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Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Madeleine Haze Plays H.E.L.P. Benefit At Beach Wagon Sept. 6


madeleine haze

By Brian M. Howle

If you’re one of the many local residents who emphatically disagree with the Myrtle Beach city politicians who have discriminated against bikers and basic rights, have we got a show for you! (And a way to join in the fight for freedom).

On Sunday, Sept. 6, at 8pm, there will be a benefit concert to promote H.E.L.P. (Help Eliminate Lousy Politicians) and Help For Myrtle Beach, headlined by The Madeleine Haze with special guests The Issues, Sean McKenna and Aftermath. The show will be held at The Beach Wagon, 906 S. Kings Hwy., Myrtle Beach, SC. Tickets are only $5.00.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that humanity is driven by a Will To Power, and that certainly holds true for Columbia, SC-based Hard Rock band The Madeleine Haze. Known for being fiercely political, while refusing to align with any major political party; undoubtedly mainstream, while incorporating complex arrangements and breaking the cookie cutter mold of Modern Rock; the band has adopted their own Will To Power both sonically and conceptually. Born as an introspective acoustic act, the band found themselves growing into a heavier, more powerful unit as they became poised to become a successful national act.

Vocalist Zack Goebbel and drummer Ben Carter developed an aggressive Grunge/Prog-Metal hybrid that was every bit as incendiary as their debut was contemplative. After a few months, the duo brought in bassist Brian Lamb to complete the unit, and the time has come to take the message to the masses. Headlining The Truth Tour, Polygraph Radio’s community outreach event to spark grassroots volunteerism and political activism, the band will debut a full slate of hard hitting material. These songs will make up the bands next album, entitled A More Perfect Union, which is due out in early 2010. Those who can’t wait that long are in luck however, as the limited edition EP “Maxims and Arrows” will give a preview of the new album, and will be sold exclusively at the bands concerts.

About H.E.L.P.:
HELP (Help Eliminate Lousy Politicians) was formed in response to Myrtle Beach Mayor’s and City Council’s actions. Help For Myrtle Beach is a legally incorporated nonprofit nonpartisan organization whose dedicated mission is to register voters, petition for single member districts, petition for a referendum on the 1% Local Option Tourism Development Fee (aka. The 1% Add Tax) and to provide support to competent candidates in the upcoming Myrtle Beach City Election. The concerned members of HELP have sat on the sidelines long enough watching our beloved city being lead in a direction counter productive to our collective interests. By saying our, we refer to anyone who lives, works, or visit’s the city of Myrtle Beach and shares a heartfelt bond with it.

We are going to take back our beach. We need to register voters living in the Myrtle Beach city limits and need petitioners to completely fill out the petition forms. You can mail the completed voter registration form directly to the Horry County Board of Voter Registration. Corporate memberships and completed petition forms can be mailed to: Help For Myrtle Beach, PO Box 3556, Myrtle Beach, SC 29588, or we can pick them up.

For corporate membership forms, petitions for the Single Member Districts and petitions for the 1% Add Tax to be placed as a referendum on the November 3rd city election or if you have any questions please contact Trevor Tarleton: 843-446-9765.

For more information, visit the website: http://www.helpformyrtlebeach.com
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The previous article also appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, August 27, 2009.

 

Mississippi Bluesman Johnny Rawls To Play Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival August 29


johnny rawls
By Brian M. Howle

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, arranger, producer and (whew!) bluesman extraordinaire Johnny Rawls will be performing as part of the roster of stars at this year’s Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival in Charleston, SC, running Thursday-Sunday, August 27-30, 2009. Rawls will perform at 4pm on Saturday, August 29 at The Citadel Alumni House, 69 Hagood Street, Charleston, SC.

As a teen in high school, his band instructor hired him to play in his band. Rawls backed singers like Joe Tex, Z.Z. Hill,Little Johnny Taylor, and the Sweet Inspirations. Determined to form his own blues/soul ensemble, he began backing up touring musicians.

In the mid-70’s, Johnny went to work for OV Wright as Wright’s band director. opening for the likes of B.B. King, Little Milton, Campbell and Bobby Bland. After Wright’s death in 1980, Johnny led Little Johnny Taylor’s band until 1985, when he began touring as a solo artist and made his first solo recording under the Rainbow label.

In total, he has performed on, written songs for, or produced over 40 albums.

Originally recording under Touch Records, Rooster Blues, Rock House, Reach and JSP Records, Johnny Rawls has done it all from producing, songwriting, horn arranging, rhythm, lead and bass guitar, keyboard, vocals and background vocals. Johnny started his own record company, Deep South Soul, in 2002 and has released his CD’s Lucky Man, Live in Montana, and The Best of Johnny Rawls. Heart and Soul was released in October 2006. His collaboration with fellow legend Roy Roberts, Partners & Friends, debuted in 2004 under Rock House. No Boundaries was released under the TopCat, Catfood and Deep South Soul labels in 2005.

His latest release is Red Cadillac (2008), and his music is available for purchase at http://www.johnnyrawlblues.com.

