Thursday, December 24, 2015

That Night, Again...Again

     Jesse shoved his dead beagle out of the way with his bare foot and set another log on the fire, watched the smoke curl around it for a second, then leaned back in his cracked red leather easy chair.  “Okey-dokey,” he said.  His favorite word.  He reached for the cup of hot cocoa on the tv tray, let the sweet steam waft up into his nostrils, and smiled.  He took a small sip.  A bit of melted marshmallow clung to his upper lip.  He felt it sitting there, wiped it off with the back of his hand.

“Bet you would’ve liked some hot cocoa, Samson,” he said to the immobile dog.  Samson had been dead four days now, but he was the only company Jesse had.  Better a dead dog than no one.  Even if Samson had still been breathing, Jesse wouldn’t have given him any cocoa.  He knew that chocolate was bad for a dog, something about their digestive system not being able to handle it.  And he sure wouldn’t have done it with just one more day til Christmas.  Ain’t no way to find a decent vet on Christmas day, he knew.  All the good ones are at home with family or on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, he figured.  

Outside, a soft snow began spreading its stark winter blanket across the neighborhood.  The first snow of the year, and what better time than on the night before Christmas.  He looked out the window.  “Okey-dokey.” 

Jesse thought about the dogs of his life.  His best friends.  Dogs that died before they left puppyhood, dogs that trembled and slept into old-age.  Samson was one of his favorite dogs, probably the last one he’d ever have.  “Got you the year after Emma passed,” said Jesse.  He remembered other Christmas eves, when Emma would hang the stockings on the mantle, wrap last minute presents, slide chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.  Forty-six years of chocolate chip cookies must be some kind of record, both for baking and eating, he thought.  He wondered how many chips of chocolate had melted down on their behalf.

Emma had gone off her meds before she passed, twelve years ago.  Except she didn’t know she had.  She had become impossible to live with, drove Jesse up one wall and down another with her incessant complaining and whining, her mind melting down like those chocolate chips.  So he dumped her meds, all seven bottles of them, down the toilet, replaced them with placeboes.  He liked that word “placebo.”   It took a couple of weeks, but eventually Emma passed in her sleep.  “A peaceful placebo departure,” said Jesse at his most poetic. 

He lifted Samson by his tail, half off the floor, to reveal the tattered book under his rump.  He picked it up and turned to the first page.  He always felt a thrill when he read aloud the very first line.  “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house...”  What magic, what power, what craftsmanship.  Not “It was the night before,” but “Twas.”  Not “Christmas Eve,” but “the night before Christmas.”  Jesse stretched his legs out to let the fire warm his bare toes.  Samson slid across the hearth to the edge of the fire.  Outside the snow thickened, swirled, piled along the curbs and bushes.  The street lay silent, no headlights, no crunch of tires. 

Jesse continued his annual ritual aloud, to deaf, floppy ears.  “Not a creature was stirring...” He stopped on that line and laughed.  “You can say that again” and looked at Samson.  “...not even a mouse,  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.”  Jesse looked at the mantle.  Yep, the stockings were still there.  He had never gotten around to taking them down from last  year, although Emma had complained about that until midsummer. 

Jesse got as far as “... had just settled down for a long winter’s nap” when he smelled the burning, an acrid smell that was neither oak nor hickory.  He looked down at the fireplace.  Samson was smoking.  Or at least the fur on his backside was, turning the dull brown fur into stringy black ash.   “Move away, dog,” he said, and reached over and scooted Samson to the side.  Luckily the dog had not burst into flame yet, and as the smoke subsided, Jesse approached the conclusion of the poem.  He stopped before the last page.  “Not so fast, not so fast,” he thought.  “Gotta let the magic last a little longer.”  He drained the cup, scooped the remaining marshmallow with his finger and licked it clean.  “Okey......”  He felt his eyes getting heavy.  The fire, the cocoa, the snow, his dog.  “How lucky I am,” he said aloud.  His eyes started to close.  But he had to get to the part about “But he heard him exclaim as he rose out of sight ...” and the rest of it.  His head nodded and his chin dropped to his chest.

The peace was shattered by a loud rap-rapping at his door.  Jesse lifted his head.  “Who could that be, Samson?”  He struggled out of his chair, shuffled to the door.  Another series of rap-rap-rapping, this time louder.  “Keep your shirt on, I’m coming, fast as I can,” said Jesse.  He opened the door.  And what to his wondering eyes should appear, but Santa Claus standing there, with no shirt on. 

