Saturday, July 31, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Epilogue)

Epilogue: Innocence Lost
“If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?”

My Mother died on August 22, 1968: My childhood didn’t end then, but it was certainly changed — irrevocably, permanently, and completely. Prior to that, I knew death only in the context of the bad guys getting what they deserved on TV. The picture taken in that photo booth is not only a snapshot of a goofball kid having fun and acting his age. It is a photograph of the end of innocence; the end of the period in my life in which I never felt freer.

The memories generated by this photograph will always be as important as they are priceless.

I will always remember my Cousin E, and the Bike Hike adventures we took together. That is a major part of my childhood. I will always remember the incredible role that comic books played in the development of my mind and imagination, and perhaps most importantly, in the inspiration of my career path. In my lifetime I've never aspired to be anything other than an artist; it was all I could ever see myself being. I never had to deliberate over the different options I might have had, or spend time trying to "find myself" in terms of a career objective. It was always a clear decision for me. And even though my vocation ultimately took a different form than I imagined it would, I am still an artist, and have been well-served by my earlier training as an illustrator in affording me a broader skill-set as both a graphic designer and web designer.

Our final year in Indiana was a blur. There would be one more Bike Hike to Anderson. Then began the preparation to move, which included a huge garage sale in which we sold our pool table and nearly all of our furniture. Included was my Mother’s prized Duncan Phyfe-style bedroom suite, which cost $1000 when my Dad purchased it for her in 1945 following his return from WWII. He had to sell it for $100. There’s no telling how much it would be worth today. Fortunately he decided to keep the nightstand from that set, which I now proudly possess, along with my Mother’s other prized furniture piece, her beautiful old china cabinet.

California would be the very definition of a brave new world to my family and me. My impending relationship with my Step-Mom would also bring revolutionary changes to my life — some bad, but many good.

A number of wonderful things happened to me as a result changes wrought by my Mother's death. Moving to California afforded me opportunities that more than likely I would never have enjoyed had we remained in Indiana; and we most certainly would have remained there if she’d lived. I gained much, but as is the case of so many things in life, there is give and there is take. In losing my Mother, I may indeed have gained a better life, but who can say it was a fair exchange? I look at that fun-loving young boy and I wonder to myself how he would have faired if that photo was simply one in a series of ongoing life-affirming moments she would oversee during his adolescence and teen years, instead one marking the end of his innocence as a carefree child. What kind of a man would he have grown up to be? That’s a question that obviously no one can answer. I can only strive to live my life as I think she would have wanted me to if she were here today.

I would like to think that I’ve done that.

I hope I have.


Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part IV)

Story 3 of 3:
“The Cool Ones”

Two down, one to go. The third story that comes to mind from the photo booth picture I posted in this series’ prologue is the most fun, but least consequential of all. This story is a total lark; a fantasy; a make-believe dream come-true. Most accurately, it’s a frikkin’ joke!

You see, the twelve year-old making the goofy face there in the photo above, had another brief passion in back in 1968. He fancied himself to be a Rock star.

So you wanna be a Rock ‘N Roll star…
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, or have taken the time to venture into the archives, you already know that music is one of my two top passions. I was lucky enough to grow up in not only the “Golden Age of Comics,” but the “Golden Age of Rock ‘N Roll” as well. I was born the same year that Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, cementing his status as “The King of Rock ‘N Roll.” That event, according to many commentators officially ushered in the Rock era. So when people ask me how old I am, and I’m feeling a bit playful, I simply reply that I was born the same year as “Rock ‘N Roll” (that one always earns me a lot of blank stares, but I like it). Then I make ‘em guess.

The first in-person rock concert I experienced was The Beatles, in 1964, when I was only eight years old. Rock was in the blood of everyone I knew. It wasn’t just a part of the youth culture in the 60s, it was the culture.

Everybody who could lift an instrument dreamed of being a rock star. I was no different.

I don’t remember whom it belonged to, or how I got it, if indeed it was mine, but sometime during the summer of 1968, I got my hands on a snare drum & symbol set. There’s an old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Well I’d like to proffer a corollary of that saying, “Those who can’t teach, become enthusiasts.” That’s me in a nutshell with regard to music. I can’t play, yet music has always been such a part of my life that I have to do something, so I go to as many shows as I can, learn everything I can, and love to talk about it whenever I can.

Following the back injury in 1977 that ended my gymnastics season I had to take 12 credits in summer school in order to become eligible for my senior season the following year. The injury had forced me to take a medical withdrawal from all my classes for the spring semester. Since you have to average 12 credit per semester to be eligible for intercollegiate athletics, I either had to go to Summer School to make up those credits, or sit out the following season.

I decided that since I was sacrificing my summer taking classes, I was going to have fun doing it. So I took racquetball, beginning acting, piano and voice — classes that I would never have taken in college under normal circumstances. I had a blast in everything but piano — I sucked — and discovered that I am completely devoid of talent with regard to musical instruments. However, the other classes I did well in. I found that while I would never be considered “good,” when properly trained and practiced, I had a decent singing voice. But then I always sort of thought I did, which somehow leads us back to the story…

I felt so strongly about my burgeoning musical passion that I, like so many others like me at that time, thought I could be a singer-songwriter. For several weeks I sat at that mini drum set and wrote songs to a beat that could only be described as hideously spastic. But hey, I thought I was the next Dylan. I remember writing three songs, but unfortunately, still only have one that I’d written down (the other two, one of which was entitled, She’s Gone — and no, I didn’t sell it to Hall & Oates — have completely left me).

The remaining song was my first, and best. It is at the same time, a source of great pride and huge embarrassment for me. The pride is in the fact that it enabled me to have my fifteen minutes of (local) fame as a rock star. The embarrassment is in that it is so incredibly (but understandably) trite (I mean whadaya want from an eleven year-old?). Furthermore, my Dad used to make me sing it a cappella to every freakin’ adult we knew for a solid year after he first heard it. And while it’s great that he was so proud of me, it was hard not to feel like a show pony being paraded around. That and the “Hey AJ, show ‘em your muscles” fiasco when I was in 10th grade were the only two times in my life I can remember really not likin’ my Pop all that much. But that’s a another story altogether. Back to this one…

I recently came across the ancient manila file folder I still have from the late 1960s in which I have kept all the odds and ends that aren’t already in scrapbooks from that period in my life. I found torn-out pages from an old Daredevil comics special issue, for some reason separated from the original comic book (which bit the dust in the basement flood). Also, two Major League Baseball programs; one, from the first Big League game I ever attended, in 1969 at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati; the other, a California Angels program from a game in 1975 in Anaheim, with Mickey Rivers on the cover. There were also the faded colored pencil renderings of my first attempt at drawing a comic book of my own league of superheroes, “The Challengers” (which I will scan and post as per Michael’s request, once he returns from vacation). And finally, a yellowed page from a spiral-bound drawing pad, featuring the lyrics, written in pencil and barely still legible, to the one product of my very short songwriting career.

Laughing, chortling, snickering and snorting are definitely allowed here…

Baby, My Hold on You

Baby, my hold on you
is fading away.
Baby, I can tell
It’s not going to stay.
But, I tell you now
I just don’t know how
that I’ll
live without you.
I love you, love you true.

I think
and sometimes even
break down and begin to weep
‘bout the love
that once was ours
that I’m still trying to keep

But, my thoughts of these
are only empty memories
of when
our love was really strong
I wonder where its gone

I love you baby, don’t mean maybe
Love you every day, yeah
Love you baby, don’t mean maybe
Love you all the way ay yayyyyy…

Baby, my hold on you
It is going so fast
I remember all
The things we did in the past
But, before you go
I want you to know
that I
will never forget
the day that we met


My love for you
is everlasting
it’s constant as the sea
But now your heart
is someone else’s
it no longer belongs to me
But, you’ll never know
how much I love you so
and how
you linger in my brain
You’re driving me insane


(Orchestral bridge…you know, with lots of strings and horns and shit)

Baby, my hold on you
now is simply gone
I just don’t know
where it all went wrong
But, I tell you now
I just don’t know how
that I’ll
live without you.
You don’t know how much I love you.

(Chorus x2…fades out, with strings and horns a’ blazin’)

Okay, I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself, but hurry up…this story is getting to be a bit too long…

The Shirt
Ah yes, the shirt. In case you were wondering how making a toothless, monkey-ears face in a photo booth relates to being a Rock star, relax — you didn’t miss anything. I’m gettin’ to it.

Here again, I’m a little fuzzy on the details of “how,” but in the picture above, the shirt I wore on the Bike Hike that day is the key to the story.

The original photo had darkened a great deal over the years, so I had to perform a little Photoshop magic to make it look good when I scanned it. However the scan of the entire photo was still too dark to see much detail in the shirt, so I re-scanned it larger and tweaked the contrast so that you can get a little better idea of what the print on this shirt looked like. It was a short-sleeve mock-turtleneck shirt that was a deep blue — probably just a tad lighter shade of the dark blue in the Blogspot banner ad at the top of everyone’s blog pages.

In black, printed over the top the dark blue base color, the shirt featured a very cool paisley print. If I’m not mistaken, I think that my soon-to-be-Aunt Mom, Maxine got me the shirt that summer, probably for my birthday in July. She bought it at JCPenny, or as we always more simply called it, “Penny’s.”
I don’t know if I have ever received as a gift an article of clothing that I was any more excited about. That shirt was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Much less put on my body. I wore it proudly.

I entered the 7th grade in the fall of 1968. Mike A was a suave neighborhood boy who was a casual friend, but way too popular to spend much time hanging around with the likes of me. Soon after the school year began, one day he took notice of my “cool shirt.” He asked me about it and I told him where my Aunt had gotten it. A few days later he showed up at school just like it. Our casual friendship immediately became fast.

