| I'm not sure how much
reading I did of the Morgan books in 1966. I can remember all
the pictures but I don't remember any of the text. I had a ton of other things
going on. My first radio didn't work very well but the second one
did, so at least I got that much out of the books.
I only saw Billy Meyers in the summer because that's when he
came down for a few weeks to live with his grandparents. The summer of 1966 was a good one. We were always up to something,
and wanting to be secret agents was the reason I built the crystal
radios. Billy always had money. I think
his grandparents gave him an allowance. So with Billy's
cash we bought packs of "True" cigarettes and "smoked"
them in his grandparents garage. True cigarettes have a plastic
filter tip, which is why we chose that brand. We'd fill the whole
garage up with smoke, then open the doors, stand back, and watch it
One time after Billy went back home I was feeling kind of somber.
I woke up and there was nothing to do, and nobody to do it with. I didn't
even know where Billy lived. I had my pack of True with some
cigarettes left in it, so I decided I'd smoke a cigarette, just like
Billy and I would do. That half empty pack of True cigarettes was
the only physical evidence that all our fun times were real, and the
best part was my mom never found it.
I rode my bicycle about six blocks away, where I knew that if
I got caught smoking nobody would know who I was. I smoked one under
somebody's back porch where people couldn't see me. I must
have inhaled because I got as sick as a dog. I felt so nauseous I
was shaking. Just then, it started raining. I rode home in the rain feeling like I was going to throw up at any
second. I was so sick I've never forgotten it.
Billy came back the next summer. Sometimes we'd go to Korvette's in the Cedarbrook Shopping
Center. One day we stole sugar packs
from the restaurant in the mall and shot them down the "up"
escalator handrail. We thought it would be funny if we OPENED the
sugar packs, so we did. Just then, a bunch of guys in dark suits went to get on the
escalator, intercepted the flying packets, and got sprayed with sugar. They came after us,
running up the escalator steps. We took off and hid in the women's coat racks among the coats. We could see their
legs walking back and forth while they searched for us. Later, we pretended
we were manikins, till some lady touched me and I busted out
a penny candy store on the corner named "Noah's Ark". We chewed about a pound of
Bazooka Joe bubble gum that we bought there just to get the comics that came in the
wrapper. The comics were a riot. For example: "Mom, Bazooka Joe said I
was ugly!" "Bazooka Joe, apologize to your sister." "I'm sorry you're
ugly!" I saved them all.
The Bazooka Joe comics went the
way of the Monkey Division radios - meaning I have no idea where
they went, but probably the trash can. (*wince*)
The radio stuff was only one part of my life, but it stayed with
me all these years. "Get Smart" did too. I bought a bunch of
episodes on DVD and swear I never saw any of them on television. On
the other hand there was only one TV, and if my dad wasn't watching
"Get Smart", neither was anyone else (unless he wasn't home!)
| In 1966
my brother Chris was born. NASA launched Gemini 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, and I followed
every launch as much as possible. I also got my first
bicycle and a transistor radio for Christmas.
By Christmas I had just turned 11, and was wise to the point where I
thought it was a good idea to ride the brand new bike in
the snow that had fallen the night before. I slipped
while carrying it down the steps, smashing my chin on
the handle bars. I had this great idea that I could ride
the bike in the tire tracks made by passing cars. That
worked for about five feet before I ended up sprawled in
the street. I was so mad at the bike I put it down the
basement so I wouldn't have to look at it. After all, it
was the bike that made me fall, not the other way
I ended up riding that bike "billions and billions" of miles over the
next four years. I bought a "ten speed" in 1970, and
gave the old bicycle to a kid named Joe Jones.
I still have the transistor radio, shown at right. It's in
good shape after 50 years because it still had the vinyl
case on it. The vinyl had shrunk and had to be heated
with a hair dryer to get it off for the picture.
Philco Ford model RT-810
Sometimes Billy's older brother Bobby would come down
with Billy. Bobby hung out with a
kid across the street named Drew Miller. Drew was my friend, and
Billy was my friend, but Billy and Bobby didn't seem to get along so
I never hung out with Bobby and Drew because I was with Billy.
Billy came down in the summer of 1967, and as usual, we
had a great time together. West Oak lane was a great place to
live back then. Everything you could ever want was within walking
distance. The streets were wide, but hardly had any traffic on them.
There was no crime. You could leave your doors unlocked. Actually,
the only miscreants in the area, as far as I knew, were me and
Unfortunately, West Oak Lane rapidly changed in
1968. The Jewish
people all moved out and sold their homes to blacks, leaving the
minority population of white Catholics behind. Temple Sinai
Synagogue, built in 1947, was abandoned. In 1967 a new synagogue had
built in Upper Dublin Township, about 15 miles from Philadelphia.
