Please read this first so you understand why I'm doing this. And please feel free to reach out to me either on the blog for some fun group chatting or at my personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org. FYI–If you view me on your computer instead of your phone, a menu of about 20 stories (and increasing!) will appear on the right. They are in no particular order, so please select whatever looks most interesting to you!
From "Heavy Lifting"
To "Crip Central" in about 18 months. Note the "Sanchez" hanging on the wall–Thanks, Peter!
Hello Friends (and even "Enemies"—Hahahaha!)
Thank you so much for checking out my blog!! Yeah, it's kind of a weird idea I guess, but I think you all know that I've been a bit "outside the box" in life, and I'm sure as hell not going to change now! I'll get the bad shit out of the way first, and then we can have some fun reminiscing and ruminating on the meaning of life! To be very clear up front—Other than this opening essay, my blog is not about the medical technicalities and torture of my illness (there are already a TON of books and blogs about that by other victims)—On the contrary, it is an expression of gratitude and a celebration of the awesome life I've been privileged to live before I went south.
As a lot of you know, I've been diagnosed with some form of ALS, PLS, or cerebellar degeneration (depending on which doctor you ask), but the sad reality is that all these motor neuron diseases (MND) of the brain are debilitating, degenerative, and ultimately deadly. ALS is the most common form (about 80% of cases, I think) and is the one you know as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." I'll let all you Dr. Google types check stuff out on the web if you want all the gory details, but I'll give you a brief synopsis of where I am and how I got here over the past 18 months or so.
The gist of it is that the motor neurons in the brain (the ones that control movement in the body) gradually die off, and it becomes increasingly difficult to walk, talk, write, get dressed, brush your teeth, eat, swallow, or move any part of your body in any way at all. These symptoms affect each patient at different rates and in a different order, but it's definitely a torturous way to go that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (or even on Donald Trumpf or Hitlery Clinton—Hahahaha!). The sensory and autonomic portions of the victim's nervous system aren't affected much and dementia usually isn't involved, so you are fully aware and can see, hear and feel every bit of the physical degeneration as it happens day-by-day. You slowly become a prisoner in your own body, and what eventually kills you is that your diaphragm muscles become detached from the motor nerves in the brain to the point that your lungs won't expand enough to breathe, and you suffocate. Damn—The Marquis de Sade couldn't have dreamed up something worse than ALS!!!
On a personal level, I've gone from a gym rat and 10K trail runner to a homebound cripple in about 18 months. I first noticed I was losing my balance after having a few beers, but I was nowhere near inebriated enough for this to be happening (just ask anyone who really knows me!). I honestly thought I'd been "roofied" at the concert I was attending that night (an awesome Rolling Stones cover band with my awesome friend April!). A few weeks later I started having trouble maintaining a running gait while perfectly sober out on my favorite South Mountain trail. I was having increasing low back pain at the same time near the L5 disc I herniated five years earlier, so I assumed it was a back problem and was pretty bummed out thinking I might need back surgery or something. (Ha—If only!) I'd honestly be better off with Parkinson's, MS, HIV, cancer or a toasted spine and at various points in my the testing process I was indeed hoping I would test positive for one of these things. Can you imagine HOPING you had cancer or HIV?!! Talk about the ultimate irony!
After seeing a dozen doctors and spending $30K on tests, I got my official bad news of a motor neuron disease in January 2019. By then, I could no longer play the guitar, was having considerable trouble writing, some trouble speaking, walking with a cane, and starting to have a tight feeling in my chest more often. Things have since degenerated to the point that I use a walker around the house and a wheelchair everywhere else. My level of fatigue is extreme, but it's important to me to focus what little energy I have left on the awesome life I've been lucky enough to have. Nobody is safe as long as I can still type in the age of the internet!
Life is short (apparently sometimes shorter than we expect!), and I want you guys to laugh at some of the funny pics and stories you may not have known about me; tell your own stories (email a Word doc and I'll do the rest); correct, criticize and give me shit about my stories, and maybe even learn something about life or yourselves in the process. (Okay—that's a pretty lofty goal, but what the hell…I'm trying my best as either a very crippled dude or a dude from some other universe, depending on when you are reading this page—Hahahaha!!! Or not—Maybe the Zen Buddhists are right and life simply begins and ends with nothing… I'll try to let you know what to expect if "The Force" allows it! BOO!)
You all know me from a variety of places, activities, and the stuff of life, but I'd like to think I always enjoyed my family, my friends, and my life regardless of the reason we were hanging out. As my friend Ernie once said: "If you can't have fun doing this, you're doing it wrong!" He was referring to libertarian political activism (which I enjoyed immensely), but I realized that his philosophy applied toward pretty much everything in life. I honestly feel that I've had what I'm calling "55 rock star years" on planet Earth, and I'm soooooooo lucky to have had that. I'm crying as I write this, but many of the tears are tears of joy because I loved life so much and am simply missing the awesome life I once had.
