QUINQUAGENARIAN

During the rock band The Who’s upcoming concert tour, I wonder if 75 year-old lead singer Roger Daltrey will update the lyrics of the 1965 rebellious hit ‘My Generation’ to ‘My Septuagenarian’. The song’s line “hope I die before I get old” sounds a bit disingenuous coming from a man with 10 grandchildren. But I guess there are no rules about how to age, you kinda just keep doing it till you don’t.

My Mom used to always answer questions about her age by saying she was “29 and holding”. Once all five of us kids were well past 30, that became even less plausible, but that certainly did not stop her from saying it. Eventually she changed it to “I’m celebrating the second anniversary of my 25th birthday.” That one finally fell by the wayside when my oldest brother hit retirement age.

Its funny though, how a little kid is so crazy proud to announce they are turning a year older. Then after hitting legal age for all the good stuff, things become blurry; folks start ignoring birthdays or lying about their age. Then if you manage to live long enough, those very high numbered birthdays become an accomplishment to brag about again.

With all that in mind, I am now not afraid to talk about my Mother’s age. She is currently an Octogenarian. Actually, later this year she turns 90 and joins my Dad as a Nonagenarian. Now those are mighty brag-able numbers. The concept of ‘old’ might be a moving target, but at 90 its hard to deny since you were born before they invented ballpoint pens, microwave ovens, suntan lotion, scotch tape and credit cards.

Of course it’s all relative, I remember being a cowering first grader afraid of those ‘old’ sixth graders marching around school like they owned the place. When my parents were my current age, they seemed old to college student Dan, but that does not seem true anymore. The older I get, the higher the age increases to what is ‘old’ in my head. I assume sooner or later I will run headfirst in the ‘old’ brick-wall..

Currently, I am but a mere quinquagenarian. Now, as much as that might sound like the name of a Sichuan noodle dish, an upstate New York Indian tribe, Speed Racer’s chimp or an expletive from a 1960’s TV’s Batman fight scene, it is actually the technical term for folks in my age group. A rather goofy confusing name for a goofy confusing age. Being a sexagenarian sounds like it might be a lot more fun than a quinquagenarian. Although I’m not sure the prefix ‘sex’ is really that accurate for folks in their 60s, especially since many in that age group experience a decreased amorous drive, menopause and sexual dysfunction. Maybe they should be called ‘nugatory-sex-age-narians’.

Previously, I’ve had no issues of suddenly feeling old when my age rolled over into the next decade, but I do worry about becoming a sexagenarian (or a nugatory-sex-age-narians). I could rationalize back at 30 or 40 that I was likely not even halfway to my final terminal finish line. And with all those nonagenarians in my family, 50 did not seem old-age crisis inducing. But 60, no matter how you look at it, there is no denying that is over the hump, on the back 9, on the far side of the mountain or throwing the egg carton out of balance. I foresee a head-trip when I cross that line.

I recall my Mom had difficulties when she turned 50. My Grandmother had recently passed, the youngest of her five babies was in High School, but most importantly, in her head 50 had always been the gateway to elderly. Of course that was 40 years ago and I bet her current opinion of where that moving ‘old’ line, is very different.

Social media allows me to see which of my childhood friends look relatively unchanged and which very visibly show the hardness that their lives. I look in the mirror everyday but the changes in my appearance are slow and subtle. At a speed similar to the shifts of the earths tectonic plates, the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth have slowly deepened and connected, swallowing my dimples and chin clef along the way, creating a series of faint facial fault line chasms. I like to think I look younger than the average quinquagenarian , but frankly I’m not really sure what my age is supposed to look like.

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ASS

“Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” That’s a quote from one of my favorite movies, Harold & Maude.  My Mom took me to see it when I was a kid and ever since, I’ve tried to get all my friends hooked on it too.

Now I don’t blame the film, but throughout my life I have certainly been called just about every type of ‘ass’ there is: pain in the, smart, jack, dumb, hole and a coverer of.  I’ve been told to stop talking out of mine and to get it in gear. I’ve even caused it to be laughed off and on rare occasions mine was so bad, it came with an open can of whoop. I’ve even been called an ass for recommending Harold & Maude.