I caught up with the Mississippi-born artist as he awaited a flight out of Texas, and his wonderfully rich, Mississippi drawl put me at immediate ease. (It’s a Southern thing; some of you will understand, some of you won’t):

Howle: First off, thank for taking the time to speak to me about your upcoming show at the Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival, Johnny.
Rawls: Oh, well it’s my pleasure and I’m happy to talk to you.

Howle: So tell me … how did you become interested in music; what’s the story behind the musician?
Rawls: Well, you know, I grew up here in Mississippi, and there’s always music going on around here, always has been from as long as I can remember. In church, in school, in the community, and of course, at home.


Howle: And what was the first instrument you learned to play?
Rawls: Actually, I began playing clarinet and saxophone when I was seven or eight years old.

Howle: So how did the guitar come into the picture?
Rawls: Well, when I was about 12 years old, my grandfather – who was blind – just pulled out this guitar one Christmas morning and started playing. I didn’t even know he had one, much less played one – that set the tone for me from then on.

Howle: Was he a blues player, or just guitar in general?
Rawls: He would play a regular guitar style, but was a well-known blues player around Hattiesburg, too. But it got my attention.

Howle: And it didn’t just stop at guitar, huh?
Rawls: Oh no, I learned rhythm, lead, and bass guitar, keyboards, vocals and background vocals, and later on songwriting, horn arrangements and producing. I started up my own recording label, Deep South Soul, in 2002.

Howle: And what is your songwriting process like? Do you go into it with a fully-envisioned song, or do you ask bassist and keyboardists …
Rawls: Oh, no, I have it all in my head, exactly what I want and the way I want it done. It’s the easiest way for me to try and do it, there’s really no other way for me to achieve what I’m after unless I see it all the way through.

Howle: I know you do your own charts for the horn sections. Do you prefer the big blues band with a horn section, or a more basic 3- or 4-piece band?
Rawls: Well, that all depends on the show, and the crowd. If it’s a big stage setup and a huge festival, oh yeah, I want that horn section burnin’ up there with the band. But if it’s a small club, tight, intimate … I just want that stripped-down 3- or 4-piece band, because it’s more personal.

Howle: And this isn’t your first time in South Carolina, is it?
Rawls: (Laughs) Oh, no, I’ve been there for the Blues Bash (in Charleston in February) several times, and for Harriet at the Beach Music  Shag Festival, and over in Camden … I’ve played South Carolina many, many times, and I always enjoy my time there. It’s a good place to be!

Howle: And we can attest to that, Johnny! So, over the course of your career, what’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in the blues scene?
Rawls: Well, you’re a musician so you know, too; when we started out, the blues’ audience was mostly black – as well as the artists themselves. But over the years, white folks have really taken to the genre, and anymore it’s mostly white crowds at the shows we play. And the influx of young people, who have found this style of music and embraced it so much, has been one of the greatest joys to behold – and they are predominantly white, but now there’s a mix of other ethnicities in there, too. So now, the lineage is still true and always will be – the black man may have started the blues, but now the blues belong to everyone. And we’re all the better for it, and there’s just no denying that.

Howle: I couldn’t have said it better, Johnny. I’ll let you go so you can catch that flight; thank you again, and we look forward to seeing you in Charleston on August 29.
Rawls: And I thank you, Brian. And I’m looking forward to being there again!

I do love my job, especially when it allows me to spend some one-on-one time with a truly special someone who is not only a great talent, but a great person. And let me tell you … Johnny Rawls is one of those people.

So if you love the blues and beach music (and how can you not?), make plans on August 27-30 to head on down to the Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival. On Thursday, Aug. 27, DJ Pat Patterson and his puppets greet you at J.B. Pivots at 7pm; On <Friday, Aug. 28, Angel Rissoff and Rhonda McDaniel open, followed by The Rick Strickland Band at J.B. Pivots.

On Saturday, Aug. 29 there will be a Shag Workshop at noon at The Citadel Alumni House, 69 Hagood Street, Charleston, SC, followed by Fabulous Shades at 1pm, Angel Rissoff/Rhonda McDaniel at 2:30pm, Johnny Rawls at 4pm, and Melody Makers at 6:30pm (then take a break at head back to Pivots at 9pm); and on Sunday, August 30 there is a Shag Workshop at noon, followed by The Catalinas at 1pm, East Coast Party Band at 2:30pm, The Swingin’ Medallions at 4pm, and it all wraps up with The Tams at 5:30pm.

Call 843-571-3668 or Toll Free 1-866-571-9362 for information or tickets, or visit the website http://www.pivotsbeachclub.com/charlestonbeachmusicandshagfestival
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This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine at http://www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com under “Nightlife & Entertainment”, August 13, 2009.

 

Wag This


By Brian M. Howle

When I took this gig, I more or less promised by publisher that this would be a humor/stories-of-life kinda column. Because if nothing else, I’ve experienced a lot of stuff, and I possess my dad’s quick wit. Fortunately for me, I also possess my mother’s gift of words and a love for crafting virtual reality via the King’s English. And I sincerely hope that anyone reading this on a regular basis understands sarcasm, cynicism, dark humor, facetiousness, sub-references and emotional response. ‘Cause today, we’re pushing all the buttons, pulling all the strings, hitting all the raw nerves, and quite possibly burning a few bridges before I’m through.