Once again I don’t remember how the subject came up, but one day we were both wearing our “cool shirts” as we’d collectively dubbed them and were sitting around talking at lunchtime. Now it was common knowledge that Mike had a band he was putting together. Over the summer they could be heard pretty clearly from my house. Mike and his friend, another former casual neighborhood acquaintance, Mark S, both lived one street over and a half block down from us. They usually jammed from Mark S’s garage and they sounded pretty good for a bunch of 12 year-olds. They were still practicing, but they were pretty close to being ready to play at parties and such around the neighborhood. Mike played electric guitar Mark S played the drums. Some other guy whose name has completely escaped me was the bass player. But anyway, as we were talking, I mentioned that I’d written a couple songs. Mike asked if he could come over some time and hear them. I must have jumped out of my skin saying “SURE! How ‘bout today after school?” Mike said he’d like that, so he and Mark came over to the house that afternoon.

I sang Baby, My Hold on You, for him and he really liked it.

“You wanna sing in our band?” he asked. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Of course!” I said. “That’d be totally groovy!”
“What’s the band’s name again?” I inquired.
“We haven’t come up with one yet,” He said
“How ‘bout ‘The Cool Ones?’” I offered. “We could wear our shirts!”
“Hey that sounds pretty good!” Mike smiled.

And so it was, “The Cool Ones” were born.

Mark S. and the bass player were soon dispatched to go get their own official signature band attire, but unfortunately JCPenny had sold out of the dark blue style. However there were three other colors of the shirt still had in stock. It came in a dark green, deep yellow, and red base colors. Mark S opted for the green and the base player picked up the red variety.

My fifteen minutes of fame as a Rock star was actually about 3 weeks in duration. We played two parties, one at a popular girl’s house, in which I remember being really nervous, but doing really well singing my songs. The rest of the set were either instrumental covers of old “beach music” hits, along with a few pop covers that Mike sang lead on. I know that I wasn’t all that good, but I can take comfort in the fact that I sang better than he did.

The other party we played was at my house, an event that I still remember feeling nervous planning. It turned our well, but I don’t think I sang quite as well that time. No matter, we had a huge turnout and everybody had a good time.

Soon after that the “Cool Ones’” short-lived run came to an end, as the neighborhood fogies started complaining about the noise when we practiced and Mark S’ parents shut us down. The curtain was abruptly closing on my life as a Rock star.

So, the band just kind of faded off into the blue. To my knowledge, Mike never reformed the band before I moved to California the next year. I still heard Mark S. practicing his drums on an occasional Saturday afternoon. Who knows what the circumstances were in the lives of the other boys who were part of my brush with musical fame.

I’ve often wondered exactly happened to “the shirt.” I know it never made the trip to California. I don’t remember giving it to Good Will, but truth be known, as often as I wore it, it was probably a tattered rag by the time it either wore out or I grew out of it. Either scenario is equally likely to have happened. One thing is for certain, I’ll never forget wearing that shirt and the way it made me feel.




Next: Epilogue: Innocence Lost

Friday, July 30, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part III)

Story 2 of 3 (continued): The Magazine Trading Post: The Marvel Group
After being “raised” on Superman and the rest of the DC line-up of comic book characters, somewhere around 1966, I became aware of a second publisher, offering a different set of superhero crimefighters. These heroes were different. They didn’t live in imaginary cities like Metropolis, Gotham City or Central City. Instead, this entire group of characters lived and worked right in Manhattan. New York City.

New York City?

Yep. As if saving the local population from the likes of The Green Goblin, Kingpin and the Red Skull, these guys had to deal with all the other crazies in the “Big Apple” while they were at it. And if that wasn’t even more difficult, the writers threw in a still more formidable opponent for each of these characters to deal with: themselves.

Stan the Man
This was the Marvel Comics Group, home of Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The X-Men, and Daredevil. These and several others were all the brainchildren of one man: the incomparable Stan Lee.

Lee, his writers and illustrators combined to produce a revolutionary concept the in superhero comic book genre: characters who you could believe were real people. People with real conflict, heartache, and personal demons. People who not only had to struggle against evil, but who also had to struggle to “get the girl” in the civilian lives. It was part action story, part soap-opera, and totally amazing to a ten year-old boy who was just beginning to have genuine crushes on girls and was already beginning to be able to empathize with some of the personal struggles with which the characters dealt.

Because of the recent spate of motion pictures based on Marvel comic book characters, most everyone is well aware of who Spiderman is. But back in the 60s, especially when I discovered him, the general public hadn’t caught on yet. I had no preconceived notion of who he or any of the other Marvel characters were, only that they were different and totally fascinating to me. On my weekly pilgrimages to the Trading Post I began to buy Spiderman and Fantastic Four more and more often. I bought Superman and Batman less and less.

As DC comics, which I still collected, had done before, reading Marvel comic books taught me things that I just wasn’t gleaning from my school teachers. Things like loyalty, dedication, and sacrifice for the greater good. And oh yeah, did I mention New York slang? I suppose there was one drawback.

Benjamin Grimm a.k.a. “The Thing” is a character in The Fantastic Four. He is for lack of a better word, a monster. In his former life he was a street tough from the Lower East Side, who by accidental exposure to cosmic rays was changed into a rocky orange humanoid. He was hideous to behold but possessed superhuman strength. Ben joined with his friends Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, and The Human Torch, to form The Fantastic Four, fighting crime and any evil supervillian who would attempt to wreak havoc on New York City. The great thing about The Thing was that trying to figure out what he was saying was every bit as much fun for me as watching him beat up the bad guys. Wonderful new literary euphemisms like “It's clobberin' time!,” “I dunno,” “mebe,” and “shut yer fat yap,” quickly became part of my vocabulary. I really have to make a conscious effort to correctly spell the word, through, and not spell it thru, as was the habit of nearly all Marvel writers. That and shortening ever word ending in ing to in’ are bad habits that haunt me to this very day, but ones that I wouldn’t trade for all the java in the Big City.
If you aren’t all too familiar with The Fantastic Four now, just wait a year, you will. Like Spiderman, The Fantastic Four movie is now in production, and is scheduled for release on the 4th of July next year. As good as the two Spiderman films have been, I’m really intrigued about this one. It’s something I never thought I’d see done, but with the magic of CGI, I suppose the sky is the limit.

And if you’re reading this, Michael, I figure you already know this, but The Shield’s Michael Chiklis is staring in the role of The Thing. It should be very interesting!

Needless to say, comic books ruled my life from about age eight through twelve. And though I bought an awful lot of my collection from The Trading Post, I was concurrently collecting new issues of both DC and Marvel titles every month as they came out.

Supporting my habit
Y’know, I was thinking about it the other day in preparation for writing this blog story, and I had to stop and think, “How the heck did I come up with the money for this stuff?” I spent every dime I could get my hands on to buy comic books and later, baseball cards, which I started collecting in 1969 — but that’s an entirely different story. Where did it all come from. Well I mentioned the siphoning off of the lunch money, which I don’t completely remember, but I do think is highly probable for the time in question. But doing some additional straining of my frontal lobes I was able to come up with a few possible scenarios.

Two of my primary income sources were my Dad, and collecting empty pop bottles.

I remember accosting my Dad constantly for spare change, sometimes on a daily basis. He was always a soft touch though, and never refused to empty his pockets for me, despite his protests.

Another of the many places that Cousin E and I frequented via our bicycles were the roadsides in and around Middletown, particularly the stretch near the local golf course. These were always a rich source for discarded empty glass soft drink bottles, which carried a bounty of five cents per at the grocery store where we took them to cash in on the deposit. I looked at it as a comic book or a pack of baseball cards for every bottle I found along the rural, overgrown parkways we perused.

Finally, if pickins were slim on both the Dad and pop bottle fronts, there was always the tried and true petty larceny option to fall back on. Having older brothers and a few older cousins whose home I frequently visited, there was always an abundance of change on top of their bedroom chest-of-drawers. After excusing myself to go upstairs to use the bathroom, a quick glance here to make sure no one was lookin, followed by a quick swipe there, and I was a buck twenty richer. That was often enough to last me a week or more.


I’ve been carrying that secret around with me for the past 35 years. It feels so good to get it off my chest! Jack, David, TK, and Big Jim, I apologize. You weren’t that drunk after all. That money really did just disappear.

Sleeping with the fishes…and the rats
At its peak, my comic book collection numbered well over 500. That’s five hundred what are now classic comic books. The two mags I held up for display in the photo booth that day in 1968 were two of my earliest versions of Spiderman and The Fantastic Four, but I had some previously purchased DC titles that were much older. I had at least three mid-1950s Captain Marvel comic books that would be extremely valuable if I they were still around today.

Yes, I did say if.

Unfortunately, due to the extreme weight of the box, which housed my entire collection, shipping it to California when we moved in September 1969 was pretty much out of the question. We sold our house and everything in it, including furniture, so all that remained, personal items and clothing that we couldn’t fit into my Dad’s red 1966 Ford Fairlaine, had to be shipped, and as you know, weight is money in the shipping biz. So against my protests, it was decided that we couldn’t afford to ship my comics box. I was heartbroken, but my Dad assured me it was only a temporary circumstance and that once we got on our feet out in California, we would have the box shipped out to my waiting arms. In the meantime, Brother Jack would keep them, along with some other items also deemed too expensive to ship and thereby expendable in our journey to the brave new world. I grabbed between fifteen and twenty assorted comic books for the long trip and off we went. Had I known then what I would find out later, I would have taken more — a lot more.

Jack at that time was living in “the green house” as we always referred to it — our original house in Anderson, which my Dad still owned, and had previously been renting out. But now my brother would be living there and my pulp treasures would be living with him. I wasn’t worried. I should have been.

The green house had a basement. It was a dark, damp, creepy place of which I have only memories of fear and foreboding. I don’t believe I ever went down there on more than two or three occasions in all the time we lived in that house, which for me was from birth to age six.

