Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No. 401 – Somewhere Down That Crazy River

Performer: Robbie Robertson
Songwriters: Robbie Robertson, Martin Page
Original Release: Robbie Robertson
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: None

When I left the Daily Herald for the Flint Journal in 1989, I left behind some unfinished business, as I mentioned.

Sometime after I had moved, Sara called me while I was at work. I was surprised and pleased to hear from her, and a part of me thought, well, maybe this could work out even though the rest of me knew this was ridiculous. Herald City was a six-hour drive from Flint. This wasn’t going to happen, but rather than leaving well enough alone, I entertained the idea.

That year, I spent Christmas again with Bob’s family in New Buffalo. Bob had been my photographer at Harbor Country News, and for practical reasons—I didn’t have enough time off to go home—I stayed with his family for Christmas in 1988 and had such a good time that I decided to stay again in 1989.

This time I had an agenda: On Christmas, when they went to visit extended family, I could drive to Chicago and see Jin, who had moved there just before I left for Flint, as I mentioned, and Sara.

Jin also couldn’t make it home, so getting there would be a chance for her to at least see someone on Christmas. We planned to get together during the afternoon, and then I would head to Sara’s place for dinner.

The day started out fine. Bob’s brother is autistic, and I brought him an old phone book from Flint—he reads them, like Rain Man—and that present went over great. Then it was time to head out.

The weather was cold but clear, and I arrived about 2. I think I mentioned this, but Jin moved to Chicago in the fall to attend Columbia College and pursue a degree in film. That was her passion. She lived in a residence apartment building, like a high-rise dorm, close to the Gold Coast.

I went to her place, and we hiked around to find somewhere that was open for lunch. I didn’t want to eat, because I had another meal coming in a few hours, but obviously this was going to be Jin’s Christmas dinner, so I had to at least go out—and pick up the tab.

I don’t quite remember the place where we ended up after finding few things that were open in the area—I think it was a hot dog stand. We ate and went back to her residence for a very make-shift Christmas in the lobby.

Jin was appreciative that I came to see her, but I felt guilty. I should have invited her to New Buffalo for Christmas Eve. It would have been a big imposition, but I’m sure Bob’s family would’ve said yes. I also was concerned about the drive. It had been very snowy and icy when I drove over from Flint. That’s why I didn’t do it, but, sitting in that lobby, knowing I had to leave and feeling Jin’s loneliness, I was sorry I hadn’t at least asked. It’s something I regret to this day.

With that already in my back pocket, I headed out to Sara’s place in Palatine. She was going to make dinner, and, well, maybe I wouldn’t be driving back to New Buffalo that night if the dessert was what I was hoping it would be.

We talked for a bit and then she went to cook dinner while I sat in her living room. This was before I had discovered wine, so I wasn’t really much into the appetizers scene and hanging out and eating cheese and crackers like I would be later. Sara put on Robbie Robertson.

I don’t know why I stayed in Sara’s living room—specifically, as in she told me to stay there while she finished cooking; or philosophically, as in why the hell am I in here when she’s in there? I guess I already felt the vibe that it wasn’t going to happen between us, and I came to quickly feel that this visit had been a big mistake. Even more, I was regretting I didn’t just spend the whole day with Jin.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I stopped at a pay phone to tell Bob I was driving back to New Buffalo that night after all.

Whenever I heard this song, it conjured memories of a day I really wish I could have had over. It was not one of my better days—then or in retrospect.

About a year and a half later, Dave’s brother-in-law visited him in Flint, and Dave decided it would be fun to take him to Windsor and partake of Canadian culture and liberality with regards to the imbibing age. He invited me along.

It was the first time I had been to a gentlemen’s club, let alone Dave’s brother-in-law. We went to the Million Dollar Saloon, and I’ll never forget it. We walked in, led by a tuxedo-clad doorman. Neon glowed and laser lights flared out near the ceiling of the open two-story room as surprisingly and stunningly beautiful women danced totally nude sloooooowly … to this song.

I never would’ve guessed that this song would be played in a strip club. Some hair metal or hip hop, sure, but not this languid tune. It actually was the right call, because it was hot.

And how I came to view this song in my mind had completely changed.

600 down, 400 to go.

Monday, April 29, 2013

No. 402 – Wooden Jesus

Performer: Temple of the Dog
Songwriter: Chris Cornell
Original Release: Temple of the Dog
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

When my reassessment of Temple of the Dog began in 1998, it started with the obvious songs before moving to the second half of the album and this song in particular. By the time the 1999 baseball season started, this was my favorite song on the album.

In 1999, my favorite baseball player was Frank Thomas, but a close second was Randy Johnson, The Big Unit. The 1995 Mariners saga made me a big fan, but for various reasons, I never saw him pitch aside from a legendarily comedic incident at the 1997 All-Star Game.

But in May 1999, Johnson’s new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks were to play the Reds at Riverfront Stadium, and I saw that The Big Unit was scheduled to pitch the final game of a three-game set. Considering Johnson’s dominance and that the Reds were coming off a poor season, tickets would be easy to come by and the strikeouts were expected to come fast and furious. I couldn’t miss that.

Scott got tickets in the first row of the red seats for himself, Debbie and me. (I sat in the middle.) He did this because he made a bunch of purple K’s at Kinko’s to hang over the side in tribute. He brought 21, because, well … you never know.

Usually when I sat in the red seats, I didn’t bring my trusty Andre Dawson mitt, because a ball almost never reached them. However, when I saw we were situated so we would be looking almost down the third-base line, I brought it, because, well … you never know.

It was a 7:05 start on a weeknight, but when the first pitch was thrown by Reds starter Steve Avery (an old favorite when he was with the Braves), there might have been 1,000 people in the stands. I know the Reds weren’t expected to do much, but this was ridiculous.

Within three batters, the Reds were behind 1-0, when Matt Williams stepped to the plate. On the first pitch from Avery, Williams took a rip and fouled it off … right to us. I’ll never forget it: The ball looked like it was floating with no speed on it, because it was heading right for me.

Before I had time to think, I just reached my glove out—I didn’t have to stretch to protect Debbie—and the ball whacked in the pocket straight and true. Time stopped for a second as my baseball-playing instincts took over, and then it hit me: After being a fan for nearly 30 years, I caught a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game. I CAUGHT A FOUL BALL!! I did the yes-yes dance as Scott pointed that I was on the scoreboard.

The usher, who had been friendly before the game, came over and asked whether everyone was OK. Then he asked for applause from the section, which was totally unnecessary. I had my prize. Oh, and it was a thing of beauty: crisp, dark from the mud rubbed in by the ump before the game and stamped with the signature of Leonard Coleman, the last real president of the National League.

