Monday, July 31, 2006

Shitty house I used to live in


Well, this week I am house-sitting and cat-sitting for my mom and dad while they are on vacation ...... which I have done for the last few years ... and, as usual, it's turning out to be one of the more trying weeks of the year. The main reason being that this house, the little house I grew up in, should have been demolished a long time ago. It's a ... forgive me for saying ... a decrepit shithole. Granted, it has central air, which is nice, but the plumbing stinks, and what the fuck is up with this dial-up Internet connection? It's ridiculous. I can't even get 56.6 ... I'm at something prehistoric and inhuman like 34.6 kbps here. And the kitchen just pisses me off. When I try to use it to do something really reckless like, I dunno, make dinner, I start to wonder where is Ashton Kutcher and where's his hidden cameras (or Alan Funt or substitute more timely personality, if any), because it feels like somebody's playing a practical joke on me. Pans -- crappy aluminum ones, too (woe upon the wretched fool who wants to cook something tomato-based in this house) -- falling out of every cranny, moldy potatoes nestled in every nook. I think there is food being stored here that dates back to the late 1960s. In fact, I think the majority of food being stored here dates back to the late 1960s. Which makes sense, because I think it would be easier to prepare a meal in an Apollo space capsule than in my mom's kitchen, which has approximately negative-two-feet of available workspace. AND an electric range. Feh!

I like the central air, though. And they have a scanner now, so maybe I'll post some baby pix later on this week, if I'm feeling particularly narcissistic.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Today in Nautically Themed Saturday Multimedia Posting Today

The Beach Boys - Sail On, Sailor

This is not one for the Beach Boys haters out there, but it's my blog, and I like this tune a lot. From the "Holland" album, of course, written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (one of my fave songwriting duos) along with a few collaborators. Lead vocals by Blondie Chaplin (now touring Europe with a lesser-known combo called The Rolling Stones) give it a different sound than the usual B.B. tune ... somewhat soulful. And it fits in with the whole navy theme of the last millionty-eleven posts, so, here it is. Click on the embedded video play button to play.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Never let go of your hose: Today in Friday hose blogging today: License to drown gophers: Golf course diary-uh entry number I've lost count

Synopsis: Just as the Internet depends on a series of tubes, a golf course depends on a network of hoses. (And a team of hosers, eh?)

It's a good thing I worked on the United States Navy's goddamn golf course outside North Chicago 20 years ago instead of now, because this fucking hot weather would definitely kill me. It's bound to kill me as it is, and I'm in an air conditioned room right now (knock on wood -- power outages are not unlikely in these situations).

One way we dealt with the heat was to start work insanely early in the morning -- 6 a.m. on weekdays, and 5 a.m. on weekend days when a tournament was scheduled. Another way was to focus on light duty -- driving a Cushman around towing a couple 55-gallon drums full of water to dump around newly planted trees being one example. Then we'd spend most of the afternoon repeatedly dunking our arms into the barrels of cold water, on the theory that your wrists have a lot of blood flowing through them close to the surface, so it would cool off your whole body. At any rate, it felt pretty good.

"Uh, hello Mr. Gopher. Yeah, it's me, Mr. Squirrel. Yeah, hi, just a harmless squirrel, not a bucket of water or anything, nothing to be worried about."

Watering the trees also gave us plenty of chances to rampantly quote our favorite Caddyshack lines ("Correct me if I'm wrong, Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they'll lock me up and throw away the key") while pestering varmints -- yes, gophers, and there were millions of the critters scurrying around that place. ("We can do that. We don't even need a reason.") We would never kill 'em -- in contrast to the whole purpose of the Great Lakes installation itself (which purpose is, let's be honest, training people in the business of killing), none of us golf course hippies were into the destruction of life. We weren't opposed, though, to a little comic disruption of life -- of varmint life, at least. People are always appalled when I talk about this -- and in retrospect it seems a little cruel -- but I still can't help but laugh at the angry little furry faces on the gophers when we'd chase 'em into their holes and then dump a five-gallon bucket of water down after them. I seriously doubt any of them drowned or got damaged in any real way, but boy were they pissed off. A second or two after the dousing, they'd pop back out of the hole, soaked, shooting us a glare that couldn't have been rendered funnier in a Tex Avery cartoon, and chattering the varmint equivalent of "you motherfucking ... cocksucking ... ooh!" Then they'd sing a little Kenny Loggins and get back to their varminting business.

But back to the main subject of today's effort: Hoses.

Another example of hot-day light duty was "syringing the greens." Golf course maintenance geek alert: Grass, especially the delicate bentgrass varieties used for putting surfaces, can quickly dry out and, well, die under intense sunlight. It's a bad idea, however, to fully irrigate greens during the sunny parts of the day, because any quantity of standing water can magnify the sun and burn the grass up before the water has a chance to soak in.

A solution to this problem is called "syringing" -- spraying the greens very lightly, to cool the little bitty blades of grass off without getting the ground really wet. With the antiquated irrigation system in place at the time at Great Lakes, this required hauling a big rubber hose around and plugging it into various outlets in the ground and squirting water on the greens by hand, so it wasn't totally light duty, but it beat driving a tractor around and straddling a hot engine all day. It was much more pleasant to straddle a rigid hose, spewing life-giving high-pressure wetness.

You might think this job offered the opportunity to engage in a little bit of human-soaking to go along with the gopher soaking -- and there's nothing I'd like more than to be able to tell some golf course tractor operator "hose fight" stories right now. But the water for the irrigation system was pumped out of the water hazard on the 7th hole -- a nasty, muddy, dirty pond full of snapping turtles, goose shit, and god knows what-all runoff from the golf course (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, motor oil, golf balls). Nobody wanted to get that shit sprayed on him -- and it was particularly horrifying when, one season, I noticed that some Seabees who were on-site building some additional sand traps to please the newly installed golf-crazy Base Commandant were DRINKING from those hoses. That was fucked up. But that's the navy for you.

Like any well-oiled killing machine, I guess, safety and health were not primary concerns of the navy. Which brings me to the last, and best, hose-related anecdote.

"This is what happens when you fuck a hose in the ass, Larry! This is what happens, Larry! This ... is what happens ... when you fuck ... a high-pressure fire-hose ... in the ass!!!"

The navy may not have much regard for human life, but it does care very much about its ships. If something happens to the ships, after all, how can the navy use them to kill people? This is why all recruits go through training in fighting fires -- when a fire breaks out aboard ship, I would have to guess that's the classic "all hands on deck" situation. Everybody has to know how to do it.

Today, the Great Lakes Naval Training Center has a very modern, state-of-the-art indoor training facility for this purpose ... but until about 1990 or so, the Fire Fighters Training School was located outdoors -- smack in the middle of the golf course.

This made for constant hilarity. For one thing, keep in mind that this was a hands-on thing, not just a classroom, theory deal, which meant that the school was always setting big gasoline fires for the scrubs to put out. Which meant that, depending on wind patterns, at any given time, a big black dense oily cloud of smoke was bound to be rolling across one of the fairways. And if there's anything with a funnier facial expression than a wet gopher, it's a retired admiral who can't find his golf ball -- or his breath -- because he's standing in the middle of a choking smokescreen.

There was never a shortage of pure slapstick gold going on at the Fire Fighters school, especially among the poor, hapless recruits, and I got a kick out of watching those jahoobs during every idle moment. Since it was, after all, the Reagan era, and I couldn't be too sure the draft wouldn't be reinstituted at any time, I was a little leery of laughing too hard at the recruits, for fear that someday I'd be in their place. No, that's a lie. I loved to laugh at those poor fuckers, every goddamn day.

The school was run by a few of the stereotypical grizzled and tattooed enlisted men whose characteristics you can well imagine. The types of career military guys who are cool enough to invite the golf course civilians over to the classroom on a cold late-Fall day to watch some 8-mm stag flicks ("fuck films," as Ted the Head Greenskeeper preferred to call them) while eating some leftover Government Issue franks and beans for lunch -- but who also derive their most consistent perverse pleasure from torturing the hell out of the young swabbies misfortunate enough to fall into their hands for the day.

The trainees would be brought to the school -- which immediately adjoined the golf course maintenance barn area -- every day in big gray school buses, and loaded out, greasy, wet, and exhausted at the end of the day in the same buses, but the motor transportation itself was the only consistent procedure. They never treated the trainees the same way twice -- the trainers seemed intent on coming up with every variation possible in wrangling sailors. One day, they'd line them up in ranks and make them march in step. The next day, they'd just roust them around at random. Next day, single file line. Day after that, they'd just cuss them out while they stood around looking stupid. Which, judging from the frequent amplified screaming at them to pay attention ("No skylarking!" being the somewhat curious much-repeated order blasting over the school's P.A. system), they apparently were.

One of my favorite jobs on the course was garbage detail -- not just because it was easy duty to drive around picking up trash, but also because emptying the haul into the dumpster was always good for some yuks. The dumpster was located next to a weird, sick little concrete building that was -- no bones about it -- a gas chamber, where they'd teach the swabbies how to use their gas masks. They'd herd the poor morons into the chamber, shut the iron door behind them, and pump the building full of tear gas. Then, after a little while, they would open the doors to let the fools out -- but first, so the lesson would be reinforced properly -- with the chamber still full of gas -- they made the recruits take off their masks and walk out, both arms extended, coughing and crying. (I think they made them extend their arms because the natural tendency of a dumbass recruit would be to rub his eyes, and that would only make things much worse. Of course, a few idiots would always do that anyway, which only added to the comic effect, because then the trainers would make them do the gas-chamber drill again.)