At the same time, I'm experiencing new tears of joy as my illness made me realize how many real friends I truly have, and that I wasn't even aware of how much love and respect my friends had for me. I am truly grateful for all your love and support. I've tried hard to earn some of it by living a good and honest life, but you guys are way more than I deserve. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart! I love you too; I loved my life before, and I'm doing my best to love it now and take full advantage of the time have left to be grateful for everything I had.
Eric (and many more nicknames to come…)
And I'll think of a few more as the stories evolve…
P. S. I was never a big movie buff, but if I had to choose I'd say my favorite movie was "This is Spinal Tap," because of my intense love of music, sarcasm, absurdity, and irony. In a lot of ways, my life has been like that. And a hell of a lot of fun!!!
As you already know if you've read any of my "work" stories, film and photo production often beats a "real job." Occasionally we get to meet famous people, and Waylon Jennings turned out to be one of the coolest guys around. It was in the mid-90s when Marc & I owned the production motorhome, and I had it on a Chevy truck commercial out at Apacheland, a faux "western town" movie set out in Apache Junction. My motorhome was for the talent, which was Waylon Jennings, and I think the production department brought its own motorhome from Los Angeles, so the production office was in there or inside one of the buildings on set.
It was a rare rainy day in Phoenix, and I got Waylon and his wife Jesse Colter all settled into the motorhome, showed them where the fridge, snacks, and rest room were, and started heading out the door. I left a walkie-talkie on the table near them and told them to just ask for Eric if they needed anything while they were waiting for the rain to stop and we could shoot them outside with the Chevy truck as planned. As I was heading towards the door, Waylon said something to me along the lines of, "Hold on, son—Where are you going? It's raining outside and this is your motorhome, right?" I replied that yes it was, and he proceeded to invite me to sit and chat with he and his wife for a bit. Of course, this was against the standard protocol on set (and both of us knew it)—The lowly flunkies like me don't just sit around hobnobbing with the stars, but what could I say? I sat down across from he and Jesse, and he started talking to me like he was my uncle or something! He was very gracious and down-to-earth, and was mostly asking questions about me—Stuff like how I got into the business, and what I liked and didn't like as though we were just two regular crew members hanging out on set!
I was a little uncomfortable at first, but Waylon was just such a chill dude that in a few minutes I forgot I was talking to one of the greatest country stars of all time and just got into the conversation. Unfortunately, the bitchy LA producer didn't miss a thing, and within a few minutes of our conversation starting, she called me on the walkie-talkie and told me I was needed outside for something. Waylon told me to tell her that he still needed me in the motorhome for a few more minutes, so that was my response and we continued chatting. About five minutes later, Ms. LA Producer poked her head in the door and actually saw us sitting down at the table together talking and she was definitely not pleased! In her defense, I would have assumed the same thing she did (that I was some star-struck greenie who thought it was cool to hang out with the stars on set), and I would have been annoyed too. She again repeated her request that I was needed outside, and I'll never forget Waylon's response. He said: "What's he gonna' do out there while it's raining? I might need him in here; we're just talking, and we'll all come out when the rain stops and it's time to shoot." I caught another dirty glance from Ms. LA, but I just kind of shrugged my shoulders in response. Not that I wasn't having a blast chilling with Waylon Jennings, but she still acted like it was my idea and that I should have been rude to the man who was making my day!
The rain lasted quite a while, and we ended up talking about everything from the weather, to mundane aspects of production, and we fortunately did get to talk about his life and music too! I told him I played guitar, so we talked about guitars, bands, and a whole bunch of cool stuff. It turns out his wife Jesse Colter (a very successful country singer in her own right) was from Mesa, Arizona right down the road from Apache Junction where we were shooting, and that's likely the reason the shoot ended up here in the first place. I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of Waylon and Jessie's company for over two hours—An unusually long rainstorm for dry, sunny Arizona. Like I said, sometimes production beats a "real job" and I have to admit it was almost as much fun for me watching him piss off Ms. LA Producer as it was to hang with him for a couple hours. Almost…
Being an agnostic, anarchist/libertarian has always made me somewhat of a rabid individualist outlier (to say the least!) in a world of very tribal human primates, but I think it's important to know that someone's religious or political views typically have little to do with whether they make loving friends or not. I've always had close friends all over the religious and political spectra, and let's face it—I'm the weird one if some of my stories are any indication! If I insisted on religious or political agreement, I wouldn't have many friends. Just the opposite is true, because there are loving people all over the place, and I've been lucky enough to find that out with a vengence now that I've taken ill. (They may be politically or intellectually "confused" or "inconsistent" to me, but that just makes for some interesting discussions–Hahahaha! And a lot of them think my extreme freedom value system is equally nuts!)
