Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

Some Zappantani for breakfast

December 4, 2014

This just in: Marco Pantani is still dead. So is Frank Zappa, but nobody killed him, not even the Mafia, Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo.

That’s right, kiddies, it’s Round One of Zappadan, also known as BummerNacht, the anniversary of FZ’s departure to The Big Studio In the Sky. But don’t freak out, working yourself into an imaginary frenzy — he shall rise again on Zero Day, December 21, the anniversary of his birth.

So whip up a tasty platter of hot rats in lumpy gravy, ring up Uncle Meat and the Grand Wazoo, and go cruising with Ruben and the Jets. But first clean up that cosmik debris (it’ll cure your asthma, too). Now, everybody sing along: “Look, here, NASA … who you jivin’ with that cosmik debris?”



December 3, 2014

Ozzy Osbourne turns 666 today (OK, so he’s only 66; sue me) and I expect that this surprises him nearly as much as it does the rest of us.

Now, you all know me as a discerning connoisseur of the arts, whether culinary, graphic or sonic, but there was a time in my misspent youth when I was something of a headbanger.

In those dark days all I required to drive everyone over 16 in the neighborhood completely witless was my parents’ Telefunken console stereo and any one of three albums: “Led Zeppelin,” the band’s debut LP; “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” by Iron Butterfly; and “Paranoid,” by Black Sabbath.

By laughing Satan’s spreading wings, ’tis a wonder my family was not chased from the ‘hood by angry villagers brandishing crucifixes, pitchforks and torches when I spun the volume knob all the way to the right for “War Pigs,” quite the anthem to hear thundering from the home of a WWII veteran.

You could actually see the picture window thrumming like the drums out of which Bill Ward was beating the shit, and Tony Iommi’s guitar licks killed all the flowers from Constitution to Maizeland. A neighbor’s canary almost chewed through the bars of its cage before exploding like a feathered M-80.

Today, of course, my tastes have become a good deal more refined. Either that or I’ve gone stone deaf. What?

High time to hit the road

October 30, 2014
Through a windshield, darkly.

Through a windshield, darkly.

It was 4:20 p.m. (smoke ’em if you got ’em) when I fired up the Forester for the latest six-hour drive from Bibleburg to Duke City.

Herself and I had been in the old hometown to prepare Chez Dog and The House Back East® for new tenants, a project I’d hoped would take only a couple of long, hard days, but I got there on Friday and didn’t get gone until Tuesday afternoon. Herself beat it on Monday, having one of them obnoxious “job” thingies that requires regular attendance.

So there I was, once again piloting a heavily laden Japanese automobile solo through the starry American night. It reminded me of the good old days, when all I needed for a cross-country jaunt was a bridge burned at one newspaper, a job offer at another, and a battered old rice-grinder that was nearly as full of shit as I was.

“What kind of sordid business are you on now? I mean, man, whither goest thou? Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” — Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

I used to love those long nights behind the wheel, in part because I generally enjoyed some sort of illicit chemical assist, having studied at the feet of Jack Kerouac, Ed Abbey and the redoubtable Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Once a friend and I even took a page from the Good Doktor’s book — to be specific, a page from “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” — and ate some acid before stalking into the old MGM Grand to see what we could see, which proved to be much more than was actually there.

In short, it was a bad idea, like so many of the Good Doktor’s, and we quickly jumped back into our auto and drove straight through the inky darkness of the Intermountain West to Alamosa, Colorado, for a steaming plate of enchiladas and beans served up by my companion’s mom, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that we were horribly twisted on LSD and Budweiser.

After a few hundred thousand miles of that sort of thing, coupled with deteriorating night vision, a bad back and a considerably diminished drug intake (I’m pretty much down to a cup and a half of coffee in the morning these days), I lost interest in snorting that long white line through the windshield and sleeping it off under the camper shell in some rest area or unpatrolled parking lot. When the sunlight started fading, so did I. A motel bed sounded a lot better than drumming on the steering wheel with ZZ Top, Bob Seger or the Allman Brothers cranked up to 11.

But I got a little of the old love back Tuesday night. As I motored southwest with the cruise control set at a safe and sane 75 mph a banana moon hung brightly in the sky dead ahead, the highway stripes rising up as if to meet it on the hills. Where to go? Mexico? San Francisco? Albuquerque, as it turned out. I left the stereo off and listened to the music in my head.


