I hadn’t ever heard “feedback,” in a musical sense, before, but the howling that kick-started the Beatles’ ‘I Feel Fine’ was an instant hit with me. This was long ago. You needed to snap molded plastic adapters into inch-and-a-half-holed 45s — singles — if you wanted to slip them onto the narrow central spindles of 33-rp.m. album turntables.
The flip, or “B” side — ‘She’s A Woman’ — was cool too, I thought, deep in my virginal pre-teen obtusity. Both those tracks are inextricably linked with a specific, magical Manhattan afternoon, loose in a grandiose apartment 40-plus stories above Central Park West. My best friend and I had been, remarkably, left there to our own devices.
His second cousin, or quasi-aunt — some obscure family member — inherited that vast, deluxe flat. She viewed babysitting as boring, degrading; figured us for rubes, unfit to be seen in public, yet old enough to spend a few hours without adult assistance or company.
Recollections of that alleged guardian have grown dimmer, except for close-cropped, Crayola magenta hair, crisp Larchmont lockjaw diction, and an immodest display of freckled cleavage. Her loot arrived in the form of royalty checks. A patent governed the production of plastic milk cartons, which had recently begun to replace classic glass milk bottles.
We slapped on the current Number One Fab Four platter, unlatched (against strict orders) sliding deck doors, stepped out and suddenly were dizzyingly high over C.P.W. (Central Park West.) So far up we could see Fifth Avenue (maybe even Madison), looking East across Park greenery. To the right, there’s Columbus Circle, moving left, the Plaza, Pierre, and the thin tan Essex House tower. The whole world, in other words.
That negligent redheaded cousin/aunt stocked stacks of stately, slippery stationery. A match made in heaven: I'd learned how to fold three distinct models of top-performance paper airplanes.
One would dart. Another was designed to float, while the third performed aerobatic loops. Flight-testing them occupied 45 minutes or so. I proudly witnessed two floaters soar deep into Central Park. Bent over the railing, unfazed as Empire State Building riveters, neither of us betrayed a hint of acrophobia or vertigo.
“Baby says she’s mine, you know; tells me all the time, you know…”
Mop-topped Brits blared out the soundtrack as a deftly launched looper took forever before settling onto West 77th Street. Losing interest, we shamelessly inventoried aunt/cousin’s slinky, lace-trimmed undergarments, cautiously prodded unfamiliar accessories, thumbed through a poorly concealed cache of European magazines.
“My love don’t give me presents…”
I now believe those ivory and wiry sculptures, casually displayed, were legitimate Moores, genuine Giacomettis. Damn, her sofa cushions would’ve been Sotheby auction-bait.
Inevitably, unsupervised boys veered toward trouble. Our mischief involved dropping water-filled Baggies (unable to find traditional balloons) toward pedestrians 400 feet below. Nobody got hit. Some appeared startled, some might have been splattered, but not seriously.
Soon, there was stern rapping at the apartment door. We froze, mute, quivering. Excruciating, breathless minutes later, heavy security guard footsteps stomped back down the hall. Once the building’s ancient elevator cables began to whine, we sucked in air and cued up the 45.
“Turns me on when I get lonely / People tell me that she’s only fooling / I know she isn’t.”
A somewhat unfathomable theme, as noted, for 11-year-olds. One or two albums down the road, we’d get the message. But we would never be allowed inside that C.P.W. flat again.
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