Sunday, September 26, 2010

The School Dance

There’s only one event in my life I’ll never forgive my mother for. The only school dance I ever had any interest in happened when I was in 7th grade at Nipher Junior High School in Kirkwood. A skinny, cross eyed little girl named Becky Herman told her best friend to let me know she hoped to see me there. I was chubby, awkward and totally smitten.

It was a formal affair and no one could get in without a jacket. I didn’t have one and was in total despair until my mom’s friend Lamar offered to lend me one. He said it was green, checked and shark skin. I didn’t know what any of that meant. It probably looked like a clown’s jacket but it would get me in.

The dance went from 7:00pm until 10:00pm. That night I paced frantically waiting for my mom to get home from work with the jacket. 7:00 came and no sign of my mom. 8:00 came and I was beside myself. I had no way to contact my mother. 9:00 came and went. Where could she be? At 9:45 she pulled into the driveway. I don’t think she even remembered the jacket. All I remember her saying was she didn’t think it was that important to me. That was probably the moment I totally gave up on any kind of social life at school. I’m 52 now and I still can’t get it out of my system.

Last night my daughter Chloe went to her high school Homecoming dance. Unlike me Chloe is very popular. She was asked to go by several boys. In fact she had such a large assortment of young men to choose from she ended up regretting her first choice. I have to give my ex Kim credit for making Chloe stick to her promise.

The young man went the whole nine yards. He spent a small fortune on the tickets, a corsage and dinner. It was a big deal to his whole family. We met them at the Homecoming football game. Chloe is in the marching band and they put on a spectacular half time show.

It’s strange to see the effect my daughter has on young men. Her date was very nervous.

One of her friends’ fathers owns a limo and took all the kids to the restaurant. When it arrived, the boy she wanted to go with jumped out and pinned a corsage on Chloe. Kim stood in horror in front of both kids’ parents. Chloe was so upset her chest broke out in a rash. Kim watched as Chloe drove away with two dates. Chloe insists she told the boy she had a date.

It’s still early and I have yet to get the details from Chloe herself. I guess physical beauty has its responsibilities.

My son, on the other hand boycotted the dance along with his buddies. This is probably more in line with my approach when you have to face the fact that the girls just aren’t clamoring for your attention.

Chloe in the Banana Bike Brigade at the Hispanic Parade and Dylan camping.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

4 Best Friends

When my mother, brother and I became part of the great westward migration to the county we followed Highway 44 to Oakland. Oakland was a small unincorporated area between Webster Groves and Kirkwood. Highway 44 was still under construction and a great source of materials for our tree houses. Not to mention what a great playground!

I remember stealing tomatoes from people’s gardens and bombing cars at night from the highway’s bridge over Berry Ave..

One night we saw a police car coming toward us in the distance. There was a heavy piece of equipment on the bridge. We pulled ourselves up and hung there by sheer muscle power as the cop shined his search light around the machinery. When he finally drove away we fell to the ground exhausted and exhilarated.

We only lived in Oakland for 2 years but they were formative ones for me. I had 4 best friends.

Jack Schenk lived in a 3 story Victorian house surrounded by woods and compost piles. I only remember a few things about him. He turned me on to the song Justine which was the B-side of The Archies “Sugar Sugar” single. I hated The Archies but I loved that song. I think that’s when I realized I could love a song by a band I hated. Roll With The Changes by REO, Jukebox Hero by Foreigner and any guitar part by Tom Sholz of Boston come to mind.

Jack’s mom was one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz along with the rest of her 4th grade class.

He had a garage that was separate from his house. We’d meet there in the morning before school to smoke cigarettes and plan our next crime.

Greg Frillman went to a Catholic school Mary Queen of Peace. They would get out for summer vacation early and I was always jealous until they had to go back early. Greg was my fellow architect for our tree houses. They were spectacular.

Our best one was a 2 story complete with working windows, a bedroom and electricity. It was in our friend Brad Elsner’s back yard. We painted it green so it would blend in with the trees. It was so nice we rented it to Brad’s older brother for 2 weeks when he ran away from home. He used to bring his girl friend there. The first time I ever got drunk Brad’s brother bought us a small bottle of Jack Daniels and Mad Dog. We drank it in the tree house. We laughed all night but couldn’t understand why we weren’t getting drunk. I’m not sure what we expected but we had no idea we were drunk. I think kids get drunk naturally when they’re happy.

