HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN:

HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - city of big bottoms and small minds.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

My Girls, Talking 'bout My Girls

Just for shits and giggles I set up a "MySpace" sometme ago, before I had re-vamped my web site, so basically I would have a place to blog if I wanted.

I hadn't checked it in a while, so this morning I signed on and lo, and behold, I have all these twenty-something babes, most including photos of themselves, most very scantily clad, and they all want to be my friend.

Let's see: Belinda, Collen, Astrid, Elsa, Fanny, Lena, Judith, Gwendolyn, and Jacqueline ALL want to be MY friend! Wow! Who are all these young women interested in a married senior citizen? And why are they all so ehthusiastic about showing me most of their TATA's?

_________________________________________________

Last night, with Kim out of town, I was getting pretty lonely and bored, so I wrote to all my would be girl friends (see above), slipped on my brand new latest addition to my football jersey collection (it's a Joe Montana) and then hopped in the Scion to see wassappenin in good old Eau Claire.

Went down to Phoenix Park to see if there was any music. Nope. Guess I should try reading the paper once in a while.

Being a dyed in the wool (what a great espression) Eau Claire Cavaliers fan, I then swung over to Carson Park to see if they were playing. I had worked Thursday night with my band at the game and it was great fun.

The Carson Park lot was almost full of cars and the ball park PA was blaring obnoxiously so I knew immediately that The Cavs must either be out of town or idle and that the very popular and talented Eau Claire Express was about to take the field.

Up until last night, I had pretty much boycotted the johnny-come-latelys, but as I say, I was bored, so I popped the big bucks for a reserved grandstand seat.

I lasted four innings. The Clear Channel jocks in the booth on the PA need to learn that less is more when it comes to between inning, between batter, chatter, and to stop pretending that the ball park PA is just an extension of their radio styled banter, complete with the pre-recorded funnies and too-loud, over used "I've heard this at NFL games" rock themes.

I'm sorry, but I just got the feeling that everyone there was just trying too hard to have fun. I know. It's me. I'm an old guy who really enjoys the calm, measured pace of Cavalier games, where the main objective of the fans is to watch the game, not see how much beer they can chug by the fifth inning.

The capper was when the announcers did a cutesy thing about drinking beer and then followed it with this:

"PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLE!"

Well, the old 8th Grade English teacher couldn't take that butchering of the language and I was out of there. As I made my way back to the Scion, I hear this young voice from high up in the stadium:

"Hey! Nice Montana jersey!"

How can I be so hip and so square?

Friday, June 29, 2007

I Think You Knew What You Were Doing

November 21st, 2000. I regain consciousness. Dangling in blur and then into focus is an Abbott-Nothwestern Hospital Nurse's ID framed in purple and lettered in yellow. My quadruple bypass is over, the male nurse is adjusting the pillow behind my neck. I read the yellow letters. They say Minnesota Vikings infinitely.
I hear my voice.
“I think Robert Brown is one of the classiest running backs in the National Football League. Now you say something nice about Brett Favre.”
“Brett Favre is a PUSSY!”

Yes! I am still alive!

__________________________________________



It is a glorious June afternoon and I am floating down the Chippewa River with a buddy, having launched the canoe just off Water Street behind the Eau Claire Bus Barns. We have brought along important things like a cooler of beer, and brand new fishing licenses, but have left behind inconsequential things like the phamplet of fishing rules for that season and a tape measure.

It isn't long before I get a strike and land a 13 inch white bass. Let's see: white bass -- no size limit. Not my favorite eating variety, but what the heck, just in case it's the only one I catch, we will need it for our anticipated shore lunch so I put it on the stringer and toss it over the side.

We fish for another twenty minutes or so and I get a dandy strike on a Mepps spinner and after a goodly fight on ultra light spinning tackle, I land a fairly good-sized small mouth bass. Let's see: small mouth: limit 5 per day, size limit -- size limit -- where's that damn book of rules? Oh, that's right. Left it back in the car.

What was it last year? Below Highway 64, after June 1, when the wind is out of the west and the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter alligns with Mars: 12 inches. That's it! 12 inches. Now where's my tape measure? Who took my damn tape measure out of the tackle box?

Oh, that was me.

So I "eye-balled her", as my carpenter friend Lundy used to say, and yup, she's at least 13 inches. All the while my fishing buddy has no opinion.

About half hour later, down river we hear the sound of a motorized boat and around the bend comes this olive drab boat with two guys in brown shirts and swast -- er, I mean, pine trees embroidered on their shoulders, and they pull up to our canoe, and one of them puts his foot right in my canoe, which I thought was an invasion of my personal space, but being a good Wisconsin citizen, I say nothing.

The warden who appears to be in charge and definitely has an "attitude" asks us to produce fishing licenses. We do. Then he wants to know if we have caught anything.

I tell him the truth. Yes, we have, but we stopped at an island along the way and I filleted them and would he like to see the fillets?

No, he wouldn't, but I have broken the law, he says, by filleting the fish on the river, then he tells us not to go anywhere and the brown shirts motor up river in search of carcasses.

Soon they return with the evidence.

"What's legal size for small mouth?" asks the belligerent one.

At the same time that I say "12 inches", my buddy says "15 inches". I shoot him a look that says shut the hell up!
My buddy wins the quiz and because I caught both fish, I win the prize: $128.00 fine.

As the warden reaches for his ticket book I say: "I understand that ignorance is no excuse for breaking a law, so you go ahead and write me the ticket."

Herr Warden replies: "I think you knew what you were doing. I think you just thought that you were going to get away with it."

I was right! This guy REALLY has an attitude problem.

He continues to write, finishes writing, detaches the ticket from the pad, hands it to me and says it again for effect: "I think you knew what you were doing, I just think that you thought that you were going to get away with it."

And they cruise off.

Next day I pay the ticket at the court house. That was my last fishing trip that summer.

A couple of years later, I am at my desk in my office on a day in April when I get a telephone call from The Department of Natural Resources, Madison. "Would you like to play at our state convention?"

Well, I suppose.

I like his next question even better: "What do you charge?" So I tell him and tack on $128.00 and I feel pretty damn good about it.

He gives me the details: June 28, Paper Valley Hotel, Appleton, Wisconsin. I send out the contract.

Now every day I go to the office and I wonder: I wonder if that sumbitch is gonna be there. God! He'd had better be there.
Payback is a bitch! HOW CAN IT STILL BE ONLY APRIL????

Finally the day arrives and I am up and packing gear at 4:30 in the morning. I am driving Highway 10, Wisconsin Death Trip, all the way to Appleton, my mind racing: I wonder if he will be there -- He better be there -- Oh! He won't be there -- I was raised a Catholic! It never works out for a Catholic boy!"

I pull up in front of the Paper Valley, walk up the steps into the lobby, and just as I am doing this, the doors to the banquet room open from the just completed lucheon and here come the brown shirts -- and who is the first guy I see? Mr. Wonderful himself.

He walks over to me and says: "Hi, remember me?"
"No, who are you?"
"Last time I saw you was on the Chippewa River."
Oh, now I remember you -- what was your problem that day?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I told you I hadn't read the rules and that you should write me a ticket and then you called me a liar. Not once, but twice."
"I didn't call you a liar. I just didn't think you were telling me the truth."

WHAT???? Dos this man work part time as a speech writer for George W?

So I set up equipment, shower, dress, and come down to the evening banquet and join five wardens and their wives for dinner and I tell them the story of my encounter with Mr. Wonderful.

When I finish, one warden asks: "What's the warden's name?"
I say: "T.J."
The entire table says together as one: "THAT son of a bitch."

Then they all tell me their own horror stories of how he was their instructor at one time and all the shit he pulled.

Then one warden says: "Well, you're gonna get him in your show, aren't you?"
I say: "Oh, Gee, I hadn't thought about that."

It's my turn at the mic. I do about half my show and then I say: "I'd like to dedicate the rest of my show to my friend TJ who taught me the value of catch and release." Then I do every small penis joke I can think of and finish to a standing ovation of game wardens.

When I get outside the banquet room, there is someone waiting for me. It's Mr. Wonderful (who has been transferred out of the Chippewa Valley because of death threats - - I can't imagine why).

He threatens: "Come on up to Spooner -- It's my turn."

I fish in the Chippewa Valley, thank you very much. And once a week I fight the temptation to send him a post card saying: "I'll be on the Nemakogan on Thursday. Look for me."

Several years later I receive an envelope in the mail post marked Menomonie, Wisconsin. Inside is a clipping from the Dunn County Court Section, which reads: "Arrested. T.J., age 49, hunting game birds out of season, over bag limit: fine $189."

I want desperately to scrawl on the bottom: "I think you knew what you were doing --"

Disclaimer: The above is how I remember it happening. I am not to be held liable for any of it. It is written purely for the joy of story telling. That is why there is no last name given.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Salute To Captain Don Hall

Captain Don Hall. Outside of my mother, he was the only adult in my young life that really understood what I was about. When I joined company A, 128th Infantry right out of high school, he was my company commander. We soldiers of company A could not have asked for a better leader.

Captain Hall had an illustrious career in the Marine Corps long before he becme a national guard commander. He fought in the Pacific and Korea.

He was indeed a true warrior but he was also a compassionate man and a man who loved to party.

