Saturday, June 26, 2010

Strawberry Wine

When I was 16 I moved from my band Blue Mist in the county to my new band in the city. My buddies, Dominic and Benet, had a townhouse in Laclede Town West and we could use their basement as a rehearsal space.

At our first meeting I walked in from the patio door to see Dom sitting on the couch with his arm around the most beautiful blond girl I’d ever seen. Her name was Lora and she was the little sister of our lead guitarist John Steffen.

John went on to become the youngest priest of a religious order in California. He came home to form Pyramid Construction, a development firm. He got involved in one of the biggest real estate deals in St. Louis. It turned into one of St. Louis’ biggest real estate disasters. Google John Steffen St. Louis for details.

Lora used to hang out at rehearsals. I ran through a couple of girlfriends before I even thought of asking her do anything with me. By then we actually felt more like buddies.

This was probably around 1975. Back then Illinois’ legal drinking age was 18. We drove across the MacArthur to the east side to buy strawberry wine. We weren’t even old enough for Illinois but no one cared.

We’d go back to my Soulard apartment and rave wildly as the stereo blasted. I couldn’t believe I found a girl who loved King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic” and Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” as much as I did. Lora later confessed what she really loved was my enthusiasm.

Dominic turned us onto gin and Squirt. One night around three in the morning Lora and I spread a picnic blanket on a green at the Forest Park golf course. We parked my car right on the green. We waved at a police car that patrolled past us. It must have been so unexpected that he didn’t see us. Later I decided I better stay away from gin.

When I moved back to the West End Lora taught our group how to make batiks. We made films together. My band was in full swing but there was always enough time for another project. Somehow our relationship kept changing from intimate to casual. We were always on the same wavelength about that.

My buddy Bill Schmidt started hanging out with us. One night they left my apartment together. Stopping together in the doorway, they turned and asked, “This is okay isn’t it?” “Absolutely,” I said.

My buddy Tracy always had a crush on her too.

Years later we drifted back into each other’s lives. She followed me around the country when I was skydiving. Our friendship was stronger than ever. The casual nature of our relationship was different than anything I’ve ever experienced. There were intimate moments I wish I could tell because they were interesting and fun. Maybe they’ll find their way into a work of fiction someday. One day Lora asked, “Why don’t we just do it?” “Why don’t we just get married?” That thought evaporated almost as soon as it appeared.

I took our relationship for granted. I met Kim at the drop zone. When I ran into Lora again I had to tell her. Before I could even get it out she looked into my eyes and said’ “Oh no, you’ve met someone!”

Lora came to the wedding.

Last year my friend Marge threw a party at her farm in the country. Man we’ve all gotten old! Lora was there. A group of us were hanging around talking about our favorite drinks.

I said mine was strawberry wine. Lora looked at me and said, “Me too.”

Portrait of Lora by Matt O’Shea. Serenading Lora and her broken leg with my uke at the West End apartment I lived at with Marge. Note batik in window over my head. Marge took the photo. The last one's at a rest stop somewhere on the road to a distant drop zone.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grandma's House

When my grandparents retired they sold their motel in Arkansas and bought a small house in St. Clair, Mo. I guess they wanted to live near their kids in St. Louis.

My brother and I spent a lot of time down there.

One day, as we were playing across the street at our friend Raymond’s house, a fire truck pulled in front of their house. My grandmother came over to ask Raymond’s mother to watch us for a while.

My grandfather had a heart attack. He was 62.

I never got that close to him. He was a very stoic man. He made his displeasure with me clear once when I whined about a toy I didn’t like. I was 4 and that was the only conversation I really remember having with him.

His kids were very respectful of him. In fact my brother and I were the only kids of all my cousins that called my grandparents grandma and grandpa. They called them grandmother and grandfather. I think that was a reflection of my dad’s relationship with them. He was the baby and I think emotions may have been a little closer to the surface.

He was buried at a small plot nearby. A huge image of Leonardo’s Last Supper loomed over the property. The grave makers were all bronze plaques that lay flat. I guess it made it easier to mow the lawn. It was the most uptight cemetery I’ve ever seen. It seemed appropriate for my grandfather.

My grandma was a different story entirely. She wore her heart on her sleeve.

My brother and I must have filled a void in her heart. She took us fishing and bought us ice cream. We went to Meramec Caverns often. I still love Missouri’s caves and of course Jesse James is a big part of our lore. It turns out I’m related on my mother’s side. I think 2/3 of Missourians are.

Our friend Raymond had a really cool tree house that was easy to get to. The tree was at the bottom of a hill and his dad ran a walkway to it. He strung a cable from the tree to the ground and attached something you hung from called a zip sled. What a ride!

All of my best friends were comics and Raymond was no exception. His dad stripped a huge limb and planted it as a flag pole next to the tree house. Raymond called it Baby Twig. I thought that was funny as hell for some reason. I guess it doesn’t take much when you’re happy.

One year there was a forest fire. Raymond decided we were the volunteer fire department. He rigged a large tank of water on a red wagon. It actually had a hose that worked. We grabbed a couple of axes and made our way into the woods. There were charred trees that were still smoking and glowing embers. We must have been nuts as we sprayed burning trees that surrounded us. There were four of us. Our ages ranged from 4 to 6 years old.

My grandma’s house was at the bottom of a hill. I sped down it once on a bike and hit a patch of gravel. I took a tumble that ripped my knee open. I’ll never forget the doctor going way up under my skin with long tweezers to pick pieces of gravel out before he could stitch it up. I spent the summer on a picnic table watching my friends having fun in the public swimming pool.

