Monday, June 17, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Trouble with the Whiskey Wagon




The band played a show on Tuesday.  It was mostly uneventful, and Leo and I drove the Whiskey Wagon back to where it sleeps in a storage facility making our usual shit talk.  It was very by-the-book.  Totally normal.  Good night Whiskey Wagon.  See you this weekend.  I even took the trash out of the van.  You must take care of the Whiskey Wagon, so it will take care of you.

On Saturday we were scheduled to play in Erie.  Whenever we play a show, it’s a bit of a Chinese Fire Drill as we figure out where to rendezvous, so we can drive together in the van.  Text messages fly around, and a plan comes together.  This Saturday, I went by myself to the van with the game plan to meet Leo on the westside and then get Sugar and Pete out East.  The rain fell steadily.  I hustled through puddles to the van’s driver’s side door.  The weather was miserable.  I loaded gear into the van from my car.  I felt like something was off.  Yet, everything appeared normal.

I cannot explain why a foreboding thought flashed in my mind as I climbed in the driver’s seat.  The rain pattered on the metal roof.  “Something is going to be fucked up…”  The van had been running perfectly.  All service was up to date.  Hell, even the mileage isn’t that heavy.  The Chevy van always roars to life, even in the coldest temperatures.  I shook off the bad vibes and turned the key.  Disaster.

There was a bang.  It sounded like the engine exploded.  All the lights flashed on the dash like a Christmas tree.  The engine was LOUD but running.  What the fuck?  It sounded like the entire exhaust system had fallen off.  There was no way I could drive this to pick everyone up and make it to Erie.  I tried a small drive around the lot to see what happened.  It sounded like a WW2 era B-17 taking off.  The power felt low.  God fucking dammit, I knew it!  There was no way this was going to work.  What were we going to do now?

I started shoving what I could in the back of my car.  This was not going to work.  It is not possible to fit a bass drum into a standard sized vehicle.  I tried to get in touch with Sugar and Pete.  Voice mail.  Fuck.  I took the bare minimum of what we needed and headed into the rain.  Maybe we could borrow gear from the Kookie Kutterz.  I’m sure Leo could play Pete’s kit.  I ran through scenarios and phone calls went back and forth.  We worked out a plan with the confidence of “yeah…  I guess that could work” when we accepted the reality of the situation.  My car was full.  Leo drove separately.  I stopped at a CVS pharmacy to buy two things I needed.  Pain killers and a large can of Budweiser.  I met Pete and Sugar at the rendezvous point and we crammed in all the stuff from my car into Pete’s groovy 80s van.  I bought another Bud.

The gig went well in Erie all things considered.  I thought we played well with the pieced together set up.  Hector and Chanda gave me a lift back in their car after the gig.  I climbed back into my car for the drive back to the Westside in a downpour I would call “monsoon-like”.  It was 335 am.  I was not exactly “crisp” or “refreshed”.  I kept going over in my mind what had gone wrong with the van.  Had the outdoor storage situation finally led to a rust out of the exhaust?  This was so typical.  Just when things get going in the right direction, it all goes wrong.  I knew Monday would be a full day of automotive nonsense.

I made a few calls and dropped the van off to a mechanic I’ve used before.  I roared down back roads.  It felt like the end of Jaws when Quint refuses to back off the smoking engines and dooms the boat to be battered by the giant shark.  The van strained to get to the repair shop.  All heads in the shop turned when I limped in to the lot.  The mechanic told me he would call with an estimate later.  He called in about 90 minutes.

“Are you sitting down?”  This is not usually a sentence you want to be spoken to you by either mechanics or physicians.  If this was a doctor, he would have taken off his glasses and said, “In all my years of practice, giving news like this has never gotten any easier…”.  Then he tells you that you have Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  I was expecting the mechanic version of this to hit me next.  I braced myself. 

“I got it up on the lift after I heard how loud it was.  Soooo….  someone sawed off your catalytic converters, cut through the oxygen sensors, and took (some other part I can’t remember).  I mean, it must have taken them at least 10 minutes and it would have been really loud.  I don’t know how no one noticed.  So, I called for the part and… this is bad…you can only get it from the dealer.  And it’s not something they keep in stock, so it will be until at least tomorrow.  We’re talking about $2000 or so…”

Super.

