Friday, October 23, 2009

Chestnut Brown Canary

A few days ago (or maybe it was a few weeks ago) I received an email from a friend that mentioned the names of several Folk Music groups from the 1950’s and 1960’s. He was in the process of transcribing his vinyl collection onto a more current media.

I went through this process about 4 or 5 years ago, but selected cuts from various albums rather than copying the entire album. I made two CD’s, one loaded with MP3’s and the other containing some favorites on a .wav format.

One of the Folk Music group mentioned in the email was the Chad Mitchell Trio. The Chad Mitchell Trio was the very first group that I saw in a live performance. It was in late 1959 or early 1960 (snow was on the ground – so it might have even been early spring 1960) at the Chicago Historical Society (if you ever go to Chicago, this is a place that you want to visit).

The group was performing nightly at a club (bar) a few blocks away at North Ave. and Wells St. (in Olde Town) and took the time out to do a gratis set on a Saturday afternoon at the Historical Society.

Fortunately I was there, with a few of my fellow students, attending a lecture about Chicago history.

After the lecture we were asked not to leave the auditorium, because we were in for a special treat. We would have a musical interlude, so to speak. Not one of the 40 or so people left the room.

Enters the Chad Mitchell Trio!

The first song that they performed (and the only song that I can remember by name) was “No Irish Need Apply”, and I was overwhelmed when hearing the live music. It sounded so different from listening to music on the radio or on the Hi-Fi.

I’ll never forget that day!

Now, here is how my neural processors (RAM) work!

I read the email, I think of the Chad Mitchell Trio, I think of the Historical Society, I think of my old friends, I think of a guy named Joe (who was at this mini concert with me) and then I feel compelled to speak to Joe about the “good old days”.

So I call him!

After the usual salutations, talking about the weather and our ailments, I switch the conversation to Folk Music.

Joe and I (as well as a few others) went to “Mother Blues” in Olde Town Chicago to see Joan Baez (with guest performer Bob Dylan – fairly unknown at that time) and we also went to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert (I believe it was at the Goodman Theater behind the Chicago Art Institute) in 1961.

Joe recalled the PP&M concert and asked me “Didn’t you have a crush on Mary Travers?” I answered by saying that I had a crush on “every thing in a skirt”. "Don't you remember our High School Art Teacher, Connie?” “I was like a puppy in Connie’s class, I would fetch for her and do anything that she wanted, just to be close to her.”

He remembered and he laughed!

As the conversation continued we spoke of other Folk Music artists. Joe brought up the fact that many of the 1960’s Rock Artists had a Folk Music background. I brought up the fact that some Folk singers never went over to “the other side”, they were purist. Sure, Dylan electrified his band, but he did continue to write Folk, not Rock.

I mentioned that one of Bob Dylan’s most covered songs is “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” which has been covered by many major rock groups throughout the years. But they’re not like the original version; they lack the compassion in Dylan’s voice.

Then he brought up Judy Collins (who did some Dylan). I had purchased her album “Wildflowers”, at the PX, while stationed at Kagnew Station in Africa, after hearing the song about “Clouds” (Both Sides Now) on the radio. I had a crush on Judy, but this time I was seemingly an adult. I still had the crush (I’m sure that this has to do with high testosterone levels in a young male viewing an attractive female on an album cover).

Joe then brings up Crosby, Stills and Nash. This was one of my all time favorite groups from the late sixties and seventies.

Joe then asks me it I knew the origins of the CSN song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.

I say no!

Joe then informs me that is was Steven Stills tribute to Judy Collins. Unknown to me, Stills had dated (was sleeping with her) Collins when he was with Buffalo Springfield. My friend Joe knew all of this information; and I think I know music trivia – silly me.

Two days later I get an email from Joe with a link to Youtube. It’s a video of CSN doing Suite: Judy Blue Eyes with Judy Collins.

Now, I can’t get this song out of my head: Every time that I hear a bird in the back yard warble I hear “Chestnut brown canary, Ruby throated sparrow” rushing through the canyons of my mind.

Thanks a lot Joe!

The Beach Bum

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The other night I was speaking to my friend Loopy and I told him of this Blog that I was planning to write. It’s been taking me three or four day to write a Blog. Mainly because of my pains, I can only write when I am pleasantly anesthetized with alcohol. Usually by that point in time, I do not really feel like writing anything.

Back several decades ago I took a 200 Level English course. The main reasons that I took the course were that it had one of the shortest sign-up lines and all in the line were young ladies. Although it can become a distraction, a classroom full of young ladies is a good experience for a young male with high testosterone levels. It allows you to daydream if the class is boring.

