Fathers and Sons, Righteous riffs

Wing Man

He’s always the initiator, as I’m reluctant to impose on the 20-year-old’s social calendar. 

Over Friday lunch he asks … “Drover’s tomorrow night?” 

Me: You work? 

He: ‘Till seven. 

Me: (calculating drive-time) Might make us a little late. Proly crowded on a Saturday night. 

He: I could see if I could move my shift up an hour. Leave at six? 

Me: You can do that? 

He: I can ask. 

Me: I’m game. Just let me know. 

For the uninitiated, Drover’s is a most sacred place. 

The one constant on our family’s annual summer to-do list — its bona fides spoken of in unequivocal and reverent tones. 

Best Wings on the planet.

There is no debate. There is Drover’s. And there is everyone else.  

Consistently fried to crispy perfection. Every time. Never under- or overdone.  Sauces sublime.

 And part of a larger ritual born of, and bursting with, expectation. 

Located just across the West Virginia border in Wellsburg, Drover’s requires about a 30 minute pilgrimage, give or take, depending on whether or not you get behind a slowpoke on two-lane 844. A 20-mile drive out in the country, subjectively glorious, up and down deliberate hills. Through sprawling wide open spaces, farms and fields on either side. The slow down squeeze through the occasional tiny town.  I say subjectively glorious because Karry detests the drive. Not for the scenery. For the misery of driving it home in the dark, and the persistent prospect of hidden critters wandering across the road. 

Since she never lets me drive (she equally hates being a passenger, and my driving), I am free to savor every aspect, encouraging windows down both ways in hopes of catching a concentrated blast of freshly mowed field, and the occasional tinge of equally fresh cow manure that signals the city you have just left behind. 

At precisely 3:49 p.m. Friday, I get the confirming text …

Schedule change. Leaving at 6. Drover’s o’clock tomorrow. 

Flag planted. Pilgrimage on. Preparations begin in earnest. 

Saturday morning, the boy packs a salad for work. 

Me, I precisely calibrate my entire Saturday to be showered and ready by 5:45 p.m.  — morning omelet by Emma, a humbling 10K at the track, lunchtime fast, backyard mow.

Peter pulls in from his shift at 6:15, leaves the car running, changes out of his work clothes and into t-shirt and shorts. 

I climb in the passenger side, totally content with being his wing man on a boys Saturday night. 

He cues the soundtrack …. 

___

Among the things I love about my son: when he gets interested in something, he goes rabbit-hole deep. While I’ve always encouraged, his tastes have always been his own. Always, he shares and I appreciate, though his interests have never included anything we could particularly bond over: hunting, lawn equipment, car mod-ding, golf (egads), etc. 

Until now. 

His current addiction: classic guitar rock and heavy metal. 

He’s over-the-moon for all things Van Halen, AC/DC and all their contemporaries. Came upon it by himself. And as with his past dalliances, he ain’t no skimmer.

He’s YouTube dumpster-dived interviews, histories, backstories. Stuffed his Spotify playlists full of power chords. Plays tunes for me. Pumps me with questions. Asks me if I’ve heard …. prompts me to rank things. Favorite this … Top that. Over lunch the other day he threw out, “Worst songs of all time?” 

Delicious. And for the record, a toss-up between Every Rose Has Its Thorn, GNR’s cover of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, and all those shitty Aerosmith ballads.

In March, he put together a full 64-entry bracket (replete with play-in games) of the greatest guitar songs of all-time.  We painstakingly agonized and argued over who to advance the way the passionate nerds do over the most trivial things.  

His ears are wide open. 

Swears that Van Halen I is by far the hardest and the best in the canon (hard to argue that). Appreciates both what Dave and Sammy brought to their respective tables, but also calls both of them out for their shortcomings (Dave not really a singer, Sammy way too poppy at times, etc.).

As an aside, my work as a parent here? Pretty much done.  

He’s teaching me things I never knew. Exhibit A: that Panama was Eddie Van Halen’s attempt to write an AC-DC song. Give it a listen. You’ll totally hear it.  And never hear it the same again.  

About a month ago, he bought himself a cheap electric guitar and a tiny amp. Has been spending hours in the garage picking out riffs. When he was a kid, I was convinced he had perfect pitch, and always wished he had a heart for music to match his ear. In conversation, he’s now peppering his effusions with observations on tunings and such. And he’s not interested in flying his fingers over the frets. His heart is for pure thunder … more Malcolm than Angus. 

___

He pulls us out of the driveway. 