It wasn't long after I joined the unit that I discovered that there were two other musicians in the unit: Bill Niederberger from Monroe, Wisconsin, a college student at Stout, played a really mean accordion. It's in his blood! He is Swiss.

Jerry Holubets, from Marshfield, Wisconsin, also a Stout student, was a hard strumming tenor banjo player and a good singer. Jerry eventually ended up teaching back in his hometown.

It took about two guard meetings before we were meeting out at Pine Point on saturday afternoons that stretched into sunday mornings, learning tunes and being rewarded with free beer.

It got to the point that Jerry, Bill and I would locate the nearest little town festival that was occurring that weekend and we would descend upon the biggest bar down town, complete with our "entourage" of hangers on from Stout, and would get free beer for all of us!

Then came the 1961 "call up" of guard units during The Berlin Crisis: The East Germans had built a wall and Kennedy wanted a show of force.

Well, that was the story given us.

So what did they do? shipped us all out to Fort Lewis, Washington, issued us jungle boots and gave us "anti'guerrilla training in the rain forests at the base of Mt. Rainier. I kept thinking to myself: "Wow! The weeds must be growng fast and deep along that Berlin Wall!"

That's because I knew we were actually being looked over by the big brass as possible troop implementation in Viet Nam, which was just in its beginning stages of turmoil.

In fact, I can remember watching Fourth Division Troops being loaded on C-130's in full combat gear.

The troops from Wisconsin, it turned out, were not even decent cannon fodder. After ten months of active duty, they sent us home.

But Fort Lewis is where Captain Don Hall really saved my ass. He recognized a sad sack when he saw one but he really liked me (and Holubets and Niederberger) because we were his personal court jesters.

We would be awakened out of a deep sleep and told to report to Captain Hall's quarters, and oh, by the way, bring your instruments, so off we would go, half asleep, clutching guitar, banjo, and accordion, to find an officer's party in full swing.

Soon we would be swilling right along with the officers, wide eyed and fired up, Of course, the first tune we had to do was our theme song that we had spontaneously written 30, 000 feet above Montana, winging our way to duty;

"WE DON'T GIVE A DAMN FOR THE WHOLE STATE OF WASHINGTON
THE WHOLE STATE OF WASHINGTON, THE WHOLE STATE OF WASHINGTON
WE DON'T GIVE A DAMN FOR THE WHOLE STATE OF WASHINGTON
WHO IN THE HELL LIKES RAIN?"

Then about first light, Captain Hall would inform the officer of the day that these boys were to be put on sick call. We would go back to bed in the barracks with immunity and warrior that he was, Captain Hall would march off with the rest of his troops for the day's maneuvers. I really don't know how the man could do it!

But as I say, he was the only person who really understood what I was about when I was a young lad of 18. So he gave me all the "plum" jobs. I became his personal jeep driver, the company mail man, and the company armorer which meant I got to go off to three weeks of school and learn how to fire everything from a 45 caliber automatic pistol, a Browning Automatic Rifle, a 30 caliber light machine gun, 3.5 rocket launcher, and the vehicle mounted 105 millimeter. Man, I was in hog heaven!

And when I got back to my unit, I could lock myself in the arms room all day if I wanted, continue to drive my leader about, operating the big radio that was attached to the rear of the jeep, and sort and hand out letters from home. I had great duty!

Once on bivouac, I was in charge of commnd post security. War games were in progress. suddenly the ground around me began to shudder and I heard the cracking of trees being felled. Only then did I hear the unmistakeable sound of a tracked vehicle; that squeak, squeak, squeaking of metal treads on metal bogey wheels and a Patton tank came lumbering directly towards our C.P..

Captain Hall is screaming: "Heagle! Damn it! Where's my security!" so I grab a 3.5 rocket launcher and go through the pretend war loading of a dummy round into it.

Suddenly the tank stops, the turret transverses, and the long gun lowers and aims directly at me. Unless you experience it, even in just a "war game" situation, there is nothing more frightening than what I have just observed!

The umpire comes around and declares us all dead. Captain Hall reams me out so badly I wish I were. By the end of the day, Captain Hall has had it with his troops. He orders me to collect every soldier's sleeping bag and throw them onto a departing deuce and a half. Tonight he will teach the boys a lesson.

So, still stinging from my own personal chewing out, I load all the bags, INCLUDING CAPTAIN HALL'S, onto the waiting truck.
Somehow, however, I forget to throw my own bag on with the rest, squirreling it away under the seat of the jeep.

That night, as the unit beds down as best they can in the cold mountain air, Captain Hall tells me to fetch him his sleeping bag.

"Sir," I tell him, "you told me ALL of the bags, so I loaded yours as well. It's gone."
"Not mine, you dumb son of a bitch!"

He disappears into the darkness, cursing all the way out of earshot.

I slept well that night.

Those Is Yo' Bauws

The following is a rather painful recollection from my youth

I have a fascination with war, the weapons of war, and war's history. Over the years my mother had spoken many times of Lewis Wetzel. She mistakenly believed that he was a scout with the Lewis and Clark expedition. He was a distant uncle of mine. Upon research, I find that Lewis, fueled by revenge, was the scourge of the Wyandotte in the Ohio River Valley.

An expert woodsman and handler of firearms, his claim to fame was that he could reload a flintlock musket while maintaining a full-out run through brush and woods.

At one point he encountered three Wyandotte warriors who gave chase seeking a chunk of his forelock for their belt. He fired, dropping the closest figure, then turned and began loping through the woods, all the while busying himself with the many steps of re-loading a flintlock musket. First he had to pour gunpowder down the barrel, then using the ramrod, next came the ramming home of a lead ball wrapped in a cloth patch . Then, still running at top speed, he would turn the musket sideways and open the breach, exposing the firing pan, add powder to the pan and return the beach to the closed position.

He then turned, stopped in his tracks, and dropped the second Indian dead in his tracks.

The third Wyandotte, having never seen such magic before, turned tail and ran!

Sometime, if you have time, type Lewis+Wetzel in Google's search engine. Read up on the man. He might be part explanation for some of my "crazy" genes.

During World War II, My Uncle Raymond Wetzel died in the cockpit of a P-38 Lightning. Consequently I have no memory of my middle name sake, but I have graying photographs of a good looking lieutenant, in leather helmet and flight gear, reaching up to the cowling of the right engine of the aircraft in which he will meet a fiery death.

my Uncle “Frenchie” Francis Wetzel was a cook with the European Campaign. The family tagged Francis with the name Frenchie because he had black, curly, hair, a swarthiness, and a pencil thin mustache. Frenchie was devilishly handsome, a trumpet player in his Dad's All Wetzel Band before the war.

My memory of Uncle Frenchie? He had a boisterous laugh, loved to tell jokes, battled alcohol and the women in his life.

I remember turning 18 on April 15, 1959, and during lunch hour, leaving the high school building and making my way over to the selective service office on Main Street, which also served as the telegraph office.

The woman at the desk thought I was joking; this baby faced, pug nosed little kid couldn't possibly be 18. She even called my mom at home before she would let me sign up.

I immediately signed up with Company A, Menomonie, Wisconsin, National Guard, and soon after graduation, on a muggy afternoon in late July, said goodbyes to my family and boarded the “400” passenger train for processing in Chicago and then on to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for basic training. I was excited about it. After all, I would learn to fire the M1 Garand rifle, the weapon that had defeated the Axis.

Once processing began at Fort Leonard Wood, my military career took a downward turn. Our NCO's were particularly nasty to all of us would be “college boys”. We would train for only six months, then return to our home units and begin higher education.

It wasn't long, about two weeks in, that events took a turn for worse. It was the morning we were supposed to go out on the firing range for the first time. No more blind- folded tearing down and putting back together my rifle .. Live ammo! Lock and load!

At 5 AM, the platoon sergeant enters my barracks, takes a stand at my bunk and begins banging a night stick on a trash can and screaming at the top of his lungs to get our asses out of bed. I am on the upper bunk, still mostly asleep, so I swing my legs out over the side, push up with my arms do a half turn in air, drop straight off the side of the upper bunk and most of my torso makes it. My still-virgin package does not. I feel white hot searing pain in my left testicle as I hit the wooden floor.

Shake it off I tell myself, this is not the first severe blow to that area and any farm boy can tell you how much damage you can self inflict on silage-slicked rebar ladder rungs coming down from the silo.

I make it through chow and we are assembled in full packs and steel pots, in the misery of Missouri July heat when I am aware that I have a throbbing balloon in my bloused combat fatigues. As we are brought to attention, I involuntarily go to my knees and moan.

This brings a fusillade of screaming from my platoon sergeant.

“What in hell do you think yer doin' boy?
“I hurt myself, Sergeant!”
“you did what?”
“I HURT MYSELF SERGEANT!”
“And jist how in the hell did you hurt yersef, boy?”
“My nuts, Sergeant!!”
“Yer Whut????”
“ITS MY NUTS SERGEANT! I BANGED THEM ON MY BUNK, SERGEANT!”
“Well, fall out, then. Get out of rank and get your sorry ass to the dispensary!”

And with that, the unit wheeled as one, marched past me into the dust and on to the waiting deuce and a halfs.