With that much experience being an ‘ass’, I obviously have the first part of that quote down, unfortunately even at my NOT ‘oh very young’ age, I still have issues with the being judged part. If I am choosing to be a fool, which I often do, you can think whatever you want of me. It is the unintentional times that get to me. I’m surprisingly thin-skinned, still constantly followed by the long shadow cast by the insecurities of my youth. I’ve spent way to much energy foolishly worrying about the opinions of others.

It frustrates my wife that I do not cut myself anywhere near the same slack that I afford everyone else. I get down on myself when I make an obvious bad choice or error, as if in some twisted Pavlovian way it will re-train me to not err again. But it hasn’t worked yet, so maybe I finally should accept the fact that sometimes I will unintentionally make an ass of myself.

Thus, in an effort to get used to admitting my occasional ass-ness, I will now confess the absolute stupidest thing I have done this year… so far… its only March… I’ve got plenty of time to do worse.

Last December my wife told me we were fast approaching the ‘use it or lose it’ window on our optical Medical insurance. She had already gotten new reading glasses and I’d updated my contacts so even though I do not wear them very often, she suggested I finally replace my back-up eyeglasses. They were from about a half dozen prescriptions and fashion changes ago. Granted, the glasses were not quite as dated as my 1980s oversized bright red Sally Jessie Raphaels, but in my head they were as old as Methuselah.

Not quite yet comfortable with getting glasses on-line through Warby Parker, my wife suggested the never ending ‘buy one get one free’ sale at Vision Works that they have advertised for the last decade. Well they called it “BOGO” but I despise that term.

As soon as we walked in, we were accosted by a fresh faced sales-kid that despite our objections, was determined to tell us his pre-scripted welcome, tour and BOGO (humph) speeches. Once he finally left us alone, my wife barely had time to give me her first ‘ you ass, what are you thinking’ expression in response to some of my goofy frame selections, when a second pushy thick-accented saleswoman barged into our conversation and started giving us her glowing disingenuous ‘that’s perfect on you’ opinions of every ridiculous thing I put on my face.

We should have just walked out but this was the last weekend we had to get this done and I did find a couple of frames I liked and the BOGO (yuch) thing and and and… I even forgot my prescription so we left and came back, but  that is not the stupid ‘make an ass of myself’ point of the story.  I popped out my contacts, slipped on the old Methuselah-aged glasses, went back to the store and sat down with salesperson #3.  He kept telling me about his vast experience and knowledge, though multiple times he had to ask others for answers to my  simplest of questions about the many upgrades he tried to pressure me into. It took no time at all for my $100 BOGO (I have to stop saying that, now its stuck in my head like that Baby Shark song. doot do doot do doot) frames to be over $900.

“NO!” I exclaimed. Despite all the dog-eared brochures, peeling flip charts, dinged up plastic visual aides and other crappy propaganda he showed me, I was not going to pay for double coated, transitional, UV blocking, polycarbonite, aspheric lensed, high index,  photochromic, invisible lined,  anti-scratched, uncle-overpiced spectacles!  I just needed plain old glasses like the Methuselahs on my face. Salesman #3 assured me he could do that and recommended using the prescription information for my ‘bi-focal’ style contacts as two separate pairs of glasses. One for reading and one for distance. I again suggested just making them like my old pair but I’m not the eyeglass expert.  I finally agreed after we got the price down to a more acceptable but still grossly too high $500.

A few weeks later I got a call they were ready, so I again popped out my contacts and went to Vision Works to pick up the glasses. I really did not like them, but salesperson #4 suggested trying them for a bit.  So I wore both pairs several times over the next couple of weeks but they hurt my eyes gave me headaches. I finally went back, but as soon Salespeople 1-4  saw me walk in carrying my BOGOs (ack), my old Methuselahs  and all the paperwork in hand, I was ignored like a leprosy sufferer dropping digits and limbs on their floor.  Accented pushy Saleswoman #2 even made a point of walking the long way around the entire store to greet people coming in behind me.

