Saturday, October 31, 2009


We have mice. It’s not a big deal for Valerie. She grew up in the country and they were just a fact of life. They terrify me.

They didn’t use to bother me at all. When I was still living with my mom in Soulard we had one that would sit on a mop that was propped against the wall. The mouse watched every move we made. It had no fear. I guess it didn’t need any. We left him alone.

They may as well be rats as far as I’m concerned.

When I was in 4th grade I lived in the Shaw neighborhood. There were blocks and blocks of empty apartments where highway 44 was coming in. In those days there were no flashing yellow caution signs for road work. They used weird little bowling ball shaped torches that had a little flame on top. They must have been filled with lead because they were very heavy. I’m not sure how they could have been bright enough to stop an accident. I had to steal one of course.

No one had air conditioning in those days. My brother and I slept on our back porch. Mosquitoes were easier to deal with than the heat from inside.

This led to late night excursions into the dark. One night I grabbed my stolen torch, wandered into the alley, lit it and sat by its little flame like it was a campfire. I noticed movement nearby. There was a large rat right next to me. Its eyes glowed red from the flame as he gazed at me with loathing. I was paralyzed with fear.

The empty apartment shells of the construction site looked like post war Europe. This is where we stuck a smoke bomb in a dead rat’s ass. Kids find the strangest things amusing.

I think my real fear of mice came when I was living with my dad and his second wife in the country. I was in the basement and a deer mouse ran along a wall. It looked like a hideous genetic freak. It had a mouse’s body but long deer legs. Man I still get goose bumps thinking about it.

From there my brother and I moved back with my mom to the attic of a mansion in Gaslight Square. The Central West End hadn’t been gentrified yet and the neighborhood was filled with dilapidated old mansions.

We had a swimming pool that hadn’t been used in years. It was half filled with black water and a bloated, hairless, dead rat floated in it. No one would go near it.

A few years ago, when we were living in Florissant, we had a mouse that would come out of an air vent. My kids found a tiny Christmas stocking that was really a tree ornament. They hung it next to the vent and put a small cookie in it. Christmas morning they discovered the cookie had been nibbled on by the mouse. I never told them I made it look that way.

Anyway, like I was saying, we have mice. At first Valerie’s cat Charlie took care of them for us. Valerie couldn’t bear the thought of traps. She would scoop them up alive if she could and take them outside. From there I’m sure they would just come back inside.

Charlie is 15, constantly sneezing from allergies, and probably deaf. The other night I was tossing in my usual state of insomnia when I noticed 2 mice playing around my shoes. Charlie was in a purring meditative ball at the end of the bed. I gently lifted him and set him down facing the mice. He turned back to look at me like he was confused. I guess his mousing days are over.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I mentioned in an earlier post that the universe changed as I was listening to the radio one day in 1964. I was listening to my favorite song, Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather and it was followed by the Beatles version of Twist and Shout. It really felt like we were entering a whole new world.

There were 2 stations in St. Louis in those days, KATZ and KXOK. St. Louis was as racially divided over the air as it was on the ground. KXOK was my connection to God.

I had an old tube radio by my bed and a small transistor with a tinny little earpiece. I don’t know why ear buds sound so much better today.

Childhood was like a movie and KXOK played a sound track of Beatles, Monkees, and Good Vibrations. When I hear Len Barry’s 123 I still slip into a nostalgia delirium.

I was a big Johnny Rabbit fan. He had a sidekick named Bruno J. Grunion.

If you are familiar with The Paul Winchell/Jerry Mahoney show or even the later Pee Wee Herman show you’ll understand the effect Bruno J. had on kids in St. Louis.

Johnny Rabbit had been stationed with Elvis in Germany and everything about that era in radio was totally magic to me.

From what I can remember Bruno was the manager of a band called The Aardvarks. I loved these guys. They even opened for The Beatles at Busch Stadium.

We were living in Laclede Town at the time just a few blocks from there. My mother later told me she wouldn’t even consider going because ticket scalpers wanted $20.00.

The event is famous in St. Louis history because a hundred bands played before The Beatles arrived. It rained the whole time. When The Beatles finally got on stage their set lasted 18 minutes. No one could hear anything of course.

Later, as a young man, I would get to know Ron Elz (Johnny Rabbit), Chuck Connors (Bruno J. Grunion) and Mike Newman (Guitarist for The Aardvarks). I thought I knew all the really important personalities in St. Louis. Eventually I learned none of these guys were the people I idolized as a child. One step removed from greatness.