I called the storage place.  The guy in the office was surprisingly relaxed.  “Yeah… We had a break in last week.  That was probably part of that.”  Hey, the mechanic said that it would have taken about 10 minutes and was loud as shit.  You live there on site, don’t you?  “Yeah but I didn’t hear anything.  What day was that?  Hmmm.  Wednesday?  Yeah.  I didn’t hear nuthin.”  So, is your insurance going to cover this?  “Oh, yeah I’m really sorry but no.  It’s in our rental agreement that we don’t cover that.”

Now, one would think that a completely fenced in facility with a coded gate entry would take a slice of responsibility.  Nope.  It’s like when someone puts a sign on the side of a parking lot that says “no responsibility” as if that action alone voids out all common sense.  “If only there was something we could do.  However, we put that sign up, so I’m afraid I just can’t help.  Oh, and can you give me your monthly parking money?” 

I called the storage company home office.  The manager there was also oddly detached from the event.  “Yeah, I think they might have cut a hole in the fence to get in back.  They broke into a few trailers too.  Yeah…  We just don’t offer insurance for an open public parking space.”  What do you mean?  It’s not a public parking place.  I have to enter a code to get in the gate.  “Yes, but the car is still in the open, so we just can’t do it.”  She even sounded like she cared.  It was that version of “I’m more upset about this than you are” that I really appreciate when it’s done well.  It was a pointless conversation. 

I filed a police report.  This being the suburbs, they actually have a suspect.  Shit, there must be security footage.  It’s not going to help me with my insurance company though.  I’m on the hook for the $500 deductible at least.  I need to get in with the cops and get in the room with the suspect.  Maybe I can help them “work him over” in that interrogation room.  That would give me some satisfaction as I “got medieval on his ass with a pair of pliers and a blow torch.”  They might not do that at police stations in the Burbs, but I do plan on asking in a tactful way.  As for now, we are waiting on dealer parts and I assume the thief (or thieves) have spent the $80 they got for our $2000 in parts on something nice for Father’s Day.  Like Oxy. 

Thieves 1
Daredevils 0             

Friday, June 7, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Hate the BMV




There is no better way to lose faith in humanity than to go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.  I had no choice but to go to a Lorain County location to fetch the sticker for the Whiskey Wagon’s license plate.  I found myself dreading the experience but not having any other option but to stand in the BMV.  The last thing I need is to get pulled over for an expired plate with Leo in the van.   This isn’t Germany where I had memorized “Ich bin nicht verantwortlich für das, was in der Jacke dieses Mannes ist. Bring mich zur amerikanischen Botschaft.”, which means “I am not responsible for what is in that man's jacket.  Take me to the American embassy.”. 

As always, there was a line at the BMV.  This is a given.  There must be people that sleep in there as I am always 10-15 numbers away from being called regardless of when I walk into that Office of Doom.  I pulled #38 and heard the cranky female clerk yell out “Twenty!  Twenty!”.  An old man sluggishly walked to the counter.  This would take longer than I had hoped.  I looked around and took stock of the others in the waiting room.  I noticed a few things immediately. 

When I leave the house, I try to maintain a basic level of grooming and fashion.  I’m not spending two hours getting gussied up, but I think I can spend the 11 seconds on making sure my clothes match and I am essentially clean.  This idea goes out the window for most people at the BMV.  Standing in front of me was a woman that was crammed into a pair of gray sweat pants like a sausage.  The pants had a rip in the ass that exposed a quarter sized circle of flesh I would call “unhealthily pale” like the underbelly of a fish.  These trousers were offset by a white and green t-shirt featuring a print with a cartoon taco that said “Taco About It Later” that had yellowish stains on the front.  The black discount gym shoes accented with pink socks rounded out the look.  To her right was a man in a camouflage shirt with his arm in a sling, like he had just given himself a field dressing while duck hunting.  His pants were too big and slipped down to show the crack of his ass with what could only be called “a wild tangle” of brown ass hair.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  It was not an attractive room full of people.

Each person that approached the counter when their number was called was unprepared.  I saw person after person turned away because they had no followed the simplest of instructions.  There wasn’t a person in that room that was coming to the BMV for the first time in their life, yet each person was dumbfounded when it was revealed they didn’t have the necessary identification/form for the task at hand.  I heard the following exchange. 

