Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"A Wizard, A True Star"

"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance. " -- Marcel Proust

He went out to shovel snow last Thursday after the winter storm hit. His wife thought he was still in the den, watching television, and when she couldn't locate him inside the house, looked out the front door to find him lying on the walkway, already gone. He was only 56.

Judging from the throngs of folks who gathered last night at the funeral home, he was well loved, and will be sadly missed. His oldest daughter has vowed to keep his dream alive, and plans to leave her managerial job to take over ownership of the shops. She will close the original shop, which has always been his shop. He designed the layout, built the racking and counters, chose the color scheme and theme, and commissioned a personal incense which was burned in the store several times a day, every day for 31 years. The store, she said, has too much of him in it, and rather than alter his vision with a remodel, she will close it in his memory. It's a tough decision, but I think it is also the right one, for exactly the same reasons as she stated.

She will take over the Springs store, and will put her own vision into it with a remodel and a fresh outlook. It's a wise choice, as the town and the store are kindred spirits.

There were lots of faces I recognized; his wife and daughters, long-time customers, current employees, former co-workers from my twelve year stint, staff from the halcyon days of the mid-to-late seventies, school chums. We stood in circles, reminiscing and laughing, surrounded by storyboard photos of his life. For once he had no say over what photos were on show and what music was played, but I can't help thinking he would have been pleased, if a bit embarassed by all the attention. Poignant and fitting, he was remembered with a minute of silence on the airwaves of the local prog-rock station yesterday. His widow was touched when informed of their tribute. "Oh you know he would have loved that."

And then she looked around at all of us and joked through her tears, "He would have loved that free advertising!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Them good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye, singing 'this will be the day that I die..."

We all took the piss out of him a lot, and none of us had much respect for him because we thought he was lame for putting a price-tag on any and everything in the store that he could, but for the most part he wasn't always the complete cheezy-bastard that we made him out to be.

He graduated at the height of hippy idealism in 1968, and his love of music compelled him to work in a record shop called The Music Box until he could save enough to start his own. By 1974, he had achieved that dream. And what a great record store it was. He won numerous awards for his tongue-in-cheek, humorous radio jingles and racy television commercials. He orchestrated in-store appearances by some of the hottest artists of the day. He let the employees pretty much do whatever they wanted, and he held vast parties in the store after closing.

A bankruptcy and a downsizing changed that for him in 1982, but he still remained a committed music fan. The difference in the days of old and the "new era" was that he became a first rate penny-pincher and cut corners every way he could. By the time I started to work there in 1986 he was considered by staff to be a "really cheap & cheezy bastard." I didn't care though, because being a long time customer, I knew it was the best record store in town, and one of the oldest and greatest independents left in the country. I had wanted to work there for years, and one spring evening in 1986 as I was picking up a special ordered import LP, he asked me if I was looking for a job. I had a job at the time, but HELL YES I was looking if he was offering. He had me fill out an application on the spot, and two days later I started working at the Record Store.

I guess I feel a little guilty about all the slagging-off we employees did behind his back, because all in all, he wasn't really THAT bad of a boss. Hell, he usually fucked off home before 6pm and left us to our own devices until our midnight closing time. We got away with a LOT of crazy stuff that we'd have been fired for at any other place. He knew what those bottles of booze were doing in the back office fridge, knew several employees got stoned in the fire-exit hallway every weekend while on the clock, and he knew we got up to all sorts of other shenanigans. We were always eager to help customers, but we were also just as eager to take the piss out of their musical selections, and sometimes we intentionally put on certain albums just to piss people off. We thought it was hilarious. We also thought it was hilarous when he'd catch wind of something we'd done and get upset and huffy.

But as I said, he wasn't really as bad as we made him out to be. In fact, sometimes he could even border on "cool." He and his wife became vegetarian in 1970, and raised three vegetarian daughters. He and his wife were an inspiration for me, and it was because of them that I learned about TVP and how to fix tofu properly. They retained a lot of their "hippy ideals" and stood up for their beliefs. For their 25th wedding anniversary, they purchased a vacation home in Florida, and vowed that soon they would retire there. His dream was to work part-time at Disneyworld, because he loved the "happy vibe" he got from being in a place where everyone was enjoying themselves.

He passed away yesterday, never having achieved that dream of retiring to Florida and working part-time at Disneyworld.

He did, however, achieve his dream of owning the best damned record store the city has ever known.

Farewell Sav. Rest in peace.

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Will you spin for me?"

I can pinpoint exactly when and where it happened: the junior high’s gymnasium, the spring of my seventh grade year. I can also remember vividly how it happened.

Usually I worked out on senior Doug's mat, which was an honor, because it meant I was one of the “advanced” gymnasts. Doug was a good assistant coach, able to understand exactly what each of us needed in terms of help, repetition, inspiration, goal setting and praise. He had complete confidence in us, and we in turn built on that confidence until it shone in us as well. I learned fearlessness and loved working with him. He had a way of inspiring me to achieve perfection in floor exercises that I never thought myself even capable of learning.

He instinctively knew when to step in and help with segments of my floor routine, and he knew when to step back and simply spot me as I sprung around on the mats. He was ACE.

Doug was a brilliant gymnast, holding several state titles and tons of medals, but was not, however, a great looking guy. The poor thing seemed to have a rough case of acne year round, and so we silly little gymnast girls mooned over an assistant on a nearby mat.

The assistant was a few years younger than Doug, which meant he was closer in age to us starry-eyed girls. We all harbored secret, and not so secret, crushes on him. His specialty was the vault, but since none of us were too interested in the vault, he assisted with floor exercises, taking the “beginners” under his wing.

Whereas Doug was quiet, graceful and intuitive, John was loud, prone to mood swings and rather ham-fisted for a gymnast. We didn’t care though, because he was incredibly handsome, with dark, rugged Italian features and eyes you could swim in.

As it happened, Doug missed practice to visit a college campus out of state, where he had been offered a full scholarship, and the head coach had no choice but to mix the advanced and beginners together for one session. We advanced girls couldn’t believe our good luck!

As we readied ourselves for our session, John instructed us that on his mat we had to keep our socks on. We were used to working barefoot on Doug’s mat, so this was an odd request for us, but we happily complied because we were eager to please him.

We sat on the bleachers watching the beginners, and John casually strolled over to ask what each of us had been working on with Doug. I was currently working on a salto/no-handed roundoff/whip back combination, which is a series of moves in which I flipped across the mat from end to end, without my hands ever touching the mat. I’d already mastered the salto/no-handed roundoff, but was still working on the movement from roundoff into whip back. I was momentarily rendered speechless by his request because he was SO GORGEOUS, but I managed to finally find my tongue and tell him what I’d been practicing. he nodded and wandered away.

When my turn finally came, I soared through the first section of the routine until I got to the whip back. John was spotting me, and reached out to guide me over the whip back, and he was too heavy handed. I was used to Doug’s light touch, and John flipped me over too hard and fast. My socked feet flew out from under me and my spine smashed hard on the mat. It knocked me out cold.

The foul smell of salts washed over me and I opened my eyes to find John and Coach bent over me, asking what my name was and what year it was and other things they should have already known. I, however, couldn’t remember anything for a few minutes, which someone later informed me was not a “few minutes” but around half an hour.

I was eventually helped to my feet and John carried me over to the bleachers, where I remained, rattled, for the rest of the session. Coach was livid, screaming at him “What the hell did you do to her!?” John’s feeble response was that I was “a lot lighter” than he thought I was.

I felt really bad for John, and apologized profusely for getting him in hot water. What an idiot I was. He should have been the one apologizing to me!

I didn’t want to tell my parents, because they were already frightened of the stuff I was learning and constantly worried that I was going to hurt myself. Coach, however, made a point to speak to my Dad when he came to pick me up from class that day. On the way home I tried my best to downplay the incident, and I never told them about the recurring pains in my spine that would wake me up in the middle of the night for months afterward.

I missed the next few sessions, recuperating. When I came back, Doug told me that he had heard what happened, and wanted me to start back slowly. I was fine with that.

But I never perfected the whip back, and Doug didn’t force me, because he could see The Fear in my eyes. We both knew, although it was never mentioned, that my gymnastics career was over. Once you get The Fear, it’s nearly impossible to shake. I never shook it.

