Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Poochie

You all know Dear Abby, right? Or perhaps you're more familiar with her counterpart, Ann Landers? They offered advice concerning problems confided by readers. Generally, the advice was of a common sense nature, helpful in making a solution clearer or more easily reached. And both women became fabulously well-to-do as a result.

I'd like to do that. That is, I'd like to become fabulously well-to-do. As for offering helpful advice, does my track record indicate an even a remote possibility of doing so? No. However, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again (if he doesn't get run over first) so anything's possible.

What I'm getting at here, via the same torturous route I'll be taking in replying to your missives, is that I want you to write me with your problems and dilemmas; maybe even a conundrum or two. I will, in turn, offer you my best advice, answer, kick in the ass, or whatever else seems appropriate.

Write to me at, or - if you're so much of a lazy sot that you can't be bothered with the tedium of going all the way to your e-mail - put your question in the comments section. All questions, requests for advice, and other annoyances, received by 5pm EST on Friday, will be given an answer in this space on Monday.

(You really should ask me for advice on something. It's the most fun you're likely to get out of this space before Monday, as I'll be re-running another piece I've already re-run three times come Friday.)

Soon, with... well, that's sort of up to you now, isn't it?

Monday, March 29, 2010

What Did I Have In Common With Coffee?

THURSDAY, 4:05pm

Just had three teeth removed, and here I sit waiting for the Percocets to kick in. The Novocain hasn’t worn off yet, so I’m in no pain either way. I’m just typing until the friendly buzz settles, which should be about twenty minutes if I remember my pharmacology (which I do, rest assured.)

The extractions were relatively easy. The teeth were so bad, they probably would have gotten up and walked out of my mouth on their own if I just waited a few more months. In any case, my most excellent dentist popped all three of them in about five minutes, tops.

Funny dentist: After doing the extractions, my dentist told his assistant to save the teeth, rather than disposing of them. When she asked why, he said, “I’m going to use them to calibrate the x-ray.” Seems he usually uses a coin, or something similarly small, to do the job, but he figured why not use actual teeth now that he had some in his possession? When I asked if I could see the teeth, he feigned indignation, saying, "No! They’re my teeth now! Bwah-Hah-Hah!"

I did get to see them, though, and... Yuck! Seriously scarred, pitted, and almost three-quarters fillings from years of abuse, if I had known exactly what they looked like from all angles I might have yanked them myself a while back.

When he revealed his use for my teeth, I was going to crack wise and say, "Well, since you needed them, I can charge you, right?" I kept quiet, however, because I didn’t want to take any chance at queering his writing out of the prescription for the percs. Who knows? If he took offense for some reason, I might have ended up with St. Joseph’s orange-flavored aspirin for children.

I can tell the percs are kicking in because the idea of chewing on a Saint Joseph’s orange-flavored aspirin actually has a certain appeal at the moment. See you later!

FRIDAY, 9:03am

The good thing about taking Percocets, aside from the obvious pain relief, is that they make everything interesting. You have this nice yawny sort of hum happening in your head, and it lowers your intelligence and reaction time to an extent where things that might not usually strike you funny do. And things that are truly funny to begin with become extremely so (as long as they aren’t too cerebral, in which case you miss a few current jokes while you’re trying to figure out a previous one.)

The bad thing about taking Percocets, aside from the obvious potential for addiction or death – if you’re dumb and don’t read up on the drugs you’re taking before you take them, which task I have never neglected – is that they make everything interesting. So, while your gray matter is telling you that you really should turn out the lights and try to get some shuteye, the other part of your brain, believing that it is actually accomplishing something worthwhile, has decided that it’s really important and fascinating to find out what your softball team’s lifetime batting averages are. So, I kept drinking coffee and scribbling numbers in a notebook long after when I should have been snoring. The result is that I’m operating on about four hours of sleep this morning, have a foul tasting mouth (result of the extraction sites weeping a bit of blood, as well as the leftover coffee and cigarette residue, none of which I can rinse out for another day), and I don’t want to pop another pill just yet because I know, if I do, I’ll find a whole bunch of other stupid stuff to amuse myself and I won’t get to bed until 2 am again, at which point I’ll toss and turn and twitch because I’ll be way overtired, leading to another bad night of sleep and another round of pills and that’s one of the ways to start getting hooked on the things. So, despite a small bit of pain, I’ll forgo a pill in favor of some sleep. And then pop one as soon as I awake.

And it’s snowing.

(That doesn’t have anything to do with the above, really, but I just thought I’d throw it in here because it pisses me off. We just had four or five days of decent spring-like weather, and I was looking forward to our first softball scrimmage on Sunday. Snow makes that a longshot. And, now that I think of it, that DOES have something to do with the above, as the exercise would be a good way to clear my body of the drug residue.)

Let’s see... do I have anything else to ramble about? Well, sure, I always have something else to ramble about. But, I won’t. I think I’ve more than proven that I have nothing of interest to say this morning. See you after my nap.

SATURDAY, 6:55pm

Boy, that was a long nap!

No, not really. I just didn’t feel like writing when I got up. Nothing much to write about, anyway. Napped, got up, took a pill, took another pill, ordered some Chinese food, MY WIFE came home, we ate, watched the Celtics beat Sacramento, took another pill, tried to play the bass a bit, went to bed, got up, did NOT take any more pills because I can’t play the bass worth a damn when I’m on those things and today is the day I was going to Ronnie Bower’s house to jam, which I did, which was fun, came home, and here I am, writing, while the coffee is brewing, and now I’m going to make the coffee, take another pill, and stop writing the world’s unnecessarily longest sentence. See you either before or after softball on Sunday!

SUNDAY, 9:12pm

So, I got up this morning and went down to Smith Field, where we were scheduled to have the first scrimmage of the softball season. My manager, Jack Atton, scheduled this one earlier in the year than we’ve ever had one before. This is because he’s excited about the upcoming season. So am I. I’m a hopeless optimist even when my teams don’t deserve such optimism, but this year it looks as though we have a really outstanding squad shaping up. In years past, I always hoped to win my first championship, but I knew we’d do so as a longshot. This year, if we have the roster I expect, and the other teams in the league return with their same rosters from last year, I’d make us the favorite. That’s an absolute first, and I’m pumped.

However, if nobody on your expected team shows up, you won’t win anything. And that’s what appeared to be happening by 9:00 this morning.

I had, as usual, beaten everyone else to the field. I got there at about 8:30. After stretching, running a few wind sprints up and down the first base line, and exhausting all of the entertainment possibilities inherent in swinging a bat at imaginary pitches, I had pretty much given up hope of any of my teammates showing. As a matter of fact, I had amused myself for the previous five minutes by composing titles for this piece:

55, Minus 3, Plus 36 = Idiot
(My age, how many teeth I had pulled Thursday, the temperature in Fahrenheit – equal to approximately colder than a welldigger’s ass in Celsius – and the entire equation equaling my apparent IQ.)

Oh, Man! How Many Percs Did I Take? Am I Tripping?
(Self-explanatory, I believe.)

What The Fucking Fuck? Where The Fuck Are My Fucking Teammates?

And so on.

Well, maybe Jack saw a thermometer, called or e-mailed everybody else, and I just didn’t get the message that practice was called off. I threw on my jacket, picked up my bat, and started walking across the field to where I had parked my car. I was halfway there when someone behind me called my name.

I turned around and saw Emilio Zirpolo. I walked back toward him. When I got there, he told me he had just gotten off of the phone with Jack, who was running a little late because of traffic and would soon be at the field (which he was, just a minute or so later.) As the three of us talked, Fast Freddy Goodman came through the gate. Soon thereafter, Dave Vargas appeared. In all, we ended up with eight players, which was enough to have some good batting practice and fielding.

It was cold, but after being on the field for ten minutes, it became pleasurable enough. I was moving around decently for an ancient catcher. In my turn with the bat, I hit a few right on the screws (despite having forgotten my glasses and basically seeing a fuzzy ball.) The best thing about playing – and I’ve come to appreciate this more and more with each passing year – is the camaraderie. Not only does this appear to be a good roster, but it also looks to be filled with nice guys.

