From the heartland of America comes the greatest stories ever told. Our stories aren’t a part of those, but we must tell them none the less. American Bullshit True Story – a collection of stories from our dearest friends and you – if you’re stupid enough to send us your submission. We can neither verify nor deny that any of this crap ever took place, but we’re pretty sure you’re going to enjoy them. (and we own the movie rights so don’t even go there!)
The Benchmark Babe
Simmons and I used to see this gal roller blading up and down the Strand in Manhattan Beach. Her body was so exquisite we dubbed her the “Benchmark Babe” She was simply the standard by which “all others shall be gauged”. Despite her physical perfection she had a fierce countenance that discouraged any bug on the windshield, like myself. One afternoon she pulled up to a stop right in front of us. I figured Simmons would jump up and charm the shit out of her but after an awkward silence I realized even The Master was flummoxed. So I said to her, “My therapist says I’m too cocky and I need some rejection. Would you like to go out with me sometime?” She went from fierce to death mask in a nano second. As she rolled away I yelled out to her, “I feel better already. Thank you for healing me”. She never broke stride.
Jerome Teasley R.I.P. June 16th, 2016
Another friend has died. We lost Jerome Teasley last week. I didn’t know Jerome very well. He traveled a lot. He was a full time musician and his resume – well it’s absolutely incredible. He toured with some of the greatest stars in music such as Junior Walker and the Allstars, Ike & Tina Turner, Al Green and Wilson Pickett just to name a few.
Our paths crossed back in the early 90’s when I was a full time musician. He backed up my band ‘Lost European” and we did a few songs from our first album. The gig was at a party of a film producer who was featuring our songs in his movie. So I can say like Tommy Chong- “I played with the dude!”
Most of my Jerome stories are third hand. I know he was considered one of the best drummers in the business and I have heard many accolades about his abilities, but my favorite stories are about Jerome’s antics. He was quite a character and had a great sense of humor.
While Jerome was staying at my friend’s house in Tempe, he would come staggering in late (or early morning as the case might be) and let himself in. His first week there, he lost track of which house was which. He went into the kitchen and started making a tuna fish sandwich when he realized he was in the wrong house, so he just walked out. The following day the neighbor asked my friend “Do you have someone staying with you? Because this morning when I woke up, there were sandwich fixins on my kitchen table.”
Here’s another friend’s story-
After I moved to Seattle I saw that Junior Walker was playing at a local venue named Jazz Alley and, on the chance that Jerome would be there, I went to the show. Sure enough there he was, steady as a goddamn rock. It always amazed me that he could be so drunk he couldn’t get off his throne or carry on a lucid conversation but he was always right there in the pocket. There was a place in his brain that the booze couldn’t get too I guess.
Anyway after the first set I saw that the band had their own big semi-circle booth and they were all squeezing in there together. Before Jerome got himself back in there where he would be hard to talk to, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and I introduced myself. He had no idea who I was and he had on THE MASK. You’ve seen it, when interacting with black folk in certain situations. His face was somewhere between blank and mildly hostile. If I had any brains I would have turned and left but instead I persevered.
I started dropping names including Phoenix, Gary, Rick, Roy, Lost European etc. until I started to see the light go on and the transformation on his face was like magic. The mask dropped away and his face lit up like I just handed him a check for a coo’ mil. Then he enveloped me in a fearful bear-hug. Never felt anything like it. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with affection and I thought I was going to suffocate before he set me down. He then dragged me into the booth beside him where I (too late) remembered that when he was drunk you couldn’t understand a word he said. So there I sat, smiling and stupidly nodding my head to 30 minutes of incomprehensible non-stop gibberish.
Here’s a quote I heard describing Jerome’s drinking rehabilitation- “Jerome doesn’t fall off the wagon, Jerome does a swan dive off the wagon.”
Paul West R.I.P. May 29th, 2016
Paul West died last Sunday. He was 59, just a little younger than me. The first time I met Paul, I was introduced to him by my friend and business partner, Morgan Greig. ‘Momo’ later told me he didn’t like driving around with Paul because “he was scared he might get caught in the cross fire.” (Paul carried a gun and he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would hesitate to use it.)
Paul once told me a story about this guy ringing his doorbell at 8 o’clock at night. He opens the door a bit to see this kid selling home security systems. The kid asked “What if I was a home invader and had a gun?” Paul answered “You don’t see my other hand, do you?” He was holding a pistol behind his back. Paul had a gun in every room of his house. He was prepared. Reach your hand between his sofa cushions and you’d find a 45, or look behind the bedroom door and there was a reliable ‘ol shotgun propped up behind it.
When I met Paul in 1992 he was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. He later moved back to Washington and had the operation. It was a success and the doctors told him the average life expectancy of a kidney recipient was about 10 years. Well, their estimate was way off (even though I think Paul made it his personal mission to try and wear out his second set.)
Paul moved back to Arizona a few years later and somehow we became good friends. Maybe it was our favorite drink- whiskey and coke. However, his favorite whiskey was V.O., mine was Crown Royal. Later when I went over to his house, Paul was now drinking Crown. The funny thing is, I had already switched to drinking V.O. (although after years of extensive testing I think his initial choice is actually correct. V.O. is the best whiskey mixer.)
I think most people would sum Paul up as “rough around the edges”. He did have a kind of animal magnetism yet was very analytical, highly educated and an excellent engineer.
Once he, Linda and I vacationed together in Cancun. We were staying at one of those ‘all inclusive’ resorts and half of the guests were European, mostly Germans. We took great delight it greeting each other by the name “Jerry!” each evening, shouting it at the top of our lungs across the bar full of kraut tourists. Of course everyone stopped and looked but they didn’t get it. “YO JERRY!” in a room full of Germans. Priceless.
During that week we spent the afternoons on the beach, throwing a nerf football in the surf. Paul and I were 20 yards out in the surf, taking turns throwing waterlogged bombs at Linda who was standing on the beach, seeing how many times we could knock her bikini top off. We eventually lost count…
During that week we did a day trip to Xcaret waterpark where we created our own personalized ‘tour’. We later met up with the group when we cannon-balled them as they were floating down the underground river. Oops. Our bad! All the while Linda cursing “Dammit Paul!”
A few years later, we were back in Cancun but this time it was for my wedding. The year was 2003 and Christine and I, along with a handful of family and close friends were holding a romantic ceremony on the beach. Paul can be seen on our wedding video, playing photographer but looking more like a pervert lurking in the bushes, trying to be inconspicuous. What a joke! This hulk of a guy who stands out in a crowd, crouching behind some flimsy palm branches like somehow he’s now invisible. It was pretty comical.
In so many ways I was nothing like this guy and he was nothing like me, but somehow we clicked. I guess our devious and twisted minds had found their long lost evil twin.
For a few years we had a good routine going. We met at lunch in the Boeing Gym nearly 5 days a week. A quick 15-20 minute chest, leg or shoulder workout before heading out to Ned’s Krazy Sub or some local pub for a sandwich and a beer.
At the end of the shift, we’d meet back at Paul and Linda’s house and work out in the garage. Paul had converted it to his workout room where he had a speed bag, heavy bag, Universal gym and assorted free weights. The walls were adorned with Madonna posters and other various sluts which gave us ‘inspiration’.
We faithfully did our workout each day- even in the middle of 115 degree summer heat and without air conditioning. Of course we always rewarded ourselves with a nice steak and shrimp dinner, along with a few beers and a few whiskey and cokes to wash it all down. How Linda put up with our shit is beyond me…
Paul was a practical joker and put his knowledge of computers to good use. At work he figured out a way to send ‘anonymous’ sound bites to another UNIX computer within our tool design group. Without warning, the computer would start reciting lines from the movie ‘From dusk til Dawn’. “Pussy pussy pussy! Get your pussy right here!” I can still hear Cheech blaring out from the computer monitor, usually with the boss sitting right there. (Our manager could never figure out who was doing it but we all knew.) I guess you could say Paul was not politically correct.
I heard that Paul accepted Jesus into his heart before he died. It doesn’t surprise me. He was always one to hedge his bets. Kind of reminds me of W.C. Fields. On his deathbed he was found holding a bible. When asked about it he said “just looking for a loophole”.
Paul would appreciate that kind of joke. He had a great sense of humor and loved a good play on words. We often found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences when we were at a loss for words (or didn’t want to say it out loud in public.) He was like a brother to me. We had a great friendship and I’m gonna miss my old buddy. “Yo Paully! Rest in Peace”
– your friend,
Muhammad, My Uppity Prophet
By Morgan Greig
In 1964, by all appearances, a negro named Cassius Clay had won the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World. Well, not exactly. The real champ was a black man named Muhammad Ali, and to me he was more than a champion – he became a sort of prophet. Ali was, and is, the only person I’ve ever considered a hero. There must have been a million eleven-year-old black boys who worshipped him after he KO’d Sonny Liston that night in February, but I was an eleven-year-old white boy living in Eugene, Oregon. Hell, I was a senior in high school before I even had a black classmate! (Two, actually, in a student body of several hundred.) The fact is I just wasn’t inclined to hero worship. I was a dreamer, in my own little world, and I liked it there. Had I been inclined, there was plenty of hero-fodder around at the time, both black and white. Maris and Mantle, Bill Russell, Bart Starr, Floyd Patterson, Jim Ryun, Ralph Boston or the space cowboys Alan Shepherd and John Glenn. So how did I manage to overlook these guys and end up with an “uppity nigra” as my hero? The answer to that starts in 1952 with a young couple in Lebanon, Oregon.
In September of 1952, my parents were preparing for the birth of their first child, my brother Gary. Part of that preparation was a decision not to use racial epithets in their home. Believe me, this was not a decision based on smarmy liberal sentiments. We were never a particularly political family – I was a grown man before I could make any sense of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” No, their decision was a moral choice, and remarkable in the context of their time and place. Both were children of the depression. My mother was raised in Kansas and Oklahoma, and my father in the mountains of the Oregon coast. Lebanon in 1952, was just a little logging town of about five-thousand souls, roughly a gazillion light years from the imminent Civil Rights movement. Yet this young couple, starting out their lives together, made this willful decision to take a higher road.
So, to answer the question, the first and most important reason Ali was my hero was because he could be. I hadn’t grown up listening to reasons why a black man was any less than a white man. I had never heard “uppity nigger” or “he doesn’t know his place.” I’d never heard a racial slur of any kind. Spick? Nope. Greaser? Nope. Nigger, kike, slant-eye? Zip, zero and nada. I honestly had no preconceptions about Muhammad Ali. I’d heard of him, I’d probably even seen him on Gillette’s Wednesday Night Fights, which I watched with my dad, but he was flying under my radar. In fact, I didn’t even see the fight. I only became aware of it the next day, when the papers came out and the TV started replaying footage of Ali after the knockout. Spanning the entire width of the paper were the biggest headlines I had ever seen, four simple words: “I Am the Greatest!” I remember watching the footage, I’d never seen anyone open their eyes that wide. His arms were raised above his head as he bounded around the ring in exquisite jubilation. Then he leaned over the ropes, pumping his gloves at the reporters, screaming, “Who is the greatest? Who is the greatest?” He wouldn’t answer the reporters’ questions until they answered his. And, coerced by the weight of his audacity, they did answer, “You are champ, you are.”
This brings us to the second reason he was my hero: He got my attention in a way that no one else ever had. One of the core values taught to my siblings and I growing up is that you never brag or boast. Humility was next to godliness around our house, so for a man to stand up and “blow his own horn” in front of the known world blew my little mind. I kept waiting for someone to step up and prove him wrong. I simply couldn’t believe that, somewhere, there wasn’t someone who could “beat him up.” I mean, where was Haystacks Calhoun, for Christsakes? And even if there wasn’t, I expected someone to scold him for bragging. Even my folks remained silent on the point. In the days that followed things got wilder as Ali announced he was a member of the Nation of Islam and his name was now Muhammad Ali. At that point, there was a whole lot of scolding going on, but none of it had to do with his claim that he was “The Greatest.” So I learned my first lesson from Muhammad Ali: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. So endeth the lesson. Teach me Muhammad.
He had my attention and I couldn’t help but appreciate him for the unprecedented athlete that he was. You couldn’t describe him in the context of any other heavyweight. No one could move like him. No one had ever moved like him. In those years, before his exile, you had to leave the land of men to find his equal. One day after school I was watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” and “while Marlin waits in the safety of the Land Rover,” I watched a mongoose take out a cobra. The reflexes of the mongoose were at times quicker than the eye, like Ali’s. The mongoose could move backward to avoid a strike as quickly as he could move forward, like Ali. And, like Ali, the mongoose was patient and inventive, confident that victory was a foregone conclusion. The poor cobra’s body language was desperate from the get-go, like Ali’s opponents.
Things were pretty simple for me then. For a kid who was Charles Atlas’s target demographic, to say anything, to anybody, anywhere, anytime, and back it up, was all a boy could ask for. That, was truly “The Greatest.” Then, in 1967, things got complicated. Ali refused induction into the Armed Forces and took on an opponent damn near as big as George Foreman: the U.S. Government.
These were hard times for hero worship. On the one hand was the notion that all of us, black and white, have an obligation to defend our country. This has been said a thousand times in a thousand ways, but maybe never better than by John Stewart Mill:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
If you can’t see the truth in that statement, stop reading now, for we have no common ground. Still, it raises some nasty questions. What if you are not “free” in your own country? Are you compelled to defend a system that subjugates you? Or, if it is honorable to fight to maintain your freedom, is it honorable, then, to fight your own government to gain said freedom? I agree with the spirit of Mr. Mill’s quote, but its evil twin was pasted on bumpers everywhere: My Country, Right or Wrong, Love it or Leave It, or the vets’ favorite, Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out. These are comforting little bromides, I guess, but they didn’t really address a lot of other truths, like, “What are we doing there?” I grew up during that war and it’s part of the soundtrack of my life, but no one could tell me why we were there. It’s like someone trying to give you a clear and compelling argument for daylight savings time. Four-and five-hundred page tomes come out every few years on the subject, but no real answers. With Viet Nam, it’s like stacking ball bearings.