Eventually a fifth salesperson acknowledged my existence and told me he could correct the BOGOs (sigh) but asked me first to go back to my eye doctor to make sure my prescription was correct. The next day I again popped out my contacts and went to my optometrist who assured me the prescription was correct. I then went back to Vision Works and assured them the prescription was correct. Salesman #5 recommended NOT making two different pairs, one for reading and one for distance, like the  #3 suggested. Pulling my Methuselahs off my face to show him, I again said, I just wanted “a pair like these that does not give me headaches.”  But sorry folks, that is not yet the ‘Dan’s an ass’ part of the story.

A couple of weeks later I got the call that my new BOGOs (I give up) were ready. Despite it being my insanely frustrating sixth trip to the store, I tried to be optically optimistic.  I hurriedly sat down with salesperson # 6 who looked a lot like salesperson #1 but a lot older. Had this been dragging on so long that he aged?

I slipped both pairs on only to discover they were horrible!!!  Beyond horrible!!!!!  I could not see a thing. They were worse then the last ones. Everything was a blurry mess. I was so consumed with anger and frustration but I did not want to blow up and say something I regretted. Since I had forgotten to bring my Methuselahs  with me, I realized I could not even show them how horribly different these new ones were. I just quietly walked out with the BOGOs (please let this be the last time I have to say that) and figured I would come back when I could be more composed.

After I took a walk to calm down, I went home and told my wife how astoundingly disgusted I was. For the next couple of days every time I thought of the glasses I wound myself up in a tizzy.  I constantly stewed and steamed waiting to get to the point that I could deal with it rationally.

Then about a week later a small thought crept in my head. It rolled around my noggin turning into a speculation, till it eventually grew into fully a developed cognition.  I was making a complete and total 100% ass of myself.

It hit me that when I picked up the BOGOs (gaaaaa) I could not show them how horribly different they were, because I did not have my old as Methuselah glasses with me.  And if I did not have my old Methuselahs with me,  I must have been wearing my contacts. And if I was wearing my contacts, it means I hastily tried the BOGOs (@#!&%$!) on over my contacts without taking them off.  Of course all I saw was a blurry mess. IDIOT!!! (it works best if you say that in a Ren voice).  I then popped out my contacts, slipped on the BOGOs(sob sob) and discovered they were perfect.

So the only thing left for me to ask is which type of ass does that make me?

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JAVA JOE

Barista Boy in the howzzzzzzzzzzzzz!   Sorry. That has been rolling around my head for weeks waiting for me to let it out. You see, I’ve kinda become the go to guy for coffee in my office. Let me clarify. I have been known to share many fresh lil’ coffee beverages with my coworkers from the espresso machine I have physically at my desk.

Now if giving away a small cup of powerful joe here and there gets my staff moving a little faster, is that really a bad thing? For the better part of the past two decades I have had a Nespresso espresso machine at my various workplaces but it’s only the last couple of years that I’ve not had to leave my chair to brew up a shot. I am not sure if that’s way cool or really sad, but either way I proudly feel like the Statue of  Coffee Liberty crying out:

“Give me your tired, your thirsty,

Your huddled masses yearning to drink java,

The bewitching smell of my steaming brew.

Send these, the hungover, post-lunch lull-ers to me,

I share my espresso bean juice with all at my door!”

Brings a little caffeine induced tear to your eye, doesn’t it?   For someone pushin’ coffee with the vigor of a street-corner dealer, I’ve had a less than typical relationship with the stuff. My first 30 years I rarely touched it.  Whenever I was offered a cup, I jokingly called it the ‘juice of the devil’.  Growing up, coffee was dated old people stuff like Sinatra and Vegas; it was what my parents drank after dinner with a couple of cigarettes. It took some time, but savvy marketers eventually manipulated and motivated the masses’ (and me) to thinking all three were cool again. Trendy hip coffee shops opened everywhere or as my friend Mike joked “I hear they are opening a new Starbucks… in my living room.” That 25-cent cup-o-joe to go from the diner-counter became a $5 beverage from a standalone store drive-thru.