“Sorry  couldn’t keep my shirt on,” said Santa.  “Are you named Jesse?”

Jesse nodded.  This was wonderful beyond belief. 

“Then let’s go for a ride,” said Santa with a hearty laugh, making his stomach shake like a bowl full of jelly.  He slipped on his red coat.

“I’ll get my coat,” said Jesse.

“No need to.  I’ve got a propane heater in my sleigh.  I just wear this because it’s expected.”  He laughed again.   “Here we go.”

Jesse and Santa walked out to the sleigh and climbed in behind the eight reindeer.  “Good looking reindeer,” said Jesse.

“I take good care of ‘em.  Thanks for noticing.”

“Bet you never give ‘em any chocolate.”

Santa smiled.  “You sure know your reindeer.”  He grabbed the reins and gave them a shake.  “Hold on, Jesse.”

As they rose above the house, the neighborhood, the town, Jesse heard Santa shout, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

“Okey-dokey,” shouted Jesse.

Friday, November 27, 2015

You Can Run but You Can't Hide

It's been headed this way for a couple of weeks now. Like a Tsunami that builds in strength as it nears. And nothing can stop it. So here we are, the day after Thanksgiving, and Black Friday has rolled ashore with what seems to be more power than ever.

It didn't even wait for Friday. Thursday night, after most people had cleaned up the dishes from turkey dinner and should have been watching a football game or a movie...THEY WERE SHOPPING! Really. Many stores and malls had opened their doors at 8:00 PM, and the parking lots were filling up. Black Friday had staged a strategic attack.

Every conceivable type of media has been used to drive the message home. Emails, websites, messaging, TV (network & cable), stacks of mail and newspaper inserts, posters and signs, and more. So I'm not telling you anything you don't know. Here's what you don't know, though. I thought I was impervious to all the deals. But I'm not so sure now. I opened ten pounds of newspaper today and found nine pounds of it was Black Friday specials. 

"Pitch it," I thought. Too late. I had already started looking through the inserts.

At Kohl's I could get a "Foldable gaming chair with onboard speakers" for only $40. Regular price: $100. I don't even play games but that chair looks pretty cool. One of the Door Buster specials was a pair of Dearfoams for only $13. Originally $36!!!! That's more than 50% off. Gotta get a pair for Mary Lee. Even though she already has a pair.

Gordmans has a "single cat tunnel" for 8 bucks. After 1 PM the price goes up to $25. I don't even like cats but how can I pass up a deal like that? Here's one of the best deals I've ever seen. It's at Menards: A 30 Ton Log Splitter with a "Powerful electric start LCT 208cc OHV engine." The price? $799. Sounds like a lot, but that's a SAVINGS OF $800. Maybe I'll get two, give one to a neighbor or friend who has some big logs.

Even though I haven't been to a Sears store in a couple of decades, I've gotta go now. They are offering Wolverine 6" Workboots at 50% off. I know I'm basically retired, but still, a guy's gotta have some Wolverine Workboots, right? For those long, hard days at my iMac.

The list - and the needs and wants - go on and on. Macy's almost giving away coats and shirts and sweaters for next to nothing. JC Penney with a tempting 13-piece set of Cooks Aluminum Nonstick Cookware for a mere $30. Regular price: $100. How can they do that and stay in business? 

And so it goes. From Kmart, Target, Sports Authority, Dick's Sporting Goods. Many I pitched but there are two more I'm headed out to get as soon as I finish writing this. One is a 90" sofa for only $129 at Ashley Furniture Homestore. I have no idea where the store is but I'll find it. And finally, a visit to GanderMTN.
That's where I'll pick up a Glock 42 pistol for $400. The savings is only $30 but still, I've never owned a Glock. This is the year to carry. I'll check out holsters while I'm there.

Don't bother responding to this post. Do yourself a favor. Jump in the car and head to the store - any store - and get a great deal on almost anything you need. Go ahead. Now. Black Friday won't last forever.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Where Have All the Pumpkins Gone?

Peter, Paul and Mary didn't sing about where the pumpkins have gone, but they should have. There's something inherently sad about a population of these familiar objects that invade markets and non-profit lots in mid-October, only to totally disappear on Nov. 1. It's almost a religious thing, like the Rapture, when all these ribbed globes are called home.They are not among the chosen gourds.

