My life began in New Orleans, Louisiana,
on September 6, 1946, at Baptist Hospital. I don't remember much about
that part. Although my first home in New Orleans was just off Canal Blvd.,
the first residence I remember was 6112 Lafaye St. which runs off of
Franklin Avenue near the lakefront. My family moved to Lafaye Street
before I turned one, but stayed there until I finished the 4th Grade at
McDonogh #39 Elementary School. The home was actually a duplex when we
first moved in, but by the time Judy was born in 1948, the neighbors
decided they wouldn't be putting up with those "heathen" children in the
same house, so they left. My dad, Jack Bryan Flaherty (and please don't
call him John - his real name is JACK), bought the other half and
converted it into a full home.
What was originally the kitchen for the back half of the house was
converted into a bedroom for my brother Tom and me. My parents went to
great extremes to make it a "boy" room by installing blue rocket ship
wallpaper. From our room we could watch the searchlights in the sky from
Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park every night during the summer. And
when the wind was blowing right you could hear some of the sounds of the
rides and fireworks. In the late 40's and early 50's we had only an attic
fan (no air conditioning). Also close to us were the Naval Air Station
and the Army's Camp Leroy Johnson, which were situated across from the
amusement park on Lakeshore Drive. I remember the Blue Angels putting on
air shows from the Naval Air Station and flying right over our house. All
of this property since has become the University of New Orleans in recent
Being close to the lake wasn't particularly good when hurricanes visited New Orleans. More than once our neighborhood flooded. Dad would always put canvas strips across the bottoms of our outside doorways. Would the canvas really stop water from getting in? I'm not sure. The floodwaters of Hurricane Flossy and others went all the way up to our porch but never inside the house. Houses in that area were raised on bricks about three-feet off the ground. Now I think I see why. Floodwaters didn't do the floor furnaces much good, but it was always great fun to go outside after the winds died down and play in the floodwaters. Once I stepped on a two-by-four and drove a nail through my foot, but hey, it was worth it. (I'm not sure the Tetanus shot that came later was worth it, though).
Childhood friends in the neighborhood, that I can remember, include Ronnie Plauche, Jimmy and Stanley Elmore, Harmon Holloway, and Ralph Treadway. Harmon lived in the house behind us, and from our bunk beds in the back bedroom, Tom and I would send Morse code signals with our flashlights at night. Ralph was a scruffy sort that unfortunately was killed when hit by a car crossing Franklin Avenue. He was the first person that I knew who got killed.
My first girlfriend, Sandy Saikley,
lived across the street and two houses toward the lake. When I was going
into the first grade at McDonough 39 Elementary on St. Roch Avenue, Sandy
moved to Texas and I didn't see her again until I was in the 8th or 9th
grade. She came back with her Mom to visit. I remember her being the most
mature 8th grader I've ever seen. What a great looking girl! Of course,
anyone who remembers me in the 8th grade knows what a goofball I was. Oh
well, it was good seeing her.
The 1950ís were a great time to be a kid. My Mom would release us in the
morning and we would run the neighborhood all day long. Today, kids are
kept inside houses and not allowed to explore their surroundings because
of all of the dangers. My parents never had those concerns in those
days. We rode bikes everywhere, crossing major thoroughfares to get to
friendís houses, going to the park on Peoples Avenue, or even better yet,
playing in rat and snake-infested Peoples Avenue canal. We would spend
days burrowing tunnels in the side of the canal, which was more like a
giant drainage ditch, only to come home at dark covered with dirt, head to
Next to the park at the end of Hibernia Avenue, where it dead ended into
the Peoples Avenue canal was Mike and Billy Frickís house. Mike was my
age and Billy was Tomís age. I have a mental image of their dad sitting
around nude in a big leather chair of the living room of their house.
Maybe he wasnít nude. He could have had his underwear on, but I remember
him as nude. It was hot in those houses, but I think I remember this
because my Mom and Dad would never sit around the house nude or partially
clothed. Itís the first time I ever thought about other people living
differently than we did. Mike Frick was a free spirit. I last saw him in
Junior High. I donít know what happened to him.
Across Hibernia Avenue from Mike Frickís house was a vacant grown-over
half a city block with trees and dirt piles. We probably played more in
this lot than on the playground across Hibernia Avenue. In the first or
second grade, Mike and I were playing with matches next to a fallen tree.
We would start a fire, then throw dirt on it to put it out. Great fun,
huh? It was real fun until we couldnít put the fire out and the whole
tree was aflame as we threw dirt everywhere. It kept getting bigger and
bigger. We couldnít put it out, so we did what any other kid would
doÖRAN! I donítí know what happened to Mike, but I ran and hid behind our
garage and stayed there with my heart beating out of my chest for the
longest time. I heard the fire trucks racing to the scene a few blocks
away. For weeks after that, I waited for firemen to come to my house and
arrest me. They never did, but I learned my lesson about playing with
The area around Lafaye St. in New Orleans was generally a working-class neighborhood. We knew most of our neighbors because people spent more time outside on porches, due to lack of air conditioning. Most houses had attic fans that pulled in the night air to our open windows. My brother Tom and I positioned our bunk bed in front of one of the windows to get a breeze. I donít remember the heat or sleeping to be a problem as a child, but by todayís standards it was probably pretty uncomfortable. As I mentioned earlier, because of the open windows we got to sample the sights and sounds of the amusement park on Lake Pontchartrain.
