Sunday, June 28, 2009

Butterfly and Stinky

When my daughter was almost three she started asking for an orange cat. I thought maybe she had seen one on TV but it wasn’t that at all. She wanted a tabby. It was about time for the kids to have pets anyway.

I’ve always liked cats as pets because you can put a bunch of food in a bowl, provide a fresh box of litter and disappear for a few days. Especially if you have more than one to keep each other company.

My ex’s family are definitely not cat people. I think some people secretly fear cats are judging them. They were allergic, of course, and would have to stop visiting. I thought I’d accidentally stumbled onto something good.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. People who think cats don’t possess the same unconditional love just don’t get the cat psyche.

There’s no denying the independence of cats. I grew up with both cats and dogs.

My dog always had shots, tags and a collar. He was always legal. In those days dogs ran wild in the neighborhood. If you didn’t see them for a couple of days they’d be at the pound. The tag kept them from being destroyed too quickly. I remember the whole neighborhood alerting each other when the dog catcher was around.

The cats, on the other hand, never got shots. We didn’t know you could have them fixed so our cat was always having babies. We never had trouble giving them away. They ran just as wild as the dog.

As a young adult my girlfriend Pam moved away leaving me her cat. The cat played fetch and acted pretty much like a dog. I got very close to it. I found out how important visits to the vet were. It got sick and I had to learn how to give it injections. It got sick again and we went through blood transfusions. The cat didn’t make it. It contracted kitty leukemia. If I had known I could have had him immunized, I would have. I hadn’t learned my lesson though.

For days I woke up, opened the back door and called for it to come in. It broke my heart. I was living with my friend Nancy at the time and she understood what I was going through.

So now I had kids and Christmas was coming. All Chloe would talk about was an orange cat. Kim and I went to every shelter and pet store we could think of. You’d think an orange tabby would be the most common cat in the world. We couldn’t find one anywhere.

The day before Christmas Eve I made one last attempt. I went to the Humane Society on Macklind. I must have spent a couple of hours there going through every cage. I almost compromised with a Calico but I realized it wasn’t really the same. As I was leaving a small, solid gray kitten began to yowl. He wasn’t going to let me leave without at least being noticed. He was in a small cage in a corner. I hadn’t even noticed it before. He was beautiful. I walked up to him and discovered he had a roommate. It was a full grown orange tabby.

Christmas morning the kids opened a gift that held a note. They were instructed to open the basement door. When they did two cats ran out.

Chloe grabbed the orange one immediately. Squeezing it too roughly she screamed, “Butterfly!” Kim and I looked at the gnarled, full grown, butch cat and then looked at each other. What a perfect name! Dylan named the gray one Tuffy. I was never comfortable with that name. His baby sitter had a cat named that and I thought it deserved its own name.

To this day the cat responds to both Tuffy and Stinky. In fact that evolved into Stinkapuss in homage to my friend Tracy’s long time cat Funkapuss.

Eventually the curse returned and Butterfly contracted kitty leukemia. I’ll never forget teaching a skydiving class at the Sullivan airport when I got a call from Kim. She was in tears. She had to hold Butterfly as they gave him the lethal injection. I have to give her credit. I never could have done it.

Chloe has another cat now named Jamie but she still keeps Butterfly’s ashes. She mentions missing him from time to time. Stinky is still going strong in spite of the fact that the vet said he had kitty AIDS several years ago. I’m convinced that I gave him the wrong dose of antibiotics once when he was sick. When he was tested, his immune system was out of whack.

The vet told me that was entirely possible. We don’t want to pay to confirm it. It’s a pretty expensive test. Kim had Jamie’s front claws removed so she wouldn’t accidentally draw blood from Stinky during a fight. Unfortunately she loves to go outside. We have to keep an eye on her because she’s defenseless. Luckily, unlike most cats, she loves going for walks on a leash.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hell's Cave

Right about 8th grade my mother completely lost control of me. I did whatever I wanted and went wherever I wanted. I spent just about every night that summer sleeping in some tree house somewhere. It wasn’t just me. There were a lot of us. We were a society of post pubescent cultural dilettantes. Boys and girls were finally mixing and we were all smoking to prove we were mature. Bicycles were still our means of transportation.

There was an abandoned limestone quarry that was so forgotten it became a lush, hidden valley. The forest was so dense you had to chop your way through. In a corner, at the bottom of a tall bluff, a giant boulder had been pushed to cover a small opening.

All the kids knew about Hell’s Cave. Years later when we mentioned it to the older folks we learned that kids of every generation knew about it. The memory would fade with adulthood.

I used to go there with my friend Don Belk. He was the one that got us started with our bike theft ring. I took most of the heat from the parents because I was naturally guilty, being from the city.

Don and I would spend hours playing air guitar on yard sticks to “The Pusher” and “Magic Carpet Ride” from the Steppenwolf Live album and “Lola” by The Kinks.

A couple of years later, after I moved back to the city, I would hitchhike back to Don’s. By then he was playing bass guitar. He turned me on to the Mel Bay grab box in Kirkwood where I bought my first electric guitar for $25.00. I think his bass actually belonged to Tracy. Don introduced me to Tracy who became one of my best friends and bass player for years. We would end up living together. He’s my son’s god father.

At that time Don introduced me to Chuck Taylor and Leland Smith. Chuck came up with the name “Blue Mist” and we had a band. We were literally a garage band. We’d load up a little red wagon with our gear and carry it 5 blocks to someone’s garage. We put a board across it and loaded it up with amps, drums, axes, --- everyting. We had to surround the wagon and hang onto all of it. When the cops answered a peace disturbance call we’d carry it another 5 blocks to the next garage. The only song we knew was “18” by Alice Cooper and we didn’t know the chorus. We’d play a loop of the verse that could last for hours.