Sure, living in Miami through High School, I acquired a taste for the occasional mega-sugared shot of Cuban coffee, but that is to coffee what candied yams are to fresh vegetables. I was out of college and working for almost a decade before I really acquired a taste for the bean nectar.

One icy cold winter I found myself at a job in Minnesota with a constantly running coffee pot a few feet from my desk.  A hot cuppa on those sub-zero mornings seemed like a really good idea. The intoxicating aroma, the heated steam on your face, that warmth sliding down your throat… I went from zero to a hundred in seconds flat. I did not want any cooling cream or sweet sugar to dilute it. Within two weeks I went from an occasional sip of tea guy to a couple-a cups of straight black coffee a-day dude.

I still don’t touch all the frou-frou coffee drinks. To me, most coffee shops look more like desert parlors or ice cream shoppes serving all sorts of high caloric whipped frappe’ed frothy beverages that have little to do with coffee.  I drink it right out of the pot straight and black; the bitter stuff you would expect to find in a short blue Grecian patterned Anthora waxy paper cup, like my working stiff Dad might have ordered at Chock full o’Nuts, the Automat or any corner New York diner.

Dad still enjoys a cup after meals. Even with shutting my eyes tightly and pressing my vivid twisted imagination to its max, I still cannot conceive of my Pop walking into a Starbucks and dropping several bucks for the simplest cup of plain coffee. As a matter of fact, I am sure in his 90 years he has never uttered terms like ‘venti half-caff soy’, ‘extra foam’ or grande quad nonfat one-pump no-whip mocha caramel drizzle macchiato’.   I think if I asked him to define “double dirty chai latte” he would say it was either an Italian car, a cleaning service or a French stripper.

I was a mostly home-brewed guy, but my wife got me hooked on the Starbucks app. Now I can venture out and with no human interaction, still get my little cup of black coffee. I push a few buttons, walk in, and its sitting waiting for me. But a strange thing has recently happened. Despite the constantly flowing percolator in my company’s break-room, my five home machines, the one on at my desk and the three Starbucks within a mile of my office, I suddenly have found myself drinking a lot of tea during the day. It has not replaced my coffee intake completely, but a few big bold black cups of Earl Gray has defiantly taken the spot of one or two of my gazillion daily cups of coffee. I guess maybe I should hold off on the direct-vain mainline coffee drip.

dan astro

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NEVER ESCAPING MY LITTLE TOWN

I was 12 years old when singer Paul Simon recorded the song My Little Town. I could not afford to buy the album it was on, so instead I immediately purchased the much cheaper 45rpm single. I brought it home and played it over and over and over until my older sister barged into my room yelling if she ‘heard that damn song echoing through her bedroom wall one more time, she was going to smash my record into a zillion pieces’.  I believed her. She had experience. There was an oft repeated family story of a very little Ellen and her twin brother Arthur using Mom’s old 78rpm records as Frisbees against the basement wall, loudly laughing with glee as shellac shards exploded everywhere.  Mom still bemoans the loss of her favorite Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Andrew Sister’s records at the hands of her heedless children. I was already too attached to my new record to allow it to meet the same demise.

Growing up, there always seemed to be music in our house. In between weather and traffic reports on the hour, Mom would sing along to the staticy radio that sat atop the refrigerator playing the soft music she grew up with.  Dad occasionally rattled the windows blasting his Beethoven albums on Sunday mornings. Ellen taught herself guitar and banjo. Sam’s ability to play trumpet got him assigned to the Stateside Army band instead of Vietnam. Arthur owned some novelty records by Soupy Sales and Lou Monte that opened my eyes to that whole genre of music.  Neil and his then girlfriend, later wife, Martha would occasionally make their own attempt to stumble through the guitar chords to the songs on his favorite folkie records by Gordon Lightfoot, Jim and Ingrid Croce, Simon and Garfunkel and Tom Paxton.

