Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Coolest Dog In The World: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part Four: In Which We Meet Rocket)

I'm a dog person. Have been all my life. My first dog that was MINE, I got when I was about 10 years old, from my uncle. He had puppies all over the place, and I found one I had to have. He said, "If you can catch him, he's yours." That's all it took. Finally, I cornered the scared little guy underneath my uncle's heating oil drum. I don't know which one of us had more oil on us, me or the dog, but I got him. And I held him all the way home.

I named him Waldorf, after a dog in a book that was a favorite of mine at the time. He was a great dog. A year or so later, standing in line at the movies, we noticed a Cairn Terrier wandering around the theater line (a Cairn Terrier looks like Toto). I chased that guy down too. Pat (as he came to be known) had had a bad life. He had a rope collar that he had outgrown, and his skin and fur was starting to grow around the collar.

My mother put an ad in the paper, as was the custom at the time, and prayed that whatever sick son of a whore put the dog in that position didn't claim him (which he didn't). I don't know how much the vet charged to remove the old collar from Pat's neck, but he was very resistant to collars from then on. I don't think he ever wore one.

Pat and Waldorf became good friends, there was no argument about pecking order between them. They would cruise the neighborhood together, and come home when they were hungry or tired. Later, we found out that they had about 6 other places where they were taken in by families who had made names for each of them, they just made the rounds, getting fed at least 4 times a day, and treated like royalty. But they always came home.

But as I and my siblings aged, so did Pat and Waldorf. And I don't know if it was just the slowing down that accompanies age, or if he got caught up in too much traffic, but one day Waldorf got run over on the highway. After a day or so of looking for him, I drove out to the pound, where I claimed his body and took him home for a burial. Pat stood by the grave, as if he were mourning.

Pat wasn't the same after that. The spark he had, the twinkle in his eye, the bounce in his step, they were all missing. And about 2 weeks after I buried Waldorf, Pat was run over on the same highway, almost in the same spot. Now you can tell me that dogs don't have emotions, or can't plan things, but you won't convince me that that dog didn't commit suicide. He had lost his best friend. He had lived a good life, but now saw no future. So he did what he thought Waldorf would have done in the same position.

I buried Pat right next to his friend.

Now, if you think I'm just telling you this because I wanted to tell you about the love that dogs can feel for each other, you're half right. But there is something else I wanted to share.

See, I thought my two dogs were the coolest dogs ever. And they certainly knew the value of a friendship.

But while I was in Boston, I met a dog who strangely reminded me of Pat. His name is Rocket, and his people are Bart and Michelle Welden. When I say this dog is cool, it's giving "cool" a good name.

Michelle drives a convertible. And when Rocket goes for a ride, he wears special doggie goggles, so bugs don't get in his eyes. And his long, floppy ears glide out like wings. Apparently, it's a sight that garners a lot of attention from fellow motorists, who break out the camera phones every time he sticks his head above the windshield.

And after hearing the stories, I had to agree that Rocket is indeed, the coolest dog in the world. At least now. My two would have given him a run for the money, but Rocket has no equal right now. You can have your Portuguese Water Dogs. Give me an old hound like Rocket, and I'll be alright.

This one's for you, Michelle and Bart. And for you, Rocket. You're a beautiful family, and I am richer for having known you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The rest of the infamous Barney Frank town hall meeting

You've heard of or seen by now the clip from a Town Hall meeting in Rep. Barney Frank's Massachusetts district about health care reform. And no doubt, you've seen him cut that idiot lady teabagger (isn't that a physical impossibility: lady teabagger? Lady teabaggee, I can see, but...) off at the knees. But here is more of that same meeting where he handles ignorant constituents of both genders with equal aplomb. I have a man-crush on Barney Frank.

I Have Been Off Sick

I just noticed that the last time I posted was a week ago Friday. I apologize. This is suicide in the blog world, I know. But this being a one-man operation, I have nobody to step in when I am unable to fulfill my duties.

I have been sick-I MEAN SICK- for the past week. Right now, I feel like my head is about to explode. So I'm gonna cut this post short.

I do have one question though: If anyone knows where to get some good narcotics, please contact me through my email address, or post a comment below.



Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm In Rapture: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part Three:Pat Benatar! Blondie! The Donnas?!)

