Friday, June 12, 2020

Ticket to Elsewhere

There is a vault of memories which is endlessly fascinating to myself  usually bringing a smile to my face. These are probably the same remembrances that others find insufferable and never fail to elicit a yawn. And then there is trivia from that time back when I was a wee slip of a lad. Names jump out of the trash bin accompanied by a constellation of images.

So it has come to this. Mention Tex Beneke, Harry Babbitt or Anita O’Day and Helen O’Connell. I’m transported back 75 years to my neighbor’s apartment where we listened to Martin Block on Saturday morning for the top ten recordings. Which would be up three notches to number one? We would take turns being the announcer speaking into a hair brush which served as a microphone.

Trivia can be a shorthand for the long forgotten, some sort of time machine depositing me in the 1940s when radio shows, ball games and movies engraved themselves on my bones. I expect the roster for the 1941 Dodgers will still be clinging to my entrails after I forget what I’m doing at this keyboard. As for that elusive meaning of life I had it a few seconds ago but it just slipped away. 

My buddies, Earl and Fred, have a warehouse full of names to throw at me. It is what happens to late octogenarians seeking a time when we had a grip on things, or so we thought. I remember everything from that period and they know everything but we all have different everythings.

Earl has total recall. He has appeared twice on Jeopardy. Fred also has a mind for celebrity ghosts. Names like Zasu Pitts to Fritzie Zivic send me in a spin. What we saw by staring into the radio is a universe of faces and places from Duffy’s Tavern to the crusading editor of The Illustrated Press with Edward G. Robinson’s timbered voice to the mowed grass of Ebbet’s Field or the Yankee Stadium. We could even smell the mustard on hot dogs.

The three of us meet on certain subjects such as history, sports, politics, movies and pop music. Then Earl leaves us behind with his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for classical music, especially opera. There is enough common ground to keep us unburying the notable deceased.

Why do I remember everyone in FDR's cabinet but hardly anyone in Obama's? What ever happened to Joel Kupperman and the other Quiz Kids? Was Mutt and Jeff the inspiration for pairing Sydney Greenstreet with Peter Lorre?

We all carry those indelible moments. In these baffling times old names become momentous. There is nothing trivial about trivia. It conjures an essential elsewhere. Anywhere will do but we might as well be immersed in those Edenic years of innocence and excitation. As Saul Bellow put it, Everyone needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. They also energize the synapses and we can travel, unmasked, without fear of the damn virus.

Now where was I? Oh yes, Walter Winchell to Whitlow Wyatt to Whirlaway. From Jughead and Archie to Archibald MacLeish to Archie Leach. These are my Letters of Transit. Find Bogart. He'll always have Paris. 

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