Hump Month

July 16, 2014

If I were to find work in this neighborhood, would I be justified in calling it a Nob job? No, don’t answer that.

I know, I know, the term is “Hump Day.” But it’s gonna be Hump Month around here, and maybe even Hump Quarter, because Herself has gone and landed a new job — in Albuquerque.

Ay, Chihuahua.

It will be a homecoming of sorts. We met and married in Santa Fe, but left New Mexico for Bibleburg in 1991 to take care of my mom, who was developing Alzheimer’s and had begun acting nearly as outlandishly as me. We’ve lived in Colorado ever since, either here (twice) or in Weirdcliffe (once).

We’ve been in residence at the ultra-chic Chez Dog in the upscale Patty Jewett Yacht & Gun Club Neighborhood for going on 12 years now — 12 years! — and I figured we were all done moving, that my years of rocketing pointlessly around North America like a turpentined ferret had finally come to an end.

I’ve lived in two countries, 11 states and 18 towns that I can remember, and in several of those towns more than once. Hell, I’ve lived in five different houses right here in Bibleburg. And the appalling state of three of them is none of my doing, no matter what you may hear from the few neighbors who survived.

Well, looks like we can toss No. 19 up there on the Big Board. Some people around here insist on having actual jobs, my shining example to the contrary notwithstanding, and next month Herself starts work as a technical librarian in electronic resources and document services at Sandia National Laboratories.

And me? Well, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise — which it appears to be doing as we speak — I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing since 1989, to wit, annoying the readers, staff, advertisers and ownership of various bicycle publications. My primary residence will always be a Mad Dog state of mind.


Wave dynamics redux

June 18, 2013
Five reasons you should wave back.

Five reasons you should return a friendly wave.

Editor’s note: The Twitterati are abuzz with references to various wave/not wave essays, which goes to show you that the times, they are not a-changin’, no matter what Mr. Dylan said. I wrote this piece for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News back in 1995.

I swear to Eddy Merckx, the next time I wave cheerily at a passing cyclist and he just gives me The Look, I’m gonna chase his arrogant ass down, knock him off his bike, drag him back to my house and chain him to a wind trainer in front of the television, where a steady diet of anaerobic-threshold intervals and “Full House” reruns — coupled with a chamois full of red ants and occasional encouragement from a Bull Buster cattle prod — should drive home the argument that courtesy is the grease which keeps society’s bottom bracket spinning freely.

What is with these guys? Unlike passing motorists, I generally wave with all five fingers on a given hand, and there are no pentagrams tattooed on my palms. Has the mousse that grips their so-carefully coiffed ’dos soaked through their scalps to enmire the already-sluggish machinations of their brains? Are their Oakleys so dark that they simply can’t see my friendly salutation? Have they heard the ugly rumors about me, their sisters and the Sonoran donkey?

Beats me. I have no answers. But, as you might expect, I have a few theories. And here they are:

• Me Cool, You Lame — You, the non-waver, may think that your bike and/or cycling attire is way neater than mine, and that to wave would be to compromise your coolness. But I’m a Media Dude, see, and that means my bike is so much cooler than anybody else’s that I have to let it get all grunged up and filthy-looking just to keep wanna-bes like Claudia Schiffer and Tom Hanks from trying to steal it. Should anyone make off with this bike, of course, I can track them by the hideous shrieking of its 4-year-old, unlubed Dura-Ace chain. But I won’t bother, because I’ve got three or four even cooler ones at home that I never, ever ride, and I didn’t pay a nickel for any of them. Hahahahah.

• I Have a Goatee and You Do Not. This is a corollary to Me Cool, You Lame. It’s also on a par with thinking a Murray preferable to a Merlin. I sport a full salt-and-pepper beard and a sizable bald spot because of a nagging case of testosterone poisoning picked up in Vietnam when I was teaching Chuck Norris all about karate. You, on the other hand, wear a straggly soup-strainer named for a smelly barnyard animal fond of eating garbage, and it doesn’t even cover your zits all that well. As my daddy was fond of saying, if you can’t grow more hair on your face than you can on your butt, you should shave.

• I’m Too Scared to Take One Hand Off the Bars. This is a theory with potential, since most velo-snobs seem to spend all their free time rifling Mom’s purse for the cash to buy purple chainrings and trying to trials-ride the tables at Espresso Yourself instead of practicing basic cycling skills, like waving to other cyclists, riding a straight line, and and blowing your nose without getting boogers all over your Banesto jersey.

