Call me Pope Ernie. Or His Holiness Ernest the Oneth, if you’re a Shiite Catholic.Read This Right Now!
Spelling and grammer and all that stuff! Supposibly its like real important
‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Sort Of
Some Disassembly Required
The True Story of the Maximally Flaccid Pud and Your Tax Dollars at Work
Vote for Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas: Because America Deserves NOTHING!
The Helicopter Song
John Denver Was an Alien and He Killed Himself and All I Got Out Of it Was This Boring Childhood
If You Give Your Wife a Peppermint Plant…
Angel couldn’t do any tricks. Oh, she’d mastered the basics: She was housebroken; she’d come when we called her; sometimes she would sit if she was being offered a treat. That’s about it.
There was one other thing, though:
Angel could talk.
In 1999, when No. 1 Son was 4, we decided it was time for him to raise his own dog. After interviewing a number of available candidates at the Humane Society, we rounded a corner and came face-to-face with an incandescent white monster. “Chewbacca: 1 Year Old,” said the placard on her cage.
Chewbacca most closely resembled an albino German Shepherd but was much larger, weighing in at a good hundred pounds. Our vet thought maybe she was a Shepherd/Russian Wolfhound mix, but we never knew for sure.
She sat on her haunches, one ear cocked straight up and the other flopped forward endearingly, and regarded us calmly, head tilted. No. 1 Son was instantly entranced. “I wanna take her!” he said. “Can I pet her?”
“I’m sorry,” the volunteer escorting us said, “but only adults can go in the cage.”
“Don’t worry,” I told No. 1 Son. “I’ll check her out.”
I entered the cage and squatted down in front of Chewbacca. Holding my hand out cautiously, I started to introduce myself with nonsense doggy talk: “Well, look at you. You’re a sweetheart! Who’s a good girl? Are you a good girl?”
Instead, I found myself saying, “Hey, Chewie. Think you might want to come hang at my house?”
Chewbacca sniffed my hand, then licked it with the faraway, appraising look of a wine taster.
“Hmm,” she mused. “Might be doable.” She glanced at my wife and No. 1 Son. “They part of the deal?”
She licked my hand again. “You know,” she said, “I’m not usually this impulsive, but you got a deal, Mister.”
In the van on the way home, Chewbacca sat eagerly next to No. 1 Son, looking at the traffic streaming by.
“What are we going to call you?” I said to Chewbacca. “I don’t think Chewbacca is really your name, do you?”
“You got that right,” she muttered.
“Snowbear!” my wife suggested. “How about Snowbear?”
“Hey, let’s call her Queen Frostine, like in Candyland,” I said.
I glanced back. Chewbacca was whispering in No. 1 Son’s ear; he frowned and whispered back. She shook her head and whispered in his ear again, he nodded.
“Angel,” No. 1 Son said.
“Her name is Angel,” he repeated firmly.
I glanced back at Chewbacca — I mean, Angel. She looked smug.
She never admitted it to me, but I’m convinced Angel wanted to grow up to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. Even given her size, her strength was almost unbelievable. You didn’t take Angel for a walk, she took you for a pull.
No. 1 Son’s favorite game with Angel for several years was to pick up a toy, then grab her collar. Angel would immediately spring to her feet and shout, “Pull!” No. 1 Son would throw the toy across the yard and Angel would pursue it, hoicking No. 1 Son violently off the ground and towing him along effortlessly like a banner behind an airplane.
Angel’s ability to talk never seemed unusual to us: We thought No. 1 Son was going to raise Angel, but she didn’t get that memo and decided she would raise him, so I suppose it made sense to communicate on a higher level. Most people couldn’t hear her talk, but among Angel’s family and closest friends there was never any nonsense doggy babbling: We communicated like peers.
Like many kids, No. 1 Son was a little bit fearful of being alone in his room at night. Angel quickly assumed ownership of that issue. At bedtime we would often be lounging in the living room while Angel snoozed in the corner.
“Angel!” my wife or I would say.
Angel would crank open an eye. “Bedtime?”
“Okay.” She would stretch, trot upstairs with No. 1 Son and climb into bed with him, keeping watch and returning to her living room nap only when he was asleep.
Occasionally her floppy ear would flick upright while we watched TV. “No. 1 Son’s awake,” she’d say, trotting back upstairs. Twenty minutes later or so she’d be back. “He’s asleep again,” she’d say. “Is Letterman on yet?”
In 2002, my wife, No. 1 Son and I took a trip to China, returning two weeks later with The Chowder: Our 7‑month-old adopted daughter.
I went in the house first and asked Angel to go out back for a little while. “We have a surprise for you,” I said.
“Oh, c’mon! You guys were gone forever! I hardly remember what you look like!” she complained.
We brought The Chowder in, ignoring the occasional yell from Angel out back: “Hey! What are you guys doing? Hey! I smell something funny! Hey!”
After everyone was settled I let Angel back in. She charged across the kitchen and skidded to a halt at the living room door.
“Okay, I’m surprised,” she whispered to my wife out of the corner of her mouth. She sat down and stared at The Chowder.
The Chowder, who had never seen a dog before, stared back up at the white, panting monster towering over her, its gleaming teeth framing a pink, lolling tongue and its intense black eyes fixed on her.
After about 10 seconds of unbearable tension, I decided if The Chowder didn’t start screaming soon, I would.
Then Angel did the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen:
“All right, then,” she said firmly, and crouched down, putting her head on the floor. She stretched out and crept slowly across the floor toward The Chowder, stopping when her nose was almost touching The Chowder’s foot.
“Now listen,” Angel said gently, looking up at The Chowder. “I can’t take care of you if you’re afraid of me. That’s no basis for a good relationship. So here’s the deal: I’ll lay right here and hold still until you aren’t scared anymore, okay? Go ahead — pull my ears, poke my eyes. I won’t hurt you. You’ll see!”
The Chowder tentatively reached forward, grabbed Angel’s floppy ear and came away with a double handful of fur. Angel smiled and closed her eyes. “See?” she said. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
The Chowder stared at the fur wafting away from her chubby fingers, then squealed with delight and dove face-first into Angel’s ruff.
