Thursday, April 29, 2010

A League of Our Own

My brother Ed sent me pictures of my nephew Daniel’s first Little League baseball game this year.  The boy is 11 and it seems like he’s been playing forever… 4 or 5 years, at least.  The kid plays everything… soccer, baseball, deck-hockey, swim team in the summer… He’d play football too, if it were up to him, but his parents, taking note of his bean-pole physique, put the kibosh on that.

He did well last night, though… 2 for 3 at bat, including getting a single in the last inning, stealing second and scoring the winning run.

No matter how big he gets though, and if you have kids you know what I mean, I’ll always see him like this:

My brother has been his Little League manager since last season, much like how our dad was usually our manager when we played Little League.

So Ed was telling me that he had to pull two of his pitchers, because it’s a requirement that if a pitcher hits two batters, you have to take them out. 

I couldn’t believe it?  What’s baseball coming to, if you can’t even bean a kid?  (Although from what my brother said, the other team’s hitters weren’t very adept at ball avoidance. 

Anyway, the whole thing cracked me up because when my brother played Little League, he pitched too and was notorious for being wild.  In fact, his line score would be like, “walked 9, hit 5 batters, and won 5-2 with a no-hitter.”

One game, he hit the first two batters, right out of the gate.  The other manager came over to my dad and said, “Aren’t you going to take him out?

My dad said, “Why?  He’s just getting warmed up.”

It’s no wonder no one could hit him… it’s hard to make contact when your first step is towards third base and out of the batter’s box.  Those kids had the fear of God in them every time they stepped in there.

When we lived in Columbus, they had a 2-tiered league for elementary school kids; a major and minor league.  I played for the major league team that my dad managed, (The Pirates, of course), and Ed played for the minor league Pirates.  If the manager wanted he could call a kid up from the minors if he needed a fill-in, so occasionally Ed and I got to play on the same team.

I used to play 2nd base and pitch.  The summer after 6th grade, Dad had to miss the opening game.  I pitched and we won that game, with me striking out the last batter, looking.  I couldn’t wait for Dad to call home so I could tell him about it.  It looked like we were going to have a good team that year.

But looks were deceiving.  When Dad joined us for the 2nd game, we began a long losing streak.  I used to tell him it was obviously his fault, because we were just fine without him.

I don’t remember how many games we lost, but around mid season, we had a game against the Orioles.  We considered this our rivalry game, because the Orioles manager used to be a coach with my dad on a previous team.  Dad didn’t really like the guy’s methods… was a little too hopped up on winning, for that age group.  And that’s how he ran his Orioles…

His son, Frank Jr., was a big oaf like his dad.  Classic, lumbering first baseman, and could hit a ton.

So this was a game we really wanted to win.  He had me pitching and the game stayed close.  I had one of my better days on the mound.  I remember the oaf smashed one right back up the middle and out of blind, dumbass luck, I flung my glove out and it stuck.  I totally looked all badass on it.  For about a split second.

Unfortnuately, the ball didn’t hit in the webbing, it hit right in the glove’s palm, directly on the knuckle under my index finger.  That hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.  I think I had to stuff a hanky in there for the rest of the season.

Anyway, it came down to us up by 1 in the bottom of the last inning.  They had a runner on first and third, with 2 outs.

I don’t know if it’s like this any more, but back then, when you had runners at the corners, it was basically an automatic steal of 2nd base.  Most catchers were instructed not to try for the out because the runner was likely to score from 3rd.  So the runner on first would usually just jog down to second.

Dad pulled the infield in for a conference.  He said, “Listen, they’re going to steal on the first pitch.  Bluz, can you just get one to the catcher and keep it out of the dirt?

I said yes.

To the catcher, he said, “Tim, can you get the ball down to second on the fly?

Tim said yes.

He said, “Good.  Ronnie, you just make sure you catch the ball and get a tag on that guy.  They’ll never see it coming.  If we throw him out, it’s game over and we win.  Let’s do it.”

We all smiled.  We knew it was a gamble, but the game was in our hands and our manager trusted us.

It worked like a charm.  I made the pitch, Tim caught it, the runner started jogging down to 2nd and Tim threw a strike to the shortstop, who applied the tag to the surprised runner.  Game over; commence celebration.  The ice cream was extra special that day!

I played one more year in Columbus and it was most puzzling.  All of a sudden, I sucked.  Couldn’t hit, couldn’t field.  Didn’t know how I could be washed up by 7th grade.
Me, probably swinging through a fastball.

I figured it out two years later when I got glasses.  I never realized that I couldn’t see.  No wonder I couldn’t hit worth a damn.

I played one more season, before my sophomore year in high school, my first summer after moving up to the farmland outside Toledo.  (The place with The Barn.)

All of a sudden, I was pretty good again.  Only downside was that no one knew me.  I joined the local team kind of late, after everyone was pretty much slotted into their positions.  I told the coach that I could play infield and pitch.