Another truth that gnawed at me was the five-year jail sentence they handed down to Ali for refusing the draft. Now, I was only fourteen years old, but I understood simple binary logic and something wasn’t adding up. There were white people exploiting any number of ways to “avoid” the draft. Student deferrals, religious beliefs and a concept called “conscientious objector.” A conscientious objector was apparently an atheist who opposed violence. A few years later, in high school, one of my classmates was awarded conscientious objector status, and, as far as I could see, he didn’t have an ethical bone in his body, he was just a good bullshitter. And it wasn’t like Ali had suddenly thrown in with the Southern Baptists to get a religious exemption. He had been with the Nation of Islam for three years. Their beliefs hadn’t changed. People were outraged at his choice of religion, but freedom of religion was one of the core values that Americans held dear. More shit not adding up.
Muhammad Ali was in the news quite a bit at the time and often the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, attended him. Elijah resembled a Shriner but was more dignified and sported a much cooler hat. Ali stated he would not denounce his religion and was ready to face machine-gun fire. His critics said, “That’s easy to say when you know they are not really going to shoot you.” He replied, ”If I thought going to war would bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But either I have to obey the law of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up and following my beliefs. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.“
His critics didn’t have such a pat answer for that. It was no simple rhyme thrown up to titillate the sporting press. These were eloquent words expressing a deep and abiding conviction. But, truth be told, he did have a lot to lose. Besides facing the loss of his liberty for five years he was summarily stripped of his title and lost his means of making a living. So began Muhammad Ali’s three-year exile from the ring that mirrored the slow wheels of justice in America. Did that sound like a slam against my country? It wasn’t, because even though the double standard thrust on Muhammad Ali is a common thing, redressing it within a political system is rare. In America we have a judicial system that didn’t look the other way. The Supreme Court ruled he can’t be jailed for his religious beliefs and that he had been illegally stripped of his title.
Before anyone thinks I’m beginning to wallow in textbook liberal sentiments, I need to clarify something. I may have some beliefs that fall in line with card-carrying liberals, but please do not apply that label to me. Other than fair play, I don’t have a cause. I don’t feel any responsibility to apologize for bad shit that happened before I was born. If some fucker is being treated unfairly, it bothers me, not because he isn’t white, but because it isn’t right. Having said that, I would like to add I feel fortunate and proud to live in a society whose judicial branch has the power to redress the kind of injustice inflicted on one of its own citizens by the military branch of said society. (Kudos to our founding fathers on that bit.)
And before anyone thinks I’m beginning to wallow in textbook conservative sentiments, I need to clarify something. Please do not apply that label to me. My views are not shaped by politics. Neither fish nor fowl, I grew up innocent of the race machine that drives politics in America. As a young boy I watched this man, Muhammad Ali, damaged by his own government. I saw him refuse to yield even as he lost everything he had worked for. And, eventually, I saw him vindicated in the most binding forum in the land, the Supreme Court. And I learned my second lesson from Muhammad Ali: Stand up for what you believe. So endeth the lesson. Teach me, Muhammad.
In 1970, after three-and-a-half years away from the ring, Muhammad Ali fought again. He fought Jerry Quarry and I was afraid to watch. I couldn’t bear the thought that he might lose, and so, averted my gaze. He did win, but the papers said he no longer had the “speed”; he wasn’t the fighter he was before, yada, yada, yada. But I knew he would speed up, he just needed a couple more fights, and I couldn’t wait until he was “back”. Muhammad fought a few more tune-up bouts after Quarry, but Smokin’ Joe Frazier was going to be the true test. While Ali was away, Joe Frazier’s star had ascended. He won the heavyweight Gold in the ’64 Olympics, turned pro and defeated Jimmy Ellis to take the undisputed heavyweight title in 1970. If Joe and Ali met, it would be unprecedented. Never in history had two undefeated, undisputed heavyweight titleholders met in the ring. When Joe was coming up, he met Ali and asked, “Do you have any advice for me?” “Yeah,” said Ali, “lose some weight and become a light heavyweight.”
In March of ’71 my best friend, John McMahon, and I paid to see these two hugger-muggers duke it out on closed-circuit TV. Paying good money to watch a boxing match was clearly heretical, but things had gotten personal. You see, John despised Ali in the mindless and clichéd way that so many people did at the time, and he had learned it in the same place I hadn’t…at home. We had twenty big riding on the outcome, yeah, you heard me, twenty large. In high school, twenty bucks says, “I believe.” Twenty bucks was about faith. And my twenty bucks believed that The Greatest was back. Ali was bouncin’ around in red trunks, with red tassels on his feet, lookin’ good. He was doin’ the Ali Shuffle, making those tassels pop around his feet like little fireworks. Oh yeah, my man was lookin’ good! When Joe took off his robe he shocked us all with some god-awful baggy green-print trunks that were just wrong. A heavyweight champion should know better, end of story. It looked like Joe had reworked one of his mama’s muu-muus. “John,” I said, “that man deserves to have his ass kicked for showin’ up in that shit!” John grimaced and shuddered, which was all the acknowledgment I would get, or could expect, from him. Well, bottom line, Ali didn’t win, but Joe’s was a Pyrrhic victory. It was close and went the full fifteen rounds so the decision went to the defending champ, but I took heart even in Ali’s loss. Up until that fight Ali had only been down a couple of times and there was speculation he couldn’t take a punch, and, now that he was slower, he wouldn’t make it in the heavyweight division. Well, I saw Joe Frazier lift Ali clear off his feet and set him on his back. All Ali did was roll to his feet looking somewhat sheepish and a little perturbed. He wasn’t dazed at all. Let the record show, the man can take a punch. Also, Ali was coming off a three-and-a-half-year layoff with only a few tune-up bouts, so going the distance with the current champ was impressive. But the main thing was that Joe went into the hospital after that fight and stayed there for nine days. Ali checked out the same night as the fight and was working the crowd. Here’s your damn twenty dollars, John, I’ll win it back, and a lot more, before it’s over. And I did.
Over the next eighteen months Ali fought thirteen times and only lost once. John, God bless his stubborn soul, put twenty against Ali every time. The only fight Ali lost was to Ken Norton, who broke his jaw sometime during the fight. Ali went the distance but lost in a decision. The courage and heart it takes to continue with a broken jaw is beyond belief. Meantime, John’s taunting me because my man got his jaw broken. Here’s your other damn twenty dollars, asshole. Then he fought Joe Frazier in a rematch, who in the meantime, had lost the title to one George Foreman. Again the fight went fifteen rounds, but this time Ali beat Frazier and I collected my twenty from John, I thangyoo. But I was worried about that George Foreman. He was a specimen.
George Foreman seemed unbeatable. Ali had lost to only two guys in his life, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. George Foreman clubbed Joe Frazier to the canvas in less than two rounds. Poor Joe looked like he was out there playing leap frog with himself trying to keep his feet. He looked pathetic, and yet, Joe and Ali were so evenly matched, they had split their two fifteen-rounders. George dispatched Ken Norton in about two rounds as well. He just waded in and destroyed him. Foreman made them look like kids flailing away at a grown-up. It didn’t look good for Muhammad Ali in 1974 when he met George Foreman for the undisputed heavyweight title. Ali was 32 years old; it had been ten years since he first won the title, six years since he had been stripped of it, and three years since he had been back. Nobody on this planet believed he could take it away from George Foreman, including me. And it was true that Ali had slowed down; he was no longer the Mongoose. He fought differently; he took punches that he had slipped in the past. He still delivered amazing combinations at lightning speed, but he was paying the price. How could he expect to withstand this Goliath, this George Foreman?
John and I saw the fight on closed-circuit TV, this time at the Jai-Lai Fronton in Miami. We had our twenty bucks riding on it, but we both knew who was taking Mr. Jackson home. When George took off his robe and lifted his arms over his head, my heart just sank. His goddamn triceps were hanging there like thirty-pound Christmas hams. “Who can withstand this,” I thought, “my God, who can withstand this man?” Well, everybody knows what happened. Ali beat him by lying back in the ropes and letting George pound away on his ribcage until Georgie was all tuckered out. Then, when George was so used up that he was practically defenseless, Ali started putting together those brilliant combinations and, in the sixth round, knocked George down and out. (Thank you, John, for the sweetest twenty dollars I ever took off your assless self.) Knocking George out was a miracle, but I saw something that night that knocked me out. As George was going down, he and Ali were moving together in a kind of slow pirouette. During this dance Ali had his fist cocked for another punch. He actually started to throw it but pulled it when he saw that George was out on his feet. To me, that was pure mercy, and I think it was a window into Ali’s soul. He said a lot of mean things over the years to his opponents but he claimed it was just an act, a way to increase the box office. After seeing his restraint that night with George Foreman, I believed him. It’s easy to pretend you’re mean, but how you gonna fake mercy?
So he regained the title and the next year he fought Joe Frazier for the third time. The first fight, Joe was the champ and successfully defended against Ali, winning in a close decision. In the second fight neither of them held the title and Ali took it in another close fight that went the distance. The third fight, the “Thrilla in Manilla,” is considered one of the great fights of all time. For the first five rounds Ali was getting the better of Joe, but then Joe started smokin’ and was just beatin’ the shit out of Ali. After the tenth round, Ali was slumped in his corner and looked like he might not answer the bell. He told his trainer, Angelo Dundee, “I must be dying ‘cause I can’t feel any worse.” But Ali reached down to that place where only champions can go and found some reserve of strength or will, and in the next four rounds he started beating Joe so badly that they had to stop it in the fourteenth round on a TKO. Ali fought five more years, at one point losing the crown to a light-heavyweight named Leon Spinks. But, as Ali does, he just came back and beat Leon to regain the title for an unprecedented third time.
The weird symmetry that characterized Ali vs. Frazier made it inevitable, I guess, that Ali would have his own Pyrrhic victory over Joe. Ali took a beating in that third fight, and in the next five years probably took more hits than in his entire career. There’s no proof, but the sum of those hits is likely the Parkinsonism that he began to exhibit. In 1996, trembling and beautiful, he carried the torch and lit the flame that ushered in the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. I wept at the sight of him. I fuckin’ wept at the sight of him. I confess I was grieving more for my lost youth than his and I think it’s the first time I ever felt less than immortal, the first time I considered that the closure fairy is coming… for me too. As I watched him light the flame, I thought, what a life this man is having. You talk about teaching by example. The things I had learned from Ali when I was a kid were revelatory, an epiphany, but the lesson that is his life has unfolded like the slow sculpture of the bonsai tree. What he showed me is what a life can be if you don’t let the unexpected beat you. A twelve-year-old boy who was pissed off ‘cause someone stole his bike aspired to be “champeen” of all the world.
Along the way, history thrust him into the position of spokesman for twenty-two million citizens and he took that on. I think the first time we saw him reach into that place “where only champions go” was not in the ring, but when he was attacked by the men who rule Washington. How does a gym prepare you for that? What if he had given up when his bike was stolen ‘cause it wasn’t in the plan? What if he had given up because it wasn’t in the plan to be sentenced to five years in prison, it wasn’t in the plan to be stripped of his title, it wasn’t in the plan to take on the government of the most powerful nation in the free world? In the ring, again and again, he would dig deep into his heart where champions go, against Joe Frazier, against Ken Norton, against George Foreman, but maybe he first “found that place” not in the ring but in the isolation of his exile.
So, I say thank you to my folks for that far-away decision to leave a bit of the ol’ slate blank for me to fill in as I went. I think of the friendships I’ve had that couldn’t have been if I’d brought bigotry to the table. Muhammad Ali couldn’t have been a hero to me if, like my buddy John, I’d hated him “just because.” And I’ll tell you: I’m not done with him yet. There’s one more thing I want: I want to know how he projected such warmth and love. He could always project – that went with his aura – but how did he transform himself from a warrior to Allah’s own teddy bear? I want some of that. I can do edgy. I can do edgy in my sleep. I want some of that serenity, some of the sweetness and light that hummed around him. I’m ready for a little contentment. I have eyes to see and ears to hear, teach me, Muhammad!
A Traffic Jam on the Road to Canaan…
Scene 1- Jesus and his disciples are riding in a cart toward Canaan. They are headed to a wedding.
Mathew: Will you look at this!? Carts and horses as far as the eye can see.
Luke: Yeah, when you’re not the lead ass, the view never changes. Ha ha.
Mark: Dude, you’re not funny. We’re going to be late for the wedding. I hate being late. I wonder what happened up there?
Jesus: (without looking up) A cart hath broken a wheel.
(a beautiful woman walks by the cart)
Mathew: Speaking of asses, will you look at that! Jesus Christ!
Mathew: I was just sayin’…. aww, Never mind….
John: Is there anything to eat back there? I’m frickin’ starving.
Thomas: All we have left is one fish and one loaf of bread.
Mathew: Give it to Jesus, he’ll work his magic on it and we’ll have plenty.
Judas: No way! You know he doesn’t do it every time. The last three times he just ate the bread and fish himself. We didn’t get shit!
(Thomas stands up and walks toward the front of the cart to give Jesus the food anyway. He steps on Mathew’s foot.)
Mathew: Ow! Jesus!
Mathew: No I was saying- aww never mind. Thomas, watch where the hell you’re stepping!
Mark: Lord, can’t you mend the broken cart up there?
Thomas: I don’t think his range is that far.