• I’m Dumber Than a Food Stamp Office Full of Suntour Executives. Also a theory with potential, this assumes big lag time between the eyes registering an occurrence — a friendly wave, a big smile, the development of trouble-free indexed shifting — and the brain processing the information: “Duhhh … hand up; smile on face; duhhhh … he was WAVING, George! Yuh, yuh, that’s right … he was WAVING, George! Can I pet the rabbits now, George?” That’s a Steinbeck reference, dude. Jeez, four years in grammar school and four years of reform school, and you didn’t learn nothing in either place.

• Don’t Bother Me, I Am a Racer. “Look, Marlin, it’s a USCF licensee! And here we thought they were extinct! We’ve got to move quickly — I’ll get the tranquilizer rifle and the ear tags; you call the Smithsonian and National Geographic!

• Exercise is Serious Business. Sure it is. So is getting chained to a wind trainer by an irate stranger with a sound-proofed basement, an ant farm and a cattle prod. Think about it … then wave.

Home again, home again

January 11, 2011

Miss me? I drove to California for Theresa Coursey’s memorial service, and while it was swell to be among friends, people I hadn’t seen in a spell, a guy likes everyone to be present and accounted for, and we were one fine woman short.

Theresa’s service drew a standing-room-only crowd, the sort we’d all secretly like to have, but few of us deserve. Theresa had it coming. Her husband and their children all spoke, and if there was a dry eye in the house it was not one of mine.

Afterward we ate and drank, talked and took long walks, and after a few days together we all scattered, returning to our lives in Prescott, Philly, Tempe, New York, Colorado. But I’m still thinking of Theresa, wishing I’d spent more time around her, and I know I’m not alone.

Being present these days is not always easy, but it remains vital. In “Taking the Path of Zen,” the late Robert Aitken Roshi recounted the evening message of sesshin as given at Hawaii’s Diamond Sangha:

I beg to urge you, everyone:

Life-and-death is a grave matter,

all things pass quickly away;

each of us must be completely alert:

never neglectful, never indulgent.

That’s my evening message to you. In the morning, the comedy will resume.

Sweatin’ to the oldies

November 8, 2009

After a couple days of editing video and burning it to discs, Marv’s music is playing more or less non-stop in my head, especially when I run or ride. It’s perfect exercise music. “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out” is a little bluesy, good for fat-burning or recovery, and “Going to Chicago (Sorry But I Can’t Take You)” and “Some of These Days” make a good soundtrack for an interval session.

A casual Googling unearths about a jillion different flavors of these tunes performed by a wide range of artists over the years. Marv seems to have taken his “Some of These Days” lyrics from an Ella Fitzgerald version. Count Basie could be the source for “Going to Chicago,” but Marv’s version has a whole lot more lyrical meat on its bones, some of which may have come from “Chicago Monkey Man Blues” by Ida Cox.

But that’s folklore for you — every story changes in the telling.

Marvin J. Berkman, R.I.P.

November 5, 2009
I took this still of Marv playing guitar while we shot a short video of him performing kiddie songs for his grandchildren.

I took this still of Marv playing guitar while we shot a short video of him performing kiddie songs for his grandchildren. We coaxed him into playing a few tunes for the adults in the audience, and you can see that video by clicking the link below.

Our friend and neighbor Marvin J. Berkman died on Monday. I suppose that he had been sick since before we moved in next door, but somehow he never seemed ill, until suddenly he was. And once I had gotten to know him a little, the thought that he might be mortal never occurred to me.

In his 80s — his 80s! — Marv was in two or three bands, practicing and performing regularly on guitar; taking a writing class; driving all over town in his decrepit Volvo (and occasionally to other towns); scouring the thrift stores for useful items; grocery shopping and cooking; helping a friend keep her Manitou Springs house from sliding off its hillside; holding a position of some authority at the church he and his sweetheart Judy attended; doing some casual woodworking . . . I was 30 years younger than the man, and I got tired just watching him.

Listening to him was something else altogether. That was never tiresome. Marv was a self-described saloon musician, a gig he took up as a teen-ager in Chicago, and the stories he could (and did) tell. He played for gangsters, swells and Studs Terkel, among others; served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Aleutian Islands during World War II; worked in jewelry and optometry; and somewhere picked up jackleg carpentry.