Did I mention that it was damp down there? The basement, according to my Dad, used to flood regularly. So sometime in the 1950s he installed a sump pump which automatically came on when water in the sump pit reached a certain level. Now I don’t claim to know a single thing about sump pumps and what needs to be done to maintain them. Apparently Jack shared my lack of knowledge in this area.

My comics box was kept in the basement, along with the other things we couldn’t take with us. Jack didn’t do whatever he was supposed to have to have done to keep the pump working. Onr night it rained — a lot, but the sump pump never kicked on. Jack was apparently oblivious to what was going on, because by the time he knew that it was flooding, the water was up to the basement's ceiling.

My comics disintegrated. Everything that was in that basement was ruined. And the worst part was that it happened just a few months after we left, but Jack didn’t tell anyone about it for two years. And all that time I was under the assumption that my precious comics were safe and dry, just waiting for me to retrieve them.

I was devastated.

If you’re wondering, I forgave my brother for his sin of omission long ago, although it still hurts to think about it. I can’t really say how much money was turned into mush that fateful night, but I can say with reasonable certainty, that by today’s standards, that collection could have put both of my kids through college. I would never in a million years have sold them, but the fact that a wonderful legacy which could have been handed down to my kids and grandkids was lost forever — and needlessly so — is pretty hard to take.

However all the rain in the clouds in the sky couldn’t wash away the memories and the things I learned; the wonder and adventure; the peacefulness and excitement I felt simultaneously when I had a new comic book opened before my eyes for the first time. The 60s were part of what is now referred to as the “Golden Age of Comics,” but I like to think of it as the “Golden AJ of Comics” instead.

Next: Story 3 of 3: "The Cool Ones"

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part II)

Story 2 of 3: The Magazine Trading Post
Two out of the three defining passions from my early childhood were directly related to one another: comic books and drawing. I’m not really sure which came first, but I know that I don’t remember drawing anything when I was a kid besides superheroes.

Understandably, Superman was my first hero. The old black-and-white TV series starring the tragic George Reeves was one of the first television shows to capture my imagination. I’m sure that I was introduced, by proxy, to comic books by my older brothers, because I began drawing Superman, Batman, The Flash, The Atom, and Green Lantern long before I actually began collecting their comic books.

These comic books, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them (and if you aren’t, welcome to the 20th century!) were published by DC National Comics. The star of the franchise, of course was Superman, who started out as a serialized newspaper strip in 1934. The Man of Steel debuted in his own comic book, Action Comics in June 1938. Batman joined the comic book scene with his debut in Detective Comics in May 1939.

There was a tangled web of interplay between detective and “spicy” pulp stories and the introduction of Superman and Batman into the DC Comics line-up, but by the 1950s, the “Golden Age of Comics” were ushered in and Superman and Batman led the way. By the late 50s-early 60s, superheroes dominated the comic book landscape. This is obviously where I came into the picture.

Again, because of how big a part of my life they were, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when my collection began. However, I believe I can accurately credit my eldest brother Jack for turning me on to the greatest discovery a kid like me could hope for: comic book nirvana, a.k.a. The Magazine Trading Post.

The Trading Post, as I always referred to it, was located about three blocks from the house I was born in, on Pitt Street in Anderson, Indiana. I don’t know exactly when I began going there, but I’d imagine it was around 1964, when I was eight years old. I always rode the bus to school, but would often walk home with two of my kindergarten–through third grade chums, Keith and Kurt, who lived about a half of a mile away. From their house it was just over another half-mile to home, but no walk through that neighborhood was complete without a vist to the Trading Post, which was right on the way.

Don’t ask me how I got the money, I think I probably skipped lunch a few times a week to support my habit, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Trading Post was as unassuming a place as one would ever imagine. It was in a residential neighborhood housed in the enclosed front porch of the small white house its owner lived in. The proprietor was an old, white-haired lady named Addie. She would greet me at the door with a smile on her face that was as predictable as the cardigan and housedresses that almost seemed to be her uniform. She was always nice to me — that is after she became convinced that I was a serious customer, and not there to damage or pilfer the merchandise.

As the name indicates, The Magazine Trading Post was a place to trade old magazines, paperback books, and comics for ones that may not be new, but ones that you hadn’t read before. Of course you didn’t have to trade. Money was also accepted as tender for Addie’s goods. I never traded one comic book for another, but she did tell me once that the bulk of her paperback stock came to her by way of one-for-one trade.

Given that the store was a converted porch, there wasn’t a lot of room to walk, even for a small boy. Naturally, Addie kept a close eye on me at first, to make sure I didn’t knock over the stacks of the used magazines atop the tables that lined the outside walls. Most of the remaining floorspace was claimed by a number of upright, cylindrical wire racks that held the hundreds of paperback novels she sold. However not all of the turnstile racks were filled with paperbacks. A few held those precious conglomerations of pulp, ink and action: my beloved comic books. The newer editions were always on the racks, while the slower-moving older titles were relegated to the stacks on the tables. By the time I’d been a regular customer for a couple of months, Addie knew that I was no danger to her inventory. She often would just leave me alone to peruse and go back into her house. When I’d found all I wanted (or had the money for that day), I would simply ring the doorbell, hand over the change, smile and move on.

Oh yeah, I did say change. Back in the 60s, comic books had a retail price of 10 cents. Near the end of the decade the price skyrocketed to 12 cents per issue. At the Trading Post, the everyday low price was a nickel.


Comic books were my greatest teacher when I was in elementary school. They taught me about grammar and sentence structure much more than any English cirriculum ever did. I’ll never forget the time I was reading a Superman comic and came across the word superb. I didn't recognize it. So I went to my brother David and asked him, "What does this “sooperbee” word mean?" He smiled at me knowingly and said, "AJ, it's pronounced “soo-per-b(uh).” A light bulb went off in my head, “So THAT’S how you spell that word!"

I credit comic books for teaching me how to read at a time when I couldn’t have cared less about anything that they were trying to teach me in school.

From the very early 60s to around 1966, DC Comics were all I knew in the superhero realm. But sometime around that latter period, no doubt upon coming across one of them among Addie’s stock, I discovered another brand of comics that would sweep me off my feet, and another brand of superhero that would completely engulf my imagination.

Next: Story 2 of 3 (continued): The Magazine Trading Post: The Marvel Group

A Break in the Action

Riddle me this Batman...
What do you get when you take an already tired birthday blogger, add a wonderful Italian Restaurant dinner, fold in liberal amounts of wine and 6-8 bites of a HUGE piece of chocolate fudge cake?

Eight hours of sleep and no blog written.

I had a wonderful birthday yesterday, guys, and you were all a big part of it. However unfortunately I did not get the next segment in my current series written last night. I just sacked out after a long day and a big dinner. However it's all pretty much on the tip of my tongue, so hopefully I'll be able to spit it out today on my lunch break.

Oh and by the way, if you're wondering what I got, Michelle bought me a wonderful little antique Hawkeye camera to add to my small, but growing collection of vintage cameras, and my son Shawn got me the only thing that I had asked for, Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. This is a book that I've been dying to read and will definitely be blogging about in the future. I am in complete agreement with Brokaw's assessment that my parent's generation is deserving of such a mantle, and I can't wait to see what kind of tribute he gives to them.

Have a great day everyone! I'll have the next chapter in the series (and my favorite of the three stories) up before the day is done.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part I)

Story 1 of 3: Cousin ‘E’
Well folks, today, July 28th is my birthday. And I’ve been holding out for almost a month to write this story. I’ve been waiting until now because I wanted to give it to myself as a present. This is a subject that takes me back to perhaps the happiest time of my childhood, when my life had few rules, even fewer responsibilities, and every day was an adventure.

I can’t remember a time in my life in which I’ve ever genuinely felt bored. I’ve always seemed to be able to occupy myself with something, either indoors or out, to spur my interest. If I had to be inside, I drew, primarily comic book superheroes, copying them from the collection of comic books I started sometime soon after we moved to Middletown. I have to chuckle when I think about it, but I had my younger brother, Alex, trained so that if I ever felt something resembling boredom coming on I would turn to him and (quite over-dramatically) say, “Alex…GOTTA DRAW! Immediately Alex would drop what he was doing and go scurry off to fetch my Academé Sketch Pad and box of pencils, and then blissfully away I would wile away an hour or more in my own little world, trying my best to mimic those comic artists from DC and Marvel who at even a young age I held in such high regard. These were the men who I so very much wanted to be when I grew up — but more on them later. While drawing was my passion, I rarely opted for staying inside when I could be outdoors, exploring the wonderland that was my adopted hometown. And I was never alone in my quest to build the coolest fort out of cardboard boxes and construction scraps, or to conquer the highest tree in the neighborhood, or even to capture the biggest craw-dad in the creek. No I had a partner in all my adventures, a boy who lived just down the block. He was not only my neighbor, he was family — my best friend, Cousin E.

E was the son of one of my Mother’s younger sisters, Aunt Lee. She and Uncle Dub had four children, all of whom were either the same age as, or within a year of my older brothers and me. Maggie was the oldest, the same age as my brother David. Mickey was TK’s age, and E was a year older than me. Their youngest, Samantha, was my age, with only a couple of days separating our birthdays. All of E’s siblings were good friends with their counterparts in my family, but E and I were by far the tightest. From the day we moved to Middletown in December 1964, until we left for California in September 1969, we were inseparable.

There will doubtless be many more stories in which I remember my friendship with E, one that sadly has all but completely disappeared since we became adults. I suppose it’s just one of those things, but after I left Indiana, although we exchanged both written and audio cassette “tape letters” to each other constantly for the first five years, high school life found us beginning to move in different directions, personality-wise. Finally, by the time we were in college, even reliving our old memories, complete with the exchange of childhood nicknames and secret handshakes, wasn’t enough to carry a conversation.

