Tuesday, April 8, 2014

No. 58 – I Cheat the Hangman

Performer: The Doobie Brothers
Songwriter: Patrick Simmons
Original Release: Stampede
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: The studio version.

This is another song I’ve always loved. At first, it was the haunting first part that was reminiscent of America. In fact, I thought it WAS America the first time I heard I Cheat the Hangman back in 1975. Then it was the second part, the furious instrumental ride off into the sunset. Now, I love the whole thing. I was bummed that the Doobies didn’t play this song when I saw them on their Farewell Tour in 1982, but they played everything else, so I couldn’t really complain.

As I mentioned, in the summer of 1972 after my family moved to Upper Arlington, I discovered summer rec at Greensview. Through some of the kids I met there, I also discovered beer can collecting. One guy—Dean, I think—had his collection in the garage, and I remember thinking all the cans, stacked on top of one another, were colorful and cool. I decided I wanted to do that, too.

I went home, and when Mom and Dad finished their beers that night—Mom drank Budweiser, Dad Burger—I washed out the cans and took them up to my room. Dean helped me out by giving me a few of his doubles, and my collection took off.

One of the things that helped to boost it was Nini’s barbershop. Nini’s, which I think is still there on Henderson Road, used to collect beer cans from customers and then each spring hold a sale and auction to raise money for charity. As the time drew closer to the auction, the stacks over each barber’s station got taller and wider.

There were so many beers I’d never heard of, many of which are long gone, so it was fun to go to Nini’s just to look at what they had: Lucky, Oertel’s 92 and my favorite (why, I can’t remember), Utica Club. Then there were the foreign cans. I was fascinated to learn that there was a Canadian version of Black Label, which Dad also drank on occasion. Then there was Tennent’s, which featured a picture of an attractive woman on each can—right in my wheelhouse.

Dad and I would ride our bikes over to the auction, and with Dad as my stakehorse, I’d do some buying. I usually kept to the sale and not the pressure of trying to win at auction. The best can I ever got at a Nini’s auction was an Oktoberfest gallon can, also called party size. I loved that can, although I couldn’t include it in my stack due to its unique (to my collection) giant size.

Sometime after I turned double digits, I noticed a few beer can collecting books on the shelves. Now THIS was a revelation. They were page after page of pictures of the cans—nine to a page—with the names and suggested values.

The first book I bought was called Common Beer Cans, and I was pleased to note how many of those I had. The book became something of a checklist and a wishlist all in one. Another book, called Obsolete Beer Cans, had so many things that I’d never seen before—only a few that I had—that it wasn’t as appealing.

During sixth grade, a new indoor shopping mall opened not far from home. It was called the Colony Bazaar, and it had a bookstore. Not long after it opened, Columbus was hit by the first real winter storm that I could recall, and that night school was shut down due to the cold—the first snow day of my life. I was geeked to have a free day the next day, and that night Dad suggested we hike over to the Colony Bazaar to see whether it had any beer can books.

I’d already called, and the clerk said they didn’t, but Dad said we should go anyway, just to see. Well, considering my alternative was go to bed at my normal bedtime, I said OK. As we bundled up in our winter gear, I Cheat the Hangman came on the radio.

I remember our hike wasn’t particularly snowy, but it was cold. It was something of a thrill to be hiking off to a bookstore after dark when most kids were home getting ready for bed.

I’d never seen anything like the Colony Bazaar. It really was an indoor mall. Each store was on a different level and, with no walls except for those of the structure itself, open to all of the rest. In retrospect, it was like a split-level flea market with new products. It was very Seventies.

As expected, the bookstore—it might have been a Little Professor outlet—had no beer can books. I went home empty-handed, I still was happy to make the search.

Now that I think about it, that night might have been the only time I ever was in the Colony Bazaar. It failed not long after it opened. Part of it was turned into a Max & Erma’s that became a regular hangout during the Eighties. The other part was a furniture store, then a ski shop. A few years ago, the entire building was bulldozed to the ground to make room for more apartments.

Time marches on.

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