As the years passed, Angel was promoted from Chief Executive Dog to Chairdog and finally to Dog Emeritus as other cats and dogs came and went. She’d chuckle tolerantly at their exuberance and arrogance, but made sure they knew the score, especially when it came to The Chowder and No. 1 Son.
An avid movie fan, Angel would do her best R. Lee Ermey imitation with the new recruits, then transition to a fatherly Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch) as she imparted her wisdom to them. Occasionally they’d get too big for their britches and we’d get to see a home re-enactment of the Velociraptors trying to take on the T. Rex in Jurassic Park. “AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” she’d roar as she hurled her opponents around like rag dolls.
But Angel never appointed a protegé until last year, when Bosco, a miniature Black Schnauzer, joined the family. Bosco massed about 10 pounds to Angel’s 100, but he had the rare combination of guts, intelligence and willingness to learn she was looking for. She tolerated far more guff from Bosco than anyone else, although she so radically outsized Bosco she would often sleep through his most ferocious attacks, snoring away as he chewed her ears and pounced on her.
But most of all she spent every waking moment teaching him everything she knew: “No, no, no, NO! The food stays here in the bowl! Now look — don’t bother them when they’re at the table. See, you just sit here in the corner and look hopeful. Someone’s at the door — Bosco, that’s your cue! Get over there and bark! Hustle!”
Bosco, although he didn’t share Angel’s gift of speech, was an apt pupil and learned very quickly. R. Lee Ermey retired and was replaced by kindly old Master Po, who gently but firmly led her young, impetuous Grasshopper down the path of enlightenment.
Several weeks ago, we noticed Angel wasn’t eating much and was losing weight. She’d always been lean and muscular, but we could suddenly see her ribs and hips. Our vet noted a fever and prescribed antibiotics and an appetite stimulant. We bought premium canned food for her and she started eating again, but after a few more weeks we realized she not only wasn’t putting any weight back on, she was still losing it. Bosco somehow understood the time to attack Angel was past and instead cuddled her protectively every spare moment.
In another week or so, Angel’s weight had dropped alarmingly; she looked gaunt and bony, but still as gentle and bright-eyed as ever.
“Bosco’s got this,” she’d say apologetically as Bosco would leap over her to bark at the door. “I’m just kind of tired — gimme a minute.”
In her last week with us, Angel began to have difficulty walking. We fed her her premium canned food with a fork as she lay on the living room carpet, gently thumping her tail. “I know I’m breaking the rules,” she said to me sheepishly one afternoon. “Sorry to be a hassle.”
“Now don’t you worry about that,” I said. “You’ve got a little pampering coming.”
“Thanks,” she said, finishing the last bite. “I’m not worried.”
“Good,” I said.
“As soon as you have a minute,” she continued, “I know you’re going to fix everything. No rush — soon as you have a minute.”
I didn’t reply. She looked at me steadily, confidently, for a moment before sighing contentedly and taking a nap.
The morning of August 9, Angel couldn’t get up. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I’ll feel better after a nap. Don’t worry about me.”
She slept in the living room all day, occasionally waking up to check in with Bosco, who by now had fully assumed the role of Chairdog pro tem.
Around 9 p.m. she woke up, looked at me and said, “Hey, I don’t want to be a pest, but I’m ready for you to fix everything. Whenever you have a minute. I just can’t get much done like this, you know?”
My wife and I sat down with her. “Angel,” I said, “I wish I could make everything okay. I really do. But I can’t. I’m sorry, hon, but I can’t.”
She looked surprised. “Really?”
“Really. I would if I could; you know that.”
Angel looked at my wife. “Is he messing with me?” Her eyes shining, my wife gently shook her head.
Angel thought a moment, then sighed and smiled. “Okay. Um, can you do me a favor?” She looked embarrassed. “I really need to go outside. I wasn’t going to say anything, but….”
“Sweetheart, don’t be embarrassed!” my wife said. We helped Angel to her feet and half-carried her to the back door, across the patio and onto the grass, where she did her business, then collapsed.
“Whew!” Angel panted. “Thanks!”
I got a beach towel and my wife and I gently cradled Angel in it, lifting her so she could pretend to walk back inside. I was surprised — Angel looked like a bag of bones, but she still weighed a ton.
About 11 p.m., we settled back down in the living room with Angel — my wife, No. 1 Son, The Chowder, Bosco and I — covered her with a blanket, and told her it was our turn to put her to bed for once. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” she said skeptically. We were sure. She’d earned it.
Angel panted heavily, closing her eyes but refusing to lay her head down. “Wait — I’m not sleepy yet,” she kept saying. Occasionally she’d open her eyes and look at one of us in surprise. “Oh, you’re still here?” she said.
“You bet. We’re right here with you,” my wife said. She’d brought blankets and a pillow down and was lying next to Angel, ready to spend the night.
Angel closed her eyes and her head sank slowly, then suddenly jerked upright again. “I’m okay!” she protested. “I’m not sleepy yet!”
Somehow we all realized simultaneously what she needed. And so, for the very first and last time in her life, we engaged in some nonsense doggy talk with Angel: We told her she was a good girl. A very, very good girl.
She looked around at us. “Really?” she wheezed.
“Really really,” my wife said. “You did a good job raising our boy. Didn’t she?” She looked at No. 1 Son.
“Yes,” he whispered. “You did.” He gently stroked her floppy ear.
The Chowder looked anxiously at her brother. “Bubby, we’re gonna see Angel in heaven, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She’ll be waiting for us.” Reassured, she buried her face in Angel’s ruff for the last time. “G’bye, Angel,” she said.
Angel looked at me.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s okay for you to go.”
She looked at Bosco, who had been lying by her side for hours. Bosco winked.
“Okay,” Angel said. “Okay. I’m just gonna take a little nap, then.” She finally relaxed, lay on her side, and closed her eyes.
Angel stopped breathing just after midnight.