I got hooked on Paul Simon through borrowing Neil’s old records. Simon’s songs, like my favorites by the Beatles, felt like tight little stories or poetry, full of creative imagery that somehow made more sense in my world then the heavier more ominous Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Springsteen stuff the other kids at school were into. My hormone-driven lonely preteen angst caused me to desperately relate to My Little Town, Simon’s homage to the part of Queens he was raised in, a mere 2 miles from where I lived.

Coming home after school
Riding my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze

I did not have to close my eyes to picture what he was singing about, I just had to look out my window. Even at my age, the concept of waxing nostalgic about a place and time that really was not that great, made perfect sense to me. The only difference was, I had not escaped it yet. I was still living in the thick of it.

In my little town I never meant nothing
I was just my father’s son

Born during the last gasp of the Baby Boom, I was an oops child, dramatically younger than my siblings. That age gap caused me to feel disconnected from everyone else in our busy house and the aging of the neighborhood with less children and more old people, made me feel just as isolated outside too.  I felt like another nameless kid stuck growing up in a working-class neighborhood that’s only unique feature that differentiated it from the rest of New York City was its massive amounts of cemeteries.

Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town

Neil used to jokingly describe our neighborhood’s social strata as ‘upper poverty’ but even though New York in the early 1970s was bankrupt, dangerous and dirty, my world was never really that bleak. My unhappiness was self-inflicted. Luckily, time, age and distance have tinkered with my yellow edged memories to the point that for I really can’t say for certain if my childhood was good or bad. I can only confirm from Dad’s old Polaroids, that it was mine.

Earlier this year my brother Arthur described his childhood as crap but I’m not sure he really meant it or his recollections are just as muddy and blurred as mine.  Though I think we both agree that our ‘little town’ was a great place to move away from.

Recently, Arthur posted online a very heartfelt piece about growing up with no real belief or expectations of seeing much of the world beyond our local streets. Yet now his extra-paged passport is filled with stamps from his travels all around the world lecturing, writing and rubbing shoulders with performers and Nobel Prize winners. He escaped our ‘little town’ through his brains, attending MIT up in Boston. Actually, my whole family left. Sam was the first, moving to Connecticut. Neil went there too and then later made his way to Ohio, while Ellen headed to the warm south.

On the flight back from a recent trip to Iceland, I found myself flipping through my passport thinking about what my brother wrote. I too am sometimes amazed by how far from the old neighborhood my life has taken me. I broke away from ‘my little town’ before I started High School when my folks and I moved to Florida for Dad’s work. Summers, I spent visiting my adult siblings. Suddenly I believed I could live anywhere and eventually I took a job where I traveled all over the country.

Some people are content to never leave the place they are born while others can’t wait to get away. I’m glad I left but I also realize I would not be the man I am, if I was not raised there. It is a part of me that continues to shape my views and opinions of everything. I’ve gone back to visit and from the outside some things have changed while others are the exact same. Last month I even found current photos of our old bedrooms on Zillow.

Although I might not have my own Wikipedia page like Arthur does, I still feel like I’ve taken the good from my past while moving beyond the constraints of ‘my little town’ to become more than just my Father’s son.

And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It’s not that the colors aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
Everything’s the same back in my little town

My Little Town Sleeve

 

 

 

 

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VALENTINE SWINE

So, the other night my wife and I were driving home from a pork party… Hold on there!!! I can hear you cackling all the way through the inter-webby net. Cool yer britches and calm down with the off-color jokes. The wife and I were attending a big old delicious highfalutin pig-eatin’ festival. Jeeez.

I’ll get back to the drive home part in a minute, but I should say there was a handful of sign-carrying protesters outside the event that even caused a traffic accident as we tried to pull into the parking lot. I guess some folks are pro piggy parties and others are anti-hoggy hoop-dee-doos. So, I’m sorry if attending offended any of my vegetarian, vegan and ardent PETA pals along with my friends who have followed a strict religious interpretation of Leviticus 11:7-8, Deuteronomy 14:8, Quran verse 173 and of course the whole Kosher gang at the ‘Gog. Please all, forgive me for I do loves me da bacon.

