Maine

Somebody said Block Island.

I remember how down in Maine when I was knee high to a lobster Block Island was where the weather ended. It began at Mt. Desert Island. What was beyond either didn’t exist or didn’t matter.

Also, frappes.

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Thumbs

As big gnarly dudes pass sixty they see what’s left of their studliness fritter away. Yesterday the wife asked—well, hereby ordered—me to hang up some posters in the bedroom. We still have posters in the bedroom, being groovy. (No, not Credence Clearwater Revisited or Neil Young’s AARP tour.) So I went and got the push pins, held the poster in place and stuck the pin in with my  thumb, but nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. I was mystified. This wall sure has gotten hard I said aloud. Sure, my wife said. It took a few more tries before it dawned on me that at some point in the last couple years my thumb had gotten too feeble to push a tack into the wall. Arthritis. All around me were things hung up over the years, held in place with tacks I had pushed into walls and wood soft as butter. Now I had to get the little hammer. It’s a rock hammer, actually, perfect for splitting open rocks to see what died inside a quarter billion years ago or for tapping tacks into a stubborn wall. But years of epilepsy have left me with a tremor imperceptible till I try to take a picture of a check with my iPhone or manage to hit my thumb with a hammer three out of four blows. So I got the big hammer which shattered the push pins, which unlike walls have not gotten harder over the years. Eventually I hung up the posters with nails. Nails. A hammer and nails. Then I fell and couldn’t get up.

OK, I didn’t, but my thumbs might as well have, the bums. It’s not like they don’t get plenty of exercise. They do. I’m an old drummer laying down beats and paradiddles endlessly, like a child with hyperactivity issues. But air drumming and coffee table solos haven’t done much for the digits. The finger muscles that would grip a plastic wine glass a little too hard (they use to shatter so easily, try doing that at a chic press event) or leave bruises without ever meaning to, well they’re just not what they used to be. You can’t be all thumbs when the thumb can’t even push a damn thumb tack into a wall. Especially if the walls keep getting harder.

Wisconsin

One of the most humiliating moments in my life was playing sheepshead with my in-laws and having no clue what was going on. The cards in my hand were meaningless. Not that one, that one! I couldn’t tell the difference. You owe me five cents my normally mild mannered mother-in-law demanded. I gave her the nickle. I was down twenty cents and had no idea how. More shuffling and drawing and dis-carding and I was down another twenty cents. I still hadn’t a clue what was happening. The three Wisconsinites whipped through their cards. I dropped mine. Don’t let us see them! Finally my wife had pity. I don’t think he’s getting it, she said. Well, you should’ve married a guy that could play sheepshead. Once again I was the dumb Irish guy, they were the superior Indians. They sent me outside to shovel snow and talked about fish fry. The next day we got together with more in-laws and I talked too much. They listened politely. Then Friday night at fish fry we sat between two Polish families from south Milwaukee. They drank too much beer, scarfed their food, talked too loud and laughed uproariously. My wife identified me as an Irish Catholic from New Jersey. I’m an atheist who hadn’t lived in Jersey since 4th grade but no matter. They told me Irish jokes that were the exact same as Polish jokes I didn’t dare tell back. Slapped me on the back. Bought me a couple schnapps even though I’d never been to Lambeau Field in the dead of winter. Really, never? They bought me another sympathetically. I sang in the car on the way to the Post. He’s a little tipsy they told the bartender. He’s from California. OK, then no more schnapps for him and he drew me 16 ounces of Pabst. There were more of those as the evening progressed. The bartender put the dice on the bar. I drunkenly demurred. He got cleaned out at sheepshead already, someone said. Laughter all around. Wisconsin is an experience.

Fremdenliebe

Haven’t had vertigo in a while. How pollen gets in the Eustachian tubes I have no idea. Anyway it was back yesterday, relegating me for hours to the couch so I wouldn’t sway and teeter and fall leaving a path of destruction in my wake. You’d be amazed how far you can fall when you’re six and a half feet tall. Six and a half feet, actually. So I didn’t. The cane helped, though walking with vertigo and a cane is a bit trickier. I practiced going up and down the stairs a few times. A little wobbly but getting it. Don’t fall, someone said helpfully. So I didn’t. Indeed I didn’t fall during the entire flare up. That used to be a regular feature, falling and sometimes awesome bruises. I’d get up and pretend it didn’t happen, like a cat running into a plate glass window. I meant to do that.

Better today though. Better since last night in fact. I stood up from the couch, walked three steps and loudly exclaimed Mein Fuhrer, I can valk! That startled whoever it was passing by the window. I heard their concerned stage whispers. Not everyone has seen Dr. Strangelove, apparently. I’m sure they think I’m a Trump voter.

