Sunday, January 26, 2014

You have to see Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, really. I'm serious...

1/25/14 19:07 Home

Last Sunday, was one of those winter prison blues days when being alone and isolated is acceptable even universal?  Well we got out for a few things.  Of course we went to church, who do you think we are, heathens?  Eric, my brother-in-law and I planned on heading into the city to see Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker who were performing at the Highline Ballroom, West 16th.  I had a chance to buy the tickets on-line, but didn’t want to pay the service charge.  We took the chance and we drove into the night, past Brooklyn and arrived in the lower East side, made our way up the Bowery and across Houston and up town a little more till we finally parked the car on the street.  I enjoyed listening to Eric describe my nephew’s basketball team.  They are the only 7 year-old team and are having a losing season.  He realized the kids don’t care, after getting clobbered and on the drive back home, Deklan (his son) asked, “Who won?”  Back to the night… except for the gas, we didn’t pay any tolls or for parking, but had to pay to get into the Highline. Near the ticket booth was the bass player for Cracker, guess he was waiting for someone.  Eric and I saw Camper/Cracker a couple of years ago at the same venue.  As if the past repeated itself; we walked up to the balcony, and where we sat at a table, and had the same meal as last time, small kobi burgers and beers.  If you don’t know, Camper was David Lowery’s band till they broke up in’89 and formed Cracker less than a year later.  Their current drummer and he’s been their drummer (both Camper/Cracker) is an old friend from my parent’s block, Frank Funaro.  Frank also plays for the Del Lords and has been on a number of records as per his web site, Joey Ramone?  I need to ask Frank about that.  If I had to choose, between the Cracker or the Camper set, I would lean towards Camper.  I know more of their songs and the lyrics are poetic.  During both sets a film crew was recording the show.  There were a few times when the camera man would get too close to one of the musicians and was distracting from the performance.  I spoke to Frank briefly after the show.  He was busy catering to about 20 guests he said and apologized.  No problem.  I don’t have a set list for either band, but wanted to share something. I will work on getting a list…I will…damn, they played White Riot and Wasted when they were in DC?  Really?

Thank you for reading this

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mariah Carey was a skinny fifteen-year old kid with red hair...hanging with Pete Engelmann after all of these years

1/18/14 15:21 Home

I just came back home after having lunch with a good old friend Pete Engelmann and his wife Michele for the last twenty years.  When was the last time we saw one another?  It could have been the book signing I had for Killer Commute back in 2001; at Gunther’s in Northport.  Pete hasn’t changed very much; well there is the extra weight and the wrinkles around his eyes which didn’t fade away so easily after smiling. Michele and I pulled out reading glasses to read the menu.  There was a lot of smiling and laughing.  What brought us together when we were kids, a mutual friend; Fred Hyatt, who I was close to when I attended the illustrious bricked Bellerose Elementary.  Fred was involved with his church’s youth group and that’s where I met Pete.  I heard many stories of Pete before meeting him and vaguely remembered playing with him in Little League; I guess he was not that good of a player.  We hung out and he had a positive and destructive… but more - a lasting effect on my life.  Pete was the ringleader for the group of us; there was Mark Johnson, Jim Duke and I remember the younger kid who was my height Charlie Pellagrino, Fred Hyatt and some kids from Harborfields will join in as well.  There were others in the circle as well as the girls.  They will remain anonymous at this juncture to avoid any adverse implications and mischaracterizations.  But it’s true Pete dated Mariah Carey, I recall her when she was a skinny red-head fifteen year-old.  So, over lunch hearing the stories again brought back some intense times which involved… well for the sake of drama….illegal activities which are typical for teenage boys… who become men and who drifted aimlessly till they find the love of our lives. And we wake up one morning married and a father.  Those friends drift off to someplace else and far back into the past with each passing year.  We were boys and now we have responsibilities.  For most men, we have a very difficult time maintaining the relationships we had.  For some, we’re just not social creatures and prefer to be locked away in our caves.  I’m envious when I hear my father-in-law tell me a story about his old friend from somewhere; high-school or college… and they get a lunch or dinner and catch up.  What happened to my pals?  In the men’s group at my church we discussed just that, losing our friends, losing all contact we had with them and instead focusing on our tasks.  I understand.  Some live in a secret battle with the neighbors and try to outdo one another and at the end of the weekend, Monday morning rolls around and we begin the routine, start the work week.  It’s a vicious cycle.  So my task for some months was finding Pete.  It was like a calling.  We’ve always been different –meaning he’s conservative – I’m sorry, Christian conservative and I’m a progressive Christian who attends an open and affirming church.  The conversation started with our churches and I’m happy to say we left that topic early and carried on with other stories.  Like when I refused to make out with my girl-friend since it was Sunday (It was the Sabbath) having BB gun wars in the woods, riding motorcycles and horses and getting into fights with one another.  Drinking beer and shooting his .22 rifle…what happened to the men who led their lives in different directions? Some include writers, sales, the president of a oil company, real estate, cop…they are out there and it’s up to us to get together with them and reminisce.  There is nothing wrong with it as long as it stays in the past.  Old friends can become new friends and Pete said he wants to keep this going, let’s get together for dinner, he said…next weekend…Saturday?  We can’t, Michele said, since their son is going back to school on Sunday and they want to hang out with him.  I understand.  Pete looked at her, then the following weekend?