Awhile back, some Republicans were having a hissy-fit because someone was hummin’ “Blowing in the Wind” near the Oval Office, when lo and behold an actual world-safety situation broke in Iraq. In response, our government – i.e.; the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advisors and congressmen – decided enough was enough and started lobbing a few cruise missiles around ol’ Saddam. And faster than you could say “anal retentive”, the immediate knee-jerk response of those Republicans was to start screaming, “Wag The Dog, Way The Dog, this is life imitating art imitating life”. Apparently, those boys saw the movie, and must have gotten ahold of some bad popcorn laced with LSD, which blurred their ability to distinguish between reality and make believe. What irked me most at the time was the fact that this military response to Saddam was carried out by a president who is a Democrat, dealing with a problem left over by his Republican predecessor’s administration.

I mean, is there anyone out there who honestly thinks that if we just forgot about Saddam – and kept on stamping our feet, shaking a stern finger and arching our brows as we clenched our teeth while admonishing, “Saddam, for the LAST time, put that biochemical weapon down! … I mean it, young man, don’t you dare make me turn this aircraft carrier around!” – that he would just go away?

By the way, I hope you enjoyed that 74¢ a gallon gas we guzzled away in our SUVs, ATVs, Humvees, Jet Skis and BMW M-3s, ‘cause that was the payoff for the Gulf War, not human rights violations. I thoroughly enjoyed the cheap gas, as I drive a POS.

Back to the current world. The Inquisition is over (well, maybe, since Ken renewed the lease on the copiers for another year), Monica has written an excellent accessory for your bird cage, and we were happily settling into a refreshing pattern of slow news days. Then the media god “Overkilleus” smiled down upon the ratings woes, and bestowed Slobodan Milosevic upon them.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Overkilleus,” wept Sam Donaldson, struggling to keep a small, seemingly dead animal positioned on his head. “Surely, you have saved us all from cable market loss!” Sam joyously exclaimed.

“But Overkilleus, what have we done to receive such a gift, how have we proven our worthiness to you?” implored Wolf Blitzer in his best Hugh Downs voice.

“Hey, can it, Cable Boy, I still have a follow-up question,” snapped Sam, the ferret on his head snarlingly nodding in agreement.

Overkilleus put his mighty hands between the two men and pushed them apart, frightening the ferret, which lunged for a boom microphone that swung down and hit Wolf in the forehead, reproducing his legendary forehead knot from a hastily prepared live feed from the Pentagon during Desert Storm.

“That’s not fair! Now everyone’s gonna watch CNN to see Wolf’s knot!” screamed Sam as he wrestled to break the ferret’s grip on a transmission cable. “No one will see or hear my from-the-hip, take-no-prisoners drivel!”

“Now, now, Sam,” Overkilleus lovingly consoled him, “Don’t you worry about those ratings. I’ve got Allyson Floyd and Nina Sossamon on your lead-in locals, you’ll get your ratings.”

“Oh, bless you, bless you, Overkilleus,” Sam blurted out as he began weeping uncontrollably again. “What can I ever do to show my appreciation for your generosity?”

“Lose the ferret,” Overkilleus said as he helped a stunned Wolf to his feet.

“Cut me, cut me, Nick!” Wolf deliriously begged a nearby sound engineer. “I’ve gotta do this for Adrianne! YO ADRIANNE!”

“Come on, Wolfie,” chortled Overkilleus as he steadied the cable icon and unwrapped his earpiece from his trench coat epilets. “Let’s go call Connie Chung and pretend to be Newt’s mom blistered on Tequila!”

There was a time when war was taken seriously by everyone. Editorial opinions and political cartoons were just as abundant, but they didn’t consume our every waking moment, and we stayed focused on the gravity of the matter. Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite didn’t trivialize the news, they just reported it.

I distinctly remember the birth of ABC’s “Nightline” with Ted Koppel. The Iranians had just stormed the American Embassy and taken the hostages. “Nightline” began as a crisis-coverage production, slated to disappear with the hostages’ release. But as the ordeal dragged on, the world witnessed the advent of the “Crisis du Jour Logo”, complete with immediately recognizable theme music. Theme music – for a crisis update. Oy vey …

Well, I guess it served its purpose in preparing us for the ‘90s. CNN’s haunting string-laden orchestral little number, created exclusively for that judicial travesty known as “O.J.’s Day Off”. No kidding, I actually read in one of the national news magazines at the time, one reporter’s description of the music, something like “the violin’s high, soaring melody symbolizing Nicole’s and Ron’s tragic deaths, contrasted by the cello’s low, ominous presence, representing O.J.’s dark and ominous alibis. OY VEY.

