Saturday, April 19, 2014

No. 47 – Lines on My Face

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Frampton’s Camel
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive!, 1976.

I always loved this song in that it seemed to be a perfect set-up song to the grand finale of Do You Feel Like We Do—particularly Frampton’s final heart-rending solo. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out recently that at the shows where Frampton Comes Alive! was recorded, Lines on My Face actually was the third song out of the box, before Show Me the Way.

Fine. Don’t care. I still love this song, and it has an important place in my biography, aside from being No. 47 on the charts (and in my heart).

When I moved back to Columbus and began to make plans with Debbie to do stuff—strictly as friends, of course—the first thing we did together, aside from meals, was a Reds game in Cincinnati. Debbie was a huge Reds fan, so now she had someone she could drag to Riverfront Stadium to see a game. Apparently, I was an easy mark.

Actually, I was plenty excited to go on my own. I hadn’t been to a Reds game in person since 1977, for a variety of reasons—mostly relating to cost and the fact that throughout college, I dated someone who hated baseball. Then I moved away. I didn’t even see the Reds play on the road during that time.

I was ready to get tickets, but Debbie wasn’t as hard-core as I was. If the weather wasn’t great, she said, she wouldn’t want to go, and she didn’t want to be on the hook for tickets. She just wanted to buy them there. Uh … OK.

Well, I didn’t think Riverfront would be like Tiger Stadium, where you could just walk up the day of the game and sit pretty much wherever you wanted. Also, because Riverfront was an ashtray, if you didn’t get good seats, you were a mile away from the field. So I came up with a genius idea, which I sprung on Debbie on the way down on a glorious July Sunday: We’ll scalp.

Scalp?! Debbie had never scalped tickets before—neither had I. But … how hard can it be? You just negotiate the price, make sure the tickets are as advertised and make the purchase. We’ll get much better seats than we would if we bought red seats—the upper deck—from the ticket counter, like Debbie wanted. She looked a bit askance but decided to trust me.

We parked in a garage on Third Street across I-71 from Riverfront. Almost right away, we were hit with a barrage of streetfolk barking “Who needs tickets?”

The first guy we came to had a bunch, but it was about an hour till game time, so he wasn’t quite ready to part with his booty. He said $20 each, which was what I wanted to pay, but they were for green seats—second deck—and right-field corner. No. I want good seats. For those, he charged $35 each. Too much. But these green seats, man …

Now, if you never scalped tickets before, you have to remember two things: First, it’s basic supply and demand. If there’s a lot of supply and not much demand—like, say, for a game against a nondescript opponent during a year when strike talk threatens to cancel the season in weeks—prices will come down.

Second, and more important: Scalpers want money, not tickets. So, the closer you get to game time, the further the price will drop. Patience and the word “no” can be your best friends when you scalp.

I gave the guy a final “no thanks,” and we walked on. Debbie thought we should buy those tickets. She wasn’t sure we’d find more scalpers, but I could see a bunch more guys standing around. Time was on our side.

We approached the next group of guys, asking the basic questions: What do you have? Where are they? Let me see the tickets (to make sure the seats are together and what they claim to be).

The first guy had blue seats—field level—good ones, behind first base, about halfway up. Let me see the tickets. They were what he said they were and together. How much? $25 each. Still too high. No, I said and turned away. $20, he said.

Face value was $15. If we had bought through Ticketbastard, we would’ve spent almost $20 per ticket anyway thanks to Ticketbastard’s take-it-up-the-keister service charge. Heck, it wasn’t even that close to game time. As soon as I heard the price drop, I said, “sold.” I crossed his palm with $40, and we hiked to the stadium.

After we had our tickets torn and hiked down the ramp to the blue seats, Debbie hugged me giddily. Wow. I can’t believe I’m going to be sitting in blue seats. I would’ve settled for those green-seat tickets. Yeah, well, stick with me, babe …

The seats were great, and the game was interesting. The Reds blew a six-run lead and lost in extra innings to the Pirates, and I saw something I’d never seen before, at least at the big-league level: Jacob Brumfield stole home on a straight steal in the first inning.

