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.