Naturally, he put me in the outfield, where I was very successful at not falling down or hurting myself.  But I got beaned in my first practice and again in my first game.  Probably paying karmically for the sins of my brother.

Then we found ourselves getting killed, one game, because none of our pitchers could throw strikes.  They must have walked about a dozen batters.

NOW, finally, the coach sidles up to me and is like, “So you can pitch, huh?”

So in I went, for mop-up duty.  Now, I really didn’t know how to “pitch”.  I’d just throw the ball as hard as I could and try to get it over the plate.  Forget trying to throw curves or anything… or even how to maneuver around the rubber without getting called for a balk.  No one ever taught me how to be a pitcher.

Regardless, I could get it over the plate, and that, I did.  I was getting hit, but at least we had a chance with the ball in play.  We played them even up for the rest of the game, and for the rest of the season, I became a regular pitcher.

Granted, we still sucked.  And we were so low-rent we even stooped to the Old Hidden Ball trick on occasion.  (It worked, too!)

I still didn’t know how to “pitch”, but I found that if I threw sidearm, the ball would tail into a right handed hitter.  So I started playing with varied release points and different windups.  My favorite was doing the “Luis Tiant”, who would turn his back to the batter when lifting his leg, then come around and fire.  I didn’t do that one very often, but I liked to screw with the batters.  (Bagger, you probably know who I’m talking about, but I’m sure no one else does.)

Anyway, it was fun.

Years later, it cracked me up because my Barn buddy Rik was also in the same league.  He told me that he’d heard this scuttlebutt that the Monclova Fire Department team had this new pitcher that was supposed to be good. 

I was like, “Really?  Who was he?  I don’t remember anyone that was any good.”

That was my last year of organized sports of any kind.  I was at least glad to go out not sucking.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Immediately

Of all the things in my previous post about working in college radio, I can’t believe the thing that caught the most attention was my flippin’ hair.

OK then, let’s talk hair.  I wasn’t always the acorn-head I am today.  I started out with a brush-cut, however, like all little boys did in the early 60s.  Dad would take us to Grandpa’s house, he’d get us in the basement and shear my brother and I like we were his little sheep.

In January, I told the story of the fights I had with my hair when I was growing up.  But for the benefit of new readers, I’ll quickly restate… If you remember the story, feel free to bloop bloop bloop until after the italics.

I’ve always hated my hair.  All I ever wanted was to have nice, smooth, perfect bangs and hair that lay down just so.  Preferably blond. 

No luck though…  I had hair that just would not obey.  One side would always flip in, the other side would flip outward.  As a teenager, I would blow-dry my hair straight down and then put on a ski cap… winter, summer, whatever… all in an attempt to bring some kind of order to my hair.

It worked like a charm though, right up until the time I’d take off the ski cap to go to school and the first molecule of air would blow by my skull and BANG… hair was going every which way.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I finally came to an understanding with my hair.  I was visiting one of my buddies in Georgia on vacation (as mentioned in the “Year of Pranking Dangerously post earlier this month) and was just sick and tired of messing with the mop on my head.  So I dove in the pool, got out, shook off my head and said, “Whatever it does, that’s what it will be.  I give up.”

Turns out, I had curly hair.  Even more so after I took my buddy’s mom’s advice and got a perm.  Made me look like the drummer from the band, Boston.  But once that passed I had a brief spell when everything looked OK.

I say “brief” spell because just as soon as I accepted the hair with which I was graced, it all fell out… It was quickly receding by the time I was a senior in college and I was cue-balled by 25.

Sometimes life is grossly unfair.”

Not only did I have to fight with my hair, I had to fight with my dad about my hair.  In the 70s, the longer your hair, the cooler you were.  So we had the usually father/son differences… I wanted it long and cool; he wanted it short and respectable.  He even sent me back to the barbershop once, when I didn’t have them take enough off.  It figured… it was the first haircut I’d liked in ages.  In all honesty, the barber probably didn’t cut anything off at all… probably just made snipping noises behind my head.  No wonder I liked it.  Didn’t fool the old man though… he sent my ass right back to have it done again.  Ooooh, I was pissed.

The hair wars pretty much abated once I got that perm, and like I said, the first one was just a disaster.  But I figured out my look soon enough and for a year or two in college, I had reasonably good hair.  So, there was no Jeri Curl and no “product” of any kind. 

Another thing I did, right out of high school was grow a beard.  We weren’t allowed to have beards at my high school, so I’m sure part of it was a sense of rebellion.  But on the other hand, a lot of the men in my family had beards.  My dad grew beards on and off throughout my whole childhood.  Several of my uncles also had beards.  So it was a look that I was accustomed to right off the bat. 
This was me on my 21st birthday, lit up on wine and digesting a huge spaghetti dinner and some German chocolate cake with my buddy Brill (who was about 5 months older than me, if you can believe it.)

I probably went overboard at first.  Teenage boys do pretty much everything as a kind of contest among themselves and I was no exception.  I grew a big, full, bushy beard, just because I could.  (Being Italian helps.  When I was born, the doctor was like, “Nurse, I’ll cut the cord, you shave him.)