The other students in his writing class apparently considered him exotic, as did his fellow congregants at the Methodist church he and Judy attended (Marv was a Jew). He was a storyteller who would talk to cats if no bipeds were handy, among them our Turkish, who likes Marv and Judy’s yard better than our own. And if he occasionally repeated a tale, well, so do I. His were worth listening to more than once.

We shared a driveway and a garage, and other things as well. If Marv was braising some corned beef, a chunk would find its way across the driveway to our house. If I was simmering a pot of chili con carne, a bowl would wind up on Marv’s table. Herself helped Marv wrestle with his balky Windows laptop, and I shoveled their walks come winter; he helped us navigate the health-care maze. Living as he did with diabetes and cancer, he’d had plenty of experience in that arena.

But cancer has even more time on the job, and it gradually began to get the upper hand. Judy did her best for him, but Marv came to need more care than she could provide, and he finally agreed to enter a nursing home.

That lasted about seven hours — as is often the case, the place was a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare — and after hollering for help Marv was transferred first to Memorial Hospital’s oncology unit, then to Pikes Peak Hospice, where he had once volunteered a couple days a week, providing the soundtrack for many a final episode as a hall-strolling troubadour.

It was a fine, large room, and he was among friends there. The staff remembered Marv fondly, dropping by in ones and twos to pay their respects; a quick chat, a hug, a kiss, and then tears in the hallway. “You never let them see you cry,” said one. “But if you don’t cry, there’s something the matter. With you.” Another told Judy that it was an honor to be allowed to care for Marv during his last days. A third was stunned to learn that Marv had returned not to play, but to die.

We weren’t there when Marv finally passed on. I took my cue from Marv’s reaction upon awakening from a doze to seeing a half-dozen of us, friends and family, camped out in his hospice room, eyeing him like buzzards in a tree. “Oh, no,” he muttered. The old saloon musician didn’t want an audience for his final performance.

• Links:

A short video of Marv playing guitar.

One of Marv’s stories.

Thanks for the memories (or not)

March 29, 2009
Ever been to a Holiday Inn? Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Proof beyond the shadow of a doubt that cheap lager, nicotine and psychedelic drugs make you smart.

If you kept a journal or diary as a young person, do yourself a favor and feed it at once into the nearest shredder, wood stove or fireplace. Do not, under any circumstances, open it and begin reading. That way lies madness.

In 1974, when I was a copy boy at the Colorado Springs Sun, George Gladney — then a reporter, now a journalism prof at the University of Wyoming — urged me to begin keeping a journal, and I jotted down my “thoughts,” such as they were, into the mid-1980s. Today I have some 20-odd volumes of my musings, with the emphasis on “odd,” and I recently made the mistake of thumbing through a few to put myself back in the moment so I could write a blog post about a friend’s death.

Apparently the only reason I had any friends at all in college was that I never said aloud any of the stupid shit I wrote down. Or maybe I did and they just kept me around as some sort of science project. The University of Northern Colorado was primarily a teachers’ college, after all, and offered a degree in special ed.

Thank God there were no blogs, Twitter feeds or Facebook pages back then. If my parents or the State had had any idea of what was going on inside that hairy skull of mine, I would’ve spent the past 35 years weaving baskets or pressing license plates instead of annoying my betters in print and online. You think my little one-ring circus is appalling now, you should’ve seen it before I got all the animals mostly housebroken.

Donna Frances Shawcroft, R.I.P.

March 28, 2009
Donna Frances Shawcroft

Donna Frances Shawcroft

One of the downsides of growing older is that some of your friends don’t. Donna Frances Shawcroft died in her sleep a week ago today, and her friends and family are saying goodbye to her this morning in Grand Junction.

Donna and her husband, Doug, a.k.a. Mudbone, were part of the crowd I ran with in college, the venerable and infamous Mombo Club. They weren’t the first of us to get married — that dubious distinction went to Mombo himself, if memory serves — but if they weren’t first out of the gate, they certainly went the distance, nearly 30 years’ worth. Two kids, two grandkids.

The Mombo Club has since disbanded and dispersed, and it’s been years since I saw Doug and Donna. But I’m thinking of them now. Requiescat en pace, Donna.