Saturday, November 30, 2013

No. 187 – Brother

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Lost Dogs
Year: 2003
Definitive Version: The Five Musketeers, 1993, (renamed Freak in 1994 by me) contains a studio recording of the original version of this song for Ten in 1991 but has never been released officially. That’s the one you want.

It was a typical August day in 2009 when my phone rang as I crossed the tracks to catch my train home from work in Deerfield. It was Laurie. The conversation went as follows:

“I’m fine. I’m in the hospital …”

Considering the ordeal from the year before, this was not the best thing to hear at the beginning of a phone call, but I can’t say it came as a surprise. For about a month before, Laurie had been complaining—irregularly—about being out of breath when she climbed stairs. One of the first times was at the aforementioned Pearl Jam concert (good ol’ No. 220) when they pulled out this oldie but greatie.

Laurie had been going to the gym, so we didn’t think anything of it. She just chalked to up to one of those stupid things that happens to you when you reach a certain age. When it persisted to the point that she was out of breath just climbing the two flights of stairs to our second-floor apartment, however, Laurie went to the doctor to have it checked out.

That was this afternoon. As I stood on the train platform, Laurie told me that her doctor gave a listen to Laurie’s lungs and almost immediately sent her next door to the hospital emergency room … as a precaution. OK, I’m on my way.

Even though I knew the situation was different—different symptoms, different reasons for going to the hospital, different hospital—I still had a sense of foreboding driving from work to an Evanston hospital to see Laurie. I got to St. Francis and went to the emergency room. Laurie was in one of those makeshift rooms, and when I peered around the corner of one of the curtains, I had an intensely painful flashback.

There was Laurie, strapped to an EKG. She wore a pale blue gown and held a breathing apparatus to her mouth. It wasn’t a mask; it was more like a tube that measures your breath. The look in her eyes was vacant and distressed, and I felt my heart skip a beat.

Then she looked up, saw me and smiled. In that instant I knew everything was different. I didn’t know what the matter was but I knew that this was better. Laurie was all there, in mind as well as body.

Laurie felt OK, she said, but they were running this test and that on her, and she didn’t know when she’d be let go, or even whether she would be let go at all. I told her how happy I was to see her and have it be all of her this time in a hospital. She said she was glad to have me there.

Eventually the internist came in with the results. Yep, she said to Laurie, almost matter of factly, you have multiple pulmonary embolisms.

Wait, what?! Typically the only time you ever heard the words “pulmonary embolism” is after the words “cause of death.”

It freaked both of us out, but the good news was Laurie wasn’t dead, and these were easily handled, the internist said. The embolisms, or blood clots in her lungs, were causing her to lose her wind, and they could be broken up with blood-thinning medication, but Laurie would be in the hospital for at least a couple of days for observation.

What could have caused this, Laurie asked? Are you still on The Pill? Yes. OK, you aren’t any more.

I knew from an article our magazine did that excess estrogen from birth-control pills could lead to clotting, so on the one hand, I felt good knowing that this wouldn’t be an ongoing problem, that it could recur. On the other hand, there was a practical matter to address: “I gotta go back to condoms?” Laurie didn’t like it either, but needless to say—and I’ll say it anyway—it was a small price to pay to ensure Laurie’s health.

Then the waiting game began for Laurie to be moved out of ER. It wouldn’t be to her room but ICU where nurses could continue to monitor her condition on a regular basis until a room opened up.

That meant I could home and pack a small bag of things to bring to Laurie for her multiple-overnight stay. When she specifically asked for her computer, that’s when I really knew everything was different this time.

By the time I got back, Laurie was in ICU. I was allowed to stay with her as long as I wanted. By midnight, it became apparent that Laurie wouldn’t get her room right away, so Laurie shooed me out to get some sleep before going to work the next day.

Laurie ended up staying at St. Francis for two nights (in a room, eventually). I visited her the next day but only briefly. Only one friend came to see her; no one else knew anything until after the fact. Laurie said it wasn’t a big enough deal to merit anything more.

What WAS a big deal was her after-care, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Friday, November 29, 2013

No. 188 – Sara

Performer: Fleetwood Mac
Songwriter: Stevie Nicks
Original Release: Tusk
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Live, 1980.

