My son Ryan asked me the other day, “Daddy, what’s your favorite holiday?” I told him that I had two – Thanksgiving and the 4th of July! As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed those two days. Seeing that it’s getting close to the 4th, I thought I’d share some fond memories I have of it:
The 4th - Ridgewood Style: It all started for me in Ridgewood, NY in the late 60’s, that’s about as far back as I can remember celebrating the 4th. We lived in an apartment building on Stockholm Street. We lived up on the 3rd floor with my cousins living on the 2nd and the Donlins on the first floor. The building actually had two apartments per floor, so the Roggios lived in the apartments next to ours. We shared a large backyard and each summer we would build an above-ground swimming pool for everyone to enjoy. We usually built it sometime around the first day of summer, so it was always up by the 4th. Our yard was the site of all of our 4th of July parties and MAN were they fun!!
We would fire up two of our barbecues and the Roggios would fire up theirs and then everyone would start to bring food and drinks outside! We would set up tables inside and outside our garages and we would open the doors to our basements, so we could use them for bathrooms and for staging food. Radios were turned onto 99X and 95.5 and 102.7 and turned up and people started showing up in the late morning – but I was outside by around 6am!
My brother and I used to spend the days before the 4th unraveling firecrackers and putting them in plastic bags – yes – we actually used to shoot firecrackers off one at a time back then. Mats were $6 to $8 so we wanted to make each one count. Like many in the old neighborhood, I used to sell fireworks when I was a kid, mostly to pay for the fireworks that I would end up shooting off on the 4th. My brother and I would usually shoot off a mat a piece, plus, bottle rockets, silver jets, helicopters, smoke bombs, cherry bombs (which were great because they would stay lit when you dropped them into the sewer), M-80’s, ashcans, pineapples, roman candles, 6oz rockets, 8oz rockets, and aerial bombs (if we could afford them). We also had sparklers, snakes and lit them all off with punks (that we would fake smoke). I can still remember the smell of the gun powder and the punks – mixed with the smell of barbecues and suntan oil …that to me is the smell of the 4th of July in Ridgewood!
With all those Italians in one place you know there was going to be food and a lot of it and MAN was there ever! Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, sausage (& peppers), baked beans (in cans sitting on the top level of the barbecues), and maybe a piece of steak if someone brought it, were being cooked from 10AM until after midnight. The tables were stacked with bowls of fruit – peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries and of course watermelon! My dad used to take out these garbage cans, fill them with ice and one garbage can was filled with soda cans and the other was filled with beer – no bottled water or fruit juices back then! And when I say beer, I’m not talkin’ “fancy-shmancy” labels …I’m talkin’ Piels Real Draft in the “big-mouth” little pug bottles & Schaefer beer & Rheingold & Schlitz & Schmidt’s and of course Bud’s. The Roggios were “Miller High Life” people, so if you wanted a Miller you had to walk over to their cooler. The ladies also broke out the sangria and the wine and you might even find a bottle or two of bourbon, scotch, rye and whiskey sitting about later at night.
The “adults” would sit, drink, eat, go in the pool, play pool (we had a pool table in our garage) and play cards – all the while laughing harder and louder as the hours past. Soon they were acting more like children then we (the children) were. Every year my Uncle Dom would get a few brews in him and then you knew that just about every woman he could lift was gonna be thrown in the pool. One of the most hilarious sights you could ever see was when everyone tried to go into our little above-ground pool together, at the same time! The adults literally could not even turn around and half the water ended up getting pushed out of the pool …only in the old neighborhood could you ever see a sight like that!
