SEEING SOMETHING NEW and different and unexpected and then remarking upon it—no matter what it is!—is not racism, prejudice, bigotry, etc. It’s just we do when we see something that we haven’t ever seen anything like it before! So this piece is about a few anomalies that have stuck in my head for more than forty years—because I haven’t seen them duplicated since!
These are not the angular-distance-of-a-satellite-from-its-last-perihelion kind of anomaly. This is about your everyday anomaly—things that jump out of their normal, run-of-the-mill surroundings and catch your attention.
Maybe even catch your breath.
They may stir your imagination.
Things that shouldn’t wouldn’t couldn’t normally be there—wherever there is—but are. You know, anomalies . . . something that is unusual or unexpected. 1
This is a photo of Village Oldies transmogrified into Bleecker Bob’s years after I last saw it in the ’70s. I remember the rock LPs in alphabetical order on the left wall and that Bob had what seemed like an unlimited supply of original Bill Haley 10-inch Decca albums stashed downstairs.
You ain’t seen anything like this before!
In 1970, I traveled from Wilkes-Barre, the heart of the anthracite coal-mining region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, to New York City. It was the first time that I’d been to the city since I was a kid with my Grandparents. This time I was 18, and I hitchhiked.
My goal was Village Oldies, a used-record shop in Greenwich Village. There were other stores there that I wanted to see, but someone told me that Bleecker Bob’s was where I would see some really rare records. The only “collectable” records that I saw in Wilkes-Barre were well-played 45s from jukeboxes that a tobacco/news shop on the Square fold for 5¢ each, or six for a quarter. (Natch.)
So I got there and spent hours going through racks of 45s and EPs and LPs, asking too many questions, spending too little money. Finally, I left for a bite to eat and to head home. While walking down Bleecker towards MacDougal (or MacDougal towards Bleecker?), another pedestrian caught my eye.
Jimi Hendrix’s look made him all kinds of symbols for men and women all over the Western world.
He was tall and lean, with a brown beard to his waist. Very hippyish. This in itself was a little odd: despite Woodstock, there really weren’t a lot of men in America with beards of that length outside of communes. And there never really were many communes.
But it wasn’t the beard that caught my eye.
Nor was it the eye-liner, mascara, and lipstick he was wearing.
It wasn’t even the red evening gown.
It was the roller skates with the baby-doll heads glued on them.
Nobody paid no mind—nobody local, that is
But me? I stared.
I’d never ever seen that before!
In fact, as I watched him coast towards the Avenue of the Americas, I thought, “Wow, man! If I live another eighty years in Wilkes-Barre, I might not see anything like that again.”
Mind you, that by Wilkes-Barre standards, I was a hippie! I had shoulder-length hair and a beard of my own. True it was trimmed close.
And I didn’t wear make-up or evening gowns. I was the Lee-jeans-and-gray-sportcoat kinda guy.
But with the hair and the beard, I got more than my share of stares in Wilkes-Barre.
So maybe I should have been less surprised and acted less touristy.
Maybe I should have been, you know, cool. 2
But I was surprised and I was a day-tripper in the Big Apple.
So I stared.
Aaahhh, yes: a hand-painted Volkswagen Beetle back when “hand-painted” meant you got down on your knees with a brush and a can of paint and did the work by hand! No airbrushes, no decals. Just those ten digits that Wholly Grommett in His Infinite Wisdom granted us.
A black guy in a hand-painted bug?!!?
1971 was an interesting year to be young and living in these here United States and paying attention to your surrounding. So it was that a few weeks later I was walking down South Main Street of Wilkes-Barre, heading towards Public Square.
It happened again!
No, roller-skating man didn’t show up in my hometown.
A young black dude came off the Square and drove past me up South Main. 3
In a yellow Volkswagen Bug.
Hand-painted, although I don’t remember the paint-job (flowers, no doubt), just the black dude behind the wheel.
With a ‘fro, of course.
I’d never ever seen that before—not the ‘fro, but a black person driving what was always a white folk’s car!
When a brother bought a car, he bought a Caddy or a Lincoln. At least in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1970 he did. Maybe in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles where there were lots of black hippies sharing similar lifestyles with white hippies there were brothers who drove Volkswagens.
But I’d never ever seen it before.
So I stared.
Remember when ‘hand-painted’ meant getting down on your knees with a brush and a can of paint (and a joint)?
And don’t give me no crap about racism
And don’t give me none of that racism crap!
Racism has nothing to do with it.
They were anomalies, and if you read the footnote below like you should have, then you know they’re something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified.
FEATURED IMAGE: The first ‘natural’ that most of us white folk who lived outside a few big cities ever really paid attention to was Jimi Hendrix’s hair in 1967. Jimi’s good looks and tastefully eclectic and oh-so Sixties attire made him all kinds of symbols for both black and white men and women all over the Western world. (Photo by Gered Mankowitz, 1967. And those eyes weren’t from smoking cigarettes . . .)
1 An anomaly is “something that is unusual or unexpected: something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified.” (Merriam-Webster)
2 This was ages before The Big Lebowski and “black dude” was what we hippie-types called younger black men. We were all searching for a non-racist, street-cool language then. Even “spade” was cool for a while . . . if you had long hair. I, uh, I don’t use those terms anymore.
3 I was cool once. Literally once. It was 1975 and I was living in Connecticut. And for a change I was having a tough time meeting girls. So my best friend Jack told me to take a break from the bars for a fe weeks, grow a moustache (I was clean-shaven at the time), and wear his leisure suit. So I did. And I was cool. It worked, too! But, y’know, look at the picture of me at the homepage of this site: me and leisure suits weren’t going to last long . . .