Three of those who showed were not on the team last year. They were recruited by Jack – a couple with aid from Dave - for the upcoming season. Jack is a great evaluator of talent, and that’s obviously important for a manager, but I think one of his overlooked strengths is that he only asks decent people to play on this team. That is, if a guy is a great player, but a real asshole, Jack doesn’t want him around. I couldn’t agree more. Anyway, as a result, there is very little bad blood on any of our teams.

Dave told a true story in that regard, to the new guys. The first year Dave was on this team, Jack had a previous commitment on the first Sunday of the season. So, after managing the first game of our doubleheader, he left to take care of his other business. I took over as manager for the second game.

In the second inning, Dave is at bat. I don’t really know him too well at this point. The count goes to 3 and 0. The fourth pitch is about two feet above Dave’s head, an obvious ball four. Instead of letting the ball go by, and drawing a walk, Dave takes a phony swing at it, with no intention of hitting the ball. The umpire had no choice but to call a strike. Dave didn’t want the walk, and wanted to take his chances on getting a good pitch to hit on the next delivery.

I exploded. I mean, I went off like a nuclear bomb. I started screaming at Dave, "What in the fuck was that? Take the fucking walk!" and other similar niceties. Now, I don’t normally yell and scream like; it’s not my style at all. However, that just seemed like such a boneheaded play by Dave, as well as a dissing of his teammates. Taking the walk is not only the generally smart thing to do, but if you don’t take it, you’re telling your teammates who hit behind you that you don’t think they can deliver. That’s not cool, at all.

Anyway, I later heard, from someone else, that Dave was really sad about my yelling at him. As it has become apparent to me since then, Dave is one of the sweetest guys on this team. Yelling was not the effective way to deal with the situation. Dave is a smart guy, and if I just spoke to him calmly, it would have been worked out just fine for both of us. Instead, I blew up. I didn’t think. And if David was the kind of asshole some players are, we might have had a big beef and nothing would have been accomplished. The point of my relating this story, though, is to show that, because Jack recruits good people, we didn’t end up as enemies. I’ve grown to respect David greatly as a competitor. He cares, deeply, about winning. And, I should add, he’s never made that play again, nor has he ever given me any other reason to blow up. He’s a funny guy, with a good sense of humor, and in all other ways he has shown himself to be a great teammate. He’s always trying to help other guys, whether by offering you one of his good bats to use during your time up or giving you a tip he’s picked up about the opposing pitcher or just generally keeping things loose. He’s one of the guys I especially look forward to seeing on game day, now, and I hope he feels the same way about me.

I could go on and on about softball, as you know, but you’ll get enough of that as the season gets under way in earnest. Anyway, I’m feeling pretty tired now, what with the nice exercise this morning and the additional percs I took afterward and this evening. Time to hit the sack. Back to work in the morning.

MONDAY, 8:32am

Back to work. I don’t suppose any of this was especially compelling, so I thank you for sticking around. If I had any percs left, I’d gladly give you one.

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. For my teammates, and anyone else interested – maybe Chris M., though I can’t imagine who else – I’ve posted some of those lifetime stats I was working on while I was higher than a kite Thursday night.

P.P.S. As for the title, I was perked. Sorry, but that's the best you're going to get.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ah, Shoot... Look At That Hair...

It turns out that Steve Giusti is even more of a packrat than I am.

Well, that’s sort of starting the story in the middle, and I guess it does Steve a disservice, too. I apologize. Let me try again.

On Saturday, I went out to eat with my old bandmates from Live Wire.

(L - R) Jimi LaRue (my stage name, at the time), Steve Giusti, Ronnie Bower, Ron Frattasio, Marty Sucks (HIS stage name - Marty Murphy all other times. We're all wearing the shirts we sold at gigs. They were probably just delivered that day.

It was great fun. We talked about old times and long-ago people, and we made some tentative plans to get together for some jam sessions. We haven’t played together, as a complete group, in almost 30 years. It should be interesting.

At one point during the dinner, Steve pulled out a scrapbook he had brought along.

Ronnie Bower, Ron Frattasio

It contained all sorts of photos, old ticket stubs from venues we played, miscellaneous memorabilia, and even an original set list from one of our gigs. Great stuff.

Prior to my seeing that collection of his, I assumed I was the only one who had saved much of anything. I had one of our T-shirts, a bumper sticker, a few photos, and (so far as I’m aware) the only recordings of us in existence. When I saw Steve’s book, it blew me away. I asked if I could borrow it, to show to MY WIFE (she and I didn’t meet until 9 years after the group had disbanded, so I thought she’d be interested in seeing some of it.) As I was leaving with his treasures – which I promised to guard with my life, since I knew how much the stuff meant to both of us - Steve suggested that perhaps I could publish some of the items on my blog.

Why, yes, Steve, I do believe that’s something I’d like to do.

Without any further ado – and, for once, I really mean that – here are some of the relics from my previous life.

I know this shot was from when we played The Beachcomber. It was the only gig we ever played where I set up on that side of the stage. And, as it turned out, it was bad luck for me to do so. The gig went alright, and people liked us, but I broke a string (the G) about halfway through our set. I didn't have a spare, so I had to play on only the remaining three for the rest of the night. If anyone had noticed, and known what I was doing, it would have been fairly impressive, but since we were mostly playing our original tunes to a new crowd, for all they knew I always played them on just the three strings.

Just including this one to show the crowd. It's proof that people did actually come to see us play!

This shot doesn't include me, but it's a great shot of the other guys. I want to give them their props, anyway. From left to right...

Ronnie Bower - Guitar, Vocals (A great songwriter with an ear for tremendous pop hooks, he is also a good vocalist. When we sat down to write songs together, they were some of the most pleasurable moments of my creative life.)
Marty "Sucks" Murphy - Lead Vocals, Flute, Sax, Harmonica, Guitar, Percussion (A showman par excellence. Marty worked the crowds like no other. And his instrumental versatility let us spread out quite a bit from standard three-chord bashfests. His flute playing was unique, and good.)
Steve Giusti - Drums (And my favorite drummer, too. We were tight on rhythm, man. Steve's fills played to my strengths and covered my weaknesses. Utterly selfless, he did whatever the rest of us needed. Great guy.)
Ron Frattasio - Lead Guitar (Inventive, powerful, unafraid, but totally lacking in the sort of ego that blows groups apart. He never tried for the spotlight except when it was his turn, and higher praise than that I do not have.)

Some of the tickets Steve saved. Remember that this was 1980 & 1981, so what do those prices translate into these days? Ten dollars? Fifteen dollars? Note the one that has us playing for six hours. Not bad value, eh?

Newspaper clipping following the benefit. I include it not only because we were all proud of the amount of money we raised for the family, but also because it shows that I actually did go by that name then.

Oh, man, look at that hair! People sometimes asked me if I dyed it. Nope. All gone now, of course.

Marty, Me, and Ron F. in a classic pose.

Nu Pixie, Hyde Park.

I'm not positive, but I think this was at McCarthy's, the Mattapan club where we were more-or-less the house band.

My guess, deduced from the fact that Ron's hand is not on the fretboard, is that this was taken during my bass solo in the song Live Wire. I got to stretch out for three minutes or so each night, with Steve providing excellent accompaniment on drums.

Bumpersticker, and an actual set list from McCarthy's. You'll notice we played four sets a night when there. Of the 33 songs, 13 were original compositions. If an encore was called for after the fourth set, we reverted to Living After Midnight, our opener in set one.

Just a nice shot of the entire band, taken from the balcony.

My time in Live Wire (Powerline) was a blast, and I'm looking forward with great anticipation to the jam sessions. When they happen, perhaps I'll publish some photos of what we all look like now as compared to then. Whatever else the photos will show - a little more weight, a lot less hair - maybe they'll also show five guys having a great time together. It is hoped that some things never change.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chinese Food

[I owe My Darker Gray Friend, Michelle, some inspiration for this. See what she has to say about food!]