When I was a teen-ager, aside from being a lazy-ass, I also was selective when it came to getting a job. I refused anything to do with the food-preparation industry. I don’t recall that I had a specific reason, but I didn’t want a job as a buser or a waiter and certainly not in the fast-food industry.

The only thing that seemed OK was pizza-delivery guy. I wasn’t afraid of being robbed, and the potential that a lonely divorcee would order a pizza with extra pepperoni seemed like the world’s greatest on-the-job perk.

Of course, with the food industry out of consideration, my employment choices were somewhat limited, so I didn’t have a regular part-time gig my junior year of high school. I looked in the want ads regularly but nothing came up.

Then in the spring of 1981, I either saw an ad in the UA News or, as I recall, heard from someone that Cub Scout ball at Northam Park was looking for umpires. Umpire, you say? I could do that.

So I did. The previous spring was when I discovered that my baseball-playing career would go no further than high school junior varsity. Like many an old-time baseball player when he reached the end of the line, I went behind the mask, so I still could go to the park everyday and get paid to do it.

I can’t remember how much we got per game. It couldn’t have been much more than $10 or $20, which was decent money when you made nothing otherwise. The trick was to do as many games as you could to pile up the cash, and I umped pretty much every day that games were played—baseball and T-ball.

A kid roughly my age, Brian, was in charge of the umps. His Dad ran the league, so that made sense. You’d show up before game time—parking somewhere so your car wasn’t in the potential line of fire of foul balls—and meet with Brian to get your assignment before hiking to the diamond in question.

T-ball games were the easiest, because you didn’t have to call balls and strikes. All you had to worry about was getting the rubber T that went over home plate out of the way if a runner might crash into it. I got to be pretty proficient wielding that thing, grabbing it as soon as the ball was struck and either flinging it to the backstop or carrying it with me as I ran out to call the bases.

The drawback to T-ball was that if you got two teams that couldn’t field, you were looking at a long day. Similarly, if you got two pitch-ball teams who couldn’t locate the plate, you were pretty much screwed.

Nothing was worse than being the chump of the only game still going on, with darkness coming fast. I had that happen to me a couple times. I also had one game where the two pitchers couldn’t NOT throw a strike, and I was done in an hour, at least a half-hour before anyone else. I loved being done before everyone else and either hanging out at another game or going home early.

The umpiring crew got to be pretty tight. We’d hang out at each other’s games to chat between innings or head over to the ice cream truck that smartly parked on Ridgeview Road next to the diamonds. Maybe for dinner, I’d hike to the Chef-o-Nette across Tremont Road. It’s a glorious diner from the 1950s—and still looks it—that made awesome hamburgers and cherry Cokes (long before they were premade).

If you ump a little league game of any stripe, at some point you’re going to hear it from the parents. I heard my share of abuse, I suppose, but I tuned it out. I never came close to tossing anyone, although we had the power to run parents if they got out of line. I might have issued a couple warnings, but I never had to pull the trigger. I also never bounced a kid even though I could have if he tossed his helmet or bat. I had too much empathy: I been there, kid. It’s OK.

When I played, there was nothing worse than seeing an ump who was brutal show up to call your game. So it was with pride that by the end of the year, I’d hear murmurings as I walked up along the lines of “Oh, we got THAT guy for our game? Cool.”

I also enjoyed that when the playoffs began in June, I continued along with the league’s best teams, culminating in the league championship pitch-ball game, which was held at Upper Arlington’s high-school field. Brian was behind the plate; I called third base and left field, and Tom called first base and right. Tom was a guy I got to know fairly well that spring. He was in college—some school in Indiana named Walmore or Wolcott or Wabash or something …

Until I worked for the International League decades later, that year of umpiring in 1981 was probably my favorite job. I didn’t make a lot of money, but it was a lot of fun. Naturally, when spring rolled around again in 1982, I quickly re-upped.

By now, however, I had a “real” job, as a bagger at Food World, so I hardly had any evenings free to ump. I didn’t work anything approaching the regularity of the previous spring, so my skills atrophied. The umpiring crew and coaches were different, too. It wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the same.