Debbie remarked afterward how much I talked during the game. She had expected that, because I was such a big fan, I’d want to just be quiet and watch the action. Nah. This is baseball. You have plenty of time to gab, it’s more fun—Dave and I would talk a mile a minute at Tigers games—and, besides, I don’t miss anything anyway.

After the game, Debbie took me to a place of her choosing for dinner. It was The Montgomery Inn, which was her favorite place for ribs. I was a Damon’s guy, but I loved ribs, so I was willing to give it a try. We went to the east side location (now gone), and I had to admit, the ribs were phenomenal. I’ve been dozens of times since, and up until I tried L Wood’s dry rub ribs a few years ago, I always said Montgomery Inn’s ribs were the best in the world.

Finally, we were driving home. The whole day had been great, and I was surprised by how much we seemed to have in common: baseball, food and music. I already knew we were somewhat sympatico about music, but the clincher came on that drive.

The conversation turned to Peter Frampton, and Debbie said her favorite Frampton song was Lines on My Face. As soon as she did, I said, “Thank you. That’s his best song, and all you ever hear on the radio is Show Me the Way or Baby I Love Your Way.” As soon as I finished my oration, Debbie just said, “This is scary.”

I let the comment drop, but I knew what she meant: We already were feeling that we had a lot in common. Heck, not only do we share a love of Frampton, but we also even love the same obscure song the best.

Most of the rest of the drive home was quieter than before. It was like we crossed some line that neither of us wanted to acknowledge. However, two weeks later, we tested that line further on our trip to Cedar Point.

Of course, you know what happened from there. After we hooked up romantically, Debbie and I always looked back at that drive home from Cincinnati, and Lines on My Face, as the moment when we started to think that maybe, just maybe, something was happening that went beyond friendship.

Friday, April 18, 2014

No. 48 – Long Train Runnin’

Performer: The Doobie Brothers
Songwriter: Tommy Johnston
Original Release: The Captain and Me
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: Farewell Tour, 1983, although the one from Live at the Greek Theater 1982, 2011, is essentially the same but with Cornelius Bumpus on vocals instead of Tommy Johnston.

I knew this song, of course, when I was a kid, but it was the version I heard for the first time on the Farewell Tour in 1982 that cemented it among my top 50 30 years later. It’s different from the original in that the instrumental middle section features all three percussionists and a quick jazzy guitar solo by Patrick Simmons instead of a harmonica. Then at the end, after the song reprises, John McFee puts it away with a blistering guitar solo that sounds like no other Doobie Brothers solo I’d heard.

Long Train Runnin’ is a Wabash song to me, because that’s when I recorded clips from the Farewell tour show that was broadcast on cable (and since released as Live at the Greek Theater 1982). So it makes sense that I tell another Wabash story, although you might be wondering how I have any left.

My stature across the campus increased as the years rolled on. I went from being a no-name freshman who quit on his fraternity to being the Voice of Wabash sports and the top English student on campus in a span of two years. This afforded me a couple of opportunities through the college itself.

The first one was a paid gig my junior year. Dr. Herzog asked if I’d like to make a little extra money and help the college out with a task. Sure. I’m glad to help—and get paid.

Wabash was interviewing for a counselor, who would help students who were going through rough patches of one kind or another. It was a new position. The college had three candidates they would interview for the job.

My responsibility, should I choose to accept it, was to drive to Indianapolis, pick up each candidate at the airport and bring them to campus. I then would drive them back the next day after the interview. I would be paid for my time and mileage. Not only could I do that, but I felt honored to be chosen. Obviously, Dr. Herzog felt that I’d make a good enough impression that I could act as an ambassador to the college.

What went unsaid was that as an ambassador of the college, I had to dress the part and follow the one Wabash rule—to act as a gentleman at all times. I had the second one covered, but for the first one, all I had was my tweed jacket and a few knit ties. In other words, back then, I didn’t own a suit. Well, what I have will have to do.

So in late spring 1985, I drove to Indianapolis Municipal Airport to pick up each of the candidates. It was about an hour from Crawfordsville along I-74 to the outerbelt and down to I-70. Because I had no idea what any of the candidates looked like, I made a sign with each of the candidates’ last name on it. I’d just stand at the gate—this was pre-9/11 when we had a more reasonable approach to security—and let them find me. It worked.

