EDDIE’S B L O G
BLOG TWENTY ONE – 12-2012
In December, which is my least favorite month, i try to give Xmas a wide berth. But it comes after me. Ignoring it is impossible. If i could, i would hide in my digs all month & not watch broadcast TV, listen to the radio or read any periodicals. Xmas is that ubiquitous. It is that insidious. i’d probably have to board up the entrances and windows to keep it out. Yow! Xmas Zombies outside, fresh out of brains!
You can’t just like Xmas, you gotta love it… or you’re The Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Slate, Manuel Noriega. Being merry is non-negotiable.
Xmas is the best advertisement the Christian religion has, even though most of what’s fun about the holiday- gifts, parties, decorating in seasonal themes, drinking and shtupping at the workplace Xmas party- comes from the pagan Romans. They say these traditions are “borrowed”, but i’d have to say that since the Christians took over Rome and began throwing the Romans to the lions in the 300s C.E., that ownership has been firmly established.
My mainest problem with Xmas is all the loud visual imagery and louder noise. After Halloween, everywhere you look you see Xmas images. Candy canes, Yule logs, candles, bells, snowmen, elves, sleighs, reindeer, snowflakes, stars, gingerbread men and their houses, mistletoe, wise guys on camels, Xmas trees, talking snowmen, angels with folded hands, nativity scenes, a striped barber pole in the snow, stockings, rocking horses, teddy bears, dolls, fruitcakes, cookies shaped like any of the above, and of course the likeness of the evil old elf himself, Santa Claus. i think it an unlikely, but somehow fitting coincidence that Santa is an anagram of Satan.
Visually speaking, pretty much any crappy, garish, slapdash, green and red object depicting some element of the Xmas oeuvre magically becomes a treasured piece of art during the holidaze. Then in January it goes back to being crap again. Everything gets thrown back into plastic tubs, which are burped and stacked away from sight until next day-after-Halloween.
And even with the hearing loss i have, i seem to hear sleigh bells everywhere. Or is my tinnitus getting worse? i think the behavioral psychologists who work for the advertising cabal have determined that nothing makes people think of Xmas more effectively than the sound of sleigh bells. It is a sound that will actually cut through seemingly louder sounds, like many percussion instruments. Try an experiment. Turn on network TV at a modest volume and go into the next room. When a commercial with sleigh bell sounds comes on (you’ll only have to wait a max of two minutes), you may notice that you can hear the sleigh bells even if you can’t hear the announcer. What do you think this does to kids? And dumb people? Can you say “Pavlovian Slobber Reaction”?
It’s the noise pollution that really gets to me, being a musician. Apparently i am totally unable to tune it out. i’m talking about Xmas music, which cannot be avoided if you get your food from stores and restaurants. If you go anywhere during the holidaze, you’re going to hear Xmas music (and see some of the goofier employees of businesses you patronize wearing douchey Santa hats)… it is an unavoidable part of the aural landscape in early winter, and its cessation on January 1 is something i look forward to with great anticipation.
i work in a big-box “superstore”. On the day after Thanksgiving at eight in the morning, as i was making my way from the time clock to my department, i heard the Muzak change over from lame non-threatening white pop music to Xmas carols. My heart sank at that moment. It was going to be a long four weeks.
We made up a tote board of the songs we heard each day, and kept it going long enough to determine some averages. We have heard Jingle Bells (including the screechy modernist Streisand rendition), The Little Drummer Boy, It’s a Marshmallow World, We Need a Little Xmas, Sleigh Ride, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silver Bells, Frosty the Snowman, White Xmas, The Xmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire), The 12 Days of Xmas, Deck The Halls, My Favorite Things and several others an average of seven times a day. Heard a little less often, maybe three to five times daily, are All I Want For Xmas Is My Two Front Teeth, Holly Jolly Xmas, (Burl Ives), Shake Hands With Santa Claus (Louis Prima), I’m Gettin’ Nuthin’ For Xmas, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, We Wish You A Merry Xmas, The First Noel, Jingle Bell Rock, Silent Night, Let It Snow, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Xmas Bells Are Ringing, Silver and Gold (Burl again!), Xmastime Is Here, Home For The Holidays, I’ll Be Home For Xmas, and many more i don’t really want to think of.
These are all in several versions, spanning the timeframe from the late ’30s to the late ’60s. Prominently featured are Bing Crosby, The Ray Conniff Singers, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Burl Ives, Elvis, The Percy Faith Orchestra, Mantovani, and many other lame-ass artists from way back before you could hear the bass and drums. And it’s played loudly, probably so that its target audience- old people with nothing to do but wander around a big-box office supply store- can enjoy it despite their hearing problems. If only i was a little deafer!
Last week a woman customer about 75 years old remarked what a lucky young man i was to get to hear Xmas music all day every day. i must admit i got a little exasperated. i was polite but strident when i informed her that i had heard, for instance, Jingle Bells over 35 times that particular week. She wouldn’t be swayed, though- she was overjoyed that we were so fortunate. The staunchest Xmas elf among my co-workers can’t stand the endless barrage of tinny, soupy holiday ditties from the Golden Age of Big Band Music that is our seasonal soundtrack as we go about our duties. That our jobs are extra busy and difficult due to the influx of holiday shoppers serves to make us even more merry as well. Let’s just say it’s a Joyous Fuckin’ Time for all of us.
i think what humbugs me most about Xmas is the fact that all these righteous elvish folk who are decorating their houses and cubicles and pets and shopping in industrial quantities and sending out cards and wearing purposely stupid sweaters (with Santa hats) and bowling with turkeys have no clue that this holiday is not biblical in the least. The “good book”, which is very specific about what holidays to observe and how to observe them, even down to the time of day and what to eat, does not admonish humans to formally celebrate the birth of Jesus. At all. It encourages us to be happy that it happened, but no feast day is decreed in its pages.
The date December 25 was appropriated by the early church fathers from the Roman Saturnalia, or Feast of the Invincible Sun. This pagan festival was thrown every year by the ancient Romans leading up to the winter solstice, in hopes of talking the sun god into spending more quality time in the northern hemisphere. And every year it worked! The days began to lengthen again! A fuckin’ miracle! Conveniently enough, the observance was marked by gift-giving and party-having, and much festive decorating with evergreens and doodads from the woods. And a relaxation of moral codes. Think of Mardi Gras, but with free wine served in huge lead goblets.
The new Holy Roman Church wanted to excise the year-end debauchery of its pagan subjects, since the early Christians were being drawn in by the fun. So they proclaimed December 25 to be Christmas, a solemn feast day. But the solstice revelry continued unabated and got all mixed in with the holy birthday party.
The best evidence the bible gives about the actual birth date of Jesus is sometime in early November, since the shepherds were still in the fields with their flocks. The end of December would have been during the rainy season, when the sheep were taken home and sheltered.
When i was a kid i fell for the Catholic point of view hook, line and flagellum. i was a little depressed weird kid, and i was taught that God could see my actions, my very thoughts. This alarmed me greatly. Why would any God-fearing person ever do anything wrong, when God could see everything including our innermost motivations and feelings? i did my best not to piss God off, but always seemed to run afoul of the nuns. They were quick with the paddle, but worse was the psychological browbeating they liberally doled out to us.
At any rate, when i was in Catholic school i began to feel guilty about Xmas. Would Jesus want us to celebrate this most holy of days with lavish meals and gifts; with light displays and millions of freshly-felled trees and tinsel and glitter and gravy and pudding and all the… trappings of a modern Xmas? i thought, if Jesus commanded us to give away everything we own and follow him, if we were supposed to lay up our treasures in Heaven and not in banks, if we were to take up the ol’ rugged cross and follow Him up the rocky road to salvation, then shouldn’t we sell all this crap and give the proceeds to the severely poor? But i never mentioned it to my parents or brothers. No one was going to stop the yearly flow of my presents. Which generated even more guilt…
Over the centuries we have evolved this brightly painted, tinsel-strewn, ultranoisy, militantly Christian holiday which is beginning to eat the rest of the year backwards with its music, “customs” and advertisements. It takes over all media for its season, assaulting us with one image after another everywhere we look. In almost every indoor public space we are sealed in a dome of Xmas music.
Xmas affects the world economy in such a profound way that manufacturers and retailers rely on it for a huge percentage of their bottom lines. It is the perfect excuse for one of the world’s thousands of religions to proselytize loudly, shamelessly and without fear of being disagreed with. It’s the Christian Woodstock. i’m really surprised more people don’t feel like me.
My one Xmas wish, the only one that feels real to me, is that everyone spend the day with their loved ones to eat and commune together. That’s the one good and true thing in my mind about Xmas, and i hope everyone has a good one despite the shameless proselytizing, the aggressive hucksterism and all the rest of the happy horseshit. To all a good night.
BLOG TWENTY – 11.6.12
The Damned Republican Party
i despair of ever understanding why any American who pulls down less than $250K per year would vote Republican. Every time i drive past a run-down trailer with a Romney sign out front i think:“what’s in it for you, citizen?”
It just seems so obvious to me, and has since before my first presidential election (i voted for Carter). Democrats are for the people, and Republicans are the people who own the people. When Reagan took over the country, i stayed jobless until after Bush I was gone. i was lucky enough to join a band that worked full-time in 1984. If it hadn’t been for that, i’m not sure what i would have done for money.
During the Clinton years the country boomed. Bill fixed the budget, even creating a surplus. During that time, the Republicans were slamming him any way they could. When the Whitewater “scandal”failed to capture Joe Sixpack’s interest, they invented one charge after another. When Bill shot himself in the foot with the Monica Lewinsky “affair” I thought Ken Starr and the rest of the right-wing storm troopers were going to repeatedly piss themselves with joy. But even then they couldn’t oust “Slick Willie”, because he was doing a great job running the country, and he was the smartest guy on the hill.
Of course, all the middle-class Republicans screamed for Bill’s blood. After Monicagate, it’s not hard to understand. This was precisely the type of issue that Repubs have always used to discredit politicians not in their back pocket.
The so-called conservatives on the right know only too well how to hypnotize most working class folks. They’ve employed an army of motivational psychologists and conducted countless focus groups to find out what really pisses John Doe off. Appealing to his sense of morality is the best way to hit him at the gut level. Just as the colonial powers subdued the non-white peoples of the world with religion, so now does the right wing bludgeon the average person with his or her own spiritual beliefs.
Does anything get religious people more excited than issues such as contraception, abortion, marriage equality, cloning, stem cell research, or Muslims? Not even professional sports gets more blood boiling than so-called moral issues.
The Republican leadership also uses the myth that democrats are only concerned with spending our money and raising our taxes, mostly for silly purposes. The Repubs also do everything they can to perpetuate the falsehood that they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Nothing could be farther from the truth. George W. Bush spent our money like a Rockefeller. His two wars of non-necessity are still costing us billions, and his tax cuts for the very rich are one of the mainest causal factors in the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of the ‘30s.
This election cycle is unique, however, in that we have a charismatic, results-driven Democratic president who reformed health care, repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, has gone to the ropes in support of marriage equality, has taken more initiative to develop sustainable energy sources than all other prezzes combined, has spoken out in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, brought down the evil bogeyman Osama bin Laden, drawn down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the fabulously well-to-do, made financial assistance more available to college students, and saved the auto industry. All these things are toxic to the republican party.
On the night of the inauguration a meeting was held at a posh DC restaurant. Many prominent republican lawmakers were there, along with brass from Fox News. Their purpose was to figure out ways to bring Obama down, and those present vowed to do whatever was necessary to oust the new POTUS. One of the most reprehensible things they discussed was purposely ruining the American economy just to discredit Barack. At that meeting were Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan.
That any political party can behave in such a lowlife manner is something most Americans cannot conceive of. What was being discussed by elected legislators that night is nothing less than treason.
Everything Obama has tried to do in the past four years has been opposed tooth and claw by the GOP. It’s surprising to me that he was able to get anything done at all other than defending himself from the onslaughts of evil rich men making secret plans away from the public eye.
Why would grown men in high office oppose sustainable energy? The reason is the oil, gas and coal industries and their unethical financial ties to lawmakers on the hill. If the Republicans aren’t stopped, their owners will extract every bucket of combustible material in the earth’s crust, and mining and burning this material for energy will cinderize the planet. All for obscenely huge profits for the very few.
Why would they oppose healthcare reform? The insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and their shady ties to legislators. Big Pharma would hate to see marijuana legal, also, because marijuana is a plant and as such can’t be easily controlled by that particular cartel.
Why would killing bin Laden piss off the right wing? Because they couldn’t do it, so it must not be worth doing.
Marriage equality? The Repubs don’t really give a shit what we underlings do in bed, but they are delighted to use it as a wedge issue to alienate “people of faith” from the depraved Dems. The same goes for right to choose, stem cells, cloning and contraception. It’s always been this way, but this election is different because we have a very progressive administration that may just manage to reconcile some of these issues should Barack win again.
i’m really not surprised that in the county where i reside, Wayne County, Ohio, Romney signs outnumber Obama signs by a huge margin. People around here aren’t necessarily less intelligent than people elsewhere, but with a billion-dollar campaign of misinformation being aggressively waged skewed toward the working class, it’s hard for anyone to get to the real truth. It’s just very unfortunate that these people have been persuaded to vote against their own interests. Again.
BLOG NINETEEN – 7.8.12
We’ve all had the experience of trying to get help in a store from a dead-eyed, slow-moving, attitudinal tween or twenty-something in a brightly-colored tunic or apron to which is attached a corporate logo, a cute slogan, a name tag and a button that says “Ask Me”. There may be a stupid hat involved as well. The eye-rolling, gum-popping, illiterate, mathematically challenged “associate” does anything he or she can to get you out of his/her face, and you leave the store feeling dirty and abused.
Believe it or not, those types of lazy, indolent, clock-watching slobs are in the minority in the service industry- they’re just more noticeable because they create an ugly customer experience that’s easy to remember, and makes a great story.
More numerous by far are hard-working, honest, dedicated employees who try to juggle corporate and customer expectations, don’t make much money, have no benefits, and often have to work more than one part-time job to get the bills paid.
i belong to the latter group, as hard as that may be for some people to believe. i have always prided myself on the fact that when i’m on the clock, no matter how much i may detest the place i’m working, no matter how hateful and stupid the customer is behaving toward me, i always render the best, fastest, friendliest, most knowledgeable service i can.
My first experience with retail, other than paper routes, was when i worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken (we called it “K. Y. Fried”) in Orrville in 1975- 76. i was a cook and had limited interaction with the public, but if anything was wrong with the chicken, i heard all about it. There was a cooker the size of a VW Microbus in the kitchen, and sometimes it would inexplicably overcook, or worse yet undercook, the dead birds i shoved in there. It was all automated and i couldn’t change any settings. That’s my story and i’m sticking to it. Once in a while a number of customers would get sick from a batch of chicken. As far as i know, no one from the company ever came to check out why this would happen.
Working there was hot, greasy and disgusting. The food there was absolutely terrible. i ate it four or five nights a week. i had bad acne, which cleared up when i stopped eating K. Y. Fried. Go figure.
We employees were treated like slaves. We had to clock out every night at 11 and continue to work until the place was relatively clean. On busy nights this meant leaving at 1 am. We had to be in school at 8 am. When i started there i pulled down $1.65 an hour, a year later i was making $1.85.
My next two jobs, at Westinghouse and Crown Hill Cemetery, got me out of serving the public for a few years (the cemetery customers i worked with had nothing to say at all). i went to work as manager of Groucho’s Lounge in 1981. i tended bar six nights a week, and got to see firsthand how much more rewarding it was to deal with customers who had been drinking. Not.
In 1983 i caught my boss trying to charge my brother twice for the same tab. i think that’s the only time i ever said “Fuck you” to an employer.
