Carry On, Richard
Maspeth, Queens, NYC 1967
We moved to the borough of Queens in 1967 when I was thirteen years old. It was the first time we lived in a house. An Archie Bunker row house is how I’d describe it later on. It was a rental. There were six of us: Mom and Dad, my two younger brothers, an older sister, and me. The seven older siblings were off on their own.
So, with those details out of the way, let’s get down to what I wanted to talk about: Me and puberty.
It all started in Maspeth.
The house had three bedrooms and one and a half baths. That half-bath was mine. It was located in the basement, which was almost as large as the railroad-flat we left behind in Yorkville. It would become my bedroom. My own massive what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this bachelor pad. The only thing missing was a Hugh Hefner fur-draped circular bed, and a bare-breasted beauty ogling me in my satin pajamas. I saw a picture of it in Playboy magazine. It was a dream of mine until I realized I’d never manage to get either one of those things down the basement stairs; not without a struggle, anyway. There’s only so much a thirteen year-old can accomplish. Sex was a million years away. I’d have to settle for my older brother’s hand-me-down issues of Playboy. I know. Eew. I get all squirmy thinking about where those magazines had been, but at the time it was like being handed the holy grail of lustful thinking. Then came a slight diversion called the Carry On Gang.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
It started one night as I lay — lie? I never get that one right — in my bed watching television. It was a twelve inch black and white. I wouldn’t know the world of color until a few years later. That night I was flipping the dial and stopped on a channel when I heard this nasally tone coming form an odd looking British gentleman. This odd looking fellow was cracking me up, so I continued watching. It concerned a nutty bunch of British men and women traipsing around London getting themselves into all sorts of hilarious — as I recall — mischief. It turns out the station I was watching seemed dedicated to the preservation of these Carry On movies. The station aired two or three of these movies in a row and did so every weeknight for quite some time. I watched every one. I couldn’t get enough. I honestly believe they had an effect on whatever humor I possess. They led me to other British comedy: Goon show and Bonzo Dog Band albums in particular.
The nasally toned chap from the Carry On movies was Kenneth Williams, and his character in one the films — Carry On, Nurse — was Oliver Reckitt, a bookish intellectual. I can now understand why it may have appealed to me. You see, I always saw myself as a bookish intellectual. Only I didn’t have an appetite for books at the time. I was too consumed with Playboy and Mad magazines, and my Rachel Welch One Million Years B. C. poster. And there was something about the way he said, ‘Oh, really?’ I would often use his nasally British voice in my head whenever I was interrupted in my boyish pursuits in the basement. ‘Richard!’ my mother would shout from the top of the basement stairs. ‘Turn that damn TV off and get to bed. It’s after midnight for Christ’s sake!’
‘Oh, really?’ I’d say under my breathe, in my Oliver Reckitt voice. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be a bookish intellectual. I just wanted the sort of pipe and satin smoking jacket that Hef had. In one particular photo he had an elbow resting on a mantel, an open book in the palm of his other hand, and he was smoking a pipe. Is there anything this man can’t do? I imagined he was about to heat up one of his many bunnies with a lusty read from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Makes me laugh now, but back then I was quite the serious young Playboy aficionado. Thank God for 1968 and political awareness. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Nixon, Viet Nam protests, the Black Panthers, and the Beatles White album. I include the Beatles album at the end because everyone was telling me I had to listen to an album I couldn’t afford at the time. But I’d listen to Scott Muni on WNEW FM and got an earful. When I heard Revolution, it blew me away; a rocker with a message. Damn. I loved that album. Still do.
I hung on to the Playboys for a time, though. Don’t look at me like that. Political awareness wasn’t offering me any sex in 1968. Those magazines got me through the lean years. Many lean years. Way too many.
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