this is the playlist of my internet station found at www.planetradio.us tune in, turn on..

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Grind







The Grind: def. verb, meaning to wear yourself down like pencil lead 2. noun- a very fine Tommy Bolin song.
So, this blog is again named after a song.
It also describes a catalytic event that put me right in the audience with a number of people I saw dotting the news shows on TV. It's the voice of the older worker who has become so discouraged with the labor situation in a lot of companies that they just give up looking for work.
I was there over the last seven months and here are some observations.
I lost my job on the 6th day of November. It was a very cold and rainy morning in Chicago when my manager at that time informed me (after I had spent three days putting together my specific action plan for 2014 and my presentation for sales person of the year), I was no longer needed by the company. The reasons are what they are (and I'm still not sure yet) but I know I worked my ass off for that company, I bled orange the entire time I was there and it was over just. like. that.
In Chicago, no less.
Needless to say I was hurt and didn't take it well, considering I had a talk with her boss about this very scenario and now it was happening for reasons I still didn't get.
What to do now? In Chicago? At 8am? While it's raining?
As I headed back to St. Louis, It seemed to take me forever to get there. During the trip, I did a self diagnostic of what I could do, can't do, or won't do. The last one on the list melted quickly away as you'll soon find out.
I had pretty mad sales leadership skills, I thought. At each one of the last three stops, I left staffs better than I had found them. Three different platforms, three successes, print, digital and broadcast. So, I that going for me. I got a bit of a severance so, all is well for a while. I was pretty realistic in thinking no one would be hiring through the holidays, just not a good time, retail maybe but not management. One of the things my former employer did was erase all of my contacts out of my phone by the time I got to St. Louis. I know they had a right to because it was their phone, but I thought taking out my contacts (some of which I still haven't replaced)that soon was a bit much. It was a punch in the gut that was just a foreshadowing of the next seven months of frustration, depression, aggravation and finally determination.
Observation one: no matter how well you think you did in the interview, the hiring manager may have already made his first (and only) impression of you the minute you walked in the door. Not too long into the process, I applied for a job that basically mirrored what I did on my last job and that was manage a staff of six remotely and help them reach their advertising goals. This was for a print product that supplied "shoppers" (papers that have nothing but ads) to a rural clientele.
Perfect.
I sent in the required stuff and got a phone interview. I talked with a man I figured was a little younger than me. We chatted about management styles, bonus plans, and all the things you talk about during an interview. Great, next interview was on the phone and I nailed it too. I believe the words he used were "I think you're the guy."
This was the first week in December and I thought I'd be working real soon. The interview was scheduled in KC at 4pm on a Friday after an ice storm. I drove to Kansas City, all suited up and ready to kill this. I get where I'm supposed to be and a gentleman my son's age greets me, looks at me in the eyes once and doesn't ever look at me again. I'm ready for a two hour interview and I get 25 minutes. He is very cordial, asked me if I had any questions (I most certainly do) and then ends the interview after question four. So, what was the problem you ask?
He saw how old I was and I knew it at that time.
This theme repeats itself over and over again over the next seven months. It even happened to me two times with the same company. There were two separate recruiters for ADP and I had applied to head up their dealer services division, and sent in a resume about another auto dealers division in the same company. One of the questions we asked during a phone interview was "What characteristic about you do sometimes people get the wrong impression about you?" WTF? I answered ..."that knowledge and experience are a bad thing." The interview was over in 90 seconds. Each time someone at ADP got wind of how old I was, the conversation was over. They can't say that's the reason, of course, but it ultimately is. I guess they are afraid us older guys will screw up their benefits or are looking for a million dollars a year or something along those lines. I have never experienced anything like that like I did in this past seven months.
I applied for a couple on jobs through Linked In. After applying, I could see the people looked at my Linked In page which meant a) they saw how old I was by my picture or b) they made their impression by one page of a website.
I got none of those jobs.
Now, I won't say there were not other reasons I didn't get hired for seven months, as a matter of fact, I did work. But not well.
Observation two:don't think just because you got a job, it's the right one.
I took a job with a company that printed anti-drug booklets for 6-12 grade kids. The sell was pretty easy, you just went into the rural town you were working and made your presentation to the local businesses.
Wait, I have my "pitch" right here..."I'm Randy with The (your town here) Police Department and the anti-drug program. Is there any chance I can get two minutes with you to show you what we do? (Show stuff) Now, how we pay for the printing costs is donated and supplied by local merchants like yourself...can the local school kids count on you for helping them stay drug free?" I even went to Mineral Wells Texas (?!) for a week to train. My trainer was "Clay" and that along with the fact that it's Mineral Wells Texas tell you how the training went. Let's get drunk and flirt with the little waitress who thinks you're an asshole every night. I had to apologize to her. Texans. WTF? I was given the town of St. James Missouri to work my magic and a goal of $12,000 to hit. I needed about 60 businesses to come forward. There aren't 30 businesses in St. James and I couldn't get the guys back in Texas to realize that. Four weeks into this, and I made more on unemployment.
I then answered an ad I never should have, but man, I was getting desperate. The day after the Super Bowl, I started at a "marketing" company in Wentzville. We are now in the depths of winter and I'm not working yet, so I got desperate. There were a number of us seated in a room and the owner of the company who "happened" to be there that day (right) came in and made his pitch about those wanting to go into management they have a fast track and you could be a manager in 6 months.
