“City of Forbidden Fruit”

pcdowntownsepia

CHAPTER SIX

CITY OF FORBIDDEN FRUIT

In February of 1964, I departed Syracuse and traveled at night through a blinding snowstorm across Southern Ontario.

Crossing the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia and entering Michigan at Port Huron, I punched on the radio and heard my own voice promoting the arrival of “Peter C. Cavanaugh at the Home of the All-American Good Guys on Big Six Hundred–WEETAC Radio–W! T! A! C!”

WTAC’s Program Director Bob Del Giorno, an old Syracuse friend, had invited me to join him in Flint. I pulled into Bob’s driveway some two hours later shortly before one in the morning with another blizzard swirling about. Bob’s exasperated opening words were: “They’re waiting for us at Contos’!”

This was an early Tuesday morning. Back home in Syracuse, the liveliest of the party people were in bed watching Jack Parr’s new replacement, Johnny Carson.

Not even bothering to pull suitcases out of my trunk, I jumped in Bob’s car and we drove several blocks, pulling into a jammed parking lot next to a large brown and white building with a gigantic banner strung across the entrance. Upon it an enormous message screamed in bold red lettering: “Welcome Peter C.!”

Contos

We entered the bar and made our way through a wall-to-wall crowd.

Bob grabbed a band microphone and introduced himself to thunderous applause.

He then introduced me as his “paisan” and then, suddenly reflecting upon the fact that we were in Flint, with a very limited Italian population
(unlike Syracuse), quickly shifted to “my buddy”. I later discovered that Bob found using various obscene Italian phrases over the airwaves on WTAC the source of never ending self-amusement.

Bob and I had worked together briefly at WNDR and at WJMK in North Syracuse. WJMK was theoretically owned by a gentleman named Jim McKecknie, an outstanding WNDR sportscaster who did play-by-play coverage of the Syracuse Nationals back when “The Nats” were in the NBA. It was a daytime-only operation and word was “The Judge” had quite a bit to do with it behind the scenes in a genial circumvention of FCC law. The fact that WNDR personnel would turn up on WJMK every so often tended to fuel speculation of hidden control.

Here is an indication of WJMK’s priority in our lives.

When Bob and I were assigned to “turn it on”, we would drive to North Syracuse and fire-up the transmitter. We would proceed to read the “sign-on” greeting, throw a long-playing album on the turntable and lock the doors of the building. We would then have breakfast at a friendly little North Syracuse diner a half-mile away. Being professionals, of course, we would drag along a transistor radio tuned to the station to make sure the son-of-a-bitch was still on-the-air.

The only real excitement with WJMK assignments would occur Sunday afternoons when Mr. McKecknie would pull his Jaguar into the rear of the building behind the studios and bang an airline stewardess or two.

Jim McKechnie -- WNDR -- 1955

It took only a moment to sneak a microphone into the “garage area” and run a cord across two rooms straight into the broadcast board. Bob and I would then bring it up “on audition”, off the air, but onto the studio speakers. We would begin private point-scoring. If a given session was uniquely impressive, we might even move the action from the “audition” to “broadcast” line and mix the screams of agony and ecstasy under normal programming for a while. Discreetly.

Since the bulk of WJMK’s broadcasting on Sundays was devoted almost exclusively to religious programs, the potential for inspired juxtapositon was breathtaking.

But this night we were in Flint at Contos’ as Ray Emmett and the Superiors, all dressed-up sharp as hell in glittering gold show-jackets, followed my own well-received greeting to the throng by belting out a twenty-minute version of “What ‘d I Say?” with their own delicately interpretive lyrics to the Ray Charles classic.

“See the girl with diamond stick? Give her a dime and she will suck your dick!”

The dance floor filled.

“My little girl has lots of class. She likes to take it right up her ass!”

Bouncing buttocks in tight blue-jeans writhed with the hint of forbidden fruit.

The last “revised line” was a real show-stopper and saved for the end of the set.

“See the girl all dressed in pink? She’s the one who made my finger stink!”

Alright!

What ‘d Ah Say?

HEY!

I felt welcomed.

After “last call”, the entire band and a number of others returned with us to Bob’s house where he was living alone as his wife Joannie had temporarily returned to her mother in Syracuse. Over time, a pattern emerged. Joannie would leave. Joannie would come back. Bob would leave. Bob would come back. Joannie and Bob would leave. Bob and Joannie would come back. Sometimes they would even run into each other and forget who was going where.

Around a quarter after five, the party ended. Bob went on the air at six.

We were all back at Bob’s house the following Sunday night to watch Ed Sullivan and witness the American television debut of the Beatles.

The following week, Sam Amato accepted my invitation and visited us in Flint. We managed to sign-up Sam and The Twisters for an eight week engagement at “The Stardust Lounge”, another major Flint Rock Night Club. In what was to become the turf of Seger, Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad, they would have blown the town apart . They easily could have gone “all the way”.

Not to be.

Some of the “Twisters” had already “gone all the way.”

Days prior to their first scheduled Michigan performance, curse fate, several young ladies surfaced “enceinte” back in Syracuse. Two integral “Twister” members eventually did the “right thing” (which at that point was culturally recommended, if not required) and walked down the aisle. Wedding bells were breaking up that old band of mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: