Talent Show, Summer of ’64

I wish I could tell you exactly how many yards it was for me to get to Roxbury Park to give you the visual.    A hop.   Not even a skip and a jump.  I walked two houses up, crossed Olympic and I was there.

That is where I spent my summers.  Basically, doing absolutely nothing.  Kind of like a Seinfeld episode.  No sunblock.  No checking in with my mother.  I didn’t excel at anything in Roxbury Park.  Not at caroms.  Not the monkey bars.  And certainly not the rings.

At the rings, I watched other kids adept at swinging quickly back and forth from one to the next.  I stood high up one day, grabbed ahold and leapt off, but unable to catch the next ring, which seemed to move further and further away, I landed back where I started.  I spent long days trying to push myself further until I did finally grab onto that second one, which was such a victory.   Then I kept swinging back and forth, trying to gain the momentum I would need to get to the next, but failed and dropped to the ground.  Again I tried, over and over, all summer until I was finally able to go back and forth, leaving the other kids waiting in line, drumming their fingers.  And like a monkey, I would copy what the other ring junkies would do just before taking over the set for their performance.  They would dig their hands into the sand and rub some of it between their palms for better friction.  Or use chalk.   It never seemed to work for me, but I did it to look cool, like them.  Inevitably all us monkeys ended up with blisters.

For some reason, I was always alone, just moving from one side of the park to the other.  Never stopping to eat or even get a sip of water.   Wealthy friends like Susie Lohn were probably on some fabulous family vacation or at summer camp.  But I was fine because of my rich fantasy life.  One day, I spotted a flyer for a talent show.  I signed up.  But I forgot about it, space cadet that I was.   Weeks felt like years, so why would I remember an event that wouldn’t happen until August when it was still only July?

One day in August, getting ready to leave for the park, I remembered as I walked out the door that today was the talent show.  I had nothing prepared.  So, I ran upstairs to my room and grabbed this sexy dress in a purple paisley pattern that my mother had sewn — one for her and one for me.  FYI (I never use FYI),  my mother was WAY ahead of her time in fashion; people would not be wearing paisley for a few more years.  It was empire style with a slit from just under the bust all the way to the ground.  I was now running late, so I went to the hi-fi and grabbed the first 45-rpm record I could find.  Off I went.  I figured once the music was playing I would wing it.  Just dance on stage.

There was only a smattering of kids in the audience.  Other lonely, lost children with nothing to do.  The tall, popular handsome blonde boy, my age, Erik Gibson sat front row and center.  It was my turn.  I ran upstage. This is the music that I accidently-on-purpose brought.      

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  It started.  I was eleven.  No budding breasts.  Just a flat-chested, extra-small, underweight child.  At best, I looked eight years old.  I stared down at Erik and started to move around the stage. I had that fuck-me-in-the-future-when-my-boobs-grow look in my eyes.   Then I was lost in the music, basically, bumping & grinding my way through it.  I would kick my naked leg out that long slit to the beat in an enticing Tiaras & Toddlers-sans-makeup way.

When I stepped offstage, Erik walked up to me and said, “Fredde, I did not know you had THAT in you!!!!”  And, he would never look at me the same way again.  Incidentally, I deserved higher than the crappy third place they gave me.  I’m thinking of asking for a recount.

Erik, we would enjoy dancing together for a few more years until he died too young

my ribbon...proof!!!! I want that recount!!!!

Erik Gibson on left, Jimmy Dewitt, Doug Gerson on right

Let’s talk about tuna sandwiches, which I ate pretty much every day of my childhood.  My mother would drench the sandwich in mayonnaise.  Literally the bowl would be one part tuna to three parts mayo.  Probably just grossed out a lot of you.  A staple in my diet my entire life, until mercury poisoning got in the way of that love affair.  I used to make it like my mom did and kept on eating them until my brain nearly exploded.  Now, I partake only once a month at the Beverly Hills Hotel coffee shop.  I turned my stepson onto the counter there, and my friend and waitress Denise calls him “tuna-man”.   Being tuna-man’s stepmom — I kind of like it.

