Soothe: Nintendo lullabies, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and my young son’s love of them

There’s the old adage, “Write what you know.”  Many writers over time (Including Twain and Hemingway) have given this advice.  This tale can be titled Sing What You Know and/or Put On Music That Calms You Down When Calming Your Baby Down.  

My wife and I have one son who is age three right now.  When he was a newborn, he did the usual things a baby would do in its first year.  He woke up at night many times, pooped six times a day, required burping after bottles and wanted to be held the majority of the time.  We both worked during this period of his life so trying to get enough sleep was becoming more difficult.

I have a brother who is eight years younger that me, so I remember observing what my mother and father would do to calm my little brother down when he was crying.  Some would obviously work (Giving him a bottle because he was hungry) and some would not (Taking off/adding clothes when he just wanted held).  Over time my parents learned his cues and my brother didn’t cry as much as he got closer to his first birthday.

During those early desperate nights when it seemed we could not get enough sleep before going into work for a full day, we tried to understand our son’s needs in an attempt to get him back to sleep.  When it came time for me to take my turn in the waking up rotation, I wanted to sing my son back to sleep but I didn’t know any of the traditional lullabies people would sing to babies.  I wanted my wife to stay asleep, but I didn’t want our son to keep crying for thirty minutes.  I needed something to hum or sing that was repetitive, and there was only one type of music that came to mind in my state of sleep-deprived delirium:

Video game music from my old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The first night I tried using NES music, I slowed down the background music used in the above-ground levels of 1986’s The Legend of Zelda.  It worked!  My wife would get so pissed that I could sing him back to sleep with the silliest method that would never be found in parenting advice books and blogs.  When our son didn’t want to hear the Zelda music, I slowed down the following music from other games (I challenge others to try this method to see if it works on other babies):

The podium win AND the “kick the can” music from Excitebike, above-ground music from Super Mario Bros., the game introduction/general background music from Bases Loaded and the count out/winner music from Mike Tyson’s Punchout.  I added a few from other platforms, including the original “hammer” music from Donkey Kong.

As my son got older and started going to day care, I had a problem keeping him happy in his car seat on the way home.  I always had CD’s of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen in the car, so I would pop one in to see if the mellow folk music of Drake or Cohen would calm him down.  I could tell he was listening to the different instruments and the words being sung in the songs.  It was a sound completely different from what he heard in his early life.  After a few tracks, he would go to sleep.  If I knew he didn’t sleep well during the day, I would keep the music on and drive around for an hour to let him rest.

Even at three, my son remembers some of those drives home and knows their music well.  He has his own special names for each of his favorite tracks and when I pick him up from day care, we usually have Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left on when we drive home.  Instead of tossing a child’s DVD in the car and my son blankly staring at a small TV screen while we drive home, my son and I sing “Time Has Told Me”, we listen for the strings to kick in on “River Man”, all while looking out the car windows, seeing the birds fly, viewing the turkeys pecking at last year’s corn crop remnants and marveling at the big construction trucks when encountering road work being done.

I loved my old NES and when I have time again, I know I will eventually purchase the recently released Nintendo NES Classic Edition.  I love the music of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen because their poetic songs bring calm to my worrisome existence.  The games and songs that have soothed my soul over the years have provided my son with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity in a unique form.

 

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Sending E-mails To My Late Father

A few years back, my father suddenly passed away.  Compared to other father/son relationships we had a typical bond but we were certainly two completely different minded individuals.  Despite this slight disconnect and as I found out later a lack of transparency, Dad and I always had great conversations about the day-to-day activities in our lives.  In those moments, Dad gave me great advice and peace of mind even though he struggled finding his own peace of mind for most of his life.

In the first year after his death, I often found myself talking out loud to Dad about many different events that occurred in my life since I lost him.  I found it very therapeutic when I sought his advice even though I knew I wasn’t going to receive a straightforward answer from beyond.

Shortly after Dad died, my wife gave birth to our son, which would have been his first grandchild.  I always brought my son up in the conversations with the air around me, hoping somehow that Dad could listen to what I was saying.  Life became busier and tiresome when constantly attending to a newborn baby, so my conversations aimed at Dad waned.

Two years ago this month on the day which would have been his 71st birthday, I decided to send an e-mail to Dad’s old America Online account.  I loved how he hung on to that account years after we all had those ubiquitous AOL addresses in the middle of the 1990’s.  With an e-mail address like that one would think Dad had no idea how to transition into the digital age.  He shall not be judged; Dad was a “Napster Master” at the age of 56 and later in life he loved his fantasy football online.  Dad drove my mom nuts with his hours of roster moves every week during the NFL season.

In the e-mail I talked about how I love my family, that I was proud to be his son and a few personal family details that Dad and I could only have a conversation about.  When I sent the e-mail, I could still hear his voice offering advice on the phone or when I used to visit home more often.  It turned out the e-mail address was still active because I did not get a delivery failure message.  I’d like to think he still checked his e-mail somewhere close to my presence.

Since that first e-mail I’ve sent four more in the last two years.  They’ve all kicked back to me so it seems Dad’s AOL account has been taken off of the grid.  Unless ALL of AOL is off of the grid!  But it doesn’t matter to me if Dad can’t read the messages I intended for him, what’s important to me is the peace I get in composing those e-mails.  Collecting my thoughts and sending them to Dad remind me of the nights we talked in my bedroom about the challenges of growing up while watching the old 12:30 Late Night With David Letterman show on NBC.  They remind me of the phone conversations we had when I first moved out on my own.  They remind me of the time when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.  Tangible words on the screen that I would have said to Dad in person.  Words that were fading from my consciousness due to a lack of sleep, an increase in children’s television viewing and the inability to simply find time to relax.