My view on any potential afterlife is that this is an unknowable thing as long as we are alive. (For the record, I have very definite opinions about good versus evil, but that's another discussion.) I will admit I hope there is a heaven (who wouldn't—It sounds awesome particularly in my current situation!), but even if there's nothing, I still can't complain about my "55 rock star years" here on Planet Earth. That's my rationalist view of things, but something really interesting and inspiring happened to me yesterday when my high school friend Dano reached out to me after hearing the bad news. (Side note: Dano wrote "1981 Overture," which was the inspiration for my blog and the first essay I posted!) Dano knows I'm an agnostic (he's a hard-core Catholic), and he told me he would come to see me next week. During our conversation he asked me if I would object to a Catholic priest hearing my confession, forgiving my sins, and praying for my healing or journey to heaven based on God's will. Even though I'm an agnostic, this had to be one of the most touching and loving things anyone ever offered to do for me based on the incredible love in his own heart. Whatever turns out to be true in the afterlife, his main concern was that I was not neglected based on his belief system. If that isn't love, I don't know what is.
But wait, there's more! I was expecting Dan to organize the priestly visit when he was in town visiting me next week and it would be an experience we would share together. I hung up the phone with him around 10am, and my Mom arrived for a visit at noon. Like Dan, my Mom is a devout Catholic, and we were both surprised by a knock on my door at about 1pm. My Mom knows I'm an agnostic, and she was very surprised to see a Catholic priest at the door! It turns out she was thinking the same thing about the sacraments my friend Dano was (only she didn't dare ask me), and the priest came in and administered the sacraments to me in front of my Mom!! Both my Mom and I were in tears, and Dano, I can't thank you enough for giving my Mom and I that very special gift. It gave my Mom a huge amount of peace, and it all makes me wonder if things don't happen for a reason.
To be clear, I've had two similar experiences with other Christian friends (both named Robert, ironically) who took me to church with them on more than one occasion and basically stepped up to help Eric the agnostic because of the love in their hearts. Both of them flat-out said to me: "It's what we do because we want to do it." I have other friends who are believers who have done tons for me in the past few months as my needs have increased. From their point of view, they see good or "godliness" or something inside me that I don't even see, and want to share their love with me. I also have another very close friend named Robert who is more of an agnostic like me and still shows the same love the believers have! It's exactly the same with my die-hard atheist friend Marc too. Both of these guys totally have my back, and all of this is a bit incomprehensible to me, but writing about it helps me sort it out a bit in my mind.
And if there really is a god, he definitely has a sense of humor. My friend Kevin and I used to mock Dano in high school when he admitted to meditating with the Bible under candlelight in his bedroom closet. His nickname: "Dan the Priest"—Now if that's not some incredible irony for you! Kevin even made up some song lyrics we sang to mock him based on the Rush song "Temples of Syrinx." The line we sang to Dano was (I think): "Dan is the priest of the Temples of Mequon." (our home town). "His Holy Bibles fill the closet walls." (Or something like that—Kevin can correct me since he made it up—Hahahaha!) If God made man in his image, he (or she!) definitely has a sense of humor! And if there really is a heaven, Dano will be having the last laugh! (And I will be meeting Jimi Hendrix and Tom Petty–Hahahaha!)
Posted on August 24, 2019Categories LifeLeave a comment on Religion, Politics, Friendship and Love
There isn't a huge backstory to this other than to say that I am playing guitar on the attached recording with one of my favorite local bands from the 1980s, The Effects. I am not playing the live show though—I was never anywhere near that good! The Effects were a Phoenix-area band that played an infectious and very danceable (to me at least!) blend of reggae and ska with a definite rock edge. I was a regular fan since I moved to Tempe in 1983, and I got to know the guys in the band after showing up at so many gigs. They kind of disbanded in 1985 or so, but I had the pleasure to record a live show they did around 1986 or so for some private event.
That turned out to be a great opportunity, ironically because of the lousy sound quality in the hotel ballroom they played. I brought my old-school Teac Tascam 4-track cassette recorder and a couple of Shure 57s and tried to capture their live sound the best I could. The only problem was that the guitar wasn't miked properly (if at all) in the PA, and the room was very boomy with too much bass and reverb, so I really couldn't hear Kirk Hawley's guitar on my recording to any significant degree.