Oh yeah, someone explain this one to me, ‘cause I’m really having problems with this one. During World War II, did we announce to the entire world our military strategies, troop placement options, time tables, troop numbers … stuff like that? Did we ever notify the Axis powers that we were running a little low on specific bombs? Did we send the enemy our public opinion poll results? Or was “Loose Lips Sink Ships” just a clever Yankee propaganda slogan?

Today, if we’re sending in F-117A stealth jet fighters, there’s a blueprint rendering of the plane, complete with vital stats like range, armament, top speed, etc., filling in the “blue screen” over the news anchor’s shoulder, followed by a video clip of where the plane is based, meeting the people who built it, interviewing townspeople on how they feel about “their plane” engaging in such a dangerous mission. And sometimes, they even feature the pilot, time permitting.

Unless, of course, the pilot is shot down and captured, or as has happened as this is being written, soldiers are captured by the enemy. Then you’re gonna learn just about everything there is to know about them. Less than 24 hours after their capture, each of the three American soldiers had their bruised, stoic faces boxed in the color-coded graphic, offering little personal facts about each one’s high school years, favorite music, favorite hobbies … Reminds me of that bio on the gatefold pages of the Playmate of the Month. And that bothers me.

As the NATO strike against Milosevic’s thugs became imminent, Serbian TV psyched up the faithful by broadcasting “Wag The Dog”. Can you imagine that? Frothing up the dogs of war by comparing their impending punishment to a fictitious yarn about a U.S. President fabricating a war in the Slavic Theater of Operations.

I can’t fathom anyone being that desperate to bolster their venom and hatred here in America.

No matter how self-serving, self-feeding or self-glorifying the media becomes, Americans must tolerate it. Regardless of sensationalism or hyperbole or rhetoric, underneath the high-tech production values and eccentric profound revelation lies the very soul of freedom and a free society. Our system isn’t perfect, and may never be without faults – but the beauty of it is that we can change it, if the people so desire. We have the means to change without civil disruption and mayhem, and we call it Election Day. In Kosovo today – as in Bosnia before – Milosevic has not only taken away the Kosovar’s rights, he’s taken away their existence, their lives.

My father served in World War II, a war in which this country heroically committed its sons and fathers, with patriotic determination and complete unity, and ultimately prevailed. My brother served in Viet Nam, a war in which this country tragically committed its sons and fathers, with no stomach for the price of victory and in complete disarray and division back at home, and ultimately failed. The lives of over 50,000 Americans – 50,00 brave and honorable Americans – were sacrificed for a pointless end game, which consisted of no end game.

So, we have two distinct choices to make as Americans. We can continue to lead the world in promoting what is right, because there are some things worth fighting – and dying – for. Or, we can stick our heads in the sand and let the rest of the world fend for themselves. The main drawback to that decision is that one day when we feel a tap on our shoulders and pull our heads up, we’ll find the world overrun with Slobodan’s and Saddam’s soulless followers. Then we would have to kill for the sake of killing, not for the sake of freedom.

Whatever direction our involvement takes, I hope the American people take a united and fervent stand. My personal wish is for some unforeseen intervention – say, the President of Brazil hosting a peace conference where warring leaders could samba their differences away, or even the realization of the prophecies’ accounts of the Tribulation (since we are in the final days of the millennium).

If it’s not the latter, I would look forward to a future encounter between Overkilleus and Arthur Kent, NBC’s “Scud Stud” from Desert Storm, who zoomed from star to oblivion following the Gulf War.

“Oh man, Overkilleus, I can’t believe you’ve called me after all this time!” an uncontrollably excited Kent would gush. “So, what’s the assignment? Beirut? Rwanda? China?”

“No, I have a much bigger task for you, Arthur,” Overkilleus would say, lowering his voice in importance ass he puts his arm around Kent’s leather-jacketed shoulder. “I want you to find out the truth about something the world needs to resolve.” Overkilleus slowly looks up at a map on the wall. “I want you to go here,” he says as his points out Washington, D.C.

“Wow … D.C. … So, what is it? The President? Congress? The Supreme Court? PACs? Sex scandals?” Kent babbles excitedly.

“A ferret.” smiles Overkilleus.
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The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, April 8, 1999.
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Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Cat’s-Eye Of The Hurricane


By Brian M. Howle

Besides being a “graphic rabbit” (i.e. graphic artist), musician and writer, I pride myself in being an all-around handyman who dabbles in tinkering around with inventions. After years of collecting various electronic components, wires, relays, circuits, tubes and generally what others would consider junk, I recently put the finishing touches on what I believe to be my greatest accomplishment: The Universal Cat Translator.

For the past two years, I have worked tirelessly on my little project during the time between magazine deadlines. It was a hard, time-consuming labor of love sandwiched between pounding out this publication, but as mid-September approached I had finally realized my dream . About the size of a Walkman personal stereo, it contains a standard hard drive found in most computers, capable of recording days of information on a set of AA batteries. While the technical aspects are fairly commonplace, the breakthrough coup de gras was my unraveling the mystery of the cat vocabulary. Most people probably think that cats have a very limited vocabulary, consisting primarily of “meow” and the more emphatic “meow, dammit.” But no one was more surprised than I when I stumbled upon the longlost scrolls of feline phonics while mindlessly surfing the net one night. Akin to decoding hieroglyphics and binary codes, it was an amazingly easy process once I got the hang of it.