Each candidate was female. I’m not good about making conversation with strangers, but this time was easy, because the conversation topics were obvious. We spent the drive talking about Wabash, what the student experience was like, academia, Crawfordsville. My job was to promote Wabash, of course, and the one thing I didn’t want to do was say anything that might prejudice them against the school and job.

At the end, Dr. Herzog asked my opinion about the candidates. After all, if the job was based on student interaction, it was important to learn how each interacted with an actual student. I liked all three, but I preferred the first candidate. So did he, and they offered her the job, but she turned it down. (Oh, what did I do?) They went with the second candidate, who also was my second choice. I was pleased to see that my opinions reflected those of the brass.

I was asked, again by Dr. Herzog, to act as an ambassador of the college in a different manner the next year. This was more happenstance: I just happened to be walking across campus one afternoon when Dr. Herzog spotted me and called me over. The college was filming a promotional video, and would I mind being on it and asking him and another professor a pre-fed question about the student experience at Wabash?

Why not? I had TV experience thanks to my interview show with the football coach the previous fall, so I wasn’t nervous about having a camera film me. The whole thing took only a few minutes, and I was on my way to the radio station. But for years afterward—I don’t know how long exactly—if you were a prospective student at Wabash, you heard my voice on the recruiting video.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

No. 49 – Down in a Hole

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Dirt
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged, 1996.

Not long after Alice In Chains’ performance on the TV show, I read an interview of Eddie Vedder, in which he complained about all the nonmusic crap that was starting to take over MTV’s programming. He specifically referred to this performance and talked about how moving it was, knowing how far Layne Staley had fallen into his own private heroin-made hellhole, but then how it was immediately shunted to the side by the idiocy of Singled Out. Preach, brother!

In my opinion, AIC’s Unplugged performance was every bit as brilliant as Nirvana’s much more famous one. There was no question that, stripped of their sonic ooze—and Alice oozed more on their studio records than even Nirvana—these were brilliant, soulful songs. Down In A Hole is a beautiful ugly dirge, and I would argue that it’s Alice In Chains’ best song. It’s certainly my favorite.

I had Down in a Hole running through my head a lot in 2001, before Lateralus by Tool took over, for obvious reasons mostly. But there was another reason.

I loved my backyard menagerie (well, perhaps not the squirrels, aka the gun-toting thugs of the backyard)—as long as they stayed where they belonged. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2000, Debbie and I learned that we had attracted unwanted intruders.

Because we fed the birds, we kept bags of birdseed and suet and corn (for the ducks and rabbits) in our garage. For three years, we didn’t have a problem, but one day I noticed a bunch of kernels of corn on the ground. That seemed odd. I didn’t recall spilling anything. The next day was more of the same.

Within a few days, my suspicions were confirmed when I opened the garage door and saw something scurry along the floor of the garage and out the door as I pulled in after work. The next day I spotted a hole just next to the garage—a chippunk.

I then noticed a few things I hadn’t before. When our garage door closed, it didn’t close all the way in one corner, which provided all the access the chippunk needed. I also realized that it had been some time since I’d seen the snake that lived out front. I wondered whether it had died, which then made it so rodents no longer were afraid to be out front.

OK, this is a problem. We can’t have chippunks in the garage and—potentially—in the house. So I filled in the hole in the ground, which didn’t do much good, of course, and told Debbie. We decided that the best plan was to deny the chippunk his food source, so it would look elsewhere.

I went to Lowe’s and bought a huge plastic tub into which we put all the birdseed. Then we just had to be careful to not spill anything on the floor and close it up every night. The chippunk would go into hibernation soon enough and when it came out in the spring, it would have forgotten all about it. I couldn’t do anything about the garage door, even jerry-rig some contraption that sealed it off completely.

The problem seemed to be resolved, however, with that simple fix. Over the winter, we saw no evidence of any further unwanted intrusions. Unfortunately, that changed in the spring. The chippunk seemed to be back.

Well, Debbie was emphatic: I don’t want any vermin, even a cute little chippunk, in my house. I couldn’t dissuade it from coming into the garage. I couldn’t close off the crack in the door. There was only one solution: I had to get a rat trap.