Well, after that, the game became a footnote, although Scott paid particular attention to every foul ball. They all were dropped—no one else had brought their trusty mitts tot he game, the fools. By the sixth inning, he was calling for a no-catcher, but in the seventh inning, someone else caught a foul ball on the fly.

The Big Unit was dominant but not nearly as dominant as we had hoped. Scott hung only eight K’s as Johnson pitched a workmanlike four-hit 5-1 victory. The game highlight was an RBI double by Johnson, who made a funny commercial before the season where he hoped to become The Long Unit by hitting homers.

The real highlight of course was The Foul Ball. Because the Reds weren’t supposed to be any good, on the Columbus sports cable channel, when the two Ohio baseball teams were in conflict, the Indians’ game was shown live and the Reds’ tape-delayed the next afternoon. Well, The Big Unit game was on tape delay, which meant … I could see myself on TV the next day. I mean, they ALWAYS show fans in the stands catching foul balls, right?

I called Mom and Dad and told them to watch the Reds game that day. The first inning is all they needed to watch; I didn’t tell them why. I had errands to run, so I set my VCR. When I called Dad to ask whether he’d seen it, he didn’t know what I was talking about. Mom, too. Didn’t you guys watch? Yeah, and … ?

I went to my VCR. OK, here comes Williams, here’s the pitch, there goes the ball and … nothing. The ball disappeared, and you could hear applause. Williams looked up, Avery looked up and they didn’t pan the stands. I let the cat out of the bag, and Dad said he heard the applause and wondered what that was about.

Oh well. Being on TV would’ve been gravy. I got the ball, and I have to have Williams sign it at some point. Debbie made a trophy for me with a ball holder and ticket holder noting the batter (Williams) and the catcher (me) on a plaque. It sits in a place of prominence on my Baseball Shelf, still gleaming as much as it did that perfect May evening in 1999.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

No. 403 – Red Rain

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: So
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: Secret World Live, 1994

As I mentioned, when I saw Peter Gabriel in 1993, I was disappointed he played only two songs from So, which at the time was my second-favorite album of all-time (and probably still is at least in the top 5). The two he played were the two obvious ones, the ones he HAD to play: Sledgehammer and In Your Eyes.

You can imagine my further disappointment when he showed up on The Late Show with David Letterman early in 1994 and played this song. Really? You’re playing it in Europe but not here? Yes, and Don’t Give Up, too. That’s the way it goes sometimes. At least they were on the live album he released that year.

So, I didn’t see this song performed live until 18 years later, but I finally saw it. Even though Peter hadn’t done anything new in a decade, Laurie and I went to see his Back to Front tour last year, because he was going to play So in its entirety. It was pure nostalgia; I wasn’t expecting much—particularly after what went down two days earlier at the same location.

Two nights earlier, I indulged Laurie’s nostalgia trip at the United Center. She had wanted to see Prince forever, so I got tickets—$120 for the second level, which was a record ticket price for me, on the first night of a three-night stay. I was OK with that, because … well, Laurie wanted to go. Besides I’ve heard that when Prince is on, it’s the greatest concert you ever saw. Of course, I’ve also heard that if he’s not on, you might leave wondering what all the fuss was about.

Our show was definitely the latter. He started an hour late, turned over most of the vocals after the first third of the concert to his three backup singers or to the crowd, barely played his guitar, played with the house lights up a huge chunk of the time and made us wait 20 minutes before his encore after coming out on stage at one point and saying we weren’t ready yet.

The final indignity was Prince did Little Red Corvette and 1999 in a second encore an HOUR after his encore. Laurie and I were long gone by then, and apparently only about 3,000 people stuck around for the grand finale. At least he bothered to show up: He didn’t play at an after-hours show at House of Blues, like he usually does and for which people paid $60 to hear a DJ spin tunes.

(The next night, apparently to atone for his first night in Chicago after being buried in the press, Prince burned the place down. Like I said, that’s the way it goes with him, but I ain’t paying another $250 total for a chance I might get another not-feeling-it, mail-it-in night. Laurie whole-heartedly agrees.)

So, after that self-indulgent pile of crap, a merely competent show would be more than welcome. It was of course joyful to hear So start to finish—well, rearranged so In Your Eyes was the final song and not the fifth song, as it is on the original album.

But the performance was low energy: It wasn’t nearly as euphoric as when I saw Quadrophenia in 1996 or as solid as when I saw Rush play Moving Pictures in 2010 and 2011. The most lively performance was the best song of the nightThe Tower That Ate People, which perhaps not coincidentally was the most current song that Gabriel played.

I’ve been to nostalgia shows before (see the three above as examples), but this was the first time where I went and felt the performer was too old to pull it off. But there’s a big difference between not pulling it off and not giving a damn. Peter Gabriel gave a damn and delivered a professional performance. That was more than appreciated.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No. 404 – Astronomy Domine

Performer: Pink Floyd
Songwriter: Syd Barrett
Original Release: Ummagumma*
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Take It Back single, 1994

* Of course, this song originally was released on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967, except for reasons that I’m unaware, it was left off the U.S. version and didn’t debut here until Ummagumma—and then only as a live version.

The first time I ever heard this song was at the Mistake by the Lake show Memorial Day weekend 1994. The second time I heard it was three days later at a nearly identical concert in the Horseshoe (both already covered).

The third time I heard it was at Torch Lake on the Fourth of July. Scott bought the Take It Back single, and he couldn’t wait to play me the B side. At one point, during the day’s festivities, he took me out to his car, told me—as we did when we wanted to play something unknown for the other—to just shut up and listen.

I recognized it was a live version of this song, and Scott told me it had been recorded in Miami on the first night of The Division Bell tour. That was in March. I was pretty amazed that Pink Floyd turned it around that quickly, and I promptly demanded a copy, which Scott made for me at the lake. After that, I heard it a lot.

The Fourth of July 1994 wasn’t the last time I was at Torch Lake until after I broke up with Debbie, but it was the last time that I was there with full family privileges. (In fact, it was less than a week before Debbie and I went out on our first non-date date.)

I left for the lake the day after Red White & Boom, which is Columbus’ downtown fireworks show. I had to work that night, but Paul let Tom and me go as soon as we sent the pages to press, so we could beat the traffic. That was appreciated considering that 200,000 people pack Downtown, and traffic is a huge nightmare.

I had a date—a pre-date date, actually—that night, but I don’t remember any details other than we met at Stauf’s after Red, White & Boom. Now that I think about it, it might have been Debbie’s friend whom I met in April. No matter. The next morning I was on the road.

I might have mentioned this before, so forgive the repetition, but being at Torch Lake traditionally revolved around activities at the Yacht Club. In 1994, Dad decided—at my prompting, he later said—to get back into serious competitive E-scow sailing while he still was young enough to do it. That was good news, because that meant he would be around less to pester Scott and me to rush down to the Club. Everything’s always more fun if you don’t feel like you HAVE to do it.