Speaking of laughter--- a section of the highway had been completed but not opened yet. There was a pedestrian bridge that went that high over it. I decided I would go across from the outside of a tall chain link fence that stretched across. Greg watched from the safety of the other side. He threw his hands out from his head like he was screaming in terror. I was laughing so hard my strength disappeared. He was relentless. I begged him to stop, I was going to fall. I must have been 3 stories over the pavement. I really don’t know how I made it across.

Years later I ran into him at a mansion in the Central West End. He was going out with my buddy Benet’s old girl friend Nancy Post. We barely acknowledge each other’s presence.

Jeff Knoll ended up being one of my life long best friends. Jeff was already popular with the girls in 6th grade. My nick name was Skinny because I was chubby.

We used to camp in his back yard and sneak out late to pool hop. I remember one pool had a fence around it with a sign that read, “Keep Out, Survivors will be Prosecuted!” Jeff had a tree house too.

His dad was in the Navy in WW II and had a Purple Heart. He never really approved of me. I remember having dinner with the family one eveing. They bowed their heads to pray. I closed my eyes and bowed with them. “I didn’t know Skinny prayed,” he said. I guess it was obvious I was pretending.

When Jeff and I got in trouble for stealing bikes his dad banned me from the house.

Jeff and our friend Dennis Wheeler actually found a corpse on the railroad tracks. It was right out of Stand by Me. There will be more stories about Jeff to come.

Don Belk probably affected me more than any other single person. He was trouble and eventually ended up doing time. A few years ago when my young family lived in Florissant he called me out of the blue. I remember thinking, “How the Hell did Don get my number.” My buddy Tracy gave it to him.

Don started us stealing bikes. Way back in his yard at the top of a hill he had a little club house we used to camp in. He had a really animated personality too. One night when we were sleeping in the club house he yelled, “Kiss my Paducah!” He thought that was so funny his laughter kept us up all night.

Don and I used to play air guitar on yard sticks to Steppenwolf and The Kinks.

I’m not sure why but in 9th grade I hitch hiked back to his Kirkwood home from my place in the West End. Don was playing bass in a band. He turned me onto the grab box at Mel Bay music. I bought my first guitar from it for $25.00.

Without knowing a single song I was invited into the band. We were called Blue Mist. We used to load all of our equipment onto a red wagon and carry it to someone’s garage until the cops were called and we’d move on. The first thing we learned was 18 by Alice Cooper. We played the verse over and over for hours. We never did learn the chorus.

Don met Lee Bock in Webster and fell in love. Lee ended up being the twin sister of my first real girl friend, Linn. It was the beginning of my sexual and intellectual adventures. Don introduced me to Tracy who is still a big part of my life and, as it turned out, was the first bass player in Blue Mist.

This picture of me was taken around 7th grade. I can’t remember the woman’s name. She was a friend of my mom. It was taken one night at Holiday Shores. Our friends Ed and Jan, the owners of Laclede Town’s “Coach and Four Pub” had a small piece of property there. This is where my dad drowned a few years later.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Can Change It and I Can Change

My least favorite part of bar tending at The Oyster Bar in the 80s was serving the West County crowd after a ball game. They would head out from the stadium after a game to slum in the dirty city. They would actually cause physical damage and expect us to clean up the mess they’d leave behind. I had nothing but contempt for these spoiled, self important jerks.

My opinion of them only made matters worse. It made them more aggressive. They would start fights knowing they’d be restrained by their friends. I’m sure many of their parents had to fetch them out of holding cells downtown. I suppose their lives were otherwise quite boring.

My partner through all of this was my dear friend Sharon. She assumed the roll of bar mom. “Kill them with kindness’” she’d always say. I learned to take this advice to heart. The angrier I got, the softer my demeanor became. It worked; their momentum would derail and they’d lose their psychological advantage. Sometimes I could even find some quality in them to appreciate.

I tend to get excited and I can become overbearing at times. I remember playing a show at an outdoor event in the Central West End. My buddy and bass player Tracy invited several members of his family. I found some hyper-active way to piss them all off. Tracy was furious. “You know my whole family thinks you’re an ass!” he said. “That’s too bad, I really like them,” I said. This had the desired effect and Tracy’s mood softened. “They don’t really,” he said.