I was all set to begin the necessary patent paperwork to share my invention with the world when big, bad Hurricane Floyd decided to put the fear of God into every reasonable human being on the entire eastern seaboard. I set about boarding up my parents’ house at Pawleys Island, removing furniture and household items so as not to relive the horrors experienced by Hugo ten years earlier. Then I repeated the same procedure for my landlady, and finally again for my own apartment. After the last sheet of plywood was nailed up and the yard missiles put away, there was one final task to undertake before I could join the mass exodus of evacuees. I had to round up my little herd of cats – all eighteen of them.

With my array of portable cages securely tied down in the bed of a pickup truck, I covered them with multiple tarps as the first wave of feeder bands from he approaching storm began their ominous onslaught. Ready to roll, I made a last dash through my apartment, gathering up clothes, cat food and kitty litter for the journey inland to the safer confines of Columbia and my beloved. On my way out the door, I grabbed the Cat – Translator and tossed it into the back of the truck – but not before turning it on for the long ride ahead of me. The following is the transcript of my journey, as my kitties chatted among themselves. To clarify who is who, here are the names of my little ones:

Anastasia: Matriarch of the bunch; older, wiser and less prone to freaking out in a crisis; solid black.

Romaria: Oldest daughter of Anastasia; large, lithe, a stately lioness among her peers; bluepoint silver.

Alexander: Oldest son of Anastasia; plush but muscular, dominant male but too sweet to exploit his position; solid black.

Samantha and Sabrina: Twin daughters of Anastasia; one mellow, one devilish; gray tabbies.

Othello and Mercutio: Twin sons of Romaria; noble and kind, they emulate their uncle Alexander; solid black.

Delilah and Monique: Twin daughters of Romaria; soft and supple, they mirror their mother’s grace and style; blue-point silver

Alanis: Youngest daughter of Anastasia; overly-hyper and harboring angst towards any male, but kind at heart; black with white chest.

Guinivere and Lola: Twin daughters of Samantha; slightly wilder than the rest when excited; blue-point silver.

Chanel: Youngest daughter of Anastasia, quiet and calm, but constantly bedeviled by her children; gray tabby.

Howard, Robin, Jackie and Fred: Chanel’s kids, unmercifully rowdy and curious, with irreverence for their peers; black, silver and gray tabbies.

L.C.: My housecat, oldest of the bunch, completely anti-social and having nothing to do with the rest, has a real attitude but is daddy’s little babycat and knows it; orange and white tabby.

Now that you know the players, here is their story as it unfolded:

Anastasia: QUIET?CHILDREN! Stop that screaming! It’s drivin me crazy!

Alexander: But, mom, we don’t know what’s going on! Why did daddycat put us in these little boxes? And where are we going?

Alanis: I don’t care where we’re going, I just don’t want any of you boys near me.

Othello: Shut up, Alanis, no one is even slightly interested in you in the least.

Alanis: Oh sure, I’m so sure … that lying Tom from down the road said the same thing before he dumped me after he got what he wanted. You men are all the same!

Romaria: Alanis, we’ve all heard this before; please don’t shout like that, it just upsets the kids.

Alanis: IT’S LIKE RAYEEE-AINN, ON YOUR WEDDING DAY …

Mercutio: That’s because it IS rain, dumbass!

Monique: Hey … isn’t that ironic, don’t ya think?

Guinivere: Mom, Grandma … Why is the ground moving?

Samantha: I don’t know, darling, maybe your grandmother knows.

Anastasia: Yes, Gwinney, I do know … It’s because daddycat is taking us to a safe place until this storm is over. And tell your sister to come down from the ceiling.

Guinivere: Lola, Grandma said to chill out and come down here.

Lola: GROUND DOESN’T MOVE, I TELL YA!

Sabrina: I’ve heard stories from west coast cats about the ground moving, Lola.

Delilah: That’s probably because west coast cats smoke catnip, Sabrina.

Jackie: SOMEBODY’S HOLDING CATNIP?

Robin: You wish, Jackie!

Anastasia: QUIET! I don’t want to hear anymore about that!

Romaria: Sam, Dee, not in front of the kids, OK?

Howard: I’m just waiting to see some hot lesbo cat on cat action here.

Anastasia: HOWARD! WATCH YOUR MOUTH!

Robin: Grandma, Howard’s obsessed with that, you know.

Howard: Ooofa!

Fred: Ooofa!

Chanel: Boys, BOYS … please, please don’t upset your grandmother.

Monique: Excuse me … Grandma, you never said why the ground is moving.

Anastasia: Monique, darling, daddycat put us in his ironcat, and now he’s taking us to a safer place, away from the storm.

Guinivere and Lola: WHAT? WE’RE IN THAT IRONCAT? HEEEELLLLPPPP!

Alexander: Gwinney, Lola, stop screaming, now. Daddycat is only trying to keep us out of the bad storm.