We’d made arrangements to take her to the vet for cremation, so I decided to wrap her in her favorite blanket and put her in the back of our Jeep until morning.
I braced myself and lifted the still, silent bundle. It was light as a feather.
When we came back inside, Bosco was in the kitchen sitting on his haunches, his head tilted alertly at us.
“Okay, guys,” he said. “I got this now.”
Here’s one way I know I’m getting to be an old fart:
I first saw Led Zeppelin’s concert movie The Song Remains the Same when I was 15, waaay back in 1978.
Theater sound systems weren’t much better than a cheap AM radio back then, but although I didn’t own Charles the Deep Breather or the legendary underdash Pioneer Supertuner yet, I had some friends with decent stereos and I had a pair of Koss headphones at home, which no doubt contributed to my old fart hearing, but they did a far job of pounding “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” and “Dazed and Confused” into my skull, so my brain could fill in the sonic gaps.
It was, however, the first time I’d seen what anyone in the band looked like.
I remember thinking how wicked cool they looked, especially Jimmy Page’s embroidered black/silver kimono-jacket-bell-bottom-whatever-the-heck-it-was outfit.
I thought Robert Plant’s hair was cool, but I also thought then, and do now, that his package-bulge, which had white bleach marks or dried splooge or liquid paper kanji surrounding it, was either a cucumber stuffed down his pants a la This Is Spinal Tap, or it was his real package and he had to spend time in the dressing room every show rearranging his junk so the white crap surrounded it just so, but either way it looked uncomfortable as hell—not to mention that he was obviously singing commando, given that the jeans were tighter than a stripper’s G‑string, which might have helped him gain an octave or two more range on the higher notes.
I also remember thinking the camera spent an inordinate amount of time focused on Plant’s crotch, lovingly capturing for posterity his pelvic thrusts for future generations to study.
Anyway, earlier today I came across1 a listicle of interesting facts about the movie, including that the movie was shot over a three-day gig at Madison Square Garden, during which everyone in the band wore the same outfit for all the shows except John Paul Jones, who wore different clothes each day and horked up the movie’s already shaky continuity.
Zeppelin’s concerts were famous for lasting four hours or more, so I thought Man, those clothes took a serious beating.
This got me to thinking about other photos and video of their concerts I’d seen here and there, and after some Googling I verified that Robert Plant’s bolero-style shirt and package-strangling pants, along with Jimmy Page’s kimono-gi-kung-fu-pajamas thing, appear in dozens of their concerts from about 1970 up till 1980, when they broke up after John Bonham died.
This brought me back around to the trivia factoid about 75% of the band wearing the same clothes for three days in a row. Which in turn made think those outfits (especially Plant’s jeans, which by all rights should have had externally-visible permanent skid marks in back by then) would have been god-awful funky enough to kill the first 20 rows of fans at their concerts.
Watch Smell Remai—I mean, Song Remains the Same and you’ll notice they’re all drenched in sweat, and given their notoriety for debauchery and partying on the road, the mundane swamp-crack fragrance suffered by we mere mortals had to be an epic, eye-watering melange of sweat, booze, tobacco, pot, hotel carpet/drapes, smegma/sanitary napkin/splooge/swamp crack/smog/overflowing toilet/mace/sewer/sushi/caviar/effluvia abomination that would gag a vulture.
I mean hell, when I was still healthy enough to train in Kempo and work out almost every day, my cup and gi pants (even though I had several of each, washed them after a single use and wore a clean one every day) got so funky so fast I had to ditch them every couple months.
All that to say I’m sure glad John Waters’ Smell-O-Vision idea never got off the ground.
This post is about a song by The Righteous Brothers. I don’t know if they really were righteous, but I do know they weren’t brothers, so I guess I report, you decide. If you’re the churlish TL;DR type who can’t wait till the end of this post to hear the song, it’s down at the bottom, but if you skip the whole post like that you can’t be my friend or come up in my tree fort anymore.
If you’re under 45, chances are the only time you’ve been exposed to the Righteous Brothers was in the movie Ghost, or possibly in Top Gun.
In Ghost, The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” plays while Demi Moore is sculpting a clay vase, and Patrick Swayze sits down behind her and the vase gets ruined and they both get slimy wet clay all over themselves.
In Top Gun, The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” plays on a jukebox once or twice, along with the fighter pilots singing “Great Balls of Fire” and Kenny Loggins singing “Danger Zone” and the pilots playing half-naked volleyball and flying around really fast and in general sloshing buckets of sweat and testosterone off the screen and all over the audience.
The Righteous Brothers were were a hugely successful white crooner/extremely white doo-wop duet in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. And since this post is about The Righteous Brothers, I’d like to talk about The Partridge Family.
The Partridge Family was a TV show about a fictional musical family loosely based on the real musical family The Cowsills, who not only had a hit with the song “Hair,” from the musical with the same name, but got me very confused when was a kid, because it seemed to me that if a cow has sills, it should also have windows.
So anyway, The Partridge Family was neither a family nor a band. They were a bunch of actors pretending to be a band that didn’t exist, except they did kind of exist because you could go to Woolco or Sears and buy 45 RPM singles labeled The Partridge Family, even though the songs were performed by David Cassidy with a band of generic musicians, which conspicuously lacked a 10-year-old bassist and a 7‑year-old drummer.
My dad hated The Partridge Family. He also hated The Jackson 5, The Osmond Brothers, The Carpenters, the Monkees, The Righteous Brothers, and Bobby Sherman (who, on a side note, originally leased the custom-built 747 that Led Zeppelin used and was seen in the 1976 film titled The Song Remains the Same, which was about a Led Zeppelin concert in New York City in 1973).
Dad did not hate any of these musicians for their music. As far as he was concerned, they were just noise. Dad was like Bob’s wife, who worked at Bob’s Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers and who, when asked about what kind of music she liked, replied, “Both kinds: country AND western!”
What Dad hated was their faces. He also hated 3M, the company that produced Scotch Tape, and the magazine Tiger Beat.
