Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

‘Are you employed, sir?’

August 26, 2022

The late, great David Huddleston as The Big Lebowski.

Employed, sir? No, I was not, despite my prestigious cowtown B.A. in journalism with a minor in political science.

And had my parents been foolish enough to borrow money to put me through college(s) — funds that were largely pounded down a noisome rathole of booze, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, cartooning, and Communism — they would’ve rejoiced to see any amount of the hellish debt forgiven and immediately invested a portion of the windfall on having me quietly killed.

Especially after they saw the homemade “colors” my bro’ Mike “Mombo” Brangoccio and I were sporting on the back of our graduation gowns:

“Mombo Club: Born To Pump Gas.”

Ay, Chihuahua. These kids today. Yesterday. Whatevs.

Your Humble Narrator, circa 1977.

Our mob flew two banners. The Mombo Club mostly free-ranged around Greeley, where we infested the University of Northern Colorado like hairy roaches. El Rancho Delux was rooted in a ramshackle house with an overloaded septic system on what must’ve been the last surviving chunk of rural land in Glendale, a stoner’s throw from the Bull & Bush, Shotgun Willie’s, and the Riviera Lounge, whose “credit manager,” Adolf Scarf, was a piranha sulking in a tank behind the bar.

But the less said about our fraternal organizations the better. I don’t know how (or if) my co-conspirators paid for their educations, but several of our Little Urban Achievers have become respectable members of their communities, and certain statutes of limitations may have yet to run their course.

A tad unfocused, not unlike the graduates.

As for me, my long-suffering parents paid for my schooling, such as it was. When I transferred to UNC they even bought me a used singlewide trailer to live in, no doubt thinking I’d need to get used to such accommodations.

I did have to raise funds for incidentals. Thus I sold drugs, drew cartoons for my college papers, delivered appliances with “Star Trek” addict Ed the Beard in a Step van dubbed “The Hawkwind,” and (with Mombo) did odd jobs for a posh trouser stain who motored around town in a right-hand-drive Bentley.

All I invested in my degree was time and a few jillion brain cells. Not even the president can get those back for me.

Sketchy way to earn a living

July 17, 2022

Back to the ol’ drawing board? Nope.

Back in the late Seventies, when I was more yappy pup than Mad Dog, one of the editors at my second newspaper asked me why I was dead set on becoming an editorial cartoonist.

“I think you’re a better writer than you are a cartoonist,” he said.

Well. Shit. Nobody else around the newsroom seemed to think I was a fledgling Woodward N. Bernstein. Especially me.

I didn’t love reporting, which precedes writing and can be a very heavy lift indeed. When bored witless at school-board meetings I often doodled in my reporter’s notebook. As a consequence coverage could be less than comprehensive. And now here was this authority figure telling me that words, not pictures, were my forte, my future. Bad news.

This wasn’t the first “Check Fiscal Engine” light on my career dashboard, either. An adviser at my first college had told me how many editorial cartoonists were earning a living in the United States (not many then; even fewer now). Might want to cast a wider net, the adviser advised. Instead I dropped out and fished blue-collar ponds for a while.

At my second college another adviser advised that I’d never find any kind of work at a newspaper, unless maybe it was with Ed Quillen, who even then had a reputation for blazing his own trail. As it turned out, this wizard’s palantír was off by seven newspapers, and I didn’t do a lick of work for Ed until I had quit No. 7 and gone rogue. Those who can’t do, etc.

But I digress. Back to Newspaper No 2.

Your Humble Narrator at Newspaper No. 3, circa 1980.

The writing was on the wall, as it were. Happily, I could read. And even write, a little, as long as it didn’t involve first walking up to strangers like some Monty Python constable: “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello … wot’s all this then?” I didn’t care for regular haircuts or wearing a tie, and I only liked meeting strangers over drinks in some dark bar.

But a few years earlier, at Newspaper No. 1, where I was a copy boy, I got to sit in at the copy desk now and then, and I really enjoyed the work. It was why I eventually quit and went to College No. 2, the managing editor having advised that I would pretty much top out as a copy boy without a degree of some sort.