The tenor of this whole post is making me wonder if I'm not some kind of sadistic bastard. So far, we've ridiculed flooded gophers, smoked-out retirees, and tear-gassed sailors. Oh well. If you're going to tell me you wouldn't have laughed at all of them, you're a liar.

The most visually spectacular part of the fire training was not in this cruel vein, though -- but it did involve hoses. Naturally, the bulk of the training process involved recruits learning how to handle hoses -- and not the wimpy little irrigation hoses we used to syringe greens. Full-sized macho fire hoses.

Now -- as a little aside -- I grew up among volunteer fire-fighters and spent a lot of time hanging around the fire house in Lake Villa, Illinois, and I got to ride on fire trucks pretty often (not to actual fires, but around town on errands, etc.) and stuff like that. A big recreational activity for the volunteer firemen (and women) in the northeast Illinois and southeast Wisconsin area at that time (and today, too, I think) are the "water fights" at the various summer carnivals and town founders' days and the like. (Hey, small-town Americana doesn't get any more Americana-ish than that.)

What they do is they put an empty beer keg (the fire house basement bar being the convenient place for getting those kegs empty, of course) on a concrete slab. Then a team constructed of one town's biggest fire people (men's and women's teams were kept separate) would line up on one side, and a similar team would line up on the other. In Lake Villa, they would park a fire engine on the beach next to Cedar Lake and pump water out of the lake and pressure up both sides' hoses, and at the screech of a whistle, the teams would open up on the barrel, with the object of driving the barrel past the opposite team's end line. Rivalries got pretty heated -- I recall the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, team being particularly fierce competitors.

My uncle, whose bad back prevented him from water fighting himself, used to serve as emcee and play-by-play commentator, and I used to help set up the review stand and hang out there under the tournament scoreboard for the event. (Showbiz, quasi-sports, AND firefighting geekery -- all in one aside -- very nice, eh?)

Anyway, the point is that I grew up with a healthy respect for what a big hose can do. Apparently, the average navy recruit was not credited with that respect, so the Great Lakes Naval Training Center's Fire Fighting Training School -- being based, as we've seen, on a pedagogical construct of Learning Things The Hard Way -- had to teach them.

I don't think I can capture this in words, but believe me, this was really cool to watch every time. To demonstrate in no uncertain terms to the trainees What Will Happen If You Let Go Of Your Hose, the Fire Fighters school had a rig that consisted of a length of hose attached to a short pipe and tethered to the ground via some clamp-like apparatus. After delievering a short and typically yelly lecture over the P.A., they'd turn a crank and pressure that baby up. Then they pull a lever and let that sucker go free.

Instant visual comedy.

I'm not sure of the 100% soundness of this teaching technique, because I for one would always be tempted to drop the damn hose just to see it thrash around that way. A loose and unfettered hose is kuh-rayzee, man, kuh-rayzee. It is the funniest damn thing I can imagine that doesn't involve a gopher or a person suffering -- although, I guess, the brass hose fitting would kill you very dead if it clonked you on the skull. But, damn if every time I heard that lecture I didn't stop whatever important golf course shit I was working on and watch that stupid hose thrash around like the most spastic and ill-conceived fountain ever built. There's something about seeing a loose, 20-foot-long fire hose shoosting water in random directions and spaz-dancing like a drunken Des that makes you want to exclaim, every time you see it, "Whoaaaaa!!!" while imagining madcap piano music from some kind of deranged Mack Sennett picture blasting in the background as a scurry of ground squirrels erupt in a custard-pie battle.

So there you have it ... I think that's the best 2,300+ words I can write about hoses at this time. I think I'm going to do just one more golf course post (probably late this weekend or early next week) and then move onto something else. There are just a few details left to relate about Ted the Head and my punk rock mentor Ralphie. Until then, keep cool, and no skylarking.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

This Series Is Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition: The Golf Course Tractor Operator Can Go Fuck Himself: Chester Saves the Day: Post #6

Maybe the White Sox are just getting me down lately, man, but I wish I hadn't started this farkakta golf course thread, because now I have no idea how to get myself out of it. That's what it is now, a Houdini trick.

Most of the on-the-job anecdotes coming to mind bore even me ... even the one about driving a Cushman cart at top speed while singing "Fight the Power" with two heroin addicts from the projects of south Waukegan (there is not one iota of exaggeration in that synopsis, I swear to Jesus). And the one about writing the quote, "Sure, abortion is murder, but it's murder in self-defense -- Ivan Stang," on the office chalkboard when the rumor got around that the head greenskeeper had knocked up his girlfriend (who was the recently hired assistant greenskeeper -- and his wife and her husband were bound to be pretty disturbed about that -- not to mention his teenage son, who was working with us that year). Well ... maybe those anecdotes are kind of funny. But those happened during my fourth, and last, season (in 1989), when things were totally different -- different crew, different boss, and different atmosphere. If a constant state of disaster is an atmosphere. I was a cynical old salt by then, a disgruntled communist. And it was a shitty summer.

Shit, maybe that's the problem -- the 1989 season had all the best stories in my flavorite genre, the "things went totally to hell but we can laugh about it now ... sometimes" post-traumatic stress comedy genre. The 1986 season was too happy to make for a good story. In 1986 I was a new boot, wet behind the ears, and I had a great time. I mean, yeah, I grew as a person and all that shit, but so what? What is this, a Chris Makepeace picture? I was shooting for Caddyshack, not Meatballs. And they don't mix well. Carl Spackler takes young charge under his wing and teaches him about life, love, and varmint poontang?

OK, well, maybe someday I'll get to that dark, dark 1989 stuff. But for now I think I'll slog thru 1986, and if it sucks, I'll chalk it up as practice. The excuse for the whole blog is pretty much practice anyway. Keep the typing speed up, you know how it is. Anyway, it's worth it to finish what I started, if only to properly introduce the character of Chester.


Chester was the only constant character throughout all of the four years I worked at the golf course. Of all the people working at that stupid place -- grounds crew members, bosses, and pro-shop jerks (I call them jerks, because they all looked down on us, being dirty and sweaty all the time) -- only Chester was there for the entire run. He's like the goddamn R2D2 of the whole megilleh, I guess.

Chester died in 1999, but I am incapable of imagining him not dragging the five-gang mower rig behind the big blue Ford tractor every day, mowing the rough. Many days over four seasons, the only words out of Chester's mouth were "Morning," "Mow the rough," and "See you tomorrow."

Maybe because he talked so little, it seemed extra special when Chester did say something. It was kind of a Chance the Gardener thing. He even looked like Chance.

Over the years I only got to know a few things for sure about Chester's thoughts. He thought it was a waste of money to buy non-generic cola. He thought we all drove the Cushmans way too fast all the time. And he thought, "Mow the rough."

Keep the reels greased, keep the tank full of diesel, mow the rough. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. The eagle shits on Friday. Count the years till retirement.

In 1986, I think Chester was in his mid-50s, but he seemed older. Of course, I was younger then, so everybody seemed older. (Thank you, Yogi Berra. You may sit down now.) At any rate, he had a lot of rough mowing to go, which I guess is why he used to tell me every time I got grouchy, "Yer just heeere f'r d' summerrr." (He kind of drew out his syllables a little sometimes, kind of like William Burroughs, a little bit, and crunch up other ones, like Harvey Pekar.) "You c'n do dat staanding on yer head!"

I thought I might get a little closer to Chester, emotionally or whatever, when I found out that he used to play single-A minor league baseball with my great-uncle Alex (I'm not even sure how I found out about that -- my family is pretty bad about the whole history thing, which is probably why I only found out last Christmas that Uncle Alex used to scout for the White Sox in the late '30s ... apparently he didn't help them much, but it's the closest family tie to an MLB club I have, I think). But when one morning on a coffee break I mentioned this to Chester, he just gazed off into the distance, smiled a little, and said "Oh yeah! Alex. Good people." Then he put down his cup and went out and mowed the rough. The subject never came up again.

Chester lived alone. I don't know if he was divorced or a widower, but I think he was married at one time. I think he had at least one kid who had grown and moved to the West Coast, but I'm not sure. I don't know if he felt lonely or not, but the handful of times I saw him feed crumbs of bread by hand to mice in the maintenance barn, he seemed kind of lonesome to me. He'd been laid off years earlier from a factory job with the Pfanstiehl Company in North Chicago, and the golf course job did not pay very well, so he lived very frugally.

A lot of the time, he seemed pretty grim, and I wouldn't blame him, but other times, he'd surprise you by breaking into song. When he was unusually happy or otherwise lively, he'd belt out a few bars of the Charley Pride hit, "Crystal Chandelier."

Actually, he'd only sing the first few words: "Ohhh, d' Cryyyyyssssstaaall Chaaaannn-d'-leeeer!" and grin. I dunno if he expected one of us to "take it," in a folksinger's-credo sense, and finish up the verse, but he never said "Take it!" so it's his own fault if he did.

More often ... well, this needs a couple words of explanation. The important point here is that we were all always really focused very sharply on the weather at all times. Not only because a sudden thunderstorm could mean death -- literally (a couple workers on golf courses in the midwest did die from lightning strikes during the span of my career) -- but also because rain meant Slack Time. It you got caught "by surprise," you could sit in one of the rain shelters (hopefully one not also occupied by wasps) for a while and goof off, or if you saw it coming, you could come into the barn and ... try to goof off, although the boss would probably make you change some tractors' oil or some productive work like that instead. But even that was light duty, relatively speaking

So, whenever we were all getting pretty tired of the grind, we used to hope very hard for rain. We were pretty vigilant at all times for dark clouds in the west, Chester being no exception. At the first sign of possible precipitation, Chester used to break into an old Glen Campbell favorite -- "Wichita Lineman." But just one phrase --

"I neeed a smaaallll vaacaaaaationnn!"

