Archive for March 2008

my son the rising rockstar v: 50 minutes of fame

March 29, 2008

They take the stage. With the lights turned on between sets I can see water dripping from the ceiling above the stage mike. Melting snow on a leaking roof. I resist the urge to help them set up their instruments and amps. They know what they’re doing. Bob, the lead member, got here early and snagged a parking spot by the backstage door. Everyone helps with the drums. Bob gets splashed in the face and pulls the mike out of the drip zone. The drummer isn’t here. He’s still at work. He has no cell phone. It’s assumed – strongly hoped – he’ll show at the last minute.

He shows. After a group tuning, they start. It’s immediately apparent they have an original style, albeit a bit off the mainstream. Their place in 21st century music is not unlike that of The Police who, 30 years ago came out with an almost Gregorian Chant style of music in a world of traditional three-chord rock ‘n’ roll.

Seeing my son on stage playing original music, with a crowd watching him and his band, sparks a feeling of appreciation for the work he’s done, and pride in what he’s producing. It’s also cause for concern. There are drunk, obnoxious people here. One young man is almost out of control and comes close to whipping a bottle at the stage. Someone buys him another beer and he goes back to throwing darts.


The men’s room floor is wet with urine. The amps are turned up so loud the metal heating duct in the wall is vibrating. Young men are lined up at the urinals. I duck into the sit-down stall. Someone has vomited all over it. I swallow hard and look straight ahead above it all. At any given time a third of the patrons are out front on the sidewalk smoking. I go outside. The music is so loud that it sounds just right on the sidewalk.


Aptly named, Aggressive Betty starts shoving their equipment on the stage as the last chord rolls off my son’s guitar, like Marines taking an island and jamming a flag in the soil. Their egos need no amplifiers. As they launch into their first song, a drop of water splashes off the mike, right in the singer’s eye, causing him in all his arrogance to be startled and lose his rhythm.


Next morning at work, my voice is hoarse.


“Rich, are you sick?” 

“No, I was cheering for my son’s band last night.” 

who am I on the 9 X 12 screen?

March 27, 2008

I thought I was a low-key working stiff who enjoys writing, nature, and urban living. Part of “work” is checking my e-mail. And when I log onto it I start to feel like several different people. 

To Marissa, a former co-worker, I’m someone waiting to read “feel good” messages that need to be forwarded to ten people so I’ll experience good luck or save a dying child. She had been sending clip art of a cute little laughing panda with every e-mail. Deaf to my e-warning, “I hate that cute little panda,” she persisted. So I e-mailed her that I’d printed out her panda on paper and then run it through the shredder on slow speed while squeezing ketchup on it. Her response included a curse that would finish off a dying child and now she sends two of those laughing pandas with every e-mail.  

Judie in Arizona reaches out to me and other fellow “Forwards” with messages that remind us, humorously, about the negative side effects of aging, and that we as Boomers are at the center of it. She’s also the personification of Anti-Hillary, with an arsenal of political satire surpassing Rush Limbaugh’s. 

Joe’s an old high school buddy. Fisherman. Hunter. Gun owner. Appreciator of the female body. I probably know more about new guns on the market than most Americans. I’ve cautioned him that when he sends his “softer” material he needs to code it so I don’t open it in the office at the wrong time. 

Bob lives in the woods in a trailer near the Florida-Georgia border. Another high school friend. His trip from “then” to “now” included a stint in Vietnam. Bob’s experimenting with grape growing, jewelry making, and assorted home repair projects. He sends me regular updates on his works-in-progress, including photos, detailed descriptions of working with molten silver, and a treatise on why he won’t expand to a double-wide – all intertwined with his observations on society. A politically correct local news commentator he’s not! 

Sometimes I don’t want to shut down the computer at the end of the day.

my son the rising rockstar iv: meeting the band

March 25, 2008

As hard hitting as my son’s band is, the five members appear, at least physically, more like a Sunday school choir as they now set up their equipment on stage in this loud and dimly lit bar. This skewed impression comes from the fact that they are performing in the wake of the just-departed opening band, Chaos, a stripped-to-the-waist, heavily sweating, tattooed and body-pierced tornado of auditory assault.  

In contrast, there’s a hierarchy of respect in my son’s family, I mean band. Father Bob is lead singer and chief composer. Mother Cher is co-composer and singer. Big brother-who-looks-after-everyone-else-by-shoring-up-any-musical-lags is bassist Mike. Controlling the time is the chronically late, black sheep of the family, drummer Bob. My son, Jeremy, is the kid brother.

