Like any good son that loves his mother I always wanted to do something nice for her on her birthday. And I usually did. One exception was that time when I was about 12-years old when mom told me that she didn’t want anything for her birthday. That was the year that I went out and bought a baseball glove with the money I was going to spend on her birthday gift.
When her birthday rolled around and all she got from me was a card, I could sense her disappointment. Then my Aunt Toni called me on the phone and berated me for not getting her sister a present. Needless to say I learned at a young age that women never mean what they say. That lesson has served me well in life with the exception of the one time I slipped. It was around 1987 and my then girlfriend told me, “Go to your friend’s bachelor party, have fun, I’ll be alright home alone.”
Of course when I got home I heard, “I don’t believe that you actually went to that bachelor party, and left me here alone on a Saturday night.”
I really couldn’t understand this. I mean we had cable and a VCR player, it’s not like she was all alone.
For more on the subject of women never saying what they mean see the movie Tootsie. There is an exchange between Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange that will drive this point home.
Mom’s birthday is October 12, which is kind of cool that a genuine Italian mother was born on Columbus Day. She’d even get a parade on her birthday! In the summer of 1982, I procured two tickets for a Frank Sinatra concert at Carnegie Hall on September 19. It was a little early for mom’s birthday but I didn’t have any say in Sinatra’s tour planning.
I secured the ducats through my friend Mike who got them from a ticket scalper named Sidney whom Mike knew from around Madison Square Garden. Sidney was nicknamed “Mumbles” by the other ticket scalpers because he could barely talk due to a tracheotomy tube he had inserted in his neck. Mike and I never referred to him by his obviously very un-PC nickname. We were always respectful and called him Sidney. I paid $80 for two seats in the first row of the balcony in Carnegie Hall, which for a college student at the time was a lot of money. But mom was worth it.
The night of the show we took the bus across town to 57th and Broadway and walked south for a bit. We found a Chinese restaurant near the Ed Sullivan Theater and had dinner. When we got to Carnegie Hall, mom realized she would have to climb a lot of steps to get to our seats, which she was not happy about. Diabetes and a smoking habit made stairs difficult for her. I told her to just take her time and if she had to go to the bathroom now would be a good time. Once the show started I knew she would not want to get up.
The problem with seats in the first row of the balcony is that once you get to the top of the balcony, you have to walk down to your seats. I could see the look on her face that said “not more stairs!” We made our way to our seats and settled in to listen to some music. First up was drummer Buddy Rich who was absolutely amazing. I would place Carl Palmer and Mr. Rich as the two best drummers I have ever seen just for sheer speed. Keep in mind I was never fortunate enough to see Keith Moon or John Bonham.
After Buddy’s set and a brief intermission, it was time for the Chairman of the Board, Old Blue Eyes himself. He opened with “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Somewhere in the middle of the song mom turned to me and said, “The girl next to me has a tape recorder in her bag, she’s recording the show.” Obviously this was mom’s first ever encounter with a concert bootlegger. However, I am pretty sure she knew other types of bootleggers, having been born during prohibition.
I told her to just enjoy the show try not to say anything that would ruin the girls recording, clap nicely after each song and for God’s sake, do NOT yell out “Freebird.” The last reference went right over her head.
Sinatra played a decent 14-song set that included: “My Kind of Town,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “I’ve got you Under My Skin” closing with “New York, New York.” At one point between songs, he burped into the microphone and said, “Well, what did you expect from a saloon singer?” This brought a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Another highlight was a woman, whom I estimated to be in her twenties, in the orchestra section who must have been motioning for a kiss or a hug from Sinatra. He called her over to the stage and when the singer bent down to oblige her request; she kissed him and picked the handkerchief out of the pocket of his tuxedo. She then bolted up a side aisle back to her seat waving her stolen hankie. I half expected Jilly Rizzo and some of the boys to appear out of nowhere and lean on her to give the hanky back, but that never happened. I just hope that girl still has the handkerchief as it is a nice souvenir.
After the show I told mom to just relax and let the people file out so that we wouldn’t have to contend with the crowd. This would also make it easier for me to talk to an usher or a security person to see if we could take the elevator down to the first floor. A security person that I spoke to and explained that my mom wasn’t feeling up to walking down several flights of stairs was kind enough to get us an elevator.
As we left Carnegie Hall mom was beaming, she loved the show. “That was the second time I’ve seen him,” she said to me. Obviously the first time was probably in the 1940’s at the Paramount. When she told me this I thought to myself, that at that point in time I had already seen Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Queen three times each. Currently I’m up to around 75 Springsteen shows, nine for the Stones, six for U2, four each for Paul McCartney and Billy Joel (including two New Years Eve shows) and three for the Who. Yeah I guess you can say I like live music. A few months after this Sinatra show I saw a great double bill at Hofstra University featuring the Ramones and the B-52’s. As you can see I like all kinds of music.
I’m just glad mom had a great time and enjoyed her birthday present. It was better than a baseball mitt. Of course if she was still here today I would probably get her the bootleg of that show! Happy Birthday in Heaven mom.