Alanis: But, we’ve been through storms before and daddycat didn’t put us through all this …

Anastasia: No, children, this is a terribly bad storm, much worse than anything you have ever known. It’s called a hurricane.

Othello: What’s a hurricane, Grandma?

Anastasia: It’s the worst kind of storm, darling. The humancats all fear this more than anything else. The rain comes in ferocious amounts, and the wind blows down the trees and the humancats houses.

Howard: (Peeking under the tarp while the truck is rolling along I-20) So … what’s the difference between that and what we’re going through right now?

Chanel: HOWARD! SHUT UP, YOU MORON!

Robin: Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!

Othello: (to Mercutio) Geez, she laughs at anything.

Mercutio: I know, day after day after day. It’s sad.

Alanis: Is there a dry litter box over there?

Anastasia: No, darling, just make do with what we have, now.

Jackie: GRANDMA SAID “MAKE DOO!”

Robin: Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!

Anastasia: DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!

Guinivere and Lola: Are we there yet?

Howard: Seriously … (looking under tarp again) … I don’t see the difference between this hurricane thing Grandma’s talking about and this.

Romaria: Howard, mom has explained this to you already …

Robin: Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!

Chanel: Howard, your aunt’s right … and shut up, Robin.

Sabrina: Hey! Somebody stole my lizard!

Othello: You got a lizard?

Sabrina: Lola! Did you eat my lizard?

Lola: Noophh.

Sabrina: SAMANTHA! YOUR DAUGHTER ATE MY LIZARD!

Anastasia: QUIET! There will plenty of lizards when we get back!

Howard: Hey! Look! There’s another cat in this ironcat that’s going by us!

(Everyone looks under the tarp as a station wagon pulls alongside; a snow white cat sticks his head out of a small opening at the top of a side window)

Howard: Hey! That’s Daniel Catver, Grand Catdaddy of the Kat Klax Klan!

Catver: (As the wagon passes) Wake Up, White Kitties!

Mercutio and Othello: Hey, We resent that!

Chanel: (Shaking head) Oh Lord … where’s Wayne Gray when you need him.

Anastasia: Chanel! Bite your tongue, young lady!

Guinivere and Lola: Are we there yet?

Alexander: Mom, make them shut up, please?

Anastasia: Gwinney, Lola … You ask that again and I’m coming over there and scratching your eyes out!

Fred: Ooooooo … Grandma’s gonna kick some butt!

Jackie: FRED SAID “BUTT!”

Robin: Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!

Lola: ACCCCKKKKK!

Guinivere: Ooooo, gross … Lola coughed up a big hairball.

Sabrina: Is there any lizard in it?

Samantha: Sabrina, let it go, OK?

Anastasia: THAT’S IT! I’M COMING OVER THERE RIGHT NOW!

Howard: Oh boy, the litter’s gonna hit the fan now …

Chanel: HOWARD!

Robin: Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!

L.C.: (Yawning) God, I hate outside cats.

As I pulled into my beloved’s driveway, they all quieted down and leaned against each other in a big, fuzzy ball. Eager to playback their conversation, I hastily grabbed the Translator as I ran towards the door, anxious to get out of the pouring rain.

Unfortunately, the slippery case slid from my grip and fell against the steps, disabling its recording mode. Although I was able to retrieve the above transcript, I’m afraid the Translator is beyond repair for the time being. Which is really a shame, since the trip back home the next day was in beautiful weather, and instead of the 45 MPH speed I endured in the storm, I was able to drive the posted speed limit of 70.

Now, that would have been a story to hear.
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The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, September 23, 1999
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Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

My Worst Summer


By Brian M. Howle

After recounting the joy and adventure of my days as a lifeguard over the last four issues, I began my annual fight with my memories of other summers past. The fight consists of me trying not to recall the events of certain summers in my childhood, because to this day they still put a shiver up my spine.

Mr. Troy B. Gamble Sr. and Mrs. Mary Gamble, circa '50s.

Mr. Troy B. Gamble Sr. and Mrs. Mary Gamble, circa ’50s.

The single worst day of any summer found me spending the week with my best childhood friend, “T” B. Gamble, Jr.. Named after his father, Troy, somewhere along the line the nickname “T’ came into being and stayed with him throughout his school years. For all practical purposes, we could just as easily have been joined at the hip. Wherever you saw one, you usually saw the other. We were always on the same teams (circumstances otherwise would produce bouts of pouting and false bravado), in the same patrol in Scouts, chasing the guy driving the milk truck together (in our daily raid on weaseling some free half-pints of chocolate milk), and bugging our parents to drive us out to the country club so we could take in a relaxing dip in the pool or cheat our way through 9 holes of golf. We were inseparable.