Windows down. Volume up.  Conversation easy. 

We make our way out of town like bandits in a getaway car. 

Shoot to Thrill (live). 

Confessed to him that I was gassed after about 40 minutes at the track this afternoon. Then, Shoot to Thrill came on my playlist, and coaxed another 20 minutes I didn’t know I had in me.

Ever since I was a teenager, it’s seldom taken more than three chords to convince me I am invincible whenever I need to fool myself.

 We dissect the breakdown. Malcolm’s sinister pickup notes as it kicks back in. 

Peter shares the backstory of Phil Rudd’s ‘trouble with the law,’ a few years back. 

Fresh cut fields blow through our open windows. The fullness of late spring in the country.

He: You ever heard of Steve Vai?

Me: Heck yeah. You know he played guitar in the DLR band?

Peter had not yet made it to that chapter in his Van Halen history book. Made a mental note. 

Runaround (Van Hagar) comes on.    

I’d forgotten about that one. Rocks hard until Sammy gets a little too poppy before the chorus (Sammy being Sammy). 

He takes the hills fast but knows to slow when we come upon a tiny town. 

Not a teenager anymore. I make a mental note.

We cross the West Virginia border. 

Holy Diver.

Peter gushes. I nod knowingly and affirm Dio’s place on the Mt. Rushmore of lead singers.

Within minutes, we pull into the lot. I survey the scene and exhale. Busy, but not teeming ….

___

If you look up Drover’s online, you’ll see it’s a refurbished 1848 tavern, originally opened as an inn to travelers and ‘drovers’ who were moving their goods along the toll pike.  It was converted into a restaurant in 1967 and, as the website says, reinvigorated by its current owner in 1986. The website also mentions its three period, antiqued, fireplaced rooms inside. You’ll have to check out the website to learn more about those. 

We’ve never eaten inside. 

We never make it past the picnic tables under the outdoor pavilion right off the gravel parking lot. 

Warm weather. Cold beer. Crispy wings baptized in buttery sauce. Far as I’m concerned, picnic tables under an outdoor pavilion is about as good as it can possibly get. To quote Kurt Vonnegut quoting jazz pianist Fats Waller: “Somebody shoot me while I’m happy.” 

Another reason to love the picnic tables is that they are first-come, first-served. Seldom a wait. True to form, while the line’s out the door for indoor dining, we find a spot at one end of an outside table just vacated, and grab our benches.

Kerrie, the waitress who always tends the pavilion, stops by after a bit and asks for our order so she can get it in before bussing the table. 

We had ours ready at 3:49 p.m. the day before.

He: large buffalo garlic, ranch for dipping, waffle fries with cheese. 

Me: large hot (simple perfection), bleu cheese on the side. 

Shared order of bottle caps (fried jalapenos) for an appetizer.

Sweet tea for him. Sam Adam’s Summer on draft for me. 

Drinks come. Food’ll be a little while. Fine by us. We’re in no great hurry. It’s worth any wait.

He pulls out his phone. Holds it to my ear. He recorded himself practicing the night before. Slow takes on the opening of “For Those About to Rock.” The changes kinda’ sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention he tells me. Each attempt a little smoother than the previous. By the end he’s got it pretty much figured out. I can totally hear it.

Told him if he keeps going, he might make me break out my old drums this summer, which have sat in storage since he came along 20 years ago. I wouldn’t expect much, but am reasonably confident I could properly channel Phil Rudd enough to pound out four on the fucking floor.

As I said it, it occurred to me that it was my Dad who brought me to the drums in the first place, through the lens of his music. The big bands. Jazz. The Great American Songbook. He let me find my own way to it at my own pace. As I was learning, I’d pepper him with questions. You ever hear of….? Who do you like better ….? And once my ears were wide open I’d play him tunes that I dug for his approval. He’d just smile and nod knowingly, affirming Coleman Hawkins’ and Lester Young’s place on the Mt. Rushmore of tenor players.

Twenty years later and here we all are again. 

A son. A father. Cue the music ….

___

We say a quick, post-appetizer-apologetic Grace and dive in.

The wings, as always, are mic-drop transcendent. Done to perfection. He asks for extra sauce (pro move). We reverently baptize in our respective ranch (he) and bleu (me).

We savor. Take our time picking the bones clean. Talk more music. 

In between bites, I suggest he check out DLR’s Damn Good Times. Steve Vai’s background is otherworldly, though I know it’ll be way too slow for Peter’s tastes.

We slowly deplete the fat stack of thin napkins to police our hands and faces as we work our way through. 