I'm sort of running this story in rewind: I began with the Trip Home; jumped back to Saturday afternoon at Salem, then Sunday afternoon alone with Emily Dickinson (BTW, I left the book for Dawn -- Miss Emily deserves to stay In Massachusetts, she would be so lost in the Midwest.) Now I'm fast-forwarding to Saturday night (August 8) and the first of two concerts we were to attend.

Originally, we thought it was going to be one show, Blondie and The Pretenders. However, Dawn, pressed as she was for time, what with working a high-stress job and raising two lovely teenage girls, mistook the billing. Saturday, 8/08, was Pat Benatar, Blondie, and The Donnas, a fairly good act but not worth rushing to the venue to be there in time to see their set. The Pretenders were scheduled to appear on Wednesday, 8/12, with Cat Power opening, definitely an occasion to skip the warm-up act. (I remember once, I went to see Van Halen (with Dave, the 1984 Tour) at Hara Arena, Dayton, Ohio. "Autograph" opened for them. In case you've forgotten, and if you have, please tell me how, Autograph had ONE song on the charts: "Turn Up The Radio". Besides that, they could have been a local garage band. They SUCKED is what I'm sayin'.)

Anyway, sweetheart that Dawn is, she bought tickets for both shows. "I promised you Blondie and The Pretenders, and I'm giving you Blondie and The Pretenders" is not exactly what she said, but it sounds good.

Now, as fate would have it, we could not see The Pretenders' show, as I have explained before. But we made the best of the Blondie/Benatar show.

Twenty-five years does a lot to change people (I hadn't seen either Daw nor Bart since college), but Dawn can always be counted on to Bring the Fun. She even lectured me on the way to the show: "Dale, you need to be more of a participant in your life. Stop standing on the sidelines." Evidently, she had forgotten my modus operandi at school. I didn't bring the fun, I let the fun come to me.

"I'm more of an observer," I told her, adding "I like to watch," one of my favorite movie quotes. (Easter Egg: Here's your trivia challenge. Name the movie which I quoted, the actor who said the line, that actor's character's name, AND the actress to whom he spoke the line. First answer with correct answers for all parts of the question gets a mix cd.)

So, after about 4 Heinekens for me, 4 Bud Lights for her (and some herbal therapy), we met up with Bart and his beautiful wife Michelle.

But I digress (wow, you NEVER digress, Dale). We walk over to the Bank Of America Pavilion, which looks to me like an open-air Sydney Opera House set up at Timberwolf in King's Island. A beautifully engineered shell covered the seats, which were placed on a slope, so that each row of seats was slightly higher than the one before it. It was a beautiful venue for a concert.

The ladies excused themselves to use the pissoir, while Bart and I wandered over to the beer tent. I don't want to complain about the prices, bu I couldn't afford to live in Boston. Twenty bucks got me a Sam Adams Summer Ale and a Miller Lite for Dawn, both from the tap. I told the barkeep to keep the change, cause what was I gonna do with a buck, but I know it didn't impress my server. (Two things I learned in Boston: they don't get discounts on Samuel Adams, and they don't have to sign loyalty oaths to the Patriots, which made Bart happy since he's been a Steeler fan since before Terry Bradshaw played.)

I want to stop here and say something to those of you (Alison and Matthew) who object to my Hawaiian shirts. First of all, they're slimming. But that's beside the point. For the concert I was wearing one of my loudest Hawaiian shirts, and therefore became a beacon to the others in my group. They didn't have to wander around for fifteen minutes looking for Bart and me because my shirt was so highly visible. So Na-Na-Na-Na-Nah-Na.

As I said before, Dawn brings the Fun. And she attracts others who also bring the Fun. That's how we got to meet Joseph Pimentel. Keep in mind that I'm a lousy judge of character, and my first impressions are usually dead wrong. Such was the case with Joe Pimentel and his sidekick David Dutra. I thought at first they were a couple of goombahs, a couple of mooks. And once again, I was wrong.

Joe and Dave were consummate gentlemen. They danced with Dawn, and did nothing untowards (I think Dave got an ass-grab in at some point, but Dawn didn't seem to notice, or if she noticed, she didn't mind.) But there was the Fun, right with Dawn, Joe, and Dave.

