Sunday, March 31, 2013

No. 431 – Ten Years Gone

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Physical Graffiti
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: Destroyer, 1977

Introducing this song on Destroyer, Robert Plant says, “This is about your first love—the one you never forget.” Damn right.

It’s hard to believe now that it’s coming up on 28 years since that illicit trip with Beth to Put-in-Bay. I have memories of that time, of course, but it’s like I have no connection to them. It’s like I know I did that only because I see the pictures in a photo book and recognize that the skinny guy in those pictures is me.

After we broke up, I’ve seen Beth only three more times. The first time was in the summer of 1987. I was home for some reason—I think it was a break between my internship at YMCA of the USA and before I started my final quarter at Northwestern.

Earlier, I had got a letter from Erin, Beth’s sister, to say the next time I was in town to get together for lunch and catch up. It wasn’t like she was moving in on me, just more to see that I was doing OK, I think. No matter, it was innocent from my point of view.

Anyway, Beth obviously knew about it, because she made it a point to answer the door on her way out to see her guy dressed to the nines. She had on a tiger-print top and tight white pants. Her hair was freshly permed, just the way I liked it. There was no doubt that she was showing me what I once had and would never have again. It didn’t bother me like it was supposed to, but it still was well-played by Beth.

The next time was, I think, sometime in 1989. I was home—again I don’t remember why—and I stopped by the laundromat where Beth’s mom worked to say, hey, like usual.

That time, though, Mrs. Mac told me that Beth had just started work as a bank teller across the street. Well, I had to pop in and say, hey, to her, too. It was even more different and detached this time. I still was recovering from Melanie, which had a profound effect on me—particularly with respect to my feelings toward Beth. Beth and I chatted for a long time while she worked, and it was very warm, almost like old friends catching up.

The third and, until further notice, final time I saw Beth was under less pleasant circumstances, as I mentioned—in February 1994, when I stopped by to see how Mrs. Mac was faring after the sudden death of her husband. I wasn’t expecting to see Beth that day. She happened to come over at about the same time as I did and brought her new son with her. That should have felt more weird than it did.

The conversation was normal. Obviously, Mrs. Mac was having a difficult time, but we kept it friendly the brief time I was there. I remember at one point Mrs. Mac was complaining about this new album that Erin left down in the basement and how it featured this crazy song about eating your cancer when it turns black. Oh, you mean Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana? I asked. Beth laughed. I knew you’d know that song.

I gave Beth the poem I had written for her son about the grandfather he’d never know. She thanked me for it. When I left, Beth was in the kitchen with her boy and her grandmother, whom I also hadn’t seen since we broke up who said she remembered me but in all probability was just being nice.

Beth said she was going to leave soon, and I was hoping we’d leave at the same time, because I wanted to just say a word to her in person—nothing heavy, just that it was good to see her again. Closure, you know?

But she didn’t, and I haven’t seen her since. Nineteen Years Gone is more like it. Percy’s statement was on the money: Even though it all happened a lifetime ago, and many of my memories are consigned to a photo album, I’ll never forget Beth.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

No. 432 – Thru These Walls

Performer: Phil Collins
Songwriter: Phil Collins
Original Release: Hello, I Must Be Going!
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: RKO Captured Live, 1983

When the RKO Captured Live concert was broadcast over Q-FM in summer 1985, Scott’s tape recorder was rolling. I got a copy, and I played that tape all the time.

I have a distinct memory of being out on the little side porch at Dad and Laura’s house during the radio broadcast, but that’s not what I’m going to write about. This song ostensibly is about sex and subterfuge, and in the summer of 1985, Beth and I pulled off a little scheme that involved both.

The full nature of our relationship at that point wasn’t made public as far as the parental types were concerned. I mean, my parents knew that Beth and I at least probably had consummated our romance by that time—it’d been three years after all—but Beth’s parents were kept in the dark.

Beth’s parents weren’t the most strict in the world, but we snuck around on them out of courtesy if nothing else. At the time, I assumed it had to do with Beth’s mom’s firm Catholicism, but the truth was that it probably had more to do with the fact that Beth hadn’t turned 18 until the previous December. Not only was I robbing the cradle, I technically was breaking the law. Regardless, it definitely was a situation of their ignorance was our bliss.

Having been together as long as we had been by that time, Beth and I wanted to do more than just dates around town or family vacations. Mike’s girlfriend was spending the summer working in Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie and had been talking about how great it was. Beth wanted to go there, just us, for a weekend, and, of course, wanting a chance to be with her by myself, I was all in favor of that.

The problem, of course, was we couldn’t just announce that we’re going to go to Put-in-Bay for a weekend. So we came up with an obvious solution: Dad and Laura were taking the family to Torch Lake for a week. Beth had been to Torch Lake twice already. We would just say we were going to Torch Lake for the weekend. (In case you were wondering, Beth, herself, wasn’t the world’s greatest Catholic. She might have done fear, but she didn’t do guilt.)

The scheme would work flawlessly, unless an emergency came up and Beth’s parents needed to call Torch Lake. So we needed a few trustworthy people on the inside who could help us in such an occasion, and Jin and Scott wouldn’t be sufficient.

I don’t know why it occurred to me that it would be OK to ask my father and stepmother to cover for me while I was sneaking off with my girlfriend. But Beth, who was very close to Laura, broached the subject first. To my delight, Laura said she thought it was a great idea for us to take a vacation together. It wasn’t likely that she would need to cover for us, but she said she would.

Now this is the part of the story where—if this were a TV show or a dopey rom com movie—you would fully expect that something would go awry, and Beth and I would end up getting our comeuppance while being taught a valuable life lesson about the meaning of trust. It didn’t happen. Dad and Laura never needed to lie for us, because Beth’s parents never called.

Beth and I had a great weekend. We drove to Port Clinton Friday and spent the night there—I couldn’t afford to stay on the island, and make no mistake: I was paying for everything. The next day we took the ferry to Put-in-Bay, rented a tandem bike and rode around South Bass Island. We went to the top of the Perry victory memorial, stopped off to see Mike’s girlfriend and did a little shopping.

The next day we decided to drive to Sea World for the Shamu show and looked at the other exhibits before heading home, arriving more or less on schedule.

Sure, there was plenty of sex. At least I’m pretty sure there was, but it’s funny: It wasn’t that memorable, at least compared with other times. It was like, now that we were alone, we didn’t have to sneak it in when we could. We could enjoy the day and maybe partake once, or a half-dozen times, before going to sleep—together—that night. In some ways, it was the first time we acted more like we were in a relationship than just merely dating. It felt more grown-up.

It turns out, long after Beth and I had parted ways, I finally realized that this song isn’t so much about sex and subterfuge as it is the pain of loneliness. I also found out that Beth’s parents might not have been as ignorant as we had led ourselves to believe. By then, it was all water around the island.

Friday, March 29, 2013

No. 433 – I Cried

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Robert Plant, Phil Johnstone
Original Release: Manic Nirvana
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: none

For the record, all of the windows in my apartment in Grand Blanc opened, including the one next to my bed that faced North, away from the sun. I had plenty of cool cross-breeze there.

Some songs conjure up memories of a time; others conjure up memories of a specific event or day. This is one of the latter.

As I mentioned, after I was put in charge of the copy for the zoned sections at The Journal, my work schedule shifted so I was one of the first people in the newsroom in the morning. (Hank, whom I mentioned, always was the first.)

