Posts categorized “T-Shirt Stories”.

Working in a Wicker Wonderland

Pier 1 frontI had a very lucrative summer during my third summer in college, working at Pier 1 Imports, before it became a “lifestyle store” with crazy Kirstie Alley hawking for them.

I had had a job that was clearly a scam earlier that summer. I had replied to an ad in the Village Voice under the heading Activism/Journalism. It was supposed to be something that would raise awareness about social programs and raise money for them. I quickly figured out that the only person making money was the man who ran the place. He lived in a dark studio on Lexington Avenue, and the ridiculous part was me taking the train to the Upper East Side, getting our assignments, and then all of us driving out to Long Island, going door to door, and then returning to NYC, and then me returning to Long Island.

Two weeks of that was enough. I quit, and immediately got a tw0-day job doing inventory at A&S, and then got a job at the new Pier 1 that opened quite literally around the corner from our house. My brother also got a job there.

Pier 1 Imports was in expansion mode then, and they were opening stores all over the area. We worked 12-hour days, because we had to put price tags on everything. The store was new and everything had to be tagged and then put on the shelves.

pier 1 backThen two guys from the corporate headquarters came up and had us change everything around, both upstairs and downstairs.

After a while, we got tired of carefully moving everything around, so we were just throwing wicker baskets and chairs to each other. By the time the store opened, and people wanted to buy wicker patio furniture, it was hard to find four matching chairs that were in good condition.

It was an interesting summer because most of my co-workers were my brother’s age. I also discovered that my brother was a much better co-worker than most of our other cohorts. We had to take a “psychological test” to get this job. Basically, the whole goal of the test was to see if you would snitch on your co-workers if they stole something and you found out about it. Anyone with half a brain could figure out how to answer these questions.

Back then, the store had more “imports” and there were more items that I found interesting then than I would now. A string of brass bells from India. Clay reproductions of pre-Columbian art from Mexico. We also had a LOT of wicker baskets. Even in animal shapes, like a wicker duck. My mother was a big fan of wicker, so she liked that we worked there.

This was also probably the first time I spent a lot of time with someone whom I would now figure out much more quickly was a big queen. Our assistant manager was  very relaxed. The polar opposite of our manager, who was always stressed out, and already spending too much time on the road, driving from Hauppauge to Great Neck. He later had to drive all the way out to Roselle Park in New Jersey.

Paul, the assistant manager, had a funny word for everything. The scissors was the “kashnips” and the little plastic string for price tags became “shpaghets.” There was a Friendly’s across the street, which he called “Happy’s.” Paul was all for taking breaks and we went for shakes quite often at Happy’s.

That was the summer of 1984 and the radio station the manager preferred played certain songs each and every hour: “When Doves Cry,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” and “She-Bop.” My brother and his friends finally turned it into a game to see who could predict the next song.

Great Neck is home to a celebrity or two , and the only one who ever came into Pier 1 while I worked there was comedian Alan King, who was cheaper than he was funny. He wanted to buy ashtrays for his poolside area. The cheapest ones we had were $1.50, so of course he complained, “Don’t you have any for a dollar?”

One by one, most of us left at the end of the summer. The first one or two people got gifts and a goodbye party. I got a rock. I was the fourth or fifth to leave and I think at least Paul said goodbye to me.

It was probably the first time I went out and got myself a job, though, which were easier to find back then. It also helped fund my LP habit, and trips into NYC to see a lot of films by the foreign directors I was studying at Hofstra: Goddard, Chabrol, Bunuel. New York had a lot of older cinemas that showed old movies in double features back then. So when I wasn’t selling wickerware, I was learning how to navigate the New York City subway system. The train cars back then were in really appalling condition. Graffiti everywhere and air-blowing fans without grilles over them.

Overall, it was pretty good summer.

The Vic Buffer

A friend of mine, Pat, introduced me to two wonderful institutions after we graduated college. One was the Indian restaurant Romna, on East Sixth Street (which we frequented for years) and the other was Huntington’s New Community Cinema, housed in an old elementary school in Huntington, on the other side of the Nassau-Suffolk border. The first film I saw there was Dance with a Stranger.


Supporting cinema with t-shirts.

I eventually joined as a member for a while, and went regularly through 1989, when I moved to Manhattan. They showed every major foreign film and independent release possible. One Sunday, Mark and I went to see Marcel Pagnol’s “Fanny Trilogy” for an entire day. That’s how we learned the term, “Escartefigerie.” Every month, maybe more, they had silent films accompanied by a live pianist.