Tiger Beat profiled young musicians and actors as long as they were safe-looking relatively short-haired guys (which is why Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper and The Doors never appeared therein).
Scotch Tape sold the tape my sisters used when they scissored Tiger Beat into confetti once a month in order to tape headshots of that month’s dreamiest teen idols all over their bedroom doors, then rip them all off to tape up the head shots from the next month’s issue, which was rapidly stripping the finish off the doors.
After school one day my mom asked me to go fetch her cigarettes from her room. The cigarettes were on her nightstand; as I picked them up I glanced at a 45 RPM single next to the cigarettes. It was a Partridge Family single, and the title of the song was “One Night Stand.”
I was 9 and not too sharp on the subtler nuances of grammar and spelling, so when I saw the single “One Night Stand” on the nightstand, my first thought was Why would anyone sing a song about a piece of furniture? 1
So I grabbed the single, along with the cigarettes, and asked Mom why The Partridge Family had a song about a nightstand, which led to an awkward, unsatisfying explanation about how a one night stand was when two people went to go see a movie together, but then decided not to see any more movies together.
I never did find out why the single was on my mom’s night stand.
Fast forward two years to the summer of ’74. I was 11 and had vaguely figured out that a one night stand was a very brief romance, and the reason the guy and the girl didn’t want to see any more movies together was because they didn’t like kissing. Prepubescent me understood that, because girls were yucky and kissing was stupid.
We were vacationing in Galveston, Texas, that summer. The Righteous Brothers had just released a song titled “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and it was getting heavy airplay, at least once an hour all the way there, all day every day we were there, and all the way back.
If you’ve never heard “Rock and Roll Heaven,” it’s a tribute to the legacy of musicians who had passed on, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, Bobby Darin, and Otis Redding.
I didn’t get most of the references other than Jim Croce and Janis Joplin; Joplin had appeared on the Tom Jones variety show, which my mom loved (and I snicker a little bit now, but at least she didn’t throw panties at the TV).2
I also recognized the reference to “Light My Fire,” but I’d seen Anthony Newley singing it on a variety show and I thought it was his song.
I loved “Rock and Roll Heaven” on its own merits; still do. But what made it so cool at the time was the chorus:
If you believe in forever
Then life is just a one night stand.
If there’s a rock and roll heaven
Well you know they got a hell of a band!
Part of it was the puerile thrill of someone on the radio singing the word “hell,” which was still mildly naughty, but what made the biggest impression was that for the first time I can remember, I connected with lyrics that used a simile to touch on a much deeper truth: Compared to eternity, life is short. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. And maybe someday those who touched our lives but have since passed on—well, maybe someday we’ll see them again. And in the meantime we can remember them by celebrating their lives and legacies.
MTV didn’t exist in 1974, but thanks to Midnight Special and American Bandstand, you could occasionally see a music video or live performance of hit songs.3
I didn’t know “Rock and Roll Heaven” had a music video until the other day, when I stumbled across it on YouTube. And just like that, a song I hadn’t thought of for more than 40 years was back, with all the influence and emotion it generated back then.
So I now present to you, all the way back from 1974, The Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven.”
Time travel can be brutal, though: In this case, try not to think about how unbuttoned shirts and bell-bottomed leisure suits and lapels wider then your shoulders were once unbearably cool.
During our ’74 summer vacation, Dad found “Rock and Roll Heaven” annoying, even though The Righteous Brothers weren’t Tiger Beat material, and he kept tuning to something else when it came on. I would yell, “Turn it back on! I love that song!” from the back seat.
Made him grouchy but it was worth it.
I just bought a used guitar, so I wanna talk about hands.
I’ve always had big hands. Today I look like an average-sized guy with big hands, but when I was a kid? Oh boy.
I have a picture of my sisters and me taken when I was 4 years old. I didn’t look like a kid with big hands; I looked like a kid wearing a pair of those giant foam hands they use to play Slapjack on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
The used guitar I just bought is a Gibson Les Paul. I’ve always wanted one, but they’re hella expensive. My Best Half spotted a guy on Craigslist selling a Les Paul, though—he was selling a lot of equipment, including the Les Paul, for which he wanted only $350.
A Les Paul these days can run $2,500 or more, especially if you get chrome PAF Humbucker covers, mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlays, the sunburst finish and some of the other goodies on the one I just bought.
I drove down to Cordes Junction to take a look at the guitar. The seller was a groovy older guy who looked like a cross between Gandalf and Jerry Garcia: gray and white shoulder-length hair, ZZ-Top beard, tie-dyed T‑shirt, the works.
The Les Paul was in beautiful shape; almost mint condition. Gandarcia said he had a bad shoulder and the Les Paul was just too heavy, and he had arthritis so he couldn’t play as much as he used to anyway.
He didn’t care about getting his money back as much as he cared about finding a good home for the guitar. I liked him and I liked the Les Paul, so I bought it.
(He also had a 100-watt Marshall amp he wanted to place in a good home, but I like being married so I regretfully declined.)
Back in 1982, when I was 20, I saved up and bought a Gibson Invader, which was a budget Les Paul: It didn’t have the sculpted maple top, the mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlays, plus a few other cheaper parts.
But it was still a damn fine guitar, and since it was less expensive it was like having a project car: I didn’t mind hot-rodding it up. I replaced the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan model; drilled a hole between the knobs and added a phase switcher; yanked out the stock pots and installed butter-smooth CDS (or was it Alpha-Control? Don’t remember) pots with handmade caps so crystalline they could make a brave man weep.
My friend Rob, who has a habit of naming things I own, named the guitar Sledge. And I played it, to use a tired old cliché, until my fingers bled.
Not long after I adopted Sledge, I moved out of my parents’ house and moved in with my friend George. George is an amazing drummer, and our living room was jammed with my stereo, my guitar and amp and other accoutrements, and George’s drum kit, which looked like the mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, except it was bigger and more expensive.