I miss Dad, but I was blessed to have him in my life all of these years.  Occasionally I will get a hint that Dad is watching me from afar but at the same time close by.  Other times I don’t.  I assume he’s downloading free music somewhere when he’s not around.  Pretty soon I’ll send him another e-mail since his grandson is going to turn 3 in less than a month.  I’ll talk about a variety of topics and ask him a few questions about the problems I’m facing in 2016.

If I don’t get a reply to my questions I understand.  It’s the start of fantasy football season.

My High School Homecoming Disaster of 1993

(BLOG NOTE: I’m sorry this tale is so long, but it is what it is.)

In my senior year of high school I had two extra elective courses on my schedule due to completing my requirements for science and math during my junior year.  One class was drafting (technical drawing) where I met my first long-term girlfriend and the other was home economics.  “Home Eck” had about twenty students in it, and I was one of two guys in the class.  The room had seven tables with four chairs at each table.  I sat next to my friend Barb, who worked at the neighborhood McDonald’s with me.  Across from us were her friends Jen and Sara.  In early October, Jen started a conversation prior to class about a friend that couldn’t find a date for the homecoming dance in mid-October.  I’ll call her friend “Millie” for this story.

At the time I wasn’t dating anybody.  To be completely accurate, I never dated at all.  I had bad acne between 7th and 11th grade and socially I was immature and awkward during that same time period.  I also had no style, no money and no direction.  So in hindsight I can see why the girls stayed away from me for so long.  All of the senior girls wouldn’t date me because they assumed I was the same person they were around the last three years.

Millie came to our school in her junior year.  I saw her around school but I never talked to her before.  We had 1,200 students in our high school, so it was easy to attend four years there and not interact with someone (I actually met a girl at my graduation because our last names kept us next to each other in the procession line).  Since Millie didn’t see me before 11th grade, I knew I had a chance to go to the dance with her.

“Hey Jen, I’ll go with Millie if she can’t find anybody.”

“OK, I’ll let her know.”

THE BLIND AUDITION

About ten days went by, and the possibility of me going to homecoming with Millie seemed slim since I did not get a confirmation from Jen that Millie wanted to go with me.  I saw Millie a few days prior but she didn’t go out of her way to talk to me, so I assumed she found a date.  With this moment in mind, I thought Jen was avoiding the topic with me because she felt bad that my offer was rejected by Millie.  The dance was on Saturday night and here it was Tuesday, so I decided to carry on with my normal routine for the remainder of the week.

On Thursday night I stopped by McDonald’s to check my schedule for next week.  When I came in the door, I saw Barb behind the counter.

“Hey Barb!  All ready for Saturday?”

“Yeah, how about you Lar?”

“Oh, I’m not going.  I didn’t find a date.”

“Um, YES YOU DID!!!  You said you would go with Millie!  She already has her dress!  You HAVE to go now!”

Stunned, I explained to Barb that I would have gone if she could not find anybody.  Apparently Jen took my answer as an automatic yes, and Millie was content on going with me.  Millie had spent money on the dress, shoes, etc., and I had no decent clothes to wear to homecoming.  It was a good thing I ran into Barb that night, because Millie might have gone to homecoming alone.  If Millie walked in by herself, the mean girls would have preyed on her and I would have been locked in the “Friend Zone” by all of the girls until the end of high school.

I cut school that Friday to buy shoes and clothes.  I had no flippin’ clue what was trendy in regards to dress clothes, so I tried to keep my look basic in case I made poor fashion choices.  Having said this, the first thing I bought was a $40 pair of black WINGTIP shoes.  In 1993 this look wasn’t completely “old man” yet, due to the mid-nineties fad of swing music bands.  At least I wore them for the remainder of the nineties without TOO MUCH ridicule.  The rest was plain: Black pants, white shirt, black tie.  After three hours and $95 spent, I was ready to hit the flower shop.

I got a nice corsage for $15 considering it was the day prior to the dance.  When I got home, I called Jen to get Millie’s phone number and to find out when I was going to pick up everybody.  My car at the time was one of the cooler rides with its chrome wheels and sunroof, so I didn’t mind showing it off.  I was responsible for my expenses, so I was already out $110 before talking to Millie!  This was to be my most expensive blind date of my life, and it was my first one ($110 in 2016 dollars is about $185)!

Friday night I talked to Millie on the phone.  We talked for over an hour until my dad needed to make a call to my grandmother (remember, no cell phones then young whippersnappers).  Out of all the teenage phone conversations I ever had with girls, this one was the most engaging.  It was like I knew Millie already.  We laughed, shared the usual high school gossip tales and she even let down her guard and told me about an old family tragedy.  I was really touched that Millie would share such personal information with me and it came across that she was interested in me.  I made sure she knew that I was coming by her house with Jen and Jen’s boyfriend Bill around 6 p.m. Saturday to pick her up.

I headed over to Jen’s house at 5 p.m. to meet her and Bill.  I met Jen’s parents and immediately Jen takes me into the bathroom.  Apparently my hair didn’t look very appealing so she remade my hairstyle.  I didn’t mind because she made it look better.  It was an odd start to the night, but I wasn’t used to the correct protocol concerning school dances and fixing my hair to be neat.  After Jen and Bill took photos with their families, we went to pick up Millie.

THE BATTLE ROUND

We got to Millie’s house at 6 p.m. and I met Millie and her family.  Everyone at the house took photos of both couples and I was aware by 6:15 that this wasn’t going to work.  Millie was ignoring me to the best of her ability and the outgoing, interesting girl I spoke to on the phone 24 hours ago was gone.  I assumed she didn’t like the way I looked, but I know she had seen me at school before!  Maybe Jen should have kept my hair the same way?!?