The entire Jewish population of West Oak Lane then left. On the
Temple Sinai website it is stated the families had an "exodus" to the "outlying
areas." That's exactly what it was, an exodus.
The neighborhood became almost
completely African American by 1969, the year I "graduated" from 8th
grade. Billy and Bobby lived in the
suburbs (Warminster, PA), and their parents stopped bringing them
down to our now gang infested and dangerous neighborhood.
The owners of the drug store and hardware store near our
house were murdered while being held up. The other stores were
repeatedly robbed till they went out of business. "The Avenue" (Ogontz Avenue,) which had always been
thronged with people, became a ghost town. (The liquor store remained
open, however.) The movie theater shut down for a
year and then reopened as a porno theater. The Burroughs Corporation
building became a mosque. Graffiti was everywhere, most of it illegible.
A huge loosely formed gang known
as the "Clang" materialized and trolled the streets at night. A white person walking
alone was their main prey. They were probably responsible for 90% of
the violence in the neighborhood.
The grocery store, the fire house and "Famous" delicatessen at 76th
and Ogontz remained open, except that "Dave and Irv's Famous Jewish
Delicatessen" changed hands and anything Jewish about it was purged.
At the end of our street, before you turned onto Ogontz Avenue to go
to Famous Deli, was
our barber shop and the shoe repair guy. Sometime in 1969 I went
down to get a haircut and both shops were boarded up. They remained
that way for 47 years, as the skeleton of the sign over the barber shop
slowly rusted away. In 2016 the sign was removed and the windows
were bricked up.
Also at the end of our street was a clothing store named
"Artie's". We bought all of our clothes there because they sold
"seconds" and they were inexpensive. My mom would walk us down the
block and get our shirts and pants or whatever. It had a really neat smell, and all the sounds
and voices were muffled by the clothes, piled on tables.
It seemed to be very quiet in there and it
had a wooden floor that creaked as you walked on it.
Artie's closed! I could not believe it. Even black people
need clothes! Unfortunately, some had a
tendency to walk out the door without bothering to pay for them. And that
was the end of Artie's. The building remained empty for over 40
years till it was demolished around 2012.
And of course, Ree Electronics shut down when the customers
became more interested in the cash register than a turntable. That was the end of my radio parts source.
The "ice cream store" closed. Nino's Pizza
closed. The three 5 & 10's closed. The candy store
closed. The bakeries closed. "Noah's Ark" closed. Greene's shoe
store closed. One by one, every store on Ogontz Avenue was either
robbed or shoplifted out of existence. The bars remained open, but
under new management. So no more ice cream and no more pizza and no
5 and 10's. It was big disappointment for us kids. I really liked it
when my mom took us to Nino's or the ice cream store. (It was
actually a rare occasion and it goes without saying that we walked
everywhere, my mom usually pushing a stroller.)
The library at Washington Lane and Limekiln Pike was one of
the few places that remained open, along with the liquor store and
the bars. A newspaper article in The Evening Bulletin lamented that
the only books being withdrawn were ones on Kung-Fu, while thousands
of other books were collecting dust. That was the library where I rented the
Alfred P. Morgan books on how to make a radio. Now it loaned out
books on how to beat people up using Kung-Fu.
The neighborhood became a dangerous place
for white kids, which is one reason I put so many miles on the
bicycle. Almost all our friends and classmates moved away. The
streets became filled with broken glass and abandoned
cars. Trash, orange peels and chicken bones littered the sidewalks. Yes, chicken bones.
What was that all about?
A lot of the lawns became overgrown and the whole area
(to me) took on a sinister look. My brother Rob and I used to get up
early on Saturday and go door to door to make money "cutting grass".
We only charged a dollar. Our marketing ploy was to say we would cut
the lawn for fifty cents apiece. It sounded a lot less than "a
dollar" and sometimes we would each get two quarters, so it must
The lawn mower belonged to Billy Meyer's grandparents. It had metal wheels which made a racket on the
sidewalks. The handle had broken off, so you had to use it like a push broom while mowing the lawn. Rob and I didn't
usually get along very well, but we were a team while cutting grass.
When we made two dollars each we were done for the day, and would go our
Some of the new people didn't want to pay to have their lawns cut and we
lost our customers. Their lawns turned into weeds. We gave up after a few
weekends of coming home after walking the neighborhood knocking on
cutting any lawns.
Rob joined the grade school football team, but
when the Clang attacked them during a practice, beating up the kids
and stabbing the
coach, the team was disbanded. The oldest kid
on the team was probably 12 years old. The blacks had 50 pounds and
five years on the biggest player.