Granted, it's not a total disappearance. Many of them stick around to have their innards scooped out, stirred and beaten and whipped and baked, eventually to re-appear as a pie or cupcake or mini-loaf of bread. Of course some pumpkins stick around for quite awhile, making their way through Thanksgiving and, frequently. as far as Christmas. As pies or decorations. What a way to go.

But wait! There's more. Wandering the aisles of Trader Joe's one Saturday in mid-October, I found an array of pumpkin-connected items. Such as a spiced pumpkin-mango-apple juice blend (I didn't buy it); Joe's O's (their version of Cheerios) with pumpkin enhancements; pumpkin flavored cookies, candy bars, ice cream and soup. I passed through the wine and beer section and spotted several versions of pumpkin ale. I draw the line at raspberry flavored beer. Pumpkin is a step too far. I didn't check out the wine, though I'm sure some winery has seen fit to try that concoction. 

Back to The Disappearance. Where do they go?                                                    

Here are two photos of Kirkwood Market, shortly before Oct. 31. A festive scene, you must agree. The market is filled with these jolly round characters basking in the autumn sun, waiting to be chosen by some exuberant  child or adoring mother. 

Now here's the market two days 
after Halloween.

Kind of scary, right? It's as though they were kidnapped in the middle of the night, after the costumed trick-or-treaters had their bags full of Snickers, KitKats, and candy apples. So, again I wonder: Where do they go? Is it possible that there really is a "calling them home" for pumpkins, much like the Rapture? 

Yesterday, having voted with Mary Lee, I was driving through downtown Kirkwood and felt the urge for some ice cream. So I headed over to Andy's Frozen Custard place, intending to get a vanilla soft-serve cone. Here's a special they were offering. A vanilla concrete blended with a slice of pumpkin pie. It has enough calories, cholesterol and sugar to last through Thanksgiving. At least for me. I admit, it was good, but I think once a year is enough.

So what's the answer to "where have all the pumpkins gone?" 
Consider these possibilities. They may go to the same place where the Mayan civilization went. Maybe they go to where the folks on Easter Island or Cahokia went. Some other dimension in time, perhaps, or to That Great Pumpkin Patch in the Sky (shades of Charlie Brown). Wherever they go, I hope they're treated gently, with dignity and appreciation. After all, they bring so much color and joy to us on that special holiday. It's the least we can do for them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


There are weeks that pass without leaving a trace of themselves. Silent strangers that pass without a whisper or a footprint. We ask ourselves, “Where did the week go?” Occasionally, however, a week will pause, declare itself with emphasis, mark its passage in neon. Recently, it was more than one week. Almost two.

The days and nights contained fulfilling highs and, sadly, a painful low. Such is time. Such is life.

At the risk of seeming indulgent or boring, here’s how the past twelve days went down. If you have something better to do, like rake leaves or bake chocolate chip cookies, go to it. Just click “like” or whatever you click on the blog so I know someone’s reading these things.

The events began on a Wednesday night, Oct. 14, with a play at New Jewish Theater. A friend and fine actor, Peter Mayer, was hilarious in “The Sunshine Boys,” one of Neil Simon’s funniest in my opinion. John Contini  was his able partner in comedy. I covered it for a new theatrical online service called “” 

Thursday I attended a dinner at Acero, in Maplewood, in honor of a guy I used to work with at D’Arcy Advertising. I thought he had died years ago, but turns out he died earlier this year. Stan Moon always wore a bowtie and had a vocabulary that made me feel like a high school dropout. He had been living in Asheville, NC, where he had retired to. Delicious dinner, though (scallops for me), sat between two former D’Arcy guys - Wes Custer and Ed Smith. It was a fine tribute put together by his son Nik.

Friday morning I was at Powell Hall for a “donuts and coffee” concert. One of my favorite events. Kind of a senior Woodstock. The SLSO performed music by Bernstein (“On the Waterfront” suite), a piano concerto by Schumann, and a dynamic rendering of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” The bad news was they ran out of donuts. I only got one. The hall was packed, lots of young people from high schools. I’m sure they ate most of the donuts. To be young and unafraid of sugar and fat.

Saturday night and Sunday brunch was “best friends forever” time. 
Five of us guys who stretch back to grade school. One of them was in town from Aspen, where he lives in something between an estate and a castle, on a mountain of course. He was the smart one. Dinner with our wives at the house of one of the couples, Steve and Julie Plax. Then brunch on Sunday at Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End. Guys only. 

