The Cubs finally broke their 12-game losing streak last night with a victory over the Reds. Happ made it happen with a 2-run home as Hendricks earned his league leading 14th victory of the season. The White Sox won their 70th game by beating the A’s. I’m headed to Tampa on Sunday to watch them play the Rays. However, my son may not join me due to a death in the family. We got together last night at Donato’s for dinner to discuss his plans to drive back to Indiana.
It’s difficult after a divorce to decide what is right. I haven’t gotten together with my ex-wife’s family for nearly 23 years. Her father remarried a woman affectionately known as Margie that was always a joy to be around. She had a son of her own but quickly became a step-mother to five daughters and somehow managed to win them all over. She was also very gracious to her husband’s first wife, the girls’ mother, often spending vacation time and holidays with all of them together. Margie made us all feel comfortable. Even though I haven’t seen her in several years, I will continue to miss her, just as I miss my ex-wife’s mother who is still alive.
The fact that the funeral is so far away makes it easy to avoid. I will probably buy a tree in her honor and have it planted in remembrance. I feel bad that our good relationship ended because of a messy divorce. I haven’t been part of their family for over 23-years but still have many fond memories. The only thing I still don’t understand was why my son, their eldest grandson, was not part of their lives when they lived so close together here in Florida at least half of the year. I doubt that this was Margie’s doing.
When you divorce your wife you also divorce her family and friends. Sadly, I now live in Florida near the area where we all used to get together every year. None of them came this year, while I watched the Fourth of July fireworks on the beach. They will all now be at a funeral that I will not be attending. This is my choice but I still wish I could see them all. Margie had the last few years of her life taken away by poor health. Rest in Peace. When I last saw her she was still filled with energy. This is the way I prefer to remember her. I’m sorry, dear Margie, you had to leave us so soon and I never got to say good-bye.
We finalized the arrangements for the Florida home down payment yesterday, so expect the Stock Market to go up today and in the near future. We also got a call from the builder, promising to send photos this week and scheduling a video inspection with us this Friday. Things are slowly coming together for our cross country move. I naturally made a detailed list of things that need to be done. In addition, our trip plans for Russia were completed this morning with a small deposit refund coming our way. So far, it’s been a good week, with even a basketball victory last night.
I need to get out the apartment in the next few days for a haircut and to work with a notary on some financial paperwork. The move to Florida will save considerably on state taxes with these recent stock transactions, but we need to arrange for long distance signatures. On the fun side, a Zoom Leadership Meeting is on my agenda for Friday noon just after the builder meeting. This is our only option these days instead of traditional lunch beers together at Buffalo Wild Wings. At least, as my friend noted, we won’t need to wear pants.
Sadly, my baseball buddy was in touch last night with news of the death of Vince Pesky at age 99. We were at his last two birthday parties before Covid interrupted this past year’s celebration. All three of us were a week apart in birth dates, but generations apart in age (99, 69, 52). Vince’s brother, Johnny, is famous for the Pesky Pole at Boston’s Fenway Park. The family is from Portland and Vince was the last living sibling. I also lost an 81-year old cousin in the last few weeks while his funeral was yesterday, so not all news has been good. He passed on Christmas Day. However, it’s a good life if you reach eighty, let alone nearly one hundred. Rest in Peace, my friends.
Old age is demoralizing. “Not for sissies,” as my mom used to quote Bette Davis. My hands shake badly, and with the added adrenaline of running, I have trouble typing every morning. Gravity is my worst enemy as extra weight settles into my waistline and jowls. Wrinkles and age spots pop-up everywhere and voices often sound like they’re whispering. My legs somehow managed to get me through run #4325, but it takes longer and longer to cover 3.1 miles every day.
