Thursday, November 28, 2013

Alice’s Restaurant in front of Macy’s


Thursday, November 28, 2013

No holiday was ever so important as this one was, when it came to my best friend, Hank, the hippie I met when working as an usher in the Fabian Theater in Paterson in 1967.
We met again in early Spring 1968 downtown, when he promised to come over to my grandfather’s house to hang out.
Being young and foolish, I did not anticipate the culture clash when he strode through the front door to greet the collection of red necks I called my uncles.
“We’re just here to listen to records,” I told them, and then ushered the bell-bottomed, Nehru-shirted long-haired Hank into the dinning room where our only stereo sat – the glares of my uncles following us the way a sniper’s rifle might, each waiting for one false move from Hank.
I closed the pocket doors on their grim faces in the living room. Hank produced an album with a strange man naked from the waste down on the cover, and the name Arlo Guthrie underneath.
I had presumed that we would be listening to my uncle’s collection of records that encompassed country and western and other conservative classics at the time.
From the moment, the needle hit vinyl, I knew there would be trouble, Arlo’s voice going on and on about that Thanksgiving in the church and the trash, and finally when he reached the point about the draft board and started screaming “Kill! Kill! Kill!” and the pocket doors opened to show stern faces even Mount Rushmore would envy, I sank down and wanted to die myself.
Out, Hank went, forbidden to return, and me forbidden to seek him out.

But being 16, I didn’t listen and soon hung out even more with Hank, traveling everywhere, especially to New York. He never tired of speaking and singing every word from the record, and once nearly got us thrown off a New York City bound bus that got stuck near Paterson Plank Road in North Bergen, after he ran through the Alice the Restaurant song word for word three times.
We dreamed of going there, and eventually did, but more importantly, he wanted to sing this song at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And so, one what was the coldest Thanksgiving I can remember, we made our pilgrimage there, and with teeth chattering and the wind threatening to tear off our hats, we sang that song word for word, drawing as much attention from the spectators as we did from my uncles – although some young Hare Krishna girl appreciated our effort, and felt sorry enough for us, to drag us into a coffee shop to buy us Hot Chocolates, and to later wander off with Hank for something even better, while I made my way back to New Jersey, the words of that song still reverberating in me, better even than the turkey I got when I finally reached home.

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