There are many reasons that there are short sign-up lines for certain elective classes. The three predominant factors are listed below:

1) The class is highly specialized and usually boring. The people in the sign-up line more than likely need this class as a pre-requisite for another highly specialized and equally boring class.
2) The Bad Professor syndrome. Either you don’t understand what they are trying to teach you or they are very hard with their grading (I found this to be a major factor when signing up for a class with an East Indian teacher). Except for the gifted few, most students don’t learn a damn thing and inevitably drop out (take an incomplete) or get bad grades.
3) The class is scheduled at an inconvenient time or coincides with a mandatory class.

It was a good course, not too boring and a hot babe sat next to me (let me rephrase that last statement – I intentionally sat next to the hot babe). The subject of the course was Etymology, which would seemingly be boring, but fortunately we had a Good Professor.

But I have strayed, as usual, from the topic of my Blog; Politicians. But before I get to the point of this Blog, I must say something about my friend Loopy (Paul).

As I did, Paul took 4 years of Latin, but he also took two years of Classical Greek. He therefore knows a lot about the origins of words (Etymology) in this thing that we refer to as the English language.

In our conversation I mentioned the word Politicians and asked if he knew the Etymology of the word. Unsurprisingly we both came to the same conclusion; great minds think alike.

The Etymology of the word Politics according to Webster’s:
Greek politika, from neuter plural of politikos political.

However we, Paul and I, had a different take on the word Politicians. Let’s break it down.

Poli - (no Y’s in either the Greek or Roman Latin Alphabet) so this is the same as Poly, which is a prefix meaning many.
tic – (no C’s in the Greek alphabet) so let’s add K to give it the right sound. This turns it into tick. As we all should know, a Tick is a small blood sucking insect that bores under your skin and causes pestilence.
ians – a suffix from the Latin word “anus” (I kid you not) meaning “from, related to, or like.

Therefore the true meaning of the word Politicians is: Related to many small blood sucking insects that get under your skin, cause disease and expel feces.

The Beach Bum

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Perfect Martini

For the past 13 days I have been enjoying one of the simple pleasures of life. The Martini! Only one per day; that’s what I had promised my daughter if she would be so kind to procure a bottle of Gordon’s Gin for me.

My daughter doesn’t really like me drinking Gin; she says that I get strange, at least stranger than my normal strangeness. Plus she mentions that I have the tendency to fall when trying to rise from a chair when I drink a Gin Martini. This phenomenon has only happened to me twice in the past 9 years; but unfortunately she was present at both times.

Some say that Gin is an acquired taste (as is any liquor or malt beverage coming from the British Isles), but I liked it the first time that I drank it, with tonic, when I was stationed in Africa. The Eritrean Bartender at the Service Club said that it was good for me; the quinine in the tonic water helped to prevent malaria. He explained, therefore the more that I drank the better it was for me; it would be good for my health. I bought into his theory because I wanted to drink more gin and tonics. Besides it was a plausible explanation.

I drank my first Martini at the Officers Club on Fort Meade, Maryland in 1969. I wanted to appear sophisticated and everyone who drank a Martini in the movies was stylish and sophisticated. I was at the club on my first date with a charming young lady that I had met the week before.

I ordered a Martini and she ordered a rum and coke. The bartender asked if I wanted it up or on the rocks, shaken or stirred and if I wanted an Olive or a Twist. I remember that James Bond drank his shaken and served up, so I ordered it shaken and up with both an Olive and Twist.

The first sip that I took nearly gagged me; how could anyone drink this concoction? My date asked if she could take a sip, I, of course, said yes and she took a sip. The look on her face was what I was feeling inside but afraid to show openly. I asked her if anything was wrong and she replied “How can you drink that horrible thing?” Nine months later she married me anyway; probably because I had switched back to gin and tonic.

In 1976 I went to a bar with my friend Les, who was a regular patron at this particular bar. Les' drink of choice was a martini, on the rocks with a twist. He didn’t have to order his drink because the bartender knew exactly what he wanted.

I watched the bartender prepare his Martini. First he put the Vermouth into the glass and swirled it around and then dumped it out. Next he rimmed the glass with a lemon twist, dropped it into the glass and iced the glass. Then he filled the iced glass with Beefeater Gin.

On the next round I ordered a Martini telling the bartender “The same as you made for Les, but make mine up and with both an Olive and a twist.” This time I enjoyed my Martini. Les told me that the key to a good Martini was to use as little Vermouth as possible. He was right!

Two years later, my favorite bartender, Bob and I created what I called the Perfect Martini (he called it George’s Special). 2 and ½ ounces of Gin (Gordon’s) and ½ oz of Vodka (Smirnoff) chilled on ice in a glass shaker (until the shaker frosted over) and then gently stirred. A splash of Noillly Prat Dry Vermouth and a dash of Bols Orange Curacao were poured into an up glass. Then ice was placed into the glass to chill it. The ice and liquid were then disposed of and the Gin was then poured into the glass (using a Julep strainer) and was garnished with both an Olive (Queen Size sans pimento) and a twist of lemon (the zest flavored the rim of the glass).