My shift began at 5 a.m., which meant, to shower, get dressed and drive to Flint, I had to be up by 4. For breakfast, I kept a box of cereal in my desk drawer where most editors keep their hooch, and then I bought a milk from the vending machine in the break room.

My early wakeup meant that to get a good night’s sleep, I had to be in bed by 9, 8 prefereably. Going to bed at 8 or 8:30 is OK in February, which is when I started my new shift. It’s dark out; the sun had set hours before; it wasn’t so bad. It’s a whole different ballgame in the summer. For one thing, you can’t go to any ballgames, because they all start at 7—even the ones in which you might play.

One day—I think it was July, far along into the summer—I decided I wanted to grill out. I hadn’t made my pork chops with the spicy butter BBQ sauce that I liked so much and made a lot the previous summer since I had moved from Mount Prospect.

I made all the preparations and set up a foldout chair, cracked a beer and opened (ahem) the window next to my bed by the front porch, which is where I kept my grill. That way I could hear the music from my stereo.

I got Manic Nirvana while I was in the midst of a big Robert Plant roll after Now and Zen, and I had on Manic Nirvana along with other CDs in shuffle mode as I sat outside to grill and eat.

The food was fine, but the experience was less than satisfying. In fact, it was downright depressing. It wasn’t so much that I was alone, which didn’t help, but that as soon as I was done eating, I realized that it was 8 already. The sun was setting, yes, but it still would be light out for almost another hour. I could hear activity going on around the apartment buildings. And I had to go to bed.

I cleaned up everything mechanically as this song’s sorrowful tone filled the apartment, and I felt sorry for myself. When you’re a kid, there’s nothing worse than having to go to bed while there’s still daylight—and thus playtime—out. Now, almost 20 years later, I felt the same way. I felt like I couldn’t do anything, because I had to go to bed so soon. I barely could even make dinner for myself at a normal time. Meanwhile, everyone else was outside playing.

I hadn’t disliked my job until that moment, but now the bloom officially was off the rose. This was going to have change, soon.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

No. 434 – What’s Going On

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, Renaldo Benson
Original Release: Single, What’s Going On
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: none

Shortly after I started at Harbor Country News and Jim and I began our friendship in 1988, he made me a tape of What’s Going On. I had noticed it on a list of great albums in Rolling Stone but didn’t know anything about it. When I finally heard it, it hit me at precisely the right time.

As I mentioned, I had a political awakening at Northwestern and quickly became attuned to liberal causes. To me, the biggest was the environment, because if we messed that up to the point where we can’t live any more, everything else is secondary.

In 1988, I became particularly concerned about the ozone hole that had just formed over Antarctica. It made me aware how fragile we all were and how things, such as the ozone layer that protects us from the sun’s radiation, can be so easily taken for granted.

Something had to be done, but one person could do only so much. I decided how I could make at least a minimal contribution was to have no air conditioner in my apartment. AC coolant generated chlorofluorocarbons, which eat up the ozone layer. Even one fewer air conditioner, I thought, would be beneficial.

The problem was I picked about the worst summer possible to make such a principled stand. I don’t know where you were that year, but southwestern Michigan went through a huge drought and heat wave pretty much from June to September. It got to be so when a quick afternoon shower struck in August, we covered it in the Harbor Country News with pictures on the front page.

The weather was bad enough. What was worse was my apartment. My apartment had six windows in it—one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom and four in the living room, three of which formed something like a bay window without the seating. Two of the bay windows—maybe five feet apart—were the only windows that opened.

I hadn’t realized this until long after I moved in, because, well, who thinks about open windows in January? When the temperature began to rise, and I realized I couldn’t open all the windows, I knew I was in trouble. How was I supposed to get a cross breeze going with my fan? The answer became apparent: I couldn’t.

That summer was brutal. As June rolled into July, I couldn’t sleep in my bed, because it was too hot, even if I pulled the fan out of the window and aimed it at my face. Because there was no circulation, the hot air that built up in my apartment never could escape.

It got so I’d wake up in the middle of the night, sweating in my bed, and trudge off to the bathroom. I’d fill the tub with cold water and sit in it to cool down. As soon as I felt as though I were falling asleep, I’d go back to bed. A couple of times I had to repeat the procedure in a single night.

When Melanie visited, we slept in the living room for the space anyway. It was better, although not much. I’d just pull off the comforter, and we’d sleep on top of that. After she left, I just started to stay out there.

At the time, Harbor Country News had an ancillary sales office around the side in the same building in which I lived. It had no computer, so I had no reason to work there, which would have been nice, but it had AC. One night in August, I finally had enough and dragged my comforter and pillow down there and set up behind one of the desks in the office. I set an alarm, so I was long gone before anyone else showed up, but at least I got a good night’s sleep.

And I learned an important lesson that summer: Principles require sacrifice. I never did get a room AC until, as I mentioned, last year. But I damn well made sure from then on that I always had an apartment that had windows that opened.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No. 435 – Dodo / Lurker

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Abacab
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Three Sides Live, 1982

Less than a year after I discovered Genesis, they toured to support the geometric figures album. In Columbus, as I mentioned, there was no place for them to play. Fortunately, there was Indianapolis, which was on the schedule in February 1984—smack in the middle of my sophomore year at Wabash. Even better, they were scheduled for a nonbasketball night, so I could go.

I bought three tickets—for myself, Eric and Mike, who said he’d be more than happy to drive over from Columbus for the show. The timing of the concert was perfect, because that following weekend, Jim, Ed and I were throwing our big house party. Mike could see the show, hang out and party a bit. That would require him skipping two days of classes, but he said he could pull it off.

The show was at the late, great Market Square Arena on the East side of town. It wasn’t the first concert I’d seen without parental supervision—it was the second—but it was the first one I’d seen outside of Ohio. It also was the first show I’d seen so soon after really getting into a band, so I was particularly geeked for it. I assumed it would be lots of stuff from the geometric figures album and Abacab and—hopefully—some older stuff.

Our seats were in the upper bowl of MSA, stage right. They weren’t the best seats, but I certainly have had worse. I still have the ticket stub from that show; I found it recently. Our tickets cost $10 apiece. Think of that: It cost only TEN bucks to see Genesis in 1984. It was a while ago, but it wasn’t that long ago. Nowadays, you can’t see anyone even in a local bar for less than $12.

I don’t think Mike had seen Genesis before, but you wouldn’t have known it otherwise. When the band hit the stage, Mike called out, Dodo! And sure enough, this was the opening song. As it was ending, Mike yelled, Abacab! Yup. Two-for-two. What, did you invent the Internet so you could read setlists, bud?

The concert was great, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Early on, Phil Collins went into a long and jokey introduction about how the band was sitting around the other day and they got all their old records out (huge applause) and then they put them back (huge boos). Got them out (Yay!) Put them back (Boo!) He did this several more times before saying, Got them out … and then we kept them out. (YAAAAAY!) They did a killer medley of Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/Firth of Fifth/Musical Box. That satisfied my hopes.

Aside from being really into Genesis at the time, I never had seen a concert in person that had anything like the visual effects that Genesis brought to the stage. I think The Doobie Brothers had a little bit of fog at one point in their show, but Genesis seemed to have the smoke machines working nonstop.