All three of these guys are great in their own ways. Chuck is a saint and I’ll definitely do blog about him and his restaurant The Other Mother.

The Johnny Rabbit and Bruno J. Grunion of my childhood were both Don Pietromonaco and Mike was too young to have been in Aardvarks yet. I have had a few adventures with Mike and his ex, Gail.

I remember driving around with my mother in 1970. We were listening to the top 100 count down from the sixties on KXOK. When it got to number one it was Hey Jude. We sang along. We always sang along to the radio.

My mother’s favorite pastime was driving us around as she dreamed of living in one of the pretty little houses in one of the nice little neighborhoods we’d visit.

By the end of the sixties culturally conscious kids outgrew the commercialism of the AM stations and moved on to KSHE and WESL or MAJIC 108.

Even by then St. Louis was segregated on the air waves (still is). Some of the white kids were lucky enough to know what was going on in the other camp.

I’ll never forget listening to WESL (East St. Louis) in my first apartment with my brother and Tony Patti.

WESL’s DJ “Dr. Jockenstein” ranted over every record he played. It made great radio. Most of it was Funkadelic.

We learned George Clinton himself gave Jockenstein his name and the title cut from Mothership Connection was based on his show.

Years later I was tending bar at the Broadway Oyster Bar. Jockenstein came in, jumped up on the stage, got the band to jam on a riff and did a spectacular Old School Hip Hop routine. He was pure Hollywood, sleazy lounge and sunglasses. What a show!

The Frank O. Pinion show has been talking about KXOK all week. I’m not really much of a fan of the show but Frank seems to have the same nostalgia for the station that I do. I had forgotten what Bruno J. Grunion really sounded like. I think kids are too sophisticated for that kind of radio today. I think the whole world grew up the same time The Beatles did.

Check out this link.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Chip Off the Old Block continued......

I was driving my mother to the store the other day. We were talking about Dylan. I always joke that he’ll still be living at home when he’s 35.

My mother asked me if I remembered when I realized I’d become an adult. I thought about it and had to answer that I never had. “I’m glad you said that,” she said. “I never did either.”

What I do remember is thinking maturity was always somewhere in the future. When I was a teenager I thought it was 21. In my 20s I thought it was 30. I’m 51 now and I still have the same, off in the future, feeling.

My mother said she was the same person she had always been. She is coming to terms with it always being that way.

I know the sum of our experiences must have molded us in some way.

My mother and I share the same memory that we were never children in our minds. Maybe we missed out on something. I remember adults having a problem with my lack of automatic respect for their authority.

My mom found my reaction to her childhood photos very funny. I’m unnerved by her adult face on her child’s body.

A Chip Off the Old Block

I am currently experiencing a rite of passage of every parent. I’m teaching my son to drive. Before we even started I warned him I’d be yelling a lot. My father had. How can a person who’s terrified for their very life help it?

He told me his Driver’s Ed teacher told him that wasn’t the best way to learn. I’m not sure I agree. If you can deal with the stress of a terrified parent, you can handle almost any surprise situation.

A month ago we were at a party in the country. Everyone there grew up in the city and learned how to drive in the parking lot of the Muny Opera. That’s were my dad taught me. My son, Dylan, decided a long time ago his heart was in the city, not the county. He determined that it was important to learn in the Muny parking lot.

Dylan has already picked up the St. Louis habit of rolling through stop signs. The stress is compounded when he rolls through a right on red and there are cameras at the intersection. I really hate those things. At least you can try to reason with a cop!

Dylan and I have a lot in common. Justice and being fair are very important to him. He hasn’t realized that life really isn’t fair yet. He’s not cynical at all. I hope that lasts a while.

By the time I was his age I was hitch hiking around the country, doing drugs, and having sex. I had been taking care of myself for years already. I can’t imagine any of this with him. Sometimes I think my kids have been too sheltered but I know they’re going to make it through school. I hope that makes life a little easier for them.

Dylan generally has very good taste in music but when he wants to be rebellious he’ll tell me how much he loves the band Journey. He really knows how to push my buttons.

It reminds me of the last time my mom tried to give me a haircut. It was the summer between 8th grade and high school. At some point she yelled, “Son of a bitch,” at me. “Yep,” I replied. It stopped the conversation cold.