Losing your parents and friends is one thing, but when James Bond dies it really strikes a sour chord. He survived villains like La Chiffre, Mr. Big, Sir Hugo Drax, Jack Spang, Rosa Klebb, General Grubozaboyschikov, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Colonel Von Hammerstein, Hector Gonzales, Aristotle Krisatos, Milton Krest, Emilio Largo, and Scaramanga -to name a few – only to succumb to old age. He was only 90 – just 21 years older than me – Sir Sean Connery. He was also Indiana Jones’ dad, but hasn’t appeared in a film since 2003. I saw him once in the lobby of the Grosvenor House Hotel, his residence at the time, long before it became a Marriott property. I was the one wearing the tuxedo on this particular occasion, an awards presentation for my first wife.
As far as I’m concerned, Sean Connery was the only one with a true license to kill, although the other talented actors that followed him were also entertaining. Daniel Craig stars in the upcoming Bond film, “No Time To Die,” that was originally slated to debut six months ago, but like everything else has been delayed by the Coronavirus outbreak. The delay has already cost MGM $30 to $50 million, as the movie business’ pending demise mirrors the film’s title. 2020 was also no time for the original Bond…James Bond….to sadly die. I’ll turn back the clocks in his honor tonight and have a vodka martini – shaken not stirred!
As I was writing yesterdays blog entry (#1280), I was reminded of a concert I went to in Bloomington, Indiana back in the early 70’s. It was in Indiana University’s 10th Street Stadium, home of the Little 500 bicycle race and where the popular film, Breaking Away, was filmed. Although my memory is foggy, perhaps the result of my “hippy-like” ways, I fondly remember a performance by Ritchie Havens. I could find no record of the show, making me suspicious that it really ever happened. Ritchie was the opening act for Woodstock in 1969, with a stirring rendition of Freedom. For some reason, I recall his memorable version of Here Comes the Sun on a rainy college Saturday. Did this really happen or was it a hallucination? In my mind, it was!
This alleged event took place nearly 50 years ago and remains a mystery after several Google searches. It had been raining most of the morning and there were doubts if the concert would ever take place. The draw for me was probably not Ritchie Havens but rather some other band on the docket. I wish I could tell you who that was! At any rate, Ritchie took the stage with dark skies above and began to play his acoustic guitar. When he got to “Here comes the Sun,” it miraculously appeared from behind the clouds. Needless to say, the crowd went nuts!
According to Wikipedia, “Here Comes the Sun” has been recorded by many artists, with the first cover versions appearing soon after the release of Abbey Road. In 1970, Booker T. & the M.G.’s included the song, arranged as a jazz piece with a Moog intro, on their Abbey Road tribute album, McLemore Avenue, as did George Benson on his album The Other Side of Abbey Road. A recording was issued as a single in 1970 by English singer Paul Monday, who later became the glam rock star Gary Glitter.
In 1971, Richie Havens’ version of the song peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, giving him the highest-charting single of his entire career. Following the singer’s death in 2013, Wook Kim of Time magazine described the track as a “wonderful mid-tempo interpretation” and included it among Havens’ six “essential performances”. Among the other most notable covers, according to music critic Richie Unterberger, Nina Simone recorded “Here Comes the Sun” as the title track to her 1971 covers album.
Somehow I can picture Ritchie Havens singing for sunshine on that overcast afternoon. Regardless of whether or not I can find a record of the concert, I will cherish the moment. I do know for sure that it wasn’t George Harrison, Booker T, or George Benson. Another great artist from that era passed away from virus complications yesterday, John Prine – “humidity built the Snowman, sunshine brought him down.” I was fortunate to see him in concert and hold a ticket stub as proof – I think. He joins Bill Withers and George Harrison on heaven’s stage. “Ain’t no Sunshine” since they’re gone, as we remember their warm lyrical contributions to our lives. RIP -“Rock in Peace.” Perhaps they ordered some much needed sunshine for us? The forecast for the next few weeks looks optimistic. We all need a little positive lift in these times of isolation. Thankfully, “Here Comes the Sun”…again.