Then were the Vari-Lites, which still were fairly new and unlike anything I’d ever seen in terms of the different colors they had and how they changed the shape of the light and stage for that matter. Before, a lighting effect meant a spotlight. Genesis had no lasers, alas, but it was a new experience in terms of spectacle. With The Who and Led Zeppelin officially out of the game, there was no question who was my favorite active band after that show.

After the show, we drove back to Wabash, and Eric and I took Mike to The Snacker, our favorite late-night diner, for a celebratory burger.

The next day, however, cooler heads prevailed. Mike decided he needed to head home rather than stay an extra day for the party. He sat in a couple of classes with me just to get a bit of the Wabash experience and split while I subbed an afternoon DJ shift at WNDY. I’d like to say I played this song as a tribute while he headed home, but I instead played a live version of Centerfold by J. Geils, another of Mike’s faves from high-school days. Hey man, gotta stay on format, you know.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No. 436 – Got Some

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Backspacer
Year: 2009
Definitive Version: none

Laurie used to go home to Kansas City all the time until her father died in 2000. Then it became an every-three-years thing. She took me for the first time in 2006, as I mentioned.

The second time was in September 2009, the weekend after Backspacer came out. I bought it and set it aside, so I’d have something completely new and cool to listen to as we drove around town.

We flew in on a Friday, and the first order of business, after getting the rental car, was Hayward’s for lunch and then go see Laurie’s mom. As we drove around I-435, I saw a sign for the local Renaissance Festival. That struck my fancy, because Laurie met her long-ago ex at the KC Ren Fest, and word through the grapevine was that he still was a juggler there. I took a rip at the ball set on the T.

Hey, check it out. Ren Fest is going on right now. We can swing by and say hi to your ex, catch up on old times. What do you say? He was a clown, right?

Believe it or not, Laurie didn’t pull over and leave me at the side of the road. I guess the pull of Hayward’s was too great to resist.

This time, I had a better idea of what to expect, and I promised myself there would be no hike around Loose Park feeling as though I was about to split my seams. After all, dinner, again, would be at Stroud’s. I had only a half-sandwich at Heywards … even though I really wanted a full sandwich. I thought of the bigger picture here and denied myself.

After that, it was back south to see Mom. I pride myself on having such a keen sense of direction that if I get somewhere and paid attention to where I’m going, I can find my way a second time without directions just going off memory.

But this time, my sense of direction led me astray. Even though we had been there just three years before and it seemed to be an important visit, we had to wander around the cemetery for a while before we stumbled over Laurie’s Mom’s gravesite. My defense: Leaves covered the marker, so I didn’t see it when I first went by it.

There was no need for me to find our way to Laurie’s friend’s place, nor was I needed for direction consultation to Stroud’s. My only requirement was to contribute more to the decimation of the fried chicken mound that was placed before us. No problem. This time, I prepared myself properly. Hayward’s is good, no question, but Stroud’s is sublime. I’ve never had as good down-home food as there.

The next day was devoted to new adventures in KC, new to me, anyway. The first was a stop at Laurie’s favorite hamburger place—the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill. I kid you not: According to Laurie, the best burger this side of Moody’s Pub was at a flea market. OK … if you say so.

When we got there, we found to Laurie’s dismay that although the bar & grill still was there, the flea market was down to a measly six stalls of stuff. It used to be so much cooler, she explained disappointedly. Minutes later, she was voicing the same disappointment about the burger—if not more. It was OK, but it wasn’t the greatest burger this side of Winstead’s let alone Moody’s. But, hey, where else can you hang out and drink pitchers of beer on a warm Saturday in a parking lot?

Finally, it was time for the main event. The first time we went to KC was to see the Christmas lights on the Plaza, as I mentioned, in 2006. This time, it was all about a Royals game. I had never seen a game there.

Because the Royals have been horrible pretty much for the past two decades, plenty of good seats were available before game time. We bought from the box office and sat in the upper deck behind home plate.

The park was nice, and you could see why people said it was the best Seventies ballpark, but after the ballpark renaissance of the Nineties, Kauffman Stadium definitely seemed a bit dated with its cold, gray concrete. The team had just finished a major overhaul of the park that added a whole bunch of stuff to the outfield concourse, which used to be nothing but grass and fountains, of course, but it couldn’t compare with the new retro parks.

The game was fun, and the Twins beat the Royals in a game that kept the Twins in the playoff hunt. Considering that they ended up tied with the Tigers for the division, it actually was an important victory, although we didn’t know it at the time. At the time, we were more concerned with the thunderstorm that was moving into the area. The forecast called for a high probability of tornadic activity. Fortunately, the only breeze we felt as that of another Royals player fanning futilely.

KC 2009 was a quick-hit trip, but we had a good time although not as good as the first time there. 2009 also was the last time we’ve been back. It’s now been four years since Laurie has been home, and the other day we talked about it when she said, it’s time to go back. Maybe this time we’ll do the Nelson-Atkins art museum. I know I’m already looking forward to getting some more Stroud’s.

Monday, March 25, 2013

No. 437 – Bang the Drum All Day

Performer: Todd Rundgren
Songwriters: Todd Rundgren
Original Release: The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: none

I got my first baseball board game—Ethan Allen’s All Star Baseball by Cadeco—when I was a kid. I never played it. In 1977, my new friend Jim introduced me to Superstar Baseball by Sports Illustrated. It was cool but limiting in that it was just Hall of Fame players. In 1978, I got a game that featured current players called Longball, but it was complicated and boring.

Finally sometime during my freshman year at Wabash, I saw an ad in The Sporting News for another baseball board game: Strat-o-Matic Baseball. The ad showed a sample card, it actually said things like Home Run or strike out instead of 6-C or some code that I wasn’t interested in memorizing.

There was a special offer running at the time where if you ordered now you would get the game with 1981 cards and the 1982s as soon as they became available. That sold me. I cut out the ad and gave it to Mom to put at the top of my Christmas list.

At Christmas 1982, my wish was answered. Almost immediately, I set up a league of eight teams and divided the cards randomly, playing a season of 72 games and keeping the stats, of course.

Strat-o-Matic Baseball became my No. 1 time waster for the rest of the decade. Whenever I didn’t have to study at college or was out with Beth or at work, I was playing Strat or compiling the stats. When it was time to order the new season of cards, I’d do so and hang on to them until I finished the previous season. Then I’d parcel out the new cards of the old players and distribute the new ones and start anew.

In computer science class, I wrote a Pascal program that would take statistics entered into a database and run a set of baseball formulas, such as runs created and Total Average. When I got my first personal computer in 1986, I was devastated to learn that the Pascal was different from the program at Wabash, so I couldn’t just transfer my files over.

I learned a lot about baseball from playing Strat. I saw right away that the theories espoused by Bill James about walks vs. speed or relief pitchers were correct, because the same patterns followed in Strat. Teams that had guys who walked more scored more runs and won more games than guys who had better batting averages but never walked. Also, it didn’t matter in which order you brought in relievers as long as they produced outs.

Before long, I could play a game in less than 30 minutes and a series of four games in less than 2 hours. Strat fit in with my addictive and introverted personality. By my junior year at Wabash, Beth started calling me J. Henry, after the infamous title character in the Robert Coover book about a guy who is just a tad obsessive about this little baseball board game he creates.

I finally read the book, The Universal Baseball Association, in 1987, and I saw no resemblance. Sure we both played baseball board games, in lightning-fast fashion, all available hours of the day, but J. Henry’s game was totally made up, including invented players. Strat used real players. All the difference in the world.