Me, in my role as observer, kept my distance in case something went awry. I may not be tough, and I probably would have gotten my ass kicked, but I was there to help keep my friend's dignity intact.

In fact, after she wore herself out dancing, she came back to our seats, followed by some weird fuck who thought he could get a dance too, or maybe more. I moved between him and Dawn, and he got the message.

By this time Pat Benatar was on stage, the last act of the night. About 25 minutes into Benatar's set, Dawn, more than a little buzzed, asked if we could go. Sure, we'll go. She apologized, but I told her, I came to see you and Bart, Pat Benatar was just gravy. We said our goodbyes to Bart and Michelle, and started walking to the lot where she had parked.

Let's jump in the wayback machine now, because I've given no indication about how the music was.

Blondie was perfect. Although I didn't hear "Rip Her To Shreds", the band played an excellent set. And for the encore (and I cannot remember the song they did, but it was one of Blondie's best), the band segued into "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". That was it for me. We had left our seats and were standing in the walkway. I had consumed just enough Sam Adams to loosen up and "be a participant". I tried to stop them, but my feet started moving. I mean, it's Michael for Chrissake! How can you not dance? I pulled every MJ move I knew. Michelle asked me if I could moonwalk, but fortunately I was unable to oblige, having never learned that step.

And guess what-Matt and Ali? My friends liked it. So HA!

Two days later, when Bart picked me up at Dawn's to spend the night at his house, I felt the need to apologize. "If I'd known I was gonna see you again, I'd have behaved myself better the other night," I told Michelle. (More on Bart and Michelle in a later post.)

So Blondie rocked the house. And for the record, I'd still do that cute little chick. She is STILL smokin'.

Pat Benatar followed soon after. It was actually a surprise because I expected a longer intermission. Pat Benatar is still lookin' hot, too. There's just one thing that bothered me. I do enjoy a concert where the front man/woman likes to tell a story to introduce the next song. But there were several factors inhibiting Pat's introductions. 1) Her band was the last act. The crowd had gotten used to a presentation with no segues. Finish one song, start another. 2) Pat's speaking voice is very mousy, not the striking, defiant voice of, say, "Love is a Battlefield". So even if you wanted to ther the intros, you couldn't, and everyone around you was talking-no respect. And 3) It's Boston. She's doing her intro while a bricklayer in a Tedy Bruschi jersey yells "Who gives a fuck? Play the Goddamn song!"

So the band: terrific. Right on time. The songs: just as we remembered them. The intros: save it for VH1's Storytellers. Only once, when Neil Giraldo, Benatar's lead guitarist and, as I just discovered, her husband, and de facto leader of the band, introduced a tune did people listen. They had no choice. Giraldo's voice boomed out of the speakers. And he has that old, grizzled, tattooed, been-a-rocker-all-my-life so don't fuck with me vibe that you just knew if anyone yelled "who gives a fuck" while he was speaking, he'd jump off the stage, go out into the audience and commence to kickin' some ass!

They rocked.

Alright, fast-forward to Dawn and me leaving the show. It's obvious that she's not gonna drive. I've got my wits about me, but it's a city I have zero experience with. Dawn can direct me, but what if she passes out? I'm screwed.

Fortunately, she stayed awake for the entire 45 minute drive (give or take: I was too nervous to look at anything but the road. Apparently there's an art to driving in Boston. It's a little like bumper cars, a lot like "get out of the way, asshole". I was the asshole. At one point Dawn turned to me and said "You're not a very good driver." Well, let's consider. I don't know where I'm going. You're too drunk to drive. I'm keeping it together but if I get stopped, I'm gonna test over .10 BAC. Can you put MORE pressure on me? In her defense, when I told her about it the next morning, she was profusely apologetic. Just chalk it up to the beer.

All in all, I had a great time at the show. And Joseph Pimentel? Both Dawn and I friended him on Facebook. You should too-just tell him I sent ya. This guy's picture gallery includes so many concerts and ballgames you wonder when he gets the time, let alone the money, to do all this stuff. This guy is not standing on the sidelines-he's in the game.

God bless you, Joe.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Come Join My Start Up Page

I'm trying to get more attention for this blog. To facilitate this goal, I have posted a profile of myself on to gain a bigger readership. Feel free to visit this website, and perhaps join me in it. Yours,


Visit StartUp

Said I'm goin' down to Yasgur's Farm, gonna join in a rock & roll band...

