Sunday, February 17, 2013

No. 473 – Ah Leah

Performer: Donnie Iris
Songwriters: Mark Avsec, Dominic Ierace
Original Release: Back on the Streets
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: None, although I like the one from Live at Blossom, 1981, which was broadcast on MTV. Seeing the Performance of this song years later, I was struck by how Iris comes across as a genuinely likeable dude who’s loving—and to a certain extent can’t believe—that he has a hit record.

Before we get started, Laurie and I went to see Andy McKee last night in Evanston, and he was phenomenal. If you don’t know who he is, check out Drifting on YouTube. You won’t be sorry.

Shortly after I moved to Cleveland in March 2003, and I mean as in weeks after I moved, I ended up in the hospital (story to come). I already was on shaky ground mentally, and that event seemed to put me over the edge.

For most of the previous two years, I had nothing going romantically while I healed from Debbie. Now I had nothing going professionally except my own wits and my work to publish a book. I hadn’t seen the move to Cleveland necessarily as the beginning of the end game, but when my health took a turn for the worse, I started to allow myself to think it.

I decided I would make no future plans after the book. I didn’t rule out the possibility that I would get the book done and go away, as in permanently. I was, obviously, pretty depressed.

That changed July 1. That was when Leah came along.

Scott and Shani had been trying sporadically to get pregnant for the past two years, and it finally took in fall 2002. The public announcement led to a funny exchange between me and Scott concerning Dad—funny in that our roles were reversed from what they had been for years in the Nineties.

Scott was ticked that when he told Dad that he was going to have a kid, he didn’t think Dad reacted well. Dad had said, well, I’m going to have to think about this, as though he didn’t like it, Scott said. Now that I no longer was persona non gratia over there, I visited frequently, and I had a better idea of where he was coming from. So I defended Dad.

Look, I said, you have to remember, in having two families 20 years apart, Dad’s extended his young adulthood into his 60s. He still thinks of himself as being young, because he has kids living at home. He doesn’t think of himself as being old enough to have grandkids.

Don’t worry, I assured Scott, he’s happy about it. He just has to work through his own deal. Scott allowed that I might be right, but he gave me the whole if-he-doesn’t-like-it-we’ll-never-come-around speech. (It turns out I was right. Dad has loved being a grandfather.)

Anyway, on July 1, Dad’s granddaughter, my niece, Leah Nicole was born. I got the word in Cleveland and drove to Cincinnati—picking up Mom along the way—to see her and spend the Fourth. We arrived almost at the same time as Shani and Leah came home from the hospital. (She hadn’t been expected to come home till the next day, but that’s the health-insurance industry for you.)

I always have been uncomfortable around babies. They weren’t mine, and I didn’t want to do anything that might bother the parents, so I avoided them at all costs, but when Scott gave me Leah to hold, it was totally different.

Quite simply, Leah was as close to me having my own child that I ever would get, and I bonded instantly with her. I promised her as I was holding her that I would always be there for her and help her when she needed me. Mom must have recognized that, because on the drive home, she made reference to something I had said earlier—I couldn’t go away now, as I had said, because of Leah.

Well, here it is nearly 10 years later. I’m still around (although the book still isn’t finished), and Leah has grown up to become a very precocious, intelligent little girl. She’s a huge artist—loves to draw, loves to draw dragons. She loves to visit her uncle Will in Chicago.

So Leah will be 10 in a few months, and with each passing year, Scott gets closer to the inevitable moment when Leah brings home her first boyfriend. If he still had any hair to begin with, he’d be pulling it out. (Scott says he’s looking forward to the moment, actually … when she turns 31.)

Leah was named from the Roy Orbison song of the same name—Shani’s late father was a huge Roy Orbison fan—but I’m certain Scott knows this song. And woe be to him if he knows the lyrics. Yeah, Scott, some guy in the not very distant future will be thinking exactly what Donnie Iris is singing in this song, and my only advice will be what it always is in such situations: Start drinking heavily.

Good thing I’m just an uncle.

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