Somehow I manage to waddle into the dispensary where the obese desk sergeant sings out his one line to each entrant: “Take off your cap and uncover your troubles.”

I hesitate, gawking around the nearly filled waiting room at soldiers removing their boots. But the order was given so I unbuckle my brass and begin to “drop trou” which catches the attention of Jabba the Hut: “What the hell you doin, boy?
"You told me to uncover my troubles. I am uncovering my troubles."
"Well, don't do that over there, get over here!"
I reveal the damage, the left testicle now the size of a Florida orange.
“Goddam! How'd you do that boy?”
“Bunk, sir.”
“Shit! Sit down here. Doc better see you first.”
So I enter the spacious office of a medical Captain behind his big Captain's desk and we start again. (He's from GAWJA):

“Drop them shorts. OUUWEEEE! Umm, ummm, ummm. How the hell did you do that boy?”
“Banged them on my bunk, Sir.”
“Banged them on the bunk? Banged them on the bunk. God damn! You's got to take care a those boy, .. Those is your bauws!"

He assigns me high tech treatment. Go back to the mess hall, get ice from the cook, and keep the injury on ice for the day.

I have served KP under the rabid dog who runs the mess hall and this is an assignment to walk into the jaws of hell.

“Whaddaya want ice for? Get the hell out of my kitchen! You think you can come waltzing in here asking for ice that I need to get my job done? You are a dumb ass. You are scum! Don't stand there like you don't hear me, get the hell out of MY KITCHEN!”

Knowing I am going to need to get his attention, I drop my drawers and give him a good shot.

“I said get the hell out of … oh, Sweet Jesus! Get that boy some ice!”

I spend the rest of the day writhing in pain on the lower bunk in the oppressive heat of Missouri July, speaking in tongues and praying for death.

My fellow soldiers return from the field and one by one file by for the viewing as word spreads of what has happened to the diminutive Wisconsin farm boy that morning.

Dawn of the next day brings a worsening in the swelling and I am finally sent, under my own limping power, to the Fort Leonard Wood Hospital, a one floor, sprawling labyrinth of half mile long hallways and I finally drag myself into a chair in the office indicated on my papers. A pretty young nurse looks at my papers, blushes, and then tells me I have the wrong ward.

This is “heart”. So I waddle off again, but the nurse takes pity on me and phones ahead and soon a wheelchair is being run down the hall and I am admitted.

The recovery regimen? Subhuman. Ice packs for three days, then hot soaks for two weeks and a return to my unit.

Not my unit anymore. They are three weeks ahead of me and I have to start all over again, this time with the Deion Sanders of Cadre, who the first time he approaches me for dress inspection, fumbles with my tie and while tying it correctly he says: “you tie yo' tie like a farmer-ass Brown!”
“Yes, Sergeant!”

I complete my six months active duty and return to my unit in Menomonie. The first night we assemble for drill, Captain Hall is on a rant about delinquents who have not been attending drills and threatens to put their asses back in the regular army if they don't shape up. I am standing in the third rank, completely invisible, when he says it:

“You By God better be here every damn drill! There are guys who would give their left nut to able to belong to the Guard.”

How could he know that?????

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Performers Perform

I am second from the end, on the second riser. I am in the second grade at St Joseph’s Grade School, Menomonie, Wisconsin, and this is my baptism into the wonder of performance as Sister Dolarette has awarded me a solo in a cowboy song.

It is my first experience of the exhilaration of performance anticipation, my first moment of truth and until just before Sister cues me with a nod and a hand flourish, I am about to explode. But then something wondrous happens. Everything slows in pace and I feel a calm descend on my spirit.

Over the prairie the cowboy will ride
Spurs on his boots and a rope at his side
Saddle for pillow, no roof but the sky
Whoopee tie whoopee tie, whoopee tiyii.

The assembled families and friends burst into immediate and inexplicable applause. My physical self continues with my classmates through the rest of the concert, but my spirit is elsewhere, rejoicing. Even though I am unaware, I am officially addicted.

There are moments in life that are embedded indelibly. My second grade solo is one of those, a life changing event that I don't realize is life changing at the time. but thinking back on it years later, I know that it's true.

I have often wondered what it is about performers that make us need to perform. Oh, I could say that it is the joy I receive back from an appreciative audience, but the audiences are not always that appreciative.

Maybe it is a deep need of approval from others. If I get applause, it proves that I am a good person, a person of value. But if that is the real reason, the only reason, that is pretty shallow and sad.

I have concluded that perhaps it is because I am, for lack of a better phrase, "an adrenaline junkie". I think back to all those nights of standing in the wngs being introduced, whether it be in the hall way of a hotel where the employees are busily scraping plates, or in the musty-curtained grandness of the Mabel Tainter Memorial Theatre. The palms of my hands start to sweat. the heart beat increases, and I have all I can do to let the master of ceremonies finish what he has to say in introduction, literally bursting at the seams.

Truth be told, performing is a very odd way to make a living. Performers are salesmen in a way. Unfortunately, or fortunately, our talent and personality is the product being sold.

Once while relieving myself at the urinal of a comedy club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I glanced up to see these words scrawled on the bathroom wall: "Dying is easy, Comedy is hard."

That has become my credo. Of course, the word dying can be taken literally or not, There are some pretty violent words in the comic's lexicon: "I killed them!" meaning of course that the audience laughed really hard, and "I died," meaning your jokes were met with silence.

"It's murder out there."

"I murdered them."

My brother, Father John, believes that I have a "ministry". I had never thought of it that way until one night I had a couple come out to catch the act at Howard Johnson's on a Saturday night. On my break they explained that they belonged to St. Patrick's Church where John was their pastor.

Usually when someone tells me that sort of news, I brace myself for the "milkman" jokes, but this night they told me: "Father John gives such good sermons and his words usually carry us through the week. But tonight, we were feelng a bit low and knowing that we wouldn't be getting our Father John "fix" until tomorrow, and seeing your name on the bill, decided that you would carry us over until we could be refilled by Fr. John."

That was the best compliment I have ever received, bar none.

As I have aged, I have come to realize that I do what I do because it is what I have gotten good at doing through years and years of practice and trial and error.

That (dare I say) we are all born with certain talents and if we are lucky enough to be able to make a living at using those talents is really key to living a happy life.

Every time I go out to perform it is a "Great Adventure". I am happy that I feel that exhilaration about it.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Sorry I'm Series --






While my younger son David was home this Spring, we got to talking and laughing about outrageous tee shirts that both of us had seen over the years.

David said he had a couple of ideas he wanted to throw out to see what my reaction would be; Remember, he said, that little sign that small cafes always stuck in the front window when they closed? They always used the same word and it was always laid out the same way in red. It was the word "sorry, with a swoosh under it. "Sorry -- we're closed.

So we brainstormed a bit and came up with what we ultimately call the "Sorry Series". It took us a couple of days to get the courage to actually do anything about the incubating idea. I finally told David that I knew just the gal to print them for us: Sue at Paw Prints in Bloomer.

Sue has done lots of work for Jay Moore at FM 106 and when I put together the Wood Tick Song, it was Sue that laid out the shirts for me.

So we jumped in the car and made a nice day of it, cruising up Highway 53 to Bloomer, still discussing what the punch line should be for the "Sorries". Some, of course, just weren't funny. Others were hilarious but no one would ever wear the shirt, so by the time we exited Highway 53, we had come up with five different shirts we would have Sue print up for our first trial run.

Sue, as usual, was very helpful to us. What we really found encouraging is that she thought that the shirts would sell!

Now, before I go any further, I want to make it clear that David, who has done some pretty amazing art work of his own, and has worked as a computer layout man for firms in down town New York City, did all the layout work in advance on his lap top computer. Don't ask me how someone does that. The man is from another planet.

As a matter of fact, when you get a chance, scoot on over to David's web site: www.davidlast.net and read his blogs and down load some of his music.

Last time he was home, I drove him down to Madison so he could spend some time with his mother and catch his plane and he played me a lot of his latest tunes on the car stereo. He is heavily into rthythm and has been gigging both overseas and all over the US of A.

Oops! I just realized I haven't posted the "other tee shirt". It is not of the "Sorry Series". Let me get it uploaded right now. Excuse me (hopefully for a moment).

HEY! By golly, it worked! It didn't appear where I thought it would, but at least it made an appearance. "Will Drink For Beer" was totally David's idea and whaddaya wanna bet it will be the best seller in the state of Wisconsin?

If you are reading this blog, you are the first to get a look at the new tee shirts. Eventually they will be going on sale on my web site, on David's web site, and hopefully on my manager Liz Fischer's web site as well.

Liz is the only one of us that has a charge card set up through Monarch Publishing on her site.

So watch for their appearance on the web site and directions on how to order. What's really cool is they come only in "basic black". The people's color. err -- the clergy's color!

Bumper stickers: Life's sign posts

I am off to a typical Monday morning. Just finished writing a thank you note to the Quehl Engels for the fine party of last Saturday and now I am transcribing the opening line to "I saw Jesus in my tortilla" (copyright, right now). Craig Engel and his friend Jeff Lloyd Jones penned that much of it on a float trip recently. We are not certain where the song is heading although there seems only one logical conclusion: the last verse will have something to do with cashing it in on eBay, don'tcha think?