It all started with not wanting to deal with a Valentine’s Day dinner out at an overcrowded, understaffed, overwhelmed restaurant. We instead made a last-minute decision to skip the traditional crowded cafes and go to the Cochon555 event in the grand ballroom of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel. Because where else would you throw a big ole’ hog fete but at one of the ritziest joints in town. But don’t think about that wacky juxtaposition too long, it will hurt your head, like the unanswerable question ‘is a hot dog a sandwich’?

The Dallas Cochon555 was a sensational Swine-a-bration, a prodigious Pig-a-palloza, a marvelous Meati Gras, a perfect Pork-topia… sorry… Actually, it was this year’s kick-off to the multi-city decade-old chef competition to benefit and celebrate the few family farms still out there humanely raising wonderful heritage breed specialty hogs. Several top local chefs each prepared a handful of dishes that the crowd of several hundred sampled and voted on. There was also a sommelier slam and another competition for tequila drinks. So basically, we used Valentine’s Day as a good excuse to pig-out on a mess ‘o’ porcine products. I kept waiting to hear someone in the crowd use the term ‘My Porky Valentine’ but no one was that crazy.

After a wee bit of over-indulging in swine and wine, the wife and I discovered we were not the only ones with the idea to slip away from the noisy brouhaha to rest on the comfortable chairs out in the quiet lobby. As I’ve gotten older, I have slowed down a bit. Years ago, I would have been go go go, eat eat eat, drink drink drink and not taken a break. Certainly, I would not have skipped the tastings of a dozen premium scotch and bourbons. Hell, I didn’t even get to half the wines. True, I sampled most of the pork dishes but did not go back for seconds… too much. I mean, it is pork. But even though the three-hour event ended at 7:30, we were weary and barely made it through the final judging.

Afterwards on the drive home, instead of mushy Valentinery chatter, our conversation drifted to the evening’s reminders of the current limitations of our bodies. I don’t fight or ignore stuff like allergies or aging or any of the things we brought up that interrupt our fun. I’m more of the ‘it is what it is’ school of thought. Deal with it, move on and enjoy life as much as possible within the limits the world has thrown at me.

My wife’s philosophy about it is more all-encompassing to her entire life. In conversations like this, she is quick to say, “these things happen in my world.” It’s not a bad woe-is-me sort of thing, just an all-inclusive pragmatic view. Maybe its her stoic mid-west / Iowa roots, but she almost seems to expect something to be out of whack and never seems nonplussed at what, good or bad, befalls her.

On the drive, she used the example of the fender bender she had a few years back. It was not the usual accidental crunch. That would have been too common for her. No, she was slowly hit on an uncrowded street… by a kindly elderly man… driving an expensive Lexus SUV… pulling out of a retirement village… on his way to an optometrist appointment. You can’t make that stuff up. And that just seems to be the norm in her world. She looks at the aches and quirks her body and the passing years throw at her as the icing on her crazy cake of life.

Unfortunately, she has some food allergies that wreak havoc on her at un-menued festivals like that night’s pig-fest. I’m sympathetic, I have insect allergies that completely limit me anytime I step out the door. ‘It is what it is’. ‘These things happen in our world’. We both have ‘stuff’… lots of ‘stuff’, which makes us incredibly understanding about the other person’s ‘stuff’. I guess our mutual tolerance and respect of each other’s foibles is one of the many things that makes our relationship work. And as much as the chowing down on a mountain of pork was good, being reminded of how good my marriage is on Valentines really is the perfect gift.

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LOSING TOUCH WITH NUMBER ONE

I bought into it. I can’t say if I was brainwashed or hypnotized or Spock mind-melded or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I believed.

No, I was not blindly led by a random savior claiming to deliver me a ramification-less salvation, nor was I a cult member waiting for the spaceship hidden behind a comet to take me away.  I was not even under the spell of the Evil Wizard Glick and his brain-controlling Frodis plant. No ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, what I bought into hook line and sinker was even crazier. You see, I believed in music.

