Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Drinkin' & Thinkin' — A Mini Series (2 of 2)

Kentucky Thunder
Anytime I entertain guests in Nashville who are of a similar taste in music to my own, there’s one place that I always love to take them: my favorite music spot and watering hole in all of Music City, 3rd & Lindsley Bar and Grill. And on the Saturday night that Alex was in town, it just so happened that my number one favorite Rock ‘n Country diva was playing there: Jonell Mosser and her band, Enuff’ Rope.

If you’ve never heard of Jonell, don’t feel bad; you can just save all those bad feelings for the record label bastards who are responsible for it. She is the quintessential example of a supreme talent who became a victim of corporate politics, quashing what could very well have been a superstar career in the opinion of the more than a few Music City inteligencia.

Unfortunately back then, the only time you most likely would have heard Jonell’s soulful voice outside of Nashville would have been on the soundtrack of the 1995 movie, Boys on The Side, in her dynamic cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads.

Her voice and energy has long been compared to that of Janis Joplin, with the notable exception that she, unlike Janis, she’s a stoned fox.

I guess that the crush I sort of have for her was cemented by a previous time I’d seen her play at 3rd some months earlier. I moved around the room a bit that night, but towards the end of Jonell’s performance I found myself standing about two-thirds of the way between the stage and the dressing room door in back, enjoying the show.

As she finished her final song, she made a beeline for the dressing room, which had her heading straight for me. I assure you, my positioning was not planned. However being the shamelessly gregarious type that I am, I just couldn’t help but reach out to shake her hand as she approached.

I couldn’t possibly have been more surprised when instead of shaking my hand, she threw her arms around my shoulders and gave me a big hug!

“Wow!” I said instinctively, “Great job tonight!”

“Thank you!” she beamed. Jonell then suddenly realized that she was soaked with perspiration after her high-energy 90-minute show. “Ohmigosh, I’m sorry, I’m really sweaty!” she whispered apologetically.

“Oh, no problem,” I smiled, as she then proceeded on toward the dressing room door, and everyone began staring at me as if I was someone important…or maybe it was that big, stupid grin that was plastered all over my face as I began heading back towards the front.

To this day I have no idea why she hugged me. I certainly didn’t initiate it. I’ve been told many times that I have a “familiar-looking” face. Perhaps in the dim light of the club she mistakenly thought I was someone else; I’ll never know for sure. But what I do know, is that she enlisted a fan for life that night.

A portend of bad days to come.
As happy a memory as this story is, it nevertheless ushered in a time that would create some not-so-happy ones down the road. This was the period in late ’94, following my return from California and my 20th High School Reunion. It was the time in my life that I actively, although innocently, flirted whenever I had the opportunity. Nothing was going to happen at that point, but it definitely paved the way for future bad decisions that would indeed be devastating.

Alex too, was a bit of a flirt.

There was already a big crowd when we arrived and we could only secure a pair of stools at the end of the bar furthest from the stage; much farther away than I wanted to be. We sat and pounded down a few beers and just had a great time talking. Alex had his eye on a cute, little blonde with short hair, sitting a few feet away at a nearby table. He wasn’t going to try and do anything stupid. We were just both enjoying the view.

As it drew nearer toward showtime, I started getting antsy. The place was already full and becoming more packed by the minute. Our position at the end of the bar was problematic because now, with standing room only, people began to come and stand in the aisle in front of us, obscuring my view of the stage, about twenty-five feet away.

Then I decided to act upon a hunch that I thought just might be the solution to our problem. Directly to the left of the stage was a four-person table, but with only two people sitting there. I had been watching to see if perhaps the couple was waiting for friends to join them but so far no one had shown up. I knew there was more than a good chance I’d get an angry stare in return, but that also that I’d regret it for the rest of the night if I didn’t ask.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Alex as I slid off my stool.

