Saturday, October 16, 2010

Then There Was The Summer I Went Country

Then there was the summer I went country. But before that there were these two assholes who liked to bring their fingers from one hand down upon the closed fist of the other hand which makes a decent popping noise. Our peanut shaped study hall teacher Mrs. Overton would glare irately from her desk in a perpetually unsatisfied attempt to figure out just where the noises came from. I had just suffered through her algebra class and now after lunch the torture of that partitioned room began anew with total silence required with only the ticking of Timex wristwatches to let you know that time was actually moving. Sometime when the two assholes pressed their luck too often she would jump out from behind her desk, surprisingly quick and agile for her age which I assumed back then was ancient, and look up and down the rows of desks hoping that eye contact would force the guilty parties to crack. She wasn't successful with this tactic. Her anger would dissipate gradually her eyes like electric stove top units fading from cherry red to orange to black and then she's humph back behind her desk. I'd wait for the two assholes to begin in a few minutes later and think sadly that this is the highlight of my day.


The two assholes kept it up throughout my long freshman year at Oakland disrupting Mrs. Overton's clawlike grip on all of us who were lame enough to sign up for a study hall class. Spring came and like many spring's before my family moved. I had become used to the disruptions by now. We'd buy a house and lose it. Rent a home and then another. Move from the city to the country and back again. This time it was from a rental located right in the S curve of West Clark Boulevard within view of my beloved elementary school Mitchell-Neilson to a trailer provided to us by Grand Ole Opry star Jimmy C. Newman.


Had my father gotten a job as a musician in Jimmy's band? My father while having nebulous ideas of writing songs couldn't play a note so he had taken on the much more unglamourous job of farm attendant. The first winter there he couldn't even afford a winter coat and Jimmy C. felt sorry for him and bought him one for Christmas. It wasn't really all that far removed from my parents's shared sharecropper roots. At least my mother still had her job running machines in a factory which she now drove 40 miles to and back each day.


I arrived at Oakland in the morning soon after moving wearing bulky tan boots and the kids in my homerun snickered at me. I was not, what one would call, one of the popular kids. I was also smaller than most of my peers. So I was picked on often that year. It wouldn't be until my junior year after I grew about 6 inches over the summer that guys stopped messing with me. I had taken to wearing an ag-boy style baseball cap with the bill bent into a duck bill shape just for protection. It didn't really go with the flannel shirts with the rock and roll t-shirts worn over them (even when the weather was warm), but I was just trying to avoid being picked on by brain dead jocks. The ag-boys at Oakland were feared and I did at least know one of them who might have had my back if I got in a fight.


The thing is... everybody knew I was faking the country boy act. The boots only made the situation more comical. I had been forced to wear them by my over protective parents who were convinced timber rattlenakes were just waiting to pounce upon my tennis shoe shod feet. Within a few months I would discard the boots and run around the 600 or so acres in flip flops not really caring about any damn thing at all. But for now I was tromping through the halls of Oakland perpetually confused and wary especially dreading the 2 class combo pack of algebra and study hall.


The mostly preppies in algebra never spoke to me unless it was to ask me for drugs which I didn't take. They'd walk away laughing with barely concealed disappointment. Then came study hall with it's dismal mixture of normal kids, weirdos like me, headcases, and the two assholes. This day would be different. The two assholes were popping their knuckles and Mrs. Overton peered out from behind her desk radiating pure contempt. Then I smelled an acrid foul burning from 3 rows over. One of the headcases had set a girl's hair on fire. She had really long hair too. Perhaps he took offense at how it spread over his own desk like an old afghan knitted by some great aunt when she leaned back in her seat.


Mrs. Overton was up in a blur, a little lithe flashing peanut women leaping out of her shell, and before anyone could let out a surprised "shit" under their breath she had the firestarter by an ear and was dragging him away while another student used a book bag to smother the flaming hair. It didn't hurt the girl since she had such long hair. I don't think she felt a thing. Years later I asked her about the incident and she swore that it never happened. But it did, I'd insist, I was there. Your hair was burning and smoking and that dude who sat behind you got kicked out of class and never came back. No, she'd say, my hair has never been on fire. I'd give up and wonder if maybe my entire freshman year at Oakland really was just some bad dream I'd had. I didn't have a yearbook, did I. I wish that was proof of the dream thesis.


