Mr. 20 Prospect sells out

They say a man drinks beer in his 20’s, wine in his 30’s and whiskey in his 40’s. Apparently, “they” didn’t grow up in Western New York, where we pretty much drank everything we could get our hands on from about age 16. Or, maybe the point that they are making, is that tastes change as we grow and mature. What has meaning for us at 20, looks downright silly by age 40. Such it is with music too.

As a devotee of college rock in the 1980’s there could be no worse fate than “Selling Out”. Going mainstream, in a transparent effort to make a living, was the kiss of death for any of the bands we followed. How could any self respecting “artist” forfeit their credibility to sign for a major label, and rise above the poverty line? I mean, c’mon, it’s not like us college kids would ever give up our Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle to go sit in a cubicle somewhere and collect our allowance from some faceless corporation? (yes, self awareness, and irony were not required courses at Clarkson)

So part 3 of our musical history tour picks up at the difficult transition, where our over educated, and under prepared, boys and girls try to get up enough speed so that when they hit the end of the 4 year long college run way, they suddenly take flight, instead of plowing into the trees in a ball of flames. Some made it, and some didn’t. And some, like Mr. 20 prospect, veer out of control at the last moment, skid sideways, catch themselves, and somehow manage to clear the trees with only minor damage to the landing gear. (I’d explain that story, but it’s the subject of The Great American Novel – henceforth to be known as TGAN)

My graduation from Clarkson in 1990 coincided with the entrance of college music into the mainstream, under it’s new catchy brand name “Alternative Music”. This is the point at which Kurt Cobain, and a whole bunch of flannel wearing guys from the Pacific Northwest, took everything that guys like Paul Westerberg, Mike Watt, and Bob Mould had been doing for 10+ years, copied it verbatim, and made millions of dollars. As a recent grad, fresh faced and ready to embrace Corporate America, I admired how my punk rock hero’s never “sold out” the way that the “Grunge Scene” had. Not that they had a chance too. Some, such as REM, did find fame and Rawk Stardom to their liking, and hit the jackpot of Grammy Awards, Gold Records, and benefit concerts to raise “awareness” of Homeless, One legged, AIDS patients from Bosnia, but for the bulk of the bands we knew and loved in the 80’s, the 90’s just brought disappointment, breakups, resentment, and treatment for various addictions.

With my new found wealth, mobility, and ample free time, I spent the first 4 years of life after college, taking in shows by these hard luck bands, in some of the great little venues of this nation. The Boulder Theater, the Bottleneck in Lawrence, the 40 Watt in Athens, and many other places that my work travels took me. When I did settle down, it was in the Twin Cities, home of  First Avenue & The 7th Street Entry. Now I wouldn’t have to travel to see these bands, they would come right to my doorstep.

First_Avenue_nightclub

But a funny thing was happening. I was growing up. The experience of hanging out in smoke filled bars until 2 am on a work night, to listen to a band began to hold less and less appeal. And looking around the bar, I started feeling old. Yeah, there were still plenty of hipsters in their late 20’s and early 30’s, looking too cool for words in the back of First Ave., but I was still the J.C. Penney wearing square. I didn’t resent the hipsters so much as wonder how they could still be content living like 19 year old’s. Surely there was more to life than irony, and self loathing. The music began to seem less relevant to my life too. Believe it or not, but there just aren’t many opportunities to live a punk rock lifestyle in a 9-5 job. The IT group tends to get upset when you smash your laptop on the conference room table after finishing a presentation.