Scott and I went to the club for lunch and the races, and it was a fine but fairly nondescript day. That night, Dad and Laura hosted a cookout for the aunts and cousins at their place in the compound. While everyone was out chatting as Dad fired up the grills, I pulled Scott aside. It was time to properly toast the holiday.

Over Memorial Day weekend, at the second 500 barbecue, we tried a drink recipe that we had known about for years. It’s an Uncle Slam, and it was introduced by Steve Dahl on the Steve & Garry show in 1987. It’s sloe gin, cream and blue curacao—red, white and blue—served over a spoon in a shot glass to create layers. You toast to the holiday and shoot the drink. Scott and I break it out on three days only: Memorial Day, the Fourth and Labor Day.

I brought the fixins to Torch, so Scott and I could continue the new tradition. With a celebratory “Happy Fourth of July,” the fruity ice-creamy drink went down the hatch. Yum. Scott then asked if I would make one for Ted, who was engaged to a cousin and a drinking buddy of Scott’s at the lake. Sure, why not?

Of course, you can’t drink alone, so I made another for myself. He liked it. Then Amy, his fiancĂ©e, came in, saw me making round 2 for Scott and asked what it was. When I explained it, she said she wanted to try one. Happy Fourth of July … Boom! She loved it.

By now, dinner was drawing closer and more adult cousins came inside to start setting up salads and whatnot and saw what we were up to. You want one? Next thing I know I was making them for even the AUNTS, whom as far as I knew never drank except for a single glass of wine at dinner. They shot Uncle Slams while my grandfather sat outside shaking his head and muttering, “my family …”

(I found out later that he loved that everyone was having so much fun. It was the party that we couldn’t have at a cousin’s wedding in June right after my grandmother died.)

After a glorious dinner of brats, a makeshift baseball game using tennis balls started on the wide expanse of the compound lawn as the sun began to set. I don’t remember how it got started, but I remember that, like with the Uncle Slams, Scott and I were right in the thick of it. Everyone just cycled back and forth, hitting and pitching, nothing formal, and more people, like the little kids, kept joining in or just watched.

At one point, Rob, who was the second-biggest baseball fan in the family after me, was on the mound and I was at the plate. It wasn’t truly competitive, but the energy level was up just a bit, and he plunked me with a pitch. This drew a few “woahs” and calls to charge the mound from the on-lookers, but I just held up my hand. No, I said. I get my revenge the old-fashioned way.

The next pitch I hammered and Scott, playing the outfield, just turned and watched it go—sailing across the entire yard until it landed with a splash in the well-spring pond at the edge of the property. With a wink at the crowd and a flip of the bat, I trotted the imaginary bases. Rob threw his mitt at me.

By now, it was getting dark, which meant it was time to haul out the fireworks. Scott brought some big ones courtesy of Sheltons (where else?) in Indiana to add to the usual cannonade of small stuff that Dad had. The grand finale was the biggest seen yet—and forever raised the bar of family fireworks showings.

We ended the night sitting around a huge bonfire, shooting the breeze on what had been a perfect Torch Lake day. As others peeled off, Scott pulled me aside to say how awesome the day had been. Scott felt that between Matt and Casey and the various goings on of the extended family that he was something of an afterthought in the family. Today, he was the center of attention.

And I was, too, briefly. I wouldn’t be again—at least in person—for another seven years.

Friday, April 26, 2013

No. 405 – Them Bones

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Dirt
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: none

My excursion to Ann Arbor for postcard shopping at the end of February 1994 was fairly successful, but the nagging queasiness I had experienced all weekend bugged me on the drive home. I took a DiGel, but it didn’t go away. Instead, it got worse.

Now, over the years, given my crappy digestive system, I was used to having pain in my stomach. Typically, I just had to go to the bathroom—several times—and it would go away, but it didn’t this time.

It also didn’t feel quite like anything else I’d had before. It was like a knot in my stomach, which going to the bathroom relieves, but sharper. It also was a little higher, almost in my chest. It felt like a muscle cramp that wouldn’t go away.

I went to Meijer for some groceries, and I thought walking around might be better than just sitting and watching TV. It didn’t help, and by the time I got home, it was starting to really hurt.

OK, it was in my chest, not my abdomen, so it wasn’t my appendix. I didn’t have any pain in my arms, so it wasn’t my heart, but what was happening here? I climbed into bed, but lying down didn’t feel good. Nothing did.

The pain just wasn’t going away. I didn’t have to go to work, so that wasn’t a concern. But I had to do something. What do you do when you’re on your own? There wasn’t anyone to call, so the only solution was to drive to the hospital. St. Joseph’s Hospital off Dort was the closest.

When I pulled into the parking lot by the ER, I was convinced that as soon as I got there, the pain would go away, like this was some psychosomatic deal. In fact, I sat in my car for some time, wondering whether it really was necessary to go inside. The pain in my chest convinced me it was.

Unlike other recent softball-injury-related experiences I had had at St. Joe’s, they took me into ER almost as soon as I walked in and began strapping me up to EKGs and other heart-related equipment. I knew it wasn’t my heart. I don’t smoke, don’t eat a lot of salt and am in the best shape of my life. A nurse took my blood pressure and saw it was fine. She gave me a shot for the pain.

They concluded it wasn’t heart; it was my stomach, so they said they were going to pump it. What a miserable procedure. They snaked a tube through my nose down my throat—I had to swallow it down—and into my stomach. Once it was down, it wasn’t so bad. I could breathe, but I couldn’t swallow. And it didn’t help to relieve my pain. They gave me another shot.

So maybe it was my heart after all. They went back to that theory, but they also couldn’t figure out why I still was in pain. A nurse asked me pointedly: Is there a reason why you would have a high tolerance to morphine?

Of course the answer was no, but ... morphine?! That’s what you’ve been giving me?! So, I’m in pain and I’m going to be an addict? Good!

Finally they gave me Demerol, the same stuff they gave to women during childbirth. That worked. Before long, I was able to uncoil on the bed and sit back instead of being doubled over. I was feeling as comfortable as one could be with an EKG strapped to him and a tube down his throat.

The pain went away, but no one could figure out what caused it. It didn’t seem to be life threatening, so, while still keying on my heart, they wheeled me up to the intensive care unit when they weren’t wheeling me here and there for more tests. Doctors came and went, and at one point, I was wheeled off for an ultrasound on my kidneys and gall bladder. It was a hunch, but why not add more pieces to the puzzle? I was insured.