I brought my friends Dom and Benet out there from the city. I was just beginning to play with them. For a while I was in 2 bands. Chuck always asked me if he was a better guitarist than Dom. He was very insecure. At that time Dom let me into his band because I had an amp and he could share it with me. He taught me how to play “Down by the River” by Neil Young. I was finally starting to learn complete songs.

Don would eventually end up doing time and died a few years ago.

Anyway my mind wandered way off course, back to Hell’s Cave. There was rumored to be at least 20 large chambers in the cave and it eventually ended up at the Meramec River. We knew of 3 of the chambers. Usually we would crawl to the first one and smoke cigarettes. We were lucky there were no gas pockets. One weekend we planned to crawl all the way through. We camped on a giant slab of limestone outside the cave’s entrance. I remember looking up at the milky white soup of endless stars and listening to Nilsson’s “Spaceman”. Someone must have brought a radio.

About 3:00am we decided it was time. I took the lead. After the first chamber you had to climb up to continue through the narrow path to the next chamber. There was a spring flowing through that was very cold. It was probably what cut the cave in the first place. The crawl space got smaller and smaller and finally opened to the next chamber. At times I would get stuck and a claustrophobic panic attack would start to get me. This went on for hours. I did make it to a 4th chamber that none of us had made it to before. This one was different. It was very tall, wide and very thin. It was really a giant crack in solid rock but at least I could stretch. After regaining my composure I started back through the cave. It got tighter and colder. I felt like I was climbing through Satan’s colon.

I got to a point where it was getting very hard to continue. In exhaustion I rested and aimed my flashlight into the water. I gazed straight into Hell. There were tiny creatures writhing in the water. Monsters I didn’t know existed outside of a fever dream. They had huge bulbous eyes and you could see through their bodies. They seemed to be staring at me with hatred. They wanted me to suffer an agonizing death. I screamed and yelled for everyone to back out, I was coming through. It seemed like it took forever to get out of the cave. I think it was about 10:00am and the sun was blazing. It was really hot but I collapsed on our slab that was cooking in the sun where I fell asleep.

Later someone did a little research and found a picture of the monsters I saw. They were called water crickets.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Crystalline Silence Band

I couldn’t remember if I posted this story. It belongs in my Laclede Town FaceBook somewhere.

Across the circle from where I lived, behind the bookstore, just up a cul-de-sac/parking lot was a psychedelic tour bus belonging to our local rock group The Crystalline Silence Band.

The allure of this multi-colored fantasy chariot proved too strong for the kids in the neighborhood to resist. One night we broke into it. I can’t remember who was with me but there were a lot of us. We didn’t even try to be discreet. We ran wild.

Needless to say we were discovered by the band. I thought we were really in for it but, instead of getting angry, they invited us into their pad.

It was an environment I had never known before. There were strange odors. All of the walls were covered in murals and some were still in progress. A beautiful hippy girl with a head band surrounding long blonde hair sat on a stool reciting wonderful abstract poetry into a microphone. Her voice was processed with a lot of reverb and there was so much smoke that it seemed like it was all a dream. Now that I think about it, I bet we kids all got a contact high.

Laclede Town was already a cultural experiment and it seemed like we were all heading into a world of acceptance and tolerance.

What happened?

Pic is from Laclede Town’s paper The Mill Creek Valley Intelligencer, December 1967. I just put a bigger one on. Click for better details. Tickets were sold at our friend Bill Burgdorf's bookstore. He told me his store was closed once because he sold the book Candy. I'll do a post on him one of these days.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Of all the people I’ve lost contact with over the years, I’ve regretted losing touch with Allya Canepa the most. Allya was one of Dominic’s early girlfriends. She went to Villa Duchesne.

At the time all the girls we knew went there or Rosati-Kane. I have no idea how we dirty, city rat, teen age boys ended up hanging out with these privileged Catholic high school girls but we loved it.

This was when we were all learning how to drive. Dominic got into a couple of crashes and somehow Allya helped him through the financial consequences. Dom was so rattled he wouldn’t drive or get his license for years.

One of my favorite memories is sleeping on her couch in Webster Groves. The house was dark. Allya came downstairs and instead of turning on the lights she turned on the radio. It was King Crimson’s “Court of the Crimson King”. We sat together in the dark listening to it. I really thought she was my best friend at that point.

Allya fell from the sky through FaceBook recently. I almost wrote a post about her last year but it seemed a little gushy. Now I’m glad I waited. I reminded her about that night. She was very sweet about it.

In the early 80s Pam and I were attending an event at Webster College. We bumped into Allya. I’m pretty sure it was the last time I saw her. Pam and I were slick, new wave social sophisticates and Allya was in full hippie drag complete with a gypsy dress and John Lennon glasses. The encounter was brief and it almost felt as if we really didn’t know each other.

This has happened to me several times in my life. I’ll run into someone, they might even have a knowing glint in their eyes and I am totally oblivious. I get a little self absorbed. A bad habit of mine I find hard to break.

I almost forgot. I wanted to name our daughter Allya but Kim thought it was too odd. We named her Chloe and at the time that was an odd name. 

I grabbed a recent pic of Allya in India from her FaceBook. She’s living in Boulder, CO now, not far from Tracey. I’m not sure if he knows her though. The other pics are Pam and Me. The color one is a portrait we had taken at the South City Famous-Barr. We took advantage of some free promotion they were doing.The b&w one is by Matt O’Shea. It’s hard to keep up with FaceBook but I can’t believe all the old friends I’m finding.