Meanwhile, out “in the front,” that is, in the front of our apartment building, all of us kids were busy lighting off fireworks. During the day hours, we wouldn’t light off any of the showy rockets, so it was mostly, firecrackers, bombs and bottle rockets (that we sometimes shot at each other). We spent the whole day wearing only our bathing suits and the average boy in Ridgewood had a punk hanging out of his mouth with a paper “Bohacks” grocery bag stuffed with fireworks next to him. We would go back and forth, lighting off some fireworks, then back into the yard for a hamburger, hot dog, macaroni salad, cole slaw, potato salad, antipasta (even at barbecues), fruit and a soda – then maybe a quick dip in the pool to cool off – then back out to shooting off fireworks! I loved it …we all loved it! At night we would also stop in the back to roast a few marshmallows and maybe a piece of cake (another Italian staple – cake and coffee is served even at barbecues).
Nowadays, I live out west in Las Vegas, where fireworks are legal and where the resorts and country clubs have fireworks “shows.” Yeah, the shows are more impressive than the stuff we used to shoot off in Ridgewood, but somehow I don’t feel the connection that I felt when I lit the fuses – and something about it all being legal takes away from the naughtiness of it all. After all, the 4th celebrates the ultimate naughtiness – a Revolution!
We have a beautiful built-in pool now and a much bigger barbecue, but neighbors don’t come by out here and we don’t have any family here, so hosting a big barbecue isn’t an option. The beer we drink costs more but something about that cheap beer on a sizzling hot 4th in Ridgewood made it taste like the best beer on earth. In fact, my brother and I still joke that nothing tastes better than washing a barbecued (notice I never use the word “grilled” – that word didn’t exist in Ridgewood back in those days) hamburger down with a big-mouthed Piels …ahh the aftertaste! Haha…
Hey, I want to wish everyone out there a very happy and safe 4th of July. We still live in the greatest country in the world so celebrate it with gusto!
(oh.. and p.s. …to Janine Ansaldi …Happy Birthday wherever you are! Janine’s birthday is July 04 and every year when she was a little girl, she used to think the whole country was celebrating it!) haha… Peace, g
Sunday, I was watching the U.S. Open on TV when a commercial came on that I thought had to be kidding. It was a commercial for a drug that supposedly helps those afflicted with bipolar disorder. They showed a person gazing out a window of their house, on a rainy day. The commentator tells us that we don’t have to live with bipolar disorder anymore because of their new drug. Then, just when they have “us” all convinced, he adds, “The side effects are depression (Wait a minute, isn’t “depression” the REASON I’D BE TAKING THE DRUG? …I’m confused), stomach upset (they throw “stomach upset” into practically every drug as a side effect… even to STOMACH MEDICATION!), and (get this one… this one’s the kicker!) …AND THIS MEDICATION CAN CAUSE SUICIDE TENDENCIES AND DEATH!”
Did this company just tell “us” that the medication that they are recommending for “us” to take for bipolar disorder can make us want to kill ourselves AND can CAUSE DEATH?!?!
As my youngest son Noah likes to say, “First a ball…” aren’t THE SYMPTOMS of bipolar disorder “depression” and even “suicidal tendencies?” So, this company is basically saying – buy our medication – take our medication and either it will help relieve the symptoms of your bipolar disorder OR it will CAUSE those very same symptoms!
I see, so just in case you have bipolar disorder and you would like the opportunity to either give yourself depression and suicidal tendencies OR you already have those symptoms and would like to AMP THEM UP – you should really take their medication.
Even more to the point… their medication can cause DEATH!
DEATH?! You ask.
YES… D…E…A…T…H. We’re talking the Grim Reaper… your number’s up… the big sleep!
Yeah… yeah… okay, I’m from Ridgewood, New York – the capital of sarcasm and the skeptical view – BUT – I’m gonna try and keep an open mind about this…
So, let’s say I have bipolar disorder… I’m depressed, maybe ‘cause it’s raining outside (although I live in Las Vegas, NV, so rain usually makes us very happy out here, but I digress…) anyway… I’m depressed about something… and I’m watching the U.S. Open and I see their advertisement for their bipolar disorder medication… is this my train of thought?
