Monday, July 11, 2005

Remembering the Times Square Howard Johnson's

The Howard Johnson's restaurant in Times Square closed last week.

In a revealing letter my dad wrote to my oldest brother in the Army in the mid-60's, he describes taking me to see a Broadway play, The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. (I wasn't supposed to see the letter, but I found it long ago.) He commented on how passively I had reacted to the experience. I was in high school at the time. The Beatles had arrived with the ultimate generation gap. I admired dad, but doing something alone with him was nearly unique. Together, we made each other uncomfortable. I don't know why he chose the particular musical, which was somewhat "experimental" for the era. The co-author & star, Anthony Newley, had been replaced by Orson Bean, although I think Cyril Ritchard (who had played Captain Hook in Peter Pan) was still in the small cast. The play was inspired by British music hall vaudeville, with two main characters, an upper class "Sir" & a working class "Cocky" playing the "game of life" in which the rules are skewed toward "Sir." The show's message was strongly leftist & against racial prejudice, with a show-stopper, "Feeling Good," performed by a black actor. I discovered that the hit number "Who Can I Turn To?" was really a rhetorical question to an absent God. Tony Bennett made it into a torch song.

I could have mentioned all this while dad & I sat afterward in the Times Square Howard Johnson's restaurant. I could have said that the "Cocky" character drew upon the bitterly underdog viewpoint of the British "Angry Young Men" - authors I'd discovered in my G.I. brother's bookshelves right next to the Beat poets. Class struggle, civil rights; these were not subjects on which I sought dad's views (which were well known to everyone in the family), nor was I eager to discuss them with him. It would only have pissed him off, messed up his sickly thyroid secretions & made his eyes bug out. I was still mouthing white suburban Republican opinions in the living room, but elsewhere my heart & mind were already turning in another direction, to events & ideas I discussed privately with teenage friends while listening to Motown, Dylan & the Stones. So that meal at Howard Johnson's was eaten mostly in silence, & dad later wrote the uncomprehending letter to my brother who soon after was shipped to a country named Vietnam.

Post a Comment

<< Home
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?