family, memories, nostalgia

Repost: Lost in Bloomingdale’s…

Here’s a repost from April 28, 2014. I’m reposting it because of the toy post I just wrote… it reminded me of trauma from my childhood. Hope you enjoy.

Yesterday, as I wrote about graduation season, I was reminded of another dramatic event from my youth.  It actually took a long time to get over this particular trauma in the years after it happened, but yesterday was the first time I’d thought of it in a long while. 

I was six or seven years old.  We lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a suburb of the Washington, DC area.  At the time of this incident, my sister, Becky, was about seventeen or eighteen.  We generally got along, though she had a tendency to be moody and would get very upset and angry whenever the mood struck.

Becky liked Bloomie’s.

Anyway, one day she decided she wanted to go to Bloomingdale’s at Tyson’s Corner, which is a huge shopping mall in McLean, which is in northern Virginia.  For some odd reason, she decided to take me with her.  My parents had company coming over.  Maybe that’s why she took me… they may have told her to get me out of the house as a condition of driving the car.

So we went to Bloomingdale’s and they had a kids’ area where there were books and toys.  Becky told me to stay there and read while she went shopping.  I stayed there for awhile.  I really don’t know how long.  It could have been a few minutes or an hour.  I was a kid, and a few minutes probably seemed like an eternity to me.  All I know is that at some point, I got bored and decided to go look for my sister.

I started wandering around, but I couldn’t find Becky.  Before too long, I got lost.  I started to cry.  Eventually, a matronly looking black woman approached me.  She said, “Little girl, are you lost?”

I was sobbing uncontrollably, but managed to tell the nice lady that I couldn’t find my sister. 

She said, “Come with me.” 

I followed the lady, who turned out to be a plain clothesed security guard.  She took me to her tiny office and called my parents, who said they’d be right there to pick me up.  Meanwhile, Becky was still out there in the store, looking at the latest fashions.

The security guard took me to what must have been a room designated for lost children.  All I remember about it was that there were couches and a nurse worked there.  Why there was a nurse working at Bloomingdale’s, I’ll never know.  It was the 70s, though.  Maybe she just looked like a nurse.  I remember she wore a white uniform that resembled a nurse’s outfit of that era.

The security guard finally found Becky, who was furious with me and swore she’d never take me anywhere again.  She kept asking the “nurse” why they hadn’t paged her.  The nurse said they didn’t have a paging system in the store. 

My dad eventually showed up at the mall.  He had his friend with him.  They were chuckling about my frightening ordeal.   I remember being very worried about Becky being so mad at me for wandering off.  Had this scenario happened today, God knows what kind of invasions that would have invited into our home.  I’m sure someone would have called CPS!  Not that I would have agreed with that, of course. 

It was a scary incident when I was a kid, but I survived it mostly unscathed… and Becky did eventually forgive me and take me on other outings.  She even joined me in Europe when I was traveling there on the way home from Armenia.  Given how certain parts of that trip turned out, maybe it would have been better if she’d kept her promise not to travel with me anymore… 

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book reviews

Repost: Toni Tennille tells all in her life story…

I am reposting this book review that I wrote for my original blog on August 18, 2016. It’s in honor of my Facebook friend, Marguerite, who posted about The Captain and Tennille today. Also, I genuinely enjoyed Toni Tennille’s book. She’s an interesting and talented lady. This review is as/is, the way I posted it almost five years ago.

Captain and Tennille perform during their heyday with two of Toni’s three sisters singing backup.  Toni’s sisters were also musically talented.  I’m pretty sure they’re all lip syncing here, though.   

I just finished reading Toni Tennille: A Memoir, the life story of singer, songwriter, and actress Toni Tennille, who is best known as half of the 70s pop duo, Captain and Tennille.  As a bonafide child of the 70s, music by Captain and Tennille was part of my early soundtrack.  Their cover version of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a huge hit in 1975.  I grew up hearing it on the radio and at my Aunt Gayle and Uncle Brownlee’s house.  Brownlee is my dad’s younger brother and a musician; he always had hipper musical tastes than my dad did.

Captain and Tennille also had a popular variety show on ABC that aired for one season.  I never saw their show because besides being very young in 1976, I was also living in England.  As Toni Tennille explains it, in those days TV wasn’t as global as it is now.  She and her famous ex husband, Daryl Dragon (aka the Captain), were able to travel to Scotland on vacation and not be recognized by leagues of adoring fans.