So I went out less and less, and when I did I found my tastes changing too. My last turn in the mosh pit came in 94-95 during an Arcwelder show at  First Ave. It was a hot evening in early autumn, and by the time I left for home I wasn’t sure how much of the sweat soaking my t-shirt was my own, or those of the other bodies around me. By that time I had already found Alt-country, and Americana, and began listening to the twangy branches of the college music tree. Uncle Tupelo led into Wilco and Son Volt, which introduced me to The Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams. Which meant I had to go back into history, and listen to Gram Parsons, The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, Johnny Cash, Hank Sr. and Buck Owens, which in turn led to BR5-49, and the Reverend Horton Heat. Maybe it was living in the Midwest, or my time working in the South, but real country didn’t seem so bad. In fact, I kinda liked it.

uncle-tupelo

So, do you remember when music mattered? Does it matter still? I’d have to admit that it matters less to me now than it ever has before. I am as square as I have ever been, but some days, when the mood is right, and Mrs. 20 Prospect is off with the kids, I dust off one of my old CD’s, throw off the yoke of my dark corporate overlords, put aside the irony, and self loathing, and rock out. And do you know what? It still feels good.

So I leave you with The Replacements, who are currently back in heavy rotation in the 20 Prospect commuter mobile. It’s a song that seems to have become an anthem for 40 something sell outs like us. Peace.

Left of the Dial

Read about your band in some local page
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name
Sweet Georgia breezes, safe, cool and warm
I headed up north, you headed north

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on
What side are you on?

Weary voice that’s laughin’, on the radio once
We sounded drunk, never made it on
Passin’ through and it’s late, the station started to fade
Picked another one up in the very next state

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on and…

Pretty girl keep growin’ up, playin’ make-up, wearin’ guitar
Growin’ old in a bar, ya grow old in a bar
Headed out to San Francisco, definitely not L.A.
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name

And if I don’t see ya, in a long, long while
I’ll try to find you
Left of the dial

Smash your head against the punk rock

Ask any kid preparing to leave for their first year of college, and they will attest to the importance of choosing the right posters to hang in your dorm room. After all, these will be the cover art to your new identity, so you need to make sure you impress. Needless to say, my Beatles and Rush posters failed to make an impression, other than confirming what people could pretty much guess by looking at me. Loser.

Luckily for me, my roommate more than made up for my pedestrian J.C. Penney tastes with his Lou Reed poster. In fact, when he showed up for orientation, the last kid on the floor to arrive, and came striding into the room with his dirty blond hair, f-you attitude, and 6’-4” presence I nearly peed myself. WTF did I get myself into? Little did I know a door had been opened into a whole other world of music.

Chris was, and still is, one of the biggest pains in the ass you could ever meet. He’s one of those people who goes out of his way to piss you off, and yet you still come away liking him for some reason you can never quite figure out. He was into bands that I had never even heard of, or knew existed. But he came with a stereo, a huge collection of tapes and CD’s, and all the things that I couldn’t afford, like a car, and a fridge. Despite his attitude, and personal crusade to offend as many people as humanly possible, he took me under his wing, and adopted me. We were roommates after all, and nothing would change that, so we might as well get along. And while I didn’t embrace The Exploited, or G.B.H. or any of his hardcore, I did take a liking to Husker Du, and some of his more accessible punk.

Bob Mould and the Flying V, a whirling, sonic, hurricane of angst
Bob Mould and the Flying V, a whirling, sonic, hurricane of angst

By the second semester I had made other friendships, with less ornery kids, who also stretched me musically. From Scott I was introduced to REM, and The Replacements. Scott and I bonded at the end of the first semester, as we studied together for finals. When Chris announced that he was leaving at the end of the year to either enlist in the Army Rangers, or attend Villanova (I forget which) it was Scott whom I planned to room with.

Before they were Rock Stars-TM
Before they were Rock Stars-TM

It was during the 2nd semester that Chris joined the college radio station, and took the training to be a D.J. At first he went alone for his shift, but soon Scott and I began to accompany him to get access to the stacks of records at the station. WTSC 91.1 was, and still is, a true open format college station catering to college rock. It was a ramshackle affair, with each D.J. having a 3 hour shift to basically play whatever they wanted, although we were strongly encouraged to play from the red file of new releases. By sophomore year (Chris had returned after all) the show began to fall more and more to Scott and I. Don’t tell the FCC, but we never had no training, and basically made it up as we went. But with a transmitter range of about 5 miles, and a shift from 11pm – 2 am on a Thursday night, what harm could we really do?