After a jobless winter renting an apartment from that same employer, i tried out for the Cleveland band First Light and got in. For the next fourteen years i didn’t have to be deferential to the public, i could be as big a shit as i wanted. No one expects politeness from musicians, and we deliver. i’m kidding, for the most part.
The band decided we would break up in the spring of 1998. In the fall of 1997 i found a job at Books In Stock, a used and rare book shop in Wooster. Although it was technically a retail job, our customer base was for the most part friendly… and weird. i enjoyed working there, but was in the middle of the worst bout of anxiety i’ve ever experienced. It didn’t help when one of my co-workers notified me that the owner was trying to get rid of me. i began to spiral downward, and in June 1998 the owner “laid me off”.
After getting several unemployment checks, the bookstore owner successfully challenged my benefits and i was disallowed. A few weeks later i ran into an old friend at a bar and he hired me to paint houses on his crew.
It was an all-musician crew and i loved working for Mike. In August of that year, though, i got hired by the Schantz Organ Company, a job i’d been applying for on and off for over twenty years.
Working at Schantz was the only factory job i’ve ever loved. The president of the company was a conniving shitheel with delusions of royalty, going through a midlife crisis complete with a new Harley. Most of the employees there were religious to a ludicrous degree. The metal shop was the hottest room i’ve ever worked in. But i sincerely enjoyed building pipe organs. i was there for about two years.
i jumped back into retail when i married a woman who really hated Orrville and wanted to move to Colorado. We relocated in December 2000. i worked as a temp in a tea factory until Christmas was over, then i sold framed art prints door-to-door through January and February. Now that was one retail experience i would rather not repeat.
i wound up at Kinko’s, since they didn’t give the “Whizz Quiz” (they do now). This was a retail adventure that almost killed me. Everyone who worked there seemed very stressed out, and it didn’t take two weeks for me to understand the cause. Management seemed obsessively committed to making life as tough as possible for us grunts. i think the reason for this may have been that a lot of extremely lazy younger people worked for the company, and harsh treatment was the only way to get and hold their attention.
For dedicated and industrious workers like me, however, the Draconian measures which Kinko’s and later FedEx Kinko’s used to deal with us was highly toxic. It was by far the most hostile environment i’ve ever worked in. Once i was there long enough to get benefits, it seemed like management was looking for ways to get rid of me. i’m also certain that they routinely tried to make it an impossible enough job that no one in their right mind would last a year there. They hadn’t counted on me. Ha.
We would get “written up” for anything and everything, including making honest mistakes. If we accrued three write-ups in a six month period, we would be terminated. i lasted nine and a half years, and every second of it was a struggle.
Not only did the company hire store managers who were mean, selfish and megalomanic, the customers who frequented our stores seemed to take a dim view of us as well. One customer after another would yell at us and complain to corporate about us. Management never backed us up, they always sided with the customer (who was often lying).
They sent “secret shoppers” to monitor our performance. Corporate henchpeople also subjected us to the “Yes We Can” call- pretending to be customers on the phone, they would request an insane amount of copies with a totally unreasonable turnaround time. If one of us answered with anything other than an unqualified “yes”, we got- you guessed it- a write-up. Even if we hesitated or put the spy on hold to check the production schedule, it was write-up city.
These are by no means the most insidious tactics management used against us there. The dirtiest dealings they had with us weren’t officially sanctioned by the company or codified in the employee manual, because then Kinko’s would have probably gotten its “K” sued off.
The really successful managers were always Machiavellian despots who plotted against us lower-level wage slaves. They would pit one team member against another, encouraging us to throw each other “under the bus”. They would watch tapes of us working to see if there were any actionable infractions. They would set us up to fail by giving us too much work. And we never seemed to have the ink or paper or component that we needed to complete an urgent job on time. And Kinko’s marketed us as though we were the McDonald’s of print companies, promising perfect service so fast there was no way we could keep up. When I joined up, the company motto was “We’re Doing More”… we grunts amended it to “We’re Redoing More”.
We were understaffed, overworked, undersupplied, using machines that were on their last legs. At peak seasons we had to work monster hours and couldn’t get any time off. When business slowed down our hours were slashed and we would get written up if we put in any overtime. Of course, if all our work wasn’t completed or we couldn’t get our tills reconciled or we had to do online training that was close to overdue or we couldn’t get away from the masses of angry people at the counter, we couldn’t leave. i worked third shift for a couple years in Longmont, Colorado- my shift was over at 8 am, but I was often still there at 10, crazy tired and chewing Xanax to keep the anxiety at bay.
There are websites devoted to posting hilarious complaints from customers and “team members” alike. If you Google “Kinko’s Horror Stories” you will see what i mean.
i had a heart attack on the job, and management stepped up its efforts to get me to quit. Things that would be mandatory one month would get us fired the next. There was so much paperwork attached to each copy order, it often outweighed the order itself. And if any little boxes were unchecked, if any “T” wasn’t crossed or an “I” wasn’t dotted the Kinko’s Way, we were called into the office to be interrogated by the store manager and the hub manager and the district manager and the human resources jackass. The final time i was written up it was because i’d elected to take my break at my workstation. My other two team members were busy in other rooms, and i had decided to keep myself available in case customers came in. While i took this break (standing up, with my feet killing me), i worked on a letter to a friend. This pen pal was the person who’d suggested i apply at Kinko’s in the first place- she had worked at Kinko’s for years and we often discussed in humorous detail the vagaries of working for such a bastardly company. So, this letter had nothing nice to say about the company, and i even called the interim manager (the prior manager had been fired two weeks before, because the downtown Akron location wasn’t making enough money) a “lazy 20-something dumb ass”.
Three days later the hub manager showed up from Fairlawn and went into the office with the interim store manager. After a while i was paged to the office, and i jokingly said “It’s been nice working with ya” to my friend Anita.
When i sat down in the office, Angie the hub manager shoved a copy of the letter i’d been writing in my face. Then they took great relish in firing my butt.
i was jobless for almost a year. i got unemployment benefits for most of that year, then FedEx Office challenged my claim and suddenly i supposedly owed $6,000. i got a lawyer from the local Legal Aid Society who turned out to be no help at all. In the end i represented myself at the hearing. It was me against two people from corporate whom i’d never met, and my store’s human resources drone, Dave. My lawyer had neglected to make arrangements to sit in on the hearing and the hearing officer would not grant me a continuance. So i decided, dammit, someone is going to hear what i have to say about FedEx Office. If i’m going down, i’m doing it in flames, spiraling in like a B-52 with its wings shot off. So, after the HR jerkoff spoke his piece about the horrible breach of rules i’d committed, repeating the same facts over and over with slightly different wording, the hearing officer told him she’d heard enough out of him. She asked me what i had to say. i then launched into a diatribe that just seemed to flow out of me effortlessly. After nearly a decade of suffering one indignity after another from the company, i was ripe for a rant. i told the assembled participants about the unspoken company policy of getting rid of people who’d been there long enough to get benefits. i told them about having had over a dozen different managers in the four years i was at the Longmont, Colorado location, and how most of them had been fired for not “getting the numbers”. One of them had left voluntarily after he began to get chest pains on the job.
i detailed my decade of trying to perform up to company expectations while the company itself did whatever it could to make the job more stressful. i told the story of my Monday morning heart attack in the Akron store’s parking lot, and of management’s expanded efforts to hound me out after i got back to work. i talked about working 11-hour shifts with no breaks, and being constantly called in on my days off. i told of calling in sick and being told they were too busy for me to be sick. i had a letter from my doctor to the effect that i suffered from anxiety and depression, and that from talking with me over the years it was his opinion that working for the company was exacerbating my condition. i also presented high-scoring performance appraisals and letters of recommendation from several managers and former employers.
i was convinced that i’d lose the case and would have to start paying back the money. But i felt better after getting it all off my chest, and i knew Dave the HR Douche would tell Angie the hub manager everything i’d said. Ha. Ha ha.
About a week later i got home late one night and found mail from the government. i almost didn’t open it that night, fearing it would ruin my buzz. After a few minutes curiosity got the better of me and i tore it open. Not only had i won, they owed me a couple grand. i almost laughed myself to death, i stopped just short of shitting myself. i’m chuckling as i write this.
My last full-time manager at the Akron store didn’t fare so well. She had gotten fired because she had failed to make the store, which was in a low-income area, profitable. She lost against the company at her hearing and last i heard she was paying back $12,000.
i’ve been working at a rival copy center only twelve miles from my home for a year. It’s in a big-box office supply store that makes a huge deal of making everything “easy”. i can scarcely believe the difference between this job and Kinko’s/FedEx Kinko’s/FedEx Office. i perform most of the same duties i did at the other job, but working here is practically stress-free.
That’s my retail odyssey concerning dealing with management and corporations. But there is a force far darker and nefarious than companies that we retail schlubs have to deal with every day. i speak of “The Public”…
Many customers seem to be illiterate, uninterested in learning new things, greedy, self-centered, rude, arrogant and dishonest. And many of them smell just terrible. We retail associates are united in our resistance to the kind of customer who wants to be treated like royalty, and every retail worker has a mental file stuffed with stories of unreasonable, tyrannical customers. i could write a book, or series of books. Maybe i will. The Encyclopedia Douchebaggia.
Naturally, only a percentage of customers are like that. i’d say, maybe, 85%.
If you’re the type of person who shows up at a store five minutes before closing and insists on browsing and enjoying the full range of available services, you are pissing people off. If you go to a restaurant in the last half hour they’re open and make everyone run their asses off while they’re trying to clean the place up, i’d venture to say you’re going to be eating some spit with your burger.
If you must be waited on hand and foot, if you don’t bring your glasses along and you make an employee read stuff for you, if you send your food back multiple times, if you’re always bringing items back for a refund, if you constantly feel the need to bitch about company policy to people who have no power to do anything about it, if the manager of the store sees you coming and suddenly disappears, you may be an asshole. If you do all this with a cowboy hat on, you may be a redneck as well.
i find that the worst customers are people who have never worked as a wait person or store associate. i have a modest proposal, and i’m sure i’m not the first to think of this: Every high school student should spend a year working retail, not to teach the skills of being a low-paid corporate drone, but to teach kids how to grow up into good customers. It could never happen, but a fella can dream, can’t i?
BLOG EIGHTEEN – 6.18.12
My Heart Attack
It was a Monday morning in October 2009. i had to be in Akron at 6:30 a.m. to open the FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s, also formerly an okay place to work) store on Exchange Street. It’s a forty minute drive from Orrville, and other drivers almost always made it an ordeal. First there are the country drivers on Routes 57 and 585. Old people in Buicks, semi trucks, unhurried guys in pickup trucks, tractors, shit spreaders and other farm vehicles, buses, Amish buggies, rickshaws, ox carts, Flintstone cars with bare legs scrambling madly beneath them, and many other slow, slow vehicles clog these two-lane state arteries.
Then there are the psychotic Akron drivers. i can’t believe i drove up there for five years and was never killed by some crazy motherfucker careening along at 85 in a fuming rattletrap, smoking crack while loading his pistol.
So, i was habituated to arriving pissed off and shaken. This Monday morn had been especially bad. As I pulled into the parking lot, grumbling to myself about the world going to shit, i noticed that both my hands were numb. Soon both my arms were tingling angrily, and i noticed i was having chest pains. Shit, i thought, another panic attack.
My first panic attack occurred at Kinko’s in Longmont, Colorado, in 2003. It had been another day of constant pressure and abuse from customers and supervisors alike (my assistant manager was a right-wing Mormon gun nut/motorhead/self-styled conservative “pundit” who drove me crazy with questions and pontifical pronouncements about god and the role of government). i’d been working there for two years and was by now having two to three severe migraines a month and almost daily anxiety attacks. i was seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist. i was on heavy meds- my wife said i took twice as much antipsychotic medicine as her craziest patient. That’s what it took for me to sleep. i was often suicidal. i knew of a thousand-plus-foot cliff about three miles up a trail in Boulder Mountain Park where i was thinking about taking a flying leap into the Great Unknown. i wanted it to be 100% fatal, and this fall would doubtlessly do me in with no danger of becoming a vegetable (how ironic that would be- a vegetarian vegetable!).
As i stood at my register in Longmont ringing up sales and taking customer’s orders (and their constant bitching about the quality, or lack thereof, of our work) i began to feel very, very anxious. i begged for a break, and the look in my eyes must have convinced the AM that I needed a break, because he took over for me. i went into the break room, sat down and literally fell to pieces. i was struggling for air when the AM (who shall remain anonymous because I don’t want to hear about it from him) came back and tried to calm me down. “It’s just copies! They’re just assholes!” he ventured. i heartily agreed with him and said between gulps of air that that information did me no good whatsoever.
i chewed up a whole Xanax and waited for it to take effect. By the time it kicked in my breathing and heart rate had slowed significantly, but I was still pretty shaken up. The AM let me take the afternoon off. His expression betrayed that he was worried about me, which in turn worried me. i must have looked bad.
As i sat there in my car in the dark parking lot in Akron in 2009, i thought about the fact that i often get chest pains and hand tingles when having an anxiety or panic attack. You hear people describing the feeling as being like someone sitting on your chest. This feeling, however, was more like a pregnant rhino lounging on my sternum. Plus, i was perspiring like a Texas governor hooked up to a lie detector. i quickly sweated through my leather jacket. My breathing was labored, shallow and rapid. i attempted to take deep breaths and calm myself, but it was no use. i went into the store and called my co-worker Daryl.
Post heart attack scan
“Dude, I’m having a nasty panic attack- i need you to open the store!” i gasped. Daryl showed up in ten minutes. When he saw me his eyes went wide and he said, “Man, you’re gray!”
i was tempted to shoot back, “And you’re black!”, but i wasn’t feeling too humorous at that moment. “It’s just panic, i’m sure. But i’ll need to meditate in the office for a while.” i went in and shut the door.
After the Xanax brought down its velvety purple curtain, i calmed down somewhat. i asked Daryl to take over for me and i drove back to Orrville, still having some serious chest pains. At this point i was afraid i might be having a heart attack, but it still hadn’t quite sunk in. i was always worried about remote possibilities anyway, and i figured i was just being drama boy again. Unfortunately, this time it was for real and i was being stupid, swimming in denial.
At home, i chewed an aspirin just in case. Being drowsy from the Xanax, i went to bed and slept for three hours. i awoke when the pill wore off. The chest pain was still there, and had worsened. i drove over to my parents’ house and asked Dad if he had any nitro pills.
My mom said, “His pills are old and probably no good. If you think you’re having a heart attack, go to the emergency room!”
This sounded like the right course to me. i drove up to Dunlap Hospital (some of the nurses i know who’ve worked there call it “Last Lap”), parked in the lot and walked into the ER. There was a sign at a small window in the wall that said “Check In Here”. As i approached the window, an elderly woman in a candy striper uniform called after me from a desk across the room, “And what are we here for today?”
i turned to face her and said, “We think we’re having a heart attack.” She responded by exploding into action, while making fussy noises like Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffith Show. i was hustled into a room where they checked me out. i thanked my lucky stars i was wearing reasonably new, and clean, underwear.
A little later a doctor bent over me and said portentously, “Mr. Marthey, you’re having a heart attack. i said something sarcastic like, “That’s why you get the big money, Doc”.
The plan was to get me to a real hospital by ambulance. They took me to Canton Aultman Hospital, while i phoned family and friends from the gurney. This could have been my big opportunity to call my ex and get some closure, but it didn’t occur to me until days later. Shit.
Before any arrangements for a room were made, they got me into the cath lab and put in two stents. By this time i was fairly calm from something they gave me, but i was definitely not feeling well. In fact, i was feeling like shit warmed over.
They installed me in a room and my parents showed up. Nurses explained things. I was not to get out of bed that night. i was to pee in a bedpan, which, it turns out, takes some talent. i would be in the hospital for three days, and then if i felt good enough i’d be sprung. My parents hung around for a while then left. A nurse gave me something to knock me out and i slept through the night.