Anyway, I decided to read Toni Tennille’s story when I read an article about her online.  She and Daryl Dragon got divorced not long ago.  They had been married for 39 years and both are in their golden years.  I was curious about that, but I also admire Toni Tennille’s talents as a musician.  So I downloaded the book, which Tennille wrote with help from her niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair.  I just got around to reading it and, I must say, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book.  Caroline did a great job in making the book seem as if it came straight from her Aunt Toni.

At the very beginning of her story, Tennille writes about being a small child in Montgomery, Alabama, playing outside.  Suddenly, there was an accident that could have altered her destiny.  A heavy wheelbarrow fell on Toni’s finger, nearly severing it.  Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she underwent surgery.  Young Toni had shown musical talent and had an interest in playing the piano.  She lost part of her finger, but then went through many surgeries to reconstruct the digit so she’d eventually be able to play her instrument.  Bear in mind, this was going on in the 1940s, when surgeries were much more primitive than they are now and anesthesia consisted of ether. 

She continues her story with tales about growing up in an era when blacks and whites were segregated.  Her parents were fairly well off; her dad owned a furniture store and her mother was on a television show.  They had hired help.  The help consisted of several black women who looked after Toni and her three sisters.  Toni explains that her family treated the help with dignity and respect.  Racism always made the Tennille family uncomfortable.  Still, if I had to mention a part of the book that made me a little uneasy, it was that part. 

Fate led the Tennilles out of Alabama when Toni was a student at Auburn University.  Her father’s business failed and Toni had to drop out of school.  But it turned out there was a bigger life waiting for the family in California.  It was there that Toni met Daryl Dragon, who would eventually become her second husband.  Daryl Dragon came from a wealthy California family.  His mother had been a singer and his father was Carmen Dragon, a famed conductor.  All of the Dragon siblings had musical talent, but Daryl was said to be the most talented.  He was working with The Beach Boys when he and Toni met.  Thanks to Daryl, Toni landed herself a gig playing with the big time as a member of The Beach Boys’ band.

As time passed, Toni and Daryl started working together.  They became an act.  People thought they were married, so they eventually decided to make it official at a wedding chapel in Nevada.  Sadly, although Toni claims to have been in love with her husband and wrote many songs for and about him, he never seemed to return her affections.  They slept in separate bedrooms.  Daryl respected his wife for her musical abilities, but didn’t seem into her as a woman.  And that was the state of their marriage for a very long time.

Toni Tennille’s talk show.

Based on Toni’s many observations about her ex husband, my guess is that he’s more than a bit narcissistic and/or perhaps suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.  She claims that he saw her as a possession.  He would get very jealous when she was involved in any acting job that required her to kiss another man.  And yet, when she was at home, he never kissed her very often.  He spent a lot of time alone and adhered to weird, strict diets, which he expected his wife to follow.  In one story, Tennille writes about eating nothing but yellow grapefruit for weeks.  She writes of visiting beautiful cities world renowned for food and ending up eating tasteless crap her husband favored.

The “Captain”, so nicknamed by one of the Beach Boys, was rarely without his hat.  Tennille explains that he started balding in his 30s and was very self-conscious about his thinning hair.  So he would never be hatless, even in places where it was customary or compulsory to remove one’s hat.  Toni Tennille missed out on seeing the Sistine Chapel because her husband refused to remove his hat.  He also has a condition that affects his eyes, making them look strange.  Dragon was self-conscious about the problem, which prompted a lot of fans to write in and ask what was wrong with him.  That was also a source of much shame and embarrassment for him and he took it out on his wife.

While Toni Tennille writes a lot about her career and some of the great things she was able to do, a lot of this book is about her marriage to Daryl Dragon.  And folks, I’ll be honest.  As interesting as it was to read about her marriage, it was also more than a bit depressing.  Here she was, this beautiful, talented, vivacious woman and she spent her best years married to a man who didn’t really love her.  She allowed him to dictate so many things about her life.  It wasn’t until she was in her 70s that she finally had enough and got a divorce.  However, despite the divorce, it seems the Captain and Tennille still talk.  Toni writes that they speak on the phone every couple of weeks or so.  I guess old habits really do die hard.

Despite the fact that I think Toni Tennille should have divorced many years ago, I did like her book.  She comes across as very likable and friendly.  Ultimately, she keeps this book pretty positive, yet I never got the sense she was embellishing about the ordeals she went through in her personal life.  If you’re curious, I recommend reading Toni Tennille’s Memoir.

Edited to add: Daryl Dragon died on January 2, 2019.