Here ya go, kids, yet another clip from Woodstock: 9 minutes, 28 seconds of footage, beginning with the farm as it was before the concert, and ending with the "half a million strong" audience Joni Mitchell would later write about.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we've got to get ourselves back to the Garden. Amen.

We're Rockin' Out This Weekend!!

Once again, another band which performed at Woodstock: Ten Years After. Alvin Lee was an absolute genius.

Please note: All the clips featured here (Hendrix, The Who, Ten Years After) are courtesy of Crooks & Liars, one of my favorite blogs.

So now: "I'd Love to Change the World" by Ten Years After

I am so OLD!

My birthday is coming up. Not that I'll be doing a lot of celebrating--at my age, birthdays are not so much celebrated as mourned. I'll be 47 years old on August 25, and I have decided that instead of asking for gifts, I'm asking for donations to charity for me. The charity I've chosen is The Hunger Site. If you'd like to donate, you can visit my Facebook link to The Hunger Site here.

Even if you don't want to donate, please visit The Hunger Site. A simple click of the mouse gets the sponsors of the site to donate food to hungry people around the world. Also, the site cooperates with other charities. There are, on the web page, separate tabs to raise money for Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest protection, and Animal Rescue charities. Click on the link above, visit the Site, please bookmark it, and don't forget to go back daily and make the clicks to help people less fortunate than us.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Who at Woodstock

The second most awesome thing to happen at Woodstock, after Hendrix' National Anthem, was Pete Townshend wrecking his guitar and throwing it into the crowd. So here ya go:

"Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands off My Medicare!"

Arthur Laffer, he of the "Laffer Curve", the architect of Supply Side (or "Trickle-Down") Economics, Reagan's favorite economist, and famously mentioned by Ben Stein's character in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (is there anything in life Ferris Bueller doesn't make more relevant?), had this to say about health care reform recently:

"If you like the post office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they're run well, just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government."

Right, Art. Here in Indiana, the wait at the BMV for anything is less than the wait for a Big Mac and fries at McDonald's. And as for the United States Postal Service, where else are you going to find a company that will, for less than 50 cents, pick up and deliver a letter to anyplace in the United States? Not FedEx, not UPS. Nobody. Sure, e-mail is free, and if you use the library or Starbucks, or anyplace that has wi-fi free, you don't even have to pay an ISP. But a letter is sometimes preferable to an e-mail, is it not? You wouldn't write a "Dear John" e-mail. My mother can't send the endless newspaper clippings she sends me through gmail.

So, Art Laffer wants to compare the possible government managed health care plan to the two most efficient services of government extant. And the two bureaucracies with which each of us has intimate knowledge. Great comparison. I'm sold on government-run health care just from Arthur Laffer's denunciation. And I'm not even considering that it was Laffer who helped create the worst economic policy since the Hoover Administration.

It's time for the Republicans to get a new metaphor. The United States Postal Service and the various states' Bureaus of Motor Vehicles are entirely too efficient for the rhetorical effect the Right wants. I hate to help them out, but my recent experience gave me a great idea.

The Republicans need to start using Amtrak for a metaphor. If they want to compare government managed health care to the most inefficient of the federal government's programs, Amtrak is their golden opportunity. You already know of my experiences with rail travel. Amtrak is the perfect metaphor for the Right.

But they can use whatever metaphor they want; they still cannot convince the majority of Americans that government run health care is a bad idea. That's because we already have it in the guise of Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, the older people attending town hall meetings on the topic lately are using this as a talking point: "I don't want the government to take over health care because I don't want them screwing up my Medicare." While this may not be a direct quote, people are actually expressing this concern at town hall meetings. It's insane.

So Medicare obviously works, because the people who benefit from it don't want the government mucking it up. Therefore, the government can operate an efficient, well-run health care plan. And let's not forget who insures all our elected representatives, our congressmen, our senators, even our president: that's right, the United States Government.

So what's the problem?

[Note: The title for this post was suggested by, and in fact directly lifted from, an article in The Huffington Post by Bob Cesca. I'm hoping that the fair use doctrine extends to this.]
This weekend is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. 40th!!! Are we really getting that old? Anyway, here's my favorite rendition of the National Anthem of all time, performed by Jimi Hendrix on the Sunday morning of the Arts & Music Fair on Max Yasgur's farm to an audience "half a million strong" (Joni Mitchell).