It was a more carefree, simpler time.
In the third grade, my class performed some skit, in full costume, before
the school. I played some sort of trumpeter, wearing a short, little blue
puffy silk outfit with a silk cap and a big white feather in it. Somehow,
one of the school officials coerced WDSU-TV, Channel 6 to let us do the
skit on a noontime show with host Terry Flettrich. The whole event would
have been pretty uneventful, except for the fact that the day before my
first major television appearance, Tom and I were out in the front yard of
our Lafaye Street home goofing off. Somehow, Tom got hold of a baseball
bat and a wooden croquet ball. As I found out, this is a dangerous
combination. I screamed to Tommy to hit me one. He refused at first, but
I kept yelling for him to hit it to me. "I can catch it!" I yelled. Tom
smacked an awesome line drive right to me. I put my tiny 3rd
grade hands in front of my face to make the catch, but the croquet ball
went straight through them and into my left eye, taking me off my feet and
putting me on the ground. Tom thought he had killed me. Heck, for a
while there, I thought I was dead, too. At the next dayís TV appearance I
had the biggest, ugliest black eye. They placed my bad eye away from the
camera, but I felt like everyone in the world was staring at my huge
"shiner". Too bad there was no videotape back in the black and white TV
days. Iíd like to see my performance.
On Lafaye Street our phone number was FAirview-0034. I donít remember if
the "Fairview" was named after Fairview Avenue a main artery about 4
blocks from our house, but Fairview was our exchange. I think you just
dialed the FA-0034. By the time we moved to Music Street the number was
282-0034, and that was our number until Mom sold the Music Street house
My best friends in the early years were both members of my Church and
School. Al Jolissaint, Alan Lichtenwalter, and me spent many fun hours
together all the way through Junior High. In High School, Al went to New
Orleans Academy, a semi military school, but Alan did go to John McDonogh
High with me.
I am so grateful to my Mom and Dad for getting us involved in Church
life. Even though Iím sure I gave them fits about going from time to
time, the benefits Iíve derived from my association with Church have
helped to make me a better person. Can you imagine what Iíd be like
without it? Letís not.
At Franklin and Hibernia Avenue intersection there was a strip shopping center with a grocery, corner drug store (with soda fountain), Mikeís Barber Shop, and the Eight Sons Lounge. The Eight Sons would be a popular spot for my Dad until he died. Iíve often said the people who worked and frequented the Eight Sons probably knew Jack Flaherty better than we did. They should have named the place "Flahertys" for all the money Dad probably dropped in there. For the most part over the years, we didnít feel the effects of Dadís daily/nightly visits to the Eight Sons, but I do remember a time when Tom and I were with Dad and he parked the car on Hibernia Avenue, told us he was going to get a pack of cigarettes, and disappeared into the Eight Sons for what seemed like 2 hours. Actually, it was more likely around 30 minutes, but when youíre 7 or 8 and stuck in a hot car in the summertime, it feels like forever.
Across Franklin Avenue from the Eight Sons was the "House of Pain". Our
friendly neighborhood Doctor and Dentist had converted a house (much like
ours) into a Doctor/Dentist office; housing two of the scariest men I have
ever met. I had nightmares about these two for years. Dr. Bowers was the
MD, and Dr. Guidry was the Dentist. These two men had absolutely no
bedside manner and did nothing but inflict pain on me and everybody else
who stepped into that office. The first thing that greeted you when
walking through the front door was the strong smell of ether that they
must have piped into the air conditioners. Then there was the giant scary
medical symbol (that snake thing) that was formed into the floor tile. I
disliked Dr. Bowers. Once he used this machine that shot out sparks to
burn off a wart on my elbow. It probably didnít hurt that much, but the
thing looked and smelled awful. Iím sure my screams are still echoing
somewhere. If I disliked Dr. Bowers, I surely hated Dr. Guidry. This man
did not know the meaning of "painless" dentistry. Iím told that Novacaine
or similar painkillers were available back in the 50ís, but this would
have been news to Dr. Guidry, who looked like actor Hans Conried (I never
like him either). Dr. Guidry would drill directly on your tooth. I
couldnít stand the feeling. If I think about it long enough I can still
remember the sound and feel of the drill grinding into my tooth. I was
terrified of Dentists for years because of this man, and finally when I
did get my mouth overhauled years later, I was amazed at just what a good
Dentist could do. Both of these men are dead now and Iím sure they are
missed by someone, but not by me.
Another scary thing. There was a widow that lived in the house on one
side of us on Lafaye Street. I can remember watching the "Mickey Mouse
Club" on her TV set. I donít think ours picked up UHF at that time. She
was a nice lady, but the talk amongst the neighborhood that she had just
spooned up a bowl of ice cream for her husband in the kitchen of their
home and turned around to put up the ice cream. After putting the ice
cream back in the freezer, she turned around and he was face down dead in
his ice cream. It worried me that there was once a dead person in that
house, but I didnít mind watching the Mouseketeers in her living room.