Great, I'm in. He personally told me I could be making $200,000 a year in the next couple of years. The first thing you have to do in the company to get a feel of what it's like to be "on the floor", you have to be "on the floor" also.
Wait? What does that mean?
That means I've gotten myself into a "call center" operation. Now, the thought of $200,000 a year is tempting, but I couldn't do it.
I lasted two days "on the floor".
See, a phone number generator calls all these old rural people in the south and you offer them "end of life" insurance.
Wait, I have my pitch right here..."Hello, Benita? Is this Benita? Hey there, it's Randy!!! You know, Randy!!! (said like I knew her for years) from the (insert state here) department of insurance services. How you doing today? Hey Benita.....blah blah blah. Even with the 200k waiting, I could no more bribe old poor people out of their money than dunk a basketball.
Then, I thought I really had a gig with a good company out of Denver that allowed me to spend half my time in Kansas City and half my time in St. Louis. I liked my boss (who was 29) and liked the job. I did NOT like it however when the paychecks promised were not the paychecks handed out.
Next. Let the buyer beware.
Observation three: a watched phone never rings, or this will not happen on your time.
Looking at your email every ten minutes for six weeks straight is no road you want to go down. Because the employers isn't concerned with your time, only theirs. I'd pull it up my email in the car, walking, waking up, going to bed, in the middle of the night, etc. Not only that, but getting signed up for the online recruiters who are clearinghouses for open jobs (Jobvertise, Indeed, Career Builder, etc) will send you the same email four times a day. In the morning, when I would wake up, I would have 17 unread messages in my in box.
And, while we're at it, the art of a rejection letter or email has become sorely lacking in the society. Out of my 103 resumes I sent out, I got back 42 rejection notices.
A simple "go fuck yourself" would be sufficient, but some companies don't even knowledge you exist. Clear Channel, believe it or not, actually had the quickest turnaround time...45 minutes.
Observation four; your heart will get broken. Many times and you never get used to it.
I had an interview with my last employer's competition, as they looking for a manager here in St. Louis. I had my first interview at the Sheraton in Westport with the guy who would have been my boss and we talked for about an hour and twenty minutes.
The last thing he said to me was ..."so, where's the chink in the armour? Do you have a weakness, wow!". I sent him a thank you note (always do this) and he said he would talk a again. I got an email from him about a week later, requesting me to interview with him, his boss, HR and one of my peers. In of all places, Chicago!
Perfect. How fitting! I drove to Chicago, met with all of them and felt...finally! I got this! I sent them all a thank you note and heard back from him..."you made a great impression on everyone, we will definitely talk soon!!"
That was the last I heard from him.
I sent an email to him. And another.
Two weeks later, I called the recruiter and asked what was up. She called me back to tell me they went with someone else. Gah.
Or you could apply to an opening, have a great conversation with the hiring manager and have her tell you how qualified she thinks you are. But, she has to okay it with her manager because I didn't have exactly the experience she was looking for. In my quest for being creative, each morning for the next ten mornings, I sent her a top ten reason for her to hire me. Creative, witty and damn good, I thought. At the end of the ten days, I called her and she said "I knew you weren't going to get the job last week, but I loved getting your top ten list." Gah.
I went on one interview and got to the level of hiring manager who took one look at my resume and said .."who are you running from?" Excuse me? "Well, looking at this resume, I think you're either running from or to something." My reply? "Fuck off." Interview terminated by me.
Observation five: No matter if you have done a certain type of work for 30 years, that doesn't mean anything. There were seven openings in radio for a sales manager and I applied to everyone. I got one phone call from Evansville Indiana, one phone call from Carbondale and that was it. I sent a resume to Newton Iowa for God's sake and got nothing in return, not even a phone call. I applied to an old company for their market manager and ....not even a howdy doo from Terre Haute.I applied to be on the air and was shot down twice. In one of my last acts, I sent some stuff to Cumulus Kansas City, was first talked to about a management position, then the conversation moved to a key account role, then it moved to a sales position.
God works in mysterious ways.
My first presentation date at Cumulus was scrapped because I lost the presentation. Completely. It just disappeared. The presentation was lost in the ether and a Microsoft expert couldn't even find it. So, it was moved to the next week at 3pm on Thursday. I arrived to find out the meeting was at 2:30 and the last page of my stellar presentation didn't save as I threw up on my shoes in front of the two General managers.
God did not want me selling for Cumulus Kansas City.
103 resumes, 34 interviews, and still nothing.
Except for the cover letter and resume I sent to the National Catholic Reporter six weeks ago. The cover letter stated exactly why I was a great fit for the job. Well written, to the point. I sent that off along with my resume and I then forgot about it. Two weeks ago, I received a call from the CEO, spent an hour and change on the phone with her and she invited me to KC to have dinner with her and her husband, followed by a meeting with the entire staff the next day.
It went perfect. A great fit for all concerned. So, on the day I received my 42nd and last rejection letter (email) from Cumulus Kansas City, I was offered the job as head of advertising for the National Catholic Reporter.
Observation six: never, ever give up. Keep swinging. There were days I almost couldn't get out of bed, but I kept at it. Finding a full time job is a fulltime job. It wears you down and grinds you and your family to a pulp. Toward the end, I couldn't sleep and found it hard to get motivated for anything. But, in the end, finally, not only a job, but one I've been looking for and praying about with a great company and an awesome staff that feels like family.


