31 October 2011
My uncle Phil passed away Saturday morning at the age of 69 after a two year battle with lung cancer, although it appears he might have actually died when he tried getting out of bed and subsequently fell and hit his head on the edge of the nightstand.
Here's what I can tell you about my uncle Phil, and rest assured there are a number of "secrets", juicy as they may be, that I can never share out of respect:
My dad and uncle Phil were foster kids who were eventually adopted together by grandma and grandpa Mohaski. They were two of 14 kids that my paternal grandma birthed by several different men, and over the years, my dad and uncle were able to find and reconnect with five or six of them. Yes, my real grandma was a bonafide bar skank up in Antigo, which I've long maintained is the center of the universe. I'll maybe explain that theory another time...
Growing up, my dad and uncle excelled at baseball, and were also mechanically inclined. By their teenaged years, their interests lay mainly with hot rods and motorcycles, which they would build, rebuild, sell and race, sometimes for money, sometimes for titles. While my dad worked at a service station and finished high school, my uncle dropped out, started committing petty crimes, and got into drinking. Both ended up in the army.
After the army, my uncle was covered in tattoos he had acquired all over Asia and the South Pacific, and began his civilian life as a bricklayer, a mason. He built smokestacks, specificially, hanging from a rope a couple hundred feet above the ground. He got hazardous duty pay, and as legend had it, he swung around up there like Tarzan.
He got married, had four kids, and drank himself into full-blown alcoholism. I remember the afternoon he sat at our kitchen table waiting for my dad to get home from work, when he proceeded to empty an entire quart of gin in less than half an hour. It was another year or two after that, when all his bank accounts were empty and his job was gone, that he finally got clean. That was thirty years ago.
Other than the drinking, he was a good man. Hell, he was a fun drunk. He and my dad always had an arsenal of jokes, each one funnier, and often dirtier than the last, and at parties and family functions, at some point they would trade jokes back and forth, like a comedy team.
He was also the strongest man I've ever known, and he always said that my cousin Chico and I wouldn't be men until we beat him at arm-wrestling. To this day, neither of us are men, I guess.
He was an outstanding poker player, nearly as good as my dad at cribbage, and maybe better than my dad at sheepshead. For the past 20 years they've been partners in a Horseshoe league, and have won the league's title seven or eight times.
Him and my cousin Chico were also hunters, and along with me and my dad, would go hunting up in Brillion, staying with very distant relatives on a small horse farm, and I've got enough stories from that place and time to write at least a book or two, but I will leave you with this story...
About one hundred yards from the farmhouse, across the road, there was a small grove of about eight or ten apple trees, and almost every evening, about half an hour before sunset, a small herd of about six or seven whitetail deer would wander beneath those trees to eat fallen apples. My uncle one afternoon, got the bright idea that he would wait up in one of those trees with a very large knife, and when the herd stopped by to forage, he would jump down out of the tree and plunge that very large knife into the neck of one of those deer, preferably the buck of the herd, which appeared to be about a eight-pointer through the binoculars.
And so my uncle Phil did just that. After about an hour of waiting up in one of those apple trees, sure enough, the herd shows up, and my uncle's quiet enough, and above their scents, to be able to wait long enough for the buck to get right under him.
And my uncle jumps, and he lands on the back of the buck, and the buck kicks and snorts and barks and swings his antlers around, trying to knock my uncle off his back. And one of the antlers DOES nail my uncle in the arm, and it does knock him off balance, and somewhere along his way to the ground, the very large knife slashes across one of his arms, and all we see is the commotion of six or seven deer, including the buck, sprinting away from the apple trees as my uncle wails and moans.
Crazy Richard drove my uncle to the hospital. Between the antler and the knife, he ended up with about 90 stitches, and one of the better stories that got told and retold over the intervening years.
Anyways, he and my dad were also huge country music fans, especially the so-called "Outlaw Country". Willie Nelson was my uncle's favorite.
Rest in peace, uncle Phil. All in all, yours was a good and interesting life.
25 October 2011
Tuesday's Fortune: 25 October 2011
21 October 2011
Something 4 The Weekend # 224
The memories crowd in on one another, and as I get older, it becomes more difficult to discern how old any of them are. Lunch last Wednesday seems as long ago as that night I fucked a girl who's actual, given name was Bunny.
All those summers spent driving around the western states merge into one seemingly endless road trip, and so it doesn't seem to matter whether or not I traveled with Ike in '96 or '87 or '88 or maybe he was with Biff and me in '93, or Katie and Amy and Rachel and Dave in '85. I do remember he recorded a frame drum part for a Sufi dude in Sonoma because that was some of the best hash I ever smoked in my life. I think Frank was there that year. Frank was definitely along for the ride in '88 because that was the year of all the forest fires.
