Sunday, June 29, 2008

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part X)

Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday (continued):
He Got Walkin’ Fingers…

Soon after arriving back at the Center, Dad, Helen and I went out for Mexican, and engaged in what would be the first of many conversations about what was going on in AJ’s world. They wanted to know the latest about grandkids’ Shawn and Amy’s college exploits and all about Michelle’s goings-on.

We did a lot of talking over my two days in Hemet, but I can honestly say that none of it grew stale. I love hearing my Dad’s stories, no matter how many times he forgets he’s already told them. He’s just such a great guy, with so much zest for life, even after 83 years on the planet and all the heartbreak and crap he’s had to deal with. Sometimes the gleam in his eye is downright blinding.

Dialing for Brothers
Also while I was there I had nice conversations with two of my remaining three brothers. No, they didn’t suddenly show up at the door. Instead, we let our fingers do the walking.

Dad calls Alex at least once a week, both to monitor his progress and to maximize the fleeting time he has to spend with his baby boy, who has been stricken with the family curse of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. He’s still holding up very well after thirteen months on the Alzheimer’s-impeding drugs, Aracept and Namenda, but the die is indeed cast, and it will only be a matter of time before such communication with him will become impossible.

So I had another opportunity to have a long, yet difficult talk with my precious bro — which is why I call him so seldom. What a horrible paradox this has become for me. I want desperately to spend time with him, but I just can’t make myself sit down and call for the heartache and frustration involved in trying to communicate with him. Used to be that I knew it was no big deal if we went six month between phone calls — it went both ways, so I never worried about it. Now I worry about it. Old habits are hard to break, but this one is just devastating.

I hate myself for it.

Instant Karma
Also while I was there, my directly elder brother, Kenny called from his home in Taiwan. That’s right, I said Taiwan, as in The Republic of China Taiwan. And sheesh…speaking of walking fingers, mine felt like they’d just run a marathon after I got through writing out Kenny’s mailing address and phone number in Taipei during my phone conversation with him. Apparently they don’t do short addresses over there. My hand was starting to cramp up fer petesakes.

Kenny used to be somewhat of a jet-setter, spending about a third of his time in Los Angeles, where he needed to be to tend to his various entrepreneurial interests. He kept an apartment in Pasadena and visited Dad and Helen often. But now he lives in Taiwan full-time, choosing to be closer to home to spend time with his wife and growing family.

Hmm…perhaps I should have said, instant family.

Kenny is a trip, and always an interesting person to talk to. He’s Type-A-all-the-way; he’s a successful businessman and has done well for himself in the business world. He’s not one for doing things half-assed. And now it appears he’s jumped into fatherhood much the same way.

Following years of frustration from unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy, Kenny and his wife decided it was time to give nature a little help. They decided to give fertility drugs a go, and the results were more successful than they probably hoped.

The initial pregnancy in 2002 produced a single child, a little girl, but they weren’t stopping there (I think you probably see where this is going). Thirteen months later: triplets — all boys. And then again earlier this year: twin girls.

Between the ages of 49 and 52, my brother went from zero to six(ty).

They’ve now shut down the baby factory, but even as someone who came from a large family of five boys himself; even the talkative Kenny was a bit blown away by it all. The man is excited to be a Dad — but six kids in three years? Aye-yi-yi…

And in case you had any doubt, his kids do come from pretty good stock on both sides (if I may be allowed to boast just a little); so needless to say, they’re all gorgeous. They also carry more than just a modicum of local celebrity, not only because of the circumstances involving their conception, but also for being fathered by an Anglo-American. They’ve been on TeeVee on several occasions, on talkshows, as well as local commercials.

I really couldn’t be happier for my bro.

But in the end it was all about Dadtime. It was great to spend time with my Pop and Helen. We didn’t really go anywhere, except out to dinner on Monday night and then on Tuesday, once again, thanks to the generosity of my friend Cindy, Dad and I took in the Angels vs. the Toronto Bluejays game in Anaheim.

All the rest of the time we just hung out and talked. As he always does now whenever I see him, Dad requested some reading material from my blog, so I had printed out (and was amazed at the number of pages it took) my series from the 2004 trip, and delivered it to him when I arrived.

We talked again about him possibly taking some time to writing out his own memories from what I view as a fascinating and full life for my hero; my Dad. At last report, he still hadn’t started, but he’s gonna get to it soon, he promises.

That’s right, boys and girls, I come by it honestly.

Next: Day Five — Wednesday:
“From the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California…”

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part IX)

A change of plans...
I’ve decided to do this a little differently than first intentioned. I had mentioned previously that I would post-date these conclusions to older series I’m trying to finish off, in order to keep them in chronological proximity (as well as physical order) and then provide backlinks to the newer entries in a current post.