And we had a lot of friends who would come hang out: the aforementioned Rob, Tori, Dave, Daniel (who gave me an Electro-Harmonix Goldenthroat talk box—DAMN Daniel!), Kim, John, and I’m sure there were others.
And they were all excellent musicians, and we would jam, which means THEY would jam, because I was still learning to play, so I stumbled around in the background on guitar, sounding like Linda McCartney sort of playing keyboards and kind of singing along with Paul, who was too kind to tell her the sound guy had her microphone turned off.
Harsh truth: I loved playing guitar, but I was caught in that frustrating trap of having juuuust enough talent to understand what really good guitarists were doing, but knowing I’d never ever be that good.
That was okay. I didn’t need to make a living playing guitar, and I was lucky enough to spend time with some really good musicians and enjoy bothering the neighbors with them.
Like most guitar guys I accumulated a lot of gear: stomp boxes, a real live tube amp from Fender that tried very sincerely to kill me, but that’s another story, and a pink paisley Telecaster that yes, looked just like the one Prince played, although I hadn’t heard of him yet.
I hotrodded the Telecaster even more; primarily with BMG active pickups that were encased in black ceramic blocks and looked unbearably cool, plus other stuff I won’t bore you with, before I finally admitted I just didn’t like the Telecaster.
Oh, it looked cool and it sounded good when I played it, but it sounded GREAT when any of my real musician friends played it. Also, Rob never named it anything. I think he knew it wasn’t going to work out for us and he didn’t want to make the breakup any more painful.
It was the neck. A lot of Fender guitars have one-piece rock maple necks, and the Telecaster was one of them. But it was too skinny, and with my freaky huge hands I felt like I was playing a pencil.
Our pastor’s son was about 12 at the time, and he’d saved up lawn-mowing money and bought a really beat-up, lifeless acoustic guitar. He was saving up to buy an electric guitar, and then he planned to save up even more and buy an amplifier.
So I gave him the Telecaster and said he could just worry about saving up for a new amp. I didn’t see any point in trying to recoup the money I’d spent fixing it up when I could give it a good home with someone who needed it and was already far better than me at guitar.
And 30 years later, I found a beautiful Les Paul that needed a good home. Karma, baby.
I have exactly one photo of myself from the years I spent living with George and the musicians’ commune we operated: I think I was 22, and I’m playing Sledge. I was about as tall as I am now, but pipecleaner skinny, and my hands are still ridiculously big, if not as X‑Man mutant big as they were when I was a kid.
When 1995 rolled around, I’d been married for a while and No. 1 Son was on the way, so I did what any red-blooded American man would do: I quit my job, sold our house and moved us all to Oregon so I could go to college.
And while we were packing up to move, I made two bad decisions that still haunt me: I looked at the big pile of guitars and amps and stomp boxes and other gear I’d accumulated, and I decided it took up way too much room.
I also got rid of an antique barber chair for the same reason. That chair was ridiculously cool.
Sometimes you see these memes asking what you would say to yourself when you were a teenager; I would tell myself not to get rid of my guitar stuff and not to give away the barber chair. But I probably wouldn’t listen. I’m stupid that way.
So I loaded up the car with all my gear, except for a grungy old JDS acoustic I wanted to keep because I liked dragging it to concerts to see if I could get signatures on it, so Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Terry Talbot and Barry McGuire had all signed it.
(I also have a Village Inn kids’ coloring book/placemat that No. 1 Son and Barry McGuire colored together when No. 1 Son was 3, but that’s yet another story).
I drove to a music store in Topeka, the name of which I forget, but it was on 17th Street behind a no-kill cat shelter that used to be a Hardee’s, and I traded it all in on a really nice 12-string Washburn acoustic, which I still have but play only on the rare occasion when I want to play Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit,” because the stupid-big fingers on my stupid-big hands make the guitar sound like a couple of cats running around fighting on top of it.
It didn’t take long to regret my decision. Three days later, as we hit Interstate 70 west on our way to Oregon, I exclaimed “Why the HELL did I get rid of 12 years’ worth of stuff I loved? Why didn’t I just get rid of the sofa or the TV or My Pregnant Former Best Half?”
My Pregnant Former Best Half, who was in the car with me, expressed her displeasure at this remark by giving me a pinch that still hurts today.
And so I went to college and met many other musicians who were better than I’ll ever be, including Andy Gurevich (the titular guru of the Gurevichian cult, which is also another story), Matt, John, and some more folks I hope I don’t offend by not remembering them.
And I watched them play and I enjoyed it, but I missed being able to stumble around uselessly behind them.
And I vowed that even though my playing sucked, someday I would buy another electric guitar, just as soon as I could afford to feed my family with something more than Top Ramen.
But that never happened, because I was too busy ruining my hands. Which reminds me of my dad’s funeral, which I’ll get to in a minute.
I had a series of stupidly dangerous jobs in my 20s and early 30s: I worked night shift in a convenience store, in a state hospital with the mentally ill, and as a rescue mission chaplain before college. No, not as dangerous as being a cop or a firefighter, but then again cops and firefighters have training and equipment and insurance and stuff.
During and after college I also worked as a concrete mason and on security teams in college and in church and elsewhere.
After that I got a job doing web development, which I loved, but which also helped me build up a lovely nascent case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
But after all the stupid dangerous jobs I’d had, I got bored with having a safe office job, so I joined a Kempo karate school to spend more time with my kids, and wound up liking it and helping teach (even though I was about as good at martial arts as I was at guitar). Which also did not do my hands any favors.
I have some really cool scars and stories about grievous injuries to my hands and forearms: A spectacular (human!) bite scar on the back of my right hand; a scar and nerve damage on my right wrist from being hit with a broken bottle; a fractured ring finger that healed crooked; a burn scar at the base of my thumb from being splashed with sulfuric acid (yet another story), several broken knuckles, assorted connective tissue injuries from breaking bricks at Kempo demos, and other stuff I forget.