In the late ‘50s and very early ‘60s, our parents bought lots at Litchfield Beach, not far from each other. After the houses were built, it was just like it was back in Andrews – just a hundred yards or so from each other’s home. We took our first swimming lessons together from a lifeguard named Eddie at the original Litchfield Inn. Countless hours were spent mastering the art of body surfing in the ocean and sculpting massive, Atalaya-like castles in the sand; countless more were spent on our dock on the canal, slowly pulling up lines of string weighted down with scraps of meat and fishing weights as famished blue crabs hung on for dear life with one claw, while stuffing shreds of meat into their mouths with the other. They would react suddenly upon seeing the blue sky break through the murky marsh water, but not before we would skillfully swoop them up with the submerged net that was stealthily positioned nearby. Nights consisted of putt-putt golf, trampolines, skeeball and anything else we could think of to lessen the weighty burden of loose change from our parents. All in all, life was good.

In the late ‘60s, I entered a radio station contest that would award the winner with ten gallons of ice cream from an ice cream shop at Coastal Mall in Conway. Held early in the school year and requiring the writing of a poem about ice cream, my mother and teachers suggested it just might be up my alley. The big day came, and everyone was listening to mighty WKYB AM radio when the winner was announced. And sure enough, I had won.

Now all I had to do was go to Conway, present my letter of verification, and walk out with ten gallons of whatever combination of flavors my little heart desired. Only problem was, I wasn’t old enough to drive at night.

At a Valentine's Day Dance at the American Lrgion hut: (L-R, Back Row) Brian Howle, Frankie Swinnie, Jimmy Moody, David Gilleland, Bob Harper. (Front Row) Troy B. Gamble Jr., John Swinnie, Calvin Gilleland, Eddie Gilleland, and Porter Moore.

At a Valentine’s Day Dance at the American Legion hut on Main St. in greater downtown Andrews, S.C.: (L-R, Back Row) Brian Howle, Frankie Swinnie, Jimmy Moody, David Gilleland, and Bob Harper.
(Front Row) Troy B. Gamble Jr., John Swinnie, Calvin Gilleland, Eddie Gilleland, and Porter Moore.

And so, fall turned to winter, winter to spring – still no ice cream. But with the arrival of summer’s beckoning call to the beach, my frozen dairy dilemma was soon to be resolved. “T” had invited several friends, including myself, to spend a week or so at his beach house. Which spoke volumes about the tolerance of “T”’s parents. Being responsible for multiples of our little clique was a real faith-testing challenge – but Mr. & Mrs. Gamble rose to the test on countless occasions. It was there in “My Blue Heaven,” the Gamble’s beach house, where someone actually remembered something from school earlier that year – a science experiment. The actual experiment was designed to show how gases – in this case, carbon dioxide – could be used as propellants, and how the various elements and chemicals react. Well, it didn’t take long for us to figure out that if you took a two liter bottle (which in those days was glass) and put a little vinegar in it, then stuffed a tissue down in the neck with your finger to leave a small receptacle for a few tablespoons of baking soda, then screw the metal cap back on real tight and then shake it up and throw it – Viola!

You had your basic bomb.

We did it for the loud boom (which reverberated against houses from one end of the beach to the other in the dead of night); “T”’s folks pointed out the lethal shards of glass (which we overlooked, since we only did this at night and couldn’t see that part of the experiment) and put an end to our scientific pursuits.

One day the subject of my waiting ice cream came up, and something about a prize deadline. Mr. Gamble overheard the conversation and offered to drive us to Conway to collect my bounty. Curtains swayed and loose papers fluttered in the ensuing breeze created by our breakneck dash to Mr. Gamble’s burgundy Fairlane. Drunk with anticipation, we sang and laughed and generally made Mr. Gamble’s attempt at concentrating on driving a real chore. But as usual, he never complained about our rowdy loudness.

Once at the ice cream parlor, a small crisis developed when I showed the scooper-in-charge my little letter of verification. He scratched his head, mumbled “Be right back” and disappeared to the back of the store. A few minutes later, he returned with the owner. Or rather, the new owner. The shop had changed hands since the contest, and legally, I don’t think they were obliged to give me as much as a cone. But the guy was decent enough to honor my winnings, herding us behind the counter to get a good view of our choices. And our choices needed to be perfect, as the prize only came in five gallon containers. Mr. Gamble had the foresight to bring a couple of plastic coolers along, so we packed one with five gallons of vanilla and the other with five gallons of strawberry, and then poured four or five bags of ice over them.

Mr. Gamble made the ol’ Fairlane blow out some carbon on our journey back to the beach, as I nervously watched my winnings slowly melting away. When we reached the house, another frantic dash created another ensuing breeze as we raced for the freezer. All told, only a cup or two had melted, and we reveled in our victory, clanging spoons and bowls as we danced on the counter top in the kitchen. A brace of teenage boys unleashed without constraints upon ten gallons of ice cream – must be a gastrointestinal specialist’s dream come true. We celebrated late into the night, then – bloated on lactose – we retired to our bedroom suite to review the day as we listened to an unending eight-track tape of The Beatles’ White Album. A small, contented smile crossed my lips as I drifted off to sleep to the verses of “Bungalow Bill” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

A pre-1950s party, (L-R): Delbert Howle, Lorenzo Brockington, John Blakeley and Troy B. Gamble Sr. My mom, Jewel M. Howle, is above my dad. Not sure who the other ladies are; this was before his parents met and married in 1952.