Free spiritedly springing around the mats is just a distant memory for me now, but I am often reminded of The Fear. It was there again last night, when shoveling a bit of snow caused the fragile lower back to throb and pulse. Was it the pain, or The Fear, that kept me awake most of the night?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

"While the other kids were rockin' round the clock, we were hoppin' & boppin' to the Crocodile Rock"

From The Eggman to The Birdman

My sister soon enough forgot about The Beatles and moved on to Elton John. Now to me, Elton was lumped in with The Scary Music, mainly because I didn't like the look of him. All feathers and monstrous glasses, he reminded me vaguely of a giant bird, and birds frightened the crap out of me.

I could pin point it all to one night when Mom and Dad were out at a party. Sue had been left in charge of babysitting me, and had spent most of evening on the phone arguing with her boyfriend. She'd hang up on him and ring her friend Lori to commiserate, then hang-up and wait for David to call her back so they could have another round. Engrossed in battle with the beleaguered David, she completely forgot to check on little sister, who was supposed to be safely tucked into bed. Unbeknownst to Sue, however, I had crept past the kitchen where she sat yelling down the phone, and hid behind Dad’s green leather easy chair. It was the perfect place to hide and listen to her phone conversations.

It was not, however, the ideal location to hide from the television, however, and I ended up viewing Hitchcock's The Birds in its entirety. By the time one of the actors got his eyes pecked out, Sue's phone conversation was long forgotten and all I could do was hold both hands over my mouth so I wouldn't scream and be discovered out of bed.

Thereafter, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with anything remotely birdlike.

That said, the first time I ever heard “Crocodile Rock” on WSAI-AM, I was hooked. It was simply unfathomable that Elton John could be said singer. So deeply did I feel that he was not the person responsible for such a wonderfully fun and catchy song, that I argued with both Mom and Sue over it one afternoon in the car on the way to the bowling alley.

"That horrible birdman Elton John does NOT sing Crocodile Rock!"
"Does too" Sue fired back.
"Does not! He's too ugly and weird."
"You're uglier and weirder than he is, creep" Sue wasn't persuaded by my argument.
"Hey now," Mom cautioned, "don't call your sister names."
"But she's wrong Mom, and you know it" Sue looked across the front seat to Mom and continued, "Elton John does sing that song, whether spaz wants to believe it or not. Gosh!" "I am NOT a spaz! Elton is! He's a big, ugly bird and he's got a squirrel head!" I piped from the back seat.
"Shut up twerp! You don't know what you're talking about coz if you did you'd know that Elton John DOES sing it and he wrote it too!" Sue thought she was soooo smart, and stuck her chin up in the air like an authority on the subject.

Tugging on the seat-belt latch, I squealed "You think you're so smart but you're not! You're as dumb as Elton John looks!"

Once free, I perched on the edge of the backseat and leaned over the front to bellow into her ear, "He looks like a bird but you're a bird-brain!" and I fell backwards, howling with laughter.

"Mom!" Sue attempted an alarmed look, "did you hear what that little nimrod called me!? Aren't you going to do anything to her?"

Mom shot her a cautionary look across the seat, but Sue wasn't sharp enough to leave it alone. She turned in her seat to confront me.

"You are so stupid, you ignoramus little creep!" she spat at me, and I howled even louder, because I had never heard the word "ignoramus" and it struck me as just the sort of word to file away for later use back at her.

"Elton John is not some weird birdman just coz he wears feather boas," she continued, "Only an idiot would think that!" She then reached over the seat and gave me a sucker punch to the leg, "And he DOES TOO sing 'Crocodile Rock'!"

"That's enough from both of you!" Mom said, one hand on the steering wheel and the other hauling Sue back into the front seat by the shirttail.

"Both of you sit down and shut up! One more word and I'll turn the car around and we won't go bowling." Mom's word was always final. I crossed my arms and pulled a face at the back of Sue's head, then turned my attention to the passing trees and buildings of Franklin.

"He does not," I mumbled under my breath.

Mom bowled in a league on Thursday nights, but every now and then she would bring us on a Saturday afternoon and let us have a go. On that particular occasion the lanes were full and we were resigned to the bar until a lane became available. Still muttering under my breath as we entered the dimly lit, medieval-themed barroom, what should I spy but a jukebox in the corner. The Elton argument was momentarily forgotten as I pestered Mom for a dime, and such was my persuasion that she gave me three, and told Sue to go with me while she got Cokes for everyone.

Sue was never the brightest crayon in the box, and as she read through the listings for me, she emphasized that “Crocodile Rock” by ELTON JOHN was among the choices. It was red rag to a bull, and I hopped up and down excitedly and told her to play it. She obligingly punched the corresponding numbers into the machine,

"E-5, and the E stands for Elton, spaz" and with that she dragged me away from the glowing music box and back to our table. “I remember when rock was young...me and Suzie had so much fun...”

I knew every word and sang along in an off-key pipsqueak voice as the record spun its musical web. Sue hid her face in her hands as Mom joined in, and for the next three quarters of an hour Mom and I played the song repeatedly, with intermittent bursts of "This is NOT Elton John" issuing forth huffily from my little know-it-all self.

Other patrons came into the bar, had a drink and left, all to the tune of our warbled rendition of "Crocodile Rock." I made a mental note of how many other people were putting their heads in their hands, just like Sue.


Over and over we sang, until one of the seven, a drunken and disheveled man on a barstool, warned us that if we played it again he'd use our heads as bowling balls. He then turned to me and said,

"And for Christ sakes, it IS Elton John, so shut up already."

Sue shot me a look of superiority and said "Go eat a big 'I-told-you-so sandwich,' you little twerp!" and flashed a smile at the drunken man, who simply shook his head in thinly veiled disgust and turned back to his beer.

Pouting, I stuck my tongue out at his back and decided that if Elton John really did sing “Crocodile Rock,” he would HAVE to be okay in my book, birdman or not.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"If you knew how I felt you wouldn't act so adult now..."

There always seems to be the same cast of characters on the bus each morning. There are two people who obviously know one another (I think they are related somehow) but they never sit next to each other. Normally they sit across the aisle from each other, but argue and antagonize all the way into downtown.

It can be amusing, because iPod doesn't let me hear what they actually say, I can only see their reactions, and the reactions of those around them.

This morning iPod chose Todd Snider's "Good News Blues," which was the perfect background music to their visual antics. The moon-faced guy likes to talk, and he constantly tries to engage people in conversation--everyone but the grim old lady across the aisle from him, of course. And he waves to each and every bus that passes. He also waves at all the bus stops--even when there is no one standing there. This morning I watched him wave to an empty bus shelter in front of the Aquarium.

His waving seems to upset the grim old woman, who snaps and snarls at him like a vicious little Pomeranian with thick glasses.

Which just eggs him on.

This morning a new face got on the bus, much to the delight of Mr.Waver. The new face belongs to a young businessman wearing a very sharp navy suit & tie. He made the unfortunate mistake of sitting next to Mrs.Grim, which is to say, across the aisle from Mr.Waver. The new guy sat down and opened his newspaper, but Mr.Waver was dead set on engaging this new speciman in conversation. The guy was courteous, as far as I could tell, which made Mrs.Grim snap at him.

Which is when iPod decided some Love & Rockets was in order: "Well the drunk outside the Wendy's is becoming less than friendly...A dog is barking at the moon."


The new guy tried to read his newspaper, but Mr.Waver kept requesting to look at whatever section the poor guy opened. I could sense the new guy was getting frustrated by the shinanigans, but he continued to be courteous and handed each section to Mr.Waver. Mr.Waver didn't read anything--he would give it a cursory glance and hand it back, only to repeat the process two minutes later when the guy started to read.

"...newspaper boys selling you the hard truth...Lucifer employs idle hands by night and day..."

This went on until we were in downtown, and I couldn't help but smile to myself when the new guy bolted from the bus the moment it stopped.

"He wants to get away...from the city of light..."Who knows where he actually intended to disembark.

He just had to get away.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"But I haven't seen Barbados, so I must get out of this..."

Paris, 20 years ago...

It was that time of the month, and once again I was bedridden. It always seemed to happen at the most inopportune times too. Like when it happened the last day of band camp and I was so ill I could not participate in the final night’s shenanigans with the other members. I lay curled up on a cot in the dorm room while the flag corps advisor fussed and fretted over me with hot water bottles and cold wash cloths. My temperature was in triple digits and I couldn’t even keep water down. The bus ride home the following morning was grueling, and I was so violently ill that I was shunned as a leper by everyone, including my boyfriend.

