Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sue and Fran

The day before yesterday my friend Greg called to tell me our friend Sue Weber was in a coma with Cirrhosis of the liver. I couldn’t believe it. In the last year I’d already lost two good friends the same way. I remember thinking how quickly my other friend named Sue went after we found out she had Cirrhosis. Greg called me less than fifteen minutes later with news that Sue was gone.

Just like the others, it wasn’t a great surprise. Sue had fallen into a dark depression. Instead of responding to her obvious calls for help, we avoided her unpleasantness.

When my marriage fell apart, my ex talked me into taking antidepressants. I learned these drugs and booze did not mix at all. I made an ass of myself. I can’t believe my friends stood by me through it all.

Sue was going through the same thing except she hit the booze with a vengeance. Her whiskey had to be at least 101 proof and she’d kill the whole bottle.

I told her I had to make a choice between booze and the pills. I gave up the pills and surprisingly I didn’t need the booze after that.

I decided there was no reason to mask the struggle of my divorce. Things really were that bad and I had to learn to deal with it.

I posted recently about Sue’s husband Fran. They were my friends who went on the Jerry Springer Show. As smart as these two were, there was always an element of trailer trash to their relationship. I’ve never known a couple who loved each other as much, or who fought as hard.

Sue was a perpetual student. I’m not sure how many degrees she collected, but I know she had a lot to do with Fran’s Master’s degree.

Their son Wolfgang was a hemophiliac, a bleeder. They went out of their way to make sure he had a normal childhood. Wolfgang was involved in every sport. He jumped ramps with his skateboard and bike. I’ll never forget Sue staying up all night, in tears, injecting her son with drugs that would stop the internal bleeding.

Nothing Sue did was easy. She was a school teacher. She taught in the toughest schools in St. Louis County. She taught in Wellston. If you’re familiar with St. Louis, you know that’s a war zone. The state had to come in and take control.

Sue told me horror stories of breaking grade school kids up who were openly performing acts of sex in her classroom.

The last I heard from Sue she wanted to use me as a reference when she was taking the bar exam to become an attorney. She said she wanted to fight the good fight and represent people who didn’t have a voice.

Things were getting tough for Fran. Sue slipped into a perpetual funk and wouldn’t socialize. Every plan we made, she would cancel at the last minute. After a while we didn’t even bother.

Fran will have to raise their little girl Jenna by himself now. I love them both and will really miss her.

Sue wasn’t keeping her unhappiness a secret. We have to be there for each other because otherwise we’ll regret it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pam's Folks

A year or two ago, my son surprised me with a geometry project that was due now! It counted toward a major part of his grade that semester. We worked straight through without sleep and got it in just under the wire. I took it as a personal victory that he got an A.

The hardest part was deciding what the project would be about. We chose a dam-lake project based on the old Meramec River Dam project that had been so controversial. We built it out of colored clay and found materials. We totally made up the details of how geometry was used for the project. Even after that we had to pad it with other information to make it long enough. We made up a story about a study of endangered turtles that might have been threatened. It was exhausting!

A couple of days ago my daughter, Chloe, casually announced she had a geometry project that was due. I almost fainted - Here we go again! These things seem to worry me a lot more than my kids. We ran through several ideas she hated. Just like what we went through with Dylan. My daughter is heavily involved in drama (on several levels) at school. We decided she would design and build a theater. The stage alone would use a lot of geometry.

The idea was inspired by a friend of mine who is one of the designers of the Loretto-Hilton Rep Theatre in Webster Groves.

For over a year, Marita Michenfelder Woodruff (then Sister Marita) and Wayne Loui, who was also a member of the college's theatre arts department, worked with St. Louis architects Joseph D. Murphy and Eugene J. Mackey on the building's design.

Marita left the order to marry my girlfriend Pam’s dad. Pam’s mom, dad, and Marita are a fascinating group of people.

Marita taught several actors who went on to bigger and better things. Marsha Mason and Kathleen Turner come to mind. After Pam’s dad died, Marita would have us over for dinner. It was always great conversation and she loved to experiment with the cuisine. Marita always seemed emotionally fragile. I know she’d been through Hell.

Pam’s dad, Robert, was part of the first group of astronauts in the Mercury program. They had to cut him due to some weird brain wave issue. Bob was really intense. There’s a Salvador Dali painting and the subject looks like him. He had a huge forehead and big bulging eyes. Come to think of it, the woman in the painting looks like Pam.

Bob went on to become a very successful psychiatrist at Barnes/Washington University. He wrote a text book that’s still in use today. His medicine cabinet was stocked with every psychotropic drug know to man. He ended up booking a night in a local hotel and killing himself with an overdose of something.

Pam and I had already split by then. She moved to Chicago and became a Playboy Bunny. I think the death of both our dads is what brought us back together for round two of our relationship. She married David Van Tieghem, a superstar percussionist I’ve always admired. They have a beautiful kid named Zoe.

When I was still married, my family and Pam’s got together at her mom’s house. Her daughter’s name is Zoe and mine is Chloe. Pam and I were dressed alike and in the same colors. We even drove the same make of car. Her mom treated me like we’d never been away from each other. I had the feeling I was closer to her than Van Tieghem. Maybe I’m just making that up!?

Pam’s mom Marcie has been writing. Most of what I know about the Rep is from articles she’s written. I’ve been to plays at the Rep where her story in the playbill was far more interesting than the play itself.