The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

So Long


The last time I was this upset about someone passing I didn't know was when George Carlin died.
I would not have done what I did for a living if not for Larry Lujack. He was the bar for an entire generation of would be wanna be broadcasters.
I first heard Larry when I moved to the Quad Cities in 1971.
I had been a fan of WLS for years as it was a long distance beacon for a lonely kid growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. I was 12 when I got my first radio to call my own. It was a combo AM/FM/cassette recorder that I could sit in my bedroom window and listen to world from far away places like Chicago, Little Rock, Nashville, Denver and the like.
I never really had much of a family life on the farm as my mom was usually pretty hammered by the time I got home from school (she still did the best she could), my father wasn't around, my brother was in Viet Nam, my sister was too young to understand so the radio became my escape.
In the wintertime, the low power radio stations would sign off at 4:30 or 5pm and the wham, the great clear channel AM blow torches from all over the country would bellow into my room through the airwaves and out the new fangled fancy device I would have propped up in my window. I would get home from school, do my chores and then lock myself in my room, listening to WLS, KAAY, WLAC, KOA and whatever far away signal I could get. It would be on when I went to sleep and I'd wake up to white noise as the big powerful stations would be lost in the AM haze.
My escape.
My solace was those guys on the radio. I wanted to be like them.
WLS became my favorite as they played great hit music and had jocks who could tell stories over a 13 second intro. Those stories were funny, interesting, topical and marvelous.
It was at that time I knew what I wanted to do for a living.
We moved from the farm to East Moline in May of 1971. I was then able to hear WLS all day.
The guy that made it sound so easy, so simple, so relaxed was Larry Lujack. We had a great AM station in the Quad Cities (KSTT) that featured wonderful guys that sounded great but there was something about WLS. The big time, the big city, travelling through the airwaves from 200 miles away.
It was magical.
Here was Larry, sounding so spur of the moment, like he made it up as he went along. The pregnant pauses, the shuffling of papers, the timing, the wit, the humor.
Like great musicians, it was so smooth, so effortless, so natural, so funny.
I realize when I got into the business, that he had to be unbelievably prepared to make it sound so spontaneous.
There were times I'd be driving somewhere in my car and he would have me laughing so hard, I couldn't do anything but cry. I remember still having my fancy schmancy AM/FM/cassette a few years later and trying to record his daily versions of animal stories, a collection of humorous stories he would gather about animals. He would read them with the mid day guy Little snot nosed Tommy Edwards ( a great jock in his own right). He would crack Tommy up so bad, Tommy couldn't breathe.
Neither could I.
What a talent, what a gift for knowing how to be so relatable, to be the guy you invited into your car, your house, your life every day. You were sad when it was time for him to sign off.
Larry was your obnoxious but hilarious friend that no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't stop laughing with him.
I wanted to sound like him.
It was a time that while the music was the reason you listened, you couldn't imagine not having Larry in between the songs telling stories over the intro that made you laugh, think, feel and care what he had to say.
Sadly, it isn't that way anymore.
I've said it before on this blog where I've pointed out that I've reached the age my mom warned  me about.  Not long before she died, she told me she didn't recognize the world anymore, things were moving so fast, everyone she ever cared about or listened to or idolized were dying.
"And I don't know anyone on TV anymore."
Amen, mom, I get it now.
So, Uncle Lar, from some punk kid you never had any idea you influenced, I want to say how much I loved what you did. I loved how you were a friend riding with me every day and how much you taught me about being that .."bright good morning voice that's heard but never seen."
You taught me the art of communication, the art of being natural, being relatable, being...a friendly voice coming through the speakers.
While the other guys who made the line up at WLS, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards, John Landecker, Bob Sirrott, Geoff Davis were, themselves, greater than life, it was you, Larry Lujack, that stood head and shoulders above anyone I've ever heard when it came to entertaining on the radio. I took most of your stuff and made it my own. I didn't even come within a solar system to the way you did it though.
I hope wherever you are you realize how much joy and laughter you brought into a whole generation of listeners from the entire Midwest. When everything got me down and life was a shit sandwich, there you were.
Like an actor on a stage, when that microphone went on, you were on.
It was real good radio. And you were real. And good.
You were on my radio and in my life through some of the best times and worst times and I cannot in anyway shape or form in written word tell you how your body of work shaped my life and influenced me.
I always wanted to sound like you.
I read where you died of esophageal cancer. What a tough way to go.
You didn't deserve that.


I listened to my CD of animal stories today and spent the day crying my eyes out.
I'm not sure they were tears of joy or tears of sadness.
I stand in wonder at your body of work. You did set the bar so high no one ever could reach it.
I tried, but failed miserably.
Rest in peace sir. I hope God has a great sense of humor.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Rock Me On the Water



One of the things I enjoy doing is reading in church.
I have been a bit removed from the Catholic faith in the past few years due to it's direction and the church becoming more inclusive and less appealing to those who have a different point of view about what the church doctrine is.
In my heart of hearts I believe Jesus loves everyone, regardless of who they love or who they are. It seems the new pope is more concerned with what the church is rather than what it isn't.
I guess that's the more liberal side of me talking.
I guess you can say I'm not as religious as I should be, but I am a very spiritual man and have been for most of my life. My mother was a big believer in going to church and while I wasn't a fan of it at the time, I think the things we are exposed to as a child come back to visit us in different ways as we get older. We went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights (when we didn't go to the bowling alley during my father's leagues) and on Wednesday nights, wherever the services were held.
I can remember going to church at the Oddfellows Hall in downtown Moline. I remember helping build and attending the Green Rock Baptist Church in my youth.
Now, we can get into the theological debate and whether there was (or is) a Jesus. There are some of my friends and family that don't believe in any of this, that there is no God, and that's fine.
To each their own. I don't love them any less for what they do or don't believe.
All I know is if there is a divine being and I get to meet him/her in the afterlife, I don't want to stand in front of them and deny their existence. At that time, I can envision him/her pulling the lever on the trap door to hell.
That's just me.
I volunteered to read for someone who couldn't be at the 11 am mass yesterday.
As I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, not having a job and all, I got to the church a bit late. I surrounded my self with doubt and I was feeling a wee bit sorry for myself.
The lectors, servers and all who make up the mass were meeting in the sacristy as is custom. Today, it was a bit full in the room as we were celebrating a baptism of a new baby born recently to a young couple and Father Jack was going through the service and how it worked. After the explanation, all in the room makes the sign of the cross on the baby's forehead.
How unworthy was I to do that?
I happened to notice, as the explanation was given, the father of the baby needed a walker and when he was spoken to, and could hardly speak back. I couldn't figure out whether he had some kind of muscular degenerative disease or he has suffered some kind of head trauma in battle. I know he shuffled with his walker and his speech was halting and he had to be helped to get the words out.
My heart sank.
Here was this beautiful young woman, her baby in her arms and this burly, young man who was obviously facing a burden I couldn't even imagine. How foolish of me to dwell on the fact that I had a road in front of me when it came to finding a job when this man, who was probably half my age, was struggling to walk and talk. He relied an someone (I will guess it was his brother)to make sure he was understood. He has his entire life in front of him, however long it may be, to cope with not being able to fend for himself, to hold his daughter, to embrace his wife, to communicate, to live a normal life.
It took all I had not to get emotional.