We left Millie’s house at 6:30 because Bill had a friend that was of legal drinking age that was going to buy us beer.  We met him at the store to buy a 24-pack and since I was driving, I would get to keep the leftovers.  Since Jen and Millie hated beer, the plan switched to a new lemon-lime malt beverage that hit the market a few months back: Zima.

Yes, flippin’ ZIMA.  Since Coors quit making Zima in the US years ago (thank God), I would describe the taste of Zima this way:  Take a Smirnoff Ice and pour it into a pint glass.  Next, take a piss in the toilet.  Next, take a double-shot glass and fill it with the piss water from the toilet, adding it to the Smirnoff Ice.  Stir and enjoy.  Lucky me got the leftovers.  They sat in the trunk of my car for weeks until I got rid of them.  At this moment I wasn’t sure which house we were going to party at after the dance.  My main concern was if Millie would actually stay with me at homecoming.

When we arrived at the dance, Millie saw a few guy friends that I didn’t know.  They were better-looking than I was and she was having a good time talking to them.  I figured this was the moment where I would be left to fend for myself among all of the couples.  I was really disappointed how this night was shaping up.  I was kind enough to take Millie, to drive her, Jen and Bill to homecoming and I was staring isolation in the face.  I sat quiet, alone, thinking about leaving the three of them at the dance and taking my shitty box of Zima bottles and using them as bowling pins.

After about ten minutes of loneliness, Millie came back to me and we talked to a few other couples besides Jen and Bill.  Millie danced fast and slow songs with me throughout the night, and all of a sudden things were a little less awkward between us.  Jen and Bill were ready to crack open some more Zima bottles (HOO-frickin-ray), so the four of us left homecoming around 10:15 just before the dance ended at 10:30.

THE KNOCKOUT ROUND

When we got back to my car, I asked Bill where I was going.  Bill told me to head over to a main road west of Pittsburgh so he could ask what the nightly rates were.

“Bill, are we getting a hotel room to booze it up?  I thought we were going to somebody’s house!”

“Well, yeah, those plans fell through, so we are going to see how much money it is for rooms.”

“Rooms?!?”

“Well, you and Millie get your own room.  You can party with us until at least 2 a.m.”

This blind homecoming date was becoming more complicated by the minute.  I’m not even sure if Millie liked me, and now we were going to share a bed on the first night we met?!?  Between our phone conversation Friday night and now there was no even ground with her.  She would either show interest in me or none at all.

Including taxes, each room was $61.  I had to pay for our room because Millie didn’t have any extra money for it.  She was just as surprised as me about our post-dance plans.  The four of us drank in Jen and Bill’s room until 2 a.m. and decided to split up after a noise complaint was called in on us.

When Millie and I entered our room, the tension and the awkwardness between us was tangible.  When we changed into more comfortable clothes for sleeping, she went into the bathroom and I changed near the bed.  We were both tired, so we didn’t turn on the television.  We actually stayed up and talked for an hour on the bed.  Being seventeen at the time, if Millie wanted to have sex I would have said yes, but I’m glad we didn’t do anything.  I didn’t bring sex up at all because at times during the night she seemed pissed to be stuck with me!

Millie and I went to sleep and I woke up around 7:30 when I heard a crash by our door.  It turned out to be our complimentary newspaper so I stayed up to read the sports section.  Millie stayed in bed until about 9:30.  I think she was awake based on her breathing but I didn’t look her way.  If she wanted to avoid me I wasn’t going to make things anymore awkward than they already were.  The four of us left the hotel around 10:45, stopped at Wendy’s for some hamburgers at 11:00 and then headed for home.

Dropping Millie off at her house was uneventful because I told everyone that I was supposed to be at work for a 12 to 4 shift.  After I basically tossed everyone out of the car at their houses, I took off for home, called my work to tell them I was on the way in, and worked a 12:30 to 4:30 shift that Sunday.  When I got home from work that day, I showered and went to sleep early.  I ended up sleeping fourteen consecutive hours since the adrenaline finally wore off from the last few days.

THE STEAL (THE AFTERMATH)

I drove Jen and Millie home from school a few times after the homecoming dance took place, but I could tell Millie really wanted to move on from me.  I quit calling her two weeks after the dance and I never spoke to her again.  Not because I avoided her, but fate kept us apart during our senior year.  I didn’t have a lunch period, study hall, co-ed gym class or lab with her, which was stunning since we were both taking the same caliber of classes.

Other people noticed that Millie was ignoring me after homecoming and I was glad to have friends show support for me after what went down.  One particular girl in my drafting class was really pissed at how Millie treated me.  This girl was “Peach”, my first long-term girlfriend (I mentioned Peach in my leather pants tale from a few months back).  Peach and I started dating in late 1993 and we finally broke it off in late 1999, with the last two years being on and off.  The $200 I spent last-minute on homecoming wasn’t in vain after all.  Peach witnessed my loneliness at the dance when she was with her date and she wanted to leave with me instead of the guy she came with.  If I would have known what Peach was thinking, maybe this tale would have been even better.  It might have included desertion of friends, sex in a tub filled with piss-water Zima (eww, not really) and an early start to a relationship that shaped my life going forward for the better and for the worse.

 

Living In World #26,734,378,450

In our early years other people decide our direction in life.  What to eat, what to wear, where to go to school and many other choices are made for us without a lot of input from us.  As we grow older, most of us gain the responsibility to make decisions for ourselves.  The outcome of these decisions can be both good and bad, which shapes our being going forward.  According to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, all of our outcomes still exist in alternate or parallel universes that are equal in reality but do not come into contact with one another.

Hugh Everett (1930-1982) was an American physicist who first proposed what he called the many-worlds interpretation.  He grew up in Catholic school and received his undergraduate degree from Catholic University of America before moving on to Princeton.  He is the father of indie rocker Mark Oliver Everett, who is known as the lead singer for the band Eels.  Everett enjoyed reading science fiction and he actually read Dianetics before the church of Scientology was formed into what it is today (Everett did not become a follower).  Later on in life Everett became a devout atheist, which is an awesome oxymoron.

