Between the ages of 7 and 16 (I’m 10 in the photo), my Uncle Ed and I traveled around the country every summer and even went to Nicaragua and England. We would leave a few days after school was over and usually come back a few days before the new school year began. Uncle Ed was my great Uncle. Because of problems my Mother had, he took on the role of raising me. He was a former bootlegger, a pilot and a somewhat successful inventor. He was also a lifelong bachelor.
A few years before she passed in the late 1990’s, my Mother asked me if Uncle Ed ever molested me. She said that she and my Brother were always concerned that Ed used our summer vacations to have sex with me? WTF? I knew she had some serious problems, but to suspect such a thing and not do anything about it at the time? It took me a few minutes to compose myself before I told her that he never even suggested it to me. If anything, Uncle Ed had always proven himself to be a womanizer on our trips. (More about that later in this story.)
When I asked her why they continued to allow me to travel with him, she replied that she didn’t want me to miss the opportunity of seeing the country and the world. Yeah, sure – It’s okay to have an old man’s penis shoved up your butt as long as you get a trip to the Grand Canyon out of it. I knew she was always pretty mentally messed up and my brother was a raving alcoholic for most of his adult life, but this really surprised and offended me.
As I said, Ed was quite the ladies man in his 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He had “girlfriends all over the country. We visited many of them whenever we travelled. This leads me to the tale I call:
Uncle Ed and the Hookers
Ed loved Florida and the West, especially Nevada and California. On one trip to see his relatives who lived in Los Angeles, we stopped in Las Vegas, staying at the Frontier Hotel/Casino. He wasn’t much of a gambler, but he loved the excitement of the Las Vegas Strip. He even got me in to see Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis one night. He slipped the Maitre’d a Franklin to pull that off. The show was as amazing as you might imagine from the clips they have online.
During one stay, Uncle Ed said I should go down to the first floor and play some pinball. Even back in the 50’s and 60’s, most casinos had game rooms for underage guests. Today, they’re filled with all sorts of high tech video games. Back then, they had pinball and electronic shooting galleries. After I played a couple of games, I realized I had left a bunch of change in the room. I went back upstairs, unlocked our door and walked in.
I was 13. My knowledge of sex at that time consisted of schoolyard talk and a few old Playboy magazines my brother, 17 years my senior, had given me. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. Uncle Ed was on the bed, lying naked on his back. There was a very attractive naked woman straddling his crotch, facing backwards. (I later learned this was called a Backwards Cowboy.) There was another beautiful woman straddling his face.
I don’t know if the ladies or my Uncle Ed screamed louder. He ordered me out of the room while the women tried to hide behind what proved to be very dusty drapes. My allergies really kicked in and I also got a raging hard on…well, as raging as a 13-year-old can get.
I left the room and ran down 3 flights of stairs back to the game room. A few minutes later, Uncle Ed came in and took me back to the room. As a germaphobe, even back then, I just stood in the middle of the floor, touching nothing, thankful that I had my own bed in an adjoining room. Uncle Ed had “the talk” with me. The whole deal about, “When and man and a woman are in love, etc.” I called bullshit and asked what part of the reproductive process included face sitting? Ed laughed. Hell, he raised me to be inquisitive. He admitted he was having sex for pleasure and said he had paid both ladies for the “privilege.”
We didn’t speak of the incident again. However, it did put a stop to my teenage masturbation for quite some time, since when I tried to fantasize after that, I kept seeing Ed’s face…or at least part of it under a woman’s thighs.
Uncle Ed in England and Monterey
I get my love of music from Uncle Ed. He loved music, especially music made on the guitar as well as the harmonica. He was quite a harmonica player and we often played duets after I took up the guitar when I was 10. Ed loved the blues and had quite a collection of old blues 78’s, including records from Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bukka White and even Robert Johnson. The music on these records still influences my playing today.
Ed was also a geek, so I come by it naturally. He loved listening to shortwave radio. We used to listen to the BBC together and heard the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin before they were popular in the states. Despite the BBC’s hatred of rock and roll, their musician’s unions had made a deal with the BBC that well over half of all music played on the radio had to be performed live. There weren’t enough big bands around to fill the airtime so they had to air the more popular rock musicians of the time.
One musician who fascinated us both was Jimi Hendrix. We agreed that we’d never heard anyone play a guitar like Jimi. Ed found out that Jimi was going to be playing at the Saville Theater in London on June 4, 1967. Ed asked my school in Williamstown if I could be released early to accompany him to London. Citing the educational value of such a trip, Ed asked if they would let me go. They refused and he took me anyway.
He was amazing in London. He had been there as a pilot in World War One and was still very familiar with the city. We did all the touristy things, Changing of the Guard, Tower of London, etc. But the concert was the highlight of the trip. Procol Harum was also on the bill as well as a couple of other bands, one of which included Denny Laine, who was the original vocalist with the Moody Blues.
Hendrix opened with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles’ album had been released a few days earlier. Hendrix tore the place apart. Uncle Ed and I had been to several Beatles’ concerts back in the earlier 60’s, but they were relatively tame compared to this. We both really loved it. I read later that Paul McCartney and George Harrison had also attended the concert. While I think I might have caught a glimpse of them, it’s probably wishful remembering.
