Time Traveling Friday…A Boy In New York

Today begins Unheated Pool Season in Florida, well, at least in my pool.

The water temperature was about 80 degrees which meant that it was a little chilly to my Florida adapted bones. Nevertheless, it was delightful. So much so that I began listening to one of my favorite playlists.

Back in the late ’60s, I didn’t have so much as a playlist as having several vinyl albums that would be part of my summer listening repertoire. The Byrds made up a significant portion of my summer fun.

Having my first unconditioned dip of the season, I decided to listen to the Byrds. Back in the days when I traveled the LIRR, I would get the Byrds onto my Walkman around Memorial Day. In Florida, the summer approaches sooner.

It was while in the pool and listening to the Byrds that I time traveled back to 1968 right into 1971. Specifically, the summers of these years.

To be a boy in New York at this time was glorious. I am sure it was great for girls too. I know this because one of my favorite things to do in these summers was to admire the girls in their summer dresses. Being a mail clerk that took me around to all the secretaries at P. Lorillard Corp., had its advantages.

There were times, also, that my assigned duties would have me make a delivery or a pick up requiring me to walk up Fifth Avenue. I used to love walking up Fifth and just admire the sea of people as their heads bobbed up and down as if in the surf at Jones Beach, You could see the heat, but it was still a beautiful sight to behold.

Of course, back in those summers, we didn’t have air conditioners. I felt fortunate because we had two fans at 1261 Leland Apartment 6. If you were lucky enough to sleep on those hot sultry nights, you were able to get up and dressed only because of the promise of what was to come.

Unfortunately, the promise was not readily available and would not be realized for nearly an hour. During that period of waiting, I had the distinct pleasure of riding the IRT number 6 from the Parkchester station.

The breeze of the line of subway cars that came when the train entered the station was exhilarating. However, the breeze and exhilaration were left on the platform as there was no air conditioning of subway cars in those days.

The train was hot and proceeded to get crowded. By the time you got to 125th Street and changed to the IRT 4 or 5, a damp mop could be made from your suit jacket and shirt. Happily, you got off the 6 and entered an even more crowded and hotter train. It was only an improvement because it was going to take ten minutes off my commute to 42nd Street.

Having arrived at my destination and made my way past the nun who sat incessantly on the top step of the Grand Central landing, my hopes for a better future were buoyed.

The corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street was what you thought of as midtown New York City. The Chrysler Building, the Hotel Commodore and all the other buildings in the area were something I never took for granted.

But my destination was one block east. The Lorillard Building was situated on the southeastern corner of 3rd Avenue and 42nd Street. The address was 200 East 42nd Street, but the entrance was on 3rd Avenue. A Horn and Hardarts occupied the lower floor on the north side of the building. It was upon entering 200 East 42nd Street that the magic began and my promise for a brighter day was realized.

All you had to do was enter through the glass doors of the lobby and your day was transformed. A refreshing, aromatic breezed lifted you right off your feet. Your suit jacket didn’t seem to bother you. Hell, you could even scrunch up your tie a little tighter. There was a metal waterfall on the back wall of the lobby, so you imagined yourself walking beside a magic stream or river. Reading Herman Hesse on the train only seemed to enhance this fantasy.

I took the elevator to the 3rd floor and my day of work would soon commence. Chatting with my supervisors as we sorted the day’s mail and laughing at the give and take between my fellow mail clerks was always so much fun. We would get the mail sorted and broken down by floors, and each would complete his assigned round.

The first delivery of the day only resulted in cursory greetings to the office secretaries. They had jobs to do as more than one of their supervisors took great pleasure in reminding me. Additionally, the sooner we got our mail delivered, the sooner we could take our coffee break.

While a cart from Horn and Hardarts made the rounds to our office, we also frequented a coffee shop across 42nd Street that had great coffee and the best toasted blueberry and corn muffins. But it was the ensuing banter that was more enjoyable than the coffee.

Here it was weeks after Bobby Kennedy and two months after Martin Luter King were assassinated and yet black guys from Brooklyn, Hispanic guys from the South Bronx and Jewish guys from Queens along with this white guy from the Bronx were all happy and having fun with each other. It was the beauty of diversity before we ever knew what diversity was.

It was also multigenerational as our bosses were men in their sixties who had lived during WW II and were not so happy with the developments in the ’60s. Nevertheless, they, too, enjoyed us enjoying each other.

I made the equivalent of $5,000 a year, and I was able to save a few bucks and add to my vinyl collection as well.

It was a good time, but perhaps that is what the lesson of it all is.

There were assassinations, and crime, political unrest, demonstrations against the war, racial unrest, and on and on. In many ways, things are so much better today than back then.

Maybe it would be a good idea to put a music list together and remember that these are still the good old days?

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