You’d think I would have gotten used to it after so many years, but I hadn’t, and the pain relievers wouldn’t stay down long enough to work their magic.

And so it was that I lay fetuslike on a bed in a Parisian youth hostel, on a sweltering summer night, while everyone else in the world was out having a good time. My hostel roommates, mildly concerned for my comfort, had procured a sick bucket for the side of the bed, and had opened our second floor window to air out the room before setting off for a Saturday night of clubbing.

I lay sweating in the dark, cursing my fate and begging sleep to take pity and carry me away. It must have done, because some time later I was startled awake by a noise in the room. I foggily thought it was the roommates returning quietly as so not to wake me, but when I raised my head in the direction of the noise I saw a man, crouched low, rifling through one of the suitcases littering the room. My heart began to pound and I was sure he would hear it, so loud it sounded in my ears. I was terrified to move and my mind raced as to what to do. Should I scream? Should I try to get up and run? Should I continue to lay there and pretend I was asleep? I had no idea.

My mouth dried so rapidly that my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I realized I was holding my breath, and I wasn’t even sure I could scream if I wanted. Who would hear me? Everyone in the hostel seemed to be gone for the evening; the corridors outside my room were silent. My world shrank to the blood thumping in my ears and the soft zip of a duffel bag being opened on the other side of the room. He was muttering softly to himself as he combed the contents of the bag, and I watched as he stood up and shoved something into his jeans pocket. Was he stealing money? Jewelry? I couldn’t tell. Stunned, I watched him move on to the next bag, which was only a few feet away from where I lay, paralyzed with fear.

He saw me. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t move. I was absolutely terrified and helpless, and he must have sensed it. He uttered something in French and started toward me, unzipping his jeans as he advanced. It was then that I realized I had been dozing on top of the covers wearing only a thin tank top and panties. “Oh God,” my mind raced, “he’s going to rape me and I can’t even move.” I could feel bile rising in my throat.

In the short time it took to think that phrase, he was on me, tugging at my underwear and muttering rapidly in French. My paralysis suddenly broke and I struggled beneath him. I still could not scream, my mouth a desert, but I fought mightily with him. He grabbed my arms to hold them down, but somehow I managed to wrench one free and latch hold of a small lamp on the bedside table. I slammed it into his face as hard as I could.

He fell off of me then, bloodied and panting. I dove from the bed and swung the lamp again, breaking it on contact with the side of his head. He stumbled toward the open window, hiking up his jeans as he went. I began to sob, and realized my voice had returned. He was already scrambling out the window as the screams escaped me, and I continued to wail for help as I watched him disappear down the fire escape and into the dark Paris night.

Bloodied and shaking, I felt my legs carry me out into the corridor, where they gave out and I collapsed, sobbing in my torn underwear. Was there anyone at all inside the hostel? Did anyone even hear my pleas for help? Would he come back when he realized no one else was there? Trembling, I tried to stand up and ended up vomiting all over myself.

But someone HAD heard. Someone on the lower floor came rushing from the stairwell to my aid. He took one look and immediately ran to the communal bathroom for towels and water. I choked out the words “attacked,” “thief,” and “window,” then crumpled into a convulsing heap. I guess I went into shock, because I don’t remember how I came to be wrapped in a robe (whose robe was it?), cleaned up (whose blood was it? Mine? His? Who washed it away?), nor how the police were summoned.

The man who came to my aid was a French Canadian named Norm. He translated my story to the hostel manageress and the French police. He argued with the police when they shrugged off the story as “a lover’s quarrel” and he raged against the hostel manageress when she demanded money for the broken lamp. He sat up with me in the commons area half the night, because I was terrified to go back into my room.

I’m ashamed to say that I cannot remember whether or not I ever thanked him.

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition..."

Heavily laden with camping equipment, we continued east on Route 66, using a map acquired from the impish old lady at the Route 66 memorabilia shop in Oklahoma City. Unlike other states in which the endless grey ribbon runs, the Mother Road is perhaps easiest to travel in Oklahoma because it is signposted with historical markers.

We rescued an upturned turtle from the roadway around Edmond, and saw the famous Round Barn at Arcadia. Spying a small general store with two old pumps outside, we decided to fuel up, lest we run out of gas before Tulsa. Brad filled the tank while I sat in the car reading the map and plotting our journey.

Back on the road, Brad asked what towns and historic sights lay ahead. The next town listed on the map was Luther, but there was not a single sentence about the town in the handy Route 66 book we had been talked into buying from the tiny whirlwind at the memorabilia shop. On a whim, we detoured into the small hamlet of Luther and made a circle through the deserted, dusty downtown. I wondered aloud as to why Luther was so dismal, when most of the other Oklahoma towns we’d visited along Route 66 had been vibrant and cheerful. More homes in Luther were abandoned than occupied, which I thought was a shame because we saw gorgeous old gingerbread-trimmed Victorian homes that sat rotting by the roadside, waiting for owners who were never going to return. Since I love photographing abandoned buildings, I asked Brad to pull over so I could grab the camera from behind my seat.

“There’s a cop following us,” Brad said slowly, and eyed the rearview again. “He’s been following us since we left that general store. I’m not pulling over until he tells us to pull over.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes at him. “Why would he pull us over? We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Brad gave a derisive snort and shot an “I-told-you-so” look my way. I could see flashing lights reflecting in the wing mirror as Brad pulled the car onto the side of the road. The cop walked up to the window and asked to see Brad’s license and insurance.

“Is there a problem, officer?” Brad asked as he pulled the required documents out of his wallet and handed to the officer. “I’ll ask the questions,” the Luther cop snipped tartly, and walked back to his car with Brad’s license and insurance card. We sat there trying to figure out why we had been pulled over when the cop came back to the car and stated that we were driving a stolen vehicle and told Brad to get out of the car. Brad protested that the car was definitely NOT stolen, and I leaned across Brad and told the cop that the car was mine and I had the registration to prove it. The cop drew his pistol, tapped the barrel against the door and repeated his request. Brad scrambled from the car and was marched AT GUNPOINT to the squad car, where he was put into the back seat.

Needless to say, we were both freaking out. I knew the car wasn’t stolen—it was MY CAR! I’d just finished paying the damned thing off four months prior. Ten minutes turned into twenty, then thirty. I rummaged through the console, hunting for the little black leather wallet that held my registration and insurance to prove my case. I glanced up to see a second cop, with lights flashing, pull in front of my car.

“Looks like the entire Luther police force is making an appearance,” I muttered darkly as the second cop walked up to the driver side window and looked in.

It was the stereotypical good cop/bad cop scenario. The second cop was friendly to me, and asked what brought us so far from Ohio. I told him we were following Route 66, and pointed at the maps and book lying on my lap. I also told him that there was no way my car was stolen, and I that I could prove it, waving the black registration wallet his way. He fired off a few questions at me, asking our route thus far and how long we’d been away etc. I answered each question, and reiterated that I could prove my car was not stolen. He carried my answers back to the bad cop, who still had Brad locked away in the back seat of his squad car.

Another thirty minutes passed as the cops took turns grilling us individually. The bad cop radioed the license plate number to the Luther dispatcher. The good cop ran a check on the VIN. They referred to me as “hon,” “darlin’” and “little missy,” and ignored my offers of license, registration and proof of insurance. It was really starting to piss me off, and I struggled to hold my smartass tongue.

They both seemed very interested, however, in the fact that the car was loaded down with camping supplies. Several times it was brought up that they could get a search warrant if we didn’t give our consent to a search. I finally blew up. “I don’t give a damn if you tear the entire car apart! But by God you will REPACK the entire contents when you find nothing illegal! It took us two hours to get the gear packed up in Utah, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to repack it all again!”

In the end, I guess the thought of repacking enough camping gear to outfit an army of Boy Scouts wasn’t their idea of a fun way to spend the evening, because the two bumpkin cops let us go. No ticket; no written warning; nothing.

They’d gotten their kicks.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Get your kicks on Route 66..."

We had been following Route 66 since New Mexico. We’d left Utah's Arches National Park two days previous, and after hitting snow in the Rockies, detoured out of Colorado to locate the famed Route 66.