I'm a guitar player, so the fact that you couldn't hear the guitar made the recording somewhat useless, and I let it sit on the shelf for a year or so without giving it much thought. About a year later, I was recording some other stuff on my 4-track in my living room "studio" (hahahaha!) and the idea popped into my head that I should try learning one of my favorite songs off the old Effects tape and overdub a guitar part that you could hear. I learned their encore song of the night, "Tears of a Clown" and it was off to the races. I had two of the four tracks available, so I overdubbed my rhythm track on one and my lead on the other. As I said, I'm nowhere near as good as Kirk (or Donnie Dean, the Effects' other guitar player), but I gave it the old college try in terms of doing my best to capture the groove and spirit of their vibe. As always, you be the judge…
"Tears of a Clown"
Sandy & I chillin' in Milwaukee before the party. I didn't suspect a thing…
OK—Mucho surprises here. Of course I knew when my 50th birthday was, but I had no idea that there were even one, but two awesome surprise parties planned courtesy of my friends and family! The first party happened in my hometown of Milwaukee, and the general plan was for Sandy & I to fly in and get together with a bunch of my friends and have a few beers, etc. but no big deal (or so I was told). Well, it turned out that since some of my close friends and old rock bandmates were in a band together at the time (see "Flashback" story), they decided to schedule a gig at a local bar called "Puddler's Hall" in Bayview to coincide with me being in town for my birthday. Once we got to Milwaukee, I was told about the gig and naturally attended. Much to my surprise, it turned out that a major purpose of the gig was for me to do some jamming with my old bandmates! We hadn't played together in 30 years, but the upside was that we were all better players than we had been in 1982 when we were only 20 years old. Here's some pics and a video, and I'll never forget that party. It was a very special evening for me and many thanks to my friends for setting it up. I hope I didn't annoy all of you with any much-too-long guitar solos—Hahahaha!!! I'll blame Steve the drummer for the one in the video just below. I was trying to finish "Hey Joe" and he just kept pounding away! Click the link below and you be the judge…
Let them eat cake!!!
Rick, Sandy & Rico
Brian, Theresa, "the Beave" & Rick
Betty, Rick & Sandy
Dano, Crickey & Kevin–We played in Cleaver Beaver together…
Tim & Rick–I think the look on my face says it all–Hahaha!
Rick & Karen–Thanks, Karen!!!
Sandy, Rick, Bob & Brian
What a bunch of clowns–Hahahaha!
Brian, Kevin, Steve & Rick
Kevin reading the song lyrics on his cell phone. You know we're old now!
Surprise Birthday Party Number 2!
I was definitely not 50 in this photo!
Sandy & I came back to Phoenix after a great birthday week in Milwaukee and Chicago, and our friends Marc & Traci had another party planned a couple weeks after my birthday. They had parties all the time, and I had already had my big 50th surprise party in Milwaukee. I was told it was a small party and that it had a 60s/70s theme, and that all sounded good to me (I had plenty of wardrobe for it—Hahaha!). We arrived at Marc's house and there were a few other cars parked outside that I recognized from our local group of friends, but nothing unusual. I should explain that Marc had the most awesome party house at the time (you can tell in the photos)—It was about 8,000SF and just made for entertaining. In fact, all Marc's homes have been awesome party houses, and we've spent countless days and nights at them over the years.
As we walked in the door I honestly didn't suspect a thing, and it was actually a little quieter than normal in the house. Sandy & I walked through the large atrium near the front door and nobody was hanging out except the dogs, but when we got to the main doorway to the main room, at least 50 people jumped out and yelled "Surprise!!!" as the music cranked up. I honestly was never so surprised in my life! After the party in Milwaukee, I thought that was it and wasn't expecting this at all! Thanks Sandy, Marc & Traci for making this thing happen! You can tell from the pics that Sandy & Traci went all out on the theme décor, and we had another absolute blast as usual. Who else could be lucky enough to get not only one but TWO surprise parties for his 50th birthday? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! And who could be lucky enough to have so many close friends at both of them?
Much dancing was done, and that's definitely my thing!!!
Marc the Magnanimous Host–Thanks, Man!
Sandy & Puja
Eric & Cindy-Even my ex-GF was invited and showed up–What great friends!
Kitty & Matt
Robert & Bea
Dave & Oksana
Even the kids had fun!
Alan & Cheryl & Bob
Eric, Alan & Cheryl
Heidi & Eric
Ginny & Randy
Sandy the Hostess
Marc & ???
Eric, Kitty & Matt
Thanks again, Sandy!
Now there's a good one–My two exes getting along. I told you how lucky I am!
Uh, oh–Me and the police–Chapter 3!
Just kidding–Love ya, Dave!
Even the Scruffs was there!
I'll take "groovy" any day of the weekor at any time in my life.
Yeah, OK–I'm bragging. Deal with it–Hahahaha!!
The real Michael Phelps swims much faster than I do though!!