Since this is a schmoey blog and not The New Yorker, I will explain Everett’s theory quickly before jumping into the more entertaining stuff.  When Everett measured a particle, there were two possible outcomes: It was either measured as a particle or a wave.  The universe is actually duplicated, splitting one outcome (particle) into one universe and the other outcome (wave) into its own distinctive but parallel universe.  When this theory is applied to our everyday lives, Everett states that even before we carry out (or not carry out) a decision, two outcomes have already been determined.

As for our outcomes, scientists have many different interpretations on Everett’s theory but I feel the most entertaining and easiest way to chart outcomes is with a Bell curve.  The first Bell curve in 1994 was a chart that reflected the correlation between class structure and intelligence in the United States, but many different disciplines have generated data that produced a chart like a Bell curve, which, yes, is shaped like a bell (or almost like the Snapchat logo).  So let’s make an X-Y axis and chart what I’m up to in my other 26,734,378,449 universes.

In 10% of my universes, I’m either dead or infamous.  At age 10, I got hit by that speeding car through the alley instead of narrowly escaping injury.  At age 34, I didn’t notice that truck blowing through a red light and I turned left into the path of it.  In college I got hooked on heroin and never recovered.  Growing up in a broken home I was subject to many forms of abuse and I evolved into a violent criminal.  The first two sentences I wrote were based on real experiences I remember.  The last two sentences are fiction but if I experienced different outcomes during the course of my life, these events could have happened.

In 20% of my universes, I’m worse off than my current self.  My wife realized she was married to a schmo, so she divorced me.  I have involuntarily lived at my parent’s house all my life, so I’m the real life 40-year-old virgin.  I married the wrong woman and we live in poverty.  I can’t find meaningful employment because of my past criminal record.

In 40% of my universes, I’m living about the same.  My wife and I bought the house that we viewed prior to the one we live in now.  We had a daughter instead of a son.  I’m typing this post on Blogspot.  I graduated from a different college but with the same degree.

In 20% of my universes, I’m better off than my current self.  I landed a great job when my wife and I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2008, which evolved into two promotions and a vice president position in 2014.  We didn’t do the “lease to buy” option on our Nissan.  I paid off my college loans instead of refinancing them twice.  Dad is still alive, and I get along with my side of the family.

In 10% of my universes, I am famous and I have great influence on the masses.  I was the first rap/hip-hop artist from Pittsburgh to make it big on a national and/or world stage, Wiz Khalifa came along years later.  You follow me on Twitter and I tweet WAY more than Kayne West.  Last year I was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after an accomplished college and professional career.  There is one particular universe that has an absurd but beneficial outcome.

In universe 18,326,817,904 famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hates my guts.  In 2011 I convinced the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to reinstate Pluto as the ninth planet, and during this time I discovered planets ten, eleven and twelve in our solar system. I also convinced the IAU that they should allow any business or individual to submit a bid request for naming rights to one of the planets.  The proceeds would go to a charitable endowment fund which would benefit children around the globe.  The bids generated $2 billion.  The tenth planet is called Nike, the eleventh Sir Richard Branson and the twelfth iPlanet.  Sir Richard Branson is on the board of directors for the endowment.

One life.  That’s life as we know it.  Some of us believe when we die, nothing happens.  Some believe we go to Heaven or hell.  Everett’s interpretation of life sounds absurd, but what I believe as a current Methodist and former Roman Catholic sounds absurd to a few billion people around the world as well.  Everett’s theory states there are two outcomes to each decision.  If we all make good choices that benefit others, maybe all of us can experience more peace than pain in this universe that we all share.  That’s something we should all believe in.

 

1968: My conservative Dad in San Francisco

During his time in the United States Navy, my late father was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1966 and 1967.  His best friend from his time in Hawaii was a guy named Ron, who was from the Los Angeles area.  Ron found out that my Dad was stationed in San Diego for a short time in 1968, so he asked Dad if he wanted to go on a one week road trip when he had some down time.  Dad agreed since it sounded more fun than flying home to Pittsburgh, staying in town for a few days, then flying back out to San Diego.  I think in the back of his mind Dad knew he would never make it back out to San Diego after the Navy, so every day in the California sun was a blessing and he was going to take advantage of it.

Ron had a newer car and this was his first opportunity to take it out on the open road, so he was looking forward to running it.  The weather was cool enough in May where he didn’t have to worry about the car overheating on the highway (Even new cars were prone to mechanical issues in this era).  Ron mapped out the road trip since he knew of many places to see around the west coast, and he drove down to San Diego to meet Dad.

DAY 1

Since they were so close to Mexico, they decided to drive over the border.  Ron didn’t drive too far down Baja California.  They went as far as the Ensenada area, turned around and came back up to Tijuana.  After drinking most of the day, they cooled off and stayed in Mexico for the night because Ron knew he had a long drive ahead of him tomorrow.

DAY 2

The next morning, Ron and Dad set out for a quick drive through Los Angeles, then up the coast to San Francisco.  When they made it up to Los Angeles in the late morning, Ron drove around to the usual tourist spots, stopped by his place to show Dad where he lived, drove toward the airport to catch the Pacific Coast Highway (California highway 1) and took off north to get to San Francisco by the evening.  They drove highway 1 as long as time would allow.  It’s a more scenic drive and the road does not allow for cars to go very fast.  When they got up to the San Luis Obispo area, they jumped on U.S. highway 101 and got into the San Francisco area around 10 p.m. that night.