After the ritual wet-nap cleansing, he extends his right hand. We pound fists. Arise from our picnic table. Walk across the gravel lot back to the car. 

He puts the windows down. Turns the volume up. 

Van Halen. 

Dave. 

Everybody Wants Some.  

He extends his right arm for an encore fist pound.

Drives us off into the dark Saturday night, the country road filling our lungs as full as our bellies.

Before Peter came along, I remember driving with my dad to and from gigs on Saturday nights just like this. 

The changes can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.

And unless you hit record on occasion, you can’t appreciate how truly far you’ve come.

Damn good times.  

          

 

 

  

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Righteous riffs

Just another Saturday morning ….

Karry catches the rising sun spotlighting the frost on the trees, says I’d appreciate, implying more than her, she hates all of winter … but as the sun continues to rise, she thaws, and is broken by its beauty, how the backlit frost glows, how the trees just glisten, like the sun has cast the morning in moonlight, and for an unspoiled moment we just stand awed in our old kitchen and stare at an older sun we’ve never seen before kissing the backs of the bare trees good morning.

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Righteous riffs

No Great Hurry, Not Soon Enough (a meditation)

In my imagination, this is where we are tonight ….

Walking into Potter’s, glancing left and finding enough open, old, red stools at the bar to accommodate us (whoever’s available, whoever wants to come), their acquisition by our keisters a confirmation, the most formal, capital “A” Arrival I can think of right now, the granting of official permission to leave everything else outside for Here … Now … the simple This.

In my imagination Robert, the forever bartender, towel over his shoulder, who spent contented decades pouring and washing, fills our glasses full of Pabst — all that our thirst has required here since 21.

Yes, we make a point to clink each other’s glasses. There may be toasts, but everything that has ever needed said is whispered in full measure by just our being together.

There is no clock on the wall.

If we’re lucky an old regular may shuffle in on cue to check the daily number off the TV, letting us know it’s seven. In the right company, in the right place, such a sun dial is sufficient.

We don’t bother with the menu, remembering it like we recall the Gettysburg Address Mr. Landman made us memorize in 8th grade history.

Everyone orders their regulars … there may be a cheeseburger, maybe wings, maybe a Greek Western, maybe a Double Giant Whammy Doodle.

For me, it’s a Poor Boy (what Potter’s calls their grilled ham and cheese topped with lettuce and mayo) without tomato on a hoagie roll. Unostentatious and perfect, the sandwich and the setting. Small salad (with beets, because, you know, Uniontown) tossed in their homemade Italian whose taste is worth any indigestion later, and their legendary fries sprinkled with seasoned salt, to share.

But the nourishment I come for is not on the menu.

It’s to hear everyone’s laughter again. Bill throwing his head back in full cackle. Tom’s revving up and going silent in high gear. Matt’s high-pitched giggle. Homer, ready with his quick squirrel chuckle. Andy’s shoulders heaving when he gets going. Chris, fighting through his laugh to throw more logs on the fire. Wolfie just shaking his head.

We go a little quieter when the food comes, order seconds of Pabsts, and are in no great hurry once the bill comes, carrying on the conversation we started here as teenagers.

Cheers, boys ….

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Righteous riffs

Catch Before Fall

Tuesday, November 13, 2020

I plant the black camp chair firm

in the back yard grass just

as the sun and I tip

our hats good evening to this,

the season’s last warm day.

From 70s, 60s now and falling fast,

fall’s full fragrances mingling with the mix tape of neighbors’ bustling,

whispering to me that this is indeed a great, shared secret.

A lawn mower over yonder pushed from front to back,

growling louder and receding,

like the wave of a season’s coming and going….

Neighbor kids squealing just beyond the reach of each other’s tag,

the barking dog so wanting to break free from its leash to join this,

its favorite game in the world ….

The pork chop dinner through the kitchen’s open screened window wafting,

soon summoning the congregation ….

The wrist-revving motorcycle, racing up the street

chasing the last of the jacketless daylight.

50s now, and falling fast,

I rise from my chair and lay down,

surrendering so the grass can pillow my head,

and draw in the deep breath of …

the neighbor’s finished mow,

pork chops on the table,

the fallen leaves scenting the air and promising

a Last. Satisfying. Crackle. Crunch.

When I recluctantly stand back up,

fold the black camp chair, plant it ‘neath the porch,

and shut the back door behind me, turning the lock.

The leashed dog still barking, wanting to play.

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Righteous riffs

Over. Time.