The first few weeks on Jimmy C. Newman's farm were sorta like a dream. I'd arrve home late in the afternoon and hop on my BMX style bicycle with it's flat black paint and no brakes. I'd race down the mile long gravel driveway to this one lane wooden bridge where I'd park the bike and go underneath the bridge to smoke cigarettes and just let my mind wander to the future where I would finally be cool. This went on for weeks. Off to school in my clunky boots and then back home where I'd instantly vanish to the bridge.


Then one day as I pedaled along lost in some fantasy inside my head a person's head appeared from the creek which ran beside the road and he yelled hey at me. This frightened me so much that I screamed out fuuuuuuck while dragging a foot in the gravel so I could stop the bicycle which, remember, had no brakes. The person was James who was several years younger than me. His step-father was the accordion player in Jimmy C.'s band Cajun Country and they lived in an old wooden house that I had thought was empty and haunted just up the road. He was picking up rocks looking for snakes. When he found out I had cigarettes we went under the bridge and smoked several. I found out he had an older step-sister Paige and I would get to meet her soon enough. We heard a car coming up the gravel road and peered out to see Jimmy C.'s wife in her Cadillac spitting gravel dust in her wake. Her car kerlumphed over the bridge and James told me he hated her.


I visited James's house maybe a day later. It was a dark house inside full of creaking wooden floors and stairs that were at odd angles and heights. James had a huge room upstairs and he even had a color television where we watched perhaps the very first episode of Late Night w/David Letterman one night when I stayed over. The first time there Paige was gone. I asked about her constantly which amused James and his parents. I had it in my head that we'd be the best of friends and perhaps she'd become my girlfriend. That is, if she was pretty enough in person.


When I met her I knew that her looks would do. She was just a year younger than me, but of course was much more mature than me. And after just a few minutes of talking to her she became completely indifferent to me. Looking back on things now it's easy to see why. I was immature, still sorta small, and worst of all my family was living in a trailer on Jimmy C.'s farm which put me several classes below that of her family which featured her world renowned Cajun accordionist father. Her indiferrence only confused me and made we wonder why she wouldn't either like me or at least have the decency to hate me. After hearing her wax rhapsodic over Randy Owen and Alabama over and over I realized if I would only make the slightest effort to understand and appreciate country music perhaps I would be able to get somewhere with this Cajun girl.


So I began the big country music experiment. I stopped listening to my Motorhead, Kiss, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy records. I switched my radio dial from 103 KDF to some country giant station. I went to the Grand Ole Opry with Jimmy C. as often as I could. I hung out with James drinking Canadian Mist and playing the godawful Atari Pac-Man game. Soon I was familiar with all of the latest country hits. I knew all the lyrics to Alabama's hits songs and I knew that Janie Fricke wanted her guy to love her 'til the cows came home. When I was invited to a big party thrown by Paige and James's parents I thought that I was finally accepted as a true country boy and perhaps an honorary Cajun.


The first thing an adult handed me at the gumbo party was a beer. Damn! Really, I thought. This was incredible. The rest of the evening went by agonizingly as the adults ignored me along with Paige and James who were hanging with the adults. I believe I also managed to offend James's mother Shirley because I wasn't about to actually eat gumbo.


So it went. I listened to country music and Paige didn't give a damn. She began to mock me openly and it hurt me even if and perhaps made more so because she was really just a pimply faced teenage girl with nothing really special about her at all. She was really not my type at all and to her credit she at least subconsciously knew it. And I slowly grew to realize this. The country music ceased in my house. Heavy metal and punk rock came back into my life like they always do. Consoling and cajoling me. I turned my passion into wanting to make Paige my girlfriend into a pure burning hate.


Now this story has come full circle of sorts. I don't listen to country music to impress a girl or anything like that. I am a dull married man after all. But, you know how Facebook has the "suggested friends" thing at the side? I click it on from time to time wondering just who Facebook thinks I need as my friend and one day recently Paige's name showed up. So, as an experiment I sent her a friend request. That was weeks ago and though I sincerely could care less if she accepts my request or not it sort of makes me happy that as of this date she has ignored it.