Those late night shifts were a blast. Having access to the new vinyl gave us a chance to listen and experiment with whatever we wanted without spending a dime. We bootlegged music from the back, and made mix tapes. Music was never as much fun for me as it was then. Outside of our little cocoon, the music industry plodded on churning out krep like Phil Collins, Debbie Gibson, and Guns ’n Roses, but we could have cared less. Instead we were streaming REM-The Replacements-Husker Du-The Feelies-Dumptruck-The Connells-The Smiths-Big Dipper-Big Black-Throwing Muses-Billy Bragg-Dinosaur Jr.-Guadalcanal Diary-fIREHOSE-The Jesus and Mary Chain-Superchunk and The Pixies out into the frozen night. Trapped in the solitude of the North Country, we had music, and cheap beer to entertain us, and precious few coeds to distract us. Not that we wouldn’t have minded a little distraction. God, how I wished for a distraction. Instead I alternated between inward self loathing, and outward contempt for the world. Still do, really. Punk Rock was right in my wheel house.

It doesn't get any more earnest than St. Billy Bragg
It doesn’t get any more earnest than St. Billy Bragg

If I ever write that great American novel, it will take place in the North Country. There, my stand in, will come of age as he chases unattainable girls, and continually self destructs despite his best efforts to get out of his own way. In the movie version, my stand in (think a young John Cusack) will stumble through the self inflicted trials of Job, in pursuit of that illusory muse (think a young Catherine Zeta-Jones) to a soundtrack made up of these bands.

We’re talking “Top Five”…

Weezer, before there was a Weezer
Weezer, before there was a Weezer
Then God is Seven! Then God is Seven!
Then God is Seven! Then God is Seven!
If Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote started a band...
If Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote started a band…
Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face...
Levi Stubbs’ tears run down his face…
Husker Du - Warehouse, Songs and Stories (If this is selling out, where do I get in line?)
Husker Du – Warehouse, Songs and Stories

Stay tuned for Part 3 Tomorrow – When Mr. 20 Prospect Sells Out

For those about to rawk

Do you remember when music mattered? Let me correct that, do you remember back when we were younger and we thought that music mattered? Back when we took such things seriously. Now, we just take ourselves seriously in different ways. Like this blog for instance.

For me, my music awareness began in 1978 with The Beatles. I’m not sure how exactly it began, but somehow I found my big bruddah’s Beatles albums after idling away a Saturday afternoon watching “Help!” on one of the UHF channels. For some reason they struck a chord with me, and flipped  some primal switch of music awareness. So I dusted off the giant console stereo in “the front room” (the one room in the house with the “nice furniture” that no one ever sat in, because it was supposed to always be ready for company that never came) and started playing my bruddah’s Beatles albums. At the time, he just owned the 2 greatest hits double albums (the red one, and the blue one) but it was enough to get me started.

And like everything in my life, as Mrs. 20 Prospect can attest, when I get into something I get into it with all my being. I spent hours sitting in the front room, with the cheap, giant plastic head phones plugged into the stereo listening to the Beatles. I saved my Christmas and Birthday money, and began spending it on records at Twin Fair, while Mom and Dad shopped for groceries. Such is the beginning of adolescence. I went from hanging out in the toy aisles, looking over the Revell model ships, and airplanes, to flipping through the bins of record albums looking at the cover art.

My family noticed my sudden interest, and encouraged it. Someone bought me an illustrated book about the Beatles, and my ravenous hunger for obscure knowledge was fed. I came to know everything there was to know about the Beatles, and their catalog. Which albums were issued by Parlophone in the UK, and the differences in the US Capitol records versions. Even at 10 years old I was already developing my snobbishness, and searching for the “authentic” versions of these albums. In fact, because I couldn’t get the original UK version of Revolver, I didn’t buy the album until 2001. If that’s not Catholic self denial, I don’t know what is.