So, THIS would have been the day 

When we would stretch after-school Nerf football 

On the perfect patch of Connor Street between the power lines 

Until the very last drop of daylight … and then some.

Until 

You could smell dinner on the table from each of the houses 

along your deep post pattern.

Until

our moms would yell us inside, 

and we’d beg or ignore for five more minutes.

Until 

we could run under just one more tight spiral 

on that perfect patch between the power lines.

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Righteous riffs

Murder, She Polled ….

(Season 3, Episode 6)

On Friday nights, we’ve taken to watching old episodes of Murder, She Wrote. 

As one does. 

As an aside … happy belated 95th birthday to Dame Angela Lansbury. As an aside to the aside, I found Em the most awesome t-shirt in the universe to honor the occasion. 

To give you just a taste of our recent bliss, last week we dialed up Season 3 Episode 5, and watched the sublime “Corned Beef and Carnage,” [how there isn’t a statue built to the person who came up with that title is a crime that should have merited its own two-part episode ending with a part-one cliffhanger, but I digress…]

… featuring a cast that would rival any Love Boat episode … Charles from MASH, Larry from Three’s Company, “The Man” from Chico and the Man, Kenickie from Grease, and the lovely Susan Anton (insert purring cat sound here).

After last week’s carnage, our expectations were highest-level-before-infinity as we curled into our comfy living room chairs to fire up episode 6 last night. It guest-starred Leslie Nielsen, playing David, an old-high school crush of Jessica’s, who was returning to Cabot Cove as a four-time-divorced smooth-talking debonair shyster, having hired a quartet of young scuba divers to plumb the depths of Cabot Cove in search of forgotten, sunken Pirate treasure.

As one does.

Oh, how high the piles of cocaine must have been in their weekly writer’s room? 

Anyway, here’s where I need you to pay attention and weigh in …

… the episode opens with Angela chatting with Amos (Tom Bosley’s dim-witted sheriff character who Bosley inflects with the absolute worst Maine accent ever attempted) and good ole’ Seth (the town doctor whose relationship with Jessica always almost-but-never-quite teeters beyond the platonic), when David (Leslie Neilsen’s character) spies Angela, taps her on the shoulder, and … 

… gives her an impossibly-hard-to-watch full-mouth excruciatingly long kiss. 

Out of nowhere. With no context.  

For context (as if it even matters to the scene) …  Jessica is a widower, who turned to mystery writing only after the sudden, unexpected death of her dear husband, Frank.

Needless to say Em and I were as taken aback as Seth and Amos. 

In full disclosure, one of us may or may not have blurted out: “What the EFFFFFF is happening right now?” 

No lie, we exchanged at least two rounds of astonished rejoinders by the time those suddenly carnal 50-somethings pulled away from each other.

It was then that we realized that, evidently, we care more about the character (not to mention Frank, her widower, who is probably still spinning in his fictitious grave) NOW than the writers did THEN. This is where we welcome your perspective to balance ours.

Knowing what you now know about the scene (also, if you want to appreciate the following question in its full context, we wholeheartedly encourage you to dial up Season 3, Episode 6, watch it beginning to end, and then return to the polling question. Better yet, start at Season 1, Episode 1, and work your way through the massive pile of dead bodies that Jessica amasses leading up to her randy street encounter with Lt. Frank Drebin.) …

… please weigh in the following. Thanks (as always) for the gift of your time and attention.

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Righteous riffs

Reminiscing in tempo ….

I can’t remember when I found them, I just remember as soon as I saw them I had to get ’em.

For him.  

That was us for a good 14 years, from my first gig as a 14-year-old until I gave up my spot on the bandstand a couple years after getting married.   

I think I made them a Christmas present. And I was right. He treasured them. 

For years afterwards, whenever I’d visit, he’d always point ’em out from their privileged perch on the mantle in the living room. “I smile every time I look at them,” he’d say. “They make me think of all the good times we had.” 

And then we’d reminisce about those good times

I know exactly what he means.

I took them back when we cleaned out the old house four years ago. Gave them a privileged perch on the shelves leading upstairs, so I’d see them every time I came home. 

I smile every time I look at them. They make me think of all the good times we had. 

That’s what I’d tell him if I could call to wish him a happy birthday today. 

I can hear the sound of his voice pitching up the second he recognized it was me, as pure as the tone of his horn.  

“Peeeeeeete!” 

He was always genuinely glad to hear from me every time I’d call. What a gift that was.

That’s what I’m missing today.

I’d call him to wish him a happy birthday, and he’d be the one making me feel good.

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