Leisurely, laughter, stimulating conversation, perfect Eggs Benedict. followed by a leisurely walk around the Grand Basin in Forest Park on a stunning autumn day.

Last Monday night Mary Lee and I saw Josh Groban in concert at the Peabody Opera House. That guy has some pipes, as they used to say. A beautiful show in a classy venue, although I don’t think it’s changed much since I went there when it was Kiel Opera House. Best memories of it: Jazz at the Phil, and the St. Louis Symphony with Vladimir Golschman conducting. Probably when I was in grade school. I can’t believe I remember his name. I’ll remember Josh Groban’s name too. The place was sold out.

Tuesday around noon I got the call from Jerry Sexton. As soon as I saw his name on my iPhone, I knew. His wife Maryann had passed away during the night. Jerry and Maryann - names forever linked - were two of our dearest friends. The four of us shared so much, enjoyed each other’s sense of humor, appreciation for good food and movies and theater. I have photo albums filled with pictures of us - in Brazil, in China, in Louisville for the annual Festival of New American Plays, and on and on. We all knew time was running out for her. Still……

Skip to this past Thursday. A gentle day, fall weather holding nicely. Mary Lee and I, along with Sadie and Lexi, took a day trip to Ste. Genevieve (an 
hour away), for fried chicken and onion rings at The Anvil on the town square. Then a short stop in Hawn State Park. Bad idea. The Conversation Dept. was doing a once-every-3-year burn. We drove down the road, around the curve, and ran into thick smoke and approaching flames. You’d think they’d put up a warning sign. We got out of there, watery eyes and all, went for a short hike at Pickel Creek, then ended up having coffee at ColJac Cafe in beautiful, downtown Farmington. They make a mean iced frappuccino and the best biscotti I’ve had in years. By the way, there’s a very old state mental hospital in Farmington. Why is this meaningful? Because that’s where the sister of Tennessee Williams spent the rest of her life after a less than successful prefrontal lobotomy many decades ago. We didn’t go there.

I was reminded of how precious life is on Friday evening. Visitation, or a gathering of friends, for Maryann. The line was out the door and stayed that way for two hours or more. I always have trouble making any meaningful conversation at times like this. I basically sit and stare, which some people write off as “he’s unfriendly.” No, just quiet. At times like these, the strength of family and friends makes itself felt. Afterwards, Mary Lee and I needed a bit of an uplift, so we used our two tickets to the Symphony at Powell, my mind bouncing between the music and Maryann and Jerry. Then a quiet trip home to our waiting golden retrievers, who were unusually attentive. They understood.

Saturday morning I went to Mass. Not one of my favorite things to do. But this was for Maryann at Holy Redeemer in Webster. In front of us, on stage, five priests in white, an urn, and a smiling photo of Maryann. Highlight of the morning, for me, was the eulogy delivered by Tim, their son. Maybe the most meaningful eulogy I’ve ever heard. He writes for a living - a screenwriter in LA - and he showed just how beautifully he can write, how deeply he can reach. 

Final installment: last night, Sunday, Oct.25. Stevie Wonder at Scottrade Center with his “Songs in the Key of Life” tour. I can't believe how many great songs he's written. At age 65 he doesn't slow down, putting all his energy into a 3 1/2 hour concert. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

So, if you're still with me - and I hope you are - take heart in the fact that occasionally time will slow down to make an imprint on your life, even as it refuses to completely stop. But you know that wouldn't be any fun. It's in the passing that makes the pauses so meaningful. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

And now a sign from our sponsors

Sitting at Busch Stadium last night, watching the Red Birds eek out a victory over the Reds, my eyes were frequently attracted to the huge Budweiser neon in right-center. During one of the many lulls in the game during the first seven innings... and there were many (batter tightens and re-tightens his batting glove; pitcher steps off the mound and scratches his crotch; catcher jogs out to whisper a few words to the pitcher; etc etc)... I decided to count the number of sponsors visible in the ballpark. Believe me, there are signs all over the place.

My final tally was 40. I'm sure I missed a few. And some of them change during the game. In a slow game, you can try to pick the next sign to change. It seems every square inch of space has been sold to some advertiser. And that's just inside the stadium. Outside, Busch Stadium makes you feel as though you're standing in the middle of Times Square at night.

