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?