The rest of time, I was alone with my thoughts. Spending a night in ICU was a humbling experience. All around me people seemed to be gasping out their last breath. Sure, I had been in serious pain earlier, but … I wasn’t this badly off, was I? In the four-person pod, I felt like the one-of-these-things-isn’t-like-the-other piece of the puzzle.

Despite my predicament, my overnight schedule made it so I didn’t sleep. The nurse, whose name I never got, took excellent care of me during her overnight shift, however, due to my having been admitted as a cardiac patient.

I must have slept in the morning, because I remember eventually waking up and having my primary-care doctor greeting me while sitting in a chair at the end of my bed. I don’t remember his name now. I found this guy at an emergency clinic in 1993, and I trusted him enough for him to become my regular doctor—the first one I’d had since I was a kid in Columbus.

Anyway, he joked about how bad I looked, and his first instructions were to have the nurse—a different one now—take the tube out of my stomach so we could talk. I had no pain, and when that tube was pulled, I felt about a thousand times better. Then he gave me the news: I had gallstones, and my gall bladder would have to come out. He said they could get me into surgery in an hour.

I was going to lose an organ? It was that serious? My mind raced. Isn’t there something I just can take to break these up? He smiled patiently. Sure, you could leave, but you will have another attack. It’s a matter of when, not if.

He further explained: The stones have made it so your gall bladder is starting to rot away. The word he used was “gangrenous.” Yikes!

OK … what choice did I have? None. I guess it was time to call a few people and let them know what was happening.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No. 406 – Wait Until the Summer’s Gone

Performer: Zebra
Songwriter: Randy Jackson
Original Release: No Tellin’ Lies
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: none

After my sophomore-year experience of calling Wabash basketball and then the Caveman bouts, which were a series of amateur boxing matches for charity, I was emeshed in the WNDY experience.

I was named sports director, so I was in charge of all sports programming—football and basketball games, of course, but also any pregame shows. The first week of the 1984 football season, I interviewed Steve Hoffman, who was the starting quarterback, at the radio station studio.

Let me back up a bit. WNDY had four rooms: the booth, the transmitter room beside it, the “office,” which consisted of one desk, one chair, a few filing cabinets and a phone, and then the recording studio beside that. The recording studio is where the music was put on carts (tapes like 8-tracks), the commercials were recorded and where I would record my personal audio tapes. (Come on, this was professional gear. I wasn’t going to use my cheapy stereo at home.)

As is my wont, I learned how to run everything—just in case I ever needed to—so putting together a cassette of my interview with Hoffman was easy. Before the game, the guy who ran the soundboard and played the commercials could pop in the tape, press play and let it roll.

I turned over the pregame player interviews to my color guy, which turned out to not be the best idea, because he was fairly lazy. Coach Carlson’s interview was given to Steve, who did a solid job as a freshman and the color man in waiting.

I also got more involved with the station beyond sports. In addition to doing the regular Wednesday early-shift show, as mentioned, I filled in regularly during the week and particularly during the Saturday night request show. I had a steady girlfriend at home, so I didn’t need to hit up campus parties like the other guys, so I was available.

The cool thing about doing the request show was that it was the only show that was free form, aside from the necessary commercials and public-service announcements, of course. If people called in requests, I’d play those songs. If they didn’t, I played whatever I wanted, including records I brought from home, like The Who, Led Zeppelin and my favorite new band, Genesis, which weren’t part of the station’s format.

My freshman year, when I barely knew Wabash had a radio station let alone had anything to do with it, WNDY was free form. In other words, each DJ played whatever he wanted. My sophomore year, it was decided to go top 40. This was done because WNDY wasn’t just a student-run station; it was a commercial enterprise, and it was assumed that a single format that was top 40 would be profitable in Crawfordsville, Ind. Records started to disappear, and carts became more in vogue, because they were easier to play, they were pre-cued and you could control the music.

The next year, my junior year, a new PD took it a step further. He got it into his mind to program the entire day. He created a computer program that more or less picked the songs in order, along with all other drop-ins.

Songs were divided in three groups by color-coded carts. Red was for the hottest hits, yellow were lesser hits—coming or fading—and green was stuff that fit the format to break up the monotony a bit. We’d play X number of red tunes per hour, far fewer yellow and maybe one or two greenies. The only leeway Js had was to pick the actual song and make sure not to repeat anything to often.

When this song made its debut on MTV, I dug it the most, and I told Joe, the WNDY PD, that we should put it in the rotation. He thought it was a little too harsh for the format, but I insisted. Come on, man: MTV of all things has it in heavy rotation, so he relented and carted it up yellow. It was the only musical contribution I made to WNDY.

What’s interesting about all of this in retrospect is that this whole experience gave me an unwitting glimpse of the (bleak) future of radio.

Today, music radio is dominated by computerized stations that play the same 1,200 songs ad infinitum. It’s cheap: You don’t have to pay for personalities to talk up records or even to talk at all. It’s nonthreatening to people who still listen to music radio and just want to hear the same stuff over and over, so it registers with the People Meters that have destroyed radio in Chicago if not everywhere else.

We didn’t go that far at WNDY, but we used the same road map.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No. 407 – Open Invitation

Performer: Santana
Songwriters: Carlos Santana, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter, Greg Walker, David Margen
Original Release: Inner Secrets
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: Live Aid, 1985

My tenure at Wabash had a one-way trajectory—all up. Each year was better than the last, and the culmination was my senior year.

That year, when I had my bootleg Live Aid tape on constantly on my Walkman going to and from campus, I was Mr. Wabash Sports. I was the voice of Wabash football and basketball, sports director at WNDY, sports editor at The Bachelor and chief researcher at the Wabash sports information office.

In fall 1985, I added a new title: TV-show host. The sports information director wanted an interview show with the football coach to be run before the tape-delayed game rebroadcast on the local access cable channel. Was I interested in conducting the interviews? I’m Mr. Wabash Sports, aren’t I?

We taped the Monday after the game, so we’d talk about the previous game and then the one to come. I prepared a series of questions, trying to think of enough things to fill a segment of 15 minutes or so. It wasn’t difficult.

Another thing that wasn’t difficult was being on TV. I never was nervous like I thought I might be and like some people get (such as unqualified North Dakota news anchors, to pick out a random example).

First, I already had been on live radio for almost two years, so speaking to people through the media wasn’t new to me. Second, my internship the previous summer at a Columbus TV station showed me that only a few people were in the studio. That’s the way it was during the interviews. It was Coach Carlson, the SID, the cameraman and me. You speak to them, not the people watching at home. It was no big deal.

So, I was a known entity at Wabash—the exact opposite of my high-school career. It was because of this—and that I was an honors English student (story to come)—that I was invited later my senior year to take part in a tenure student council.