Here's the point. The Cardinal management has found a way to cash in on every aspect of the game, even to the distraction from the sport. The cost of tickets, hot dogs, beer, soda, popcorn, clothing, parking, big screen promotions (they were promoting Blues hockey last night, believe it or not) and all the rest bring in a lot of dough. (2 hot dogs and 2 beers cost me $33 last night. At least I got sauerkraut on my dog....and on my lap.) The name of the game is obviously money.

Here's a partial list of the companies fighting for your attention with their signs (besides Bud):
Big Mac...Fox Sports...CocaCola...the Post Dispatch...Hardee's...Dierberg's... Dobbs...National Car Rental...Scottrade.. Gulf...State Farm...Bank of America...Weber Seasoning...Fabick...Mercy Medical...BJC (a hospital group)..Jimmy Johns...Stifel...Office Essentials....Boeing. And I'm only halfway through the list.

No wonder I'd rather watch a game on TV. At least I can hit the mute button when the commercials come on. And while I'm in a complaining mode, I think Major League Baseball should strictly prohibit organs and organ players at any and all baseball games. These people can't stand a moment of silence; they fill every pause with their musical enthusiasm. Maybe they're paid by the note. I'm sure there's a nice little village in the Ozarks where they could gather.

I was going to end this diatribe with a word from my sponsor, but enough's enough. In the meantime, I'll be rooting for the Cards to take it all this fall.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Man in the Red Crocs

There isn’t much to do in a waiting room except wait. Which is what I was doing last week at the VA at Jefferson Barracks. I go there twice a year for an exam and get my meds from them. Yes, I was in the Army but you don’t have to thank me for my service. It was their idea.
     So on this day there was just one other guy in the waiting room. Him and me and 22 empty chairs, plus a TV set at one end with a cooking show. (How many vets want to watch a cooking show? Just wondering.) So this guy was somewhere between 60 and 75 I guess, had a bushy white beard, lots of hair on top of his head, and a friendly face. He held a plastic bag that contained 3 or 4 round things. My guess is that it was fruit, like plums or apricots. I knew it wasn’t golf balls.
     My appointment had been for 10:00, but I was still sitting there at 10:45, so I was rather desperate for some relief from the boredom. That’s when I noticed his shoes. Red Crocs.
     “I like your shoes,” I said. That’s an easy way to start off a conversation. Guaranteed to get some kind of response, usually something in the way of       “Yeah, they’re comfortable” or “I got ‘em on sale” or just a simple “Thanks,” which usually ends the conversation.
     Not on this day. My bearded friend was delighted to talk about his Crocs. The following conversation is guaranteed authentic. I used my “Recorded” app on my iPhone.
     He said, “They look just like house shoes, complete house shoes with the heel back there and everything. The ones for the winter time don’t have holes in them, but they’re lined. Some people in life, and you know these people, their feet don’t hardly get cold.
But these are house shoes, and you can wear a pair of socks with them.. they’re plenty roomy.
     “Do you wear these all the time? Or do you wear other shoes?” I said.
     “I only wear these.” He got up from his chair, crossed the room, and sat next to me, so I could get a really good look at his Crocs.  “If I went to church, I’d wear ‘em to church. You can get ‘em in so many colors. Nowadays, most of ‘em at church, don’t even care how you dress, as long as you show up. You know, these kids.” He took one of his shoes off, handed it to me. “You can give ‘em away to the homeless as a last minute pair of shoes.”
     I held his shoe, by the heel. “How many pairs do you have?” I said.
     “I’ve got a total of three pair. A winter pair at home. Another pair like this that are dark blue. Just three pair. You can buy ‘em online. But for the first time you’re better off if you go to the mall. That way you can find out if you really like ‘em.” 
     He gave me directions to the nearest mall. I’d never heard of it.  Then a VA tech came in, talked to my friend about his meds, and said he’d have to go down to the pharmacy to get them. So I could feel our conversation coming to an end.
     As he started to leave, I said. “Nice talking to you.” He stopped and said the same.
     “What’s your name?” I said.
     “Where did you serve?” 
     In a matter-of-fact voice, he said, “I was in Viet Nam. 1968. Mobile river marine force. On a boat, with the Navy. We were in the Army, but the Navy transported us up and down the river, to get to where we needed to get to.” He checked the contents of his bag. “I was only there a year. Half of ’68 and half of ’69. But I did my part and I left.”
     I wasn’t sure whether to ask my next question, but I did anyway. “You come out okay?”
     “Yes,” he said, again as though he were talking about what he had for breakfast. “Well, kind of okay. Agent orange, of course. Agent orange has some effect on your body, it shows up later. Sometimes lots later. Well, they’re the boss, so what you say doesn’t mean anything. I guess I’m doing okay.”
     He took a step towards me and I thought he was going to talk about his health. I was wrong. He said, ‘One big change I’d like to see in this system, make an agreement with Walgreens to be able to walk into Walgreens, show ‘em your ID, and get your prescription there, and paid for by the people here.”
     “Good idea,” I said. And I meant it.
     He smiled, waved. “Have a good rest of the day.” And he left the room in his red Crocs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Beware of Listening to Art Critics