Although the protagonist’s life eventually was sucked into his game, a funny thing happened to this J. Henry Waugh: I stopped playing Strat-o-Matic cold. This wasn’t after reading the book; it was years later in Flint. Because I tried to compile stats for everything, even fielding, it took a really long time to do so. It got so it was more work than play, and in 1990, I quit in the middle of the 1989 season.

Part of that might have had something to do with Bill James quitting his Abstracts in 1988. After that, I wasn’t as interested in compiling my own statistics without some new formula to use to measure performance. But I think a larger reason was I had found something more fun to feed my compulsive nature—my baseball-card collection. As I mentioned, my newfound friendship with Dave in 1990 and going to card shows reignited a passion that had been dormant since high school.

I stopped playing Strat-o-Matic at about that time and never went back to it. In fact, when I moved from Flint, I threw out or left behind bags of old seasons of Strat cards. I still have the game and several old seasons of cards, and I can’t believe now that I threw out those cards. I NEVER throw out anything related to baseball.

That I did goes to show you I definitely was done with Strat-o-Matic baseball and ready to move on.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No. 438 – Old Friends / Bookends

Performer: Simon & Garfunkel
Songwriters: Paul Simon
Original Release: Bookends
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: The Concert in Central Park, 1982

Being accepted to Northwestern’s journalism school meant I had one more summer of being a kid where I didn’t have to try to figure out what I was going to do next.

I just needed to make living arrangements. For reasons I’ll get into later, I couldn’t live with Mom, and I didn’t want to live with Dad. Jin, of course, was well-established there. Matt had his own room, and now that Scott was there down in the basement, my only choice was the tiny guest room. The truth is, I just didn’t want to live there—even though I’d be over there almost every day. There was only one solution: I would live with my grandparents.

This, in my opinion, was an ideal solution. I could have the entire second floor of their house, which had its own full bathroom, as well as a little deck overlooking the backyard.

But better than that: in June, my grandparents would head to Torch Lake for the summer. I’d have the whole place to myself, which meant, of course, I could bring over Beth any time I wanted. My eyes widened in anticipation of the nonstop sexual opportunities this afforded.

So I went into sales mode: I can’t live at home; there isn’t enough room at Dad’s; and I would be able to help out at Meem and Pop’s. I could do all the yardwork; I’d be gone most of the time, either at work or out, so I wouldn’t get in the way at all; and when Meem and Pop go to Torch Lake, I would house-sit their home. See? Everyone benefits.

They bit, so in May 1986, I moved in my stuff from college and lived for the first time in Columbus away from Mom. After being at Wabash for months, I didn’t miss going back to breathing cigarette smoke again, so that was an additional benefit.

I got along great with my grandparents—particularly Meemaw. I remember one time I was there on a day off, and we watched the NBC Game of the Week sitting around the table in the kitchen, which, as I mentioned, was her go-to spot during the day. It was the game when the A’s beat Roger Clemens for his first loss after 12 straight victories, and I was telling Meemaw all about the players.

Another time, I had just bought Live in Central Park and was playing it on the record player in the living room, trying to keep quiet and not bother anyone as I worked on my Strat-o-Matic stats. At one point, Meemaw came into the room, and I asked if my music were bothering her. She said yes and turned the stereo UP so she could hear it better. She loved Simon & Garfunkel.

May turned to June, and my anticipation that they would be leaving soon began to build. Then June rolled into July. What the hell? Well, it turns out I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Meem and Pop went up to Torch Lake for only two or three weeks, and, just as sure as I’m writing this, I’m sure it was because they KNEW that if they left me alone … with Beth … for any length of time, their house would turn into a den of inequity.

That, of course, is exactly what happened when they finally left, but it was for only a few weeks. It was better than nothing, for sure, but my well-thought-out plan didn’t pay off like I thought it would when I conjured it.

I tell you, grandparents are craftier than you give them credit for.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

No. 439 – The Sensual World

Performer: Kate Bush
Songwriter: Kate Bush
Original Release: The Sensual World
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: none

When the 1900s wound down, everyone put out lists of one type or another, not just me. One was the top novels of the 20th Century by Modern Library. As an English major, I took notice. Its No. 1 novel was Ulysses by James Joyce.

At Wabash, Matt read Ulysses, at least part of it, for one of his English classes our senior year. I never encountered it. When it was named the No. 1 novel of the 20th Century, I decided that I would make Ulysses the last book I read in the 20th Century. I found a hard-bound copy at Half-Price Books but then later bought a softcover version that touted that it had the correct and reset text, which was done in 1961.

To be honest, I’d had no experience with Joyce other than I had heard of him. I’m sure I read something—a short story most likely—at Wabash, but it didn’t stick with me. I knew nothing of the controversy that surrounded Ulysses. I certainly had no idea what a slog it would be.

I started reading it in November 1999, and it didn’t take me long to realize that if I were to finish it by the end of the year, I had my work cut out for me. If you’re familiar with Ulysses, you know what I’m talking about. If not, I can understand a mindset like Laurie’s. Twice she has started it and twice she hasn’t finished it—stopping at about the same place each time.

Well, I wasn’t about to be denied, so I plowed through it, often spending entire days before work in the papasan in the guest room of my house reading—often without comprehension as to what the heck was going on. I wished I were back at Wabash. Having a classroom discussion of what I was reading would have been helpful. In time, I came to conclude that—more than anything—Ulysses is a novel about the English language.

It wasn’t all bad. The first two chapters were interesting and somewhat easy to read. Later, there’s a genius chapter where Joyce whipsaws through a portrait of about three dozen characters. It has no connection until the very end when the Earl of Dudley rides through town past everyone Joyce had just mentioned. But most of the middle part of the book is brutally dense and obtuse.

A turning point was, for those of you who know, the scene of Bloom at the beach with Gerty MacDowell. It was in that chapter when I realized I wasn’t meant to read the book for plot but for thought. Ulysses is said to be stream-of-consciousness, and that seems to apply to the characters, too. OK, I get it now.

Good thing, too, because I was into December with only a few weeks to go. The next few chapters were back to the slog—very slow reading—but I was getting it more, or at least I wasn’t letting it bother me as much as it had.

Then all of a sudden the absinthe or whatever the heck Joyce was on when he wrote Ulysses kicked in. The narrative turns into a surreal 200-page drama, followed by a chapter written entirely in question-and-answer form. All of a sudden, it was very entertaining and not at all a slog.

Then I reached the final chapter, the Molly chapter, the chapter that Kate Bush obviously cribbed when she wrote this song. All I can say is if you ever decide to read Ulysses, do what you have to to make it to the end. It’s a reward for slogging through the previous 740 pages, and when I read the final line, I closed the book Dec. 21 with my goal accomplished and a smile on my face the same way as when I finished 1984: Woah, that was perfect.

Interestingly, Ulysses of all things ended up being discussion material with a female on first … well, not really a date but first meeting and hanging out. The first time was in Las Vegas in 2001 (story to come); the second time was in Los Angeles in 2004 (story also to come). The way I saw it, if a woman was able and willing to talk about Ulysses, that wasn’t a bad thing.

I started reading it again awhile ago. When we first began to date, Laurie and I would read books together apart—me in Columbus and her in Chicago. I thought this would help me to read more but also stoke the conversation flames. We did this until 2007, and Ulysses was the breaking point.

