Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Haunting Tune

Steppenwolf is a funny band in some ways. One nanosecond before they burst on to #2 in the U.S. charts with Born to Be Wild in 1968, they lost the very writer of that song as a performing member. Accounts vary on whether he wanted out or if someone wanted him out.

Of course, I refer to Mars Bonfire; I will always consider him the Byron of our age.

Over the next ten albums or so, I couldn't help but notice that a number of Steppenwolf's best songs were also written by this chap: Faster Than the Speed of Life, Caroline, The Night Time's for You, Ride with Me Baby and of course, Tenderness. My take has always been that Bonfire was the more skilled songwriter, but that Steppenwolf was the better arranger.

Nonetheless, I've been thinking a lot about the following song of their's this past week. Written by John Kay (the singer for Steppenwolf), it is one of the very few I would rank with those by Bonfire for sheer emotion. Or tear production.

It tugged at my heartstrings way back in 1973 or so when I would hear it repeatedly on the jukebox in the basement of the Student Union as an undergrad ogling hippie chicks. The theme was kind of abstract then in those ever-optimistic days, but still a foretoken of what life might portend.

Sparkle Eyes was my favorite song then, listening to it thereafter on my cheap monaural phonograph blasting out the window, 20 years old, sitting on the stoop at Iota Street, annoying the neighbors with the din, during a warm May afternoon, fondling the Crowley Tarot deck which had just arrived via post from Llewellyn Publications in Minneapolis, pondering how much there was to learn in this world. The good old days.

And now? I'll ask you to note the potent line "...I'd try to break your fall and stop your spin."

Subjunctive mood: ("I'd" = I would).

You see? That's what's different about society since then: in the Age of Aquarius, we all lived the subjunctive; now only the indicative rules.

Except for those few of us who never grew up.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let's Quash the Nasty Rumor Now!

It pains me, but I feel I simply must step forward and deny the ugly gossip going around that I once went out on a date with Tonya Harding. Nor is it true that she hurled an ashcan lid at me. That was someone else.

I will confess to harboring certain impure thoughts about her when I was younger, though. Likewise, Ann Calvello.

We never studied Matthew 5:28 in Sunday School, thank heavens, so I think I can plead ignorance as a defense.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Punk Comes to Mankato

Thanks to Flapper Tank Ball, photographer extraordinaire, and later fine keyboardist with the East Side Pharaohs, here is perhaps the earliest photo ever of Kristi Vibrant in concert, Mankato's first punk band. The venue is the People's Fair, somewhere around 1977 or so. The snow fence in front of the stage will give you an idea of how wild things were in those days.

Click the photo to enlarge it full-size.

Left to Right: Riff, Kristi, Sticks and Studs

Sticks didn't last too long, having to miss gigs to partake of his girlfriend's church retreats. But this had the unexpected benefit of causing Riff and I to form the well renown "George and the Romantic" band. To this day, I can't recall if Riff was George or I was. But in the days of Glass of Water Productions, it really didn't matter.

Pseudonyms are glorious...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Will You Sign My Petition?

Hello friends,

I've decided to update my résumé in case I need to start working again. Looking over my older draft tonight, it seems just a trifle ho-hum and needs to be jazzed up a bit.

It occurs to me that were I beatified, I would no doubt appeal more to prospective employers. Now I'm well aware that beatification typically comes after death, but being an impatient Taurean sort, I'd like to cut out the typical stalling and just get down to brass tacks.

So, would you please sign my petition indicating your support for this momentous move in my human evolution? Just leave your vote in the comment box below, and I'll gather all the names into a personal missive to Pope Francis, then forward the compiled list to the Vatican.

Thank you!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

She's Back!

After almost three weeks AWOL, Frankie returned today. Let me tell you, our reunion was almost like that sailor kissing the girl at the end of WWII.

I don't know who rubbed whom more...

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Let-Down

I've always felt that Shakespeare is a user's manual for life. There is hardly a vagary he hasn't noted, and nearly always with compelling language. He often pops to my mind without warning. Like today, pondering the unraveling of our junior senator. In the words of that great Steppenwolf song, Desperation, "will the world ever change?" Anyway, the following from Julius Caesar welled up:
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fall of the Lavatory of Usher

What a surprise peek into the past! Flapper unexpectedly came across a photo this week which had lain forgotten for forty years but opened up a flood of memories to both of us. I'd like to tell you a little about the circumstances. I suppose this really belongs in my memoir, Spurts of Ink, which chronicles the doings at 249 Norton Street in full, but in keeping with the notion of a commonplace book to record things stumbled upon, it makes sense to post it here.

