Many people have asked, “Scott? How did you get started in rock and roll?”
These people exist solely in my imagination, but it would be unfair to have that fact eliminate their obvious interest, so, I’ll tell.
The first band I played in was The Revolutions. I’ve given some thought over the years to suing Prince for stealing our name, but I’m not the litigation type. But make no mistake about it. The name is ours. We formed in 1966. I don’t think Prince was born yet, much less had he changed his name for the first of many times. Like me, Robin Raver, my best friend, was seven years old. Her brother Johnny, who had only three fingers on his left hand, was eight. The fact that he was born without one digit has very little to do with this story, but every time Johnny Raver was introduced to anyone, it was with the added phrase, “He was born without a finger”. It’s forty-seven years later and I still add that caveat to his name.
Robin played a plastic ukulele that came with optional hand painted Hawaiian dancing girls. Johnny strummed on a cowboy guitar that had three plastic strings (a perfect number for his left hand). I beat on a cardboard box with a pair of Flintstones plastic bowling pins.
I provided the soul.
We sat on the broken glider in front of the Ravers’ clapboard house and lip-synched to Monkees records, the sound blasting through a screened porch window. Prince did not steal this part of our act. The fact is that we did have an act, one dreamed up by the three-fingered older brother of my best friend. We would walk onstage, he explained, dressed as the drummer, fife player and flag carrier from that famous revolutionary war painting. “You know,” explained Johnny. “The guy with the crutch? He’s got a bloody wound on his head? He’s all bandaged up?” He explained further that we’d walk onto the stage (one of us limping). And just when everyone was expecting us to play revolutionary war music, we’d bust out with some lip-synched Monkees.
I was seven.
It was my first foray into the magical world of show business.
I went home after that first practice and designed a logo for the side of my box. Robin drew up some costumes. Johnny played with a squashed snake he’d found in the road.
The next day, we played again, the two Ravers bobbing their heads more or less in time to the records as I beat the crap out of a cardboard box with a pair of plastic bowling pins. We just knew that at any moment, a talent scout from the Ed Sullivan Show would be driving down Dover Road. He would hear the Monkees music, see The Revolution and we’d be on our way to stardom.
And then it was time for lunch.
In none the histories about rock and roll I’ve read or documentaries I’ve watched does the topic of lunch ever surface. I would estimate, however, that it is not drugs, but grilled cheese and potato chips that have halted most young bands’ skyrocket to fame. Right in the middle of “Last Train to Clarksville”, just as I was getting a nice groove beaten into the flap of my box, Mrs. Raver came to the screen door and called us into lunch.
That woman could make some grilled cheese.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever played a cardboard box with a set of bowling pins, but in case you’re considering, let me give you some advice. Do so with an empty stomach. Once you’ve eaten grilled cheese, potato chips and created a spectacular Kool-Aid mustache, the passion that once filled your aching heart will be replaced with a completely different feeling.
We called “take five” and I went home to take a nap.
It is important when forming your first group to have a mentor, a Svengali, someone who can share your enthusiasm. For us, that person was Mrs. Raver, the woman who (as far as we all knew) spawned the three fingered guitar player with the Revolutionary War hangup. Mrs. Raver never once complained about our practices, never once squashed our dream, never ever asked that we perhaps consider a different hobby. She merely hummed those mornings away, listening to high-decibel Mickey Dolenz, accompanied by a boy beating the crap out a cardboard box and his two friends, nodding.
Mr. Raver, however, was not quite so sympathetic to our need for fame. Sometime after we’d mastered bowing together at the same time, he came home from work and decided the mess on the broken front porch needed to be “rid up”. Along with the broken porch glider and the rusted charcoal grill, he placed the cardboard box and the plastic bowling pins into the back of their pickup truck and hauled the whole mess to a garbage pile behind the chicken coop.
The next morning, I arrived at band practice, my head full of new ideas about how we should shoot the cover photo for our first album, “Meet the Revolution”. It was with a crushing realization of the end of a career that I saw Robin and Johnny, in the front yard, bowling.
With my drum sticks?
“Aw, we don’t feel too much like playing Monkees today,” the missing digit explained. “We’re playing bowlers.” With that, he turned toward a group of eight plastic bowling pins, including my two drumsticks, and whirled a ball of knitting yarn down the driveway towards them.