Then he'd hold out his upturned palm. If no raindrops fell on it, he'd shrug, grin, and go mow the rough.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Show Review: Scott H. Biram at the Abbey Pub, July 21, 2006

"The 'H' stands for 'Fuck You'!"

"This is a song from my new record, which, ah, came out Tuesday, but the story go way back to 1974, the year I was born. That was the year that I learned I love barbecue, suckin on my momma titty. That's the way it happens down in Austin, Texas -- you get born, and yo momma shoot brisket out her titty."

"I'm gonna tell you right now, motherfucker! If you don't like country music, you can kiss my ass, suck my dick, lick my balls, and get out! This is AMERICA, motherfucker!!!"

Friday, July 21, 2006

Today's Random Sports Book Notes Today: A Rambling Post about The Hustler's Hustler: Bill Veeck ... and Women's Pro Softball

I'm in the middle of reading a used copy of Bill Veeck's 1965 memoir of his career as a baseball maverick, The Hustler's Handbook, and, as expected, it's a rambling, disjointed, hyperbolic, entertaining read. Veeck -- who died in 1986 (to continue a theme pervading most of my last several posts) -- is still well-known for crazy stunts as part-owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox (twice), as well as management positions for several other clubs. He planted the ivy at Wrigley Field, he sent a midget (dwarf? little person? really short guy?) to bat, and he installed the exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park. He also seems to have been instrumental in pioneering the use of "sport psychology" (with limited success) and was way ahead of his time in making the case in the mid-1960s for recruiting Asian players.

It's a baseball nerd's book, to be sure, full of war stories about the dirty and treacherous business of player trades, and irreverent observations about immortals like Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Satchel Paige, and Yogi Berra:

Yogi is a completely manufactured product. He is a case study of this country's unlimited ability to gull itself and be gulled.... It pleased the public to think that this odd-looking little man with the great natural ability had a knack for mouthing humorous truth with the sort of primitive peasant wisdom we rather expect from our sports heroes.

Still happening today ... Yogi's AFLAC commercials seem to air during every commercial break of every baseball game I've watched this season -- which is a lot.

The book also contains, naturally, no shortage of wit and wisdom about Veeck's strongest suit -- the art of promotion. Many of Veeck's ideas were purely entertainment-based -- the examples noted above, and other promotions that have become ubiquitous, such as game-day giveaways ("Bat Day" -- now there's a concept destined for a certain rock club in Minnesota), printing player names on the backs of uniforms, and those annoying scoreboard "contests" between innings. But many of his innovations -- considered outlandish if not insane at the time -- were simply aimed at finding talent in new places. (He was the guy, after all, that signed the first African-American player in the American League -- Larry Doby, in 1947.)

In an epilogue added to the paperback edition of the book I own, he describes another scheme I'd like to see resurrected:

There is... one source of talent that has never been tapped: the female of the species. In 1980, I had a promotion worked out, secretly, with Coca-Cola to conduct a national hunt for the best of the female players, with the winners to be placed in the minor leagues and brought along like anybody else. It was not a stunt. Although the female of the species lacks the upper-body strength to stand much of a chance in the competition for the power positions, young women are more than competitive when it comes to dexterity and agility. If everything had gone according to plan, we would have had a female playing second base in Chicago within three years and, unless I was off the mark, a pitcher with style and control within five.

After watching a few of the games in the World Cup of Softball on ESPN2 last weekend while hiding indoors from the heat wave -- which was a pretty fun competition to watch, if tremendously mismatched in the USA's favor -- I think it's an idea that has some merit. I don't know if these women can pitch overhand, and I doubt you can put the dramatic motion on a baseball that you can on a softball, but I'd still like to see the experiment attempted. Come on, MLB! Somebody sign up Cat Osterman now! Or Jennie Finch. She already works in Chicago -- for the Bandits pro team -- but the Cubs really need pitching (and the White Sox starting rotation ain't looking so ... uhh ... good, lately), and I bet they have more in the payroll to offer than the Bandits.

And I'm not sure Veeck was right about the upper-body strength thing. Stacey Nuveman looks pretty brawny. There are definitely major leaguers who are weaker than her (I'm just about certain she could beat the hell out of Ronny Cedeno in a bar fight). She has a batting stance and a swing that I think could hold up in pro baseball, at least at the minor league level. Why not? Besides, a lot of hitting power comes from the legs (OK, I'm not sure that's true, but let's pretend it is), and she definitely has strong ones. At any rate, I bet she could hit -- and catch -- better than Chris Widger's doing this season.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay: The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator Is Always Intense: Part Five: The Naval Station Great Lakes Digression

(Handy linkage to first four parts: 1 2 3 4)

The Great Lakes Navy Base is big. If you want specific facts on it -- hell, I don't even know what the official name of it is this year -- you can Google it. I just want to jot down some brief impressions of what I remember from 1986.

I do want to digress to spew one small bit of actual Navy-related factomation, though -- 1986 was the year that Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was finally forced to retire from the Navy, at the age of 79. So? Well, if you don't know who Grace Hopper was, you should do a little reading. She was an interesting person. (Wikipedia.) Well, okay, maybe she's only interesting if you're a computer nerd ("she invented the first compiler? and she helped create the COBAL and FORTRAN languages? oh ... yeah ... cool ... uh ... I have to go balance my checkbook now ... see ya").

OK ... but maybe a more accessible trivia item is that she is credited by many with popularizing the term "bug" when a moth got caught in a relay (although the evidence is pretty overwhelming that she didn't actually coin the term, which had been in use to describe a mechanical defect for a long time -- but she apparently was the first to extend the term to the usage "debug," in the context of fixing a programming error). So if you are having some BUG TRAUMA lately, maybe think of Grace Hopper for a moment for some strength and inspiration. (It occurs to me that her name kind of sounds like the name of a bug itself, if you say it in a sort of an Indiana accent. And I definitely slaughtered a lot of those kinds of bugs while bush-hogging weeds in the empty "Northeast 40" of the golf course grounds ... so it all ties together, if you use your imagination.)

Also, she used to carry around foot-long pieces of wire so she could illustrate to people how far light travels in a nanosecond. She must have been a riot at Officers Club parties. Actually, she probably was. I remember her being a pretty lively talk show guest -- and, as this nifty site reminds me, she was in fact a guest on Dave Letterman's show in October 1986. (Once again proving that I never forget anything I saw on TV.)

So ... yeah. Grace Hopper. I like her. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of her birth (she died in 1992). I'm pretty sure she never served at Great Lakes, but another Navy computer-type person did. I'm referring to my dad, who came to Great Lakes from the mountains of Pennsylvania and did his whole hitch there from 1958 to 1962, getting education and experience for a career in the data processing biz. It's fair enough to say that, without Great Lakes, and without computers, I wouldn't even exist. At least not in my present form. (Great Lakes, because without it, he wouldn't have come to Illinois; and computers, because without them, they would have found other work for him and he would probably have realized his original dream of "seeing the world," and who knows where he'd have settled after discharge.)

Which brings us back to the subject of the facility itself. Great Lakes is primarily a training base -- most sailors don't spend more time there than boot camp. Since 1994, it's been the only recruit training center in the U.S. Navy. In 1986, I think one or two others were still in operation, but I'm pretty sure Great Lakes was the biggest. It also contains several specialized training centers, including its "Nuke School," where trainees learn about the reactors that propel subs and aircraft carriers.

So, in a lot of ways, Great Lakes is like a big college campus. And by big, I mean it's comparable in size to a fairly large state university -- at any given time, about 25,000 recruits live there. It also looks a lot like your average Land Grant university, with a sizeable collection of stately and beautiful old buildings housing the upper-echelon administrative offices, crumbling ugly old buildings housing the general bureaucracy, and the standard assortment of dull utilitarian modern buildings, all dispersed over lots of grassy and tree-y acreage.

But it doesn't look exactly like a regular college campus -- it's more like what, say, Northern Illinois University's campus would look like if the ROTC took over and stenciled numbers and arcane acronyms all over everything. Also, the atmosphere is considerably more muted -- more muted than NIU? Impossible! you say? Well, that's what makes it feel kind of eerie on Mainside (or huuron, even). There are no hippies playing hacky-sack on the quad, for instance (do college students still do that?) ... or anybody doing anything on the quad, for that matter -- and I guess they call it the "parade ground" or something anyway, not quad. I don't think they're allowed to go onto the grass at all except maybe to "police" the area -- which leads me to another odd factoid about life on base.

They seem to be locked into a permanent game of "pretend" there -- as in, let's all pretend it's not a base or a campus or any kind of land-lubber locale, but a big old static fleet of ships. Let's pretend we're, in navy reality, on the ocean right now -- not the shore, not port, the actual high seas -- and not squatting on a bluff over Lake Michigan about 30 miles north of the city of Chicago. In fact, the barracks and some other buildings are sometimes referred to as "ships." And they don't have "floors," they have "decks." No bathrooms, nuh uh. "Heads." Instead of walls, the ceilings are held up by "bulkheads." I can't remember if they called the doors "hatches" and the windows "portholes," but I wouldn't be surprised. I also wouldn't have been surprised to discover that the base was being commanded by Old Man Gigglesnort himself. (You have to have grown up in the Chicago area in the 1970s to stand a chance of getting this joke, sorry.)