The Lafaye Street house is filled with memories of my Dad. He was so
strict and serious most of the time (that Navy background), that it was a
real treat for Tom and I to see him be "real". One night, Tom and I were
in our bunks and Mom and Dad were in the hallway outside our room. We
could see their reflections (shadows) on our door. Dad had moved aside
the attic fan to add or extract items from the attic while Mom held the
ladder to the side. He was in the attic when he fell back through the
opening headfirst onto the floor furnace below. The shadow image of him
plummeting to the floor was too much for Tom and I to stand. We had our
heads buried in our pillows laughing as we rolled all over the bed.
Faintly, we could hear Dad whisper to Mom, "Oh, go ahead and laugh." And,
Tom and I always liked to hear stories where Dad was inflicted with
horrible pain. He told us a story one time about driving up to Bogalusa,
Louisiana, to see his Mom and Dad, and said he was paying attention to
tuning the radio in the car and not watching where he was going. The car
ran off the road and into a drainage ditch. Dad was riding out the bumpy
ride trying to stop the car when he hit one of those drainpipes that
driveways are poured over. It threw his car into a ditch on the other
side of the road. When he finally got the car stopped his head was in the
glove compartment! (Ha!) The mental imagery of this was too much for Tom
and I to stand. We howled! We would ask him to tell us that story over
and over. He didnít mean for the story to be funny and couldnít figure
out why we got such a kick out of that story.
After his death, I once asked Mom about Dad and the fact that he didnít
spend a whole lot of time with us. I said, "Didnít he like kids?" Mom
replied, "Not really." As I found later, Dad related better to people
above 18 years of age.
During the Lafaye and Music Street years, I have fond memories of Mom
loading Tom, Judy, Debby, Janice and me into the car and on hot summer
days heading to Pontchartrain Beach. In the 50ís the beach was open free
to the public. Or should I say "white" public. Another plus was the fact
that the lake wasnít polluted at the time and you could actually swim in
the lake. We spent many happy, carefree days at the beach in the 50ís.
It was a great Amusement park owned by the late Harry Batt, Sr. Walt
Disney once conferred with Batt and three other amusement park owners
about his idea of building Disneyland. They tried to discourage Walt,
advising him that Disneyland was too much of a dream to actually work.
When Harry Batt, Jr. closed Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park in 1983, he
said that a standing amusement park couldnít make it anymore. Unless you
were willing to build new rides and keep changing with the times, you
couldnít survive. Pontchartrain Beach didnít have enough land and/or
bucks to compete with the Six Flags of the world, so it closed in 1983
with the last ride on the great wooden coaster, the Zephyr. I didnít know
Iíd miss it so much. Today, the land on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain
has been developed, and the people of New Orleans have only their memories
of the beach.
In 1956, my family moved from Lafaye Street to 4610 Music Street. It
wasnít a long distance from my former neighborhood but there was a big
difference in the type of people. While Lafaye Street was mostly working
class, younger families, Music Street was an older, more settled group of
folks. Of course, when the Flaherty family moves into your neighborhood
there is an immediate change.
In the 5th grade I was enrolled at Gentilly Terrace Elementary
School that was only two blocks from our Music Street home. I had Mrs.
Cosse in the 5th grade, and Mrs. Johnson in the 6th
grade. I donít remember her name but there was a girl in the 5th
grade that we used to call "Paste-eater" because of her fondness for the
taste of that white paper glue we used to use. The 5th grade
is also memorable for the first time I noticed a girlís budding breasts.
I would eventually graduate from High School with Pat Mauderer. It was
the first time I looked down a girlís blouse and there was something
there! On another occasion, my Mom came to school to pick me up in the
middle of the day (probably a Doctorís appointment or some such thing) and
had to come into my class. Someone commented to me, "Is that your
MomÖSheís pretty!" I remember being so proud. I can honestly say that in
all the years knew her, I was never embarrassed by or about my Mother.
Ever! Isnít that amazing? She was one classy woman who was the single
most influential person in my life. I disappointed her many times, but
she stuck with me.
During the 3rd through 6th grades, Tom and I were
involved with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Mom, at times, was a Den Mother
for my Cub Scout Pack. But, after moving to Music Street, she became a
Brownie leader for my sisters and I had another Den Mother who lived down
the street from us. We had great fun in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I
remember great campouts at Scout Island in City Park, cooking over open
fires with our mess kits. During my first campout with the Boy Scouts,
they were going to initiate us into the troop. They said they would
blindfold us then put a "brand" on our leg from a hot poker in the fire.
This was not what I got in the Scouts for. I was just about to demand to
be taken home when they told me to just sit and watch the others. What
they did was wave the hot poker in front of their faces, and then put a
cold piece of ice on their leg. I didnít see the humor in this, but
others thought it was great fun.