After spending a very sleepless night in a dodgy motel in Amarillo, Texas, we beat a hasty retreat from the Lone Star State. Somehow the Texans knew we were vegetarians in the Land of Cattle. Maybe it was our tie-dyed t-shirts in a swarm of red plaid that gave us away, but we certainly stood out amongst the locals, who glared at us with contempt in diners, at petrol stations and from inside their big, gun-rack toting, dually diesels.

It was with great fanfare, then, that we entered Oklahoma. We were so relieved to be out of the Texas panhandle that kissing the Okie tarmac seemed like a fine idea. A fine idea, that is, until we slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a gigantic spider, who happened to be meandering across Route 66 in an orange sun dress. Never in my life have I seen a spider large enough to require its own zip code!

Brad was fascinated. He leapt out of the car to photograph the bastard. I pleaded with him to get back in the car, for fear the thing would attack and drain his blood before my very eyes. There are three things in life that send my phobia-meter pegging the red: One is spiders, and the other is blood. Put them both on a metal –truss bridge and call the morgue, because I’m done for.

He paid me no mind as he fished into his jeans pocket and pulled out a quarter. “What the hell?” I thought to my hyperventilating self, “he’s paying the spider to ensure safe passage?”

Nope. Brad put the quarter on the roadway NEXT TO THE KILLING MACHINE and stepped back to take a picture.

The spider paused.

*snap* *snap* Brad circled the beast, taking shots at various angles.

The spider, which seriously was the size of my hand, commenced creeping, and paused again, this time on top of the quarter.


Now we were going to have to sit there until it decided to either eat the coin, or continue on its merry way, because there was no chance that Mr. Skinflint was going to leave a perfectly good quarter behind. My hysterical pleadings fell on deaf ears.

After an eternity, the massive arachnid moved on, and Brad scooped up his precious quarter and climbed back into the Camaro.

We were still talking about the Monster of Death when we rolled into the dusty jewel of the Mother Road, Oklahoma City, and stopped at a Route 66 memorabilia shop. The tiny, ancient lady working the counter welcomed us brightly and proceeded to regale us with stories of her childhood during the Great Depression, and the role the road took in her family’s lives.

When she finally stopped for breath, I wedged in a question about the gigantic spider, asking if seeing them was a normal occurrence in Oklahoma. She chuckled and patted my arm with a miniature, weathered, brown hand.

“Them’s tranchulers. Oklahoma Browns! They won’t hurt ya none.” She declared impishly, and launched into a tale of tales about how she and her little brother kept them as pets and played with them in the dirt cellar of the old homeplace, and how, during the height of the depression, her daddy would catch the “tranchulers,” spear them with a stick and roast them over an open flame, like marshmallows.

“Us kids loved the legs!” she sighed with a devilish gleam in her eyes, “deliciously crunchy!”

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

"All my troubles seemed so far away..."

Six years old and already I was labeled an outcast. I rode the bus home with a heavy heart and went right to my room, where I put Neil onto my little pink and white close’n’play and cried.

It wasn’t the first time I had wept over music, and as the salty tears slid quietly down my face, my mind drifted back to a few months prior, when my sister had come home from school bawling her eyes out. She didn’t even yell at me when I asked her what was wrong. She clutched a box of Kleenex to her chest and ran straight to her room, with me trotting along behind asking, "What's the matter Suzie? Why are you crying?"

I hesitated before following her into the Inner Sanctum, but she seemed unaware that I had crept in behind her. Flinging herself on the bed, she punched her fists into the pillows, wailing all the while. Unsure of what to do but unable to contain my curiousity, I finally poked a finger into her shin and then retreated to a safe distance, sure that she’d leap off the bed and toss me out into the hall.

But she didn’t.

She sat up, blew her nose loudly and announced to me that The Beatles had broken up.

A million images raced thorough my mind as I stared at her with gaping mouth. How could they break? Did they fall out of a window and smash? Did they get into a fight and somehow shatter? Every image my mind could muster spelled disaster and death for the four mop-topped boys who had given me such delight with their songs.

Thoughts awhirl, I eventually concluded that she must have meant that one of her Beatles records got broken, and I chewed my lower lip and eyed her suspiciously. My mind flashed to a copy of "I Saw Her Standing There" with a crack in it. I knew she had stepped on it one morning as she readied herself for school. It had lain beneath the scattered clothing that dotted her floor like a rummage sale gone awry. I had heard the crack clear in the next room, where I sat busily building a make-shift home for my Fisher-Price people out of a shoebox. Sue dashed out the bedroom door and down the stairs without even checking to see what record had cracked. I raced to the window and watched as she ran down the hill toward the schoolbus, then ventured into her room to find out what had broken.

“I didn’t do it!” I blurted out finally, and she rolled her redrimmed, watery green eyes and threw a pillow at me, halfheartedly.

“They split up, dummy. Paul left the band and now there will never be any more Beatles music.”

She stated it so matter-of-factly, and it slowly dawned on me that this was serious business. I wanted to ask why the band couldn’t go on without Paul but even at such a tender age I knew that Paul and John were the head guys in the band. It was their close harmonies I loved so dearly.

"Never?" I asked in a hushed tone.

Sue's lip began to quiver again. "Never." She patted the edge of the bed, inviting me to sit with her and look at their album jackets. I scampered onto the rumpled bed and we sat together, examining everything from Please Please Me, Help!, and Rubber Soul, to Sgt.Pepper, and Abbey Road. She told me all about the conspiracy surrounding the Abbey Road cover and how Paul was supposed to be dead, although she didn't believe it. I pointed out that George looked dreamy with both short and long hair.

We spent the remainer of the day listening to those albums, and as the shadows fell long across the bedroom floor, we put on those early singles and danced, my hands clasped in hers as she swung me around and sang, "Help me if you can I'm feeling down...Help me get my feet back on the ground!"

It was the only time I was ever, and ever would be, granted access to my sister’s room, music, and inner thoughts, and it meant the world to me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"Ain't it funny how you feel, when you're findin' out it's real?"

I went off to kindergarten with a Neil Young single in my plastic yellow tote bag. It was my first musical purchase, and as an added bonus, it was Show-and-Tell Day at Carlisle Elementary School. I had saved my allowance for weeks in order to buy the 25cent record, and I felt an overwhelming urge to enlighten my peers with the heartfelt nasal twang of "Heart of Gold." I felt it was important to prepare them for the more important things in life--something more than teddy bears and finger-paints.

I squirmed in my seat, anxious for the moment when Miss Boswell would call upon me to go to the front of the class with my golden Warner Brothers label treasure. I could just picture the astonished looks on the faces of the other kids when they heard this song. I imagined their eyes gleaming with delight (as mine surely did), and yearned to see them feel the magic and begin to sway with the same glee I felt when listening to it. I knew they would be unable to contain their joy, and we'd happily spend the rest of the day laughing and dancing, instead of settling down to the required naptime.

After enduring an endless parade of baby dolls, Hot Wheels and, oddly, an egg-shaped pantyhose container brought in by Patti T, Miss Boswell finally called my name. I scrambled to the front of the room, rambling breathlessly to the class about what a wonderful singer Neil Young was. Miss Boswell smiled patiently and nodded as she pried the gleaming single from my sweaty little hands and placed it on the close'n'play. She sent me back to my seat as the first strands of THE WRONG SONG burst from the tiny speaker.

In a panic, I leapt from my chair, knowing full well that "Sugar Mountain" was NOT going to change anyone's life. This wasn't how it was supposed to be! Everyone was supposed to hear "Heart of Gold" and grin giddily, then gather around me to pat my back and tell me how great I was for showing them the light.Instead, "Sugar Mountain" was pouring from the box and I was screaming at Miss Boswell "Turn it over! That's the wrong song Miss Boswell! Take it off! TAKE IT OFF!!"

I could feel my legs trembling and I knew I had to stop the song before further damage was done. I made a grab for the close'n'play but Miss Boswell was too quick. She caught me by the arm and gave me that kindergarten teacher glare. "Do NOT raise your voice to me young lady! We will hear the other side when this side is finished. Now sit down and behave."

The damage was done. I slumped into my chair, defeated. I could feel my face burning, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears. I was certain that by the time "Sugar Mountain" ended three minutes later, all hopes of those 19 kids appreciating the fine songmanship of "Heart of Gold" would be gone.

I had failed.

Even when Miss Boswell flipped the record over and Neil's gentle harmonica peeked cautiously out of the speaker, no one even seemed to notice."I wanna live, I wanna give. I've been a miner for a heart of gold."

