Monday, March 31, 2014

No. 66 – Edge of the Blade

Performer: Journey
Songwriters: Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain
Original Release: Frontiers
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: Live Frontiers, 1983. I haven’t been able to find the official name of the bootleg that Scott had and made a copy of for me in 1984 or ’85, because I haven’t been able to find a single recording that has all three components: Philadelphia, No More Lies and this song.

I suppose, like any young man courting a young lady, I was intimidated by Beth’s father. It’s not that he did anything in particular to make me feel that way, per se, but unlike Beth’s mom, he wasn’t warm and engaging.

That doesn’t mean he was cold. He just kept to himself and didn’t say much unless he had something important to say. Remember: This was a man who told us when it was time for me to leave by tossing a shoe down the stairs to the basement. You didn’t want to be there when that last shoe dropped.

And that was the primary thing: Mr. Mac was the enemy. He was the sheriff, and I was the miscreant prowling the henhouse. I was trying to sneak off with as much bounty as I could; he was there to prevent me from doing just that. It was a natural rivalry, and we both understood the other’s role.

When Beth and I started dating, I was very young and very immature, and the less time spent around Beth’s father, the better. That was due more to not knowing him all that well but also that I just didn’t want to be around adults much anyway. As time went by, that became less of an issue, of course.

When Beth and I would watch TV at her place Sunday afternoons, he’d be there in his recliner with us. I spent many a dinner in their dining room. One time, they even invited Scott to come over, and I told him, OK, you better be on your BEST behavior.

He was, but Mr. Mac wasn’t. He and Erin poked some fun at the dinner-prayer ritual much to Mrs. Mac’s chagrin. Scott and I looked at each other knowingly as Beth gave me the stink-eye. Hey, WE’RE behaving here.

The first time I ever really felt like a grown-up—and not just a kid pretending to be one—was because of Mr. Mac. One day after work in the summer of 1985, I went to see Beth. I knew she had been planning a shopping day with her mom and sister, but she was supposed to have been back by the time I showed up, about 5.

Mr. Mac came to the door and let me in, explaining that no one was home yet. Usually, when that happened, that was my cue to head home until I heard back from Beth, but this time, he invited me in instead.

He was downstairs working on his train layout. (I mentioned this before, but Mr. Mac’s train layout was a lot like my book—the fun was in the process and not necessarily the accomplishment. He never finished his train layout.) If I wanted, I could come down and have a beer.

What? Really? I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but even I knew the significance of having the father of my girlfriend invite me to have a beer with him in his basement bar. It was a BIG deal. I readily accepted … even though I drank maybe one beer a month.

Actually, he was about the same—not exactly a big drinker. His beer of choice, which was stocked in his mini fridge downstairs (and which Beth and I never raided—never had an interest in raiding), was Grain Belt.

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this brand, it was an old Minnesota label that I knew from my beer-can collecting salad days in the Seventies. I’d assumed it was long gone when I started to date Beth only to find out that—lo and behold—Mr. Mac might have been the last customer outside of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Lord only knows where he found it in Columbus.

But now, here I was, sitting at the bar as Mr. Mac stood behind it, sipping on an ice-cold Grain Belt from his personal stash. We listened to his Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers records on a turntable that was likely to have Journey on it as soon as Beth arrived. It was the first time that we ever really had one-on-one time together.

We talked about trains and beer, work, college, whatever. Mr. Mac turned on the AC only as a last resort, so the basement was the place of refuge during the summer, and it felt good to be where it was cool.

Almost an hour went by before the women finally showed up. Beth called downstairs and was surprised to see what was up. “Daddy gave YOU one of his Grain Belts?” What? Can’t the sheriff and the miscreant break brews together? Actually, she was more than pleased to find us there together.

So was I. It was one of my favorite memories of being home during my college years that didn’t involve Beth. I no longer felt intimidation. I felt respect.

That didn’t mean I stopped prowling the henhouse, of course.

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