Adventures In Babysitting

September 1, 2012

A buddy of mine has, for a good decade, had the cushiest gig known to man, serving as a nanny to a couple who are cardiologists.

His duties mostly consisted of driving the two kids to and retrieving them from school. In return, he had quarters in a huge home in a posh neighborhood as well as a handsome salary.

As the children have been driving for several years, his responsibilities have been minimal and, now, the position has been rendered obsolete. I fear that he will have a difficult adjustment to the true working world.

My lone experience in child care offered me a taste of this good life.

As a junior in high school, several of my friends and I opted to take Home Economics, causing a bit of a stir as the class had traditionally been reserved for girls which was one of our reasons for taking it.

(our other reason was the expectation that there would be food)

The class did put us in close proximity to some of our more desired female classmates, but, in an unfortunate development, no cooking was involved and, thus, there were no foodstuffs for us to consume.

To my surprise, as the following summer break was ending, our teacher recruited me to watch her three children.

The trio of boys ranged in age from nine to twelve and the gig, as outlined to me, was simple. The afternoon would be spent at the pool of our town’s country club, where my teacher and her husband were members, and, then, home until their return later that evening.

So, for a couple hours, I lounged poolside at The Club. This meant my one task was to make sure that no one drowned.

(actually, water safety fell under the jurisdiction of the lifeguard on duty as – had they drowned – it would have reflected most poorly on him)

This allowed me to give full attention to Kate, a classmate who had arrived shortly after we had encamped. She settled into the chaise lounge next to me, accompanied by her string bikini, to take advantage of one of the last days of summer to work on her already impressive tan.

By the beard of Zeus, the only thing that would have added to the experience was had I, like Chevy Chase in Fletch, ordered a steak sandwich and a steak sandwich and billed it to the Underhills.

The evening ended with me and the kids, back at their house, watching Miami Vice and eating take-out pizza.

Easy money.

Here are four songs from the waning days of that summer of ’85…

Godley & Creme – Cry
from The History Mix Volume 1 (1985)

The duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme had once been members of 10cc and had become acclaimed producers of videos.

(Duran Duran’s Girls On Film, Asia’s Heat Of The Moment, The Police’s Every Breath You Take, Wrapped Around Your Finger, and Synchronicity II, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes…)

So, not surprisingly, it was an innovative video – using the same morphing visuals that Michael Jackson would use for Black And White‘s clip – that garnered the duo attention on MTV. Radio soon caught on to the song’s twangy, hypnotic goodness and Cry became a hit that seems to have been largely forgotten.

Talking Heads – And She Was
from Little Creatures (1985)

I was well acquainted with Talking Heads beyond their Top Ten hit Burning Down The House from a couple years earlier. When Little Creatures was released earlier in the summer, I was charmed by the cerebral rockers jaunty ode to levitation And She Was.

Though I didn’t hear the song much on radio, it became one of the few songs by The Heads to make the Hot 100.

Jeff Beck – Gets Us All In The End
from Flash (1985)

I’m not sure if I knew of Jeff Beck before 1985. Perhaps I’d come across the name, but I certainly knew no music by the legendary guitarist (who more than a few folks would argue is the greatest guitarist of the rock era).

Flash had already gotten airplay (and MTV play for the video) with his soulful rendition of People Get Ready, on which Rod Stewart provided vocals. On Get Us All In The End, Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall guested on vocals while Beck handled the guitar work which is simply ferocious.

Bryan Ferry – Slave To Love
from Boys And Girls (1985)

Roxy Music was another act with which I had little familiarity in 1985. I know that I’d heard Love Is The Drug on 97X, but I wouldn’t discover them in more depth until a year later when, as a college freshman, a French professor would play the group’s classic Avalon before class.

It was certainly on 97X where I was hearing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love and I liked the suave fellow’s style.

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Hanging Out At The Zap

June 27, 2012

It was hardly the most clever of names, but, it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing.