Maybe the game of "pretend" extended to the grass. Kind of like the game we used to play all the time when we were little kids, where you had to get across the backyard without touching the grass, by jumping from the patio to the picnic table to the sandbox to a tree stump, etc. -- because the grass was "hot lava." And I dunno about your childhood pretend games, but in ours, touching "hot lava" meant instant death. So maybe instead of hot lava, the grass on base, in their pretend game, was "water" ... water that would kill you dead if you walked on it.

Over on the golf course, which was located a mile or so west of the Main Base, we weren't playing that pretend game. It would have made the job of maintaining the turf very difficult indeed.

Besides, we had enough things making that job difficult already. The main hindrance: Golf balls. A golf course requires constant work to keep it in shape, so you can't stop working just because some jerk wants to, you know, play golf on it. One of the chief reasons why The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator was always intense was because assholes were constantly hitting little rock-hard dimpled balls at you (OK, dear readers -- there's a set-up if there ever was one -- go!) ... anyway, more on that later, in the next part, when we meet the rest of the crew, and its Skipper. (You already know Gilligan -- you're reading his blog right now.)

Until then, join me in a rousing round of the Navy's favorite fucking song:

Stand, Navy, out to sea, Fight our battle cry;
We'll never change our course, So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll out the TNT, Anchors Aweigh. Sail on to victory
And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to college joys, we sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more. Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.


No, not the Patent and Trademark Office. For one thing, I don't blog about work or work-related crap ... or almost never. Some intellectual property awfulness might have sneaked in here occasionally, or other legal bullshit (redundancy warning), but nothing about the office, ever.

But blogging about not working is maybe okay. Because, although I seem to have grown a sick aversion to using my alloted free days (nobody ever would have figured that back when I was a chronically truant youth), after checking the weather and hearing some truly gothic traffic reports, I decided this morning to take some Paid Time Off (which is, wahines and kanes, da kine time off and the kine paid, too -- OK, sorry, I know I shouldn't use Hawaiian pidgin out of context ... stupid haole) today and make a small withdrawal from my PTO bank account, which still has more than four weeks' worth of hours in its balance column, so ... why not?

It may be the 21st Century, but traffic signals in the Far North Suburbs of Shuhcawguhland still get knocked out at the slightest provocation ... especially provocations like the thunderstorms Sherman-marching thru the region at present. And when good old WBBM-AM (dah dah dahdah dah DAH!! News Radio Seventy-Eight) informed me that not only were travel times on the Edens Expy "character building," several lights were out along Lake-Cook Road on my route to the Unnamed Place of Employment, I picked up the phone and excused myself. I didn't even need Epstein's Mother for help. I am a self-sufficient excuser-from-stuff.

Of course, I'm bored already, but at least I have this bloggy toy to kill spend some quality time with. So, check back later on today for, more than likely, another solid introductory chapter (or maybe two!) to The Life of a ........ geh, I'm tired of typing that title. But not tired of introductioning it. And today's rainout sets me up perfectly to introduce the character of Chester, with his favorite rain-dance song, "Wichita Lineman."

Coffee. Need coffee.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I don't know where they come from: A brief SKFTB video interlude

Here's the Super Karaoke Funtime Band with singer Vince Unpronounceable (of course that's not his real last name, but I dunno how to pronounce it ... and I can't spell it either) ripping the guts out of "Cat Scratch Fever" at (I think) the Loop Lounge in Passaic Park, NJ. (Part of the Sam Park farewell party, more of which is available hyah.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Well it's 1986 OK / All across the USA: The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator Is Always Intense: Introductus Interruptus

1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ...

Now that I've committed myself to this thing and gotten to the point in the narrative where I've been hired to operate big burly tractors on the Great Lakes Navy Base golf course, I know that it's time to get down to business, and tell some stories about the Carl Spacklers of the North Shore -- Ralph, Danny, and STDPM -- battling golfers, gophers, sailors, skunks, broken-down machinery, hangovers, and the elements ... not to mention an increasingly unhinged and screamy boss. And, of course, Chester, good old Chet, hand-feeding mice, serenading the trees with Charley Pride and Glen Campbell songs, and looking more and more every day like he was going to reach senility before retirement.

But ... you know how the trailers for those old goofy exploitation movies usually turn out to be more entertaining than the movies themselves? I have a feeling the situation here is analogous. And these bloggy trailers have not, I have to admit, been all that awesome. Not that I'm giving up. I have nothing to lose, after all.

So I can feel myself getting stuck here a little longer in introduction land. It's comfortable here.

Plus, I've been enjoying dredging up memories of the summer of 1986. I don't know how you felt about the 1980s in general, but for me, 1986 was the year that the '80s stopped sucking.

Sure, a lot of bad things happened in 1986. The fucking Cold War was happening, and Reagan was scaring all of us potential draft-age cowards conscientious-objector-types to hell. It was a pretty bad year if, for instance, you were Colonel Khadafy, and even worse if you were one of the about 100 Libyans killed by the U.S. air strikes there that Spring. And it was a really bad year if you lived near a crummy little power plant in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl. Of course, January 1986 was totally shitty for you if you were a space shuttle astronaut. It was a real good year if you were William Rehnquist, because you became Chief Justice (I wasn't too happy about that, myself). And it was a year that Bill Buckner would probably like to forget.

But then it was also a bad year if you were a certain Haitian dictator, or a certain Philippine dictator. And it wasn't really a banner year for the Reagan Administration, either, with the Iran-Contra scandal breaking. So 1986 had its up sides.

Looking back now, 20 years later, most of the time I remember 1986 -- especially the summer of 1986 -- as the year that music got really interesting ... for me, anyway. The summer I finally broke out of my '60s fixation and began paying real attention to what was happening in the present day.* And that was, ultimately, why I finally broke down and got myself employed, after all -- so I could buy records. Here's a short list of some of the 1986 releases I bought with Golf Course money that year, and I still own all of them:

Butthole Surfers - Rembrandt Pussyhorse
Meat Puppets - Out My Way
Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper - Frenzy
The Beat Farmers - Van Go
Soul Asylum - While You Were Out
Husker Du - Candy Apple Grey
Naked Raygun - All Rise

Plus ... I would be omitting something if I didn't mention that that was the summer I started shacking up with The Stickler. Due to the way things turned out, I don't feel much like waxing rhapsodic about it now, but it was a fairly significant thing at the time. One thing I can say in favor of shacking up at age 18 -- it's ... athletic. Physically active. If you can grok my meaning. I'm talking about a lot of teenage sex, people. At an age when you have plenty of stamina for it, and time. One thing against shacking up at an early age is that, in general, when you find yourself some years later beginning an inverted sort of reverse adolescence on your own for the first time, in your 30s, it's a little hard to get your bearings as far as how to behave or, well, conduct your life like a proper grownup.** Or, in my case, apparently impossible. But enough about that.

And enough about the present. The next introduction will probably be some background on the Great Lakes facility, because it's a topic that deserves a little bloggery in its own right. I doubt that a lot of people know much about it.

OK, enough for now. I'm on a strict beer diet this week (three per day) so I need to limit the literary frenzy.

Go Sox.


*It was also the summer I went to see Chuck Berry play at Blues Fest in Grant Park with Keith Richards, although Bo Diddley blew both of those geezers off the stage. Bo's set still ranks as one of the best performances I've ever seen.

**This provides, perhaps, a little gloss as to my enthusiasm a few years ago for the Mary Tyler Moore statue in Minneapolis (detailed here). "How will you make it on your own" ... etc. Or not. On second thought, that's just ... not quite right. But there it is. I just don't know, and that's why it's a footnote.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Summertime Blues '86: The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator Is Always Intense: Introduction Part Three: The Hiring

Yeah, it's another introduction. Hell, maybe it'll all be introductions. No ... next time, I swear, the actual weirdness starts to blaze like a hot fire (a hot gasoline fire, with big billows of noxious black smoke, even), and it's gonna be extremely fuckin' hilarious and totally worth your while. But for now, here's another introduction.

Click here for part 1 of the Introduction

Click here for part 2 of the Introduction

Stay here for part 3 of the Introduction.

Wwweeellllll, my mom and papa told me, son, you gotta make some money ... over and over again, they told me that ... so about a week after the spring semester of my first year of college ended, I reluctantly dragged myself over to the local behemoth teen employer, Six Flags Great America, and quickly got hired as a food kiosk slave. I knew right away it was going to be bad. First of all, they made me get a haircut and get measured for a hideous sky-blue polyester "costume" (in the real world, "uniform"). Second of all, as part of a rudimentary physical exam, they tested my blood pressure, and it was high. A 115-lb. 18-year-old with high blood pressure ... fuckin' horrible. Anyway, they let that go with a warning, and I didn't really take care of that problem for about 16 more years.

I'm pretty sure my b.p. only got higher on that job. Long story short, that job sucked bad and paid for shit, so after three and a half weeks, I lost my temper and told my supervisor, quote, "Fuck this, I quit," and stormed off. That felt good for about five minutes, until I realized how pissed off at me the authority figures in my life were going to be -- the dad, the mom, and The Stickler (the girlfriend). Especially that last one. They weren't mad -- just disappointed. No, actually, they were mad. I was not acting like a Responsible Young Man at all.

But I was used to that. So I spent the next few weeks enjoying unemployment, staying up all night writing "interactive fiction" computer games and sleeping all day. Being broke all the time was a drag, though, so when The Stickler woke me up with a noontime phone call about a job prospect, I was about 50.75% in favor of the idea.