Labor Day 2007 at Ludington was when we started Ulysses, but Laurie soon got involved with a play and gave up. It was too much for her. I kept going … slowly. Ulysses isn’t as much fun to read alone. In fact, it’s better appreciated if read aloud to capture the language—particularly that final chapter. I’ve been reading in small chunks and mostly typically only at Ludington. It’s become my thing to do when we go to the beach there.

I don’t plan to make Ulysses the final book I read before I turn 50—I’m leaving that one for my third and final attempt at Moby Dick—so I need to wrap it up, and this coming Labor Day might be the time. I’ve reached the midpoint of the drama chapter, so it’s fairly easy going from here on out, although it’s 260 more pages. I will finish yes I will Yes.

Friday, March 22, 2013

No. 440 – Against the 70’s

Performer: Mike Watt
Songwriter: Mike Watt
Original Release: Ball-hog or Tugboat?
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: none

Like I said, for a while, if an album had any relationship to Pearl Jam, I bought it. Eddie Vedder, of course, sings lead on this song, and there’s a great story behind it. I remember it from when the album came out. Mike Watt tells it again in the Pearl Jam book, so it must have some basis in fact.

The story is the day Eddie recorded this song, he did some dumpster diving and found a wetsuit, and he decided to put it on. Unfortunately, after he did, he found that it was infested with maggots. I hear this song and think of Eddie swatting away bugs as they begin to start crawling out of everywhere. If you’re not familiar with it, the vocals definitely get more frantic as the song goes along.

Reading the Pearl Jam book is particularly interesting in the aftermath of finishing an alternate history of rock ‘n’ roll online. If you aren’t aware of it, you definitely should check out the The Winners' History of Rock and Roll on, all seven parts. It’s a brilliant deconstruction of, essentially, why rock ‘n’ roll no longer is the primary form of pop music.

The author’s thesis, in so many words, is that the rock bands that have been successful did things in a way that would make them more popular (and to a lesser extent through hook and crook, too) and expand their fanbase. Nowadays, you see rock bands that find an audience refuse to do anything to widen that audience, because to do so would be “selling out” to their fanbase. They have in effect traded popularity for integrity.

To me, that began with Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam at one time, of course, was the biggest band in the world and could have been one of the biggest bands of all time. They could have been Bruce Springsteen or U2, but they made a conscious decision to blow off superstardom and pull back, a bit with their music but definitely in their decision to not release singles, to not do interviews, to battle Ticketbastard and not play easily accessible venues for awhile. They chose integrity (and perhaps sanity) over popularity. Lots of other bands have followed their lead, but there’s a big difference.

Note, I’m not saying that none of this isn’t admirable, but let’s face it: When Pearl Jam decided that they didn’t want to be U2, let alone The Rolling Stones, they already had Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy in the books. In other words, it’s a lot easier to tell everyone that you’re going to do things your way only—and you either can come along or not—when you’re 20 million records in the black. Today’s bands that similarly want success on their own terms are finding it a lot tougher to do when they haven’t sold 20,000 albums let alone 20 million.

I’m not saying every band should “sell out” and chase the almighty buck. Money doesn’t equate with happiness. I, for example, was never happier than when I literally made nothing back in 2004. But the collective decision to do this by, well, pretty much every rock band has had ramifications: The public in general wasn’t—and isn’t—interested in the abrasive, nonmelodic hipster rock that they’re playing.

Instead they want music with a melody, that they can dance to, that isn’t all that challenging. They want to be entertained, and they’ve moved on to acts that do this and cater to pop tastes: hip hop, country, auto-tune dance crap and Adele. It’s no accident that Green Day got big when they dialed down the punk just a notch with American Idiot.

That’s why rock radio that doesn’t just play oldies, er., sorry, “classic rock,” barely exists any more. There’s no money in it for the radio stations and the suits that took control after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 led to the corporate takeover of mass media. The numbers aren’t there for stations to justify playing the latest album by Arcade Fire, so instead they’ll play Layla for the 10-millionth time.

So what does that have to do with this song? Quite a bit, actually. This song, of course, is a warning for kids to not buy in to manufactured nostalgia and, more specifically, the rock experience of the Seventies—classic rock. Now, thanks in some small part to the guy singing this here song, that’s about all they have when it comes to mass media music.

OK, so maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy. I mean, I found My Morning Jacket, Grizzly Bear and Porcupine Tree in the past half-decade with nothing more than a recommendation here or a well-timed flick of the TV remote there. It can be done, but it’s work. I think I can speak for a majority of folks out there: With all the entertainment options available, people generally don’t want to have to work hard to be entertained. I know I don’t, and obviously I’m not alone on this.

So is rock dead? Of course not. Jazz hasn’t been the pop music of our culture for at least 50 years, and it’s anything but dead, but rock these days does seem a bit like a discarded wetsuit. It’s just sitting in a dumpster waiting for the right person to come along and try it on. Like the man said, don’t mind the maggots.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No. 441 – Slip Kid

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: The Who By Numbers
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: none

Speaking of 2001, when it became apparent that there was no saving my relationship with Debbie, I went shopping for apartments. My first inclination was to go back to German Village, but I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me. In other words, I couldn’t find a two-bedroom apartment. As I indicated, I wanted a two-bedroom apartment so I could rebuild The Baseball Room and maintain at least have some semblance of consistency and joy in my life.

So I turned to Clintonville. Clintonville, of course, is a neighborhood on the north side of Columbus, about 2 miles north of Ohio State, I suppose. Actually, it’s about even with where I lived in Upper Arlington but on the other side of the Olentangy River. It’s a lot of tree-lined streets and cool established houses.

I would have liked to have lived in Clintonville when Debbie and I were looking for a house, but it was out of our price range, and we never really considered it. We could have looked east of I-71, but it starts to get dicey real quick there.

After combing the papers, I made a few calls and lined up a couple of visits—one landlord had three places to show me—so it was going to be a full Saturday.

It was a seasonably chilly May day, jacket weather, with intermittent sun and clouds. Other than that, I don’t remember much about it or the apartments themselves. The first two must not have struck me in any way, because I don’t remember anything about them except for the shabby condition of the car park at one.

The next apartment was OK. The landlord took me to a place on Blenheim Road near Indianola. It was a six-unit brick row house, similar to what I had in German Village years before. The big differences: The front yard was bigger, the back yard was communal and I had a garage with a door that locked. Rent was $600.

I don’t remember anything about the first time I saw the apartment, other than I liked the wood floors. It seemed fine. One thing that stood out though was that I felt as though I had seen this place before. It turned out it was the same builder—or same design anyway—as the apartment building my parents lived in in Upper Arlington when I was born and where we lived till I was 2.

The next apartment was the one I hoped would be the winner when we got there. It was another townhome on a hill closer to High Street and had a cool exterior, but it was small and not well laid out. I took the apartment on Blenheim.

We went back to the landlord’s tony home a few blocks from where I soon would live, and she laid out the lease with a start date and rent to reflect immediate possession. That’s when the enormity of the situation hit me. I called Debbie.

Look, I’m about to sign the lease, and when I do, there’s no going back. So what do you want me to do here? She said calmly, sign the lease. OK then.

I signed with my eyes starting to mist, which I assumed made me look like a spaz in front of my new landlord, although she probably figured out what was going on considering I was moving from a house to an apartment. She said they would paint and clean, although it really needed neither. I could start moving in right away but just leave boxes or furniture in one corner.

