William Sloan House YMCA NYC
New York City is on our minds lately as we are making plans of being there in a couple of weeks. My first visit to the Big Apple comes to mind.
It was in late August 1963. In the Navy I had just arrived at my new assignment at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, Helicopter Utility Squadron Four (HU-4).
In the barracks I was assigned a cubical that I would share with three other men. HU-4 supplied helicopter support to non-aviation ships. So, at all times I think there were at least 100 men in helicopter detachments on ships. The good part is they were not in the barracks. So, although my cubical was for four men, two were all on detachments.
The one remaining man (besides me) in the cubical was a little short guy named Marlow from Maryland.
Marlow was witty and on top of what you said. Nothing got by him. We introduced ourselves and somehow Marlow knew I have never been to New York City.
He said, “Lets go, it is just up the road (60 miles).”
We took the bus to New York City that Saturday morning.
I was very impressed as we started declining down a spiral road. Right then, from the Jersey side the city looked big and overwhelming.
We went through a tunnel under the Hudson River. I don’t remember if it was the Lincoln Tunnel or the Holland Tunnel.
Then, out tunnel and into the city. I saw buildings with clothes lines between buildings, some people with their torsos half out their windows talking to people on the street. Then the bus when into the huge Port Authority building, a terminal for buses.
Marlow and I walked down 42nd Street and Times Square, with me being amazed at everything I saw.
Then we took a subway to either the Bronx or Brooklyn. We visited a relative or friend of Marlow’s for a while then returned to Manhattan.
I don’t remember what we saw then, it all blended in with my awwness.
When it got dark, back to the 42nd Street area with all the carnival loud come-ons and music. We went into, if I remember correctly the Peppermint Lounge with Chubby Checker, or a Chubby Checker look-like singing “THE TWIST”.
Then as it got late, we had planned to go to the cheapest place in town to sleep, The William Sloan Y.M.C.A. house.
Just as we arrived in the front a young Italian or Greek looking man emerged from the darkness and asked if we were looking for a place to crash.
I knew what he was up to and said no.
He was persistent and offered that Marlow could stay with him and he would pay for my room at the Sloan House. What a deal for me!
I think Marlow knew what he was up to too.
He walked me inside the building and he paid the desk clerk. He probably got a discount for being a repeat customer.
Marlow and I agreed to meet at Port Authority the next day at whatever time.
The bad thing about the William Sloan House the rooms did not have bathrooms. You had to go to a public bathroom and share the facilities with about 20 other men.
The next morning, I explored by myself and discovered the New York Public Library was on 42nd and 5th Avenue and other places… got to hear several street singers at a little park behind the library.
I reported to the Port Authority at the preplanned time and Marlow wasn’t there. I suppose they were having one for the road.
I went into the bar and had a drink, a Manhattan, I think. Then another. After the second one I went to the telephone booth and looked up Harvey Kurtzman, creator of MAD Magazine He was my hero, as Charlie Brown said, I just mildly worshipped the ground he walked on. I found his name living in, I think, Mt. Vernon, New York, just outside the city. The two Manhattans swelled my balls, so I called him!
He answered the phone!
He was very pleasant. We swapped a few one sentence notes via mail for the next few years.
Marlow finally showed up and the code of silence was, without saying, was placed on us, I was not to ask what went on with him and his new friend and well, “what happened in NYC stays in NYC”
We got back in time to dinner in the chow hall.
In the chow hall line I met Don Lash, who became a lifetime friend. In line I told him I just saw New York for the first time.
Don, being a people person, who can tune into your frame of mind, horned in I was hiding something, and he lit up smiling pumping we with questions.
And that was my first trip to New York City. Many more visits over the next two years and the last one not long after Anna and I got married, about 1970.
And now here we go again!