Saturday, July 31, 2010

When Money Was Unnecessary

There’s a period of time when you’re coming of age and money simply doesn’t matter.

When I was fifteen my friend Mark Gray and I hitchhiked from our place in Soulard to a pinball arcade at the edge of “The Hill” called the Electric Palace. Mark was three years younger than I was.

If we went with one quarter between us we’d rack up ten games on a machine, sell the game to some one for fifty cents, rack up games on separate machines and actually come home with money.

Mark got really good at Foosball. I’d back him up on a team and we did a little hustling that way too.

About a year later several of my friends and I hitched to Indiana to see Jethro Tull. None us had any money. I just broke up with my girlfriend Pam. She hitched there with my buddy Dominic and I traveled with Mark and my new girlfriend Sue. Not only did we all get in but Pam and Dominic ran into the band at a Holiday Inn where they were playing pool. They got guest passes.

We went to all the shows and midnight flicks and never had a cent.

I hitched to Camdenton Missouri for a three day rock festival with three friends. It amazes me that anyone would pick up four large, scruffy, long haired guys but we got there fast. We had no money and still had no trouble getting in. No one there had money and I remember a near riot incident when a snack truck was rolled by the mob. There were no toilet facilities either.

The night before the gate opened Camdenton, population 10,000, turned into a hippie city of 25,000. People kept asking, "Where's Dave?" "I'm Dave!" I responded. Later I learned this was how people asked if you had acid.

Dominic and I hitched to the east coast with two dollars between us. I remember one blustery, overcast autumn morning walking around a deserted New Jersey boardwalk carnival. I had one dime in my pocket. There was a crane game filled with packs of cigarettes that cost a dime a try. The universe was with us and Dominic and I had cigarettes that day.

Most of the girls we hung out with were from wealthy families and went to private Catholic schools. We were surrounded by money but unfortunately never got sucked in.

I was shooting pool at Saratoga Lanes in Maplewood with one of these girls one night. “You know what I always hated about you and your friend Annie.” she said. “You’re so anti money.” I never thought of myself that way. I won’t mention her name but I still consider her one of the great loves of my life.

Like my buddy Tony Patti said, “All the kids went off to ivy league schools while we stayed home washing dishes in restaurants.”

Pic is Sue, Mark and me about to embark on our trip to Indiana to see Jethro Tull.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

KXOK Corrections from Beatle Bob -- He would know!

Hello David,
Really enjoyed your KXOK memories on your blog. Don't know where your mother got the idea that tickets for The Beatles concert as Busch Stadium were being scalped for $20.00 since only 23, 000 + had been sold. And although it may have seemed that a thousand bands had played before The Beatles, the line-up consisted of Bobby Heeb, The Cyrcle,The Remains (great garage-band from Boston), and the Ronettes (minus Ronnie Spector).
And it was not The Aardvarks who opened the show, but another great local area band The Delrays who were managed by KXOK DJ Nick Charles, not Bruno J. Grunion. And it was Nick who was responsible for bringing The Beatles to Busch Stadium as well. And since he managed The Delrays, he got the juicy opening slot for that show. Nick Charles also had The Delrays record for his locally owned record label: Arch Records. The Delrays released several great 45s on Charles' label.
And speaking about Bruno, it was Don Pietromanoco who created the character and did his voice on the air (except when they talked over each other, then Don had studio tapes he played).
Anyway, keep up the great work on your blog.
Beatle Bob

My response----- The Aarvarks were featured often on KXOX and they were managed by Chuck Connors. I realize the main voice of Bruno was Don Pietromanoco who was also Johnny Rabbit but Chuck occasionally did Bruno's voice at live gigs. The show was a great as the Winchell-Mahoney Show in my opinion and I still can't believe they erased all those tapes! I'm not sure why I thought the Aardvarks opened for the Beatles. I was 7 or 8 at the time. I also can't remember when I my mom told me scalped tickets were $20.00 but she confirmed she would have been able to afford the regular ticket price.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Life of a Hack

Times have been tough lately. I’ve been thinking about driving a cab again.

When I was in my early twenties I drove for Checker Cab. Back then I actually went after jobs I thought I could get material out of. Every job had to be different and interesting.

I’m not sure if anyone turned me on to the job. I just remember walking into the office on Hodiamont right behind the Wabash train station. After a short interview with Barbara Costello (the owner) I was in.

It was pretty easy. I paid them $40.00 a day pro (cab rental) and supplied my own gas. I had to go downtown to the police station where they took my picture and got fingerprints.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

I kept the cab. It was old. A cloud of blue smoke followed me wherever I went. Metal springs from the back seat poked through its upholstery and more than once the company was sent a clothing repair bill.

I lived in that car. I’d sleep at the cab stand in front of a downtown hotel. I only went home to bathe. I considered getting rid of my apartment.

The hours were long because you couldn’t go home until you came up with the company’s $40.00 and gas money. Business was never consistent.

We had a lot of charge accounts but the company would never cough up the money they owed me.