In the 7th and 8th grades, I attended Capdau Junior High School on Franklin Avenue. The school had a wicked reputation for having many punks and thugs who would terrify and beat up fellow students. Somehow Tom had survived Capdau though, so I thought I could also. Physically, I did survive. Emotionally, I think Capdau was where I lost interest in learning and started "acting out" in class. This was my first encounter with changing classes and teachers throughout the day. I had befriended a boy named, Denny, and we seemed to have most of our classes together. Most of my church friends were zoned for the new Junior High which just opened, Gregory Jr. High, so Denny was about the closest thing I had to a friend at Capdau. As life would have it, Denny and family moved away in the middle of the school year. I can remember feeling alone for several weeks and dreaded going to school. Adapting to changing situations didnít come easily for me in Junior High.
One of the few things to keep me straight during the 7th and 8th grades was my relationship with my friends at Church. This close-knit group of youth not only participated together in church activities, but also socialized together quite a bit. As I mentioned, there were king cake parties we would all attend or just parties for the sake of having parties! Members of this group included Alan Lichtenwalter, Al Jolissaint, Joy Miangolarra, Paul Cutright, Cheryl Klepko, Sheila Wylie, Steve and Skipper Dell, Craig and Kenny Hopkins, Steve Eggerton, Ann Yoder, Lorinda Foltmar, Wade Conklin and others. We had great times decorating houses for parties and would play games like "Spin the Bottle" and "Seven Minutes in Heaven" where you would go off with a member of the opposite sex, alone for 7 minutes. I knew all of these folks from a very young age, but it wasnít until around the 7th grade that I noticed Joy was a girl for the first time. Around this time we began what would be a "roller coaster" relationship lasting all the way past high school. We broke up and went back together so many times, our parents got sick and tired of it. At one point, Joyís Mom had read her diary (She didnít have to be so graphic), and refused to let her see me anymore. I would call her house and disguise my voice. They would say, "Youíre not fooling anybody Mike FlahertyÖ"
Because I mentioned Skipper Dell, I have to add this brief comment.
Skipper is the biggest and best liar I ever met. He would lie for no
reason. Steve, his brother, was fine. In fact, weíd often joke about
what a liar Skipper was. I donít ever remember talking to Skip where he
wasnít lying. At church I might ask him what he did Saturday, and heíd
tell me something about Werner Von Braun, flying him in to Huntsville, to
help develop a new rocket fuel for the Saturn 2. Iíd normally ignore him
and change the subject. Others would tell Skip to his face he was full of
crap. I always let him get away with it. Skip Dell was at the 20th
McDonogh High School Reunion in 1984. What you do at these events is
catch up on where everyone is, so I asked Skipper what heís doing now and
he told me something about doing research on coffee beans in South
America. The sad thing is he may really be doing this job, but nobody is
gonna believe him!
My first rebellious period as a teenager occurred in Summer when I was 13 or 14. I remember being at a meeting, possibly Boy Scouts or some such, and my mother picking me up after the meeting. I remember because the meeting was held at the Milne Boy's Home Chapel (pictured) The old chapel was located on Franklin Avenue about halfway between my Lafaye Street and Music Street homes. It's the first and only time I had been there. I remember being very rude to my Mom because I wanted to stay out late with friends, and formidibly argued that I ought to be able to stay out later, because my brother Tom doing it. My Mom reminded me that he was three years older and that I'd have to wait. I was mean and pouted, but it did no good. Today I can say Thank goodness for my Mom.
My most serious romance in junior and senior high was with Joy Miangolarra. Our first kiss was at one of the parties I mentioned earlier. The event came at Lorinda Foltmarís house. She had a finished detached garage behind her home where we had the party. The party was about over. Parents were coming to pick us up. Joy and I were sitting in the middle of the floor under a blanket and as we kissed, someone yelled out "Mike your Momís here!" I knew Joy many years before "noticing" her. For some reason, boys notice girls once they develop breasts, and Joy matured physically early. Our relationship would have never gone off and on for so many years had it not been for Joy. Any girl in her right mind would have dropped me and moved on, but Joy was always there for me. Joy lived directly behind our church. Her mother was church secretary. So, it was convenient for me to ride my bike or walk to her house after school. Weíd sit in her living room, watch "American Bandstand" and make out.
On one occasion I had to go to Percy Quin State Park in McComb, Mississippi, for a weekís vacation. Before I left, Joy and I were doing great. Lots of hugs and kisses. I came back after a week of being gone expecting more of the same and Joy was super "cold". She sat across her living room from me flipping pages of a magazine like she was mad. Her mother was even in the hallway motioning for Joy to go sit by me. That was the first time I remember realizing that females did things a whole lot differently from boys. She may have had PMS, but Iím not sure if at that time she had already started.
I had a lot to learn about girls. One afternoon in the 9th grade, I rode my bike over to Joyís house as normal and as I was about to leave that day, we were talking and kissing on her front porch. Somehow we had gotten on the subject of girls periods. For some reason, I thought girls didnít do this until after they had a baby. Joy explained to me that girls started this around 13 years old. I said, "You meanÖyouÖhave those?" I was getting on my bike at the time and when Joy giggled, "Yes", I fell off my bike into her motherís garden. She thought it was super funny. I was just embarrassed. That was just the beginning of many "discoveries" I would have with Joy.