So at Newspaper No. 2, after scanning the writing on the wall for typos, grammatical errors, and AP Style violations, I petitioned to relocate from reporting to the copy desk. And I spent the next decade moving from one copy desk to another, editing other people’s stories, writing headlines and cutlines, sizing photos, laying out pages, and occasionally slipping a cartoon past an editorial-page editor.

And rarely — very rarely — I wrote something under my own byline.

Almost exactly 10 years after I read that writing on the wall, I found myself inching toward the exit at Newspaper No. 7, where I had bounced from the copy desk to the sports desk to the arts magazine to the features desk. There were no chairs left unoccupied and the music was winding down. The idea of courting Newspaper No. 8 — and then Nos. 9, 10, 11, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum —felt like a long pull into a cold headwind.

And yes, I had taken up bicycle racing a couple of years earlier.

Your Humble Narrator post-newspapering, in his second act as a pro cartoonist.

So imagine my astonishment when I stumbled across an ad in Editor & Publisher, the industry’s trade mag. Something called VeloNews wanted a managing editor. I applied. Got an interview. Didn’t get the job.

But I did get hired as a cartoonist. Finally! Pro at last, pro at last, thank God Almighty, I’m pro at last!

Cartooning for VeloNews was my first gig outside newspapering, and cartooning for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News would be my last. The Alpha and Omega of my second act, as a freelancer.

In between I did a lot of other stuff, of course. Covered races and trade shows, wrote commentary, edited copy for print and online, dabbled in video and audio. But it was cartooning that brought me in, and cartooning that saw me out.

And you know what’s really funny? I retired six months ago and haven’t drawn a line since. But I just wrote 700-some-odd words, and for free, too, simply because I love doing it.

Maybe that editor was onto something after all.

Chili today, hot tamale

January 27, 2022

Sun’s out, but my guns are still in.

I don’t remember when or where I first heard that old gag. “Chili today, hot tamale.” It sounds like something the old man would’ve said.

He picked up some Spanish down in Panama and he’d toss fragments of it at me and my sis as a call-and-response joke come bedtime. We had to repeat each phrase after he uttered it. (“Repitan ustedes.”)

“Hasta la vista.”

“¿Como se llama?”

“Buenos noches.”

This last became “Buenos snowshoes” at some point. Lord, what white people will do to someone else’s language.

Anyway, it’s chilly today, so I plan to make chili today, from a Pierre Franey recipe. No tamales, though. Eso es demasiado como el trabajo.

A Monday mooning

January 17, 2022

A smattering of Oliphant from the Mad Dog library.

A few observations under the Wolf Moon:

• A Puck in the gob. The Albquerque Journal has a little piece on my favorite political cartoonist, Pat Oliphant, who spent 60 years pantsing the powerful before failing eyesight finally pushed him away from the drawing board. I met Oliphant in the Seventies, when the Fine Arts Center in Bibleburg hosted an exhibition of his work. He was very gracious to a dumbass hippie kid who claimed he was a cartoonist too, enduring a bit of grilling and even volunteering a few tips.

• Dave’s not here. Hal Walter’s dad, Dave, recently passed away. The two had had their differences over the years, as fathers and sons often do (see O’Grady, Harold and Patrick), but Hal took a moment to remember the good times with the man who introduced him to the great outdoors.

• And The Biggest Midget in the Room Award goes to. … The Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame. Every niche needs its shiny object, I guess. But if you can get to it via paved road it’s bullshit.

Rise and shine

January 8, 2022

If you sleep in, you miss stuff like this.

Marriage, freelancing, and New Mexico gradually turned me into a morning person, kinda sorta.

I spent the bulk of my newspaper career working nights on various copy desks scattered around the West. Clock in around 3 or 4 in the p.m., clock out when the presses start running at stupid-thirty. If you’re lucky, there’s a bar still open somewhere.

But when Herself hitched her little red wagon to my jackass in Fanta Se there were accommodations to be made. I was on the usual night shift at The New Mexican, but she worked like normal people, running the B. Dalton Bookseller in the DeVargas Center.