Several of them lived together during college. They told my son they were forming a band and needed him as the guitarist. Jeremy said, “I’m really just a rhythm guitarist, not a lead guitarist.” 

“Monday nights. Seven PM. Bob and Cher’s house!” they replied.

 Although I believe the most air-playable songs on the CD are the two Cher and my son composed, Cher had the least involvement in the practice sessions since five of the songs do not feature her voice. Late into the Monday night practice sessions she was often found asleep on a couch in a fetal position. Hence, they named their band Feedl.

field research on alternative transportation

March 23, 2008

I’ve started walking to work. I’m trying to save money on gas and get back in shape from sitting around all winter. It’s three-and-a-half miles to my office so I only walk on nice days. After two weeks of walking to work three times a week, I’ve logged 42 miles, lost a couple pounds, and saved about ten bucks in gas. 

And I’ve discovered a few things. Walking is good exercise. I sleep better, actually eat less, and instinctively make better use of my time during the day because I have two hours less of it to play with. I’ve also discovered that drivers here, in Rochester, NY, are not pedestrian-oriented, especially during commuting hours; you need predator-detecting rabbit vision or you could get killed. 

Walking takes time, admittedly; more than just on foot. It’s like going on a mini-trip; I have to fold and pack office wear in a backpack. And I can’t run errands during the day if I don’t have my truck.  When hoofing it, one can be perceived as less than middle class. There’s a panhandler who has asked me for money regularly over the past couple years as I leave a particular supermarket and walk to my truck in the parking lot. Yesterday he again was asking people for money. He studied me as I approached wearing my skating cap and backpack. I came alongside him and for the first time did not hear his trademark, “Hey buddy, got a quarter?” 

Perhaps my most significant discovery is that in spite of the cost of fuel, and the good sense it makes environmentally to walk, I’ve encountered almost no one else walking – in seventy minutes each way, through three zip codes.

my son the rising rock star iii: debut warm-up

March 21, 2008

“Chardonnay, please.” 

The barely-twenty blonde bartender covered by less clothing than I wear at the beach smiles and raises her eyebrows as in, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” 

“Chardonnay!” I raise my voice. She super-raises her eyebrows.  

I lean over the bar and cup my mouth with my hands like an Alpine yodeler trying to reach Austria from France, and in a volume not unlike the singer on stage screaming into the mike, I deliver, “CHARDONNAY!” 

“Weeennlhavbrrr.” Now I raise my eyebrows. 

“WE ONLY HAVE BEER!” Her voice cracks but her eyebrows remain friendly.

Forget my ‘blonde’ jab; this kid is good. You could get a bank loan using only the attitude expressed by her eyebrows as collateral. 

So beer it is. My son’s band is about to play. I look around me. I’m more than twice the age of anyone here. I notice the kid next to me is wearing a bar-issued wristband. I tap him on the shoulder and point to his wrist. The band has stopped and I can actually hear him: “It’s fifteen bucks for all the beer you can drink,” he says, happy to share the good news. 

This bar, the Penny Arcade, was around when I was my son’s age but tonight is my first time here, to hear my son’s band, Feedl, creators and purveyors of hard rock. The opening act, now leaving the stage, was Chaos. The headliners will be Aggressive Betty.

professional neighbors

March 19, 2008

When the time goes behind in the fall or ahead in the spring, as it did last week, the psychiatrist in the next office comes in the front room of my office suite and changes my wall clock. It’s battery powered and tends to run slower than an AC clock, so he also comes in throughout the year and re-sets it to the exact time. My resume writing office is the first office one comes to when entering our hallway. The second office – just past my glass door – is the psychiatrist. He says his patients look in my door and see the time and judge whether they are running early or late. They may wait in the hallway if they think they are running early based on my slow clock.  

The coin and stamp dealer in the building next door is moving after many years in that location. I saw the “moving” sign in their window and trucks backed up to their door. I also noticed boxes of discarded items stacked against the front of the building. I have been walking back-and-forth to work since winter took a break and the last two days I’ve made it a point to walk directly past the coin and stamp store’s front door. You never know; maybe they threw away some old money.

my son the rising rock star ii: the music

March 17, 2008

 My son, Jeremy, and I met for lunch. We talked mostly about music. He introduced me to modern rock (by playing it constantly when he lived with me). I find much of it as inspiring as that of my own youth. I was drawn to it then because it represented young men and women successfully articulating their feelings, something I aspired to do. That still applies today. 

