Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Color of Money

The summer of 1970, I think between 6th and 7th grades, we lived in an unincorporated area called Oakland. It was a small lush bowl of real estate between Webster Groves and Kirkwood.  We had a beautiful 2 story house you couldn’t see through the trees. I was able to jump to my tree house from my 2nd floor bedroom window.

It was an idyllic life for an urban transplant like me.

I had a summer job as a caddy at Algonquin Country Club. I found out my dad used to take the bus out here from the city to caddy when he was a kid. He worked at the Westboro Country Club too. I had to walk through that golf course to get to school.

I remember walking through it coming home from Nipher Junior High School in 7th grade. I smoked my first cigarette without any friends to share the experience with. This made me a real smoker and very cool in my mind.

My friends and I used to hide in the woods, run out and steal golf balls as they landed on the fairway. Sometimes we’d set up a limeade stand on the last green. We discovered if you ask for donations instead of posting a price you made a lot more money.

I was only a B caddy at Algonquin being younger than the others. It was really hard carrying those huge golf bags, especially if they went the full 18 holes. The course had a policy of no tipping so I only made money off the guests from out of town. When I got back to the caddy shack I’d lose every cent I made pitching quarters at the never ending game out back.

In those days kids ran wild until around 10:00 at night. A neighboring township called Glendale had an old fashioned pharmacy. (There’s a fire station there now.) It had a large soda counter with stools and a comic book stand. The owner let us read the comics as long as we bought something. I remember having a chocolate soda that consisted of seltzer and chocolate syrup. I was able to nurse this until I’d read every book. He kicked me out at 10:00 (closing time).

I was probably 2 miles from home walking on a poorly lit sidewalk. I looked down as a street light cast a round spot light on 2 folded fifty dollar bills. My heart stopped.

I did a quick scan of the dark silent neighborhood. Not a soul in sight. Not even a lit window. I grabbed the two bills and ran for my life.

Fantasies of an electric guitar, lessons, maybe a studio and a tour bus grew in my mind. A hundred bucks was the same as a million to me.

It felt like hours of running through deserted streets. I made it to the golf course. At the other end I came to a hill. Train tracks ran across the top. There was an old arch stone cave with a keystone at the top that read 1927. I ran through the creek that ran through the cave. My legs were cold and wet but I made it to my house.

I ran up to my room, hit the light switch, shut the door, jumped into my bed and pulled the two bills from my pocket.

I unfolded them and read, “Tired of throwing your money away on taxes?” “Vote for Dr. John L. Gaskanett.!”

Saturday, March 21, 2009


My son Dylan wanted to stay overnight at a friend’s house last week. We packed him up and were about to leave when we discovered he’d left his house keys at his mother’s house.

The next day was Monday. He was off school for spring break. Valerie and I had to work and wouldn’t be home to let him in. I told him he couldn’t go. He was very disappointed.

I told him this was a lesson in responsibility. Maybe next time he’d remember his keys. He grew more disappointed. I’ve always been bad about discipline so I started trying to find a solution to our dilemma.

Then I remembered I’d given keys to my friend Sharon. She orchestrated the home end of our surprise party for Valerie while we went to a restaurant so she had a set.

Dylan’s sleepover was saved. As we drove to her house it came up that I had keys to Sharon’s place too. Dylan asked, “If we have keys to each other’s homes, doesn’t that make us family?” It occurred to me that Sharon really was family. Dylan told me he’d always thought of Sharon as an aunt.

I’ve been really lucky with friends. I have several best friends and confidants. Sharon is one of the most important people in my life. She’s picked up my shattered pieces and put me back together several times.

She was born an army brat in Germany. Her dad was so macho he survived skydiving, in Hawaii I believe, pretty much without a parachute. I think her childhood gave her a slightly different slant on the human condition. She has an incredibly objective world view but lives her life in the moment. She’s superstitious, ritualistic but still tolerant of everyone.

She loves any kind of counter culture. I’ve seen her holding court in gay bars, blues clubs, and youth raves before they were called raves. I’ve had adventures with her that I doubt she’ll ever give me permission to recount.

I worked at The Oyster Bar for a year before we met. This was before it became a popular music venue. Our customers were railroad and barge employees. They treated me like a little effeminate twit. We had river rats that were larger than most cats.

My first job there was cleaning up after closing. I’d sleep there and was so afraid of the rats I’d sleep on a table.

My girl friend I had been living with moved to Milwaukee to join a theater group. I was alone and felt like I’d just moved to a new town. I didn’t know anyone. I have a habit of getting very close to people for a couple of years then moving into an entirely new group. Sharon took me in, hooked me up with our friend Nancy – I wrote about her earlier. She made sure I was taken care of. She delighted in my emotionally volatile adventures.