As I got older, I finally figured out a good length to keep it, with maybe a half-inch growth, and I always tried to keep the fly-away hairs trimmed.  But it was always a full beard, cheeks and all.  (But no neck-beard.)  Shaving was a breeze in the morning, that’s for sure… 45 seconds and done.

I always thought it was good to have a beard if you were bald… It breaks up the monotony of your face. 

Years later, I still had the same beard.  Only now, there were a few too many white hairs mixing in under the chin.  But for much the same reason I kept longish hair in the back, so to not look like every other balding office monkey, I also resisted doing anything with my beard.  By this time, every putz on the planet had a goatee… I would have been just one more.  But those white hairs…  Hmmmm…

I began some long range planning.  I started shaving a little bit lower on my cheeks each week, just to try and get some daylight on them.  Remember, this was skin that hadn’t seen the light of day since 1979.  This was a big concern of mine… that I’d start stripping off the beard and find nothing but sickly, pasty white skin.  But each time I trimmed down a little lower, the skin was fine.

I was still really nervous about changing the beard though… I mean, I always sort of hid behind the hair.  Without the beard, I thought I’d just look like a thumb with a face on it.

To put my mind at ease, I took an old picture of me rocking the full beard, and tried to photoshop it into what I would look like in a goatee. 
 Fully bearded...

Photoshopped goatee simulation.

It didn’t seem too horrible, except for the grotesque appearance of scarring left by my amateurish photo-shopping skills.

Finally, I was ready.  Figuring I’d trust the professionals, I went to the Hair Cuttery and while I was getting a haircut, I asked if the stylist could trim my beard into a goatee.

She said, “What’s a goatee?

Unbelievable.  I should have said, “It’s the kind of beard that everyone in the state that’s not an Orthodox Jew is wearing.”  (I live in a neighborhood with a lot of Orthodox Jews, who all rock the ZZ Top beard.)

I didn’t really know what to say… I didn’t want to say the wrong thing and end up with something ridiculous.  She said to tell her were to trim and she’d do it.

I said “never mind.” 

So there I stood that night, April of 2004, in front of my mirror, shaver in hand.  I’d pick it up, turn it on… turn it off again and put it down.  Over and over, for 10 minutes, I stood there like an idiot.  Finally I just took a chunk out across my cheek…

There!  Now I have to finish.”

Somehow, I managed, and was pretty happy with the outcome… until I got to work the next day.  I was so unaccustomed to being barefaced; I hid in my cube all morning.  Finally, one of my co-workers, an older black lady, saw me and made me feel so much better.

She said, “Bluz, you look 10 years younger!” 

I eventually ventured out and found that that was the consensus.  It was a turn for the better.  After 25 years of full beardedness, I finally achieved a state of looking like everyone else.  Oh well...

I didn’t even tell my family I did it.  We had a big wedding coming up that month and I figured I’d spring it on them.  It was on my dad’s side of the family where he and I have been the only ones with beards.  My grandma didn’t like them on either of us.  She’d always say, “But I can’t see your face, with all that hair.” 

It was probably harder to get a fistful of cheek, as well.  A beard is a good cheek-pinching deterrent system… tougher to get a good grip.  So she and my mom were both happy when I showed up looking like this:
Excuse me, can you direct me to the hot chicks?”

Next topic:  Body hair!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Radio Days

I did a lot of fun stuff during my college years and one of the highlights was spending 3 years on college radio.

It was never my intention to go into this area at all.  As a junior in high school, I thought I would go into the sciences.  I was digging on my chemistry class and thought it would be fun.  The rest of the sciences… not so much.  In fact, I had this Murphy’s Law calendar that summed up the sciences perfectly:

  1. If it’s green and wiggles, it’s biology.
  2. If it stinks, it’s chemistry.
  3. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.
But when I got onto the school newspaper as a senior, I knew I had to pursue something that involved writing.  I also knew that my chosen school, Bowling Green State University (Yo, class of ’83 represent!  And yes, Cassie, I know you weren’t born yet… don’t rub it in), had a good journalism school, so that was the major I declared.

By the second quarter, I learned that J-School was not for me.  Journalism is a very structured discipline and what I had been doing for the school paper hardly qualified as journalism.  With real journalism, stories had to be laid out in a particular format, with very little room for creativity or flair.  I would have liked it so much better if they would have let me at least make up some of the facts.

So halfway through my first year, I knew I needed to change.  Lucky for me, BGSU also had a good broadcasting school, so I changed my major to Radio-TV-Film, specializing in Radio.  (Later, they changed the name to “Telecommunications.”)

One of the first things I did, my 2nd year, was to join the college radio station.  They actually had two… WFAL was run like a real radio station, with advertising, a playlist and the whole shebang.  Unfortunately, it was only broadcast to the dorms, via telephone land line.

