Cleveland High Jazz 1977

Cleveland Jazz 1977I’ve had the good fortune to today to reconnect with a long-lost friend through Facebook. It’s hard to describe my feelings; he and I were so close and shared so many memories. I’m sure I’ll write more as time goes on after we get a chance to meet up and talk. But, today, he was kind enough to send me this photo. It was 1977 and the Cleveland High Jazz Band had won first place in a jazz competition up in Kirksville MO at the University. (present day Truman Univ.) This photo is back in St. Louis, I think at SLU high. Honestly, that year, our senior year, we were like rock stars. We played out countless times the spring of that year; I’ve lost track of all the places we performed.

So, that’s the two of us in the bottom-right of the photo, both playing French Horns. French Horns you ask? What are two horns doing in a jazz band? Well, it was because my dear friend Don simply wanted to be in the Jazz band. I drooled with envy over the thought, but would have never had the nerve to do anything about it. Don simply asked the band director and then announced to me that he was in. “He” was in, not “we” were in. He was in because he asked. Well, back in those days I was painfully shy and rarely willing to ask for anything. But, now…well, there was no way my best friend was going without me. We were a team. I walked into the director’s office and…asked. The answer was yes.

For any of you band-score aficionados wondering where we got our charts for two horns in a jazz band, our brilliant band leader wrote them all out by hand. He loved the idea of being different. No other high-school jazz band at that competition had a horn, much less two of them.

It was, quite simply, the best times of my life. The camaraderie that we experienced as we traveled around St. Louis, setting up, performing, tearing down, getting out of class…it was indescribable.

Dinner with my 13-year-old self

I had the good fortune of having a nice talk with my 13-year-old self. We met at an abandoned restaurant; the food and the service were terrible.

My young-self ordered pizza, of course; but some kind of strange…pizza…I guess. Cilantro? Provolone? I don’t know what that is. My older, fatter self assured me it would be fine. And, it would have been…had the restaurant not sucked! The mature-me ordered some Black Bean Dip with Tortillas. They were just bad. How do you serve bad tortilla chips?

Anyway, we wanted to talk about church and religion and stuff. Mini-me was really wondering why I should belong to the church. Or, any church for that matter. After all, I mean, you know, evolution, science, not to mention the horrible boredom! The boredom! Save me from the boredom! Big-me didn’t blame him. It can be boring.

So, I had to remember that I did feel that way at one one time and yet here I am now spending all my time and energy on this church. And, I’m asking him to belong? Why? Am I just being selfish? I “need” him to join, so there’ll be a future? No, it’s much more than that; but how to put it into words? Words for the 13-year-old.

Well, the first item was the inevitable: evolution. I guess it can’t be helped. The Theory of Evolution as taught in our schools seems to contradict the story of Creation in Genesis. When young-me said, in response to my general question as to what problems he has with Christianity with, “you know, like evolution…” – well, I smiled a gigantic smile on the inside. I felt like Michael Jordan must feel with 2 seconds on the buzzer and the ball is passed to him.

“I got this.”

I told him of my love for science and evolution in particular. How that love hasn’t waned since I was his age. How, at first, it seemed like a stumbling block to faith in Christ, but turned out not to be. I told him of the story when I prayed that God would “give me the answer.” That’s right, I wanted an answer.

I got one. An answer, however, that mini-me might not appreciate just yet. I felt it sufficient for now that he trusted that I loved both science and Jesus.

The little guy’s brain moved fast. Enough of this evolution stuff, what about Satan and Hell? Yeah, what about that?

“My Mom thinks everyone goes to Heaven,” he said.

“I know,” said I. She’s a good person.

I wanted so bad to tell him that goodness like that is very hard to find out in the world. I knew no better when I was his age. I thought everybody was good. Why not? Why shouldn’t they be? I felt sad. But, I’m sorry, at thirteen, he’s still got some kid years left and I’m not going to despoil them.

Instead I wondered aloud if he’d ever read the Book of Job. He laughed, “Job?” pronouncing it j-o-b, like going to work job. What do kids care about old names? No one is named Job. Anyway, I told him to get a paraphrase Bible and read Job, he’d like it.

He deduced on his own that if there’s no Hell, then Hitler’s in Heaven. He didn’t like that. I don’t either. See, the crack? We can handle, or prefer, that there be no Hell, but not that there’s no Heaven either. Why, that would be atheistic.

After that came the obligatory Buddhist/reincarnation/nirvana/new-age/i’m not really sure what I saying stuff. I know, I know, I get it…God I’m bored with that stuff.

I think I’ll stick with art. He says he likes art. Why did the artists of yesteryear paint people in such “primitive” ways? Well, that’s how they saw the world. Why did we used to think that the sun rose in the east? Because that’s exactly what it looks like. Why did the writers of Genesis write such a primitive story?