This was quite an honor and certainly the most important activity with which I was involved. Tenure at Wabash—like at any college—is a huge deal. A professor worked at Wabash for six years and then either was tenured, or given a lifetime contract, or let go. That I was invited to participate, which would determine a person’s professional fate, was a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

I was asked to evaluate Dr. Rosenberg. Aside from being an English professor, Dr. Rosenberg was a big writing mentor during my junior year, and he was my second-favorite professor behind only Dr. Herzog, my academic adviser. TO me, it was a slam-dunk.

About nine students met one afternoon with two senior humanities professors in a closed-door discussion. The debate went for an hour or so, and the key issue centered around that fact that if Dr. Rosenberg got tenure, it would mean that all six English professors would be tenured, and the English department would be closed to new teachers until someone retired—a rare but not unprecedented result.

A few argued that to close a department, the professor in question must be outstanding. I agreed and responded that Dr. Rosenberg met that standard—in fact, all of the English professors were equally excellent. I was pleased to see most students agreed with me.

Soon after that meeting, Matt and I had Dr. Rosenberg and his wife over to our apartment for dinner—we both were in his black-lit class, as I mentioned—and I told Dr. Rosenberg that I was on his tenure student council and that I spoke eloquently and forcefully on his behalf. How successfully I spoke, I couldn’t say. He was genuinely touched.

I still can’t say how successfully I spoke, but I know this: Dr. Rosenberg was granted tenure. That was a more satisfying outcome than that of any game I called at Wabash.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

No. 408 – Who’s Cryin Now

Performer: Journey
Songwriters: Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry
Original Release: Escape
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Greatest Hits Live, 1998

As I mentioned, soon after beginning work at Food World my senior year in high school, when Journey owned the radio, I found that the job had fringe benefits—a lot of hot women came into the store. I mean, it’s a grocery store. Everyone has to eat, so everyone has to buy groceries.

I remember several, but there was one in particular who really caught my eye. She was a strawberry blonde with a nice body and classic beauty. She looked like a blonde Gibson girl and not just in appearance but also style. She wore her hair in a bun and had what can best be described as granny glasses.

That just made her hotter in my opinion. I imagined she was a model who was trying to cover it up and not draw too much attention. I further imagined her hair coming undone and cascading down over her shoulders like the proverbial naughty librarian in a music video. Hot!

She appeared to be about my age, but she didn’t go to Upper Arlington. When she came into the store, she was always with a parent and seemingly her little sister.

Not that it would’ve made a difference if she had come in on her own. There was no way I was going to talk to her. I had been well-drilled by the social caste at UA about where I stood in the pecking order of things. This girl was way out of my league, and I couldn’t have been more intimidated by her if she had been Christie Brinkley.

For a while during spring 1982 she came into the store a lot. It was almost as though I could set my watch to her appearance just before the dinner hour, and it was always the best part of my workday. Once in a while, I even found her alone in an aisle, but I was such a chicken, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I mean, what could I say? She didn’t go to my school, and I was so painfully fearful of looking like an idiot, I never said anything … which made me look like an idiot.

After a while, I noticed her parents come into the store by themselves or with maybe just the younger girl. I supposed to a certain extent I had something to do with that, that my attraction to the older girl was obvious but my complete social dysfunctionality made it so she finally didn’t want to come into the store and be around that creepy guy who never says anything.

The Sunday shift at Food World was great, because you didn’t have to get up too early, and the store closed early, at 8. But there was a trade-off:  Only two baggers were scheduled the entire day, so there never was any downtime. You always were up front, going in and out of the store, bagging huge orders, just busy for all eight hours.

Being the low guy on the totem pole most of the school year, I got a lot of Sunday shifts. One Sunday in June 1982, as I came off my break, I was in a particularly good mood. I had been on a high since graduation—I couldn’t wait to get away from UA and get off to college. Plus, it was my second break, late in the afternoon. The end of the workday was in sight. I don’t recall any particular plans, but whatever they were were better than being at work.

I remember chatting with one of the stockers as I heard the inevitable intercom bell ringing me up front. I don’t remember what he said, but it was something funny, and I had a smile on my face as I headed down an aisle towards the front … and there was the blonde again. In fact, I almost ran into her. Without a concern in the world, I gave her a quick smile and “Hi” before heading up front.

Within minutes, she was in the checkout line with her mother, standing right by me. I hadn’t seen her in maybe two months at this point, yet as casual as can be, I just asked her how she was doing, as if we had been long-lost friends.

I don’t know whether it took me being done with UA or whatever it was that the stocker and I discussed to loosen my lips, but what had been impossible for months suddenly was easy. I wasn’t at all nervous, and we chatted while I bagged the order. Then it was time for me to take it out to the car.

Food World was old school when it came to service: The baggers bagged, and if the order was large enough, we took it out to the car and loaded it in, for free. Tips not only weren’t encouraged, they weren’t accepted. It wasn’t a big deal to cart out the groceries; it was part of the job.

And on that fateful June day, it was a Godsend. Now I had extra time under the guise of work to talk with this beautiful girl as I loaded the paper bags of groceries into her family’s massive Suburban.

Her name was Beth. She lived just down the road. I learned that she wasn’t a model; she was, however, a candy-striper at Riverside, which was equally hot in my teen-age eyes.

She was sophomore at Watterson, the closest Catholic high school. Sophomore going to be a junior or going to be a sophomore? Going to be a sophomore. Huh boy. That meant she couldn’t have been 16. I was 18, and three years is a lot when you’re young.

Well, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like age get in the way of my attraction, so I asked Beth for a date the following weekend. She said yes. YES!! I got her number and said I’d call her to make plans in a day or two.

By now, I don’t know how long I had been outside chatting up Beth, but I was aware that it had been awhile, which meant that I had left Patty, the other bagger, to basically run the show. When I saw out of the corner of my eye Patty come out for about the sixth straight time, I knew I’d have to make it up to Patty somehow, but I wasn’t sorry.

I took my leave, floating about six inches off the ground. Two hours ago, I didn’t know her name. Now I had a date with Beth. She said yes … to me. Wow!

Monday, April 22, 2013

No. 409 – Mama

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Genesis
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: Live at Wembley Stadium, 1987

When I arrived at Northwestern in the fall of 1986, Genesis unquestionably was my favorite band. And, as documented, I would be seeing them in Cleveland in January after Scott had slept with my girlfriend in front of the Buzzard’s Nest store in Columbus to secure tickets.

But I couldn’t get the nagging feeling out of my head that they were going to be playing in Chicago almost right after I got there—three shows. I was certain all the shows had been sold out long before now—the point was moot—but I still wanted to go anyway.

After the first show, I couldn’t wait to read the review in the Sun-Times. It was fairly tepid. I was sure it probably was in fact great but that the reviewer just didn’t like Genesis. What really caught my eye was the final sentence: Tickets for the last two nights still were on sale. Wait, what? They weren’t all sellouts? You mean … I could go if I wanted?