When my ego got too big, Marcie could always bring me back to Earth with a simple remark.

Dali's painting of Pam's Family and Marita.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Observations of a Fossil

Every generation curses the short attention span of the next. I think it first really got to me when I got married. I married a woman eleven years younger than me.

My friend Steve and I did the audio for the St. Louis Hockey Blues commercials for two years. We had free access to games and never took advantage of it. I’m not really a big sports fan. I think people should play games, not watch.

The team had a private box at Busch Stadium, and we did go to baseball games.

I finally went to a hockey game with my wife. She loved the game. I couldn’t believe how expensive it all was. I was bored out of my mind, too. It was all action and no drama. All that wasted, meaningless energy!

I confessed my boredom and said I preferred baseball. She couldn’t believe it. “That has to be the most boring game in the world, they just stare at each other.” she said.

I told her I thought the tension, drama and suspense of a pitcher trying to psyche out a batter was far more entertaining. It held my interest much more. She didn’t get it.

Turner Classic Movies sent Tippi Hedron to one of our local theaters to speak before a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds last week. A woman was talking about it on the radio. She said she overheard young people in the audience complain about how slow the film was. There were long pauses in the action with the sound of fluttering wings in the background. Those scenes used to send chills down my spine. My mind ran wild with all the “unthinkable” possibilities.

Speaking of short attention spans, this all occurred to me because I was going to write about trees. I have never seen either of my kids in a tree.

The first time I officially played hooky, I mean I wasn’t feigning some illness to my mom, was in fourth grade. A friend of mine and I were walking to school, and when we arrived at the front of the building we kept right on walking. We walked to Tower Grove Park and spent the day in a tree.

In those days truant officers were everywhere, and we knew they wouldn’t find us there. We made up lies and kept each other entertained all day. I couldn't imagine my kids staying in one place all day, unless it was in front of a computer or television.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about it over the years, but it’s true: adults have organized all the fun out of childhood. I’ve been guilty of it myself.

We organized our own ball games in empty lots. Now kids have uniforms and professional fields complete with concession stands. We built our own tree houses with stolen materials from construction sites. Now grown ups build forts from prefabricated kits. We rode in gangs on our bikes through the streets. These days, kids get together in front of a TV to play rock band, no one goes outside at all. In fact, parents won’t let their kids go out for fear that some pedophile is lurking behind the tree the kids should be climbing in the first place.

I scold my kids for their consumer driven idea of fun, but it’s my fault, and I’m afraid it’s too late to change.

I told my daughter that she and her friends hide behind technological social networking. They don’t have the courage to say the things they do to each others’ faces. That made them cowards. To my surprise, she agreed.

I guess their attention span is just on a different level. For example, they’re allowed to use calculators in math class. Our teachers would never have allowed that, but it allows them to go much farther. They just wouldn't be able to do it without tools. I guess if you think about it, we’ve evolved to a point where there are a lot of tools we can’t live without. Life marches on!

This pic is from years ago when my kids still behaved like kids.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Projects

I was 16 when I bought my first car, so I’m not sure how old I was when this happened. I was still living at home in Soulard and working at Duff’s in the Central West End.

I was a dishwasher and my job ended when all the dishes were done. If I worked past 12:20 I was out of luck because that’s when the last Bi-State bus came that went my way. I tried to hitch, but often had to walk. I’m not sure how many miles it was, but in the winter it was awful.

I used to tell my friends I was getting a ride in a $75,000.00, chauffer-driven limousine (a Bi-State bus).

When I did get a bus, I had to take it downtown to 12th and transfer south to Soulard. The bus stop downtown was right in front of the Police Academy and main station. If I got there at 12:00 a thousand cops filled the street as their shift changed.

I was a long haired kid and extremely self-conscious. I always felt somehow illegal and the presence of all these cops was a nightmare. If you had long hair in those days you were harassed. I remember having to open my guitar case for them all the time. I’m not sure what they thought they were going to find.

One night I made it to 12th, but the bus going south never came. I didn’t want to walk from there because you had to go through the Darst-Webbe projects. No one in their right mind would do that. I decided I would. The projects were only about 6 blocks from the police station, but even they wouldn’t go near the place.

I remember coming up to the nine story structures in the dark. It should have been a movie set. There wasn’t a soul in site. Starting at 12th and Chouteau I made my way south. I got half way though and still no one. Finally, I was a block from Lafayette, the end was in site.

Materializing from the ether, I was surrounded by young men about my age. Three of the large buildings curved around us. We seemed to be in a huge amphitheater.

I can’t remember what was said, or how long it took, but they made it clear I wouldn’t be walking away from there.

This neighborhood that seemed empty was now totally alive. The windows were filled with onlookers. I heard a woman yell, “Fu*k him up!”

Somehow I found the resolve to run. The crowd behind me yelled. A wine bottle whizzed past my ear and shattered in the street.

Finally, exhausted, I stopped running. I heard laughter in the distance. I relaxed and started walking.

Just then a car with 3 red faced and greasy haired red necks pulled up along side me. One of them said, “Boy, we’re gonna fu*k you up!” I was going from one racially prejudiced extreme to the other.

Having just faced death, there was no fear left in me. I leaned into their window and said, “Don’t fu*k with me a$$hole!”

I think my behavior caught them off guard. They drove away.