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education, memories, nostalgia

“Aggressively influenced” by the public TV of my childhood…

Growing up in the 70s and 80s was an interesting experience. It seemed like back in those days, things were evolving somewhat. Computers were becoming more popular, as were synthesizers, and we had all these cool movies about outer space, like Star Wars and Flash Gordon. I don’t think I’ve ever watched Star Wars in its entirety, but I have seen Flash Gordon many times. I used to watch it on HBO all the time, even though I wouldn’t call myself a science fiction buff. I actually love Flash Gordon for its campiness and funny British humor moments.

One thing I remember a lot from being a kid in the late 70s was how much public television I watched. In those days, we’d watch educational TV in school, especially when I lived in Fairfax County. I remember being in first grade and exposed to The Electric Company for the first time. Of all of the public education shows I used to watch at school, that one was definitely my favorite. A couple of days ago, I had “Silent E” running through my head…

This song, and many like it, helped me learn how to read as I watched every episode of The Electric Company and other shows created by the Children’s Television Workshop.
This song still gets stuck in my head.

Tom Lehrer is a genius. He just turned 93 years old on the 9th and his witty, entertaining songs have helped so many children, particularly of my generation, become better people through education. Lehrer is probably best known for his witty songs for children’s shows on PBS, but he was also a brilliant mathematician and satirist. After the 1970s, he got out of public performances to focus on his love of teaching math and musical theater history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. When I listen to Tom Lehrer’s entertaining songs and realize that he had so many other, diverse interests, it kind of makes me feel humble. How can just one person be that gifted?

What brings on this topic today? Well… for one thing, it’s Monday, and I don’t feel like writing about the depressing state of current events right now. I figure we don’t need another article about social justice, my (many) pet peeves, my personal problems, or the pandemic. For another thing, I woke up with a song stuck in my head. It’s been stuck for years and I’ll probably never figure it out. Technically speaking, it’s not even a song, since I don’t think it has any words. In the late 70s, it was played all the time on PBS… basically funky “groove” music that serve to prevent dead air caused by a pause in programming.

During that time, my family lived in Northern Virginia, where over the air television was easier to watch, because we were near Washington, DC. There was a lot of money in Fairfax County, too, so the public television stations as well as the local independent stations, WDCA (channel 20) and WTTG (channel 5) got a lot of support. There was some good TV on in those days… probably better than what I saw on British TV when we lived in England. Although we did live in base housing at Mildenhall Air Force Base, I distinctly remember getting British TV instead of AFRTS (or AFN, if you prefer), which is a conglomeration of American TV shows condensed into a channel and made available for government and military Americans living abroad.

I always liked watching TV, but I really got into it in Fairfax, and I specifically remember loving PBS… along with this psychedelic identification flourish…

Hearing this brings back so many memories of being a young kid in elementary school.

According to the comments on this particular video, this particular identification flourish was composed by Paul Alan Levi. He wrote a comprehensive and technical explanation of the musical components of this creation:

Paul Alan Levi

4 years ago I am the composer of the PBS logo. I created it using a Putney VCS3 Synthesizer, not a Moog, as is claimed on various websites. The final chord is a G major 9th (major triad, major 7th, major 9th). I was working in a music/sound effects editing studio; all the equipment was in mono. No multi-track recorders. The descending scale was probably a sine wave (can’t remember exactly 46 years later) frequency modulated by a square wave to create the trill effect, then that sound frequency modulated by the descending part of a sawtooth wave from a low frequency oscillator. In order to synchronize the 6 final notes with the video, I had to record each note separately, then use a Moviola to synchronize each one with one of the popons. The result was 7 analog tracks all running at once, which multiplied the hiss that Glen Tindal remarked on earlier. It was odd for many years to be a composer whose music was heard by millions of people, none of whom knew I had composed it. There has always been a small subset of people who were terrified by the logo, which mystifies me. My two-year old daughter would hear it before or after Sesame Street and say happily, “Daddy’s tune.” My theory about this is that the sounds of the pure sound waves produced by the Putney were quite aggressive, and some people reacted to the intensity of those sounds.

Based on his explanation, I can only assume that Paul Alan Levi is some kind of a genius, too, who not only knows music, but is also a technology wiz. Or, at least he was a wiz in the late 70s and early 80s! I got a kick out of the comments from people who wrote that this thing “scared” them. I can kind of understand why. It has kind of an aggressive tone to it… harsh, loud, and unmistakable. When that thing came on before a program, you knew it was time to shut up and sit still… and maybe eat a Hostess Ho Ho or something. We were allowed snacks at Oak View Elementary School, and in those days, no one cared if they were full of chemicals. To this day, when I hear the PBS psychedelic chimes, I think of the processed snack cakes kids ate back then. No wonder so many of us are fat!