Now, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve hated killing anything, except bugs. I stopped fishing, because I accidentally killed a fish that I meant to release. Laurie—and Debbie before her—called me St. Will of Assisi, because I seem to get along with all dogs and cats so well.

Like I said, I loved my backyard menagerie, but, well, this had to be done. The only way to get rid of the chippunk was to do so permanently. I bought a basic back-snapping rat trap—a mousetrap wouldn’t be big enough for a chippunk—set it out along the wall where I’d seen it run before and then waited for the inevitable. Nothing. Every day I’d look and every day the trap remained set.

Then, one night I came home and saw the trap had been tripped, but nothing was there. Huh? The answer was revealed when I got my oil changed. As I sat in my car at the Valvoline Instant Oil Change, the attendant began to pull all this crap out of my engine. It was nesting material from a mouse. Mice?!

Actually, Debbie loved hearing that—the nest part, not the mice part. She imagined the mouse in little goggles and hood riding on my engine. It was a funny image but a definite problem. Unlike the chippunk, Debbie had no problem with wiping out mice. So it was back to Lowes for a mousetrap.

This time, it didn’t take long before the trap began to do its dirty work. (This particular mouse wasn’t wearing goggles.) However, mice don’t travel alone. Where there’s one, there’s another, like the Sith. Before long, we had evidence that more lurked about. I set the trap out again.

The spring of 2001 ended up being a slaughter. I must have killed at least a dozen mice, and the more times I went out in the morning and found a dead body in my trap, the more upset I got—particularly after I’d been handed my walking papers by Debbie. Each dead mouse was emblematic of my feeling that I was a dead man walking in my relationship.

I got lucky once. One day, while I was preparing to do some yard work, I found a mouse had taken it upon itself to make a nest in one of my paint buckets that I used to collect yard clippings and whatnot. I found this, because I found the mouse sleeping peacefully in the bucket.

Well, this is easy, I just took another bucket and dropped it inside the bucket that had the mouse, put the buckets in my trunk and drove down the street to an open field where I released the mouse.

I also got horribly unlucky. One time in late April, I came home from the store to find that the trap had worked … sort of. It caught the mouse but not dead center, so it nearly tore off its leg but didn’t kill the mouse. The mouse was in the middle of the garage floor, where it had dragged the trap nearly six feet with its three good legs and a trail of blood across the floor.

That was pretty upsetting as is, but it was even moreso in that I knew I had to finish the job myself. I suppose the more humane thing would have been to just squish it and end it quick, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Instead, I grabbed a shovel and began to beat it to death. This took longer than expected, and I had to hit it several times, each blow more upsetting than the last.

When the deed was done, that was too much for my mental state, and I called Debbie. She came home for lunch and comforted me, but I was beat. I told her I was done killing mice. I couldn’t do it any more, and besides, I was moving out soon anyway. Debbie would have to deal with this on her own soon enough. She might as well get used to doing it now. She agreed that she would, as much as she didn’t want to.

That didn’t last. I ended up being the mouse executioner and disposer the rest of the time I lived there. Fortunately that was only a few more weeks. The only good feeling I had when I left was that I wouldn’t be responsible for killing any more mice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No. 50 – Crime of the Century

Performer: Supertramp
Songwriters: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson
Original Release: Crime of the Century
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Paris, 1980.

Well, I suppose now that we’re in the top 50, I should talk more about the songs themselves, and why they’re where they are. I mean, why in the Hell is a Supertramp song anywhere near my top 100 let alone in a position where only 49 songs are ahead of it on my list?

Just give this one a listen, if you can find the Paris version. I’ve never heard the studio version, but I suspect it’s mostly the same. (I’ve found older versions that are much slower, which softens the impact.) Crime of the Century starts out as this moody ode and turns into something much bigger. Its symphonic finale picks you off the ground and lifts you into the sky. That’s what good music should do: Make you feel it. I feel this song.

Speaking of feeling something, when I left the Fiji House my freshman year in college, I didn’t feel remorse. I missed my pledge brothers, who kept their distance from me for the most part, because I abandoned them. The exception was walk-out in January 1983.