Rob then joined the Cub Scouts. Same thing, the Clang kicked in the door of the church during a scout meeting and
beat up the Scout Master and some of the Cub Scouts. I remember the
phone ringing off the hook and my mom being in distress. She sent me
down to retrieve my brother. There was a police car in front of the
church. I entered through the broken door and saw scuff marks
and blood stains on the floor. Fortunately Rob was unharmed
because he and a bunch of the other little kids had hidden in a back
room. The Cub Scouts
were then disbanded. One by one, all of the things that made life
"normal" were ruined.
I got a quick lesson in "racism", as they call it now.
Back then it was called "prejudice". I was
robbed by two adult blacks when I was 10 years old while walking
home from Famous Deli. Later I had a stick broken over my head by
some blacks who accosted me on Ogontz Avenue. I heard a loud
BANG! and saw the ground coming up at me as a piece of broken stick
flew by. They had hit me from behind
as I walked past them. Then a tooth was driven through my lip by a sucker punch
while I was waiting for the trolley. I needed seven stitches.
We kids started to get the
message. My sister was seven years old when some young black girls grabbed
her and poured dirt into her mouth on her way home from first grade.
My brother's new "Sting Ray" bike was stolen, and we kept hearing
that this kid or that kid had been "jumped". Then "jumped" turned
into "stabbed" as the neighborhood became more violent. Thankfully, the few times I was jumped I was never stabbed,
though that was only because of quick reflexes. My navy blue nylon
jacket had a white line down the front of it from where some old
black guy tried to stab me in the chest. I jumped backwards and the
tip of the knife made a foot long mark on my jacket. Why did he try
to kill me? It was because I took some snow off the hood of his car
to make a snowball. At least, I think that's why, because
that's what I was doing when he snuck up on me.
Hardly anything that
happened in West Oak Lane made it on the news, but we got to see
the war in Vietnam every night. 8th grade was over and I was going
to be a freshman in high school.
In four years they were going to send me to Vietnam, which was much
worse than my neighborhood. Things weren't looking good.
Then, on Sunday, July 20, 1969 at
3:17 PM EDST, smack in the middle of summer vacation, Apollo 11 landed on the moon!!
At 9:56 PM Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface, followed by
Edwin Aldrin. Like most families, we were all glued to the
television. This was it, after 5000 years of civilization, we
were the generation who were fortunate enough to be alive to see this pinnacle of human achievement. The United States
of America was able to launch a mission to the moon while fighting
two related wars, the war in Vietnam and the Cold War against the
Soviet Union. It was a defining moment in our
lives. No one would ever look at the moon the same way again. Men
had walked on the moon. Men from the United States.
I don't think the moon landing mattered much to the gang
hanging out in front of Famous Deli. As a black "poet" wrote, "No
hot water, no toilets, no lights but Whitey's on the moon." His
sister was bitten by a rat in the poem. That lifestyle of standing
on a corner all day, then robbing and beating people up at night, just
wasn't working out. Paying a bill, fixing a toilet or changing a
light bulb was beyond their capability. Go figure.
Billy came down one last time to visit his grandparents in
1970. By this time I was a paper boy for The Evening Bulletin. So
was Drew Miller. My paper route was about five blocks away. It was
Friday night and I had to
"collect" (as we called it). Basically, go to each customer's
house collecting the money for the weeks newspapers. Billy came with me.
I was glad to have somebody with me, but I was also a little concerned. I was skin and
bones and weighed about 100 pounds, but Billy had put on a lot of
weight. He had always been a little chubby but now that he was a few
feet taller he was downright fat. (Years earlier one of the "big
kids" told us we looked like Mutt and Jeff.) Sometimes the best way
to save your skin was to RUN. Billy didn't look like he could run
So while we were collecting I told him about what I called the
"safe houses." The blacks went out looking for paper boys to rob on
Friday nights. "Safe houses" were houses with bushes or a
hedge in the front.
You walk up
the steps as though you lived there and duck behind the bushes till
the danger passed. There were only a few places you could do this,
not many people had bushes in front of their house. As I recall, there were
only four "safe houses" on my paper route.
You had watch up
and down the block and anticipate the distance between you and one
"safe houses" and any threat coming your way. You wanted
to look like some guy walking down the street, not a paper boy
After hearing of my plan, he made fun of me.