The service started and my reading was the second reading which went like this:

"Brothers and sisters:
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed
and word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us,
so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified,
as it did among you,
and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people,
for not all have faith.
But the Lord is faithful;
he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 
We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you,
you are doing and will continue to do. 
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God
and to the endurance of Christ."

As I got up to the amble, I glanced toward this family, my voice clenched and I asked God to give me the strength to do this.
My quick prayer was like this..."I don't have many talents Lord, but one of the talents you gave me was my voice, please allow it to be strong and clear..."
I nailed the reading, exhaled and sat back down.

Sitting in the pew to my left was a family I have known for many years and have attended St. Peter with me for the last 15 years or so. Their son has had some kind of learning disability, whether he has autism or something else, I have watched this young man grow from being a young boy into the spitting image of his father. The entire family was there yesterday, the boy, mom, dad and the two sisters. This family is just like any other except the boy talks with his hands and, sometimes in the past, has had trouble behaving in church as he is prone to uncontrolled outbursts. Again, I have known them for years, so his grunting and such has never bothered me. Some new members of the parish aren't quite as used to him as I am.
Yesterday, he had one of those days.
You could tell he was going to be loud and ultimately, he was. Dad immediately gathered him and his books and ushered him back into the child's room, where he could lash out and not be heard. Again, I was overwhelmed with how difficult their lives must be, having to work so hard with this young boy and the exhausting frustration they must have faced most of their lives. You can see the stress and pain in their faces and the anguished look on the two sisters face. The parents look far older than their years. I have such a sense of admiration for what they must have endured in their lives to try and give this young man as much of a normal life as possible.

Again, I stepped back and marveled at how people cope and how hard they work to lead "normal" lives that we take for granted every day. I am sure either one of those couples would have traded their troubles for mine. 

So, on a day I volunteered to read at church, not planning really to be at this service, on my right was a young couple, surrounded by people they loved, coping with a young father whose life will never be "normal" and the strength they displayed as they were getting ready to raise their family.
On my left, a family who has struggled for years to give their son the "normal" life he has deserved. And have done the best they can.
And here I was in the middle, suddenly taught the basic lessons of life and realizing that my cross is relatively very small.
No matter how hard things are or bleak they may appear, there are lessons in strength, courage and humility all around us. However bad it my seem for us, there are people in the world carrying crosses that are heavier than we can ever hope to know.

No matter how dark, there are glimpses of light, no matter how hopeless, there are images of hope, examples of love, courage and faith that keeps all of us going.
Think it was a coincidence someone gave up that place to read at that mass so I could be a witness to this?
Hardly.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP Lou Reed

So long, Lou. I am actually surprised you lasted this long.
With all the drugs and unprotected sex you've had with both sexes, making it to 71 is quite the feat.
I first saw Lou in concert in Iowa City where he shared the bill with Jethro Tull.
He and his great band opened for JT and that was the first and only time I saw someone do heroin onstage.
During the song "White Light, White Heat," he took the microphone cord, used it to tie himself off and I swear he shot himself up that night. My friend who was with me saw it too. we just looked at each other in disbelief.
He also holds the record for my shortest interview.
I talked to him backstage at the first Farm Aid in 1985. He was not in to talking with anyone at all. When it came my turn to chat with him, it was toward the end of the day and I could tell he was getting annoyed with Midwest DJs asking him the same questions over and over.
Through the drags on his cigarette I aked something to the effect of, how do you feel playing in the Midwest with country acts on the bill raising money for farmers?
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he huffed and with that, he walked away, he was done.
To me, his career featured great moments..how the hell did he get away with a reference of giving head on "Walk on the Wild Side"? Even when I was in high school, I knew what he meant.
"Rock and Roll Animal" was a live masterpiece. It was mostly because of his band which featured Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_%27n%27_Roll_Animal.
I never got the Velvet Underground. I guess I'm not east coast enough.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet_Underground

The rest of his catalog is hit or miss with "Metal Machine Music" being the biggest piece of crap I ever spent money on.

See ya Lou


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Small Circles

I just had dinner with one of my favorite cousins tonight.
We ate at Rudy's, always a hangout over on the Illinois side. He and his wife are always enjoyable, even though he's a lifelong Pirates fan.
One the way home, I cruised through the radio dial.
I think I heard Katy Perry twice and skimmed to see what my old station WXLP (97X) was playing.
As I passed the old studios at 1111 East River Drive, one of the songs we made famous came on the airwaves. As I started listening to it, the signal wasn't quite as clear as I remember it.
Maybe it was just me, or maybe it's always been that way and I never noticed but there was a bit of "washing" as I drove in downtown Davenport. I wonder if the tower is still in Orion (pronounced o-ree-on), as Orion is about 30 miles from downtown Davenport.
I must have played this song more than a few thousand times in my career but I always remember it fondly.
Almost like Boston.
Lord knows how many times I've played the first Boston album in my radio life, but there is something about it that still rings with nostalgia. Nothing sounded like it in 1976 and nothing sounds like it now.
While this song I heard was written about a love I'm sure, for some reason, even back then, I thought it was about me and the joyous journey in front of me.
I never did really take anyone along on this journey, but the line "pack your bags we'll leave tonight" always reminded me of the opening line of WKRP in Cincinnati.
"I got tired of all the packing and unpacking..."
Anyway, I felt a great sense of deja vu when it came on and I had to drive around the block a few time outside my apartment to hear the whole thing.
It's odd I live literally four blocks from the old studios. I played the song when it was new, more than 35 years ago right down the street and I find it weird it came on as I passed the studio 35 years later with me still enthralled by the first solo release from Eddie Money.
"Two Tickets to Paradise" still makes me think about those days when radio filled me with awe.
"I want to take you on a trip so far from here..."
Later, I got to interview Eddie. I told him how that song was very special to me and whether he meant it or not, he thought it was cool it meant so many things to so many people.
He told me it was his tribute to Bruce Springsteen

Played 35 years ago on River Drive in downtown Davenport, heard 35 years later on River Drive in downtown Davenport.