OK—No surprise endings here. Yes, I indeed got the opportunity to be Michael Phelps' lighting double for a couple of hours on a still shoot in 2017. As many of you know, rock stars and athletes don't waste hours of their time standing around on set while photographers and crews set up and tweak the lighting for god knows how long. That's usually left to a lowly crew member to just kind of stand in as needed throughout the pre-lighting process of a shoot.
In this particular shoot though, the "still photographer" was really more of a videographer/DP and didn't know much about lighting still photo sets in a studio. To his credit, he told his "producer" (and I use the term loosely—she was really his agent and knew little of actual production) to hire a stand-in who would wear the same swimming suit, etc. and allow him to light the shot as closely as possible before Michael actually went on camera.
The plan was to shoot Michael in the studio in the morning (which didn't involve me), and then go to Papago Park around mid-afternoon which I had set up as the location scout/manager for them. Much to my surprise, I received a call from Ms. "Producer's" assistant at 8:30 in the morning, many hours before I was supposed to meet them at Papago Park. She was very nice, but completely green and all in a panic because the lighting double they had hired hadn't shown up and bailed out on them at the last minute. She inquired if I knew anybody who could be hired at the last minute on Saturday morning to head down to the studio immediately and do the gig. I was rather perplexed and suggested the obvious answer that whatever talent agency they booked the slacker from needed to send a backup dude pronto.
The PA was very nice (and about 18 years old!) but seemed not to know what I meant by the term "talent agency." She informed me that she had simply called a friend of a friend and asked him if he would do it. Of course, I'm guessing this kid was all of about 20 years old as well, and didn't see any problem with simply "changing his mind" (his car wouldn't start—Seriously, dude?!) and leaving the shoot in the lurch. I asked young PA girl how much she offered to pay the dude to get out of bed at 7am on Saturday morning, and the mystery about why he wouldn't show up was solved. $50. Seriously?!!! I told her I needed to talk to the "producer" for a second and she didn't see any problems with the price or the way they had done things either!!!
I told them I didn't have a handy list of swimmers or anyone else I could call on Saturday morning for an immediate job for the princely sum of $50, so I sighed deeply, muttered a few curse words under my breath, thanked myself for taking my 54-year-old ass to the gym the past few years, and got into my car. I took one for the team, but I will freely admit it was an honor to actually be able to pull that shit off at my age! I was annoyed at the time, but looking back on it now, I am very grateful to be offered that unique opportunity and to help out some clueless newbies in the process. The local crew was kind of looking at me funny wondering how the hell Eric the producer/location guy ended up in front of their lights in a bathing suit. And the state of the so-called "production" department was revealed to have become exactly the expression my friend Denise and I had been calling it for the past decade at least—"A race to the bottom…"
Proof of my musical idolatry could be found on the back of my car for many years. Believe it or not, when I moved here in 1983, nobody had this vanity plate, so I proclaimed my love for FZ's amazing music for all to see.
For most of you, this story probably won't mean all that much because you aren't likely to be familiar with my musical idol, Frank Zappa. For those of you who don't know who he is, I'll offer my opinion that he was one of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century. In his 30-year musical career he released about 70 albums in every possible musical style known to mankind. He was known as a "rock" musician because he played a mean-ass guitar, but any given album (or even song!) could contain musical elements of rock, blues, jazz, classical, avant-garde noise, and a bunch of stuff nobody ever thought of trying before. Lyrically, Frank was know for his sarcasm and satire, but an equal amount of his work was strictly instrumental. He composed music for and led bands from your typical 5-piece rock bands to a 110-piece symphony orchestra and everything in between. I discovered Zappa in 1980 and to this day own about 40 pieces of his vinyl. Yes, I'm a true fan, so what follows was a HUUUUUUGE deal to me.
I moved to Arizona in 1983 and I was lucky enough to attend a Zappa show at the Celebrity Theater in 1984. I fact, there were two shows that night, and I attended both of them, fortunately for me! I took my girlfriend Cindy to the first show, drove her home, and went back to the theater to the second show by myself. Because I had only bought a single ticket, I was able to get an awesome seat in the second row on the end of a row with only about 5 seats total. If you've ever been to the Celebrity Theater you know that the stage is only about 2-3 feet high, so I was basically standing right next to the stage. Best $15 I ever spent!
Frank and the band were playing a song called "You Are What You Is," and there was a background vocal track opposite Frank's lead vocal in the third verse that nobody in his band was singing. There weren't any actual words—(my line was "ma-ma-ooh-ma-ma-mao") and Frank saw me singing this background vocal part and he jumped off the stage and stood next to me at the end of my 2nd row seat and gave me a look like, "You're up, man!" I was standing right next to Frank and he whipped the mic back and forth between us so we could trade lines into his mic. We sang the second verse together, and then he jumped jumped back onto the stage. If you're curious about the song itself, check out the link below. Like many Frank tunes, it expresses its message in what would be considered a rather "politically incorrect" way by today's standards. But that's just another reason I love Frank! Google "Frank Zappa 'You Are What You Is'" if you're curious to hear the song. I can't seem to get the YouTube link to insert, but I'm working on it!