After they got their hotel room in the current financial district, they ran over to check out Chinatown since they were close by and then got ready for the next day.  That night at the hotel, Ron told Dad that after they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, rode on the cable cars and got other typical tourist sites out of the way (Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf), he wanted to take the bus around town and check out a neighborhood called Haight-Ashbury.  Ron heard from a few friends that a lot of strange sights were to be seen in this area of San Francisco.  What Ron and Dad didn’t know at the time was they were about to experience ground zero of an American counterculture revolution.

DAY 3

They got on the bus near the hotel and it took about a half-hour to get there with all of the traffic and stops the bus had to make.  They didn’t jump off at the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street because Dad wanted to see Kezar Stadium, which was only a few blocks down from that now-famous place.  American football’s San Francisco 49ers played at Kezar until 1970 before their move to Candlestick Park.  FROM THE MOMENT Dad and Ron got off the bus around Cole Street, they knew they entered another world.

Greeting them upon their departure from the bus was a man in his early 20’s.  He had short but messy black hair, a slick white suit on with shined black shoes, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses and he was smoking a cigarette.  It was hipster Colonel Sanders with a question for the guys:

“Hi guys!  Need any speed?  Acid?”

Dad quickly shut him down.  “No, we’re fine but thanks man.”

“OK guys have a good day now!”

“You too man.”

Back in Pittsburgh, if somebody wanted illegal drugs in 1968, you had to go to a secret meeting place in the middle of the night and obtain the product from a trusted source.  In Haight-Ashbury in 1968, a college age kid was selling drugs on a street corner to total strangers in the middle of the afternoon like he was pushing Girl Scout cookies.  The audaciousness of the kid even surprised Ron who thought he experienced many odd encounters in Los Angeles.  After they walked down to see Kezar, they backtracked to Haight Street to see what the neighborhood had to offer.

From the accounts of Dad and from what I’ve read and heard myself over the years, Haight-Ashbury at this time was a precursor to Portland, Oregon.  In the United States in 2016, Portland is viewed as a very progressive, alternative way of life compared to other major U.S. cities.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a culture that many Americans have difficulty understanding and/or adapting to since many Americans come from conservative households and communities.  I consider myself very open-minded and I would have a hard time adjusting to life in Portland, based on the strict Roman Catholic house I grew up in (I’m convinced that my mother thinks I’m going to hell for not being Catholic anymore).  I’m not saying Portland has drug peddlers on the streets like the guy my Dad encountered, but if that happened anywhere in the U.S. now, I would guess Portland!

When they approached the Haight and Ashbury Street intersection, Ron and Dad had their last two memorable encounters in the neighborhood.  The first was a man dressed in a full cavalier uniform, complete with a large white feather in his hat, big black boots and A REAL SWORD.  Nobody, NOBODY even showed concern that a grown man was walking down the sidewalk with a deadly weapon in plain view.  After talking with a local resident, they found out that this man walked around the neighborhood in full uniform EVERY DAY, no matter what the weather.

The second encounter was more Dad than Ron.  There was a woman with two HUGE braided pigtails that came down her back beyond her behind.  Holding on to the two pigtails was a young girl about three, smiling and laughing, swaying side-to-side like she was on a swing.  It was the hippie version of the modern Baby Bjorn.  Ron yelled at Dad repeatedly for an entire city block because Dad was running behind the woman with his hands under the girl in case she let go of the pigtails.  The best part was that the woman didn’t even know Dad did that because she was too busy talking to another woman that was walking beside her.

Ron and Dad enjoyed their time in Haight-Ashbury since the neighborhood was so culturally different than anything they’ve ever seen, but they were eager to get back to the hotel since they had many more places to see on their road trip.  The plan was to drive to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada in the morning.

DAY 4

They got to Lake Tahoe by the late morning and were surprised how cool the weather was for late May.  They knew there would be a huge jump in elevation, but they were not ready for high temperatures in the 50’s.  The area was picturesque and the air was so clean compared to L.A., but since they didn’t ski and were poor Navy buddies, they made their way over the Nevada border to Reno, where they found some cheap places to drink (Cheap compared to big city California prices) and to get some food.  They grabbed a hotel room and briefly went to a few places around Reno and Carson City, but Ron and Dad were going to sleep most of the evening since they were driving to Las Vegas in the middle of the night.  The temperatures were supposed to climb well into the 90’s, and Ron didn’t want to break down in the middle of the desert under the unforgiving heat of the sun.

Dad told me Lake Tahoe had a vibe that it was for rich people and honeymooners, and he knew that he and Ron weren’t going to pick up any “ski bunnies” that were enjoying the beginning of the summertime season at the resorts.  Reno was fine, but they weren’t big gamblers (Remember: Poor Navy buddies) and were basically passing through to continue on their road trip.  When Dad saw pictures of Reno years later, he told me that it resembled what Las Vegas looked like in 1968!

DAY 5

Ron and Dad left Reno around 3 a.m. to drive to Las Vegas.  To this day, there is not a major interstate highway that runs between Reno and Vegas, so they sped down US highway 95 during the night.  Despite frequent stretches of speeding along the 450 mile journey, they didn’t arrive in Vegas until late morning.

In addition to their Haight-Ashbury experience, the timing of their arrival in Las Vegas was historically significant.  1968 was the final year of the first boom of movement to the desert town.  Most of the activity accelerated in the 1950’s, and when Ron and Dad arrived, there were about a dozen hotels and casinos along the main strip.  They had other forms of entertainment besides gambling, but the population was nowhere near the current metropolitan mark of 2,000,000.  They checked out a few casinos, ate at a few cheap restaurants and tried to stay cool in the desert heat.  Dad said that the high temperature on the day they walked the strip was 98 degrees.  Again, they didn’t gamble much but Ron and Dad wanted to experience Las Vegas while they had the opportunity to do so.  They missed the atmosphere of Elvis Presley’s 1969 Vegas-centered comeback by six months, which spawned the second phase of growth in Vegas.  In 1968 Las Vegas was about to become a mainstream entertainment destination, creating the blueprint for the current identity of Vegas in 2016.