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Daughter is off on a Date and I was thinking....

1/12/14 19:11

Tonight, was one of those nights I have been neglecting to really put any emotional investment in.  I am not overall a corny sentimentalist.  You may disagree.  Earlier today Emma asked if I can drop her off to meet a friend at the movies.  Who?  Oh, is this a date?  I don’t think so, she replied in a guarded fashion.  I was not going to give her the inquisition. I know who this boy is and even from a distance I know about him.  I know he scored a perfect score on the SAT and from what Ali says he is a nice kid.  This was enough for me.  Good enough for Ali…good enough for me.  Emma has a strange fixation on older men, like Johnny Depp and Jared from 30 Seconds to Mars and what’s the actor I took her to see on Broadway…Hugh this kid is not forty, married or has an addiction that can be upsetting.   Of course I agreed to drive.   There was no other choice.  Ali drove Amanda back to Simmons College today.  Sure I thought of the little Emma Tess asking me with her lisped voice since she was missing her front teeth back then, fourteen years ago; for a sound beating.  It was our way to declare it was time for a wrestling match and back then Emma Tess was my wrestling partner.  Eventually my partner was Joe who like Amanda did not like it and then there was my next wrestler, Bella who liked to tumble.  Emma Tess who was watching kids in the nursery at church earlier today and who folded bundles of laundry which I dropped on the sofa was going out on a date.  For some reason the child will do most things when asked.  She’s wonderful in the matter. Not sure if we are related.  Emma can you please fold these?  I can, but I don’t want to.  There is no protest like I did to my father.  Why me?  I’d ask and avoid the work like a professional.  And she tells me this (I will) and I think I have the upper hand in this case since I’m driving her to meet this young man at the movies.  It was very similar to when I first earned my driver’s license.  My brother Dave or sister Eileen (Shea was too young) would ask for a drive to their friends.  I don’t usually do these tasks for free and I would charge them, besides gas was a buck back then and I had to pay for insurance and repairs and they’d protest to a get me to see their side; they were poor and please…their pleads didn’t work.  No cash meant - no ride.  I am not as cruel to Emma Tess since Ali said we need to be careful and not to take advantage of her.  Don’t ask too much.  But today was different.  I took down the Christmas decorations and the lights from outside, perilously dangling over the gutter and pulling off the little plastic snaps.  The worst was gazing up at the passing clouds and feeling dizzy since I had to get up the ladder up to the second story and lean it against the chimney since the genius that I am secured a plastic Santa who’d light up from way up… there.  It looked great.  But it had to come down.  I was half way up the ladder when I felt the bottom slip out.  I called out…Shit!  Shit!  and hopped off the thing. It was close.  Imagine the call to Ali…Ma?  Dad fell off the roof and he can’t get up…he said he needs help.  I pulled Santa down, the bungee cord popped and flew off the roof and the empty vessel of the red and white great man bounced and slid off the roof as if he was sliding on ice.  Bam!  Hope he lights up next year.  My Emma Tess is at the movies - on a date.  I wanted to make a joke with her.  If he bought the ticket, it means you need to kiss him, but don’t put out too much or he won’t ask you out again.  I know Amanda would laugh.  My Mo Cheeks is back in Boston and the air is warmer up there, and she’s in a new dorm room and there are the new courses and new opportunities.  I am so proud of the woman she is becoming.  I can’t tell you what an amazing influence she has on her younger siblings, something I shirked from or if there was a chance - would ask to be paid…

