Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More than just a question of taste.

Sunday was a nightmare rush. Up at nine for church (and still feeling the alcohol from the night before), then grocery shopping, then time to pick up Ashes, then Theo (who slept at a friend's house), then back home to get ready for the afternoon performance of the show I was in. P.S.: I was already late by the time I arrived at home to take a shower.

As I started to get dressed, however, I could pick up the sounds of an argument in the living room, between Corb and Ashes.

"I don't want to do it!"

"It's all there, and it's easy!"

"It won't be as good."

"How can it not be? It's just two slices of bread and some ham!"

I buttoned up my shirt and headed to the living room. "What's going on?"

Corb was sitting on the couch, looking amused. "Ash won't make herself a ham sandwich for lunch."

Ashes sat next to him, looking less than amused. "It won't taste as good if I make it!"

"You're just being lazy!" said Corb, with equal intensity. "You just don't want to go into the kitchen and make one. Which is ridiculous, because you're seventeen years old."

"No, it won't taste as good. Daddy makes it better than I do."

I grinned, and headed back into the bedroom, to put on my purple tie for the show. And as I was standing there, putting together a Windsor knot, a thought struck me.

I headed back into the living room. "Ash, follow me."

Ashes made a face. "Where?"

I grabbed her sleeve. "Into the kitchen. I'm going to show you how to make the perfect ham and cheese sandwich."

Corb made a face. "You're going to make it for her, you mean."

"No, no, no. Show her!" Ashes looked amused and stood up. We headed into the kitchen, and I grabbed a loaf of bread. "Now, see, this is bread. What I want you to do is reach your hand in and select two really delicious slices. Go ahead, reach right in!"

Ash did as instructed. "Look at those! Wow, they look absolutely delicious. Mmm, I may have to eat them, myself. Now, place them in the toaster...good. Now, let's do the same with our slices of ham."

"All the slices of ham look the same," said Ashes, questioning my sanity.

"But you get to choose! Isn't it great? So, just pick two, okay? Make sure the slices aren't fatty or anything...now, same with the cheese."

We waited a few minutes for the toast to pop up. "Now, this part real is important. You want to take your mustard, turn it upside down, and shake it. Shake it! So, when it comes out, it's right there at the top of the bottle. Now...and this is important, put some on the ham, but also, put a little on one piece of bread. That way, they kind of combine together, like some kind of yummy paste."

"Yummy paste?" Ashes wrinkled her nose. "That sounds plain gross."

"Now! Here's the extra special thing that I do, that makes my ham sandwiches taste extra special, and way better than yours. Cut the sandwich in half and..." I lifted the ham sandwich up to my mouth, and whispered to it. "I hope this sandwich tastes really special today." And then, I handed it over to Ashes.

Ashes looked at me as if I were insane. "You just breathed all over my sandwich." Shaking her head, she took it out of my hands and headed back to the TV.

I was telling my friend Jo-Ann the story, later on, backstage at the performance. "Oh, my daughter does the same exact thing. 'Tastes better when you make it.' Isn't that just a load of crap?"

I explained what I did, and she laughed. "Actually, that kind of does sound better than the way I make it. You're getting me hungry! But Corb's right, she really is just being lazy. I always give in when I'm asked that, though. I mean, my daughter's only going to be in the house another year and will have her whole life to make ham sandwiches without me."

"Exactly!" I said, and everyone backstage looked at me, because I was being too loud. "That's the way I look at it, too. How many more ham sandwiches am I going to have to make for her, really? One more year's worth? It's totally worth it."

That night, when I returned home from the performance, Theo was in the living room, sitting on the couch. He had a pencil in his hand and a notebook in from of him. He looked up from his work, the minute I entered the room.

"Hey Dad, can you do my homework for me?" he asked. "It always gets better grades when you do it!"

I grinned and turned away, hearing Corb's booming laughter in the background. Some beds are just better left unmade.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

True Confessions: My Secret Life as a Rock Star

This Christmas, my mom's receiving a special gift: a blast from her past.

For the past three years, she's been asking me to go through my record collection (yes, I actually still do have a couple of boxes filled with THOSE), in order to return to her a record that I lifted many years ago. Of course, at that time, my parents had tossed their record player and didn't think they'd be able to ever use them. But now, thanks to the wonders of retro-technology, what's old is new again.

What she wanted is a comedy album called "The First Family," which was wildly popular when John F. Kennedy first was elected into office. From what I understand, it sold like crazy during the Camelot years, but then sales understandably plummeted upon JFK's assassination. Vaughn Meader, the man who created the album, suddenly found himself without a career, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a new voice.

Now, I'm a good boy, I am, and I really do want to help mum out. The only problem is, I left all of my record albums at Josie's house, where they've been gathering dust in her basement (well, as much dust as objects sealed up in a plastic container can gather, I guess). One thing I can tell you about separating from someone, even if you still see that person every day...which I pretty much do...it's hard to find time to grab things from their basement, once you're gone. I still have boxes of stuff that haven't been touched in eight years.

Last week-end on Halloween, Josie asked Corb to go downstairs and find a rubber mask for Theo to wear for trick or treating. This was the moment. I followed along, intent on picking up my mum's album, along with maybe a few other choice memories that have been rotting away like fermented grapes in her cellar.