But first, the pic:

Photo by Flapper Tank Ball

There were many fringe comings and goings at Norton, but the long time membership always centered around Howie Buttz, Flapper, Kay (a pseudonym), Rog Baby, Swinger Ron and yours truly. In fact, Howie and I were the very first tenants (ensconced October 1, 1973).

One night, Howie came home from the taverns, a bit worse for wear (as was his wont in those days), and somehow staggered into the lavatory when his digestion decided to go into reverse. I was lying in bed reading, when I heard a bunch of retching and the sweet music of liquid burbling into liquid. Then some coughing and more retching. And then...crash! Followed by the tinkle of plaster falling.

I threw down my book and ran to the kybo to see what in the hell was going on, and there was Howie bent over the stool, drool running down his chin and a nasty amalgam swirling in the bowl. More to the point, there was his foot behind him sticking through a hole in the wall.

You know how a figure skater bends down and thrusts one leg up behind herself horizontally? That's what this looked like, except the terminating foot was thrust through a hole in the plaster. Mind you, there was nothing intentional about this; it's just that the convulsive projectile vomiting caused Howie to double over with alacrity, and the foot just naturally shot out behind him, puncturing the wall.

That's how the Lavatory of Usher commenced.

We attempted a cheap repair to what was a fairly trivial infraction, but now that the barrier was breeched, it was inevitable moisture would begin to creep in elsewhere. One by one, neighboring tiles began to drop loose. This was the real domino theory, for before long the entire wall all the way to the tub waxed necrotic. Then the north wall below the window succumbed, followed shortly thereafter by the west wall. After a couple months, the leprosy was in full Cinerama with a plentitude of mildew, crumbling plaster and rotting lath.

At first we weren't particularly concerned of the consequences, for our landlord, Osmo, was ever a cheery sort willing to cut us "wunnerful boys" quite a bit of slack. But his wife, Chic, was a different matter. At four-foot-six, she scared the hell out of us.

So, we decided to buckle down and do some major renovation. All without informing Osmo, of course. This was a very new experience for me: putting a bathroom together instead of dismantling it, but my buddy Ken Good knew all about repairs and suggested some materials we could try.

When we were finishing up the subsurface (wall board, spackling compound, etc.) we decided to entomb some mementos of the Norton Street hippies. I recall one of Kay's old brassieres was tucked in behind the lath. And a Copenhagen snus can containing a slip of paper bearing the terrifying plea, "Help! I'm being held as a sex slave!" Shades of Poe again, but instead of Fortunato, women's undies were walled up.

If truth be told, we had to render an overhaul twice over the years. I'm not sure if the photo above is from the first foray or the second. Doesn't really matter. Poe would have scoffed at the notion of thinking the rot could be stopped once it began.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

One Down, Eight to Go

You've all heard of rescue animals: dogs and cats who find good homes thanks to the decency of kind persons eschewing mercenary breeders. Well, I'm a rescue human, and it was the unconditional love of my neighbor's feline which saved me this past summer.

You see, Frankie took up this mongrel, me, became a somewhat offputting acquaintance fairly quickly, but after a protracted courtship was purring in my lap daily in the garden. She waited for me eternally by the back door and pledged allegiance whatever my failings with humans. She just wanted to be with me nonstop. And whined by the door when it rained, though I never let her in, fearing the neighbors might note yet another unattached female entering the abode. Truthfully, I don't think I've ever been loved so steadfastly. And I dream about her every night now!

My heart was so heavy for several hours today. I've lost so many friends this year, some through demise, some by attrition, that I really didn't think I could bear another.

When I took the recycling out around 1:00 in the afternoon, my still bleary eyes quickly took in an ominous tiding: puffs of fur all over the frosty lawn. I almost passed its woof in the warp of the frozen blades of grass, thinking it to be another bird run amiss of feline patrol, until the light pink of a collar unclasped lying limp caught my eye. And the charm depending from it was that I had grown to know so well this previous summer: an engraved heart, bearing the motto: "My name is Frankie."