There will never be anything like it. Ever.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Trivia Correction

In the post from July 22 of this year, I released the answers to the Ultimate Music Trivia Challenge (well, let's say the Penultimate Music Trivia Challenge, since in all likelihood I'll be issuing another soon). In that post, I answered the question "Which is the greater distance: the Highway to Hell or the Stairway to Heaven?".

I'd like to correct that answer. It didn't occur to me until recently, but the Stairway to Heaven must necessarily be longer than the Highway to Hell, since Steve Miller tells us clearly that "You know you've gotta go through Hell before you get to Heaven". So logically, Heaven is a longer journey.

I apologize if I caused any confusion by this; and I thank you for allowing me to set the record straight.

Deconstructing the Boston Debacle Part 2: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Last Saturday, Dawn, my hostess in Boston, took me over to our friend Bart's house. (I knew both Dawn and Bart in college, and surprisingly enough, remember them.) Bart lives in Beverly, MA, in a part of town known as Beverly Hills. After an impromptu concert of Weezer covers, I turn my attention to Bart and Dawn again, who appear rather perturbed by my lack of maturity.

Beverly, it turns out, is right next to Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, two young girls in the Salem colony began acting in a bizarre manner, causing some in Salem to believe that they had been victims of witchcraft. The actions of the children mirror an event that had transpired four years earlier by the children of Salem's Goodwin family. On that occasion, the Goodwins' servant had been accused of witchcraft and hanged. In short order, more children begin exhibiting signs of possession or affliction, and several people in Salem, most notably a black servant named Tituba, are identified as witches. Before the episode is over, 19 people will be hanged and one crushed to death under stones.

Ironically, many scientists in the 20th century will identify ergot as the culprit in the Salem "possessions". Ergot is a mold that grows on the rye grain. Rye bread baked with grain that has been exposed to ergot will carry the mold as well. The physiological effects of ergot on humans include hallucinations, seizures, and what is best described as "irrational behavior". Ergot also happens to be the substance Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann used when, in 1938, he first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Ironic just doesn't seem to accurately describe this confluence of coincidence for me.

Let's just stop here and let all this sink in: I went to college at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. While there, I met and became friends with Dawn and Bart. While there, I also learned to enjoy the physiological effects of LSD, a hallucinogen discovered by Albert Hofmann, who used ergot, a rye grain mold. Now, I'm visiting my friends Dawn and Bart in Boston, where they have lived for over two decades, and we're walking around a small colonial village made famous by people who, over 300 years ago, ingested ergot, causing a witch scare which ended in the deaths of 20 innocent people. This is more fun than Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

With Bart as our guide, we tour Salem. The Village of Salem, it turns out, is not altogether shy about its history. In fact, the whole witchcraft thing has been merchandised and commercialized here, with gift shops and trinkets and tour guides in costume and some very very bizarre people. The place is a magnet for weird. I feel right at home here. It is also Goth Paradise. I see more emo freaks in one place here than I have ever seen. Guys with snakes around their necks, guys made up like demons, girls dressed like witches; then there are the new age stores, the dozens of fortune tellers, tarot readers, crystal ball gazers, etc. I'm really regretting my decision not to pack a little ergot inspiration at this point.

After a light lunch and iced teas at an amusingly-named "In a Pig's Eye Restaurant", we conclude our tour of Colonial Salem and take Bart back to his house. We are to meet Bart and his lovely wife later Saturday evening at the Blondie/Pat Benatar concert (I'll be addressing this event at a later date).

On Sunday, I will begin (and finish) a book of poetry I brought along for the trip, a volume of Emily Dickinson, she of the "Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me". Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. According to biographies, she may have been in love as a young lady, with a lawyer in her father's firm, Benjamin Franklin Newton. Newton died a couple years after Dickinson met him, having succumbed to tuberculosis. It is possible that Emily loved other men as well, but never consummated her relationships. Soon after the death of Newton, she and her sister devoted themselves to caring for their ailing mother. Dickinson would rarely leave her house (called The Homestead) afterward, eventually becoming a recluse, communicating only by mail.