Last week my girl friend Valerie and I took my kids to Soulard for Oktoberfest. Why there’s a German festival in the French section of St. Louis I’ll never know. Any excuse for a party I suppose. When we saw the beers were $13.00 we went to our favorite haunt The Shanti.

We went in through the beer garden where we ran into our friend David Classé. I introduce my kids to him. He took one look at Dylan’s long hair and said, “He’s a chip off the old block.”

Pic of Dylan is his school 2009 photo. The pic of my brother Patrick and me was taken by Matt O’Shea in the mid 70s some time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Taking It to the Streets

Valerie’s (and now my) friend Don invited us to a walk around Tower Grove Park last Saturday. It was supposed to raise public awareness for deaf people in St. Louis. I dragged my kids along.

When I first met Don it was hours before I even realized he was deaf. He’s very good at reading lips. He had a cochlear implant but it had failed and he was going into surgery for a new one. He said people sounded like robots when it had worked.

When we met him at the march he had had the surgery. He said it would be eight weeks before they could turn it on. He had to mend from the operation.

I told my friend Fojammi the last thing Don really heard was the song Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. Fojammi pointed out Don had some catching up to do. I asked Don if he’d be able to listen to music with his new implant. He said they were starting him out with music therapy.

Technology is making great strides. Maybe we’ll be able to replace anything someday. There are deaf people who think implants are a bad idea. The logic is deafness is not abnormal it’s just different. My take is, if you could turn on a switch and understand Spanish, why not? It’s communication. Understanding is a good thing.

He told me he had to learn how to hear with a cochlear implant. When he got it the first thing he heard was a dog barking. Then a car’s brakes squealed but it still sounded like a dog barking. Even a door slamming sounded like a dog barking. He looked at me and said, “Stop barking at me!”

I thought it would be a good idea for my kids to get involved with a social issue. This one seemed tame enough. Little did I realize Don’s repertoire of dirty jokes.

I thought we could march at the front of the line with our fists in the air yelling, “Deaf people take back the streets!” Once a militant, always a militant!

A side benefit was Don’s vast knowledge of plants. He was able to identify everything we saw along the way.

When we got back to the Turkish Pavilion, the home base of the walk, someone decided we needed a photo of our group. It seemed like it took half an hour to keep us contained while someone tried to figure out the camera.

During all of this some little guy was bending Valerie’s ear. I thought maybe he was looking for free food. He asked me what the gathering was about in a soft whisper. We told him. He asked what the popular spots in the neighborhood were.

He was actually a little rude because he kept demanding our attention while we were trying to get the group picture. I asked what all of his questions were about. He said in his mysterious whisper that it would all soon become clear.

My interest was piqued. Finally he produced a card. It was Jerry Berger. “Oh,” I said, “That explains it.” Someone asked me who he was. I said he had an old gossip column. He overheard me and whispered, “Old?” He must’ve been pretty confident that the whole world knew who he was. I wonder if he would have been crushed if we had no idea who he was.

After we found out who he was we had a lot to talk about. He knew Valerie’s sister. I told him he reviewed my band in the 80’s. He said he remembered but who knows.

He kept whispering. Valerie leaned into his ear and whispered, “Why are we whispering?” “Yeah,” I said, “These people are all deaf.”

“I have cancer.”

Anyway, he took photos of us and the kids. He has an on line column and still works for the Riverfront Times. Valerie said she was a little jealous when he kissed her on one cheek but kissed me on both cheeks as we parted.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love publicity. I was very disappointed when our mention in his column wasn’t accompanied by a photo.

The photo they finally took has Valerie, me and the kids in the back on the left. Don is dead center to my left. I also lifted part of Jerry Berger’s blog.

DATE: Sunday 10/4/2009. . . The "Walk for Hearing" was also in full-swing, and that's where Valerie Pennington andDavid Udell, with his offspring Chloe andDylan, gave me a rundown on the hottest Southside nightcrawling spots. They liked The Shanty in Soulard; The Tin Can; Three Monkeys; Mattingly's; and The Cat's Meow "where I used to get a shot and beer for $1.50," said Udell. (The Meow is the deliciously dive bar operated by St. Louis 9th Ward aldermanKen Ortmann and his wife, Pat.) . . . Continuing the green theme

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

You never forget your first dog.

I’ve suffered the loss of too many pets to have them again on purpose. I do seem to inherit them though. Pets are family members with short lives. Not only that but you can’t leave town for a week without getting them a sitter. Who needs the extra responsibility?

I like cats because you can leave them for a few days especially if you have more than one. Dogs are way too needy.