Mark: Fuck you Thomas, you’re always pissing on everyone’s parade. Have a little faith.
John: My lord, I hope it wasn’t one of the carts you built. You know gopher wood does not make a very strong axle.
Luke: For Christ’s sake- literally, he’s the son of god, he knows a hell of a lot more than you about wood! Idiot!
John: Well I’m just sayin’ I hope it’s not. If they find out Jesus built that cart, they’re gonna nail him to a cross.
Luke: Lord, how about tellin’ us one of those parables. That will kill a good half hour.
Jesus: There once was a man…
Mark: Hold on a sec J.C. I gotta take a leak. I hate missing the beginning of your stories. I never know what the hell you’re talking about.
Judas: I never know what the hell he’s talking about even when I DO hear the whole story. Can’t you just get to the point instead of always speaking in parables?
Mathew: Christ almighty!
Jesus: Yes my son?
Mathew: No, I wasn’t talking to you I was… aww, never mind.
Luke: Hey look, the traffics moving. I think they finally cleared that cart out of the road.
Mathew: Hold on. Where’s Mark? I bet he’s taking a dump. He always has to take a dump.
John: That guy takes more shits than anyone I know. Maybe Jesus can heal his butthole.
Luke: Here he comes. Hey, Mark- what took you so long?
Mark: I had to take a dump.
Mathew: See I told you so. Maybe a little Jesus is starting to rub off on me!
Mark: Hey, the latrine was way over by that leper colony. You know I can’t shit with those lepers watching me. Those people gross me out. I had to use the facilities by the blind men.
Luke: Yeah, they can’t see shit! Ha ha.
Mark: Speaking of which, you know that blind guy that Jesus healed last month?
Luke: The one with the green teeth?
Mark: Yeah, that’s the one. Well, he’s back over there. I think he was faking it all along.
Judas: I knew it. Jesus you outta smite that fucker and teach him a lesson.
Thomas: Speaking of lessons, Jesus is all about forgiveness. Haven’t you learned a fucking thing?
John: All I know is we’re going to be late for that wedding. All the wine is gonna be gone and we’re gonna be left drinking that shitty river water piss.
Jesus: Don’t worry boys, I’ve got a big surprise for you tonight. Have a little faith.
In a Perfect World…
The harmonic convergence was real. Someone has just screwed up the calendar.
It happened on April 1, 2016. Overnight the world turned to Jesus. An amazing transformation occurred all over planet earth. People started being nice to each other and tolerant of their differences.
Crime plummeted as Christianity swept over the West with millions and millions of new converts. The police were no longer needed. The jails were empty. It was a miracle!
Unemployment dropped to near zero. There were no more greedy corporations and fat cats lining their pockets. Selfishness was replaced by fairness and generosity. Everyone had a job. In fact, there was a scarcity of workers because so many new churches needed to be built. Hallelujah. Praise Jesus!
Congress was transformed. They got rid of the lobbyists and their ‘business as usual’ self-serving ways and decided to work together for the future of our nation. The court dockets were empty. No more lawsuits and bickering. In fact, most of the laws were no longer needed. It was amazing! Thank you Lord!
The same thing was happening on the other side of the globe. Muslims were practicing tolerance and applying the parts of the Koran that taught love and acceptance. No more Sharia law. Wars ended. Poverty was disappearing. Nations were living peacefully and in harmony. Allah be praised!
The nations of the earth disarmed. No more nukes, no more armies. The defense budget was slashed to zero. In no time at all we had entered a new age of Utopia…
Then it happened. A large spacecraft entered our atmosphere. They had come from a distant galaxy and relayed the message to our world that they had come in peace. They were going to land and they had an important message for the entire world. Everyone was waiting in anticipation for the big announcement.
“People of earth, we have been observing your planet for billions of years” said a voice transmitted from their ship.
“Wait a minute” said the people. “We know the earth is only 5000 years old! The bible says so.”
“Um- no it’s not” Answered the voice. “We have observed your planet forming and your species evolving for millennia.”
That can’t be true, thought the people. What about Jesus and God and Allah?
“It’s all bullshit” replied the voice. “Humans created these gods out of ignorance and superstition. Your planet was created exactly like every other planet in the Universe, and it wasn’t in 6 days.”
The people were stunned. “Well, what about our Utopia. Certainly, it’s God’s work and his blessing that we are living in such harmony.”
“Bullshit again” said the alien in a lilting voice. “People have always had the power to choose right from wrong and good from evil. The fact is, for 2 million years you have chosen not to do so. It’s not your fault really, some species do, some species don’t.”
“Then why did we suddenly change? What happened? Was it the harmonic convergence?”
“Yeah, that was us” exclaimed the alien. “It’s a lot easier for us to control and dominate a planet when it’s full of sheep.”
“Ok. Round these fuckers up and liquidate them. What a bunch of gullible fools!”
With that, there was a bright flash….
A Short Lesson In Material Science
While working at Northrop in 2003 on the F35 project a mystery shopper hired into the ME group. No one had ever met him or even heard of him so we didn’t know if he knew his business, but it soon became apparent that the whole “PC in the workplace” thing was not part of his skillset. On the second morning of his employment, in a meeting attended by many women and all kinds of suits, a question came up about the suitability of an advanced composite as a structural member. This old boy reared up and said, “Hell, the damn thing is stiffer than a goats dick.” They walked him out before lunch.
Your Poor Correspondent, Morgan
The dread pirate Roy By Rick Costello
We had just signed a record deal with Gemini Records of Scottsdale, Arizona and our dreams of moving up from garage band to bonafide rock stars was coming to fruition. Looking back now, we were just chasing our dream but at the time, we were deep in the moment.
Our lead singer, Roy, was everything you would imagine in a British rock star. He had a great voice with perfect pitch, mixed with the perfect combination of charm and debauchery. He was a modern day pirate. The year was 1989 and he had recently gotten hair extensions which flowed down from his black cowboy hat to damn near his ass. He wore zebra patterned pants , drove a white Rolls Royce with a custom license plate that read “BLOW ME”, and would park up on the sidewalk of the nightclub if there were no handicapped parking spaces or other prime parking available. He was cocky, privileged and outrageous. He was a character. Of course all of this came in a package that included getting totally wasted on a regular basis and boy, could Roy-boy put the bourbon away!
He was my idol and I looked up to him because he was everything I was not. I had little self confidence, Roy exuded confidence. I watched him in action one night at the club Houlighans. It was a weeknight and we had just left the recording studio and had stopped off for a drink. I should have known better. With Roy there was no such thing as ‘a drink’. After downing 3 or 4 Jim Beams, I watched as he walked up to a group of girls, planted his fist down on their table and asked them to dance. I could see them backing away at his arrogance or maybe it was the blast of alcohol hitting them in the face. I don’t know what he said but I could see them shaking their heads ‘No’. For me, that would have been it. I would have turned with my tail between my legs to regroup, but not Roy. He stood up and went right over to the next table and pitched his spiel. A minute later, he was out on the dance floor with a willing young lady doing his incredible moves. He could do a split to the floor and come right back up in time with the music. He also had a really cool move where he went backwards to the floor and pushed himself back up with one hand. It was pretty impressive.
That night, I was able to pull him out of the club because I was the one driving. Within 5 minutes of hitting the road, Roy was sound asleep with his face against the passenger window. I pulled up in front of his apartment and tried to wake him up but there would be none of that. I fished the keys out of his jacket pocket and was working on propping him up and carrying his dead ass to the door when I heard a voice. “Need some help?” It was Roy’s next door neighbor, working on his car outside. “Sure” I said and we both took an arm and lifted Roy up. I heard his jacket rip apart at the armpits but tough shit, it was his fault, right? We dragged him into the apartment and stood him up in front of his bed. He awoke just long enough to see where he was and said “Oh God, yes!” with that we let go of him. He did a face plant right into the center of the bed and was totally still. “Should we move him? Can he breathe?” I asked. “He’ll be fine” said the neighbor and we turned out the lights and walked out. The next morning, Roy was back at work with no signs of being worse for wear. How does he do it? I wondered.
Roy’s drinking could be tolerated for the most part but we had a big recording session coming up and Morgan and myself, the other 2 members of the band, were concerned. We knew that to get the best out of Roy in the recording studio, he had to have a few drinks to loosen up but there was a ‘window of opportunity’ that would pass if we didn’t get a good take, and if missed, Roy would be too wasted to continue. “Passing out is not an option!” I remember Morgan saying.
During the recording of our first album, Roy had moved back to LA . One Friday night we picked him up at the Phoenix airport and drove straight to the studio. We had a good recording session that night and afterwards decided to head to Cave Creek to a bar called ‘the Satisfied Frog’ where our friend and fellow musician, Geoff Hurley, played drums with his band ‘the Rave’. They were a damn good Beatles cover band. We all drove together in Morgan’s car. Cave Creek was pretty far from Scottsdale and this place was out in the boonies, away from any civilization. We parked the car in their dirt parking lot and found ourselves a table inside to listen to the band.
It didn’t take long before Roy was drunk and getting a bit out of hand so we decided to leave. Outside in the parking lot, Roy sensed we were upset and asked “What’s the matter?” Morgan finally let him have it. “Dammit Roy, it’s your drinking!” After a short pause, Roy replied, “No really, what is it?” With that Morgan lost it. “God dammit!” he shouted and opened the trunk of the car and threw Roy’s suitcase in the dirt. We got in the car and drove off, leaving Roy standing in the parking lot.
“Morgan, you did it!” I said as we headed down the road. “You finally did it!”. I was happy that Roy had finally been confronted but my joy was short lived. “I can’t do it” said Morgan as he turned the car around. “I can’t just leave him there like that”. I felt a bit disappointed that Morgan had changed his mind. We pulled back into the parking lot but Roy was nowhere to be seen. “Can you go in there to get him?” Morgan asked. “He’s probably in there sulking”. I walked back inside and looked around. The band was going full bore, rocking away and there was Roy, on stage, singing backup! He was having the time of his life. I think he had just invited himself on stage and with eyes closed, was singing his heart out! I walked back outside to a concerned Morgan. “Well, how is he?” he asked. “You won’t believe it- he’s on stage, singing with the band” I told him. With that we left.
The following morning, we had a recording session planned for 9am. As Morgan and I arrived at the studio, there was Roy, chipper and bouncing around like nothing had happened. Geoff had informed us that Roy was the life of the party last night. He had finally passed out in the club at around 2am and toppled over a table. He was laying on the floor with candle wax dripping into his hair. Geoff and the band had to haul his ass out of there. It was amazing because there were no signs whatsoever in Roy’s appearance. He looked well groomed and put together. I just don’t know how he did it. I’d be nursing a major hangover for a full day!
Our band never did find the path to stardom we were looking for, but looking back, those were some of the greatest days of our lives, and the dread pirate Roy? I realize now we were in the presence of a living, breathing rock star!
For one month in 1994 I shared a two-bedroom bungalow in Manhattan Beach, California with Simmons. I’d taken a gig with Standard Tool and Die, a design and build shop on the edge of Chinatown. Simmons was looking for work so I put in a word, and he hired-in a couple of weeks later. This was before HR became an army of ambulatory monkey-wrenches.
Eventually I would need a long-term lease because my wife Patty was coming down from Seattle to join me. I won’t go into the details of that failed experiment but after the scales fell from our eyes it was apparent we were co-alien. I found a “scraper” I could rent for a couple of months. A scraper is a thirty to forty year old 1500 sq. ft. bungalow with a nice little yard where you could raise a beautiful family of surfers and balladeers. Scrapers were slated to be bulldozed and replaced with two story 4000 square foot monoliths built within four feet of the property line on all boundaries. Back in 1994 it seemed like there was one or two scrapers on every block in Manhattan Beach.
Simmons showed up a month before Patty and we settled into a pattern of work and play. We were working swing shift so we drove into downtown L.A. around 2:30 PM and because we were working overtime, we left about 1:30 AM arriving at our little scraper about 2:15 AM. Upon arrival I would have a couple of shots of Bourbon on the rocks, and Simmons would start in with the Margaritas. Of course Simmons never saw a drink that wasn’t at least a double, and he’d throw down two or three double Margaritas in the next hour or so. Then it was off to our mattresses on the floor. We’d wake up around noon, plus or minus an hour, and Simmons would start in with the espressos, usually triple shots. He’d have two or three triple shot espressos within an hour or so of waking up. This sounds like a guy who’s on the road to ruin but this guy Simmons should be thrown down on a gurney and eviscerated by some white-coat-and-clipboard types. He never has a hangover. He pops up in the morning like Mick Jagger with St. Vitus Dance. Simmons never woke up thinking, “I exercised extremely poor judgment last night”. He is apparently consequence-less. Does he really need any caffeine in the morning? He’s already runnin’ flat out when he levitates from his mattress. Simmons simply has the most robust goddamn metabolism I’ve ever seen. I’ve met some of his peers over the years that testified to his copious consumption of blow in his youth, but it hasn’t fazed him in the long run.
We were working ten hours a day, six days a week, so we didn’t have much time for play, but on Sundays we’d ride our bikes down to The Strand and either go North to Venice, or South to Redondo Beach. If we went south we ended up at Naja’s Place, an exquisite dive on the Redondo Pier with a hundred beers on tap. I always had me a schooner of John Courage. Simmons…he always had a lot.
It’s deep into the witching hour when we roll up to our scraper in the weird SoCal darkness. It had rained earlier so the night was crystal clear with a crescent moon leading us to our nightcaps. I have the car window down because I love how the air at the beach lays on my skin. LA may be a desert, but if you are within a couple of miles of the waves the air itself becomes a pleasure of the flesh.
When we stepped out of the car it got better…we stepped into the sublime spice of the night-blooming jasmine.
