Saturday, July 26, 2008

Teacher Of The Year

I was thinking about a skydiving buddy of mine the other day named Steve . It occurred to me I’d better not use his full name. He made teacher of the year where he lives last year. This post probably wouldn’t help his career.

When I first met him he was president of the oldest skydiving facility in the St. Louis area.

I got my instructor rating out there. I was also on a 4 way team with Steve. It was really a study group because I could never afford to drop everything to compete in the Nationals.

The club was pretty wild. After jumping all day we’d get drunk and party around a bonfire. We’d throw cans of an aerosol hair product called Vavoom into it. It would actually produce a mushroom cloud. We’d dive behind anything we could find to avoid the shrapnel.

There was a straight stretch of highway running along the airport. Sometimes people would surf on the roof of a van as they raced on it doing 50mph.

The club paid for their airplanes by doing demo jumps at the VP fair, the Forest Park Balloon Race, and other local air shows.

Our base of operations for the VP fair was Parks College in East St. Louis. I remember setting off fireworks in the grass at it entrance. The grass caught fire and we almost couldn’t put it out.

I’ll never forget standing on the burned grass when everyone in the club burst into laughter. My fiancĂ©e Kim walked toward the group with her mother. Kim was standing beside her older self. It was eerie.

This was the year my friend, and attorney, Kim Tucker spiraled around the north leg of the Arch twice as he landed his canopy. This was the only time anyone had ever done it. He’s the guy I mentioned in an earlier entry that jumped into Busch Stadium as Fredbird.

I drove a beer truck as a casual driver for our local Budweiser distributor back then. One morning I was making a delivery to a drug store. Steve was there looking for medicine for his wife. He looked at me in the truck filled with beer, dropped to his knees with outstretched arms and yelled, “It’s every skydiver’s dream!”

I found this photo at Steve’s school website. It’s another point of view of the Missouri POPS record we broke a few years ago. Steve is in the middle in a black jump suit. I’m at the top in another black jump suit with a gray rig.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

8th Grade

I’m not sure how it was possible, but I spent eighth grade in three schools and still missed months of schooling altogether.

We lost our house in the county and my father had to take my brother and me in. My mother moved in with a couple of friends.

The school year began at Nipher Junior High School in Kirkwood.

My father had recently married a woman named Helen. Helen had a daughter my age named Cindy who wasn’t happy with two new brothers moving in. It was an incredibly domestic scene for my dad.

We lived on a hill on property owned by an old man who farmed the valley below. We also had our own lake.

Cindy had a horse and a Shetland pony. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, ride the horse to the lake and go swimming. It took the horse a while to get used to me. He would brush up against trees hoping to knock me off. He eventually grew to like me, I think. I would ride to the edge of the lake and drop his reigns so he could roam as I swam. Once he got agitated and began to kick and snort. I saw what got him so excited. There was a snake swimming toward me. I think I learned to walk on water that day.

The farmer had a grandson my age who became my best friend. I think his folks shipped him out to live with the old man because he got into some kind of trouble in the city.

We had free reign of the property and he was allowed to drive the old man’s car. This was incredibly exciting to me. Unfortunately my friend was reckless and we rolled it into a ditch. I can’t believe I only hurt my thumb in the accident.

On the week ends my dad would drop us at the local bowling alley. We’d hang out at a pool table smoking cigarettes and playing Maggie May over and over on the juke box.

Somehow the authorities got wise to the fact that my brother and I hadn’t gone to school for months. I found myself at the Pevely Junior High School being interviewed by the principal. “What were your grades like at your old school?” he asked. “They were pretty average,” I replied. In reality I had no idea. As long as I made a passing grade I was satisfied. I probably made nothing but Ds.

They put me in with the average kids. I discovered the country curriculum was a year behind my old school. I quickly advanced to the higher classes.

I auditioned for the school band with my trumpet and didn’t do well. They put me in with the beginners. I was crushed. I’ve always had an incapacitating stage fright.

When my mother finally got it together to take us back we moved back to Laclede Town. I finihed 8th grade at Waring School with a great grade point average.

I auditioned for the school band again. This time things were totally different. Our band instructor was an old woman named Mrs. Lewis. She thought I was a prodigy. She would take me to north side Baptist churches on Sundays to play with the gospel groups. I was the only white person there. At the end of the school year she had me audition a piece, Chopin’s Intermezzo, for Walter Suskind. He was the director of the St. Louis Symphony then. Somehow, having never heard the piece before, I passed the audition.

I got free lessons from one of the symphony’s horn players that summer. It was a program designed to groom kids for the “Young People’s Symphony.” Unfortunately I hated the sound of trumpets then. I traded my horn for a violin for my brother. He was much more passionate about his instrument. I wanted an electric guitar.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Valerie has a blog

I remember reading about grocery stores hiring psychologists to help determine the way they're laid out. Valerie wonders if the background music is deliberate. I think maybe it its. Check out her blog

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Check out my health care article

I wrote this in the midst of my West Nile Virus delirium. They made me jump through hoops before they would publish it. Please take a look when you get a chance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Linda McDirty

My friend Tony came to visit last week. Our conversation came around to an old roommate of mine named Linda.

When my friend Marge came to visit me at an apartment I was living in with Tony and my brother Patrick she grabbed me by the ear, told me I wasn’t living like this anymore, and took me home to her apartment in the West End.

The second day at the new place she brought Linda home. This was in the 70s.

Linda had been my brother’s girlfriend but I don’t think he ever really appreciated her. He and his friends called her McDirty which was based on her real name and her supposed sexual promiscuity.