Dede, an old high school friend, has been commenting recently on my political blog. She said “I sense a certain amount of disdain in your opinion of humanity.” At times it’s true but it’s like every interview I’ve ever read by rock and roll personalities; when they’re asked what their likes are they say people and when their asked what their dislikes are they say “people.”

I wonder if rock personalities fit some kind of social archetype.

In 1990 I was determined I’d stop smoking. I had already tried twice and it was painful. I really loved smoking. I convinced my self that I enjoyed the deprivation, the pangs of withdrawal. It’s strange that humans have the ability to enjoy pain. Have you ever been bitten or scratched during sex? Hot peppers also come to mind.

When my marriage was breaking up I wanted to do everything I could to save my family. I researched every psychological avenue. As wrong as I thought my ex was about everything all the counselors said I had to agree with her if I wanted to break through her defenses. It occurred to me this was the same strategy I’d been using for years. They also warned that I should be sure the marriage was worth saving. When I realized the damage had already been done to my kids, I knew I was much happier being free of the burden of my marriage.

My point is that when you come at things from an unexpected angle you can penetrate the most hardened defenses. Change really is possible. I’ve changed often enough to know.

Tending Bar in the 80s pic taken by Sharon or Joanie.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ride David Ride

My friend Dominic wrote about riding his bicycle across town in his blog last week. It reminded me of a very strange time in my life.

When I was a kid there was no destination beyond my reach. All of St. Louis was my neighborhood because my friends and I lived on our bikes.

We’d think nothing of riding down to the riverfront from the Shaw neighborhood. There was a helipad on a barge in front of the Arch. My brother talked the pilot into giving him a ride.

Years later I would take Joanie Thomas on a helicopter ride there for her birthday. Earlier that morning we rode horses. There was a theme I can’t quite remember but it involved modes of transportation and the letter H.

Speaking of themes, Tony Patti and I were living in a little apartment in Soulard and we decided we would base our meals on a color. The first color we came up with was black. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find anything to eat that’s black. Caviar comes to mind now but back then all we could think of was licorice, olives and Coca-Cola. That ended up being our only meal with a theme. As usual I digress……

A few weeks after Joanie and I broke up I discovered I wasn’t prepared to be alone in the world. I’ve always been pretty lucky that way. I tried to woo her back but she wouldn’t have any of it. That’s when I learned you don’t mess with a Thomas.

I sank into a despair I think I actually enjoyed. I stayed with my friend Sue on her farm and spent every day riding my bike on the Katy trail. I had a great Raleigh 10 speed Joanie had given me for my birthday.

It was like the scene in Forrest Gump where he took off running. I rode and rode. It was mindless and I couldn’t ride far enough to get away from my demons. I’d stop at my friend Dave Gebben’s bar in Dutzow, have a few beers and jump back on the trail.

Down from the trail in the Missouri River flood plane sits the Washington Airport. A tiny place used mainly for crop dusters. I didn’t know it at the time but my friend Curly Cowan ran a skydiving operation there years before. His sons Jimmy and Scott were my bosses when I was an instructor at the Sullivan Airport. Scott died in a crash that took several of our friends.

I saw a biplane from the trail and decided to ride down. After speaking to the airport’s FBO we decided to call the owner of the plane. I had to wake him up but he came out to fly. I sat in the front cockpit. Knowing I was a skydiver he did everything he could to make me piss my pants. We did loops, diving spirals and flew upside down. “How high can you take us?” I shouted over the din of the wind. “All the way up--- 3,000 feet,” he yelled back. I wasn’t fazed. I’d already jumped from 21,000 feet which required oxygen.

He finally got me though. He flew down into the river. We flew no more than 10 feet above it for miles. I thought I felt water spraying across my goggles. I was sure he was going to fly under the Washington Bridge when, at the last moment, he pulled back on the stick and climbed suddenly into the sky. One thing you should know about biplanes; they don’t have to slope into a climb, they go straight up. “You know that’s very illegal,” he yelled.

After landing I jumped back on my bike and hit the trail. I still had to outrun my demons.

Eventually I came to a stop and it was over. Just like Forrest Gump I was done riding. Joanie was out of my system too.

Lonesome Dave working the Oyster Bar. Thanks to Valerie for biplane pic.