On Saturday, I went out to eat with some old friends. I can call them old, with no hard feelings, because I’m the oldest of them all. I’m 53, while the rest of the guys are 47 and 48, mere babes by comparison. They were – and, at least for a short while, will again be – bandmates. We had lots of laughs trading old war stories about our times on stage together, and via catching up on what’s transpired for each of us during the close to thirty intervening years. We also planned possible times and places to get together for some jamming. We’ll play like it’s 1980 again (except with less hair.)

Live Wire (later, Powerline) was the name of the band. I published a story about them not too long ago, and if you want some background, here it is. If you’d like to hear a sample of our playing, this will do. It’s an original tune called Flashback, performed during a studio session from 1981. In truth, I was never happy with the recordings from that session. Among other lacks, my bass was recorded thin; it has no body. I’m sure the other guys might have similar complaints concerning their parts in it. Nevertheless, as a representative sample of the type of music we wrote and played, it has merit. Aside from me on bass, it features Ronnie Bower and Ron Frattasio on guitars, Steve Giusti on drums, and Marty “Sucks” Murphy on vocals.

(Tomorrow, I’ll be posting some photos and other memorabilia contained in a scrapbook that Steve brought to our reunion. And, in future, as we get together to play, I’ll probably give you something good to listen to from the sessions. I hope so, anyway.)

The place where we got together to rehash old times was Tahiti, a Chinese restaurant just outside of Boston. It’s a real old-school place, specializing in American Chinese cuisine and serving the sort of drinks that, as a kid, you laughed about when you saw them on the menu. For instance, both Steve and I sampled the joys of a Suffering Bastard. I had never had one before, and with the first sip I understood where downing four or five of those concoctions might turn you into one the next morning. The main ingredients were supposedly various rums, but if I hadn’t known, I might have guessed turpentine.

It’s always interesting to see what folks will order when they get Chinese food. From my experience, people tend to order the same things over and over, getting very defensive about their choices. Some people will even go so far as to say "it isn’t really Chinese food unless you order [fill in the blank]"

For instance, My Dad never varied from the same four choices during my childhood. Whenever we went out to a Chinese restaurant, or ordered some take out, it was Sweet & Sour Chicken, Pork Fried Rice, Egg Rolls, and Pork Strips. Until I was ten years old, I had no idea that any other types of Chinese food existed. Then, one Saturday, after Stephen Murphy and I had attended a kiddy matinee at our local movie house (The Oriental, oddly enough), we found ourselves hungry and Stephen suggested we go to Cathay Village, which was just around the corner and which was also where our respective parents always bought our take out. On the way, we discussed what we might afford, as we each had about 75 cents. I figured that would be good enough for an egg roll, at least, but Stephen suggested we might be able to pool our money and get something called a Poo-Poo Platter. Well, of course, I laughed and laughed. Poo-Poo! There couldn’t possibly be something to eat that was named after poop! Stephen swore there was. And he was right, although I found out, from looking at the menu, that it was spelled Pu-Pu (and also that we couldn’t afford it, so we ended up ordering the "Businessman’s Special", which was Pork Fried Rice and an Egg Roll for 55 cents, and thus my palate was not yet truly expanded as that was basically half of what my father usually ordered for our family.)

(MY WIFE just now reminded me of a funny story concerning Chinese food and the ordering of the same thing every time. She worked with a fellow who always ordered from the ‘dinner specials’ section of the menu; you know, where there are plates containing three or four specific items, and you order by the number assigned to that plate? Well, anyway, without variation, this guy always ordered number 13 from the restaurant he frequented. One time, he found himself at a different restaurant, and – without looking at the menu - he ordered special number 13. When it arrived, he found himself staring at something totally unexpected and foreign to him. It seems he was under the impression that all of the numbered dishes were the same at every Chinese restaurant in the world. To top it off, not only was he disappointed to find he hadn’t received what he wanted, he also had no idea what exactly a number 13 at HIS restaurant was comprised of, and, in order to get what he enjoyed, he sheepishly had to ask his dining companion just what it was he had been eating all of those years.)

It wasn’t until I started smoking dope that I tried anything different at a Chinese restaurant. On an excursion into Boston’s Chinatown with my stoned buddies, they all ordered something called Beef & Broccoli. Not wanting to look weird, I ordered it, too. And, when it arrived, I ate it with great gusto and delight. I quickly found out, on various outings with other groups of friends, about such treats as Chicken Chow Mein, Lobster Sauce, and Egg Fu Yung (which, for some reason, my pals all laughingly referred to as ‘brains in gravy’, and that’s what I still think of every time I see it.) Ever since those days, I’ve been an avid aficionado - and defender of - low-rent Cantonese/Polynesian menus that are scoffed at by fans of Szechuan and other regional styles. And I’ve also cemented in my mind three items of the cuisine that I consider absolute must-haves for any Chinese meal: Lobster Sauce, Fried Rice, and Egg Rolls.

The toughest one to defend in the face of scorn is, of course, the lobster sauce. For one thing, it contains no lobster.

(I once ordered from a very high-end Chinese restaurant – The Golden Temple, in Brookline - for a get together with my good friend, Fast Freddy Goodman. The lobster sauce from that place is easily the best I have ever tasted, and Fred pretty much concurred with that assessment when he tried it. When I informed him that the menu stated the stuff was actually “lobster infused”, he – with the same lifetime of knowledge concerning lobster sauce as I have – said, "Yeah, right. The closest a lobster has been to this is when they held one over the pot and he pissed in it." Quick comeback, and that’s why he’s called Fast Freddy. However, he was probably close to the truth. I suspect they boil lobsters for other purposes, and then use some of that water for the prep of the lobster sauce. It is fantastic, in any case.)

(As a further aside, for those of you who may eat in Boston and environs someday, the place where the guys and I ate on Saturday, Tahiti, has the second-best lobster sauce on the planet. Rich, thick, dark, delightful.)

Anyway, when it came time to order, I suggested the lobster sauce and fried rice. Ron had already ordered a pu-pu platter for the table, so I knew I’d be getting my egg rolls, as well as spare ribs, chicken fingers, chicken wings, and beef teriyaki. One of the other guys requested chow mein, and another ordered crab rangoon (which, to my ear, always sounds like a really grouchy Asian wrestler.) We rounded out the meal with General Gau’s Chicken (which I’ve seen listed on other menus as General Zau’s Chicken and General Tsao’s Chicken, so it’s either a bogus name invented to fool Americans or, as I prefer to believe, so delicious that, during some time in ancient Chinese history, three generals actually shed blood for the honor of having the dish named after them.) Thus satisfied that we had all covered our various ‘must-have’ items, we sat back and awaited the food’s arrival, enjoying each other’s company tremendously while plotting a future assault upon the world’s eardrums.

As I said earlier, I’ll be posting some more stuff about the band tomorrow. In the meantime, however, I’d love to hear what YOUR ‘must-have’ items are when ordering Chinese food. Don’t feel constrained to limit yourself to Cantonese or American Chinese, if that’s not your favorite style. If your tastes run to the more exotic, I’d love to hear about them. And, if the things I’ve talked about are literally foreign to you, please expound about your particular region. I have no idea, for instance, whether you U.K. readers have ever encountered such a thing as lobster sauce. If you haven’t? You’re probably healthier, but definitely not happier.

Soon, with more better stuff (and less MSG.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's In A Name?

My sister-in-law, Victoria, writes regarding her 4-year-old daughter, my good pal, Avaroo:

[Ava's Dad expressed some reservations concerning photos of Ava appearing in my blog. God knows why, as only the finest perverts of good breeding read me, but he's a nice guy and I see no reason to upset him. Therefore, here is an illustration of Ava, by MY WIFE. Ava doesn't actually have speech balloons coming out of her head, although that would be really cool.]

Anyway, Victoria says...