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20 Responses to “Talent Show, Summer of ’64”

  1. Carol Dudley says:

    Do I ever remember the rings and blisters – I cannot believe all the things you do remember – but – you have the ribbon to prove it. No memory at all of talent shows. We have to go to the BHHotel – but you eat the tuna – I’ll have something else. Love all your postings. Much love, Carol

  2. Alice Stambler Seidman says:

    Hi, Freddie. I was in one of those talent shows at Roxbury Park one year. Not sure if it was that year, but I didn’t win anything. I do remember who won first – Natalie Karasik. Why that sticks in my head, I have no idea. I also was in a talent show in Beverly Vista. I dressed up like an Indian (American Indian) and sang, “I’m An Indian, Too” from Annie Get Your Gun. I remember looking out into the audience and seeing Erik Gibson laughing and laughing and turning red, like he used to do. I’m not sure what he was laughing at – probably my so-called talent ?? Anyway, I am still saddened when I think about him passing away so young. I always told my kids not to ride motorcycles because of that. Of course, that meant a few of them had to try riding motorcycles, but they didn’t really like it (maybe my lectures did sink in).

    They did have some cool stuff at the park in the summer. One year my sister and I and both of my younger brothers took a puppetry course. All the girls, including my sister, chose to make beautiful princess puppets, but I was the only one who chose to make the villain with the big nose and chin – I think that puppet is still at my parents’ house. After we made the puppets, we put on a puppet show. Good times.

  3. Pauli says:

    Oh, how great to be able to remember the rings!! Upper body strength not my forte but I admire your persistance. Erik was truly a “star” – the week before his accident pro baseball scouts were fighting over him. That period was so tragic for so many. Wish I could have seen that dance.

  4. Alan says:

    Fredde, I’m so glad you got that “center of attention” gene. It would have been wasted on me. On you it just works no matter what you do. And it is certainly not wasted on your kids.

    Erik was a very cool kid and such a fantastic athlete. Even the guys a couple of years older recognized that about him, which is a big tribute in elementary school and high school. I’m going to forward the link to his brother Paul.

  5. Mitch says:

    Thanks for that memory, Fredde. I still have my red ribbon from the 1962 contest. I lip sync’d to a scratchy 78 of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” from Blackbirds of 1928. Got me second place. I think the old folks in the audience gave me the nostalgia vote.

    So you, Alice and I trod the same boards — at different times — at the famous Roxbury Rec Center. That early stage experience certainly prepared one for a life in showbiz.

  6. Frances Smith Wolfson says:

    Dear Fredde,
    You have my vote! And I can still see Alice doing “I’m an Indian Too” – she was great – am not surprised Eric laughed his head off though – it is a funny song! I was in the wings waiting to go on and do “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” with Barry Weisz. Hey Barry, don’t worry! I still can’t bake a cherry pie — Frannie

  7. Janet Petkin says:

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…..best blog yet..I think you were the Jewish version of Gidget. The only difference is Moon Doggie didn’t arrive until your third child.

    “There was only a smattering of kids in the audience. Other lonely, lost children with nothing to do.I had that fuck-me-in-the-future-when-my-boobs-grow look in my eyes. Then I was lost in the music, basically, bumping & grinding my way through it. I would kick my naked leg out that long slit to the beat in an enticing Tiaras & Toddlers-sans-makeup way.”

    It is still not to late to do stand up comedy……

  8. Doreen Ringer Ross says:

    Fantastic piece Fredde. I totally felt you at that park all alone. I was doing the same sort of thing only on the playground of Horace Mann. Same endless summer….same lackluster experience on the rings. Same self amusement. ..caroms….whatever they had scheduled. Your talent show….just the most adorable thing ever. Love the audio punch line. Literally laughed out loud. And the fuck me later line….genius. Erik was such a nice guy. I was haunted by his death for years. I still think of him when I drive down PCH. I don’t like Tuna so I have no comment on about that part…….

  9. Augie Duke says:

    So Good mom, that guy Eric is hot…

  10. Mark Reden’s mom made the best tuna sandwiches; lots of mayo but I think she added pickle relish. Now I find the best tuna at the Apple Pan (love the toasted buns!), but I’m always on the lookout. Fredde, if you take me to the BH Hotel for a tuna, I’ll return the favor at the Pan.

    I’m probably inaccurately remembering a softball throwing test at BV, but my recollection was that Eric threw the ball 186 feet — ridiculously far. Eric and I were friends — for a few days — and I remember us doing dangerous things on the roof at my house at 329 South Elm.

    What I remember most from the old Roxbury was the rocket ship with several floors, and the guitar classes I took (2? 3?) in the small buildings next to the street.

