Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Time with Valerie

I found an old hard drive and decided I should hook it up to my PC for more storage. What a stroke of luck! I found a bunch of photos and MP3s on it.

I’m sure I have the photos backed up somewhere, but I’d forgotten about them. Most of them are pics of my kids through the years. My greatest burden is a sense of nostalgia I can’t seem to get away from.

My girlfriend, Valerie’s birthday is Monday. She pointed out we’ve been together for 6 years. When we first got together, my kids were very young. 6 years seems like a few months to me, but my kids have grown into young adults in that time.

Valerie worried that my kids wouldn’t like her. Much to the consternation of my ex, they love her. The same can’t be said of Kim’s fiance.

Chloe had the hardest time accepting the changes. She kept a cold distance for a while. Dylan seemed to have no problem at all. He can talk right through any disaster you could imagine.

In these few years we’ve gone from fingers in a belly button and too much candy to worries about drugs, sex, and driving.

We’re juggling college and the threat of dropping out altogether. Is there a realistic way to focus on the pursuit of happiness and stability?

Every time I look at the old pictures, I miss my babies. Now they just want to be taken seriously as people.

Valerie has had to put up with a lot of my family crap. I’ve spent more time dealing with my ex than on her. She’s even said Kim has 2 husbands. When we plan our time I usually try to include my kids and I know our time alone is important to her.

Happy Birthday Valerie!

Early pic of Valerie and me at the Free Fall Convention in Rantoul, IL.

Dylan, Valerie, and me at a Dennis Connelly party this year.

Valerie and me at a Jay Farrar show last spring. This was taken by a photo journalist and published on line.

Birthday kiss on my 50th birthday.

2008 Camping Trip with Valerie and the kids.

Dylan and Valerie on recently completed highway 40.

2007 Christmas picture of Valerie and the kids.

Valerie and me in a pool at my skydiving buddy, Mike Lambert’s birthday party.

An awkward Valerie with Kim and her fiancée at his property as my kids hunted Easter eggs.

My kids at Monk’s Mound, an early day trip we all took in 2004.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thank You

Cannot tell where path lead until reach end of road. (Charlie Chan)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