Monkees? We weren’t playing Monkees, I thought. We were playing The Revolution! I looked to Robin for support. Surely, she would set her brother straight. This was, after all, our new life. We were going to be a band!
She pointed to the porch, the site of our genesis. “We got a new porch glider,” she said. “Tonight we’re gonna burn some stuff. You wanna watch?” She pointed to a pile of garbage behind the chicken coop. Piled on top was my cardboard box.
That was when I realized for the first time that rock and roll is an unforgiving life. And if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to be tough. I’d show them. They weren’t going to see me whimper. I was a rocker. I was an original member of the Revolutions. I was the soul of the Revolutions! And I had come up with a pretty cool logo that was spelled right and everything. Here they were, trying to take my dream away. Well, I wouldn’t give them the benefit of seeing my disappointment.
“Hand me that yarn,” I said to three-fingered Johnny Raver. “Let’s bowl.”
More than forty thousand people will gather this afternoon in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate that most American of attributes - full out, non-apologetic gluttony.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody!
Today is the day competitive eaters from around the globe gather at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in an attempt to break the world’s record for eating boiled weenies. In a ten-minute televised contest, a dozen or so slack-jawed, stomach stretching individuals will shove hot dogs into their mouths, swallowing as quickly as possible until the timekeeper mercifully announces that the contest is over.
That’s when the real fun begins.
They don’t televise that part.
I know that sports lovers are eagerly awaiting some statistics and I won’t make them wait. Joey Chestnut, a future cardiac arrest victim, holds the current world’s record for hot dog eating. Last year he devoured fifty-nine hot dogs and buns in a period of ten minutes.
While it’s probably largely pointless for me to continue, I’ll keep typing some words while your brain wraps itself around that figure. No matter what I talk about from here to the end of this column, you won’t be paying any attention. Your eyes will follow along, but I know full well that your brain is now stuck on one, singular thought.
Fifty-nine hot dogs in ten minutes?!
Let’s do the math, shall we? The typical dog and bun weighs in at one-fifth of one pound. That means this guy ate twelve pounds of hot dogs in ten minutes.
It’s not his only record.
Mr. Chestnut also holds current world’s records in the following categories: macaroni and cheese (ten pounds in seven minutes), chicken wings (nine pounds in twelve minutes) and hamburgers (one hundred three Krystal Burgers in eight minutes).
Here’s a tip – don’t invite him to your cookout.
As I mentioned, today’s contest is televised on one of the fourteen or so ESPN channels and has become a Fourth of July tradition in some households. I must warn those new to watching competitive eating on television, though. There is a chance that during your mid-afternoon viewing things will go awry. A person’s digestive system (no matter how trained) is not meant to be force-fed. Sometimes, the body rejects the hot dog.
In competitive eating circles, they call this event a “reversal of fortune”.
No one said being a world’s champion was pretty.
I’ll be manning the grill, turning the dogs and burgers at the precise moment today, making sure that everyone is picture perfect before serving. And as I savor the greatest food known to man, I will pause between bites to thank the heavens above that I am not, even for one afternoon, Joey Chestnut.
And I will really, really give thanks again later tonight.
My wife dropped her phone into the toilet.
The first question most people ask, after hearing about the accident, is “Was there anything else in the toilet at the time?” She has testified that an empty bowl welcomed the phone’s dive. Who am I to question? To be truthful, I don’t want to know the answer.
She fished the phone from the bowl, dried it with a towel, turned it on, and, seeing no apparent problem, phone operating normally, placed the phone back into her pocket and went about her business.
That’s the story I got. When it comes to cell phones in the commode, we employ a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
In fact, I probably would have never known about the incident had the phone continued to work. But, alas, poor iPhone, I knew you well. The next time she retrieved it from her pocket and turned it on, it blinked back at her a few times, asked a question in Mandarin and then went to sleep.
After she confessed to drowning by toilet, I did what I often do in circumstances of technical failure. I asked my new Dad, Google.
My old Dad was Google before Google. I could call him any time of day or night with a technical question. “Dad, sorry to wake you, but when I the water heater is making a sound.” Dad always had a technical answer and loved to solve my problems.