DAY 6

The next morning, Ron and Dad drove out of Vegas early to avoid the heat again, and made it back to Los Angeles around noon.  They mainly stayed at Ron’s apartment when they got back, except for a few stops at Ron’s local bars that he liked to visit.  Dad said they were both beat from all of the driving anyway, so he didn’t mind just hanging out in L.A. for the day.

DAY 7

Ron drove Dad back to San Diego and they went out for a few beers before saying their goodbyes.  They didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last time they would actually see each other.  Dad spoke to Ron on the phone a lot before I was born, but they lost contact over time, especially when Dad married Mom in 1973, and I came along in 1975.  I remember Dad got a random phone call from Ron on Christmas morning in 1984, and that was the last time Dad spoke to him.

What I learned from Dad

I had many talks with Dad before he died, especially when I still lived at home.  Dad would have loved to make that road trip a month-long excursion, but he knew he was limited by how much money he had.  Even if it meant being somewhere for hours instead of days, Dad still wanted the experience of visiting places and meeting different people.  He made the most of his time in the places he visited.  Fast forward to the present, and I find myself in the same situation as my father.  I might not have the means to take my young son to numerous places around the world, but I will discover activities for us to build memories upon and share my stories of the past with him.  Hopefully my son can learn from the experiences I had growing up and the unique experiences he will have going forward.  I like to think I’m a better version of Dad, and I believe that’s what Dad set out to accomplish through me.  If my son becomes a better version of me, then that will confirm that I am a good father to him as well.

 

Rocker Girl: My moment with a Pittsburgh 9

(BLOG NOTE:  I know the title sounds shallow, but please remember that I am a schmo.  If you are scoring at home, a Pittsburgh 9 is equivalent to a New York/London 8 and a Los Angeles/Paris/Milan 7.  Any city smaller than Pittsburgh would have scored this girl a 10.)

My previous tale about going to bars and clubs sparked a memory that could be categorized as my moment of oblivious joy.  An oxymoron yes, but once I’m done telling this tale, you’ll see why I say this.

Last post I mentioned how my friend Dave and I used to drink on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  One night in the fall of 1997, we went to Dee’s Cafe with a group of people from our work.  Dee’s was always a good place to start the night since drinks were cheaper than most places in the neighborhood.  The problem was that many other groups started their night there as well, so acquiring drinks from the bar was usually a headache since you had to wait so long to get the attention of a bartender.  To alleviate my time waiting for beer, I always grabbed two each time I fought my way to the front.

Dee’s was two floors and shaped like a U downstairs.  It had an entrance on each side of the downstairs, but you had to enter through the door to the right, which brought you into the bar side of the downstairs.  The bar was the longest in the South Side.  It was shaped like a J, with the curved part near the front door.  This little alcove was where many of the regulars sat and where the local celebrities (Usually band members after a gig) sat when they stayed on the bottom floor.  The upstairs was spacious with full-size pool tables and a smaller bar, but it was really stuffy and there was less room for the cigarette smoke to circulate (No restrictions on smoking in bars in 1997!).

On a busy night when we finally received all of our drinks from the bar, my group usually walked to the back of the first floor and made our way to the quieter side of the U.  The left side had three bar-size pool tables, bar tables and four seats at each table along the far wall.  No bar, but if we had our drinks, we didn’t care since we were probably leaving soon anyway.  On the night of my encounter with a “Pittsburgh 9”, we stayed on the right side for drinks 3 and 4, and it was really getting crowded in Dee’s.

On my own, I noticed there was an open chair toward the front end of the bar.  I walked up to the chair and asked the girl to my left if I could sit there to get a few beers.  She told me that nobody was sitting there, and after I sat down I started a conversation with her that I had no expectations of making a lasting one.

“I figured if I’m going to wait fifteen minutes for my next two beers I might as well get a front row seat for the request.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, this place can get crazy on the weekends.  Are you here with anybody?”

“Yeah, they are all toward the back trying to wave their money at anybody behind the counter.  Even the bar backs are getting an earful from them.  Are your friends back there with them?”

She pointed behind us at a cluster of people who all had drinks and talking to one another.  “My friends bumped into a few friends that I don’t know, so I stayed here to save our spot at the bar.”

“Well I’m glad I can keep you company among the madness in here.  I’ll give you back your chair when I get my beers, whenever that will be.”

Her response shocked me, and I suddenly forgot all about ordering beers.  “It’s cool that you’re here sitting with me, they (Meaning her friends) won’t mind.  I’m Nikki by the way.”

Nikki was easily the most beautiful girl I ever saw in Dee’s.  She had shoulder-length wavy black hair, a plain white top with a chic black leather jacket, jeans and black boots.  To paint a picture for you, she looked like Selena Gomez with the personality of Elizabeth Banks.

To explain what I looked like then will take a few references since the first one might not sound familiar to many people.  I actually looked a lot like Jay Mohr back then, since I still had my hair and my chest muscles didn’t become boobs yet.  For a more modern reference, give Charlie Puth 90’s hair and mix in Rupert Grint.  Yeah, I was definitely floating between a 5 and a 6.  So for me to be seen talking to Nikki was a victory already.

Now that I had the information that I was welcome to sit with her there, I remained in that seat after I got those two beers.  For roughly the next ten minutes after I got my drinks, we small talked about a few topics and we were both laughing it up pretty good.  At one point, Nikki actually reached out to touch my arm!  This isn’t supposed to be happening to me!

Right when our conversation started taking off and I was inching in closer to Nikki, my friend Jill from work rushed to the front.  Jill grabbed me around my shoulders and almost knocked me off the bar chair.