We move in small circles.

"I've waited so long..."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Basketball as Zen




This is the place I find myself.
This is my place of Zen and it has been for 21 years.
When I started playing basketball in March of 1992, I was out of shape with a weight of 237 pounds and a bad cholesterol number of 318. I found it by accident.
After taking some verbal abuse from a co-worker one day...."hey butter ball turkey..." I decided that enough was enough and it was time to do something about my fatness.

Living in Kirkwood, and doing the morning show on KSHE, I decided one day to just put the tennis shoes on and go shoot some baskets at the local YMCA. I got there about 11am, but hadn't really started any kind of official weight loss program, so I just shot and shot, trying to get the old form back that launched me to stardom in my youth.  :)
About 11:45, people started streaming in to the gym and I was in the middle of what the Y called noontime basketball. By noon, we had about 13 or 14 guys I never saw before.
Old, young, tall, short, fat and thin, black, white they all came in, looking for some exercise.
The leader was a guy named Bob, who was the executive director at the Y.
He let me know they played Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon and I was certainly welcome.
The first game I played, I had to call time out about three trips down the floor. "Ah, we don't call time out, you have to play with your team or sit until the next game", as the rules were now explained. Then it was four times up and down the floor...then five..six and on it went until in nine months, I had lost almost fifty pounds, lowered my cholesterol by over a hundred points and got in real good shape.
I found my Zen place.
This is where the only thing I worry about is what my next play is (or as I joked today, what play I can screw up next).

No matter what has happened in my life, where I've been, where I've moved, this place is home.
A gym.
Not just a gym, though.
The one constant in my roller coaster world. The place where nothing matters, just playing. I don't think about work, or anything but playing basketball.

Over the past twenty two years, guys have come and gone and we've even had two guys die on this floor. I've made great friendships that have lasted through the years and guys who have been kicked out for being assholes who took the game way too seriously.
If you don't play for fun here, you get asked to leave and it's happened a few times over the years.
Cardinal broadcaster Dan McLaughlin played years ago when he was a really big guy.
Kirkwood pro football star Jeremy Maclin (Eagles wide receiver) played for awhile after high school (and he schooled us).
I have had three severely sprained ankles, 23 stitches under my eye, broken ribs, pulled muscles, rotator cuff surgery (too many three pointers, I guess), dislocated fingers, etc.
But, I keep coming back.

When I was sick, on the good days, I'd come out and play until I couldn't. The guys there at that time, cheered me on when I played and understood when I couldn't go any further.
When my brother died on Saturday, I played on Monday. I had to. I got lost in the game.

There have been a couple of guys "retire" from playing in the past few years. Patrick, From Webster Groves quit playing when he was 74. Jules, an accountant stopped playing earlier this year at 80.
See, while winning is why we play, it's not all about that. We all play for exercise, camaraderie and because it's good for us.
During the summer, the kids come home from school and we welcome them.
My trash talk with them goes something like this..."man, it's gotta suck to be you. If I score on you, I'm an old man scoring on someone young enough to be my grand kid and if you score on me, you're scoring on an old man. You can't win."

I played today. When I take an office day in St. Louis, part of that day will be spent with basketball zen. My happy place. A place where I can be a kid again. Yes, my knees get sore, but it is sweet pain.
It's funny sometimes how we can get attached to inanimate objects that mean something in our lives. I know that this place, this innocuous gym in a suburb of a Midwestern town in America, anytown, really could mean so much and how it can feel like home.
I hope I die on this court and if I do, I'll be home and doing what I love more than anything.

Basketball zen. It's saved my life

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

How do you sleep?
Do you sleep well?
Consider yourself lucky.

As I grow older, I find that sleep has become a precious commodity. I have found solace in drugs, Ambien became my friend for a while but also as I grow older, I just can't handle the pharmaceuticals anymore. How many who knew me in my adolescence would keel over if they heard me say that now?
Ambien makes me groggy and anxious when I take it for any length of  time. I have tried everything. A drink before bedtime? Nope.

When I was a kid, I used to go to sleep by getting out my mind eraser and slowly erase all of my thoughts and eventually, I would drift off. I guess things are a bit more complicated now.
When I was a very young child, my mom used to give me things to think about before I went to bed.
"Think of an ice cream bridge and on the other side is your favorite flavor. Now, you have to cross the bridge before the ice cream melts and you can't step too hard or you will step through the bridge and fall off".. or some ridiculous thing like that. I must say, it worked when you were eight, but not so much now.

"Deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out..."

I find as I drift off ever so slightly, I will dream of people I haven't seen or thought about in years.

Since childhood, I've had this recurring dream of Abraham Lincoln. I have dreamt of him maybe 30 or 40 times since I was a kid. We've went fishing, driven through the Florida keys, ate dinner together and we have done a number of different things together. Consistently and with great regularity. I'm not sure what the connection might be only that my dad was born in the same town he was.
I would take a bit of Abe at this time.

All I know is that I will lay in bed all night, just dozing off enough to have real detailed, freaky and stupid dreams with people in it that just don't make sense. I had a dream the other night with someone in it that I had not thought of for 30 years. I will remember them when I wake up for a day or two, then they are filed away in the memory chip.

The routine is, I will lie there, doing everything and anything I can to sleep, changing positions, then the thinking wheel in the master cog gets started and I realize all the stuff I have to do whether it's work related or whatever.
Then, the endless movie loop starts, accompanied by the ceiling fan.
I'll doze off, start dreaming, then wake up.
Lather, rinse, repeat Then look at the clock and realize it's 4:17 am

You'd think that the following day, you'd be so tired, you'd fall right off, but alas...we repeat the drill the next night.
Any ideas or suggestions are welcome.
I would guess I've tried that.
I wonder what incredibly strange movies in my head will be showing tonight.
I'm sure Tarrentino or Fellini would be proud.