I glanced around the room, holding my breath that someone would feel the magic and rise up to begin the mass gathering around me. But it didn't happen.

"Keeps me searchin' for a heart of gold, and I'm gettin' old."

It was obvious that no one in Miss Boswell's morning kindergarten class had a heart of gold. Kim stared at a flickering overhead light while chewing her hair. Jimmy picked at a scab on his left elbow. Patti twisted and turned the two halves of her egg.

The rest of the class stared wide-eyed at me for yelling at the teacher.

Friday, July 15, 2005

"At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie..."

My dream, for as long as I can remember, was to own a music shop. Before I was even in kindergarten I was digging music and studying the labels of my Mom’s and older sister’s 45’s. I couldn’t read much beyond a few three-letter words like C-A-T, yet knew exactly which records were The Beach Boys and The Beatles by the distinctive yellow and orange yin-yang label of Capitol Records. I’d get them confused at times, since both bands were on Capitol and began with the letter “B,” but either way I figured I was coming out ahead, because I loved both bands.

I knew all the words to “She Loves You” and “Sloop John B” long before learning the normal kiddie songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.”

Dragging a stepstool from the kitchen to the living room, I'd position it in front of the stereo cabinet (back when record players were large, polished wood furniture pieces) and stick the records on endless repeat. I would shimmy, dance and spin around until my tiny legs would buckle, sending me crashing to the floor, exhausted, laughing, and very dizzy. I was always careful with the tone-arm because not only did it resemble a long thin black snake, it also had a nasty habit of issuing an electric shock if there was too much static in the polyester/wool carpet. I dubbed the jolt a “snakebite,” and chalked up each "bite" as par for the musical course. In retrospect, it would have been easier on my current-charged fingers if the stepladder hadn't been metal, and would have been better still had I not had to drag it across the poly/wool carpet.

Early musical knowledge was certainly aided by the fact that Mom was a big music fan herself with a seemingly endless supply of Elvis (on RCA with Nipper the dog listening to the old phonograph), The Everly Brothers (on the purple Cadence label) and Sam Cooke (Specialty Records, label: yellow & white). She never made a fuss and in fact encouraged me to haul out those 45s and pop them onto the record player.

When I ventured from the labels I recognized there were still more surprises. There was an entire collection of Hank Williams, George Jones and Mom’s favorite, The Louvin Brothers, among many others. Long before I came along Mom had been a member of The Louvin Brothers Fan Club and had gone to every show they performed in a three state area. She sang me to sleep at night with their standards, and even now, whenever I hear someone covering “In The Pines,” I feel sleepy and at peace with the world.

My sister was another matter entirely. She forbade me to enter her room, let alone touch her precious Beatles records. Of course, she had to go to school and I didn’t, so Mom would happily let me play whatever I wanted, as long as the records were put away before the 3pm bus brought my sister screaming back into the house. Rooting around through her records was my favorite hobby, one which gave me an extra thrill because of the clandestine nature in which I had to listen to them. It was through her that I first heard Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones and of course The Beatles and Beach Boys.

She also had records with labels that looked scary, like Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate,” which was a psychedelic forest of a label whose name escapes me now. There was another that showed a record with flames shooting out of the bottom of it. Had I been able to read, the name of the band would have given me more cause for alarm, as they were aptly named The Mind Benders. I usually shied away from the scary labels, because the music was too far out for a little pig-tailed kid such as I. Oh, no doubt about it, I’d grow to appreciate them in later years, but when I was a scrawny little girl the scary labels were too much of an aural assault.

There were also innocuous looking labels that packed a real punch, several of which I discovered during my covert listening fests. One was a harmless looking red and white label with a cameo of a woman stamped on it. It was, of course, The Cameo label, but I didn’t know that at the time. I gingerly put the record on and dropped the snakearm, only to be bombarded with a crazy man screaming “I NEED SOMEBODY TO HELP ME THROUGH” and it blasted me right off the tiny orange stool on which I so precariously perched. The band was ? and the Mysterians, and it became a quick personal favorite after I recovered from the shock.

Taking a deep breath, I flipped the record over and quickly fell in love with “96 Tears” as well.

Over time I wore the grooves clean through that record, and broke Dad’s chair in the process, spinning around and around in it until I was sick.

The other record I discovered that same day was on a colorful label that resembled stained glass and had a many armed creature encircling the top. It was a very early Buddah Records design, and would be rather collectible years later. Excited over the Cameo find, I plunked the needle on the record and waited eagerly, as sounds of a train chugging into the distance wafted out of the speakers. "Train hurry up, bring my baby back...Halleluah hear it comin' on down the track..." I’d never heard keyboards played with such abandon, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “The Train” became a cheesy, lifelong favorite.

Now the highlight of each weekend was when Mom packed me and my sister into the blue Buick and headed to Lakes, the local music shop. I’d wander along the shiny pink and cream tiled floor, peering at all the pretty labels and wondering what jewels they beheld.

The place smelled of music to me, a heady combination of pine and freshly minted vinyl.

It was on one of those trips that I decided that owning a record store was the best thing in the world. Mr. Lakes, a tall ginger haired bluegrass musician and owner of the shop, would always ask me what I wanted to hear, slide a footstool my way so I could choose from the many colored paper jackets and labels, and seemed pleased to oblige my many requests.

My sister would stand with arms crossed, rolling her eyes and huffing as I plucked record after record out of the bins to hand over to kindly Mr. Lakes. It was from these randomly chosen records that "Solider Boy" by The Shirelles and Danny & The Juniors' famous "At The Hop" became part of the family collection. I could have happily stayed there forever, and my brain buzzed with possibilities.

You got to listen to every record in the world, anytime you wanted, plus there always seemed to be folks sitting around playing guitars and singing. To an impressionable, music loving 5-year old, it was complete nirvana.

My future would be one continuous groove of excellent tunage, or so I hoped.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

"And she did it just like that. When she wants something and don't wanna pay for it..."

My clothes were missing.

I’d finished another grueling day of Flag Corps Squad try-outs and went into the locker room to retrieve my school clothes, only to discover my lock was missing and so were my clothing, shoes and belt. Sonofabitch! Being a junior high eighth grader (or “up-and-coming Freshman”, as we were calling ourselves with only two weeks left to go in the school year), I wasn’t very familiar with the high school locker room but I was sure I’d put my items into gym basket #318. I also knew I’d secured it with a padlock. I still had the key in my shorts pocket.

Still, I pulled out the gym baskets surrounding #318, just to be sure. Gym baskets, for those unfamiliar, are metal mesh drawers, approximately 14 inches square. They come complete with a hinge lock mechanism, with students providing their own locks. A few other girls began helping me look, but it was no use. My entire outfit was gone.

Unsure of what to do, I told Flag Corps Captain Beth of my dilemma. She spoke to the other senior Corps members about it, but there was very little they could do. They were nice about it, but informed me that key padlocks were easy to pick, and that I should invest in a combination lock. Instead of being elated to have survived another round of squad cuts, I was dejected that someone would take the time to pick my little lock and steal my stuff. I’d only just bought the shoes two weeks previous. They were practically brand new!

The following day after school, I walked over to the high school with the other eighth grade hopefuls for another round of eliminations. Each day we had learned new moves and maneuvers, and each day a few more girls were cut and told not to return the following day. I had been lucky so far, and had made it through three days of eliminations.

Making my way through the high school toward the locker room, I saw my clothes. I saw my clothes on a mousy looking girl whom I vaguely recognized—she was a sophomore named Theresa who had also survived the three eliminations. I couldn’t believe this girl was actually wearing my entire outfit, complete with shoes and belt! Right in front of me!

I casually strolled over to her and commented on her outfit, complimenting her on a lovely wardrobe. She smiled nervously and thanked me, which is when I shoved her into the wall of gym baskets and pulled the rust colored suede mules from her feet. She screamed and howled as I bloodied her pouty little freckled face with the wooden heel.

That’s what I wish I had done.

Instead, I chose a more cowardly route and ratted her out to Captain Beth. She in turn spoke to graduating senior Captain Julie to figure out what could be done. It was decided that I had to be able to prove the clothing was, in fact, mine.

Now I was long past the days of having my Mom write my name inside the labels of my clothing, so how else could I prove ownership? Beth and Julie were loathe to accuse Theresa of theft without some concrete proof on my part. I felt myself welling up with tears—I KNEW the clothing and shoes were mine, but it would be my word against Theresa’s, and how could rightful ownership prevail without proof?