Well, this was an unexpected development. Yes, I had a ticket in hand, but that was for a show in January, three months away. I could see them tonight, for the princely sum of $25. During class I could think of nothing else all day. I didn’t really have the money, and I’ll be seeing Genesis in a few months, but … I HAD to go. I called Ticketron and bought a ticket for that night.

In boot camp, we had an assignment to interview someone else in class and write a bio story. Tony was assigned to interview me, and he wanted to do the interview that day. I explained I had to head out for a concert, but if he wanted to walk back to my residence with me, we could do it along the way.

When I got back to my room, I saw that all my furniture had been packed up in cellophane in the middle of the room so a crew could come in and paint the walls. (Why this wasn’t done before class started, I don’t know.) I flitted about the room grabbing this and that as Tony fired questions at me. I don’t remember what he asked; I was preoccupied.

The show was at the Rosemont Horizon, out by O’Hare. I had a reasonable idea of how to get there after looking at my Chicago map, but I had no idea how long it would take, so I left way earlier than I needed to. This led to me having enough time to get dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Italian place in Rosemont that wasn’t too bad (at least for my tastes at the time, which weren’t sophisticated).

I picked up my ticket at will call feeling excited but also a little guilty that I was sneaking off to see Genesis by myself. I got over it quickly. My seat was crap, but I wasn’t expecting anything else. I was on the side, down low behind the front of the stage. When Phil drummed, I could see him fine. When he sang, I had a great view of his bald spot. But I was there, and that’s all that mattered.

The crowd was just as excited to be there as I was, it seemed. The Bears, defending Super Bowl champs, were having another great season, and they owned Chicago.

The defense was known for barking at the line of scrimmage, and the fans serenaded their team thusly. That carried over to the Genesis concert. People were barking and woofing the whole time, seemingly at a drop of the hat. As the fog began to roll over the stage and the staccato beat of this song started, droning on for minutes before the band hit the stage, 19,000 dogs woofed their approval.

In fact, it was so crazy that Phil changed a bit to reflect that. Before Home By the Sea, Phil talks about how he feels spirits in the room and has the crowd “call to the spirits” by raising their arms and going wooo. He’s done this since 1984. It’s lame, and he knows it’s lame, which is why he has to shame those “who are too cool to do this” to build up the crowd response. When it’s sufficiently loud, the lights lower closer to the stage to create different effects.

Well, in Chicago, he said “usually we call to the spirits by raising our arms and going ‘woo,’ but tonight I want you to raise your arms and go ‘woof woof woof.’”

There was no need for goading: The entire arena lit up with barks. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a crowd-participation event at a show where the whole crowd—and I mean the whole crowd—bought into it immediately.

The show had plenty of cool effects and was heavy on the new stuff, until the end when they finally dipped into the older stuff. They played the closing section of Supper’s Ready, which aside from being a total shock—they hadn’t played any part of it live in the United States since 1976—was also my favorite song.

The rest of the show was great, but that moment put it over the top on my show list. Plus, it was the best crowd experience I’d had up to that point. Maybe the guy from the Sun-Times saw a different show than I did, or he wasn’t a Genesis fan. That simple.

I was so giddy from the experience that I couldn’t keep it a secret. I told Scott the next weekend that I saw Genesis. He was a bit miffed. I assured him I still wanted to go to Cleveland, and “just you wait, because …”

I told him everything. I couldn’t keep it in. Was I maybe setting him up for a let-down if the Cleveland show wasn’t as good? How could it be not as good? Genesis never changes its set list; it’ll be great.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

No. 410 – The Hollow

Performer: A Perfect Circle
Songwriters: Billy Howerdel, Maynard James Keenan
Original Release: Mer de Noms
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: none

I’m in the middle of a huge Porcupine Tree run. I’ve been listening to Atlanta, the live album from the band’s Fear of a Blank Planet tour, and I would highly recommend it as the place to start if you aren’t a fan and you want to check them out. If I were to start this here list this September instead of in September 2011, I would have at least five more Porcupine Tree songs on it than I do.

When I first listened to it last September, Atlanta didn’t make much of an impression on me. Of course, it wasn’t the best situation: flying to Italy overnight on a cramped airplane while slipping in and out of sleep. I laid aside the album for a few months, concentrating on the list and Fear itself. I started playing it again about a month ago, and now I can’t get Atlanta off my playlist.

As I’ve mentioned, that’s typical for me. I might have it hook me right away, but it takes a few listens before I really fall in love with a song. This song is one of the exceptions. I loved it so much on first listen, I immediately played it again before going through the rest of Mer de Noms.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was in a far better mindset for love at first listen. By 2000, my love of Tool (aka the American Porcupine Tree) was well-established, and I couldn’t wait to hear something new from even an offshoot band. As I mentioned, I bought Mer de Noms as soon as it came out and debuted it on the plane to Alaska.

When Debbie and I went to Juneau to visit her cousin, Janice, that year, we flew to Seattle and then transferred to Alaska Air for the final leg. I had Mer de Noms on as the clouds lifted and we flew over the Alaskan coast with snow-capped peaks guiding the way. It was a spectacular view and set the tone for the rest of the week.

But the landing was even more spectacular, and a little scary if you’re not big on flying, like I am. For a while, while you descend, you’re in between mountains with nothing but the Gastineau Channel below you. It’s unsettling; the mountains seem really close. Finally the land opens up to show a large valley and the airport below. I didn’t have my Discman on during the landing, of course, but it’s what I think of when I hear this song.

Janice met us at the gate—this was before 9/11 when we were more trusting and allowed people to do such things—wearing shorts. Really? I hadn’t packed for warm weather. It turns out the day we arrived was the warmest day—66 degrees—but it felt warmer than that. Janice took us to her home, not far from the airport, and as soon as we dropped off our luggage, we headed to the Mendenhall Glacier, which literally was just up the road from her house.

I had been to Glacier National Park, as I noted, but until I saw the Mendenhall Glacier, I can’t say I really saw an honest-to-goodness glacier until we arrived in Juneau. It was imposing and alive. Mendenhall Lake was littered with icebergs, also something I’d never seen before. The Alaska trip was off to a good start.

Debbie fished out a small iceberg that was near the shore. It was the size of her head, crystal clear and heavy. Janice said that would make for some pretty good drinks. I bet it would. Too bad I was only a wine-and-beer guy at the time.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

No. 411 – Earthshine

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Vapor Trails
Year: 2002
Definitive Version: Vapor Trails Tour, Hartford, Conn., 2002

It’s hard to believe, but as I write this, it has become official: Rush is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I honestly thought it would never happen, because Jann Wenner and the old guard at Rolling Stone—who control the Hall electorate—hated Rush. Part of me thinks they relented just so all the Rush fans finally would shut up about the annual snub.