Life moves on.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

No. 189 – I’ve Had Enough

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Quadrophenia
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: The original version, although I like the one from New York in July 1996, too.

The first time I saw the movie Quadrophenia on Qube in the fall of 1980, I was amazed by two things. The first was the sheer majesty of Pete Townshend’s music.

The Kids Are Alright, of course, passes over Quadrophenia as though it never existed. None of the songs are featured either in the movie or on the soundtrack album, so it wasn’t until I saw the Quadrophenia movie—well, really the trailer for the movie—that I heard any of those songs, including this one. The Kids Are Alright gave a stinging crack across the face; Quadrophenia blew me away. It remains my favorite album of all time.

The second amazing thing that came out of seeing the movie was … wait a minute … I’ve BEEN there. I’m talking about Brighton Beach, where the infamous riots between the Mods and Rockers took place back in 1964 and a key locale in the movie. I had no idea at the time I was trodding such culturally significant soil.

When Jin and I visited Uncle Jack and his family in England, they made it a point to take us out of London to see other things, or at least as many things as we could in the two or three weeks we were there. One trip was to the north, to Stratford-upon-Avon, and I’ll talk more about that later. Another was south to the Channel coast and Brighton. (We didn’t make it to Beachy Head where Jimmy drove his purloined scooter off the edge, alas.)

Unfortunately, because I wasn’t up on my Quadrophenia, I didn’t soak in as much about Brighton as I wished I had. Had I known how important it was in The Who canon, I certainly would have paid more attention. In fact, I don’t even remember how we got down there or back. I remember only three things about that trip.

The first was the beach itself. I’d never seen a beach like Brighton’s, which, at least back then, was completely covered in pebbles. I was used to sandy beaches, so this was unusual enough to stand out.

I’d also never seen a nude beach before. As we walked along the beach, we went past a portion that was for patrons to strip all the way down. Aunt Linda remarked that you could tell the Americans, because they were the ones gawking. Well, I might have passed for English, because the nude beach that day had few people on it, and the only ones who were nude were dudes. Nothing for me to see there.

The second memory was the Brighton Pier. Again, I’d never seen anything like it with all the shops and activities. We went out, and while Jin and our cousins, Jenny and Amy, hit up the slide, Linda and I went into the casino to play a few games. Being 16, I was able to go inside.

The casino on the Pier was nothing like a Vegas casino. There were games of chance, though, and the amazing thing to me was that I knew these games from the fund-raising festivals that I had gone to with Mike and his family in Columbus.

I don’t know if Catholic churches do this any more, but 30 years ago, to raise funds, the ones in Columbus would hold festivals during the summer that included gambling games. The games consisted of coins—quarters, dimes, etc.—that you dropped onto a platform in a way so various levers would knock a bunch of coins over an edge and down into the coin-return chute.

The games looked so tantalizingly easy that you could drop a bunch of quarters in there, because, well, just look at how many coins are right on the edge! Of course, I didn’t realize that the edge was angled up so it took a ton of coins to push just a few over the edge. In some ways, the games are like a fair carny game—kind of a scam.

Well, when in Brighton … Linda and I played for a while, and I’m sure I left with less money than I walked in with, but because it was all coins, it didn’t seem like I lost much.

The third and final thing I remember about Brighton was that was where I had my first high tea. However, considering I didn’t drink tea, it didn’t make as much of an impression on me as you might imagine. Jin, I think, got more out of this part, because she had tea parties when she was a kid. This was the real thing.

I had a Coke and a scone that tasted as though it had been made about the time the Mods and Rockers had their little tete-a-tete. I wasn’t a gourmand yet, but even I knew bad food when I tasted it.

We headed home after the tea. My recollection is that Jack, who had to work despite the holiday, drove down and picked us up, but it’s possible Linda drove us there and back. I honestly don’t know. All I know is I was there, in Brighton, and I have photos to prove it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No. 190 – Comfortably Numb

Performer: Pink Floyd
Songwriters: David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Original Release: The Wall
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Tongue, Tied & Twisted, 1988.