Guy with sling:  I wanted to get mah license…
Employee:  Do you have a passport or birth certificate with proof of address like a utility bill?
Guy with sling:  Whah? 
Employee:  Here’s a one sheet that lists everything you can use to get the license…
Guy with sling:  Oh…  OK…  (looks at paper with the information)
Guy with sling:  So what do ah need ta bring tah get mah license?

I instantly wanted to yell out “You stupid fucking hillbilly.  You need to focus for 8 seconds.  The sheet of paper in in your hand.  Read it.  Bring back any combination of those forms.  That’s it.  Why the fuck didn’t you look it up before you came down here, you stupid jack off?”.  That seemed like poor decorum, so I didn’t.  I waited patiently as I watched each person get called and spend 5-10 minutes not getting what they needed because they were too stupid to get it together.  When I was called I had everything ready to go.  I wrote my check as the woman entered the info into her computer.  It took 35 seconds to get the plate.  I had waited 40 minutes to do so.

When you consider that if you walk over to the light switch and the lights come on, it’s a miracle.  It is unbelievable that our society is holding together.  This was like being in a room of barnyard animals that could drive cars.  The general population is astoundingly stupid.  Not one person in that office had a plan when they walked in.  No one took a few moments before coming to the BMV to look up on their bedazzled smart phone what they would need to accomplish the task at hand.  They all just showed up in their filthy sweat pants and hope it worked out.

This was when it hit me that every single person in that office was speaking with a twangy Appalachian accent.  How was this possible?  No one in my community sounds like a man-on-the-street interview in Louisville on ESPN’s College Gameday, yet here I was with it sounding like I was deep in Kentucky.  Country music played on the intercom.  Pickup trucks were parked in the lot.  I overheard one woman say to the other “I ain’t taking mah truck.  You the one that is drivin.”  Where did all these people pick up this accent?  It’s not possible that there has been a mass movement from Appalachia to NE Ohio.  Yet, every person in that room sounded like a cast member of Hee-Haw.  Did they listen to too much country music radio?  Too many Jeff Foxworthy comedy specials?  What’s with everyone having that twang?  I don’t know.  I can’t make sense of it.

I walked out to my car firmly holding the sticker for the Whiskey Wagon’s plate.  I felt good, like I had passed a crucible.  It must have been what the Knights in the Great Crusade felt riding home with a saddlebag of religious artifacts and blessed wood reliefs.  I had survived the battle and left with my loot.  Then a horrible thought clouded me.  I have a car in the shop being repaired for a check engine light.  When that repair is completed, I have a new quest ahead.  I have to come back.  To the BMV. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Jukebox Situation




I am a big fan of jukeboxes.  Now, when I say “jukebox”, I want to be clear.  I mean a large machine with 45 rpm records in it which have been gathered thoughtfully to provide a clear-cut personality to a bar.  A good jukebox immediately raises my estimation of a place, even begrudgingly if it is a CD jukebox, which is a bit of a cop out.  If you look at a CD jukebox and see “Hank Williams Jr. Greatest Hits”, “The Eagles Greatest Hits” and Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”, it is a good time to slug down your beer and get the hell out of there.  You are seconds away from being bludgeoned with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” or “Witchy Woman”.  That’s no way to live.

The CD jukebox is a hedge.  On the one hand, it is a good way to provide the same basic idea of the “true” 45 rpm jukebox with a curated selection of releases.  However, to just collect a bunch of popular classic rock band’s Greatest Hits records is not adding to the ambiance.  If Jimi Hendrix’s Greatest Hits is on the jukebox, you might as well have placed “Purple Haze” and “Wind Cries Mary” 45s on there.  If the disc of “Electric Ladyland” is on the jukebox, well then, you have my attention.  However, that is a small eyebrow raise compared to the absolute joy of finding a jukebox with Ralph Nielson and the Chancellors “Scream” nestled in next to the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl”. 

The absolute lowest is the wall mounted digital jukebox.  This represents true laziness on the part of the tavern keeper.  They are shouting to the customer base “We don’t know what’s good.  We have no taste in music.  Play whatever YOU like.”.  Now this might seem like a democratic solution where each day a myriad of songs ushers forth, but in my experience, it means Contemporary Country and Nickleback sound alike bands with the very real possibility of a terrible rap song by Someone I’ve Never Heard Of Featuring Someone Else I’ve Never Heard Of.  This is inviting the lowest common denominator to control the basic human sense of hearing.  Would you ever allow the customers to control any of the other human senses?  It is akin to allowing a customer to walk in with a flame thrower of cologne or allowing them to install strobe lights.  I think it is reckless on the part of the saloon owner.

