Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stories My Brother Told Me 1

Like I said, my brother is full of shit, but I love his stories.

He swore he once took a fondue fork, inserted it into his urethra, impaled and extracted a round, black, shiny bug.

A fondue fork?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Westminster Place

Sometimes a lapse in memory might not be such a bad thing. I’ve found myself asking permission to use names and being turned down. I want to give credit where credit is due but I don’t want to embarrass anyone.

When I was in 8th grade I lived in the attic of a mansion on Westminster Place near Boyle, the heart of Gaslight Square.

By then there was nothing left but abandoned buildings, a few antique dealers, KDNA radio, and O’Connell’s pub. Come to think of it, Jack Parker, the owner of O’Connell’s became an antique dealer. I grew up with his kids in Laclede Town. I’ll get around to Laclede Town one of these days.

“The Stroll”, St. Louis’ hooker strip was just beginning to get crowded along Washington Avenue. Years later there was a big bust and most of the girls relocated to Cherokee Street. Which reminds me, my brother once bragged that after sex one of the girls told him, “Honey, you’re so fine this one is on the house”. He was always full of shit, but I love his stories.

We rented our attic apartment from a man named Hirschfeld. He was proprietor of one of the antique stores. He was Al Hirschfeld’s brother, the famous caricaturist.

This was before the West End became fashionable and our mansion was quite run down. I remember a bloated, bald, water logged rat floating in our pool. The water had been black for years.

There was a guy named Bob who lived downstairs that turned my mom onto the apartment. Bob was a peace activist who spent time in jail as a result.

Rumor had it that Bob had been sodomized with a fire hose in jail. The implication seemed to be that it might not have been by fellow inmates. He spent the rest of his life on meds and had absolutely no sense of humor. We finally lost the apartment because his tolerance for noisy, obnoxious kids came to an end.

By 8th grade I was already hitchhiking. I had spent the previous 2 years living between Webster Groves and Kirkwood and my social life was still out there. Sometimes I even took the bus.

My friends were learning how to play guitar or drums. I was taken to Mel Bay Music one day and found the bargain bin. It was a cardboard box filled with guitars that were priced from $15.00 to $35.00! I fell in love with a green sunburst Fender Mustang knockoff that had a giant round knob, 3 toggle switches, and 4 pickups. I had no idea what the knob did and it reeked of cheap head shop incense.

Around this time we lived off and on with Suzy Gray and her kids Mark and Kent. She and my mother were both single and it was a good financial arrangement. I would call here Aunt Suzy and I still consider her sons my brothers. Suzy gained some notoriety as “Suzy Q” on KDHX. She also had a show in New Orleans on a Spanish station.

Suzy was a good friend of my dad. One morning we were all hanging out in kitchen and I started ranting about this guitar I had fallen in love with. They were selling it for $25.00. Suzy bullied my dad into coming up with $10.00 if she would come up with $15.00. I’ve never told her how much I loved her for this.

When the weekend came I tried to hitchhike out there. No one would pick me up and I ended up walking rail road tracks most of the way. I was sore but elated to get there before they closed. Then the whole world changed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Aside - Conspiracy Theory #1 - New Coke

Until I gave up smoking in 1990, my diet was basically Coca-Cola and cigarettes. In 1985 Pepsi's sales surpassed Coke’s. New Coke was introduced and the old formula was abandoned.

It was a disaster and they had to bring the original flavor back.


I believe it was one of the most brilliant marketing ploys in history. Coke Classic never had the same effect as the original. Where was the burn?

I’m here to tell you the truth. The new “Classic Coke” uses corn syrup instead of sugar. Corn syrup is a lot cheaper. If they would have just made the change everyone would have noticed and sales would have dropped. Instead the product loyalty zombies could voice their outrage and they would have to bring back the original. No one seemed to notice the subtle difference. Last I heard, Coke is on top again and it costs a lot less to produce.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Soulard in the early 70s

Last week my friend Dominic turned 50. My turn next.

Our friend Mark and Dom’s brother Benet threw a surprise party at Mark’s bar. Mark and I had a conversation about our chidhood.

In the early 70s Mark’s family lived under mine in one of the beautiful Soulard houses that had been converted into a 2-family. It has since been restored. If you get a chance drive by and check it out. It’s at the corner of 13th and Victor. You can’t miss it. It has the most ornate brickwork I’ve ever seen. It also has a very distinctive keyhole doorway.

The summer nights were incredibly hot and no one had air conditioning back then. I used to hang my legs out the window all night.

The music was Jethro Tull’s “Stand Up” and “Benefit”, Mahavishnu Orchestra’s first 3 records, Cat Stevens, Captain Beefheart, Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard A True Star” and “Todd”, Roland Kirk, the soundtrack to West Side Story, and more.

When I was 14 there was a strike at the brewery and we’d hang out with the strikers on the corner. They had cases of beer stacked next to their umbrella. They would share their beer as long as we would keep them company in the middle of the night.

We would hang out on a billboard that hovered over the 3rd district police station. We were always high on something. We’d stay up there until the morning and watch the sunrise over the melting chemically saturated sky of Sauget across the river. The sewers would back up with beer suds flooding the streets and the smell would knock you over.

As mean as the 3rd district cops were, it amazes me that we were so impervious to their presence.

I’ll give an example.