Comfortably Numb is a song that needs no introduction, right? I mean, anyone who attends a Pink Floyd show probably has heard this song once or twice … or 8,000 times. So why the Hell did David Gilmour feel the need to introduce it during the 1994 Division Bell Tour?

He did that at both shows I saw, and it bugged the crap out of me. It’s the final song of the set: Just go into it straight away. Telling me what’s coming lessens the impact.

As you might recall (but probably don’t), I saw Pink Floyd twice in the span of four days in 1994 during the epic Memorial Day weekend that Scott and I put together. The first time was at the Mistake By the Lake in Cleveland. The second time was at the Horseshoe in Columbus.

The day of the Indy 500 barbecue at Scott’s place in Muncie, Ind., was the respite between the events in Cleveland (one Pink Floyd show, one Indians game) and the events that Sunday (one race in Indianapolis, one Pink Floyd show in Columbus). The difference was the latter two events took place the same day.

We caravanned to Indianapolis in two cars—mine and Scott’s. By this time, Scott and I discovered a great spot to park for the 500. It was close enough to the track that a walk wasn’t a big deal yet out of the way enough so getting to it didn’t mean you had to sit in traffic for five hours in or out. Best of all, it was free, with plenty of spots available.

It was in a neighborhood near the speedway, and if you parked on the curve in the road, it was next to a set of train tracks that went right past the Speedway. We’d ignore the “Parking: $10” signs in every driveway and park on the street, then hike the train tracks to the racetrack.

In 1994, we had seats close to Turn 1 on the infield side of the track. I made my famous teriyaki steak sandwiches the night before, which we carried in in our cooler along with a few Labatt Ices to wash them down, and we were good to go.

The race was nondescript. In fact, I had to look up who won (Al Unser Jr.). The big deal though was that Jim Nabors was there in person to sing Back Home Again after a liver transplant. His appearance, which was as much a part of the race as the cars themselves, had been doubtful in the days leading up to the race, and the crowd roared as loud for his introduction as it did for anything else that day.

After the race, we didn’t have time to dawdle. We had to race back to our cars and make the three-hour drive to Columbus in time for the night portion of our day-night doubleheader—Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd was the second show I’d seen in Ohio Stadium, but I had better seats for this one. Being at Ohio Stadium so close to our Cleveland experience gave me a deeper appreciation for how terrible the layout of Municipal Stadium was. Ohio Stadium seats even more people than Muni did, but you’d never know it based on how easy it is to move about underneath. Even when you went up the ramps to the seats at Ohio Stadium, you never felt like you were cattle being led to slaughter.

Scott secured three ducats in B Deck, which is the upper portion of the lower bowl under C Deck. If the stage was in the end zone—and it was—we were about on the 20-yard line in terms of distance from the stage.

However, as with Genesis in 1987 (story to come), Scott fell into better seats at the last second. This time, however, his connection wanted to go, too, so I sat in B Deck with John and Chris, who took advantage of the extra ticket. Those two were seeing their THIRD Pink Floyd show in four days.

The show itself was a carbon copy of the one in Cleveland except it was about 30 degrees warmer, and we weren’t sitting behind a drunk who was passed out for the entire show (good ol’ No. 693). Unfortunately, David Gilmour AGAIN introduced Comfortably Numb. What the Hell?

The final notes of Run Like Hell might have ended that day’s big events but not its festivities. Afterward, everyone ran like hell over to BW-3 on campus to partake of the usual wings, bevs and tunes. It made for a rude awakening for the party who had to get up and drive back home again to Indiana the next day.

It didn’t bother me. In fact, I didn’t even get up to see everyone off. The weekend was over, and my agenda now differed from Scott’s. I had to unload all the packed-up stuff in my car trunk and start going through the paper before making phone calls. The apartment hunt had begun.

Memorial Day weekend 1994 was crazy. If I could, I’d do it all over again just the same. It started in Flint and ended in Columbus. In between, it involved Cleveland, Muncie and Indianapolis. It was the perfect celebration of the end of my time in Flint and the beginning of whatever was about to happen to me in Columbus.

Little did I know how crazy THAT would get.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No. 191 – Machine Gun

Performer: Jimi Hendrix
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Band of Gypsys
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: Jimi Plays Berkeley, 1971.