Damn—I wish we had cell phone cams in those days, but all I've got is these lousy ticket stubs and my distant memory—Hahahaha!!! But as an amazing, unexpected life experience to be grateful for–I'll take it!!!
"You Are What You Is" video if I did this correctly. I am definitely not a techie!!!
Posted on August 20, 2019Categories MusicLeave a comment on Singing Live with My Musical Idol Frank Zappa
In a lot of ways, Sandy & I were fortunate to meet when we did, because I think Sandy was ready to break out of her New York City steady gig, and I was ready to settle down with the woman of my dreams. There's not enough time in my life to tell every story about our lives together, but it was good for both of us that we met when we did and shared 20 years together. And I am very grateful for it.
Sandy & I met on a fashion photo shoot in December 1992. I was a relative newbie PA/motohome driver and Sandy was a younger but much more experienced photo assistant and pretty much her boss David's right hand for anything work related. We stayed long-distance friends for a while via phone and letters before my first trip to New York in September 1993. We immediately hit it off, and by the following summer Sandy was headed to Arizona so we could be together. In the business arena, we each had somewhat different strengths that made us an excellent business team as well and immediately formed East-West Productions to handle all the out-of-town shoots that came to Arizona in the winter.
Besides all the joys of self-employment I've mentioned in my other writings, I particularly enjoyed my life with Sandy because we both got 6-10 weeks off in the summer to travel for both business and pleasure. We would road trip it (I hated flying and loved road trips—Sandy was just the opposite, but she tolerated me—Hahahaha!) first to Chicago and Milwaukee to visit my people and pitch potential clients for a few weeks, and the we would do the same thing in New York. I had never been to NYC, and for a guy from suburban Milwaukee, New York City was like another country (at least in certain neighborhoods!) I really loved our long visits to New York, but what I'm most grateful for is that we were able to spend so much time with family and friends and really enjoy the luxury of maintaining those relationships for decades. Many people don't get that opportunity (and get to see and do things that would only be possible in NYC!!)
The other great thing about our summer "working" vacations is that besides always going to our hometowns in the Midwest and NYC, we would add different detours almost every year! Throughout our 20 years of traveling the US, we visited a lot of different cities, towns, and parts of the countryside visiting many different people. Here's a short list off the top of my head: Boston & rural New England, Upstate New York, North Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Dallas/Ft. Worth, St. Louis & rural Missouri, Minneapolis & rural Minnesota, and at least a half dozen other places I can't even think of right now. We had the pleasure of connecting with family, friends, and clients over the years to a much greater extent than most people do. I am very grateful for all the close friendships that freedom has allowed me to maintain that are still with me today!
We also took an awesome 23-day trip to Europe that I'll talk about in a separate story. And I could kick myself now for passing up a couple of trips to Hong Kong and Singapore over the years. Sandy had family there, and I (what a dumbass I was!) decided that work was a higher priority and that I would always have another chance to get there. In fact, Sandy used to chastise me for never saying no to a gig, even when we already had a few others happening. She thought I was a little nuts in that department–I was Mr. Ambitious to the extreme, and Sandy–You were absolutely right! I'd feel a lot smarter right about now if I had said yes to Asia and no to a few of the 900 shoots we did in over two decades. But hindsight is 20/20, and I never expected what is happening to me now (or at least not so soon–Apparently, 55 is the new 95 in my case!) All in all though, I have nothing to complain about. Sandy and I explored a lot of places and had fun with a lot of people in 20 years!!!
Since Sandy is actually a real photographer (with a real degree from FIT!), I'll let each picture tell a thousand words. (And you're probably sick of me blabbing by now—Hahaha!) Of course, I could spend a year posting pics, but I'll put up a few good ones so you get the idea…
Yum yum, indeed Sandy!
Sandy & our friend Nick on his rooftop. I love NY!
One of my first times in the subway.
We were both so 1990s then–Hahahaha!!
Fashion does apparently run in 30-year cycles. Yoga pants are back and that's a great thing!
Ride 'em "Cowboy?"
Chillin' at "work" location scouting I think… We used to travel all around Arizona with cameras and call that a "job!"
Sandy the Glamour Goddess!
Good thing I liked Chinese food–Hahahaha!!
At one of my 50th birthday parties–Thanks, Sandy!
Me & my brother-in-law Evan. A truly awesome guy in every way!