A few weeks after composing this Paige did accept the friend request I sent.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

So I Took The Summer Off

So I took the summer off from blogging to do much of nothing. I transferred positions in the company I wage slave for and I have just been climbing a mountain of loose binders trying to learn what I'm supposed to be doing. When I get done at the end of each day all I want to do is sit in an easy chair with a beer in my hand watching sports while yelling at my children. Those of you that know me know that the last sentence was a bunch of nonsense. Just me being a smart mouth. But I have been coming home in a state of mind where writing little words for this world just doesn't enter my mind, and I've been busy loading all my cd's onto my iPod I named Rick after Rick Danko so that takes time too. But I've started to get a handle on my job and I don't feel so mentally blasted at the end of the day so this means you will want to watch this space. I might want to come and lay down on the moss that has grown.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

pinball astrology pac-man blues – a coin op amusement arcade interlude

Silver Shack Haunts Me Still


Battleground Drive was where you’d find me after school when I was in the 3rd and 4th grades. I stayed with this lady named Mrs. Green next to a duplex where a girl a year younger than me, Shelly Davenport, lived. We’d play behind the houses in the woods where someone kept beehives or at the pond just beyond Mrs. Green’s backyard fence. I’d dream away my afternoons waiting for my father to pick me up. Time moved slow and sweet even when Shelly and I were getting yelled at by motorists for throwing gravel at their cars or when I broke her skateboard. She threw at me as my father picked me up and yelled that I should pay for it. My father told her she shouldn’t have let me ride it and we laughed as we checked our empty pockets.

One day Mrs. Green’s son stopped by with a new motorcycle. I talked him into giving me a ride on it knowing my parents would have never allowed me. I jumped onto the back and away we went roaring down the street. It was so cold. Now I knew why motorcycle riders could wear leather jackets in the summer. We hit Broad Street and went by the place where Murfreesboro’s first mall was being built. Dirt was piled up between huge yellow machinery just waiting for the future to begin.

main story:

The mall was called Stones River Mall and it was anchored by Kmart which had no entrance to the mall section which ran along past it and then made an L bend to a Kroger store. It wasn’t really a mall. It was more like a strip shopping center that just happened to have a roof over the frontage area. No matter, because I loved the place. It featured a Wal-Greens that had these little mechanical bar entrances that we loved opening and closing. There was Readmore Books which is where I got my addiction to rock and roll magazines. Port o’Call Records provided me with records I still own. And then there was the Silver Shack.

It was a cramped and small game room filled with pinball machines, video games, and other amusement devices along two lengthwise walls. It was a dark cave illuminated by the spectral glow of LED’s amidst a symphony of analog bells and beeps. When you walked in there was the pinball games to the left and video games to the right stretching back towards the infinity of the back interrupted by the odd machine like the horoscope scroll machine which I also loved. There were so many times I begged for the money just to get a Sagittarius scroll even though I barely read it later. It was the mere idea and look of it I loved.

The horoscope scroll was a mere pop cultural artifact compared to the main draw of the Silver Shack. I saw my first Pac Man game there, but this was nothing compared to my unbridled lust for the game of pinball. This was what I saved my quarters for and what I devoted myself to mastering. When I first began to play I was terrible. A few hits from the flippers which I would flip both at the same time – a couple of targets dropped – some play from the bumpers – lots of noise signifying nothing – and then maybe I’d be lucky to get a match. So my dollar of two worth of quarters didn’t last long. This was a blessing in a way. It gave me the time to watch guys play that were actually good at pinball.

No matter how much I might have wished to see cute girls lined up to play pinball, apparently the movie Tilt which featured Brooke Shields as a precocious silver ball playing genius was pure fiction. So I observed surly pimple faced teenage boys and grown up men as they pushed and shook the machines without tilting them. I saw how they would work the flippers and learned tricks on how to stop the ball cold or hand it off from side to side. I figured out that it was wise to understand what each bumper, target, or lane did in the game. I learned how the scoring progressed per machine and how to light up the “specials” and win free games and earn extra balls. Really good players would eventually get bored or just have to go and they would give their games they had earned to me and I could play for free while I improved.