And that was that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No. 442 – Intro / Simple Creed

Performer: Live
Songwriters: Ed Kowalczyk, Tricky
Original Release: V
Year: 2001
Definitive Version: none

Things were looking up as summer 2001 wound down, but 9/11 and the fallout from the Wheels section debacle took its toll. With the end of the baseball season nigh, I was looking for some comfort in what was an increasingly cold world.

And where I found comfort was at Dockside Dolls.

Even though I worked in Flint for nearly five years, I wasn’t a connoisseur of the many fine dance establishments there—I think they had 17 while I was there. In fact, a foamy No. 1 hand could count the number of times I had gone to such a venue: once in 1991, and it was in Canada.

I went to Canada twice more, as I recounted, in 1996 for Scott’s bachelor party, but it wasn’t until I visited Dave and Doug in Flint in 1999 where my view of “the ballet” changed from being somewhat jokey to more erotic (story to come).

So it was with that in mind that I decided to check out Columbus’ dance scene. I was single again; I didn’t have to answer to anyone. If I wanted a lap dance, I didn’t have to justify it to anyone. All I had to do was come up with enough cash.

Dockside Dolls was (it’s long gone now) on the north side of town and a fairly new place. At least other places in town, like Columbus Gold or Centerfolds, I’d heard of before. I don’t know why I chose it except for its location. It was about a mile east of I-71 on a frontage road along Dublin-Granville Road, about four miles from my apartment. It also appeared from the outside to be more upscale. It was.

It also was bigger than any other club I’d been in except the Million Dollar Saloon in Windsor. When you walked in from the foyer after paying the $10 cover, you entered the main stage room where the stage was up front along with the DJ booth. Booths were along the wall and a few dozens tables were situated on two levels around the main stage.

Toward the back of the room toward to entryway, were two small stages and the bar on a third level. Walking past the bar in the opposite direction from the main stage was the Gold Room. Around the Gold Room on the other side were the bathrooms and the Champagne Room.

Like any other club, I suppose, the main room had mirror-adorned walls and enough pink neon to make the owners of the Flamingo in Las Vegas take notice. But what was most notable was the smell. I couldn’t name the fragrance; it was a mixture of candy and flowers, and it permeated everything as soon as you walked in the door. It was as though all the dancers bathed in this particular body spray and it was sprayed around the room. Every once in a while, I’d be out in public and catch a whiff of that same fragrance. To this day, it flips my switch.

The deal at Dockside Dolls was like at a lot of other places: Each dancer would be on the main stage for two songs and then go to each of the other two stages for an additional two. From there you could approach them to come over to your table for a public dance ($10) or back in the Gold Room for a more private dance ($30). Naturally, the whole goal was to get you back in the Gold Room (if not the Champagne Room, which was $250 for a half-hour).

The unique component for Dockside Dolls was Up Time. Up Time was 2-for-1, and every dancer who wasn’t already otherwise attached would stroll out from the stage and solicit the patrons. Up Time meant Gold Room time.

The first time I went in fall 2001, I hung back at a table out of the main line of fire but with a view of all three stages. My plan, as it always is in situations where I’m uncomfortable, was to hang back and observe. That way I could figure out the procedure and not look like a spaz. Besides, I had only so much money: I wasn’t going to waste it indiscriminately.

Before long, I saw where I was going to waste it. The dancer’s stage name was Dakota, and she was by far the hottest woman there, not only in how she looked but in how she moved. She was dark-skinned with an exotic look, and if she hated her job, like most of the dancers, it sure didn’t show on stage. Unlike the others, she looked at the patrons and not so much herself in the mirror. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, but she soon disappeared. Someone else already moved on in, so I lost out.

Or so I thought. After a while, the Labatt’s took their toll, so I went to the bathroom. When I came back, I saw Dakota again. She had changed into an electric green bra and G string and had heels that might have made her 5-6, with a long, sheer, bluish-white nightgown draped over her shoulders. Woah!

I didn’t crash into a waitress, but I did get Dakota’s attention and asked for a dance. She said she was getting a drink and would come over to my table. When she did, it just happened to be Up Time. Good timing.

We went back into the Gold Room, which was, like most such rooms that I’ve seen, mirror and sofa lined and dimly lit. Dakota took me to a corner spot, so, as she said, she could work on me more, and I said a silent prayer asking for the next two songs to be Thick As A Brick (the whole thing) and Karn Evil 9 (also the whole thing).

They weren’t, but fortunately they weren’t Fifties tunes, either, you know, a minute 30, two minutes tops. Up Time turned into regular time, and two dances turned into a half-dozen. Dakota definitely had me under her spell, and I wasn’t interested in breaking it.

It was worth every penny, but it also wiped me out for the night. Like Vegas, you need to have a set amount of spending money when you attend the ballet, and you need to go home when it’s gone. It was time to go home.

Dakota said she wanted me to come back and see her again. I said, you can count on it—in twenties if you wish.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No. 443 – Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1

Performer: My Morning Jacket
Songwriter: Jim James
Original Release: Evil Urges
Year: 2008
Definitive Version: none

Evil Urges was one of the several albums I bought in August 2008, as I noted, to mark something of a renewal. It ended up being anything but. Starting Labor Day weekend, depression began to set in with Laurie. Well, it started before that, but it really picked up in the fall.

Beginning in August, Laurie and I spent four straight weekends away from home, and it was a real regression. Torch Lake, as I recounted, was OK; Columbus to see a game at Cooper Stadium for the last time was fine.

Then came Labor Day weekend, and our annual trip to Ludington to visit Laurie’s uncle at his summer home was, well, not bad, but it was the first time that Laurie really started voicing sadness—sadness at having her summer ruined, sadness at causing so much pain, sadness at the prospect that things might never be the same.

The next weekend, we went to Maine—my first time in a decade. I was excited to be there, and the fact that Hurricane Hanna was bearing down on New England and expected to hit the day we were planning to leave made it more exciting. Laurie enjoyed it, she said later, but it seemed as though if she were feeling anything, it was emptiness. And it only got worse from there.

One thing was certain: Laurie’s psychiatrist wasn’t helping.

Laurie decided to change psychiatrists in August. She didn’t feel as though she bonded with her Evanston doctor, and she decided to go with the psychiatrist recommended to her by her therapist—Dr. Callahan.

Dr. Callahan was in fact the same psychiatrist I failed to connect with the fateful day that Laurie went to Evanston Hospital in May. Actually, as I mentioned, I connected with her briefly only to have her put me off until she could get to work. Apparently, it took her two weeks to get to work, because that was how long it was before I heard from her again. She apologized, saying she got very sick that day after we spoke on the phone, but by then, the point was moot.

Based on my experience, I gave Dr. Callahan … well, not quite a thumbs-down but a very tentative thumbs-sideways. Laurie, however, still was overwhelmed by the weight of all that had happened, and she wanted to go with a known commodity. A recommendation from Kay was good enough for her, and I wasn’t going to argue with it.

Laurie liked Dr. Callahan at first. She definitely wasn’t as rigid and formal as Dr. Anderson, whom I liked for reasons I’ll get to eventually, but, well, after the previous summer, I needed to see good results. The results weren’t good: Laurie wanted to sleep all the time and didn’t know what to do with herself when she was awake if she weren’t at work and didn’t have anything firmly planned.