Anyway, I could walk, and did, right into the kitchen and did the dishes.

Football

Oh wow, I didn’t even know this picture existed. It’s me, at 12 or 13, before my first Pop Warner game. Think I was a tackle, and had just spent a couple weeks practicing in 90 degree September heat in Brea, California. Brutal. Then came the pre-season scrimmage. It was a Friday night and the field was lit up bright as day. Hundreds of people in the stands, there not being much to do in a hick town. My childhood memory is shot to hell from seizures and I remember almost everything back then like a fading dream, so the details of the game are sketchy. There were a couple plays and nobody was getting anywhere. Then the ball was snapped again, somebody fumbled and it landed bouncing at my feet and I jumped on it but someone kicked it loose. Too late: every single kid on the field dogpiled on top of me. Down there at the bottom of that pile of squirming kids I felt my knee pop. Dislocated. It was agony for a minute or three.

That might’ve been the first time that ever happened. Eventually I was able to stand and I hobbled off the field leaning on an assistant coach. Probably got my first applause. Can’t remember anything else. Ice packs? Gatorade? A team doctor? It would’ve stopped hurting in a few minutes anyway and I must have sat there benched for three long quarters. Then the coach must’ve said you’re cut, kid. Thus ended my athletic career. But I hated Pop Warner anyway. Endless sprints in the baking heat and somebody’s dad always yelling. I just never associated it with my gimp knee before. I never remembered. Damn. All these years I could’ve been telling people about my old football injury. That’s better than bone spurs even.

Brian O’Laughlin

That’s us with Brian O’Laughlin, he on the left. Funny, musical, soft spoken, gentle, sharp, stoned, and a little lost, he’s long gone now but still much loved, still remembered. Yet this seems to be the only picture of him we have. It was 1985 or so in a motel room in San Francisco between a pair of John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America gigs and Brian was filling in for Michael Rosen on drums. We’d made a memorable weekend of it. There’d been the gig at Berkeley Square the night before and a bunch of us drank all of Camper Van Beethoven’s beer and they looked at us angrily but they thought if they said anything we’d kick their college rock asses. I suppose me and Ugly Janitors Brian and Jon Sharkey plus Ed O’Bryan, also along for the trip, did loom somewhat. That was the night before this pic was snapped. Later that night after this pic was snapped the band played the Viz on Divisidero, the old Viz, still a bar, on a frigid San Francisco night. The Janitors played an incredibly memorable set highlighted by the old Brel tune No Time To Live in which Trubee gave one of the most expressively gorgeous guitar solos I’ve ever heard by anybody. It was stunning. I recorded the set on cassette, and it still knocks me out. Brian was on loan from Richie Hass and the Beatniks, who we were really tight with, but that’s another story.

Actually I think I have that chronology reversed. The Viz gig was first, a Friday, then we drank all Camper Van Beethoven’s beer on Saturday night. There was a local band on the bill, also large, the Morlocks I think they were, and we and the Janitors and the Morlocks owned the Berkeley Square green room, drinking all the beer and eating all the little sandwiches and smoking bowl after bowl of dope and it was like backstage in Mad Dogs and Englishmen but without the Texas Butter Queen. I remember loudly complaining that the cheap ass club hadn’t supplied us with enough beer, and these skinny little guys across the room muttering amongst themselves. A bartender brought out more beer, told us it was for Camper Van Beethoven and the skinny little guys glowered at us so we drank some of it and stole the rest while they were on stage.

Later back in the room the three of us cracked open the beers and smoked more dope and told stoned jokes and spun stoned stories, some even true. We found some Dead on the radio and Fyl complained and Brian laughed and laughed.

Washing machine

OK, the washer died. Well, it disintegrated. The dryer died a couple months ago when finally I could not fix it. They were nearly thirty years old and for a full three quarters of our marriage they were in the laundry room whirring and spinning and sloshing and sometimes clumping like a Maureen Tucker drum track. It was sad seeing them go, worn out and useless. Speaking of which, there were some guys laying down linoleum in the kitchen for you to spill beer on and the landlady had them take the carcasses down to the street for large item pickup or whoever gets there first. She figured I’m over sixty and a gimp and there was no way I could manage. Three decades ago when we left our old neighborhood in the heart of Silverlake (a crackhouse opened up three doors down, a shooting gallery three doors up) and moved to the toney Silver Lake suburbs I remember manhandling those machines down the steps, carrying them across the lawn and lifting them up onto the truck. Then lugged up the steps here and manhandled then into place in 90 degree weather. Apparently washing machines are heavier now, or steps steeper.

Anyway, getting new ones next week and I’ll be damned if I lift a finger to help. Now get off my lawn.