I ‘ve always loved the theme song for 3-2-1 Contact. It reminds me of “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp.

I remember watching 3-2-1- Contact at school, but I never enjoyed it as much as I did The Electric Company. I liked science, so I don’t know why I didn’t love this show more beyond the awesome theme song. I still remember the video montage shown during the credits, as well as the musical intro for the Children’s Television Workshop– again with the synths! We loved synths in the early 80s!

I especially remember this one.
See?

And I think I liked Sesame Street’s funky horn infused end credits even more than the official “Sesame Street” theme song. They hold up well even in 2021!

I love the opening credits and theme…
From 1:53, you can hear some funky music as the end credits roll!

Today’s youngsters have so many things to occupy their attention. I wonder what they’re going to be like when they’re in their 40s? One of the things I like about my generation is that so many of us had very similar experiences, simply because the Internet didn’t exist. We were all allowed to run wild in our neighborhoods and people weren’t calling CPS at the drop of a hat, every time some kid dared to venture beyond the front or back yard. I can remember doing things as a young child that I would never dream of allowing a child of today to do, like walk to a mall by themselves. When I lived on Portsmouth Road in Fairfax, I used to walk to University Mall by myself all the time. I was six or seven years old! I’d collect old glass bottles and turn them in for money, then hit the High’s Convenience Store and buy a candy bar for 26 cents. Nowadays, a child wandering the mall that young would be picked up by the police.

A memorable tune from The Electric Company… this one sounds a little inspired by Jim Croce.
Glad I don’t wait tables anymore.
I once shared this video on my original blog and got a blatant spam comment from a plumber. At least he took the time to try to make his comment someone on topic, remembering this from his childhood, too. I notice the person who uploaded this got spam links from plumbers, too.

When I wrote a post about The Electric Company on my original blog, I was inspired to do so because the sink in the kitchen of our rental house was not putting out hot water. The property management company sent someone over to check into it. He was in the middle of a spiel about how cheap the plumbing fixtures were when finally, after about five minutes, we got somewhat warm water. The property managers billed us $80 because they said it was our “responsibility” to check the water before complaining. I remember calling them up and chewing them out, since we were in Texas and there was a pretty severe drought going on. I asked them how long I was expected to let the water run, waiting for it to get hot, when the city was telling us to conserve. Then I bitched at them for not fixing the garage door, which was dented when we moved in.

The original property managers who set up the rental had said it was going to be fixed, but two weeks into our lease, another company– one that I had tried really hard to avoid– took over. They lived up to every one of their bad reviews, and tried (and failed) to screw us out of money at the end of the lease. I was so glad to get out of that house a year later. Of course, I didn’t know that when we moved to Germany, we’d be running into the first landlady we’d have to sue. She is now officially the worst landlord we’ve ever had, but prior to our experiences with her, the rental company in San Antonio was. If we ever do move back to the States, I hope to God we buy our own home. It may suck just as much to own a house, but at least it will be ours!

Cool theme song!

I never did get into Mister Rogers Neighborhood. For one thing, I was probably too old for it. For another, I found Mister Rogers annoying. He was probably too nice, and the way he spoke got on my nerves. Of course, in these troubled times, a lot of people probably would love to still have him around. He was gentle and calming, and he promoted being good to others. Same as Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo, although I never watched much of that show. It always came on during early school hours. And The Great Space Coaster did, too, although that show wasn’t on PBS. It just had a groovy theme song and a cool animated intro.

Supposedly, this aired on PBS… it’s a little ridiculous. We sure were scared of the Soviets back in the day.

I see one of the kids in the show above was Leslie Weiner, who played a young Nadia Comaneci in the 1984 movie, Nadia. And the little girl in the still is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 film version of Annie. April Lerman is also in this (ETA: I don’t see April listed anywhere, but on IMDB)! She was also in Annie, as well as a guest on Growing Pains, and a terrible Schoolbreak Special about bulimia called Little Miss Perfect. I remember that in the early 80s, everybody was afraid the Soviets were going to invade and turn us all into communists. Fourteen years later, I lived in Armenia, which was once a Soviet country. It’s now an independent country, and putting out some very fresh ideas. Having had that experience, I can say that our fears were probably a bit overblown.

Well… I have probably journeyed along the nostalgia path long enough. Guess I’ll get dressed and take the dogs for a stroll. I could watch these videos all day, though. I miss being young.

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