Popcorn anyone?

Talkin' About My Girls...

amelia
anjuli
 


aspen
 

 
 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Last Week Of August, 1975

I remember it well. It was a sunny, warm day.
I had just moved to St. Charles Mo. after I was laid off from International Harvester in East Moline, Illinois, my hometown at the time.
Every once in a while, there would be a hiccup along the parts supply route or rarely in those days, orders would be down. Sometimes these lay offs would be a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of months, you didn't  know how long you were going to be out, but in the meantime, a person needed to find work.
I had earlier talked to my uncle who was a shop steward at Artra Foundry in St. Charles. He told me to come down and he would put me to work. My cousins lived in St. Charles for many years and pretty much ruled the town. There were four bad ass brothers who would just as soon kick your ass as look at you. Harley riding guys who liked to live life on the edge.
As far as I could, I'd go and hang with them, but I could never party as much as they could. Like I said, in their day, they were bikers and all that came with that. Draw your own conclusions, most of them would probably be not far off base.
I temporarily moved in with my cousin and his friend in a two bedroom shack of a trailer located in the Princess Jodi trailer court not far from Boschertown, which wasn't on the right side of the tracks in a town that wasn't on the right side of the tracks.
Yes, three guys with quick tempers in two bedrooms at the end of August.It was only temporary so not a big deal as I was going to work, right?
I loaded up my truck in the Quad Cities and hauled my stuff to St. Charles because, as stated before, my uncle promised me work. Moving to St. Louis wouldn't be bad, I had always had an affinity for the big city and KSHE was one of the reasons why.
KSHE played music that was unheard of in the Quad Cities, so, at least the radio would be decent. As I threw just about everything I owned in the back of my truck and headed to St. Louis, I was informed when I arrived that the foundry had burned to the ground the very night before. Ergo, no job for me.
Not a good thing for a guy temporarily living with two other guys in a two bedroom trailer. I was very disappointed as the air had been let out of my tires. I scrambled for a job that ultimately didn't exist, my dauber was down, my mojo wasn't mojoing.
On that warm sunny day late in August 1975, while riding in my cousins El Camino (you remember those, don't you?), KSHE announced that it had a copy of one of the most anticipated releases of the year from some guy named Bruce Springsteen.
Who?
This was truly the big city and KSHE because I had never heard of him. "Born to Run" hit the airwaves with the sound of a run away freight train through the speakers of his truck. Four and a half minutes later, I looked at the radio and said to no one in particular, "what was THAT?"
This song, with it's Phil Spector wall of sound sonics, talked about chucking it all behind, grabbing your Wendy, hopping on the bike and roaring out of town with the power plant in your rear view mirror. "Wendy, I'll love you with all the madness in my soul...whoa oh!" I counted three times where this song had an orgasm so big there was NO way it was faking it. THREE different times this song led me on a roller coaster. Up, up and then YESSSSSSS! I was there. Living in my hardscrapple existence, trying to find a job and a gal who I could make it right, with, grabbing something, anything that would add to my dignity and self worth.
For the love of God, I was living in a trailer park with two other guys and not even a bedroom to call my own. This cat had nailed it, painted it, wrote it and had this tune special delivered to me in a four and a half minute package.  There are very few times you can go back in your life and say a milestone ocurred here or there but when I heard the song "Born to Run", I knew my life would never be the same. I had to have this, all of it, the whole record.
I remember heading to the record store with probably the last ten bucks to my name and getting the album. As I walked home, LP in hand, I couldn't wait to put it on some cheap turntable in the trailer. As the LP unfolded, I thought this guy didn't write songs, he wrote little movies...
"The screen door slams,  Mary's dress waves, like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays ..Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey that's me and I want you only, don't turn me home again..I just can't face myself alone again"
Jesus, he was the Scorsese of music. I could just see Mary standing in the doorway.
"Hey, Eddie, can you lend me a few bucks and tonight can you get us a ride? Gotta make it through the tunnel got a meeting with a man on the other side..."
Track after track. movie after movie, each featuring a protagoinst and an antagonist, agood guy and a bad guy. A wall of sound production and the tightest band ever. This record makes me cry, openly. Just listen to Clarence Clemon's sax solo in "Jungleland" and tell me Beethoven or Glenn Miller is better. A life changing event in music. You may not think so, but that's what makes music so subjective. It's like women, I like a certain kind, so do you. Next to Abbey Road, no other piece of music has affected me so, no other has fille me with such awe. In my lifetime, I doubt any other piece of music will, either.
"Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades, hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted explode into rock'n'roll bands that face off against each other out in the street... down in Jungleland..."
 
Rest in peace Danny and the big man, both of you bigger than life...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

In My Time of Dying



I knew exactly how I was going to pull it off. While Ann was gone to her rehearsal, I was going to duct tape the garden hose to the car exhaust, turn on the engine, get inside and go peacefully to sleep. I couldn't bear the chemo, radiation, the five pills in the morning, five pills at night and most importantly, the interferon, anymore.

It was about eleven years ago to this day that it almost happened. It had been the longest winter in my life, as I started my regimen right after 9/11 and swore to God it would never end. The funny thing about it was, it was almost over. My Independence Day was also to be Cinco De Mayo of that year.
I was diagnosed in late July and given the harshest news of my life shorty thereafter.

"If your condition doesn't kill you, the treatment just might, I advise you to go on anti-depressants before you start the treatment because what you are about to go through will test you beyond your wildest dreams." Well, I did tell my doctor to shoot it to me straight. And he did.