Pardon the digression. Dickinson obviously had a profound effect on me. Though a prolific poet who wrote about many parts of life such as love, nature, etc., Dickinson's poems on death are perhaps the most affecting.

So, after visiting Salem, with witchcraft and devilry on my mind, and reading an entire volume of Emily Dickinson's poems, I was sinking into a profound metaphysical funk. I became scared of the dark. I slept very little, while disturbing scenes from The Sixth Sense kept leaping out at me from my Lizard Brain. I began wishing I had brought something by Shel Silverstein to read, or even Hunter Thompson.

If only I'd taken Bart up on his offer to go to his sailboat, hang out and drink beer, it might have turned out differently. Or even visited South Boston to tour the sites in Boondock Saints. Maybe everything would have been different. Hmmmm................... In a Pig's Eye!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Home At Last: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part One: My Escape)

If you're thinking travel by rail is the one part of the Great American Experience you're missing out on, allow me to disabuse you of that notion, quaint though it seems. It sounds romantic, I'll give you that, but the realities of train travel are as far from romantic as you can get.

Circumstances beyond my control have forced me to beat a hasty retreat from Boston. (By the way, if anyone asks, I was with you.) On Sunday evening, I call the Amtrak booking center, at 1-800-USA-RAIL (mention my name......I dare ya) and the guy tells me that no, he doesn't have a seat available on Monday's train to Chicago, but he can lock one in for Tuesday. Tuesday morning, when I arrive at South Station in Boston, I discover at the Amtrak ticket window that "locked in" means standby, in case they get a cancellation. So I wait for 15 minutes at the window while the ticket agent, a young, gorgeous woman whose parents apparently came here after escaping Viet Nam, continuously refreshes her computer screen, until she can get me a seat.

New ticket in hand, I walk back to my table in the lobby to discover two women sitting down to breakfast and two security guys standing by my duffles. They introduce themselves and explain that I can't leave my bags unattended, for Homeland Security reasons. Apparently they're very sensitive about this kind of thing in Post-9/11 Boston. This is something I know, but stupidly did not consider. (In my defense, there is no security other than personnel at Amtrak stations. None. Zero. Nada. Bupkus. I could have been wearing a Jockstrap Bomb, for all they knew, and as long as I didn't leave it unattended, I could have boarded the train. Talk about a Crotch Rocket.) Anyway, I expected them to take me to a small room and beat me profusely about the head and shoulders, but they just give me a stern talking to, like Dad used to (tell me again how being a white man in America doesn't have its advantages), then let me go on with my day. I resist the impulse to ask if I can borrow the car tonight, which probably would have landed me in the aforementioned small room.

Finally, I get to board the train which will take me home. My first indication that Things Are Not As They Seem comes when I notice the first line in the Safety Instructions pamphlet: "Never exit a moving train." Good advice, but it makes me think that perhaps I'm not dealing with The Best and The Brightest passenger-wise and perhaps crew-wise. My fears about the crew are to be assuaged later, when I note that our conductor is John Goodman and the guy in the galley is Vladimir Putin. I feel kind of sorry for Goodman, thinking times must have gotten rough since "O Brother, Where Art Thou". We need to start a writing campaign to get the Coen Brothers to do something new, at least to help poor John Goodman get out of working for Amtrak. (He does seem appreciative when I tell him I admired his work in "The Big Lebowski".) Hand to God, the cat looked like John Goodman. And the galley guy did look like Putin. I'm regretting not getting pictures.

I board the train early enough to gain a window seat, but as the train is very heavily booked, I get a neighbor, a young man on his way home to Cleveland (Avon Lake?) after leaving the Coast Guard Academy. He tells me later that he chose his seat because he knew he'd have to sit beside someone, so he looked for the most normal-looking person on the train. That should tell you about the other passengers: If I look normal in comparison, we're swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.

Finally, we're on our way. The trip progresses in fits and starts, stopping at small stations to pick up/drop off various passengers. At one point in Western Massachusetts we slow down to a speed at which I could, in fact, exit a moving train, and get back on if I so wanted. As it turns out, the tracks are owned by a freight line, Amtrak just leasing the rights to use them, so freight trains have the right of way. When we get behind a freight train, we slow down to whatever ridiculous speed the train crew decides to travel. Apparently, they only speed up through cities, where the potential to add kills to their record is greater. The irony that freight freight takes precedence over human freight seems to be lost on these people.