That was just my right hand. I abused my left hand even worse:
During a Kempo sparring match I blocked a punch with my left pinky finger, which emitted a gloriously horrible snap that made everyone in the room wince; I caught my hand between an engine block and a garage floor; I got hit on the back of my forearm so hard a bunch of ganglion cysts showed up later; and I got mauled by dog who took a couple of good chomps out of my forearm and hand and left behind a big numb area.
Oh, and I also got diagnosed with MS, which causes some stiffness and numbness in my left arm and hand, and to top it all off I’ve got a bit of arthritis here and there in both hands that I’m sure will be loads more fun in the future.
Just before Dad’s funeral two years ago, I… what? No, that’s not a non sequitur; I said I was going to talk about my dad’s funeral right up there. Pay attention!
Just before Dad’s funeral started, Mom and my sisters and my kids and My Best Half and I all went up to view him in his casket, and to give him some gifts: I gave him a Johnny Cash CD; The Chowder gave him a little apple pie (another story), and others I can’t remember.
The funeral director was there, discussing Dad’s appearance with Mom, and he looked at Dad’s hands and remarked, “These are the hands of a man who worked hard.”
True. Dad was a glazier for more than 40 years; he also did handyman work on the side for those 40 years and also rebuilt or remodeled just about everything in our house to boot.
After he retired he did handyman stuff almost full-time (I remember him joking that retirement was boring, what with only 40–50 hours of work a week). He was in demand as the maintenance guy for a number of rental houses and small apartment buildings.
Today I was looking at a picture of Dad taken in April, 2002: He’s sitting on a hotel room bed next to No. 1 Son, who was 6 years old, and he’s holding The Chowder, who was 7 months old.
The hotel room bed was in Changsha, Hunan Province, in China. And the reason we were there was to adopt The Chowder.
Dad’s hands were smaller than mine (hell, Bigfoot’s hands are smaller than mine). But they were thick and callused and corded with muscle and scars, and they looked like two bags of walnuts.
Right now I’m 5 years younger than Dad was in that photo. And while I’ve never made a living working with my hands, other than the aforementioned stint as a concrete mason in college, I like to think I’ve inherited some of his better traits:
He had a beatup old poster in the glass shop he worked in; it said “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
He wasn’t preachy or pushy; all he did was set a standard and then demonstrate it.
I delivered the eulogy at his funeral; later some guys he’d worked with, plus his former boss, told me his co-workers would gripe at times that Dad was kind of slow and didn’t turn things around as fast as everyone else.
His former boss told me how they answered that gripe: “Yeah; he’s a bit slower. But he never, ever has to go back and redo anything.”
It’s only been for about the last 10 years of my life that I’ve realized just how much that influenced me, without him lecturing or preaching at me once.
I’ve owned a couple of houses; I’ve worked as a writer, a graphic designer, an editor, a web designer and a web developer. When I do stuff I try to find a way to do it elegantly and simply, to avoid quick-and-dirty solutions in favor of doing it right the first time.
The other day I was sitting on the floor in our living room and tuning the Les Paul. Pepper was lying in front of me with her head on my knee, gazing adoringly up at me like she was Rose DeWitt and I was Jack Dawson.
My Best Half thought that was cute and took a picture with her phone.
When I saw the photo I chuckled at the way Pepper was making eyes at me, but then I noticed that my hands looked like sacks of walnuts, just like my dad’s hands.
Most of the jobs I’ve had in my life don’t create a tangible legacy; I can’t point at things I’ve made or fixed, or artwork or books I’ve written or things I’ve built.
But my hands look a lot like my dad’s hands; a coincidence of genetics and life experiences for sure, but I can live with having huge, half-ruined hands if it means I can honor my dad’s legacy a little bit.
You know that song “Joy to the World”? Not the Christmas carol, but the Three Dog Night song?
I like that song, but it provokes mixed feelings:
While it’s playing you love it, and you wish they’d keep playing it for another 20 minutes because it’s so much fun, but when it ends you feel disappointed for about 10 seconds and then you realize if it was one of those self-indulgent eternal jams, like when Led Zeppelin jammed on “Dazed and Confused” in the movie The Song Remains the Same for FORTY-FIVE FREAKING MINUTES, and by the time it was over you decided you never wanted to hear it again as long as you lived, except next time you’re on a road trip and you hit shuffle on your phone and it shows up, you listen to the ENTIRE FREAKING FORTY-FIVE MINUTE CURSED JAM AGAIN and you hate every second of it but somehow you can’t quite bring yourself to skip to the next song, so instead you wait till you see an overpass coming up so you unbuckle your seat belt and floor it and you smash into a concrete bridge piling at 130MPH+, and as you lie broken and bleeding in the twisted, steaming wreckage you smile, because you see the Grim Reaper himself approaching you wearing his black robe and carrying his scythe, and you wonder idly why he carries a scythe instead of riding in a combine or even using a string trimmer, and as he approaches you look forward to his sweet, quiet embrace, but then you suddenly realize even though your car and your body look like giant owl pellets, THE STEREO IS STILL PLAYING, and in abject horror you watch as Death pulls out an iPhone 5s and wiggles his index finger at you in a silent “naughty naughty” and he claps a pair of Beats Solo 3 wireless headphones on you and taps the iPhone, then drops it in the dirt next to you, and meanwhile you’re wondering why Death uses an anachronistic reaping tool like a scythe but also has some spiffy headphones and an iPhone 5s, which was released only 7 years ago, but then you realize you’ll have all eternity to ponder the riddle because the iPhone 5s is playing “Dazed and Confused” from The Song Remains the Same on repeat, but instead of playing the whole song it starts at 9:05 and plays until 13:20, then skips back and starts at 9:05 again, and as every diehard Zeppelin fan knows, Jimmy Page starts mangling a poor innocent cello bow at 9:05 and treats the audience to a ghastly caterwauling shriek of a cello bow/guitar solo so awful and infamous the only way This Is Spinal Tap could spoof it was having Nigel Tufnel play guitar not with a bow, but with a violin, and while he’s screeching around with it he also kicks another guitar on the floor, and you get to enjoy eternity listening to it.