Captain Julie went over to Theresa and asked to see her shoes. Theresa visably paled at the request, but instead of asking why, complied by removing the suede mules and, with flashing eyes, smacking them into Julie’s outstretched hands. Julie and Beth had a little pow-wow over in the corner of the locker room, while the rest of the remaining squad hopefuls stood watching. Theresa glared at me with folded arms, and I glared right back, although I felt as though mice were playing tennis in my gut.

Pow-wow over, Julie walked over and asked Theresa where she had purchased the shoes. Theresa replied that she couldn’t remember, but she thought it was either Kinney Shoes or Sears. Julie then asked me where I had purchased the shoes. I answered, “Gallenkamp’s Shoes in the Dayton Mall” and went on to say that there was a slight stain on the top of the left one because I’d opened a bottle of Coke, which my brother had shaken before handing to me, and it had spewed all over the place and the foam had dribbled down my arm and off my elbow onto the left shoe the very first time I had worn them.

That answer would have probably been enough, but once I started talking I couldn’t stop. Out spilled the fact that the shirt and trousers had been purchased at Jean Nicole. Then I blurted out that the goldtone stretch snake belt she was wearing had my name engraved on the buckle.

Beth held out her hand for the belt, and Theresa sheepishly unclasped it from her waist. Sure enough, my name was etched on the heart-shaped buckle. Julie announced that the label inside the shoes, which was still visible because they were practically new, read "Gallenkamp's". Theresa’s face reddened as she bravely fought off the tears, letting only a sniffle out now and then. She was instructed to change into her practice shorts and shirt, and return my clothing. As the entire squad stood watching, she sadly removed the Jean Nicole outfit. Julie and Beth passed judgment that the squad had no need for thieves, and told her to go home.

Theresa never attempted to join another extra-curricular activity. I went on to march in the high school marching band flag corps for three years.

I never wore that outfit again.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Cigarettes & carrot juice, marijuana & lots of booze. I threw the flower of youth into that stew."

Friday evening Gazbot and I ventured over to The Madison Theatre in Covington to catch Camper Van Beethoven open for Modest Mouse. I got freebie tickets in exchange for carrying around a clipboard, getting fans to sign up for the CVB mailing list.

I wasn’t very successful, as it was a Mostly Mouse crowd, but I was glad to have been given the chance to help out the band, and was chuffed to get to see them again, up close and personal, after so many years hiatus.

They were fantastic—the years may have given them some laughlines and a few crowsfeet around the eyes, but hot damn the guys still play as well—if not better-- than they did 20 years ago. They had a really groovy interactive PowerPoint presentation projected onto a massive screen above them, and David and Jonathan wore multicolored miner’s headlamps.

Great set list too, a mixture of their excellent new material from New Roman Times, plus time honoured classics like “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” and a good dose of their classic covers a la “Wasted,” “White Riot," "Egyptian Reggae" and “Interstellar Overdrive.”

I couldn’t wipe the huge grin from my face all evening. We hung around until Modest Mouse took the stage, then turned in the clipboard and left. Grumblefly and I joked that a surefire way to define “old” is to leave a sold-out show before the headliner even comes on.

So we are old.

Big deal.

We got to see Camper again, and that’s all that really matters.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"I have become comfortably numb..."

I am actively attempting to overcome my aversion to thong-style sandals.

I bought a cheapie pair at Target two summers ago to try to remedy this quirky malady, and have worn them maybe five times. I am wearing them today. They are celadon suede with glass beads sewn on top.

When I was a kid I wore thong and flip-flop sandals a lot. They were easy to slip on and off, and the rubbery ones were cheap enough to buy in a multitude of colours. They were perfect for poolside or a trip to the beach. They were also a staple in the locker room showers after P.E. class, because who knew what sort of fungus creepies lurked on the tiled floors?

The trouble with thongs began for me in the late 1980’s. One summer day Jenny, Shelly and I were all working at the record shop together. Our shifts overlapped somewhat on Fridays because The Sav liked to mark in the weekend restocking order with a bevy of young, petite blondes buzzing around him. He was pervvy like that. We tolerated him, however, because it was he who had hired us; me in early1986, Jenny in early 1987 and Shelly replacing the blonde Tamara a few months after Jenny was hired.

The Sav wasn’t completely stupid. He knew nice looking college girls would lure in male customers, and he had been in the business long enough to know that guys, rather than girls, spent the most money on music and paraphernalia. The Sav also made sure to be extra friendly and accommodating to the disturbed and mentally unstable who wandered through the door, because he’d hit upon the fact that they could be easily suckered into buying just about anything. He offloaded a lot of un-saleable garbage that way.

Pat was one of those customers. He was of indeterminable age, although Jenny remembered seeing him around her high school and reckoned he was probably only a few years our senior. He was what you would probably define as mentally challenged. He could operate a vehicle, and he held down a job as a fry cook at McDonalds, but he wasn’t very good managing money, didn’t understand big words, spoke very slowly and with vowels drawn out to the point of collapse, and he still lived at home with his elderly parents. He’d also never had a girlfriend, which he would discuss at length with The Sav. Pat looked to The Sav as something of a mentor, however flawed, while The Sav looked at Pat with dollar signs dancing in his eyes.

Pat loved Pink Floyd. Let me rephrase that: Pat LOVED Peeeeeeeeeeenk Floooooooooeeeeeeeed. He thought Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaw-ger Waaaaaaaaaaaaw-ters was a genius. He bought any and everything Floyd related: LPs, CDs, videos, t-shirts, posters, buttons; you name it, he had it. He spent his entire weekly paycheck on supposedly “rare” imports that The Sav had ordered especially for him, marked for maximum profit. It wasn’t just Pink Floyd either, it was anything remotely related to the band. If Pat was informed that David Gilmour played guitar on a Kate Bush album, Pat had to buy it. When he learned that Nick Mason had produced The Damned’s “Music for Pleasure” he ordered it on the spot. Yes, Pat was a virtual goldmine in the eyes of The Sav.

Pat was also something of a pervert, which is probably another reason he and The Sav got on so well. One of the highlights of his week (or so he informed The Sav) was cashing his McDonalds paycheck on Friday afternoons and heading to our store, because he knew the Blonde Trio would be working behind the counter. He especially enjoyed requesting Pink Floyd cassette tapes from us girls, because we had to reach up really high to pluck the tape from the shelf, and sometimes he was lucky enough to see a sliver of exposed flesh beneath our shirts as we stretched upwards. Jenny worked out an ingenious solution to this, however, by placing all the backstock Pink Floyd cassettes on the bottom shelf, easily reached by one and all. That way Pat got nary a glimpse.

On this particular summer’s day, we’d taken receipt of a new t-shirt order and had just finished pricing, folding and placing them into the glass showcases at the front of the store when Pat walked in. He always made sure to remove his McDonald’s uniform before leaving the restaurant, although the sour reek of Cargill fry oil had permanently permeated his hair and skin, which hit the olfactory as soon as he entered the store. He kept a change of clothes in his black, beat-up Chrysler LeBaron, consisting of a wrinkled white Pink Floyd t-shirt, red boxer shorts with sagging elastic waistband, and a pair of rubber thongs. It was the same year round. Even in the dead of winter, with freezing temperatures and snow on the ground, Pat still wore the same nasty threads. And thongs. Always thongs.

Which was nearly enough to put me off of thongs as it was.

Pat walked in and immediately homed in on the Blonde Trio. He leaned over the glass showcase to admire our feet. As usual he was sweaty, and left greasy marks all over the glass. I made a mental note to haul out the disinfectant later. “Aaaaaaah seeeeeee ya gaaawt yer tonnnnnnnnnngs on.” He always called them “tongs.” He had trouble with the “th” sound. Jenny glanced at her feet, then to mine and Shelly’s.

We were all three wearing summer thongs.

“Yep, good summer shoes,” Jenny said, forcing a tight smile. Shelly took off for the back, saying she needed to use the ladies, which left me, Jenny and The Sav at the front to deal with Pat. Jenny grabbed an armload of albums to file and took off toward the back as well. I caught her eye and shot daggers. Pat continued to lean over the showcase, grinning at my feet. I swear I could see a shiny bead of drool in the left corner of his mouth, and a wave of nausea washed over me.