I was watching Ava play in her room with her toy horses, and the tan horse wanted the pink-purple-silver horse to come to the pasture. She refused, so the tan horse said, "Why do you have to be so obstinate?"

I asked Ava what that means, and she said, "It means Sparkly refuses to go along with what Brownie wants to do."

I have no idea how she knows that word. I hope she wasn't being obstinate at school.

She's not very creative with the animal names, though.

That's a good meaty word for someone her age, and I'd prefer to think that her vocabulary has been strengthened via spending time with her Uncle Jim, although that's probably not the case (and, considering some of the words she could have picked up from me, probably for the best.) As for coming up with simple names for things, I think that trait runs in her family. I remember when MY WIFE and I had Alyssa, Ava's older sister, doing an overnight at our place. We had cereal in the morning, and the box featured a big blue parrot on the front. The cereal company was having a contest to name this parrot. I asked Alyssa what she thought the parrot's name should be. After giving it careful consideration, she said the parrot's name should be "Bluey". Needless to say, we didn't fill out the entry form. On another occasion, we gifted Alyssa with a green plush stuffed snake, a prize won at a carnival game. No, she didn't name it "Greeny". She named it "Snakey" (which was also the name of my bookie, so it was especially odd for me. However, I digress.)

(By the way, I'm never sure if I spell 'Alyssa' correctly. It has nothing to do with my fondness for her, which is considerable. I'm just crummy when it comes to remembering how to spell names. It would have been easier if her mother named her "Girly". What the heck. Helen Brown's mother did.)

I will never belittle anyone too much for doling out simple names because I'm not entirely innocent of the charge myself. My childhood cat, my favorite of all-time, was named Blackie. This was despite her being a striped tabby.

Whenever MY WIFE sees a picture of Blackie, she laughs and says something to the effect of, "Blackie?!? That cat isn't black!" All I can say, in my defense, is that Blackie sure looked black when she was born, what with all of the amniotic fluid and gunk. What she looked like after I named her was not my fault. I could have changed her name, I suppose, but why confuse a cat unnecessarily?

With less lively things than cats, my choice of names has also been suspect. For instance, among our way-too-many teddy bears, we have two from my childhood, Big Pinky and Little Pinky. As you might imagine, one is bigger than the other and they are both pink. Or they used to be. Now they're a sort of beige with pink highlights. MY WIFE calls them Big Stinky and Little Stinky.

Also from the bears - and, if you're thinking of giving us one as a gift, we have more than enough, so don't - we have this fellow, a gift from my softball teammate, Big Jay Atton.

Big Jay is a faithful reader, and he was especially taken with my story of when MY WIFE dyed our applesauce green. Therefore, the bear's name is, yes, Applesauce.

Further down on the evolutionary scale, we have these two, also gifts from Big Jay.

He gave us these in response to another post about teddy bears, I believe. I asked him what their names were. He said, "Sul and Dog."

(I don't know what it is with Big Jay and teddy bears, but he doesn't question my manhood, so I won't question his, especially since he's 6' 7" and weighs about as much as your average grizzly bear. Here's a picture of him. MY WIFE would have drawn one, like she did with Avaroo, but every time she tried her pencil broke.)

I could make fun of MY WIFE's ability to name things creatively, except she does name things creatively. Some of the names she has bestowed on our bears are as follows:

(Sheesh, I am truly the world's worst photographer. I can't even get good shots of teddy bears. Anyway...)

Ditka (who is, of course, The Coach)

Gilbert (use the French-Canadian pronunciation)


Madame Bovary (his girlfriend)

Brockett (As you can see, he's a chef. If you're familiar with the Mister Rogers cast of characters...)

Lock O'Bear (you have to be familiar with Boston restaurants to get this one.)

and then, of course, there's Bearkind (which name takes a familiarity with professional wrestler Mick Foley to understand. Foley portrayed a character named Mankind, who looked like... well, here are photos of both he and Bearkind.)

Oh! And here's Bi.

(Bi. Get it? He's a polar bear? Well, if you don't get it, I don't want you as a reader anymore. He's Bi-Polar! Hah!)

There are stories to go with every one of our bears (as well as more Avaroo stories, and even more Big Jay Atton stories) but this is easily long enough for me to not feel guilty about quitting now, so that's what I'm going to do.

Soon, with more bearter stuff.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'tis A Great Day For The Semi-Irish

[Since I'm re-printing this for the third or fourth time, I'll head off some of the commentary I've received before: The hideous "Irish" dialect I use for much of this? Yes, I am aware that no real Irishman (or woman) speaks like that. That's the point. It's a caricature, as many portrayals of the Irish, in film and on TV, still are - and without even half the thought given to them that I gave while concocting my intentionally abominable character. If you find it offensive, well, THAT'S THE POINT. Duh.

And, if you'd like a more serious approach, try my Cousin David's past posting concerning Ireland, 26 + 6 = 1. Or, if you'd prefer seeing how the Irish were depicted in the popular press during previous centuries - that is, abominably (and perhaps, by comparison, there's relatively little to complain about now) try THIS.]

Ah, Sweet Jayzis, ‘tis Saint Patty’s day! Time fer th' wearin’ o’ th' green!

I’ll be startin’ me day off wit’ a pint o’ Guinness, and then a big tub o’ corned beef an’ cabbage. After that - Tura Lura Loo! - I’ll slap ME WIFE upside her gob and t’row me 26 kiddos down th' stairs, so they'll be gettin' ready fer mass in a proper way. After th' sarvice, I’ll punch Fadder O’Malley in th' mush and head on over to th' pub and meet Murph, Mac, Murph, Quinn, Tommy Fitz, Timmy Fitz, Jimmy Fitz, Murph, Sweeney, Sully, Sully, Big Sully, Fahey, Sully, and O’Brien for a few quarts o’ whiskey. Faith and begorrah! Then we’ll have a grand time whalin’ th' bejeezus out of each other until the blood runs in rivers, I tells ya! Toity toity toy! Then some more corned beef an’ cabbage an’ more whiskey an’ more Guinness while we tell each other tales o’ how, if we was still in the Auld Sod, we’d be beatin’ the snot out o’ whole armies o’ English arseholes. Ptooie!

O! Then th' topper to the whole grand day! The parade, by Jayzis! Won’t it be a foin sight to see all the lads and lassies dressed in their foinest and marchin’ down th' street? Ah, where’s me shillelagh? Another pint o’ Guinness, O’Reilly, and póg mo thóin!


Ah, th' barmaid is a foin homely lass, she is, but I’m a married man! Where’s ME WIFE? I want another 6 kids! Ah, ‘tis a foin day!


O’Toole, how are you? Go shit in yer fist, you boghoppin' son of a bitch! Where’s yer 42 kids? (*smash!*) Ah, Mullins! I thought that was you! Saints be praised, it’s good to see yer face!


And I don’t suppose you were after forgettin’ th' time you tripped me durin’ recess in th' fifth grade, ya bastard! Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!

Jayzis, Mary and Joseph! I’m so drunk I can’t find me own arsehole and it’s time fer me to go meet me 32 brithers an’ sisters who’re on th' police department and me 64 uncles on th' fire department an’ me 487 cousins who work fer the state because we’re all goin’ over to Seamus McCarthy’s house to play th' harp, drink more whiskey, eat more corned beef and cabbage, and then fight all night until we collapse in the street in a drunken bloody stupor. Erin Go Bragh!


I’m partly Irish. You don’t get a name like Sullivan or a face like mine without some Irish blood, but - God help me – I sure do hate to admit it sometimes.

The Irish are just about the only ethnic group that you can defame with impunity. Nobody is holding rallies to change the name of the Notre Dame athletic teams. The Fighting Irish. Try calling some college team The Hotheaded Hispanics and see how far you get. Throw an Irish cop with a larcenous streak into a movie or a TV show and nobody blinks. Hell, make him a drunk who beats his wife and has 12 unkempt bratty children. You might as well go all the way. It’s not like anybody is going to complain, least of all the Irish themselves. The Irish are just about the only group that generally ignores most of the stereotypes people throw around about them. For that matter, many of us seem to take pride in our rotten image.

