park, Glendale NY. 
That's me on the right wearing my 1984 NYC Marathon shirt too.

With my net time of 43:20, my pace was 6:59 per mile.
I only weighed 128, but I had no plan or conviction.


Just gotta lose some weight and regain that MACHINE-like BODY...  ;-)