For three days i watched TV and talked to people on the phone. i had visitors. i read, wrote and thought about the circumstances that had brought me to that point. The x-rays showed i’d had a large blood vessel blocked. On my mom’s side of the family there are massive cholesterol issues, while my dad’s side are all pissed-off, stressed out French people, so the argument could be made that heredity was the main causal factor. The stress of working at Kinko’s was the mainest factor, though, i’m sure. There wasn’t much damage to the heart though, and they told me i should fully recover.
The food was everything i expected, and worse. It didn’t even seem healthy even for a healthy person. They were serving me high-school cafeteria pizza. The canned green beans, corn, and peas seemed very salty. All bread was pearly white. The veggie sandwich was apparently made by someone who had no earthly idea what to put in a sandwich if meat wasn’t the main ingredient. There was half a green pepper in it!
After a day, the hospital room just seemed like a really clean motel room. i watched TV from the table where i sat writing letters and reading. If it weren’t for the pain, the weakness, and the visits from nurses and doctors (and that fucking IV in my hand), i may as well have been enjoying a road day off with a band in a Hampton Inn.
Nurses took me for walks in the hallways. The walks actually tired me out. i was weak, i felt worn out. The pain began to go away though. i could feel myself getting better.
Once i was home, i started to walk. The first time i went to Johnson Woods, i barely made it to Bench #1 before i was pooped. The walks lengthened steadily, and in about six weeks i felt back up to my usual 85%.
i was very surprised that, given my vegetarian diet of two and a half decades, i had high cholesterol and heart disease. That’s heredity for you. My great grandfather Lawrence Edward had a huge chin just like mine. i have my grandpa Merle Joseph’s depression (and his first name), and my dad Lawrence Joseph passed his gap-toothed smile on to me.
i did dial back on the cheese, eggs and other fatty foods that i had still been enjoying a little too much up to the time of the heart attack. i still eat a little cheese, and an egg maybe twice a month. But now i try to focus on fresh, in-season produce, locally grown if i can get it, and lots of healthy grains. i’ve always eaten a lot of vegetables, but i’d also eaten too many frozen veggie burgers, onion tater tots- is there a therapy group out there for onion tater tot junkies?– and other vegetarian convenience foods, many of which are loaded with salt, fat and sugar. It may say it’s healthy on the green box, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at the nutrition information. A lot of those processed vegetarian freezer foods are very good for you, however- you just need to turn the package over and read.
i didn’t make it to my six-month checkup. That’s pretty wicked stupid. i hate trying to find my way around a big hospital, i could have a heart attack just from that. When my various meds ran out, i quit taking them. i certainly can’t pay for them without insurance. Right now, the only heart med i take is one baby aspirin a day.
i’m hoping i can stave off a more serious attack with exercise, healthy eating, and not working at Kinko’s. The copy center where i work now is the categorical opposite of where i slaved away for nine years before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb (after finally accruing three writeups in a six-month period).
Mine was a fairly minor heart attack. It was almost painless compared to some of the stories i’ve heard from friends. i have a good friend who is my age, and back in high school people constantly mistook one of us for the other. He’s had three open-heart surgeries, and the valve they replaced now leaks. He has a laundry list of complications. He’s hoping to get one last holiday season with his grandkids. What he’s been through has aged him beyond his years. No one would get us mixed up now. He’s beaten the odds for a long time, surviving things that would kill lesser people. i will be very saddened when he passes.
i’m talking about my buddy Doc, who administers this site. i said to him last week, “mine was such a wimpy heart attack compared to your issues- i’m hesitant to write about it.”
He told me, “Write it! People need to think about heart disease, since so many of them will have it.”
It’s an epidemic in western culture, and everywhere our culture and habits are adopted by more traditional populations, the epidemic spreads there. In Japan a few decades ago, heart disease was rare. No more.
We eat too much of the wrong foods and sit on our asses. Kids hardly get outside and play, unless a coach is blowing a whistle. We suck down sugary “soft drinks” that are basically empty calories, contributing to our waist measurements but nothing to our health, and leaching the calcium from our bones. We consume too much alcohol, which is poisonous to living things. We smoke a weed that doesn’t even get us high, at six bucks a pack. Giant corporations profit obscenely from people destroying themselves with little paper tubes containing tar, nicotine, oxalic acid, formic acid, hydrochloric acid, glycerol, carbon monoxide, and even a small dose of radiation- all these chemicals and more are in every cigarette you smoke.
We are stressed out. We don’t get enough sleep. We don’t get nearly enough exercise. Most people in this country spend a lot more time watching sports than playing sports. We are in danger of becoming an indoor culture, almost totally divorced from the natural world. This also separates us from the healing power of nature. Computers have made it possible to talk to people from down the street to the other side of the planet without leaving our chairs. This cuts down on physical activity even more. And while the internet has made it easier than ever before to contact other people electronically, in the end we’re still all sitting in front of our glowing screens, alone and immobile.
Of course, this all leads not just to heart disease, but to many other deadly maladies. Who knows how long we could live if we weren’t chipping away at ourselves with poisons and bad attitudes?
i have tried to reduce my stress level by meditating regularly, eating right and staying active. i’ve tried to simplify my life and leave a few holes in my schedule for unstructured recreation.
Being prone to stress by heredity and temperament, it’s often an uphill slog. But it’s working, and i’m sleeping better and having far fewer anxiety attacks. i haven’t had a migraine in over a year. Even though i’m barely making the bills, i’ve been feeling pretty good.
Looking back on that morning, i’m surprised it didn’t happen years before. Like most illnesses, this one was a long time coming. i’m hoping i’ve attenuated my attitudes and lifestyle to the point where it won’t happen again. But, we’ve all got to die of something. i remain hopeful that i’ll meet my demise in the throes of passionate lovemaking, preferably with a partner.
BLOG SEVENTEEN – 5.28.12
When i went off to music school at AkronUniversityin 1977, i was very unsure of myself and more than a little lost in my new surroundings. i didn’t know this at the time, but my anxiety was acting up, brought on by living in a big city away from my support network.
i was reading some books about Buddhism and/or meditation: Be Here Now by Ram Dass, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, This Is It by Alan Watts, The Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Alan Keyes. i began to practice meditation in my room at night, and it helped. i’ve been doing it on and off since then, and at some of the most difficult junctures of my life it has been a huge help to me.
Meditation is not what most people in the western hemisphere think it is. You don’t lose touch with what’s going on around you. You don’t hallucinate or have visions. You’re not in a trance in the sense of being in an unconscious state, you are actually wide awake. You don’t leave your body. i’ve had fundamentalist friends tell me that meditating is dangerous because demons can enter your unoccupied body and take over. i’ve also been told that meditation is a process by which thoughtful people mull over their lives, their relationships to other people and to god and their place in the larger universe. Christian meditation, i’ve been informed, is thinking about Jesus and his dad and his uncle the friendly ghost and about how excellent and perfect Creation and the bible are. None of this is meditation. Not originally.
The point of meditation in Eastern traditions is simply to bring oneself completely into the present moment by quieting the restless scanning of the conscious mind. It sounds more complicated than it really is. Doing meditation has many benefits, especially for us harried, hurried westerners. It can lower blood pressure and mitigate anxiety, panic, mania and depression. It can revive and center the mind, making it easier to tolerate adversity. It can help one give up bad habits and lose weight. It can aid in pain management, sleep problems, PTSD, alcoholism and other addictions, loneliness, fear. But none of these is the “goal” of meditation, because if you meditate with a goal in mind, you’re missing the point. That’s the tricky bit.
Most people don’t think much about it, but we have a running conversation going with ourselves inside our heads most of the time. This internal dialogue is something we’re so used to that we don’t usually notice it. Quieting this inner voice for a few minutes each day so that we can be here, now is what meditation is about. Once we’re not chattering away at ourselves about getting this or avoiding that, we become fully ourselves and experience the present moment in a way not possible with our analytical brain. This can be very powerful. It has saved my life numerous times.
Convincing that inner voice to shut the fuck up is not as easy as one might think. Mine’s a regular Chatty Cathy. Forcing it doesn’t work. You sort of have to fool your brain by distracting it. This is what a mantra does. A mantra can be a syllable, word or phrase that you repeat to yourself in order to relax and concentrate the mind. Millions of people on the other side of the planet repeat the syllableOm (pronounced “Ome”) as their mantra. You can also stare at a candle, count, chant, walk, watch a river or a mountain. The way i do it now, after decades of trying different methods, is simply to count to ten, over and over.
That’s not all there is to it, of course. You should be in a dim, quiet place. At least when starting out, sit upright in a comfortable chair with good back support, feet on the floor at shoulder width. i now meditate lying down or in the bathtub, but lying down makes it really easy to doze off. Sometimes, though, that can be a good thing.
i breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose, then slowly and deeply out through the mouth. Inhaling through the nose conducts the air flow past sensors in the back of your throat that work to relax you. As you breathe, your belly should rise with each inhale, not your chest- don’t force it, but get that air all the way down in your lungs. Without straining. It’s easy and difficult at the same time until you get used to it. i try to visualize the action of my breathing- feeling the coolness of the air coming into my throat, noticing it as it fills the lungs and comes back out. In my mind’s eye i see it as a blue wispy vapor, like slowly billowing, extra-curly Tim Burtonesque cigarette smoke.
Don’t try to force thoughts out of your mind. They will go by themselves. Random thoughts will come by, but just let them go, not pushing them away or getting “stuck” on them. After a few minutes, if you’re not completely wacko, your body and mind will relax. You might not reach a deep meditative state on the first or second try, but this is something that has to be practiced, just like playing a piano or sinking a basket.
Two twenty-minute sessions per day would be optimum, but that may not be realistic for many people. If you skip a day, or a week, or whatever, it’s not that big a deal. Nothing is. Do it when you feel like it, but remember that doing it every day produces cumulative results that can make a gigantic difference in how you see the world and relate to other people. And bear in mind that beginning is the most difficult part, and that trying to not-think without trying can produce unique discomfort at first.
When i was going through my divorce and was half out of my mind (that may be an understatement), i lost the ability to reach the meditative state. That often happens when i’m really stressed and anxious on a long-term basis. A friend of mine who survived several life-threatening medical conditions and intense anxiety with the help of meditation suggested i repeat some phrases to myself instead of just counting. He said i should compose several positive, helpful phrases that relate to my issues and repeat them silently to myself a certain number of times.
Five years later, i still repeat these phrases to myself ten times each, after a few minutes of just counting to ten to get me into the right place mentally: “Living without Jamie is not the end of the world”… “Things have a way of working out”… and “i am a good person”. It may sound odd to do this, but repeating these mantras over and over has “planted seeds” in my subconscious that have “bloomed” into much less depression and anxiety. My suicidal thoughts went away and i now experience much less uneasiness when having to deal with other people and the world in general. i’m quite happy often! This is a new development.
i try to do at least one session a day, two if possible. Plus, i sometimes do a few reps in my car before i walk into whatever situation i’m about to encounter. If i have an anxiety attack at work or a gig and i can’t get away to calm myself, i concentrate on my breathing. It’s almost always shallow and rapid until i get it under control, breathing just like i do in meditation but continuing my activities. This has save me a lot of Xanax.
Meditation has gotten a bad rap in Western media because it’s been perceived as being “not Christian”… it’s not exclusively Buddhist either. It is a technique, and it works no matter who you believe is boss. Too, meditation got a bad name from being co-opted by profit-driven “teachers” such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who claimed the only way to do it correctly was to enroll at one of his “Transcendental” Meditation Centers and have a mantra that is “unique to you” (yeah right) bestowed upon you by an authorized representative (and lay down some cash).
Nothing could be further from the truth. This technique can be used by anyone who has the patience to do it. That’s why they call it “practice”.
BLOG SIXTEEN – 5.7.12
When i was a kid, i hated most foods, except for cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, candy and desserts. i wasn’t wild about meat- most of the meat we consumed was hamburger, sausage and hot dogs- but what i really detested was vegetables.
Vegetables in the 1960s usually meant frozen Jolly Green Giant (Ho Ho Ho) rectangular packages of peas, carrots, corn or green beans. I don’t remember much in the way of fresh produce in the house other than iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Looking back, it seemed we had my very least favorite veggie, peas, almost every night. i tried to eat them with ketchup. i tried to take them like nasty little green pills. i hid them under my plate, and when the truth came out I had to eat smashed, cold peas scraped from the underside of a plate. Some nights when i was really being bastardly, my parents would make me sit after supper and stare at my heap of shrunken, hard, cold peas until i choked them down. This sometimes took hours. My brothers and i agreed that peas smelled like Dad’s feet, which at the time was pretty bad.
i don’t think I had broccoli or cauliflower until i was a teenager. The only sweet potatoes i ever had were from a can and cooked with a lot of brown sugar, and that was only at Thanksgiving. i used to give heartfelt thanks that i only had to eat them once a year. Mom’s plain lettuce salad with Chef Adler’s Sweet-and-Sour dressing was a treat i would have foresworn as well, if i’d had the choice. i didn’t. This is not to say my mom was a bad cook- she was and is a great cook- but this was just how people ate in the Ozzie & Harriet Era. i did love canned beets, though, still do.
In high school i got a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken on High Street in Orrville. Because everyone i knew loved the stuff, i ate it too, four nights a week on average. Even though handling raw chicken made me nauseous, and the walk-in cooler had a smell that would knock a buzzard off a manure spreader, i ate KFC because it was free. During 1975- 76 i had the worst acne of my life, and i began to gain weight.
When i went to college, i began to get lettuce and tomato on my sandwiches. This was the beginning of a slippery slide. i frequented the Hambone Sandwich Factory on Spicer Street in Akron, and they offered a whole array of veggies to top their subs. i began to get creative, ordering peppers, onions, sprouts, spinach and even avocado on my roast beef subs (i hadn’t as yet imagined an all-veggie sandwich). i suffered a small setback when my beloved sandwich shop was closed down for health code violations, but at least the experience encouraged me to try actual cooking at home, rather than just warming up pot pies and TV dinners. My signature dish was Beefy Potatoes, which was a box of dried hash browns cooked with hamburger. If i ate that now, it would definitely make me ill. It probably should have made me ill then.
After college i got a job managing Groucho’s Lounge. i was living with a woman who got food stamps and was one hell of a cook. I drank a lot of Scotch on the job, and ate way too many of the bar’s delicious Italian sausage sandwiches. At home, we ate lots of steak, ham, pork chops and all the “fixins”… it was like living at a Cracker Barrel.
Before i knew it, i weighed 190 pounds. After wrecking the girlfriend’s car and going to jail for DUI, she kicked me out of the trailer. It took a while to get a grip on myself, but i got an apartment and started trying to lose the gut. i couldn’t believe how difficult it was, but in about half a year i’d lost 55 pounds. i did it by learning to cook and eat in a healthy way, and drinking a lot less beer and whiskey.
i was still eating a lot of meat, mostly because people were always bringing over wild game to me to cook. We feasted on deer, squirrel, rabbit, duck, pheasant, turtle, and fish. It was badly needed protein, for i was making about $100 a week at the bar. By this time i was making a lot of Chinese and Mexican food. My deer burritos were widely lauded, and my rabbit chow mein was hailed as the bomb.
i ate meat until about 1987, but years before that i’d begun to eat less and less red meat. i’d read about the health concerns connected to consuming large amounts of animal protein, and i was beginning to get more interested in vegetables. Plus, handling raw meat was never pleasant for me. i would think, “this is muscle tissue from a dead animal- it’s gross”. i think the last meat dish i ever cooked was lamb vindaloo (i was into Indian food by now), which had to marinate in a garlicky paste for two days. It was so greasy! The meat seemed to be covered in lanolin.
One day at the Bangkok Thai Restaurant in Orrville, i was staring at a plate of shrimp curry. Suddenly my perception seemed to make a sharp left turn, and i said to myself, “i’m not eating these bugs”. That was it. i never ate animal again.