Well, I’ve decided to do it both ways. For the time being, since it looks as though I’m going to fail miserably in achieving my volume goal of four series completions and at least that many additional single stories being posted before June was out, I really just want to get out what I have been able to do during this period of well-intentioned-if-not-stellar literary activity.

I’ll post the parts as I finish them, and then, after a time, re-date them to fall back in order with the rest of their respective series components.

I will at that time post the aforementioned ‘Unfinished Business’ update entries that will provide links back to the parts for those who wish to find them more easily later.

At any rate, although I’ve not gotten as much done as I wanted, I can say that I’ve had a helluva lot of fun writing what I have. And once again, thank gawd I took good notes.

So I hope now that you’ll enjoy the concluding parts of my account of what was a very enjoyable and unforgettable trip to the homeland — now almost three full years ago — in August of 2005

Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday:
Where’s The Champ when you need ‘im?

In another of the seemingly never-ending series of efforts to date myself, this next chapter in my story brings a particular TV commercial from the 1970s to mind. Back in the days before Don King and Mike Tyson transformed it from The Sweet Science into The Gong Show, the man who was the face of professional boxing was also its greatest ambassador. Muhammad Ali was everything a great sports figure could and should be. But one of the things I loved about him the most was the fact that in addition to being the Greatest of Them All, he was also the easiest to like.

Ali was a crackup. He was the Clown who wore the Crown. From the Ring to the small screen, The Champ was all about entertainment. And in a particular enterprise that some felt was well beneath his dignity, it was his self-deprecation that I found to be the most refreshing.

I remember him doing a TV commercial for Black FlagRoach Motel roach traps years ago (apparently he had a real passion for roach-extermination products — more on that later). “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out! he would say, with that same trademark, faux-menacing, raspy whisper he used for years to antagonize his opponents during many a pre-fight press conference.

With Ali’s Black Flag commercial, the term Roach Motel was added to the pop-culture lexicon; a reference that became much more attuned to describe the genre of typically low-cost motor hotels in which one might likely find the multi-legged creatures scurrying about when the lights come on, than to the actual product itself.

I don’t know if he was busy at the time, but I think I could have used The Champ to “knock out” some nasty-lookin’ cucarachas that were waiting for me in my motel room Monday afternoon when I arrived in Hemet to visit my Dad. I had run out of time and asked him if he could find me a cheap place to stay.

Poor Pop, God love ‘im. He was just trying to save me a few bucks, and he’d obviously never stayed there himself, so how would he have known? I really have no one to blame but myself anyway. In my haste to get ready to make this trip, the one travel arrangement I failed to complete was to book a motel for the two nights I would be in Hemet.

Strangers in the Night II
One might be wondering why I needed to get a room in the first place. After all, I was going to see my Dad, and I had stayed at their place the last time I visited, in August of 2004. The difference was that they had moved since my last visit — and recently I might add.

Dad and his wife Helen had just moved back to the assisted living center each had called home at a time when they were merely acquaintances, while my stepmom Maxine was still alive. They had just moved in to their new one-bedroom apartment just a few days before I arrived. Aside from the fact that they were still unpacking, and maintenance men were still installing light fixtures and such, there was simply no room to put me up there comfortably.

As I’ve mentioned before, Helen had been a mutual friend of both Maxine and my Dad, one of the first to reach out to them when they initially moved in, back in early 2000. Helen was already a widow, having lost her husband several years earlier. In the months following Maxine’s passing in late May of that year, Helen and Dad, became closer friends through her emotional support to him at an obviously difficult time following Maxine’s unexpected death — the result of complications from a viral infection — and the relationship just seemed to blossom from there.

After Maxine’s passing, Dad found the two of them spending more and more time together. And now suddenly becoming one of the more eligible bachelors at the Center, Pop had to literally fight off the ladies who began coming on to him. All the while Helen was simply there for him, never imposing the obvious affection that was growing in her own heart.

And the feeling was becoming mutual.

This is one of my favorite pictures. My Dad and me in the back yard during his visit to Tennessee in June 2001. And no, I wasn’t dyeing my goatee back then…

By the time Pop came to Tennessee for a visit in June of 2001, he was already smitten, yet not quite forthcoming in announcing the news to his family. He was concerned about what we might think, given that it had been just over a year since Mom had passed away. It took a couple of days before he mustered the courage to broach the subject with Michelle and me, fearing we might not approve. However nothing could have been further from the truth. Dad seemed a little taken aback when we assured him with no reservation that we were delighted he had found a lady friend to spend his time with. He insisted at the time that it wasn’t serious, but we knew better.

Six months later, my elder brother, Kenny, took his own endorsement of the relationship to another level, greasing the wheels of an all-out effort to get Dad and Helen to Las Vegas to get hitched. And so they did, in December.

As it turned out, it may have very well likely been a decision that saved my Dad’s life.