The book they gave me for my 10th B-Day
The book they gave me for my 10th B-Day

So I was kind of excited when I was driving 20 Prospect Jr. to his guitar lessons a few years back, and he heard the opening hook of Taxman on the radio and wanted to know who it was. I handed him the CD, and he played it in the living room for weeks. A few months later I took him to Cheapo Records, and picked out a copy of Rubber Soul. At eight years old, and he’s already following in his Daddy’s footsteps. Poor kid.

By 5th grade, I had begun to establish friendships with kids from school who lived beyond our neighborhood. No kids on Prospect besides me went to St. Joe’s, and during “the troubles” of 1978, I had stopped hanging out with the neighborhood kids. (That’s a story for another post). I introduced my St. Joe’s friends to The Beatles too, and we’d walk home from school to my house, hang out in the front room, listen to my Beatles records and play Chess. This vital biographic information explains much about my later difficulties obtaining dates, or holding conversations with girls.

iPod circa 1960's
iPod circa 1960’s

Yes, we were so awkward, and square that for the 5th Grade talent show we dressed up in suits and ties, and played “air band” on stage to “She Loves You”. It helped that my haircuts from age 4 until age 19 were pretty much taken from John Lennon circa 1964. Thankfully, this was before the advent of video camera’s, and as far as I know, there is no photographic evidence of the event. Not that children of the 70’s need to look hard to find embarrassing photo’s. Any photo of the 70’s and early 80’s is embarrassing by definition.

Sigh… so where was I going with this? Oh right, the Beatles re-issues came out a few years back and I picked up A Hard Days Night, one of the albums that I had been lucky enough to get the original Parlophone version of back in 1980, and I listened to it for the first time in almost 30 years. My goodness, but those Liverpudlian’s sure could write a pop song. Hot damn, that took me back.

As the years passed, and I grew more and more awkward, my musical tastes expanded. My Big Bruddah took me to a Grateful Dead concert in the 6th grade, which pretty much ruined me for hippiedom. Sorry, but even at age 11 I could see what total losers the Dead Heads were. Jeez, what a trip that was though. I’d like to know how much second hand pot smoke I inhaled in the Rochester War Memorial that nigh. I think I was still stoned when Mom took me to school the next morning.

No, that hippie crap was not my thing. Instead I discovered the Kinks Greatest Hits in 1979, Neil Young’s Live Rust in 1980, and in 1981  Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits got me through my first “breakup”. I hope that 20 Prospect Jr. will someday know the sweet sorrow of listening to “The Boxer” with the lights off, pining away for some 8th grader that dropped him for a bad boy whose musical tastes leaned more towards Kiss & AC/DC. (Curse you Sam Magavero!!!!)

I can still hear the hum, click, and whir of the stero starting up
I can still hear the hum, click, and whir of the stereo starting up

And the advent of girls in my life, as something other than an annoyance, led me in whole new musical directions. So did the arrival of cable TV to Prospect Avenue, and my first glimpse of MTV and the original veejays. Ugh, this was almost worse than that Hippie crap. No, my pretentiousness had already been cemented in place at an early age. No Top 40 krep, or Stoner Heavy Metal was going to work for me. In Western New York in the 1980’s those were the only 2 flavors that Music came in. Insipid Top 40 Kasey Kasem Krep, and Stoner Death Metal.

J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter - Which one are you?
J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter – Choose your Pre-fab identity

I did the only respectable thing I could do. I retreated into bloated, self indulgent “Prog Rock” like Rush, Yes, and the Moody Blues. In some ways this is even more embarrassing than playing Chess to Beatles tunes at age 12. But for a Generation X kid who grew up being force fed Baby Boomer nostalgia by the dominant media culture from an early age, I suppose it was inevitable. Yes, by age 14 my entire generation had been brainwashed into believing that the 1960’s was the pinnacle of Western Civilization when the enlightened flower children had made love not war, and all of the world had been redeemed by Rock and Roll, or something like that. I forget how it goes exactly, it’s been a while since I heard Don McLean’s “American Pie” on the radio.