She was asleep when I came home; I was asleep when she went to work. We saw each other at dinner and sometimes on the weekends, if I wasn’t chasing commas or racing bikes. Our wedding vows may have included the endearment, “Shut the fuck up, I’m trying to sleepI”

In case you’re wondering, kids, this is how you make a marriage work.

Miss Mia Sopaipilla insists on sunlight as soon as it becomes available, if not sooner.

In 1991, when my mom developed a hitch in her gitalong and we moved to Bibleburg to deal with it, my routine went out the window. Herself found more retail work, but I was trying to freelance, and the first thing you learn in that racket is fear. You fear that the last dollar you earned will be the last dollar you earn.

So I said yes to every job, worked a lot, and all the time, not just from afternoons into the dark of the night. In point of fact, I was compelled to embrace the early morning hours.

It wasn’t awful. Not nearly as bad as I remembered from having a paper route. For starters, I was working indoors, and I was writing the news, not sidearming it onto stoops.

Nor was I restricted to a copy desk, where the routine is … well, routine. Daily editorial meeting, editing copy, writing headlines, sizing photos, writing cutlines, laying out pages, drinking dinner, overseeing pasteup, proofing pages, taking a quick look at the paper hot off the presses as they began rumbling up to speed, and going home.

Going freelance took me off that daily merry-go-round. When the deadline was every other week, or once a month, I found I could squeeze the work into my life instead of my life into the work.

Yeah, I worked almost every day, and at all hours of every day, but I did it in bite-sized pieces and a lot of different flavors. Cover an early morning Tour stage for VN.com, go for a ride. Write a column for Bicycle Retailer, do the grocery shopping. Edit some copy for Inside Triathlon, drink a beer (editing triathlon copy would make a stewbum of a Seventh-day Adventist). Draw a cartoon for VeloNews. And so on.

True, I was not always at my best in the early morning hours. Old habits die hard. And Mom had her own routines, which included wandering the house at night while chatting with the voices in her head (yeah, that shit runs in the family). But you get used to it, or at least learn to manage it.

Eventually she passed, leaving only one of us to argue with his invisible friends. And the mornings got a little easier, whether sunup came in Weirdcliffe, Bibleburg, or The Duck! City.

My paying chores have drifted away one by one, but the mornings have not. Herself rises earlier than ever, working four 10-hour shifts as a librarian for Sandia National Lab. But I insist on sleeping in, until 6 a.m. if I can manage it, before dragging the old bag of bone splinters and bad ideas out of the sack and into the kitchen.

Somebody has to make breakfast and inspect the sunrise, make sure God’s on the job. Some days one wonders.

Early morning watermelon at the foot of the Sandias.

Yellow fever

May 27, 2021

The DogShi(r)t circa 1999, from VOmax.

Beats me how I wandered off into the garment district. But here we are, so let’s just roll with it.

I was searching various hard drives for background on my soon-to-be-history Voler jersey racket. Then I was telling someone the bee-in-the-jersey story from Back in the Day®, when we lived in Crusty County and VOmax made my team garb.

Anyway, at some point in the excavation I unearthed a Bicycle Retailer column from 1999 that discussed this very kit. And as Le Tour is due to kick off next month, I thought I’d brush off the dust and cobwebs and trot it out for inspection.

• • •

 

Maillot Jaune vs. Yellow Jersey

— The First Draws Cheers,

Bui the Other Prompts Jeers

 

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.Mark Twain

With Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis skipping the Tour de France this year, look for yours truly to be wearing the yellow jersey.

OK, not the yellow jersey. But a yellow jersey.

Specifically, the new Team Mad Dog Media/Dogs at Large Velo jersey from VOmax Team Apparel. It just happens to be yellow. Bright yellow. A vitamin-C-megadose, kidney-stone, construction-vehicle kind of yellow, festooned with black and white graphics. Perfect camouflage for ambushing Californians from a meadow bright with dandelions.

“Bumblebee,” said my wife.

“Hope ONCE doesn’t sue you,” said VOmax’s Adam Myerson.

“Cool,” said I.

Sadly, not everyone shares my fashion sense in this rustic backwater, where “going for a ride” typically involves a hay-burning quadruped or a rusty pickup and a sixpack of Rocky Mountain brain marinade.