This was my mind set when I noticed in the suburban brew pub Saturday night three girls activate the wall mounted jukebox and play three near toxic country songs in a row.  The bar was busy.  It was 930pm, their peak time.  It was then my friend George and I challenged each other to try and clear the room by doing nothing but selecting songs from the near limitless options of the digital jukebox.  George walked over with a few dollars.  He clearly had a plan as he was not gone long.  By the time he sat back down on his stool, the sounds of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” blasted across the room’s sound system.  “Ja-ja-ja-jitterbug!”  He followed with an absolutely brutal selection of “Ghostbusters Theme” that almost brought me to tears.  I walked over to put in my three songs when Starship’s “We Built This City” came on.  My fear was the patrons would think I was the one that had made the choice, but I put my heard down and got to work.

There are a few ways to go about clearing a room.  This was a somewhat varied crowd, but decidedly suburban.  Someone without nuance might decide to bludgeon them with Slayer or the Butthole Surfers, or at least make a cursory check to see if the digital system had any of the Norwegian death metal band Enslaved.  I think that’s a cheap way out.  The key is to be subtle, selecting songs that, in theory, someone in the room could have been excited about sharing.  Something that is annoying but not shocking, like someone humming nearby.  I went for a couple of my go-to songs, Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea” followed by “Monster Mash”.  By the time “Miami Vice Theme” was playing, the room was down to one third of the crowd that had been there only 20 minutes before.  George countered with “It’s Raining Men”.  When I hit “The Eye Of The Tiger”, the room had eight people left.  As we walked out, my final selection of The Chipmunks “Jingle Bells” left no doubt as to our intention.  Mission accomplished.  The bar was like a ghost town at 10:10 pm.

Many would suggest that we were selfish to destroy one of the four most profitable days of the month for this small brewpub.  I would say that nothing could be further from the truth.  They needed this lesson.  I feel like we would have been doing them a disservice by not taking over in this manner, like if we had not pointed out a fire hazard or ignored an overflowing toilet.  It’s like they put a gas can on the wall with a mounted box of matches and assumed a fire would not break out.  I feel as if we owed it to them.

My hope is that the next time I walk in there I will see a giant jukebox filled with carefully selected records.  I am not optimistic though.  I will walk in with a wallet filled with singles.  In my mind I will be thinking “Don’t make me walk over there and play Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, Phil Collins “Sussudio” and the Beach Boys “Kokomo”, because I will.  I will clear this room dammit, and I will do it again and again and again.  Take down the wall mounted jukebox!         

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Welcome To Hell




It was supposed to be a good hotel.  Despite the newish carpeting and new logo slapped on the front of the building, it still boasted paper thin walls and hallways that acted as loudspeakers.  The power must have gone out at some point during the night.  The digital clock flashed “12:00” with urgency, sparking the room with red light every two seconds.  What time was it?  The sound of retching was so close he feared that someone was barfing on his bed.  It must be the room next door.  The adjoining door between the rooms provided the same sound buffer as a beaded curtain. 

In between the deep barfing came a conversation from someone else in the room.  The voice sounded middle aged, but the lingo was an odd gumbo of street references that sounded as if they had been culled from NBA player’s social media posts from 2006.  He was on his phone.  “Yo Mikey G be trippin’ yo!  You see how he be frontin’?”  Meanwhile a deep guttural “Bleahhhhh!!!!” followed by liquid hitting liquid came from their bathroom.   The man talking into the phone ignored the barfing.  “You going to Tokyo?  Today?  Bro!”

The man on the phone hung up his call and switched over to playing music.  He called out to his hungover companion.  “No talking during this!”  The sound of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” came shrilly from a phone speaker.  The man from the phone call began to sing, but didn’t know the words and couldn’t stay on pitch.  This resulted in a scat singing style accompaniment to what might well be the worst rock song in the world.  “Jussss a smah tah gaaahhh…  Nevah mumba meeba da wahhhh”  He struggled over to look at his watch on the nightstand.  It was 9:07 am.   “Dohn stah… Believin…”

He considered alerting the guests next door that he was still trying to sleep and perhaps they could be more empathetic to others.  The best tactic that came to mind was banging on the wall and screaming “Shut the fuck up you stupid hillbilly!  You fucking piece of shit!  There are other people in this hotel but you, you goddamn assholes!”.  That did seem a bit confrontational and likely would not result in the two to three additional hours of sleep he was hoping to secure, so he stared at the ceiling and stewed.  “Dohn stah… Believin… Maba donna moby a loooo”  It was perhaps the longest three minutes of his life.