I’ll keep you posted….

Loretta’s the best!

This was waiting for me on my keyboard when I got to work this morning. After a few seconds of childlike euphoria, I knew there was only one person who could’ve pulled this off. I turned around and asked, “Loretta, did you do this?” She smiled. I don’t know what to say. She found it at an estate sale. It’s in much better shape than mine was when I last saw it. I promptly put it in my right front pocket and went about my day. But every now and then I would reach into the pocket at feel it and think, “Oh yeah.” Posted by Hello

‘Tis the Season

I have a warm spot in my heart for the Political Conventions; for either party. They both hold special meaning for me because of my father. Politics is something he’s always been interested in and he’s shared that interest with me since I was a boy. I remember watching the conventions as he would explain the whole thing to me. It all seemed so mysterious then. Of course, it actually was a bit mysterious back then as opposed to now where there is no drama to speak of.

I also remember playing a board game with him called “Landslide.” It was a regular game where the object was to collect enough electoral votes to become President. This further educated me in the ways of America’s Politics.

During this political season, he and I often will sit for hours discussing and debating the candidates; what they should do or say, what they should emphasize or minimize about themselves. “If it were me, I’d blah, blah, blah.” Followed by, “Oh, no, are you crazy? He should blah, blah, blah.”

Two observations about this season: I finally got him to converse normally with me about these things. For instance, he now uses the term “we” when talking about the Democrats. He knows I’m going to vote Republican no matter what, and for the longest time he danced around and avoided saying it like that, and all the while bashing the President and accusing me of being a religious fanatic. I’ve been working on him for years now to get him to admit that he also has strongly held beliefs. Many people fall into this category: They think they’re open minded but they’re just not. They won’t admit that they too come to the table with a set of beliefs. I find it much more fruitful to have conversations with someone I completely disagree with, but who announces their viewpoint or agenda up front. Someone who claims to be open-minded while accusing you of being judgmental is of course being judgmental. Again, I can handle that as long as they admit that their belief system plays a part in their opinions and politics. So you see, by my Dad using the term “we” finally to describe the Democrats and their convention, I believe I’ve made some headway.

The other observance I have is a complaint though it just me, and I think I need to get over it. And that is that “I get no respect!” I have been, thanks to him, following and reading politics and history for my entire adult life. That gives me about 20 years. He still talks to me like I’m a kid who doesn’t know anything about politics. I’ve made many predictions that have come true, I’ve offered many an insight into complex situations concerning current events; and I get nothin’! So the other night at the baseball game, I told him we were going to predict the outcome of the general election in November, with electoral vote counts and seal them up until after the election. Then we would open them and see who was closer. He just kinda shrugged. I did my prediction anyway. If I’m close, I’ll be reminding him of what I wrote down. He’ll probably remind me if Kerry wins! I predicted Bush will win with 278 electoral votes. That leaves Kerry with 260. We shall see.

A year in Hell

As I stated in an earlier blog entry, the next year after these events was pure hell. I had a total of twenty years in the restaurant business that can be divided up neatly like so: ten years at O’connell’s, one year in hell, six years at the Art Museum Cafe and four years at the Ninth Street Abbey. During that one year, I worked at at least four different places. All of them crappy. The big difference was I learned that I really wasn’t cut out for “front of the house” management. I was much happier in the kitchen.

So the end of the year in hell found me working two cooking jobs. I had started at a burger chain called Fudrucker’s just to put some food on the table. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. I kept my eyes open for opportunities though, and one day I say a opening for a cook at the Art Museum Cafe. I was hired right away. I became friends with the Chef there and he started teaching me the basics of fine dining. It was a very nice enviornment, and my years there as second cook remain to this day some of the best years of my work life.

After about three years there, I was up for Sous Chef. (Assistant Chef). I was a little gun shy from my year in hell still, but I decided to take it. It would mean I’d be on salary and have the benefits my family needed.

But! At the last minute, the Chef, my friend…gave the job to someone else. A mutual friend of us both. I was crushed and a bit humiliated. I was offered a Chef job at a small Mexican place that another guy from the Cafe was opening and I took it.

More hell. This time though, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I quit! You guys are all idiots! And your Mom too! (She ran the kitchen).

I went back to the Museum Cafe where they were glad to have me. Within a couple of months, the Chef was fired, the guy who took my job the first time became Chef and I was finally Sous Chef. These are what I call the Seinfeld Years.

When we last left our hero…

The year Emily was born, 1987, I was playing in a rock band and still working at O’Connell’s. Annette had more earning power than I did in the work force so we thought I’d quit working and take care of the baby, still practice with the band, and Annette would get a full time job with benefits etc. What a laugh! The day she was born, I called the band manager to tell him I quit. Suddenly life looked very different. I was to be the primary bread-winner and mom would stay home. OK, sounded good.