When i went on the road with First Light, i got exposed to fantastic ethnic and hippie foods in the college towns where we played. i began to frequent all the healthy restaurants on our circuit: Se Va, Raja Rani and the Blue Nile in Ann Arbor, The Alpha and the Jerusalem Cafe in Cincinnati, The Farmacy and Casa Nuevo in Athens, The Red Onion and The Zephyr in Kent, Tommy’s and the Noble Bean in Cleveland Heights, the Udipi Café in Columbus. i was taking mental notes, and i experimented with vegetarian meals at home. i subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine, which expanded my range exponentially. Almost every recipe i’ve gotten from those pages has been drop-dead delicious.
i also read many books on the subject: Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden and other Moosewood cookbooks, the great Indian cookbooks by Julie Sahni, Mridula Baljekar and Madhur Jaffrey, Friendly Foods by Brother Ron Pikarski, Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancy McDermott, The Greek Vegetarian by Diane Kochilas, Tassajara Cooking, Laurel’s Kitchen.
i learned that a vegetarian diet is also good for the health of the planet. Eating lower on the food chain means that far less fossil fuels have to be burned to produce my produce; and that cattle pollute streams and destroy the land, eat enough grain to feed the entire human race, and even contribute significantly to ozone depletion in the atmosphere by expelling hefty amounts of methane (yes, cow farts are messing up the ozone layer). It takes as much grain to produce one eight-ounce steak to feed 40 people, and as much water as a family of four uses in a month.
This is what i eat, day after day, joyfully and thankfully…
Grain that the United States ships to Russia and other struggling nations is being fed to cattle to feed the upper classes, not used to cure hunger in poor populations. If everyone on the planet went vegetarian, there would be enough food for everyone. That’s a lot to ask, but even if people became “flexatarians”- eating a little meat but mostly vegetables, grains and fruits- we could probably make a huge dent in world hunger, not to mention improving the health of humans everywhere.
Do i get tired of not eating meat? Not even a little bit. I never eat anything that’s not delicious.
But how do I get enough protein to keep me from shriveling up and blowing away? Let’s dispel this myth right now. Americans typically get ten times as much protein as they need, and their bodies still have to process all that excess. Researchers think that a lot of disease comes from this protein overage.
i eat lots of stuff that’s packed with protein, but without all the saturated fat that comes from animal flesh. i cook a lot of beans and other legumes, tempeh, tofu, nuts, quinoa. It’s no effort at all to get my protein, and it all comes with a nice load of fiber. It’s a win-win-win… for me, for the planet, for the future.
Tempeh satay – Thai noodles – Garlicky Brussel Sprouts
It’s now easier than ever to eat healthy. Even Burger king offers a veggie burger that tastes great, though i don’t get them too often because of the salt and fat (i love to make veggie burgers from scratch at home, the possibilities are truly limitless). i don’t have a bunch of money in my restaurant budget right now, but if i have to eat out i can get pretty good veg meals at Chipotle, Subway, and in a pinch Burger King and Taco Bell. KC’s Drive-In in Orrville has a veggie burger, which gives me an excuse to eat their wonderful fries. Jake’s Steakhouse has a fantastic veggie burger too, and several other veg options. When i can afford it i go to Chinese, Thai and Indian restaurants- these cuisines are all about the veggies. But i mostly prepare food at home, where i have some measure of control over fat, salt, sugar, preservatives, pesticide residues, GMOs, and all the other dangerous crap that Big Food foists upon us to fatten their bottom line and keep us addicted to heavily processed foods.
The very best book about modern food issues in my opinion is Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It exposes the ways we’ve all been victimized and misled by the food industry. It’s a fascinating, shocking, fast-paced read. i met the author at a book signing in Boulder a few years back. During his talk he mentioned that someone from Big Food and/or Big Beef was no doubt somewhere in the crowd recording or taking notes, that these people were just waiting with bated breath for him to say something actionable in public so they could sue the pants off him. The whole crowd began to look around suspiciously. It was a spooky moment, but that’s what we’re up against. Monsanto, Du Pont, Archer Daniels Midland, Monfort, Con Agra, and many many other gigantic corporations have pretty much taken control of our food supply from seed through fertilizing, pesticide application, growing and harvesting, to processing, packing and distribution, to our unfortunate gullets. We are the fattest, least fit developed nation on the planet, in recorded history. There are reasons for that. It’s not too late to break the unholy alliance between the FDA and all the food monopolies. But it starts with the individual making rational choices about nutrition versus convenience. If we don’t eat it, they won’t be able to sell it.
BLOG FIFTEEN – 4.23.12
Depression, With a Side of Anxiety
All my life i’ve felt different than other people. For most of my childhood i felt that almost all other people were better than me: smarter, better looking, funnier, more interesting. Also, i was interested in things no one else cared about (classical music, art, the space program), while at the same time things that seemed of paramount importance to other people were things i just couldn’t get interested in. Sports comes leaping to mind- the concept of one person or team vanquishing another person or team is something i could never manage to get excited about, and organized sports have given me many endless hours of jittery boredom. This made me the “weird” kid in grade school, which meant that i was an outcast, a pariah, scapegoat, target, punching bag. i was asked by my male classmates in fourth grade if i was going to try out for the basketball team, and when i said i wasn’t interested, Pat Z. said “Good!” in the snottiest tone he could manage, to the delight of the assembled hecklers. This was pretty much the tone of things the whole time i grudgingly attended St. Agnes.
Physical aggression and confrontation was accepted practice on the playground in the ‘60s, but i found myself having to fight more than my share of enemies in those years. In other words, i was always getting my ass kicked. There always seemed to be a kid or group of kids that were “after” me, and i lived in constant fear of being discovered on the street by one or more bullies. The walk home from school was rife with pitfalls in the form of bigger, meaner kids and smaller, underclass informants. i had to get away from St. Agnes safely, then pass through the virulently anti-catholic crowd at Oak St. School. i once had to punch a crossing guard who was four years older than me to get away from him and two other boys who had seized me at Oak and Vine. i didn’t just cave in and let people beat me up- i fought some great fistfights in school, even winning some. But mostly, i got my ass kicked.
My parents thought there was something wrong with me when i was just a toddler. The doctor seemed to agree. He prescribed Thorazine for “hyperactivity”. i think now that i had some form of ADHD, which later changed to what was called at the time “manic-depressive psychosis”. It’s now known as bipolar affective syndrome, and now there are treatments that actually work, as opposed to just shutting the patient up (down?) with barbiturates.
As i grew older i got more and more angry and depressed about my life and the world. i hated school, i hated my schoolmates. i kept to myself and didn’t join any organizations. i spent a lot of time playing piano and walking long distances alone. It was about this time that i realized i had the power to be funny. i morphed from just being the strange kid to being the class clown/cynic. This change did not make me any more popular with my classmates, and I began to consider them to be humorless, soulless automatons. Being ostracized by them was the best favor they could do me, as far as i was concerned. It was also during this period that my sleep problems became pronounced, and on nights when i was so upset that i knew i wouldn’t be able to sleep i began to pop a couple extra Thorazines to knock me out.
One day when i was about twelve i got into a major falling out with a brother who’d scrawled all over a painting i did. i was disciplined instead of the sibling, and for the rest of the day i was mad at my dad and mad at the brother who’d drawn on my painting, and angry with the world because god didn’t seem to give a shit about me. That night i took a huge mouthful of pills. i still can’t sort out whether or not i was attempting suicide, but next morning when i came to my mom was slapping me, and she seemed panicky. She forced me out of bed, and i fell on the floor. She tried to walk me around, but I couldn’t stay upright. She gave up and let me sleep it off.
A day later the doctor asked me if i’d been trying to kill myself and i answered no. But at that moment i began to think, “wait a minute- if i did commit suicide, i wouldn’t feel any more pain.” This thought has been with me ever since that day. What deterred me from suicide as a child was the “knowledge” that if i did it, i’d spend eternity in Hell. The thing that has kept me putting it off for my whole adult life is knowing what it would do to the people who love me. That, and what i’ve come to call The Power of Positive Procrastination. i’ve tried to apply this principle to housework too, with consistently disastrous results.
i didn’t do well in high school or my two years of college, but i did learn a lot, especially about music and art. i did well in band, but hated going to football games. i never missed a performance of the Orrville High marching band though. i played tuba. i became a passable piano player, and a pretty good rock/funk/reggae keyboard player. i’ve written some songs and poems that are pretty good. After two mediocre years of Akron University music school i dropped out and began playing out in bands regularly.
In the early 1980s i began to notice that there were whole days when i didn’t want to leave the apartment. The thought of dealing with other live humans filled me with uneasiness. In my job managing a nightclub in downtown Orrville, i would find myself spending longer and longer periods hiding in the kitchen or the alley, dreading the prospect of going back into that smoky, loud, crowded room to serve drinks to people who didn’t really need them by that point in the evening. It was about this time that i began to realize that i’m not “management material”.
In 1984 i joined a band that began to do 250 dates a year all over the east. The band was based in Cleveland. It was a huge culture shock for me, and i retreated further into myself. i’m pretty sure people regarded me as weird because i was quiet, shy and withdrawn. i’m certain some people thought i was arrogant, but inside i was seething with so much anxiety i couldn’t think straight. Gigs were torture. i’ve never had stage fright, astoundingly- but on breaks i would hide in the dressing room, if there was one. Why the hell did i go into public performance? Schmoozing has always been exceedingly difficult for me.
What does an anxiety attack feel like? For me, it’s like standing in a hundred-mile-an-hour wind. There’s so much noise in my brain i can barely hear or comprehend what people are saying. i feel uncomfortable inside my skin and want to jump out of it. i can’t concentrate. i sweat profusely. i get chest pains and my breathing becomes shallow and rapid. i have the almost irresistible urge to flee, to get outside, to be anywhere other than where i am.
There’s also the constant low-level anxiety that chews away in the background… little problems become occasions for panic and rage; the brain races uselessly, especially at night; meeting and dealing with people becomes a waking nightmare; the mind is constantly extrapolating worst-case scenarios; one never feels at home in any environment; a person can feel flawed, even useless, not to mention ugly and completely undesirable. It’s insidious, as though the thing that knows you best, your brain, is working against you.
In 1987 the self-loathing, the crippling social awkwardness and anxiety attacks got so bad i went to a doctor, who put me on an antidepressant. It helped. i was still subject to some pretty steep ups and downs, but all in all i was no longer in danger of killing myself.
In the past 25 years i’ve been through many meds looking for one that works well without adverse effects. Most of the effective drugs made me gain lots of weight. Paxil violently disagreed with me- i had two weeks of insomnia, crippling joint pain and nonstop panic. In the midst of this crisis i played the band’s last gig at the Odeon in the Flats, limping and with my heart racing at an unsafe speed. Photos from that event show me as haggard and so skinny i was skeletal. That night driving home it suddenly dawned on me that it was the drug that was putting me over the edge. A nurse I spoke to on the phone next day confirmed my suspicions- Paxil had kept her awake for two weeks and caused her unbearable anxiety and joint pains also.
Seroquel and Abilify produced bad reactions in my system too, but to lesser degrees. i also tried many other meds, with varying levels of success: Doxepin, Trazodone, Prozac, Remeron, Depakote, Lexapro. Each of them took about two weeks to start to work, and if it produced negative results it took about two weeks to wear off.
What does depression feel like? It feels like your best friend just died, even when nothing’s actually wrong at all. There’s also, for me, a constant and all-pervasive sense of impending doom, an absolute certainty that disaster is about to strike at any moment. i also have a lot of trouble reasoning and concentrating. There’s crushing fatigue. There’s relentless insomnia. Then there’s the crushing unbearable blackness that descends like a lead shroud on bad days. Even with my considerable powers of description, i have no words for what that black hole is like… suffice it to say: if you think it’s painful to be hit in the head repeatedly with a sledge hammer while being slowly roasted, poked with sharp sticks and pulled in different directions by four large horses, it’s infinitely preferable to severe depression…
In ’98 i got a job at the pipe organ company in Orrville, a job i’d been applying for since 1974. i’d bought a house before the band split up, and things were beginning to go well for me. i got a regular gig playing piano weekends at the Starboard Side Cafe. Then i met my future wife, and it seemed i’d finally begun to life a rich, full life complete with love. money and fulfillment. i got so happy i went off Prozac. Bad idea.
My wife convinced me, and i convinced myself, that we needed to move to Colorado. In December of 2000 we did it. i found work playing piano at a nice restaurant every Friday and Saturday, and got a “real” job late nights at Kinko’s. That’s when things began to unravel for me. It was all too much, there was too much new information coming in all at once. i went back on antidepressants and began seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist. i found Boulder, Colorado so foreign, and the company i worked for so toxic, that i got a little overwhelmed. The job was very stressful, and we often worked without lunches or breaks. Management did not take good care of us, and we had to endure junky machines that broke down constantly, being undersupplied, understaffed and overworked. And, of course, underpaid. Our customers seemed to hate us and some were verbally and even physically abusive. i always came home from work so jangled and pissed off that my wife began to insist i quit. i wasn’t about to let the job get me down, however, and i soldiered on. i began to get murderous migraines, panic attacks, muscle cramps and acid reflux. i began drinking again after thirteen years without. About two years in i quit taking piano lessons, then i quit playing piano. The suicidal urges reappeared, right on cue. Things once again looked blacker than midnight on the dark side of Pluto.
After six years out west we decided to move back to Ohio. She hated it here, and after a hard winter living in a cabin a half mile from a country road, we still hadn’t sold the house in Boulder. She and her best friend went back out to Colorado to take care of the house there. i was to sell the cabin and join her out there, but something happened. After about three months the cabin was sold, but she said on the phone i should stay in Ohio. This caught me completely by surprise. After much wrangling, begging and crying, we divorced.
i then pretty much stopped sleeping more than a couple hours a night unless i was very drunk. My anxiety went through the roof. The depression sent me through the floor. The FedEx Kinko’s branch were i was working, in downtown Akron, was the most contentious and hostile place i’ve ever worked. Management was obviously trying to get rid of employees who were getting benefits and making a livable wage. They used psychological pressure on us, which raised my stress levels off the scale. One Monday at 7:15 am in the parking lot i had a heart attack. Then they really stepped up efforts to hound me out, and two years later i finally accrued three “writeups” in a six-month period and was fired after almost ten years of working my ass off for them.
i was off work for a year. It was a stressful time, which encompassed a protracted fight with my former company over unemployment benefits (i won), but i began to sleep all night again, regain energy and feel better about myself. My ex had been right- that company had been driving me crazy. Or crazier.
Now i have a “day job”, am playing solo and working in four bands. i almost make enough money to be comfortable. It being the very tail end of winter, i’ve had some issues with anxiety and depression lately. But it’s nothing like the days in Boulder when i was scouting the perfect cliff from which to take a flying leap.
Bipolar disease and anxiety are medical problems, plain and simple. They are caused by an imbalance in blood chemistry that makes the brain go all moody. There are treatments that work in most cases, without the need for psychoanalysis. i have loved ones who balk at getting on meds, thinking it’s a sign of weakness. My take is that, hey, you wouldn’t leave a broken bone untreated, would ya? And this is far more dangerous. And easier to treat in many cases. Take a fucking pill, take another one for symptoms.
i consider myself lucky to live in a time when there are real treatments for emotional problems. A lot of “manic-depressives” in former times were consigned to asylums where they lived out their miserable lives wiped out on Phenobarbital, and worse. There’s still a lot of social stigma attached to these types of disorders, but people are starting to wake up to the fact that there is no shame in seeking help.
i’m not cured, but because i take meds, exercise, meditate and try my best to maintain a positive attitude, things are much more bearable. i have problems with my depression and anxiety almost on a daily basis, but because I know what it is and how I react to it, and because i have meds to calm my crazy ass down, it’s not all that scary any more. Let’s hear it for medical science! And the Power of Positive Procrastination.