When I say “us,” I say it with some reservation. Yes, I have Irish blood, but unless I tell you, you wouldn’t know that I actually have a higher percentage of Hispanic, not to mention French. I also have Yankee, which is English in origin, of course. And some Scottish. The Irish is pretty much only pasty skin deep.

So, by the stereotypes, this is my make up:

I’m a red-headed Irish Hispanic, so I must have a hair-trigger temper. However, being French, as soon as you stand up to my temper, I’ll surrender. Since I’m also English, I’ll probably make a very wry joke while doing so. The Scot in me would like to make a buck out of the whole deal.

I like to eat potatoes at every meal, but I’ll have snails, greasy beef and haggis with them. Oh, yes, with jalapenos on the side. I’ll also have a heaping helping of spotted dick for dessert, but petit fours will do in a pinch.

I’m up for just about anything sexually, of course, but would you mind not shaving your armpits? I might slap you around a bit, but later you can tie up the English side of me and put a whip to my butt, so it’ll even out. Since I’m also a Scot, if you want me to wear a kilt while we’re doing it, I’m OK with that.

I think Jerry Lewis is a genius, but Monty Python, Cantinflas, Billy Connolly and the first half of this post also make me laugh. I drive a Jaguar low-rider powered by peat, but never on toll roads. I wear a beret on top of my sombrero, as well as a derby under it. I work for the government, I sponge off of the government, I am the government, and I want to overthrow the government.

Ah, that’s enough of that, I suppose.

(Just in case you’re really wondering, about 1/3 of the above is true. I’ll leave it to your imagination which 1/3.)

(Not the Jaguar, that’s for sure.)

So, I don’t really have much of a point here, but I’m glad you came along for the ride. If I’ve upset you in any way, just be thankful that it isn’t Bastille Day tomorrow. Or Cinco De Mayo, for that matter.

Soon, con mas (whatever the French word for “better” is) stuff, Bucko.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Progress Report

I’ve lost 10 pounds. I don’t know where I put it. If you see it, let me know.

I’ve lost 10 pounds. I don’t know how much that is in Euros, but it’s about $25 American.

I’ve lost 10 pounds. It was easy. I just chopped off my right arm. I was planning on dropping 20 pounds, but then I realized I had no way to chop off my left arm. I suppose I could chop off my head, but I’d like to have dinner first.

I’ve lost 10 pounds, and it’s not the most exciting thing to write about, so I’m trying to give you a couple of small chuckles before this thing gets loaded down with statistics.

It’s been 25 days since Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when I started my annual combination religious ritual and softball spring training diet. At that time, I gave up all foods containing flour and all dairy products (except for the half-and-half I put in my coffee, which keeps me relatively sane.) The result has been a loss of 10 pounds, which is fairly astounding considering my beginning weight (195) and for such a short time span.

My goal was 180, and I’ve got another 21 days to drop the additional 5 pounds. It appears that I’ll make it rather easily, unless I fall off of the wagon again like I did this weekend.

Yes, the reason I’m writing this is because of guilt. I broke down and had an entire barbecue chicken pizza this morning (Saturday) and now I need to make myself feel good about what I’d accomplished prior to that. So, I’m touting my success while concurrently confessing my sin. I expect you’ll leave a comment telling me that I’m doing great and that I shouldn’t worry about one aberration from my regimen. I thank you in advance.

I’m not so much dismayed about having broken the spring training diet with the pizza – which I rather enjoyed, by the way – as I am about breaking the religious component of the fast. I like to imagine myself as someone who would literally die for his beliefs, if push came to shove – whatever the hell that means. Instead, I have to face the reality that I am unlikely to stare down a radical atheist with a machine gun if all it takes to get me to fall off the path of good is to place a pizza in my path. Yeah, sure, I’ll die in a hail of bullets, but would you mind if I ate some dough and cheese first?

(If you’re an atheist, I don’t mean to imply that you, personally, would gun me down. You’re probably a really nice person, despite being a heathen. I just needed a handy opposite to my beliefs in order to illustrate my point, which is that I’m a hypocritical wimp - although a slightly lighter hypocritical wimp than I was 25 days ago.)

So, anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t feel too bad, since this is the only time, thus far, I’ve failed in my… well, no, that’s not entirely true. When the folks in at work threw me a birthday party, I ate a huge slice of Boston cream pie. I figured it would have been a bigger sin to let it go to waste after they so graciously decided to fete me with it. And then there were the two éclairs I ate at a subsequent birthday bash at My Mom’s place. Can’t disobey Mom when she tells you to eat an éclair; it says so in Deuteronomy. OK, maybe not those exact words, and My Mother didn’t ORDER me to eat an éclair (let alone two) but I think I’m generally covered.

What the hell. I’ve still dropped 10 pounds, and there are lots of folks out there who observe Lent by giving up things they don’t even enjoy, like stewed prunes, and they don’t have my gift for rationalization, either. And let’s not forget the atheists with machine guns. All things considered, I haven’t done too badly. The only real regret I have is that I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo. It would have been really cool to put side-by-side with an ‘after’ photo come Easter. Oh, well. Maybe next year, after I’ve ballooned back to 195 again over the off-season. Or, if I really want it to be impressive, maybe I’ll try to get up to 250 over the winter. I truly have no idea what my capacity is for Boston cream pie, éclairs, and pizza. Finding out might be fun.

In the meantime, I’m still shooting for 180 by April 4th. Lead me not into temptation or the bakery aisle.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Faded Glory

[I'm re-printing this because, this past week, I was contacted by - or contacted concerning - the guys I wrote about in this piece. We're all going to be attending the 50th birthday bash of the singer, and those of us attending are considering getting back together, as a band, and having some fun. We'll jam, at the least, and... who knows after that? I'm truly psyched. I loved playing with these guys.]

Fame is fleeting. That’s the old saying, but sometimes it depends upon what your definition of fame is - and how well-made your bumper stickers were.

I lived in Dorchester, right on the border of Mattapan, for 37 years. I moved to Watertown 14 years ago. If you walked up to everybody living in Dorchester and Mattapan today, showed them a picture of me, and asked them if they knew who it was, you might find a double handful that could identify me. There are probably a few folks who remember me running for state rep, and another two or three who bought grass from me (NOT while I was running for state rep, by the way) and perhaps one or two of my old friends still live in the area.

On the other hand, if you were to ask every resident of those areas if they knew who Jimi LaRue was, I’d be willing to bet big money not a single one of them would have the slightest idea. That’s too bad, because there is actual physical evidence still extant concerning Mr. LaRue’s doings during the year of 1981. Before we get to that, though, here’s some necessary back-story.

In 1979, I was 22 years old, unemployed, and rapidly becoming a decent bass guitar player. I spent the better part of every day stoned and banging on the instrument. As a result of the many hours invested in those pastimes, I had become very good very fast.

I had been in a band already – and you could read about it here and here - but as a keyboard player/vocalist. If you don’t feel like going to the links, I’ll condense the story of that band thusly: The band sucked and so did I. It was fun, though. And while I was in that band, I did what I always did in every band I’ve ever been in. I played everybody else’s instruments as often as possible. Whenever there was a break, I’d jump behind the drums, or pick up a guitar, and try to learn how to do something with them.

From the time I was a kid, I’d always been drawn to musical instruments. I could usually pick out a tune on anything with keys or strings. I was no idiot savant (well, not the savant part, anyway), but I had some innate talent for it. So, as I said, I fiddled (hah! fiddled!) with everybody’s instruments and got so I could at least fake my way on drums, bass, and guitar, as well as the keyboards, which I was already faking my way at.

After leaving that band, my girlfriend of the time told me about a friend of hers willing to sell a bass guitar for $10. I bought it. It was worth every penny of $10, too. It was a hideous instrument, and it was basically (BASSically! Hah!) strung with rusty cable. I didn’t really know any better, however, so I figured if I was really going to learn how to play it, I’d better just buckle down and get on with it. I played it and played it and made my fingers literally bleed. I built up mighty calluses on my fingertips. You can still light a match under them and all I’ll feel is a little bit of warmth.