To Jimmy Page’s cello bow/guitar solo, that is.
I hate it when that happens.
Our dogs got into a fight Monday. They say not to break up a dog fight, but I’m not gonna sit and watch them fighting in the living room.
Sasha had provoked a number of fights with Pepper, and Pepper would grab Sasha by the scruff of her neck and just pin her down while Sasha snapped and snarled; we’d grab a towel or blanket and cover Sasha’s head, then grab their collars and pull them apart when they started to calm down.
We’d been dithering about Sasha’s behavior and what to do. She’s totally sweet and loving with people, but for some reason she turned the normal play fights dogs have into real fights.
I looked into no-kill or rescue shelters in the area, but no one wanted to rehome a dog with the stipulation that she had to be an only pet. They all had lengthy waiting lists anyway.
Pepper’s our bigger dog; she’s a Catahoula Leopard Hound and she’s insanely powerful. Sasha’s a Black Lab/mumblesomething mix. If Pepper wanted to hurt Sasha she could have ripped her to pieces, but all she ever did when Sasha attacked her was pin her down like Sasha was a puppy.
Anyway, when they fought on Monday I pulled the blanket over Sasha’s head and the S.O. grabbed Pepper’s collar; as we started to gently pull them apart, Sasha pulled herself loose from Pepper’s grip and tried to lunge at Pepper again. My left arm got in her way as I was trying to pull the blanket around her, and she nipped my forearm.
Pepper pushed forward and pinned Sasha back down again, but much harder this time. I pulled Sasha away again and she howled.
I got her in a bear hug and held her while The S.O. put Pepper in her kennel; Sasha stopped struggling, so I moved the blanket to see if she was hurt.
She had a superficial cut on the back of her neck, but as I tried to examine it I realized she hadn’t just nipped me; she’d bitten me three times. I had two good chomps on my forearm with five or six punctures, and then a really nasty puncture between my index and middle finger knuckles.
We cleaned the punctures and I would have been okay with bandaging them up, but the puncture on my hand was too deep. I tried to approximate the edges and see if butterfly tape could close it, but no good.
So we went to the ER. They sutured me up and sent me home.
Animal Control called Tuesday morning, as I expected. The officer said he needed to come assess the situation and that Sasha would have to be quarantined for 10 days, but he thought we could probably do that at home.
I told him about their previous fights; I’d gotten a minor nip during a previous one; My Best Half got a nip and a jammed finger in a different one; Pepper had gotten a little tear on her ear in yet another one. The little nips here and there had progressed into more serious injuries. We were heartbroken, but it was just too risky to keep Sasha anymore.
I said I didn’t know what to do; we were seriously considering putting her to sleep since we couldn’t rehome her or get her into a no-kill shelter.
Turns out the Prescott Valley Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, and Animal Control could take her there with the condition that she needed to be placed with a family as an only pet.
Sasha was already a rescue dog; we’d adopted her from the Coconino County Humane Society. She’d been found living ferally on reservation land (I found out that happens so often they actually have “Rez Dog” listed as a breed in Animal Control’s database). She was in rough shape; she had a nasty case of demodectic mange and seemingly every species of worm there is.
When we adopted her, she’d been spayed, dipped and dewormed, and she just needed TLC, rest and food. She was 7 months old but she didn’t have puppy breath; her breath smelled like feces and gasoline from the worm meds. Her fur was brittle and greasy, she was still skinny, and she was afraid of everything.
I wanted to name her Dobby, after the house elf in the Harry Potter movies. She had big floppy ears and looked perpetually nervous. I was voted down.
We gave her a nice gentle oatmeal bath and just let her rest in her kennel; she seemed to feel safer in it. She didn’t take long to blossom into a wonderful dog, crammed with energy and personality and all the weird idiosyncrasies dogs have. Until couple of months ago, we were enjoying her and looking forward to a long, happy life with her.
So the officer came to the house and I signed the paperwork surrendering her to the Humane Society. I gave him Sasha, her medical records, the info on her chip and her favorite blanket.
And then she was gone.
We’ve been wrestling with the feeling that we made a bad choice, or that we failed her or gave up on her.
When you adopt a dog, though, you’re taking responsibility not only to provide for her, but also to do right by her when it’s time to make tough decisions on her behalf.
She’s only 3; I thought those tough decisions would be years away when she was old and the time had come to free her from suffering at the end of a long, happy life. I never imagined the tough choice would be to pick her up, put her in a cage in an animal control van, and close the door on her puzzled-but-trusting face.
All I can do is believe we adopted her when she needed it, and we nursed her to health and enjoyed her for a time, but that time drew to a close, and we had to send her on to be someone else’s beautiful, goofy, loving dog.
I hope they let her keep the blanket.
In these difficult times, times can be uncertain.
That’s why, in these challenging times, we often experience demanding times.
And in these demanding times, advertisers especially are confronted with tough times finding sufficiently severe synonyms to describe these trying times.
So, during these horrid times, we stand ready to help you through these catastrophic times; times so ghastly we scarce dare give them utterance. Because it’s really, really atrociously hard to find synonyms dreadful enough for these appalling times of harrowing times.
Therefore we find ourselves, during these apocalyptic times, feeling soberly proud and also honoredly solemn to provide you, our beloved, alert, revered, perspicacious and also eminently watchful educated wise insightful brilliant nimble sheep, with the—wait; make that brilliant nimble SHREWD, um, smart people.
Just remember: In these abominably wretched vile tragic despicable times, these times can be abjectly shocking heinous barbarically malodorous noisome putrid scabrous scatalogical pestiferous icky no-good very bad yucky and no fun at all.
That’s why we want to remind you that we’re all in this together, so why not use 70 or 80 words when one or two would do?
It’s been at least 35 years since I thought of this song. If you were in high school in the late ’70s, you’ll probably shriek in horror and outrage just from seeing the title and artist: “Children of the Sun” by Billy Thorpe.
If, like me, you bought the album to get the hit single,1 he looks even weirder on video than he did in photos. Plus he’s playing a Les Paul strapped up almost to his chin, so it looks like cross between a violin and a mandolin.