Thank you for reading this

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stephen King Plays with Sharp Pencils


Taking a vacation gives me the time and a calm mindset to read.  It’s not always an escape I use, but this break led me to take up Stephen King’s The Dark Half.  It was a second attempt and I’m proud to report I finished it.   Why did it take two attempts?  It could be a number of reasons, my mind was not prepared for a King adventure, the story did not grab me, but the second attempt clutched me early to keep me turning the pages and appreciating a master story teller.  The Dark Half is one of his older works, but it’s amusing to think what gave him the idea to write it.  If you’re not a King fan you can skip down a couple of paragraphs.  If you have not read it and want to read it, stop reading from this sentence and pick up the book before you have to go back to the daily grind of work or school.  King wrote and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  Back in the seventies he wanted to see if the Bachman books would sell without have King attached to it.  The first book in his estimate sold “poorly, only twenty thousand.”  Which is not bad, but far off the mark of a King novel.  I think his point was to prove success is plain dumb luck.  I heard Carver mention the same, if it was not luck when the editor for Esquire picked up his short at that right time, in the right frame of mind, his life may have turned out differently.  Eventually Bachman was discovered and King admitted he was RB.  The Dark Half has some incredible passages and as a so called writer myself I find myself thinking, I could use this trick or here he goes again, introducing another character, why?  Spare me.  The ending of book is freakish.  He lost me to that point when I was thinking this book will go down as a favorite.  There was another scene which had me scratching my head (not my forehead) when Thed’s wife thinks of the potential of his husband and Starks writing another book together, instead rationally her first thought would be, this guy can kill me and my twins.  But to have such a gift to carry the reader and Mr. King truly appreciates the reader’s time – he values it – is like watching a master at work.  The book flows from scene to scene effortlessly, and the brutality is; disturbing.  I hope you read it when you have the time. 

This is the second paragraph, thanking you for skipping down.  I’ve always felt a twinge when I am reading a King book.  Why?  It’s the literary snob in me.  But to be blunt, I have that inner appreciation for King and tell myself - fuck the snob, learn, appreciate and take notes, King can write.  When I was working on a merchant ship - way back when - I read many books which Ali would send to me.  Celine, Miller, Selby, and others, but I had nothing else except for King’s Misery which was going to be published as Bachman.   Reluctantly I picked it up, it was a beat up copy, worn pages, creased spine. The book was an eye opener and since then I’ve read Carrie, Cell (not great) Blaze (Bachman)  King wrote the introduction and what else, oh yeah, Ma bought me a copy of his book On Writing which inspired me to get back to writing. If you’re considering writing, please run to the nearest book store and buy a copy or download it on your device.  I like to read books not machines.   I know there’s more.   This past summer I picked up his book, The Colorado Kid and have to say was not impressed with the master.  It’s going to happen from time to time.  The story was told through dialogue and I felt he was being smug with the reader.  Duma Key was lent to me and I understand is great, and which I will start after I post this is another second attempt. I looked, and can see I pushed the dust jacket in on page 7 and left it there.  I’ll let you know how it is.  For Christmas Ali bought me a copy of Doctor Sleep, but I want to read The Shining first.  I have my work cut out for me this year. 

Typically when I appreciate a writer or band I try to learn more about them and especially their influences, I really don’t know who influenced King though he mentions the writer Shane Stevens in the credits at the end of The Dark Half, might be worth looking into his work.  I also want to hear the Dylan song which was referenced in The Dark Half; John Wesley Harding and suddenly have a strange aversion to sparrows.  You’d get it when you read The Dark Half.  Here’s to pencils, displaced twins and decayed flesh.

                What are your favorite King books and can you tell me who are his influences?

Thank you for reading this.  Happy New Year!

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