We are Intelligent and Sensitive, please sleep with us...
We are Intelligent and Sensitive, please sleep with us…

By the time I graduated from High School, I had at least stumbled into U2, and the Police, which offered me some alternative credibility, and coolness. Well, as much coolness as my J.C. Penney wardrobe, and braces could muster. And then came college…

To be continued…

My head told my heart, “Let love grow”, but my heart told my head, “This time no”

The water cascaded down over the rocks, white with foam as it churned in whorls and eddies. I sat in the sunshine along the West Branch of the St. Regis River, sipping on my cheap beer, trying my best not to think about her, and failing miserably. My friend Tommy climbed the rocks along the falls, and I looked up at his silhouette in the bright April sunshine, mathematically determining if the drop were high enough, and the water deep enough to jump. In the end I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and another beer seemed infinitely more productive than suicide.

The river roared with the fresh snow melt of the Adirondacks, as the temperature soared, and my soul warmed to the alcohol. Surely, this would heal me; an escape from class, and responsibility, to spend a few hours sitting amongst the grandeur of nature trying not to think about her. It wasn’t working. I’m not sure why I ever thought it would. I clung to my thoughts of her the way a drowning man does to a life preserver. Yet her memory was only a rock pulling me deeper into the icy darkness inside my head.

There beneath the glorious spring sunshine, all of nature seemed to be in order. The sun rose and set, water flowed downhill, and the birds waited downstream for unlucky fish. Yet here I was alone while somewhere in this little town she was with him. A six foot plus, fraternity boy, who had become the embodiment of everything I hated in this world. How could this be? How could a just God allow such unnatural things to occur?

I leaned back upon the bed of pine needles, and pictured her eyes, oh Lord, her eyes. I could never forget them. Wide spaced, almond shaped, their brown depths consumed me. The sound of the cascading water was broken only by the cry of gulls circling above.

When the time came, we hiked back to the car through the dappled light of the pine woods. I dropped Tommy off at his apartment, and thanked him for the company. It was still afternoon, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone, so I drove aimlessly around town. The warm weather brought everyone outside for the first time in months. Windows were open, and music was playing, and everywhere was the long lost sight of human flesh, a color as rare as green in the wintertime.

I held my breath, hoping to see her out walking somewhere, and dreading it at the same time. When I did finally find her car parked out in front of campus, my heart started racing, and I felt sick to my stomach. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. How the mere sight of a blue Plymouth K-car could create such pain. If only I’d have studied biology instead of engineering, perhaps I could explain it. Instead I turned around and headed back out to our apartment in the country.

When I got home I lay on the mattress on my bedroom floor, staring up at the ceiling, wondering how I was going to make it through another night. I went to the fridge, and stared at the emptiness before I opened another beer. I had already lost 20 pounds since September, the result of living on $20 a week, and not knowing how to cook, so another night without food wouldn’t make much difference.

Outside the light began to fade, and the shadows deepened. I sat at my desk, and pulled out the journal for my creative writing class. If I couldn’t see her with my eyes, I would see her with my pen. I wrote until the room went dark, the world shrinking around me until there was just the cone of lamplight on the desk. I hoped the ink would capture her. I hoped that it would make permanent what had already slipped through my fingers. Instead the cans began to pile up, until my writing became illegible, scrawled like a foreign language across the page until the words disappeared into scribbled lines, the ink flowing down the page like the water down the falls. When my eyes finally closed, I hoped that they would never open again.

Nature knows nothing as selfish as a boy in love.

More stories from the road

As I’ve explained before in other stories, my first 4 years after college were spent traveling the country. Not the 60’s, hippie, hitchhiking, peace-love-and-understanding kind of travel. (That was my Big Bruddah) No, my adventure was all expenses paid by my employer. Of course, the one catch to this deal was I had to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted me to. Not knowing what state I was going to be in from month to month, and sometimes day to day, tended to put a crimp in planning my social calendar.

It wasn’t the easiest way to live, but it wasn’t without its charms. Had I not been living out of a suitcase and eating all my meals in restaurants, I’d have never met the lovely Mrs. 20 Prospect. I’d also have  much lower cholesterol.  For 3 years I think I ate French fries at least twice a day. Not the healthiest way to live, but far from the worst vice for a field service engineer.