“Hey Pat, didja see the new Pink Floyd t-shirts we got in today?” The Sav never missed a chance to shill merchandise, especially to a good, pliable customer like Pat. “MK, why don’t you get them out so that Pat can see them up close?”

Somewhat reluctantly, I bent down and opened the curtain attached to the back of the glass showcase, Pat grinning all the while. I stuck my head inside and reached to pull out the shirts.

Which is when I caught sight of the massive erection Pat was sporting in his saggy red boxers.

It was official. Pat had gotten a woody by looking at our feet.

Thonged feet.

My feet.

I wanted to hurl.

Instead, I was forced to continue showing Pink Floyd t-shirts to him as he and The Sav bantered back and forth. He kept his wad pressed firmly against the glass, so that no one could see. No one but me, every time I had to remove another t-shirt from the showcase.

I never thought he would leave.

Later in the evening after Pat had gone, suitably drained of his paycheck, I told the other girls how he’d gotten his jollies. After much grossing out, we made a pact to always keep a spare pair of socks and sneakers in the office. Any time we saw Pat pulling up outside in his beater LeBaron we girls would dash to the office, pull off our sandals and throw on decidedly unsexy shoes.

After the boner incident, I had a hard time even looking at a pair of thongs, let alone wearing them.

Whenever I saw them, in my minds eye I saw a massive erection in red boxers, saying: “Aaaaaaaah seeeeeeee ya gaaaaaaaaawt yer tooooooooongs on.”

I’ll probably never wear my celadon thongs again.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"Stand Together..."

A Glimpse of 1992

It still amazes me that we got away with as much as we did. Like the time we embarrassed the hell out of some random customer because he didn’t like the Beastie Boys.

We’d received a promo copy of Check Your Head from Grand Royale earlier that day and could hardly wait for The Sav to leave so we could unearth the CD from its hiding place beneath the dusty t-shirts bearing the store logo and slap it into the Denon deck. We were fortunate that the shipment had arrived while The Sav was enroute to the local distributor to pick up Tuesday’s new releases, otherwise we’d have not been able to open the parcel and spirit it away. Had we not intercepted it, The Sav would have opened the package, stuck a yellow triangle on the jewel case, scrawled $8.99 in his distinct, highly stylized penmanship, and popped it into the used bin next to the counter.

We’d all been there long enough to know that all the good CDs wound up in the used bin, while the insipid crappy stuff usually found a fan in The Sav and was placed into our daily rotation. Stuff like Another Nonstop Sister from Swing Out Sister, which had been released three years prior, but which The Sav loved so much that it was STILL in rotation, even after we’d raked a steak knife over the damned disc. Twice. The Sav loved Another Nonstop Sister so much that he simply tossed the damaged disc into the trash and opened a new one each time we did irreparable damage. It was a losing battle.

So anyway, by the time The Sav had returned from the distributor we’d gone through all the promo boxes and hidden away anything cool, and anything that looked cool enough to warrant a listen later in the evening. The Sav unboxed and marked in the bi-weekly order at the front counter while Reynolds, TC and I endured The Essential Fabulous Thunderbirds on repeat as we restocked the bins.

We knew The Sav would be out of the shop before 7pm, due to his inability to miss an episode of Wheel of Fortune, followed by Jeopardy. The Wheel was our savior five nights of the week and we knew it. We respected The Wheel, for it gave us the freedom to play the music we wanted to play until closing time.

As The Sav left the store for the evening, TC followed him out on the pretext of emptying the trash barrel next to the front door. TC lit a smoke and busied himself with unfurling a bin liner, keeping a watchful eye on The Sav’s rusty brown minivan. When he was sure the coast was clear he stuck his head back inside the door and yelled “The fatman has left the building! Crank it!”

Reynolds couldn’t get the CD in the tray fast enough.

Six songs into the unbelievably excellent new one from the Beasties, the store started to fill up. TC had wasted no time ringing everyone he knew, telling them to cruise on over for a listen. Reynolds and I had also phoned a few friends, who in turn had phoned a few friends. It was getting to be a regular party, especially since several employees of the beer and wine emporium next door came in bearing a bottle of pilfered red wine, several two litre’s of Sprite and enough plastic cups for all in attendance. We liked the CD so much that we immediately put it on repeat, and I began singing alternate lyrics to “Funky Boss,” changing the song title to “Chunky Boss.” Merriment ensued.

But then some regular dude came in to peruse the jazz wall just as “Pass The Mic” began. He’d obviously just come from next door, as indicated by the brown paper bag he carried his wine bottles in. To his credit, he stuck it out until “So What’cha Want,” when I guess he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He stalked up to the front counter where I stood chatting with TC’s friend Jason.

“Excuse me, but could you take this off?”I just looked at him.
“C’mon, please take this off and put on something listenable,” he cocked his head to one side in a pleading type gesture.
“But this is the brand new Beastie Boys CD, and everyone wants to hear it,” I reasoned pointedly.
“But I don’t want to hear it. I want to shop in peace” he whined, and I caught the overpowering stench of cheap booze on his breath.

Jason had already made a beeline for the back of the store, where TC and Reynolds held court. Immediately the three of them were behind the counter, backing me up in the desire to blast Check Your Head.

The guy, a middle-aged dumpling with a bad haircut, pulled a sour face. Reynolds, ever the mediator, asked the guy what he would like to hear. Frumpity dumpling perked right up and requested to hear the newest Vanessa Williams, which was on full view in The Sav’s playstack at the front counter, and which Dumpling had unfortunately honed in on.

Reynolds punched his finger on the open/close tray button of the Denon and the music stopped. Every head in the store snapped to attention and turned toward the front of the store. Reynolds then announced loudly that the jackass at the front counter couldn’t stand hearing our beloved new Beastie album and had requested we remove it in favor of the new Vanessa Williams.

A chorus of “boos” arose. Names were called. Threats were made.

Dumpling turned beet red, threatened to inform "the manager" spun on his heel and stormed out of the store.

Although he had every reason to be appalled by our treatment, he never ratted us out. Maybe he thought it wouldn’t matter. Maybe he just decided to stop shopping at our store and go somewhere he could be treated with respect. Maybe he simply forgot all about the incident by the time he’d sobered up the next day.

I’d forgotten all about the incident too, until today, when “Stand Together” blared away on my iPod.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


As I was listening to Blur’s classic “Beetlebum” today I was suddenly reminded of a kid with that name when I was a youngster. I can’t remember his “real” name to save my life, nor can I remember what his surname was. All I remember was that everyone called him “Beetlebum” or “Beetle” for short.

Beetlebum was a couple of years ahead of me, and my memories of him are foggy at best. Mostly I remember that he looked a lot like Alfalfa from Our Gang, or rather what Alfalfa would look like as a twelve year old wearing a green army jacket.

Beetlebum got me thinking about other kid’s nicknames I knew as a child. There was this girl we all called Peanut, and like Beetle, I couldn’t tell you her real name if my life depended on it. Peanut was a lot of fun though, and I was sad when she moved away.

Another girl I was great mates with as a youngster was called Cricket. All her family called her Cricket, and until she passed away a few months ago of Crone’s Disease I never even knew her real name was Carol Ann. Cricket and I got into loads of mischief when we were kids, and almost every memory I have of her is of the two of us laughing--except when her family announced they were moving to Arizona. We cried and begged for her to be able to live with me and my family. Her mom and my mom were best friends, and we hoped they’d see reason and let her stay. But they didn’t, and we sobbed and wailed and carried on, and she tried to smuggle me into the car with her when they left.

I was also friends with a girl nicknamed Tater, but we were not allowed to call her that in front of her mother, who was very strict. Tater’s real name was Dawn, a name she hated. She called herself Tater, so we did too.

Then there was my cousin Chuckie. She was called Chuckie the moment she popped out of the womb and is still referred to by that name, although she likes to remind everyone that she DOES have a "proper" name.

I wish I’d had a nickname.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"It's bittersweet. Sweet then bitter, bitter then sweet..."

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Last night Gazbot and I went to see Cracker unplugged over at Bogarts. I'm part of the Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker street team, and so got into the show for free in exchange for wandering around the club collecting email addresses for the band. A street-team member, for those who don't know, is basically a fan who is willing to help promote the band. Street-teamers have taken the place of the label reps of the 70's and 80's. The label gets people who love the band to promote them, and the fans are happy to do it for free--or for free entry to the shows and the opportunity to meet the band.