“Hmm… let’s see… I buy their medication …I take their medication …and …I have a chance of making myself even more depressed and suicidal AND I give myself a REAL CHANCE AT KILLING MYSELF JUST BY TAKING THE MEDICATION! Yeah… THAT’S the medication I want!”
I ask all you readers out there… if they can come out with a medication and advertise it on TV TELLING US it can cause DEATH …then what’s next?
How about a commercial for tomato sauce? I can see some company out there discussing this at one of their board meetings, “So, we can crush some tomatoes, add a little arsenic and rat poison and sell it on TV – as long as we tell them at the end of the commercial, ‘Our tomato sauce may cause death!’”
Wait a minute, didn’t RAGU advertise that? Haha…
You can’t make this stuff up! Peace, g
Yesterday I found out I lost a brother. Not my biological brother, but my brother nevertheless. I first met Walt Woodward on November 21, 1981. He answered a cattle call that my brother and I started for us to find a new bass player and drummer. We ran these big ads in all the local rock rags and we ended up auditioning 147 musicians by the time Walt showed up with Nick Sodano. Walt and Nicky were the drummer and bass player for the local NJ band RACHEL. They had a solid following as one of the house bands at the old Soap Factory but their singer Rhett Forrester was about to join the band RIOT and so Walt and Nicky decided they would try out for us. I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw Walt. First, they were late for the audition and they were the 6th drummer/bass player tandem that we were auditioning that day, so I was in a foul mood, but Walt would have none of it. Walt was a striking presence, stood about 6 foot, lean, wearing sunglasses (inside) with this David Lee Roth mane of blond hair …oh …and did I mention that the cheeks of his butt were sticking out of holes in his jeans! That’s Walt…
From the time we started jamming with them we knew they were the ones. My brother started telling Walt and Nicky about this idea we had to create a band that would have a big show, like QUEEN – we didn’t just want to be another bar band – and as my brother was talking, I noticed this blond dude Walt’s face turning beet red. When you audition musicians, you get an eclectic bunch to say the least, from wimps to witches to people that should be locked away in rubber rooms, I was starting to think that Walt Woodward was the latter, in fact, I thought he was going to attack my brother, but instead, he jumped up (if you know Walt, you know how he did that) and started pacing and telling us all these ideas he had about starting, as he called it “the baddest-ass band.” He immediately grabbed some paper and started sketching all these band logos and stage props… Walt was a talented artist! Before they left, he walked over to me and stared at me with those blue eyes of his… all the Woodwards, I came to find out, had this same way of looking at you and you couldn’t tell whether they were teasing you or not. Walt finally leaned down and whispered in my ear, “You and I are gonna be good friends!” That was Walt…
I had just turned 17 years old when I met Walt. I had been gigging from the time I was 13 years old but not in rock bands… I played rock but I wasn’t a rock musician …Walt taught me the difference. Walt taught me a lot of things – about what it really takes to make it as a professional rock musician – the dedication, the drive, the passion. He taught me that you don’t just play rock music …you LIVE rock music. Walt was a free spirit, I was a tortured soul. He taught me how to enjoy the little things… the free things …the most valuable things – like friendship. I was (and still am) pretty much a loner, Walt was the complete opposite – he surrounded himself with friends. He had so many friends because he was a good friend to have. He did have his quiet times. Walt liked to read. He was always in the middle of some book. He also liked his “space” and his “things.” If you wanted to remain friends with Walt, you respected both.