One of my favorite musicians was recently eloquently eulogized by Rolling Stone Magazine writer Andy Greene:
Bill Withers, the soul legend who penned timeless songs like “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died Monday from heart complications in Los Angeles. He was 81.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father,” his family said in a statement. “A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other. As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”
The three-time Grammy winner released just eight albums before walking away from the spotlight in 1985, but he left an incredible mark on the music community and the world at large. Songs like “Lean On Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lovely Day” are embedded in the culture and have been covered countless times. While many of Withers’ biggest songs were recorded in the Seventies, they have proven to be timeless hits. “Lean on Me” emerged once again in recent weeks as an anthem of hope and solidarity in the time of COVID-19.
I regret that I never saw him in concert, but I get the impression that it didn’t happen very often. Perhaps it was the stutter that he struggled with as a child? He did a live performance and album at Carnegie Hall in 1972. His last five tour stops were 1982 and 2011 in L.A., Paris in 2018, and two shows in the U.K. in 1988. He apparently lost his passion for the music industry back in 1985 and never signed another recording contract, but was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Stevie Wonder in 2015. Here were his humble words of acceptance: “What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain’t a genre that somebody didn’t record them in. I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.” Thanks, Bill!
I can’t tell you the number of times I walked down the streets of New Orleans and heard a Withers’ hit covered by bar performers, particularly Ain’t No Sunshine. It became a personal anthem for me, but I honestly knew little about him until his recent death. Sunshine is a rare commodity here in Portland at this time of year, and self-quarantine only adds to my lack of it. If Bill had performed anywhere near me, I would have made a point to go. I’ll try to find a copy of the 2009 documentary, Still Bill, a reference to his 1972 album by the same name. It was produced by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack, covering his service in the Navy, work as a toilet assemblyman for Douglas Aircraft, father of two, singer, and song writer. There certainly ain’t no sunshine since he’s now gone! Rest in Peace, Bill!
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she goes away.”
“Wonder this time where she’s gone
Wonder if she’s gone to stay
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home
Anytime she goes away.”
“And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know,
Hey, I oughtta leave young thing alone
For some reason, we’re getting a tax break this year. I honestly thought that I would break even like last year, but instead there’s a pretty substantial refund. Out of disbelief, I double-checked it several times. It will help with cash flow these next few weeks, without having to withdraw from the 401k funds that once you dip into disappear fast. Extra money always puts me in a good mood, but will it be enough to get me through the nationally televised I.U. at Michigan battle later this morning?
A tax refund only covers some of the sadness I felt this morning regarding the death of a former client and friend, John Bachman. I read his obituary on the Facebook group “I Grew Up In Elkhart, Indiana” just before I left for my morning run. He was instrumental in my life for two reasons. First, he made me look good in my first radio sales job and gave me life-long confidence to preform successfully in my career. His shop was my favorite call every week, sometimes daily because I enjoyed his companionship, as he purchased almost everything I suggested in the way of advertising and sponsorship that our small market station offered. He was my first experience with what we called “Co-Op,” as Panasonic paid for most of his advertising, making him like my personal Budweiser, who sponsors everything nationally! His business, located in a small cluttered garage, taught me to never judge the book by the cover. Most of his revenue came from the Recreational Vehicle industry and audio installations that he performed. He would benefit from all the Panasonic purchases he made on their behalf, which in turn became a massive advertising budget to promote his business that was three letters – maybe ACG (Audio Communications Group)?
The second personal “favor” John did for me was relieve the debt of my first wife’s small flower & plant business by subleasing the mall space that we had contracted for another year. He then opened his own audio store called Car Tunes, while we eventually sold-off Hall of Ivy for a heavy loss. At least, we were out of the retail business, and I was no longer working weekends and holidays in addition to my radio sales job. John was a year older than me in high school, but his future wife was in my graduating class. I had not seen either of them in well over 45 years, but have fond memories. I believe it was John’s advertising investments that helped us win a team sales contest and got me to Las Vegas for the first time. It’s sad and ironic to me that his death came just after we returned home from “The Strip.” I will be forever grateful to have known and worked with him, as I got my start in the media business. Rest in Peace, my friend.