When the song mercifully ended he thought “what did this asshole put next on his dream playlist?  It’s got to be terrible.”.  He laughed out loud when the familiar “boom boom… bam” of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” warbled out of the phone.  The man next door was excited now.  “Dude!  Dude!  This is my jam!”.  He thought about what kind of SUV the guest next door drove here and calculated the likelihood of a Calvin sticker peeing on the side window or maybe an arm flexing gun rights sticker with American flags festooned on it.  By the elevator there was a fire hose and axe behind a glass cabinet.  He could calmly walk down the hall, break open the glass, grab the axe and attack the people in the next room.  There wasn’t a jury in the land that would convict him. “We will!  We will!  Rock you!”  Fuck this.

He showered as quickly as he could, tossed his meager possessions in his bag and wheeled out of the room.  He took the elevator down to the lobby with two shivering kids dripping water on the floor, the kids already taking advantage of the bleak indoor pool by the unused out of date workout facility.   One of the kids sneezed with an open mouth.  He needed a coffee, maybe a breakfast to try and right the ship.  The hotel had a restaurant, the opaque named “Seasons” that appeared to offer legitimate meals.  The hostess indicated he could sit anywhere he pleased in the bland surroundings.  She dismissively gave him a menu and walked away.  He sat by himself without another soul wandering into the room.  Five minutes became ten.  Nothing moved.  There was no sound.  It struck him that perhaps he had died.  As it wasn’t a paradise, he had gone to hell.  It was as he had always suspected.  Hell was like a three star hotel in the Midwest.  Eternity would be a long time.   

Friday, May 10, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Repeating History




While I find it extremely interesting that the President of the United States has essentially decided that he is no longer bound by the law and is an autonomous ruler of the nation, much like a King, it is not nearly as interesting as the reaction from “the people”.  As far as I can tell, no one cares.  There is absolutely no discussion of it in my workplace.  I don’t hear any of my neighbors express even the slightest concern.  Maybe it’s fatigue from the continual barrage of outrageous rhetoric and outright lies from the White House, but The People just can’t seem to engage.  The reality TV show guy is making a move to be a dictator?  Huh.  Hey, did you see Game of Thrones last week?

I remember studying history in school.  Whenever we would learn about Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, Spain, or whatever authoritarian ruler you want to insert into the discussion, I would always think “How could those people have let that happen?  What a bunch of dopes.  It was so obvious how that was going to end.”.  Yet, at this moment in history, it’s enlightening to see how it happened.  It moves slowly with deliberate progress.  Three years ago if you were to say “The President will openly defy Congress, place his cronies in position to subvert the laws, claim to be totally exonerated from all wrongdoing when an investigation shows the exact opposite, prevent anyone from seeing that full report that supposedly exonerated him, prevent anyone from looking at his financial dealings with foreign adversaries with which he has an unexplainable chummy relationship, send his personal attorney to meet with Ukraine to have them investigate his political opponent, provide no open communication with the free press, and continually undermine the pillars of our society via his rallies and Twitter outbursts and you will think it is normal.”, you would say “Get the fuck out of here!”.   

Yet, that’s where we are today.  Things that would have been considered krazy with a capital “K” a couple of years back don’t even get anyone’s attention now.  The propaganda TV news network provides talking points for the sycophants.  “Why should he have to show his tax returns?  He was a private citizen then!”  (Ah, because of his murky finances and confusing influxes of cash when no one would lend to him maybe?)  “The economy is doing great!”  (Oh, I guess there’s no need to follow the Law of the Land since my 401K earned an additional 3% while this guy was in office.)  “Investigate the investigators!”  (Oh, you mean punish anyone that dares to question the President, especially if they find something?  That doesn’t sound like Haiti or anything…)  Build the wall!  (Ah, the brown people are the root of the problem!)   “The investigation failed to turn up anything!”  (34 indictments, sweeping Russian effort to aid Trump’s election, obstruction of justice, continual lying from administration about pretty much everything, but beyond that, nothing.). 