Pets are important for kids though. They learn love and social responsibility from them.

We got a dog when my brother was born. They shared the same birthday as far as we were concerned.

We lived in a barn shaped two family on Crescent in Dog Town. It shared a back yard with a store that faced the opposite direction. There was an old woman living there whose son’s dog had a litter of long haired, black puppies. He was a cop. (I know my mother will clarify the details of all this).

We got one of the dogs and my dad named him Sinbad.

I’m 51 and Sinbad still haunts my dreams. He was as much a part of my childhood as my brother. I know this is a common story but bear with me.

My childhood was a strange mixture of ultra urban and rural experiences. Sinbad was as comfortable in a six family tenement as he was running wild in the woods.

He was either a chow/cocker spaniel mix (his tongue had black spots) or, according to my father, a lizard hound.

He would patiently sit at the base of a tree all day waiting for a lizard to come down. Damned if one didn’t eventually. I had the pic where he’s standing proudly in front of our clubhouse made into a poster for my dad. I gave it to him that last Christmas he spent with us. He loved it of course. Sinbad had been gone several years by then.

Growing up in Laclede Town there were two town dogs that ran wild. An orange and white cocker spaniel named Freckles and Sinbad. It was amazing how many long haired black puppies ran around the neighborhood.

I mentioned in a previous post that my Brother and I traveled great distances on our bikes. The summer before I started 6th grade we moved to Oakland, an unincorporated suburb between Webster Groves and Kirkwood. It was a new experience for all of us.

The first thing my brother and I did was head out on our bikes to explore. Sinbad went with us. He went everywhere with us.

We rode as far as Sunset Hills. When we got back we noticed Sinbad wasn’t with us. He didn’t come home at all that night. We were beside ourselves with grief. Two nights later we heard him scratching at the back door as if nothing had happened. I thought we had lost him for sure because we never got off our bikes and there was no scent to follow home.

Two years later when we lost the house our family was thrown into turmoil. My mother had to stay with friends. My brother and I stayed a short time with my grandmother who tried to keep us in our school routine. Eventually we moved out to the country with my dad and his second wife.

I later learned my grandmother tried to get custody of us. The old Polaroid is my brother in the Oakland back yard with Sinbad and Samantha our cat.

Samantha stayed with my mom but Sinbad had to stay in the cold, deserted, dark, unheated house. I remember being embarrassed when my uncle Bill took us there to feed Sinbad and let him out. The house smelled like crap and I could tell my uncle felt sorry for us. I hated his pity.

My dad talked his new wife, Helen, into taking all of us in. This was the year we went to three different schools and still missed three months. I don’t know how we graduated.

Helen’s experience with dogs was a little different than ours. She had a small kennel with beagles. Her last husband was a hunter. He was found in our small lake slumped over in his fishing boat, heart attack I think.

Helen made Sinbad stay outside in the snow. He wasn’t used to this and we begged her to let him stay in the basement. She finally did but as soon as he crapped there he was back outside.

Sinbad disappeared.

There was a pack of wild dogs out in the woods. You could hear their yelps in the night. A neighbor told us Sinbad was with them. He told us when a dog goes wild you can’t tame them again. When spring came Sinbad came scratching at the back door.

My mother got her life together and took us back. I think my brother and I totally destroyed my dad’s second marriage.

On a side note I did build an electric guitar in shop class that year. It didn’t have the electronics but I did learn to play on it. My dad helped me get the woods, tuning gear and bridge.

There’s always that sad time when a child grows up and neglects his dog. When Sinbad was 15 he would dutifully follow me down a hill in Soulard where I would catch a ride hitch hiking to my girlfriend who lived in Webster Groves. I’d be gone for weeks sometimes.

The last time I saw Sinbad was as I was climbing into a car I’d thumbed down. When I came home I wondered where he was. For some reason I told myself he was old and he must have wandered off to die. Later my mother and I couldn’t believe we never checked the pound. He’d been there waiting for us so many times in the past. I’m afraid we really let him down at the end. Man, I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

His life would have made a great Disney film if they had the balls to feature such a dysfunctional family.

The pic of me in front of my dad’s record player was the first apartment Sinbad came home to on Crescent. The set of black shelves was built by my mom for my dad’s records. I still have the shelves. Note the tubes sticking out of the amplifier. The last pic is Sinbad, my dad and me in front of our West End apartment on Maryland. Check out my bell bottoms.