Tony told me she was the first truly sexually liberated woman he had ever known. He confessed to me that over time, he’d fallen in love with her. I loved her very much but never as a lover. She later confessed she was in love with me which became awkward.

Linda had been a sheep farmer, a prostitute, and best of all, had a bullet lodged in her leg.

The first night the girls and I spent together at the apartment Marge ran into our rooms whispering someone was prowling around outside her window.

We went into her room and the prowler was still out there. He jumped off the porch when he realized he’d been discovered. We faced Marge’s bed toward the window and all three slept there with our heads under her covers trembling.

Linda and I learned Steppenwolf was going to play at Six Flags. We hitch hiked out there and found their keyboardist Goldie McJohn was the only original member in the band. I still think he’s an incredible keyboard player but Steppenwolf just isn’t the same without John Kay.

Somehow I got separated from Linda and found myself outside the Dolphin show after it had closed. A young woman was feeding the dolphin and cleaning up. I yelled, “Hey, ya know that dolphin’s probably smarter than you are?”

I had been reading a lot of John C. Lilly at the time. In the 50s when he was already in his 50s he had done a lot of personal research with LSD. He invented the isolation tank. His work was depicted in Ken Russell’s film “Altered States”.

He had also done a lot of work with whales. He eventually came to believe that dolphins were more intelligent than humans. With government funding he began to build an aquarium for people to live in that would be under water. Dolphins would be able to observe us. The government yanked his funds and took what he had learned to use for the military. They strapped bombs to the dolphins and trained them to destroy ships. This is all depicted in a film George C. Scott starred in called “Day of the Dolphin”.

If you take a little time to research how whales communicate with sound you might understand why it’s possible they’re more intelligent than we are. It’s a totally different thought paradigm.

Anyway, the woman cleaning the tank told me to come back in twenty minutes when she was done so I could meet the dolphin. When I came back she leaned over the pool and patted the water. The dolphin swam in circles around the pool a few times stuck his head out of the water. She instructed me to do the same. I patted the water and looked in. I couldn’t see him anywhere. He stuck his head out behind where I was looking and spit water at me. I did this several times and he outsmarted me every time. He proved he was more intelligent than I was.

Linda’s room was between my room and the rest of the apartment. I had to walk through. Several times she’d be in act of sex. She would occasionally talk to me as I passed through. It was all very casual. Sometimes I’d be surprised by who she was with.

Linda eventually got caught up in politics and moved to follow her cause. I’d love to see her again. More and more memories start to flood in.

Pictured is a party invitation she sent me after she moved out. It has a post mark from June 1980. I used to have a great souvenir tintype photo of us in 19th century garb we took at Six Flags. It represented our relationship perfectly. I can’t find it anywhere. If anyone has it can I scan it?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Swoop the Meramec

There have always been two great skydiving parties in the St. Louis area. Archway’s December “Chili Party” and Quantum Leap’s “Swoop the Meramec” party. This was a July 4th event.

The first one we held was a little farther up the river from where it ended up. We had to move because the park rangers didn’t allow drinking. This doesn’t work for skydivers!

We had to learn a few things about landing in a river valley. It’s a little intimidating looking out the door of a small Cessna at 5,000 ft and seeing nothing but a green forest stretching into infinity with a small sliver of river running through it. As you land you face into the wind only to have it disappear as you hit the tree line. There’s a sudden acceleration in canopy speed. People did get hurt.

I was still a skydiving instructor back then. When we finished swooping the river we were asked to do a demonstration jump at the Sullivan fireworks show. This was held at an old abandoned airport. I scoped out the landing area and discovered a temporary fence that was held in place by iron poles. This was right at the end of our landing area. I asked them to remove it.

Three of us made the jump, my boss Jimmy, a friend named John, and me. These guys were world champion competitors. I’ve always been very lucky about the people I’ve jumped with.

I wore a red jump suit. Jim wore a white one and John’s was blue.

To impress the crowd we swooped in very fast. I was glad I had asked them to remove the fence because I finally came to stop about 4 feet past where it had been!

Anyway the river party got larger and larger every year. There was barbeque and eventually even a helicopter to take jumpers back to board the airplane at the airport.

One year I brought my county friends to the party. They sat on their lawn chairs in the river getting drunk. I decided I was going to impress them with a spectacular landing. I came screaming in, skimmed my feet across the water and produced a plume of water behind me. I was very proud of my landing.

Unfortunately the jumper before me landed off course. He swooped right into my friends who all dove into the river to avoid him. They didn’t see my landing at all. I figured I’d never repeat it so I sat in the river and started drinking.

There was a terrible plane crash at the airport that killed several of my friends. Sullivan decided they didn’t want skydiving around anymore. New people took over the drop zone and they moved the operation the Bowling Green, MO. Every 4th of July I get nostalgic for the party.

I’ll post a story about the Chili Party one of these days.

The pictures are of Jimmy swooping the river and me under my favorite canopy. I posted a picture of me playing the Miller stage at the VP fair in the middle to late 80s because it was on July 4th. This was when I was doing my solo thing. The band were The Heaters, Blake Travis and Monica Reed. They tried to get me to play a guitar that was shaped like the Miller logo but it had terrible action. I don’t endorse products when I play anyway -- Especially Miller! I just spoke with Sharon and she reminded me that I should mention the music I was playing when I did the solo thing. I was doing my own material with the exception of the song “Different Voices” which I always performed for an encore. This was written by Fojammi and it allowed me to do an almost endless guitar solo.