I got better. I got much better. The Silver Shack cave wasn’t enough. I hit the other game rooms in town looking for the best tables. I would search out pinball machines in tiny markets. Once while visiting downtown Nashville on Lower Broad I spied a pinball machine in a storefront. I went inside and dropped a quarter in and began playing. Soon a grungy guy told me I had to leave. I hadn’t even noticed that I was in the lobby of a peep show place. My favorite pinball machines over the years were Kiss, Evel Knievel, Playboy – which I could flip the score over on, Mata Hari – another one I could flip, Pin Bot, Eight Ball Deluxe, Black Knight, and Flight 2000. I took my cue from The Who and I tried to play them all. Bally machines were my favorite, but Williams tables were futuristic, fast, and fun. Gottlieb one’s always seemed slightly second rate and there weren’t very many Stern made ones around, but if it had a silver ball and flippers I was ready to part with my quarters.

Time has not been kind to pinball games. Video games and computers have put paid to them. The Silver Shack vanished many years ago and the original Stones River Mall is just another standard strip mall. My babysitter Mrs. Green’s house is still on Battleground, but the pond and wooded area behind it are now just rows of houses. So the beat of time must go on as Joe Strummer sang and most of the pinball games (classic Williams tables recreated) I play are on a Nintendo Wii. But I still search for the real ones and every now and again I stumble upon one sitting in a dusty corner of a truck stop or market or sometimes find an actual row of shiny ones in an arcade and I’m immediately in a place of joy and discovery amidst a remnant of golden youth and Silver Shacks.

I snagged the photos from the Internet Pinball Database.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Minimal Vibe

There are moments when I think that a minimalist life would be right. I feel like jettisoning my possessions. I could paint the walls pure white and live in a Lennonesque mansion of my own mind. I would go back to my record store clerking days style when I would wear Doc Martens, jeans and a thrift store work shirt every day. Then I would bask in some version of the eternal sunshine of a not quite spotless mind.

I could drift away from complexity and vanish into the singularity of brevity. I think deeply about this and then balk and resist. I like my books, records, old Creem magazines, and guitars. I get a kick when I come across the box with my old rock 'n' roll and skateboarding t-shirts. Another box of jumbled up junk that should be thrown away yields up small memories that will make a dead past come alive. It seems I need the surface of my life to be choppy, with my mind racing from thought to thought in a random way, for there to be calm waters beneath.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Smoke Up Johnny!

It’s October 1981 and I could use a cigarette. There would be just enough time before bus 49 arrived at the junction of Sunset and Kingwood Drive for me to walk down to Jerry's Market and buy a pack of Marlboro Lights and some baseball cards. I could light up on the walk back and deeply inhale the black death into my 15 year old lungs. When my high school freshman year had begun in 1981 the older smokers at the bus stop had made fun of me because I was only puffing and holding the smoke in my mouth, but now I was a fully fledged member of the teenage nicotine lung ring. My old comic book geek friends from my Mitchell-Neilson Elementary days who rode the bus would only stare in horror and shake their heads when I reached for my lighter.

It would be easy enough now to state I started smoking in order to look cool and be more adult, and this suffices to a point. There was also the need for acceptance with the sort of older teens that could make your life a living hell if you weren't in their good graces. I wanted to be, yearned to be one of those sulky long haired boys huddled with their girlfriend in the smoking area of the school grabbing a quick puff between classes. There was the exulting aura of rebellion (it never smelled smokier) that firing up a cigarette imparted. Unless you thought too hard about it and then all of my adult relatives came into view smoking their cigarettes and they didn't seem much like rebels. Looked at this way lighting up was just as contradictory a state as being 15. The reason I kept smoking for years was simple. The nicotine rush had hooked me.

