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Far From Flatbush

The UFOs of '52... and Evita

 

The above photo is a detail from a two-page advertisement that ran in The New York Times several months ago. It was for a show on the History channel, Project Blue Book, described as a drama "based on the true, top-secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)… conducted by the United States Air Force from 1952 to 1969."

 

I checked out the first episode and turned it off after a half hour. It was pure, made-for-TV schlock. Yet the ad itself was astonishing—because the date on the newspaper article in the ad, July 27, 1952, is the day I was born.

 

As the excerpt from Bobby in Naziland indicates, the UFO frenzy of July 1952 is an incident that I explore in some detail—and as I was preparing the book for publication, it was weird to see one of the very newspaper articles I'd written about being used to promote an ancient occurrence that the gods of TV had suddenly deemed fit for mass consumption. Was I on to something?

 

I explain in the book that I found out about the UFOs of '52 only a few years ago, when I was in the library researching something else that had happened hours before my birth: the death of Eva Perón. I knew about Evita because my mother, a big fan of "The Lady of Hope," was always telling me about how Perón's death was on the front page of all the papers the day I was born. But she never said a word about the UFOs, which I'd have found a lot more interesting.

 

So it was a bit of a shock to learn that this other thing was also dominating the headlines that long-ago summer day. And it made me wonder: Had the aliens come for Evita and me?

 

Perhaps the gods of TV will explore that in some other extravaganza. Quality, in this case, would be a nice touch.

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Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

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I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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The Last Mercedes

 

Many years ago, in another life, I was editorial director of the Motor World car-buyer's guides. The gig involved long hours and endless deadlines. But it was the closest thing I've ever had to a dream job. Every week, a car company gave me a new car to test, and I got to drive everything, except for exotics. I met my wife while I was testing a Volkswagen Passat. Our first date was in a Toyota MR2. Our second date was in a Porsche 944 Cabriolet (the 911 would come later). She couldn't help but be a little impressed!

 

At the same time, for the same company, I was editing men's magazines, and wrote about cars in those, too—to give the mags "socially redeeming value." For those articles, I had near-total creative freedom and wrote some crazy satirical stuff—which nobody read except for one PR guy at Mazda.

 

One week, Mercedes-Benz gave me a fully loaded, $86,000, SL convertible to test for Motor World. I took all my friends joy-riding, let my father drive it, and for one of the men's magazines (whose name I prefer not to mention) wrote the "review" as an over-the-top Hunter Thompson parody titled "Mein Kar" (trigger warning!). Here's an excerpt, originally published in 1990:

 

My father, having spent most of his adult life confined to Chrysler K-cars and automobiles of that ilk, was anxious to test the parameters of the Mercedes. The war was a long time ago, and though he'd always taken personally the fact that the Third Reich had spent four years trying to kill him, he was also appreciative of the opportunity they'd created for him to tour France at a tender age and learn the art of oral sex from experienced French women.

 

"Let me drive," he said when I pulled up to his house and lowered the convertible top.

 

I gave him the wheel and he glided stylishly onto the street, waving to the awestruck neighbors as he drove by.

 

"They'll think I'm wealthy as a king," he said. "How fast does this thing go?"

 

"Zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds… not bad for a car that weighs as much as an elephant... and it has a top speed limited electronically to 155 miles per hour, which means it could go faster, maybe 200. It's got a 5.0-liter 322-horsepower DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine. But you know the Germans... a green people. They don't want maniac drivers breaking the sound barrier on the autobahn. But it will still outrun the F-15 Eagle till takeoff."

 

"Takeoff?" my father said. "Can we handle that much torque?"

 

"Only in the desert but we can't go that far today."

 

"Why not?"

 

"The time factor… I need to make a high-speed run to the Canadian border with my Hawaiian pharmacologist, but first I must see my Nazi pimp."

 

"Your Nazi pimp?" he said, heading north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway at a smooth 95. "Those people should be tried for crimes against humanity."

 

"Maybe so, but you have to give them credit for technological expertise."

 

"Yes… indeed," he said thoughtfully. "This is the way to travel."

 

I couldn't believe that someone from Mercedes happened to see the story. Consequently, it was the last car they ever gave me. It was also the only Mercedes my father ever drove. Unfortunately, I can't find the 29-year-old magazine with the article, which has my father's picture in it, taken outside Mercedes headquarters in Montvale, New Jersey. All I have is what you see above—a lo-res scan I made years ago.

 

I should send the Boys from Benz a copy of Bobby in Naziland. Because it should come standard in every Mercedes, tucked in the glove compartment along with the owner's manual.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Time Stands Still

 

I was standing in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery, in early August, talking to Liena Zagare, publisher and editor of the Bklyner newspaper. We were in the midst of a walking tour of some of the Flatbush sites I wrote about in Bobby in Naziland, and the cemetery was high on the list.

 

"I was a gloomy kid," I told her, as I stared at one of those weathered and now almost unreadable tombstones, barely able to make out the inscribed dates. The person whose bones now lay beneath my feet appeared to have been born in the final years of the 18th century and to have died in the opening years of the 19th—a child.

 

It was, I'm sure, one of the many tombstones I brooded over when I was a kid and I'd come to the cemetery on one of my solitary Flatbush walking tours, looking for something interesting to fill my day. I was attracted to cemeteries because I was obsessed with death. In my own family, as I explain in the book, death was more taboo than sex, something only to be spoken of in the abstract and never to be spoken of when it was real and personal.

 

I also found the cemetery serene, like my own private park. Nobody else was ever there—probably because the cemetery entrance is hidden, on a nearby dead-end street. And despite my obsessive thoughts about dying, I liked the sense of being in a place where time had stood still for more than 200 years.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my just-launched Instagram.

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Moe and the Stooges: Bigger Than Babs?

 

Erasmus Hall High School has always made a point of publicizing its famous alumni, of which there are plenty. The list, which includes actors, writers, athletes, and a certain chess champion, is well known. (You can read it here and here.) Barbra Streisand, of course, was the local girl that everybody in Flatbush knew about, even if they didn't go to Erasmus.

 

Babs could not only sing; she was an honor student—a role model for the entire neighborhood. Yet it was almost a secret that somebody whose fame arguably rivals or eclipses that of the great Ms. Streisand also attended Erasmus.

 

The school, presumably, preferred that the student body remain ignorant of the fact that a high school dropout could become rich and famous by performing violent acts of slapstick stupidity.

 

Yes, Moe Howard was, however briefly, an Erasmian. And he makes a cameo appearance in Bobby in Naziland—because, in 1962, to promote the film The Three Stooges in Orbit, the Stooges made a live appearance at the Lowe's Kings, on Flatbush Avenue, sending the packed house of Stooge-crazy kids into paroxysms of ecstasy. (That's Larry, Moe, and Curly in the photo.)

 

And yes, I was there. My takeaway from that memorable afternoon: Larry's hair was real.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

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