The cinema was actually only in part of the building. It shared space with a YMCA. The theatre was actually the school auditorium. The seats were uncomfortable at times. But they had wonderful snacks–blondies and brownies, herbal tea and hot chocolate, and after a while, you became friendly with the volunteers who staffed the door and the concessions, and the projectionist.

I remember once scrambling to leave work on time so I could get home to Woodhaven via subway and jump into my car and cross Nassau County and get on Route 110 so I could see a silent movie on time. This was the age of VCRs, but honestly, until DVDs came along, I didn’t really enjoy watching things on VHS. Plus, cinemas are all about a larger-than-your-life screen and a dreamlike experience as the lights go down and you get absorbed by and absorb what’s on the screen.

This was before smartphones. All you really had to worry about was a geriatric viewer in the audience saying, “What’s going on!? I DON’T UNDERSTAND” to his wife.

I saw films there I have not seen since on TV or are not available on DVD, like Pervola: Tracks in the Snow. I often wondered just how many films they had to watch just to sift through everything to get us the good stuff.

I was out of college but had some friends who were still at Hofstra, so sometimes it was a mad dash to Hofstra to collect them, then get to Huntington. We soon learned that it was usually okay to be 10 to 20 minutes late, because of the “Vic Buffer.”

One of the cinema’s founders, Vic Skolnick, usually introduced the films, and would talk for at least 10 minutes, if not more. My friend Abdul would say, “Don’t worry, there’s a Vic Buffer. He had been a history professor, so those buffers were good lessons on a variety of subjects.

And there was usually a meal before but usually after the movies.

Buying this t-shirt helped support independent cinema on Long Island. Skolnick and his partner of 60 years, Charlotte Sky, started their effort by showing movies on a library projector on a bedsheet up in a friend’s dance studio somewhere about 40 year ago.

They eventually were able to raise money to add a second screening area in the area behind the screen–the auditorium’s backstage area, and it became the Cinema Arts Centre.

It was sad to hear that Vic died this summer at the age of 81. Read more about him.

Mister Blazak

My father was a CPA and had a variety of clients, whom he visited in person about once a month. One was Mr. Blazak, who had some sort of metal manufacturing plant in Newark, NJ. He sent this t-shirt home with my Dad one time and I have had it for years.

Mister Blazak

A simple shirt from a simpler time.

I don’t even remember Mr. Blazak’s first name. But I do remember that when my father was close to retiring, as was Mr. Blazak, my father was essentially let go by Blazak Junior, which my father was expecting  because when the younger generation takes over a family business, they often do not want  their father’s people in place. They usually want someone their own age.

Well, even though my father was expecting this and also expecting to slow his own business, Mr. Blazak was very upset. After Blazak Junior lowered the boom, as it were, Mr. Blazak came into the office, crying, and apologized to my father profusely, since he probably had Dad doing his taxes for decades.

After my father died, I wrote to some of the clients I knew he had had for decades to let them know Dad had died. I got a letter a while later from Mr. Blazak’s daughter, who told me that her own father had predeceased my father, and that in the few years since my father’s tenure as their CPA, they had had several accountants. None of them had done as well as my father. Additionally, she said she had worked for her father’s company, and that Dad had taught her a lot about keeping the books well maintained.

These are two things I have heard now several times now about my father. That he knew every penny that had from month to month, and that he helped teach the bookkeepers at his clients’ offices how to keep things in order. I heard that as recently as this year, when I visited one of the clients who has a tire store. The bookkeeper there has been there for, oh, four decades. My cousins have also told me this, as he was the CPA for two of their businesses also.

In cleaning up the many decades of clutter here in my house, I came across some more evidence of what a good person my father was. One client, not listening to his advice, had undocumented workers in their plant. The owner was fined and sent to prison for about a year. Not only did my father not abandon him, he wrote a letter of reference for his client to the federal government, citing his clients many fine qualities and their close personal association that ran for decades. This client’s mother would send Lebanese spices home to Mom via Dad. She and the entire family were invited to my bar mitzvah. Not all of Dad’s clients were invited, btw.

Most of Dad’s clients had small businesses, and had more than one generation working in them. And of course, my father and his partner had maybe one part-time employee. There’s a lot to be said about the virtues of having your own small business and how you relate to others. To this day, I am personally still benefiting from these associations. My tire man and my mechanic are both former clients of my fathers. I have benefited from having good work done, and the very occasional break. When it comes to a lot of things, I try to stick with what Dad might have done. That’s usually worked out for the best.

Except for Allstate. They’ve really been very difficult. But then again, nothing horrible ever happened to the house while Dad was still alive.