And then it got even better…
Above our doorway, spinning in the porch light, was the biggest damn spider I’ve ever seen outside of captivity. His abdomen was about the size of a jawbreaker and the tips of his legs circumscribed a circle about the size of a tennis ball. A fractal pattern of orange, red, and black pinstripes were engraved on his sepia body … it looked as if he had been hand painted by a Renaissance miniaturist and rubbed out with French polish. He was big and classy so we dubbed him “Hoss Onassis.” We poured us a voyeur’s nightcap, moved some beach chairs to the porch, and marveled at Hoss’s style and substance.
Now, Simmons and I don’t agree on much. It’s a miracle we’ve been friends for twenty-five years. Simmons believes that the human race is moving inexorably towards sweetness and light, our homes warmed by solar, our hearts filled with the winds of goodwill. And war? It’s clearly on the verge of obsolescence for it cannot stand in the face of the ever-evolving human spirit. God bless us everyone! I once complemented him on a beautiful leather bomber jacket he was wearing and he said, “Yeah, I figure that I’ve eaten enough hamburgers to justify it,” …uhhh, do liberals really burden themselves with this kind of score keeping? A simple thank you would have sufficed and been a lot less disturbing.
Me? I’m a certified cynic of the Ambrose Bierce school…to my mind there is no higher calling. Nothing in the way the world has unspooled in our three-score years supports Simmons unquenchable optimism, nothing. When we get together and he starts to “hold forth” I always maintain a consistent position: People-Will-Find-a-Reason-to-Kill-Each-Other. I’ve laid out the historical evidence from the beginning of recorded history thru our common timeline. Conclusion? Man has always killed each other, is still killing each other, and will continue to kill each other. We are not evolving to a higher spiritual plane, we are in fact a biological constant and no Volvo driving liberals are gonna change that. Me and Simmons, we yell, we curse, we throw shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce, we pay each other’s cleaning bills. No matter, within a few days we are deep into another night of booze and contention.
But we both loved that spider. We’d glance up and give him his propers every time we crossed the threshold and he never failed us. One morning about 2:30 AM we were sitting in our beach chairs and Patty called. She asked what we were doing and I told her we were in a spinning class. Naturally this confused her but when I tried to explain the sublime nature of what we were witnessing she just said, “Icky” and hung up on me.
So, Patty’s due in two days and she’s an Arachnophobe. She’ll go spider-crazy and Hoss is gonna die, he is definitely not gonna make it. Patty the Potentate will not abide a spider, all shall die. At our home in Seattle I would grudgingly dispatch them when she had her fits of Spidoplexia. I set up the vacuum cleaner so she could suck a spider into the bag with at least five feet of “extensions” separating her from “The Horror.” No good. Why? Because what was to keep those sucked up little buggers from creeping back out and taking revenge on her as she slept? Earlier I took the high road and ventured that we were co-alien, but she’s on her own here, she is some strange fruit.
In the next couple of days I worried about Hoss. It seemed his fate was sealed and on the day of Patty’s arrival I woke up figuring it was Hoss’s Waterloo. I stepped across the threshold on my way to the airport and looked up one last time to honor our housemate and…GONE!
I knew, I fucking knew, that Simmons had moved him and I was ashamed that I lacked the imagination and inertia to save the bloody thing myself. Did I mention that “The World’s Most Robust Male” is also “The Most Tenderhearted Man On The Planet”? As a child, after examining paramecium with his coveted “Junior Salk and Sabin” microscope, he would take his slides back to the host puddle and return his “studies” to their friends and family. Did I mention that Simmons is a loyal and generous friend? He flew from Philly to Seattle on his own dime to act as best man at my wedding, a union that he disapproved of with extreme malice. (Who am I kidding, Simmons is incapable of malice). And he’s physically fearless, if Simmons is ever in a position to be a bona fide hero, my money’s on him (the whole burger/leather dichotomy notwithstanding). I asked him if he had moved Hoss to a safe house and he denied it. Said Hoss must have sensed the danger and moved on. He sounded kinda smug.
This leaves three possibilities:
One, mindless spiders, dust mites, and crotch crabs are in tune with all other creatures and we are all connected and interrelated and everything I believe is wrong and Simmons was right all along. Not bloody likely.
Two, mindless spider just happens to relocate coincidentally. Not bloody likely.
Three, Simmons saved the spider. So why deny it?
‘Cause maybe I’m a prick? We guys have a gene that compels us to slam the manhood of our closest friends at every opportunity (closely related is the “jump up and slap the awning” gene). It never occurred to me that I sometimes go over the line. Simmons realized that admitting his “bugophelia” would just bring grief from me, so, in the end Simmons followed his heart and took care of Hoss. In the end, without uttering a word, Simmons schooled me about compassion, friendship and being true to yourself. Simmons simply saved that damned spider, bless his contentious little heart.
That’s not stealing music- THIS is stealing music! by Rick Costello
You hear a lot of music artists complaining these days about people stealing their music. While I agree that it’s negatively affecting their income, I still find it hard to call clicking on an internet link and saving it to your smartphone “stealing music”.
Ron White, the comedian, has a funny line about stealing music and what real stealing is all about. “Kids today don’t know what stealing music is. Walking out of a record store with a Led Zeppelin album shoved down your pants- that’s stealing music!” I have to agree with him.
I was a teenager in the 1970’s and we took stealing music to a whole new level. By the mid 70’s, the 8-track tape was on its’ way out and the cassette tape was gaining in popularity, probable due to the fact that even if the sound quality wasn’t as good, you could record on it. My friend Mark and I both had good stereo equipment at home. Our systems consisted of a Stereo Receiver and speakers, a turntable and a cassette player.
I have fond memories of going to the record store to buy the newest release from our favorite bands, and then returning to our house for that first listen. Breaking the seal with your fingernail, the smell of the new vinyl record and reading the lyrics from the record sleeve were exhilarating. We never bought two copies of any album. One of us would buy an album and the other would tape it onto a cassette. I guess that would be equivalent to today’s ‘stealing’ music. But we took it a bit further….
Vinyl records had to be handled with the utmost of care. They could scratch very easily and it affected the quality of the sound. It was important to make a copy of the record while it was new, before the crackling and popping sounds of a scratched or dusty record ruined it. But sometimes even a brand new record straight out of the sleeve would ‘skip’. It was just a defect in the pressing of the vinyl.
It was not uncommon to take a record back to the store for a replacement, and this gave us an idea…
How about instead of one of us keeping the record, we make 2 cassette copies, one for both of us, and then return the ‘defective’ record to the store for another one? Mark had a unique way of ‘adding’ the defect to the 1st track of the album. He had a pointy incisor tooth and would bite the record. The 1st track was the best one to damage just in case the clerk at the store played the record to be sure it really was defective.
This worked pretty well for us at Korvettes and Two Guys, regional department stores of New Jersey during those times. We would get a new, sealed replacement of the record, say, at Korvettes, then drive to another Korvettes in the next town over and exchange it for a different album. Sometimes we would peel the price sticker off and replace it with another store’s price sticker. Basically, we were getting 2 albums for the price of one!
Our scheme worked well for a while but we noticed the stores were catching on, or maybe too many people were returning defective records, but either way, the clerk would now open the replacement record right in front of us and inspect it for defects before giving it to us. This meant the new record could not be returned for an exchange because it was already opened. We had to find another way.
I was working nights at a factory that had a shrink wrap machine. One night I was looking at it and wondering how it worked. The supervisor there explained to me that the shrink wrap is applied loose then sent on a conveyor belt through an oven where the heat caused the plastic to shrink and tightly wrap and seal the product. “Does it work on different sizes?” I asked. “If it can fit through the oven” he answered. “How about a record album?” I asked. “I don’t see why not” he replied. “Why don’t you bring one in and we’ll try it?”
The next day I looked through my album collection for a record that I no longer wanted but had a fairly new looking cover. I decided on America’s ‘Horse with no Name’. But then I got an idea. Why not replace the record inside with some record I didn’t want? My Dad had a record collection of the symphony classics and man, were those records beat up, old and scratchy. “This is perfect” I thought as I slid Beethoven’s Symphony #5 into the album jacket.
The shrink wrap machine worked perfectly and that night I had what looked like a brand new copy of ‘Horse with no Name’. The only problem was, it had no price sticker on it. That didn’t stop two enterprising young teenagers. We had experience at peeling stickers off of albums but recently the stores had come up with newly designed stickers that had a series of cross-cuts in them, making it nearly impossible to peel off in one piece. I was pretty good with an exacto blade and I cut the sticker off of the wrapping and then carefully glued it onto ‘A horse with no name’. It was a lot of work but we were now ready to complete our scam.
I remember being a bit nervous when we entered the ‘Two Guys’ store. Luckily, the record department was right inside the entrance doors in case we needed to make a quick escape. We watched the clerk and his every move, seeing if he was onto our scam. He wasn’t and the exchange went off without a hitch. I remember Mark and I running through the parking lot to our car, laughing hysterically at the sting we had just pulled off. Can you see the poor sap who eventually bought that copy of ‘A horse with no Name’ only to get it home and find a scratchy old Beethoven record inside? We imagined him returning to the store and trying to convince a skeptical clerk of his misfortune. “Yeah, right. Get the hell out of here! Beethoven, yeah sure. Scram!”
Now THAT’S stealing music!
Me and Bro Go Dog Hunting By Morgan Greig
Nearly fifty years ago, when my brother and I were 14 and 13 years of age, respectively, we both had paper routes. Gary earned his route the old fashioned way, by being the hardest working, most conscientious, ambitious and trustworthy adolescent protestant that Eugene, Oregon had ever been blessed with. (By seventh grade Gary was already turning a tidy profit selling Look bars and Big Hunks at the bus stop.) I also earned my route the old-fashioned way. I had a well-connected older brother. The route manager who signed me up probably had visions of a fraternal dynamic-duo. He knew Gary’s character and maybe assumed I was cut from the same cloth. Poor bastard. He smoked a pipe and was the only white man I’ve ever known who wore a fedora. He carried himself with an irritating phony benevolence and referred to us as “his boys”. I trusted him not at all. A pipe and a fedora, in 1967, doesn’t really speak to a budding Jim Morrison fan. Of course, Gary got along with him great.
We delivered an evening paper and Gary’s route was in an upscale neighborhood whose customers would never befoul their property with a paper box. He had about sixty papers to deliver and all were expected to be delivered “on the porch.” God forbid he would ride his bike down a driveway and risk scratching “the new Toranado.” Gary’s route was service-oriented, and, by God, he was just the guy to deliver. On a regular weekday it would take him an hour or more to complete his route. My route was closer to home, a little smaller, and in a neighborhood of working stiffs. Most of my deliveries had boxes out on the street that I could stuff on the fly from my Schwinn Sting Ray. I could generally knock it out in thirty minutes or less. You might think a good little brother would go help his big brother when he was done. If so, you are ignorant of class distinctions and class economics. Let’s do the math.
Gary had sixty papers to deliver. Although it took him longer and he worked harder, he was tipped by the majority of his customers, who, and I stress this, never defaulted on the delivery charge of two dollars a month. Keep in mind that if a customer did not pay it was taken out of your profits. I had fifty papers to deliver and my customers rarely tipped and frequently defaulted. Consequently, Gary made about twice as much as I did in any given month. Which was fair. He worked about twice as hard. It was this finely tuned sense of fair play that prohibited me from helping him on his route most of the time. However, there were two dreaded days each week when I took pity on my poor (well-compensated) brother and rode forth to help him, freely giving of my time: Thursdays and Sundays. Big paper days. Thursdays, fat with ads for the Protestants who couldn’t get enough fondues and hi-fi’s, and the ever-huge Sunday morning paper. Papers so big you could only get a fraction of your route in the paperbag. Days where a paperboy finds himself deadheading home for another, and another, and yet another bag-load of paperweight, more than likely during a relentless gray drizzle. On these harsh days I would go help Bro and see how the other half lives. Even at two days a week I learned the ins and outs of Bro’s route. The old gummers demanded that the paper be delivered “on the mat, boy,” and one young wife even requested that we “ring the bell” with each delivery. “Oh, my Madam, such a mellifluous tintinnabulation. Did you perchance acquire your home bells at Bi-Mart?”
I had some pretty girls on my route, but by and large they were Job’s Daughters, or Sisters of the Carbuncle, or some such nonsense. Gary had the goddesses on his route, and one of them was the ethereal, heart-stopping, ever-confusing and altogether unattainable Molly Jones. Fortunately she was near the end of his route, so after completing my route I could play the “altruistic” card, help Gary, and maybe get a sighting. If she actually opened the door, I could engage her with the seductively monotonic “Ohhimolly” before furiously pedaling away.
The price one had to pay, however, for a little Molly-hope was getting past her goddamn dog. Frankly, I don’t know how Bro put up with it for as long as he did. I braved it once or twice a week but that was for love. Gary went into battle every day for two bucks a month. I think one of the reasons he didn’t deal with it sooner was that the dog wasn’t that big. Maybe thirty-five or forty pounds, but the little crap-weasel had the heart of a warrior and the disposition of a failed demon. And blessed with innate leadership qualities, he was never alone. When we entered the cul-de-sac of the Castle Jones, a pack of otherwise sweet family doggies would come swarming at you, with ol’ Snarl-O-Matic chugging away up front. Years later I learned about operant conditioning in Psyche 101 and realized we were programming that little dun-yellow turd to mess with us. Every day we showed up, and every day he would come out and run us off. At least in his mind. In our mind, we were just going to the next house. Maybe at first it was a game to him, but daily he grew bolder and meaner. A paperboy learns to tell the difference between a bluffer and a truly vicious dog, and it wasn’t long before we could see that this dog had gone from the bark side to the dark side. Maybe because Gary saw it every day, he didn’t notice it escalating, but it seemed to me every time I showed up “to help out,” the stakes were higher, the risk was greater, and my love for Molly was waning.