Now I promised myself that this story would be all positive, so that’s as far down that dim road as I’m willing to go right now. With that in mind, allow me say that another reason I wanted to write this story was to dedicate it to my friend, Cousin E. Without his companionship there’s no telling how much trouble I might have gotten into during that period of under-supervision in my life.

So here’s to ya Big E. I love you still after all the years that we’ve not spoken. You were an irreplaceable part of my childhood, and although the adventures we shared may not have inspired a Mark Twain novel, they were certainly enough to inspire the imagination and light a fire in the eyes of this scrawny, daydreamer you chose to call your friend.

Bike Hikes
Remember the photo booth picture in the previous chapter that I indicated was the focus of this series? Well the reason for that is that it is the one element that ties together the three separate, yet related stories that I have to tell.

Now that you’ve been properly introduced to my partner in crime, E, the first story is about how that booth photograph came to be taken in the first place. When I came across it again recently in an old scrapbook, it immediately mad me smile, as it has done each and every time I’ve laid my gaze upon it for the past 36 years.

I pulled it out of the bright blue photo scrap book that I had purchased the summer following my Senior in high school. My folks had given me a totally cool Kodak Instamatic Camera set for graduation and I had suddenly begun fancying myself as the next Ansel Adams. The concept of “self-adhesive” clear cellophane cover pages to hold the photos in place has long proved itself to be a dismal failure as breaking technologies will be ranked by historians someday.

The only good news in surveying my long-neglected book of treasured memories is that the yellowed, cracked and peeling cellophane pages didn’t do any actual damage to the photos that lay beneath them. The notable exception being the increased probability that they could now simply fall out or slip down into the binding and become accidentally creased or bent by the closing of the album or the turning of it’s pages.

When I determined to use that wonderful photo as the basis for this blog entry and removed it to scan, I was happy to notice that on the back I had written the month and year that it was taken. “Nov. ’68” was written in felt-tip pen by a much younger hand than the one which now held it. I just stood there grinning like an idiot, remembering that day so long ago.

It was somewhat of a regular adventure that E and I added to our repertoire as thrill-seekers. We just called them “Bike Hikes.” If you didn’t have a bicycle in rural Indiana back in the 60s, and you were a kid, chanced are you weren’t having much fun. We went everywhere on our bikes. They were our chariots to adventure. And unlike today, our parents didn’t ever become particularly concerned about it. As long as we were home by supper, or at least we called and let them know where we were, it was never a problem. Oh I so wish my kids could have grown up in a time where they could have been as carefree as we were back then. It is really a shame that the world has changed so very much.

Bike Hikes weren’t limited to, but usually involved a trip to Anderson. I don’t remember exactly how many E and I took together, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say four or five. Because of the date of the booth photo and the merchandise I was flashing in the two bottom frames, I’m pretty sure we took at least that many. I’m reasonably sure of this because of the fact that we were allowed to go as far as we had to go in order for me to display my precious comic cargo in those images.

To give you a quick lay of the land, Middletown was about six miles due east by southeast from Anderson. My neighborhood was a fairly new sub-division, surrounded by farmland. Our house was a half-block from the highway that led straight into town. It was a busy stretch between Middletown and Anderson, and the road, State Road 236, was one lane in either direction.

The first trip we took into Anderson was probably as much as two years previous to this, and E and I took the highway all the way into town. Needless to say, nobody in my family knew we were going to do that, because I really didn’t think to ask. It’s just the way things were. If we thought about doing something we just did it. I didn’t really have anyone to check in with. Well this time, the doo-doo hit the proverbial circular blade. It seems that E, who did have someone he had to check in with, my Aunt Lee, didn’t tell her the route we were taking either. Once Aunt Lee hit the roof, she told my Dad, so we were both in hot water. Although nothing bad happened out on the highway that day (not even close), we still got in trouble. But heck, we didn’t know. And I guess that’s what really saved us from worse punishment. It was decided that from then on, we would take back roads, not the highway to make our semi-annual adventure trip into Anderson.

Those first couple trips I remember were short and sweet. We went no further than the 109 Bypass, which intersects with St. Road 236 right at the beginning of that six-mile stretch between Anderson and Middletown. So with this later trip in November, the fact that we got as far as we did tells me that we had a lot more liberty to do so at that time, because we had obviously earned it by being safe and responsible.

The fact that I had comic books to show off in two of the booth photo frames is proof of how much leeway we were given by this time, as the place I had to go to buy those particular comics was an additional four miles beyond our previous boundary of the Highway 109 and State road 236 intersection.

On the way back home we stopped at a department store in the shopping center located at that intersection. We each had our picture taken that day. The brand new photo booth machine had just been installed. It was too cool. I'm pretty sure it cost fifty cents to have your picture taken in that thing, because I remember it being real expensive. However I just had to do it to mark the occasion. It was okay to splurge. That department store was the one place we always stopped on all of our Bike Hike journeys. I guess it was our touchstone, our mile marker of achievement.

My biking adventures with E were a great part of that brief period in my early years, although it seemed as though I lived an entire lifetime in those five years.

Next: Story 2 of 3: The Magazine Trading Post

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Prologue)

One picture, three stories.
It’s interesting how memories beget other memories, stories beget other stories, and so on. In 1971 when I was in ninth grade, Rod Stewart released an album entitled, Every Picture Tells a Story. Not only did it produce the song that became my introduction into sexual fantasy in popular music (and one of my all-time favorite pop tunes), Maggie May, the album’s title planted a thought into my head that I’ve carried around and have pondered constantly ever since.

Even though the title song’s name seems almost to be an afterthought in the song itself, the concept of the phrase became so profound to me that I practically accepted it literal doctrine. I began to see things in the context of every painting, every photograph, and every scene in life telling a story about the people, places, circumstances, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of someone’s existence at that given moment in time. And the beauty of it is what that one image can bring to us: the joy, the sorrow, the pain, the wonder.

I love photographs. I love how they make me feel and think, regardless of who their subject might be. That’s one reason I love to collect old Life and Look magazines, to gaze at their photos and imagine the lives of people from another era, wondering what it would be like to be in their skin at the moment the shutter was snapped.

There are times I long to be someone else, just to see how it would feel. But then I remember how lucky I am to just be me. Not that I’m anything special. I have no illusions of being someone whose life should be envied, not by a long shot. On the contrary, I’ve seen much more sorrow and hardship than I would ever wish upon anyone. But it is my life, and overall, I’m pretty happy just being in my own skin.

For all the screwed up circumstances involving my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease while I was growing up, I’d have to say I had a pretty happy childhood, particularly during the time leading up to our move to California in 1969.

As I’ve mentioned before, due to the fact that with my Mom was sick, and my Dad had to work as much overtime as he could to pay the doctor bills, there was a period of about 3-4 years during my early adolescence in which he just wasn’t around a lot. I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted to do, and I took advantage of it — not that I ever did anything particularly mischievous; instead, I was just free to be a kid (and I had a great time doing it too).

The picture on the right is a slice of my childhood — a rather large slice. It tells a lot of little stories, but in particular, three that I will talk about in this series.

I might not be Rod Stewart, but I’m going to have a LOT of fun relating the stories that this picture tells!

Next: Story 1 of 3: Cousin E

Monday, July 26, 2004

Weekend Balancing Act

Friday Night
I didn’t have a lot planned for this past weekend. I went into it pretty much open and unplanned, mostly because my wife Michelle was already occupied with her friend Mrs. Franklin, visiting here with her thirteen year-old daughter from Memphis to go shopping in Nashville and do what they do best, an activity Mr. Franklin and I several years ago dubbed swatching. This involves discussing all things related to home decorating, including antiques, decorator seamstressing (window treatments and such — which always seems to involve poring over a half dozen fabric swatches – hence the name), and studying the latest articles in Southern Living Magazine or that cute room treatment they'd just seen on Trading Spaces. These women can lose themselves in this stuff so completely that they make two guys engrossed in a ballgame on TV look like a couple of restless five year-olds.

So while I’m always happy to socialize when Michelle’s friend comes to visit, I never feel the need to hang out with them, since they always do their own thing. On those occasions that Mr. Franklin comes as well, I’m happy to hang out with him. He’s a cool guy and we get along well. At any rate, I knew that nobody would necessarily miss me this weekend if I was off doing my own thing. So my tentative plan was to spend as much time as possible catching up on my reading of some of the other blogger’s sites that I like to follow, but which I’ve been unable to because of time crunches over the past week and a half. However an unexpected opportunity to do something else I enjoy presented itself before I left work Friday afternoon.

About 4:30 PM my office phone rang. It was my friend McGriff, who was calling to say that he and his girlfriend and a couple other of his friends were going down to an outdoor concert in downtown Nashville. He asked if I was interested in joining them. I’ve been seeing much less of him over the past couple years, mostly because he now has a girlfriend, Linda, and she understandably occupies most of his free time. It’s cool. I certainly realize that this is usually the natural progression of friendships when someone goes from “always available single-guy with no girlfriend” to “rarely available single guy with a live-in girlfriend.” I’ve experienced it before, and because of that have guarded myself against any frustration that might arise because of it.

So now, whenever we do get together, and there’s always a “we really oughtta do this more often” kind of statement at some point in the evening from McGriff, I just have to smile. I enjoy hanging out with him, regardless of however seldom it ends up being. So of course I said yes.

Family Fun
Now I had known about this concert several weeks earlier, but really hadn’t planned on dealing with Friday night traffic downtown to go by myself. But since I hadn’t seen McGriff in a few months, and the headliner was “They Might Be Giants” a fun, popular early 90s band that I’d really wanted to see for some time, it was a no-brainer.