Walk-out was an annual Fiji tradition whereby the pledge class disappears for a weekend, telling no one and leaving the actives to somehow fend for themselves. Naturally, they don’t and—because they lack self-respect—just mess up the house further, so the pledges have to work all night making the place look respectable again, not unlike after Hell night.

Anyway, an invitation was extended to include me on walk-out. I knew it was because I had a car and most of them didn’t, so I’d be able to haul a fair number of bodies, but I didn’t care. I just enjoyed being included.

The plan, determined by the pledge class president, was University of Wisconsin in Madison. We’d leave in the middle of the night and drive to one of the pledge’s homes in Da Region, spend the night there and then head to Wisconsin the next day. This was all laid out in the bell tower of Center Hall, all very hush hush, you see, so better to spring it on the actives.

I pulled up next to the Fiji house about 3 a.m. and waited as one by one the guys in my car snuck down the fire escape with their pillows and shower kits and not much more else than the clothes on their back before we zoomed off into the night.

We all crashed on the basement floor of our halfway house and didn’t do much that day. The family bought us all pizza, and the evening consisted mostly of watching MTV. Then it was off to Madison.

When we got to UW, we quickly learned that the college still was on holiday break. Wait. You came up with the idea of going to Wisconsin, during a time when, for the most part, there would be no students—i.e., no females—around? Why did we come HERE?

The why was easy. Back then, Wisconsin still was an 18 state, which means that you could get into bars and drink if you were 18, which we all were. That’s great, but did it have to be THIS weekend? It did, because that’s when the Fiji house in Wisconsin could accommodate us.

Well, I wasn’t into drinking back then, so the weekend was more or less lost on me. The most memorable part was the UW Fiji house. It was an incredible building on the shores of Lake Mendota. It sat perpendicular to the road, so it didn’t look like much when we arrived, but as you walked through it, it just kept leading to a bigger room than before. It was like a castle in that the walkways were somewhat secret.

Finally, everything just opened up into this incredible two-story open ballroom that had a second-floor balcony and massive wood ceiling, gigantic fireplaces and windows that looked out on a huge patio overlooking the lake. It was very impressive.

One day, a couple guys and I toured it, and we stumbled upon the actual Phi Gamma Delta room, which had been unlocked and left open. This is where they had the robes and where, one would presume, the official ceremonial activities of the fraternity took place. As soon as we saw what it was, we all knew we were seeing something we weren’t supposed to: We were seeing the secrets of the fraternity—secrets my pledge brothers would one day learn but I never would. We got the heck out of there.

Other than that, the weekend was a lot of watching MTV in the TV room, where most of us crashed—those of us, who didn’t bring sleeping bags, that is. About 20 of us were piled in the carpeted viewing levels of the TV room, huddled for warmth.

Because few people were at UW, few Fijis were in the house, so the furnace was turned down to the bare minimum in most of the house. In January, in Wisconsin, that meant it was frosty in the TV room. I found a loose blanket that three of us slept under.

Aside from that, the weekend was a collection of odd visions: One pledge brother getting drunk for the first time and squealing over the video for Scandal’s Goodbye to You, the UW actives waking us up at 3 in the morning blaring Fiji songs over the house p.a., comic-book porn in a Madison drugstore.

Finally it was time to walk back in and end our reunion tour. I wished everyone well as I dropped them off at the Fiji house and they slunk into the side door with their tails between their legs. When I arrived back in my dorm room, by myself, I felt badly for my former fellow pledges but very relieved that I no longer had to go through what they were going through, probably at that moment. I still felt no regret about leaving.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No. 51 – Too Late the Hero

Performer: The John Entwistle Band
Songwriters: John Entwistle
Original Release: Too Late the Hero
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Left for Live, 1999.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve developed a fear of flying, or, rather, crashing. You know what the perfect antidote is for a fear of flying? Depression. When you’re depressed, you don’t care whether you live or die, so you aren’t afraid of crashing.

When I flew home from the SABR convention in Boston in 2002, it was like riding a bus: I wasn’t afraid at all. I think that was, until further notice, the last time I had no fear when I flew. Allow me to explain the circumstances.

I saw no need to rent a car in Boston, but I wanted to get out of the Park Plaza Hotel and wander around a bit for dinner. About a block away was an Italian place that was supposed to be good, so Friday night, I hiked over.