Then, in 1980, I came into possession of a real bass guitar, which also happened to be a short scale. I was amazed at how easy it was to play. I had been used to stretching my fingers to reach notes on the long scale and pressing down hard on a fretboard that had frets I should have filed down. The strings, aside from having the texture of 16-grade sandpaper, were too tautly strung. This new thing in my hands was a bass? No. This new thing in my hands was HEAVEN! I came to the realization that I had given myself the equivalent of about 5 years training in the space of one year, simply because I had been teaching myself on such a hideous beast of an instrument.

Along about that time, a knock came on my door. It was opportunity, in the body of a fellow named Marty Murphy. I had never met Marty. He was the friend of a guy who lived across the street from me. He had been talking to this friend about how the bass player in his band was leaving to go to college. That friend told him about this guy across the street that constantly played the bass – loud enough for my neighbors to constantly hear it, apparently, and if any of them are reading this, I do apologize - and he said that this guy sounded decent. So, on the off chance that I actually WAS decent, and might be interested in playing with his band, Marty knocked.

I thought I was good enough to play in a band. As is usually the case with me in life, though, I didn’t really know where to take my talent to put it to use. I had vague notions about starting my own band, but no definite grasp of what to do to make it happen. About the only way I was going to truly get into a band was if someone knocked on my door and asked me to do it. Since Marty had done exactly that, I was thrilled.

Without so much as listening to me play a single note, Marty arranged that I’d meet the band the next night. I would go to where they were currently rehearsing, in the basement of the drummer’s parent’s home in Hyde Park. Their departing bass player would be there, playing a few numbers with them prior to leaving for college. Afterwards, they’d run through the same numbers again, this time with me on bass. Then they’d decide if they wanted me. Fair enough.

That night, I dressed in my best black t-shirt, boots and jeans. I drove to Hyde Park. When I got to the street, there was little chance of going to the wrong house. It sounded like someone was using the basement to land a squadron of F-15s, and not always right side up. It was loud, fast, immoral, and destructive. In other words, it was exactly the kind of stuff I liked to play.

I went inside and watched them perform. The name of the group was Live Wire. They were all 17 and 18 – four to five years younger than me – and they were all friends from high school and the neighborhood. It was obvious to me that I was a much better bass player than the guy I was being asked to replace. He wasn’t totally horrible, but he had made the right decision to go to school rather than try and make his fortune in music. I knew as soon as I got a chance to plug in and start playing, the gig was mine. And that’s what happened. They were all smiles while I played, and they offered me the spot immediately afterwards.

(I later found out they were worried that I wouldn’t want to play with a bunch of teenagers. They were afraid that I was going to tell them thanks, but no thanks. For my part, I was worried that they might think I was too old, and not want to play with a guy who was an ancient 23. When one of them asked me how old I was, I shaved my age and said 21. The dumbass I was going with at the time, who had accompanied me to the rehearsal, said, “Jim, what are you talking about? You’re 23!”

I shot her a look that said, “Do you have anything approaching a brain in your head?” but since she didn’t, the look meant nothing to her. Not having any other choice, I then blushingly fessed up to being 23. Aside from looking like a right idiot to my new bandmates, it didn’t hurt. As I say, it turned out we were all worried about the same thing, for opposite reasons, so no harm. We all had a good laugh, except for the girlfriend. She still didn’t get it.)

Me, on stage (possibly the Nu Pixie Theater, Hyde Park)

This was about as perfect a band as I would have imagined forming on my own. They were fresh, totally unjaded, wrote decent pop hooks, had some actual talent, and were all truly nice guys on top of it. They played some covers, but wanted to play mostly originals. Since I wanted to play nothing but originals, I was OK with that. I figured we needed the covers to fill out sets in bars – true – and that we could concentrate solely on originals (including my own) as time went on.

The band members, aside from myself on bass, were Ronnie Bower and Ron Frattasio on guitars, Steve Giusti on drums, and Marty Murphy (the fellow who knocked on my door) as the singer. Marty didn’t have the greatest voice in the world - not the worst, either, sort of like Bon Scott, sometimes - but he was a hell of a showman. People really liked him. He was also something of a jack-of-all-trades instrumentally, playing a bit of sax, flute, guitar, and harmonica on various songs.

This being 1980, and somewhat the tail end of the original punk movement – Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, et al - Marty had decided to take the stage name “Marty Sucks.” He explained that this way, when the audience might say it, instead of insulting him, they’d just be advertising him. Made sense to me. As we became somewhat popular, people would often shout it out between songs – “Marty Sucks!” - always with a smile and some sincere love. It was pretty cool, actually.

Now, my given name is Jim Sullivan, and I’m glad I was given it, too. It’s a good solid name. No problems with it, really. However, at that time there were at least two other people named Jim Sullivan with some small measure of fame. There was a guitar player with Tom Jones’s band named Big Jim Sullivan. Of more import to me, there was a local writer in Boston, doing concert reviews and such, named Jim Sullivan. I didn’t want to be sharing a name, and since he had gotten it into the spotlight first, I decided to change mine. I went with Jimi LaRue. I thought that it came off of the tongue nicely, had a slightly ambivalent sexual feel to it (I grew up listening to Alice Cooper and other such androgynous freaks, so…) and I had a mistaken understanding of French, so I thought that it meant “The Street”, which was certainly a decent bit of cred to shoot for. The affectation of “Jimi,” as opposed to “Jimmy” or “Jim,” was a fairly obvious rip-off, but what the hell. So far as I knew, I was the first person to rip it off, so it was somewhat original in it’s non-originality.

I could go on for quite some time with stories about this band, and I’ll definitely tell more of them someday for sure, now that I’ve given you the background, but right now I want to eat dinner, so I’ll get to the point of this post and then start cooking my macaroni.

We were solid, we developed a loyal following in the neighborhoods we came from, and we played some semi-big venues around Boston - The Beachcomber in Wollaston, etc. We earned a small-but-steady check as the sort-of house band at a bar/club in Mattapan Square called McCarthy’s. It was a decent-sized joint, holding maybe 200 when filled to capacity, and we did fill it whenever we played there, which was pretty much two weekends a month.

As we gained some fans, we decided to do some self-promotion. We had t-shirts made, the possible only surviving example of which can be seen on this rather large and dirty white teddy bear.

In case you can’t quite make out the lettering, here’s a closer shot.

The tag line is “High-Voltage Rock ‘N Roll.”

We sold a few. After we had done so, however, there arose an argument in the band concerning our name. It seems that one of the guys – I forget who – had come across an album by another group named Live Wire. They were no longer in existence, but they HAD been popular enough to have actual recordings, so this led to an argument concerning whether or not we should change our name. I was of the belief that it didn’t really matter. These other guys weren’t around any more, so who cared? In the end, though, the opposite opinion – that we should be totally original - carried the day, so we discarded Live Wire. We wanted to have something similar, with which we could use the same tag, so we finally decided upon POWERLINE.

Once we changed the name, we had bumper stickers manufactured. We gave these away at our first couple of gigs at McCarthy’s following the name change.

McCarthy’s – now defunct, in case you’re wondering - was located almost directly across the street from Mattapan Station, a trolley and bus terminal. Many of our fans, after seeing our show on a Friday or Saturday evening, did the right thing and took public transportation home, rather than drive drunk. So, they’d roll themselves down to the station and wait for the bus or the trolley. As you might imagine, some folks taking a trolley won’t have any real use for a bumper sticker, or at least no car to put it on. So, not wanting to waste it completely, one of them did something that has turned out to be the only remaining public vestige of our former semi-stardom. He (or she) climbed a pole and put our bumper sticker on a street sign at the River Street bus ramp to the station.