We had planned meet at a bar across the street from the parking lot in which the concert stage was set up for this six-week series of shows. The bar was one of the primary sponsors of the series, which will be featuring the likes of Isaac Hayes, Better Than Ezra, Cowboy Mouth and Cracker as headliners. I met McGriff and his friends, who I also knew from previous activities. It was 2-for-1 draft night, and the first band was already onstage, so as we all stood and talked, I made as short work as I could of a couple Amber Bocks (it was easily the fastest I’ve ever drunk two beers in my life). After amazing everyone with my chugging skillz, we headed over to the concert.

We missed the opening act (a guy named Charlie Mars — I hope he wasn’t really good…) and were quite pleased to miss the second, but I’m so very glad we didn’t!

Boys and girls, if you ever get the chance, you simply must NOT MISS The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players! Because the proper words escaped me when trying to describe them, I found their web site and they give this description:

“The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are a truly unique experience. A real family band, they feature 10-year old Rachel on drums, dad Jason on guitar and vocals, and mom Tina manning the slide projector. Their strange songs about discarded family vacation slides (which they picked up at yard sales and thrift stores) are unlike anything heard in music before. Outsider art? A knowing in-joke? You decide.”

These guys were HILARIOUS! They truly are a family. The Dad, who plays keyboard and guitar, is a nerdy Rick Moranis (The McKenzie Brothers/Honey I Shrunk the Kids) type, and his daughter plays the drums, while the Mom runs the slide projector that provides the visual backdrop of their songs. The slides are unbelievably ordinary which somehow makes them unbelievably funny. The lyrics are fast and chatty, the singing is off-key and uneven. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but from the moment they begin to the end of the last song, you’re laughing so hard you don’t care.

The Trachtenburg’s act is witty and campy — just loads of fun.

They are playing on John McEnroe's new TV show on MSNBC next Wednesday, July 28th at 10 PM EDT if you want to check ‘em out. I know I will. Apparently they also were quite the buzz this at the famous music showcase festival “South by Southwest” in Austin, Texas this past spring. This band was a lot of fun.

A Huge Performance
Following the Trachtenburgs, the main act came on, They Might Be Giants. They were great as well. A web bio for the band describes them thusly:

“Oft-called the best-educated band in the world, they have hewn a career out of wordplay, paranoia, wide-ranging sampling and a musical style that's embraced just about everything worth embracing.”

If their name doesn’t ring a bell, the Giants enjoyed their greatest success in the early 90s with hits, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” and “The Guitar.” Unfortunately they didn’t do another one of my faves, the theme song for the Fox comedy, Malcolm in the Middle, “Boss of Me.” They’re witty, intelligent and are a very tight band musically.

For those of you in the NYC area, the Giants are playing a hometown gig in Brooklyn at Prospect Park next Friday. I’d highly recommend them. They were awesome.

All in all, it was a great night. McGriff and I planned to get together soon, and hopefully we will. But it was great to get out among the living again for a change.

However I’d soon be back behind my keyboard, tending to my other planned activity for the weekend, taking a tour of my neighborhood in blogland.

Making up for realtime
Over the past ten days or so, between work and writing my own blog, I’d fallen behind on my reading of just about everyone I like to read. But I now I’d get a chance to make up for lost time. It was great. I had a chance to casually read up on every blog I’d fallen behind on as well as several I had never read but always wanted to. And with all that I had time to fit in a few chores like mowing the lawn and scrubbing the deck and deck furniture. I also did a little shopping on eBay (gawd how I love to win!), as well as scanning and retouching some photos that I’ll be using in my next blog post. I even made a few appearances downstairs so as to keep me from totally looking like I was ignoring everyone else in my house. It’s just so seldom that I make plans to do something on a weekend, and then actually have the opportunity to follow through, uninterrupted. In my opinion It was a perfect balancing act between my real life and my virtual life.

And to top it off, Michelle made an absolutely awesome pot roast dinner Sunday night. Mmmmmm!

I had a good weekend. I hope you did too.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Referrer Blogging

**Updated 5:30 PM CDT, 07-23-04**

Who goes there!
I check ‘em all the time. I’ll bet you do too.

What am I talking about?

Referrer logs.

Please forgive me for gettin’ my geek on here, but I’m pretty sure that most of you are at least familiar with what I’m talking about. If you use any number of blog utilities from Site Meter, Nedstat, BlogPatrol and others, you can view a listing of all the visitors to your blog at any given time. Most of these utilities will also provide the referring links from which your blog visitors originated. If there is no referring URL, that usually indicates that the visitor is linking directly to your site from a browser bookmark or is just typing the URL in manually.

The plain English translation of this is, I can see you. I know who visits my blog on a daily basis, whether they leave a comment or not. Among my regular commentors, I know many of you almost as well by your ISP names and IP addresses as I do by your actual names. Of course if you’ve never left a comment, I may be able to see your IP address (which identifies your ISP, but not necessarily you individually), but there’s no way for me to specifically identify you in these logs. Well there really is, but I wouldn’t go that far…*LOL*.

The point is, by virtue of examining referrer’s logs, some time ago I began to notice that quite a few of you have honored me by linking my blog to yours, often without my having even realized it. You all visit regularly, some several times per day. Some announce their presence on nearly every post, and others seldom, if ever, comment at all. Yet I know that you are here — and that always makes me smile.

This is long overdue. I just want to take the opportunity here to say to each of you…

Thank You...

Aimee (Random Thoughts)
CCC (Facts About C)
C.E. (Visit My Little World)
Esther (Life in Pretoria or is that Tswane?)
Fleece (Sheeply Thoughts)
Inanna (Anything Goes)
Jake (Clockwork Holiday)
Jamie (Margaritaville)
Johnny5 (What's a Year in Forever)
K (Less Than Lucid)
Kimber (In Rememberance of Me)
Leese (Leese Online)
Maddy (Maddysmind)
Phoebe (Phoebe Moons)
Vadergrrrl (Vadergrrrl's Rant Page)

If you've linked to my blog and aren't listed here, please forgive me. This is based on my HaloScan and SiteMeter logs, going back several days and/or weeks. Please let me know and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.

Thank you for supporting me with your comments. Thank you for inspiring me with your words, both here and on your own blogs. Thank you for giving me the juice to keep writing (hopefully) every day.

I visit many of you each day as well, although I’ve been quite remiss in doing so over the past couple of weeks, and for that I apologize.

I won’t be doing much, if any posting this weekend. I’m going to try to take the time I have to catch up on what I’ve been missing on my fellow blogger’s pages.

**Update...However tonight I will be doing something fun. I just got a call from my ol' pizza buddy McGriff to hang with him and his GF to go see They Might Be Giants, who are playing at an outdoor venue tonight here in Nashville. Michelle's friend from Memphis is coming for the weekend, so she'll be occupied with her anyway. This should be cool. I've wanted to see this offbeat band for a long time, and it'll be good to see McGriff again for the first time in several months. I may have a brief concert review up by Sunday.

Have a great weekend everyone, and thank you again so very much for the special sense of community that you all contribute here in our little corner of blogland, and the lift that you give me personally each and every day.


Thursday, July 22, 2004


“Bracing” for Middle-Age — or — Is that a hamster in your mouth or are you just happy to see me?
Who am I kidding? Okay, so maybe this story did start out as a one-part reminiscence of my harrowing first trip to the dentist, and has now morphed into a history of all things dental in my life. It doesn't surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone else who knows me. If you've read this blog for any length of time you know that I could turn the answer to the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" into a 10,000-word thesis.

So I figured since I was already on a roll, and because this blog is ultimately my life story, I would continue to play out the story line, because one thing leads to another, and so on, and so on, and so on.

After having managed to live through my experiences with Dr. Hammer, my teeth were finally in good shape. We got an electric toothbrush as a family Christmas gift one year and suddenly, after having never previously brushed at all (to my recollection anyway), now brushing was fun. I still wasn’t as consistent as I should have been, but anything would have been an improvement.

Fast-forward now about five years. My Dad has re-married and we now are living in SoCal. Step-Mom Maxine says it’s time for a check-up. Understandably I wasn’t thrilled at the notion, but hey, I’m a teenager now, I can buck up and deal with it. But I couldn’t believe it when she told me the name of the dentist we were going to see. If you thought my first dentist's name was amusing, you'll love this one. Interestingly, his name was also James — Dr. James Sparks — I kid you not. What is UP with me and my dentists' names?

Dr. Sparks had been Maxine's family dentist for years, so naturally when we arrived on the scene, he became ours as well. Dr. Sparks and his family went to our church, and he had a daughter my age that I became friends with. Nice girl. She used to work as a receptionist in her Dad's office in the summertime during our high school years. That always made my dental check-ups a little easier to take.

Thankfully my checkups were always good as a teenager. The combination of being forced by penalty of Step-Mom’s wrath to brush my teeth after every meal and the fluoridated water in California, created an oral hygiene consciousness that pretty much changed my life. It is this and many other similar changes Maxine brought about in my life that make me so grateful to her, despite the way she treated me in the process. But that’s another story for another blog.

During the time I spent living at home and under the umbrella of medical care provided by my parents, I only needed a minimum of dental work done. I had one cavity in those six years, but had to have two of the ten or so previous fillings by Dr. Hammer re-done, additionally. I felt pretty good about that, but when I got married I learned the true meaning of the truism, “it’s all relative.” Michelle has never had a cavity in her lifetime. Her teeth are like white diamonds or something. The tooth fairy never visited her house when she was a kid. When she lost a tooth her parents used to sell ‘em to local factories to be fashioned into industrial drill bits for cryin’ out loud…(cue the rimshot, please...)

Well hopefully our kids got her teeth instead of mine.

This is some of wisdom I didn’t need
As I entered my twenties, both before and after I got married, I continued to take care of my teeth as well as I could, but wasn’t geting regular dental check-ups. I still avoided the dentist like the plague.

