The Summer of 1964

A few years after he went to New York and started his work in advertising, my son came home for a weekend visit with a skateboard under his arm. He said he rode it to work. Over the next day or two, he stepped outside the house a couple times and rolled around the neighborhood on it. It was a nice board, almost three feet long, with the same lines as an actual surfboard and heavy duty wheels underneath it. I’m pretty sure he called these wheels “trucks.” He rode it with no protective equipment, no helmet, no wrist or knee guards. I tried to picture him rolling around Manhattan like that. His mother was not happy.

“Wanna take it for a ride?” he asked me.

“I don’t think so,” I said.



I passed through the skateboard phase when I was a kid. We didn’t call them “skateboards.” They were “sidewalk surfboards.”

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Home Economics

What’s for supper? 

When I was growing up, we called the evening meal supper in our house. At mid-day we ate our dinner. This was Midwestern parlance, perhaps typical of farm families, from which both of my parents came. At mid-day we didn’t eat “lunch.” A lunch was minimalist, more substantial than a snack, less substantial than dinner. It was a mini-meal. You ate lunch at school, out of a lunch bucket or lunch pail. (The more delicate term “lunch box” took a while to arrive.) North of town was a little restaurant called Lynn’s Lunch. On rare occasions we ate supper at Lynn’s Lunch. I don’t think I ever had dinner at Lynn’s Lunch.   

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A review of Get Thee to a Bakery

Thank you, Liane Kupferberg Carter for this lovely review of Get Thee to a Bakery. An excerpt:

“Rick Bailey sounds like an ideal travel companion. He’s endlessly curious, astute, and hilarious. All these traits are on dazzling display in his new book, “Get Thee to a Bakery,” a delightful blend of memoir, travelogue and creative nonfiction. This is the perfect book for armchair travelers, which, thanks to the pandemic, most of us currently are. ”

Read the whole review here:

Play It

I came home from school one day, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. 

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m helping you think of a name for your band.” 

Well that’s nice. That’s what I said. Grateful she had stopped saying “combo.” What I also thought was: Is there a band anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, that was named by the mother of one of the guys in the band? 

Bands were popping up everywhere. The British invasion was beginning. On TV at night we watched Shindig! and Hullaballoo. After school was a program called “Where The Action Is.” The theme song was called, oddly, “Where the action is.” Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon sang: “Oh baby come on…” All I remember about that song is the chorus. “It’s so great to take your baby where the action is!” It was a song that needed only a chorus, written for that half-hour show, filmed in California (Malibu, of course), not far from the beach. 

The same acts cycled into the programming a couple times a week. Steve Alaimo. Who was he? Tommy Roe. Ditto? The Knickerbockers. Bobby Goldsboro. Every band in creation started popping up. The Lovin’ Spoonful, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Ventures, Freddy and the Dreamers. My favorite was Paul Revere and the Raiders. They dressed in 18th century costumes, like before writing and recording their songs they had helped draft the US Constitution. “Kicks just keep getting harder to find.” They had long hair. 

“So what have you come up with?” 

My mother showed me her list, five or six possibilities. 

I felt my face go red as I scanned the list. “Neat Notes?” I said. Really? 

Naming the band was a little premature. We weren’t really a band. We were four boys each looking for the ability to play an instrument. Bob Young had a set of drums, a real set, with tomtoms. So he was good. I had used some money I earned delivering the Midland Daily News to buy an electric guitar at Whiteheads Music in Saginaw. It was made by Kent. No one that I knew or saw on Where The Action Is played a Kent guitar. It cost $79. I had also bought a cheap amplifier the size of a very small suitcase. Think airplane, carry-on. Roger Bill George made it known at school that he played the piano, so he was in. And Ronnie Fritz came up with an electric guitar somewhere, announcing his attention to play the bass.

We practiced in a front room of Roger Bill’s house–because there was an upright piano in that room. It soon because clear that Roger Bill could dribble a basketball and shoot layups, but he could not drive to the basket with that piano. If he had taken lessons, they had not covered “chords” in his instruction. Bob was competent, Ronnie played the E and A strings, the two fattest ones on the guitar, for bass effect. He did not have an amplifier.

I knew chords well enough to approximate a few songs. Gloria was in reach. Hang On Sloopy was on our set list. Eventually The Kinks’ Tired of Waiting. A song by the Beach Boys? Forget it. A song by Paul Revere and the Raiders? That wasn’t happening. The Beatles? I wanted to play Day Tripper. In the worst way, I wanted to play that. I could manage the riff, but then what? The bottom fell out of the song. There was no piano in Day Tripper. Also, I knew I couldn’t play that riff and sing the song at the same time. We concentrated on Gloria and Hang On Sloopy, playing those two songs at a couple school assemblies.

Gradually, very gradually, I began to realize that music was going to be my thing. With the exception of four lessons from Phil Woodcock, a guy who lived down the road from us, I was self-taught. I had a good ear. I learned some chords. I learned how to play bar chords. On Hullaballoo one night The Hollies lip synched “I Look Through Every Window,” a song with a catchy guitar intro. I wanted to do that. I wanted to play lead, like the killer treble string opening to Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” Anyone who asked, I said oh, yeah, I play lead guitar. But I was definitely a work in progress. 

How do you do that? I asked a guy who came to school and played with a band one day. How do you bend a note like that? He showed me. Back home I tried it. It hurt. You needed strong fingers, and calluses.

The name of that first group came from my mother’s list: The Troupe. 

I was going to have to do something about my hair.

The Geometry of Dessert

This one is for you, Mr. Frank, my high school algebra and geometry teacher from Freeland High School, 1966-67, 1967-68.  I think you’re out there…

Shown in these photos, pan de higo, a fig and almond cake from Spain. This exotic confection dates back to Muslim rule of Spain (711-1492), when, seeing the plentiful fig crop that was beyond the limits of human consumption, some ingenious Spaniards or Moors decided to squash figs and almonds together in a cake pan or pie plate–a form of some sort. You get the idea. They probably rolled it in fig leaves, set it aside, and let it dry. The result: a thick, dense, sweet, figgy, almondy treat. When you eat it, the seeds go pop! with each bite you take.

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A Yahoo headline greets me this morning: “Study says cheese and red wine could boost brain health.” That’s good news.  Two things I like, and I’m all in favor of brain health.  The ten-year study, published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease, involved 1787 people who participated in a Fluid Intelligence Test, “which provides a snapshot of a person’s ability to think quickly.”

Quickly? Typically I think: Quick, have another glass of wine. But red wine and cheese . . . together? Not in my mouth, thanks. I like red wine too much to risk sullying it with cheese; I like cheese too much to risk ruining it with red wine. 

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Elizabeth Holland asked me about writing

Think of all the life that goes flying past you on a daily basis, a lot of it funny, some of it painful, much of it slightly absurd. Lots of this stuff I want to remember. Like many people today, I want to write my life. Some capture these moments in diaries and journals. My essays are memory captures that dig down, exploring how these small details of everyday life resonate, how they trigger memories of other moments and events, how they relate to current events and literature, science, and history.

Here’s the full text of my Q & A with Elizabeth.