The other station, WBGU was an FM public radio station, with a 15-watt signal that broadcast for an approximate 30-mile radius.  It was much more free-flowing and was commercial free.  That was right up my alley, so into the WBGU training program I went.

The first thing I learned was that the equipment was seriously old, like 1950s vintage.   Our “board” (used to run the audio from turntables, tapes and microphones) looked like this:

The transmitter looked like it came from Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory: 

I was sure that if I looked behind the giant cabinet, I’d find those big glass tubes with lightning crackling inside.  Seriously, even my memories of that studio are in black and white.

For comparison’s sake, this is a modern radio board:

I suspect that this is what other boards for commercial stations looked like even then, minus the computer monitors.

But the old stuff worked, so I learned how to cue up records, change feeds from one turntable to the next, and to use reel-to-reel tapes and the “cart” tapes that we used for pre-recorded promos and PSAs.  We also had to take hourly readings from the transmitter to ensure we were transmitting within approved FCC guidelines.

The shows themselves could be pretty much whatever we wanted to make of them, as long as it was “alternative.”  That was our thing… “WBGU, your alternative radio station.”  I always had a running battle with this.  I could see not being a Top 40 or even traditional rock radio station.  (I would use the term “Classic Rock” station, but at the time, it wasn’t “Classic” yet.)  So I would try to play lesser-known songs and deeper album cuts from bands that people actually knew.

Sometimes that wasn’t good enough… they’d demand we play this endless supply of these obscure albums.  I’d use them very sparingly… It’s like, who wants to listen to the radio and hear a bunch of shit you’ve never heard of?  Sometimes, these things aren’t obscure because of some kind of marketing conspiracy; sometimes they just suck.

I decided to use “The Godfather” as my air name, which as you may remember from prior posts, was my neighborhood nickname in the first place.  I was so excited about my first air shift; I could barely sleep that night before.  But I dreamed about stumbling over my words, dead air and records running out before I could get the next one ready.   I should have taken it as an omen because that was exactly how my shift went.  I was horrible. 

I suppose that was to be expected.  But I really wish I hadn’t told all my friends to be sure to listen.  I got horribly tongue-tied, talked in circles, let a song run out and froze up on what to do next, allowing waaaaay too much dead air, and left the mic on while I took a call.  It really was a nightmare.

Luckily, I got better.  I knocked out one 4-hour shift a week for the next 3 years.  At the time, I was really all about the music.  I listen to some of my air checks now and I cringe.  I know times have changed to more talk-oriented radio, but I just sounded so forced, all that jabbering about the songs and artists, over and over again.

I did have one pretty good bit, courtesy of my mom.  We barely lived within the station’s 30-mile radius so Mom would listen in to my show.  I can’t say she enjoyed the music very much and often times, neither did I.  But I had to play for a college audience and not my mom.  Every shift, though, I’d usually play at least one song with her in mind.  So one day, she asked me to play a particular Bob Dylan song, with which I thought I could have some fun.

So I got on there and said (to the best of my recollection) the following:
I got a request from my mom today, and I’m really not too happy about playing it.  I said, ‘Mom, I just can’t go around playing “your” music, I have to think about my entire audience.’  But you know how Moms are… you just can’t say no to the person that brought you into the world.  So to Bowling Green at large, I know it may not be your kind of music but you all have mothers too so you’ll understand what I have to do.  So to my dear old Mom, I say, here’s your special song…

I then dropped the needle on “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35”, aka “everybody must get stoned.”  I was pretty sure no one knew where I was going with that… they were probably expecting Guy Lombardo or something… What I didn’t tell them was that really was the song Mom requested. 

Apple.  Tree.  Not far.

By my 2nd year there, I really started getting into the production end of things, meaning writing and recording spots or commercial spoofs.  I got together with one guy, Darin, and we started a radio soap opera spoof that we called “Search for Reality”.  It was supposed to be about four college students but wasn’t really much more than an excuse to play with the sound effects tapes.  Now, THAT… I wish I could have done for a living.  There was something about sitting in the studio with a fresh roll of reel-to-reel tape, just waiting to be filled up.  I loved doing the cutting and editing process!  Again, this is another antiquated skill of mine… I’m sure it’s all digital now.

Anyway, we had a ball!  We got two other girls in on it with us, but it always seemed like we could never get them both in the studio at the same time, so it was always one girl doing both girl’s parts.  I figured it was like the way Igor’s hump changes sides in Young Frankenstein.

We had a running joke about one of the principals getting mugged by a guy with a chainsaw, so using the chainsaw sound effect became a sort of trademark.

Sadly, Search for Reality only ran for five episodes before Darin was named Program Director, which dried up all his free time.

In the meantime, I became involved with the Jock Training Program.  Go figure… Me, once a total in-studio cluster fuck, teaching DJ basics to a group of freshmen.  OK, so maybe I didn’t do so much teaching as I was comic relief for my fellow instructors.

But while doing the training bit, I “discovered” these two freshmen who were as twisted as I was.  Their test answers as funny as anything I’d ever written, so I quickly put the hook on them and had them come up and sit in with me on my show.