Far away from the maddening crowd
It was probably a more uncomfortable scene for Helen than for her new husband, but after losing out to her in the race for Pop’s affections, some of those old hens at the Center turned on Helen. She felt a little spurned by women she had long considered to be her friends. Combining that with the fact that he’d never felt really comfortable there anyway — and the real kicker — a recent sharp increase in rent and service fees added by the management company, Dad and Helen decided to get the heck outta Dodge.

They moved back to the old neighborhood where Dad and Maxine had lived for years prior to moving to the assisted living residence. They were both in good health (or so we all thought) and figured they didn’t necessarily need the round-the-clock nursing care (nor the price tag thereof) that the Center provided. They wanted to fend for themselves. Dad wanted to get back to the vegetable garden he had been forced to abandon when they’d moved the first time. They weren’t old like the rest ‘a those fogies. They could take care of themselves, thankyouverymuch.

Almost immediately, the repercussions of that move would come to roost.

A few months after they moved out of the Center, in May 2002, my Dad suffered a mild, but potentially fatal heart attack at home, and now without the on-call medical facilities that had been available to him previously, had Helen not been there to call 911, my Pop would most certainly have died. He ended up having quadruple-bypass surgery in the wake of his ordeal, having never shown any signs of heart disease prior to the event.

The good news is, he has worked hard to change his lifestyle and is completely recovered and in great shape for a man of nearly eighty-three years of age. But the better news is that he had Helen there, or chances are great that he wouldn’t be around to celebrate that ‘good’ news in the first place.

And though Dad’s health has been great for the past four years, Helen hasn’t been so fortunate. She began experiencing difficulties with her legs; sores that took forever to heal; and more recently, had to undergo surgery to remove a blockage in her colon.

So when out of the blue, a neighbor made an offer to buy their house which, in Dad’s words, was “just too good to pass up,” they reconsidered their previous decision and decided to give their old assisted living community another try (and have been very happy there ever since).

Dad and Helen in their new apartment, and still goin’ strong.

‘Cuz I’m a cheap ‘ol bugger...that’s why.
So now you know why I needed to get a room, but here’s how I ended up at The Roach Motel.

Going in, I figured on someplace inexpensive; just a place for me to lay my head at the end of each of the two days I would be spending entirely with the folks. However, as per my usual penchant for leaving things to the last minute, I ran out of time and never made a hotel reservation.

Having no easy access to a computer, I turned to my Pop for a little travel agency assistance, which he was quite happy to do. I had phoned him on Saturday to let him know I’d arrived and to ask if he would go ahead and make the arrangements at the local Motel 6, reserving a room for me on Monday and Tuesday nights. When he said he’d take care of it, I figured, ‘No Problem,’ and considered it a done deal.

When I arrived at Dad’s place on Monday, he proudly announced, “AJ, I think I got you a pretty good deal on that room.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Why yesss,” he gushed. “I went to the Motel 6 just like you said, and they wanted $49.99 a night, plus tax! But I found a little motel over here on the main drag that only charges $45 a night out the door!

“Well okay then, thanks for doing that for me, Dad!” I said appreciatively.

Now I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at least a little concerned at that point. Motel 6, say what you want about the stereotypical connotations associated with it, is at least a known commodity. You know, going in that you’re not staying at some kind of resort. But at least there is a reasonable expectation that the room, the sheets, and the linens will all be clean and fresh. One can expect there to be decent cable TV, and you can certainly expect that the only multi-legged creature in your bed is gonna be YOU.

There is a level of trust with Motel 6 that I’ve always felt good about. And while the notion of moving away from that was disconcerting at first, I can honestly say I really didn’t give it that much thought when it came up.

My Dad, don’t forget, was a Depression Kid, and anytime we were on vacation, it was Motel 6 all the way. So if he said he’d found an even better bargain, who was I to argue?

After a short visit with Dad and Helen, I left to go check in and drop my stuff before returning to Dad’s to go out to dinner.

I pulled in and went into the office. On the outside, it looked like a typical cheap motel: smartly landscaped; recently painted exterior; clean and innocuous office/lobby area. The lady handed me my key and I drove my car down a few hundred feet to where my room was, at the end of the row.

The manager had been sure to mention that the entire motel was a non-smoking environment, which was nice, but really didn’t mean all that much to me. While I do appreciate non-smoking to smoking, I’ve never been one to make a big deal over not getting the former.

When I opened the door I immediately realized that the motel’s smoke-free policy was not something they necessarily put into place voluntarily. I’m pretty sure they had to do it because the rooms were already so heavily saturated with the smell of smoke that one more wisp would have probably sent the whole place down into the damned center of the earth!

Oh. My. Freaking. GAWD! My eyes hadn’t watered like that since that time Michelle and I got caught downwind of the south end of a momma hippo, cuttin’ it loose at the San Diego Zoo several years ago.

