Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clyde Joy, Willie Mae, and Goodnight Homes


I was going to launch into my post about anosognosia, apophatic and cataphatic theology, and all belief as epiphenomenon, but got distracted into country music in New Hampshire instead. Really. That is an absolutely true statement.

These rabbit trails result from living somewhat near the place one grew up. I was on the Daniel Webster Highway North tonight, driving by the place I had my first job out of college.

I graduated in the recession of '75, wanted to return to NH, and was willing to take any job I could get. Apparently people who enter the job market during recessions have some tendency to never recover from that, always selling themselves short and never making as much at graduates in other years. That's true in my case, but also a good thing. I was terribly arrogant and needed to be brought down a few - no, several - pegs. I counted myself lucky to get a part-time job at the Goodnight Motel in Hooksett at $3/hr. The owner's name really was Goodnight - first Fred, and then his son Gary - and their main business was selling mobile homes on the other side of the highway. Marlette mobile homes, I'll have you know. The Cadillac of mobile homes. And they were moving into Yankees (very stylish) and doublewides, 24' x 36'.

Hooksett and the DW Hwy had just started to grow then. A K-Mart and a McDonald's had come in down the road, and the town fathers (or more likely, the town mothers) were trying to squeeze the Sky Ray Drive In out of showing R-rated movies. And not artistic R-rated movies, you understand, but things like Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses



But at the moment, Hooksett was still pretty much what it had been in my childhood: rural, goofy, poor, uncool. It was definitely culture shock for this North End boy to be working at the no-tell motel attached to the trailer park and mobile home sales lot on the way out of town - way out of town - on old Rte 28, headed toward unimaginably backward places like Suncook and Pittsfield. These were not places where anyone you knew lived, but places you drove through on the way to the Lakes Region for vacation.

So I was a clerk at the Goodnight Motel, renting rooms at $12.60 a night (the waterbed room was $17.85) and collecting rents from the trailer park. Goodnight's was apparently where you rented a room for prom night - I hadn't known that, to show you how naive I was, even though my main girlfriend junior year and my junior prom date (different people) were from Hooksett. Had I known, that second girl...

Ah, another rabbit trail. You are not going to hear that story.

But by 1975 in NH, mobile home sales were on their way down, and chain hotels were pushing out those uh, charming little places along the secondary highways. Fred Goodnight had moved away to Costa Rica*, and his son Gary was trying to keep the various businesses afloat. My knowledge of Goodnight Homes up until that point was that they sponsored the country music show on WMUR every week, with Clyde Joy and Willie Mae. (If you are from NH, I really recommend this link, BTW.) Fred was originally from Georgia, so maybe he liked the music, or maybe he liked Clyde, or maybe he just thought it was good advertising to get on local TV. Whatever, Clyde would sing a song to the tune of "Goodnight Irene" every week that plugged Goodnight Homes.

We didn't call it country music then, but Western, or Country & Western, and it was a cowboy thing, not a southern thing. Rural New England had plenty of fans of fiddle music, and actual folk music like Jimmie Rodgers, not any of this new-fangled Woody Guthrie stuff. They did accept the whole Hootenanny and Kingston Trio idea even though that wasn't quite the same, because they could at least find the records or see it on TV. But until then, it was Clyde Joy and Willie Mae.

Those of us in Manchester's north end found this humiliating, interfering with our aspirations to be an intellectual, urbane place like Boston or Newport. Maine and Vermont were considered even more backward than us then, and represented what we were trying to escape from. WMUR was the local station, and embarrassing enough in itself, but this Circle 9 Ranch and cowboy hat stuff - in New Hampshire - was beyond the pale.

Of course, I had become a bluegrass and modern country fan by 1975, via Stephen Stills, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and John Fogerty, but Clyde and Willie Mae were the old, uncool country music - and they were off the air by then anyway.

And now here I was working for these guys. I didn't tell many people. The main office had a little apartment upstairs, where Fred stayed when he was in town, which was hardly ever. The magazine rack had what we called "naturist" magazines then - photojournals of what life was like at nudist camps, an excuse to show naked people. But it was seedy, not like the full-color girlie magazines Playboy, which was quite open about the idea that they were showing pretty girls with little or no clothing. Naturist magazines - I think these were called "Sundial," or "Sunrise," or something - similar to this, anyway -
were more coy, like they were reporting on news from nudist camps, or discussions about the future of nudism or whatever.

I was warned about Willie Mae calling. She was supposedly always looking for money from Fred, because he owed her, and there was a wink, wink, nod, nod that there was something else to the story. I absolutely believed that then, but now I'm pretty sure whatever story is true is forever lost. I got a call only once, out of the blue and quite angry "I want to speak to Fred!" I had never seen Fred, no one had told me he was expected, and I quite honestly said I had no idea where he was. The woman told me I was lying, she knew he was in town, and I had better tell him that Willie Mae had called. Well, okay then.