I have many of the- get- caught- up things to do that one does of a monday. I need to pick up the tee shirts that Sue has finished for me up in Bloomer. That will be the subject of a further blog. There is also the banking and possible oil change that is due on the Scion after pounding all those Iowa miles on the weekend.

So why am I sitting here blogging away when I should be working? It's called elective procrastinating. Today's theme, by the way, is bumper stickers that have caught my eye recently.

I guess I started thinking about bumper stickers because for years on my '82 red Chevy panel van that I dubbed "The Big Tomato", on either side of my personalized Wisconsin license plate: "LAUGHS", I had two bumper stickers. The one said: "Question Authority" and the other: "Bad Cop, No Donut".

I always felt if I ever got stopped I had best be pretty damned funny.

At any rate, While I was filling up with that liquid gold known as gasoline, I saw a bumper sticker that said: My Laborador Retriever Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student. The dog was hanging out the car window, tongue slobbering all down the panel. He didn't really look like a Rhoades Scholar to me, but who am I too judge?

There are those who drive with attitude. A particularly slow driver on a notoriously hilly section of good old Highway 61 had a bumper sticker that read: "The closer you get, the slower I'll drive." That one of course reminded me of the other angst loaded: "Keep honking, I'm re-loading" bumper sticker I've seen. I cozied right up to him and when I got that 10 yards of single yellow line, it was goodye papa.

There were several, in lieu of the nation's status, that I found encouraging: "Proud of My Country, Appalled By My Government, Blind Faith In Bad Leadership Is Not Patriotism, "Bush Lied, People died, But It's Not like He's Gay or Anything .."

Some others that caught my eye:


"Oh, Look, Honey! Another Pro-lifer For War!" "Is it 2008 Yet?" "Bush Deserves a Third Term: PRISON" "Elect Ability" "Stewart/Colbert 2008" "Support The Troops, Bring Them Home" "I Miss Bill" "More Trees, Less Bush" "If You're Not Outaged, You're Not Paying Attention".

Of course for the environmentally conscious there's : "My other car is a bicycle".

And for those of us who are really fed up with George Bush's war: "God Bless Our Troops, God Damn Our Foreign Policy!"

I've never understood why anyone needs to drive a HUMMER, so when I saw this bumper sticker, I laughed: "Nice Hummer .. Sorry about your penis!"

I'm certain you have seen some good ones and I invite you to submit them to this blog as well!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Catherine's Birthday Party





Saturday, June 23, I was up very early, partly because of the excitement generated by anticipation of the upcoming day's event, and partly because, well, I just don't sleep that well, anyway.

But this Saturday was very special to me as I was embarking on a five hour drive to make pizzas for Catherine Quehl Engel, an ordained Episcopal minister and chaplain for Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

I had met Catherine years ago when her husband Craig, who works in Iowa City, had seen me perform at The Sanctuary in Iowa City, and asked that I come to their house for his birthday and make pizza.

We had a blast! I don't think I have ever entertained a group who had more fun together than the Engels and their friends. I think partly it was because they got baby sitters for all of their collective children, and were able to just kick back, really let loose, and unwind.

I purposely left home early enough that I would be able to have some time visiting with Catherine and Craig. Anybody who knows my brother John would instantly recognize the fact that Catherine exudes the same feelings of love and understanding that John does.

More than once I have told Catherine that I hope someday she and John can sit down over dinner somewhere because they are both such great ministers of the gospel.

And Like John, Catherine was raised in rural Wisconsin, near Monroe, and is fiercely proud of her home state and the Badgers. she was delighted that I brought the cheese with me from Wisconsin for the party.

Including the Quehl Engels, there were fourteen people. I rolled out six large pizzas and I am proud to say that throughout the course of the evening, every one of them disappeared.

I started with the simple pizza you see pictured: fresh tomato, fresh basil, and lots of mozzarella. The second pizza was just mushrooms that I had cooked down with a little olive oil and salt until they had given up most of their juices and became almost shiny black.

As the evening progressed, the pizzas became more complex. I made one with my own home made Italian sausage and jalepeno stuffed green olives, and of course, there was the mandatory pepperoni pizza and then combinations of all ingredients present.

After the food, we retired outdoors where Craig had a crackling fire going, and I perfromed about 40 minutes of my "stuff" including a birthday salute to the lovely Catherine.

The party was still in full swing as I wended my way upstairs to my hot bath and bed. I was totally exhausted!

This morning I shared breakfast with some other friends from the area that I have met over the years in downtown Mt. Vernon, then I pointed the Scion North and got here safely about 5PM.

It was a great party! My thanks to Catherine and Craig and all their very nice friends for making me very comfortable. I had nearly forgotten the charm of Mount Vernon and its lovely people!

Oh, I should mention that the photo of all the paraphanalia is what I call my "traveling pizza kit". Usually I either forget something before I leave (this time it was the flour and the olive oil) or I leave something behind. I haven't checked yet. Let's hope!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Office of VP Not An Agency -- It's An Extension


For four years Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office's handling of classified information and when the National Archives unit that monitors classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president's office suggested abolishing the oversight unit. That according to documents released yesterday.

Looks like "Mr. Go Fuck Yourself" is aiming for the academy award in the category: ARROGANCE.

After repeatedly refusing to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff's classification of internal documents, the vice president's office in 2004 blocked an on-site inspection of records that other agencies of the executive branch regularly go through.

The National Archives is an executive branch department headed by a presidential appointee, and it is assigned to collect the data on classified documents under a presidential executive order. Its information Security Oversight Office is the division that oversees classification and declassification.

Cheney's argument? He's not part of the executive branch, so he doesn't have to comply. Let me repeat that for effect: Cheney is not part of the executive branch, so he doesn't have to comply.

Cheney's position is based on strong assertions of presidential power and the importance of confidentiality. This from the guy who has recently had problems protecting secrets.

In fact, Cheney's office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding information.

Cheney's penchant for secrecy has long been a strking feature of the Bush administration, beginning with the fight to keep confidential the identities of the energy industry officials who advised his task force on national energy policy in 2001.

How many months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, are left under the influence of this corruption of power?

Ask And Ye Shall Be Told

Sometimes I am totally dumbfounded at what we do in this country. Take the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule in our military. It's been in the news again lately.

Can gay Americans serve in the military and protect our nations's security just as well as straight Americans? Of course they can. So it makes absolutely no sense at all that the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purge our military of gay service members -- including many with valuable skills desperately needed in today's armed forces, such as Arabic language specialists.

What is our great fear of homosexuals? As a drama major and a heterosexual, I worked for years in theatre, through my college years and then semi-professionally at The Wagon Wheel Summer Theatre in Warsaw, Indiana.

As a heterosexual, if you work in the arts you are going to find out what it is like to be a minority group. But here's the thing, and I say this with all honesty and candor: gay people are no threat to me whatsoever. In fact, they are some of the most intelligent, witty, and talented people I have had the joy to work with over the years.

I once performed an after dinner show for Northwest Fabrics. In appreciation, they gave me a white hooded sweatshirt with the Northwest Fabrics Logo on the front. It was extremely comfortable and I wore it a lot.

It never crossed my mind that someone would construe that sweatshirt as "too gay".

One day I was going through the check out line at the local supermarket and the checkout guy, who ordinarily was a stocker, looked at my sweatshirt and said: "How can you wear that sweat shirt? I would never wear a sweatshirt that said Northwest Fabrics on it."

I just smiled and said: "I guess that's because I am much more secure in my masculinity than you are in yours."

And that's the way I feel about the manly men who get their undies in a bundle when they are in the presence of a gay man. As Shakespeare would say: Methinks the man protests too much.

Gay soldiers have served in every war our nation has fought, and currently serve openly in the military of almost every modern industrialized nation on the planet, including 20 out of 25 NATO countries.

There's just no reason that people with the courage and the skills the military needs should be prevented from serving in our armed forces simply based on their sexual orientation.

If we intercepted a terrorist message about a ticking time bomb, and the only available translator was openly gay, would you want him to be fired?

It's time to tell your representative to ditch the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. I already have!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Boys Nite Inn



The "Boys Nite Inn" "The Office" "The Bungalow" - - all names that I've given to this little cluttered refuge of mine in the woods outside Eau Claire.

The neon sign idea was originally made especially for my newly organized band of about four years ago. But I got too nervous to lug it around from gig to gig, afraid I would break the neon, so for a while, it hung in the front window of the office, facing out towards the highway as a party beacon back in the day when I would invite musicians over for an evening of home made pizzas and way too much beer.

There are some pretty good memories here.

It became not only my refuge, but refuge to men who were in troubled relationships and needed a place to "be". Billy Rude lived here for a spell. Matt Capell would crash here for a couple of weeks every summer to escape the heat of West Texas. Trevor LaBonte, originally from Chippewa Falls, took up permanent residence here for a couple of semesters. Then, with my urging and help, secured a job with Barnum's Kaliedoscape Circus, replacing my son Jonathan who was ready to hang it up before his move to New York. Trevor has done well. When the circus disbanded he eventually ended up in Austin, Texas, and is now playing lead guitar for Gary P. Nunn's band.