There was another church event that I remember pretty well with Joy. It was a youth hayride down River Road. We would ride on a hay-covered truck to and from a place out in the sticks where there would be a dance. It was a long ride and along the way someone pulled the tarp of the truck over the bunch of us. It was dark. The perfect time to get to know Joy better. I wanted her to wipe her lipstick off so it wouldnít get all over me. She wouldnít do it. I got so upset. We didnít speak until the hayride back home. All of a sudden the lipstick issue didnít bother me. This wasnít the first or last time that I have been unreasonable. What was I thinking?
Joy was a great girl and as I mentioned earlier we would break-up and make-up all the way through high school. Joy and I were both at Mid City Baptist in the 9th grade and we both started a John McDonogh High in the 10th grade, but by mid-term that year, Joyís mother had read Joyís diary. You would think that a diary would be a place where you could write deeply personal things. Obviously, she wrote a lot about me. Her mother took her out of John McDonogh and sent her back to Mid City Baptist to finish her sophomore year and all of the junior year. Joy and I continued to see each other from time to time, but the distance allowed Joy to meet and date Willie Jackson at Mid City. Willie was a senior when Joy was a junior. When he graduated, Joy talked her mother into letting her return to John McDonogh High to graduate. We were friends our senior year at McDonogh. Joy eventually eloped with Willie after she graduated high school. They eventually divorced and Joy married Craig Hopkins who was one of our group growing up in New Orleans. We are all still friends to this day.
During football season, brothers Craig
and Kenny Hopkins and I would hangout at Cor Jesu High School, which has
since changed its name to Brother Martin High School. We would play
"flag" or "touch" football with other kids who hung around the
playground. There was a time they closed the playground because one of
the neighbors who house backed up to the playground complained about the
foul language they would hear. This didnít make Craig, Kenny and me too
happy. We knew who complained, so late one night bored out of our skulls,
we decided to collect garbage from all across the neighborhood and dump it
in their front yard. We were convinced this would make us "big guys" in
the neighborhood, and what an excellent job we did. There were mounds of
rubbish piled on this lawn. You couldnít even see their shrubbery there
was so much garbage. What a surprise they would get when they came out
the next morning! I got out of bed the next day and went down to the
house to see our tremendous feat in the daylight. Not one speck of
garbage was on that lawn. There was absolutely no trace of anything to
indicate our dirty deed. What a major disappointment. Oh well, after a
week or so, the playground reopened anyway.
In the 8th grade I had a major crush on Darlene Wood, a
cheerleader who was two years older than me. She lived around the block
from me on St. Roch Avenue and cheered for Capdau when I was in the 7th
grade. But when I got to 8th grade, she went to McDonogh High
and I didnít see her as much. She would ride the city bus to and from
McDonogh, so I would ride my bike to the bus stop in the afternoons and
wait for her to get off the bus. She was usually late because of
cheerleading practice or other things. She was real popular. Why I
thought sheíd have anything to do with a geek like me, I have no idea!
But, she would get off the bus and I would walk with her the two blocks to
her house inviting her to put her books in my bike basket. Some days I
would wait for the longest time and she wouldnít come. Iíd park my bike
about a block away and watch for her, then ride up to where she was.
Years later (Yep, thatís how long it took me to figure this out) I
realized that Darlene was avoiding me like the plaque. I felt totally
embarrassed about what a sap I had been. Why would she date the captain
and star of the football team when she could have a short, pudgy kid with
a crew-cut like me? She needs to reevaluate her taste in men.
In 1961, when I was going into the 9th grade and Tom was
entering his senior year, we were enrolled at Mid City Baptist School, a
Kindergarten through High School private facility that was formed because
of growing problems in the public schools with integration. It was
rumored that Public Schools would be late opening (if they opened at all)
in 1961, because of the integration issue. So, my Mom and Dad, like many
other Moms and Dads, enrolled Tom, Judy, and me at Mid City Baptist, a
private school completely on the other side of town from our home.
Fortunately, Tom had gotten his driverís license and Dad had given him his
old 1950 Ford two door sedan. Tom had customized the car with a Coronado
Red paint job, Smitty mufflers (extra loud), and spun-aluminum "moon"
hubcaps. These hubcaps were popular at the time and they were constantly
being stolen from his car. One night as we were sleeping, Tom heard some
thumping outside the window. On looking down from the 2nd
floor he saw some guys running around below. He was about to catch some
thieves. He charged outside and tackled one of the culprits, pounding him
senseless only to find out later that they were friends of my sister,
Judy. They were rolling the house with toilet paper.
During the period 1961-64, many lifestyle changes were made which affected
both blacks and whites during the integration era. Public pools were
closed at both City Park and Pontchartrain Beach. These were great pools
that were closed for no other reason than to deny access to blacks. Itís
hard to imagine now, but this was a serious issue of that time. So,
blacks didnít get to go swimming at these facilities, but we couldnít
either! That certainly taught them a lesson. The carefree fun of the
50ís was ending as Harry Batt, owner of Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park
put up gates at entrances to the park and started charging admission for
the first time. It wasnít said, but everyone knew why. He figured poor
blacks wouldnít want to pay to come to Pontchartrain Beach when they could
swim free at their own beach, Lincoln Beach. Yeah, thatíll teach them
"darkies"! Now we have to pay to go to the Amusement Park!