Now I was finding my place.  As crummy as I always felt I did when it was just me and a mic, I was so much more at ease when I could bounce off of someone else in the studio.  My two freshman friends became “Sandtrap” and “TJ”.  We spent my senior year guesting on each other’s shows and generally having a blast.

My last show was during Exam Week, May of 1983.  That was the one show that I completely broke format.  I played my favorite music, didn’t take requests or even phone calls; I just let it fly.  Sandtrap and I did quite a bit of pre-production for this show, especially for the end.  In fact, we almost destroyed one of our production studios.

Not being one to go quietly into the good night, I wanted my last moments to be memorable.  Because exams were liable to conflict with our regular air-shifts, jocks had to sign up for individual shifts during Exam Week.  I took the shift from 5 to 9 pm and Sandtrap booked the slot following me.  So we worked out my “exit strategy” which I’m sure left an indelible mark on the 12 or so people that were listening that night.

Now because I like you, I have resurrected those last moments from the vast Bluzdude Archives, so that 27 years later, I can bring to you, in glorious monophonic sound, “The End of the Godfather.” 
Note:  That is a pic of yours truly in action behind the mic, as captured by a Friend of Bluz (and girl character from Search for Reality) and published in her local newspaper.  (Hence, the yellowing... I actually had much better skin tone.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Time After (Over) Time

Last night’s Penguins game going into triple overtime brought back memories of the time that a hockey game irreparably damaged my marriage.

Once upon a time, back in the 90s, I was married (cold chill runs down back.)  Future-Ex had 2 kids: one was in his early 20’s and out of the house, and the other was 11 (at the time of this story.)  I talked a little bit about the younger one in my post about Christmas/Santa Claus issues

When we met, Future-Ex knew nothing about hockey, or any other sports for that matter.  I’d try to explain hockey during games on TV, but it never sunk in.  Plus, she didn’t much care. 

But one day, I got a pair of free tickets to go see the Albany River Rats, the new minor league hockey team in our area.  Once I got her to see a game in person, she got much more interested, so much so that by the next season, we bought a small ticket package.  I might have had to remind her of the difference between icing and offside every time, but she re-grasped it quickly and knew enough that she would stand up and scream “Hit’em, just hit’em!  Beat him up!” when it was appropriate.  She knew to yell, “Get it out of there!” when the team needed to clear the defensive zone.  As a native New Yorker, she was very good at yelling things.

When Albany won the Calder Cup in 1995, we went to the big downtown Cup celebration and took videos and got autographs.  That fall, we went to Meet the Rats night, where after the game, you could go down on the ice and take pictures with all the players.  
 Steve Sullivan, currently with the Nashville Predators, signing for the Future-Ex, who is wearing my Jagr jersey.

All in all, we had big fun with it.  Once she took to live hockey, I got her to watch some Penguins games with me on TV.

Now, back in those days, my parents still lived in Green Bay WI, and would take trips to Panama City FL on vacation.  They’d stay in house right smack on the beach.  Pretty soon, they figured out that it would make a great family vacation spot.

They proposed having us get together in Panama City during the spring of 1996.  When I first talked to Future-Ex about it, she shot it down pretty quickly.  She didn’t want to take the boy out of school.  Plus, it would be a pile of cash for all of us to go.  So I told my dad that we were out.

Maybe about a week later, she reconsidered, thinking it would be a good family outing and represented a lot of bang for our bucks.  (The more people dividing up the cost of the beach house, the cheaper for all.  It really was a great deal.)  I called Dad back to see if we could get back in.  He said that he’d already booked a smaller place for just him and Mom, and my brother and his wife.  But if we could live with sleeping on a foldout couch in the living room, they’d still love to have us come.

Future-Ex and I discussed it and decided to go for it.  Mom and Dad had a room, my brother and his wife had one, Future-Ex’s boys would share a small room with 2 twin beds, and we would hit the couch in the living room.
 The couch in the middle of the shot was our bed.  It's facing a small TV, just out of frame.

The place was absolutely beautiful, with a grand view of the Gulf.  The sunsets were gorgeous!
Sunset over The Gulf.

This was the view from our balcony.  Not a bad place to spend a week, eh?

Yours truly, whipping up his famed Chicken ala Bluz.

What the hell does this have to do with hockey?” I hear you cry?

We took our vacation in April, when the playoffs were going on.  The Penguins were going up against the hated Washington Capitals.  I was really digging it because it gave me a rare chance to watch the Pens with my dad and brother, i.e. 2 people that knew something about hockey, for a change.

If you’re a Pens fan, you probably remember what happened on April 24, 1996 (14 years ago, tomorrow) and know where I’m going with this. 

That night, the Pens and Capitals played a game that went into 4 overtimes.  It was excruciating, and that’s just for hockey fans.