I saw Jimi Plays Berkeley for the first time on cable soon after my musical rebirth, and it quickly vanished into the ether. A decade later, I rediscovered it thanks to a strip-mall video store by my apartment in Grand Blanc.

It was quite the comprehensive video store, not like the crappy Blockbusters that were going up everywhere. In addition to a back-room porn section that I might or might not have ventured into at one point, the store kept a good collection of music videos. One was Jimi Plays Berkeley. Hey, cool. I rented it and played it with the tape deck rolling.

After that, Jimi Plays Berkeley became a regular night-time play in my car when I drove to or from work. I say “to or from,” because in the winter, EVERY drive in my car was “at night.” The only question was whether it was night in the evening or night in the morning.

Some of those times, of course, were after being at the White Horse, which meant, yes, I drove home … well, not drunk. I had full recognition of my capabilities and surroundings. I suppose I might have been impaired, but no one else was on the road at that hour—either in the city, on the freeway or in Grand Blanc—so it didn’t matter. Besides, as Sam Kinison used to say, how else was I going to get my car home?

I’ve mentioned that my tenure at the Flint Journal was when I really learned how to drink. I got my start at Northwestern, but Flint is where I began to drink stuff that was harder than beer on a regular basis.

My hard drink of choice, of course, was Jack Daniels. The Sports crew would order a shot after we finished our pizzas and maybe a second later on if we felt saucy and were having fun. The only time I ever did a third was the time the bar owner brought the bottle over to our table at the end of the night—when you HAVE to drink. The only time I abused it was the time I poured my own shot.

I don’t drink JD any more, and in some ways my time with it was like that of a recovering alcoholic. When I began, it was great. Then I needed more to get the same feeling. Then it became a problem (when I made an ass of myself at a party—good ol’ No. 337). Then I stopped and haven’t been back.

I stopped drinking JD soon after I left Flint, not because I couldn’t control it but because I didn’t have anyone with whom to drink it. JD wasn’t something I wanted on my own, like a beer. And as I embraced my newfound love of gastronomy with Debbie in Columbus, it didn’t fit. JD doesn’t go with food, like wine. It goes with beer, and that’s it.

I’ll never forget the first time I had JD though. I’m pretty sure I’d tried whiskey before—maybe even JD—but I didn’t like the taste, and I wasn’t big on getting drunk just for its own sake, so there was no attraction to it. Circumstances change.

I learned via trial by fire that working Sports wasn’t all fun and games. I had run a Saturday night shift before, so I could do it, but the night of the semifinal games of the 1991 NCAA tournament, I pulled a huge rock.

For reasons I can’t remember, I watched way more of the basketball than I should have, and I got way behind in my work. I got so far behind that I had to pass off a lot of my own work to whoever was available so the section could get out somewhere in the neighborhood of on time. When I wrote up the report on why we were late, I did the only thing I could: I fell on my own sword. We were late entirely due to my poor judgment.

No one needed to beat me up over the fact that we were late, because I was doing a fair Tyson act on myself. I was inconsolable. I promised dinner and drinks at the White Horse on me to try and make up for making it so others had to do my work for me.

Finally, Brendan came up with a remedy. He and Dan were the ones who drank JD, and when he arrived at the White Horse that night, he got the drinks and put a third glass in front of me. All he said was, “I think you need this right now.” Maybe I did.

I slammed back the JD with he and Dan. Maybe it was the rationale or the camaraderie of doing it together, but it tasted good. It wasn’t an instant process, but I started to feel better, and by the end of the night, everything felt back to normal.

Dan said that although he wasn’t glad what happened, he was glad that it taught me a valuable lesson—that it might be OK to have the TV on to follow what’s happening, but you have to tune it out when it’s time to get the work done. So true. I learned my lesson, and it never happened again. I still was late on rare occasion, but it never again was due to my poor judgment.

The other lesson I learned that night was I DID like hard alcohol. By the next weekend, my error had been forgotten, but the memory of JD remained, and I was ordering it because I wanted it, not because I “needed” it.

And you know the rest of the story.