You can put this in the category of "Too bad you didn't know then what you know now." I'm talking about art. Specifically, paintings. While looking through an old Life Magazine for an article on Charlie Chaplin's daughter Geraldine, I came across an article titled "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?”

The date on the magazine is January 31, 1964. That was about a year before I was married and still wondering what kind of career was ahead of me. Here’s how the article begins:
“For some of America’s best known critics and a host of laymen, the answer to the above question is a resounding YES. A critic of the New York Times, hedging only a bit, pronounced Roy Lichtenstein “one of the worst artists in America.” Others insist that he is no artist at all, that his paintings of blown-up comic strips, cheap ads and reproductions are tedious copies of the banal.”
That’s a pretty tough condemnation. If I read something like that, I’d pass on Lichtenstein and buy a big-eyed child by Keane. The article continues, “But an equally emphatic group of critics, museum officials and collectors find Lichtenstein’s pop art “fascinating,” “forceful,” “starkly beautiful.” 

I was not in a financial position to invest in art in 1964 or anytime soon after that. I knew nothing about art as an investment. My loss. Here’s what the article says about him.

“A quiet affable man of 40, he fully expected to be condemned for the subject matter as well as the style of his paintings. But he little dreamed that within two years of his first pop exhibition, his canvases would be selling out at prices up to $4,000 and he himself would be a cause celebre of the art world.”

When I saw that figure, I remembered something I had recently read about art auctions in New York. Paintings are going for record-setting prices. There are a lot of very wealthy people who deem it necessary to display their breeding and wave their money by owning major works of art.
So I Googled “Roy Lichtenstein.”
I went to the website of Christie’s, the art auction house.
I found the latest prices on 4 of Roy's paintings. One of them, the one you see in the photograph above, like a thing with two heads, on the right side, just sold for $56,000,000. That’s 56 MILLION $$$$$. Lichtenstein Paintings at Christie's
I knew his work was hot, but 56 million? For something I could have bought 51 years ago for $4,000? I think that’s an appreciation of 14,000%. Just imagine if I had bought TWO of them. And add a couple by Warhol, while we’re at it.

Obviously I should not have been putting my money into Mad Comics. 

I'm not sure what the moral is here. Don’t listen to critics? Pay attention only to certain critics? Follow your heart? I don’t know. I think the moral is to not read any more articles about artists in old Life Magazines. 

The article concludes with this thought:
"Eventually, Lichtenstein and his admirers expect, the repulsiveness of his subject matter will wear off and viewers will become more aware, and perhaps appreciative, of the esthetic qualities of his paintings."

That's for sure! Fifty-six million bucks is a lot of appreciation for one painting. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sadie & The Side Effects

Recently I took Sadie, my golden retriever, to the vet. (That's her in the foreground. Lexi owns the couch.) Sadie had developed a limp, "possibly arthritis in the shoulder," said the vet, who gave me a prescription for her. Meloxicam. 1 tablet by mouth every 24 hours. Note: If it hadn't said "by mouth," I'm not quite sure of how I would've administered the pills. I hate to think of the alternative.

I had the prescription filled, brought it home, gave her a pill, then decided to read the lengthy info sheet that came with the tiny pills. Big mistake. You probably know as well as I that you should never read about the possible side effects with any medication. Guaranteed you will end up not taking it, preferring to suffer with the disease or ailment rather than risk the side effects.