Okay, I still believe in the ‘power’ of music. How hearing a song can change your mood or instantly transport you back to a time or place. The right chorus of voices can uplift my soul and a sad cello can bring me to tears. There are songs that cause a stupid uncontrollable grin to appear on my face as I relive a first touch or kiss.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Let me explain.

I was a dorky loner as a little kid. I did not have a lot of friends, but I did have a LOT of hand me down records from my four older siblings. I spent way more hours than a small human should, listening to those 45 rpm records. When Mom would demand I go outside and play, I would hook up an extension cord and drag my record player outside to our city-sized concrete backyard. Then when I was around 7 years-old, I discovered radio. Portable transistor horrible sounding staticy AM WABC pop radio.

I listened intently to the big deep echoed voices talking not just to me but to an unknown number of others that, unlike the other kids in the neighborhood, might be just like me. It sounded so important. With great fanfare, they would announce which songs were moving up the charts to the coveted Number One spot.

Number One. I was never number one at anything. I was never picked early when kids where choosing sides for sports, my grades were middle of the road average, my favorite sports teams hadn’t won a championship in my lifetime, I had no hobbies I excelled at, hell I was even the last born of five kids. But I could follow a song inching up to Number One. I studied the charts like a bible.  I felt a part of something. Number One.  I bought and listened to that record which meant that I directly helped push that thing up the list.

In the entertainment section of our local Sunday newspaper they used to post a list of the top ten songs. As if they were some important statistic, each week I cut those out and saved them. Like watching an incredibly slow horse race, I would track the rise and fall of each song, rooting for the ones I liked to hit Number One. Then it all culminated in December for the countdown to the Number One song of the year!

One day while leafing through music magazines at the store, I stumbled across Billboard magazine. Billboard!?!  That’s who was credited and entrusted with the vital task of tracking the popular song rankings. Like the ring announcer at the end of a fight, those were the guys that officially declared who was Number One. I felt like an insider. I mean, come on I knew Billboard and one of my brother’s was an overnight DJ one day a week at his Junior College radio station. I was wayyyy inside.

What I did not know back when I was 9 years old in 1972, was the music industry was a well-oiled money-making machine. I was not following the equivalent of an Olympic race, I was following something like professional wrestling. A song did not rise to Number One based solely on its creative musical merits but through a carefully orchestrated expensively manipulated and highly controlled process. I was a sheep being blindly led, corralled and unbeknownst to me, spoon-fed exactly what they wanted me to listen to.

Once I eventually caught on, who was Number One suddenly became unimportant.  At the same time, FM radio was becoming more popular with its goal of being anti-hit record. That Top 40 chart was for suckers, for the masses that bought into what the Man was selling. If you were cool, there was a whole other thing going on. Album tracks, obscure stuff, oldies, jazz, blues… This was a whole new course of study. This was not remedial grammar school pop charts class 101. I was enrolling in the University Of Twentieth Century Modern Music.

By the time I was 12, I was devouring books about my favorite musicians or how blues and jazz combined to make rock n roll.  I became obsessed with The Beatles, Chuck Berry and all sorts of stuff beyond the old pop records from my siblings. And the stranger, weirder, more unusual and obscure, the more I loved it. Dr. Demento was my Moses leading me into the promised land.

Through High School and College, I started finally making real friends and I tortured them all with my eclectic tastes. I could discuss music with the best of them.  I dug deeper into roots music while keeping up with punk, disco, new wave and the birth of rap. My buddy Mike and I constantly trolled record stores for music but then something happened.

As with most folks, the real-world crept in. Work, family and lack of time juggled my priorities. Age created prospective and through older eyes things looked different. The importance of music in my life waned.  As less and less people cared, my knowledge of ‘who created what’ and ‘who influenced who’ diminished in value too. It’s pop culture, not world history. It has an expiration date with a depreciated need and worth.

Meanwhile, that money-making music industry I was talking about, well Grandpa Napster and its many internet babies killed that. Now everyone knows that Top 40 chart is nonsense and the manipulated music heroes of today are shadows of what they were. Disposable. Like tissues in box, there when you need it and easy to toss away because we all know there is another right behind it. There is no need to research or collect because it’s all online for anyone to stumble over anytime for free.