About 6 years ago, with a young (23 or 24) enchanting female friend, I went to a Martini and Cigar Bar in Tampa, Florida. This place had a list of more than 30 different Martinis with only 3 or 4 made with Gin. Prices ranged from $9 to $24 for a Martini. The crowd was young; in fact the guy sitting next to me was in his late 30’s and probably the second oldest person in the Bar.

My companion ordered a Stoli Cosmopolitan with Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau.
(Aside: this drink was invented in an Annapolis, Maryland Bar and Restaurant named McGarvey’s, by a bartender named Bill, for McGarvey’s owner Mike Ashford and his good friend and sailing buddy Walter Cronkite).

Then I explained to the bartender how I wanted my Martini prepared. I was going to play the stump the young blonde bartender game. She smiled and said that the bar only carried top shelve Gins (I chose Bombay Sapphire), and only had Marie Brizard Curacao, they did however carry my Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth (as well as several other brands). I was impressed (with her knowledge and her cleavage) as I watched her make the second best Martini that I have ever had in my life. It was close to perfect.

Our check for two drinks was $32 (and this is in Florida, not New York City). I left the young lady bartender a $20 tip and thanked her for making my day.

The Beach Bum

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Friday, October 02, 2009

My Friend (Not My Cousin) Vinny

In 1981, while in self exile from my marriage and my family in Maryland, I live in Cicero, Illinois. At times, these were the best of times and at others they were the worst of times. I really missed being with my children, yet I cherished my freedom from my wife’s domineering family.

I first met my friend Vince while walking to a Cicero ballpark to play softball. I was playing in a Bar-League softball game and carrying a bat (an old Jackie Jensen model Louisville Slugger with a thick barrel – I had it since High School). Vinnie was also carrying a bat and was walking a few paces in front of me.

I caught up with him and asked him if he was playing in the 2 o’clock game. He looked at me as if I were crazy; then he answered and said “No, I gotta break someone’s kneecap.” I thought that he was being facetious and laughed. The look on his face told me that he was dead serious.

The next time that I saw him, about two months later, was in an up scale Italian Restaurant and Bar (and there weren’t many in Cicero at that time); I didn’t recognize him because this time he wasn’t carrying a bat. He yelled across the bar and asked me “Did you win?” I was amazed that he remembered me; we had had a very brief encounter a month or two before. I yelled back that I didn’t remember.

He got off of his bar stool and walked over to me and sat in the stool next to me. In a soft voice he told me that it was impolite to yell in a Restaurant. I was going to say that he yelled first; but I wisely bit my tongue. He introduced himself and I did the same. Little did I know that this was a start of a beautiful long lasting friendship.

In our bar conversation I learned that Vinnie worked for a Dutchman nicknamed “The Weasel”; although others called him BO Billy (but not to his face). The Weasel was the biggest bookmaker in the western suburbs of Chicago. His bank was Vince’s father-in-law.

Vince is a White Sox fan and loves the game of baseball with the same passion that I do. I’ve gone to several Sox games with him (usually the best seats in the house). I’ve taken him to several Cubs games over the course of the years; he always complained that we were in the cheap seats (Bleachers or Upper Deck).

Vinnie now works for the largest Construction Company in Chicago and it’s probably one of the top 20 in the US. I think, but I am not sure, that his father-in-law bankrolled their expansion some years back. Instead of a bat, Vinnie now carries a pen.

For the past 6 months Vinnie has been hounding me (via email) for the $19 that I owe him from last year. Now this is a guy that makes a two comma annual income. He lives in what my Dad would have called a mansion in the far western Chicago suburb of Naperville (5 bedrooms, swimming pool, 3 car garage and a circular driveway – all this on 1 ½ acres).

Vinnie and I have a standing annual wager. He bets $20 that the Cubs do not go to the World Series (he calls it a sure thing) and I bet a dollar that the White Sox won’t go (there is a reason for this that I may or may not explain later). I can’t recall how many $19 checks that I have written over the course of the years.

Last April, I did not send him his usual check. When he didn’t get the check in July he began to harass me; calling me a piker. Last night I called him to say that the check (sincerely) was in the mail but that it was written for $38 to include my 2009 losses (as I may not be around to pay up in April).

We spoke for more than an hour and he said “You know why I talked to you at the Restaurant that night, years ago.” I said “No.” “Because you seemed to be a good guy and I didn’t know too many good guys at that time.” He also said that I always made him laugh; that I was a funny guy who always faced adversity with a smile.

We talked about my health and physical problems. I told him that he didn’t need a bat because my knees were already shot. He laughed. I told him that a good day for me was when I only vomited once in the morning and didn’t crap in my pants. He laughed and then he cried!

The Beach Bum

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