My mechanical problems.
My emotional problems, my relationship problems, my physical ailments were all property of my Mother, who would have the phone handed to her when any or all of these subjects came up. For nuts and bolts solutions, it was always Dad.
My Dad’s been dead for two decades. For the past twenty years I’ve been on my own, mechanically, and still have all ten fingers. It’s surprising. In the ensuing twenty years, I’ve found that for most technically oriented questions, Google works just about as good as Dad.
And so, I typed in “dropped iPhone in toilet” and was immediately led to dozens of discussion threads posted by people who had done the same thing. Most of them began with a completely unbelievable story, followed by an immediate explanation of how the bowl was clean and clear at the time.
All lies, of course.
The stories were answered by all sorts of solutions. Place it in the oven. Paint the audio input with white out. Stick the phone in a bag of rice for a couple of days.
I tried them all.
None of them worked.
Her phone, when it does come on, gives her emergency instructions in Mandarin, Japanese, Chicken Scratch… I don’t know which language. I am a product of West Virginia’s public school system.
Although the internet solutions I found on Google were mostly useless, I was amazed at the number provided. Everyone, it seems, has dopped their phone into the toilet.
It was the second time I’d asked my new Dad, Google, for an answer this past weekend. The first came when I put my old car into park in a shopping center parking lot. When I came back from the store, got in and started it up, the car would not go into gear.
Stuck in park.
After trying all my usual methods of pulling on the lever really hard, beating on the dashboard and cursing fluently, I got on my phone, the one that had avoided the toilet (so far) and googled.
My new Dad instructed me to insert a ball point pen into a notch on the shifter guide, wiggle it back and forth and – like magic – I was in gear. Or, at least the car was.
Thanks, new Dad.
Once again, hundreds of people had the same problem with the same car (probably in the same parking lot – I didn’t really bother to read their stories).
The point is that the internet is now my source of information for getting out of a jam. Google has become my go to Dad. And just like the real thing before it, I have to trust whatever nonsense Google spits back at me (Rice? Really?)
In the meantime, take some advice from someone who has recently been through the phone in the toilet ordeal. Unless you really know, for a fact, that nothing was in the toilet bowl with the phone, and you place the phone in a bag of rice, it might be a good idea to not eat that rice.
After years of unsuccessful searching, Big John finally found a job that truly fit his unique qualifications.
Big John, who lived upstairs in apartment 3-G, was not lazy. Being unemployed for months at a time does not happen without effort. Repeatedly losing jobs may seem like child’s play to some, and I’m sure that among those with high qualifications and big downside risks, the ax falls sharply. But for people like Big John, who had no education to speak of and whose strongest suit was sitting around in his boxer shorts, it was surprisingly difficult to get fired. The types of jobs John’s qualifications brought - fast food, stock boy, custodial - were the exact positions that could, if one was not careful, develop into lifelong occupations. They were nearly impossible to lose. John learned this lesson the hard way, getting stuck at a Pizza Hut for nearly nine months.
As I said, he was not lazy. His downfall was that he was too smart for dumb work, yet too unfocused to be reliable. At moment’s notice, John would hitchhike to Columbus because it might be fun. Columbus, Ohio. You can do this while at Pizza Hut. Heinz frowns on such behavior. When the time came for Big John and pepperoni to part ways, he found that breaking up was, indeed, hard to do. Thanks, Neil Sedaka.
Big John was fond of only one aspect of a democratic society, and that was the unemployment benefits program. In reality, he was a Socialist at heart. He soon realized, while standing in his red Pizza Hut apron, that in order to meet his goal in life, to be paid to do nothing by the ruling powers, Big John would have to be fired.
And that’s how I got the free pizza.
He loved his fellow man much more than most of them deserved. And they loved him as well. I tell you this about him to emphasize why it was hard for John to get fired. Everybody liked him. All of the plans and schemes we concocted for his firing were rejected because they ended up hurting someone. Punch his boss? He couldn’t do it. Mistreat a customer? He couldn’t do it. Work at Pizza Hut the rest of his life? He couldn’t do it. What he could do, he explained, was collect unemployment, sit in his underwear and listen to his stereo.