I can’t remember the name of the place now, but it was packed. I had a 90-minute wait, the hostess informed me, unless I wanted to sit at the bar. I saw a chair open there, and it looked kind of informal and cool. Besides, it’s a bit awkward to ask for a table for one, although I’d done it a few times since my breakup with Debbie. I took the bar seat.

One of the bartenders set me up and began to chat me up. Her name was Francesca, and she was pretty attractive, but I didn’t read much into it. That’s what waitstaff do—particularly when they learn that their customer is from out of town—they chat them up. Welcoming service equals a better tip.

But we kept talking and talking. The food was great, the wine—for a restaurant—was good, but the company was better. I figured it was just a game, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So at the end of the evening, I asked Francesca if she wanted to meet up for a drink somewhere else when her shift ended. She smiled and said she couldn’t that night, but how about tomorrow? How about OK!

A one-night stand as a weary traveler—assuming I could pull it off—was precisely what the doctor ordered. During the ballgame the next night, even though I concentrated on the proceedings for the article I planned for SABR, everything I did was in front of the backdrop that I would meet up with Francesca later.

That night, Francesca said, I should come late, like after midnight. She had to work closing but thought she could get off work earlier. Even though it was after 11 by the time the game ended and I hiked back to the hotel from the Fens, I still had to kill a little time, so I didn’t look too eager.

Finally, it was after midnight, and I made a beeline to the restaurant. I sat at the bar, and Francesca again greeted me warmly, but it didn’t take long to realize that things were different. This time, she seemed a lot busier and had less time to chat, even though the restaurant was less crowded than the night before.

Well, I didn’t have anything better to do, like, say, sleep. So I sat and drank wine and waited and waited and waited …

Well, you know where this is going, right? Exactly, nowhere. It was after 1 when Francesca came over and apologized, but she couldn’t get off work early and wouldn’t be leaving until at least 3. I didn’t doubt that that wasn’t the case. Why would she say that she wanted to go out with me unless she really did? Did she think I wouldn’t come back? I felt like a sap anyway.

I was scheduled to fly out late Sunday, because the minor-league committee was supposed to meet that morning. When the meeting was moved up to Friday, I had nothing to do and a lot of time to do it in between checkout and flight time.

I stored my luggage and wandered around to find a lunch place then wandered over to a nearby field where an exhibition of 1880s style baseball took place. I had a pretty good funk going when I finally walked to the T to fly home.

The flight to Boston was the first time I’d flown since 9/11. Of course, now I was flying out of one of the airports that the hijackers used, so the security was amped up to 11. There was no food and no bathrooms after checking through security, so I hung out in the entry concourse until about a half-hour before boarding. I figured I could make it from then to when the plane was at cruising altitude before I had to use the bathroom again.

As I went through screening, I got pulled out of line for a random inspection. Can’t be too careful, can we? Whatever. They went through my briefcase, took everything apart, I had to turn on my computer to prove that it wasn’t disguised as a bomb—the whole ten yards. My plane was starting to board, and the line was starting to shrink as I put my briefcase back together.

I got in line, but as I handed the person at the gate my ticket, she asked me to step aside. Umm, did you not just see someone just go through my stuff 10 FEET AWAY? Apparently not. This time, they took me behind a screen, had me take off my shoes and gave me the wand—while going through my bag again. I’d forgotten that the 9/11 hijackers consisted of mostly white guys with blonde hair and blue eyes, so I must have fit some profile.

As you might well imagine, I was steaming at this point and ready to get the Hell out of Boston. The airline employee apologized and told me to have a nice day. I told her to perform a physically impossible act. OK, I didn’t really, but I definitely thought it, and I said nothing in return.

The plane was small, with rows of two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other. I had a single, which meant I had a window and an aisle seat all in one, which fit my mood. When I got to my seat, someone was idly chatting with his friend across the aisle—while sitting in my seat. I was in no mood and told him more or less, with little pretense, to move it.

When I buckled myself in, I literally didn’t care whether the plane crashed. I channeled my anger into my essay for SABR, and considering it was published, I suppose it all worked out in the end.