Most of my co-workers and I fell into the category of social misfits, or eccentrics. It really is the perfect sort of job for a person that can’t function for any length of time in normal society. Whether I was spending weeks alone in some God-forsaken corner of the country working at a power plant, or enjoying the camaraderie of a team of coworkers it always helped to be easily entertained. I know it’s hard to believe but such locales as Colstrip, Montana; Stanton, North Dakota; Springerville, Arizona; Pascagoula, Mississippi; and Nekoosa, Wisconsin weren’t exactly hopping places. While the poets of my generation were living in Seattle, or Prague, taking in the “scene”, and spending their nights in bacchanalian orgies, I was usually sitting on my bed in a motel room watching Twin Peaks, and drinking beer from a can.

I had a simple policy that I tried to follow no matter where I traveled; I never went to bars alone. So no matter where I was stuck, unless there happened to be another field service engineer along with me, I stayed inside most evenings. Even at 22 I knew that this sort of lifestyle was all too conducive to becoming a hard core alcoholic. It seemed that in this line of work you were either single and in your early 20’s, married with kids and in your mid-30’s, or divorced and in your late 40’s. I vowed to get out while I was still young.

In the mean time, I was paying off debt, and enjoying the lessons in humanity 101 that seemed to play out before me on a daily basis. I swear I learned more about people in my 4 years of traveling, than any school could ever have taught me. The cast of characters I encountered were drawn with sharp lines, and bold colors. I think I feel a story coming on…

In the spring of 1993, I was one of four engineers on site for a 3 week outage inspection in Central Pennsylvania. We were working 7 day weeks, and the lead engineer on the job was a friend of mine named John, from Philly. He was seemingly always unshaven, cussed with every sentence he spoke, and always had a dip inside his cheek. He amused me endlessly. We’d worked together before out west, and he’d taken me under his wing like a kid brother, always looking out for me as we shot pool in cowboy bars. For my part I became a great non-judgmental resource for him to learn proper grammar, and teach him the ways of normal society.

The second engineer on the job was a short, skinny Irish kid from eastern Massachusetts named Pat. He spoke with a classic Boston accent, and looked for all the world like a leprechaun. Putting a beer into him, was like inserting a quarter in the jukebox. His mouth would start moving, and for the next 20 minutes you could just sit and listen.

The third and final engineer on the job was a 40 something guy from Texas named Steve. I’d had the displeasure of working with Steve several times before in various spots around the country. He was far from being a stellar performer, which explained why his District Manager was always shopping him around to other districts that were in desperate need of a warm body. I won’t mention his last name, except to say that it started with “R-U-D”. This is important to our story because John from Philly insisted on calling him the “Rud-Dud.”

Rud-Dud would show up at the breakfast room at the motel each morning, coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a far away smile on his face. As the day went on, he would gradually become more and more cantankerous, until by 4 pm he was downright surly. John wasn’t the sort of guy that had a lot of patience for ineptitude, so he always teamed me up with the Rud-Dud. It was my job to babysit him, and make sure he didn’t wander off and find a quiet corner of the boiler to take a nap in.

I was still a pretty young and naïve guy, and as such I was curious as to why he was always so happy in the morning, and cranky in the afternoon. One Saturday afternoon as we peeled off our coveralls to eat our lunches, John looked at the clock and asked if we’d like to put in another 4 hours to finish off our work, so that we could take Sunday off. For me and Pat, it sounded like a great idea; a morning to sleep in, and lay around the motel watching TV and reading the paper. So I was surprised when the Rud-Dud refused. John lived a couple of hours away with his wife and small kids, and was hoping to be able to spend a day at home with them, so he pressed on and insisted that we put in the OT. It was at this point that Rud-Dud got squirrely, and started to sweat. He continued to refuse to stay late at the plant, and finally confessed that his issue was the local Liquor Store closed at 7pm, and wouldn’t open again until noon on Monday.

That’s when I learned to never come between and alcoholic and their alcohol. A compromise was reached, and we let Steve stop at the liquor store during our dinner break so that he could restock himself with a bottle of Jack.