Trying to outrun The Man with the Hammer.

You Look … Marvelous? I badgered a couple of friends into riding with me the other day. When I rolled into their barnyard, clad in my new finery, they commenced to hooting and clutching their sides like hillbillies suffering from a bad batch of white lightning.

Mary phoned my wife, chortling, “You let him out of the house like this?” Hal, a retro-grouch prone to the literary gesture, declined to ride anywhere in the Rocky Mountain West with me unless he could wear his woodland-camo’ jumpsuit and street-hockey helmet as a counterpoint to my flashy Lycra and visored Giro.

These, mind you, are people whose idea of fun is burro racing, a form of dementia peculiar to central Colorado that causes the victim to run marathons on mountain trails while tethered to a jackass. Doesn’t matter what you wear — people are going to shake their heads when they see a guy doing that, whether he’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts or a thong bikini and spike heels.

A Jackass of a Different Color. I tell Hal and Mary that they might find a bike ride a pleasant respite from jackass rambles now and then if they’d acquire some of the new-fangled doodads that make cycling more fun — clipless pedals and shoes designed for riding rather than running; suspension forks to soften our corrugated county roads; garments that wick a little better than a beach towel. But they’d rather be uncomfortable than funny-looking.

Me, I’ve been funny-looking for years, clad in unnatural-fiber garments from Rio Grande Racing Team, Sangre de Cristo Cycling Club, Rainbow Racing and Dogs at Large Velo. Each new jersey always made me feel as though I were a part of something special, somehow set apart from the other Day-Glo geeks wobbling around on two-wheelers. A racing jersey was a garment not just to be worn, but to be lived up to.

So when my sunny new DogShi(r)ts and summery weather hit the Wet Mountains more or less simultaneously, it was if a light had clicked on in a cartoon balloon over my head: “Hey, dude … if you want to look more like a banana and less like a grapefruit in that jersey, you’d better start riding your bike.”

Here Comes the Sun. First, I got a neighbor to brush-hog my rabbitbrush-clogged cyclo-cross course and started hitting it once or twice a week. Between ’crosses, I rode laps on my favorite 10-mile circuit, half pavement and half dirt, with plenty of gradual climbing. I even dusted off the road bike, which sees less daylight than Charlie Manson, and went for a few dirt-free rides to Wixson Divide and back.

It wasn’t all golden. Headwinds and hills reminded me that I’m in OK shape for a 45-year-old libelist, but entirely unfit for racing; no point in shaving the legs for a couple thousand miles yet. A cattle-truck driver played mirror tag with me on a potholed, 45-mph descent to Mackenzie Junction. And a bee who thought I was his mama dove inside my brand-new jersey on a shoulderless plummet down Highway 96, causing me to fishtail to a halt on the gravel shoulder and start peeling like a stripper on speed.

Still, there have been moments. The other day, while I was doing some artless laps on my ’cross course, a passing sport-utility vehicle slowed, then stopped; whoever was inside stayed to watch for a couple go-rounds.

I’ll never race the Tour. But for a few minutes there on a summer’s day, I was in the yellow jersey, people were watching, and no one was laughing.

The Salon Back East (Part II)

March 31, 2021

The album My Bloody Valentine released prior to Colm Ó Cíosóig’s visit to our little chateau in B-burg.

Back in 2013, when Herself and I were still Airbnb tycoons in the scenic Patty Jewett Yacht & Gun Club, we rented the House Back East to a young Mick name of Colm Ó Cíosóig, who was coming to Bibleburg for an international film festival.

Well, sir, Colm turned out to be the drummer for My Bloody Valentine, a group that pioneered a dreamy style of music dubbed “shoegaze.” And sociable fellow that he was, when the festival went all pear-shaped he popped round to ask if he could invite a few attendees back to the HBE for a bit of a bash.

We said sure, got invited to the do, and had a high old time.

Which brings me to my point: According to The New York Times, My Bloody Valentine will be making the majority of its catalog available for streaming, and reissuing it on vinyl. The group also has a new label and plans to release two new records, says Mother Times, in an interview with bandmate and co-founder Kevin Shields.