Then one morning in 1980, I woke up with what felt like an ear ache on my left side. I recently had battled an infection in that same ear, so I thought it was flaring up again. It wasn’t long however before the pain and pressure told me that it was something else. I was pretty naïve about wisdom teeth: what they were and how they affected someone. I’d heard people talk about getting them removed, but it was really a subject I didn’t know much about. Michelle suggested I go see the dentist, and I did. My dentist at the time (he must have had a normal name since I can’t remember what it was) took some x-rays and confirmed what we had guessed. Three of my possible four wisdom teeth had come in, but they were all impacted. They all had to come out.

My dentist said that he wasn’t set up to perform such a procedure, but referred me to a local oral surgeon. He placed my mind at relative ease when he told me that since this was actual surgery, I’d need to be completely anesthetized. I’d be asleep for the whole thing.

The procedure was fairly unremarkable and certainly non-traumatic. I showed up, climbed into the chair, they gave me the gas and out like a light I went. When I woke up I was obviously groggy and my jaw had that long ago familiar feeling of numbness I remembered from my childhood. The Doctor gave Michelle a prescription for painkillers and said I’d need them later that evening.

Would I ever.

There are only two times in my life when I’ve been awakened by pain. Once a few years earlier, when I had messed up my knee in a freak accident at a pool party, and this instance, when I woke up at 8:00 P.M. screaming in pain when the drugs wore off.


Michelle came running. I can remember, as the light behind Michelle standing in the open door flooded the dark bedroom. I sat up in agony and looked down to see a small pool of blood on my pillow.

That was as much pain as I think I’ve ever felt at one time. Fortunately the painkillers did their job and I recovered quickly, although I did have a brief bout with “dry socket” as the tissue filled the gash in my gums from the extraction of my wisdom teeth.

The experience was certainly no picnic, but it was also not nearly the wisdom teeth horror story that I’ve heard from some other people. All things considered, I think I got off relatively easy.

I think the reason I decided to expand this story into an “all-things dental” recap of my life is that it basically begins and ends with Dr. Hammer. Because of his ill-begotten plan to yank out all of my baby teeth before I was ten years old, with the intention of giving my permanent teeth room to come in straight backfired miserably. The lateral incisors on my right side were horribly crowded and so when they came in during the summer between 10th and 11th grade, they overlapped their surrounding neighbors by a good margin. As I said earlier, it wasn’t grotesque by any means, but the right side of my smile certainly wasn’t pretty either. I was fairly self-conscious about it too.

However there was a solution at my disposal, should I decide to exercise it. Depending where you live and what your level of savvy about industry in general is, you may know that working in the grocery industry is one of the most under-rated occupations going. It really is a pretty decent job — but let me qualify that. It is a decent job if it’s unionized. You may recall my writing about the short period of time I spent working at a grocery store here in Tennessee (which is a “right-to-work” state) when we were deeply in debt and I needed to generate some supplemental income. The “right-to-work” classification means that no union can force you to join as a qualification for working at a specific job here in Tennessee. However, if you don’t join the union, you also have no benefits, and substantially lower pay. And the thing that made working in the business when I was in California, was just that — the pay and benefits. Otherwise the grocery biz is no better than a glorified fast-food job. It sucks.

But again, I digress…

Back to my wisdom tooth extraction. Must have been pretty expensive, right? Even the dentist’s visit, they’re not cheap. How ‘bout having two babies, the hospital and pediatrician costs. Or when I screwed up my knee or the ear infection I mentioned earlier, requiring a visit to an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist.

All those things were covered under my Retail Clerks Union benefits. I didn’t pay a dime for any of them.

I started working in the grocery biz when I was seventeen. I was fully vested six months later and I could have at any time gotten braces to correct Heir Doktor’s miscalculation. However, the thought of having appliances bending my mouth into shape wasn’t exactly exhilarating. It was something I knew I needed to do and would never do if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket. But knowing there would surely be pain involved, the childhood demons of my Dr. Hammer experience reared their ugly head every time I would think about it. I’d get it done, but not right now. “Maybe next year.” Being the procrastinator I am though, it was beginning to look like “next year” would never come.

But it finally did.

In the summer of 1986, I got a call from an Art Director in Los Angeles with whom I had interviewed a few weeks previously. At the time I had been working freelance, coming up with whatever Commercial Illustration and small graphic design jobs I could, to begin establishing myself in my career as a Graphic Designer. However our primary income was still derived from my grocery biz job — Michelle had quit working by this time and was a stay-at-home mom with our two young children.

I was beginning to realize that push was finally coming to shove. I was experiencing time conflicts between my day job and my career objective. The situation was exacerbated by my new relationship with the aforementioned Art Director, who we’ll call Caitlin. She offered me consistent work, but she also lived 40 miles away, through the busiest traffic in the LA area. So working with her was a major time commitment.

Finally I made the decision to cut the security cord between the grocery biz and me, and step out into the real world. The real part set in when I got the letter in the mail from the union notifying me that my benefits package would expire as of September 1, 1986. Fortunately, they provided the option of paying a substantial, but very reasonable fee to continue the medical benefits for up to two additional quarters following a member’s resignation from the industry. So we ponied up the money for as long as we were allowed to, because with a four and two year-old at home, the “what ifs” of having no insurance were pretty daunting.

And there was also the issue of my braces. It was now or never. Oh and, did I mention that I’m a chronic procrastinator? The benefits were finally due to run out on March 31, 1987. I waited until the last week before I finally made an appointment with an orthodontist.

Yep, I was 31 years old and getting braces. Although such a concept wasn’t completely outlandish even back then, it certainly wasn’t commonplace either. I would surely get some looks. And just as I had always feared, I was going to have to have some teeth pulled to make room for the rest of them to be straightened. Joy.

The good news is that I lucked out and found a union plan-approved orthodontist who also happened to be one the best around. He was great and made the whole process as easy as I could have imagined.

The experience was pretty unremarkable, and outside of the hassles of wearing rubber bands and developing calluses on the inside of your mouth, there really isn’t a lot to talk about.

I wore those braces from March 1987 until October 1990. Three and a half years of looking like I had a hamster stuffed up under my lip. It was uncomfortable, but definitely worth the burden, as my smile is now perfect, and I’m more motivated than ever to keep it that way.

All in all, my dental history has been pretty remarkable given its early history. I no longer fear trips to the dentist, because only twice in the last 30 years have I had to deal with a novocaine shot (apart from the tooth extractions I had to get for my braces). Once to replace another one of Dr. Hammer’s old fillings, and a second to fill a small cavity, my first in many, many years.

Shame on me!


Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The fun begins
Now I can’t say that I felt completely at ease when Dr. Hammer greeted my Dad and me at the waiting room of his dental office. He was a physically imposing man, and his thick glasses didn’t exactly foster a lot of confidence in the hope that he’d be able to find my mouth let alone my aching tooth.

I will say that I was impressed with his operating room. It was a wondrous room of pristine white porcelain and chrome instruments that looked like they’d just been taken out of the crates they were delivered in. Sleek and streamlined 1930s art deco in design, they were so beautiful to look at. Who knew they held the potential to inflict such suffering? Who knew this chamber of technology would soon become a Chamber of Horrors.

Well the next thing I knew I was in the big comfy dentist’s chair, squinting from the bright light that Dr. Hammer focused upon my mouth. Just out of view of my left eye, but standing close enough that I could hold his big, reassuring hand stood my Dad. His presence curbed my uneasiness as Dr. Hammer’s hairy arms dominated my field of vision.

As I sat there I remember wondering when Dr. Hammer would manage to miraculously relieve my pain. After examining my teeth for a few minutes, I could hear Dr. Hammer speaking to my Dad in a hushed tone. The dentist was shaking his head. I didn’t know what it all meant. Then I heard him say that he was going have to remove my painful tooth. In fact he was going to remove more than one. It seemed that my remaining juvenile molars were riddled with cavities, and they had to come out. He said that he was going to have to give me a shot of something called “novocaine” to make it so I wouldn’t feel it when he pulled my teeth.

I looked at my Dad in panic. “I’m gonna get a shot?”

“It’s okay Honey,” he said as he took my left hand tightly. “It’ll just hurt for a few seconds. Just squeeze my hand.”

Then I saw the silhouette of what looked like a hypodermic fit for an elephant more than a little boy approaching me. Now I’d gotten shots before, but never with a needle so huge. I braced myself, tightening my arm as I looked away, expecting to feel the needle’s sting at any second.

Dr. Hammer hesitated and said, “Now you’re going to keep your mouth open for me, son. This’ll only take a second.”

My eyes must have momentarily bulged out of their sockets as it suddenly came to me what was happening.

“You’re gonna do WHAT? You are NOT gonna stick that thing in my MOUTH!” I panicked, squeezing my Dad’s hand harder.

“Dad!” I cried out. “NOOO!”

Dad pleaded with me, “It’s alright honey, I know it’s scary but please, Dr. Hammer just want’s to make this whole thing easier.”

I took one last look in his eyes before leaning my head back in the dentist’s chair and held my eyes shut as tightly as I could.

I felt two huge hairy fingers grapple my jaw like a hook in the mouth of a wide-mouth bass. I heard Heir Doktor say, “Keep it open for me as big as you can now,” as His index and middle finger pressed against the inside of my bottom teeth and his thumb secured the underside of my chin like a vise. The warm taste of salty skin in my mouth was quickly replaced by a rush of gripping pain that shot from the back of my mouth right down to the tip of my toes.

I squeezed my Dad’s hand as hard as I could, as my back arched in the chair. I tried to be brave and didn’t cry, but the pain was more intense than anything I’d ever felt before. I let out a low moan as the dentist injected my gums again, again, four times in all. The ordeal seemed to last forever.

Note to Self: Good Lord, why the HELL am I writing this? My skin is absolutely crawling as I think about that horrible experience!