Hindsight shows that it was all so dumb. Blacks paid just like whites.
Nothing could stop integration. Lincoln Beach eventually closed, and in
1983, Harry Battís son, brought the curtain down on a New Orleans
landmark. The property that once held Lincoln Beach is still there
empty. You can still see the layout of the original park. Pontchartrain
Beach has the remaining parking lots. In 2000, another Amusement Park,
Jazzland, opened near I-10. Itís not on the shores of Lake
Pontchartrain. Thatís a shame.
Mid City Baptist was a whole new experience for me. As I mentioned
earlier, adaptation was not one of my strong suits. Coming from an
Episcopal background, the Baptist Church was a real shock to my system.
During twice weekly chapel, our principal John T. Curtis, would do his
best to save us so we wouldnít be "doomed and damned to eternal Hell."
Since chapel fell right before lunch, I knew of many students who would
"walk the aisle" to be saved, because then they could go to lunch while
the rest of us sang "just two more verses of "Just As I Am".
I liked my Church and didnít like the fact that J.T. Curtis was telling me
I needed to be saved or be "doomed." I didnít feel "doomed", although I
probably was at the time. All these chapel visits did was increase my
sarcasm and turn me off to the Baptist Church. But, I was in the 9th
grade. I wasnít too serious about anything, especially religion. My poor
brother, Tom, had to graduate from Mid City. Of course, Tom went on to
get his degree in "making money", while I went on to get my degree in "do
you want fries with that?"
Once, in class at Mid City, a couple of us guys couldnít help but noticing
the girls working outside our window in gym shorts. The teacher caught
two of us and to make examples of us sent us to Coach White (the
basketball coach) for discipline. When we got to Coach Whiteís room (he
also taught us Bible), he stood the other guy against the wall with his
hands above his head, and pulled out a wooden paddle. He smacked this kid
on the butt so hard Iíd thought heíd killed him. He screamed. Then Coach
White told him he needed to get the lust out of his system and hit him
again. Then again. Good gosh, what red-blooded American boy would stare
at a pretty girl in shorts? I was terrified. Iím sure I had tears in my
eyes as the other kid limped from the room and it was my turn. I guess
Coach White felt sorry for me. Iím not sure why, but he just told me not
to do it anymore and to get out.
It was "Senior Day" at Mid City Baptist and Brother Curtis was determined
to save all the seniors before they graduated. In an especially long
chapel service, we were into about our 30th repetition of "just
two more verses of Just As I Am", when another Senior went forward (most
of them went forward because that was the only way theyíd get out of
there). That left three seniors to save. One of them was a girl named
Sherry, Phillip Hathaway, and my brother Tom. If they would just walk the
aisle we could all go to lunch, but these three were determined. Brother
Curtis yelled for "two more verses" and we kept singing. Brother Curtis
would pound the podium between verses and do everything he could to reach
these three heathens. After a few more verses and pleading by Brother
Curtis, Phillip Hathaway, who had brought his lunch that day, sat down and
started eating his sandwich in the pew. An exasperated Brother Curtis
finally relented, quietly announcing, "Go to lunch." Chapel emptied in
The most memorable thing that happened that year at Mid City was the day I
went into the boyís restroom. In one of the stalls one of the students
had scrawled the message, "Please donít flush paper towels down the
toilets, it clogs up the water fountain outside." I peed all over
everything I was laughing so hard.
For the 1961-62 school year it was back to public schools since the
integration crisis has passed. Schools were back to normal. In 10th
grade it was John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue. Until I
started riding in Scotty Fifeís Volkswagen to school, I rode the city bus
like most of the other students. The 10th grade was my worst
year in school. I think the only subject I passed was P.E. and I think I
got a "D" in that! My mind wandered so much! All I could think about
was girls, my social life, or anything but school. The counselor told me
Iíd have to pass every subject in the 11th and 12th
to graduate. Just tell me what I need to do and Iíll do the bare minimum,
and thatís what I did. There was too much going on for me to concentrate
on school. My best friend, Paul Cutright and I would always have
something to do. I guess Paul and I drove about every street in the city.
In the 10th grade, Paul and I happened upon the Columbia
Broadcast School (not affiliated with Columbia Broadcasting System). That
was the actual name of the school. It was a block off St. Charles Avenue
in the Uptown area of New Orleans. The school was on the ground floor of
a small office building. Not elaborate facilities, but the owner did have
a small studio that he let us play in. He told me to talk into the
microphone and commented, "Man, you can really project! You have a great
radio voice." This was the absolutely worst thing he could have said.
Although I had been interested in radio since Junior High, I was now
determined to become a radio superstar, much to the shock of my parents
who said, "No youíre not!" I would finally wear them down years later.
Paul and I had a very good friendship. I think I spent the night over his
house more than he spent the night at mine, because Tom was in my room.
He didnít have any brothers or sisters. We would spend most of our time
in one or the otherís car since we had just gotten our driverís licenses.