Fred showed up that evening, breezed through the entrance, introduced himself, told a few stories and treated me like I was his great pal from years gone by. So Willie Mae had heard something, more than even Fred's son had heard. I told him she had called, and he waved it away, laughing with one of those laughs that "we men knew what those things were all about." I didn't actually, but I laughed knowingly anyway. It seemed the wisest move, as this guy was probably still the owner and my boss. I didn't dare ask him the story about the bullet-hole in the office ceiling, which apparently dated from his time, but I kept looking at it, trying to subtly remind him of more interesting times. He didn't bite. He went upstairs, turned on the TV, and told me not to set the alarms when I left.

*Something to do with extradition, I heard. I was instructed never to tell anyone when Fred was back in the US.

8 comments:

Sam L. said...

AVI, your should tell Sippican Cottage about this. He's a heckuva writer, but this little slice of your life (real or imagined--seems real enough to me) is really good!m Funny. Informative. Hadn't heard of that movie, but I have seen some of those magazines, back in the mid-to-late '60s.

Gringo said...

In reading this story, I am reminded about the story of saxaphone master Charlie Parker being observed feeding a jukebox with C&W tunes.

"Why are you listening to that music, Charlie>?"

"The stories, the stories."

Good story.

I wonder what happened with your boss in Costa Rica.

Dubbahdee said...

I remember hearing about Circle 9 Ranch on the Uncle Gus Show on WMUR, in between Popeye Cartoons. I asked my Mom if we could go. She demurred. Never could understand it. The square dances on Friday nights sure sounded like fun to me.

I remember driving past your hotel and the mobile home sales lot. I believe it's near the Brick House (still there) and not far from Riley's Gun Shop (still there). KMart was a pretty exciting development and we drove all the way down from Pittsfield (I lived about 1 mile from the Pittsfield line) enjoy the Blue Light Specials and eat in the KMart cafeteria. A place of wonderment.

Just up the road was the China Dragon. As a widow raising 3 sons (the older three having moved away) she would take us to dinner there every once in a while and going out was a pretty big deal. To my eyes then it was quite the place. To get to the tables you would follow the silk clad hostess over a bridge spanning a goldfish pond -- and this was INSIDE.

I think my Mom took us there as much to give us a chance to learn to behave in a restaurant as to enjoy exotic cuisine. I recall her coaching us to open the doors for her and pull out her chair. My brother Bruce always passed on the egg rolls and chow mein and got a burger instead.

In my junior year at Pembroke Academy we got permission for the first time ever to hold the Prom off school grounds -- at the China Dragon. One month before the Prom date, the place burned to the ground. We ended up back at the gym. The lot is still empty.

I didn't see much of them magazines, nor did I frequent any of them hotels thereabouts. But then I was 12 in 1975.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The China Dragon. Definitely among the more exotic places to eat in the area. Always impressed me as a lad.

We ate there for our Junior Prom in 1970. My classmate Danny Wong's family owned it. Family story: my grandfather was the first CPA in NH, and the China Dragon was one of his accounts. On my mother's wedding day, they ran out of liquor at the reception, and it was outside of the allowable liquor-prchasing hours. Maurice called someone and liquor was discreetly delivered, and as it was a young oriental man making the delivery, my father always assumed it was someone from the CD. He was impressed.

Gringo said...

The stories, the stories.

Western music. My high school had a folk club. One time gave an assembly with members of the folk club playing their guitars and such. Don't remember the songs. John Henry? Woodie Guthrie?

One folk club member came out in a cowboy shirt and sang a Country/Western song. He got laughed off the stage. He was a competent guitarist with a competent voice.

Poor guy didn't realize you JUST DON'T DO Country/Western songs in New England. And live to tell the tale.

Part of it may also be that he wasn't as COOL as the other members of the folk club. I wonder if he got set up.

Sam L. said...

I would suspect he did, Gringo. Was he new there? Or had you noticed signs of "not in the in-group"?

Texan99 said...

I wanted to be cool as a kid as much as anyone, but I can still remember watching our old TV and seeing an ad for one of those "greatest hits" records you could send off for in the mail. They would scroll a list of all the song titles on the screen and play little 5-second snippets. This ad was for Hank Williams, and I was transported. If it wasn't cool, I didn't want to be cool any more.

I know what you mean about the exotic Asian cuisine. It's hard to remember that 40 or 50 years ago there was very little coming into the country in the way of international cuisine. The end of the Viet Nam war opened a lot of doors.

Sam L. said...

My favorite song on those KTEL. etc. compilations was always the last one: "...and 'Many, Many More'!"