We had collected about half my route when sure enough, a
block away we saw the silhouettes of people carrying broom handles
and sticks coming towards us. They knew I was out there
collecting, they just needed to find me. We slowly
walked to a safe house, went up the steps, then dashed behind the
bushes and waited. The gang walked by, loudly uttering some guttural language,
every other word being "f*ck" or "mother f*cker". We
couldn't really understand what they were saying, except we heard
one of them say, "... GET that mother f*cker!" as he banged his
broomstick on the ground.
Billy was scared half to death. He was so scared that I
thought he was putting on an act. I thought he was laughing that we
had outsmarted them, but he was almost crying. The realization that
they would have clubbed our heads in with those broom sticks to get
the money we collected was too much for him. That was his last
visit, and after we went home that night I never saw him again.
They never caught me, but they did catch Drew Miller. After they turned his pockets
inside-out they bashed his
face in so badly he needed two surgeries to fix his nose. I didn't
know it was possible to stuff the amount of cotton up someone's
nostrils as he had. That was the end of his paper route. Mine
didn't last much longer.
Most of our new neighbors on our street were pretty nice to us,
perhaps because my dad was a Philadelphia cop, but maybe they were
just nice, who knows. My
younger brothers played with the black kids on our street, and Rob
and I played "bottle caps" with the black kids around the corner. If
you walked around the same corner to Famous Deli after dark, you took your
life in your hands. It was also strange that you hardly ever saw a
black woman in those days.
While all this was happening we were hearing the best music
on the radio, which came from Motown and Stax Records. Were these
the same people? Why did these black people move into our
neighborhood if they hated white people so much? Why did they hate
us in the first place? We didn't even know them, and none of us did
anything bad to them as far as I know. The black
musicians we heard on the radio were our only exposure to black
people prior to 1967. We bought their records at Gimbels department
store, almost always a 45 RPM.
Not to say that Motown and Stax were the only thing we
listened to. In 7th grade my favorite album was "Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band", but what we heard on the radio from groups such as the
Delfonics, the Stylistics, the Chi-lites, the Temptations, The Four
Tops, the Supremes, etc. etc.
made it seem we were living in two different worlds. On the radio it
was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
One night, after we had been jumped by the Clang while
walking on Ogontz Avenue, I came home and turned on my radio and
heard one of my favorite songs, "Psychedelic Shack" by the
Temptations. It sounds funny now, but I was sitting there with
sneaker prints all over me.
I had been with two of my friends, Jimmy Nolen and Jimmy
Walsh. We were on our way to Jimmy Nolen's apartment. He lived on Ogontz Avenue,
over a drug store. We were almost there when suddenly an arm wrapped around my throat, strangling me as I
was lifted off my feet. I was in an absolute terror, the arm around
my throat was incredibly strong and I couldn't breathe. I tried with
all my might to pull the arm away while kicking my feet in every
direction. I couldn't get any leverage with my feet off the ground
and I couldn't make a sound because my airway was cut off. I saw my
friends walking away from me, not realizing I was not longer with
Then I was thrown on the
sidewalk, gasping for air. I didn't know what
was happening to me, I couldn't stand back up. I was trying to get
my breath and stand up but seemed to keep falling on the ground instead. I
started to feel as though I was dreaming.
In a daze I saw my friends step towards me, then turn around
and take off running as a mob of
blacks ran right past me after them. Didn't the mob see me? Apparently
they did, because they came back. That's when they started kicking the crap
out of me.
I tried to crawl under a parked car but I couldn't get to
it. Suddenly I heard tires screech. Two white
guys jumped out of a car and the blacks went in all
directions. They gave me a ride home. They may have saved my life
and I have no idea who they were.
My friends had escaped, somehow making it to Jimmy Nolen's
apartment. Later, after we met in my garage, I told
them how I couldn't get up after I hit the sidewalk. They told me I
was trying to get up but the guy who threw me on the sidewalk was stomping on me. They said
he was a grown man! Jimmy Walsh started laughing and asked, "Doesn't your ass hurt?" I never
felt a thing at the time it was happening. Never saw the guy,
I have many fond memories of Jimmy Walsh, but
the memory of him laughing while emulating how some adult repeatedly plowed the heel of his foot onto my 12 year old
ass isn't one
In 1968 I met a kid named Joe Jones. Unlike Billy
Meyers, who had no interest in radio that I was ever aware of, Joe's
dad had been a radio repairman. When I met Joe his dad had already
passed away and Joe "inherited" a basement full of electronic parts
and test equipment. If I needed a part or some advice I could always
get it from Joe, and I still use the Hickock tube tester he gave me 30
years ago. He ended up going to tech school for electronics and
we're still friends to this day. There are cans of vacuum tubes and
sockets, capacitors and boxes of miscellaneous parts in my garage
that came from Joe's basement in West Oak Lane.