The I.U. basketball game is about to start, and I’m hoping for a rare away-game conference victory to go along with my tax break. At least, there was a break in the weather with some blue skies this morning. It’s good to be home from Las Vegas and have another day to “relax,” even though my blood pressure will be through the roof as I watch the game. My wife had suggested that I bet against the Hoosiers at the Sports Book, knowing that if we lost there would at least be a pay-out. I think I would bet against them today, despite their hot-shooting performance against Iowa. I’m not sure money can buy happiness when it comes to sports, but I do love a tax-break!
Poetry comes to me in streaks, and today was one of those days. As I was organizing my collection of memorabilia around the playing career of Sherm Lollar, I was somehow inspired to write this tribute. As I frequently go to baseball card shows, everyone talks about Mickey Mantle or Honus Wagner and how these players are the investment cornerstones of a great collection. Not everyone can afford to collect these gems, so I’m one to encourage starting with those who bring back personal childhood memories. Sherm Lollar was my first baseball hero and I honor this with cards, photos, and memorabilia that probably mean nothing to anybody but me. You don’t always have to make everything a financial investment, if it brings you a sense of joy:
Ode to Sherm
I never knew him,
But saw him play.
Have never forgotten him,
To this very day.
He was a catcher,
Wore number 10.
A perennial general,
Of the bull-pen.
He played with Nellie,
Luis, and Minnie.
He earned many.
In the World Series,
He hit a home run,
Became a hero of mine.
I watched on TV,
In black and white.
But the Sox fell short,
Of the Dodger might.
I wore his number,
It was lucky for me.
But the Hall of Fame,
unlikely to be.
Defense was his game,
A leader behind the plate.
By Yankees’ Number 8.
Not every team player,
Can be in the spotlight.
But some are admired,
For the things they do right.
He played in Chicago,
For eleven years.
And like me,
He had big ears.
I’ve written Cooperstown,
On behalf of him.
But hitting .264,
His chances are slim.
Over seventeen years,
Sherm’s glove was his force.
When it came to fielding,
None better, of course.
I maintain a collection,
Of his photos and cards.
I have his Rawling’s mask,
But no shin guards.
I can’t always afford,
To dabble in Honus.
But with Sherm Lollar,
The memories are bonus.
Copyright 2020 johnstonwrites.com
Somehow, my then shy friend Grant found a girlfriend, even though she lived in the neighboring community and went to rival Concord High School. I don’t remember how they met, but they were constantly together or talking on the phone. I think that our friendship might have suffered if they hadn’t fixed me up with her best friend. We would walk from school downtown to the telephone company and would use their phone booths to check-in with the girls every day. We also each installed lights on our bedroom phone and disconnected the ringer so we could talk to each other at night. He showed me how to set-up a switch on my parents bell box so that no sound from an incoming call would wake them. On several occasions, I forgot to flip the switch in the morning and my mom’s friends wondered why she didn’t answer. “Oh Sorry – my bedroom phone was off the hook.”
My parents were rarely gone, so I did not have the luxury of limited supervision like Grant. I had to do a lot more sneaking around than he did, since Grant Sr. was a widow and constantly on the road. We did a lot of double-dating once we got our driver’s licenses but I had stricter curfews. He had his Pontiac GTO and I drove my dad’s Mustang convertible. I remember that he installed a baffle on his muffler that could be controlled inside the car. This allowed the muscle car to roar when the muffler was bypassed and brought out the red-neck side of Grant. He was constantly working on that car, giving him mechanical skills that were definitely not my forte. When we were both in college, I visited he and Keven at Purdue and was shocked to find his engine parts spread out over their living room floor. This was the infamous Fiat that he always claimed was Italian for “fool.” I had also fallen in the foreign car trap when I bought a new Triumph. I was having similar engine troubles with my car and Grant convinced me that I could fix it myself. “Consider the average IQ of a mechanic,” was his justification. I followed his lead and completely disassembled my engine to the horror of my dad. He got home from work and found me in the garage surrounded by parts, each tagged with a note to remind me where it went. At least, I didn’t do it in the living room like Grant, but this was the kind of influence he had on me. There was nothing that he was afraid to do himself.
