Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Double-dating with Sinatra

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book I'm still writing about growing up in the '60s in the San Fernando Valley.  It's 1965 and I'm in high school.

Meanwhile, willowy 19-year-old actress Mia Farrow began dating a “real” senior – Frank Sinatra. He was 49 at the time. It would have been great to double date with them. Maybe go to the Friday night Taft football game, and grab a pizza at Shakey’s. You know what else Frank would like? A popular activity among the in crowd was TPing someone’s home. That meant showering the house with streams of toilet paper. I can just imagine Frank tossing a roll, saying this house looked vaguely familiar and then realizing, “Hey, this is where the kidnappers held my son!”

School rivalries were big in the San Fernando Valley, especially in the fall when football reigned supreme. Taft had two rivals – Canoga Park High and Birmingham High. Canoga was our nearest competitor. They had an older stucco campus and a much rougher, uh… diverse population. Families routinely avoided buying homes within Canoga Park High’s district just to spare their kids from having to be enrolled there. The rivalry would have been bigger had we not been scared shitless to set foot on the Canoga campus.

So we needed another rival more our socio-economic level. Birmingham High in Encino fit the bill. Good football program and instead of knife fights you just had Jews taunting each other that their temples had superior air conditioning.

It usually came down to Taft vs. Birmingham and this year the big game was held there, in their gleaming new stadium. The P.A. announcer was Dick Van Dyke whose son was a member of the “Braves.” Then they were the “Braves”; now they’re the “Patriots” – don’t you just love political correctness?

We won the big game and the West Valley title. Our road to the City Championship ended however in the first playoff game when Dorsey High from South-Central beat us by 50 points. 300-pound future NFL stars proved to be a tougher challenge than Dick Van Dyke’s offspring.


1965 was really the last year of the 1950’s. We still thought and acted like we were in The Donna Reed Show or Ozzie and Harriet. There was an innocence that steadfastly persisted despite pesky flashes of reality – riots, a war, civil unrest, drugs, teen rebellion.

We boomers were growing more and more uneasy, to the point where we had to finally take action. We sang. My generation could not have a thought or a feeling or bowel movement without singing about it. So out of this unrest came “the protest song”. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were the vanguards, but the tune that perhaps had the biggest impact was “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. Barry McGuire had been the lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels, a wholesome collection of apple-cheeked young goody-gooders who sang about hayrides and gooseberry preserves. McGuire veered somewhat from the Hootenanny by singing a tale of imminent world doom. Within weeks it was the number one record in the country. Written by P.F. Sloan, these were the catchy lyrics we were all singing along with:

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

That gives you an idea of the terror and foreboding fear we all lived with every single day… although it wasn’t so terrifying that we didn’t buy the record and dance to it at parties.

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