I walked up to the couple sitting at the table, leaned in like I owned the place and said casually, “May I be so nervy to ask if my brother and I could join you at this table?” The man and his attractive blonde female companion both stared back at me blankly for a split second, until apparently my words sank in. Then their eyes lit up. and said, “Sure, we don’t mind!” they said, smiling.

Can you say, Southern Hospitality?

I thanked them profusely and moved toward one of the two empty chairs immediately in front of the stage. It was the best seat in the house. Once settled, I looked back over toward the bar to wave Alex on over to join us.

He was already chatting up the little blonde, now sitting in my barstool.

Once I got his attention, he came over to the table and we all introduced ourselves. Before long he again excused himself to go back over and talk to this gal, now joined by a friend in our former seats; an upgrade over their previous position.

While they were talking, I was busy making small talk with the attractive lady at the table. Her husband just smiled and didn’t say more than a sentence or two the entire night as I recall. Apparently this wasn’t much his scene. The woman, who appeared to be around the same age as I was (late thirties at the time), leaned over and told me in a discreet voice that he hates coming to clubs, and does so only at her behest. She was a huge Jonell fan, so she insisted they come that night.

A few minutes later, Jonell herself emerged from the crowd to make her way to the stage for a last-minute equipment check prior to the start of the show. The way the tables were arranged, the space between ours and the table to our right created the pathway she used to step up to the three-foot raised platform.

Have I mentioned that I’d been drinking all night? I was on probably my forth beer at that point, still a good sheet shy of three sheets to the wind, but definitely at a point where my inhibitions were not complete working order.

I suddenly decided that I had something to say, and I wasn’t gonna miss my opportunity to say it.

As Jonell began to pass directly to the right of my chair, I called out her name, just loud enough for her to hear me above the increasing din of conversation echoing about the packed little bar.

She stopped, turned to me and smiled. I crooked my finger, motioning for her to come closer. She stepped toward me, to my left, bent down and leaned in.

“Do you have any idea how wonderful you are?” I whispered in her ear.

Not even in my semi-drunken state could I believe myself to be so ballzy as to say to this to a woman who didn’t know me from Adam.

“No,” she replied, “But you can tell me that anytime you want!” And she kissed me on the cheek as she smiled and proceeded to step up onto the stage.

I was completely embarrassed and completely thrilled at the same time. I felt like I’d scored the biggest coup since Castro. The blonde woman at the table was aghast. “Do you know her?” she demanded, her eyes as big as saucers.

“Nope” I replied, smiling.

A few minutes later, Alex returned. He said he and the little shorthaired blonde had had a nice conversation. As it turned out she lived not too far away from us in Franklin. He said that she was a part-time instructor at a gymnastic school there, although it wasn’t the same place I myself worked out occasionally. And if that was the last time the little shorthaired blonde was a part of this story, it would have been more than fine with me.

More on that later.

Soon Jonell was on the stage, and her show was fantastic! Her position onstage was no more than five feet from where we were sitting. Alex had never been all that much of a concertgoer, so this was an especially cool experience for him. He kept giving me these “I can’t believe how great this is” glances. I would just nod back and smile. A goodly portion of the fun I had that night was just witnessing my brother having a great time.

I had another couple beers…which brings me back to the subject of drinking.

My longstanding habit when attending a show at 3rd & Lindsley, is to have a couple cups of coffee at the bar before leaving the premises. They don’t charge you for it and by the end of the night it’s usually strong enough to de-grease engine parts. So it’s a good pick-me-up for the drive home. And yeah, yeah I know. You shouldn’t drink and drive, but sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid.

I mentioned earlier that I know my limits, and I do. But on this night, more than ten years ago, I unfortunately hadn’t quite yet figured it out. I had eight beers that night, which is, given my stature, at least three more than I should ever have if I’m out away from home. I was drunk and I knew it. No amount of coffee, regardless of its strength was going to lift that hundred-pound anvil off of my brow.

So as the crowd slowly filed out into the crisp, late autumn night, I sat at the bar, struggling with what I should do. Then Alex reappeared with, you guessed it, the little shorthaired blonde girl.