When the very lovely voiced Perla Batalla came to Eau Claire, she stayed here as well with her road manager. I made her pizza after her performance at the Stone's Throw and the following morning there were blueberry buttermilk pancakes from scratch for breakfast to send her on her way.

Of course, my sons Jonathan and David have stayed here many times over the years. They are perhaps the greatest fans of my cooking and love my popovers. I have enjoyed all of my guests and the time they have spent here.

I have had more than one married man look the place over with an envious eye.

It has been a wonderful place to be in Winter when the snow piles up outside and the wild wind blows. I equipped it with a wonderful wood stove and although it causes lots of dust, I wouldn't give up that wood heat for anything.

Picture it 20 degrees below. I am sitting in front of the stove in just my underwear and a guitar, writing a new song. Many of the songs I did write were written in this place.

It is a great place for my collections of militaria. I have to my right, shelves of die cast World War II aircraft. On my left are shelves of die cast American and German tracked vehicles.

Behind the office is a large open lot in which grows a patch of rhubarb. It is at its peak right now and I have been using it for rhubarb custard pies. Beyond that open space, nearer Otter Creek, is a small woods with some huge virgin pine towering high above everything.

It's funny. When Kim and I first had the opportunity to buy the parcel, we meant to tear or burn down the building as it looked terrible from the outside. but once I got a look at the inside of the house, I knew it would make a great creative space, so with the help and generosity of Kim's dad, Robert Wilson, (God bless him) and my old pal Gary Spaeth, we tore off all the old siding, rebuilt nearly all the outside walls and then had a professional carpenter re-side the entire building with cedar.

It looks like it should be sitting beside some Wisconsin lake. And indoors, it has that peculiar musty smell that you find in cabins on fishing lakes.

Other than constantly battling maurading mice in the Spring and Fall, I haven't had a lot of problems over here. Oh! We did replace the furnace almost immediately upon acquiring the property.

In summer, with the front door open, I have seen deer, turkeys, and even red fox scuttle past the screen door. Do you get the feeling that I enjoy having this place of solitude?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Irish Heart

"Irish Heart, Irish Heart
Broken right from the start
Irish Heart, Irish Heart
Oh, how I miss his Irish Heart."

- chorus from the song: "Irish Heart"

My best friend in the world died of a heart attack when he was only 49 years old. Gerald Fitzgerald and I met because our wives at the time were class mates at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. We recognized our brotherhood instantly.

We did a lot of really fun things together: baseball at Milwaukee County Stadium while Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, and the rest of that great team were causing quite a stir in the state, fishing small mouth bass on too many rivers to recall, hitting Sammy's Pizza just before closing, and sitting on the front porch swing just diddling on our guitars.

Later, after we were both divorced, Gerald wrote this little ditty about one night stands:

"I wish you didn't have to go
I wish you didn't have to go
I wish you didn't have to go
I wish you didn't have to go
But if you really have to go
I wish you wouldn't go so slow."

He had a goofy, loveable sense of humor and he always left me rolling on the floor.

One of our more memorable small mouth/camping trips was on The Red Cedar River, north of Colfax, Wisconsin. That's the trip that Gerald earned the title of "Organized Campground Man".

As it neared darkness and we were about half way to our designated "take out" point, I began pointing out what I thought were likely camping spots, some of them on small islands in the middle of the river.

Gerald did not like that idea. What if it rained and the water came up and flooded the island? He finally picked the spot. A camp ground picnic area right along the river and an adjoining highway. By the time we got the tent assembled and a good cooking fire going, it was really dark.

After supper, I produced a goodly sized bottled of high quality Puerto Rican rum. I had never drunk rum before. Neither had Gerald.

Gerald took a pull on the bottle and I could see from his expression that it burned all the way down. I, in turn, took a pull and it did, indeed, have a bite to it. After several go rounds, I had enough. But now Gerald was saying that it was really quite smooth and mellow.

We sat and watched the fire die to glowing ashes and I listened to Gerald's ability to form words disintegrate. I told him I was going to get inside the tent and get some shut eye as those clouds to the west looked pretty ominous.

Gerald, taking another pull on the bottle, said he would be in shortly.

The next thing I knew rain was coming down hard and Gerald was screaming for me to open the tent flap. He had fallen asleep atop a picnic table when the storm hit. Fortunately the tent held up through the night.

the morning dawned very hot and very humid. Poor Gerald. He could hardly put one foot in front of the other. I packed our rain soaked gear, bailed the canoe, and we set out in the steam bath. Gerald was in front, grasping the sides of the canoe for balance. fishing was the last thing on his mind.

at one point, I pulled the canoe into a little dalles to get out of the scorching bath and Gerald said very quietly: "Now I know what they mean by rum dumb."

Thunder Bay, Ontario. 519.3 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Friday night I open for Jerry Lee Lewis at the beautifully appointed theater down town. Saturday afternoon I am booked to work a Future Farmers of America picnic in Green Bay, masterful planning on my part.

Gerald Fitzgerald lives in an apartment a scant half block from St. Francis Catholic Church in Superior. Superior is a half way point between these two cities on two different Great Lakes.

I call Gerald. I convince him to help me drive this mission. I assure him he will get to meet The Killer back stage.

Gerald and I - brothers in pain, brought together by our now ex-wives .

During his sojourn in Eau Claire, we recognize our mutual unhappily married plight immediately. Our friendship remained the strongest I have ever experienced.

Scooter, a nickname he picked while playing football, hockey, and baseball in high school, is as crazy as I am. The only difference is that I have managed to eke out a living at it. He is a contradictory balance of athlete and artist, a smash mouth word smith.

One night, after watching me slug it out with an inebriated audience, He tells me I am not really sane, not really sorry. If the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we are both, indeed insane.

He dubs his apartment Fort St. Francis. It is a small apartment from which he touches his dearest friends nearly every day by telephone. Gerald is the King of Angst. I still picture him, telephone in hand, pacing the length of his narrow kitchen, continually tugging on his hair.

I know angst is running high when I answer the office phone at 6 AM.

In a high-pitched voice, Gerald starts slowly, then builds to fever pitch:
“Etta. Etta betta. Etta betta, etta betta, etta betta!” It is, I believe, his abstract impression of the nagging wife. I answer back in kind.

Every time he calls he is someone else. He is a Norwegian from Duluth, a gnarly dude from California, an Indian fakir. He never fails to make me laugh to tears.

After his marriage dissolves, all his subsequent women have nicknames. The One Armed Lady, the Weege.

Scooter loves it when I stay a few days at a time at Fort St. Francis. I am his greatest audience. Out comes the mahogany topped Guild guitar, the strings dead with over use, the finish worn completely off the back of the neck of his therapy machine.

In addition to Bob Dylan in a bath robe, I am treated to originals: I'm growin' Tits, I'd Rather Have Zits, Bean, Won't Ya Bring Me Another Beer, and the always popular swinging single's next morning lament: "I Wish You Didn't Have To Go". (see above)

Now we are driving along the Norwegian Riviera, heading north to fame and fortune in Thunder Bay. We make port with plenty of time and make our way back stage to the dressing rooms.

The Killer's back up band is already there, tuning guitars, playing cards. We kick back and wait.

A few hours before show time Jerry Lee's private jet touches down on Canadian soil. Forty five minutes before my slot,The Killer sweeps into the dressing room with his entourage of good old boys.

Their demeanor reminds me of footage I have seen of Elvis and his Yes Men. Jerry Lee's in Canada but he still hasn't landed. He entertains his court with staccato one liners and they amen with forced laughter “That's right, Killer!”

Gerald is seated some distance from me. His eyes catch mine. They tell me he is a little frightened by the spectacle. I retire to a side room to gather myself. Gerald appears unable to leave his chair.

When I return, ready to go, the jabbering is rising in tempo. I check Gerald's eyes again. He looks more than a little frightened now. I am frightened also, but not of the back stage crowd. I have never worked in front of Canadians before.

Except for one, a guest of Darley Pump, Chippewa Falls. Darley forwards a letter received from the gentleman
several days after my show:

“I laughed so hard I pissed myself.”
I tell myself if I can do it to one Canadian, I can do it to 1500.


I doubt there were any urinary accidents, but the response was elating.


Packing my guitar, it is apparent Gerald wants to get the Hell out as quickly as possible. We have to, any way. It is 8:50 PM and Green Bay awaits.

Stepping into the night air, Gerald compares The Killer to Count Dracula. I agree that Jerry Lee's hair and skin color are appropriate.
“Did you know he came in by private jet?" Gerald asks. "I wonder if there is any native Tennessee soil in the casket on the plane.”

Gerald makes me laugh again.



I

Three Amigos Encore




Tuesday night's reprise of the "songwriters' symposium" was pleasantly surprising. Just goes to show -- it's important to keep expectations low -- which I did for Tuesday night's performance.

first of all, I was not really certain we would have a crowd at all since it was, after all, a "work" night. I had forgotten to take into consideration that most of the people who remember the three of us are retired folk who can stay out as late as they please since they don't have to get up and go to the job on Wednesday.

The question then becomes, in their present state, can they "last" past 8:30 P.M. without a nap?

I found out that I shouldn't. It was a very long day for me, beginning with a trip up to Burnsville, Minnesota, to check in with the surgeon who did the work on my battered right leg nearly a year ago.