“Larry, we have to go NOW.  Come with me to the back.  HURRY UP!”

“Why?  What’s….!?!  It was nice talking to you Nikki!  Have a good night!”

Nikki looked shocked at first but I think she understood what was going on, based on information that I didn’t receive yet.  “You too Larry.  It was nice meeting you!”

Jill had me by the hand.  For her to make a run to the front to get me was confusing.  Why didn’t my guy friends come get me?  Why didn’t her boyfriend come get me?  What was so urgent that I had to flee the main bar area?

When Jill and I made it to the left side of the bar, we stayed in the back for a few minutes.  She told me that everybody in our group noticed that all of the band members from (A famous local band in Pittsburgh) and their friends were looking upon me with hatred.  Apparently one of our friends pointed out that I was talking to the lead singer’s girlfriend, and he wasn’t looking very happy (What a puss I say, he should have told me to go and I would have been alright about it).  The guys were afraid if they went up to get me, it might have caused a fight to start and we would have been kicked out for good.  The local band could have stabbed all of us and we still would have been in the wrong.  That’s why Jill came to get me.

Still stunned at this news, I thanked Jill for uh, saving me.  I knew I was way over my head anyway.  Unless money is a contributing factor, you never see relationships work where the imbalance in the appearance “rating” is at or beyond +/- 2.  I was lucky if I was a 6, so there was no way Nikki as a 9 wanted anything to do with me.  The ironic part about this tale is that the best moment of the night was being alone with Jill for those few minutes.

I worked with Jill for a few years.  I always had a girlfriend when I worked with her and she always had a boyfriend.  I never questioned her when she dragged me out of that chair that night.  I willfully went with her and held on to her hand as we turned around the back of Dee’s to get to the quieter side.  When she explained to me the possible scenario I was taken away from, we were actually standing face-to-face, holding each other’s hands by our sides.  Jill was way more compatible with me, for me.  She was a 6 for sure and she loved being around my 5/6 ass.

Jill already knew that I drove a shitty fourteen year-old car, still lived with my parents, had no credit, no ambition and hardly any money.  And yet, there she was, going out of her way to corral me back to the group, but allowing for us to be alone with each other.  Her boyfriend was no more than ten steps from us, and when I was with her there that didn’t matter to us.  I could just tell by her eyes and how she was holding my hands.  My girlfriend at that time (Who wasn’t there) couldn’t duplicate the charge of absolute love I felt from that moment with Jill.  Maybe Jill didn’t feel the same way, but if my heart was right on that night, she did too.

If I had to choose a girl from my past that defines, “The one that got away”, it would be Jill.  I never asked her out on a date because of our own relationship ties.  I really believe she would have said yes to me.  We’re together in some parallel universe I’m sure and on that night when I fatefully sat down next to a “Pittsburgh 9”, Jill ended up being a 10.  That’s the score I would have given her anyway.

Why Old People Stay Home At Night

Back in the late 1990’s when I had my youth and a Joey Tribbiani haircut, my friends and I would head out to the bars and clubs around Pittsburgh.  I’m a South Side guy born and raised, so going down to my old stomping grounds to drink was familiar territory.  Even in 2016, all of the college students from around town flock to the South Side to unwind at any time during the week.  If you do make it down to this neighborhood to catch a few drinks, know that any person over the age of 35 is prone to disappear at the stroke of 9 p.m. (Old person Cinderella time).

Before 1999, I was still living with my parents so I had a lot of money to burn at the bars before many life responsibilities started to kick in.  My one friend Dave and I would always go out on weeknights, shooting pool and taking advantage of mid-week drink specials.  Dave was in the same situation as me regarding living quarters, so we got into quite a routine when it came time to meeting up.  We developed a solid tolerance for beer and I developed a rather good record at playing bar pool on the small tables.

We would usually get together at 8 p.m. on weeknights since most of the drink specials ran between 7 and 10.  At our first stop each night–no matter where we started, we were always one of few groups whose average age was under 24.  Most patrons were well over the age of 40, some as old as 70.  Dave and I would always talk with the “senior members” we got to know, and the pool tables were always empty, which we loved to take advantage of.  When I would head up to the bar around 8:45 for another round, it was like each bar had a rancher and a Border Collie that would corral all the old people out the front door.  This happened every time we went out.  And sure enough when 9 p.m. hit, the crowd became significantly younger anywhere we went.

This happened on the weekends too when we had more people head out with us.  It was as if the older crowd were controlled by the government or aliens with an ON/OFF toggle switch.  When it got close to 9 p.m., crowded or quiet, cheap or expensive, country or hip-hop, the old people wanted out.  I guess I never understood why because of my youth, but now that I am 40, I think I understand why the elders plotted their exit.

REASON #1: At college bars or dance clubs, nobody wants to talk to old people.  Every time I overheard some college-age girl talking about an older guy talking to them, it was never in a good light.  She could have been polite to the older man when interacting with him face-to-face, but the minute she “escaped” his conversation, she would utter to her friends, “Out of ALL THE GUYS in this place, I get hit on by the OLD ONE.  That’s just great.”  I know us guys reacted the same way when it used to happen to one of our own with an older woman, so I guess from trial and error (And in some cases trial by fire) older patrons figured out it’s time to seek out another venue.

REASON #2: Young drunks are usually more violent, so leave before the police arrive.  No matter where I drank, I would estimate that 90% of bar/club violence occurred after midnight.  In addition, more street robberies and drug transactions happened later in the night.  Before 9 p.m. back in the 1990’s, we rarely saw police presence on the South Side because it wasn’t needed.  If a fight broke out before midnight, it was usually between a girl and a guy with plenty of shouting but no punches thrown.  Though the experiences of their time being in their 20’s, the “senior members” knew when the crowd was going to start getting out of control.