I remember picking up a bunch of kids after school whose sole purpose in life was to torment the cabbie. One of the kids told me he didn’t live at the address I’d been given. I had no way to verify it because no one was home. He insisted they lived miles away. I knew he was lying but I didn’t know what else to do. When we got to the new location he said he was just fooling. I said, “Nope, this is where you get out.” I pushed him into the street and drove away. Half a block away the other kids in the car started laughing. “Look, look they’re beating him up!” they yelled. I looked back and, sure enough, a gang of kids was pounding him. I sped back, he jumped in and we drove off.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when I dropped him off. He hadn’t made a sound since he got back in the car.

A few days later I was called into the office by Barbara. “We have angry parents threatening to sue us on the phone.” She said. “Your kid is a monster,” I yelled into the phone. Everyone in the office laughed and we never heard from them again.

Late one night I picked up a junkie from a hospital. I had to take him down to Malcolm Bliss for methadone. His girlfriend held him as he trembled. He was singing Happiness is a Warm Gun. I wanted to turn around and smack him for butchering the song. I don’t know why but instead of feeling pity I felt he was being incredibly self indulgent. I’ve been burned by junkies before. I just can’t feel pity. Needless to say, Bliss wouldn't pay his fare and I was stiffed for the ride.

A family friend came to stay with my brother and stole everything he owned. “He can’t help it, he’s a junkie’” my brother said. “He’s an a$$hole,” I said.

All the other cab companies were our brothers with the exception of Laclede for some reason. I suppose it was because they were the biggest company in town.

We went to funerals every other weekend. There was the fear in the back of our minds that we’d be next. We were instructed to keep $30.00 on us at all times. That was supposed to be enough to keep a robber from killing you.

I ended up dispatching on the weekends because the money was a sure thing. There was a catch though. I made $50.00 dispatching but I still had to pay my $40.00 cab rental and I wasn’t allowed to drive when I got off. I had an unfair advantage apparently.

The company still wouldn't pay the charge account money they owed me. My mother lent me a gas card and I maxed it out immediately.

The charge situation got so bad we had a special union meeting. Being a cab driver in the Midwest I naturally belonged to the Seafarers Union. I remember raising my arm in solidarity and even being interviewed by a reporter from the Post-Dispatch.

We knew if we went on strike the company would fold owing us a fortune. The union leaders promised they'd talk to the company and we wouldn’t go on strike.

I arrived at the office the next morning to find guys with picket signs marching up and down the street. The company went under and I had to move back in with my mom for a few months until I could get my life back together.

Maybe I don’t want to drive a cab again.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fojammi's Chili

It seems like the recipe for chili should be pretty straightforward. I know a lot of people who are famous for their chili and, believe me, their recipes are as individual as they are.

I grew up with a family tradition of Christmas Eve chili. I tried to bring the tradition to my new family when I had kids I loved my mom’s chili but she cooked celery into it and my wife just couldn’t accept the idea. We lost one of my favorite traditions. I think the most important thing I learned about marriage was “Marriage is compromise”. I was caught in the grips of holy wedlock!

When I tended bar at the Oyster Bar in the 80s my boss Dennis and our chef Michael Thomas always won first and second place at the Soulard Chili cook-off.

I never got to try them because, by then, I was vegetarian.

When I was a skydiving instructor in southern Illinois our boss Dave Verner always threw a Christmas chili party for the staff and jumpers. It was a way to keep people jumping in December. He had a huge pot that simmered for days. It was an accepted fact that road kill was part of his recipe. I brought doctored cans of veggie chili.

Dan Schaeffer, older brother to Dominic and Benet, cooked a recipe that was so hot he called it Chili Hindenburg!

When I was in my early twenties I lived with my buddy Fojammi and our two beautiful girlfriends. Life was good! Danny always knew how to create atmosphere. He lit the apartment with colored stage lights and made his Arp Odyssey synthesizer auto generate ambient music.

About once a year he made chili. His recipe called for fish and took three days to cook. He left out the fish and got it down to one day. It was white and let me tell you, it was white hot. Not to be outdone by Dan, we called it Chili Nagasaki.

His chili was like doing drugs. We locked the doors, took the phone off the hook, ate a bite and went into a furious, mindless trance. We stared at each other speechless as sweat poured from our foreheads.

Danny is a referee for the St. Louis Arch Rival roller derby team these days. I stole this pic from his team bio. Check it out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Somewhere around 1985 I decided it was time to perform live again. My band Wax Theatricks dissolved a few years earlier. I was lucky enough to get The Heaters to back me up. The first show was produced by Chuck Auger at the Soulard Preservation Hall.

The hall was packed that night and my nerves were shot from stage fright. There were a lot of people there who were curious as to just how I would pull it off.

As I stood at the side of the stage, waiting to go on, Sue Leonard walked up and put her arms around me. She felt my fear. She looked into my eyes thoughtfully and said, “You know everyone here loves you.” I looked at the audience and realized I knew just about everybody.

I realized I was with family and my fears dissolved. I opened with What To Do, the first song from our last Lp. The song is basically a riff with lyrics to the effect of -Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you, I won’t let anyone hurt you, I love you.

It was a dream gig. Sue stood in the front row for the whole show. I never do cover songs, but I dedicated the Kinks “You Really Got Me” to Sue as an encore.