Sharon was with me when I had my last spectacular seizure in the middle of the dance floor at Faces “East Side”. She must have been upstairs at the drag show because I don’t remember her face when I came around. This was in the 80s and it’s a good thing they stopped before my skydiving career.

There was a big flood before the flood of 93. We were out partying ‘til dawn at the riverfront. I’ll never forget Sharon walking down the street and falling right into the river. Far from being upset she couldn’t control her laughter.

We spent a lot of evenings after the bar closed in the parking lot shooting off fireworks. She always found the best.

Somehow through all of this she raised her daughter. I learned a lot about parental patience from her. People who see me lose my cool should try to imagine how bad I could have been.

There’s no way to tell the whole story here but I have to start somewhere. There will be more.

Pic of Sharon after we just arrived in Canada. This is a parking lot at Niagara Falls.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chececk out Dave's Skydiving Tips

My latest blog. I'll be doing one on audio production soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


No matter how close knit your social circle is it seems it’s always doomed when everyone trails off into their own private family. Every one of my friends has had a unique and interesting wedding.

By contrast all of my ex’s friends had a traditional church wedding.

Our wedding was a compromise. In fact we had two. We had a skydiving wedding for me and a church wedding for Kim and her family.

I remember Matt and Kay’s wedding at Oak Knoll Park. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. There were lots of flowers and a flutist playing Strawberry Fields. Kay’s sister said she wished she was involved with an artist. It was obvious everyone there was one.

Ben’s first wedding was an incredibly expensive affair at The Top of the Sevens in Clayton. Our friend Bill and I compiled the music. Matt photographed the event but lost it all because of equipment malfunctions. He said it was the worst thing that ever happened in his career.

Fojammi’s was at Graham Chapel at Washington University. Dominic had composed a piece of music for the occasion. I had seen King Crimson on the same stage.

Tracy’s was at Carondelet Park. It had rained and, being best man, I had the honor of carrying his, soon to be, wife Marion across a flooded bridge to the ceremony.

Even the church part of my wedding was interesting. Stephen Martin was my best man. Margaret Bianchetta performed at the ceremony as a wedding gift and her band The Hot Club Canary played the reception. We were supposed to have the reception around a bonfire on the shore of the Missouri River. The weather became uncooperative and we had to Plan B it at the church’s gym. Margaret, Mary Dee and Monica Casey had to play under a basketball hoop. I sent them framed pictures performing under it as Christmas presents. Proof that they’d really hit the big time!

I’d really appreciate any memories anyone has of weddings in the comments section. I’m sure a lot more will occur to me. Divorces might be interesting as well.

The photo is Fojammi’s groomsmen. Left to right – Tracey, Dominic, James Voss, Fojammi, Mark, wife Laura’s brother, and me. Joanie came up with the tux rental place. It didn’t occur to us until later that the tux pants were flare bottomed. They were years out of date.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


It seems to me that parents want to pass on their unfulfilled dreams to their kids and kids always have their own dreams. My kids have everything I always wanted.

I wanted a guitar more than anything when I was a kid but it was unattainable. I wanted it so I could be The Beatles and win universal adulation. No amount of love and respect that flowed over me could satisfy my hunger.

My kids now have better guitars than I do.

I’ve always sought attention. I want people to know I’m there. My ego knows no limits. So of course my reputation fades into obscurity. My kids, on the other hand, shun attention and they’re always picked out in a crowd.

I think I first noticed it when Chloe was in preschool. She was chosen to play Mary in the school Christmas pageant. She didn’t want the role and her friends were jealous. The audience was shocked and amused when she violently yanked the baby Jesus from under her dress.

When Dylan was in first or second grade my ex took him to Strassenfest. As they were about to leave they decided to listen to an old story teller. Raffle tickets were given to the kids.

When winners were announced Dylan behaved horribly. Third place was called. His number wasn't chose and he began to cry. Second place was called, it wasn't him and he screamed, “This isn’t fair.” Wouldn’t you know he won the grand prize, a beautiful 15 speed bicycle. He began to take this kind of luck for granted. It would be years before he was big enough to ride it. He still does.

Kim and I took the kids to The Point Birthday Party a few weeks ago at the Family Arena in St. Charles. The most exciting act there was a band called Papa Roach. They were fronted by singer Jacoby Shaddix. He’d spit, wipe his nose and scream at the crowd. At one point he climbed the wall around the arena, singing through his wireless microphone. He ran up the steps that led to us and rubbed Chloe’s head. As an arena filled with envious kids looked on Chloe yelled, “Ooh he rubbed snot in my hair!”

Dylan is working on his black belt in karate right now. His sensei’s dad just died and we went to the church service. We had to squeeze it in to a full day we were already devoting to Chloe for something called Destination Imagination at St. Charles Community College.