I always appreciated my father’s virtues while he was alive, but I feel like I am appreciating them more deeply, ten years after his death, and wish I could tell him how much all of that means to me.

Daring to Be Different

My musical life was changed forever one day in July 1982 when I was listening to WLIR hoping to hear a Police song I had requested, and they played A Flock of Seagulls’ “Telecommunication.” I wound up getting hooked on most of the songs I was hearing that afternoon. I think “Shock the Monkey” came out later that summer.


This was on both sides of the shirt

I had not really been a music buyer until that summer. I think the only radio station I had listened to with any devotion up until college was 99X (WXLO). I wound up hooked on WLIR after that. I think I might have gotten this t-shirt when the WLIR van came to campus. I have a clear recollection of meeting Ben Manilla, and maybe Donna Donna.

Now, this was was this new music was in fact branded New Music. Long Island was home to one of the coolest radio stations available, but many of my peers were firmly entrenched in Top 40 and more established rock stations, like K-Rock. One friend put it best (from his opinion), “Why should I listen to something that isn’t a hit yet. Why should I listen to experiments?”

Clearly, you cannot reason with someone who’s main musical fandom was Journey. And pretty much only Journey. I was shocked when he became obsessed with “La Bamba” in 1988.

I digeress, though. Getting hooked into the WLIR lineup led to other seditious activities, like reading NME and Melodymaker from Britain. By July 1983, an old childhood friend asked with surprise, “When did you get cool?”

Well, I never did get cool, but I was up on everything. In a way, though, being this much into new music was almost like coming out, almost, as I had to constantly defend or explain liking certain groups with singers of uncertain gender.

The music filled my head, and my dorm room, and gave me ideas for my column at the school paper. It was a very important part of my life, and of course, the only way to hear all of this music was to buy a lot of it (which I certainly did) or listen to the radio. No CDs and no iPods and no Internet back then. So I spent a lot of time poring over LP covers and liner notes, and making connections between my own ideas and this new popular culture.

Eventually, I wound up getting an internship at WLIR, where I wrote the news items once a week in the mornings and working with the promotions department after the morning show went off. What many listeners didn’t know was that when “Malibu” Sue McCann wasn’t on the air, she also worked in the promotions department. By the time I became intern in my senior year, New Music had pretty much taken over the airwaves and wasn’t all that strange anymore to American ears.

And now, most of my favorite 1980s songs are used as muzak at places like Fuddruckers. Oh, the tyranny of age.

Concert T-Shirt

I didn’t go to a rock concert until I was a freshman, I think, at Hofstra. My floormates Lori and Sharon were aghast that I had never been to a concert. I also had never smoked pot. I still haven’t smoked pot, but I have been to a fair share of concerts.

squeeze front

Mod two-tone, eh?

My first concert was The Police during the Ghost In the Machine tour, in Spring 1982. This also marked me first buying cassettes.

Anyway, I don’t know where that Police shirt is. But my next show was the “final” Squeeze concert, also at Nassau Colliseum, where I went to see the Police. It was the week of Thanksgiving 1982 and it was their final show.

Except it wasn’t. By the time the concert started, it turned out there was another show the next night, AND, another show at some festival in Jamaica that weekend.

And then the group reformed in 1985 and I went to that concert also.

Last Orders

Last orders indeed. 28 year later, the group is still touring!

The funny thing about this final Squeeze concert was that the opening act was the English Beat. And opening for the English Beat was REM. Of course, back then, I had very little idea of the English Beat until the broke up shortly thereafter. And REM had that one mumbing hit in “Radio Free Europe.” I don’t even think they had an album yet.

The whole night was triumph for IRS and A&M Records. I went with my friend Ann, and maybe Mary, and a group behind us complained about REM. Then they complained about the English Beat, too. And then they complained about Squeeze. We wondered why they bothered to come. Especially the young couple that made out through all three acts.

And that is the story behind this collectible but probably not valuable t-shirt.

Who Wants Extra Credit?

The Bar Mitzvah is an important rite of passage–that most secular Jewish boys in America do not really like. Most secular Jewish boys wind up pressed into religious instruction as an additional commitment after school and on Sundays, possibly to keep us from watching more TV. Most parents have to strike up a deal that you HAVE to go to Hebrew school at least until you are bar mitzvahed.



Bar mitzvah has somehow become a verb when it’s really a noun.

I had a b’nai mitzvah. As a tail end of the baby boom, I had to share my bar mitzvah, because there were a LOT of kids at Temple Israel. There was a Friday night bat mitzvah, my b’nai mitzvah, followed by a kid whose parents opted to use the Temple’s caterers, so his was Saturday afternoon. All they had to do was walk down the hall to the catering hall. We drove to a country club that is now a gated community.