I had a Moons Over My Hammy sandwich, fries and a Coke at Denny's last Wednesday.
They say time seems to move faster the older you get, and at 45, that seems to be true, which might explain why the memories crowd together and lose some of their context and chronology, like home movies that aren't date-stamped. They also say that near death, your life flashes before your eyes, and of course that makes perfect sense, that at the end of our lives, all those accumulated memories are piled thick and endless, depthless, on top of one another.
And then we die.
If there is an afterlife, and we get to keep all those memories, perhaps eternity means that time ceases to exist or have meaning, and so our memories have a chance to spread out, slow down, so that we can take our leisure with them. Relive any moment of our lives with a clarity and understanding that even exceeds the moments themselves. To reunite with old friends, long forgotten, and family we lost. Reliving afternoons with my grandpa at the Milwaukee Public Museum, or Schlizt brewery. That slow and steamy encounter with Bunny. Our family's vacation to Florida in '76, or all those long weekends camping up in Plymouth.
Which I guess suggests we try our best to make the memories good ones.
Of course, I tend to believe that when our body dies, so does our consciousness. Nevertheless, we should still try to make the memories worthwhile.
18 October 2011
Tuesday's Fortune: 18 October 2011
14 October 2011
Something 4 The Weekend # 223
Pablo Cruise: Worlds Away: "Love Will Find A Way" [mp3]
I'm pretty sure I've written about GUILTY PLEASURES before.
I don't believe in the term or the idea behind the term, and that's not just because I'm a lapsed Catholic. To admit to guilty pleasures myself would be to admit bad taste, and I'd like to believe I have good taste, though ultimately I'm such a musical omnivore that taste probably doesn't factor. I listen to music from all over the stylistic and skill spectrum, and all level of popularity, and my appreciation and enjoyment of all this music is just as varied. This might be an unconscious strategy (that I'm just now realizing) to keep myself beyond reproach as a self-respecting musical fanboy and self-styled tastemaker, but I'm going to leave those notions for another time.
What's true for every single one of us is that our own tastes range and vary, and so the best we can do is arrive at some sort of consensus about songs and artists, which we do all the time. Bach was some sort of genius, so was Duke Ellington. Elvis is the king of Rock'n'Roll, The Beatles are the greatest rock band of all time, or possibly The Rolling Stones. The Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' to fuck wit'!
Of course, then we have to factor in context.
You might find Pablo Cruise to be a fairly unremarkable band. I would agree. They're certainly not the worst band of all time, but really not very memorable either. The thing is, "Love Will Find A Way" reached #6 on the Billboard charts in 1978, so plenty of people liked it. We can't discount that, I don't think. I didn't like this song in 1978, but the girl I "dated" for seven weeks that summer certainly did, so I went along with it. 33 years later, I think about that girl with fondness, so why should I feel guilty for finding a measure of pleasure from this song today?
I might not have liked this song very much back then, but I did love the cover art. It made me think of another song from 1978, "Thunder Island" by Jay Ferguson, a song about a man and a woman alone on an island and the sexy things they did while there. I remember looking at this cover art and imagining me and that girlfriend alone on a tropical island, making out in front of a bonfire on the beach. Such is the imagination of a tween in love, with hormones starting to rumble.
Love will find a way out there on thunder island. That's a bit of the story of my life, circa August of '78.
11 October 2011
Tuesday's Fortune: 11 October 2011
07 October 2011
Something 4 The Weekend # 222
Pentangle: The Pentangle: "Pentangling" [mp3]
One time a friend of mine let me goof around with some cool apps on his iPhone, and that's the full extent of my experience with Apple. I've never touched one of their products, and I've never even visited iTunes.
But I'm still somewhat saddened by Steve Jobs passing this Wednesday. If for no other reason than he died of pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that took my mom, so I understand all too well what he and his loved ones went through. But there is at least one other reason - his company makes really beautiful machines. Not only beautiful, but functional. Not only functional, but groundbreaking. Steve Jobs, perhaps as much as any other individual, helped usher us into the 21st century. I don't know if he could ever measure up to Thomas Edison, but rest assured people will still be talking about Steve Jobs at the end of this century.
Bert Jansch also died on Wednesday, of an uspecified cancer. He was a Scottish folk guitarist who busked around Europe in the early '60s before settling in London and founding the groundbreaking Jazz-Folk-Rock band Pentangle.
Pentangle are fucking amazing. The depth of the blues infused in Jansch's playing is often revelatory, but then, all five members of the band are rather brilliant. Check out Danny Thompson's bass-playing here, and tell me he's not a beast.
Pentanglers pentangling. Download this mp3 to yr iPad right now! A MUST!
Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. Rest in peace, Bert Jansch.