All Future-Ex wanted to do was go to bed, but there was nowhere for her to go.  Mom was upstairs in her bed, my sister-in-law was in hers, the boys were in their twin beds and unless she wanted to go sleep on the beach, she had to wait for the game to end before we could open the couch and call it a night.  I know that sleeping on the beach sounds like a romantic idea but all the little crabs on the beach that came out at night would have banded together and carried her away.  (Hmm, come to think of it, I should have made that recommendation.)

What, you think we were going to bail on a playoff game?  Not bloody likely!

I tried to sympathize the best I could, but as the hours rolled by, there wasn’t anything I could do.  It’s not like we were conducting a plot to deprive her of sleep, but the living room was the only place we could watch the game.

When the game finally finished around 1:00 AM (Central Time) as the 5th longest game in NHL history, (Whoo hoo, Pens win!) she was seriously pissed.  I tried to delicately explain that if she hadn’t dilly-dallied around before finally consenting to come, we would have had our own room and this never would have happened.  I may have slightly miscalculated, because for some reason, this only seemed to make her angrier.

We got through the next couple days before we had to leave, but it was frosty.

And from that day on, she never, ever went to another hockey game with me.  And whenever a game would come on TV, she’d leave the room.  Honestly.  She was Done.  With.  Hockey.  Forever.

And me too, soon after.  We were on the outs by January of the next year.  Yes, there were other issues, but I still think that night played a part.
I got even though…  I moved 600 miles away, so she’d have to find someone new to yell at.  Revenge is mine!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Barnstorming - Rockin' the House

Most of this post was meant to go in the post I did about The Barn parties, but I cut it for length.  However, I can’t document our Barn experience without addressing the thing that held so much power over us out there… the music.

From the decorations to the atmosphere, The Barn was all about the music. It was a place where you could turn it up as loud as you wanted without fear of bothering anyone else. From the quiet nights with just a few people to the wild Barn Parties, the music played out there was the soundtrack to our lives.

I was always the guy playing the music. Almost all the albums were mine and every spare cent I had (that didn’t go toward beer) went toward buying more albums. Needless to say, getting that job at the record store was like hitting the mother lode.

I loved being the one that brought in a new artist. I’d hear something on the radio or at the store and think, “This would go over great in The Barn.” If I could turn someone on to a new band, I felt like I was doing my job. I've always been proud that I introduced Joan Jett to my friends and neighbors long before "I Love Rock n Roll" made her a household name.

One of my all-time favorite compliments was when I ran into someone I didn’t really know, a friend of my brother’s or sister’s, but he knew me. He said, “Yeah, you’re the one that made the music in The Barn.”

OK, I played the records, but I liked the way that sounded. In a way, I guess I did make the music.

It had its downsides though. For parties, I was more or less chained to the turntable. If only we had CDs back then, it would have been so helpful to be able to program at least a couple of songs and walk away. Instead, I always had to be nearby so I could be there to move the needle to the next song, or change records. Keeping dead air to an absolute minimum was my quest. What I wouldn’t have given to have a PC out there and be able to program a whole playlist and let it roll.

There was also the matter of requests. I tried to accommodate as best I could, but I always felt there should be a kind of sequence. The songs should move in a particular direction. Like, you just wouldn’t sandwich an Elton John love song in between ZZ Top and the Scorpions. So I’d try to get particular requests on when they made sense within the scope of the whole night.

My brother used to drive me batshit, because he’d request a song, but would be elsewhere when I was able to work it in. Then next thing you know, he’d be all, “Play Highway to Hell”.

And I’d be “I just did five minutes ago, I’m not playing it again.” Then we’d yell at each other until one of us would get distracted by beer or a hot chick.

But I really loved pacing the party. You couldn’t bring out the big guns too early… you kind of had to work up to the party favorites. 

The first song was always The Cars, “Let the Good Times Roll.” We’d bust that out when we tapped the keg before people started showing up (to ensure quality, you see). I’d let the Cars play, then usually follow it with some Foreigner, Bad Company, Styx, ELO, and other middle-of-the-road rock, while I pulled records for the night.
Not just anyone can rock those gold high-tops.

Once people started getting there and getting their drink on, we’d start amping up with some ZZ Top, (LaGrange, everything from Eliminator) Judas Priest (Another Thing Coming), Nazareth (Hair of the Dog), Meat Loaf (Bat Out of Hell and Paradise), George Thorogood (Bad to the Bone) J. Geils (Flamethrower, Whammer Jammer, Come Back), Boston (entire first album) and Van Halen (Panama, Hot for Teacher, Pretty Woman).  Remember, this was long before popular music went R&B. Michael Jackson and Prince hadn’t yet integrated MTV, and rock & roll ruled in our neck of the woods.  Occasionally we’d jam on some Commodores (Brick House & Machine Gun), The Jacksons (Shake your Body), or KC & the Sunshine Band. The Animal House version of “Shout” always brought down the house.

I was really into Southern Rock back then, so we always rocked the Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, the Outlaws, Charlie Daniels Band, and Blackfoot.