  11. Marika Gerrard says:

    Thanks for the memories! It’s funny how we have crossed paths in school at the park and on Embury St. but never knew each other very well. Did you go to El Rodeo? Do you remember the park director from Hawthorne (the town not the school) who came to the park with his family every summer and got us all doing calesthenics and running around the path every morning? How about the pet show that Mr. Fisher organized where my cat jumped out of my arms and dug her claws into Mr. Fisher’s back? Needless to say, we did not win. Did you ever play in the summer softball league? We couldn’t play Little League in those pre title IX days, but we could play softball. So many memories…

  12. caryn says:

    Thanks for taking me back, Fredde! I was a lost child at the BV playground, playing caryns (I thought that’s how caroms was pronounced) and rings, blisters and all. Eric Gibson, such a loss. I also swam with Frannie at the La Cienega pool.

  13. Paul Gibson says:

    Thanks so much for the kind reference to my brother, Erik. He indeed was “hot” as noted by another. He also had a heart of gold and was my best friend. I read over other entries to your blog and will check it out in the future. We foodies need to stick together.

    thanks, Freddie…Paul

  14. Laura Plotkin says:

    Loved this–your pieces make me nostalgic not just for my own childhood, but for yours as well! I can relate to the rings thing–they were such a challenge for me, but, reading your story, I remembered that great sense of accomplishement and pride when I finally made it all the way from one side to the other!

  15. Phil Kaufman says:

    That picture of you from 64 is exactly the way you looked in 65 when I met you in 7th grade. As for Eric, he was a great athlete and had a bright future as a baksetball superstar or multi-sport athlete, it seemed. The fact that he is missing now seems strangely out of place, like the fact that Jim Morrison and Hendrix are gone. It’s something that has disturbed me and have thought about over the years. I don’t knowa lot about the accodent other than he was riding on a motorcycle that was being driven by an acquaintnce from Beverly. I sometimes wonder if I had done x, y, or z differently, the weather would have been diffeent that day and they wouldn’t have skidded, or the traffic would have been different.

  16. Mel Legget says:

    Great, Fredde ~ Next tuna sandwich time, call me! “let’s do lunch!” ; o) he he!! – – love all the details and all your remembrances ~ Loved Roxbury Park (and still do), of course, and could walk there when I would be with Claudia Edson whose dad lived on Durant, and pal around, swinging for hours, too. Truly hope they don’t mess with the park landscape too much come time for the “renovation” of the community center ~ (which $12-16-18 million project is in discussions and disputes) ~ Cheers!

  17. Diane Goodman says:

    You are a dreamweaver sweetpea,,,I am with you in my mind in Roxbury Park because I lived on Roxbury and those same feelings of being a different kind of peg and for me- not yet knowing that it was a not a ugly or fat peg just a different one, it took leaving BV, HM and Monsieur L’heureux for me to realize that,,,and coming into the more real world of Emerson Jr High. Freddy you were always magical to me from the very first time I met you – thank you for being the poetic scribe bringing back to me my childhood land I used to dwell in and looking at the pics of Doug, Jimmy and Eric I just want to cry,,,,
    ad astra
    dg

  18. Christel Chesney says:

    Hey 3rd place is not too shabby. And we ate a lot of tuna fish too. Still do, only difference now our tuna is fresh.

    You have lost so many friends to death. Just awful. I just can’t even imagine your sorrow.

  19. Hoov says:

    Fourth grade little league tryout. Roxberry park I did not know one kid and all the dads were coaches. I was one of the last and outfield I go. The ball hit by the coach and coming my way , in position and the coming right into my MIT and wam hi the hits the top of the pocket and bam right into my eye. The fucking ass coaches had not a clue how to give first aid for a black eye and my eye was swollen shut. My dad finally had to come on too the field to get me. Well so much for tryout and never went back to that park again. Funny I had full ride college letter to play college ball in my junior year.. One flip of a ball and those coaches had not a clue about first aid. Oh I played in Westwood league that summer and was stArting catcher. Have not thought about that park in long time .. Rip for your bud

  20. cristi ulrich says:

    I never did the talent show at Roxbury Park… I do not think I met Eric. I do however feel every word you write. Being tiny – looking 8 at age 13 – boobs that grew so late, just so much youth…. Love the stories Fred – brings me back and takes me forward. Love you forever!!!!!

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