Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunbeam Energy

Not too long ago, we entered a period known, in astronomical lingo, as “solar maximum.” That is, our lucky star is sending a surfeit of red-hot solar flares—some of them rather potent—into interplanetary space. On occasion, they reach the cozy confines of our planet’s upper atmosphere and the byproduct is a kaleidoscope of undulating reds, greens, yellows, and purples in the skies of aurora country near the Earth’s two magnetic poles. Of course, there are potential negative consequences to our very active sun’s behavior and all those cascading flares, but I’m thinking more about Sunbeam right now—Sunbeam Bread.

Recently, old family slides were made into pictures. Since slide shows were a thing of the past, these images had rarely been seen for decades. Our family slide taking occurred in the mid-1970s through the early 1980s—and then that was the end of that. In the slide mix were some visuals of visits to my maternal grandparents, who lived in a town called Bangor, on a street called Miller, in the Keystone state of Pennsylvania. For kids from the Bronx, visiting Bangor and Miller Street was akin to entering The Twilight Zone. It was another world altogether and—after Route 80 was completed—only an hour and a half drive due west from New York City.

I was taken with one particular, not-especially-clear slide from Bangor—on Miller Street during our bicentennial year—that featured a certain truck in the backdrop. Miller Street was a very steep hill, with my grandparents sandwiched somewhere in the middle of it, and on the block below them was a frequently parked Sunbeam Bread truck. My grandmother used the product all the time and, as I recall, Sunbeam was pretty tasty as bland sliced white breads went. But only now—all these years later—have I given this image its proper due.

Somebody on Miller Street obviously owned a Sunbeam Bread truck route, because the truck was usually there during the day. I suspect he delivered the bread in the wee hours of the morning to area stores, and was back on Miller Street by early afternoon. I believe Sunbeam Bread was available everywhere, including the Bronx, but I don’t ever remember having it at home, and so I always associate it with my grandmother, Bangor, Miller Street, and that mysterious blue and yellow truck parked on the hill. I’m happy to report, too, that Sunbeam Bread lives on in grocery stores everywhere.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Three Stooges in the New Age

As a boy, I recall watching The Three Stooges on local station WPIX, Channel 11. A genial host by the name of Officer Joe Bolton would introduce the shorts. Festooned in a police uniform, this affable authority figure would always tell us the stooges were only acting, and that we should definitely not poke our family and friends in the eyes or whack them over the head with hammers. I suppose there were a small percentage of kids who mimicked the stooges and slapped their peers’ faces with unrestrained force and blow-torched their backsides. The vast majority of us, though, knew it wasn’t real. Even at the tender young ages of six, seven, and eight, we had no problem distinguishing fantasy from reality.

A grammar school friend of mine had parents who wouldn't under any circumstances allow him to watch The Three Stooges. They thought Moe, Larry, and Curley (and later Shemp and Joe Besser) celebrated violence and encouraged bullying. In other words, The Three Stooges set a very poor example. My friend’s parents were—for lack of a better word—“progressives” at a time and in a neighborhood when that sort of thing was the exception to the rule. I’m not here to pass judgment on their parenting skills—one way or the other—almost forty years later. A case certainly could be made that The Three Stooges were definitely more suited for maturer audiences than second, third, and fourth graders.

When I watch The Three Stooges all these years later, I see them in a decidedly different light—a new light in fact. They are, really and truly, New Age. True, they aren’t for children in the new millennium—where fantasy and reality have become so blurred that even a contemporary Officer Joe Bolton couldn’t save the day. The Three Stooges nonetheless teach us so many things. We can live vicariously through Moe, Larry, and Curley. We don’t need to ever express our anger and frustrations with aggressive and callous acts when we have the stooges, who can do it for us. The Three Stooges are, I think, the quintessential New Age therapy, and we owe Moe, Larry, and Curley (and Shemp and Joe Besser, too) a monumental debt of gratitude.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Have a Good Day, Folks...

Just yesterday, something completely unrelated prompted me to check out my high school’s alumni newspaper. I scanned a PDF file version of it online and was drawn—as I often am—to the most recent additions to the“In Memoriam” roster of those who were, once upon a time, part of the school’s diverse family. There were students like me on the list, and former teachers, too. Among the latter was a man I remember both very well and very fondly. When I was a student, he taught physics and other science courses, and was chairman of the department. I never had him as a teacher, but I called on him one time to get his John Hancock, and official approval, for a chemistry course taught by one of his colleagues.

The man was quite affable and looked the part of science geek with his sweater vests, corduroy sports jackets, high-water pants, and hush puppies. But then this was the mid- and late-1970s I'm talking about, when I wore garish polyester sports jackets, gaudy ties, and earth shoes to high school. I see now the boys at my alma mater no longer have this sartorial freedom and are required to wear staid uniform jackets and slacks. So long as we wore a jacket, tie, and shoes (no sneakers), we could dress creatively and colorfully if that is what we desired. It was a much freer time and, yes, somewhat stranger one as well.

Anyway, back to the man whose name was among the deceased. He was my homeroom teacher in senior year, 1979-1980, and had a catchphrase I always found warm and reassuring in a decidedly non-warm and reassuring environment. When the bell would sound to officially begin our school day, he would say without fail: “Have a good day, folks.” I had actually been witness to this good cheer in a prior year. During free periods, we had various options at our school, including calling upon a room dubbed “Quiet Study,” which was always moderated by a member of the faculty. My future homeroom teacher lorded over more than a few “Quiet Study” periods and—when the bell sounded for the next class—he would always say, “Have a good day, folks.”

Okay, so it’s been thirty-two years since I graduated from high school. My classmates and I will turn fifty this year. But our teachers—wow—thirty-two plus thirty, forty, and fifty. Do the arithmetic. We’re talking about men and women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties or, of course, gone with the wind. I liked my senior year homeroom teacher a lot and will never forget his unfailingly upbeat wish to students one and all. He was new age in an old age. I thus leave you with this: "Have a good day, folks."