Air Bands were a big deal at the time. They even had a TV show for it, I think it was called “Putting on the Hits”. (Sorry, I can’t confirm on Google.) Man, I used to practice my air guitar parts all the time, listening intently for clues in the music, and studying pictures on the album covers that would suggest certain moves. (Remember, most of this was pre-MTV. You didn’t know what a band looked like playing unless you saw them in concert. Or lip-synching on the Mike Douglas Show.)

We actually had a little in-house air band, my buddies and I. We called ourselves “Smelo”, because we used to mostly do ELO songs. (I was on air violin, as if a real violin wouldn’t be nerdy enough.) We were pretty good, if you consider sticking to your own instrument “pretty good.” One of my buddies went as far as to draw up some album covers for us, which I still have but am too lazy to dig them out and scan them right now. 

But I liked to branch out, like my own One Man Air Band. I’d do different instruments for different songs. 

That’s where the Southern Rock songs were so handy… they always had these great solos for multiple guitars. If I were ever granted a wish that I could play the guitar one time on just one song, it would be Blackfoot’s Highway Song. The guitar solo that makes up the back half of that song is just sheer joy to me.

On occasion, we'd do a little dancing, too. My buddy John and our neighbor Margaret used to do this great swing dance to Aerosmith's Big Ten Inch Record.

I always had to be careful about any dancing I did because those I-beams bracing the ceiling were a little too low for my liking.  Every so often, I'd get too high on my toes and KLONG my skull into one of those beams, which would drop me like a ton of bricks. Perhaps this explains a lot...

Anyway, when the party hit critical mass, it was time to break out the AC/DC. The volume was deafening, the dance floor throbbing, and air guitarists going all Angus Young all over the place. 

This part of the party probably messed me up more than the beer. If you’ve ever seen Angus Young, the guitarist for AC/DC play, you know what I mean. The guy looks like a coked-up rooster and the poster boy for Ritalin. I’d wake up the next morning and my neck would be all messed up, my back would hurt… And I must have looked like a complete bozo… I mean, Angus is 5’2” and wears an English schoolboy uniform. I was about 6’3” and bearded. But I just felt it and channeled him the best I could. And hey, I wasn’t the ONLY one jamming out there. 

This is one area where I’m glad there were no digital video cameras around.

You could only ride that peak for so long though. After enough hard stuff, I’d back it down a bit, usually for some good old-fashioned sing-alongs. The Beach Boys were always fun, because of the many distinct high and low parts, and the words were easy. Bob Seger’s Turn the Page was always good for a bunch of us standing around the bar, arms on each other’s shoulders. We always followed that one up with this single by Mac Davis. Don’t laugh… He had this song called The Beer Drinking Song. It was funny and topical (for the time) and sounded just like Hard to be Humble.

“OOOOOOOO…Why don’t we all just get stoned?
Get drunk and sing beer-drinkin’ songs?
Between Brezhnev and Begin,
Khomeini and Reagan,
We might as well all just get stoooooooned.”

One of the verses:
“The Russians don’t like us and we don’t like them.
The Israelis hate the A-rabs.
Iran and Iraq are on each other’s back,
And El Salvador’s still up for grabs.
I wish they’d take Idi Amin and Khomeini
And Khaddafi and all of the rest,
Tie’em all to a chair,
And make’em stare at Yassar Arafat,
Till he uglied the whole bunch to death…


Anyway, it was great for singing. And after that, we’d crank it back up and start rocking it again until everyone got partied out. Or the beer ran out.
Lastly, we'd make sure we documented whenever anyone dared to pass out before the party was officially over. You wouldn't believe how many repeat offenders there were... This was probably the 19th time we stuck a sign on my buddy Bill.  

Oh, and before you call me an insensitive prick, that's my dad's handwriting!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Barnstorming - The Transformation

My last post put me back in The Barn and I found I like it there. I figured this was as good a time as any to continue with the story of The Barn. 

Note: several prior posts explain about The Barn and some of the wild-ass parties we threw out there, back when I was in school.

As I wrote before, my friends and I more or less built The Barn from scratch, with trash-picked couches, old rugs, beer lights, Christmas lights, and other odds and ends. 

Around the time I was a senior in college, my dad decided he wanted to turn The Barn into more of an “unattached family room,” and thus began the Great Barn Renovation.  We already had a big-screen TV out there left over from the 1980 Super Bowl party.  Dad decided he wanted to put up some kind of ceiling, replace the gas stove with a wood-burning fireplace, and install wall-to-wall carpeting.  He also wanted to erect 2 dividing walls, one to wall off the front area that had the oven, and one about halfway back through the party room.  That wall was to have doors that we could open up for parties but keep closed if we were just in the main area watching TV.  (I’ll get to the TV later) 

Oddly enough, none of us knew how to go about doing this.  Luckily, we had Grandpa.  My dad’s Dad came out and put us all to work.  He didn’t really have to do much himself; he just told us what to do.