Thus we slog onwards, slowing down for freight trains, speeding up when they aren't ahead of us. At times we stop until given a go-ahead from dispatch; more than once, we are traveling in reverse. All the while, we're sitting in seats that seem bought from the gulags of the old Soviet Union, maybe sold by Russia to help its economy. Maybe that's how they got Putin, too.

When we get to the station in Albany, NY, where we have a short layover so the train can pick up more cars and passengers, local police meet the train at the station. We must remain on the train until the police search the train in vain for a fugitive. At the next stop a middle-aged couple who are not passengers get on board the train to help elderly parents of one of them get situated. They don't get off the train fast enough, though, so they are stuck on the train until the next stop, Syracuse, easily an hour and a half away. These poor folks were screwed. If they bought a ticket for the next train back, they would have waited until well past noon Wednesday for the train from Chicago to Boston. Presumably, they were able to call friends, family, or neighbors back home to come get them, or find a bus or something, but then again, they were dumb enough to get on a train, so who knows?

The night passes uneventfully. I don't sleep, partly because of the comfort level of the seating, mostly because of the ADD medication that the doctor gave me last week, one day's dose of which usually keeps me zinging for days. I decide to make the best of this situation with an experiment on the effect sleep deprivation has on my creativity. I find that at about 20 hours in, I'm fairly coherent, and my writing is colorful and mellifluous, but by hour 35, I'm just screaming fucking mad, coming up with phrases like "Jockstrap Bomb". At any rate, I can't write anything down, because the train is now moving swiftly and my hand is shaking like James Bond's bartender. The train is irretrievably behind schedule: at 6 AM Wednesday, a half hour before we should be in Elkhart, Indiana, we pull into Cleveland. It is a full 4 hours plus before I can disembark at home and say good-bye to Mr. Goodman.

I chose Amtrak because I thought it would be an interesting way to travel, to see the country in a way you can't driving or flying. I neglected to consider that in most places, the train tracks run through the shit-hole part of town, so what I saw was an endless, seamless, look at poverty in America. I could have stayed home. I don't regret the choice: I did find much of interest, and the entire episode has given me material which should last for at least two weeks. However, the trip out to Boston, which was only slightly better than the trip back, set the mood for my entire visit. I never recovered from the mind-numbing shock of rail travel, and that, coupled with my inherent eccentricities, was so off-putting to my friends in Boston that I left them with the conviction that I had finally, after all these years, succumbed to the drugs and gone certifiably bat-shit crazy. I wish to extend my apologies to everyone who came in contact with me in the greater Boston area. The next time I visit, in 25 more years, I'll behave.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Friendship

Recent developments in my life have caused me to reevaluate my core beliefs about myself and my relationship with humanity. Yes, I pass myself off as a misanthrope (or "Angry Liberal, picking his nose at the back of the classroom" as an old acquaintance so accurately described it), but at heart I have an abiding belief in the goodness of Man. Maybe misanthropy and optimism go hand in hand. After all, when one believes so adamantly in the possibility of humanity only to face the reality of what we do with it, how can one not come to despise Homo Sapiens?

I don't make friends easily. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of TRUE friends I have had in my life. As a young man, my naivete cost me dearly in faith, optimism, and money. I learned very hard lessons about trusting my fellow man. So I put up defenses to keep those who would get close to me at arm's length.

What I didn't count on, though, was the ability of certain people to get past those defenses; to vault the walls I had built around me and get to know me despite my best efforts to the contrary.

I'll give you an example: Eric Demas is a man I've know for about seven years. I met him at work, and at first thought he was one of the stupid rednecks this area of the midwest is so proficient at producing. And while he did prove to be a redneck, I couldn't have been more mistaken about the stupid part. The man may not be much on "book larnin" but he has an innate intelligence that is lacking in so many people with an alphabet after their names. He's so damn conservative he pisses me off on a regular basis, but he agrees with me on the issues that really matter. A hunter who feeds his family every winter with what he kills, he'll be the first one to admit that "you don't need an AK-47 to hunt deer". He's a member of the NRA (I think) but doesn't drink all their kool-aid.

