A boomer’s book about coming of age

A young boy coming of age under the tutelage of a charismatic and compelling man who seems too good to be true. That is a summary of Hawthorne, New Jersey author Alan Paul’s latest book, The Walrus: Monster in the Mist. This excerpt might have a ring of truth about your own coming of age.

Back in the early-1960s, two or three times per week, around eight o’clock at night, Jack, Eddie and I would all climb into George Albert’s red Bonneville convertible for our ritual pilgrimage to the Carvel at the corner of South Main Street and Union Avenue for a malted milkshake. It was a rite of passage, of sorts, one which was intended to both introduce us to the fraternity of young men and to reconnect our older mentor, George, to his storied youth.

The Carvel of my youth was reminiscent of Mel’s Drive-In, from the George Lucas’ film masterpiece of 1973, “American Graffiti,” which recalled his own teenaged years in Modesto, California, in the early-60s. Carvel was an otherworldly experience those precious few summers, especially to a group of newly post-pubescent boys who had yet to experience first-hand the varied mating rituals of the time. Cars loaded with girls and guys sped in and out of the parking lot, horns honking, and radios blaring top-40 hits; there were cat-calls and wolf-whistles galore. And though we couldn’t claim California’s “Wolfman Jack” as our own, we did have Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and Murray “The K” Kaufman, who kept the hits coming in their own unique East Coast Sixties style.

Mel’s Drive-In, featured in the film, “American Graffiti.”

Cars were king back then, and few of the cars got more attention than George Albert’s candy-apple crimson Bonneville drop-top. We felt like celebrities every time we drove in there, especially since handsome George himself drew more than his share of looks from most of the teenaged girls, who first gawked at the Pontiac, then swooned over its dreamy driver. I can still remember the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of those perfect summer nights when our world was ripe with possibility and the rampant passion of young love permeated the air like fresh honeysuckle.

Mary Hopkin with an acoustic guitar (Photo by RB/Redferns).

That time of my life always brings to mind a song that became a huge hit a few years later for a British singer named Mary Hopkin. Produced by Paul McCartney and released on the Beatles’ Apple Records label, “Those Were the Days” reached number-one in Britain and got as high as number-two here, right behind “Hey Jude.” The melody actually came from an old Russian ballad, but the chorus of the new lyrics, by Gene Raskin, began, “Those were the days, my friend; We thought they’d never end….” That’s what life was like back then: it never occurred to us that the good times would ever stop. But we also feared that the bad times might possibly hang around forever, too.

There were plenty of both for me—for all of us, really—back then. And I was soon reminded of it later that transformative evening, when I came home to my parents fighting again. I muttered “hi-and-good-night” to both of them, and quickly escaped to the shelter of my room, shutting the door behind me. Soon I tuned the radio to WNEW-FM, where I knew that the sultry voice of Allison “The Nightbird” Steele, would be my best bet for salvaging the rest of night, until welcome sleep eventually overtook me.

Those really were the days, my friends.

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