Sunday passed peacefully. I sat in my room reading the NY Times, and drinking coffee, while Steve stood out on his balcony smoking and sipping on his Whiskey. When Monday arrived the weather had turned, and heavy wet snow was falling hard. We met for breakfast in the lobby before heading to the plant, and in a momentary lapse of judgment, Pat and I decided to let the Rud-Dud drive.

The snow was piling up quickly as we drove through the dark. Climbing a hill I saw a pair of headlights appear ahead of us, and begin drifting into our lane. Sitting in the passenger seat, my eyes grew big, and my mouth fell open, but the Rud-Dud just drove on staring straight ahead at the onrushing car. Finally Pat let out a scream, and yelled at him to watch the eff out, and slowly the synapses began to light up in the Rud-Dud’s cerebral cortex. He turned the wheel and veered into the other lane, just as I dropped my cup of coffee onto the seat and reached for the dashboard to brace for impact. The whole world seemed to slow down, and I can remember watching my coffee cup bounce off of the seat and land upside down in the Rud-Dud’s lap. I can remember looking out the window and seeing the open mouth of the other driver as he slid helplessly into our path. I can even remember thinking “why isn’t my life flashing before my eyes like it does in the movies? What a gyp!”

Thankfully, the angels were watching that day, and swept down from the heavens to steer us out of harms way. The other car smashed hard into our passenger side door, bounced off of the guardrail and came to a stop 100 feet down the road.  We spun in circles on the icy road and came to rest in the ditch facing back down the hill.

I sat there stunned, looking out the window at the tire marks twisting through the snow, as the Rud-Dud screamed in pain from the lap full of hot coffee, and Pat lay in the backseat spewing a stream of profanity that would make a sailor blush. I suddenly had a new appreciation for life. Brushes with death can be like that. To this day, that is the closest I have come to biting it in a car accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the incident soon became fodder for Pat to tell over the bar at happy hour. Hell, we even bought a round for the Rud-Dud.  Just not before breakfast.

The Time Machine

Sunday evening, and I sit in my comfy chair by the window listening to the song of the catbird in the velvety darkness. My legs propped on the ottoman, I can feel the sweet ache in their muscles from the miles I spent on my bike this weekend. A guy from the north could get real spoiled with an Appalachian Spring like this. Pedaling through the bright sunlight, drinking in the sight of a world gone green, I have to keep reminding myself that it is March, and not late April or May.

I close my eyes, and inhale the sweet night air. If the color green had a smell, this would be it. As a child I would lay on my back in the soft tufts of grass in our backyard, listening to the cooing of the mourning doves, feeling the cool evening air as the sky darkened above me, and the world came alive. Reaching out with my hands I would run my fingers through the grass, and feel the cold, soft earth beneath it. I felt as if I could plant them like roots in the loamy soil, and drink in the life like a maple. A modern day Rip Van Winkle.

Life seemed to stretch like an endless road in front of me. Each evening when I had finished dinner, I would throw a leg over my ten speed, and pedal out into the countryside. Across the furrowed fields, and through the greening woods, I would lose myself in grand day dreams. Nothing in the world is more heroic than the fantasies of a 13 year old boy. That ten speed was my freedom and escape from the anxieties of youth. Out on those empty farm roads there were no bullies to embarrass me and no girls to make me tongue tied. Out on that bike I could be anything I wanted.

I thought of that today as I crested a climb, my lungs burning, and my legs aching, and realized that for the last 4 miles I had been absorbed in day dreams so deep, I could recall nothing of the world around me. For those four miles I may as well have been a 13 year old boy, instead of a 43 year old man. The road raced under my wheels, and the sunlight glittered on the lake, and I could have been anywhere I wanted to be at that very moment. Yet nowhere could have been as satisfying as being astride that saddle, and that steel frame. A shadow passed over the road, and looking up I saw the silhouette of a Hawk against the blue sky. Thirty years disappeared in an instant, and for that one brief moment I too was soaring.