BLOG FOURTEEN – 4.16.12
My Trip to the Rock Hall Induction
(or, What Am i Doing Here?)
After i work eight hours in my unchosen field of endeavor, Retail, i’ve usually had quite enough of other peoples’ problems, complaints and opinions for one day. i’m overstimulated and tired of being polite to impolite people; i just want to go home and play Scrabble online while chugging Molsons until the pain and indignation go away.
But at least three nights a week, and quite often more, i have music stuff to do after work. There are rehearsals, gigs and studio sessions, and once in a while i actually go watch someone else play. Last night after a difficult, long shift teaching the art of photocopying to the elderly, the infirm and the Amish, i drove to Cleveland for the 27th Annual Rock Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies at Public Hall. i’d gotten a ticket through the good graces of a local entrepreneur who hires me to play keyboard tracks for him occasionally. Since the ticket was rumored to have a monetary value of $365, i shouted down the myriad objections rolling around in my head and took off for the city.
As i’ve mentioned elsewhere, i hate driving. i especially hate driving to big cities. First comes the local, country-fried portion of the journey, heading north on Route 57: rife with small-town cops, farm machines, Amish buggies and guys with beards in pickup trucks doing 45. As soon as Route 585 goes to four lanes, of course, all the traffic i’d been stuck behind suddenly speeds up to 65. This happens every time.
Then comes a long boring transition from rural surroundings to the urban setting of Cleveland and its suburbs. After this leg comes the crazy Deathracer 3000 part, at which i now excel. Then there’s the city-street segment of the trip, which is always slow and full of long stop lights, detours, cops on foot pointing and yelling directions, and groups of dangerous-looking youths in obviously stolen cars.
i arrived at Public Hall jittery and pissed off. i’d missed my nap and i was in no mood to wait in lines, be jostled by unwashed persons, ride in elevators, use public restrooms, show my papers to the authorities, and tell scalpers no thank you, i’ve already got one ticket too many. i was anxious, and i have a hard time being around people when anxiety attacks. That would make a good TV show title- When Anxiety Attacks…
i found a place to park at the summit of what seemed a 30-story parking deck, after the surly attendant in the bullet-proof booth extracted ten bucks from my bottom line. i took the urine-scented elevator down to the surface and followed the crowd. i stood in line for a long, long time outside the building, then waited in another long line inside. i inadvertently presented my ticket upside-down and the usher asked me if i was giving her a hard time. She was just joking but i shrank in horror as people around me took notice of me for the first time. Face reddening, i fled across the lobby and began to walk up a long, steep, curving ramp behind everyone else. Eventually i saw a sign proclaiming the presence of restrooms. The line for the men’s room was out the door and down the hall. After ten minutes of uneasy waiting, i got a spot at the middle of three urinals. i tried to go, i needed to go, but going is not possible for me in a hot, crowded, stinky public restroom with guys on either side of me peeing all over the place. i gave up after a few minutes and went in search of my seat.
i stopped at a concession and waited twenty minutes to pay six bucks for a Budweiser in a plastic bottle. While i stood there, Green Day came and went in the auditorium. No great loss, i thought… i’m here to see the Chili Peppers, not those moussed-up mascara monkeys.
Finding my seat turned out to be a separate adventure in itself. The sections didn’t seem to be marked, and the steps up to the ear-bleed section were so steep i had to marvel at the ability of rock-n-roll girls to negotiate them in 5-inch heels. i could barely get up them in hiking boots. Once in my seat, somewhere in the lower stratosphere, i noticed i had the same legroom i’d had on every commuter flight i’ve ever endured, and the people on either side of me seemed very large and were spilling over into my personal space. On my right were Beavis and Butthead, two 20-something guys who giggled mindlessly the whole time. On my left sat Professor Rockandroll and his admiring girlfriend. He spent a lot of time explaining things to her in a loud voice, while i tried in vain to see the stage around him.
The program included lots of speeches, some video montages and some live playing now and then. It was an awards show, something i wouldn’t bother to watch on TV. But here i was after much exertion and preparation, sweating through my clothes and filling a space about two-thirds the size of my body. Even seated, the steep angle of the seats and aisles made me dizzy with vertigo. The packed house, the cheering, the boomy PA, the warm Budweiser in plastic… i made it through the first presentation- to 1950s blues legend Freddie King, presented by the two bearded guys from ZZ Top- and then I could stand it no longer. i had to pee.
i pushed my way past Beavis and his chortling pal, got out of the row and unsteadily made my way down the steep, narrow steps. The restrooms were a long way off, for some reason. i found a stall and took a triumphant piss which lasted minutes. That’s better, i thought, as i looked around for a place to buy another watery, harsh-tasting Budweiser. There was still a line at every concession. i contemplated making the climb back to my seat and decided fuck it, i’ve had enough fun. i began to search for an exit. At the first exit sign i went down some stairs and was met by a Cleveland policewoman. She asked what i thought i was doing, and i told her i was trying to leave the building. She informed me that most of the exits were closed, i’d have to go to the front entrance.
When i got back up to the hallway that circumnavigates the auditorium i instinctively chose the wrong direction, which led to a dead end and another police officer. He told me i needed to “head North” to find the entrance, as though I were on a mountain trail. Vowing to myself to bring a fucking compass next time, i struck off in what i took to be a northerly direction.
You may be thinking by this time: “What’s wrong with this moron? After decades of being on the road with bands, he can’t find his way around Cleveland?” The truth is, i suffer from GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And when i’m anxious i am subject to getting lost, being socially awkward, claustrophobia, agoraphobia and decreased ability to concentrate. When i’m anxious i can’t stand crowds, loud noises and bright lights. So why did i go into public performance? Because i love to play music. No one ever told me i’d have to play in front of crowds.
i found the entrance and nearly vomited from relief. Once outside i blundered down the red carpet that had just been traversed by a bunch of famous people, people i would not now see onstage live. i began to look for the parking deck. A long time later i found myself walking around where i thought i’d parked the car. Long story short, i did find the car and got down to the exit. It was blocked with a gate and a floor-to-ceiling steel door grate. i thought if i pulled up close to it, it would automatically open. It did not. i began to yell. When it became obvious that no one was coming to help me, i looked at the booth next to me. There was a slot with a sign saying, “insert ticket here”…. i did as it said, and after a nervous few seconds the gates raised. Whew. Don’t scare me like that!
i was one minute from the highway, and after 20 minutes of driving around i found it. It was 9:30. i gratefully sped south.
A Doylestown cop or state trooper got on my ass and followed at an unsafe distance for almost ten miles on 585, but other than that the trip home was blissfully free of psychotic rednecks in trucks, gangs of college kids out terrorizing in Mommy’s Hummer, and people who keep their brights on no matter what.
i got to my place and slammed four beers, then passed out on the couch. And got up and went to work this morning. i’d like to think that the wordsmith who coined the phrase Fuck Me Runnin’ had a schedule similar to mine.
Note: i would like to sincerely thank my good friend Nick Amster for the ticket. Too, on April 14th when i was being followed as close as a second paint job by the police car on Rt. 585, it suddenly turned my blood to ice to realize i hadn’t put my new license plate sticker on, and the existing one expired either on my birthday, April 5th, or at the end of the month- i couldn’t remember which.
Only two days later i remembered and checked. On the old and new stickers it said, “Expires on April 5″… Not to put too fine a point on it, but i must have been driving at peak ability all the time his car practically humped mine, or he would have grabbed me for sure. Not that i had been doing anything illegal, not at all. i just hate the part of the test where you have to do a handstand while singing the Auch Du Leiber Augustine song…
BLOG THIRTEEN – 3.2.12
Living on the Cheap
Throughout my long life (i was around when dirt was invented- good product!) i’ve been extremely broke many times, sometimes for decades at a time. And through all those periods of privation and poverty (one of which i’m stuck in as i write this) i’ve learned the hard way that a human can live on very little money if those funds are allocated wisely. i don’t dumpster-dive or pick up cans off the side of the highway (not that there’s anything wrong with those practices), but i do reuse a lot of stuff, and i stretch everything i own to the outermost limit. i also find where the best deals are.
For example, i’ve found that disposable razor blades go up a couple bucks every time Schick and Gillette conspire to add another blade to the modern razor… how many blades are they up to now? seven? i refuse to go past four… As the price of blades has gone up, i’ve been using them for longer and longer periods of time. i now know that they’ll last a whole lot longer than i ever thought, certainly months longer than they want you to think. And when it comes to shaving cream, i used to think Edge or other trendy gels were worth the money, but they aren’t. i get Barbasol at the Dollar Store for about half the price, and it lasts practically forever. And it works as well as anything out there. i’ve got a light beard though, so… results may vary.
Speaking of the Dollar Store- there are so many things you can get there for almost nothing, it’s the cheap bastard’s bestest friend. Never buy detergent, cleaning liquids, garbage bags, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brushes, combs, foil, toilet tissue, napkins, paper towels, blank tapes or CDs or candles at a regular store. You’ll save half or more by going to Dollar General, Family Dollar, or Big Lots. i get a lot of food at those places too. i’ve found that cheap tomato sauce tastes just as good as Hunt’s or Heinz, especially with all the garlic and spices i put in it. Food Club sauerkraut tastes just as good as Vlasic, at least after i’m done with it.
Amish bulk stores are really great places to cheapen up your life too. There’s a place called Amstutz Pantry south of Dalton on Baumgartner Road that has Amish Swiss cheese for $3.20 a pound ($3.30 if they slice it)…at Buehler’s it’s about twice that much. They also have many produce items straight from the fields, a whole range of fresh Amish baked goods, and lots of really good ‘n cheap condiments, jams and jellies, many of them local. They carry Woeber’s mustards and horseradish spreads- they’re excellent, and they go for $1.70 a bottle (the Smoky Horseradish Sauce is the BOMB!). But the best deal at Amish country stores is the bulk food. Because Amish families go through so much flour, besides being inexpensive their flour is very fresh. Grains, nuts, seeds, beans, baking stuff and spices- they’re so much cheaper than at a grocery it’s totally worth the drive, and it’s a beautiful drive through the hills of Amish country. Check this out- i got a bag of bay leaves at Amstutz Pantry for 13 cents. Later I looked at bay leaves at Buehler’s in Orrville- the same amount or less in a fancy jar was $8.00!
Wooster Natural Foods has a lot of the ingredients i need, and their prices are better than Whole Foods or the Mustard Seed Market in Fairlawn. They have the more exotic spices in bulk, TVP, quinoa, unusual noodles, Vegenaise, healthy cookies… many of these items are unavailable anywhere else around here.
Save-A-Lot has, um, saved me a lot too. Their produce area isn’t huge, but it’s well-stocked and they don’t have automatic sprayers that “rain” on the veggies all day, causing them to prematurely rot. i’d say i get at least half my produce there, and probably save at least a third over Buehler’s (once known as “the store” in Orrville). If i buy cilantro at Buehler’s it’s soaking wet, already has rotten spots and lasts maybe four days in my fridge. Cilantro from Save-A-Lot will last up to six weeks, and i get to use almost all of it.
It’s probably the way i eat that saves me more jack than anything, and would give me a teeny-tiny carbon footprint if i didn’t do so much driving. i don’t eat meat, and haven’t since the late ‘80s. My reasons are many-fold, my health and the health of the planet being on top of the list. People sometimes refuse to believe my age, but yes folks, i was here when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
i waste very little foodstuffs, thanks to composting. i’ve had five compost piles in my time, and it feels good knowing i’ve added to the planet’s tillable surface by several dozen cubic feet. The compost goes into my small garden, feeding and mulching the next year’s crop, and improving the soil.
Gardening, if you can afford the initial investment in the spring, literally reaps huge rewards. Mrs. Y has allowed me to plant in a small flower bed out back, and i pack it with tomatoes, peppers and herbs. i also have herbs growing in a pot right outside my back door. Legal herbs.
i also make maximum use of my veggies by making delicious homemade vegetable broth, which at a grocery store is three times as expensive as gasoline. i keep a “broth bag” in the freezer, and any time a potato, carrot or onion gets peeled (i use 5 pounds of onions a month), the leavings get thrown into the bag. When i’ve collected a bagful, i simmer the contents with a couple bay leaves and ten peppercorns in water until it’s a beautiful golden stock. And when i strain the broth, the cooked veggies go right into the compost bin. Very circular, eminently sustainable. And the broth makes great soups, gravies, sauces, rice pilafs, sopa seca (a wonderful Mexican pasta dish), and serves many other uses too numerous to mention.
i eat a lot of beans, rice, pasta and potatoes- The Four Cheapies. Vegetarian cuisine is so varied and tasty that i never get sick of it. i cook a lot of Indian, Thai, Greek, Mexican, Chinese and Italian. Carnivores come to my house expecting to hate what i cook, but they always love it. i’ve been told my lasagna and pizza are transcendental, and a person i used to live with claimed i made the world’s best hummus. i have a hard time believing any of that, but i will say i love my own cooking. i’ve been experimenting with food since childhood, and in college i began to cook in earnest. i got very fat in the early ‘80s managing Groucho’s nightclub in Orrville (D & L Pizza was in the same building!), but I was able to lose 60 pounds in five months by starting to pay attention to what i was eating. At this time i was still eating meat. i knew a few hunters and they brought rabbit, fish, duck, squirrel, deer, turtle, and even pheasant to my place- we’d make bizarre stir-fries and roasts and stews and Mexican food and spaghetti sauce. Free protein!
In time i began to dislike the idea of eating dead animal tissue, mostly from handling it raw. One day at the Bangkok Thai Restaurant in Orrville (one of the best eateries this town has ever seen) i was looking at a plate of shrimp and said to myself, “i’m not eating these bugs”, and never looked back. But how do i maintain my Buddha-like physique? Beer, baby. That’s one quality-of-life issue over which there can be no compromise. Except for the last week of the month, usually, and this month is no exception.
In my kitchen, things are reused over and over again. The other day i had four slices of bread, but nothing to put on it. I mixed up some ground pecans and sesame seeds, a little leftover fried rice, some onions, serrano peppers, wheat gluten, Panko bread crumbs and vegetable broth and fried up two of the best veggie burgers I ever ate.
i reuse foil and rinse out bread bags and freezer bags. i will never need to buy food bags again. Most of my food containers are margarine tubs. i save onion bags for mushroom hunting, because they allow the spores to fall back to the forest floor. Paper bags are used mostly for roasted peppers (after they’re charred on all sides, you put them in a paper sack to let them steam their skins off… then put the skins, ribs and seeds in the compost!). i also save the rubber bands from broccoli and twist ties. Some jars get washed out and used when needed, the rest get recycled. Anything with a recycling symbol on the bottom goes into the recycling container, of course.
My frugality extends to eating out. Unless i’m taking a woman to dinner, in which case i take a night off from being a miserly hillbilly, i tend to go to places where i can get a decent meal for under ten bucks. Subway has gotten me through many a lunch crisis. Little Caesar’s has a large cheese pizza always ready for $5. Chipotle is one of my faves- their vegetarian burrito is $6 and is just plain terrific. Taco Bell’s bean burritos are only a buck, although they are loaded with fat and sodium and taste like they’re made with powdered beans- still, if i have $3 in my budget i can get them with a side of (very salty) rice. i try to eat there very seldom, having a bum ticker. i also never visit Burger King more than once a month, but they have a very tasty veggie burger there and for some reason i like their onion rings (salt).