My grandma’s house was surrounded by walnut trees and we ate a lot of them. As distant as my grandfather seemed, he did things for us. Somehow he scaled an extremely tall walnut tree next to the house and strung up a swing. He promised us a huge jungle jim behind the house but died before he could build it.

Behind the house was a shed. A few hundred feet behind that was a forest. They didn’t have garbage collection. They had a large drum up against the tree line where they burned trash. It was no wonder they had forest fires. I remember seeing a thin, scraggly dog back there. I bet it was a coyote.

Here’s a picture of the house. A picture of the gang—Raymond is on the left and I’m on the right. Next to me is my brother Patrick. He had a lazy eye and had to wear an eye patch. He had a really cool one with a strap that was black. He looked like a pirate. And finally a photo left to right of my dad, grandma and Uncle Bill. The painting above my dad was part of a seasonal series by my grandfather’s dad. This is the way I remember my grandma before she had a stroke and spent the remaining years of her life in homes. The stroke affected half of her face so she couldn’t enunciate well. During one visit she motioned for me to come close. She whispered in my ear, “They’re treating me like an infant here.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fat Dave

I am a shape shifter and I’m not able to conceal my darker truths. If I were capable of wearing my heart on my sleeve I could be discreet but I wear my heart throughout my entire body.

When I was seventeen I went on a Joyce Carol Oates Jag. I remember riding the Bi-State bus home from school past my stop. I took it all the way back around because I couldn’t stop reading her novel Them. She’s not for everyone but she was perfect for a brooding, self-conscious adolescent.

A character in the book named Jules, in an act of desperation, rolled someone in a public restroom. At that moment the spirit of the lord left his body. That resonated with me.

When I’m fat, my body is a soulless shell. It’s too easy to read my state of mind.

I was a fat kid. I became a skinny teen-ager. Every time someone asked me how I lost the weight I could only say it was girls and drugs.

It isn’t the act of sex but the very idea of it. I’m capable of willing myself skinny. It’s a state of mind.

At the end of my marriage I hadn’t really noticed I got fat again. My body was a soulless shell. I was spiritually, emotionally and intellectually dead.

When the marriage fell apart I woke up. I remember going to the Hibernian parade in Dog Town. I was still living at home but my ex and I were leading totally separate lives. I ran into Kim and a friend of ours named Danny. He looked at me and asked, “What’s up, skinny?” I became thin again without realizing it.

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends asked how I did it. “Crystal meth and a tape worm,” I joked. Two weeks later she asked, “What were the two things again?” She had taken me seriously.

Photo of Vince, Tracy and me taken at the end of my marriage by Dominic at his apartment. Photo of me in the mountains a couple of months later at the beginning of singlehood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Soulard is a neighborhood that really deserves a hall of fame. Chuck Auger should have his own star. If you were anywhere near Soulard from 1979 to 1990 you have a personal story about Chuck. He was famous for being up in your face annoying and painfully enthusiastic about everything. He was always scheming.

His plans included everyone. He was a talented musician who seemed convinced we were all going to make the big time.

He had a baritone voice that sounded like his idol Gordon Lightfoot. Chuck was a good solo artist but preferred to play with his partner Monduel. Monduel was old school complete with graying afro and dashiki, a person who seemed to have found inner peace. Monduel was the authority of African percussion in St. Louis.

I’ve only seen him rattled once.

The mother of my old girlfriend Pam called me for a favor. Marcie married the superintendent of the Webster Groves School District and they were looking for someone to head an ethnic music department. It paid well and I thought Monduel would be perfect. It was a chance for me to do something great for a friend. When I brought it up to him he was visibly shaken. “No, no man, I could never have a straight job!” Monduel disappeared into the ether.

Years later I was working the graveyard shift at Harrah’s Casino. I was in the I.T. department. We were the only employees with unrestricted access to everything in the casino. I found Monduel at the dishwasher in the back of one of the restaurants. He was happy as he could be.

We both got off around six or seven in the morning. I’d run into him in the parking lot often. I just wanted to go home to my little suburban family and go to sleep. He’d insist we share a bottle of whiskey in his van. Sometimes I just couldn’t say no.

Chuck was famous for burning his bridges behind him. He had a drug problem that he shared with his girlfriends. He had a spacey, pretty girlfriend named Linda. Last I heard she was trading sex for crack in the projects.

David Classe has been painting the Soulard Mardi Gras posters for years. Probably his most famous depicted a naked man screaming to the sky from the roof of the Preservation Hall against a lightning bolt back drop. That was Chuck.

He had gone on a methamphetamine jag. The cops found him swinging from a flagpole on the roof. He was naked and screaming at the sunrise. He was so proud of the police report he used it for the first page of his press releases.

Chuck found a brief period of respectability as a concert promoter. He threw one show together at the Preservation Hall that featured Monica Reed, The Heaters, Blake Travis and me. He was totally on top of advertising and had the place packed. The last number featured all of us on stage performing Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher. It was wildly successful. Chuck did a few more shows that were all hits before he flaked out and burned his last bridge.

He moved to Nashville where he worked the security shack at the entrance to Willie Nelson’s property. He later spent time hunting nutria rats in the swamps around New Orleans for the bounty on their pelts.

I was living with Stephen Martin when he came back into town for a visit. He left a pelt in a plastic bag on Steve’s bed as a gift. When Steve came home he picked it up, looked at it, screamed and threw it out the window. It really was a giant rat.

I haven’t seen Chuck in years. I hope he’s doing well. I think we could devote a web site entirely to people’s experiences with him.