Commentary

My ‘Summer of Love’ Came to an Unlovely Ending

By ANTHONY DiSIPIO | Jun 28, 2017

This is the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love,” the seemingly seminal event of the decade known as the Sixties. For the true boomer, the entire decade of the “twenty-teens” is marked by 50th anniversaries of some kind that occurred in the 1960s, some good, some not so good: JFK’s election and subsequent assassination;  Bobby K, too; MLK “I have a dream” speech and, sadly, his murder also; Ed Sullivan introducing the Beatles in February 1964; Ford introducing the Mustang; Woodstock, if you happened to be around for it (I missed it because I was at the Tonkin Gulf Music Festival – my 50th anniversary for induction into that exclusive club is 1968, after the Tet Offensive); and, one of my special 50th moments, the anniversary of my getting my driver’s license in 1965. I’m sure other boomers have their own special moments to remember and celebrate. Or regret.

I wasn’t really quite into the Summer of Love in 1967, having just graduated from South Philadelphia High School (Southern) in June. I was still a Motown man. (Were there ever any better lyrics than “if good looks was a minute, you know that you could be an hour” – c’mon!) I was working at my first real job. Well, it was a real job in the sense that it had regular hours and didn’t involve me riding a bike delivering meat orders for Al’s Meat Market at 20th and Jackson streets. I was working the floor at a tailor shop in Morville’s, an exclusive men’s store at 15th and Walnut streets. Got $1.10 an hour. I had interviewed with National Cash Register for a tech position and was ready to sign on when the HR person asked me my draft status: “1-A,” I replied honestly. “Come back and see us when you get out,” he replied as the interview ended.

So mostly, I was biding my time and keeping up with current events in the Tonkin Gulf, waiting for my rich Uncle Sam to call. Weekends, however, were for the shore. Wildwood was the place to be for the people I hung around with, although I did know a young lady who summered in Brant Beach in the ’60s. Another story for another time.

One warm August weekend in 1967, however, I was saving up my salary, after paying board to my brother, for the big Labor Day weekend festivities that the guys on the corner at 26th and Morris had planned. This particular weekend, Ronnie McBride, “the Baby,” and Tom Becker, “the Duke,” of corner lore joined me in a leisurely Saturday watching a Phillies game in the front room of the apartment where my family lived. It had a window air conditioner, a luxury not known to many of us back in the day. The Phils were losing (they did a lot of that) and that Saturday afternoon lull had occurred. You know the one I’m talking about, somewhere around 4 p.m. every Saturday when time sort of slows down. Anyhow, the Baby blurts out, “Let’s go to the shore!” Next thing you know, we are packing a bag and looking for a ride to 13th and Filbert for the NJ Transit bus to “Wildwood, Wildwood Crest,” as they would announce on the loudspeaker. The last bus left the terminal at 7 p.m.

Now I have to be honest here, our judgment in making this decision may have been a bit clouded by the adult beverages we had consumed while watching the Phils. I know, we weren’t 21; we were 18 and 1-A. I am not asking your forgiveness, just as I’m sure that you at 18 wouldn’t ask mine. Looking back, I have made better decisions, but in some situations there are no do-overs.

We just made it to the terminal in time for the last bus and made it to Wildwood by 9:30, where some of the guys from the corner had an apartment in a three-story building of apartments that was painted white and aptly called the White House. It was a classic summer rental for under-aged kids. Say no more. There were at least 50 people at one time or another at the “party” that was being held. I recall at some point in the evening going into a room to go to sleep. It had been a long day.

The next thing I know three Wildwood police officers were yanking on me to “wake up” and get downstairs. Stunned, I came out of the room and watched as people ran out the front and back doors of the third-floor apartment, trying to escape the long arm of the law. Seems the party was coming to an abrupt and unexpected ending. “Grab that sign and traffic cone,” the officer behind me instructed. The White House had been decorated in early urban street equipment: street signs, orange traffic cones and a “funeral, no parking” sign that was mine to watch over. The officer led me to the back door, to travel down the three flights of steps to the street.

It was a bust! Nothing bigger had ever been televised on “The Untouchables” on ABC Thursday nights, sponsored by L&M Tobaccos. Robert Stack woulda been proud. Floodlights lit up the entire front of the apartment as I tried to maneuver my way down the outside three flights of steps without falling, holding onto my “funeral, no parking” sign and orange traffic cone, shading my eyes and trying not to trip on my 19-cent flip-flops. I could see, across the street, a huge crowd had gathered, many of the members people who had been at the party 10 minutes earlier. The “older” members of the crowd could be heard tsk-tsking, “What a disgrace, so young.” I was trying to figure out how all the people I recognized got out of the party and I had not.

The officer put me into a patrol car with Danny “Rughead” Sweeney. The back doors had no handles. And there was a screen separating us from “them.”

“We gonna take them to the station and let them out?” the older of the two officers asked his partner. “No, they are going in. The guy that called in the complaint is a friend of the chief’s and he is really pissed,” replied the driver. And I was taken to the Wildwood jail. I was a con.

After a very interesting rest of the night in a cell with Sweeney, two boards to sleep on and a single commode toilet to share, we went before the judge. I even remember his name, Judge Mateira. There were 13 of us, all charged with the same thing: drinking under age and disorderly conduct. No one pleaded guilty and there were some real Perry Mason-like defenses. Space limits the entertainment factor here.

I tried to explain to the judge I couldn’t have been disturbing the peace; I was asleep. I lost. We all were found guilty, fined $100 for drinking under age and $5 court costs, and $50 for disturbing the peace and $5 court costs. I tried to ask why there were two court costs when we had been in the same room the entire time, all of 15 minutes, but I got gaveled. We got to make one phone call.

Now my brother John is a saint of a man, giving up his life just about to take care of my sister and me after my mom died. This was not the phone call I wanted to make, believe me, not to mention $160 was a lot of money for us. It is, to this day, the most afraid I have ever been. It was Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m., his day to sleep in. My sister answered the phone and when I told her where I was, she started crying.

“Put John on the phone, Marie,” I requested.

It took him a long time before he got on the phone. I blurted out before he could reprimand me, “John, I’m in Wildwood jail. I need $160 Western Union or they are gonna make me pick strawberries to pay it off.”

My brother is the king of the pregnant pause and the use of sarcasm. He hesitated for what felt like an hour and then asked, “Did you eat yet?” to which I replied, “No.”

“Did you sleep?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll like the food,” and he hung up. That was it!

You got only one call and that was mine. Sweeney got out and I went back to my cell, alone, where I sat until 3 p.m. when the bailiff called out, “DiSipio, your money came.” It was as if I had won the lottery, if they had had a lottery in 1967.

I walked back to Pine Avenue where my guys stayed and bummed a ride to Philadelphia that was leaving at 8. I got home by 9:30, jumped into bed and pulled up the covers, hoping my brother would think me asleep when he got home. Ten minutes later, he walked up the 13 stairs to our apartment, threw on the lights, kicked my feet and admonished, “You ever get locked up again, don’t call here.”

And I’ve never been locked up since.

Happy 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love!

Anthony DiSipio of Manahawkin recalls 50th anniversaries and other boomer moments in his book, When I’m 64, available at whenim64ajjr.com or by emailing adisipio@excite.com.

 

 

 

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