So, the First Family's back in my hands. While I was down in Josie's cellar, I also picked up one of my boxes, too, a small one that had scribbled upon it "IMPORTANT Stuff."

So, I went through that box last night. I have to tell you, I'm not really sure what was so IMPORTANT about it. Mostly, it was some work stuff and an old play that I produced in my twenties. A few letters, one of which was really sad, from a friend who was in pretty dire straights and just wanted to hear from me (note to self: did I ever write back?) An enormous bra, placed in a picture frame, which had been a gift from a friend. Drawings, mostly cartoons, of very busty women. I was a regular Matisse, back then.

Oh, and one other thing. I think this box actually contains further evidence of my own insanity.

Or at least, of a frustrated creative soul.

See, back in my early twenties, after a bad experience in college, I kind of turned my back on writing for a while. It was a foolish decision, and it would have been a better idea to simply suck it up and climb back on to the saddle (and find a better college for grad school), but instead, I sulked, found a day job, and fell in love with Josie. You'd be amazed how working nine-to-five and getting involved with a woman with a small baby can take your mind off of writing.

Even so, I guess there was a part of me that didn't abandon things completely, as what was inside the box demonstrated.

At the time, I was working at this really crummy job in a building that had once been a seventies disco and still had green shag carpeting on its walls. I've mentioned thhis job before: my boss was the guy who broke the first of the Catholic church altar boy sex scandals (I have the People magazine article in the box to prove it). Course, I didn't know that back then. I just knew that it wasn't really a happy place to work, and the office manager liked to make our lives a living hell by placing signs all over the place, things like "Do not leave URINE DROPS on the toilet" in the men's room.

I'd do my job, which basically involved collecting money from insurance companies, and pass the time away by feeding my inner fantasy life. That's what I discovered in my IMPORTANT box.

What I found inside were about fifty little square sheets of paper, all shoved into a folder. These little squares were album covers. Just like the one of The First Family, only, not real.

They told the story of Teddy Two-Tone, my rock star alter ego. Each square was an album that Teddy Two-Tone had either put out or produced, with a drawing of the cover, its highest ranking chart position, the songs on the album, and a few notes about how well it did.

Teddy Two-Tone started his career as part of The Delphonics, a group signed to Grappling Bull Records. He then put out his self-titled debut album, featuring the hit single "Standing on the sidewalk in love with my own reflection" (which I'm absolutely certain would have been a HUGE hit, with that HUGE title). Many, many albums followed, from the trippy "More than Just a White Room" to "Hot-cha," "the most embarrassing Two-Tone album of all time!" Oh, along the way, he recorded a series of duets with Phillie Dixon, a pop singer with a serious drug habit, and produced a disastrous series of albums by an African-American woman named Nana, who broke away from him and released an album proclaiming her newfound independence, called "Free at Last, Free at Last, Lord I'm Free at Last!"

His last album, as an elder rock statesman, was called "The Grey Years," and featured the song "Playful in my Eccentricity."

In addition to creating the album covers, I also found time to make up interviews with various folks who figured prominently in the Teddy Two-Tone universe, such as this excerpt from an interview with Phillie Dixon that allegedly appeared in Rolling Stone:

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember "Breaking Hearts"? (Her last album with Teddie)
PHILLIE: (Wincing) Yes.
INTERVIEWER: What do you remember?
PHILLIE: A hell of a lot of pain. I didn't treat Ted right on that one. He practically handed me my success on a silver platter and I turned around and said 'Fuck you' to him, then 'Fuck you' to my fans, and then 'Fuck you' to myself. And here we are.
INTERVIEWER: You only recorded one track for that album, right?
PHILLIE: Right. "We'll Meet Again."
INTERVIEWER: What happened?
PHILLIE: We were in the middle of our first live tour. Ted started to get angry about my drug habit. I started coming late to performances, then skipping out altogether. He started bitching and I just decided that it was all bullshit, recorded just enough for Breaking Hearts to get the record company off my back, and broke with Ted completely. (Laughs) Not so completely. Thank God he agreed to do "Only You and Me."
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard...to get him to agree?
PHILLIE: What do you think?

Poor, poor Phillie. And poor Teddy Two-Tone. How ungrateful of her.

Phillie did record one song that I actually took the time to create. It still jingles around in my head, some times. It was a song called "It Takes Time," and was kind of a song that Cher would have sung in the eighties, around the time she was producing songs like "Love and Understanding." It went like this: "It takes time/Lots of Time/It Takes Time to See it Through/It Takes Time/So Much Time/So I'll Keep Spending that Time With You."

Good thing I kept my day job, huh?

After I left that job, and moved to a job that challenged me a little more, the album covers abruptly stopped, and Teddy Two-Tone's career in music was over.

I also found my voice, slowly but surely, and found more constructive ways to channel my creativity. I think that helped. Certainly, I haven't created any album covers since that time.

Still, they're kind of fun to look back on, and I can't see myself throwing the covers away any time soon. They may not be as IMPORTANT as they once were (I don't think they ever were, really), but it is nice to look back upon my days as a rock star. Maybe there's a little bit of Teddy Two-Tone inside me, even now. And when you get right down to it, we all need our rock star moments, don't we?