Dylan and I were the only ones at the service in jeans and T-shirts. The preacher began the service recalling the deceased sitting in the chair he'd always sat in. Pointing at Dylan he said, “Right where the young man in the Nirvana T-shirt is sitting.” “I wonder if the young man realizes he’s sitting in a holy place.” Dylan was already self conscious about the way we were dressed and now all eyes were on him.

I have always loved that kind of attention.

The picture, courtesy of Valerie, is the kids and me having a birthday lunch for Chloe on Valentines Day. We’re at MoKaBes near Tower Grove Park. She’s showing off her braces and wearing a shirt that says, “Don’t get up in my grill.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The cabin update

Sometimes it seems more important to get the facts down than to be in the moment with my stories. My heart was not connected to my mind when I wrote the cabin piece. It should have been called The Club House. This is what we always called the place and it was a very important part of my life. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Club House

When I was very young my family shared a clubhouse in the country with two other families. There was a large group of cabins along the Big River called Giessow’s Cottage Farm. My grandparents, aunts and uncles had cabins here too. It all went back several generations.

No one had heat or running water. We took a huge metal milk barrel that had a spigot to a community well for water. The windows were just screens with stainless steel covers you raised with ropes.

Our cottage had one small room with an L shaped area around it. The small room had a wood burning stove. In the winter my brother and I slept on bunk beds in the room while the adults froze in the surrounding area.

My father was famous for spontaneous fun and we’d end up out there with no previous planning. He worked for the Brunswick company and he’d bring bowling pins to burn in the stove. I remember the grown ups complaining when the yearly rent went up from $50.00 to $150.00. This was for three families.

Bill Mason , Bob Kornacher , John Chapman , Glenn Tintera , Norman Mason , Peter Patterson , Jim Haislip  comprised a recording Jazz band in the 50s called The Dixie Stompers. Bob Kornacher’s family shared the cabin with us. He was one of my dad’s best friends.

Bill and Georgia Shearer were the other family. Bill was a pianist and I'm told he was good. They had a baby grand in their apartment on Pershing. Years later, after the  Shearers divorced, Bill moved in with my dad and all of a sudden there was an upright piano in his small Laclede Park apartment.

A couple of years ago I was teaching a skydiving class in Sullivan. During lunch I sat with the friends and families of my students at a picnic table. Someone called a woman there Susan. I looked at her face and involuntarily asked, “Susan Kornacher?” She said that was her maiden name. I told her I was David Udell and chills went down both our spines. She was Bob’s daughter. I hadn’t seen her since we were kids but I recognized her.

She invited my family to a party. There were lots of my students there. I brought my mother. Bob, his wife Florence and Georgia were there. Bill had died years before. My mother had a great time.

Susan took me on a tour of the house. The walls were covered with water color paintings of the clubhouse. I think her grandfather did them. They used to hang on the walls at the clubhouse. It was a museum of my childhood.

At the clubhouse they had a giant orb of a speaker someone got from a ship during the Korean War. It was strung outside of the cabin and their 78s blared from it. My dad had an old navy canvas hammock he strung way up in the trees. He’d climb way up there drunk at the end of the night to sleep. I have no idea how he pulled it off.

When I was three I admired a large military knife Bob owned. Its handle was painted pink with fingernail polish. He said it would be a gift to me but not until I was old enough. When I was four!

We had canoes at the river. Canoeing is in my blood. My grandfather died from a heart attack when I was four and I inherited an expensive fly rod ‘n’ reel. I never saw it though. One night my dad and his buddies went out canoeing with it. The boat overturned and the rod was lost.

After my folks divorced my mom still took us out there. It was then that I started to notice things like painted hand prints on the door and vividly painted structural beams. They’d always been there. I told her it was all very hip for them to have done that in the fifties. She told me color didn’t begin in the sixties. Not to mention their crowd were all artists and musicians.

I’m sure my mom will make a lot of corrections about all of this.

My girlfriend Valerie’s last boyfriend Brian Casserly is probably the best trumpet player I’ve ever seen. He’s the 50 year old kid in a Dixie Jazz band called Cornet Chop Suey. The name comes from a great Louis Armstrong song. We went to see them at Carondelet Park. Between sets I met the trombone player. It was Jimmy Haislip. I had no recollection of him from my childhood. He recognized my name and referred to my dad as the gentile giant. Whenever Valerie sees him he asks about the Udell boy.

Pictures are from several generations out at Giessow’s. My grandpa, his boys, and my uncle Bill’s wife Gladys - My dad is on the left. My grandma and great grandma Geegee. My grandpa (left) showing off his catch. My little brother Patrick and me March 1962.