Once the novocaine injections were over it was sort of like that sensation one gets after the cessation of banging one’s head against the wall: it feels so good when you stop. Actually I couldn’t have told you how it felt, because less than a minute later I couldn’t even feel my mouth. The good news is that I tolerate novocaine well. My jaw was truly anesthetized. However the pain isn’t the only uncomfortable thing about having a tooth pulled. As anyone who has experienced it can attest, you may not feel any pain, but you certainly still feel the pressure, the grinding and twisting of the dental pliers as they pry the offensive tooth out by its roots. YUCK!!!!

Fortunately it didn’t take too long. I lost all four of my baby molars that day. The dentist took the extracted teeth and placed them in a clear plastic cylinder with a red cap. As I examined the container, I marveled at the level of decay displayed in those four tiny molars. Each one was riddled with at least 5-7 cavities apiece. No wonder I had a toothache! And just when I thought I was in the clear, I overheard Dr. Hammer telling my Dad, “Now I’m going to need to see him back here next week. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”


On the drive home, I managed to slobber forth a question of why I needed to go back to Dr. Hammer’s House of Horrors. After all, the dentist had gotten the source of my toothache. What other “work” was there still to be done? My Dad explained that those baby molars weren’t the only teeth in my mouth at issue. My first set of permanent molars, which had arrived two years earlier, were pretty bad as well. All in all I still had about 7 or 8 additional cavities in my mouth that needed to be filled.

But that wasn’t all. Dr. Hammer convinced my Dad that all of my remaining baby teeth needed to be removed. He said that they were “interfering” with the growth of my permanent teeth. He said that unless he yank every last remaining baby tooth out of my mouth right away, my teeth would end up looking like a broken down picket fence by the time I was a teenager.

Well he was almost half right. More on that later.

Long story short, I had to go back to Dr. Hammer five more times over the course of those six weeks. He drilled and yanked and yanked and drilled, until I had a total of about ten teeth left in my mouth. When I smiled, all you could see were my two front teeth and four on the bottom.

My brother TK dubbed me “Bucky Beaver.”

The chicks dug it. Yeah, right.

Well my permanent teeth came in just as Dr. Hammer predicted. However, Heir Doktor miscalculated on one aspect of his long-term plan for my dental health. My lateral incisors (i.e.: eyeteeth) didn’t come in until I was in ninth grade. And since their juvenile counterparts had been yanked out so early, the other teeth around them came in closer together than they would have otherwise.

As a result, when my eyeteeth finally did come in, they didn’t have room, so they made room. Guess what my smile looked like when I was a teenager? Well it wasn’t quite a broken down picket fence, but it wasn’t all that great either.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

Next: “Bracing” for Middle-Age — or — Is that a hamster in your mouth or are you just happy to see me?

Monday, July 19, 2004

It's HAMMER TIME! (Part I)

Fear Factor
Fear is something we all know well, some more so than others. As a child, chances are you were scared of something, either because of an encounter with it, or perhaps because you were instilled with that fear by your parents. Now as far as the latter condition is concerned, I can't say that was ever really an issue for me, since I grew up largely unsupervised, without parents to tell me what I should or shouldn't be afraid of. I pretty much learned on my own when to be afraid and when I should just roll my eyes and go on.

However the number one fear of my youth was one that completely took me by surprise. I was in the 4th grade when it crept up from behind me and seized me by the throat. And even though its control over me has lessened over the years, I can still feel the grip of its icy fingers even today — about every six months, as a matter of fact.

Damn — that reminds me — I'm overdue for a cleaning.

That's right. I have seen fear. And his name is dentist. More specifically, his name was James R. Hammer, D.D.S.

Being the good sheep that I am, I was inspired to tell this story by a blog entry on the same topic by my favorite blogger of the woolly persuasion, Fleece. Reading her brief story of horror that is a child's first encounter with the dentist brought back my own horrific memories. I actually think about it often, so I wanted to write about it.

Fleece didn't go into enough detail in her story to reveal whether or not she had any preconceived notions about dentists prior to visiting one, but as for me, I did not. In fact, the only knowledge I can remember even having about what a toothache was came from various old Three Stooges episodes in which toothaches seemed to be a recurring theme. In those stories the painful tooth is somehow extracted, and the afflicted character who was previously writhing in agony exclaims, "The pain is gone!" No muss, no fuss.

If you ever had any doubts as to the power of television on young minds, believe this; I was honestly convinced that tooth extraction was a painless procedure — from watching The Three Stooges.

The genesis of my predicament was a predictable one. My Mother became ill when I was around four years old. Due to the circumstances surrounding that, as I previously mentioned, I was allowed to spend a number of my formative years either un-or-under-supervised. Oh sure I didn't get to stay up until the wee hours of the morning on a school night, but essentially in most areas of my life I was on my own. I fed myself two out of three times a day, I dressed and bathed myself as well, although I'm sure it wasn't always a pretty sight. But it wasn't like I was an urchin or anything. My Dad and older brothers did their best to keep me in clean clothes and check to see if I'd washed behind my ears. But as you might guess, some things just simply fell through the cracks — like oral hygiene. I know it sounds gross and it is — I have never been able to conjure up a single memory of seeing myself in the mirror, brushing my teeth, until after my first trip to the dentist. Not to say that it never happened, but I'm certain it wasn't anything I did on a regular basis That's nine-plus years, boys and girls, before a toothbrush was ever regularly introduced to my pearly yellows.

At the time of my first toothache, I obviously didn't see it coming. In retrospect, it was obvious that oral hygiene wasn't a high priority in my family. I'm sure it wasn't completely disregarded, but I sure don't remember anything ever being said about it. We had no local family dentist. We had moved from Anderson, IN, where we were all born, to a small (I mean tiny) neighboring town of Middletown, five miles due east. I don't know where he went to get the work done, but around that same time, my eldest brother Jack was getting dentures at age nineteen. Yes, I said nineteen. Perhaps there was something in the water — or missing from the water — like fluoride?

But I digress...

One day I walked to school as per usual. That was the great thing about growing up back then. There were no Soccer Moms hauling the kiddies back and forth to school in some gas guzzling SUV. Nah — either you walked, rode you bike or rode the bus — to do anything or go anywhere. Even years later in SoCal, it was absolutely no big deal to see little kids in the 3rd or 4th grade out walking six blocks to school. Nowadays, people can live across the street and Momma will still drive them. Granted, it's a different world now, but it's really sad to see it change as it has.

Didn't someone once say that digression is the better part of valor? Oh...oh yeah. That was discretion. On with the story.

Almost as soon as I got to school that morning I began to feel this tightness in my jaw. I'd never felt this before. What was happening to me? It began to ache, radiating pain throughout the entire side of my face! Oh god, make it stop!

Wait! I must have a toothache! That's it! I'll just call Dad and have him take me to the dentist! The dentist will tie one end of a string to my tooth, and the other end to a doorknob, and BOOM! the tooth will come flying out of my mouth, I'll say "The pain is GONE," and that'll be it! Just like on the Stooges, except that nobody will try to poke me in the eye or hit me over the head with a monkey wrench!

My teacher released me to leave to go to the dentist and I ran home, crying out one side of my face and laughing out the other. If I just could go to the dentist, I would feel so much better.

I got home and ran to the phone to call my Dad. Of course there was nobody else at home to take me to the dentist, so my Dad was stuck between a rock and a hard place because it wasn't exactly easy for him to up and leave work in the middle of the morning. He of course worked on the far side of Anderson, at least 15-20 miles away. Although he initially said he couldn't, I pleaded with him to come home, crying my eyes out in pain.

So being the great Dad that he is, he rushed home to take me to the dentist. I was so relieved to know that my pain would soon be relieved. But the fact was, quite the opposite was about to happen — my encounter with pain was really just beginning.

There was one dentist in out little town. Dr. Hammer's office was on Locust Street, downtown. And you need to understand that when I say downtown I use the term loosely. Downtown Middletown consisted of three blocks of the main drag, Locust Street, beginning at 5th Street and ending at 8th Street. The buildings were all old, early 1900s brick structures.

On the corner of 5th and Locust was my Uncle’s grocery store, my best-friend cousin and I spent a lot of time there, darting in and out, stepping inside the big walk-in freezer in the back to cool off after playing outside in the sweltering summer sun.

At the opposite end of Locust, at the intersection of 8th Street, a short right turn brought you to the hot spot on Friday and Saturday Nights for all the kids in the area, the Van Noy Theater, Middletown's only movie theater. Old man Van Noy used to sell the tickets himself from the little booth out in front of the old movie house, which has long since been closed. He was nice enough, but would always deliver a stern look as he slid your ticket under the glass window, to serve as a warning to behave in the theater.

Further down 8th, adjacent to the theater was the city’s one park, where the Little League ballfields could be found, and where the Henry County Fair was held each summer. Fair Week was always one of the highlights of my existence in those years of my youth (and should likely be the subject of a future blog). Those carnies use to scare the hell outta me though…yikes!

Downtown was a clean, inviting place for me as a kid. I have a boatload of wonderful memories of that place. However this story isn’t one of them. Can you tell I’m avoiding the subject here?

House of pain
As I recall, Dr. Hammer’s office was in a building on Locust Street, right in the middle of the downtown stretch, between 6th and 7th Streets. As my Dad and I walked into the office waiting room, I remember thinking how old everything looked, like it was straight out of a 1930s gangster movie. A warm, dusky smell of old cigarette smoke filled the outer-office, while the low, bassy sound of an AM radio, playing what would now be dubbed “easy-listening” music, reverberated from a wooden console in the corner. I don’t remember if Dr. Hammer had a receptionist, but if he did, she didn’t work full-time, because there would be several occasions later in which I would come in for an appointment and be the only person in that tiny room. I believe there was in fact someone behind the half-wall at the sign-in counter that day but I really can’t be sure — since I was just barely tall enough to see over it. However I was in so much pain that Marilyn Monroe could have been working behind the counter and I might not have noticed. Well…maybe I would have noticed, but I think that must have been Norma Jean’s day off.