No S#*t - There I Was - Thought I Was Gonna Die

The most fun thing about skydiving, other than the act itself, is standing around a bonfire or VFW post, drinking beer and telling war stories at the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re new to the sport everyone is looking out for you and it’s safe. If you’ve been around for a while you not only have bragging rights, but you’ve probably lost a few good friends.
Sometimes you feel like an idiot and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before it’s your turn. It’s very hard to resist the lure of freefall. The only reason I’m not jumping right now is no time and no money. It was also a terrible distraction from music and I’m beginning to want to leave behind a body of work.
I think it was 1990 in Sparta, Illinois. My friends Becky, Stuff and I planned to take a small Cessna 182 to 10,000 feet. Becky brought Cyrus, her 5 year old for an observation ride. Since then most drop zones require passengers be the age of legal consent. I think the plan was Stuff and I would do a 2 way and Becky would ride the plane back down with her kid.
At 7,500 feet there was a loud, metallic pounding sound. A sheet of oil covered the windows and we were blinded. Stuff and I looked at each other and said, “Guess our skydive is going to be at a slightly lower altitude!” We threw open the door and jumped.
Not long after we landed we saw our plane glide onto the runway.
I wish I could remember our pilot’s name. I think it was Vince. He was a great story teller. He told me his first impulse was to follow us out of the plane but he turned and saw Becky and her son huddled in the back of the plane. He opened the window and did everything he could to see where he was going as he glided the plane back down for a safe landing. He was in the military and got a medal for heroism.
Becky told me she was trying to figure a way to cinch Cyrus into her straps so she could jump with him. Luckily it didn’t come to that.
The airplane had a hole in its engine that must have been a foot in diameter. It had thrown a rod. It proved to us you really could glide those things back down if you had to.
We pressured Dave, the DZ owner, into getting a large plane so we could do larger formations. We were a small budget operation so Dave got a Beechcraft Queen Air. It was as large as a King Air. King Airs hold about 12 people and climb to altitude very fast because they have turbine engines. They’ve become an industry standard. The Queen Air had piston engines and was terribly under powered for our purposes.
We rigged a quilted blanket with snaps as a door for easy exits. For some reason we were always at odds with the airport’s FBO so we often flew to other small air ports to jump. The FBO is kind of the boss of the airport. When we finally moved permanently to Vandalia, Dave made sure he could be the FBO.
We spent one day in St. Clair, Mo. Once a year Dave had us jump into a local fair as a show for the local orphanage. At the end of the day, as the sun began to set, we all boarded the Queen Air to fly back to Sparta.
I’ll never forget starting at one end of the runway, beginning to roll and picking up speed for take off. Our pilot began to yell obscenities as we started to pull up. I unsnapped a few buttons at the bottom of the door and peeked out. At the end of the runway there was a tree line. I watched the trees coming up and the plane not rising. Our pilot’s language got uglier. Finally we pulled up but trees rubbed the bottom of the plane. I was looking right at them. I thought we’d had it. I think only our pilot and I knew what a close call it was.
After a great sigh of relief we headed home, but not before a little detour over Six Flags. We had to use our gear for seats. Our only light was a soft glow from the instrument panel. We drank beer and reminisced about the day. Our pilot said, “Look out the window at Six Flags.” Suddenly bombs were going off all around us. We had flown right into the airspace of Six Flags’ fireworks display. I know what it’s like to dodge shrapnel from cannon fire.
One night we were standing around a bonfire in the middle of Tennessee. Out of nowhere, my friend Colorful Tom said, “One day you’ll have a terrible skydive that just won’t end!”
The very next day 2 buddies and I exited at 14,000 feet from a King Air. We jumped right into a cloud that was full of ice pellets. The pain was so intense we covered our faces from the blast. As soon as we did we lost sight of each other. I could still see my altimeter.
I never got below the cloud and it became clear that I would have to deploy my parachute soon. There were 2 other bodies out there somewhere and we risked entanglement. The only thing I could do was go lower hoping the cloud would dissipate. Finally somewhere around 1500 feet I deployed. It’s illegal to open this low.
Somewhere around 900 feet the cloud disappeared and I was heading straight for giant power lines. I’m talking those huge suckers that span the country side to infinity. I was able to steer just in time to avoid them as I landed in a cotton field. It took about half an hour to pick my canopy out of the barbs and walk out alive.
When I got back to the airport I discovered that my sides and underarms were bloody from the pounding of the ice. This was through layers of clothing and a jump suit.
A few years later my wedding jump went into an ice cloud. My friends that were part of it remember it as the worst jump of their lives.
I used to love jumping at night under the light of the moon. One night we decided to do a 12 way out of a King Air. Just after our exit only about half of us made it into the formation. We broke apart early enough to get plenty of distance between each other. I could just make out my altimeter from a glow stick I had wrapped around it. I though I saw other bodies nearby so I tracked a little farther out and went a little low. I still had the paranoid felling there were bodies nearby. I ended up deploying at a dangerously low altitude. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. All my friends and I have small canopies that glide fast. I knew we were landing around the same place at the same time. I decided to land farther away from our well lit landing area just in case. Sure enough we all had that idea. We still had to dodge each other. I totally last any desire to ever jump at night again.
Since then I’ve had friends that didn’t deploy at all during night jumps and hit. I’ve also had several friends whose automatic activation devices saved them when they lost track of their altitude.
This has turned into my longest post and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
To be continued……………

Pics are me under my PD 170 (170 sq ft), it was quite sporty in its day. For those interested I went from a Falcon 175 to the PD 170 to a Sabre 135 to a Stiletto 120 where I remain. I’ve jumped smaller and faster but it’s not wise in my weight group.
Not sure why the rest of my pics are of my ex but the first is me putting her out of a Cessna 182 when she was still on student status. The 3rd and 4th are in the hanger at beer thirty while friends packed their canopies. Beer thirty is when we’re allowed to drink after the last load of jumpers has taken off.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My First Roommate

