Happy Birthday, Stuart Sender.

My oldest friend is today nearly my oldest friend, turning 50, as I will next month and all our 1961 chums will this year.  My birthday will perhaps be noted in the major press as the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs debacle.  In my twenties I used to think of myself as a “Babe of Pigs,” this before “Babe, the Pig” became one of my favorite movies.   Stuart Sender is notable as the one friend I am still close with from the nursery school my mother helped found, the Millburn Co-op Nursery. He was a good friend to my brother as well, they collaborated on the Phone Crazy “Bruckner Expressway” TV treatment (more on that someday soon).   Stuart’s latest film, with his wife Julie Bergman Sender at Balcony Films and Prince Charles, (not of Millburn, NJ), is called “Harmony“.

So, Stuart is the first of this gang to enter into our second half century.  In his honor I am including a story about us when we were young fellows and “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” had just come out.   Join me as we enter The Wayback Machine, spinning the dials to the year 1970.

Nothing’s Worrying Me

The dinky sound of the ukelele starts the easy sleazy shuffle.  I can see the 45 rpm record dropping onto my toy-like record player in my third grade bedroom.   My mom has recently taken me on an unusual shopping trip to Bed & Bath.  I’ve picked out new items for my room.  I’ve selected the two colors: orange and purple.  Everything chosen is orange or purple.  There’s a Lucite orange wastebasket, an iridescent purple bedspread with fringe, new curtains (purple), a lamp (orange) and other groovy accoutrement.

I’ve just seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for the third time.   I am in love with movies, I am in love with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, they are both in love with Katherine Ross, me too.  It’s a dusty, sepia-tinted, ukelele-driven, gunslinging lovefest with the hit song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” as the soundtrack.

Butch and Sundance are teaching me about manhood.  Butch is more like me, he talks a lot, he’s kind of insecure, he’s pretty funny, he’s smart. Sundance tells him:  “just keep thinking, Butch, that’s what you’re good at.”  Sundance is really fast on the draw, he can shoot anything so long as he’s moving.  He’s really quiet, never says more than a word or two.  He’s also really handsome and I think the schoolteacher played by Katherine Ross likes him better.  I guess you could say he’s the strong silent type.   Neither one of these guys is like any type of man I’ve ever met in suburban New Jersey.  They don’t seem Jewish and bear no resemblance to Uncle Seymour, Uncle Dave or Herb Pollikoff, the accountant next door.

My friend Stuart is over, he likes the movie and the song too.  We are standing next to the desk near the window, hovering over the record player. It’s a bright Saturday afternoon and we are trying to learn all the words to the song, so we keep playing it over and over.  We are writing them down in crayon on a piece of lined paper.  The singer is very casual, sometimes his voice sort of cracks, sometimes he sounds like he’s talk-singing.  He’s not really my kind of singer.  I’m more into Paul McCartney, Bobby Sherman, Michael Jackson.   But the song is essential, we must have it, we must know every line.  It shouldn’t be that hard, so why is it taking so long?    “So I just did me some talking to the sun, and I said I didn’t like the way he got things done, sleeping on the job.”  I like that, a lot.  Talking to the sun, I’ll remember that and use it, a lot.

We’ve played it about 20 times in a row now.  Whenever it gets to the fast part at the end, we’re still not finished writing it down and have to get ready to start it all over again.  Finally we’ve written all the words and have practiced singing it along with the record to double check.  It’s been a long afternoon.   We decide to walk over to Stuart’s house.  We live in a very safe family neighborhood where everyone knows us and we are old enough to cross streets by ourselves.  All the blocks are curved so there really aren’t any corners either.

We’ve got our lyrics now, so we start walking to Stuart’s holding the page in front of us and singing.   Stuart’s house is about 5 or 6 refrains away.  Around the third refrain we see a girl walking towards us.  It is Robin Conrad, she is a very friendly blonde girl who lives next to Stuart.  We keep on singing as she approaches, I guess we want her to hear us.   She hears us.   She says:   “oh, you like that stupid song too?”   Mixed message, just like a woman.  The song is stupid, but she likes it too.    Do we like it? Do we answer?  Of course we like it, why else would we be singing it?  We smile and keep walking.

“I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining, because I’m free, nothing’s worrying me. “    No worries.  Nice refrain, I’ll remember that too.

© 2010 Paul Godwin, from the chapbook “God’s Grace Upon NJ”, All Rights Reserved.

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