Back to high school, we were in a German class together and Grant was really struggling. He was distracted by the language lab equipment and the headsets that we used to learn the language. He hooked his up to listen to music while the rest of us were doing German drills. He also allegedly installed some kind of remote device in the classroom clock that allowed him to change the time so we could get out of class early. He and the young instructor, Frau Anchor, never got along, but she recognized his intelligence and I believe tried to seduce him. I was still pretty naive at the time, but she would sit on the desk in front of Grant and I in her short skirts. She had him stay after class many times and one night he decided to tee-pee her house, crashing the GTO trying to escape after her porch lights came on. In retrospect, it was classic sexual harassment on both of their parts, and I think he failed the course. We never discussed it.
As far as chemistry class, I found a formula for a contact explosive called Nitro-Tri-Iodine in a science magazine and send in $1 for the recipe. It required Iodine crystals that Grant could buy at Johnson’s Drug Store where he had a part-time job. The other ingredient was ammonia that you could also buy over the counter. Combining these two simple ingredients formed a paste that was stable until it dried. However, once it set for awhile, it would mildly explode when you touched it and leave iodine stains on your hands. One day we painted the handle of the pencil sharpener in our homeroom class with this substance and waited for someone to use it. It resulted in a small eruption of purple stain, almost like an electrical shock and we saw great potential for further pranks. Most ammonia that you buy in the store is diluted by water to a small percentage. Grant figured that if we could distill pure ammonia it would create a more violent explosion. We borrowed the equipment and chemicals from the classroom lab and worked all night in my parent’s basement making this very caustic, smelly ammonia. We then mixed it with the iodine crystals and dipped strips of paper in the solution that we formed into little cracker balls that would explode on contact when you threw them on the ground. We tested them outside and then carefully placed them on newspaper sheets on the concrete floor while we got some sleep. When we got up the next morning my parents were gone and there were purple stains everywhere. My first thought was that my dad had accidentally stepped on it on his way to the incinerator, and so I immediately checked his shoes in the bedroom closet with no signs of stain. The only thing that we could determine was that perhaps a bug had landed on one of these paper wads and set off a chain reaction. We used the remaining strong ammonia to clean up the stains and did some quick paint touch-ups of the pristine white walls before my parents got home. It was a mess. It was not our only experiment with dangerous explosives.
On one sleep-over occasion we made Nitroglycerine in his basement, once again using borrowed equipment from the high school lab and taking full advantage of our lab assistant status. We always replaced everything, especially the beaker that exploded in the course of this experiment. “You’ll shoot your eye out” was never our biggest concern, because fortunately guns weren’t on our radar. I did inherit a chemistry set from a friend of my dad’s that included the metal elements used to make fireworks. It also contained a jar of mineral oil that was used to stabilize a chunk of potassium. When potassium is exposed to water it releases explosive hydrogen and spins madly out of control in it’s container. Who knows what else was in that cardboard box under my parents stairway for years. It could have been a disaster, but somehow we survived our crazy experiments.
I think we both got A’s in chemistry, but he went on to make science his career. On the other hand, I buy cars that don’t require any maintenance skills and rarely take-on a D.I.Y. project. I once visited him in Seattle where I watched him play soccer, ate dim-sum, and then drove together to the base of Mt. Rainier. In Boston, I ran the historic streets training for my first marathon, while he attended classes on the path to his doctorate. Years later, I also met him for a drink before our travel connection out of the country. That may have been our last get-together. He was the hung-over, best man in my first marriage, but I don’t remember my roles in his. We also dined together as a group at the Diamond Harbor Inn on Diamond Lake before our Senior prom. I managed on my own to somehow get a date, but she was disappointed when Keven showed-up in the exact same dress. I also think he attended one of our high school reunions. I’ll dig through some of the pictures.
After we were both married, the four of us toasted to the new year with some wine that Grant & I made back in high school, via one of our overnight experiments. It was sugar and Welch’s Grape Juice that was stored in his basement in a giant plastic medicine display bottle that was formerly in the front window of Johnson’s Drug Store. It must have been four feet high, one of his rewards for working there. We forgot that it had been fermenting for all these years, until it sprung a slow leak. We actually had to crudely filter the contents through paper toweling to remove all the sediment before braving its taste. The rest of the batch was dumped once we realized it wouldn’t kill us or be a hazard to any of the nature around us.