Just one problem. I was making about nine bucks an hour. That wasn’t going to be enough. So, Annette got to working on my resume and we sent out dozens of them to restaurants far and wide. I finally got a call from KC Masterpiece. They were expanding their restaurant chain into the St. Louis area. I was hired as an Assistant Kitchen Manager and was soon off to Overland Park Kansas to train in the restaurant there. It was only supposed to be one month, but it turned out to be two. I lived in the Drury Inn next to the restaurant, and since I didn’t have a car, I ate every meal either at McDonald’s or KC Masterpiece for the whole time. Likewise, I didn’t have a way to get to the laundromat. I would get “home” and step into the shower with my KC Masterpiece Polo shirt still on. I would then soap it up good, rinse it off and hang it up to dry. I cycled through three or four shirts like this per week, then beg a ride with someone to the laundromat for the rest of the stuff.

After getting back to St. Louis, the store was still far from being ready. But we had to hire an entire staff before that anyway, so we all went to work everyday. This was a very pleasant time…before the restaurant opened. Then…it opened.

I worked about 100 hours per week for about three or four weeks before I broke. One night, I just got in the car and left. As I approached the highway, home was east and I turned west.

Where I learned to work

I didn’t have to work when I was growing up. My dad had worked hard from a very early age, so he decided to protect his kids from that. We’ve since discussed this parenting philosophy and he admits that he might have gone too far. Since I didn’t get my first job until I was twenty years old, that meant that I had to learn how to work. Sure, I had some chores around the house, but taking out the trash and sweeping the steps now and then could hardly challenge me like a real job could.

So, not counting a miserable year in college, I was living away from my parents house for the first time in 1979. I was unemployed, broke and living off the grace of some good friends who had decided to all move in together. No one romanctically involved…yet. One of these good friends, Dave, had a brother that worked at O’Connell’s Pub. This is a south side bar and restaurant famous for their hamburgers. He started working there first and I remember feeling betrayed. “Hey, who do you think you are, going off and working? I thought we were a team.” You see, we were practicing our guitars eight hours a day and planned on making it big. A week later, he called Russ to see if he wanted a job and then another week later he called me.

I started as a salad cook. I worked mostly nights, going in to work at 2:00 pm and getting home around 1:00 – 1:30 am. I proudly said to myself one day, “I can work here until I have enough money to buy an electric guitar and amplifier, then I can quit because obviously I won’t have to work anymore. I’ll be on my way.”

The first couple of weeks were very hard. At O’connell’s, the salad and fry orders are called out verbally. No tickets of any kind. Keep in mind there’s only one kind of salad, and at that time one fried item, mushrooms, that the salad cook was responsible for. But everything had to be made to order. When a salad was called out, you open a refrigerator door, drop to your knees, toss a handful of iceberg lettuce into a big stainless steel bowl, scoop your big serving spoon into the house dressing and mix it up. If two or three or more salads were called out, you just put in more lettuce and dressing. Then you stand up, lay out the plates and dump the mix onto them. (In all the time I was there, we used chinette plates and plasticware.) Then, a handful of diced salami, two pepperincinnis, and your done; slide them over the counter where the girls pick them up. All this in addition to the fried mushrooms, making cold sandwiches that were called out by the grill cook, and keeping him stocked with fries and anything else he needed.

On a Saturday night, O’Connell’s was hopping. In those days the St. Louis Blues Hockey team played at the “Arena.” It was not far from there and on nights the Blues were town, wow! It was wall to wall people for hour after hour.

At first it was overwhelming. I remember thinking, “how can anybody do this? This is crazy.” But, before long, I became pretty good at it. Though I needed to learn about the physical challenges of this demanding job, as it turns out, my parents had instilled a strong work ethic. I “needed” to do the job right. I wanted to please my boss. I remember the owner saying to someone else about me, “He’s got the fire in his belly.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I figured it was good.

I remained a salad/prep cook for about five years, until the manager decided to quit. I went to talk to the owner to convice him I could manage this little kitchen of three or four guys and he gave me a shot. I then worked mornings instead of nights and within the next five years that I was employed there, I got married, lost one child to miscarriage and then had another, my daughter Emily.

I would be in the restaurant business another ten years after leaving O’Connell’s but the lessons learned there always served me well. Very few establishments were as consistently busy as that one, so they all seemed easy in comparison. And though I stayed in management most of those last years, I always wished I could just cook for a living. Just like back in the day.