I was telling somebody the other day that I used to smoke and they didn't believe me. It's true I protested. Even though I can't stand the smell I still crave cigarettes. Pleasure synapses fire up in anticipation just by my writing this post. I smoked from 1981 until the mid 1990's. A recitation of brands would go like this:

pilfered Merit's from my mother who was just about to quit smoking when I started

Marlboro Lights which was the consistent brand I would return back time and time again

Camels which I would buy out of the cigarette machine at the fire hall in front of Mitchell-Neilson where they were ridiculously cheap – funny how easy it was to just sneak in there back then

More's the long cigar like cigarettes


Newport menthols which made me sick at the Tom Petty show in 1985

Carltons which were like smoking paper (I was trying to quit)

Lucky Strikes when they came back

Pall Mall

Benson & Hedges

and finally several years of smoking clove cigarettes

The new smokeless zone we all live in is nice in some ways. I like not smelling like smoke after dining out. It is undoubtedly a healthier place. Yet it is also a less free world in which we live. I still remember when the smoking ban hit M.T.S.U. and my major adviser at the time Dr. Frederick Crawford was denied his pleasure of smoking his pipe in the halls between classes. He raved about it to his Western Civilization class I was taking as this ban was not due to a governmental wide edict, but due to one student complaining. This was followed up by an outburst about the Chinese which had something to do with why he risked his life in the Korean War only to end up in a country where a gentleman couldn’t smoke his pipe.

The governmental edict was coming and soon the adult world resembled my high school years with the grown up’s crouched together furtively grabbing a smoke outside before going inside. They didn’t look cool. They just looked sad and addicted. I quit for good in the middle of the Nineties. I did like my mother and just stopped. I still miss the nicotine sensation even if all of the glamour and mystical cool was always false. The truth is the main reason why I smoked was because isn’t a cigarette the most marvelous prop.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five Ways To Recognize A Punk Poseur

I found this in one of my old notebooks dating circa 1984.

1. They wear clip on safety pins.

2. They tell you their favorite album by The Clash is the one with Joe Strummer smashing his guitar on the cover.

3. They buy their punk rock shirts pre-ripped.

4. They own an Emerson, Lake, & Palmer record.

5. Look in the mirror.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Woodstock In Tennessee

Twenty five years ago give or take a day I attended Woodstock. It wasn’t in the state of New York. It was upon a hill in Percy Warner Park at the Iroquois Steeplechase. The older readers of this blog or as I call them now, my peers, understand what I mean. The Iroquois Steeplechase used to be this anarchic event with just a handful of seats for the ladies wearing hats and their escorts while the unwashed masses commanded the hillside dubbed Woodstock by frat boys and girls, the triumphantly hip and tragically hip, stoners, punks, hippies, horse lovers, and my friend DD Blank who had suggested we go.

The sunshine was bright. The grass was green. The port-a-potties were white and blue. The hill was alive with the sound of partying and puking. Women in bikini tops carrying beer and booze would be staggering later. It was in a word: freakinglorious. As long as I could avoid the shirtless frat boy gorillas I figured I’d have a great time. DD staked out a place where we could see most of the race track. I wasn’t even thinking about the races. My only experience with steeplechasing was from seeing Tatum O’Neal in International Velvet.

DD spotted one of our Riverdale classmates, Chaney, wandering around dressed as usual in her finest preppie fashion. As the afternoon went on we made up a game called Spot Chaney. It became somewhat thrilling to find her and mark her perambulations among the crowd. I’m sure you’ve sussed out that I hadn’t been able to score any liquor so we were missing out on what some felt was the quintessential part of the event.

I will admit that even mastery of the Spot Chaney game brought fewer and fewer psychic rewards, but one could get a contact high just from being around the entire mass of drunk and stoned hillside revelers. The main excitement though was, oddly enough, the very reason for the event: the horse racing. You could see almost the entire course from the hill back then, before the evil white stands multiplied like sycophantic servant mushrooms in years to come to blot out the view.

I picked every horse based on their name and the more literary the name the better. There was a horse named Ozymandias that ran that day. I don’t remember if the horse won. Details are lost over twenty five years time, but I can still feel the energy and hear the sound of the hoof beats. Then there was the absence of the hoof beats as they leaped over the steeples replaced by the swelling song of the wasted hillside. All of us debauched kings and queens for the day.

The day ended and I caught sight of a blond girl wearing a camouflage shirt, black skirt, and combat boots. Now it wasn’t as if I had a Gene Simmons “Christine Sixteen” moment – you know the line in the song where Gene says he “had to have her” – but I did think she was cute and most punk rock stylish. I just admired her from afar as DD and I went back to his car.