Anyway, our temple had a Hebrew High School. Originally, it was in a former private residence that had fallen to ruin. Behind it, they built, in 1973, the Youth House. It is a testament to the intersection of poured concrete and 1970s colors. I recall a very large gimmel adorning a red or orange door. To make it hip, there was a kitchen with kosher pizza and Coke cans with Hebrew writing, to lure us into Judaism. Or lure us further.

For some reason, I actually went to Hebrew High School, beyond the mandated bar mitzvah. A lot of us did. I enjoyed this more than the horrible two years with Rabbi Mayerfeld, who clearly hated children with a passion (see previous blog post for my vitriol).

Although, for some reason, I also grew weary of it and skipped a year. I was “welcomed back” with the notion that I would somehow make up that year by writing a special paper about Ethiopian Jews. That was a lovely fiction. I never wrote the paper, and I graduated with my classmates anyway. Frankly… they needed me a lot more than I needed them. This was extra credit time. Were they really going to turn away a nerdy kid who took Hebrew AND Yiddish classes?

The t-shirt is from this era. It was sold around Great Neck. The spelling, to me, is more Yiddish than Hebrew, actually. I think they even allowed this as gym wear. It’s a collector’s item nobody wants. Today in Great Neck, it is much more likely that kids would wear this shirt in Farsi, which I now hear every single day. A fascinating and foreign language I shall never learn.

The Hebrew High School was a good experience, though. We had teachers who clearly were too young to teach mixed in with kindlier older teachers, none of whom I wanted to see harmed in any way. Except for the time when one old idiot insisted that my Aunt Mary was really Aunt Miriam. Hello! No one ever calledher thatn. He though Mary was “too Christian.” It turns out her Hebrew name was Marya or MIriam, but she thought that sounded too Jewish. Even her legal English name, Molly, was “too Jewish.”

We had one earnest young woman who taught us about Jewish thought. Another was a no-nukes hippy who taught the class, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jesus But Were Afraid to Ask.” Because many Jews never learn anything about Jesus outside of Ben Hur (a great Jewish movie, about a gay Roman, his Jewish boyfriend, and Jesus). We also had a comparative religion class in which we almost brought a Roman Catholic priest to tears. We decided that the Holy Trinity and statures didn’t make sense if you claim to be a monotheistic, non-idolotrous religion.

Over all, it was a good experience. I am still not very observant, but I hvae a lot of Jewish thought in my head because of the place. My brother couldn’t be bothered with anything past bar mitzvah. My mother, of a good orthodox family, was never given any Hebrew education. My father forgot a lot of stuff. I am a nerd who reads, so Dad declared me the “religious authority” because I know that you pray for rain on Shmini Atzertet. I also know which sauces go best on falafel.

Mandatory Gym Uniform

So… when you get to Junior High… if there are still junior high schools… you have to wear a gym uniform. And if I hated gym in elementary school, I really liked it even less in junior high. We were requierd to wear the Great Neck North t-shirt and either gym shorts or sweat pants.

I have a very vivid fall memory of me freezing my butt off on the track, outside on a chilly October morning. We weren’t supposed to wear sweatshirts or jackets, either. Just t-shirts. Whose idea was this?

In third grade, I had come to dislike PE so much that I always wore shoes on gym day, because you can’t wear shoes  on a gym floor. Just sneakers. Then, by January, I started to dillydally in the library. After our turn in the library, the boys were sent to gym and the girls returned to Mrs. Kravitz’s class.

Must-have PE fashion!


Must have PE fashion!

So from January to June, I successfully skipped gym. I was eventually caught by a fourth grade teacher with a weak bladder, who wondered who I was when I was on the wrong floor of the elementary school. Grades 4-6 were upstairs and she had never seen me before.

So, the jig was up. The coach had no idea who I was. As a punishment for both of us, I had to go to TWO gym classes in fourth grade. He was forced to remember who I was and mark my progress. This story reached a semi-legendary proportion, as kids in OTHER SCHOOL knew “about the faggot who skipped gym.”

I blame this on same-sex gym class. I didn’t really like gym again until high school. In the winter months, we had co-ed gym. The girls were far less competitive than the boys. So then, I took the gayer sports–fencing, vollyball, gymnastics, and badminton–all in this t-shirt. I was very skinny and the shirt was like robe half the time on me.

But in junior high, my attitude about PE reached the zenith of ennui. All I really remember about gym for those three years was freezing in my overly large mandatory gym uniform.