Or consider this: Eric is a fiscal and social conservative who doesn't think he pays ENOUGH tax! He'd gladly give up more out of his take-home pay if it meant better health care and education for his children (and yours). I've always suspected he's a closet liberal, but he won't admit it because he loves our arguments so much.

Eric is my best friend. He's given me shelter when I needed it, advice when I didn't want it, and a nagging pain in my ass every time I've been around him.

And here's why: He gets me. I'm not that complicated a man, but I have my eccentricities. He knows when to leave me alone. He knows when I need company. Last week, he called me on Wednesday (July 22) just to say hello, and 30 seconds into the conversation he KNEW I was in trouble. (Not the trouble where you need an alias, a bail bondsman, and a good lawyer; not the trouble where you need someone who can keep a secret to take you to the free clinic; the trouble where life is getting to be a little too much to handle and you need a break.) I don't know if he heard it in my voice, or felt it in the air, or what, but Eric said "I'm coming to pick you up tomorrow, and we're spending the day together." Life being what it is, he wasn't able to make it to get me on Thursday, but about 12:30 PM on Friday, he was walking in my back door.

We went to a public access park near where he lives, grabbed two tubes and a six pack of beer out of the truck, and went out to float the river. His backyard abuts the same river about two miles downstream of where we put in, which gave us a couple hours to drink, shoot the shit, and work my problems out.

By the time we got to his house, we had solved all my problems. His, however, were just beginning. Shortly after we got out on the river, his wife received a phone call that Eric's little brother had been in an auto accident and was being airlifted to a hospital in Kalamazoo. (For distance reference, Google map Constantine Michigan to Kalamazoo Michigan. It's a fur piece.) Rebekah (don't call me Becky) Demas had waited patiently for two hours for us to get off our bullshit river float so that Eric could attend to very important family business. I naturally shifted into babysitter mode and immediately realized why I had packed an overnight bag.

That's Friendship, with a capital F.

Eric gets me. Karen gets me. And until this week I thought that was about the extent of it. Like I say, I don't make friends easily. And I don't keep friends easily. (I'm always reminded of the movie Wyatt Earp, granted a poor imitation of Tombstone and about 2 hours too long, but that's not the point. In the scene where Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp meets Dennis Quaid's Doc Holliday, Doc asks, "Do you believe in friendship, Wyatt Earp?" "Yes," replies Wyatt. "Do you have many friends?" Costner shakes his head. Or, better than that, the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt, Doc, and company had just escaped a shootout: Turkey Creek Jack Johnson: "Why you doin' this, Doc?" Doc Holliday: "Wyatt Earp is my friend." Creek: "Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends." Doc: "I don't.")

But I digress. In the past 10 days, I have discovered that I am loved much more than I ever realized. In a "wishful thinking" post on Facebook, I mentioned an upcoming Pretenders show in Asbury Park, NJ. I asked if anyone was up for a road trip, knowing full well I had no means or method for getting there myself. This led to a message from Dawn LaRue Kaminski, a dear friend from my days in Athens, inviting me to Boston to see the band there. Still thinking it a lark and a game, I started wheels turning. In my weekly phone call to my mother, I described the bill Dawn described (Blondie and the Pretenders) in her terms, saying it would be like her seeing Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller back to back.

Well, Mom's a sentimental sort, so she sent me money to get to Boston. Dawn's a generous sort (or maybe just nuts), so she said if I get myself there she'll cover the tickets. A couple miscues later, and now I'm going to Boston for a week to see Pat Benatar and Blondie on one bill, then the Pretenders at a separate show a few nights later.

My point is this: I haven't seen or spoken to Dawn LaRue in 25 years. And the time she knew me was the time when I was at my absolute worst. Doing one hit of acid was just to take the edge off, if I really wanted a good time, I was dropping at least a 4-way. I invited Dawn and my other friends out to a party once, when I shared a house in the country outside of Athens. When they got there, I was already peaking and out on my own little adventure. They politely stayed for a couple beers, then excused themselves and left.

THAT is the Swinedog Dawn remembers. And she is still inviting me to her house. That is friendship. And it took me a few days for all this to really sink in. These people, Dawn, Bart Weldon, Camille Nice, Steve Maag, loved me for who I was. Not some addle-minded acid head with no future, but the real me. THEY got me. And I never knew that until now.

Thanks guys. I love you all.