I have a lasting image of Dr. Hammer as a tall, stout older man with a barrel chest and round coke bottle-bottom glasses. His once light blonde hair was now wiry and thin; it was more white than blonde. He wore a classic white tab-collar dentist’s smock, its short sleeves revealing his muscular forearms, covered in that same wiry blonde hair. I would become well acquainted with those hairy forearms over the next six weeks.

Next: The fun begins

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Shallow Thoughts
by AJ in Nashville

Here’s a subject coming to a Seinfeld monologue near you:
What is the deal with these guys talking on their cell phones in the john? This disturbing trend is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon at my place of employment. Do these guys think they’re actually having a private conversation, or just a conversation with their privates? If I’m in the stall next to one of these Einsteins, I always make it a point to give at ‘em least a couple courtesy flushes just to make sure that the party on the other end of the line knows where they’re “office” is located.

Now I can understand it if you’re sitting there and your cell phone rings. Most people are gonna answer it. But to continue on and grunt through a conversation while answering a different type of call at the same time, well I think that’s just a little bit much. Couldn’t they just tell ‘em “Hey, I’m a little backed up at the moment, can I call you later?”

And if answering a call in the john isn’t bad enough, I’ve actually been sitting there in the next stall when I’ve heard guys actually making a call! Unbelievable!

Does this only happen at my company? Do women do this too? Inquiring minds want to know…

Okay, enough of the toilet humor…[cue the rimshot, please…]

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Friday, July 16, 2004

You Don't Know Me

Sometimes a story just seems too good to be true.
Have you ever done something that was so off the wall that afterward you look back and ask yourself, “Did I really just do that?” Those kinds of scenarios usually involve taking some sort of risk. The rush, that spike of adrenaline one can get from “living on the edge” can be a powerful thing. Taking the occasional risk every now and then can make life fun and exciting.

On the other hand, the fear of rejection can be a powerful thing too. How many times are we inspired to do something, but end up not doing it for fear of being rejected or thinking we’ll make a fool of ourselves? Oftentimes those consequences just appear to us to be too much of a risk for us to take.

The fact is, life is all about taking risks. Some, we take every day and don't give a second thought to. Things like driving to work or walking across a busy street. We can usually control our own actions, but what about the other guy? Do we know that the 18-wheeler on our tail is going to be able to avoid plowing into us if we have to suddenly stop short? No, no we don’t — we assume that he will, but we don’t know. Such are the calculated risks we take every day of our lives. Sometimes we calculate correctly, and sometimes we fall flat on our faces — or worse.

As for me, I’ve never considered myself much of a risk-taker. I’m a fairly conservative guy. Now that might sound strange coming from someone who spent the better part of fourteen years taking his life into his hands on a regular basis doing dismounts off the rings. But I can assure you, for most of my life I felt a helluva lot more secure doing a double-pike than asking a girl out on a date.

It has been said that “it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never to have loved at all.” Well, with all due respect to St. Augustine, losing in love sucks. It sucks so badly that sometimes never having tried in the first place sounds like a pretty wise course of action to take.

That’s about how I felt in 1978. I was fresh off of the rollercoaster ride that was my relationship with Gabrielle, when I embarked on a series of dating disasters and “thanks, but no thanks” relationships with five different women over the course of about seven months. What I didn’t realize though, was that the maze of frustration I was wandering through that year was somehow creating a path that would lead me to my life’s ultimate destination: Michelle.

My inspiration for telling this story came from a phone call I received from my daughter Amy this past May. One of her best friends from high school who attends college in Utah was visiting her in Chattanooga for a few days. They were talking about love and marriage (heh, go figure THAT, eh?), when the story of her Mom and my courtship came up. Amy had heard it a dozen times over the years, but couldn't quite remember all the details. But because it was so unusual, she called me to ask if I would retell the story so she could relate it to her friend.

As I told the story to her over the phone, I knew right then that it was something I had to write about eventually. And with of all the recent heavy, emotional stuff that has dominated my blog for the past few weeks, I think now is an excellent time, because this is a story that makes me feel as light as a feather.

It's the story of how Michelle and I came together. And the way I chose to reveal my feelings for her is one of the scariest, yet most likely the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. And talk about taking risks — geeze louise — taking the tact I did was the biggest risk I'd ever taken in a relationship. It came completely without warning for Michelle. I knew that it was going to either make or break our friendship.

I hope this story makes you smile as much as it does me — and has, every time I’ve thought about it for the past 25 years.

My anthem of despair
Between his four-year collaboration with Jim Messina in the early–mid 1970s and his coronation as the “80s Pop Movie Soundtrack King,” Kenny Loggins released his first solo album in 1977, called “Celebrate me Home.” I was a big Loggins and Messina fan back then, so I bought the album soon after it came out. I really dug it, not only because the sound of Loggins’ solo stuff was very much a different musical experience than that of his collaborations with Messina, but particularly because of one old country pop song that Loggins covered on the album. The song was written and originally recorded in Nashville back in the 60s by Eddie Arnold. It’s entitled "You Don't Know Me."

The Loggins version is a soft, torchy, and obviously melancholy love song. It’s sung from the perspective of a guy lamenting his “just friends” status with the woman he secretly loves. It's the quintessential song of unrequited love, which was something I was excruciatingly familiar with back in those days. The song never got a tremendous amount of radio airplay, but upon first hearing it instantly became my personal anthem during that very melancholy period of my life.

It was about that same time that Michelle got a job as a checker at the grocery store I’d worked for since high school. We became friends, and soon began seeing each other, platonically at least a couple times a month. We would get together for coffee and talk about each other's failed relationships, school, work, the usual. We prayed together, laughed together, and supported each other. Unbeknownst to her, I had been attracted to Michelle from the get-go. I would never admit to myself that I hoped our coffees together would eventually lead to something more, but deep down, I did. However I tried to concentrate on being her friend, because she needed one as much as I did.

This went on for nearly a year. Finally I was unable to lie to myself any longer. Listening too her pine about finding the man of her dreams became difficult for me to listen to. She would complain about one guy in particular whom she really had a thing for. He just wasn't giving her the time of day, and it was breaking her heart. So many times I just wanted to say, “Hey...I'm right here,” but I just didn't have the guts. I soon reached the point where I felt my guts would burst if I didn’t say something.

From the time I first got to know her, I had equated my relationship with Michelle to that song, “You Don't Know Me.” I was beginning to grow more depressed each time I saw her, and knew that something had to give. I couldn’t find a way to conjure up the words in conversation to tell her, yet that song just spoke to my feelings so eloquently. I don’t know how I thought it would be a good idea, but I decided that I would sing the song to her, and let her decide how to interpret it.

This was clearly a huge gamble for me, but I was willing to spin the wheel, roll the dice, whatever cliché you want to fill in the blank with, but I just had to do it.

Taking a long walk off a short pier
Other than getting together for breakfast and coffee, one thing we often did together was walk on the beach at night and talk. So one warm August night in the Summer of 1978, we were walking on Seal Beach in Southern California, when we arrived at the little playground that was set up right there beside the pier. This was my opportunity, I decided. I stopped Michelle and told her I had something to say to her. She sat down on a swing, and I sat down on the one beside her, and I began...

You put your hand in mine
And then you say, "Hello,"
and I can hardly speak,
my heart is beating so
And anyone could tell
You think you know me well
Well you don't know me

No you don't know the one,
who dreams of you at night,
And longs to kiss your lips,
and hold you tight
To you I'm just a friend
That's all I've ever been
You don't know me

I never knew, the art of making love,
though my heart aches with love for you
Afraid and shy, I let love, let it pass me by
And the chance that you might love me too

You put your hand in mine,
and you say, “Goodbye”
I watch you walk away,
to some lucky guy
To never ever know,
the one who loves you so
You don't know me

To never, never, never know,
the one who loves you so
You don't know me

Well I sorta thought it went well — at least my voice didn’t crack — but Michelle just sat there staring at the ground, saying nothing. I think I mumbled something like, “That's how I really feel, you know…”

“Oh,” She responded, and became suddenly distant.

I immediately started looking around for a shovel so I could dig myself a hole to crawl into.

“I'm just going to need some time to think about this,” She said. We started walking back to the parking lot, and I honestly don't remember if she said another word all the way back to her apartment.

Fast forward to a day or two later, and she stopped by my apartment after Wednesday night church. The youth group at her church was where she knew this guy named Peter, who she was so hung up on. She came into my apartment, sat down on the couch and immediately started going into how she was so annoyed by this guy not paying attention to her.

Now I'm a pretty patient guy, but the apparent rejection of my song to her had my innards in a half hitch to begin with. I mean I was in HELL, here, okay, and she starts talking about this loser GEEK (oh and yes, you shoulda seen him...Dude…he was sad) right here in my apartment?

I became incensed. I stopped her in mid sentence and said, "MICHELLE, STOP. I CAN NOT TAKE THIS!

“Look — our relationship has changed. I can't sit here and listen to you talk about some other guy you’re in love with when I've already told you how I feel about you! I just can’t do this any more. You've got a choice to make. Is it gonna be Peter, or is it gonna be me?”

Her eyes got all big while I was delivering my little diatribe, but then a solemn look came over her face.

She smiled, and looked at me and said, “You're right.” Tears began to well up in her eyes as she said, “I choose you.” She stood up and walked over to me and kissed me. We must have held each other for five minutes.

Five weeks later I proposed, and exactly six months later, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1979, we were married. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year, and every day that goes by convinces me more that some risks are definitely worth taking.


AJ & Michelle — 1979

Michelle & The Mullet — 1994

Michelle & AJ — 2004