Starting in October, I jumped into my treatment without the anti-depressants because I was bigger than this, I was ready and I was sure of the manliness of my manhood. What a mistake that was. The treatments consisted of weekly chemo, radiation, the ten pills a day and the injections of interferon that took place every Friday night, so I could shake it off before Monday morning. By the way, I still cannot grow hair on the inside of my thigh where I injected myself. Talk about poison. I had just been fired from my job at the smooth jazz station in St. Louis two weeks before I started my treatments.  By the grace of God, a very good friend of mine put me to work at his mortgage company. He would close some deals for me and allow me to make just enough money to pay for my insurance there. Without him, I would have had to file bankruptcy and have something else to get depressed about.

After the first week of treatments, I knew I was in trouble. The first Friday night after injecting myself and mixing the interferon with the other cocktail of drugs it made me throw up with a violence I had never experienced before. My stomach was turning inside out and depositing anything in it into the toilet, again and again all night long. The rash started in the first week and ended up extending from the top of my toes to just above my nipples. It didn't leave till it was over. The hallucinations came not long after, my hair started falling out in clumps and my appetite disappeared. I lost all my hair. My head, arms, eyebrows, legs. I looked awful. There was a picture taken of me at that time. It was burned long ago.

I had six more months to go.

I could only stomach peanut butter for some reason. I ate peanut butter on toast, with my fingers, in broth, anything I could do to keep the protein in me. My weight dropped to 148 pounds before it was over and my mind was the worst part of it. I couldn't shake the deep, dark hallucinations that played with my head. We lived next door to a nice couple named Pete and Amy. They had no kids and were great neighbors. I remember going over there, banging on their front door and wanting to fight Pete because I knew he was having an affair with Ann. I recall going to the store for two steaks and coming back with two pounds of meat. I drove downtown to buy Bonnie Raitt tickets and did not remember what I went down there for.

It was the endless loop of a bad movie that replayed itself every night to the whine of the ceiling fan. Sweating and cold at the same time, I couldn't sleep at night and couldn't keep my eyes open during the day. The physical sickness betrayed the fact that when I started this regime, I was in the best shape of my life. There were days I felt good enough to go to the gym, but when I would start to play basketball, my body wouldn't take the running, I would get disappointed and cry in the locker room. When it came to my emotions, I couldn't keep them in line. George Harrison died during my treatment, I cried for three days. I just knew that Al Queda was getting ready to  bomb all the cities with Saint in the title. I was certain they were going to fly a plane into the Poplar Street bridge which would have messed up the whole shipping scene in the country. I couldn't stop. It wouldn't stop.

Fall morphed into winter and I kept remembering what my dad said concerning times like these..." keep walking into the swamp, even though your boots get filled with more mud and it makes the walk tougher...know that one day will come when you are no longer walking into the swamp, but walking OUT of it." I tried, dad, I did. I watched the movie "Saving Silverman" at least ten times, because there were days I was so weak, I couldn't get out of bed to change the channel. When I would 'shoot up" my drugs on Friday night, I'd wake up on Saturday morning, walk outside and visualize the haze I saw and felt. I still cannot stand the smell of Pantene shampoo. The smell of certain other things make me gag.

This cocktail of drugs messed with my body and as badly as my body would handle it, my mind was worse. I danced with, played cards with and dined with the devil. As winter wore on, I would now start to plan my own death. I couldn't take it anymore. I was paralyzed with fear and had the "deathbed conversation with God." "Please God, help me get through this. I'll never doubt your existence again. I'll tell everyone, I swear." I didn't hear much from Him. Every once in a while, The sun would come out, I would feel better for a day or two and then, wham, I couldn't find the strength to move. I shit and pissed the bed.

When winter moved into spring, I knew I was closer to the end of the ordeal than the beginning. It didn't matter. I knew how I was going to do it. It would be painless, not messy and quick. It was the weekend of the final four, 2002. I was out in the yard, trying to do some menial yard work when Ann came out to see how I was. "Fine," I said. "You sure? I'm going to rehearsal and I don't like what I've been hearing from you." "You have kids that depend on you", I said.

She drove away on that sunny Sunday afternoon (Sunday afternoon has always been the toughest time of my week for some reason, and to this day, it still is, not sure why), and my plan was enacted. I got the duct tape and the garden hose and taped the hose to the exhaust, making sure not to let the air seep out. I closed the garage door, got in my car and...what a chicken shit. I didn't have the guts to do it. I sat there and started thinking about what a selfish and stupid thing it would be to check out now. How would the kids take it? Ann? Would they understand...could they? Then I realized two things...I didn't have any life insurance and I had to get the hell out of there and fast.

I had to go someplace that had people. Lots of them. It was too early for church so I drove to the grocery store. A shopping cart saved my life. I grabbed a cart, pushed it up one aisle and down the next, all through the store. I reached over, put food in my cart, then would put the food back. I just had to be someplace where I wasn't alone. I think I stayed in the store for a couple of hours. Some of the employees were probably wondering what was up. All I know is the store, the ambiance, the people milling about and the cart saved my life that day.

What is the moral of the story? This. The very next day after this scenario did NOT play out, I got a call from a good friend of mine telling me about an opening at a local St. Louis radio station. I needed an aircheck of me doing oldies. I didn't have one so I called my good friend in Warrensberg Missouri who helmed the college radio station there and he opened his studio up for me so I could "fake" the aircheck. The drive was brutal, but I did it. I set up an appointment with the PD for Wednesday and I went in to talk to her. There were no full time openings but there was a part time gig I could apply for. She seemed unimpressed but on the way home, she must have listened to my aircheck as there was a message on my home phone to call her when I got home. I started doing the midday show at KLOU that week. THAT week.

That opening allowed me to do afternoons when another PD came in and then go to KCFX in Kansas City that November to do mornings at the flag ship station of the Chiefs. Without that devine intervention (or whatever it was), I would not have had a chance to get back on my feet and continue my life, see my kids grow up, or do any of the things I enjoy from that moment forward. Whenever I talk with someone about ending their life, I try to remind them that had I not held on to one last strand that didn't break, I would have never experienced all of this. What a hole I would have left in my family's life, what a coward I would have been.