For the past 27 years, it has remained on that sign. Rain has beaten it, snow has frozen it, sun has faded it, and thousands upon thousands of people have passed by it, some on foot, some on busses, some in cars. These days, most have no more clue concerning who the group was than I would if asked about a Taiwanese oompah band. The most amazing thing, to me, is that nobody from the T (the Boston transportation system, owners of the station and, of course, the sign) has ever seen fit to try and remove it, or to even replace the sign. There’s at least one person who’s glad they haven’t. I find it comforting to know it’s still there.

Hey, you take your glory where you can get it. That person could have scrawled “Black Sabbath Rules!” on the station wall with a magic marker, or perhaps spray-painted “Ramones!” Instead, there’s our bumper sticker.

God bless you, anonymous despoiler of public property! You’ve made my day, more than once, for 27 years now.

By the way, just as the original bass player had given me an opening by leaving for college, in 1982 the drummer decided to go to college and that's when the group disbanded. Higher education giveth, and higher education taketh away.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Training For Baseball Memories

Since spring training has begun, my thoughts are naturally starting to turn to baseball/softball. As the real season gets underway in April, and progresses through October, I'll no doubt have many longer stories (and, of course, I'll blog about my own softball playing, as usual.) For now, though, I need a warm up before the season, so here are two small stories about my younger days at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

I was reminded of this first story by My Darker Gray Friend, Michelle, during the course of some personal correspondence.

Those of you unfamiliar with baseball may not be aware of some of the merchandising gimmicks employed by ballclubs to fill seats that otherwise might go unsold. They will offer a prize or premium to go along with the ticket to the game. The ticket holder might be rewarded with a keychain, a t-shirt, a figurine, or some other inexpensive tchotchke bearing the logo of the team. Most often, these souvenirs are offered to kids, and then perhaps only to the first 3,000 to enter the park (or whatever number matches the availability of the tidbits.) More often than not, lesser clubs offer premiums. The good clubs, who sell out their games anyway, don't have to do so.

When I was 9, the Red Sox didn't sell out every game as they do now. They were a bad team, coming off of a ninth place finish. I loved them, anyway. And when I heard that the Red Sox were going to have a Bat Day, I had to go! The first 3,000 kids would all receive a baseball bat.

In those days of relatively normal salaries for athletes, a ticket to the bleachers - the cheapest seats, out in centerfield - cost only 75 cents. I was amazed that, for such a small expenditure, I would not only be able to see my beloved Red Sox play, in person, but also be given an authentic baseball bat. Just 75 cents? Heck, a bat cost 3 or 4 dollars, all by itself.

I went to Fenway, bought a ticket to the bleachers, and went inside. As I handed the ticket to the turnstile operator, he handed me my bat.

It was about 10 inches in length and weighed maybe 4 ounces. It was similar in size, and heft, to a policeman's nightstick, a billy club.

Of course, being a baseball playing kid, when I heard that they were giving out bats that day at the Sox game, I thought I'd be getting a real bat I could actually play games with, a Louisville Slugger of some 34 inches in length and weighing in at 36 or 38 ounces. When I got the little bat, I was disappointed, to say the least. Not that it wasn't a nice thing to have as a souvenir, but when you're expecting to haul some real lumber home, getting what amounted to a big splinter was less than exciting. Of course, now I realize that the cost of buying Louisville Sluggers for every kid in the ballpark would have been enormous, and it was ridiculous to expect such awesome swag for 75 cents. Still, that's what a little kid like me expected. Live and learn.

My other story concerns the closest I've ever come to getting an actual baseball while at a game.

I was very young - maybe still 9, as in the previous story. I was at a Sox game with my Mom and Dad. My Dad had scored some excellent seats in the first row, just beyond the third base dugout. As was the custom among kids from my neighborhood, I had brought my glove to the game, just in case I had a chance to catch a real major league ball.

Along about the fourth inning, Tony Conigliaro is batting, and he was my absolute all-time favorite player, my baseball idol. He's still my all-time favorite athlete, God rest his soul. Anyway, Tony swings and hits a vicious line drive, foul, coming right at me.

I had EXCELLENT reflexes in those days. I have no doubt I would have caught it, even though it was a 100-mph liner from about 100 feet away. I started to raise my glove.

Before I even got my glove above my chest, My Dad shoved my head down, out of the path of the deadly ball. He was only trying to protect me, but I was as disappointed as a starving dog might have been who had been shown a big steak and been given a kick in the ass, instead. It would have been a ball off of Tony C's bat, and everybody would have applauded me for making a great catch, and all the other kids in the neighborhood would have been jealous for weeks!

Oh, well. Maybe my Dad was right. Maybe it would have crushed my face and, instead of doing voice-overs for a living, I would have ended up talking like Elmer Fudd for the rest of my life. Still, it was a ball hit by Tony C. It might have been worth it.

Soon, with more batter stuff.

[Got the excellent Tony C. photo from an excellent tribute page - Now Batting 19 Sports Cards.]

Monday, March 08, 2010

Private Places

When you consider some of the things I’ve made public in this space, the following statement may appear insane, but I assure you it’s a fact. I am a very private person. My need for privacy is higher than most. As a matter of fact, if I go too long without being alone, I tend to become irritable and grouchy. My alone time is when I decompress, so to speak, and if you intrude upon me then – no matter how well-intentioned your intrusion – you’ll likely find me non-communicative and less pleasant company than you might have expected.

I was an only child. I became used to being alone early in life, and subsequently grew to like the experience. I developed a taste for solitary pursuits: reading, writing, listening to music, doing puzzles and figuring statistics. Anything that interrupted such activities – the telephone ringing; someone coming to the front door and knocking; a neighbor’s dog barking loudly; some idiot being too lazy to get out of his car to alert someone to his presence, but rather sitting in the street and honking his horn – became anathema to me. In today’s world, whenever I hear some boob driving down the street with the bass cranked, my initial reaction is to shoot the son of a bitch. The point is that I’m acutely aware of invasions of my personal space, of whatever stripe.

One reason for MY WIFE and I getting along so famously is because she is aware of my need and she endeavors to give me the time and space that I require. For instance, we sleep in separate bedrooms. Now, this probably has as much to do with her need to get away from my snoring as it does anything else, but it works. When we want to get together, we get together, but if I wish to read a book before sleeping, I don’t have to worry that the light I keep on will disturb her. Likewise, if she wants to watch TV, it won’t rattle my cage. I think the sort of arrangement we have is an excellent preserver of happy marriage. Your mileage may vary, but, in general, if two people share a room, one of them is getting a better night of sleep than the other. If you wake up rested and refreshed every morning, that could be why your significant other is becoming less significant and more other.

Be that as it may – and, if you can afford more than one room, it is - I have spent much of my adult life searching for private places equivalent to those I had as a child. For the most part, the search has been unsuccessful.

One of the advantages of being a kid is that you’re small enough to fit into places that adults don’t tend to inhabit. Getting away from adults, no matter how loving they may be, is an important consideration. This is because adults (with the exception of most uncles and some select aunts) are buzzkills. They insist that such things as homework, cleaning your room, and not eating cookies, are important. In order to avoid such obvious lunatics, you need to duck under a table every so often. While there, you can read the stuff written on the underside. Usually, the manufacturer has left some sort of imprint, and there may be a few pencil marks or such drawn by whoever put the table together. If you chew gum, you might find an old piece worth resurrecting. If you manage to stay hidden until dinnertime, you might pretend you're the dog and beg for scraps (which doesn't work so well if all your family has is a cat.)

Another place a kid can go is under a bed. Adults don’t usually go under a bed unless another adult they don’t wish to be shot by comes into the room. I haven’t been under a bed in ages – I’m sure MY WIFE is glad to hear that – but I might go under our dining room table soon, just to see what it would be like as a grown up (if you can call me that). As a matter of fact, I’m going to do it now. Hold on; I’ll be right back.