Before Vapor Trails released, not only had it been six years since the last Rush album, but both Geddy and Alex and released solo albums. It seemed Rush might be over. (I didn’t know at the time what led to the hiatus and that, at the time, it WAS over.)

Of course, anticipation also can lead to disappointment, and that’s how I felt when I heard Vapor Trails for the first time. Really? That’s it? I wasn’t alone. Scott and Dave—also hard-core Rushies—agreed with me. The mix was screwed up, and Geddy’s vocals were bad. The songs were weak.

That assessment, however, in no way affected whether I would go see them again when Rush toured the summer of 2002. They were coming to Columbus and Cincinnati, and I chose going to Cincy because I thought Scott would have better luck at getting tickets. It was Scott, Shani’s brother, John, and me.

Riverbend, Cincy’s outdoor amphitheater, is so named, of course, because it’s on the Ohio River. It can be a real pain in the butt to get to, but Scott had a route figured out. We ended up crossing the river into Kentucky and coming up from the south. I remember a bit of traffic backup, but nothing unusual for a concert at an outdoor venue.

The unusual thing was the weather. We were going to see Neil Peart not Neil Diamond (thank God), but it still was a hot August night and by hot, I mean oppressive. The temperature was 95+ and the humidity was 95+. Scott got great seats in the amphitheater, in the shade, but it didn’t matter. There was no breeze; it was just plain HOT. It probably was the hottest I ever was at a concert.

It was so hot in fact that during the intermission, John who had a beer early on went to get a drink and came back with waters for everyone. I almost never drink at concerts, because I don’t want to have to go to the bathroom and miss something, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen that day. After all the sweat, there was nothing left for whiz.

The show was great, simply because Rush is great, but it didn’t rank with previous shows. Maybe they were shaking off some rust. Three things stood out: One, the reaction for Dreamline was as loud as it was for anything except 2112. That surprised me. Two, I loved the pairing of The Pass and Bravado. I think those songs are different sides of the same coin, and it was cool to hear them back-to-back.

Three and most significant: The songs from Vapor Trails—and the band played five—were so much better live that it was incomparable. The mix was clean; the vocals were better with Alex singing backup instead of Geddy overdubbed. You could hear the songs better, and the songs were pretty good.

I haven’t listened to Vapor Trails since, even though I have two songs from that album on this here list, this being the second (Secret Touch, good ol, No. 678), because live versions are so much better. The truth is, it isn’t as strong as the two albums that have come since—Snakes & Arrows and Clockwork Angels, but it was great to just have Rush back in any capacity.

Friday, April 19, 2013

No. 412 – Pushin Forward Back

Performer: Temple of the Dog
Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Chris Cornell
Original Release: Temple of the Dog
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: none

When we last were with Will at SportsFest 1998 in Philadelphia, we learned that he had found his car broken into and his bookbag with his best baseball cards, his boombox and his cellphone taken. We now join the story already in progress.

I went to the police and filled out the requisite forms, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to make any difference. This was purely for insurance purposes.

Then I called Debbie. I had to explain that her cellphone—this was back when not everyone had them—was stolen, so she needed to cancel the service ASAP to keep the thieves from stealing minutes. I was pretty upset and said because everything was running so late, I might have to pull off for the night.

I jumped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and headed home feeling as though the entire trip was a waste of time and money. This wasn’t entirely true, of course. I added Frank Robinson to The Bat and bought a bunch of cards and other things that were safely and securely in my trunk. But I sure felt that way.

I noticed the sky getting dark to the West, and it didn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t from the sun setting but a storm rolling in. Great, this was just what I needed with a smashed-out passenger-side window.

I pulled off and drove around on country roads trying to find something I could wedge in my window—a box I could cut up, something. I didn’t find anything that worked, so I took my sunshade and closed it in the front and back doors so it covered the passenger window. It seemed to hold fast enough. It was make-shift, but it was better than nothing, and I didn’t feel like spending any more time than necessary in Pennsylvania.

I got back on the Turnpike. Between the late getaway, the length of the drive and the storm, it seemed there was no way I would be able to make it back, but I wanted to make it as far as I could before the storm hit.

It wasn’t very far. The storm hit full force soon after dark. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a bad drive under the best conditions—through and around mountains and not well lit. With rain coming down in sheets, visibility was about zero, and semis kicked up tidal waves of spray. I kept going. It rained harder.

I pulled off, I don’t remember where, to call Debbie to say I wasn’t going to make it that night. Of course, I had to use a pay phone. I sat beside a gas station for a long time as the monsoon pounded my car. Then my stubbornness kicked in.

This weekend was a test of wills, and they call me Will for a reason. I started the car and headed back out on the Turnpike, alone. Not only was I going to keep going, I was going to drive all the way home. This clearly was a bad idea, but I reached my breaking point. Screw the rain and everything else: I’m going home.

Eventually, just east of Pittsburgh, the storm stopped. I had made it through, but I still had about four hours to go. It was 11 o’clock. I called Debbie to tell her I was on my way. She knew it was a bad idea but could hear there was no talking me out of it, so she pleaded with me to be careful. If careful had been in my vocabulary, I would have stopped for the night long before then.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. I even made up a little time, arriving sometime after 2. Debbie waited up for me, which was nice considering I still was pretty miserable—although too tired to be mad—about my stupidity in keeping my bookbag out in public view. If only I had stuffed it in the trunk …

Sure, I had left the car parked in the same place the previous two days, with items visible in the passenger seat, to no ill effect, but it still was a dumb thing to do. I beat myself up pretty good over it for a while.

A few weeks later, I got my cellphone bill and saw that, sure enough, the thief made a few calls to someone in Camden, N.J. I called the Philadelphia police to give them the tip, and they basically told me to call someone who gave a damn, and that was the end of that. At least Sprint took the charges off the bill.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I never leave my bookbag in my car in plain view for any length of time. I’ve never repeated the carelessness of my actions in 1998, and I haven’t had a car burglary since. As far as the cards that were stolen, I since have replaced all but one—a 1957 Colavito at a good enough price to pull the trigger.

The good news is I no longer have revenge fantasies about the buttwipe who stole my bookbag, mostly because I convinced myself a long time ago that he probably was killed in a drug deal gone bad.

I love a happy ending; don’t you?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No. 413 – The Loner

Performer: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Neil Young
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1979

Of course, this song was part of my senior trip out West in 1982, but it took on more meaning post-Debbie when I was in Cleveland.