I still like to drape the background of my life with music. I still constantly look for something creative and different for listening and sharing. Music is still there… it’s just my needs and beliefs are different.

dan W RECORDS

DAN WITH FIRST RECORD COLLECTION

 

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23 AND FLEE

My wife suggested I take one of those popular 23 And Me at home genetic ancestry tests but I’m afraid it will just tell me I’m 30% Eastern European and 70% Doofus. Since I’m already pretty sure of the results, it seems like wasted money. Although I guess there is always the chance of discovering I’m something like 3% Dystopian or Hekawi. I guess I could cheap-out and take a discount No-Brand Generic Genetic knock-off version of the test but I’d feel really stupid if it simply told me I’m from Earth.

In reality, I cannot complain about my Russian/Hungarian genes. Mom’s 89 and Dad is in his 90s, so assuming I don’t play in traffic, take up a daily two pack of cigarettes and crystal meth habit or get too cocky reaching east and west on a ladder, I will be around to torture y’all with my blog for a while longer.

Now that does not mean my family is not loaded with wacky genetic quirks. A couple of hours at any of our reunions would easily confirm that. But as annoying as they may be, I’ll take my lack of hair, occasional vertigo, warped world view and allergy to insects over the heavy-duty serious burdens some folks bizarrely tangled DNA saddles them with.

My minor stuff aside, the real nuisance that all the men in my family have had to deal with is our astoundingly bad vision. Somewhere in my muddled memories I recall hearing Dad could not follow his childhood dream of becoming a pilot or joining the Air Force because of his horrible eye sight. My inconveniences have not been quite as dramatic. Not able to read the clock when I wake up, the bridge of my nose getting cut up from being slapped in the face playing basketball, annoying smudges while trying to focus in a dark movie theater… My world got better 20 years ago when I got contact lens, but I clearly remember the day when Dad kept me out of my school in second grade to take me to the ‘City’ to get my first pair of eyeglasses.

When most people think of New York City, they picture the tall buildings and hustle bustle of Manhattan, not the blocks of endless houses and apartment buildings out in the boroughs where I grew up. My earliest memories of going into the ‘City’ were sitting backwards in the way back of our family’s early 1960’s big boat of a Buick station wagon.

Every few months all seven of us would pile into the car and head through Queens passed the long-ago demolished landmark red and white checker-boarded Maspeth Gas Holders, over the Williamsburg Bridge, through Manhattan’s then ghetto-ish Lower East Side, down Delancey and Chrystie Streets through the rough and tumbly Bowery, to Dad’s buddy’s second floor Mott St. restaurant in Chinatown. We would always park in the free street spots a few blocks away near the downtown courthouse at the foothills of the Brooklyn Bridge.

As a real little kid, aside from those family jaunts to the Joy Garden restaurant, I did not make it into the City much and I only remember once going with Dad alone. I was about 6 or 7 years old when he took me to the eye doctor to be fitted for my first pair of glasses. Later on I went to an optometrist near the house but money was tight then so I assume Dad knew a guy in town where he could get a deal. Dad seemed to always ‘know a guy’.

It was the first time I ever remember taking a train into the City. Although I could not tell you exactly where the building was, I recall the office did not have windows. I had no choice in the frames picked for me; Dad simply got me the same black horned rimmed ones that he and all three of my older brothers wore. Sadly, it was not till I was heading into High School that I realized I did not have to look like a dork-a-saurus and could get somewhat contemporary glasses that I actually chose.

After leaving the eye doctor’s office that day, we did something that has never happened before or since. Dad and I alone went to a nearby pizza parlor for lunch. He ordered a big meatball parmesan sub sandwich and gave me a third. Sure, I’d been to pizzerias before but I had never eaten anything like that. It was decadently great and as a guilty pleasure, I still love them. That amazing cheese dripping hero did not make up for having to wear glasses, but it helped make that day a lot better.

elementdan

BESPECTACLED AND STYLING….’ Still wearing em’ in 6th grade!

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