I’m not sure why the cops showed up at the back door, but when the door was answered they were confronted by Mark’s German shepherd. One of the cops shot the dog. Mark was broken hearted. He went down to the police station and asked to see the cop that did it. When the officer came out Mark handed him a can of mace and suggested that, in the future when the cop was startled, he use it instead of a gun. The policeman took the can and angrily threw it against a wall. Mark was 12. 3rd district now houses some kind of artist cooperative.

Soulard was an interesting neighborhood before all the rehabbing. I remember the first Mardi Gras parade in the early 70s. There were about 3 cars. One of them was the volunteer fire department truck. Our alderman and a high school marching band made up the rest. I don't remember any beads. Certainly no exposed breasts. We were there only because they threw candy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


At some point in 1981 my girlfriend Pam moved to Milwaukee to join a theater company. I would commute by train once or twice a month. We carried on our relationship for another year before she fell in love with one of her directors.

There was a great music scene in Milwaukee and Chicago but it seemed that all of the bands were using drum machines instead of drummers. This made for very boring theater.

There were a lot of parties there and I had a blast. I loved the theater crowd because the women were beautiful and the men were gay. There was a serious shortage of heterosexual men.

It was at this time I moved into Lafayette Park with a woman named Nancy Theodoro. My friend Sharon had just moved out and introduced us. We would spend hours talking in the kitchen and once my cat walked in with Nancy's bird in his mouth. The bird survived but a few weeks later my cat died of kitty leukemia.

Nancy was a recovering alcoholic but loved to throw parties. She bought her favorite booze and had me drink it. She was a hypochondriac and was always heavily medicated. One evening I came home from work around 3:00 in the morning. A naked woman came screaming out of Lafayette Park. She had just been raped. I brought her inside and it became clear she was mentally retarded. I gave her my bathrobe and called the police. There must've been at least 12 police officers in the apartment. At some point in the morning after they left it occurred to me that I had lost my robe. As I was about to go to bed Nancy walked out of her room, rubbed her eyes, smiled and said, ”good morning roomy” . She could sleep though anything on whatever medication she was on.

She has since died and I always thought she would have been a perfect case for the headstone that read, “I told you I was sick”.

I remember a stranger walking in to one of our parties. We were tripping at the time. The stranger found a corner, sat on the floor, pulled his hat over his head and fell asleep. He had what looked like bird shit covering his hat. We began to panic thinking he had wandered in from the highway. We were finally told he was the Chuck Auger’s landlord. The splotches on his hat was paint.

I don’t want to get tedious but Nancy was a fascinating woman and she deserves more than one installment. I’ll have more about her.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Debaliviere Part 2

Now that I’ve given a rough picture of the adult world around Debaliviere I thought I’d share a few personal memories.

We lived in a 6 family on Kingsbury and I was 2 to 6 years old.

Everyone’s back yard was solid ground coal ash from the old furnaces. This black soot just seemed normal. The milkman would stop in the alley and give the kids a block of ice. We’d drag it under our giant steel back steps, find a rock to break it up with, and eat it like the pieces were popsicles. My mother couldn’t figure out why my brother and I always had worms.

The kids ran the neighborhood.

I thought black kids were anatomically different from white kids. Their penises were uncircumcised. I noticed this when we peed in the gangway.

Six white horses led the Kennedy funeral procession on TV.

I made a personal vow to become a super hero watching superman. I didn’t grow out of that until I was 12.

“Oh how I hate you, you alligator bait you” and other great 78s played on my dad’s record player. On the other end of the spiritual spectrum my mother was listening to Prokofiev’s Stoneflower Ballet, Kurt Weil, and odd assorted folk music.

My dad’s closet was full of Coke bottles filled with homemade beer. He had an impressive crown cap machine that made it possible. His friends later told me his brew tasted like piss.

One day 2 older kids abducted me and locked me in a coal bin in their basement. They told me if I tried to escape their trained eagle would peck my eyes out. At the end of the day they took me for a walk in their back yard on the end of a leash. My mother happened by, grabbed my arm and dragged me home scolding me that it was way too late to be out playing. I brought this up years later and she was horrified.

Wash U. students used to show movies on a white-washed billboard in the alley behind our apartment.

I begged my mother to buy a horse. We could keep it in the basement.

The Boogie Man lived next door and in spite of the fact that we lived on the third floor, I knew a killer on stilts was in the gangway throwing knives through windows.

My father was a teamster working for Brunswick. We had bowling pins and all kinds of souvenirs. My brother and I had pajamas with luminescent scattered bowling pins. We’d hide under the blankets just mesmerized by their glow. This was the paint that turned out to be so radioactive. We used to burn the pins as fire wood in a cabin we had in the country. More on that later.

My first school was Hamilton. I don’t know if they still do this but in those days the school had sexually segregated playgrounds. I walked to school by myself the first day and wandered into the girl’s side. They all made fun of me and I wondered why there were only girls at school. I even got in the line and came in on the wrong side.

All the St. Louis city schools had thorn bushes out front. Bullies at every school I went to would stab the smaller kids making school life unbearable. What were the elders thinking?

I read somewhere that one possible cause of childhood obesity is the fact that parents have gotten overprotective, paranoid of the evils lurking outside. As a result kids stay inside watching TV and get used to a sedentary lifestyle. At six I could take a trolley car or bus downtown to the library and the driver would make sure I got off at the right stop. My son is 13 now and I’m not sure I’d trust him to do that!