I escaped the hospital after my bout with diverticulitis in April 2003. Although they let me go, the doctor made me take an antibiotic just to clean me out, and the pharmacist successfully put the fear of God in me: No drinking with this, not even a little bit. I did, and I had projectile vomiting. OK, thanks for sharing and for the safety tip for the day.

So no wine, but I could go home for Easter dinner. The Easter Bunny left Metamucil capsules in my basket. The Easter Bunny has a sense of humor, but the joke was on me, because the capsules worked—I had one attack in summer 2004 and none since (knocks wood). I had been told for years to use Metamucil to keep things as regular as could be, but I didn’t like the powder. Learning about the capsules, which are way easier to deal with, was a game-changer.

When I got back to Cleveland, I wasn’t able to schedule the colonoscopy the doctor wanted me to have in the hospital. It wasn’t because I was avoiding it. His office wouldn’t let me come or leave by myself. I said I wouldn’t drive; I’d take the bus. They said no, due to liability, even though I explained I didn’t have anyone I knew who lived in the area who could drive me. I ended up scheduling it in Columbus in September when the family would be in town.

Anyway, now that my body was under control again, I settled into my routine. I first concentrated on the microfilm at the Cleveland library. The CPL had (has) everything a baseball fan could ever want on microfilm: a complete run of The Sporting News, a complete run of Sporting Life, a complete run of Baseball Digest, a near-complete run of Baseball magazine. Most of that now is available online, but at the time, if you wanted it, the library was an invaluable resource.

Most of the microfilm was on call: I’d have to make a request at the desk. But unlike the lame New York Public Library, the folks at Cleveland brought an entire collection, and they happily accepted a driver’s licenses in exchange.

The TSN microfilm, however, was on the shelves, and I thought that was amazing. I could just go up the stairs and grab reels from, say, 1894-1896, load them on a viewing machine and get rolling through the box scores.

The microfilm room is impressive. It’s open three stories, about the length of a football field. You walk up narrow stairs that resemble those of a fire escape to the stacks of microfilm, as I mentioned, but I never went up to the third floor. I didn’t know if you could and didn’t chance it. The room has west facing windows, so it was always sunny, and the sun played havoc with the microfilm viewers only during certain times of the year.

That room is where I spent a good chunk of my year in Cleveland. After riding downtown on the Rapid, I’d hike the two blocks to the library and set up shop in the microfilm room. I’d pull over an extra chair for my clamshell iBook, plug in my headphones and play my music. I’d have notepads on the little table to jot notes (unless I was typing them into the computer itself) and my face pressed against the microfilm screen, trying to learn whether Vern Washington played left or right field. (It was right field.)

The microfilm room typically never was too crowded for me to worry about taking up too much equipment. I usually used the same machine, because I needed to be able to focus in tight on the microfilm, so I needed a particular lens. And I never left, unless it was to go to the bathroom just outside the microfilm room. If I ate anything, it was a granola bar in my briefcase. My time was too valuable to bother with lunch; my hunger for knowledge sustained me.

But something was missing. Even though I was fine, the hospital visit shook me up, and it wasn’t really until August that I fully embraced my Cleveland experience.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No. 414 – Jeremy

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Ten
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: MTV Music Awards, 1992.

Scott and I were in similar situations at Thanksgiving 1992—we both had recently broken up with girlfriends. Well, I can’t really call Jenna a girlfriend. We dated for a month, although we danced around the flame together for most of the year. But Scott had been with The Alien Woman—let’s call her Allie—for close to two years.

This was something of a secret. I mentioned that Scott went through a rough breakup at the end of the school year in 1991, which necessitated our first trip to Toronto. Well, apparently the next year they got back together, sort of. It was very off and on. Allie had left Ball State and was living at home, which was in a small town along I-65, and Scott would go over to visit.

I think I was the only one in the family who knew this. No one else liked Allie, which, of course, doesn’t help their relationship. I think I met her only once, and she seemed OK, I guess. She didn’t make much of an impression aside from her huge teeth, crazy eyes and bangs that were teased six inches high, which reminded me of the alien queen in Aliens—thus the nickname, which, of course, I used only after the fact.

When Scott let slip that he and Allie were seeing each other again, I didn’t judge. I understood all too well how the heart and the loins can lead a young man to do questionable things. The sex must have been great, because the relationship was toxic. Scott even admitted as much in frustration one phone call, but he kept going back all the same.

Finally, through the grace of God, Scott broke up with her for good about the same time that Jenna and I went down the drain. Apparently, he went over to visit and found out about her other boyfriends, as in plural. He wasn’t as upset as he had been the year before, but I still had to console him. He had dodged a major bullet, I told him. It’s for the best. Little did I know how right I was.

For Thanksgiving that year, the whole family was to gather at my aunt Nan’s in Ann Arbor. Scott had invited a friend, and I want to say now that his name was Jeremy, which is why I had this song in mind (along from the fact I was listening to my newly beloved Pearl Jam ALL THE TIME).

Scott and Jeremy drove to Grand Blanc to stay with me Wednesday and hang out. I took them to the White Horse to finally see the legendary watering hole and to get a glimpse of Jenna—to verify that I once was dating the hottest woman in Michigan. Unfortunately, she was off that night, so Scott just had to take my word for it.

We had a few drinks, nothing substantial, I thought, but when we got home, Scott wanted to talk about Allie some more. Fine. Jeremy went inside. I listened intently.

He told me he had been worried about the other guys Allie had been with, so he got an AIDS test that came back negative. He said he wasn’t really worried, because Allie told him that she had had some injury when she was younger, so she was pretty sure she couldn’t have kids, and …

Hold it right there. Brothers can kid each other in ways that others can’t, because they know where the bodies are buried, so to speak. They also can hit harder than anyone else when called for. I had my judge robes on, and I let it fly.

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!? This woman LIED to you constantly, cheated on you, yet you still took no precautions, because SHE said it was OK? ARE YOU AN IDIOT? Do you realize how LUCKY you are that she isn’t pregnant? Your life would’ve been RUINED! (I might have peppered those words with a few choice anglo-saxonisms.)

At that Scott broke down, either from the fact that he had never seen me this mad at him before or the weight of the truth that he really HAD dodged a serious bullet—one he hadn’t fully appreciated till then—or had a wee too much to drink after all. I don’t know. I do know he didn’t punch me, which wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong, or leave, which would have. He just kept saying sorry over and over.

I took pity on him and pulled back my assault. I hugged him and told him I loved him, and I was scared and just wanted him to be careful. He knew, but it still had to have been hard for him to hear it. We were cool the next day, though. We’re brothers. That’s just how we roll.

I don’t know whether my words had any effect. I do know that a few months later, he told me about another girl he had started dating. She was totally different from the Alien Woman. Her name, he told me, was Shani.

Scott definitely was in position to receive some good karma.