Put that there… hold this here…  nail this in… cut right there…”
Grandpa, getting his hands dirty.

We were Grandpa’s cutting, nailing, sanding, and painting Army. Most of my job was to hold the ceiling planks in place while someone else nailed them up because I was the only one tall enough to reach the ceiling without a ladder. 

That’s when I learned the benefits of molding. Whenever 2 boards or planks don’t line up flush, it doesn’t matter if you just put a strip of molding over it. All sins of mismeasurement (and a crooked barn) are forgiven. 

We also encased all the steel I-Beams in strips of wood. Then we stained all the new walls, the ceiling, and beams, and painted the cinderblock walls. The only thing we didn’t do was put down the carpeting… that, we left to the professionals.

Let me show you some of what we did, in pictures. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any as we were going, but I can show you what’s visible in the background of other party pictures.

This was the back end of The Barn, in it’s original state, when we first set up out there. Note the ugly cinderblock walls and concrete floors. And no, those beers on the back wall were not our supply, those were just empties, that for some reason we used to keep.

 This was my buddy Brill standing in front of the old gas heater.  We used to sit an oscillating fan on top of it, to spread the warmth.

Now, the transformation…
On the far left is the pipe and front end of the wood-burning stove. Straight back and above, you can see the forward wall and new ceiling, all nicely stained.  Also, note the wood-encased I-Beams to the right.  As for all the dudes, I’m in the middle there, talking with my 2 protégés I worked with at the college radio station. My buddy Rik is there at the far right, on leave from the US Navy. The big guy in purple is Kenny the Viking, who you may remember accompanied me on several adventures detailed in the Brushes With the Great and Near Great series from March. 

This was Dad’s baby… (pictured later in their house.)  We thought that was the greatest thing ever, especially because we got to keep it in The Barn. Dad used that TV for the next 25 years until he could no longer get parts for it. The picture was surprisingly good, considering the technology of that era. The front part would flip down like a giant “L” and project the picture up onto the screen.

My buddies, scoping out what was then my meager album collection. You can see the TV on the right and the stereo setup on the left. But also notice the nice painted walls and windows with actual curtains. (Mom’s idea… I would have been happy with aluminum foil.)  Also note the early 80’s edition VCR. The remote actually had a cord!  I used to sit out there watching MTV for hours and hours, recording all the videos I liked.

Lastly, Mom and Dad got new living room furniture, so we moved the old stuff out to The Barn. (And once we sold the house, it became my living room furniture.) While you can’t really see much of the carpet, you can tell, at least, that it’s not bare concrete. To the left is the back dividing wall that had the big double doors. Dad and Grandpa also put in an air conditioner the next year.

There were other improvements too. Dad bought a Keg-O-Rator beer-tap refrigerator. Just what a college boy needs, beer on tap. That was sweet! Another big improvement was getting cable out there. Heck, getting cable anywhere! It took forever for cable to be brought out to the sticks where we lived, but once Dad got the cable guy out there, he slipped him a few bills to run the cable out to The Barn, off the books. That’s what made my MTV habit possible. We also installed a station-to-station intercom, so that we could call from the house to The Barn.

"Breaker breaker, this is Number One Son calling for Lil Mother. We need some cinnamon buns out here right away, over."

You know, if that place had a bathroom, I could have just lived out there. Hell, it was already bigger than my first two apartments.

It was a great place to take girlfriends, I tell you! Sure there were a lot of windows, but you could easily block the ones on the neighbor’s side, and there was a couch-back blocking the side facing our yard… It was perfect!  Low lights… a little MTV… a couple beers…

It was a cryin’ shame to have to leave. But my dad got a job in another town (Baltimore) and that was that. We had one last big Barn Party Blowout and just tore it up. Everybody came back for that one, even Billy, all the way from Georgia. Actually, that’s the occasion upon which the previous picture was taken. That’s my buddy John, passing out across Brill, our neighbor Margaret, and Billy.

Then everything was packed up and moved out. Everything my folks wanted to take, anyway. The night before we closed on the house, me, Brill, Rik, and John went out for one last gathering.

Oddly, it was like closing the circle. The Barn was going out the same way it came in, with the 4 of us, a case of beer, and a couple of old scrap tables. All the cool toys were gone, but we still had an old AM/FM radio.

It was well into autumn and decidedly chilly, so we decided to light the wood stove one last time. Soon enough, it was plenty warm. Brill went out to take a leak and almost immediately came tearing back in.

Jesus!  The fucking Barn is on fire!

We dashed outside and looked up to where Brill was pointing. You could see flames shooting out the top of the wood stove chimney on the roof. It looked like a bird’s nest or wasp nest caught on fire. Luckily, the chimney and the Barn roof were made of metal. One of us went in and cut off the air to the stove, which choked out the fire.


Someone said, “Geez, Bluz’s dad would have killed us! We almost burned down The Barn.”

Then Brill piped up, “Fuck it! If we can’t have it, no one can!”

With that, we laughed our way back into The Barn, for one last toast.