Sandy, Eric, Grace (Sandy's sister) & Evan
Sandy's friend Willie had his own recording studio, and I got to play guitar on a couple of his recordings. I wasn't much of a rock balladeer. but I've attached the songs so you can be the judge…
"I've Come a Long Way"
Me and Les Paul himself at the Iridium in NYC in the mid-90s. I would never have gotten to see or meet Les if I hadn't met Sandy.
With the Scruffs in 2013
Unfortunately, this story didn't end quite as well as the first one, probably because it was the "big city" Milwaukee police instead of our local small-town suburban police. Things started out innocently enough with my girlfriend and I and another couple chilling out in a local city park in a place called Brown Deer, WI. I was 17, she was 16, and the drinking age at the time was 18. Not that it mattered a hell of a lot in Wisconsin at the time, and the park was literally deserted on a weekday afternoon in the summer around 1:00. The other couple wasn't drinking, but my girlfriend and I decided to share a six-pack of beer. No big deal, we thought…
After we were about halfway through our beers, we noticed a couple of middle-aged guys in jeans and T-shirts tossing a football around about 100 yards away from us and didn't really think anything of it. They gradually got closer, and pretty soon they were pretty much right on top of us in a giant empty park. Just as I was thinking how weird this was, one of the guys whips out his badge and tells us they are cops. I really wasn't too nervous at this point—In Wisconsin in the 1970s, the cops were pretty lax about alcohol, and I honestly thought they would probably check our IDs, make us dump the beer, and kick us out of the park. But, alas—It was not to be. It turns out these clowns were "detectives" who were busy slacking off in the park, tossing a football around, and busting harmless kids for having a few beers (and getting waaaaaay overpaid to do it!). They carded us all and then started searching our pockets and looking for a reason to arrest us. Well, the beer was technically enough to arrest my girlfriend and I, but I had the misfortune to have the princely sum of about $3 worth of weed in my pocket. Officer Slacker immediately slapped the cuffs on us and radioed for (get this!) an old-school paddy wagon to cart us all the way downtown to the main county jail!
My girlfriend was crying thinking about her parents punishing her (even though they knew full well that she drank beer like many other kids in that era!), but I was actually pretty pissed off at the hyperbolic response by these two "undercover detectives" looking for an easy day at work on the taxpayers' dime rather than looking for any real criminals (who existed in large quantities only a few miles from the park!). Of course…Yours truly could not resist offering the cops exactly that opinion of their "work" that day once they sat me down in the station for what they thought would be their lecture to me. I expressed my annoyance and gave them a piece of my mind about "harmless kids" versus "real criminals" and told them that two guys spending 6 hours each busting two kids for drinking beer was a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money!
The detectives did not take kindly to my diatribe and thought they would teach me a lesson by locking me in a real jail cell in the room behind them. I just shook my head and complied of course, and I spent the only three hours of my life I would ever spend inside a real jail cell. (And it was the old-school kind with rusty pale green bars, etc.—Kind of like this one.)
Not the actual jail but you get the idea!
The jail was nearly empty on a weekday afternoon of course, so I had my own cell (probably because I was a minor I would guess). But there were two other people in nearby cells, and one of them gave me a friendly greeting as the cop led me past him into my cell. He was a white guy a few years older than me, and we started talking for a while about why we were there, etc. He was in the cell beside me so I couldn't really see him. What I did notice for the first time in my life though was a black dude dressed in drag passed out on his bunk in the cell directly across from me! Being a suburban white dude, I had never seen anything like that before! I asked the other guy what the hell was up with that, and he explained that the passed out drag dude was probably a heroin addict they caught trying to turn tricks in exchange for his H. I said something like, "Damn—I'm never doing that shit. I'll stick to beer and weed!" The guy immediately replied, "Oh, you smoke weed?" I reiterated that I did and he surprised the hell out of me by asking if I wanted to smoke with him!!! I said: "You mean here? INSIDE THE MILWAUKEE COUNTY JAIL?!!!" He replied that that was exactly what he meant, and I asked him how he managed to get his weed inside the jail. I told him they took mine from my front pocket during my arrest, and he said: "Well, you should have put a doobie in your sock like I did!" It turns out he even had a pack of matches in there, so I can honestly say that the only time I ever went to jail, I arrived sober and left high—Hahahaha!!! Fortunately, the cops let me cool my heels in there for about three hours before my Mom showed up to get me. They told my Mom I seemed like a good kid who just had a problem with authority (you think?!) and that if I stayed out of trouble for a few more months until I was 18 my record would be expunged. I don't happen to believe that "expunged records" really exist—Someone probably scanned them into a computer at some point in 1995 just in case… If not, they can read my blog about it!