The thing about life is there is something just around the corner, just over the hill, just out of reach. Something good.You never know what that could be and if you give up now, you'll never know.

After all this time, with all my trials and tribulations, life is good.
Sometimes we have to stare death in the face to realize it.


As it says on the top of the blog, true wisdom only comes from pain.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mighty Love

RIP Bobby Smith.

http://www.freep.com/article/20130318/ENT04/130318090/Bobbie-Smith-of-the-Spinners-dies

This high school boy heard Bobby more than just about any other singer in that era.

I loved The Spinners and their cool, collected soul.



"I'll Be Around" may be one of the most under rated love songs ever with "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" and "Then Came You" not far behind.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spinners_(American_R%26B_group)

They really don't make music like this anymore.

Love songs you could dance to.

I'll give it a 100, Dick.

Back When We Were Beautiful

Since we last met, I've changed jobs and become a part of the corporate grind. Stressed beyond belief at the beginning, it's taken me almost nine months to accept and get used to the grind. One of the things my doctor said I can do for stress is write.

While I was gone, blogger moved my cheese so now I'll have to get used to this again. Let's see if I can post a picture...

 

Well, all right. Back in the saddle. So, it shall be written, that I will start to write again.
I spend a shit ton of time on the road now.
I will invest in drag and dictation which will hopefully transcribe my words onto a platform which will allow me to email it to myself, copy and paste and there we are.
It's good for me.
For You? You decide.

BTW, the picture is the last one I scanned over the weekend.
That is me, age 18, buffed and pissed at the world. Some how, this picture, taken at random by a guy trying to sell me a camera at Kmart or someplace, has made it through almost 40 years in my possession.

In the cruel justice that is life, I still can't find the pictures of me at Abbey Road studios with Alan Parsons. There is a picture of me somewhere sitting at the piano where Paul composed Let It Be.
It's somewhere. But, this seemingly random shot of me and my first wife Brenda (she looks happy to be there, huh?) survives to this day.
Look at that guy. Where did he go? That was the body of a guy who worked in the shop all day. Big arms, chest and shoulders from grinding, lifting and performing manual labor for 48 hours a week.
That's what my dad did. I wasn't long after that, I decided I didn't want to end up like my dad.
I have always wondered what happened to Brenda. We got married way too young under THE worst circumstances. I was 18, she was 17.
We were done three years later.

prom 74 in my GTO nice hair cut for prom, dude

I got zen lost while running about 7 years ago and ended up in her old neighborhood. Of course, I ran up and down her street about three times before going to the door of the house where she used to live. Leo (her dad)opened the door. He was always smaller than she was and ALWAYS smoked a cigar. Her house always stunk.. He looked at me for a long while and then said "Holy Mother of God where have YOU been?" and greeted me with a big hug. Pat (her mom) was on the phone obviously with one of Brenda's daughters. "I have to let you go", she said. "No, it's your mom's ex husband..no, not your dad, it's Randy." She gave me a hug and we filled in the blanks for a bit. I always loved her parents.
Apparently, Brenda's health was never good. She gained a great deal of weight and it was killing her. Her eyesight was bad, she had diabetes and a number of maladies. I had just ran 5 miles after all... and we all stopped to wonder...what if? I always admired Pat and Leo. Leo worked for the railroad and would be gone most of the week. He then had a part time job on the weekends and loved to work. He always told me..."work keeps you young". The thing I remember about Pat was her cat naps. She would set the stove timer to go off in 45 minutes and she would hit the couch, snoring soon after laying down.
The timer would go off, she'd get up, grab a smoke and be off...
Brenda sat in front of me in high school Latin. Don't ask why I took Latin, I just heard at was easy.
Crap. It wasn't
She was a 4'9" and sat down every day in front of me until I found out she was struggling in the class.

I asked her if I helped on a test, could I get a date? She was so cute.
I did, she did and we were off to experience a number of firsts together...sex...pot...lsd...you name it, we tried it.
We got married in June of 74. I'm guessing the top picture is from not long after. Looks like summertime.
We worked too hard at it. I was small town restless and bored. I wanted something else out of life and gambled the certainty of making a living in the manufacturing world against the "pipe dream" (as my father called) it of a radio career.
Brenda didn't want to go the radio route. She was certain the thing was going to fall in like a house of cards. She was concerned I'd have to move and just didn't want to take the gamble with me. She did not want to follow the road less travelled. She then did the one thing any woman could do to drive a stake of betrayal into the heart of a man. It was over.
I remember trying to contact her after I got the news I was KC bound. I ended up telling her parents.
I have yet to see her since we spilt.

This all happened back when we were beautiful...which leads me to the video I have posted.



I saw Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell last night at he Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.
There are certain songs  that when heard, spawn incredible emotion.

Emmylou and Rodney performed "Back When We Were Beautiful" last night and it just hit me. It took my breath away and left me bawling like a baby. (I love music).What a perfect song at this point in my life. And it got me thinking of Brenda.

Prom night 73
"I guess you had to be there, she said, you had to be
She handed me a yellowed photograph
And then said, See
This was my greatest love, my one and only love
And this is me
Back when we were beautiful, see

I don't feel very different, she said, I know it's strange
I guess I've gotten used to these little aches and pains
But I still love to dance, you know we used to dance
The night away
Back when we were beautiful, beautiful, yes

I hate it when they say
I'm aging gracefully
I fight it every day
I guess they never see
I don't like this at all
What's happening to me
To me

But I really love my grandkids, she said, they're sweet to hold
They would have loved their grandpa
Those awful jokes he told
You know sometimes for a laugh, the two of us would act
Like we were old
Back when we were beautiful, beautiful, yes

But I guess you had to be there..."

Godspeed Brenda, wherever you are.
"...through the too many miles and the too little smiles... I still remember you...."







Blog Archive