The Zap.

It could have been an arcade in any small, Midwestern town in of the early ’80, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose, though we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and a ratio of bars to citizens that I have only observed in the UK.

(any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville)

And we had The Zap.

For the couple of years that it existed, The Zap was the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes.

Housed in a minimally remodeled building that had previously been home to a beauty salon on one side, an auto repair garage on the other, The Zap was a less glamourous version of the game room in Dazed And Confused on a smaller scale.

The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, making it one of the few places we kids could escape the heat and humidity of summer.

(though the place was frigid in the winter)

It had video games and pinball machines.

It was about the greatest place on earth.

(provided we define earth as the six square miles that was our hometown)

And The Zap had a jukebox.

That jukebox provided some of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or playing a few more songs on the jukebox.

I usually opted for more music.

As the summer began in 1984, my friends and I had our driver’s license. The sole objective most days was, somehow, to procure a vehicle and head for Cincinnati.

(and, often, such plots were hatched at The Zap)

But once you’d roamed the malls of the dirty city – been to arcades that would fill a barn – a dozen games, a few pinball machines, and a pair of pool tables is not impressive.

It was sometime toward the end of that same summer that The Zap closed.

And as we left The Zap in our dust and escaped to civilization, we often had the radio tuned to 96Rock, a station that, despite its shortcomings, was the one that meshed most with our various interests.

Here are four fairly random songs that we would have likely heard on one of those summer road trips in the year of Orwell…

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire (1984)

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve who had been in Santana with Schon. There were a few songs from the short-lived union’s lone album that I heard on radio at the time.

Their version of the iconic A Whiter Shade Of Pale got played quite a bit and I suspect I hadn’t heard the original.

(and, if I had, I doubt I could have told you it was Procol Harum)

The Pretenders – My City Was Gone
from Learning To Crawl (1984)

I got really burned out on My City Was Gone in 1984. Most of the radio stations which we listened to were located across the state in Ohio, so the song – about Chrissie Hynde’s home state – got played on all of the rock stations.

By summer, six months after the wonderful Learning To Crawl was released and radio stations had stopped playing Middle Of The Road, Show Me, and Back On The Chain Gang, My City Was Gone was still being played as if it had just come out.

(I much like the song again twenty-eight years later when it pops up)

Box Of Frogs – Back Where I Started
from Box Of Frogs (1984)

I loved the name of Box Of Frogs, but I was mostly indifferent to Back Where I Started. Like Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, Box Of Frogs had a brief existence, reuniting three founding members of The Yardbirds.

Fellow Yardbird Jeff Beck guested on several tracks including the shuffling Back Where I Started which I really dig now.

Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes To Midnight
from Powerslave (1984)

Though no metalhead, when 2 Minutes To Midnight arrived, I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden through my buddy Beej’s brother, who was obsessed with the band, and another buddy who, if we had snagged his dad’s car, would pop in a cassette with The Number Of The Beast on one side and Men Without Hats’ debut on the other.

The scorching 2 Minutes To Midnight got played a lot – 96Rock had an odd mix that ranged from Motley Crue and Ozzy to The Fixx and Missing Persons – and it was one of the few songs by Iron Maiden that I ever heard on the radio.


Teacher Of The Year

May 22, 2012

Miss Chisolm is the teacher of the year, so sayeth the plastic-letters on the marquee of an elementary school I pass each morning on the way to work.

I don’t recall any of the schools which I attended awarding such an honor.

The students, of course, had teachers who were deemed as favorites.

Mrs. Winston in seventh grade was popular as she was young, good-natured, and the closest any of us had ever gotten to a woman who could have been one of Charlie’s angels.

Z was held in high regard with us as freshmen and sophomores in high school. He was a lanky cat in his early thirties with a well-played moustache who was a coach for some of us and entertained all of us with his irreverant attitude, colorful language and affection for rock and roll.