I immediately began to re-think my stance of not being bothered by smoking-allowed environments. This was easily the worse one I’d ever encountered. Just when did they implement that “smoke-free” policy — AN HOUR AGO? Perhaps by “smoke-free” they meant that they no longer CHARGE people for the privilege!

And that was just the tip ‘o the iceberg. True to its Ali-inspired nickname, as I flipped on the lights I saw no less than three cockroaches scurrying off to points unknown. I just rolled my eyes. I had a notion, but I didn’t wish to insult or embarrass my Pop, who actually had tried to do me a favor. Looking at the place from the outside, there really was no way to know how the ghastly secrets that lurked just beyond the doorknob.

Oh wait. I forgot about the three-pound Yuban coffee can ashtrays that were mounted onto the building just outside the door of every room.

Yeah…that might have been a clue.

The best thing I can say is, apart from its aforementioned extremophylic permanent residents…and the broken toilet paper roll dispenser…and the cracked tile in the shower…and the TV on which it appeared they were showing the ice palace scene from Dr. Zhivago on every channel, the place was pretty clean. The bed was comfortable, and when I awoke the next morning I hadn’t yet turned into any kind of Slither-like monster, so hey, I was okay with it.

Next: Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday (continued):
He Got Walkin’ Fingers…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh and by the way, which one’s ‘Pink?’
— A Miniseries (2 of 2)

Us…and Them
As with many — if not most of the members of my generation, my chief musical influence growing up was The Beatles — having been completely immersed in their music from my early childhood on.

However by the time I reached high school, the Fab Four had already disbanded, although the individual band members’ solo careers were in full swing. And while the music was still important, ‘The Beatles Movement’ was beginning to lose steam as a vehicle of generational discourse as the decade of the 70s pushed onward.

While still retaining quite a bit of its ‘edge,’ socially, by the early mid-70s, Beatles’ music no longer pushed the envelope as it had done a few years earlier. it was by that time, pretty much engrained into the culture and universally embraced by all. Hell, even Sinatra was making the pop charts covering Beatles songs.

Those days of ‘Beatle Bonfires’ — the public burning of Beatles albums — had long since passed. The band that John Lennon touted to be “more popular than Jesus” were no longer a threat to proper society.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Fab Four’s music was now part of the furniture. It was a substantial component of popular society, and rock ‘n roll was here to stay.

But while the Beatles music was no longer the short, sharp shock to the system of John Q. Public it once had been, there was, however, a growing rock ‘n roll sub-genre that still struck a chord of fear in the hearts of god-fearing America; the now-burgeoning brand of raw, hard-edged Rock that conjured up visions of anti-war protests, free love, and all-things-hippyfied.

Acid Rock, baby.

As for me, generationally speaking, I happened to fall just beyond the outskirts of the hardcore Hippy movement. I never quite got into the ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out’ vibe that many of those just a few years older than I had. There were several reasons for that — beyond merely my age. In large part I believe a lot had to do with the family and religious environment in which I was reared.

‘Hard’ Rock sort of scared me when I was a kid. I was more-or-less taught that The Beatles were as ‘hard’ as any music I had business listening to. And I gladly bought into that concept. So there was no real draw to embrace anything that was too-seriously ‘counter-culture’ (a widely-used descriptor back in the day).

Likewise, as I became older, I didn’t seem to have any real reason to go there, but like any other normal teenager I still yearned for something a bit more dangerous; something a little beyond the boundaries of my conservative upbringing.

Nonetheless I stood fast in my reticence to embrace anything beyond the homogenized realm of the Top 40, though deep down I really wanted to check out the Dark Side.

It took the simultaneous challenge of two guys whose lifestyles were pretty much the opposite of my own for me to see what a hypocrite I was for holding to such a position, and I’ll always be grateful to them both for it.

One was a person I knew only in passing. The other was someone I’d known all my life.

Come inside dear boy; have a cigar…
My Hard rock indoctrinators were a couple of guys at opposite ends of my interpersonal spectrum.

The first was my brother, Kenny (a.k.a. ‘TK’ in previous stories). We were only two grades apart in school but light-years divergent in personality and our respective personal belief systems.

Growing up, we fought like cats and dogs, with the elder Kenny always coming out on top. But following the physical skirmishes of our early youth, there would be battles of a different kind later on.

In 1969 Kenny had accompanied our Dad, Alex and I in the move to California, following our Mom’s death. But the abuse that I was willing to endure from Step-Mom Maxine, Kenny refused to submit to.

Those first nine months in our new home were like World War III. After just one school year (his sophomore year in high school), my elder brother convinced the folks that it would be best for him to spend the summer back in Indiana, staying with son #2, our brother David. Maxine wasn’t wild about the idea at first, but didn’t put up much resistance. She was as much in need of a little vacay from ‘TK’ was my brother from her.