Stooping to investigate, I wanted to believe that Frankie had instead found a chickadee, for the puffs of fluff could easily be taken that way. Some gray, some black, which fit...but then...some brown and tiger stripes. Still hoping that might be it, a closer examination then came up with all sorts of pure white fur.

Gulp. Frankie bears a coat born of deranged DNA, a tiger in the northern hemisphere, a polar bear in the southern hemisphere. My heart sank, but I kept trying to believe other explanations. A thorough search of the yard turned up no other clues, no sign of struggle, no blood, no carcass. I teetered from hopeful to despair given the lack of physical evidence, as Joe Friday might have put it.

Her owners were absent throughout the afternoon, while I fidgeted with that collar and its pink pendant heart I had come to know so well this summer of love.

Call me a romantic or whatever, but truly, I could feel my heart drop to my gut, and then a distinct knot in the throat. A very physical effect.

Good-byes hurt, of course, but worse is not being able to say good-bye.

Concentration on my afternoon mathematics and Latin was nigh impossible, with constant interruptions to investigate the fluff out back and hope for a better interpretation.

Eventually, the neighbors resurfaced. I hastened to them with the collar and a description of the ominous auspices. They knew and had had a busy afternoon. An emergency visit to the vet. Punctures to the throat, a bloody nape, a bit worse for wear (not to mention all that fur flying in the light snow today). But still meowing.

And as of eight hours ago, is expected to survive whatever her ordeal was.

You see, she's much more than a cat; Frankie is a familiar and appeared in my life when most needed.

I will never see her the same way the next time she jumps upon my lap.
The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that a caprice lasts a little longer.
 -- Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Forgotten Gem

Time for some rereading! I discovered H. G. Wells in the sixth grade when our Nazi teacher's disdain made the author all the more appealing to me. (See Books and Drizzle for the hilarious consequences).

Then by junior high I had read all of Wells (I thought), since the magnificent library in our town had the St. Martin's Press Complete Short Stories in its collection. (That's also the version I've owned since 1975).

So a couple days ago, I stumbled upon "Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation." This originally appeared in the Strand, then was collected in Twelve Stories and a Dream, finally arriving in the Complete Short Stories.

Anyway, I had completely forgotten it, apparently, for it read like new to me. I heartily recommend it to you. First off, it's funny as hell and gripping. Just as important, I don't believe I have ever encountered so much gorgeous language in one spot before. Wells really demonstrated his mastery of Latinate words in it; it's colorful without being ostentatious. I learned a bunch of new ones! And his descriptions of ridiculous circumstances are amazingly delicate, e.g., when the curate is hiding under a bed trying to stifle a sneeze.

You can read on the Web in: Twelve Stories and a Dream, and it's also available free of charge in Epub and Kindle formats. I've got it on my tablet now for easy reference.

Prepare for a genuine howler!

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Joke

Here follows what was one of my brother's favorite jokes, and its mental image really is perfect. The funny thing is, my mother who had unfortunate Calvinist leanings also thought it was hilarious (but only after she was in her eighties). Here goes:
A guy wanders into a tavern after an enormous Mexican meal one night and proceeds to drink himself silly, all the while wolfing down even more from the  complimentary taco bar there.

After a couple hours of this, the bartender orders, "Okay buster, you've had enough. Time to clear out."

The drunk responds in a slurred voice, "Sure thing, but let me go to the bathroom first." The bartender points him to the hallway, and the drunk stumbles along.

After a spell, ear-piercing high-pitched shrieks and screams come barreling forth. Alarmed, the bartender runs down to the mens room, but stops halfway along the hallway when he  notices the racket is emanating from the janitor's closet.

Flinging the door open, there's the drunk sitting atop a mop bucket.

The bartender, incredulous, asks, "What the...?"

To which the drunk responds, "It hurts like hell every time I flush!"

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


I have always used freshly grated block Parmesan cheese in my recipes, but just recently for the first time in forty years I bought a cannister of the dried variety for whatever reason. You know, that stuff that's always provided on the tables in a pizza joint.

So, I'm reading some sort of a rag a couple days ago, and the writer claimed manufacturers put sawdust in grated Parmesan cheese. That seemed a bit much to believe, so with some incredulity I pulled down my new acquisition to check.

Sure enough: the second ingredient listed is "powdered cellulose."

Isn't the English language magnificent? What a grand synonym for detritus from a lumber mill!