Since me and Bro were a franchise, we got our “bundles” dropped off at our driveway, a bundle of fifty papers for me, and a bundle of sixty for Gary. One evening after I had finished my route, I was puttering around separating the wire and scrap paper that protected each new day’s bundles. We would throw the wire into the garbage and burn the paper in a pit behind the house. The likelihood that Dad’s wirecutters might go into the pit on any given burn day kept Dad on his toes. “Uhhhh, have you boys seen my wirecutters?” was standard dinner fare after one of our “burns.” Against all odds, Dad still has those wirecutters, and I personally saw to it that they were tempered and annealed far beyond manufacturer’s specifications. No thanks required, Dad.
Suddenly, Gary came tearing up on his bike. I looked up to see him dismount with an economy of motion that would have made the Pony Express proud. He hit the ground raging, “I’m gonna kill that fucking mutt!” To hear this kind of talk from “Gosh Gary” was absolutely unprecedented. I stole a quick glance at his bike. Yep, it was standing upright, the kickstand was down, how did he…and then it got weirder. He began to fill his paperbag with what appeared to be weapons of siege. Any goddamn thing you could throw or wield went into the bag. Big old river rocks, galvanized pipe, bike chain, a section of railroad track. He looked right at me and his eyes were snapping. I’d heard the expression but until that day I didn’t know it was an observable physical phenomenon. I only experienced it one other time, a few years later, about five seconds before I found myself bleeding quite badly. So he looks at me, and he says, “Will you help me?” I’ve got to confess I would have been attracted to such a campaign regardless of who suggested it, but this madness coming from The Peacemaker was beyond the pale. The whole concept was so complex. Gary needed my help? What an honor. Gary was in a high rage? You go, Bro! Gary was going forth to kick dog ass? Weird, but strangely seductive. We might get in trouble? It was… Gary’s idea.
I put on my paperbag and began to populate it with whatever I could find. Our paperbags were designed like ponchos, with a hole in the middle and worn over the head, but with a big pouch for the papers sewn front and back. We filled up the front pouch, spun the bag a-hundred-and eighty-degrees, filled up again and headed out. When delivering papers to the Jones’s cul-de-sac we had found the best strategy was to ride in full-speed with no warning. Many times you could get in and out before the pack was even alerted. But today…today we were hunting. We pulled up and looked into the maw of the brindled devil’s lair. Bro looked at me and nodded, then he put his fingers to his mouth and whistled a little tune called “destiny.” Within seconds the pack came surging around the corner of Molly’s house, with “Little Yeller” out front wailing and gnashing. Granted, Molly’s dog was a formidable specimen, but the rest of the pack were a bunch of pretenders. There was a goofy Irish setter named Spackle, two paunchy labs from the same litter owned by a couple of free-thinkers who named them collectively “Bookends”, and your basic golden retriever named, what else, Lovey Dovey. The pack was rounded out by four or five bark-no-bite types which hung out at the rear of the pack. We were fortunate that the one truly terrifying police dog on Gary’s route had too much self-respect to run with street trash. I mean, Rin Tin Tin don’t run with Riff Raff Raff.
So this was it. We either turned tail or we took on the pack. Out of my peripheral vision I saw Gary rise up and stand down hard on the pedals of his bike. We were going in. Whooping like a Comanche, I fell in beside him. I pulled a nice, big river rock from my bag as Gary unsheathed a length of pipe. We both focused on the leader, knowing instinctively that none of the other dogs were really going to bite us. As we came into range, I threw the big rock as hard as I could right at his head. It missed but did graze his flank, which distracted him enough so that Gary rode in like a polo player and “galvanized” the little shit upside the head. The resultant howl was a mixture of outrage, shock, fear and confusion. He hesitated, for a beat which was all we needed. With the primal scream of all warriors, we unloaded everything we had on the mongrel from point-blank range. It was like a garage sale was raining on him. For a moment, time stood still, and then, incredibly, the enemy turned and fled…alone. His “pack” had apparently heard the dinner bell, or maybe decided they’d better go home and see if all the “masters” had gone completely daft. My blood lust was up by then and I screamed at Gary, “Reload!” Perfectly synchronized, we spun our bags a-hundred-and eighty-degrees to access our reserve arsenal. I took off after the cowardly little shit as he was heading towards the corner of Molly’s house. It was probably not legal for me to go back there, but at that point I was totally gone. I dismounted and charged around the corner, with Gary hard on my heels. We had it cornered up against a fence between the two neighboring houses. Oh, this was too good! We stood about twelve feet off and ran him from one corner to the other, emptying our bags and picking our shots while he snarled and ducked and huffed and puffed. But as long as we kept our distance he endured it. Finally, Gary was out of ammo and I looked into my own bag. All that was left was a length of two-by-four. I could have thrown it, but it wouldn’t have done much damage. Also, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of throwing my last weapon away. I’d worked myself into a battle-frenzy and I didn’t want it to end. So I hefted the two-by-four and advanced…on a cornered animal. That I would do something so goddamn dumb was the primary difference between Gary and me. In spite of his rage, he knew we had won and it was over. When he saw me wade into a vicious cornered dog with little more than a stick, he started screaming. At first it didn’t register – I was too intent on the mission – but as I got right up on the dog, I noticed the look in his eye. I had put him in a truly desperate situation, and suddenly I got that sick feeling you get when you have set the shit in motion and it’s rolling downhill. I heard Gary screaming on the edge of panic, “Leave that fucking thing alone! Get the goddamn hell out of there, you crazy dumbshit bastard!” Again, the novelty and facility of his cursing brought me back to reality and suddenly I was a very scared little boy. That nasty dog no longer resembled a family pet in any way. It had gone completely feral, more like a badger than a house pet. At that moment, I knew that little brother and his two-by-four were no match for the beast. I wanted to retreat, but we were in a strange inter-species equilibrium. Taking a step back may have upset that delicate balance and caused him to kill me. On the other hand, taking a step forward may have upset that delicate balance and caused him to kill me. So I improvised. I raged at him in the assumptive tone of “The Master” to maintain the status quo. Then I began gliding laterally as I’d seen James Brown do on Shindig. James makes this look easy, and, I suppose, gifted with his physical genius, on a polished stage with burnished leather soles, it is easy. But I was dancing for my life, in a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars on a stage of dandelions, crabgrass and mud.
Just like that I was out of range. We backed out toward the street and Gary gave me his trademark look of utter disgust. I’d seen it a thousand times, but this time I tended to see his point. We approached our bikes to see that the cul-de-sac was completely deserted. Not one adult, not one kid, not one dog. No one. Eerie. Had no one witnessed the battle, or had we driven the decent folk of Eugene indoors with our barbaric display? I still don’t know. No one on Gary’s route ever mentioned it to him, or to me, although I did notice over the next few weeks Molly began to distance herself from me. Sadly, our feelings and divided loyalties were too complex to overcome and we never reconciled.
Gary and I got on our bikes and the very millisecond we turned our backs to pedal away we heard our canine crackpot take up his old song, but, wonder of wonders, instead of chasing us, he was staying well back, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. Later, in Psyche 101, I would learn that we had been “extinguishing” unwanted behavior with “negative sanctions.” Thankfully, it would be years before this kind of annoying psycho-babble began to pollute the language, but we understood “cause and effect” and its relationship to a length of galvanized pipe. “Wow, Bro, nice sanction!”
We rode on home silently, and though it was unclear whether we should be proud or ashamed, we didn’t regret it. That dog never came near us again. Oh, he made as much racket as ever, but he was just another pretender now. Even that dope Spackle had too much sense to follow him around. We played it safe and rarely spoke of the incident directly but would make sly references instead. If, for example, the subject of dog training came up, I might mention that Gary had some “Speed Training” techniques that seemed to be effective. Or, if Dad couldn’t find the wheelbarrow or a shovel, we’d ask him, “Have you checked the paperbags?” He’d mutter and walk off, shaking his head, with Gary and me laughing happily in the brotherhood of our shared secret.
Margaret Booty and the Magic Marker by Rick Costello
Symbols can be great and profound things. The American flag, the statue of Liberty, the twin Towers. The reason these symbols are so powerful is the memories and images they conjure up. Every person is different and many people have a unique symbol for which they can identify. Mine is the Magic Marker.
I grew up in the projects of Camden, New Jersey. We lived in a red brick row home where everyone had a small patch of dirt and crabgrass they called a backyard. The front door was usually locked and the front yard was rarely played in, just mostly for show. Due to the lack of air conditioning, neighbors kept their windows and doors open and their screen doors unlocked. Most of the activity occurred in the backyard with children running in out throughout the hot summer day.
It was 1962 and I was 6 years old, the youngest of 4 kids. It was a Sunday shortly after dinner and I was outside playing with the other kids, using my Tonka truck to transport dirt from one hole to another. I don’t recall how I ended up in the front yard which was normally empty and peaceful, but that’s where my memories of that day were seared into place.
It might have been a game of tag or hide and seek, but I found myself behind the bushes next to the front door with Margaret Booty, the 4 year old from across the street. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” she said. “OK” I replied and we proceeded to drop our shorts in unison.
“I’m telling Mom!” came a voice from right above me. I looked up and to my horror, it was my sister Sue, who was 11 and the oldest of the brood and she was watching us from the bedroom window directly above. My first reaction was panic and guilt and I quickly pulled up my shorts and ran around to the back of the house in a desperate attempt to try and do something….. what, I have no idea.
I stopped by the back door and I could hear my sister ratting on me through the open kitchen window. She was spilling the beans to my Mom and Dad. I knew I was gonna get an ass-whoopin. I was doomed! It’s weird, but as a five year old, logic never seems to factor in on decisions. I waited and started playing again in the dirt below the window. I could hear my Mom ask Dad “What should we do?” I don’t remember my Dad’s exact answer but it was something about ‘kids will experiment’ or ‘just ignore it’ or some kind of parental goobledy-gook that I didn’t fully comprehend.
The sun had set and it was starting to get dark when we were all called in for bedtime. The spanking I was fully expecting never happened. As I walked into the house, my parents acted like nothing was wrong. I remember thinking “this is weird.” Why are they ignoring what I was sure was a major transgression?
After graduating high school, I started as a full time student at the American Institute of Drafting or AID for short. I took a 2nd shift job at the Magic Marker factory in Cherry Hill. The pay was slightly better than minimum wage with a small premium for working nights. This attracted the dregs of society. I fit right in and made friends fast. Most of the employees were minorities, either black or Puerto Rican. Besides the management, there were only 3 of us whiteys in the entire factory.
My position was ‘material handler’, the guy who supplied the boxes of caps, barrels and ends which made up the body of your basic marker. We also had to make sure there was an ample supply of those little felt tips and long cotton tubes which when inserted into the marker acted like a mini tampon, soaking up the ink.
The building was filled with machines that assembled the markers and filled them with ink. The machine operators were usually girls so it was always a good opportunity to strike up a conversation with the opposite sex as I resupplied their stock. There was a lot of practical joking going on all the time. The most popular one was very easy – just take a freshly made marker, shake it hard like a thermometer, and wait for some poor unsuspecting sap to pick it up. It didn’t take long before the strategically placed ‘bait’ would be picked up and upon removing the cap, soak the victim’s fingers with ink. It was great!
One of my other duties was retrieving stock from the warehouse. The Magic Marker factory had a huge warehouse with row after row of tall shelves, 3 stories high, similar to the ones you see in Costco. During the course of the night, I would occasionally need to go into the warehouse to get a pallet of boxes. The door had to be unlocked and then the lights switched on, which were located back in the far corner of the warehouse.
I had received training as a forklift operator so getting the pallets down from the shelves was fun and challenging. Inside the warehouse, you were susceptible to another practical joke called ‘lights out’. That’s where another material handler, who needed stock, would turn the lights out while you were still in there. It was just a little scare tactic and always satisfying to hear someone scream “hey hey HEY!” before you turn the lights back on.
One night I needed some boxes that were located at the very top of the racks. The forklift, extended as far as it would go, still didn’t reach the bottom of the 3rd level. So I grabbed a large, rolling stair and moved it into position. I got to the top of the stair but I still couldn’t reach the box I needed so I stepped up onto the 3rd level and hanging on, tried to reach the box. I was stretching as far as I could and hanging on when I heard the familiar sound of the circuit breakers shutting down. Row after row, the warehouse started to go black. Knowing this was a ‘lights out’ joke, I figured “I’ll show them” by not panicking and shouting out “hey hey HEY!” Big mistake. After about 20 seconds I saw my buddy walking through the exit. Now I was panicking and screaming “hey hey HEY!” but it was too late. He couldn’t hear me from the heavy machinery just outside the doors. The doors shut, I heard the lock snap and there I was- three stories up in the pitch dark, hanging off the shelving.
Luckily, I was able to find the top of the stairs, like reading Braille with my foot, and once back down I was able to creep along the wall in the pitch black until I found the breaker box. I turned the lights back on and used the phone on the wall to call the security guard. “You dumb shit!” was the first words I heard Bill the security guard say as he opened the doors. “What the hell were you doing in there?”
One of the friends I made at Magic Marker was a kid named Fred. He was only 17 but owned his own car and loved to tell stories about his girlfriend. He was seeing this girl who was only 16 and still lived at home. Fred told me that every day, after his girlfriend’s parents went to work, and before school started, he would go over to her house and “fuck the shit out of her!”
Today Fred was very excited because he had pulled some strings and fudged an employment application to get his underage girlfriend a job at Magic Marker. She would be starting the 2nd shift tomorrow. Imagine my surprise when he introduced me to his girlfriend- Margaret Booty!