Although he insisted it was just for the summer, I knew he wasn’t coming back. Kenny returned to Indiana to live with our elder brother David and finish out his last two years of high school. It was then that his life changed forever. My brother found religion — but not the religion you might be thinking of.

Kenny returned to SoCal to find a career and soon thereafter became a Buddhist — and an evangelical one at that. He subsequently attempted to convert the entire family, a devout Christian group, but didn’t find any takers; especially not in me.

Anytime Kenny came around, we knew that cat & dog act so well, we didn’t even have to rehearse.

The topic or occasion, it didn’t matter — we argued so often back then, it could have been over anything. It wasn’t just religion; Kenny and I were so such diametrically opposed personality-wise, I’m pretty sure that we must have argued about the time of day at least once or twice.

My brother really tormented me growing up, and for years I kept that grudge around with me like a pet. So anytime we got together, it didn’t take much for sparks to fly.

Another thing about my brother, he’s a ‘Type A’ personality, and could talk circles around anyone. He was a born salesman. Dood could sell sand to an Arab. He would later fashion that go-getter persona into a tremendously successful entrepreneurial career; but back then, in my eyes, he was just my blowhard bro who managed to get my goat in every argument, every single fucking time, and oh, how that burned me up.

Kenny’s the type who is such a great arguer that you simply cannot win — or at least I couldn’t. The best I could ever do was to get him to ‘agree to disagree,’ and try my best to walk away with at least a sliver of my dignity intact, although those times seemed few and far between.

No, what I remember happening instead on most occasions was me storming off, purple-faced, from yet another shout-fest that didn’t accomplish anything except perhaps granting him the satisfaction that he’d done it to me again — at least that’s how it felt, anyway.

But lest you think that my brother is some kind of malevolent being, please, put the rope away. While our personalities are as far apart as east is from west, our bond as brothers has always been indestructible. Kenny and I have long since mended the fences we spent our first couple decades of life together tearing down. We agree — respectively so — to disagree about our differences on all issues. I love my brother unconditionally and I know that love goes both ways.

And while I know that I could never be ‘like’ him, I do very much appreciate the fact that despite of my resistance, it was he who was the most instrumental in shaping a lot of my opinions later in adulthood, including a decision to broaden my musical horizons that would prove to be a truly life-changing paradigm shift for your truly.

Brain Damage
On the occasion of yet another patented rock music debate in which I insisted that I could live without experiencing the head-banging joys of Led Zeppelin, Mountain or Black Sabbath, he told me simply, “You can listen to what you want to, but I think you’re doing yourself a huge disservice to not even give it a try.”

Funny what just a little bit of conciliation will do when you’re conditioned for nothing but all-out assault…

The context of the discussion was hard rock, or Acid Rock as it was popularly colloquialized in those days. As far as I was concerned, ‘that music’ was strictly t was the product of the drug-influenced late 60s/early 70s. And even though my Beatles were one of the bands chiefly responsible for the genre’s early beginnings, I still bristled at the notion that music celebrating anything ‘radical’ could possibly be worth listening to.

And that was the problem: I was confusing the music with the culture. Not all hard rock lyrics openly celebrated drug use, or promoted counter-culture themes; I just assume that they did.

What I didn’t realize was that despite the outer appearance or even the actual life-practices of the musicians themselves, music stands or falls based on its own merits. Listening to it wouldn’t give me Brain Damage; but it might just expand my way of thinking.

At the same time that Kenny was challenging me to think outside my self-imposed music box, a second influential figure in my journey to the Dark Side would weigh in — my desk-neighbor in my high school Advertising Art class: a soft-spoken, avowed surfer/hippie counter-culturist-type named Van.

Van was a guy I had known only casually throughout high school, and I don’t believe we had ever been paired up in a class before. But on a seemingly daily basis we talked about music. And again there I’d be, holding the party line against all things Acid, while Van would defend the viability of his hard rock faves.

However sometime, during our Senior year, between late ’73 and early ‘74, Van set out on a mission to complete the work that my brother had started. He began going out of his way — very diplomatically, mind you — extolling to me the virtues of the British band Pink Floyd, whose then-recent landmark album, Dark Side of the Moon was making a huge splash just about everywhere — even on the Pop charts.

I remember his passion for the album. Van insisted there was no possible way I wouldn’t love it.

The record was about a year old at the time, and I was of course already familiar with its two ubiquitous singles, Money and Time, both of which were receiving constant airplay on just about every rock or pop format station in the country.

And sure, I liked those songs well enough, but something else restrained me from taking the plunge and exploring the more of that ‘taboo’ genre of ‘hard rock’ — a category under which Pink Floyd certainly fell in those days. It was a label having much more to do with my religious mores at the time than with anything else.