When we got back to America a few days later, we took off on another cross-country jaunt. In a little more than a week, we were cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California and picked up a couple of hippie hitchhikers, both of whom had guitar cases. When they saw my guitar case in the back of the Mercury station wagon (Ed bought a new one each year), they took out their guitars and we played songs from the Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and more.
They were going to the Monterey Pop Festival. Ed said that we should go. When they told him it was sold out, he laughed. Many times in the past I had witnessed Ed slip some money to someone to gain access to someplace that was supposedly “sold out.” Sure enough, we not only got into Monterey, we had seats in the VIP section. Maybe it was his background as a bootlegger, but the man always knew who and how much to bribe. I’m not too bad at it even now. We learn from our elders, although I’ve never paid a hooker.
The concert at Monterey was fantastic. We got to see the public debut of the genius Laura Nyro. We both loved her songs but agreed that she wasn’t quite ready for such a large crowd. We even stayed through the entire 4 hour Ravi Shankar concert. I do remember making several trips to the snackbar and restroom. I have always feared that one day he was going to stand up at the end of a show and say, “Someday, I’m going to learn to play a real song on this thing.”
Jimi Hendrix was other worldly. Although Ed had a problem when he destroyed his guitar. He had the same problem with the Who, although he thought their end-of-show mayhem was funny.
Ed even had a several minute conversation with Mama Cass. As a lifelong body builder, Ed was built a lot like Hulk Hogan and had long, white hair. He always wore sleeveless T-Shirts. Not a particularly handsome man, he cut quite a figure and women were often attracted to his physique. I think Mama Cass was just intrigued about an older guy at a music festival. They talked about politics, life and music (she loved that he knew Bessie Smith’s music). I was just star struck.
One really nice experience was when I was literally drooling at the Fender booth in the vendor area. The man running the booth asked me if I’d like to try a few of the guitars. I was in heaven playing them. They had them plugged in and turned up really loud. Since I didn’t look like anyone who would be buying a several hundred dollar guitar, I was surprised when he kept handing me different instruments. Today, I have several Fenders and always think of his kindness whenever I purchase one. Maybe the Fender rep was very long-term smart.
All the hotels in the area were booked but again, what I always called “Ed’s bill slip,” where he’d pass a $20 or $100 to someone in a handshake, worked like a charm. We had a wonderful room right on the water and were lulled to sleep every night by the resident sea lions.
A couple of years later, Ed, who was then approaching 90, turned down the opportunity to go to Woodstock with me. I actually had tickets. He said he had already seen most of the acts who were performing there, but I knew he was starting to slow down. However, when he heard of the party he missed, he jumped at the chance to go with me to Altamont.
We flew into San Francisco, rented a car (thank goodness one of us was older than 24) and drove to the festival. As pictured in the movie, the concert was a nightmare. Although we stayed until it was over, we were both pretty concerned about all the violence. I went to a few festivals after that but I think the Altamont experience really soured Ed on festivals for good.
Ed had a massive stroke a few years later and lived for a few months in a veteran’s home in Haddonfield, NJ. Every time I visited, he thought I was his brother, who was also a pilot and had been a partner in his bootlegging operation. I spent many afternoons being regaled by stories about flying in booze from Canada during prohibition. No radar in those days. It took the single engine biplanes they were flying 4 or 5 stops, depending on the weight of their load, to make the trip from Toronto to South Jersey.
There are quite a few interesting stories from his bootlegging days, but I think my favorite is:
Uncle Ed and the Jury
Uncle Ed’s base of “bootlegging operations” was Avalon, New Jersey, a small town on the Southern Jersey coast. During his heyday, he had 5 boats and 2 planes that brought in “the good booze.” The boats brought it in from boats offshore and the planes flew it in from Canada.
As inadequate as federal law enforcement was in those days (payoffs were the order of the day), Ed was caught “booze-handed” one night while unloading his plane filled with Canadian whiskey. He was arrested, booked and brought to trial. During the trial, he opted to defend himself. However, he refused to speak in his own defense and just said he would throw himself on the mercy of the court.
It only took the jury a few minutes to deliver a not guilty verdict. The judge was appalled and dismissed the jury without thanks. However, he did not nullify the verdict.
Here’s the deal – All the members of the jury and the judge were Ed’s customers. Had they convicted him, their only option for alcohol would be the swill from local bootleggers. The risks of drinking that homebrew were blindness, paralysis, and death. Ed brought in the good stuff from Europe and Canada. They weren’t about to cut off their supply.
The profits from Ed’s bootlegging helped finance his career as an inventor. He had a couple of very successful inventions, including The Compass Course Finder, the standard in marine navigation for decades. During the last few years of his life, he became obsessed with inventing a time machine. I never told any of my friends in high school or college about that. Yeah, they already saw me as a nerd, I didn’t need to elevate that status to super-nerd.
Uncle Ed never succeeded in breaching the fourth dimension. But, since he could have gone back and changed history, how would I know? Submitted for your approval…
© 2018 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.