I don’t know about you, but to me, one of the worst possible things I can imagine is to be out of control. And buddy, at that point steering my mouth was about as easy as corraling a herd of wild elephants.

So Alex is introducing me to this very nice, and apparently sober young woman, and when I tried to speak it was as if I’d just finished bobbing for ball bearings. It was horrible! I could not make the words come out of my mouth un-slurred.

I honestly don’t remember exactly what it was I tried to say, but I do remember them laughing at me, albeit good-naturedly. I’m pretty sure I took it all in stride, because I clearly remember thinking to myself that it was my own damned fault. I’m sure I just smiled and said as little as possible.


At any rate, soon it was time to head back home, and after my little Foster Brooks impersonation, it didn’t take a lot of deep thought to conclude that I was in no shape to drive. Problem was, Alex was a little tanked himself, but much, much less so than me.

And then things really became comical…or maybe they just seemed funny to me. Whichever the case, the drive home was probably as funny a memory I have as an adult.

First off, my car, which we drove up there was an old Datsun 510. Great little car, but not much to look at. Its 1978 body style was pretty funky by mid-90s standards, and the half-dozen parking lot dings, oxidized and/or peeling paint, and dented bumper (from-that-thing-that-happened-during-the-ice-storm-that-one-time), all completed the look.

When he was in high school, my son Shawn affectionately dubbed that car, The Turd.

But all that is neither here nor there, what really made gave el Turdo it’s unique charm was it's stick shift. Some of Datsun’s early 5-speed manual transmissions featured a shift pattern that was very different from the one that nearly all such cars follow today. First gear, instead of being to the left and up, was to the left and down, where second gear is on most cars. In turn, third gear was where fourth usually is, and fifth, was in the position normally occupied by reverse. If you were used to a conventional 5-speed, it definitely took some getting used to.

And why, you ask, is all that important? Well, it wasn’t gonna be me behind the wheel driving home, and Brother Alex had never driven my car before. He sure as hell hadn’t seen a gear shift like this one. And leave us also not forget that Alex had been drinking as well, although again, he was certainly in better shape than I was.

Nonetheless it made for an interesting drive home. Alex was going crazy trying to figure out that shift pattern, and I was just howling. But what really made it comical was that there we were, both sauced, Alex trying to figure this thing out while I’m trying to explain it to him, even though I’m so drunk that I can’t even say my own damned name.

With gears ‘a grinding, we laughed the entire way home.

Funny, but for some reason the wives never heard about the flirting or how much we drank that night. All they heard was how great a time we had together. And now as I look back, it was indeed one of the best ever. Not necessarily because of our excess, but much more so because of our togetherness.

We promised each other there would be more of those times to come, but my optimism was tempered. It was an all too familiar theme. You see, largely due to the fact that we both got married the same year, our families along with his career-related changes of venue had never allowed us to spend nearly the amount of one-on-one time we’d always talked about. And now with him pulling up stakes and moving to the East Coast, I knew that the prospects of seeing each other with any kind of frequency were even less promising. And as it turned out, Alex and I didn't see each other at all during the more than three years he lived in Connecticut. Even after they moved back to Dallas in 1998, we saw each other only a handful of times before learning that Alex had fallen victim to the family curse.

I always thought we’d have more time. I always assumed that someday, perhaps after we’d retired, we would finally have the time to hang out; maybe go on an occasional road trip together; enjoy our grandchildren together. But now of course I know those things aren’t going to happen. And that makes me incredibly sad.

Alex’s condition is slowly degrading, however the medication he’s been on since late 2004 has done much to put the brakes to the ravaging effects that Alzheimer’s is inflicting upon his brain. And although he’s still able to live at home, no one can say for how much longer that will be the case.

My life has been full of great times with Alex, both individually and collectively with our families. But of all those memories, despite the fact that our behavior was a little on the unsavory side, I think that evening at 3rd is my favorite.

I’ve never had more fun, I’ve never had more laughs, and I’ve never felt closer to my little (big) brother.

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