OK Mom, it’s your turn

I haven’t really written about my Mom before. I don’t know why. Possibly because she doesn’t intrude into my life very much. She rarely asks for anything. Well, before I get going my relationship with her, I’ll tell you as much as I know about her as a person. She was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh PA. From what I can gather, her family was quite poor. That family consisted of her mother Ellen, her father Ralph Lindsay, two older brothers Russ and Don, a younger sister Lois and a younger brother Ralph. Ralph was way younger, born during WWII when the two older boys were off fighting. After the war, Russ got a job at Emerson Electric and he moved to south St. Louis. The began attending Kingshighway Methodist where he met my dad’s family, the Hudsons. After some flirting and courting, Jim and Alice were married. Four kids would come along; three girls and one boy.

If had to sum up my entire experience growing up with her I would say that it was peaceful. In that house there was no cursing, no yelling, no violence of any kind. Words like shut-up and stupid were in the same catagory as cuss words and were not tolerated by her. Any kind of racial slur was strictly forbidden. In fact, talking bad about anyone was not allowed.

She always took care of herself and most evening would find her on the living room floor exercising with some sort of contraption bought off a TV commercial or maybe just stretching. That has paid off for her now as she’s 74 years old and in great shape. She’s basically free of sickness and disease of any kind. My daughter and I thank her for those good genes.

Now as to her simple life. My dad and sometimes my sisters complain that she never “does anything.” I can see their point sometimes. But I know that she really appreciates a simple life. The running joke is how long she seems to need to prepare to go out for the evening or something similar. Don’t call her that day to make plans for that evening, it won’t happen. Likewise, though I live just around the corner from her she never “stops by.” Every now and then she’ll come by and drop a bag of something for me or Emily in between the doors, but she won’t knock or come in.

I have no reason to complain about these things because I now see her at least once a week in Church. She started to again attend regularly a few years ago. We sit with her in worship, then Sunday school and now and then lunch afterwards. She’s quite happy to go home after church though, having done enough for the day. She’s lived in the same apartment since the divorce in 1983. She still drives the same car she’s had since about 1990.

Can she drive me crazy sometimes? Sure. But, with quiet confidence, she carries herself with a strong sense of moral certainty, stemming from the fact that she, like me, was taught to always do the right thing.

New look for Mother’s Day

Blogger, the folks who host this site, revamped their services today. So I figured I’d try one of their new templates. What do you think? My first thought was that with this new clean look, the ad at the top looks really out of place now. So, maybe I’ll spring for an ad-free site sometime soon.

I thought I’d spend a little time writing about my Mom tonight. After church this morning Annette, Emily and I took her out to eat. To Arby’s! She didn’t want to do anything much because she was going out to dinner with my sister Becky and her boyfriend. Tonight was to be special because the two moms were going to meet.

But, I love my Mom for her easy lifestyle. I get my appreciation of simplicity from her. I love simple things and I live a simple life. Whenever confronted with a complex problem, I break it down into simple parts. Like the fact that it’s 1:30 am and I need to go to bed, but I told myself I’d write about my mother tonight, but now tonight is tomorrow. Simple solution: Write more about Mom tomorrow night.

What’s with you and Eisenhower?

My cousin Russ called me this evening to say, “I bought a video A & E Biography of Eisenhower. You want to come over and watch it?” I said, “sounds good, I’ll be there.” On the way out I said hello to a couple of neighbors and one of them said, “what’s with you and Eisenhower?” Knowing I had to go, I responded simply, “well, he was a great guy.” Brilliant, eh?

But, that got me thinking; what is with me and Eisenhower? It certainly is fair to say that I’ve always had an deep interest in history, especially American history and more specifically, World War II. This is something that Russ and I have shared since we were small boys. We’ve had dog-fights over the phone, me in a P-51 and him in a Messerschmitt-109. We’ve re-enacted the landing on Anzio Beach on his bedroom floor. We have built models two and three times over of every airplane that took part in the war. We still have lengthy discussions on the war and all of its ramifications. Tonight, after viewing the rather lame biography we had a what-if discussion based on Hitler invading and taking England in 1942.

But my intense interest in Ike started in late 2000 when people were talking about “Person of the Century.” At a dinner-table discussion, my brother-in-law Rob asked everybody to name who they thought was the most influential person of the century. (This was after he asked everybody to name the most influential person of their life. I said Annette was.) As I was listening to others answer, my mind naturally jumped to the influence of World War II on the century, so I thought Eisenhower was the most influential person of the war and then I thought about how added to that he had eight years in the White House. Now that influence. The only argument I was willing to entertain was from my other brother-in-law John, who thought it should be Churchill. Maybe.

Since then, I’ve read two biographies (both new), one memoir by his son John and short little book called Eisenhower and Churchill that parallels their lives. Additionally, I’ve read two of Steven Ambrose’s books: D-Day and Eisenhower in Berlin. I’ve chosen not to read Ambrose’s biography for now as it strikes me as a bit too subjective, but I’ll probably read it someday.

He was married on July 1st in his mother-in-law’s living room. I was married on July 1st in my mother-law’s living room. Coincidence? Perhaps…perhaps not.