Grant was usually with his steady girlfriend, so he didn’t hang out much with the boys, as I did. Although, there were several wild parties at his house through the years, he wasn’t as outgoing and socially engaged as me. On one occasion, we found Grant’s glasses perfectly intact in the middle of Lexington Blvd. in front of the house. He couldn’t find them when he got up that next morning, but they were sitting safely on the yellow line of the heavily traveled street. We also made road trips to both Purdue University and Mackinaw City, Michigan back in 1969, telling our parents that we were touring potential schools. If I remember correctly, we were actually headed to Purdue the first time when at the last second decided to keep driving, pulling into a rest station in Upper Michigan to catch a couple hours of sleep. I don’t know where we were headed, but I have a history of taking advantage of my freedom and just driving. For example, Grant did not accompany me when I told my parents we were going camping at the Indiana Dunes State Park but ended up in California. As my dad later quipped, “Well, Thank God There’s An Ocean.” Otherwise, there might have been nothing to stop me. What stopped us in Michigan was the fact that while we were sleeping, several feet of snow fell and trapped us in the car. It would take too much effort to explain how we got out of that mess, but it involved both of us pushing with the accelerator held down by a stick.
One time, I witnessed a big fight between he and his dad. It was as angry as I’ve ever seen him, as fists were flying and words were exchanged. It was one of those rare times when Senior was home, in total contrast to my family upbringing. Grant seemed to be naturally very patient at that time, and I can’t recall a single argument or disagreement between the two of us. I was certainly jealous that he had a steady girl when it required a “committee of support” for me to even call for a date. We never had many deep discussions about girls or family. We were always plotting our next experiment.
On the other road trip occasion, there was a mutual friend of ours whose brother was in a Purdue fraternity that was hosting a big party over the weekend. Grant was impressed with the ingenuity of a pop machine that held beer. Since beer cost twice as much, an empty can dropped between quarters. Perhaps, that’s what inspired him to attend Purdue. We did run into some heavy drugs on campus, but neither of us were into pills or even pot in high school. That eventually changed for me, and I’m sure he couldn’t resist the similar temptation to experiment. As you can see, it was in our DNA.
I’m pretty sure that Grant met my son, Adam. I know he was at our Eagle Lake house and helped me build a greenhouse. He was happy as long as he was involved in a project and I had plenty of them. Adam was born in 1974, within the window when he was still living in Indiana. I had to consult his obituary to get a timeline, but he finished his doctorate in 1979. There was so much in there that I didn’t know or forgot about Grant, but it’s been wonderful to think him so much these past few days. It must have been in the late 70’s that I spent time with him in Seattle and Boston. That makes sense because I completed my first marathon in 1979. It’s hard for me to imagine that Grant was so into soccer because sports or any physical activity were not high school priorities. Soccer was certainly not popular in the late 60’s but I’m glad he finally found a game that was challenging to his intellect. He did not even participate in the bicycle endurance racing that our mutual classmates drug me into. I understand that it was another sport that he adopted later in life and used to commute to work.
I’ve recounted some of the most memorable experiences of our teenage years together. It’s hard to believe that the two of us were really only together for a handful of years. His future wife occupied most of his time, while I did some wrestling, ran track, and got involved with the choir. I had other friends that got me into much more trouble than Grant ever did, and I always knew that he would go on to accomplish great things. It was sad that his life was so short, but he fulfilled his desires. He had the million dollar lab that he always talked and dreamed of as a career goal. He was most comfortable with books, beakers, and gadgets. I’m sure that he spent every waking hour in it, consumed with ambition and knowledge. I heard that he died at his desk on Thanksgiving, and regardless of whether that’s totally accurate or not, he was focused on science more than family or friendship. I think that I got the best years of his life, before he drifted into the world of academics and discovery. Thanks, Grant, for seeing me as the brother we both never had.