One of the secrets fast-food operations don’t want us to know about is that they make most of their money peddling soda pop, which is essentially caramel-colored fizzy water with a whole bunch of refined sugar. Ever wonder why they push the soft drinks so hard? Margin! They pay almost nothing for it, and pump it through the public’s bodies in 64-ounce cups, leaching calcium from peoples’ bones and rotting their teeth. Empty, addictive calories, kids. i’ve avoided diabetes and saved a pile of money by never drinking pop. If i eat in, i drink water from the fountain. They give you a small paper cup that’s supposed to embarrass you into getting a luxuriously huge tub of pop next time, but that doesn’t work on me. If i eat in the car, i always have my water bottle with me. My refillable bottle, full of chilled delicious filtered Orrville tap water.
i also get lunch specials at Chinese restaurants. Wild Ginger in Wooster has excellent lunches, many veg, for about eight bucks. But number one on my list is Sue-Min’s Chinese Gourmet on Madison Hill in Wooster. Sue-Min is a very gifted cook, and she’ll actually go off the menu if you want something not on there. It’s the only Chinese restaurant i’ve been to that serves fresh baklava. Lunch is about six bucks, and on Thursday nights they have an unbelievable vegetarian buffet for $7.99. As far as i know, Sue-Min’s is the healthiest and best food in Wayne County.
In the office at home i reuse envelopes, especially padded mailers. i don’t throw away CD cases either, i always need them sooner or later. i get office supplies where they’re cheap- Dollar General and Big Lots. i also use my Brita water filter refills for about twice as many uses as the box recommends… once the water in the pitcher doesn’t taste as good as tap water, i change it out. i also go 6,000 miles between oil changes instead of the customary 4,000, and so far the car hasn’t fallen to pieces.
Old magazines? I sneak them into doctor’s offices. I cannot stand to let a copy of National Geographic go to waste.
i get blue jeans in the “work jeans” section of Goodwill- one dolla fitty cent- and they’re already just how i like them, faded and as soft as a baby’s cranium. Goodwill is a fantastic place to find deals on everything, and it’s a perfect place to get rid of unwanted stuff. The only thing they refused to take was the 600 VHS tapes i’d recorded since 1987- but they told me to take them to the Salvation Army. Those kind folks took them after i pointed out that the tapes could be a wealth of movies & TV programs for a rest home or halfway house. It felt really good to find a home for that much plastic.
Another expense i wish i could avoid is car upkeep. i keep it to a minimum by getting repairs done at my cousin’s garage in Apple Creek. Cousin Ty takes it easy on me, and it’s a great excuse to visit with the South-of-Route-30 Martheys. i also have a used tire guy. i’ve only bought one new tire in my life, and it was three times as much as a used tire from my guy Neil.
All this is not to say i have an apartment stacked high with junk and old newspapers. i’m no hoarder, although i was sliding down that slippery slope for a long time. In the past five years i’ve actually gotten rid of close to a ton of VHS tapes, clothes that will never fit again, books, various household items… After watching a few episodes of Hoarding: Buried Alive, i decided to take it easy on the people who will have to empty out my digs after i croak.
The purpose of all this pinching and hoarding is not just saving money, of course. There’s an artificial island the size of Texas in the mid-Pacific that’s comprised principally of plastic trash. i wish to contribute no more than i absolutely must to that abhorrent floating continent.
Of course, that manmade plastic Okinawa is just the tippy-tip of the rubbish berg that threatens to bury us all under thousands of feet of old McD’s packaging, spent water bottles and moldy shower curtains. If Western-style consumer culture spreads to the rest of the planet, as it most certainly seems to be doing, the next ice age could bring glaciers studded with human-generated trash. Future generations may call our time the Garbage Age, since waste will have been our mainest contribution to the biosphere.
i’ve learned something about simplifying my life by living on the cheap, and it feels good. It’s not just about my crackpot concern for the planet. i’ve uncluttered my mind as well as my living space. And next time i move, if i ever do, there will be about three pickup truckfulls less to tote downstairs.
BLOG TWELVE – 2.14.12
At Apple Creek Road he got in the left-turn lane, causing me to lose the will to live. i got behind him just as the light turned red. i put the car in park and meditated, trying to ignore the nagging thought that i could have made this light except for Pickup Boy. Eventually the light turned green and our merry little convoy turned south, barely going 35. Apparently the driver of the Ram Tough Pickem-up Truck was now going to have a little fun and fuck with a total stranger. There’s a stretch along there where you can see far enough ahead to pass cars, but it’s marked with a double yellow line. When we reached that point, no one was coming, so i tried to pass. He sped up, even though no human being in his right mind would do that.And i sped up. No one ever accused me of being in my right mind, of course. As i pulled even with this homicidal fucktard, he flipped me off. i followed suit, taking care to swing the finger around and aim it out the back window after flooring it and leaving him behind. For a moment.He sped up to 75 and got right up behind me. There were two guys in the truck, both wearing ball caps that i imagined said BREAST INSPECTOR or WELCOME TO AMERICA- TALK INGLISH on them. They both appeared to be very animated, both their mouths and hands were moving. They weren’t smiling.
i looked forward from the rear-view mirror and realized i was coming up on the on-ramp for US 30. i braked suddenly and gleefully, and the truck practically flipped over frontways getting slowed down. i screeched around the corner and got on the highway. They broke off the pursuit, apparently getting the idea that i was quite put out with them.i don’t need this shit. Every fucking day it’s a pissing contest. These asswipes think because they’re in their vehicle that they worked so hard at the dirt mines to buy, it gives them the right to make policy decisions on the highway that everyone else must obey. Well, up yours sideways, Jethro. If my speed offends you or your gods, let me pass! Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged. In layman’s terms, get the fuck out of the way and stop being a little speedbitch.Of course, it’s not just here in WayneCo. Pretty much everywhere you can drive you’ll have people who won’t get out of the left lane; who won’t turn off their brights, who won’t get over a lane and let you on the highway, who endanger everyone else with their casual approach to piloting a motor vehicle. Hey! You’re not at home in your lounge chair in a beer coma, Sparky, wake up and drive! That’s not your office, Slick, that’s a 3,000 pound metal and glass bomb being controlled by no one in particular.And unless i’m way behind the times, those GPS screens don’t actually drive your vehicle… they just add one more distraction.For most of us who don’t fight oil well fires, climb the Himalayas or work 3rd shift at an American convenience store, driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day. To do it shoddily, with innocent lives at stake, seems to me the deepest nadir of irresponsible, antisocial behavior. It constitutes criminal negligence. Everyone should pay attention to the road when they drive, yet every day i see people behind the wheel, not driving.
And no one should do what the driver of that pickup did to me this morning. We were approaching a curving hill when i finally got around him, but luckily there was no oncoming traffic. Why would he risk his life and the life of his passenger just to be a mean-spirited shitheel to someone he’s never met?Driving is not a contest. i do not wish to join your reindeer games. All i want to do is get where i’m going in a minimum amount of time, with as little hassle as possible. i don’t understand why this is such an unreasonable request. If you can’t drive 55 miles an hour on the Back Wooster Road, perhaps a more countrified route would serve you better. The county is crisscrossed with gravel roads where you could go 25 and not make everyone late for work. Or perhaps you could quit driving altogether. Because if you want to do 40 on the closest thing we have to a highway, yet you get pissed off and throw a tantrum when a driver wants to get past you, you don’t deserve to have a driver’s license. You’re a menace.ed 1.21.12~ % (
BLOG ELEVEN – 2.09.12
Dreams of Trees Part II
In honor of Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve
i dreamed i was in a tall quiet woods
that was dark and huge and ancient
and full of birdsong
I didn’t recognize
the trees were half again as tall
as the trees I was used to
and some were six feet in diameter
they had to be five hundred if they were a day
there were red oaks with pointed leaves
like the arrows of red men
and white oaks with rounded leaves
like the bullets of white men
pre-columbian, deeply convoluted, cornucopic trees
fibrous, foliage-frilled, upside-down lightning
shooting out of the ground
at the rate of three inches a year, if that
they went up and up and out
forming a long living canopy
sixty lofty feet above the leaf mold
my neck ached to see their crowns
a family of deer came right up to me
at one point I was surrounded
by grey, red and black squirrels
an owl sang a love song a mile away that went unanswered
as i trudged beneath the oaks on a pathway
made of a material unknown to me
i suddenly realized
this was not a dream.
The Big Woods
(Click on images to enlarge!)
Every time i go for a trudge at Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve two miles north of Orrville, Ohio, i learn at least one thing. The other day i learned that both my boots now leak.
There was about two inches of wet snow on the ground when i went out there, making the 1.5 mile raised pathway slippery and slushy. After a few steps i regained my slush legs and began to motivate. The boardwalk is made of recycled milk jugs but looks and feels like wood. And crunches just like wood when a giant oak lands on it. There is a short loop and a long one, i usually do both.
i had the place to myself, praise be to wooden gods. Other than an occasional bird call or squirrel bark, it was silent, with the snow muffling all sound but that of the wind and my boots slogging along, collecting water. Because of the lack of foliage and the revealing white blanket of snow, i could see the gently rolling contours of vast swaths of the 155 acre old-growth forest. Huge deadfall was everywhere, evidence of the woodlot’s succession from giant oaks and hickories to more shade-tolerant beeches and maples. It was a natural process– some of these trees sprouted about the time Columbus first invaded America, and are now reaching the end of their natural lifespans. It was the lack of sunlight created by these huge red and white oaks and shagbark hickories themselves that shaded out saplings of those same species. In time, it will be a beech-maple ecosystem. Already more than half the big trees are horizontal, on this day made strikingly visible by their coatings of snow.
As i walked i was silently thankful for the serendipitous solitude… no squealing kids or dummies in track suits yelling into their cell phones. Sometimes when the parking lot is packed, i take off through the additional 51 acres that stretch away from the north side of Fox Lake Road. There are only game trails on that side, and one time i got so lost i wound up on the other side of Marshallville, some three miles from my car!
These woods are anomalies, one of the biggest stretches of old-growth forest left in the lower 48. Legend has it that at one time a squirrel could cross the entire state without touching the ground. And that squirrel? My great-great grandaddy. i kid.
i managed to navigate the treacherous boardwalk without falling and breaking a hip, scanning for deer. They were there somewhere, but i couldn’t see or hear them. They seem to fear humans much less inside these woods, almost as if they know they can’t be legally hunted within its bounds. That’s not completely true these days, however. Several times i’ve pulled up to the parking lot to find it blocked off by sheriff’s deputies, and i could see sharpshooters behind them preparing to go in and cull the herd. Unfortunately, this practice is necessary to maintain herd health and protect plant species that would be denuded by too many browsing animals. In the absence of large predators such as big cats and wolves, men with rifles must move in. Because there are so many humans now cluttering up the planet, most ecosystems must be managed. By us. This hasn’t good news for wild things overall.
The neighbors once called the area The Big Woods. When i was a kid it was known as Graber’s Woods. There are stories about people getting hopelessly lost in it. i got off the path one day to make water and it took me a half hour to find my way back.
How these trees didn’t become lumber in the first half of the nineteenth century is a minor miracle, and during the depression the trees avoided the sawmill because of Andrew Johnson’s mother Anna (Graber) Johnson. It was Andrew’s wife Clela who gifted the land to the Division of Natural Areas in memory of her husband. i doubt she realized how valuable this land is to the people around here, and to the world. Or perhaps she knew exactly how rare this woods is. There is less than .15% of the original old growth left in Ohio, and Johnson Woods is the largest and least disturbed tract. Forest Primeval.
Slosh, slosh. It takes me 35 minutes to tromp both loops, though I often do more than one lap. The path goes through groves of oaks and hickories, maples and beeches. There are elms (all dead), ironwoods, ashes, gums. The character of this forest is totally different than younger woodlands. It is more open. There is birdsong that one doesn’t hear elsewhere- supplied by scarlet tanagers, hooded warblers, wood thrushes, ovenbirds, Acadian flycatchers, pileated woodpeckers. There are flowers that aren’t found in second- and third-growth woods, among them Canada lilies, cardinal flowers, violets, several species of ferns. The more common northern flowers flourish here too: may apples, trillium, trout lilies, touch-me-not.
Mushrooms and related fungi grow in wild profusion, and if one knows right where to look, there are morels (you can do what you want to me, i’ll never tell where!). There are swamps, glades, vernal pools, creeks. There are still crayfish in the watercourses and swamps, you can see their tiny mud towers beside the trail. All the species of squirrels are represented, including hybrids of indigenous grey and red squirrels with the more aggressive and non-native black. Squirrels, apparently, are not racists.
The biggest trees are six feet in diameter, twenty feet in circumference, some are 120 feet tall. i stop to look up at the oaks, and after a while my neck gets sore. It’s always worth it. How that many tons of wood can stick more or less straight up out of the ground is a source of wonder for me. i’m a simple soul, I guess.
i’ve been walking this woods since before the boardwalk was built. It’s fascinating to watch the place change with the seasons. When i had a heart attack two years ago this was the first place i walked, and i was able to gauge my progress by how far i could make it each time. The first day out i could only make it to Bench #1 before i was pooped, but within two months i was back up to doing laps.
As i hiked under the woody leviathans my heart rate came up and i began to sweat a little. About 25 years ago i read in Psychology Today that taking long walks releases endorphins into the blood, calming jangled nerves. Doing one’s walk in the woods is even more relaxing, at least to me. There’s something about being inside a wooded area that gives me a feeling of… belonging and longing, i guess. A sense of connectedness to the natural world. A world that doesn’t need us at all, but that we need and don’t even realize it.
A forest is an engine powered by water and sunlight, a self-replicating machine that turns out more woods, with all its accompanying organisms from the micro to the macro. It’s encouraging to me to understand that once we’ve had our turn on this planet and destroyed ourselves, the forests will come back given enough time. Even the largest cities will fall to the vines, the weeds, the flowers and the trees. So be it.
i crossed a small stream and went up a hill, reached a parting of ways and headed toward the outside world. i always feel a sense of loss when i’m about to leave, even though i know i can come back any time (being a part owner). On this last quarter mile i stopped more often and let the quietude enter my bones, turning slowly to impress the scene on my memory. Finally, at the entrance, I turned around one last time and took it in. Then i got back in my car, which now seemed a little foreign to me, and went back to the human settlement where my “real” life is.
BLOG TEN – 1.21.12
The Night Mike & i Saw a UFO
(or, Close Encounters of the Dumbass Kind)
It’s the better part of forty years since the event, but i remember it better than i recall my bowl of fibrous twigs and soymilk this morning. It scared me in a way i’d never been scared before or since. And the stupid thing is, until that night i’d always wanted to see a UFO. i still watch the sky when walking after dark, dreading the return of that thing…
It was June 4, 1974, about 1:30 in the morning. i was riding in a car with my best friend Mike. We were out in the country not far from Smithville, killing a six-pack (probably Busch) and smoking the kind of herbal amusement aid popular at the time. We were both in possession of most our wits, however- we weren’t the types to go riding around blind and dumb. In those days we kids were encouraged by the town cops and sheriffs to take our intoxicants outside the cities of Wayne County and to take full advantage of the wide-open spaces in the hills and fields. This we did with great enthusiasm. There were roads and spots all over the countryside where we could park multiple vehicles and get great roaring bonfires going all night. How many of my readers remember Muskrat Road, Little Egypt, Hogback, Devil’s Lane, Devil’s Hollow, Rogue’s Hollow, Tracy’s Woods, Moser’s Orchard, Leroy’s, Smithville Cabin? I’m sure my webmaster remembers those locations. Most of those places are now buried under Suburbia.
But on this night it was just Mike and me, killing time and brain cells. We turned onto Beiler Road in his mom’s green ’73 Impala, and i announced that it was time to “drain the mighty pocket snake”. He pulled the car over next to a large field and I got out. As i stood there watering the ditch flowers, i noticed a light in the sky that I took to be a jet far off and high up, moving very fast. i said, jokingly, “Hey Mike, there’s a UFO!” He leaned over to look and said “Yeah, yeah”.
About three seconds after that i realized that what i had thought was a large jetliner at cruising altitude was actually a much smaller aircraft, much lower and much, much closer. It was silently making its way toward us about two telephone pole heights above the field. I couldn’t make out a shape yet, but it had several lights on it and seemed to glide in a most unnatural way.