Writing anything autobiographical is kind of like the second verse in that Neil Diamond song “I Am I Said”:
Did you ever read about a frog
Who dreamed of bein’ a king
And then became one?
Well except for the names
And a few other changes
Like leaving out irrelevant stuff and compressing the timeline a bit
And not boring your readers with stuff that’s only interesting to you
And trying to include a few minor details for color without looking like every little thing is Chekov’s sword
Or using too many buzzwords or memes that won’t be funny by this time next year
And changing a few incidents to make them sound more believable even though that’s really what happened
And leaving out a song lyric or movie quote you love but you couldn’t get permissions for them
Not to mention that really funny thing you mom did but she’ll murder you if you include it…
The story’s the same one!
And now, children, hear and remember the tale of me, Billy Paul, Mrs. Jones, my friend Rob, and my dog Meatball:
Long, long ago, in a little state named Kansas, which no one wants to admit coming from except the classic rock band Kansas and possibly Bob Dole, two young men and a dog were tooling around town in the legendary muscle car Charles the Deep Breather, which probably sounds silly because you weren’t there, but which would make perfect sense if you were there, because Charles breathed very, VERY deeply indeed, and communicated in a subsonic, almost heavenly, rumble that made fans of glasspack mufflers sneer, fans of turbo mufflers weep tears of pure joy, and everyone else say, “That car! It—it spoke to me! It made my panties moist and/or my jeans tight “(depending on their gender)”, and I want to run after it to hear and understand and remember its teaching, but I can’t because I have nothing but two legs, while Charles the Deep Breather boasts 8 cylinders and 318 wholesome, part-of-this-nutritious-breakfast Detroit cubic inches (plus a .30 radius of bored-out glimmery smooth cylinder walls, rebuilt 340 heads, a 60,000-volt Mallory racing ignition coil, graphite ignition wiring, an aluminum Edelbrock intake manifold, a 600 CFM Holley four-barrel carburetor, a bunch of other racing parts no one gives a shit about, and the most important component of all: the storied underdash Pioneer Supertuner pumping its juicy American-made stereophonic DNA through a 60-watt graphic equalizer and finally into the Holy Grail of mobile tunes: a pair of 6x9 Jensen triaxial speakers!”
And on this long ago night, my friend Rob, my dog Meatball, and I were engaged in the…
What? Meatball? You’re worried about Meatball? Look, Meatball loved loud music, okay?1
Anyway, Rob and Meatball and I were—okay, now what? Oh, you think it was cruel to name him Meatball? Look here: People should not name animals. We should instead listen to our animals and use the names they choose. Meatball was named Meatball because that’s the name he wanted me to use.
So! We were observing the time-honored tradition of getting drunk via a cooler of beer in Charles the Deep Breather’s back seat as we drove around, which also sounds silly (if not downright irresponsible) if you weren’t there, but if you were there it made perfect sense that two friends, a dog, one car, and some beer all had to be enjoyed simultaneously, because that’s just the way it was and get off my lawn.
Rob, Meatball and I had been drinking, driving and rocking out for a couple hours and had just finished listening, on cassette, to Queen’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera,” with punishingly high decibels, and for some reason we couldn’t agree which cassette/band/album we should listen to next, so I just flipped the Supertuner’s switch from cassette to radio and we started listening to KDVV, aka V‑100, to see if anything good popped up.
And it did. To an exponential degree, it did.
The moment we switched over to V‑100, Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” had just started. And Rob and I (and, I am convinced, Meatball), we all loved “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
Meatball generally showed his approval by wagging his tail, while I, carefully and wisely, avoided trying to sing along with music if anyone else was present, even if it was just Meatball. To do otherwise would probably violate the Geneva Convention.
Rob, on the other hand, was and is an excellent vocalist. Meatball and I were both delighted to delegate the mouth music to him.
Billy Paul had just finished the first stanza from “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and was gathering his strength to explode into his famous refrain: “Meeeyeee aaaayaaand… MISSUS! Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones! We got a thing going on!”
And Meatball and I were happy to be The Pips to Rob’s Gladys Knight, reasoning that with Rob bellowing out the chorus along with Billy Paul’s ear-shattering voice hammering out of the Jensen Triaxials, we could add to the overall volume without drifting too far off-key.
And the moment arrived: Billy Paul’s thundering “Mee-yeee aaayaaand MISSUS! Mrs Jones!” plus Meatball and I uttering an unreasonable facsimile thereof, and the other cars and traffic sounds and other urban background noises, all setting the stage for and pumping up Rob’s better-n-average contribution, and the whole world screeched to a halt and cocked its ear to see what Rob’s contribution would be, and he did not disappoint:
Verily did he openeth his lips, and he sang with all his might, and he utter—uttereth, no, utteredeth… SHIT! Okay, he proclaimed to the heavenly skies above and the rest of us mere mortals, and he sang:
“Weeeyeeee aaaaayand MISSUS!” and then he paused, realizing he was having a little pronoun trouble exacerbated by beer, because “Meeeyeee” and “Weeeyeee” are radically dissimilar, even as I was wondering why he paused, and then Meatball whispered to me “Who’s this ‘we’? You got a mouse in your pocket?” and I blurted out “ ‘WE?’ Ooh! Menage a trois!”
And Meatball started laughing, as did Rob, and I started laughing as well but then belatedly realized hey, maybe I shouldn’t veer left and kill us all.
In conclusion, we all got home in one piece even though we all laughed so much no court in the nation would have convicted us for being unable to drive, and then I ran away and got married and had two kids, but Rob didn’t, and then my marriage fell apart, and somewhere along the way Rob got married and had a kid, and I got remarried to an unreasonably beautiful and amazing woman who by all rights could have landed Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt but instead she chose ME, and I bet Rob feels the same way about his wife and son too, so I’m pretty sure I don’t need to threaten him with telling his wife about our stupid juvenile behavior and hey Rob, I love you and thanks for giving me so much of your time way back then.