REASON #3: Old people have more to lose.  I don’t care to go out anymore because I have a young son.  I would rather hang out with him every day of the year than subject myself to the stupid shit I did twenty years ago.  I am sure this mentality is shared with many parents my age today and this thinking wasn’t new in 1997.  The “senior members” Dave and I spoke with all those times had good jobs, kids of their own (Most of their kids were older than 18) and wives who knew where they were, some right next to them at the bar.  I never got arrested, but if I did, I didn’t have a career job and I still lived with my parents.  I didn’t have bills to pay or people to care about like the old guys did.

REASON #4: They knew of local “Old Person Bars”.  When I got to be around age 24 and started to get sick of the same old scene, my friends and I would venture to other parts of Pittsburgh to see if we could discover new places that were fun.  We soon learned of a few dozen places where we were by far the youngest group in the establishment, and we didn’t care.  The beer and liquor were cheap.  We could play darts and pool with plenty of room to move.  You could actually talk to each other without screaming over loud music and THE SAME “SENIOR MEMBERS” from the South Side who drank with us in our first hour down there were drinking well past midnight a few miles away in bars that voluntarily kept the obnoxious youngsters away.  Bartenders at these places used to fear we would bring in a younger crowd when we arrived!  It was like we were on “The List” at a dozen exclusive clubs in the Pittsburgh area.  We vowed to only bring in people that could hold their alcohol to show our appreciation of allowing us to “chill out” in their alcoves of retreat among the halls of drunken madness.

Just like all the seniors I drank with some twenty years ago, I know my place in the pecking order when it comes to nightlife in 2016.  I now go to restaurants, not bars or clubs.  I go to the movies, not the strip club.  And if for whatever reason I am in the South Side of Pittsburgh these days, get me the hell out of there before 9 p.m.

 

The Leather Pants Incident Of 1997

I always loved music from the beginning of my childhood, but I never invested much time into making music a passion of mine.  My parents exposed me to many aspects of American culture, but it never really included going to concert halls, buying cassette tapes of modern music and learning to play an instrument.  My Mom didn’t have any hobbies, and my Dad had season tickets to the Pittsburgh Steelers for many years, so a lot of our disposable income and time revolved around sports if we went to a large venue.  Which I was fine with since I loved sports.

We always hear about and see examples in media where regular schmos with money get to meet or get close to famous people when the true followers of these famous people never get the chance to be close to their idols.  And sometimes the regular schmo (In this case me) doesn’t have money but instead inherits a situation that permits this to happen.

In 1997, I was still dating my girlfriend from high school.  I’ll refer to her as “Peach” from now on.  Peach was going to college north of Pittsburgh and was living off campus with a few roommates.  One roommate was a girl who grew up in England who we’ll call “Spice”, since the English group The Spice Girls were at their peak of popularity then.  They also had a mutual friend from college who used to hang out over their place all the time, and I’ll call her “#3” to keep the story moving along.

Spice had a boyfriend who was a big Aerosmith fan.  Aerosmith came to Pittsburgh’s old Civic Arena in 1997 and he somehow got a hold of seven tickets.  These tickets were good seats, far back but off the floor, just enough that you could see everything.  The seven that went were me, Peach, #3, Spice, Spice’s boyfriend and another couple.  Spice had the idea for her, Peach and #3 to go to the concert wearing skin tight black leather pants.  I have to admit, they looked good and I looked like a dope next to Peach.  So we settle into our seats, the opening act of Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band starts their set, and Spice wants to run outside and catch a smoke before Aerosmith goes on.  Peach and #3 accompanied her down the aisle and off they went while the rest of us hung out in our seats.

Spice’s boyfriend got concerned when the girls weren’t back after the third song of the opening act, and I told him they probably ditched us for some better-looking guys since everyone downstairs with good vision could see them walking around.  It turned out that I was half-right.

About thirty minutes later, the girls come running back to us screaming incoherently and it was clear they were happy.  Spice stated that some of the Aerosmith roadies saw them and gave the girls better seats for the show.  Somehow (And to this day I do not know who bargained this), the girls convinced the roadies to give them two more tickets, one for me and one for Spice’s boyfriend.  Thank God he got a ticket, because he was the reason we were there in the first place.

So we told the other couple that came with us that we would meet them after the show, and they were fine with that.  We start our walk to the front of the floor, and an usher meets us halfway back to verify we are supposed to be there.  He leads us to our seats while a few fans spray the girls with whistles and calls.

Front row.  THEE front row.  It was a great show.  Spice’s boyfriend was so pumped up from being that close to Aerosmith I thought his head was going to explode.  I don’t know if he knew Spice was flirting with their young keyboardist, or the fact that guitarist Tom Hamilton camped out in front of the girls for four or five songs.  I could care less since I knew I was way over my head.  During a Joe Perry guitar solo, the lights dimmed around the other parts of the stage but I was close enough to watch Steven Tyler fall off of it and into the arms of two security guards in the pit.  Before the crowd knew he was missing from the stage, the guards threw him back up there like he was a rag doll.  He landed perfectly on his feet and took off running like it never even happened.   Ten minutes later he’s singing right in front of me and while I’m trying to smack his hand, he moves to his left because he sees the girls!  I couldn’t blame the guy.

I couldn’t hear for three days after the show, probably due to me sitting in front of some rather large sound equipment for two hours (It was LOUD.  If it was The Who I would have lost my hearing for good).  There were about 15,000 people at that show, and out of all of them I was the 14,972nd ranked Aerosmith fan.  The 14,972nd ranked Aerosmith fan with one of the 36 closest seats in the arena, thanks to a few roadies that were hypnotized by the leather pants of Peach, Spice and #3.