I believe people are born with certain traits that are part of their nature. Some are born gay, or straight, or geeky or slutty. I’m pretty sure I know what Margaret was born to be and I’m reminded of her every time I see a Magic Marker.
My first airplane ride by Mark Calder
This is a story I wrote a few years ago. I wasn’t very sophisticated as a 12 year old so consequently, there’s some artistic license. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood about 25 miles south of Detroit in a city named Southgate. My Father was quite the character. The following story is 95% true.
Chapter 1 St Pius
The knock at the door caught everyone by surprise. No one ever interrupted a class in session, especially religion class. The Dominican nuns of St Pius V School in Southgate Michigan took religious studies very seriously. It had to be something serious, because the person at the door was our principal, Sister Carol Anne. Because of her rather large protruding Roman nose, she had earned the nickname “The Beak”. A stern and mean woman, we dreaded any attention we attracted from ‘the Beak’. Something indeed was wrong because there were tears in the Beak’s eyes when she motioned my teacher, Sister Sean Elaine to the door. This was 1966 and the last time I saw one of these cold cruel woman cry was November 22 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot. Somebody must have shot President Johnson!
Evidently I wasn’t alone in my thoughts, as I looked around the room; I saw the rest of the class starting to look a little teary eyed. I was just beginning to dread the thought of having my Saturday morning cartoons preempted by a horse pulling a funeral caisson, when the door opened and both Nuns made a bee line straight to me at my desk. I was totally confused by all of this. When Sister Sean asked me to please step out of the room and into the hall, I didn’t know what to think, but I knew it must really be bad. I immediately started to sniffle, with a full blown tear session just seconds away. Once in the hall, both Nuns hugged me, a very rare and unusual show of affection. I braced myself for the news.
“Your Father is here for you, and your Grandmother is in the Hospital dying”. Out came the tears. Why was my Grandmother dying? I just saw her last weekend. She seemed OK then! I couldn’t believe it. My Grandmother, my Mother’s Mother, the one person I knew who loved me absolutely and unconditionally, was dying. No more summers playing Gin Rummy, no more trips to the Detroit River to watch the freighters. No more trips to the old Grand Trunk Rail yard to see the last of the Steam Locomotives, Nothing!! I was completely devastated.
Sister Sean left me in the care of ‘the Beak’ and returned to the class room. There she promptly made the class kneel down and pray for the mortal soul of my Grandmother, Marie Freeman. Meanwhile ‘the Beak’ escorted me to the office where my Father was waiting to take me to the hospital.
Standing there next to the counter in an obvious fit of nervous tension was my father, Allan Calder. He was nervous because this was the closest he has ever been to church since the age of 13 when he stole the Poor Box money from the lobby of St Vincent’s in Detroit. The subsequent beating he received at the hand of Father Markey was enough to sour him on the Catholic Church for the rest of his life. My Father was a typical 1950’s hoodlum or “hood” for short. He had the slicked backed hair, black slacks, Padded shoulders suit, pointed shoes, and the standard Black 1950’s fedora felt hat. He was a product of the post-depression Detroit neighborhood known as Corktown. He grew up in a relatively well-off family. Raised by an overindulgent and doting mother. He rarely saw his father who was busy working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, running his small local grocery store.
His Mother taught him to believe he was different from the rest and above the normal menial tasks of kids his age. He was a spoiled brat who became the local bully you paid your lunch money to in order to pass his house. Although on paper he was employed as a truck driver and Teamsters Union Steward, his real profession was scamming, gambling and hijacking. He was considered a member of what was known as the Irish Mafia. With his stocky build and total lack of morals, he was quickly recognized for his talents. His lunch money bully act had eventually morphed into a full blown neighborhood business extortion racket. This is probably the other reason he was standing there in the office with such a nervous twitch.
“Thank you Sister” he said “and if it’s all right, little Mark will be absent Friday while we make the funeral arrangements.” “Of course it will be all right Mr. Calder. We will pray for Marks Grandmother and ask that the school include her in our morning prayers.”
“Take all the time you need.” With that she leaned down and gave me a warm hug and sent me off with my father. I couldn’t stop crying, I kept thinking about all the good times I had spent with my Grandmother. I loved my Grandmother dearly, she was always there for a Tigers game, or a movie. Instinctively I believe she assumed the role my Father who had ignored for my whole life! Now she was gone. I was a nonstop tear machine. Uncharacteristically my Father put his arm around me and guided me out of the school. I looked back and I saw more tears well up in the eyes of Sister Carol Anne. It dawned on me that there must be some humanity behind that cold face of hers. I was thinking about changing my opinion of ‘the Beak’.
We left through the side exit, nearest the street that ran next to our school. We rounded the corner and in a fashion I was more familiar with, my old man slapped me on the back of the head and told me to shut up and quit crying.
“But Grandma Marie is dying” I cried!
“No she’s not, I just needed an excuse to get you out of school”. It was a miracle- My Grandma was immediately resurrected from the dead but I was now really confused.
“But where we are going?” I pleaded. “Arlington Racetrack in Chicago, I got a hot tip in the fifth and if we hurry, we can catch a flight from Metro in an hour.” I couldn’t believe it, it truly was a miracle, not only was my Grandmother alive, but I was going to take the first airplane ride of my life. I loved airplanes and always dreamed of the day when I could be a pilot and fly them. It looked like this was going to be a fine day after all.
Chapter 2 Metro airport
I was really excited now, I had never even been to an airport, let alone fly in a plane. My Grandmother and Grandfather used to take me to a park near the runway of Detroit city airport. We would eat cheeses sandwiches and watch the assortment of different planes as they landed. Detroit was a proud city back then, the center of the automotive industry and a major rail, water and airline transportation hub. My love of all things mechanical is directly related to my Grandparents encouraging me with all of the field trips we took to watch the Planes, Trains and freighters. Both of my Grandparents were really my surrogate father. Although I couldn’t brag to the rest of the kids about activities I had with my dad, I was never wanting because of my Grand Parents.
Growing up in my family was a never ending experience. My poor mother to this day regrets the day she laid her eyes on my father. She was only 19 when she married him. He was a good looking guy. Because of the spoiled brat that he was, he always had the sharpest clothes and a new car. At the time he seemed like a real find! Unfortunately everything in his life to this point had been given to him by his mother, and when it wasn’t he just figured out a way to take it. He would even steal from his own father’s store. And when he was caught, he always had his mother on his side.
My father also had another outstanding trait and that was booze. He was a full blown alcoholic. My Mother, my brothers and sisters and myself would live through terrorizing binges. I had built secret hiding places in the attic where I could hide if the need arose. Being the oldest, I was always held responsible for anything that may befall my brothers or sisters. Bad report card for any of them and I would “get “it. Someone beats up my little brother; I would ‘get it’. Early on I learned that it was far better to fight a bully than to take a beating from my father. No matter what some kid could do to me, my father would always do worse. My father was what people used to call “a mean drunk”.
Today was no exception either; on the way to the airport he was hitting a bottle of rot gut Canadian whiskey. Thankfully, his system was so used to the alcohol, he could drink immense amounts and function normally for hours before something snapped and he reverted to “Mr. Hyde”
We drove the 20 minutes from Southgate to western Wayne County where Detroit Metro Airport was located. Back in 1966, Metro was much smaller than today, besides a few active airlines, Metro also had a General Aviation tower with numerous small propeller driven aircraft. Our trip to the main parking lot took us past the General aviation area. I was fascinated by all of the different types of aircraft. Off in the distance I could see the airline maintenance hangers of Eastern Airlines and Northwest Orient. The latter’s name would conjure images of flying to a foreign shore of Japan or Asia. I could only dream of what that would be like. Sitting in the front of these great buildings were large two and four engine propeller driven aircraft.
Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of the newest jet airliner in the world, the Boeing 727. Jet travel back then was only for the wealthy; the airlines charged a large premium for the silky smooth, high speed travel.
Our destination today would be to Chicago’s O Hare Airport. My Grandfather read me a story once about the famous Naval Aviator named Butch O’Hare for whom the airport in Chicago was named. One of these days, I was hoping I could also be a great naval aviator and have an airport named after me. No one ever explained that you had to get killed first however. Back in those days, you could just walk up to the ticket counter and purchase your fare, since we were not traveling first class, my father chose Eastern Airlines, because they had a flight that would get us to Chicago in time to catch the fifth race at Arlington.
The plane we would fly was a 4 engine turboprop Lockheed Electra. I begged my dad to get me a window seat. That was fine with him, he was always afraid of flying, and he never trusted anything he couldn’t understand. This was science, but it could just as easily have been Chinese. School was not one of his favorite subjects.
The airport was a wonderful place, there was a constant smell of exhaust in the air, and it was intoxicating. We walked around the main lobby and I studied all the display cases of the various automotive suppliers in the Detroit area. There were displays of plastic injected parts, formed metal stampings, machine equipment suppliers and so and so forth. I told myself that one of these days I too would be a designer, and maybe even design an airplane.
I looked around at all the travelers, they were mainly business men. The fact that it was a Thursday in the middle of the school year meant that no one here was flying for pleasure. Shortly after arriving at the gate, early boarding was called and true to my father’s thin promise, I was seated at a window seat just behind the wing. It was perfect, I could now watch the wing control surfaces and try to figure out what they were doing as the plane rolled and pitched through the sky. Airline travel in those days was so much different from now; they actually had a concept called “service”. The stewardesses were friendly and actually cared about your comfort and well being. Today, they are all so cold and indifferent they could be Dominican nuns! Service was exactly what my old man was demanding before the rest of the plane had even boarded. Shortly afterwards, our Attendant showed up with a cup of ice and a mini bottle of whiskey. I knew those little bottles wouldn’t put a dent into him, so I knew the rest of this flight would be smooth. My eyes were glued to the side window, I watched as the Pilots finished their walk around pre-flight and the Mechanics drove up with fire extinguishers anticipating engine start up. The sound the turbines made was music to my ears, the smell of the exhaust crept through the planes ventilation system. It was a perfect day!
We taxied out to the runway past other Airliners and other airplanes. I tried to wave at the people I saw, but they either ignored me, or didn’t see me. I wanted everyone to know that this was my first Airplane ride and that I was the luckiest kid in the world. Never mind the rough start I had earlier in the day.
Once lined up at the end of the runway, the pilot applied full power and the turbines roared to life. I was pushed back into the seat by the acceleration and soon after the wheels left the ground and I was airborne. My first flight!
Everything about the plane fascinated me; I could relate the movement of the control surfaces to the response of the plane. I finally understood why I could change the flight characteristics of my models airplanes by bending the control surfaces. I made numerous mental notes that day. I watched the ground slip away; the houses that once seemed so large were now tiny boxes. If I looked carefully, I could see small cars moving on the street. The scene reminded me of playing with my friend Kevin’s Dinky’s or Matchbox cars. Kevin had the coolest Matchboxes, he got them from England. Kevin was beyond being cool because he was not only a world traveler but his sister was a flight Attendant for BOAC airlines in England. It is not possible to become any cooler than that!
Once we had reached cruising altitude, and leveled out, the Stewardess came by with the serving cart. Two more mini bottles of whiskey and my old man was satisfied. I on the other hand was actually given an option of what I would like to drink and eat. I selected a tripledecker, ham, turkey, bacon and cheese club sandwich, with a 7-UP soda to wash it all down. I had never tasted anything so good. This was a truly remarkable day, a resurrected grandmother, my first flight and my first triple decker sandwich. How could this day be any better? The flight lasted almost an hour, the older turbo Props flew at slower speeds and lower altitudes than the jets. The view of the earth however, was much improved at this lower altitude and I counted every field and followed every road right up to Lake Michigan. I was a decent student of Geography and realized that Chicago was just on the other side of Lake Michigan. As soon as we reached the western shore, I knew we would shortly be landing at O’Hare. My first clue was the slight change in the pitch of the engine, followed by a popping in my ears. It was obvious to me we were starting to slow down and descend. We came in from the east over the city of Chicago; I could see the waterfront, the parks and the sky scrapers. Out in the distance to the west I could see a flashing beacon that located O’Hare field. I watched the trailing edge of the wing as the huge flaps started to extend, I could feel the plane start to slow down. I was just about lost in the physics and mechanics of the wing when I heard my father start to groan. He was scared, and still sober enough to care. I stayed fixated on the wing as I watched the ground start to rear up, I followed every control movement right up to the point of touchdown. I decided right then and there that if something ever happened to the Pilot, I could be the hero who took over the controls and saved everybody. I could hardly wait for the pilots to get sick!
After a short taxi, we arrived at our gate. We didn’t have any luggage checked because the original plan was to stay only one night. My father had a small paper bag with him that had a single change of underwear for both me and him. Also in that bag was my tooth brush, wrapped up in my underwear! We hailed one of those old Chicago Checker Cabs and the old man told the driver to take us to a motor hotel in the city of Cicero. He asked the driver to wait while he went in and check us a room. Into the room he tossed the paper bag, and off we went to Arlington, just in time to place a bet on the fifth race.
Chapter 3 Arlington
The name of the Horse was “Watch my Dust”. The tip my father had was a good one. The race was fixed. It was a payback for some favor he had done for someone with connections. I have no idea what that favor was, but I can only imagine. The circle of “friends” my father ran with included upper members of the Teamsters Union and the local Detroit Mob. As a kid I used to go to the house of Jimmy Hoffa and play with his son, the current Teamsters President. My father was aligned with the Anthony Provanzano, Tony Pro to his friends, faction of the Teamsters. Provanzano definitely was the tie between the Mob and the Teamsters. Years later it was rumored that Hoffa was killed by the Mob because he opposed their surrogate candidate Frank Fitzsimmons. On one failed election ticket, my Father actually ran for Treasurer of the Teamsters under Provanzano. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house. I had heard many rumors about my father. Some involved him shooting the American flag at a teamster’s hall meeting. Other rumors suggested that he was very persuasive with reluctant truck drivers when it came to 100% Union enrollment. There were numerous incidents where union leaders had their boats and cars blown up. It got so bad, teamster officials took to having their cars started by remote control. In any case, my father knew a sure thing when he saw one and that was enough for him to take his oldest son out of grade school and fly to Chicago and bet the equivalent of one half years salary on a horse race.