One Friday night we were in downtown New Orleans listening to Dan Diamond
on WNOE Radio. Dan was doing an interview with Paul & Paula who had out
the hit song, "Hey Paula." We were only blocks from WNOE studios in the
Sheraton Charles hotel, so we raced to get there to meet Paul & Paula (we
were truly bored). They were still on the air when we parked the car on
the street outside the hotel and raced in the lobby and up to the
mezzanine floor where WNOE was located. We had visited olí Dan several
times before, just to let him know how weíre doing. He was always nice to
us letting us stand and gawk while he did his radio thing. In later years
when I was doing the radio thing I donít think I was as nice. Anyway, the
light was off over the door and we raced into the studio only to find Dan
Diamond there by himself in the middle of a commercial set. We asked him
where Paul & Paula were, and he told us we must have just missed them!
Paul and I were dumbfounded. There was no way they could have gotten past
us. It was years later that I discovered (you notice a trend here?) that
record companies would send you prerecorded interviews with artists with
just their answers on the disc or tape, and a script to ask questions.
The olí "Diamond Mine" pulled a fast one on us. (Update to this
story: I actually got an email from Dan Diamond. He says Paul & Paula
were actually there and had just left. Paul and I weren't duped after
(Update to this story: I actually got an email from Dan Diamond. He says Paul & Paula were actually there and had just left. Paul and I weren't duped after all.)
Paul Cutright and I dated most of the
same girls. When I was not going with Joy, he would be dating her. When
he wasnít dating Gina Odom, I dated her. This is not to say that girls
were sitting around to date us. It just seemed to work out that way. The
same is true of Jeannie Cunningham, Ann Yoder and others. Sometimes we
would double date with girls we had both dated at different times. We
were a strange couple of guys.
Other friends from High School included Butch Gomez and Wayne "Jungle
Bunny" Maranto. Butch and Wayne were members of a band called the
"Starlites". Butch played tenor sax and Jungle Bunny played drums. Butch
loved to play "Harlem Nocturne" on sax. He loved it. Wayne went to
Loyola University in New Orleans and majored in Music, and taught drums for
years in New Orleans. I spent a lot of time at both these guysí houses
even though Butch went to Nichols High School and Wayne was a year ahead
of me at McDonogh High. Now that I think of it, I canít remember how I
met these two.
Another High School buddy was Ernie Novello. Ernie was a short, stylish
wild man. Ernie was the type to wear sunglasses at night. He wasnít
necessarily a good-looking guy, but he had lots of charisma and style.
Ernie loved music. He was a big fan of Joey Dee & the Starlighters who
had a hit with "Peppermint Twist". ErnieErni knew all their songs. He
also liked Elvisís "Trouble". He could even perform them all pretty well
and he did so often! Even if it was just the two of us. During Mardi
Gras of 1964, Ernie was working at Record World, a downtown record store
as a salesperson. Ernie started there as a stock boy, but he talked to
people so much about music, they let him sell, too. Capitol Records was
about to launch the Beatles in the US, and they had sent tons of
promotional materials to the record store, especially stickers announcing,
"The Beatles are coming!" We had thousands of the self-sticking stickers
and during Mardi Gras, Paul, Ernie and me stuck them all over the French
Quarter and downtown New Orleans. None of us were quite sure who the
Beatles even were, but the sticker thing was fun. When the "Meet The
Beatles" album arrived a few weeks later I took it home and played it for
my sisters and told them that these guys were going to be huge! The
looked at the album cover and laughed at how funny looking they were with
their "beatle" haircuts. Two months later, they would change their tune.
Beatlemania had arrived.
During the summers in high school, Tom and I worked at Pontchartrain
Beach. We both worked in concession stands, but I donít ever remember
working in the same one Tom worked. Tom had worked at the Beach for a
summer or two before me, and based on the good work he had done, Bud
Saudelet, the man who ran concessions for Pontchartrain Beach since dirt,
hired me. Working at the beach gave me long hours and low pay, but Iím
glad I did it. It made the amusement park even more special for me. Our
stand sold soft ice cream (called custard back then), popcorn, and
snowballs. They didnít trust us with money. You would go to a cashier at
front pay 50-cents and get a ticket. You got your choice with the
ticket. I was in Concession Stand #2 that was right next to the "Wild
Maus" ride on the midway. When Tom turned 18, Bud moved him to the Pool
concession stand. You had to be 18 to work there because they sold beer.
It was a "cushy" job for Tom because they never got in rush situations and
he had a great view of all the girls in bathing suits. I was jealous.
Pontchartrain Beach had the most amazing pool setup. Three pools. A
kiddy pool, a larger than Olympic main pool, and a diving pool with two
low boards and two high boards. It was a beautiful complex that they
closed in 1964, just in case a black person wanted to go swimming. Iím
all for equal rights, I just hated that things had to change during that
Closing the concession stand each night, I can still feel the warm breeze
blowing off the lake and the giant loudspeakers at the beach stage, which
played a variety of continuous music throughout the day, but then slowed
it down around closing time at 9:30. There was one song that normally
played around closing time that I looked forward to hearing each night.