The good news there is that HE thinks it is continuing to get better. The bad news is, I'm going to live.

That's an attempt at black humor.

Robert and Mike arrived with the van full of equipment around 4:30, giving us enough time to set up leisurely. We originally were going to set up outside, but the wind, at that point, had not subsided and I had visions of light trees blowing over and law suits impending.

(I just re-read that and for the uninitated to "show biz", light trees here does not refer to small oaks, but rather telescoping, three-legged metal stands to which spot light standards are attached.)

By 7:30 (show time), Jake's was really crowded and John Lynch, the owner, was smiling. I could tell he was happy. He bought dinner for Robert and Mike. I didn't eat dinner. Had I known he was paying you had better believe I would have.

I think that the next time I go to Jake's I will order one of those great prime ribs that they are famous for, and tell the wait staff that John wants to pick up the tab.

But I digress.

It could be just me, but I felt the performance went better than Sunday night's. I felt that even though there was some crowd noise, it was less invasive. Of course, the fact that I set my monitor up on a box in front of me so that all I could hear was the sweet sound of guitars and not so sweet vocals, may have contributed to my feeling this way.

There were so many people who went out of their way to come up after the show and express how much fun they had. And as the Menomonie area is my home stomping grounds, I was feeling greatly loved.

Bunny Kinney, Steve Kelly, Charles Lasker, Fr. Jerry Boehm, Marv Lansing (who taught Robert Johnson when he was a 7th grader), Bob "Bubba" Stanton (who came to both shows -- thank you Bubba -- ), Kurt Weber, whom I taught as a 9th grader, my former bass player "too Tall" Tim Kielholtz, Alice Hampton, Deano, head bartender at Jake's, and his grandmother Carol, Jimmy and Donna Backus, John and Cathy Buchholz, Billy and Margie Kraus, chicken farmers, the lovely Kim Wilson, who took the photos, and many, many more were there, contributing to the warmth of the evening.

I will truthfully tell you that by the time 10:20 P.M. rolled around -- -- we played over -- I was running on fumes and today I am desperately in need of chiropractic help.

John Lynch expressed how much he enjoyed hearing Robert's work as he hadn't ever heard him before and John got a lot of requests from those present that he do the same thing over again next summer.

So watch for that.

My personal thanks to Mike Vlahakis who recorded both performances and is editing them down this week into what might be a purhaceable (not a word) CD sometime in the future.

So watch for that, too.

Now I can lick my wounds until Friday morning at which time I spend the day sanitizing and taking inventory of my traveling pizza "kit". Saturday morning, at an ungodly hour, I must begin a five hour drive to Mt. Vernon, Iowa, to party with Catherine-Quehl-Engel, who is the Episcopal chaplain at the college there.

I made pizza for her 30th birthday and now it is ten years later; I have been invited to do an encore. I look forward to it!

That, however, may mean no blogs until I return next week.

I will take the digital camera along and give you a full report.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Brother Father Heagle

My brother, Father John, is one of my heroes. He always has been, always will be. He, like his dad, is a man of strong convictions, not afraid to stand for what he knows is right and just and to work towards that goal in his ministry.
On the sandy 120 acres we called home, I recognized him as something very special. I cannot recall his ever getting into disciplinary trouble with our parents, although I am sure that he would beg to differ.

He maintained really good grades all through grade school and when he heard the call, he went to Holy Cross Seminary in LaCrosse, where he continued to be exemplary.

I recall that he organized a group of his fellow seminarians to gather every Sunday morning after Mass and breakfast to give "practice" sermons. He did so because he had heard way too many ill-prepared sermons as an altar boy. If you have ever heard him speak, you will know that it paid off in huge dividends.

I have had the privilege of hearing him speak many times and he always reaches my core, grips my heart, and brings me near tears with his imagery and well thought out premises. Because of his farm upbringing, he draws much from the honest, earthy, hard working days of his youth.

I can remember what a pleasure it was just to be working along side him shocking grain in the sweltering Wisconsin summer or riding our bikes all the way down to the Red Cedar when we had a moment of free time to cool down or go fishing.

I can also remember clearly the day that he came to my rescue as I was taking a pounding in the public park near St. Joe's, doing so without getting angry himself, but letting my antagonist know in no uncertain terms that I was his brother and that he had best leave me alone.

And then when John was a Junior in high school at the seminary, the good Sisters of St. Francis convinced me that I, too, had that special calling from God and I went to join my brother's ranks as a Freshman. I did not fare well with the strong discipline, the home sickness, and the loss of friends.

In truth, not even John could help his squirrely little brother that year. When people ask what the basic difference is between John and me, I tell them that while I was at the seminary that year -- and believe me, one year was enough -- the Junior class drama production was Joan of Arc and John played Joan.

the Freshman class drama production was The Devil and Daniel Webster. I didn't play Daniel Webster.

I have watched John move through the years with a grace and determination that few have. Both John and my mother, Alice, jointly received The Peace and Justice Award from the diocese of LaCrosse.

With the onset of what I call false conservatism over the past few years, both in church and politics, John has been assailed from all sides. Even though he is on "Our Lady's Warriors' " hit list, still he remains strong in his convictions.

Don't think that hate mail and protesters at retreats do not hurt. John is after all, a man, a human being. But he is still out there, preaching the TRUTH eloquently and you need only to talk to one of his former parishoners at St. Patrick's Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to know how many souls he has deeply touched.

He is three years older than I am and maintains a schedule of talks that take him, many by air, to the corners of the earth. I don't know how he does it. I certainly couldn't.

But wait. I do know how he does it. With grace, determination, and with the help of the divine truth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Live But Never Learn


Sunday night at Sammy's Pizza, London Road, Eau Claire, Robert Johnson, Larry Heagle, and Mike Quick (the poster heralded him as "Mick Quick") took the stage to an almost filled room. The two sets went by Mick Quickly with one break at approximately 7:30.

It was "old home week". Lots of familiar faces from all three performers' past. Robert and Mike had some brand new songs to present, while I had trouble just remembering the lyrics to already written songs. since the motorcycle accident of two summers ago -- and I think I have mentioned this a couple times already in this forum -- I have been abandoned by the "muse". She is a fickle bitch and has left me in the lurch to face the world barren minded, uncreative.

As a matter of fact, if it weren't for this creative writing escape, not much would be going on in this otherwise dormant mind.

Tonight we gathered for steaks on the grill at my place and hashed over last night's concert, preparing to run it again tomorrow night at Jake's supper Club out on Highway D, north of Menomonie.

I broached the subject of audience attentiveness. Twenty years ago when we did the same sort of evening, it was in an almost dead quiet concert situation even though there was alcohol present.

Oh what a difference twenty years makes! Last night, throughout the evening there was a constant audience hum while the performance was in progress. In discussing it tonight after dinner, I guess I am the only one who was somethwat offended by what I considered a lack of focus on the audience's part.

At the risk of sounding like a "prima donna", I don't understand why anyone would come out to something that was clearly advertised as a songwriter's symposium, and then not really listen to the lyrics throughout the two sets.

Both Robert and Mike agreed with me that it was pretty noisy, but they stated that this is the way things are this days and that if you come out to work with higher expectations, you are certain to be disappointed. Robert said that in this kind of situation he concentrates on those he can see are listening and blocks out those who are not.

I guess I have never been good at that. Don't misunderstand. I just came off of working for two years with a band and you expect people to talk when a band is playing, or yell, depending on how loud the band is. I just felt that last night was a totally different situation and consequently, with the noise, I didn't find it as enjoyable as the other two players. My bad.

I will go into tomorrow night's experience with lowered expectations and try to concentrate on the music and the people (if there are any) that are really listening.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Don't Go Changin'

At the risk of sounding like an old man, my question is this. Why can't the captains of industry leave well enough alone, at least once in a while? Case in point. It took me a lot of years before I finally caved and bought myself a cell phone. When I did buy one, I bought a Kyocera Soho KX1 on a "pay as you go" plan and I abolutely love both the phone and the plan.

My cell phone has just the basic necessities. That's what I really lke about it. I don't want or need to take damn pictures with my telephone! Today I got to worrying about the fact that some day my Kyocera is bound to wear out and I will have to buy another so I went to the same place that I got my first phone and, well, you guessed it. They not only don't carry that particular model anymore, they don't even carry Kyocera anymore!

So I came back here and got on the internet, thinking I could find SOMEONE who would still be carrying the Soho, but NoNo, the Kyocera Soho has gone the way of dinosaurs. So now, I am going to have to hope and pray that with proper coddling, this phone will last me a long time, maybe even until they put me in the home and I no longer will have need of a phone because I won't even know who I am, much less how to run a damn camera phone!

I figure by then they will have phones that you can play music on, watch television on, collect your e mail on -- never mind -- they already are coming out with that soon!

Hell, they did the same thing to me with tennis shoes a few years bck. I bought a pair of Skechers that I really liked. Most comfortable shoe I ever bought. Went back a couple of years later when my shoes were getting pretty shabby and by then shoes had little twinkle lights in them and you had to pump them up to wear them.

It drives me to distraction! Guess there's only one thing left to do. Buy in volume. If I find something I really like after having had it a month or so, I'd best back a semi up to the store's loading dock and clean them out!