Back then our house on Veronica Street cost $13,000. My father’s legitimate salary was around $8000. On this one race he was putting up $3500 on a single horse. Arlington was a large race track that at the time took bets from sports books in Las Vegas and off track betting parlors. Because of this, a large bet like my Fathers would not attract any attention or appreciably skew the odds. It was impossible to bet like this in Detroit at any of the trotter or horse tracks because they were so closely monitored for corruption. To this day, the tracks in Detroit are excluded from all off track betting parlors and casino sports books. Fixed races were normal in the Detroit area, the winners were all pre-determined. Only a true sucker would blindly bet a horse race in Detroit in those days. The fix could be accomplished in a number of ways, usually the Jockeys would be told who will win and it was left among them to work the mechanics of the race. Sometimes other methods of “persuasion” would be used and this was usually where my father came in. But, when a fix was in, that was the closest thing to a sure bet you would ever see. That was why we were here on this Thursday to place a bet on a horse named “Watch my dust” that was going off at 12 to 1 odds.
Anytime my father did anything illegal, he would fortify himself with a healthy dose of liquid courage. A year later this habit would finally catch up to him when he tried to blow up a neighborhood bar in an extortion scheme. Because he fell asleep in his physics classes, he never really understood the principals of an explosion. One night he broke into the bar of reluctant owner who refuse to pay his “protection fee”. He went straight up to the bar rail and poured himself numerous shots of whiskey into a shot glass. He then set 5 sticks of dynamite right next to the shot glass and lit the fuse. The bar was a very old brick building with wooden roof. The mortar joint between the roof and walls had deteriorated years ago. When the dynamite exploded, the blast pressure was evenly distributed through the whole structure. Because the walls were heavier than the roof, they would exert some resistance, redirecting the force to the roof. Having a much larger area than the walls, and being much lighter, it took the brunt of the blast. Because the mortar joint was nonexistent, the roof merely popped up just like the lid on a steaming pot of water. This had the effect of relieving all of the blast pressure. The pressure was so reduced that the windows were still intact. The inside of the bar was completely covered in black soot; the FBI didn’t even have to dust the shot glass for prints. Of course this made all the local papers and caused my family considerable embarrassment. On the positive side, an incident like this will definitely weed out people who you thought were your friends. The papers neglected to cover the story with the same enthusiasm the day the case was dismissed on a technicality.
His preferred drink was always Seagram’s Seven. A rot gut, cheap Canadian Whiskey fermented just across the Detroit River in Windsor Ontario. Well-fortified with 3 shots, I followed my father to the betting window and listened to him bet $3500 on the nose of the Number 6 horse. We went back to our grand stand seat, via the liquor bar, and waited for post time. I was keeping close tabs on the mental state of my father, he wasn’t close to the snapping point yet, but if he kept up drinking at this rate, it wouldn’t be long. I dreaded being near him when this happened, it was like someone threw a switch and a completely different person appeared. As post time approached, Big Al was more and more nervous.
The sound of the bell was actually anti-climactic, “Watch My Dust” took the lead and never let loose of it. He finished 4 lengths ahead of the second place horse. There were moans and groans from the crown near us; many were claiming that the other jockeys were holding their mounts back.
If only they had known how right they really were.
Thirty Nine Thousand, nine hundred and sixty dollars after taxes. That’s how much my Father won. Almost 5 years’ worth of salary and the cost of 3 of our houses. It was a fortune. I started dreaming
about all the model airplanes I ever wanted. Schwinn Stingray bike, here I come!!! Our life would change; we would never have to cut back to two meals a day, no more begging St Pius to help with tuition costs, the house would be paid off, new appliances, and new car for my Ma. We were rich.
We may have been rich, but my father was drunk, and now he was getting delirious. I have never seen him so happy. He started going nuts. He ordered more drinks from the waitress and tipped her a hundred dollar bill. He walked up to the “Ticket kickers” near us and gave each of them 100 dollars to kick ticket stubs somewhere else. These pathetic people made their whole living by flipping discarded ticket stubs over with their feet and checking for the rare chance of a discarded winning ticket. You have to hand it to these guys, they had to memorize every win, place and show horse in every race and all of the possible parlay combinations. I had to believe that if they applied that kind of mental skill to any legitimate career, they would all be millionaires. Unfortunately they were the “Untouchable” class of horse racing patrons that a mega winner like my old man could not stomach.
In a rare showing of generosity, he told me to pick any horse in the next race and he would bet $500 on it. Any horse, it didn’t matter. I was no expert on horse racing, but I wasn’t a stranger to it either, I had accompanied my father to numerous races in the Detroit area. I didn’t know how to handicap a race, why bother when most of the races I had seen were fixed. The one thing I did understand was odds, and the higher the number, the more you won. I checked the racing form for the next race and immediately went to the horse with the longest odds, 21 to 1, a horse named “Old Grey Mare”
‘There is no way I’m putting five hundred bucks on a fucking nag named Old Grey Mare. Pick another one”.
“You told me any horse and that’s the one I want”. Reluctantly my old man went to the betting window and bet the money on my new horse. The other people in the line started to laugh, “Why do you think it’s going off at 21 to 1?” “Doesn’t that idiot know a thing?”
Lucky for them, I was the only one who had heard their snickers and comments. My dad was not one to back down from anything. If he had heard that comment, the poor guy would be in dentures the rest of his life. My old man was primed and anything could set his fuse off.
Evidently, the fifth race wasn’t the only race that was fixed. Because Old grey Mare led the race from the gate to the pole. “Our” five hundred dollar bet paid nine thousand two hundred and forty dollars after taxes. I never saw a dime! He told me to pick the winner of the next 5 races and we bet $500 on every long shot. I guess only the fifth and sixth races were fixed, because we lost every one of them. However for the day my father was forty thousand dollars richer. Not a bad day. The drinking never stopped, neither did the tipping, pretty soon there were ladies of the night willing to give a 12 year old kid the “Ultimate” thrill of his life. Little did they know that earlier in the day I already had it? The joke was on them.
Chapter 4 Marshall Fields
It finally dawned on me why he had gotten me out of school; I was supposed to watch him. His mental state at the moment was less than that of a 12 year old boy. He was smashed! Not quite a sloppy drunk, he did have trouble pronouncing his words. My immediate job now was to act as translator to the rest of the world. My secondary job was to make sure most of the money he won made it home to my Ma. “Get us a Fucking Cab!!” he slurred. The driver asked me where we wanted to go, “Cicero” I told him.
“Fuck Cicero, take us to Marshall Fields, downtown! I got to buy my boy a corduroy suite”
Well, I knew we would need some clothes, clean underwear at the very least, but I couldn’t figure out why I needed a corduroy suite. Before we hit the highway, the next stop was a local liquor store. My father was fast approaching the point of no return. The rest of the day was going to be really ugly. In the past I would accompany him to various bars and clubs. I was usually given a hand full of quarters and told to shoot pool. I would sit back and watch him and generally try to keep him out of trouble. I wasn’t always successful. I recall one afternoon at a place called Mulberry Lanes in Southgate Michigan. My father’s softball team was sponsored by this place and the drinks were always on the house after a game. His team was actually quite good and went to many national tournaments. All of this was great publicity for Mulberry lanes. One afternoon, some crazy guy with a death wish picked a fight with him. The idiot waited until the old man was good and soused. I guess he figured he would have the advantage then. As I recall this guy was about six foot three inches tall and weighed 250 lbs. My father at the time was about five foot eleven and two hundred lbs. He was just starting to get a beer belly at that point in his life, but for the most part, he was solid muscle. Twenty two witnesses stated to the police that the “Big Guy” took the first swing and it was unprovoked by my father. I can vouch for this because I saw it all. People would constantly try to make their bones by trying to whip my father. Everyone knew him and his reputation. It wasn’t unlike the Wild West. One swing, by the “Big Guy” and my father deftly ducked and avoided his punch, the poor bastard never got another and my old Man hit him 3 times in rapid succession. He then picked him up like a weight lifter and threw him through the plate glass window. The guy lay on the side walk until the ambulance came ten minutes later. No one would dare help him, for fear of getting on the old man’s wrong side. The guy almost died from the loss of blood. The cops even interviewed him while he was drinking at the bar. Even they were afraid of him. Thankfully though on this day the mean drunk did not appear when the switch was finally thrown. Mr. Happy just made his first appearance.
We arrived at Marshall Fields and the lucky cab driver got a hundred dollar bill for the fare and tip. He told my dad, not to worry about hailing another cab, because he would be sitting right outside waiting for us. The door man was also a benefactor of my father’s generosity; he got another hundred for holding the door open for us. Sensing a ripe plum ready for the picking, the door man hailed a floor manager and suggested that a personal shopper accompany us.
“We need new suits “he told our “New” friend.
“Yes sir” she said, “please follow me.” I still don’t know why I had to have a corduroy suite, but that’s what I was fitted for. My old man on the other hand demanded a 40’s style Zoot Suit, complete with a wide brimmed gangster hat with a head band. What a sight we were.
“What about my underwear back at the motel, dad?”
“Fuck that underwear. We’ll get some more here.” Two suits, 6 pairs of underwear, 4 outfits and 5 sets of shoes later we were in the luggage department buying a brand new suit case. Fully dressed now in my new suit, I tried to fold up and keep my white shirt, tie and slacks. This was the standard uniform of a student at a catholic school. But I was unsuccessful and it went in the trash also.
For leading us around and showing the old man the most expensive clothes in the store, our professional shopper got a couple of the one hundred dollar bills. The look on her face told me that other services could be had for a similar price. So far this sudden wealth had taught me that everyone had a price. It’s like the old WC fields story, where he asked a beautiful woman in a crowded elevator if she would go to bed with him for $5000. “Sure” she quickly replies,
“Well how about $50?”
“What do think I am a whore?”
“That point’s been established” Dad said, “now were bartering for price”
Pretty tough lesson for a 12 year old kid. But by this point in my life nothing my father ever did could shake me. He had a unique method helping me to grow up. I recall when I was ten he decided it was time to tell me about the birds and the bees. I already had a good idea about making babies. After all last year during a summer backyard camp out Pam Atherton and I rubbed bare butts all night in a tent. We were both relieved when she told me a few weeks later that she wasn’t pregnant.
My Father never got into explaining the mechanics of making a baby, his main concern was that I not grow up gay. One Saturday he took me to a gay bar on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. We sat at the bar and I sipped on a Vernors Ginger ale. My old man was nursing a scotch. At the end of the bar was a poor unlucky guy dressed in a leather cowboy suite with leather fringed tassels. He kept eying my father which evidently was what he wanted. My dad got up from the bar and made his way to the rest room. The cowboy followed. They closed the door and all I could hear were muffled cries and banging sounds. After a few minutes, Big Al came walking out, wiping his hands.
“Let’s go” he said. “Do you know what was wrong with that guy?”
“No” I said “what?”
“He’s a fag; he likes other men to put their pee pees in his butt.” Poor guy, I thought, if only he could have met Pam Atherton.
Chapter 4 The Palmer House
When we walked out of Marshall Fields, true to his word our cab driver was sitting there. He quickly got out of his hack and opened the rear door for me and the old man. This only served to inflate my old man’s bloated ego. “The whole world is supposed to treat me this way”. He knew this because his Mother had taught him that. I told the driver we needed to go back to Cicero where we had originally checked into a room. “Fuck Cicero, and fuck that motel. Were going to the Palmer House.”
“But Dad, I interrupted, what about our paper bag?”
“Fuck that bag too”.
The Palmer House was considered one of the finest hotels in Chicago. In addition, they were also rumored to have the best Steak in town. Steak was something I seldom ate. Only rich people ate steak. To this day, I am still amazed that my Mother could keep 5 kids fed and clothed. My father would hoard any money he ever got. His normal paycheck was usually gone by Saturday morning. Drinking and gambling were the normal reason. As kids we would resort to rifling his pockets when he passed out. All proceeds would be given to my Mother. My sister Mary had stealing from the old man down to a fine art and science. You always had to plan on the fact that he would eventually sober up. I remember one time after he made a particularly large score; my sister took 3 thousand dollars out of his wallet. She then sat up next to him and waited for him to wake up. She had his aspirin and juice waiting and a perfect story. When he came to, she started crying and hugged my father. “Why did you do that?” she would wail. “Why?”
“Do What” He would ask.
“Give that Girl scout so much money. The door bell rang and a girl scout was selling cookies. You started to cry and said you felt sorry for her. You gave her all the money in your wallet.”
He couldn’t say one way or the other whether this was true or not, he did know that he was a big tipper when he was drunk and every drunk was a blackout. He couldn’t stand it if other people thought he was cheap. The only “people” he was ever cheap with was his family, but we learned to adapt.
After another “Hundie “to the Palmer house doorman, we were approached by the manager. There must have been a telegraph line between Marshall Fields and the Palmer House. We were checked into a huge suite and asked if we would like a private dining room. “Of course we would, that’s the only way I ever eat”
This is another scene that has been vividly etched into my mind. The private dining room was very luxurious, the motif was 1890’s. The walls were all covered in plush red velvet, the floor had a thick red carpet and all of the tables and chairs were leather covered. Our personal waiter was a distinguished looking black man. He was polite and had carefully manicured grey “wings” in his hair. His manner was very proper, every sentence containing the words, Yes Sir, or No sir. He had a towel that he kept draped over his arm. All of this treatment did nothing but feed my father’s ego.