No Sympathy for the Devil
You see, being raised a straight-laced Baptist, I just wasn’t into that stuff. And it wasn’t as though I considered the music as all that bad necessarily, the fact was, it was simply out of my scope at that time in my life.

Hey, I was into pop; I was a Top 40 guy, like the vast majority of kids I hung out with back then. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on records. I was mostly a radio-head. The only albums I owned were the Beatles LPs and 45s I’d had since grade school.

Of course I can remember a time when those in my family and church frowned upon even Beatles music. I clearly remember my Uncle Bill on one occasion trying his best to dissuade me from listening to it, calling it “ugly,” “the devil’s music,” and so on. I also clearly remember thinking the guy was nuts, but fortunately didn’t offer that opinion out loud.

Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting was about as hard as I rolled back then, and in fact, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one album I did own at that time, but only because a buddy of mine had given it to me for Christmas that year. But by way of comparison, that was pretty much my speed in music.

AM Top 40 still ruled the airwaves in the early-to-mid-70s, and I was just all about it. Motown, Elton John, Chicago; these were the sounds that streamed from my car radio and 8-track player. That was soon to change, however.

Van was relentless; he peppered me daily with incessant praises of Dark Side, insisting that I give it a listen. But while I liked what I’d heard on the radio just fine, I was pretty lukewarm to the possibility that the rest of the album could be all that special. However having been primed by Kenny’s challenge, Van eventually wore me down. I decided it was finally time for me to broaden my horizons.

So I went out and purchased the 8-Track, and was instantaneously changed forever. Not since the Beatles had I received such a musical revelation. The aural qualities of lead guitarist David Gilmour’s instrumental and vocal craftings along with Roger Water’s unbelievably intelligent, biting lyrics came together in a sound so far beyond anything I’d ever heard before that I simply could not believe my ears.

The album truly rocked my world.

Okay, I know you may be rolling your eyes just a bit, particularly if you’ve grown up hearing the now familiar tunes from DSOTM and perhaps haven’t quite received the same rapturous experience that I did. And if that’s the case, I simply say ‘to each his (or her) own.’ All I can tell you is how it affected me. You simply have to understand just how different, how forward thinking that work was at the time.

I suppose that now, decades later, as Rock ‘n Roll has evolved and many artists have ridden the musical coattails of Pink Floyd’s, and subsequently, The Beatles’ innovative sound, you simply have to be as old as I am to appreciate just how unique and different things really were back in 1974.

However in my opinion, despite the passing years and musicians who have come and gone, attempting to borrow from the genius that is Pink Floyd’s legacy, no one will ever render that sound ‘common.’ It’s still every bit as fresh and ‘out there’ today as it was back then.

Comfortably Numb
So there as I sat last Saturday, enraptured in the envelope of sound booming from my speakers. I reconnected to that special sense of being I felt as a young man with my whole life ahead of me. Many changes, many victories, and a few defeats as well would follow in the ensuing years.

However I’m doubtful that in my life, my ability to feel — to inject my emotions into the soundtrack of that music; the impact it had on me emotionally — could ever have been duplicated by anything else.

I dunno. it’s a very personal feeling I have, and one that’s pretty tough to describe. But it’s one of the things I treasure the most about my life. It’s the one thing that no one can take away from me; the one thing that no one needs to validate.

Only me.

Only me and my music.

Thanks, Kenny. I love you.


Oh and by the way, which one’s ‘Pink?’
— A Miniseries (1 of 2)

(Originally written on September 20, 2007)

This is the first in a number of former, nearly-completed-but-never-posted stories that have been piling up in my dead-blog box for as much as two-and-a-half years running. This particular one was originally intended to be posted in September of 2007, soon after we moved into an apartment following the sale of our home.

Hitting ‘The Wall’…
I’ve experienced more than my share of creeping malaise these past few weeks since moving into this one-bedroom apartment. Seems the more I unpack the less moved-in I feel. For Michelle and me the disconcertion of suddenly becoming vagabonds after nearly a decade-and-a-half of blissful geographic stability has been tough to take, and even tougher to shake. Despite the payoff that no doubt lies at the end of our journey — in January 2008 — it’s been pretty hard for us to focus on anything beyond than this ‘moving experience’ in the interim.

However last weekend, while in the process of getting settled, a wonderful memory came streaming back to me, reintroducing me to some feelings I hadn’t felt in quite awhile; it was just the recharge I needed.

Run, rabbit, run…
2007 has likely been Michelle’s and my busiest year ever since beginning this long, strange trip together. What with the kids graduating from college, then directly on the heels of that, our deciding to buy a new house and everything that has entailed; selling our existing abode quickly and then facing the reality of calling an apartment our home-in-between-homes for six long months.

It’s all been more than exhausting, physically, and dealing with the melancholy sentimentalities of leaving our ‘first love,’ every bit as taxing, emotionally.