Meloxicam is classified as a NSAID. That's Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug. Sounds like the perfect treatment for arthritis or anything that makes a joint hurt or, in a dog's case, makes her limp. I looked at my beautiful dog, in the process of slowly digesting her Meloxicam, and realized what may be in store for her.

Of course there were the usual suspects: heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney failure, bleeding in the stomach and intestines, etc etc. It seems just about every prescription drug comes with these risks. Even Advil, Tylenol and aspirin have their dark side. I've never looked closely at a bottle of Pepto-Bismol but I suspect that lurking in that pink solution some evil malady awaits the man or woman with gastric distress.

So, back to Sadie and Meloxicam. It was some of the other side effects that caught my eye, started me wondering. For instance, "Asthma Attack." I would be hard pressed to distinguish between asthma in a dog and just plain panting. Unless, of course, they made a wheezing sound. No, I couldn't picture Sadie wheezing. Wheezing doesn't sound like a dog thing. "Dizziness" was another. I don't think I've ever seen a dizzy dog. I know dizzy people, but a dog? I guess that could be like a drunk dog, a weaving dog, like an art director I used to work with after several shots of vodka. He kept a bottle in his file cabinet. 

Among possible stomach reactions were constipation and diarrhea, which I won't discuss. Not a happy subject for man or beast. But there is one other that amused me. "Gas." Now I don't know if you've ever been around a dog that has gas, but it's a pretty disgusting scenario. Usually the action is silent, which means the effect hits you a few seconds after the expulsion. The dog is gone, and will have no idea what you're upset about if you try scolding him or her. Flatulence in a dog, however, can have dire social consequences. I know of this first hand. A friend of mine, many years ago, had a fox terrier named Daisy with chronic flatulence. Daisy seemed to store it up until my friend had a party. Then, while we were all sitting around the living room, Daisy would pick someone out, walk over to them, sit by their side, and emit a silent burst. She would then walk away. A few seconds later we'd all catch the drift and stare at the person in the center of the activity. The funny part is that no one would say anything, just accept it and move on. I'm convinced Daisy knew what she was doing. 

One final side effect deserves mention. "Slurred Speech." I can't even imagine what Sadie would sound like if she developed "slurred speech." I suppose that translates to "slurred barking" or "slurred whining." That reminds me of an old nightclub routine by Woody Allen. He talks about a pet store that specialized in damaged pets. Birds that can't whistle, hamsters with no tails, fish that can't swim. He mentions a dog that stutters. It goes 'B-b-b-bow, W-w-w-wow." A funny bit. I would put "slurred barking" in that same category. Like a dog who drinks vodka instead of water, then goes out to chase squirrels. 

Happy to say, the Meloxicam has alleviated Sadie's limp, and she is free from all side effects. As far as I know. Still, every day I check her for "swelling of the lips."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cole and the E-Flat Chord

Several people emailed comments to me about my recent post about "Stardust." Usually I just put these away in a folder. 

But I have to share this one with you. It's from Steve Kopcha. You probably don't know the name, but Steve is one of the most creative, intuitive, dedicated ad guys I ever worked withe. He also has a sharp sense of humor, which you need to survive in advertising. Steve, who now lives in New Hampshire, was Creative Director at D'Arcy Advertising, in St. Louis, then in Detroit.  I think that was during the '60's and '70's.Steve was a major influence on Budweiser's great advertising. His presentations were effective and entertaining, even if the client didn't buy it all. After D'Arcy, he became a professor of advertising at Mizzou in Columbia. Along the way he honed his chops as a somewhat talented alto sax player. 

It's in this musical role that Steve responded to my thoughts about the old songs.

"Nice piece, and I agree with you 100 percent. Regarding the "old" composers, here's an anecdote for you:

Many years ago, I decided to teach myself to play the piano so I could play from songbooks. I was hesitant, because when I was a second-grade pupil, I just could not grasp the concept that the bass clef notes were not the same as the treble clef notes. Upside-down and backwards or something like that.

Then I had the Big Idea of my Life.

I already knew how to play the notes with my right hand---I could read them direct from the music, and hey, I could memorize the fingerings for the chords (the guitar/piano chords also in the music).

Once I did that, I could play any song as long as they had the guitar/piano chords printed. This is old stuff to you as a keyboard guy, but it was huge for this sax player. I discovered that when you fingered, say, an E-flat chord, you could fill in the holes with various arpeggios, etc. and they would mostly be right as long as you honor the key signature for sharps and flats. Your hand was already poised over all the right notes within the scale.