Some quick off road driving and we were out ahead of the post race traffic jam. Then we saw her, the girl I would later dub the “Iroquois dream girl of space and time”, riding past us in the shotgun seat of her girl friend’s car. It was my camouflage vision. We chased after them and they saw us pursuing them so they backed off laughing and we passed by them. I urged DD on as I yelled out the window at the girls. We weaved in and out along Harding in an acceleration of exuberance.

We knew it was silliness. It was the kind of pursuit that would have been ruined if we had actually pulled over to the side of the road and introduced ourselves properly. I also had a late shift at McDonalds to get to that night. So we lost the girls when they finally turned in the opposite direction we were going. I would muse upon the missed possibilities that night as my sunburned skin tingled and sizzled like the hamburgers on the grill.

We went the next couple of years to the Iroquois Steeplechase. It had become a traditional event. We even got to play Spot Chaney again, but I didn’t see any blondes wearing combat boots. DD wasn’t around in 1988 so I went with Bruno who was covering the event for the Nashville Banner. So I hung out in the press tent with all of the free food and booze, but I missed the hill. I looked out of the tent and noticed Woodstock was shrinking. There were more and more stands. I went one last time in 1989. The stands had multiplied so much you couldn’t see much of the track from the hillside. The partying had also been curtailed with security clamping down on coolers full of alcohol. The entrance fee (while for a good cause) left me broke and the event now just "a shattered visage."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mirror DisAppearances

I look into a mirror today and I'm not sure of the reflection. I am in process. I am on some path that doesn't go backwards even though I can look over my shoulder and catch fleeting glimpses of what used to appear in the mirror.

There is a sun bleached full head of blonde hair with a tanned face in a Panama City hotel in 1990. The soundtrack for that trip was The Buzzcocks - "You Say You Don't Love Me" and "I Believe" on a low budget fake Walkman while the waves washed ashore. I was getting over a girl. It seemed like I was always getting over a girl.

There is a Polaroid snapped of me in front of the bathroom mirror as I got ready for work at McDonalds in 1985. I was eighteen, maybe 3/4 boy and 1/4 man. I'm blow drying my hair which would smell of hamburger grease when I got back home. The soundtrack was buzzers, sizzling, and the crack of frozen patties on the edge of the grill to separate them.

"No Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones in 1977" I was part of the Minutemen that summer. The Minutemen was one of the teams in a fledgling softball league called the Jimmy Carter Softball League sponsored by the Moose Lodge. We didn't have real uniforms. Just a t-shirt with a moose head and a cap that we picked up at Agee's Sporting Goods back when it was still located just off the Murfreesboro square. The Minutemen cap had a white mesh back with a big white M on the solid maroon colored front.

I wore that cap everywhere. It's in almost all of the photos taken of me that summer. The thing I remember most about the cap is seeing it reflected back atop my head in the passenger side mirror of my father's Ford Ranger. I would lean over in the seat just to see the mirror. The scenery passed by as a shadow while I stared back at myself. Solid. I was not in process.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Cobwebs & Strange

Don't consider this a comeback. Just consider this the beginning of the renovation. I'm going to dust off the cobwebs, but keep the strange. I'll be updating my sidebar links and giving the blog a much needed appearance change. The most important part is that I will be posting regularly again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton

Just a few words on Alex Chilton's passing away. I loved his youthful energy and soulful voice with The Box Tops. I loved his lost years in the Seventies making trash pop anti-masterpieces such as Like Flies For Sherbet. I enjoyed his cover songs and white boy blues efforts of the Eighties. The reconstituted Big Star with Andy Stephens and Posies Stringfellow and Auer put on magical shows. Of course, above all, it was the work done by Alex with the original Big Star that has touched my heart and been there for me in some of my most trying times and happiest times that I will remember and cherish. Godspeed Alex. Hope you and Chris Bell are jamming somewhere out of time.

Friday, February 05, 2010

V & A

One of my favorite museums, Victoria & ALbert, has a dynamite online database which will suffice until I can back to London again.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Random Baseball Link

Here's an awesome unexplained disappearing baseball story featuring the greatness of Joe "Tarzan" Wallis. I was hipped to this through the ever epiphanous Cardboard Gods. If you like thoughtful writing and baseball cards, be sure and pay Josh a visit there. More Joe Wallis stuff here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010