I felt qualified for the gig, which was a good start. The Stickler was working as a cashier in the pro shop of the golf course on the nearby Navy Base (which base was mostly known to me so far as a boon to the local economy -- if by "economy" you mean sleazy pool halls -- and source of father-panicking dates for the more high-spirited local high school girls). The head golf course maintenance dude (aka "greenskeeper"), Ted, was shorthanded and looking for help. And he needed it fast, because a big tournament was coming up and the course was getting pretty mangy. The only requirement for the job was that you had to be breathing. Which I was still doing -- despite my dad's frequent threats -- so I put on a shirt with sleeves and a collar and went in for an interview.

It turned out there were more qualifications needed than respiration. To be a DoD Tractor Operator, first off, you had to be a U.S. citizen. Check. You had to be at least 18 years old. Check. And you needed a driver's license. Check. And that was it. It was looking pretty good. I asked Ted if I had to keep my hair short. Ted said, "I don't give a fuck if you grow it down to your ass. Just as long as you can keep it out of the equipment."

Also, the job paid twice as much as Six Flags.

One hearty handshake later, and I was on my way to the main part of the base -- "Mainside," in local parlance -- to fill out some paperwork, get my gubbermitt ID card, and get ready to kick some grass's ass.

NEXT TIME: The weirdness ramps up sharply, I promise. Likely topics: A short visit to the surreal lakefront college campus that is "Mainside"; the weird world of the Fire Fighters Training School ("Light 'Em and Fight 'Em!"; "No Skylarking!"; "Remove your masks and exit the gas chamber!"); and a young man's fancies turn to Bosa Donuts.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator Is Always Intense: Introduction Part Two

(If you haven't read part one of the introduction yet, click here, or click squeer.)

I feel I need to do a little more introductory work before plunging into the full mania of the story I think I'll call "The Life of a Golf Course Tractor Operator Is Always Intense." But I'll keep it pretty short. No point getting into "I was born in a log cabin ..." territory.

Anyway, I already went into the contrasts between my present self -- an overfed, scraggly-bearded, reclining gnome -- and my 1986 self -- a Department of Defense Recreational Services Tractor Operator at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center golf course.

So now I want to go, briefly, into the contrasts between my 1986 self ... and my 1985 self. (Ironically, there are few contrasts between my 1985 self and my 2006 self, except that I'm much fatter, drink a lot, and am slightly more successful at growing facial hair.)

First of all, in 1985, I weighed about four troy ounces. OK, about 115 lbs. I was your quintessential ectomorphic nerdwad. I liked computers, Doctor Who, and The Who. Posting this photo should prove once and for all that I have no shame (or judgment) -- this is me in March 1985 at my high school in Lake Forest (I went to school in Gurnee, but a crazy student burned it down in December 1984 one night, so they sent us to an empty campus in Lake Forest for my last semester), accepting an award at the school computer fair for a game my friend Payman and I programmed (well, he programmed it ... I mostly just made up the story, puzzles, and a lot of jokes).

Yeah, this is me, Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss, at age 17:

OK. Flash forward to October 1986. By the waning weeks of one season cutting grass at the Great Lakes NTC golf course, I had become this:

I intend this story to be the story of that transformation.

NEXT TIME: I tell Bugs Bunny, "Go fuck yourself, I quit," and The Stickler sets me up with a new job in swabby-land.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I ran over a box of madeleines with the bush-hog, and memory crumbs coated the blades of grass with words like pollen: Great Lakes Golf Course: Intro

The contrast between what I am doing this summer and what I was doing during the summer of 1986 is pretty striking. Yeah, I know, it's 20 years, no shit the differences are striking, but ... they're striking nonetheless. They're holding out for better benefits, and they are pretty pissed off about unsafe working conditions, too.

We have a heat wave underway in frickin' Chicago right now, and I'm hiding in the a/c cocoon like the Swedish melt-a-pop I am, but when I was young, skinny, and hyperkinetic, I worked for six ... no, seven ... no wait, shit, eight summers in a row in the goddamn out of doors. During the day.

Yeah, those of you who know me may think of me (more or less correctly) as an effete ex-lawyer writer-type-guy with a weakness for pop-cultural geekery and a general timidity in regard to the outside world. You may also think of me as an introverted, sedentary, fat, pasty, pigeon-chested basement-dweller who regards bright sunlight as a divine punishment for Levitican misdeeds (also accurate, as far as it goes). But I used to be a groundskeeper, man. Keeping grounds! Above-ground grounds! Four summers for various apartment complexes in and around Illinois (two in Kenosha and two in DeKalb, if you must pry) and four most excellent summers for the Department of Defense (damn right, mutherfuckers) at the golf course on the Great Lakes Naval Training Center up by North Chicago.

That's what I was doing 20 years ago this month. Working at the Great Lakes NTC "Willow Glen" golf course (par 71). Raking sand traps, weedeating around trees, mowing tees and collars (sounds almost sexy, huh? do the tees match the collars? yes! after I'm done mowing them!), changing holes (oh come on, that's too easy), picking up garbage, and driving disparate metal machines around a weird government-issue expanse of 18 fairways, 18 greens, and about 18 bizarre sinkholes ... because the back nine was built (hastily and shoddily) over a landfill. So every other time it rained hard, some hollowed-out pocket formerly occupied by now-decayed (allegedly nontoxic, but you know the government) waste would flush out, leaving nothing to support the sod, and ... whammo ... instant 10 x 10 x 10-foot pit in the ground. And when the holes didn't collapse, you could jam a spade into the spongy bulges in the turf and hold a cigarette lighter up to the gouge in the dirt and make a foot-high blue flame burn for a considerable amount of time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What I am driving at, by way of introduction, is that this was manly work, dammit! The adverb-looking adjectival form of man!

You see the incongruity, right?

Anyway, campers, I think that's what I'm going to serially blog about for a while. The best job, and the best four summers I ever had. So I guess this is the prologue. Actual part one, then, in the near future. There's sex and drugs and rock and roll in the story, if that serves as any enticement to come back.

RANDOM POSTSCRIPT: Ted Blackwelder or Ralph Nemec, if you ever Google-stalk yourself and end up at this page, please leave a comment. And then come back, so you can read the reply. And post another comment after that. etc. You can help me with this.

In Today's Weird News of Gubernatorial Hair Today (still July 14, 2006)

Surprising (or not) news in this year's exciting Battle of the Springfield Coifs: Gov. Blecch-oyvey-ovich (D - nominally) leads Doody Jar So-stinka (R - but the "fun" kind!) by 11 points in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll.

OK, Rasmussen. You win this round. Kudos to you for that.

We're still working on the latest CBRAT poll (Excel is hard!), but so far, there's a real race underway. Early numbers show "None of the Above" and "Oh My God, Why? WHY???" currently in a virtual tie for front-runner, with 30- and 31-point leads, respectively, over the nearest challenger, NBC-5's Bob Sirott. Blagojevich and Topinka are not even showing up in the measurable results, but the CBRAT poll does have a margin of error of approximately 175 points, give or take, so what we're saying is, it's up for grabs. Grabs!

In Today's News of the Weird World Today
In Today's World News of the Wide Today (July 14, 2006)

In today's news of the weird world today, Steve Albini's producing a Steve Dahl song.

I’m going to be working on my new White Sox song, Win Or Die Trying with the band Metalhead and legendary producer, Steve Albini most of the day on Saturday. I say my song, even though Bob Fedderson from Metalhead wrote it, because I plan on changing some of the lyrics so that I own a piece of it too. That’s why they call it show business.

Hey Dahl, he prefers to be called "recording engineer." He doesn't like the word "producer," for some reason. But then he's a little bitty twerp, so who cares what he thinks.

PRODUCTION NOTE: I'm thinking I should change the name of this feature, if it becomes a recurring thing, because it sounds too much like "News of the Weird," which everybody knows and loves and/or hates and/or is indifferent about.

Maybe for this post only, I'll change it to "In Today's World News of the Wide Today." It is about Steve Dahl, after all.

Bush Defender Speaks Up Regarding the Previous Post

"It's flawed science," says O.B. of Jersey City. "Millions of monkeys, but only two George Bushes."

I had no idea you were such a fan of the preznit, O.B. of J.C. And his dad.

Monkeys care little for science. Unless it's the science of fun!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Monkeys or George Bush?

We can guess what this drunk monkey thinks. But what does the Internet think?

Monkeys or George Bush?

Here is the number of Google hits for the phrase:

"I love monkeys" -- 70,300

"I love George Bush" -- 18,700

"I hate monkeys" -- 12,500

"I hate George Bush" -- 31,600

"Monkeys rule" -- 34,100

"George Bush rules" -- 15,000

"Monkeys suck" -- 3,730

"George Bush sucks" -- 25,600

"Infinite number of monkeys" -- 91,600

"Infinite number of George Bushes" -- 0

Monkeys or George Bush? The Internet resoundingly says: Monkeys.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I don't drink, therefore I don't blog

Been drying up a little bit this week, due to irrational or not-so-irrational fear of premature death. Hence, no blog posts. It's not so much the lack of sudsy during-writing inspiration that's the problem, as the lack of the promise of a beery after-writing reward. Anyway, sobriety is boring. Boring!

This shall pass, by 'n' by, I'm sure.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

French soccerer Roseanne Roseannadanna to join A.J. Pierzynski on the TNA circuit?

I know soccer players are 100 times the athletes that baseball players are. I mean, they have to gambol up and down a "pitch" like petulant forest creatures for 90 minutes, whereas baseball players are routinely injured by sneezing.

But come on. I haven't seen a ridiculously overplayed fall like this outside of cable access semi-pro wrestling. Am I cynical, or was there a litle drama added by the Italian dude?

Or maybe Italian guys just are really bad at staying on their feet.