If he could only get fired.
It is amazing how much energy and work can go into not working. The plan was this: I would come into Pizza Hut to pick up my take out pizza. John would wait on me, at some point offend me, and we would pretend to have a screaming match. It would end with me demanding for John’s dismissal.
Later, we would go home to his place and eat pizza.
It worked like a charm.
I ranted and raved. He threw a pitcher of beer at me. He was fired, immediately. I got lots of coupons for free pizza, which the two of us used over the course of the next month while he applied for unemployment. With his first unemployment check, he bought me a shirt to replace the one he had doused in Budweiser.
It was while munching on free grub that Big John heard his career calling. It came, as most moments of clarity, during The Price is Right. As Bob Barker was describing the fabulous Showcase Number One, as Janice Pennington, one of Barker’s Beauties, was rubbing a bottle of $2.68 Wesson Oil, I walked into the kitchen for a beer. From the living room, I heard Big John let out a squeal.
There was a man on the TV screen, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a drink in his hand. He was asking Big John and everyone else in the viewing audience a simple question. “Are you tired of your dead end job?” Big John shook his head yes. “Would you like to get rich quick?” Big John shook his head yes. “Would you like to work from home, in your living room, in your underwear?” That’s when John squealed. “He’s talking to me!” I heard him say.
The good news was that, because he was so nice to total strangers on the phone, Big John made many, many people give him their home addresses so that his company, Florida Adventures, could send them an informational brochure about their retirement estate in the Tampa Bay area. The bad news was that, according to the nice woman at the Unemployment office, John could only work fourteen hours a week before he would be disqualified from receiving a check from the government.
It was a quandary.
He had finally found his calling.
And now, because of government red tape, he was limited.
“What kind of country is this?” He asked. “When a man can’t sit in his living room, in his underwear, and ply his trade for fear of losing the free money he has cheated that government into giving him?”
We pondered that while munching another slice.
I’m not a doctor, but I’ve played Doctor (and Spin the Bottle), so that gives me some authority to speak about the human body – the mind, specifically. My brain, like a computer hard drive, records facts, conversations and moments in time and later recalls them.
Mark Belanger was the shortstop for the ’69 Orioles.
My old friend George now lives in Sacramento.
You have to use flux when soldering copper.
These are factoids I never think about. When they’re needed, they’re there, right on the hard drive I keep between my ears. Old phone numbers, combinations to long gone locks, people who are now dead - they’re stored on my hard drive brain, somewhere.
Unfortunately, I am not in control of retrieving these facts. Unlike my hard drive, my search engine works independently. I’ll be eating an ice cream cone and suddenly recall that my sister broke her arm when she fell off a horse. I’ll smell after shave and remember that I left the water running in my college dormitory bathroom in 1977. Moments from sleep, I’ll remember the words to the song “Pictures of Matchstick Men”.
Yesterday I was driving with the windows down. It was about 3:15. For no reason whatsoever, my personal search engine engaged the database located on my hard drive and alerted me of the fact that I did not have to go to school the next day.
It was an unmistakable feeling, as if I was driving home from class, seventeen and at the wheel of a ’65 Malibu. It was 3:15 with the windows down in May.
And I was very, very happy.
All other highs the rest of my life can be judged in comparison to walking out my high school’s front door, heading to the parking lot and throwing my books into the back seat of my car. Start the engine, roll the windows down, put it in gear, and get the hell out of there.
Nothing like it.
I had that feeling nearly every day of the school year, but May, with its blooming trees, baseball games and girls, everywhere, hinted at would could be in that coming summer. It turned my nervous energy into a rolling boil. The bell rang. The lid came off the pot.
Yesterday, without warning, I was reminded of that feeling. The windows were down and something in the air, a chemical reaction, I guess, sent me back to a simple, pleasant thought.
I don’t have to go to school tomorrow.
I don’t have to go to school for the rest of the summer.
Thank you, personal search engine. Thank you. I did not ask to be taken back to May of my seventeenth year, but you thought I needed it. And I did.
I’m a middle-aged man. I don’t have to go to school ever again if I choose. Of course, being the age I am, I now have to go to the proctologist. Honestly, on days like yesterday, with the windows down, it’s a pretty good trade.