Maybe after 2.5 years of “holy shit, what did he do now?”, people are just fed up with the entire thing and got tired of paying attention.  It’s like when you are in Vegas.  In the beginning it’s awesome, all the lights and noises.  Then at Day 3 it becomes sensory overload and the #1 goal is to just get out.  You'd rather sit quietly in your hotel room than have to walk through the casino to get to "Raffles", the delightful coffee shop.  It will be interesting how this all ends up.  It seems like The Bad Guys are more committed to winning.  They don't care about anything but themselves.  They appear willing to do absolutely anything while The Other Guys get their dicks kicked in playing by the rules.  The Bad Guys are laughing it up while The Other Guys keep helplessly yelling “Hey!  You can’t do that!”.  Meanwhile the masses watch Netflix and assume none of this will impact them down the line.   “Hey, Trump just said he should get two bonus years in office because that investigation was a distraction.”  

What’s that?  I was watching Hulu… 


Monday, May 6, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Spontaneous Human Combustion



You don’t hear much about spontaneous combustion these days.  I’m not talking about the inner workings of an engine.  I am talking about someone bursting into flames and leaving nothing behind but a small pile of ash and a discolored patch where they had stood.  Spontaneous HUMAN combustion.  Maybe with climate change this has become less common.  It seemed to happen every now and again in the 70s and early 80s, in what I think was a pinnacle for unexplained occurrences.  That was the time of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Moth Man sightings.  In one year at Garwood Middle School we lost two kids to spontaneous combustion, though neither at the school itself.

This kid named Mark disappeared one week in October.  There was a hastily called assembly where the students gathered as a stammering vice principal gave way to a shell-shocked science teacher named “Mr. Y” that attempted to hammer out how an otherwise normal kid could just burst into flames while sitting in a bean bag chair playing Atari “Missile Command”.  It didn’t make much sense to me and made even less sense to Mark’s Mom who went from “steadily sniffling” to “openly wailing” when Mr. Y made the point about how when Mark burned it was mostly from the inside out.  I didn’t know what to make of it.  I began to consistently monitor my own temperature hoping I wouldn’t burst into flames in front of everyone at the cafeteria.

I had forgotten about it the way kids do.  Children are resilient in that way.  One day the buzz is about Mark catching on fire for no reason and the next is about if there was going to be a food fight on Friday.  We really knew how to live in the moment back then.  I was doing a group project with this girl named Jaime.  We were building a scale model of the Globe Theater.  How that helped me understand what Shakespeare was all about, I don’t know, but that was the assignment.  It was me, Jaime, and this guy Jim that was really handy.  Jim built balsa model airplanes, so essentially the project was Jaime and I watching Jim build this replica Globe Theater (with working trap door no less).  We were a few days out from finishing and Jaime didn’t show up at Jim’s house for our final push.  We couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone at her house and she didn’t show up at school on Monday. 

On Tuesday our teacher, Mrs. McClintock, called us up to her desk.  She was a big woman with bad teeth with an affinity for The Royal Family.  She lowered her voice.  “Boys…  You will have to finish the project on your own.  Jaime isn’t coming back.”  What?  Jim asked.  “Did her family move or something?”  Mrs. McClintock was stymied.  “No…  No…  It was like what happened with Mark.  She’s gone.  She’s gone.”  At this point I was freaking out.  “Jaime burned up like Mark?”  The whole class stopped what they were doing and stared at us by Mrs. McClintock’s desk.  All the kids started talking to each other, wild animated conversations.  Mrs. McClintock struggled to regain control.   There was so much noise that our vice principal came down the hall to sternly take over. 

“Quiet everyone!  Quiet!  Yes, Jaime was found burned up inside her bedroom last night after roller skating.  There is nothing to worry about.  I have been in touch with The Authorities, and they said these are extremely rare occurrences.  You all have nothing to worry about!”  It was at this point I saw his eyes drift over to Mrs. McClintock.  They exchanged a glance that said to me that they were both worried.  Very worried. 