But now, with the advent of having to cool our heels here in our temporary digs while awaiting our new home’s completion, I was determined to take advantage of the situation in at least one regard.

For all the obvious hassle of having to moving back into an apartment again, it did supply a sort of perverse nostalgia that Michelle and I both felt right away; it kind of made us feel like we were back in college again. And with that in mind, to go along with the experience it only seemed right to me to have a jammin’ stereo system in place to announce our arrival.

Nah…just kidding; I’d never be so inconsiderate as to indiscriminately play my stereo loud enough to annoy the paint, let alone the neighbors. Nonetheless, it is the law that an apartment just isn’t an apartment without tunes — well at least in my book, anyway.

So last Saturday I went to Wal-Mart, bought a cheap-o audio cart and celebrated the reinstallation of my stereo system here in our new temporary home. I even set up my old turntable, anxiously anticipating hours of listening to my old LPs — something I’ve done precious little of the past several years. However, it wouldn’t exactly be records I’d listen to initially, but rather CD bootlegs of LPs.

Turns out that my son, Shawn, had gone through an ‘old-school Rock’ phase a few years prior and had acquired CD copies of some of my favorite oId favorite Rock ‘n Roll classics. Fortunately for me he’d made ol’ Dad a copy of them although I had all but forgotten I even had them since they weren’t in commercial jewel cases like most of my ‘legit’ CD collection.

I pulled out a few I hadn’t listened to in what seemed like a lifetime; moldy-oldie albums that I once owned (and subsequently wore out) as 8-track tapes and/or LPs back in the 70s.

In addition to the obligatory Led Zeppelin Four and Houses of the Holy, which I had always enjoyed a great deal, but never counted among my favorite favorites, a select few of those little silver platters really sent my head spinning that afternoon, immediately returning me to that time in my life when anything was possible; a time when David Gilmour’s wailing guitar was my muse, and Roger Waters’ lyrics were my personal Devil’s Advocate.

I returned to my Animal(s) past and visited The Dark Side (of the Moon), once again.

For a single Saturday afternoon, Pink Floyd was back together and playing in my living room.

It’s not as though I’d forgotten how much I loved Pink Floyd. But for some reason, listening to those classic offerings that afternoon carried me back to the particular remembrance of why.

It was a memory I knew right then and there I had to explore; to write about, and pay tribute to someone I rarely speak of in this space, but whom I deeply respect; a person as different from me as night is from day, but to whom I will always be grateful, for challenging me to be whom I have in many ways become.

Next: Us…and Them

Sunday, June 08, 2008

June Boon

Holding Myself to It
One thing that makes it tough to hold ones own feet to the fire is the decision of just which way you’re gonna position yourself. Do you simply light the match yourself and try not to shrink away, or do you ask someone else to do the dirty-work for you, realizing that the latter option also makes it more difficult to change your mind and avoid the pain?

What the hell am I talking about, you rightfully ask? I’m talking about motivation; I’m talking about commitment; I’m talking about doing something I want to do, yet consistently find a way to avoid, day in and day out.

Same song, forty-second verse.

I’m talking about writing, specifically, writing here in my blog. As much as I wish it weren’t so complicated, I’ve decided that there’s only one way to successfully address the need I have to get back in the saddle, only one way to provide for myself the proper motivation to complete what I’ve started.

Waiting for the self-starting AJ to emerge just ain’t happnin.’ For some reason I just can’t seem to shake the creeping malaise of, “I’ll write tonight after dinner,” which quickly becomes, “I’ll write right after I watch this re-run of Law & Order,” which quickly becomes, “Okay…right after SportsCenter,” which almost always becomes, “Omigawd, it’s 3AM! I musta dozed off…”

It’s the only way I know I’ll be able to move on and finally silence the nagging of that fishwife–of-a-conscience I have. I realize now that I simply cannot do it without having someone else hold that match beneath my soles.

And I’m putting it all out here so that, hopefully, y’all can help me stay on task.

And while I’m certainly applying much more drama to the scenario than it will ever deserve, it’s unfortunately the only way I know to really gain my own attention. I really hate to be embarrassed, and I hate embarrassing myself even worse. So this is the best way I know to keep that from happening. No more excuses, I’m gonna get busy — or end up looking like a fool for making such a fuss about it (as if I don’t already).

I’ve had so many well-intentioned starts that soon thereafter turned into stops. It has gotten so bad that as of a few weeks ago I truly was ready to quit. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve felt paralyzed by the pressure — I have no trouble diving into a new story any time I sit down in front of my keyboard. It’s that I’ve simply had a devil of a time making myself finish what I start. That’s where the paralysis sets in. Every time I think about writing something new, I’m reminded of all the loose ends I have yet to tie up.