I am going to keep this short today as I need to organize which tunes I am going to contribute to the Songwriters Show at Sammy's Pub this early evening.

So Happy Father's Day to all the dads. I hope you are pampered all day.

Another Sign of Spring

Here's another certain sign of spring: the graduation party. I had to stop and take a picture of "Adam's Party" because it made me smile. Signs similar to this, sometimes accompanied by a "bouquet" of balloons, suddenly pop up, like trilliums, along Wisconsin county roads.

Sometimes I daydream about going to a card shop and investing in about a dozen graduation cards, getting all duded up with a tie, and going party hunting in my car. I imagine myself following the "Adam's Party" sign to the destination, stopping just down the road, filling out the card from your "third cousin, Larry" and then making my appearance at the party, just to watch the bewildered faces of the gathered, as I stuff myself with whatever is laid out as graduation goodies, making a complete ass of myself (not too tough a task) and then, when finally asked to leave, just moving on in search of --

What's really scary is that some years ago I used to get calls to entertain at those "All night graduation lock up" parties at high schools that were thrown by concerned parents and PTA members to keep the little darlings from drinking on graduation night.

The whole concept is/was totally disgusting to me, and except for the fact that I am/was a whore, I really should have had nothing to do with them.

First of all, the thinking is flawed. Okay, so you keep them from drinking on graduation night. What's to keep them from moving their alcoholic bash to the night after?

And the excess made me ill. There were activities all night long with contributed door prizes such as iPods, TV sets, ear phones, yada yada, ad nauseum,

Kid food from dusk until dawn: Popcorn, peanuts, candy, pizzas.

My whoring finally came to an end the night I did one of these parties at one of the high schools in Wausau. I was scheduled to go on at 3AM, so I arrived at two and of course, I was performing on second floor in the commons, which meant dragging all the sound equipment on and off elevators.

I notice when I start rolling gear into the room that each table has a huge bowl of M & M's, sans packets. While I am setting up, my audience of seniors begins to drift in, but there are no adults present at all.

Soon the seniors are whipping M & M's at each other across the room. I continue to bring equipment in, now walking on M & M's. The M & M fights continue until finally an adult arrives and tells them to stop. He doesn't lose it and tell them to pick up the M & M's, he just tells them to stop.

Show time arrives. I am seated on a three legged stool commandeered from a chemistry lab. I begin the show. the seniors are restless, noisy, and less than impressed.

About ten minutes into the show, someone fires a pizza crust at me. It is a direct hit on the guitar. Now it's quiet.

I say nothing. I just get up slowly, and begin tearing down my equipment. As I am putting my guitar back in the case, I glance to the back of the room to see several parents standing, arms crossed, against the wall.

My audience watches as I tear down, tittering occasionally.

When I have everything aboard, I seek out the woman who hired me to do this hell gig. I ask for my check. She holds it out towards me, but when I reach for it, she pulls it back and says: "You didn't do your full set."

I lean in to her and say: "Here's an idea. DON'T EVER HIRE ME AGAIN!" I snatch the check from her hand, turn on my heel and leave.

Oddly enough, I haven't done any more of those.

Spring Has, Indeed, Springed


Ah, yes, it's spring in Wisconsin, that time of year when there is no more beautiful place on the face of the earth. The wild flowers are in magnificent bloom, the bass are on their spawning beds, robins, cardinals and rose breasted grosbeaks are doing first-light concerts that you really shouldn't miss.

Then there are the potholes. They are nearly impossible to miss. I am certain that before summer really gets into full swing, I will be pulled over for drunk driving when all I was doing was attempting to circumnavigate the huge craters left by mother nature over the winter.

It's the season of rhubarb. Is there anything more decadent than a freshly baked rhubarb custard pie, warm from the oven and topped with real whipped cream?

It is also the season of the outdoor grill, rolled out of its place of hibernation in the furthest reaches of the garage, diligently scrubbed with oven cleaner and steel wool, ready to accept the first sacrifices of summer. The first bite of a well turned Wisconsin beer brat on a sesame-seed wheat brat bun, slathered with Eau Claire's own Silver Spring Gardens horseradish-laced brat mustard is an OCCASION.

And is there anything more comforting than a soft, quiet, late spring twilight, when you can be stretched out on a deck chair, gin and tonic at the ready, the steady hum of the neighbors lawn mower in the near distance, and the smell of freshly mowed grass filling your olfactory nerves?

This is that magic time when the mosquitos have not yet begun to hatch and plunder when you can actually accomplish the above.

Thunder storms that awaken you in the middle of the night and leave you even more snug in your bed; gentle all day warm soaking rains that leave the air charged with sweet smelling positive ions, followed by sudden sunlight and sweeping rainbows: all contribute to our paradise.

Spring. When the male of the species once again realizes that Wisconsin women do, in fact, have breasts! All winter they hid under coats, jackets and sweaters. but now: TADA! TATAS! Thank you, Lord!

Note: If you are offended by the above, tough TATAS! I may be old, but I ain't dead yet!

I love spring! But not any more than any of the other three definite seasons we have in this great state. I love spring because it follows winter. If we had no winter, would we love spring less? I think so.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Standing Apology To All English Majors

I have been going over all my posts today. I am continually finding misspellings that I missed in the proof reading stage. I have a new found respect for those who make a living as proof readers for newspapers or book publishing. I can read through a piece three times, look right at the misspelling and somehow my mind must read it as correct because I am still finding errors!

So, here is a standing apology to those of you that can't stand it when they come across a published spelling error. Frogive me! (That was a joke!)

I can't stand them either!

When The Audience Is Funnier

The following writings are excerpts from "the yet-to-be-published book" I started writing about four years ago:

I am not aging gracefully. One morning recently after breakfast, I reach into my shaving kit without putting on my bifocals. I choose what I think is the travel size tooth paste but the brand name is facing down. What difference would it make? I can't read the print facing up!

I lay a dollop of paste on the tooth brush but something doesn't look right and my nose tells me something doesn't smell right either. I luck out. I get my "specs" and look closely at the fine print, then turn the tube over. It reads: Preparation H. Oops! Holy buckets! That was a close call!

After thoroughly washing the brush, I find the tooth paste. I am brushing my teeth when I write the joke: "I know I am getting older. My eyesight is so poor that last week I brushed my teeth with Preparation H. The good news is my gums have stopped bleeding."

A new joke! Unless you do stand up comedy, you can't know how precious that moment was. Golden!

I get my chance to try my new joke out shortly after at a Bauerbuilt Banquet. I deliver it. It gets a laugh. It is proven. The laughter swells and just before the concentric rings of laughter reach shore, "Heckler Man" fires one up:

"Yeh, but you still LOOK like an asshole!" He gets an even bigger laugh. I hate that when it happens. Now I need to shoot back.
"Obviously, sir, you have not looked in the mirror lately. What's the old expression? It takes one to know one?"

For the first time in my years of writing comedy, I understand that many, if not all jokes are composed of the duality of negative and positive, yin/yang, bitter/sweet.

An agent books me into a show at The Fox Lake Federal Penitentary. I am to do two shows, one for the "white collar" criminals and one for the "blue collar criminals", the hard core.

While in the recreation room of the "country club" in the white collar building, a resident recognizes me. He is from Eau Claire. After he answers the what are you in for question (too creative with the books), he begins to tell me that being in prison is the best thing that has ever happened to him. He is delighted with the basketball, soccer, a full compliment of Nautilaus equipment and great food.

He is happily incarcerated. I never thought I would see those two words cozy up to one another.

After my first performance, the prison guide takes me to the hard-timers building. I am searched, my guitar case and guitar are searched, we pass through ultra-violet light and I am finger printed. I begin to wonder whether I will be released.

I am led to the auditorium, we do the sound check. I am ready. Inmates file in accompanied by armed guards. As a big one sits down in the front row he growls: "Where's the women?"

I wish women were performing for them as well.

Somewhere early on in the show, out of habit, still waiting for them to laugh at anything I have given them so far, I blurt: "and ladies and gentlemen --" I catch myself and I say: "Oh, that's right, there are no girls here."
With a lascivious laugh, a huge tatoo laden lifer in the front row flashes a toothless grin and gives the punch line for his mates:
"YES THERE ARE!"

He's killed again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Send Libby To Guantanamo

From ACT FOR CHANGE and yours truly:

Today a judge ruled that Scooter Libby must begn servng his prison sentence while his appeals are being heard. Libby, of course, participated in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame -- thus endangering our national security -- and was convicted and sentenced to thirty months in jail for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Well, we have a special suggestion. Why shouldn't Scooter Libby serve his sentence at the Guantanamo Bay prison? After all, the Bush administration asserts that things are just fine there, and Libby -- unlike many at Guantanamo -- has in fact been convicted of a crime that endangered our national security.

So either we all tell the senate to send Libby to Guantanamo -- or shut down the "American gulag" for good.

Many conservatives would argue that conditions at Guantanamo just wouldn't be right for Libby. If that's the case, why the double standard? Why not shut it down and give the prisoners there access to a fair trial in our judicial system?

When it's clear that the U.S. is responsible for the torture and abuse of prisoners -- including many who have been detained for years without being charged with any crime -- our standing in the world community is irreparably harmed. If it's not good enough for Libby, it ought to be shut down.