It seems like two weeks ago we were celebrating Tony Patti’s 50th birthday. Last week Tony turned 52.
I posted a few pictures from old notebooks last week and mis-identified a couple of them as Tony’s. I should have known better because Tony’s stuff has always been easy to spot.
Aside from an unsuccessful one night experience in a Central West End carriage house with a guy named Ed Emerson, and a week we spent at Tony’s mom’s place on The Hill when she was away, the first place I lived away from home was a tiny apartment in Soulard with Tony and my brother Patrick.
Tony and I were 16 or 17. With his permission, someday I’ll tell the story of the night we got the idea to live together.
It was a three room apartment we shared with two dogs. I was able to throw a single mattress on the floor of a closet so I had privacy. A gas space heater stuck out into the middle of Tony’s room and I burned all my winter clothes as we huddled around it. As I’ve said before, the rent was only $50.00 a month and we had trouble coming up with that.
There was a tiny store front under us where some religious group held revival meetings.
It seemed like there was 24 hours of sinning upstairs and redemption downstairs.
For a while our buddy Fojammi slept in a hallway that led downstairs to the front. It was dark out there and I was afraid there might be rats. We always used the back door.
Tony was always reading us passages from Marcel Proust and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. It would be years before I actually read Joyce and I still haven’t gotten around to Proust.
We ended up trashing the place so much that when the apartment next door became available we moved. At that same time, my father’s heat had been turned off so I invited him to sleep at our new place.
Tony and I came home very late after a heavy night of partying to find my dad asleep and shivering on the floor next to the dysfunctional space heater. We hadn’t gotten our heat turned on yet and it was the middle of winter. It’s a wound in my heart that time will never heal.
The saving grace is that my mom let us all come over to her place to sleep on the floor. I remember the four of us gathered around a tiny TV watching Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr in Boom Town.
I’ll never forget Julie Heller, one on the great loves of my life, bringing her friend Nancy Post over to visit. Nancy was one of Julie’s private school friends. She lived in a palace on a private street across from Forest Park. Nancy couldn’t hide the fact that she was horrified in this environment and Julie seemed to love every moment of her discomfort.
My dear friend Marge couldn’t stand to see me living there and practically pulled me by the ear back to her apartment in the West End.
I moved without hesitation and I think it must have hurt Tony’s feelings. From that moment on he would always refer to my brother Patrick as his best friend. It used to hurt every time he said it.
Over the years I’ve left my notebooks, drawings by friends, films and tapes all over the city. I regret that many have been damaged by water and neglect. Here are a few pictures by Tony from that time. I used a cheap scanner. I had to scan pieces and reassemble them in PhotoShop.

The first is “Lectric Tea”. I t features my brother dinking his tea from his favorite steel glass, a sissy bar from a Stingray bike, me, Lee Bock, George Clinton, Captain Beefheart, a roll of toilet paper, and a collection of beer bottles and cans that were everywhere in our apartment.

The second is Tony looking back as I smoke a cigarette behind a tearful Annie O’Connor. Annie was the first great unrequited love of my life. I think Tony is looking at a stone sculpture of the unattainable woman.

The third is called “Don’t You Know We Need Somebody To Do Some Work In The Street!”

Click on the pictures for details.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Notebooks

Last week I tried to give a little background to my taste in art that led to my love of my favorite painter Remedios Varo. It was way too ambitious. I didn’t talk about her at all and I couldn’t even scratch the surface of all the people and movements that have meant so much to me.

Maybe I’ll start a new blog with each post devoted to a single painter.

I went through a lot of my old notebooks looking for Tony Patti’s drawing of his Multi-Diagonal Mighty after last week’s post. I never could find it but the sheer volume of notebooks I filled up in my youth was staggering.

Independently of each other, my friends and I all used to carry notebooks around. We’d fill them with stories, poetry, songs, plays,film scripts and art. I even made flip animations on the sides of my notebooks. If I ever get the energy, I’ll make Flash animations out of them. I never did keep a journal, which I regret now.

We’d experiment with automatic writing. I wrote stories together with friends and we played the game “The Exquisite Corpse”.

To play, one person would start a picture or story and expose the very end to the next player where they’d pick it up. The finished product could get pretty surreal and sometimes downright hysterical.

Here are pics from various notebooks---------

  1. A drawing of me bussing tables at Duff’s Restaurant around 1976 by my buddy Bill Schmidt. I used to bring home food I found in the bus pans to feed my roommate Tracy. He thought I was buying the food.
  2. A 2 page spread by my buddy Fojammi around 1977 or 1978. On second thought, it might be Bill.
  3. An imagined image of my boss Mr. Wong at the Lantern House Restaurant in University City. I used to wash pots and pans and it was almost impossible to please him. He would yell, “Too Gleasy!” Fojammi did this around 1977.
  4. Another picture of me by Tony around ’77 of ’78.
  5. A pic by Dominic around 1977. Note the penis arm.
  6. A prototype of a batik I did about God. The batik portrayed God as Louis Armstrong playing his horn. His music is all of creation. I wish I still had the batik, it turned out quite well.
  7. Another by me around ’76 “The Saliva Sisters” .
  8. Another page by Bill with 3 panels. The bottom one is a futurist druggie scolding a square. He’s telling the square to “Get Jarve”, a 2013 way to say hip done in '77. The middle panel is me in a room full of weirdo squares.
  9. A 1980 pic of some fat monster. I can’t remember who did it.
  10. The last one is a Logo Dominic was working on for our band Wax Theatricks. It’s an actor made of wax holding a flame skull. His head is also a flame. Click on them to enlarge

Swan Song Rejection

I thought my band mates would get a kick out of this. It's a very polite form letter rejection from Swan Song records, Led Zepplin's label. I found it in one of my old notebooks.