Why does it happen? Do I bore too easily with my own ideas? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I’m easily distracted. And it’s a really good thing I take lots of notes in the process of formulating any of my long-winded yarns, else there would be absolutely no hope of completing something as ridiculously overdue as LA Stories: 2005, which by the way I still do intend to complete, and do so, this month.

And that leads me to the subject of this sixth month of the calendar year; a month that once again has opened with the indication that it’s going to be another season of fire and brimstone here in Middle Tennessee. The first week of June established area records for consecutive ninety-degree-plus temperatures so early in the year.

The one benefit of the early heat is that today I actually have an excuse to be indoors, to escape being broiled to death while working out in the yard — a subject that will receive plenty of ink in the concluding parts of another series I’ll be completing this month: A Moving Experience...(an ongoing series).

Yep, I’ve been plenty busy — both at work and here at home — but that’s not enough of an excuse to really make me feel that my blog-silence has been justified. Nonetheless, I’m not going to just sit by and allow myself to make any more excuses. I’m gonna do something about it, and in the process, hopefully re-energize my writing to the point that it once again becomes a joy instead of a hangnail.

Post-Dated Posts
It’s too late to re-create the past — at least from a performance standpoint. Back in 2004, soon after the launch of my blog, I posted at least one entry every single day during the month of June. Obviously I can’t do that now, but my plan and pledge to myself is at least, from this point (June 8th) forward, to write every single day from now to the end of the month. Regardless whether or not I feel inspired from the outset, I’m gonna make myself get on that horse and hope that it’ll be a boon to my productivity.

Given all that I have left to do, merely from the standpoint of unfinished series,’ I’ll certainly have no shortage of material to deal with.

So here’s the schedule that I fully expect that everyone reading this will hold me to (including myself):
  • Unfinished Business
    This is your signal that something old has become new: Before the month is out, I plan on concluding four — maybe five — ancient-to-recent blog series that never quite made it to the finish line.

    In order to keep the story parts together, listed chronologically, I’ll be back-dating them to a time roughly concurrent with the entire story. Whenever I do that, I’ll post a direct link to the new/continuing parts with an entry entitled: Unfinished Business.

    I still haven’t decided in which order I’ll attack them, but the series you can expect to see being sewn up over the next three weeks will be, LA Stories: 2005, Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That, Good Things Come…, A Moving Experience...(an ongoing series), and maybe, if time permits, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

  • Afterthoughts
    Well…only in a manner of speaking. Again, these are posts that came and went without seeing the light of day in Blogland; short-subject blogs that just weren’t short enough, apparently. I have several of ‘em; stories that seemed like easy slam-dunks when I began writing them, yet somehow became caught up in that annoying vortex that is my inability at times to close out an argument with myself. The stories range on a wide variety of subjects, from Classic Rock to Sports to Politics and Social Injustice. I’ve got at least a dozen of these old half-to-three-quarters-completed posts that I’ve debated now literally for years whether or not to push on thru the pipeline. I don’t know how many of them will make the cut, but I guarantee you I’ll be adding at least one or two of them into the mix within these next three weeks. I’ve decided not to back-date these stories, but to let them stand as they were as originally written and post them in the here-and-now. I may change a few time-related details, but will for obvious reasons I want to try and avoid completely re-writing them just for the sake of making them current.

    I’ll have to take them on, case-by-case, to see how that part plays out, but my main intention is to simply finish ‘em up, get ‘em out, and get along with it.

    Look for the first one to post probably tomorrow night, or sooner.
From Boon to Bust?
So after this, where to go next? Actually that’s a good question — one that I don’t have an answer to.

I suppose one of the reasons I’ve been stockpiling all these old stories is that I somehow felt the need to have something to post when I ran out of ideas. And right now I’m not totally convinced that hasn’t happened. I have to admit, I’m out of it, folks. I’ve really been struggling with the direction I want to go. I just don’t have the time that I used to, and the pressure I feel all around me as a result has sapped both my energy and my creativity.

Anymore I feel like an automaton at work, and even though I’m learning and improving my skill-set by leaps and bounds, I just want to run away and retreat to how things were 3-4 years ago. Life was so much simpler for me. I was having so much fun on so many different fronts. Things are just different now.

It’s not that I don’t think those feelings can return, it’s more that I think I’m in a state of mourning for my loss of temporary identity. Everything changed for me when my job was challenged. And while I weathered the storm well enough, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve failed.

Listen, I’m not saying all this to elicit anyone’s sympathy, I’m just being real, and that’s what this space is about. The upshot of all this is that I honestly don’t know what will happen once I summon up all my resources to pour out what’s left of my blog story-surplus.

I’m sure I’ll think of something. Problem is, right now I have no idea what.

But enough with the negatory thoughts; I gotta think positive. The idea of this posting-blitz is that it will hopefully get me jump-started once again, and posting on a more consistent basis; so that’s the mind-set I’m gonna officially take from this point on.

Out with the swoon; in with the boon.