Sue was Mark Gray’s girlfriend. Mark was the band’s sound man and she went everywhere with us. She slept in cars, went days without sleep, ate crap, and always took care of us. We’d be in some small college town were the audience didn’t know us and we were sure we’d bomb. Sue would lure guys onto the dance floor and soon the place would be jumping. No one could resist her beauty or charm. She was even in the recording studio with us.

When the band split Sue went to Europe. She fell in love with an East German guy named Peter. Peter actually swam across the Berlin River to get past the wall. They told me about a long bus trip they took through East Germany to visit Peter’s family. They were terrified they’d get caught.

When they came to the states Sue came first. They weren’t married yet and for some reason Peter didn’t come when he was supposed to. She was sure he wasn’t coming. During this time Sue and I had a brief romance. Peter showed up and it ended immediately. I ended up really liking him.

Last Thursday Fojammi called to tell me Sue had been entered into a nursing facility in South St. Louis. She had cirrhosis of the liver. I took my son. Sue looked like a trembling little old woman as she tried to eat a piece of watermelon. I couldn’t believe this was the same beautiful, vibrant woman I had seen only last year.

I was horrified. “I’m not dead,” she said. “I’m gonna pull through this.” I asked if a transplant was possible. She didn’t want to talk about it. I really felt like a jerk when I realized her positive talk was for my benefit. It was as if I was feeling sorry for myself about her illness.

She had just lost her dad and second husband in the last year and said she really had no wish to keep going. “Keep trying!” I said. She said what she knew I wanted to hear.

Dominic walked in and was much better at putting a happy face on things than I was. She got Dom to promise he’d bring peaches from a tree in her back yard. Then she recited a beautiful little poem she'd written about her father that had something to do with her peach tree.

Our friend Kay is turning 50 and Sue’s spirits lifted when we said we’d take her to the party in her wheel chair. “That’s something to work toward!” she said. We left it at that.

I was mixing acoustic guitar tracks in the studio yesterday when Fojammi walked in. “I have bad news," he said, "Sue died an hour ago.”

A few years ago the band all went on a trip to the Rocky Mountains. Tracy called us the Manly Men group. Fojammi and I talked about it before we went. We were both broke but we decided we had to go because we wouldn’t all be around one of these days.

When Fojammi broke the news to me he said Sue was the first band member to go.

I still feel like crying.

This is the only pic I have of Sue. It’s from a small picture on the back cover of the Jambox EP. The band Jambox was my brother Patrick, Tony Patti, Fojammi, Geo Ramsey, Sue, Tammy Stone and Annie Byrne.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Highlands

My friend Tracy asked about The Highlands that was on the other side of the Arena from us. It was one of St. Louis best amusement parks. It burned down in 1963. The charred skeletal remains of the roller coaster stood as a grim reminder for a very long time. It still haunts my memories. Check out this site. The photos are spectacular!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


On February 10th, 1959 a tornado ripped through our neighborhood. It left a huge crack in a wall of our apartment. Our home was condemned as a result. We lived right behind the Arena. The channel 2 tower just missed our place as it fell toward the it. From there, the tornado moved on to Gaslight Square.

I’ve been in the heart of several tornadoes in my life. Being from the Midwest, maybe that’s not so unusual.

I’ve experienced that ominous, eerie green cast in the atmosphere and a silence you can hear just before all hell breaks loose.

I remember sirens blaring one night in the mid 60s. My parents opened all the windows. My brother and I slept in the corner of the first floor of our Laclede Town townhouse. My father then went across the street to the pub to hang out with his friends and wait.

Years later my brother and I went to the Lake of the Ozarks with my mom’s cousin’s family. Driving back to our cabin from a strange little tourist town called Dogpatch traffic stopped. We were between two sides of a solid rock hill that had been cut through for the road. Just before coming to a river crossing.

“Tornado’s comin’ up the river,” someone yelled. We pulled the station wagon into a ditch where we were ordered to put our heads down. Someone threw a blanket over us. Huddled in the dark we heard the loud din of a freight train and a thunderous crack. Minutes later all was silent.

I peeked out from the blanket to see a huge crack in the windshield. After regaining our composure we started the car and slowly drove across the river. We weren’t sure if the bridge was stable. There had been a large lumber yard on the other side. It completely disappeared.

When I was in my early 20s I was living with my girlfriend Pam. She had an opportunity to work with a theater company in Milwaukee. We kept a long distance romance going for a year that involved my driving there every month.

Once, somewhere between St. Louis and Chicago, my car radio announced tornados in two nearby towns. I was between them. Looking to my left and right I saw two black funnels clouds. I just kept going.

Just before we got marriedt Kim and I went to the North Twin Theater. It was St. Louis’ last drive-in. The winds were getting wild so we turned on the radio to check the weather. A tornado had just touched down in Chesterfield. We were watching Twister.

My mom took this pic of our garage and the Arena from our back porch. The rest of the photos are from the Globe-Democrat. They show the hole in the Arena- note crushed channel 2 tower in foreground, the inside of the Arena, and Gaslight Square.