One evening I walked over the stage that was built out in the sandy beach
area off the midway and asked a guy inside the name of the song. He told
me it was Wayne Kingís "Dream Time". I looked for a copy of it for the
longest time, and then in 1971 at KIRL in St Louis, I found a copy of the
album in their old music library. I still have it to this day. Every
once in a while Iíll take it out and put it on the turntable. I listen to
that song and it takes me back to the beach. More than anything else,
music defines my timeline. When I hear songs, I can remember where I was
and what I was doing when the song was popular. And, since I was in radio
so many years, most of the time I can tell you the label and artist just
by playing the darn things so many times.
During my high school years we had a Ring Dance in my junior year to get our class rings, plus the Junior and Senior Proms that were usually in the Jung Hotel. I went to these events, but normally didnít stay long. The hot spots were the parking lots of Lenfants on Canal Boulevard or the Ye Ole College Inn on Carrollton Avenue. Drinks were served in cars by carhops and you could park there and make out. Lenfants was actually better for the later because the parking lot was huge and totally dark. It backed up to a graveyard (how romantic). When you wanted service from one of the carhops you turned on your parking lights. These two places were always crowded. Another place I liked to frequent was the Meal-A-Minit on Canal Street. This place was open 24-7 and featured what they billed as the "Worldís Largest Banana Splits". They were gigantic. Sure, it was mostly whipped cream but it was great fun. Meal-A-Minit shut down in the 70's. Probably went bankrupt on all that whipped cream.
Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans was the best place in the 60's. All of the Lakefront (except for Pontchartrain Beach) was sea-walled back in the 30's. About 40 feet off the seawall ran Lakeshore Drive, winding all the way from the Industrial Canal to West End. It was about 10 miles of beautiful views and parking places all along the way. A couple of great "parking" places was at "The Point" in West End or Lover's Lane near Bayou St. John and the Lake. Kids in cars would be lined up at these two places. The Levee Board cops wouldn't bother you as long as they could see your heads, but if they couldn't, expect a flashlight. In later years, expensive home would be built near (but not on) Lakeshore Drive, and one section in particular, near West End became a real meeting place for youth. In the 80's, it was near impossible to drive down Lakeshore Drive near West End. Some of the residents in the area tired of it. About the same time, the overpass at Bayou St. John was torn down, and wasn't rebuilt for years. Residents were glad, because it slowed the traffic flow on Lakeshore Drive. It was my feeling that Lakeshore Drive was there long before these people built their fancy homes. When I went back to New Orleans in the 80's, two things concerned me. The loss of Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park in 1983, and the near closure of Lakeshore Drive. The beach closed, but in the late 80's a new overpass was built and Lakeshore Drive was completely opened once again to traffic. Things have changed over the years, but Lakeshore Drive is still in New Orleans for all to enjoy. I spent many a night parked with a girl listening to WTIX or WNOE. Those were good times. To Joy, Gina, Jennie, Martha, Ann and others, I apologize for the groping and begging.
Somehow I was graduated from high school and talked my parents into
sending me to "radio school". I enrolled at the largest and most
respected radio training facility I could find at the time. It was
Elkinís Institute of Radio in Dallas, Texas. The three-month radio
broadcasting course didnít start until September of 1964, so I spent the
first part of summer working in Concession Stand #2 at Pontchartrain
Beach. My friend Paul came to visit me at the beach so I took a break and
we went walking along the Midway. There were two girls we noticed who
noticed us back, so we started a conversation. I got paired with a girl
who was the cousin of the other girl. She was in New Orleans for a visit,
but was leaving in a few days. Her name was Susie from Hurst, Texas. At
the time, I had never heard of Hurst, but Susie explained that it was a
town located between Fort Worth and Dallas. I saw Susie a few times
before she left, and told her that I might see her when I go to Dallas for
radio school. Actually, I would see her a whole lot sooner than that.
A couple of weeks after that, Paul and I applied for jobs selling shoes
for competing shoe stores in Gentilly Woods Shopping Center on the Chef
Menteur Highway. We got the jobs. These people had to be desperate for
employees if they would hire Paul and me. We had even lied about our
ages. I turned in my notice to Bud Saudelet at the Beach (Iím sure the
place would shut down without me and sure enough, 20 years later it did)
and started at Kinney's Shoe Store.
Dad and Mom were so proud of me, going out and landing a great job and
all. Dad even talked about getting me a car to get back and forth to
work. Yea, that great job was paying about $2.75 an hour. I certainly
couldnít afford to buy one!
When I quit I took my fat paycheck of $34 and change and hit the road to Hurst, Texas, in my Dadís 1959 Rambler station wagon. I had called Susie and told her Iíd be in her driveway the next morning. I left around sundown and drove most of the night. This was pre-interstate days, so most of the roads were two lane highways. It was the first time Iíd ever ventured so far away from home by myself, especially without anyone knowing. Hey, Mom and Dad would never know. Theyíre at Percy Quin on vacation! The first thing my Dad said to me when they got back from Percy Quin was "Howíd all that mileage get on the Rambler?"
I was out of high school now. Convinced that I was radioís next superstar, I prepared for Elkinís Institute of Radio in Dallas, Texas.
|Please continue by reading "Radio Days" my next installment...|
|Last updated October 8, 2003|