The show was fabulous. They did many of my favorite Camper songs: "Sad Lover's Waltz", "All Her Favorite Fruit", "Sweethearts", as well as a good mix of Cracker hits ("Eurotrash Girl", "Low"), new stuff from CVB's new album, Cracker's most recent release (although sadly not "Ain't Gonna Suck Itself") and Johnny Hickman's soon-to-be-released solo project.

Met a lot of good, longtime, diehard fans as I circled the club with my clipboard. Ran into an old college chum who, oddly enough, was with me the very first time I ever saw Camper Van Beethoven at The Club back in 1985/86. We swapped email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

It was a great night, but was ruined when I got home and got ready for bed.

My watch was missing.

This is not just any watch either. It is an heirloom watch given to me by my mother. My Dad bought it for her fifty years ago, and she gave it to me.

And now I've lost it. I can't even begin to describe how gutted I am. Upset doesn't even begin to describe it.

No idea how it happened either. It was on my wrist when I left the house yesterday evening, and it was missing when I got home. I checked the car, my clothing, retraced my footsteps all over the house, back garden, and garage.


I've rang The Club but they were already closed last night and aren't open yet today. But I have very little hope that it was turned in. If indeed it somehow fell off when I was there. I know I never removed it from my wrist, and it has a stretchy linked band, so there was no clasp to come undone.

I'm so disappointed in myself not to have noticed it missing before I got home. I was wearing my long sleeved WOXY.com hoodie, so it wasn't visible and I could SWEAR it was on my wrist all night.

Obviously, however, it wasn't.

Friday, March 25, 2005

"Talk to me, dance with me.."

This morning iPod and I had another conversation.

iPod: “Another Traveling Song” (Bright Eyes)
MK: “So iPod, where are we going?”
iPod: “Little America” (REM)
MK: “Anyone going besides us?”
iPod: “Gai-Jin Man” (Nick Lowe)
MK: “What are we going to do when we get there?”
iPod: “Walk Away Renee” (O-Positive)
MK: “Why would we want to walk away as soon as we get there?”
iPod: “Babylon Makes the Rules” (Steel Pulse)
MK: “You don’t really think America is Babylon, do you?”
iPod: “Paranoid Android” (Radiohead)
MK: “So you’re paranoid. What am I?”
iPod: “Slick” (Sugar)

How iPod knew my record store nickname was “Slick” I’ll never know…

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"That dream I was a' dreamin', it caused me to awake..."

Dawn of Infinite Dreams.

Dawn of Infinite fuckin' Dreams.

It's been nearly fifteen years since I saw the "rock opera" known as Dawn of Infinite Dreams. Fuuuuuuck. I thought it was total pants then, and the years have not been kind.

Fifteen years ago I was working as the Promotion Manager for a concert booking agency, which happened to own a medium sized concert venue in Cincinnati. A guy from Columbus, a writer/producer, kept phoning, requesting a venue for his "rock opera." Neither Steve nor Al, the two main guys in the company, were very interested in the rock opera. They were hounded enough, however, to suggest to me that perhaps I ought to go up to Columbus and check the rock opera out and come back with a full report.

I wasn't very keen either, but it seemed this was the only way to get the guy from Columbus off our backs. So I rang my friend Craig and he was up for adventure. We drove up to Columbus and checked into a nice suite, courtesy of DoID and Craig's travel agent upgrade. Then we made our way over to the venue where Dawn of Infinite Dreams was being staged. I can't even remember the name of the place now--it seemed kinda like a civic center.

Suffice to say that the rock opera Dawn of Infinite Dreams was not what we were expecting, although to be honest I am not sure exactly what we were expecting. Tommy maybe. All I know is that both Craig (who was quite the theatre buff) and I (the music buff) were suitably horrified at the thought of trying to come up with something good to say about the production after the show.

We had such a difficult time trying to come up with positives that we ended up running away before it ended. I feigned a migraine in the hotel suite, hoping that the writer/producer would not call me.

But of course he did.

I am not one to lie, but I did stretch it a bit and tell him that the show was "interesting, but not something I could see at The Club."

I guess he's having the last laugh, fifteen years later, because he is the main guy behind Shadowbox Cabaret, the musical sketch comedy show with venues at Easton Towne Centre in Columbus and Newport on the Levee.

Unaware of the connection, I went to see "Dirty Little Secrets" tonight at Shadowbox Cabaret at Newport on the Levee.

It was slightly better than Dawn of Infinite Dreams.

But it was still pants.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

"Speak to me with your sweet voice..."

iPod spoke to me again today via song titles.

iPod began by telling me about "Yin & Yang & The Flowerpot Man" (Love & Rockets)"Underneath The Bunker" (REM)

MK sez "iPod, what about Yin & Yang & the flowerpot man underneath the bunker?"
"Bad" (U2) sez iPod

MK sez "How bad is it?"
"Incendiary" (Winter Hours) replies iPod.

MK sez to iPod, "Well that's pretty hot. What's gonna burn?"
"The House That Used To Be" (Old 97's)

By this time I was almost upon the Solid Rock Church. I informed iPod that MC 62ft Jeeebus was coming up on the right side of the highway.

iPod responds by kicking into "Christianity is Stupid" (Negativland)

I swear the thing is starting to really freak me out.

Monday, February 28, 2005

"There are many paths..."

“The Dead Kennedys!?” Dad opened the brown paper bag and pulled out the album I’d just purchased. “Why would anyone want to name a band The Dead Kennedys?”

It was autumn1983, and I was a senior in high school. Since I’d gotten my driving license the year before I’d been seeking out record shops, and had finally hit upon a really cool one in Dayton called Renaissance Music Media. I’d just picked up Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables from them earlier that day.

“Oh Dad, it’s just a name,” I rolled my eyes and tried to convince him, “they’re really good!”
“I don’t see how a band named The Dead Kennedys could be any good.”
He turned the album over and began reading the song titles aloud. “Let’s Lynch the Landlord? Stealing People’s Mail?” He looked at me. “Holiday in Cambodia? What kind of stuff is this anyway?”
“They’re just a band,” I lied, not really wanting to delve into the issue of political punk rock with my father.
“They have a song here called Kill the Poor! That’s just not right.” Dad shook his head.

Then he surprised me. He handed the album back to me. “If this is what you want to spend your money on…” he trailed off and shrugged, then continued, “you’re old enough to make up your own mind about this stuff. I trust your judgment.”

Relieved, I grabbed the album and dashed upstairs to my bedroom. I unwrapped the jacket and slid the blue vinyl out. Etched into the runoff groove were the words “WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE?”

I realized right then that my Dad was the coolest person on the planet. He could have taken the album away from me. He could have forbidden me to listen to it, to own it. He didn’t. Even though he was pretty sure he didn’t approve of The Dead Kennedys or their message, he let me make up my own mind.

He was not the Brain Police.

Friday, February 11, 2005

"Anything you say dear, I'll buy..."

iPod gave me quite a treat this morning on my commute into work. First it reminded me that it is officially the weekend with "Partytime" by The Jazz Butcher followed by "Drink To Me, Babe, Then" by AC Newman.

Then it decided that I needed a kick in the arse and hit me with The Black Keys, RL Burnside, Queens of the Stone Age and The Hives.

I drove very fast.

I asked it what was next and it came back with "Suppose" by Buffalo Tom. I said, aloud and alone in my car, "Okay iPod, suppose what?"

The next song was "That Gum You Like is Back In Style, Again" by Camper Van Beethoven.

I swear iPod is talking to me. As I was pulling off the interstate, I asked iPod if it was communicating with me via song titles. The Replacements suddenly kicked in and Paul Westerberg sang "anything you say, dear, I'll buy buy buy buy buy...."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"It's not the future that I can see..."

iPod decided that this morning would be "Back to the Future" morning during my snowy commute. How does it know I used to do Back to The Future Saturdays at WOXY? This morning my commute included:
Billy Bragg “Must I Paint You a Picture?”
Dukes of Stratosphear “Pale & Precious”
U2 “Running to Stand Still”
Translator “Everywhere That I’m Not”
Screaming Trees “Winter Song”
Winter Hours “Wait Til The Morning”
The Feelies “The Good Earth”
The Replacements “I Will Dare”
Dave Edmunds "I Hear You Knockin"
Nick Drake “Fly”