Look for the first to be “warm and melodic,” with the second more experimental. The time frame is uncertain, but Shields sounds like he’s ready to rock.

“Time is a bit more precious,” he told the NYT. “I don’t want to be 70-something wanting to make the next record after ‘m b v.’ I think it’d be cooler to make one now.”

Can’t buy me brains

February 7, 2021

The Fab Four arrive in New York.

On this day in 1964 The Beatles came to America.

Two days later they appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and I was watching, like 74 million of my fellow Americans.

My parents were appalled. My sister was entranced. And me? I remember thinking something along the lines of: “Hmph. These guys will never be as big as Elvis. And look at those silly haircuts.”

Mall rats

December 19, 2020

The Citadel’s logo. Herself worked there during our first tour of duty in Bibleburg, at the Eagle’s Nest.

Remember shopping malls?

They were becoming a Thing about the same time that I was. Bibleburg being behind the curve on pretty much everything (“a cemetery with lights,” as one newspaper colleague would come to call it), my town didn’t get a proper enclosed mall until 1972, when I had relocated to Alamosa to lower academic standards at Adams State College.

In the late Sixties our “mall” out east of Constitution and Academy was the Rustic Hills Shopping Center, which had a small enclosed area with a typical strip mall attached on the west side, with a liquor store, a pinball arcade, Tandy’s, 7-Eleven, and like that there. Major tenants were (I think) a Gibson’s on the eastern corner and a Safeway on the western end. In between was … well, not much that I can recall. I got there by bike, via a dirt path paralleling a drainage ditch.

There was a Duckwall’s. A Roffler’s Sculpture-Kut shop where a Mexican barber told me he could cut my hair in such a way that my parents, teachers, and swim coach would never know I was turning into a faux hippie unless they took a whiff of my personal fragrance (Eau de Ditch Weed). A western-wear shop where I acquired through dubious means a black, flat-crown Resistol a la Lee “Liberty Valance” Marvin that, with the addition of a band of silver conchos, went nicely with the rest of my Woodstock-wannabe garb. No, don’t ask; just thank Cthulhu that no photographs survive.

Until 1972, when the Citadel Mall sprang to hideous life, with its acres and acres of parking that in the first heavy rain flooded residential basements for miles around, anyone wanting to experience an actual enclosed mall had to motor up to Denver, where Cinderella City was the Big Kahuna. Not just a whim, a destination, particularly around Christmastime.

The Citadel and the Chapel Hills Mall, which opened a decade later, arguably helped croak what little downtown Bibleburg had. Now, neither is exactly crushing it, the pack rats are stripping malls’ carcasses nationwide, and “everybody knows” that you can’t have a vibrant modern city without a thriving downtown. So it goes.

R.I.P., Chuck Yeager

December 8, 2020

Chuck Yeager and Arthur Murray with the Bell X-1A.

Chuck Yeager has finally flown west. He was 97.

An airplane mechanic from West VirginIa who went on to become a fighter ace in World War II and retired as a brigadier general after 127 missions in Vietnam, he flew almost anything with wings, including the Bell X-1 that broke the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.

Dad, whose Air Force nickname was O’Toole, was something of an autograph hound, and this was his biggest score. It reads: “To ‘Hank’ O’Grady (O’Toole). Best Regards and Good Luck, ‘Chuck’ Yeager.”

You may know him from “The Right Stuff,” first a book by Tom Wolfe and then a movie directed by Philip Kaufman.

We first heard about him from Dad, who likewise was a pilot at Muroc Army Air Base, later renamed Edwards AFB.

The family legend was that Dad was invited to join that famous test-pilots program at the Air Force Flight Test Center but that Mom forbade it, telling him something on the order of, “You can be a test pilot or you can marry me, but you can’t do both.”

The old man thought the world of Yeager, and we have a few pix of him, two of which you can see here. They’re both undated, but depict Yeager with the X-1A, the plane he flew to more than double the speed of sound in December 1953, just a few months before Harold Joseph O’Grady and his wife, Mary Jane, were to have a son name of Patrick Declan on the other side of the country.

Godspeed, General.