OK, I’m back. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it certainly didn’t afford the same sense of security it might have when I was two feet shorter and 100 pounds lighter. And, while it was relatively easy getting under there, it was one hell of a lot harder getting back out than it used to be. I’m happy to report there were no spiders under there. No chewing gum, either, but I did find a french fry of indeterminate age, so it's a good thing I made the exploration.

One thing you definitely need privacy for, as a kid, is hide and seek. For hide and seek in my neighborhood, I always used the same hiding place. There was a big lilac bush in a neighbor’s yard on Monson Street. This bush was, for some odd reason, mostly hollowed out inside. It was a great hiding place, and only a really small kid could get into it without totally destroying the bush. I had to slide myself through a small opening in the back. I don’t know how I first discovered that I could enter that bush, but once I had myself secreted in there, nobody ever found me. And I didn’t care if I was never found. It was a cool place on a summer’s day, there were always interesting beetles and such sharing the space with you and which didn't seem to mind if you picked them up to say hello, and – the best part of all – you got to smell the lilacs. To this day, I think my unnatural fondness for Lilac Vegetal after shave lotion stems from playing hide and seek in Dorchester.

Closets were always a good place to go if you wanted a little peace and quiet. Of course, the deeper the closet, the better. It also helps if the closet is right next to a heating duct, which the one in my childhood living room was. It was like my own private sauna. I’d go in, sit on the floor, enjoy the smell of the various coats, boots, rubbers, and hats, and doze as contentedly as a cat on top of a TV set (which is, unlike crawling under the dining room table, something I won’t try now, although I might have done so had I thought of it when I was six.)

Of course, as people grow older, the reasons for wanting privacy tend to change. Teenage boys – and, I suspect, teenage girls, but they'll deny it – tend to spend a bit more time in the bathroom than they previously might have, and not because they’ve suddenly decided to brush their teeth more often. The unwritten rule, in most homes, is that the bathroom is the one place nobody will just walk in on you, unless you’re a dummy and you don’t close the door tight and lock it. If you don’t, you get the embarrassment you deserve for being so inattentive to detail.

Aside from the sorts of activities you no doubt imagined already, the bathroom was where I would go to sneak a cigarette. Some of the most contented moments of my entire life were spent sitting on the edge of our bathtub at 3am, my head halfway out the open window, listening to the crickets as I polluted my lungs. And some of the most hideously tense moments of my entire life were spent trying to close that window noiselessly when one of my parents came out of their bedroom at 3:05 to take a pee and then knocked on the bathroom door. I’m sure that, more often than not, they knew what was going on, but I feigned sleepy innocence as I walked back to my bedroom with a pack of Marlboros uncomfortably stuffed in my shorts.

Of course, as you mature – or try to pass as so, in my case – you find out that adults wish to limit your privacy more and more severely the older you get. For some kids, the first lesson in how shockingly they wish to curtail it is gym class. At a time when your body is doing all sorts of weird things, some of which you’re proud of and others not so much, they throw you and your classmates into a shower together, naked.

I was one of the lucky ones. Even though I was the youngest in my class, I had started to… let’s say, ‘sprout’… quite early, and by the time we hit the showers, I had no reason to be ashamed. Still, it was quite a shock to see some of the guys walking around naked. I certainly didn’t want to stare, but the salamis a few of them were carting around made my hot dog seem inadequate for any buns by comparison. But then I looked around and saw the poor souls who still only had hairless cocktail franks and I felt better about myself - and truly sorry for them. And I marveled at the thought that any adults thought this would be a good thing for kids to go through. I have no idea what it’s like in a girl’s locker room (although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit to having fantasized about it quite often, and if any of you ladies would like to fill me in on the details, I’ll consider myself in your debt.)

I’m sure I had a point to this when I started, but I’ll be damned if I can think of it now.

Soon, with more better stuff.

[Got the lilac bush from Gardening Resources For Attorneys. I'm sure there's a good joke to be made concerning this, but it's a website for lawyers. I won't take any further chances than I already have by stealing the photo.]

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I Was Born On March 2nd, 1957

[For my birthday, I got some weird hybrid of a cold and the flu. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t at the top of my wish list. In any case, since I don’t have an Internet connection at home, and since I don’t go to work when I’m sick, that’s why this is being published two days AFTER my birthday. Since nothing in the piece actually tells you that today is my birthday, this preamble is fairly superfluous, but so am I, in the grander scheme of things, and if it will make what follows more pleasurable, feel free to pretend that today is the day before yesterday.]

I was born on March 2nd, 1957. That was 53 years ago, so my memory’s a little fuzzy, but I think I weighed about 7 pounds. Today, I weigh 190. If you had bought a hundred shares of me back then... well, do the math.

When I was born, there were only 48 states. Now there are 50. Can any Gen-X’er say he’s done as much for the country? I think not.

Before I was born, the Boston Celtics had never won an NBA Championship. One month after my appearance on earth, they won their first. Since then, they’ve won another 17 of the things. You’d think, considering my contribution to their success, they might have sent me a refrigerator magnet or something. Ah, what the hell. Every time they win, it pisses off Spike Lee. That’s good enough.

There were only 4 television stations in Boston on the date of my birth, and no cable. Now there’s cable and satellite and Tivo and On-Demand and all sorts of other groovy ways of getting your programming, and if you buy all of the available services, there are thousands of channels from which to choose. Of course, there are still only 4 things worth watching at any given time – if that - and you need to spend fifteen minutes searching for any of them. By the time you find one, the first part of the program is over and you don’t have even the slightest clue as to why one of the Brady Bunch kids is speaking like Humphrey Bogart.

When I was a kid, everyone was Catholic. Well, everyone in Boston, anyway. Why, you’d no sooner have seen a Protestant walking down Washington Street than a green polka-dot giraffe. Of course, to the best of my knowledge, they’ve never accused any green polka-dot giraffes of buggering altar boys, so I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad to have seen a few. I was born a Catholic, but converted to green polka-dot giraffeism in my late teens. When I stopped doing drugs, I became a Catholic again. Now that I’ve been off of them for twenty years, I’m sort of a borderline Presbyterian. I still say prayers to Saint Anthony, though, because the Catholics are the only ones with a lost and found department.

When I first came into this world, the following things were all considered healthy: milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and red meat. Now, they all kill you. Other once-friendly-to-children foods, such as peanut butter, have also become increasingly homicidal. Any day now, I expect we’ll find out that the only things healthy to eat are library paste, bugs, and brown paper bags. That weird kid who sat next to you in kindergarten will live to be 140.

When I was a child, the only people walking down the street by themselves, talking, were insane. They still are, but now they hold small rectangular devices up to their ears while they do so, and some of them drive.

Eisenhower was in The White House when I was born, but the first presidential election I was alive for, we elected Kennedy. From there, things just sort of got out of hand. You can’t blame ME for that, though. My record is spotless. I’ve yet to vote for a winning presidential candidate. I’ve voted in 9 presidential elections and my choice in every one hasn’t even finished as high as second. I’d tell you I have great hopes for 2012, but that would be a lie. There’s about as much chance of a candidate I like being elected as there is of me writing something cogent.

Music has been pretty good during my lifetime, but if I knew then what I know now, I’d have shot Mick Jagger sometime around 1980. If I have to hear Start Me Up before a kickoff at a football game one more time… And, as long as we’re on the subject, if Terry Kath, rather than shooting himself, had turned the gun on the other guys in Chicago, the world as a whole would have been much better off.

My goodness! What a light-hearted romp this has turned out to be! Happy birthday to me! Let’s finish with a poem some of you may find familiar.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child has to work for its living
But a child that’s born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good and gay

Of course, that last line doesn’t mean the same thing these days as when it was written, but neither do things like ‘budget deficit’ and ‘peace’, so why quibble? Anyway, I was born on a Saturday, so that’s the only part that matters. I have to work for a living, it says, and since I’ve yet to hit the lottery, I suspect that’s true. Monday’s child is fair of face. That would be MY WIFE. Considering what she has to put up with, you might have assumed she was Wednesday’s child, but you would have been wrong.

Soon, with more better stuff.