Oh snap! Yes I did! I worked a subtle dig at Kev into a stupid World Cup throwaway post.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

No more blogs about buildings and food

Doesn't it seem like every other blog is all about restaurant reviews and what people made for dinner? I like to eat and I like to cook, and sometimes I enjoy reading people's blogs about food, but ... I think there's more than enough.

And buildings. It seems like at least once a week, all of the major Chicago-oriented blogs and/or online mags degenerate into flame wars over condo conversions and the latest developments in the blandification of the city's architecture. I ... don't even wanna express an opinion. Although I don't make enough money to buy a place in this neighborhood -- whether you call it Andersonville, or Andersonville Terrace, or Andersonville SoFo (South of Foster -- yes, I have heard people call it that), or good old Uptown -- I'm sure I play some role in the gentrification process somehow and can't afford to throw stones about it. And once at the Hopleaf Bar, a German economist pressed a pretty spirited (if, in my opinion, unconvincing) argument that I am, in fact, a "yuppie." So I try not to gripe about the buildings.

But I haven't yet promised that I wouldn't write about any. So here's an attempt at a brief tour of a few of my favorite local landmarks.

Changes are happening fast in Uptown and Edgewater -- not just teardowns but gut rehabs aplenty -- the Goldblatt's Building's conversion into a Borders, for instance. And of course there's the famous old theaters and night spots, some still operating -- like the Riv and the Aragon -- and some not -- like the Uptown. I think the world itself would stop rotating on its axis if the Green Mill went away. And perhaps my favorite Uptown building of all, in terms of sheer good looks, the Uptown National Bank (now Bridgeport Bank) at Broadway and Lawrence, seems like it will last a good while. (If you've never been inside that building, go in. It's beautiful.)

Some places are gone. For example, the Rainbo on Clark Street, which spent its last several years as a seedy roller rink before being razed for a condo development, but lived lives as a nightclub, casino, vaudeville house, and rock venue before that -- nothing but a construction zone now. John Dillinger celebrated his 31st birthday there. And Larry Fine was hired as a member of the Three Stooges there.

Enough said about the famous places. The three buildings I want to blog about now are a little more obscure. Nothing dramatically arcane (if I had the energy and resources, I might do a survey of the locations used in Haskell Wexler's outstanding picture, "Medium Cool," much of which was filmed in Uptown, but that's another post for another time), but maybe you don't know them yet.

1. Essanay Studios

I don't know how famous my first stop on the tour actually is, but to me, it's a major, major landmark. The first stop on the tour is the Essanay Studios building at 1345 W. Argyle Street, just a couple blocks from the CBRAT headquarters. The building houses St. Augustine College now, but for a few years in the nineteen-teens, it was a major motion picture production facility. Wikipedia has a decent entry on Essanay Studios, so I won't go into the basics, but what I can't help but mention is that Charlie Chaplin filmed a few movies there before moving to Hollywood, and he used to hang out at the Green Mill after work. Sometimes when I'm walking to the post office or something, which (if I take a slightly circuitous route, as I usually do) takes me past both Essanay and the Mill, I like to imagine the Little Tramp heading out for a drink after a long day under the lights.

Also, I feel a slight personal connection to Essanay. The studio was started by a man named George Spoor, who used to work in the vaudeville biz at a theater up in Waukegan, my sorta home town. He teamed up with an inventor named Edward Amet to build a device called the Magniscope -- which some say was the first practical 35-millimeter movie projector. I can't find definite evidence, but I've been told that they used to film early Western flicks (Tom Mix movies, allegedly) on the sand dunes at what is now Illinois Beach State Park in nearby Zion. The pair parted company, and Spoor moved to Chicago to start Essanay Studios with Bronco Billy Anderson.

I call it a personal connection, because the Amet and Spoor story was featured heavily in an unfinished novel I worked on between 1994 and 2000, which was set in Waukegan. When I moved to this neighborhood, in 1998, and stumbled on the Essanay building quite by accident, I was thrilled pink. And I'm still excited about it.

Essanay Studios, check it out sometime if you're in the vicinity. There's not much to see anymore, but the historically preserved entryway is kind of neat. I have a foto of it that I took myself someplace in my archives, but for simplicity's sake, here's a similar shot stolen rudely from Wikipedia.

2. Bob Hartley's House

Moving north up Sheridan Road, up at the far end of Kathy Osterman Beach is another of my favorites -- not for its intrinsic beauty, but for its pop-culture geek appeal. The Thorndale Beach Apartments, 5901-5855 N. Sheridan Road, were used in exterior shots to represent Bob & Emily Hartley's apartment building in the old Bob Newhart Show, which aired on CBS from 1972 to 1978, and in reruns forever.

The Bob Newhart Show is probably my favorite TV show, and, for better or worse, watching it as a little kid formed a lot of my ideas about "being an adult." Little did I know that I'd turn out not to be like Bob, but more like Howard Borden, the addle-headed divorced neighbor, but I'll take it. Howard lived here, too!

This is really not a remarkable looking building at all -- there are dozens of high-rises on Sheridan Road that look just like it. But now that I know where it is, I can hardly go anyplace on the Far North Side without thinking about Bob, Emily, and Howard.

I can't find a picture of it right now, so instead here's a picture I took at the dedication ceremony in 2004 for the TV Land Bob Newhart statue (careful CBRAT readers will notice a TV Land statue trend to this blog) downtown, which was held next to the building on "Boule Mich" that they used for the exterior shots for Bob's office building. (Bob's being interviewed by the Today Show in this picture, remotely. By the way, if you don't blink, I'm visible in a few of the crowd shots in the special that TV Land made about the ceremony. Yeah, I know, big deal.)

3. Ken Nordine's House

I don't have a picture of this one either, and if I did, I don't think I'd post it, because I don't think it'd be cool to post a foto of an actual guy's actual house. But, yes, I have found this place, and have made one or two pilgrimages there on marathon walks up to Rogers Park. I include it only because Ken Nordine is one of my favorite artists, and I've always really enjoyed the fact that he lives nearby.

You know Ken Nordine, right? I figure most people reading this blog are familiar with Word Jazz, and anyone who watched TV or listened to radio at any time over about four decades has heard his voice, whether or not they knew it, in about a million commercial voice-overs. Ken Nordine has the best voice on earth. I could listen to the guy read actuarial tables and have a good time. A few years ago I went to see him present some of his short video pieces at the Siskel Center, and while standing in line to get in, I heard a conversation taking place behind me, and shivered at an instantly recognizable tone. Ken Nordine and his wife were waiting in line right behind me. I just about came, I tell you what.

Anyway, Ken Nordine's house is way up on Kenmore Ave. not far from Loyola University, on a stretch of the street that's ceremonially named after Ken (Ken Nordine Place, if I recall correctly). Here's a nice description of the house that I'll just lift (because that's what the Internet is for, dammit) from here

Nordine refers to his home as a "big old yesterday house," and the description is apt. It is three stories tall, 94 years old and very brown. It squats in a block of bland apartments in a working-class section of Edgewater. The front porch reveals a slate of mailboxes and buzzers with all the names removed save two: Ken Nordine and Beryl Vaughan, husband and wife of 50 years. When they were younger, they rented off some of the big old yesterday house to bring in extra money. But Nordine has done well for himself over the years and now the house, all 17 rooms of it, is theirs alone.

So that's my personal tour of some of my very favorite Uptown and Edgewater buildings. If anyone has any more to add, mi comments section es tu comments section. Thanks.

This unhealthy lifestyle can't be healthy for my health

One thing about having a slacky job like I have, and generally few or no entanglements of any kind at all in life, coach, is that the situation has really nurtured my bad habits. Instead of somehow turning into the responsible grown-up I theoretically was supposed to turn into at some point, here I am pushing 40, and I still like to stay up all night and sleep all day ... about four times a week.

By the time I'm done drinking coffee and checking the important spots on the web, it's the middle of the afternoon. And you know what that means -- yep. It's close enough to happy hour to happy it up ... for the next 12 hours.

It's a pathetic and aimless life, but somebody's gotta live it, dammit. Until it kills me. Which I figure could happen at any second now.

ADDENDUM: Welp, I dragged myself outside into the sunshine for a couple hours and took a walk over to Foster Ave. Beach and down to Montrose Harbor and back, for about five miles' worth of strolling in total, so now I feel totally healthy enough for another Saturday night of dumping toxins into my system like it's some kind of New Jersey. Woo hoo!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Chicago, fool!

Conan O'Brien tours the South Side with Mr. T (!), visits Sox Park, takes B.P. with Jermaine "Tito" Dye, and ... just watch it.

In other South Side Chicago news, I pity the fool who still believes the right to free speech exists in this country:

This afternoon, drinking a cup of coffee while sitting in the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center on Chicago’s south side, a Veterans Administration cop walked up to me and said, "OK, you’ve had your 15 minutes, it’s time to go."

"Huh?", I asked intelligently, not quite sure what he was talking about.

"You can’t be in here protesting," officer Adkins said, pointing to my Veterans For Peace shirt.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chicks Dig Scars, Don't They?: GBV-in-Minneapolis-Gate: Conclusion

There we stood on the sidewalk, helpless, stupefied, as Kev spouted crimson from some kind of badly severed forehead artery. None of us had a cell phone, so we couldn't even call the EMTs. And the formerly meek populace of Minneapolis took its opportunity for revenge, mocking us -- mocking us! -- from their passing SUVs.

One yokel in a Hummer passed on some advice while speeding by. "Apply direct pressure!" he shouted. "In bed!!!"

So Kev died. He bled to death in our arms.

No no no. No, that didn't happen.

Actually, a helpful pedestrian gave Kev some Kleenex® brand tissue paper, which I'm sure made all the difference between slow, painful death and sweet, clinically depressed life.