It's time we get off our butts and tell our senators: Issue a public call for Libby to be sent to Guantanamo -- or co-sponsor legislation to shut it down. I already sent that message to my representatives.

Hannah and Harley


I divide the world into two kinds of people: cat people and dog people. Oh, occasionally, you may run into the bi-petual owners that have both under the same roof. When I was but a lad on the farm, we were principally dog people. There were cats around, but they called the barn their domain, were there to protect and defend the cow feed and at the same time find their own food source, the mouse.

Occasionally we would corner a rat behind that last bag of grain. For that duty you needed Skippy, the shepherd/collie cross who wasn't afraid of being the bouncer to the larger varmint.

As an adult, I gravitated towards the cat. With the failure of my first marriage, I sought solace in an orange tabby I got from the Humane Society. I named her "Rose Aylmer" after the cat that belonged to Scout's uncle in "To Kill a Mockingbird". Scout's uncle, as I recall, was a bachelor doctor and when Scout asked him why he had a cat he told her that Rose Aylmer was the only woman he could live with. That pretty much was my state of mind at the time.

Rose was a great cat, a real lover.

I had already picked up a cat through one of the secretaries at work. that one didn't last long. the first time a "youth for Christ" came to my apartment door, that cat made the fastest exit recorded in the history of cat escapes.

It's true, you know. You don't really adopt a cat. A cat will adopt you if you meet certain unbeknownst feline standards they themselves set in their little kitty minds.

I waited a couple days and then went to the shelter to see if the escapee had been picked up. As I walked into the room full of cages, there in the corner cage was this orange tabby who was imploring me, loudly, and waving (I'm not making this up!) waving at me to come say hello. When I reached out to touch the little paw she extended, she began kissing my hand in the way kitties can kiss, with profuse licking.

I was immediately taken.

The gal asked if this was my cat. I said no. the gal asked if I saw my cat in any of the cages. I did. She was over on the other side, bottom row. She was not waving.

So I lied. "No," I said, "I don't see her here. But this cat really seems to like me. Is it all right if I adopt this one?" So I filled out the papers and so began a wonderful friendship that lasted through seeing me remarry and a major house move. Rose is buried along side of our house. We still have a framed photo of her in the bed room.

Kim and I went without a cat for a while. Then Patti Stangel, who at the time was operating Patti's Cafe, convinced me to come over to her house and look at these really cute kittens. I did and immediately was head over heels with both of them, a brother and sister team.

Now if I could only get Kim to come see them. I knew there was no way I could talk her into both, but we would at least adopt one of them.

Kim came with me one day and was equally smitten. She surprised me, though. she asked Patti if we could have them both as she couldn't stand breaking them up.

So began the era of Hannah and Harley. Hannah is the short one, lighter in color, and a real ball of fire. When you come to our house, you know who owns it. Hannah does. She is the sweetest and the most loving cat when she is with her idol: Kim.
To everyone else she is a wailing banshee. this cat has a temper! I have full grown friends who are frightened of her.

Harley, on the other hand, is the long one, dark in color, and he is Mr. Laid Back when there is no one visiting. If we get company, he gets lost. He is afraid of his own shadow. He is Larry's buddy.

Come feeding time, I don't need to tell you who eats first. I guess that explains that even though she looks smaller, she weighs as much as Harley does.

Two cats make for a lot of hair everywhere. And a lot of changing the litter box. They don't mean to, but two cats are also a certain way to ensure that you will be buying new furniture at a later date. When they have both passed on?

Can't believe I just wrote about the cats. Well, yes I can. They are great company and we love them both.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

He Was The Real Father Heagle


As you get older, you become more and more aware that your own "makeup" is a combination of recognizable personality traits from both your parents. It seems to me that if someone gets their hackles up when you negatively compare them to one or both of their parents, it is because you are dead on in that comparison and that someone hasn't accepted the above premise. It also seems to me that until you do accept the above premise, you will not be comfortable with your self.

With Father's Day coming up this weekend, I want to salute my own father, John J. Heagle and demonstrate the ways that I am so much like him.

Jack will always be remembered in my mind as "Mr. Short Cut" when it came to traveling. Even after he no longer could drive and I was his chauffeur, he had his routes that you WOULD travel.

One of them was getting off Highway 94 way before the Highway 25 Menomonie exit to circumvent Menomonie traffic. I mean, Menomonie must be huge, there is even a North Menomonie! We would ramble through the picturesque, hilly terrain to the west and finally end up coming in on Highway 29, and crossing the Red Cedar, up the long hill to finally connect with Highway 25 south. Even though in actuality it added about 25 minutes travel time, it was a "short cut".

Kim will attest to the fact that I have picked this habit up from my father. With me it usually involves jumping on Interstate 94 and going all the way around Eau Claire to the last (Highway 53) exit, then south on 53 past the Highway Patrol building.

Dad had another great habit in giving directions while sitting in the front pasenger seat. With his hand in his lap, he would signal for you to turn by jerking his thumb either left or right, with ab solutely no vocalization. The driver had to keep one eye on the road, the other eye on the thumb. It used to drive my mother crazy!

I titled this particular piece "The Real Father Heagle" because whenever Fr. John was in town giving a retreat, Dad and Mom would attend and invariably during break, someone would ask if he was Fr. John's dad. He always replied with that Irish twinkle in his eye: "Yes, I am the REAL father Heagle."

Just as a side note, John and I would always get the same question: Are you Larry Heagle's brother? Are you John Heagle's brother? John was always gallant enough to admit that he was of the same clan.

Me too. Only I would add, yes, John is the "Black Sheep" of the family.

One Sunday, while John was pastor at St Pat's, an elderly lady asked John if he was my brother. When he said he was, she said: "Well, Jimmy Carter has Billy. You've got Larry."

I certainly did not "take after" Daddy Jack in the physiological sense. Jack was a tall man, well over six foot. In the barn, doing chores, just his physical presence alone struck fear in my heart.

Dad had a "short fuse" and if I pissed him off, there was hell to pay. The fuse may have been short, but it smoldered for a bit before the actual explosion. It did not emit a lot of smoke or noise so when it went off: BOOM! I was totally unaware of my fate until it was too late.

More than once I remember getting that boot-clad farmer's foot squarely in the ass; Only as I was being launched, knowing why I was being launched!

It has been difficult for me to admit that I carry that same trait, although when my bomb goes off, there is no physical violence involved. But I do let things that bother me smolder and when the explosion happens, it surprises the intended target.

Dad, by example, showed me that without really back breaking hard work, not much gets accomplished. My overall remembrance of him is in the fields at all hours, getting done what needed to be done, from first light to fading last light.

It is sad that only after he was gone did I come to realize how very talented and intelligent he was as a farmer. He didn't come from farm stock. His dad was a lumber baron. He learned everything about farming the hard way ..the right way .. through experience.

I like to think that his "hard work" trait also rubbed off on me and looking back on a thirty year career of being a road entertainer, back breaking does come to mind with all the driving, setting up and tearing down of sound equipment and then driving again.

He was so very "Irish". I think the Irish are champions at holding a grudge, and, boy, my dad was a champion, also!

An incident that best illustrates that:

One day, as a family, we were inching our way through Main Street, Menomonie, traffic after the Memorial Day parade. Dad must have somehow alarmed the big old traffic cop at an intersection, because the law officer leaned right in the window of the Hudson Hornet and said: "Watch out for the pedestrians."

Dad said nothing at the time, but every time we saw that cop, even from a distance, from then on, my dad would say as sarcastically as possible: "WATCH OUT FOR THE PEDESTRIANS".

I now recognize that trait also.

Jack had his own comedic style and was master of the deadpan. Every Sunday, after Mass at St. Joseph's, we would drive past Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, which had the familiar lit "billboard" with the name of the church and a listing of services. He never missed a Sunday. As he drove by, he would read out loud: "OUR SAVIOUR'S LUTHERAN" (pause a beat) "He is?"

None of the boys will ever forget, at table: "Pass the butter (pause a beat) fat" and "Eat every bean and pea on your plate."

Or his famous fishing aria while he rowed a rented row boat: "What kind of a noise annoys an oyster when he's in a stew?"

Jack's kind of humor! That's why he got really tickled at a Twins game at old Met stadium when the drunken sot in front of us turned and announced: "My name is Peterson. Spelled with a silent "P" as in "swimming." Dad repeated that one all the way home.

Jack was supremely sarcastic. He was merciless with all four of his boys. I wish I could remember here for my other brothers the grief he gave them, and the names. The only one, besides myself, that I can remember, was my oldest brother, Bob. Bob, at one point, took apart a watch and couldn't seem to get it back together again. The Menomonie jeweler at the time was named Bancroft.

Robert became "Bancroft the Jeweler."

I was "The Downsville Droop", the kid who "couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the directions were written on the heel", "useless as the tits on a boar pig".

Being the only boy in his family, growing up with all sisters, his father must have really given dad a hard time, Ya' think?

Looking back on what I have written, you might think that my dad was not the best dad in the world. Maybe not. But he was my dad and I love him dearly. See that picture above? He knew how to laugh as well as scold and the smile you see radiating above is a smile I saw more and more of as he neared life's end.

Hell, the last year of his life? He could even look me right in the eye and say "I love you."