“And what would you gentlemen care to dine on this evening.”
“I want two of your finest Porterhouse steaks for me and my boy, and a bottle of the finest wine in the house“
“Very good Sir” With that off went our waiter.
“This is how I should be treated everywhere.” he lamented. “The rest of the world just doesn’t realize it.”
I was hoping that this ‘treatment’ would end soon, I wanted the flow of hundred dollar bills to stop. My Ma was getting shorted with every tip.
Our waiter came back with a fine looking bottle of wine. He made a show of wiping off the dust. His well-practiced ritual of cutting off the lead seal and removing the cork was done with simple ease and elegance. The withdrawn cork was presented to my old man so he could signal his approval. This was comical because this was probably the first time in his life he ever drank a bottle of wine that had a cork. His usual fare was something called Richards Wild Irish Rose. 8% to 13% alcohol by volume. Even they weren’t sure how much alcohol was in it. The wine sample was poured into his glass with grace, the toweled arm acting as steady rest. It was obvious that this man loved his job and appreciated his high roller customers.
What happen next shocked even me, the waiter however was horrified. The old man took a small sip and spit it out all over the table cloth and the towel on the waiters arm.
“Get this fucking vinegar out of here”
“Yes sir, right away sir” With that the poor guy ran out of our room. I was shocked. The old man however was laughing his ass off.
“I always wanted to do that.”
Chapter 5 The Room
Of course the Porter waited with our bag until we were ready to walk to our room. There was no way he was going to miss out on a C note. Our poor waiter thankfully was duly compensated. One hundred dollar tip for the meal. Another hundred for the cleaning bill for his towel and uniform and finally another hundred for hair dye. “Here, and buy some hair dye so you can get rid of that fucking grey” My father was a real class act!
As soon as we settled in I started looking around the suite and a found a treasure chest that looked just like a mini refrigerator. It has all sorts of goodies besides the beer and club soda. Above the mini bar there was a fully stocked liquor cabinet with the same small bottles I saw on the airplane. By now the wine and booze was starting to take its toll. I knew that once he hit this liquor cabinet he would be passed out. It was almost time to start foraging.
I had learned some valuable lessons from my sister Mary. One must have a story ready that could have been possible or you could end up with a blistered butt or worse. I lifted a couple hundred dollars from him earlier in the year and didn’t plan for his sobriety. The next day he confronted me and I pleaded ignorant. Most of the money went to my Mom, but I did keep $10 and that became my downfall. I spent it on what I spent every available penny on, a balsa wood model airplane from Stoners Hobby Shop. After 3 days of construction, I was so proud of my Stearman Biplane that I proudly showed it to my dad. ‘Where the fuck did you get the money?” The look on my face said it all. He grabbed my beautiful biplane and smashed it to pieces. He then beat me to within an inch of my life. So if I was going to be successful helping my Ma feed and care for my brothers and sisters, I needed to plan my moves more carefully.
I had been keeping a running tally of the money he spent on tips, meals, food, booze, cab fare and our room. The total was around 2 thousand dollars. That meant that there should be right around 38 thousand dollars somewhere on him. It was obvious I couldn’t take it all, but I was determined to beat my sister Mary’s record of $3000. I figured $5000 was a nice and tidy figure. Some of that money could easily be explained away by his continuous tipping. But for a score this big, I was going to have to manufacture something. “Hey Dad. Remember when those nice ladies at the race track said they wanted to give me the “thrill of my life? What were they talking about?”
“They wanted to give you a piece of ass”
“You mean they wanted to make a baby?”
“Hey, it’s time you learned about the birds and the bees” With that he called down to the desk and asked for the Porter to return. Instinctively he knew that a Porter was always more than just a baggage handler. Our Porter was no exception, except he balked at asking his “friends” if they wanted to sleep with a 12 year old boy. “Tell them there’s a grand it in for them.” He handed over another hundred and told him to work out the details. “Oh and bring me a bitch too!”
I thanked my dad and promised never to say a word to my Ma. I had seen him pick up many women at the bars he took me to. I don’t think my Ma cared if she ever slept with him again. She claims that she stopped sleeping with him the day she found out she was pregnant with my little Brother Allen. She used to joke and say that it was so hard to find time alone for sex with 4 kids running around the house. She said she almost named my brother Allen Hot and Cold, from the imprint on her backside from when they used to lock them selves in the bathroom.
As soon as the deal was set, I was in a race against the clock. I needed to ply him with booze from the mini bar until he passed out. After 3 Jack and cokes, he was sprawled out on the bed snoring away. Immediately I went through his pockets until found the stash. I figured that I could buy off the “ladies” when they came to the room. After all, just about everyone we had come into contact with today had a price.
Soon after he passed out, there was a knock at the door. I open it up and saw that our Porter had been successful. I explained to them that my father was drunk and that he was already passed out.
That didn’t faze the uglier of the two. She looked at me with nicotine stained yellow teeth and smeared red lipstick and smiled. “But your still awake honey” The other woman actually looked at her friend in disgust. There must be some kind of code between whores! I told them I really wasn’t interested, I explained to them how I really liked to dress up in a cowboy suit with fringed tassels. “Well, we got other friends like that you know”
“No thank you.” I said and emulating my father I pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and paid them both off. They left happy, but the look on their faces told me that they or their friends might be back for more. I waited a few minutes after they left and called the desk downstairs.
“Sir, there were two ladies who just got on the elevator, who tried to rob my father and me” The man on the phone assured me they would regret ever walking into the Palmer House. Problem Solved!
Chapter 6 Back Home
The next morning my father woke up with his customary hangover. After a few Beers from the fridge and a couple of Alka Seltzers, he was ready for the day. He called to the airport and reserved us a return flight. He actually upgraded out seats to a first class flight on a brand new 727 jet. This would be another first experience for me. I was the luckiest 12 year old in the world! I had my ma’s money safely folded up inside the bottom of my socks. Even if I had to take my shoes off, I would still have it hidden. It didn’t take long for my father to realize he was a little light in the wallet.
“Who took my money?”
“Those ladies you called to our room.”
“What the hell did they do?”
“I don’t know what they did to you, but I had a good time with one of them in the bathroom.” I could see a warm glow come to his face; he finally had positive proof his kid wasn’t going to grow up gay!!
“Ah hell, it was probably worth it. Get dressed were going home.”
We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Spare time was always bad for my father. It only meant that he had to start drinking all over again. He didn’t have much of a choice; his back was against the wall. Knowing him all too well, I knew that he wouldn’t get out of hand with only one good hour of quality drinking time. The problem was, I never knew what way his mood would swing. Yesterday, Mr. Happy made his rare appearance, but it could easily have been “Idi Amin Dada” Sometimes my father liked to impart his wisdom on me when we were alone. Some of his adages I have actually taken to heart and to this day still follow:
“If you ask more than once, you’re begging” I usually use that phrase on an employer when I quit.
“What do you mean your quitting?”
“I asked for a raise last month and you said no”..
“Let me see what I can do”
“If you ask more than once you’re a beggar, I don’t beg”
Then there was:
“If you take shit from anyone, be prepared to eat a shit sandwich for the rest of your life” he truly wouldn’t take shit from anyone, or allow anyone to give his family crap. It was ok if he did, but woe is it to anyone who gave his kids static.
There were two restaurants in my home town that kind of looked alike; one was called the Nugget, where my friend Rod worked. The other was called the Palace. One evening my friend Kevin and I went to the Nugget to walk home with Rod.
We were sitting in the dining area wondering where Rod was when I made the mistake of walking up to the swinging doors to the kitchen. Because I was so short, the waitress didn’t see me trying to peek through the door window. The door hit me in the face and she dropped her salads all over the ground. The manager came out; a husky Italian named John, and tossed me out of the place. I went home with a black eye from the door and told my dad what had happened. As was his usual custom; he started to fortify with liquid courage. A few hours later he took off after the manager. Later that evening he told me never to go into the Palace. He said he walked directly into the back room and dragged the manageroutside and beat the crap out of him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was the Nugget where my friend worked.
Sometimes my father would try to instill a proper work ethic in me. He would explain that work was for suckers and that there were too many fools in the world not to be able to make a decent living. He told me to use my head and not my back. Well that was a good theory, but it didn’t stop him from rousting me and my brother John out of bed at 2 o’clock in the morning in the middle of a school day. We were in 3rd and 4th grade. My old man came into our room with wooden spoon and a pot. He started banging them until we were awake. “Get your lazy asses out of bed, it’s time for you two to earn your keep” He made us throw on some clothes and then he drove us 30 minutes north to Detroit. He had a friend who owned a trucking company, together along with the night watchman; they ran a pretty profitable “Skimming” operation. Normally he wouldn’t have to involve his kids, but tonight the load in the trailer was cases of Smuckers Peanut Butter. They were stacked up to the ceiling of the trailer. There was a small space between the top case and the ceiling that was just large enough for us to fit into. He threw us up there and we would kick out the top row of cases. They were literally taking their 10% off the top. Everyone got a kick back, from the night watchman to the insurance agent with whom the trucking company was insured. Everyone would look the other way. My main memory of that night was the fact that he had promised my brother and me 5 dollars apiece. After we were finished and drove back home, he showed us both two five dollars bills.
“See these? This is your first legitimate money from real work. You now owe this to me for your room and board.”
Sometimes if there wasn’t any waiting fence for his take, he would drive up to our house on Veronica with a U-Haul truck. He would back it up the driveway and “hire” my brother and I to unload it into the basement. These loads could be anything. The best was always coffee, because it was so light. One time we put so many coffee cases into the basement that they backed up right up the stairway. That was a pretty good time because my brother and I could build a secret hiding spot while we stacked the coffee. We would leave a small tunnel that could only be used by a small kid. We would break into the stash of Caravel candy bars we hid from the last load. It was pure bliss, a secret fort with enough sugar for a year.
We had a nosey neighbor across the street named Blanche, one time after we were finished unloading a truck, she approached my old man and said she knew what he was doing. He quickly cut her in on the deal and she went back across the street with a couple of cases of Peanut Butter. Rather that get mad at her, my old man actually respected the fact that she could weasel in on his racket.
Our flight was finally called and we went to the gate. Being in first class, we were allowed to board first. Also they would serve you a cocktail before everyone else boarded. This suited my father just fine, not only would he not skip a beat with the booze, but he could look at the faces of all the jealous people who boarded in the main cabin.
The flight back was just as remarkable as the first flight out. Sitting in the nose allowed me to look into the cockpit. It was all so new and fascinating. It only confirmed my desire to fly a plane. The trip back was almost half the time at the older turboprop. In no time were lined up at the baggage claim waiting for our new suite case.
We went outside to hail a cab; this was strange because we had driven here in his car. “Why do we need a cab dad?”
“We don’t, but you do.”
“Where are you going?”
“Acapulco”. And with that he pre-paid my cab and walked over to the Aeronaves De Mexico ticket counter with our new suit case and my corduroy suite. It would be 4 months again before we saw him again. He would show up drunk and broke. As usual.
Chapter 7 Sunday
The look on my Mothers face said it all; she had no idea where I was. My Father had neglected to inform her. The school had assumed that my Mother knew where I was so they didn’t call. She reasoned that I must be with my Father, but didn’t know we had flown to Chicago to bet on a Horse race. I started to tell her the story and she almost fainted. She realized that my father had taken the thousand dollars my Aunt Anna had given her to buy school clothes, pay tuition and get a new water heater. She was starting to look despondent until I took my shoes off. I explained where the old man was now, and that made her even happier. She really had it rough. She was scared stiff to leave him because he had threaten to kill her so many times if she ever did. My ma would always put herself between me and the old man when he was on a raging binge. She had multiple scars to prove it. Years of living with this guy had made her a pretty tough woman. In my father’s line of work there were some real hazards for his family. We were always alert for cars that passed our house for a second or third trip. Usually this was someone who wanted to attack my father or take their revenge out on his family. One year when I was 14 and not yet in driver’s education, my Ma noticed a car that was cruising up and down our street. It would come to a crawl right in front of our house. Her street smarts kicked and she grabbed our. 22 rifle. She tossed me the keys and told me to drive. We left the house and drove away from where the car had finally parked. She told me to circle around the block. We came up from behind this guy and she jumped out with the rifle. Lying down on the seat was a guy with a sawed off shot gun and ten sticks of dynamite. Later the police discovered that this guy was wanted for the murder of the Robinson family. They were all killed, five of them, while they slept in their cabin up north.
I arrived back on Saturday and we immediately splurged on 4 delicious Mars Sub sandwiches, my mother also bought some cocktail shrimp. She loved shrimp, but it was way out of our price range. She used to make “Mock” shrimp cocktails for us sometimes when I was a kid. She would cut up bits of celery and mix them in cocktail sauce. We would eat them with Oyster crackers and pretend they were shrimp. Whenever I see my Ma these days, I either buy her a bag of shrimp or take her to a seafood restaurant.
On Sundays we usually had my grandparents over for dinner. On this Sunday, my grandfather had to stay home, his MS was getting worse and he didn’t feel like traveling. My grandmother came over at noon, in time for us to attend the 1o’clock service at St. Pius. We all got dressed up and I actually wished I had had my corduroy suit. The mass was a long drawn out affair; the head priest, Father Swift, loved to have a High mass in Latin. I never under stood a single word during the service. It was all in Latin with the exception of the homily. I will never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when Father Swift asked the parishioners to pray for the mortal soul of Mark, John, Mary, Annie and Allen Calder’s Grandmother, Marie Freeman who passed away last Thursday!