But here's where the controversial part muscles its brawny controversy into the hotly controverted uhh thing. Although Kev clearly needed medical attention, he refused to go to the emergency room. Did we argue with him? Yes. Did we argue hard enough? That's the disputed issue. At any rate, he didn't go.

While Kev may be descended from royalty (I don't have the consanguinity data handy, but I think he's a shirttail relation of Prince), thankfully he's not a hemophiliac, so after a few minutes his head wound did clot, and he decided he just wanted to go home. So that's what we did. The bulk of the party took care of assisting Kev the rest of the way to the car; I took care of supporting Des, who at that point had just about lost all of his sea legs. I'm not a big guy, and 200-odd lbs. of liquid human ... yeah, I know ... poor STDPM.

Sure, we all suffered. Right. Kev suffered a three-inch gash to the forehead, and I suffered a beer headache and a stifling, mostly sleepless night on a futon, involuntarily bunked next to a snoring, night-terror-babbling ... brrr. Still shudder to remember it. I know it's wrong to be self-centered here, but please give me a break -- I'm a trained advocate, after all, and I'm my own best client.

Then the morning came, as such bastard ass fuckers always do (I'm not a morning person by any means), and Patton-slapped us, but hard. Kev, who's made of a lot stronger stuff than Dirt Moss, had to go to work, and put in, I think, about half a day. The rest of us, after coming to terms with our probable deep need for several twelve-step programs, had a pretty, believe it or not, pleasant day in a cafe near the Mississippi River, catching up on Paul Westerberg's doings in alternative newspapers and idle stuff like that. One of the papers had a review of a foreign movie -- it seemed kind of like a goofy Norwegian "Odd Couple" type picture -- that I made a mental note to try and remember to see if and when it came to Chicago -- or, more likely, to look for the DVD when it came out.

Anyway, after work, Kev decided he'd better see a doc after all. By then, of course, it was too late for stitches, and nothing could be done to prevent the inevitable big scar above his eyebrow. Not that it'll hurt his looks, the handsome devil. If anything, it should add some ruggedness to his boyish charm. "This one? This one I got in a duel with a Calabrese countess whose advances I spurned on a moonless night. Little did I know she had such prowess with a saber. Such beauty, so quick to anger," etc.

After we collected Kev from the hospital, we aimed to salvage some good times out of the rest of the visit, and just have a nice, trouble-free evening. But the visit had other ideas. I guess the visit just hated Kev. Maybe fate itself hates Kev -- he sometimes seems to think so. Do you know what Kev's birthday is? It's September 11. I remember talking to him in 2001, and he was pretty sure that the whole burgoo was specifically intended to wreck his birthday forever.

All right, nothing particularly horrible happened -- which is kind of a shame, from the perspective of this narrative, which depends on the "some horrible stuff happened, which we can all laugh about now" technique of storytelling -- but Kev's Girlfriend's car died, which was unpleasant enough. We'd gone out for pizza, which was decent, and a couple of us even had a Grain Belt or two as a hangover remedy. But after dinner ... that damn car ... rr, rr, rr ... rrrrr ... rr, rrrrr, rrr .... that damn car just wouldn't start. Maybe it didn't even make any rr sounds -- I can't remember. Maybe it just sat there like a useless fucker. At any rate, we were more or less stranded, and whatever plans we had (those I can't recall at all) were ruined.

So we took a walk to a nearby business district to look for something to do while maybe the car decided to fix itself by magic. And on the marquee of an old movie theater, there it was -- "Norwegian Comedy -- Elling." It was the movie I'd read about earlier in the day. And nothing could have been more beautifully Minnesota -- no place else in America are they going to pimp a comedy by touting its Norwegianness.

So we caught the flick, and it was great. And we took the bus back to Kev's place, and we all lived happily ever after. If scarred for life.


We dunnit! We punched A.J.!

Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski makes the 2006 All-Star team as the American League fans' Final Vote choice.

And from the looks of this foto, not only is A.J. the colickyest of all Soxes (which is saying a lot, the Sox being a very colicky team indeed), he is also well on his way to making his transformation into Darth Vader. (Cue ominous John Williams music. Or, even more ominously, Paul Williams music.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's OK, Mr. Kotter, I gotta note

Please excuse little Stronger Than Dirt from blogging today. He's having a hard time switching back to a diurnal schedule after the long weekend of all-night beer binges and is much too tired to blog.


Stronger Than Dirt's mother.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Together, Drinking, and Afraid: Fear and Bleeding in the Twin Cities: GBV-in-Minneapolis-Gate Part Three

Temptation's page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you'd just be
One more person crying.

"It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" - Bob Dylan

We now return to this GBV concert, already in progress. (Some drinking etc.)

Rock rock rock. Rock rock rock. Rock rock rock. Rock rock rock.

Rockrockrockrockrock! Rockrock rockrock rockrockrock!

I don't know if it was so much the rockrockrock that went to our heads, as the feeling of power that comes from being looked upon with sheer horror and revulsion by a bunch of Minnesotans. Hahaha! You dead-eyed fuckers! This is fucking GBV, not your gramma's birthday party!

All right, you miserable worms, you don't know how to rock? We'll take you to boot camp. We'll drill you good!

Dirty half-dozen, faaaalll iiinn!! Roll call: Kev? Yo! Feral Mom? Yo! STDPM? Yo! Local-Guy Adam? Yo! Des? Des? Des!!! Yo-yo!!! Kev's Girlfriend? Oh, OK, yo. Yo, already, you hopping cretins. Yo if you must.

Sorry, KG. You might be the draftee in this unit, but you're in the army now. The buddy's life you save may be your own.

Company! Drop down and ...

Oh wait. No, you probably shouldn't do that. There seems to be a lot of broken glass on the floor.

Oops. I wonder how that got there.

Well, all right, let's stay on our feet. Let's all link arms and flail around in a circle. Faster ... faster ... The centrifugal force should make it easier to stay upright ...

Or not.

So it's every man and/or woman for his and/or herself, then. Freestyle balance techniques are in order. Establish a beachhead and pogo. Pogo for your life. Only ... watch out, Des, I think that's enemy territory.

Wow, that's a lot of tattoos and piercings on that big guy coming over here. And he's certainly walking with a purpose.

They got Des! Holy fuck! They got Des! And where's Local-Guy Adam? LGA! LGA!!! Oh man, LGA's missing in action! LGA's MIA!

Yeah, we were in the shit.

You know what they say about the fog of war. It's foggy. I headed to the rear to see if I could locate our fallen comrades. For one thing, I would have felt bad going back to Chicago without Des. It would have been a sad scene with the parents. That knock on the door, that solemn-faced messenger. "I regret to inform you ..."

OK ... Des and LGA haven't been killed, just captured. They've been escorted out the door, politely shown the exit ... because even the bouncers are nice guys at this place. I don't think Des had any idea what was going on, so he wasn't even suffering a wound to his pride or dignity (assuming he has any to begin with) ... and LGA could babysit him for a while. Which is good, because I wanted to get back to the front for "Cut-out Witch."

They say that if a fighting force suffers a 25% rate of casualties it inflicts irreversible psychological damage on the survivors. OK, Spalding Gray said that, but I believe him. We had already exceeded that figure, but the show was wrapping up, the war was just about over. But it's another fact of war that the danger doesn't end when the primary hostilities cease.

After the last encore, the rest of us mustered on the sidewalk waiting for our passes to the separation center, where we'd be discharged back to civilian life. Actually, we were waiting for Des and LGA, who were nowhere to be seen. And it was getting quiet out there, which was making me get nervous again. Downtown Minneapolis is a pretty quiet place at night. I was beginning to get the idea that it was going to be a challenge to get back to the car, let alone back to Kev's hotbox of a house. My head was starting to hurt and I wanted a cigarette. I think I forgot to bring any to the show, and had been bumming some from LGA during the course of the evening, or else I had run out. Anyway, where the fuck was LGA? And Des? Des could be halfway to Hong Kong by now, shanghaied by indiscriminate merchant marines. I really didn't enjoy that wait.

But after what was probably only 10 minutes or so, the knuckleheads, both of them, came wobbling from around some corner, and we steeled ourselves for a forced march through the mostly deserted central business district.

It's kind of ironic, given the unfavorable rating I got after all of this was over, but I was feeling pretty much like a mother hen on this walk. Jeezis, don't go through there! That's a construction zone! You'll step on a nail! Etc. Plus, I had a vague but nagging fear of getting arrested. We were making a lot of noise and looking pretty conspicuous, and I kept having to stop Des from hailing cabs, because he clearly thought we were back in Chicago. His reptilian survival instincts were only going to get us into trouble here, I figured. Somehow I didn't think any Minneapolis cops would find it funny that a drunken fool was weaving into the street to catch a ride back to Schiller's place on the North Side of a whole nother city entirely.

But it started to look like everything was gonna be all right, so I started feeling groovy again. And then I saw something that made me very excited and made me make everyone stop for a minute. The Mary Tyler Moore statue. I like that kind of stupid stuff. Mary! Who can turn the world on with her smile!

I didn't know then, but I know now, the giant moose in Black River Falls was not, as FM suggested, the bad omen in this story. That goddamn TV Land Mary Tyler Moore statue, heaving its stupid bronze tam o'shanter into the air -- THAT was the bad omen.

Because about 15 seconds later, after everybody had dragged my silly ass away from the corny pop-culture monument ... oy. Or, in local parlance, uff da. I think the ghost of Ted Knight stuck his foot out or something, because Kev -- the athlete among us, the last guy you'd expect it from -- tripped and tumbled forward, hard. Hard. I didn't see it well, but from the sound of it, I could tell right away that it was not good. You know the sound effect on Gilligan's Island when a coconut would hit the Skipper on the noggin? Same noise. You know that feeling you get when something slapsticky happens, but you know it's not funny? Yeah. That feeling.