Outside the restaurant he reached in his car and grabbed a copy of his band’s new CD for me. I said, “Thanks,” intending to listen to it home. 

“Got a couple minutes?” he asked. 

We climbed in his car and he stuck the CD in his player. I was immediately drawn in. The five band members were perfectly synchronized. My son’s guitar work made me smile. I was touched by the fact that this was original music co-created by my own flesh and blood. It was like seeing a new grandchild for the first time; the emotions went beyond “How cute!” or “He looks just like you!” I was speechless. 

My son, the youngest member of the band, neither sings nor writes lyrics; he’s strictly guitar. And the lyrics were a challenge to get my arms around. The list of people I’d originally envisioned playing this for was dwindling with each cut. Most were variations of the theme, “Go f— yourself!” – screamed at tonsil-shattering intensity, with the attitude of Marines storming an enemy bunker. 

The album’s title is “Reaching Out.”  

my son the rising rock star i: recording

March 15, 2008

They found a studio where the guy agreed to produce a seven-song CD for $1,125. When Jeremy first called to tell me, I wondered at their doing this before they’d even played out. To me the natural step after practicing for a year behind closed doors would be to play for an audience, even just a group of friends. Were all those months composing and practicing songs in Bob and Cher’s basement to be experience by no one but themselves? Was this some kind of subconscious group denial that they would ever play out?

“What are the songs about?” I asked my son.

“Oh, stuff…”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Mmm…growing up…leaving home…breaking up…” I could feel the shrugs across the phone connection.

Regardless of my thoughts about their doing the CD first, I was impressed by their focus and dedication. Jeremy was a full-time college student with a part-time job. The other four band members were out of college and working full-time. They had practiced religiously every Monday night for over a year. I really wanted to hear that CD. I wanted to hear what my barely communicative son had to say, if not in full sentences and directly facing me, then I’d settle for musical phrases recorded in another town. I agreed to underwrite Jeremy’s portion of the studio costs.

the experts speak

March 13, 2008

This morning on the radio, the news announcer said, “Do you ever wonder why wives like Mrs. Spitzer and Hillary Clinton stand by their husbands? Stay tuned; we’ll be joined by a marriage counselor and ‘couples’ expert right after the news.” 

The ‘couples’ expert called in from Texas and, while her oil-well accent begged listening to, she really didn’t have anything eye-opening to say. The gist of her message was, “Mrs. Spitzer is probably in shock and unable to act…and Mrs. Spitzer and Hillary Clinton have both been married to their husbands for all those years…” 

Then I went to breakfast at Gitsis Hots, a less than elegant little diner on a funky, litter-strewn street. Here, the real experts – the ‘people’ offered their take on spousal loyalty in the face of unfaithfulness and subsequent public humiliation. 

Debbie, the fifty-year-old waitress, wrinkled her forehead as she studied the picture of Silda Spitzer on the front page of the paper and offered thoughtfully, “Maybe she knew all along.” 

Orlando, the Puerto Rican dishwasher was loading dishes on the counter and listening. He stood up straight, turned to us and, with a slowly appearing lascivious grin said, “Maybe she doing same thing to him.”


the river

March 11, 2008

I was going to write about my son today, since I wrote about my daughter last time. But this past Sunday I learned that a woman I was once married to had died…almost eight months ago. 

I went through the afternoon in disbelief. You see, I’m still traveling “dumb,” with a teenage sense of vulnerability: How could anyone important to me not be completely immortal? Also, why didn’t anyone tell me? 

Before I could find answers to those question I first had to answer another one. Monday morning, back in my office, I pulled out last year’s business appointment notebook. I flipped through the pages. There it was, July 21, 2007, the day Beth died. It was a Saturday and there were no business appointments on that day. But the day prior, a Friday, I noted I was taking the afternoon off to meet an old friend for lunch. He’d contacted me and insisted, “My treat!” 

So while Beth was living her last 24 cancerous hours, I was sitting in a restaurant on the edge of the river, downtown. We talked about many things that afternoon, most of which promised a tomorrow: “I think am going to…,” or, “You know what we should do?”  

As we talked, I noticed out the windows how the afternoon sun highlighted the circling white gulls against the storm-colored sky, and how it caused the whitecaps of the river’s rapids to sparkle, even though the still water was murky.