My Cat Never Sang for My Father
Flushing, Queens, Fall 1966
I heard my father’s footsteps as he made his way up the stairs.
“What are you doing to that cat?” he shouted.
We didn’t have a cat. I was listening to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. My dad had a sense of humor about these things. He was a Nat King Cole man. Smooth as silk vocals, with a lovely Gordon Jenkins arrangement. Music to soothe the beast within, and maybe produce a baby or two; though not in our household. Mom and Dad were officially baby’d-out in 1959 when the last of my siblings was born. And if any of us kids had gone and produced a baby at the time, we’d have been tossed out with the baby’s bath water, and my Four Season’s record collection.
But at twelve years of age it wasn’t a big concern of mine. Music was.
Opus 17 was the song. I’m listening to the song as I write this. When Frankie goes after that high note at the end it makes me laugh and think about my dad. Go ahead. Give it a listen.
And, no, I wasn’t laughing at Frankie. I’ve loved the Four Seasons since those summer days spent on the Jersey shore. If you were at Keansburg amusement park in the early sixties, chances are you’d hear the refrains of Walk Like a Man blasting from juke boxes and transistor radios in the local pubs and pinball parlors. Music that made its way along the boardwalk and into my young ears. It was as familiar to its surroundings as sand and sea, and I always associate the Four Seasons with summertime fun. The Beach Boys would come later.
Back in Flushing, Queens — Flushing queens always makes me laugh. It’s a visual thing — I had a bedroom at the top of the stairs. In reality it was a screened-in deck in which we put all my belongings. Single bed. Small black and white TV. Record player. Records. That’s all I can remember possessing. I don’t remember any particular piece of furniture.
My two younger brothers shared a room, my older sister had a room of her own, and I honestly can’t remember if my parents had a room or slept on a sofa-bed like they did back at the apartment in Yorkville. Doesn’t matter. I slept in what was essentially the back porch. So, there wasn’t to be any morning-coffee get-togethers. No tea socials with the new neighbors. No gathering of the family to sing Kumbaya before bedtime. A rocking chair and guitar would have been nice, though. Sheriff Taylor had one of each on his porch in Mayberry. But we weren’t Mayberry material. So, it would just be me and my stuff.
I only had one friend who would go the long end-of-the-line subway ride from Manhattan to Flushing. That would be John Faldetta. We’d smoke Parliament cigarettes — we liked the recessed filter — and listen to music. Johnny and I liked The Four Seasons and Lou Christie. Christie had a hit in 1966 called Lightnin’ Strikes. I don’t know what it was about those high-falsetto singing guys that grabbed our attention, but there we were wailing away that day my dad was coming up the stairs.
My door was closed, so I never saw the look on my dad’s face that day. I imagine he was smoking a Chesterfield and shaking his head at how disappointed he was in my taste for music.
I do know that on a beer night my dad was known to sing and whistle — he was quite a whistler — I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. But I never made any reference to singing cats at the time. Dad was much bigger than I was. He wan’t much for hitting, but if you were out of line he would give you a stare that could melt steel girders. Superman stuff.
In 1929 my dad was twelve years old. I wonder what favorite tune he singing back then. I hope it was Tiptoe Through the Tulips by Nick Lucas. It was a popular song at the time. Give a listen. Then come and tell if Nick wasn’t one cool, singing cat. I hope it annoyed the hell out of my old man's dad. It’s what we twelve year-olds do.
Picture courtesy of Wiki Commons:https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=singing+cat&title=Speci......(If_a_bird_flew_...),_artist_signed_Thiele_(NBY_384).jpg