Dr. Callahan tried this medication, then that one, then an additional one and this extra one, and, oh, by the way, here’s another one you can try if you’re feeling particularly anxious. Wait, what are the other ones for then? The mix didn’t seem to be working. Laurie seemed on a one-way express train heading south. Before long, I was along for the ride.

A couple of times, I was asked to attend a session in the evening. I did this with Dr. Anderson, but it didn’t seem helpful. In particular, the vibe I got from Dr. Callahan, and how she interacted with Laurie didn’t inspire confidence. When the second meeting was a carbon copy of the first meeting, I’d seen enough.

Just going to the medical building in Skokie where Dr. Callahan’s office was (and still might be for all I know) was creepy. This building was like walking into a Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger movie. There never was anyone at the front desk or at the desk in the doctor’s reception area. We never saw anyone walking the halls, and only half of the overhead fluorescent lights were on. If someone wearing a goalie mask carrying a bloody butcher knife turned the corner, neither Laurie nor I would have been surprised. Afraid, yes, but not surprised.

We hit bottom in November right around Thanksgiving. I remember a particularly depressing evening out with Steven and Michael where I began to wonder whether it ever would get any better. But then … just when, like the man said, you wondered how many nights a soul so full of life remained untouched … something wonderful happened: Dr. Callahan disappeared. I’m not exaggerating.

I made up my mind that Dr. Callahan was worthless, but slowly, surely, Laurie started to come around to that conclusion, too. The final straw happened the night we were to have a third joint session. When we got to the empty reception area, we waited and waited … 15 minutes … a half-hour …

Finally, we made enough noise that another doctor came to the door and said that Dr. Callahan wasn’t there. He said he’d call her and see what was going on, but it was clear we weren’t going to have our session.

That did it for Laurie. How unprofessional do you have to be when you blow off an appointment with a patient without even an excuse? Laurie had a couple other names from friends; she was going to call the one most recommended the next day. As we walked out into the night, it started to snow, and Laurie smiled. It was like the first time she seemed alive in a month, and it seemed like a good portend of things to come.

We never heard from Dr. Callahan again—no phone call, no apology, no rescheduling, heck, no scheduling of future appointments, nothing. Laurie wondered whether it was because Dr. Callahan thought she couldn’t help Laurie, which would be unforgivable without at least passing her off to someone who could. She also wondered whether it was because Dr. Callahan went nuts herself. Maybe. I certainly could speak to her instability.

It turned out Dr. Callahan’s disappearance was a blessing in disguise—a classic example of addition by subtraction—but that’s a story for another time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

No. 444 – Coyote

Performer: Joni Mitchell & The Band
Songwriter: Joni Mitchell
Original Release: Hejira
Year: 1976
Definitive Version: The Last Waltz, 1978

So, in March 2009, when Laurie and I took our second consecutive spring-break vacation … (That’s a good transition, don’t you think, considering that in the previous episode those characters were in somewhat dire straits?)

As I mentioned, we spent a week on Anna Maria Island, which, of course, technically is an island and not an isthmus on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It was my first trip to Florida since 1998, and I was looking forward to a week of doing even less than we had the year before in Mexico.

We wasted no time in getting to the beach, and Laurie wasted no time in getting terrible sunburn on her feet, to the point where it hurt her to walk the rest of the vacation.

That was too bad, because one of my favorite things there, as it had been when I was a kid in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., was hiking the beach and looking for shells or whatever else I might find. Like in New Smyrna, I got up early, while Laurie slept and it still was a bit overcast and windy, and hiked for awhile.

There weren’t a lot of shells—you have to get up early to beat the beachcombers in search of profits as well as keepsakes—but I pocketed a few things that were cool. I delighted in the crash of the surf and the quirkiness of the sandpipers, scurrying down to the ocean to dig up tiny shellfish only to scurry away even faster as the next wave flowed in precariously close. Then I spent the rest of the morning working on a baseball statistical formula I conjured on the flight down.

After Laurie got up and we had lunch, we’d spend the rest of the day at the beach. The awesomely named Blue Water Beach Club, which had white cement owls along the roof to keep away the seagulls, was situated so about 50 yards out from the shore was a sandbar. You had to swim out so the water was almost over your head—fighting through surf the final few feet—to reach the sandbar.

But after you got there, the water was shin high and bigger waves—three- or four-footers—would hit. I spent a lot of time diving into them just like I had in Hawaii 25 years before as Laurie soaked up the sun—a towel covering her well-done feet.

That was pretty much our day every day, in addition to finding tiny lizards in the walkway from our room. One day the morning rain lasted a bit longer than usual, so we went to the retail area on the island where I got a sweet white-and-purple palm-tree aloha shirt.

At night, we went to dinner at one beachfront place after another. There, it was all about the fresh seafood and rum-based fruit drinks. We tried to sit outside as much as possible, but it frequently was just a bit too chilly for it. We got turned on to conch fritters at the Beach House and had a brief scare when my wallet went missing at the Sandbar. (It was back at the hotel room.)

But the best place was the aptly named Rod and Reel Pier on the leeward side of the island. It was a shanty at the end of a 100-yard pier that you could fish off (and the restaurant would cook your catch if you wanted). The first time we went, it was a two-hour wait, so we went elsewhere, promising to come back earlier next time—and on a weekday night.

When we went back, we sat on the covered porch that also had clear plastic up, so they could keep in the heat generated by portable heaters. The picnic tables were covered in red-checked vinyl. There wasn’t a hint of pretension anywhere; what there was was excellent grouper. It was the best place on the island.

Although it was no Mexico, Laurie and I agreed that our Florida vacation had been another excellent adventure. It was funny: After more than a decade of not going anywhere on vacation that involved a beach, I found that warm-weather beachfront destinations weren’t so bad after all.

Unfortunately, until further notice, Florida was our last spring-break getaway. It’s too bad. As I look outside at another gray-brown Chicago March day, I feel the pull of the south calling me. Like they say at Wrigley Field: Wait till next year.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

No. 445 – Distant Lover

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, Gewn Gordy, Sandra Greene
Original Release: Let’s Get It On
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: none

When I finally got Laurie home after the ordeal of Swedish Covenant Hospital, aka, the most worthless hospital in the world, the night of May 7, 2008, I hoped against hope that she would sleep. I still thought she was merely exhausted.

I put her to bed and went to sleep on the couch, but it was no good. She kept coming out of the room every so often to say someone else was in the apartment, when, of course, there wasn’t. I went in to be with her, but that was no good either, because it seemed I was bothering her. Finally, I just got up—it was about 3 in the morning—and retreated to the office.

I wanted to leave Laurie alone, but I also was worried. I’d sneak down the hall every so often, and usually I didn’t hear anything except maybe Laurie sucking in her breath. When I’d check on her, her eyes wold be closed but fluttering like she was dreaming wildly. Other times, Laurie would slide open the drawer to her bedside table and finger a brown envelope in which she kept the notes to her Laurie Tunes, then slowly slide the drawer closed, only to open it five seconds later and repeat the gesture.

I don’t know whether that night was the longest of my life, but if it wasn’t, the only contender was the next one. My only solace is I brought work home with me, so at least I had something of a respite in those dark, sad hours.