“Hey, um, this thing is coming right for us, Mike!” i said nervously. He suggested i get back in the car, “NOW!” i agreed this was the best course of action and jumped in.
Just then the thing reached the road about fifty feet in front of us and crossed over it, floating too slowly to stay aloft, about forty feet in the air. As i began to comprehend its shape, Mike and i gasped at the same time. This thing was not an airplane, balloon, blimp or helicopter. It sure as hell wasn’t swamp gas. It had a triangular body with a dome on top, and atop that dome was a smaller one. There were lights at the three corners and on top of the double dome. I don’t remember what colors the lights were, except that the one on the front tip was clear and bright like a spotlight.
After it reached the field on the far side of the road, it started to turn back on its path, nose first. It sort of pivoted on its front tip and began to come back toward us. At first i was so transfixed by what seemed to be an anti-gravitational maneuver, i forgot what was going on and just appreciated the beauty of the turn. i was jarred out of my stoner reverie by Mike applying the gas and spinning out in the gravel. As he took off down the road, i turned around in the seat and saw it complete its turn. It was graceful. It was now following us. That’s the moment when panic set in.
The object was about two hundred feet behind us, matching our speed. I looked over at Mike. He was turned around in his seat also, but the car was careening down the road at about seventy miles per. I screamed “Drive! i’ll watch it!!” and he settled back into the driver’s seat, flooring it.
As i kept watching, totally stunned, the craft broke off its chase and floated over by a farm that had a large fluorescent street lamp in the yard. I said, “It’s not chasing us anymore” and turned around to face front. We were coming to a stop sign at a T-road, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was staring fixedly ahead, both hands in a death grip on the wheel, and the car was still doing at least seventy. I shrieked “STOP!!” just as he came out of it and slammed on the brakes. The car slid in the gravel, obviously going too fast to get stopped before slamming into the ditch along the other road. He did get the car around the corner, spraying pebbles everywhere, and drove directly back to his place in Orrville. The whole way back we were gibbering like cartoon characters who had just escaped from a haunted minefield, riding Acme atomic pogo sticks. “Did you SEE that?” i asked Mike. Mike responded: “I saw that! Did YOU see that?” It went on this way until we got back to his basement stronghold.
Mike handed me a notebook and a pencil. “Draw that thing, and don’t show me until you’re done!” he said, grabbing paper and pencil for himself.
When we exchanged our sketches of the thing, they were identical. We had no idea what to do. i literally begged him to give me a ride the three blocks to my house, but he refused. “I’m not even looking out the window tonight!” he said with shaky voice and hands.
When i was younger and watched too much cheesy sci-fi on TV, i’d always imagined i would try to make contact with any extraterrestrials i might encounter- walking slowly toward the mothership with hands open at my sides like Captain Kirk, saying, disjointedly: “We- Come- In- PEACE!”
But the only thing i wanted to do at the critical moment was to put as much real estate as possible between me and it. So much for a lifetime of hopefully scanning the heavens for alien spacecraft. No thank you, Klaatu.
BLOG NINE – 1.14.12
BLOG EIGHT – o1.11.12
Outlaws I & I at House of Blues Cleveland 12.26.11
Note: Click on images to enlarge!
My friend Linda picked me up about 4 pm. After wrestling my keyboard rig into her trunk and back seat, we left Orrville for Cleveland. State routes 57 and 585 were their usual slow-moving, clueless mess, and we as always were relieved to get to the 4-lane part of 585… although this is where the people who were going 45 moments ago suddenly realize that now other drivers can pass them, and they speed up to 70. Every fucking time. What is it with people?
It took a little less than an hour to get to downtown, then the search for the back entrance to the venue commenced. On only our second orbit around the club, as i was dialing Gino’s number, we saw Gino himself in the middle of the street, talking on his phone. He was guiding Chopper and Quinn in from the Heights. He saw us and pointed to our right, and we turned into the menacing-looking alley. After considerable wrangling with parking lot personnel and reshuffling of vehicles, we got parked outside the back door and i loaded in.
The stage was a bustling, barely-controlled chaos. Techs were shouting at each other and at people getting in their way. Carlos Jones and the PLUS (Peace Love Unity Syndicate) Band, the headliner, was set up and about to do a sound check.
Let’s back up. Carlos was lead singer in First Light, a popular reggae/dub/ska/funk/rock band out of Cleveland Heights that played an average of 250 dates a year all over the east from 1984 to 1998. i played keyboards in that band, and three of my bandmates in Outlaws I & I- guitarist Gino Long, bass player Chopper Wasson and drummie Rod Reisman- were also in First Light. Toward the end of that band’s career Carlos put together a rootsier reggae band, PLUS, to satisfy his desire to play strictly roots music between First Light’s shows and road trips. After First Light broke up PLUS was Carlos’s main musical outlet, and went on to become one of Cleveland’s most popular bands. They played the White House Egg Roll last year, and have opened for international reggae acts and headlined all the region’s reggae festivals for years.
PLUS sounded great in the room. We waited in our green room, which was labeled “Outlaw 1 & 1”… our fame precedes us! Or lack thereof. We watched TV, cracked our complimentary case of beer, and dove into the buffet outside in the hall. This is living.
Our time came to set up and soundcheck. So nice to be able to hear one’s own vocal, and those of the other singers! So deluxe to have one engineer running the front system and a second guy running monitors from stage left. A spacious stage! Real lights! A big, beautiful- sounding room! We ran four songs, and then it was time for doors.
My friend Linda often accompanies me to our bigger shows. She is no stranger to nightclubs and halls, and always has a blast hanging with the band, taking photos, dancing, and generally endearing herself to the staff, bandwives and fans. She makes great arm candy as well. The only drawback is that when she drives, i have a designated driver- ergo; I can make yet another attempt to keep up with some of the other drinkers in the band. Hangovers of epic proportions have resulted. As always, on this night i was prepared to take that risk.
By the time we’d finished soundcheck, Linda knew the whole place and a lot of the staff. She’d been with me the night First Light played HoB four years ago, and really liked hanging out there. She doesn’t have a problem if i’m not with her every second, which is great because I’m at work. Hint to the fellas: as a general rule don’t bring dates, especially first dates, to your gigs. You’ll run yourself raggedy, and it’s seen by the girls as cheap-bastard behavior. Not that i’ve ever made that mistake!
We went on when they told us to, and played about 90 minutes. Carlos introduced us as the curtain parted. The crowd erupted. The show went very well, and was well-received. We’d rehearsed not only the songs, but the spaces between the songs… there was very little dead air that set. We were all very wound up and it was all smiles onstage. Butchie B, our frontman, put on a fantastic show in his gangster suit and hat and two-tone wingtips. We had all agreed to wear black for this show, the only time we’ve ever coordinated wardrobe.
The audience was also hyped up, crowding the barrier in front of the stage and cheering with wild abandon. This was PLUS’s fan base, but they made us feel very welcome. We did all originals except for Reggae Party in Session by Black Uhuru. On that song Carlos came up and did some chanting and crowd-baiting… Reggae Tommy came out on stage too and joined Butch and Carlos in some spirited knees-up running in place. The crowd went wild, as they always have. The vibe in the room was very much like a First Light show. Peace, love and bass.
We did an encore, bowed and soaked up applause and quickly humped our equipment off stage. PLUS got on and continued the groovathon. They played for a very long time, and we hung out, danced, drank and talked with friends old and new. If we sounded as good coming through that system as PLUS sounded from out front and up in the balcony (and i hear we did), i can die happy.
Gino, Butch and i sat in with Carlos and the boys for a couple songs, and then suddenly the evening was over. The house lights, retreating crowd, and the sudden lack of thundering bass and drums stood in sharp contrast to how the room had felt just minutes before.
That’s one of the mainest reasons so many performers take too many intoxicants- they want to keep the glow, the warmth, the groove created by the interaction between performer and audience going until the wee hours of the morning. This is also the reason for after parties. And after parties, of course, are a leading causal factor in musicians killing themselves on the highway down through rock and roll history. Who am i to buck the system? I’m kidding! Even with Linda as D.D. i kept my wits about me. Big cities are no place to be flailing around like an idiot, especially with a pleasant-looking woman piloting the escape vehicle.
BLOG SEVEN – 01.01.12
On Driving in Wayne County, Ohio:
It begins for me with the trip to work. It’s a seventeen-minute drive to Big Box Office Supplies in the north end of Wooster from my house on Market Street in Orrville, but it usually takes about twenty-five minutes. There is nothing wrong with the roads, other than an occasional bump, hole or dead deer. It’s people who are almost always the problem, and sometimes it’s just completely beyond ridiculous. There are semi trucks, farm machines, bicycles and horse-drawn Amish buggies to contend with, but the overwhelming majority of (barely) moving obstructions on the road are regular Wayne County people in cars. i’ve tried for decades to understand why everyone drives so tentatively, timidly and downright slowly here, with no success.
Let’s look at this morning’s Parade of the Damned. As soon as i pulled onto Market i had a Jeep in front of me. i reminded myself that no matter what speed you drive in one of those jalopy-ass rattletraps, it seems very fast. At the four-way stop at Crown Hill Road & Market an elderly man bundled up like an Inuit, driving an older Buick Century, got in front of us, going even more slowly than the Jeep. These two vehicles now comprised an almost impassable juggernaut, and I steeled myself for a forty mile an hour trip up the Back Wooster Road.
As we approached the curves and bridges just past the tracks, the Buick slowed down even further for no apparent reason, making the Jeep driver and i slam on our brakes on a smooth, dry road in daylight in light traffic. Cars were coming the other way, but I bided my time and took the first possible opportunity to blow past the two vehicles trundling along in my path. The driver of the Buick looked at me as though i were doing something wrong- I blew a sarcastic kiss at him and swept by at the blistering speed of sixty-five miles an hour. In a moment the Buick and Jeep shrank to tiny specks in my rear-view.
For the first time in my life, the light at Apple Creek Road was green, which saved me about four minutes. i got on Route 30, speed limit sixty-five. After slowing down to get on behind a line of traffic going fifty or so, i cranked it up to seventy-four as i got in the left lane, the passing lane, the fast lane. One of those cars that resemble a 1950s panel truck was cruising in the left lane in front of me, going less than one mile per hour faster than the semi tractor-trailer beside him in the right lane. There were two semis ahead of the eighteen-wheeler we were now precariously driving inches from, and the car creeping along in front of me at its present speed could not have passed all three trucks before my exit. A half mile before the 83 north exit, a tiny sliver of daylight opened as the car finally wended its way past the first semi. i was forced to get in the right lane behind the other two big rigs. i looked across at the driver that had caused the trouble, spouting invective with the entire considerable force of my creativity. The rat bastard was smiling and waved his half- eaten hamburger at me. i flipped him off. The rest of the drive was more of the same, but somehow I got clocked in at work on time. Every fucking morning.
i can’t figure out why people drive so far under the speed limit around here. Is it a religious thing? How Would Jesus Drive? Do these people believe they’re accruing brownie points in heaven when they drive extra slowly? And what of these folks who cruise in the left lane at a less-than-efficient velocity? Are they velocity vigilantes? Did they take a sacred vow to slow down traffic in hopes of offsetting their sins? Because i don’t think it mentions anywhere in the bible how the savior would have driven, had cars been around in those days. i’d like to think he would have been fast, yet courteous. He would pick up hitchhikers. Being omniscient, he would go when the light turns green.
Another possible explanation for WayneCo drivers’ seeming inability to drive efficiently is the widespread, but incorrect assumption that the slower you drive, the less you have to pay attention to your surroundings. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re not quite there mentally, no speed is safe.
Of course, speed is only one facet of the WayneCo driving clusterfuck. Another sore subject with me is four-way stops. Why are these ubiquitous features so mysterious to folks around these parts? I was riding with my mom one time years ago, and we stopped at a four-way that had cars pulled up from the other three directions. What then ensued was what i like to call a Good Samaritan Standoff. No one would go- everyone kept waving at everyone else to go first. i said to Mom, pointing at the oldster in the ’78 Aspen across from us, “that guy there should go now”.
She looked at me like i’d just said a prayer to Satan, and replied knowingly that it’s the person to the right who goes first. To which i asked, “to the right of whom?” She started to go, just as the other three drivers began to move. A pileup was somehow averted, but just barely.
People also seem to think there’s a three-second rule at four-way stops, indeed at all stop signs. Trust me, folks, as soon as you’re completely stopped, you can go if it’s your turn. And if you’re waving everyone through, kindly remember that the people behind you are getting more and more aggravated. You have a rear-view mirror. For everyone’s sake please use it, and not just for makeup and hair adjustments.
And why the hell do people insist on multitasking when they are piloting a 3,000 pound metal and glass and plastic bomb? Many of these folks already have no clue how to operate a motor vehicle, but they want to add cell phones and GPS systems to their brainload. I never get tired of watching people swerving left into oncoming traffic while they hold their cell up to their big fat head in one hand and gesticulate wildly with the other. Who is controlling the vehicle? God is not your co-pilot.
There are also drivers who do their hair and eyebrows, shave, excavate their glove compartments, knit, balance their checkbooks, build model ships in bottles, etc. All while careening back and forth all over the road. Stop it! Drive!
While much of this behavior can be observed anywhere there are cars on roads, i’ve found Wayne County to be a hotbed of dickhead drivers. i’ve driven in most of the big cities of the East, and drove for six years in Colorado. Nowhere i’ve been in my half-century on the planet have such a large percentage of people been such abysmally incompetent drivers.
And don’t get the idea that i’m a crazed, aggressive driver. I’m an efficient driver. And one thing i know that most people around here don’t seem hip to, is that cops almost never pull you over unless you’re going at least ten miles an hour over the posted limit. It’s funny, because most people everywhere seem to know that, except for here.
i’ve found that just about the only way to get a driver around here to speed up is to try to pass them. i’ve seen assholes in pickup trucks speed up to ninety miles per hour once they realized someone wanted to get past them. What’s the problem? i don’t win anything by passing you. i’m not trying to confiscate your trucknuts, I just want to arrive today. Me getting in front of you does not mean you’ve been somehow emasculated. Someone will always be in front of you, corndog, that’s the nature of roads. They’re unremittingly linear.
And you dipwads who wait until i’m fifteen feet from the stop sign you’re at, then pull out in front of me and go ten under the speed limit- may your eyes shrivel in their sockets and your hands and feet fall off, so you can’t do that anymore.
i can’t sign off until i mention oblivious behavior at stop lights. What, didn’t you expect the friggin’ light was ever going to turn green? Are you now settled down & raising goats in there? Time to break camp and bug out. Many, many local peoples’ reaction time can’t be measured on a stopwatch. It takes a calendar.
So beware all you creepers, drifters, daydreamers, left-lane cruisers, texting junkies, soccer moms on phones, hundred-year-old Buick jockeys, psychotic rednecks in pick-em-up trucks- if i can ever figure out how to get back at you for wasting several years of my life without causing a crash or getting arrested, i will. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise.
Perhaps some sort of James Bondian or Wile E. Coyote-esque device that spits tacks out from under my back bumper… or explosive charges…
BLOG SIX – 12.24.11
The Impact of Xmas Music on Mildly Crazy People
It seems to me that most people can choose whether or not to actually listen to music playing. In fact, I don’t think most people really listen to music- to most it’s just a pleasant noise in the background that provides a soundtrack for their activities. It seems to me that most “regular” people can tune noise and music out when they so choose. What i wouldn’t give for such a virtual “earlid” which i could open and close at will. i have no such defenses, being a musician, and to make matters even more interesting, i get “earworms”- songs that play over and over in my head… mostly songs I don’t like but which have been force-loaded into my memory by sheer repetition.