Wow. I have known for a long time that even small head wounds bleed a lot, but it never stops being surprising to see it in action. Every wrestler with any proficiency at blade jobs knows it. Head wounds pump gore. And this'n was a doozy. New Jack hardly caused worse punishment to Mass Transit in that infamous ECW show.


So there we were, dazed, intoxicated, shards of glass stuck in the soles of our sneakers. Des still thinking we were a short Checker ride from a couch to crash on in Lakeview. Kev sitting on the sidewalk next to a bike rack not oozing but gushing red and wondering why God hates him so, so much.

And I think we'll stop here for today. Resolution, denouement, and epilogue in the next, and last, part. To paraphrase Frank Zappa from "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch," Do they make it? Boy, we sure hope so!

[Factuality note: I appear to have gotten the date wrong back in part one. According to the GBV database, it appears that the show was on June 27, 2002, not June 28, although asking me to remember is unreasonable. Unreasonable! In case of geeky interest in such things, the setlist is here:]

Know your rights

You have the right to free speech. As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it.

Anti-War Activists Arrested At Taste Of Chicago

Activists Were Leafleting Near Military Recruitment Booth

(CBS) CHICAGO Anti-war activists were competing with deep dish pizza and fried catfish at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park this weekend.

Six people were arrested while trying to pass out leaflets on Sunday near military recruiters.

The flyers were entitled, “Bitter Taste of the Military.”

The activists were part of multiple peace organizations, including Code Pink, the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism, and the American Friends Service Committee’s Chicago Committee Opposed to the Militarization of Youth and Contra Antimilitaricion, according to a news release.

The activists arrested included one senior citizen and one juvenile. Police arrested them when they refused to leave.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Booze Is All Around: GBV-in-Minneapolis-Gate Part Two

Where were we? Oh yeah, I think I was attempting to displace some generalized nervousness into some kind of giant fiberglass animal. Have I ever mentioned that I don't travel well? It did work, distracting myself with the best product to come out of Black River Falls since Wisconsin Death Trip, and one of The Middle West's finest roadside oddities. And riding shotgun for the rest of the trip didn't hurt either. Have I ever mentioned that I hate to drive?

OK, so the rest of the trip along I-94 was more or less uneventful ... or at least I don't remember much, other than a constant quest for listenable radio. (This will probably be, I'll warn you now, the mild chapter in the saga, but it should contain plenty of dark, dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Those of you craving blood and rage will have to wait for the third chapter.) I hadn't been to the Twin Cities since a job interview in St. Paul in the summer of 1993 for a clerkship gig with the Minnesota Supreme Court (which, sadly, I didn't get, probably due to lack of local connections, but also, I think, because Alan Page didn't like me, but I digress).

Anyway, I was happy to see the place. I don't have roots in Minnesota, but my grandfather came from South Dakota, and being a good part-Swede, I find that the whole region feels pretty much naturally like home ground. And of course I was happy to be seeing my old ex-roomie again. I think Des will agree, Kev's the best ex-roomie ever.

And, of course, the main attraction was just a few hours away, the excuse for the journey, the Guided By Voices show at First Avenue.

Unfortunately, as Des reminded me last night, Minneapolis was hot that day. Africa hot. Nobody told me it was gonna be that hot.* Des blames the heat for the immediate headfirst plummet into an Olympic-sized puddle of hard liquor, and I'm not inclined to dispute that.

At any rate, I had gotten too far away from Dr. Big Orangey The Fake Moose Therapist, and was doing laps in my own pool of free-floating anxiety (I should work harder on this metaphor, but screw it), so I didn't drink a lot. I won't get into a full box score of who drank what and how frighteningly fast, but I'm pretty sure I was the second-least drunken in the party (which, I think, worked against me later in the Kev's Girlfriend Court of Justice, but it's skipping ahead in the narrative to mention that, and I don't know if I'm even going to go into that subplot, so never mind).

Actually, this part of the story is in danger of getting pretty fucking dull. Everybody hates "Oh my god we got so drunk" stories. Well, people like to tell them, but they're usually painful to the listener. So I don't want to fixate on that, and I'll just say that there was too much liquor drunk and not enough calzones eaten at the pre-show dinner at Kev's house for people in their mid-30s to be proud about it.

The only noteworthy detail, I think, is that The Des ... The Des. Now, I love The Des like a brother, but on the walk over to the show, I came pretty close to having to put him down. And I don't mean insult him. I mean he was the drunkard equivalent of a racehorse with a broken leg. We hadn't even gotten to the club yet and he was like a sailor on his first shore leave. Although if he had been a sailor, he would probably have been wearing bell bottoms and would have tripped over his pants legs and broken his neck right then. Saving us a lot of trouble.

I wasn't keeping any of this to myself, either. During that long, long walk (I know we drove to the general vicinity of the club, but the walk from the car to First Ave. seemed to take just short of forever) I threatened Des with all sorts of Uday & Qusay treatments if he didn't get hold of himself. (Which he didn't.) And I promised to make him feel it, numb drunk or not. (I don't think he was listening.) Maybe I have some anger and hostility issues, I'll admit that, but bad, bad things had happened to (and by) Des at GBV shows before, and being several hours from home base, I wasn't feeling equipped to deal with any of that. I just wanted to rock, dammit.

Not that I wanted to be a wet blanket, either. Or to endure the show sober. I've sat thru GBV shows sober, and it's not much fun. It's kind of like going to a sex orgy and spending the evening playing Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of Republicans. Republican dudes. Or something like that. It just ain't right, is what I'm trying to say.

So we got to the club alive and got inside, and the next two items on the agenda were beer buying and pee peeing. I think we peed first, then bought beer. It was cool inside the club and the cool air felt good. (That's the Nick Adams sentence of the story, by the way -- the Hemingway character, not the dead actor.)

And we were pumped, we were hyped, we were feeling great. We were ready for rock. Whether or not rock was ready for us. The P.A. was blasting Who songs and we were into it. (We didn't yet know that John Entwistle had died, and I'm glad for that.)

I already brought up the big glass beer bottles in the first chapter. We had a round of Newcastles or something before the show started, which was innocent enough, and stood around getting acclimated. I was wondering if the GBV fans were all gonna show up late, because everybody in the club so far seemed unusually sedate, more like they were waiting for a Noam Chomsky lecture than a rock show. At GBV shows, I usually had to eyeball the crowd to try to figure out which jamokes were likely to want to punch me in the face for no reason and then make escape plans for avoiding them when things got roiling, but at this show, the crowd seemed to be full of 23-year-old versions of all my Swedish aunts and uncles -- to call them reserved and understated would be too reserved and understated. The type of people who, when you tell them a joke they find really hilarious, let you know by lifting the corners of their mouths slightly for about half a second. It was a rock club full of goddamn Garrison Keillor characters, for crying out loud.

Mind you (and Feral Mom alluded to this in a comment to the first post), our group was not made up of what anybody would call hooligans. Or roustabouts. Or rowdies. Or even lunkheaded, corn-fed frat boys with heads full of baseball caps and rape fantasies -- which is what comprised GBV's standard audience in Chicago. We're all pretty much polite ... nerds. Nice people. (I mean, I'm listening to a Gordon Lightfoot song** right now, for Christ's sake.)

But unlike the fine local people, pink-cheeked with checked emotions, we weren't holding our feelings back. And we were feeling pretty exuberant. Not rude, not crazy, just exuberant. Which was no sin, so far.

Then GBV took the stage, and in line with our surging enthusiasm, three members of our six-person party decided to go on a beer run during about the second or third song without telling anybody else. So we all ended up with not just one, not two, but three sweaty 22-oz beer bottles in our soft uncallused college-educated fists.

And then, we started to dance.

To be continued ...


* Inspirational music suggestion, Alice Cooper's "It's Hot Tonight"

It's hot tonight
Too hot for talkin'
It's hot tonight

I sweat tonight
I sweat, no sleeping
It's too hot tonight

Dogs are barkin'
Cats are screamin'
Streets are steamin'
God's own heat's the devil's demon

My turn tonight
To burn with fever
I burn tonight

I smoke tonight
I'm all on fire
It's damn hot tonight

Summer nights they
Make me crazy
Make me all hazy

It's hot tonight
It's too hot for talkin'
It's hot tonight

I sweat tonight
I sweat, no sleeping
It's too hot tonight

Dogs are barkin'
Cats are screamin'
Streets are steamin'
God's own heat's the devil's demon, yeah

** "Alberta Bound"

There's kerosene around! (Never anything to do in this town ... lived here my whole life)

At Simon's Tavern last week, I mentioned, while discussing among a small group of rock and roll nerds the topic of the constant stream of rock band reunions (e.g., Gang of Four, Blue Cheer, Os Mutantes), that I would like to see Big Black reunite.

I was scoffed at. Scoffed! "Don't hold your breath," I think somebody said.


OK, can you keep a secret? We just found out about more bands playing the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary Celebration. The first? Arcwelder. They never come around any more, so here's your chance. Xerxes, Pull, Everest... they’ll be pulling songs from all the classics. It will be awesome.

But that’s not all. Get a load of this: Big Black is gonna play a couple songs. For real. Big Black. Now, they’re not playing a full set or anything... just a couple songs, but who cares how many they play? This is Big Black, playing live, for the first time in nearly 20 years! And it’s the old school line-up: Albini, Durango, Pezzati.