Walt treated me like a younger brother and just like an older brother would, he teased me relentlessly. He used to draw caricatures of all of us – I would open my lyrics book or something and there would be one of his drawings of me with a text bubble coming from my mouth saying something dirty and hilarious. That was Walt…
When Nicky left the band, we had to audition for a new bass player. This time we didn’t run big ads, we just went to Walt. He knew EVERYONE! Danny Spitz knew Walt from the club scene and told Walt that his older brother Dave was a great bass player and would be interested in auditioning for us. When Dave showed up for his audition, Walt didn’t say a word to him at first – that was Walt’s way – too cool to talk to strangers – and hey, it was Walt’s band now – this greenie Dave was the one that had to prove himself. Well, Dave was awesome, blew me and my brother away in 60-seconds flat with his chops but Walt still wasn’t impressed. Finally Walt walked up to him and said, “We don’t allow anyone to have a mustache in our band!” My brother and I looked at each other… neither of us knew that “we” didn’t allow anyone with a mustache into our band. Walt asked Dave, “Will you shave it to join our band?” Dave looked at Walt with a sparkle in his eye and said, “Sure!” With that, Walt disappeared and reappeared with my brother’s razor. Before Dave could even blink, Walt applied shaving cream to exactly HALF of Dave’s mustache and shaved HALF of his mustache! Haha… tears of laughter in my eyes as I remember it …That was Walt…
Some other frivolous memories of Walt that are trapped in my head:
- Walt pierced my ear… twice …with a knitting needle, while we were sitting at a table eating breakfast.
- My brother used to be crazy about gargling with Listerine, even keeping a bottle nearby wherever we rehearsed. One time Walt picked up the bottle without saying a word and threw it into a nearby body of water (Mill Basin). Then just went and sat behind his drum kit like nothing happened… haha…
- Walt used to like the tuna I would make, so whenever I shacked with him at his apartment in Monrovia, he would tell me to make it and he would bake these little strawberry shortcakes that he bought at Vons.. and speaking about that Monrovia apartment…
- Some of you reading this may remember when he and Taylor (his room mate) turned the apartment into a copy of the set on “Bah Bah Black Sheep” complete with Tiki bar and this WWII bomb that they suspended from the ceiling.
- Walt used to pad-lock his bedroom inside his apartment – he liked his privacy.
- One time, before one of our rehearsals, Walt’s lung collapsed. He was living with Dave at the time. I’ll never forget how scared he looked with all these tubes running into his arm and chest. I thought it would slow him down – but a few days later when he was released from the hospital, he was already behind his drum kit again.
When our band broke up in 1984, we were all heartbroken, but I think Walt might have been the most heartbroken of us all. He was the most dedicated of us all. I few years later, I rang him up. I didn’t know what to expect – maybe he’d just hang up on me, but that wasn’t Walt’s way. He was honest, told me about his hard feelings but then he told me he was glad to hear from me. We ended up trying to get a band going again in 1989-1990 and then again in 1995. Each time we lived together. We were more than band mates, we were friends and more than friends … we were brothers.
The last time I talked to Walt was over a year ago. His dad had passed, so had mine. I had survived cancer and had gotten married …and I had four little boys that he never met. We talked about what he was doing. There was a little luster missing from his personality. For the first time, Walt told me that he was coming to terms with the prospect that he wasn’t going to be a big, famous rock star after all. I told him that was hogwash ‘cause he already was a big rock star. I remember telling him that old David Lee Roth quote, “Success is what you give yourself; fame is what other people give you.” I told him that his true success was in the music he played and in the friendships he had made along the way. We talked a little about the possibility of putting together another band – he said he was in – but we both could tell …it probably wasn’t gonna happen. We ended the phone conversation with my pleading for him to come out and visit me, my wife and our boys. I wanted him to meet them and I told him that they all wanted to meet “Uncle Dub.” His last words to me were, “I’m looking forward to it.” He added, ”Hey, you better be careful or I may not leave!” I told him that was okay too.
I didn’t call him again after that. Life got hectic here… our jobs, our kids… I thought about calling him a few times, but I always put it off, after all, what was the rush… my own cancer experience should have taught me differently. Anything can happen, anytime, to anyone.
I’m sitting here now, thinking about my friend, mourning his passing, looking at a photo of us on stage – man, he really was a rock star! That was Walt…
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Dean Wesley Smith