When dawn broke, I felt good, because soon I could start calling people to try and figure out what to do. Considering our encounter at Swedish Covenant, it wasn’t obvious that the solution was to take Laurie to a different hospital. Laurie brought her therapist into the loop as she began to decline in the past two weeks, so that seemed like the first avenue to take.

After calling work to claim a vacation day, I left a message with Kay, but I did so with some misgivings. What Laurie had said the day before was an eye-opener. If she honestly believed that 12 years of therapy were shot because two dogs barked at her in Mexico, that really didn’t say much for the quality of the therapy. But I didn’t know where else to turn.

Kay returned my call fairly quickly and recommended a psychiatrist. I left a message with that person, explaining the situation and asking her to please call me back as soon as she could.

It didn’t make me fell any better, though, and as soon as I hung up, the weight of the last week’s events caught up to me, and I broke down. At about this time, I felt a presence and looked up to see Laurie standing in the dining room, looking at me with concern. I stopped to go see her, but she quickly disappeared down the hall into the bedroom. This was another pattern that would repeat that day.

The doctor called me from her home, saying she got my message but she couldn’t talk till she got into her office after noon—hours from now. Well, what choice did I have? OK.

The hours dragged, and my phone started to ring constantly from Laurie’s friends calling to say they heard from so-and-so that Laurie was in the hospital. Those who were more in the loop called to say they knew about this doctor or had this connection I should call. I thanked them and took the information. I assured them I was working on a solution. I was just waiting to hear back from this one doctor.

But I never did. The noon hour came and went without a call. Then it got to be 1. I left another message on the doctor’s voicemail and later another. Nothing. I started feeling more alone than ever.

Janet, Laurie’s longest running Chicago friend, called and asked whether I needed help with Laurie. I didn’t. I wasn’t afraid of Laurie hurting me or to herself. She’s just tired; she just needs to sleep. I can handle it; no one else needs to be involved. Heidi called and offered similar services. I turned her down, too.

At about this time, I heard Laurie come out of her room, then close the door. Then I heard this clattering against the door, like something had been thrown against it. I went in to investigate, but I saw nothing out of place—just Laurie in bed, closed eyes fluttering.

I never heard back from the psychiatrist, and I called Kay for another recommendation, but she didn’t have any. I started to turn to other contacts. One person, who was a social worker, said I probably should take Laurie to the hospital. Evanston, he said, had an excellent facility, but I still was leery.

In reality, I was in denial. Like at Swedish Covenant, I was stunned by what was happening, and I couldn’t do anything, except hope that Laurie would get some sleep, that Laurie would somehow snap out of it, that something good would happen, except cry at the growing hopelessness of the situation.

This of course brought Laurie out of the bedroom again to peek at me from around the corner in the dining room. When I got up again to go to her, she again jogged down the hall like before. But this time when I turned around to retreat back to my hidey-hole, Laurie let out an unearthly moan.

I’ve never spontaneously messed myself, and because I didn’t at that moment, I don’t know whether I ever would, because that chilled my blood to freezing. If I live to be 150, I’ll never forget it. I sprinted back down the hall to get to Laurie in time to see her collapse on the floor—for no more than a second—before getting back up and walking calmly into the bedroom as though nothing had happened.

I got her back into bed and tucked her in, and then, I finally did something smart: I admitted defeat. As they say, you only begin to get help after admitting your weakness. At that moment, I was a beaten man, and my carefully constructed denial similarly crashed to the floor.

I called Janet and Heidi and asked them to come over. I needed help.

Janet came right over, and Heidi followed soon after. The first thing they did was get me the Hell out of there, which was the right call. I was at wit’s end and of no help to anyone. They said they would work on convincing Laurie that she should go to the hospital.

I went outside to gather myself, but it was almost impossible. I was crying and shaking. My girlfriend had suffered a mental breakdown. It was true, and it was too much to take. But I couldn’t just wander off. I had to get myself together and get back so I could help as best I could. I only walked around the block.

When I got back, Janet and Heidi had Laurie dressed and in her fleece and omnipresent purple knit hat. I decided that it was best for them to take the lead and deal most directly with her while I hung back. Laurie, it seemed, wasn’t reacting well to my presence. They said they were going to drive her to Evanston and told me to pack a bag for her and come later.

With a great deal of effort, they got her down the stairs and out to the car, and I’ll never forget feeling my heart sag as I saw them help Laurie into the car. I had no idea how long it would be before she would be back, but I had an inkling it would be a long time.

Now alone in the apartment, I sat in silence for a moment and then went to pack some clothes and toiletries. When I did, I found what had made the clattering earlier. It was a marble trinket that Laurie kept on her altar next to the bed. It was a howling coyote, the Trickster. Laurie grabbed it—and nothing else—and flinged it against the closed door to try to get rid of the bad juju.

By the time I got to Evanston Hospital, Janet and Heidi had Laurie checked in and in a wheelchair awaiting an available room in the ER. Because Laurie wasn’t dying, we had to wait a long time, most of which was spent trying to keep Laurie in her wheelchair. Like the previous night at Swedish Covenant, she was trying to pitch herself forward out of the chair and onto the floor.

I stayed mostly out of Laurie’s eyesight and took care of details of the check-in, like Laurie’s insurance card and such. Finally they let us back into the emergency room and began to rehook Laurie to every apparatus they could find.

Laurie kept trying to get out of the bed, but we restrained her, and before long, she stopped doing that. Instead, she reached up and grabbed whoever was nearby in a powerful grip. The hospital workers didn’t like this at all, so I again took the lead and went to Laurie. I was afraid they’d put restraints on her, which wouldn’t help the situation at all.

What I learned immediately was that Laurie wasn’t trying to be violent. She was just trying to bring us close so she could whisper something in our ear. Most of the time, it was nonsense. Other times, it was clear as a bell, such as the time she pulled me down to whisper: Tell Janet to be quiet. I did. God only knows the cacophony that was going on in her head. No sense adding to it.

Well, the situation at Evanston was completely different. They knew right away it was no drug overdose but a mental breakdown of an undiagnosed reason. They also said that none of the staff psychiatrists would be in till Monday to deliver a full evaluation, but they were fairly certain Laurie would be admitted to the psychiatric ward. All they had to do was get clearance from insurance.

This had been no drug overdose; I’d known that all along. The Evanston caseworker told me that they didn’t even HAVE a psychiatrist on staff at Swedish Covenant, so they couldn’t have been of much help. No kidding.

We waited … and waited for that insurance clearance. Janet and Heidi slept in chairs in the room. I kept rubbing Laurie’s arm, telling her it would be OK, telling myself it would be OK and listening intently whenever Laurie would reach for me. Sometime after 2 a.m., she pulled me down and whispered one word—Trickster.

Finally at about 3:30 Saturday morning we got the word: Laurie would be admitted till at least Monday. I was relieved that this was going to be out of my hands now but concerned about Laurie. Laurie had never been in a hospital before, and I was afraid she would be frightened if she knew she was a left alone. But I knew it was the right course of action. Whatever was going on, they would help.

Janet, Heidi and I parted in the hospital parking lot, and I cried all the way home. When I got home, it was about 4:30. It had been an incredibly long 48 hours, and even though I’ve been alone for long stretches of my life, I never felt more lonely than I did May 8, 2008.

Laurie was gone, and I had to go through the unenviable task the next day of telling her family what happened and answering only “I don’t know” when asked what was wrong and how long she would be in the hospital. It turned out those would be ongoing questions.