Needless to say, my Mom was none too pleased as we left the station; she explained that my father was furious and that I would be grounded for a long time to come. Of course I can't blame someone from her generation from being mortified at having to pick her son up from the police station, but by the same token I was still hopping mad about the way the whole thing went down and what I maintained was the cops' huge overreaction. My Mom and I were on opposite sides of this authoritarian issue (and remain so to this day!), so I received an indefinite grounding as punishment. But a friend of mine was having a party that night (her parents were out of town—imagine that!), so I decided that I was simply not going to accept my punishment. In my mind, I had done nothing wrong to anyone; I was behaving nicely and minding my own business drinking beer with my girlfriend, and it was the cops who were in the wrong for arresting me rather than dumping my beer and booting us out of the park. In that spirit, I went into the basement of our house, walked out the door, snagged my bike from the garage (couldn't risk Mom & Dad hearing my car start!) and rode my bike to the party in about 20 minutes. To my credit, I called my parents immediately when I arrived so they wouldn't worry about where I was and told them I did not agree with their punishment and simply refused to accept it. I didn't want them to worry about me or be an asshole about it, but I had to be true to myself and honest with them. After getting over their initial anger, I think my parents understood that I had a point, and we agreed on a 2-week grounding to keep peace in the household. Hey, even we anarchist libertarians can compromise for love…
I'm not sure all of you will approve of these stories either, but now that you have some idea who I am, you might be wondering whether I had any run-ins with the police in my lifetime. I can honestly say that I had several notable experiences but was fortunate enough to escape relatively unscathed in every sense. I can also say that I was still the same easygoing fun person I am today. I never thought of myself as some crazy rebel who hated the police or anything—I just didn't (and still don't!) believe that other people had some magical authority over me in terms of forcing "naptime" upon me at age 4 or telling me I couldn't drink a beer or smoke a plant at age 16. I guess I was hard wired to be an anarchist libertarian. At the end of the day, I'm grateful for my run-ins with the police because it made the concept of freedom crystal clear to me and gave me a healthy fear of what authoritarians could do to you if you weren't careful. And holding freedom as one of my highest values allowed me to enjoy life waaaaaay more than I otherwise would have. (And I think they are pretty funny and ironic stories you may enjoy…)
My First Close Call (1978)
It was in 1978, and I was 16 years old at the time. Back in the 1970s, a steady supply of weed was difficult to come by consistently, particularly since we lived in Wisconsin about 1,500 miles from the Mexican border. Since my buds and I were regular weed smokers, it was a bummer when the town went "dry" for a month (usually in the winter when we needed it most!), and this pissed me off considering that we lived in a so-called "capitalist country." My solution to the problem was quite rational (or so I thought at the time!)—I simply decided to buy quarter pounds instead of smaller amounts so at least my close friends and I wouldn't have to suffer during the dry spells. I would have enough in my inventory to last a while, and it had the added benefit of reducing the per unit cost by about 40% so I would get to smoke for free! (Yes, I was a capitalist even as a weed-smoking teenager!)
I had just returned to our local burg from my downtown high school where I scored a "QP" of so-called "Gold 'Lumbo" (it was probably grown in Kentucky—Hahahaha!) and went over to my friend K's empty house (his parents had put it up for sale but he still had the keys) to divide it into smaller quantities I could share with my friends. We went inside for a while to smoke a quick one and shoot a round of pool, and I divided the bulk weed into 16 quarter ounces in sandwich baggies (how 1970s!!). We locked up the house around 5pm or so, hopped in K's car, and were just about to take off when literally at least a half dozen cop cars pull into the driveway surrounding us! I was sitting in the back seat behind K, and was quickly getting pretty freaked out! A few thoughts went through my head (none of them good!) as I frantically stashed the bags of weed under the back seat of the car. Not only did I have weed; I had a quarter pound of it, AND it was in 16 separate baggies! Things could have turned out badly for me indeed!
Fortunately for all of us, K had the presence of mind to jump out of the car and immediately greet the first "Officer Friendly" who was walking up to the car. K quickly explained that he was the owner's son and that his Dad sent him over to check on things or some BS story. While this was going on, one of the other cops peered through the windows at the rest of us, and I thought for sure he was going to search us or the car or both. Thankfully, K was such a great schmoozer that the cops bought his story and let us ride peacefully away in a few minutes. We were all sweating bullets of course and glad to have escaped unscathed.
Of course, I'm sure you're wondering why all those cop cars would pull into the driveway of a residential home in a small town without suspecting a thing about us. I know I was confused, and it turns out that K's dad (unbeknownst to K) given the local cops permission to use his house and 5-acre lot for "training purposes," and that's why nearly every cop on the force showed up at once. For a training exercise. Talk about an unlucky coincidence! But it worked out much better than the next one…
Posted on August 13, 2019Categories