The music I hate to re-experience most is TV commercial jingles (my least favorite being 1-800- I Need Cash NOW!) , followed closely by TV theme and incidental music from the ‘60s and ‘70s (think I Dream of Jeannie, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, Dragnet, Maverick, Mannix, Hawaii 5-0, Sanford & Son, Barney Miller, Cheers, MASH, The Munsters, and on and on)… also high on the list of music my brain sees fit to replay in my head ad infinitum are pop songs I can’t stand, especially Bob Seger, ZZ Top, Tom Petty, Loverboy, ACDC, Bruce Springsteen- what they call Classic Rock but really mean Songs You’ve Heard Way Too Much…
I really got a lot of radio pop stuck in my head forever from working for years at the kinko’s in downtown Akron, where we were forced to listen to 97.5 Classic Rock WONE; the only alternative was WGAR Country, and none of us but the boss wanted to hear that shit.
But by far the most sticky, insidious, heinous and aggravating music that i can’t escape, even when it’s not playing, is Xmas music. When i go to work at my little retail job at Big Box next to The Other Big Box in the new end of Wooster, I get eight solid hours of not just Xmas music, but Xmas music so old as to be in the public domain… in other words, Muzak has obtained these recordings because they cost little or nothing to rebroadcast. i’ve heard enough Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Dean Martin, Ray Conniff Singers, Percy Faith, Montovani, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand (her modernist, manic rendition of Jingle Bells may be the most obnoxious Xmas recording of all time), Nat King Cole, Louis Prima, Tommy Dorsey and Burl Ives rendering their distinctive versions of popular holiday songs from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s in the past month to give me a lifetime of musical heebie-jeebies.
i can see holiday shoppers milling around from where i stand. Most of them don’t seem to be listening to, or bothered by, the holiday swill spilling from the overhead speakers, but they do appear to be reacting to it… glassy-eyed stares, walking in extra-slow motion, running into displays, seemingly unable to read signs- these folks look like Xmas zombies lurching about in some Roger Corman undead holiday flick. Some of the older people do whistle, hum or sing tunelessly along with Theresa Brewer or Elvis or Petula Clark as they drift along behind their carts. But they all seem extra stupid this month, as though hearing Xmas goop everywhere they go is putting them in a trancelike state.
Incidentally, i’m not writing this at work. It only seems that way, boss.
i awake in the morning now to one of three versions of We Need a Little Xmas, or to incidental music from the 1965 Rankin-Bass animated TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer… I especially detest Silver and Gold and Holly Jolly Xmas as performed by that singing bear in a snowman suit Burl Ives. His voice does something to me… something bad. It sounds to me like a wheezy old reed organ played badly, perhaps under water… boiling water.
At work my two associates and i in the Copy-Print Center have made a tote board to count the number of times we’ve heard The Little Drummer Boy. i have a particular disaffection for this song, for two reasons. Firstly, the drummer boy is always pictured playing a snare drum with modern sticks and a shoulder strap… i must point out that marching snares did not exist in the Middle East two thousand and eleven years ago. Secondly, how would a kid playing Pa Rumpa Pum Pum on a drum be in any way beneficial in a makeshift birthing ward? I would think a bagpiper would be at least as appropriate. And helpful.
So far this month, and it’s now December 20, we’ve heard Little Drummer Boy forty-eight times. By my accounting, that’s forty-eight times too many.
You are welcome to call me a Scrooge or a Grinch. i don’t give a hairy rat’s ass.
Ah, forty-nine times now. If my wife were giving birth to the Savior of the Universe in a barn, i’d eject the shepherds, farm animals, wise men, and especially any drummers from the enclosure. Call me crazy.
BLOG FIVE – 12.21.11
Blog the Fifth: We Are So Fucking Holy
Today I received a supposedly humorous email forward that started out: Hello and Welcome to the United States of America, a Christian Nation…. press one for English and two to disconnect until you learn English…
It went on to say the only two forces have offered to die for us: Jesus Christ and the U.S. military. Then it said this, after some pictures of Jesus petting a lamb and flag-draped coffins, presumably U.S. military casualties:
2012 IS COMING
A Nation of Sheep Breeds a Government of Wolves!
I’M 100% for PASSING THIS ON!!!
Let’s Take a stand!!!
Language: English only…
Culture: Constitution and the Bill of Rights!!!
Drug Free: Make a drug screen mandatory for anyone on welfare and/or food stamps!
NO freebies to Non-Citizens!
i felt i had to reply… this is what i wrote, and it went to all the recipients of my friend’s forward:
This is not a Christian nation, this is a free country founded on freedom of the press, freedom to speak and gather, and freedom of (or from) religion.
If the Spanish had taken this country from its original inhabitants first we’d be speaking Spanish, but since the English won out many of us speak English. Big Fucking Deal.
Only the so-called Indians, the people who’ve been here for tens of thousands of years, whom our ancestors cheated, enslaved, infected with diseases they had no resistance to (including, especially, alcohol), raped and murdered and almost exterminated, have any right to say what language and culture hold sway in this land… but our government continues to confine them to worthless pieces of wasteland where they experience poverty that the poorest white person could not imagine. I don’t see ANY Christian churches fighting for their rights.
As for supporting the troops, i do. i think they should all come home & quit killing & being killed protecting the interests of the super-rich.
As for drug-screening people on public assistance, i don’t support it. If we caught every person in America that did drugs while on welfare, it still wouldn’t add up to one one-thousandth the cost to society of one Bernie Madoff, or one George W. Bush. i support the end of the drug war, and starting a new war: The War On The Rich People Who Own Us Without Us Even Knowing It.
Christmas? There WAS no Christmas until the 350s C.E. (or A.D.) when the Emperor of Rome prayed to the Christian God the night before a battle and then won. His name was Constantine, and the church leaders of his time instituted Christmas to supplant the Roman Festival of the Sun God, or Saturnalia. This was a huge debauch the “pagans” threw every year because the days were getting shorter… they were afraid the Sun God would go away for good if they didn’t observe this feast. it involved gift giving, decorating the houses with evergreens, and parties where the moral code was relaxed… so the Christian leaders back then didn’t change much about it other than the name.
Almost 100% of Christian “traditions” are taken directly from older religions. Easter is a pagan fertility rite taken from the Saxons of Britain… their name for the Goddess of Fertility? Eostre. That’s where we get the word Easter.
A Savior God coming from Heaven to save humanity? See the Bhagavad-Gita, Hinduism’s 3,000 year old “holy book”.
The Flood? That’s from many cultures. but most notably the Babylonian epic poem Gilgamesh.
i could go on. i usually don’t spout off too much about stuff like this because people get threatened & defensive when their deeply-held, but sometimes not well-researched beliefs are challenged- but this paranoid rant against everyone but Christian America kinda hit a nerve. No offense intended.
BLOG FOUR – 12.8,11
(Inspired by the History Channel Program Earth 2100)
insurgents marching or riding into town.
BLOG THREE – 11.26.11
BLOG THE THIRD
Playing the Orrville VFW with the Visitors
Backing up to last Wednesday night, which now seems to be a new holiday called Thanksgiving Eve. What an insanely manic evening! i got off work at the copy center at 4, and was setting up my rig at 5:30, no nap for this old codger. There was a short rehearsal/ sound check at the venue, beginning without drums. As the players and
singers arrived one by one the sound of the band came together until we had a pretty good slam going.
It was going to be a good night.
I have no idea how many times i’ve played the Orrville Vets. i believe the first time was when a subset of our high school jazz band, the dixieland unit, played there for a roomful of old ladies sometime around 1974. Does anyone else remember that, or did i hallucinate it?
I went home and had something to eat, then woodshedded (practiced) with the gig CDs for a while. i usually listen to songs i’m learning over and over in the car, until it just comes back when we play them . With this band, however, there is so little rehearsal going on that writing things down is necessary. And solo practicing.
For this show we rehearsed in shifts, to accommodate eight busy musicians’ schedules. Chris, Mojo, Mouse and i practiced one night at Hit Machine Studio, and 2 nights later the other folks got together with Chris there.
I went back down to the show during Josh Snyder Band’s set. Some very talented guys, especially Josh. He is a gifted songwriter, singer and songwriter, and one helluvan artist as well. i played on their first CD and did a couple gigs with them. Rehearsing at Snyderville was fun.
After JSB, former Lost Highway vocalist George Bersh did a short set singing, playing guitar and harmonica.George has a great voice and is plenty double-jointed enough to do the one-man band thing. His renderings of Tom Petty, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Led Zeppelin are insightful and spot-on. It was a nice idea to have him act as a sort of musical sorbet between the evenings ‘s rock & funk courses.
Then the main course was served by the drumming Paris brothers. Conway jumped up and did something incomprehensible on the bass, then the band took the stage. We started with Ain’t Nobody by Chaka Khan, with vocalist Kickie wailing right from jump.
Our sets took us through many funky worlds: Earth Wind & Fire (Shining Star); Steely Dan (My Old School); Tower of Power (What Is Hip, Down at the Nightclub); Stevie Wonder (I Wish, Superstition); Gap Band, Stimulators, Cameo, Sly, Buddy Miles. We also performed several tunes from the new Visitors CD: Don’t Take it Away; Appreciate; Unity; and Philosophy 101.
There was a good crowd, but not so many people that movement was impaired. And there was plenty of movement. The dance floor filled quickly, and there were even some guys dancing!
After the Visitors sets we did a little jamming. Nick Hoffman, sometime member of the Gretchen Pleuss Band, played drums. Chris’s son Nathan played bass while Dad switched to guitar. And Lora Conway did some singing. Talented family.
I really don’t remember a whole lot after that. i had spent too much time up front in the bar, again.
Thank you Spanky for your heavy pouring hand…
I’d like to thank whomever drove me and my car Chester home, and also the person who followed him or her.
I’d also like to thank the organizers for their tireless efforts, and especially the friends who turned out en masse for this fun event. Without people showing up, we got nothing.
BLOG TWO -11.24.11
Thanksgiving on Mars
At home with a rollicking good hangover, a real banger. Last night’s shindig at the Orrville VFW was a huge success, and with so many people buying me shots (especially Don Zook, with whom i’d been drinking the night of my DUI in 1981!) i got pretty well faced and someone apparently drove me and my car home. i think i’m going to join the VFW, but i’m not convinced it’s a good move for me. Having cheap liquor three blocks from my house may not be a wise idea at this point in my career.
At 10:55 this morning my brother Jon called me out of a stupor so deep i’d slept with my mouth open and had a sore throat… he said, “you comin’, man?” i asked him what time i was supposed to meet the family unit at his house, and he said 11:00. Sure- why not wolf down a huge dinner at noon?
So i ran out of the house with a travel mug full of coffee and a bellyful of angry bees. i got to Jon’s about 11:30. Three of my brothers, my parents and the now completely legless Uncle Butch were waiting impatiently and loudly, saying we had noon reservations at the 356th Fighter Group Restaurant near the Akron-Canton airport. It’s a sprawling military-themed eatery that has something like two and a half miles of buffet tables full to near structural collapse with butter-slathered carbohydrates and giant hunks of steaming animal carcass.
We got there with 10 minutes to spare, and a pretty, bitchy young girl conducted us through the meat fumes and old-people smell to our table. i marveled at the huge crowd of fat ugly white people, many with canes, crutches and wheelchairs, jockeying for position in the buffet lines. In among them moved pug-ugly children with lightning speed belying their girth. It was so hot and loud and crowded in there that i thought i was going to pass out into the jellied beef. i went to the salad table and got a plate of food without waiting… i was the first person back to the table since everyone else was queued up for dead animal, fanning themselves with their empty plates.
i thought the food sucked. Everything was extra rich and fatty and salty and sugary. I think i may have caught diabetes there. i got up and waded through the sea of unwashed yokels to get some stuffing, but it was all mixed up with industrial-grade turkey and gravy. i asked a kid for some dressing that wasn’t touching turkey and the diners around me visibly reeled in outrage. The kid brought some stuffing to the table for me, to his credit. But it was the only stuffing in the dining room that wasn’t ice-cold. My companions eyed it hungrily.
The desserts were grotesque piles of excess-Mom & Butch discussed the comparative merits of the plain and the chocolate-encased creampuffs while i choked on my institutional coffee and chalky creamer. All the while, tinny christmas music from World Wars I and II blared from a speaker on the ceiling pointed directly at me. i sat there thinking, “i really, REALLY should have begged off and stayed in bed.”
Just then, an infant began to wail nearby…
BLOG ONE 11.22.11
I usually have no lack of strongly-held opinions to spout off about, but when I think of blogging my mind suddenly goes fuzzy. What was I so fired up about when I opened Word? There’s something I can complain about with some authority- Microsoft products. However, I don’t want to take a negative tack this early, so I’ll steer clear of computers, politics, religion and driving…
I think I’d like to set forth a sort of “mission statement” for this website. My primary purpose here is to get word out about the various musical services I provide, and to plug my art. I will also hold forth on myriad subjects of interest in this blog, hopefully igniting firestorms of controversy in the process. You can’t make an omelet without stealing from chickens!
I’m a musician, artist and poet. I’ve been playing piano and keyboards professionally since around 1973. I play solo piano at bars, restaurants, parties and weddings.
Most of my solo jobs these days are at the Montavino Wine Market in Wooster, Ohio, where I play one to four times monthly.
The proprietor of the Montavino’s, Ray Cicconetti, is a true local patron of the arts. Even in these troubled economic times he continues to provide a venue for solo pianists and one very talented vocalist/ guitarist, Gretchen Pleuss. I sometimes accompany her on piano, having learned a lot of her songs last summer when she put a band together for a while.
Music nights at the Montavino are Thursday and Saturday. If I don’t have a band gig on Friday, I usually play at the Mont for tips. The atmosphere there is laid back and relaxed, with a fun bunch of regulars and irregulars. It’s my favorite place to hang out.
I’m also in three working bands. The workingest band is Outlaws I & I, a reggae/rock band from the east side of Cleveland. We are comprised of four former First Light members: Gino Long, Chopper, Rod Reisman and myself, with Butchie B Buchanan on lead vocals and keyboards. We play a blend of reggae, rock, funk and island grooves not completely unlike First Light’s sound but with a little heavier rock flavor.
We play at many clubs in Northeast Ohio: The Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights; The Maple Grove, Fatfish Blue, PJ McIntyre’s Irish Pub, the Cropicana, the Barley House and Around The Corner in Cleveland; the Savannah Grille in Westlake, and Dominick’s in Kent. The band has had its current lineup for about a year. We have a large number of original songs, and we seem to add one or two almost every time we rehearse. We’ll be joining Carlos Jones and the PLUS Band on December 26 for a special night of reggae sounds at the House of Blues Cleveland.
I’m in another band based in Akron called Liquid Sky. We do “prog” (progressive) rock from the ‘70s and ‘80s, most notably Yes, Genesis, Rush, Pink Floyd, Kansas, and a number of other bands from that fertile, halcyon age: Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, Golden Earring, Led Zeppelin, and others. The band has amazed audiences everywhere we’ve played so far, including the Orrville High School Class of 1976 35-year high school reunion. Our lead singer, Brad Johnson, has a very powerful voice and large range, enabling us to perform songs that would stop other bands cold.
Also contributing to the noise is prog guitarist par excellence Bruce Lindamood, Ben Powers Jr. on bass and backing vocals, Chip Maggio on drumscape (he has a lot of drums and plays them all!), and me on keys and backing vocals.
The other band I’m in is the Visitors, with my sometime songwriting partner Chris Conway. The Visitors started around 1986 as a cooperative recording project, and anyone who visited the studio and had their instrument with them got drafted to put parts down. We released a cassette album in ’87 that sold about 200 copies. A lot of my friends still have copies, some of which actually play.
We played a couple shows a year, but the emphasis was on recording original music. Besides our songs we also did musical beds for TV commercials and jingles for several businesses, including the Mad Cactus Restaurant. We’ve been working on the current release, “…Just Visiting”, for about 15 years now. It was worth the wait.
Wednesday night the Visitors ride again, with special guests the Unusual Suspects and the Josh Snyder Band, at the Orrville VFW. It threatens to be a huge blowout. See you there!