Not surprisingly, the young and the hip were often among the top draws.

There were, though, veteran teachers who, as the result of years of service, teaching generations of the townsfolk, were beloved.

Mrs. Sulley was amongst that group and was retiring at the end our freshman year in high school. She was kindly enough that the worst thing we did was blow soap bubbles in the back of class.

After several days, Mrs. Sulley finally decided to come back to investigate, leading my buddy Beej to suggest that the bubbles had emanated from his socks which he had pulled from a soapy washer that morning.

(she seemed amused by his inventiveness)

At the other end of the spectrum was Mr. Haynes, an emaciated doppelganger of Gene Shalit, clad in plaid polyester pants and sweater vests who taught senior English.

He had the reputation of being a bully.

Me and my friends were bright, bored, and creatively disruptive when we had Mr. Haynes for senior English.

It had all the makings of Thunderdome.

The year was devoted to Greek mythology and Mr. Haynes did indeed seem to relish his power.

And we drove hard to the hoop, antagonizing him as much as possible, daring him to follow through on his threats of impossibly difficult tests.

(as an added bonus, some of our classmates – some of the insufferably studious types – genuinely feared the threats which proved to be mostly bluster)

By Christmas break, the antics from both he and us were more like performance art than mere classroom shenanigans.

By the time the school year ended and we graduated, we would occasionally pop in on Mr. Haynes at home.

He was a bachelor in his ’60s living in an apartment complex. One of our buddies was a neighbor and he’d gruffly let us in when we’d show up at his door. Then, he’d gruffly question us on what mischief we were up to that evening before we’d make our exit to get started on finding some mischief.

Years later, home from college, my brother’s girlfriend recounted that Mr. Haynes – whose class she was taking – spoke often of me and my friends and how much he’d enjoyed the banter we brought to his class.

Yeah, he had been a bit of a bully, but it seemed he more so that he was simply bright, bored, and lacking in creativity.

Here are four songs that I know (or suspect) some of those teachers from the past might have enjoyed…

Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

I had few music classes in school as a kid and not so much as a single class in high school. I’ve recounted the impact of the music that I heard in Mrs. Winston’s homeroom class in junior high school.

And I remember another teacher that same year, Mrs. King, had brought in Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants and played it to us over the course of a few classes, having us be still and simply listen.

I recall being spellbound, though I haven’t heard the album in thirty years aside from a few stray tracks. Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was the soundtrack to a little-seen film on plants and though the album was apparently a musical curveball in 1979, it seems to be rather well-regarded in retrospect.

Swan Dive – Moon River
from June (2002)

I could certainly imagine Mrs. Sulley, the teacher who saw soap bubbles, enjoying the lighter AM pop music of the early ’60s. She likely shook her head at the racket of The Beatles.

She probably grooved to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, but, instead, I’m opting for Swan Dive’s version from forty years later because anyone with a yen for lush, ’60s-styled pop should check out the breezy and brilliant catalog of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
from Cut (1983)

Now Z was about fifteen years older than we were in 1983, so he likely would have dug Golden Earring’s Radar Love which would have been a hit when he was not far removed from being a high school student. But, a) I vividly recall him being a fan of Twilight Zone, and, b) if you turn on a classic rock station right now, you probably would hear Radar Love within the next twenty minutes.

Split Enz – I Got You
from History Never Repeats – The Best Of Split Enz (1987)

I’m going to cheat here as I can’t imagine Mr. Haynes liking anything much but classical music and the little I own I’ve not taken the time to rip to mp3 form.

However, during that senior year, our buddy Streuss took an instrumental from Split Enz’ True Colours album called The Choral Sea and recorded lyrics about Mr. Haynes over the track, including his famous declaration “I don’t care what I said last week and it has no bearing on what I’m doing today.”

I don’t have The Choral Sea, but I do have I Got You, Split Enz lone US hit, which also originally appeared on True Colours.