Yet, things calmed down like they always did.  We put up pictures of Mark and Jaime in the entrance hallway of the school.  There was a brief ceremony where the pictures were dedicated, and the band played Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”, hardly appropriate but it was the only song the band had learned competently to that point.  Mark’s parents were farm folks.  His Dad had a collared shirt on that fit, yet he still looked uncomfortable.  His mom just sat in the wooden fold out chair and cried.  Jaime’s parents stood stiffly.  Her father put his lips together so hard that they turned white.  He wore a black suit and had shiny shoes.  I remember how the glint of the tuba reflected on the shine of them.  And then it was over.  We went back to doing things 6th graders did and forgot all about them.

I was thinking about the entire episode today.  It was tragic, but maybe most tragic because those kids just got forgotten.  No one ever brings them up to me anymore.  It is easy to understand why people forget about the past, especially when it is so painful like that.  It’s human nature to move on, to put that in a box and seal it off, try to minimize the pain.  Then again, maybe the reason no one brings it up is because I just made it all up.  It’s hard to say.  Even I’m not sure if it happened or not at this point…

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Nurse The Hate: Stroh's Strikes Again



I was recently at a hipster bar that served Stroh’s beer in cans.  Stroh’s used to proudly proclaim themselves “America’s Only Fire Brewed Beer”, which is perplexing as I can’t think of what kind of competitive advantage could be gained with such a claim.  I don’t even know what that means when you get down to brass tacks.  It must have sounded good to whoever the Stroh’s CEO was at the time.  Everyone else around the table probably fell in line.  “America’s only fire brewed beer?  Whoa!  That’s good JB!  That could work!”

Stroh’s was very popular for a time.  I remember my father getting 12 oz returnable bottles at the beer distributor.  Pennsylvania, somehow still under sway of The Quakers in the 1970s, made it almost impossible to buy beer.  You could only buy it by the case from scary warehouse buildings or at exorbitant markups from bars as “sixes to go”.  I remember my father being a Bud man for a while, but he was always looking for “a good deal”.  I’m sure he paid a dollar less a case for Stroh’s and then justified it as being “not that bad”.  As I think about it, most of the neighborhood Dads drank Stroh’s.  What can I say?  It was a different age.

Stroh’s was the first beer I ever technically drank, though as mostly sips of the near empty bottle after my father had poured it into his trusty mug.  The first beer I ever drank clandestinely with “the boys” was a can of Genny Bock.  That’s not an ideal choice for a young teenage boy.  It’s also not an ideal choice for a middle aged man.  However, this is a post on Stroh’s.  Let’s stay focused on “America’s Only Fire Brewed Beer”, shall we?

The last time I had Stroh’s was at a high school party.  The guy having the party had cases of the stuff, undoubtedly stolen from his parents.  I never recall seeing his parents who had essentially allowed their son to be raised by Hazel, their cleaning lady that stopped by a couple times a week.  The open disdain between the son and parents was mutual.  The stolen beer would be ignored by the parents, not wishing a confrontation with their volatile son.  He was "difficult" as a boy, a condition that would later be called "Crazy".  I dove into the cold ones with abandon, probably getting crazy and having three (3) beers.

I remember the gurgling in my system.  I was concerned as this had all the makings of a "gastro intestinal crisis".  My instincts told me that a bunch of high school kids at a party would not be very empathetic about my situation.  I began to sweat on my brow as I noticed lines formed for the downstairs toilet.  I slunk upstairs to see if the master bathroom was open.  It wasn't and was in fact being used as a base of operations for the "popular girls".  The gurgling became more intense.  If I didn't know any better I would think I heard an air raid siren.  I was going to have to address this situation.  I panicked.  This was coming out.  Now.

I darted outside.  I had regressed to being a wild beast.  I had no choice.  I have never felt more like a filthy animal than when I was hunched over shitting by the pine tree in the corner of the back yard.  Having no paper, I wiped myself with dried leaves.  It was not ideal.  I abandoned the party and made a long walk home shrouded in shame.  It was the last time I had Stroh's.  

The hipster bar had it priced at $2 a can.  I will admit a dangerous curiosity washing over me.  For a mere two dollars I could dance with the devil, see if this horrible incident was a stand alone disaster or a natural reaction to "America's only fire brewed beer".  I thought about the night to come.  An opener and then we would play 90 minutes or so.  The men's rooms of the club could be described as "rustic" and "under equipped".  I'm older now.  Maybe wiser.  

I passed on the Stroh's.