Then, the other big discovery:

After playing through many "Great American Songbooks" I noticed something happening, time after time.

The songs I found that had "something extra" going for them...the songs that were richer and more engaging to the mind...mostly all came from the same guy: Cole Porter.  And furthermore, many were in the key of E-flat, a nice key for piano and singer.

I became a Cole Porter fanatic, learning all i could about him. I even drove hundreds of miles from Detroit to Peru, Indiana, his home town (the chubby girl at the gas station in the middle of town thought I was from Mars, I guess, when I asked where Cole Porter's boyhood home was. "Who's he? Never heard of him," she said)  Yikes!

Anyway, when my son Mike went to Yale, I was thrilled to find out that Cole Porter, class of 1914, had written many of the Yale songs...and they still sing them today. 

Also, the Waldorf-Astoria (where Cole lived) had his piano on display in the lobby and I managed to sneak up to it one time and played an E-Flat chord, just for the magic of it. I did the same thing in Salzburg, waiting until the museum was almost empty to reach over the velvet rope and run my fingers down Mozart's clavichord. I thought I would die of rapture...touching the very same keys my idol, my adored Wolfgang Amadeus had touched.

Then I went down to the gift shop and bought some Mozart Balls...little chocolate confections about the size of a golf ball. They were good.

Thanks for the cool piece on the best composers and songs ever."

Thanks for the story, Steve. I, too, saw the Porter piano at the Waldorf many years ago, but didn't have the cajones to play a note, much less an entire chord. Beautiful piano, though.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Sometimes I Wonder Why - "

Here's a short quiz for you music lovers. One of the most recorded songs of all time is "Stardust." The question is, Who wrote it? I'll give you two clues. One, he also wrote "Georgia on My Mind," and Two, Nat "King" Cole recorded the quintessential version of it. No, the answer is not at the end of this post. I'll tell you right now. It's Hoagy Carmichael. That's right, the guy from indiana with the strange voice.

Hoagy wrote a lot of other distinctive songs that made the pop charts, like "Skylark" and "Two Sleepy People," but "Stardust" remains one of the greatest American songs ever written. 

At least I thought it was, until I attended a seminar recently. Several of us were discussing popular music and immortal songs, when someone mentioned "Stardust." Five people, all under the age of forty, asked "What's that?". I sang a few bars - not a great rendition, but adequate. They had never heard it before!

I realize then that great American songs, the ones you and I grew up with, are in danger of joining TWA, Burger Chef and De Soto cars in the lost and found of our memories. Let's face it, where can young people hear songs by Hoagy, and Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwin's and Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin? Not on the radio stations they listen to, not on TV, not in clubs. They can search for it online, like old YouTube videos or iTunes, but they have to be motivated to slip into a search mode. Maybe their parents or grandparents have given them access to their LP's or CD's. Come to think of it, they probably don't know what an LP is, right? If it was written B.E. (Before Elvis) and it's not in a digital format, how relevant can it be? I'd love to find just one person under the age of twenty with one of Hoagy's tunes on his or her iPod or iPhone. I might as well search for the Holy Grail.

Just think of all the incredible music they'll never be familiar with. I don't understand how a person can go through life without knowing the rhyme Lorenz Hart came up with for "We'll take Manhattan...", or the repetitious note that signals Cole Porter's "drip, drip, drip" at the start of "Night and Day." I still believe those songs will live forever, but the audience keeps shrinking. There are rays of hope, however. Artists such as Rod Stewart, Boz Skaggs, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Michael Buble and Judy Collins have recorded many of those songs. You may know of some others. What we need is more of them. Perhaps Lady Gaga Sings Irving Berlin (although she did make an album with the ageless Tony Bennett). How about Pit Bull: A Tribute to Johnny Mercer. Or Kanye West Does Harold Arlen? Maybe forget that one. Immortality has its limits.

This populist approach just might be the solution: the start of a musical movement to Save the Great American Songs. I'd start off with "Stardust" performed by a popular singer. Who? I Googled "Most Popular Male Singers of 2014." Here are the top four: Drake, Jason Derulo, Chris Brown and Bruno Mars.   I have no idea what they would do to one of those great songs, or even if they could. You ever hear of them? Maybe there's someone out there, a Super Hero for Great Songs. Suggestions welcome.

And now, all together, join me: "Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night...."