A pre-1950s party in Andrews. (L-R): Delbert Howle, Lorenzo Brockington, John Blakeley and Troy B. Gamble Sr.
My mom, Jewel M. Howle, is above my dad. Not sure who the other ladies are; this was before his parents met and married in 1952.

The music played throughout the night, weaving in and out of my dreams, which were pretty intense due to the sugar coma that I was in. And then, in the middle of “Dear Prudence,” I heard my very best friend in the whole world; barely audible, seemingly distant and displaced, but crying. And not the normal, “I fell off my bike” cry, either. It was haunting in its cascade, which regenerated itself deeper and louder with each cycle.

Suddenly, I awoke to find Jimmy Moody, one of the other friends, shaking me violently and, trying to scream at me without really being loud. My eyes were open and I could see his lips moving, but the music and the echoes of the screams were still clouding my ability to distinguish anything as I fought to wake up. I think I asked, “What?” once, and the second time my friend spoke, all the sounds came swirling to a stop; all the light focused on his face; and all the words became clear.

“Mr. Gamble is dead”, he enunciated loudly through clenched teeth, trying not to be heard by those outside the room.

“What?” I repeated, as the clarity of the horrible realization gave way to a new wave of confusion and disbelief. “What do you mean? We just had ice cream”.

“No, he got up this morning and was driving back to Andrews when he had a heart attack. He pulled off the road and stopped his car, but he died before the ambulance could get there,” Jimmy quietly said as he saw my reaction beginning to set in.

Now fully awake and alert, my mind began to separate the mesh of sounds that had seeped into my dreams. The music was still playing; car doors were being slammed outside as “T”’s mother returned with our school principal, Mr. Rowell, to break the tragic news to him, as his screams of pain and loss echoed upon hearing those words – now everything gelled to unscramble the confusion.

Jimmy left to attend to something else after he was content that I was awake and aware. I remember sitting there for a few minutes, trying to cope with this life lesson and my sense of grief, for my friend – and myself – physically unable to move. Tears and light trembling abounded, and my sense of awareness was there, but nothing moved. Not my head, my arms, my legs, nothing.

And then I heard my very best friend ask, “Where’s Brian?”.

At his side in an instant, we hugged and cried and screamed out our own loss of innocence. Then his mother and Mr. Rowell came over and whispered something to him. He asked me to drive his car back to Andrews, because he was leaving with his mom right away, and it would be a few minutes before we could clean up and pack before locking the house on our way out.

There were a lot things I thought about on that drive back home. Most of them still reside within my active reminders, the ones that usually go off whenever I’m losing sight of what really matters.

“T” made a promise to himself – and to his father – to become a doctor on that day. He made it his life’s mission. And he did.

Not only did he become a doctor, who began with family practice back in our little hometown when he first graduated med school, but he became a heart specialist.

Now some forty-odd years later, he partnered in a successful family practice in Columbia, where he treated the love of my life and our sixteen-year-old son on a regular basis at the time. He now works in Kingstree with the Williamsburg Regional Hospital, as an administrator.

So on those rough, “poor me” days when I find my surroundings to be intolerable, when my opinions of others become vocal, when I just flat out become a pain in the rear, I think about my friend, “T,” and his lot in life.

And then I usually call my dad and put aside my selfishness.

(Note: Since this was written, the extra 35 years that I got to spend with my dad – that my friend did not get to have with his – came to an end in August of 2004. And one of the first calls I received – and without a doubt, the most meaningful to me – was from my friend, “T”.)
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The previous article orginally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, August 12, 1999.
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Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Let’s Call A Spade A Spade


By Brian M. Howle

Black bikers filling the Boulevard from North Myrtle Beach to Murrells Inlet for the annual Memorial Day Holiday on the Grand Strand.

Black bikers filling the Boulevard from North Myrtle Beach to Murrells Inlet for the annual Memorial Day Holiday on the Grand Strand.

(Note: Although this was written in May of 1999, it is still applicable to the mindset of the current elected officials of the City of Myrtle Beach. This Mayor’s administration and City Council passed a series of laws that effectively ran off motorcyclists of all races, creeds, religions and make of bikes from within the fair boundaries of Myrtle Beach proper. These range from aggravation laws (helmets required within the city despite the SC state law that does not) to Marxist control laws (exhaust system decible levels and examination of motorcycle original statistical information plates to confirm adherence to City code) to flat-out strong-arm tactics (denying vendors permits or limiting public access, or astronomically increasing vendor fees and reducing their allowed space). Please note: These tactics are used ONLY by the City of Myrtle Beach; NMB and the South Strand (Surfsides, Garden City, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield & Pawleys Island) do NOT endorse Myrtle Beach’s view of the bikers and the loss of the enormous revenue they generate for the local businesses AND municipalities of the Grand Strand.)

The last “braps” from the few remaining motorcyclcs become fading echoes as the massive crowds of Memorial Day Weekend ‘99 disperse and retreat to their hometowns. Our little resort town exhales a collective sigh of relief as the final hours of the traditional summer kick-off holiday draw to a close, leaving behind an avalanche of trash and debris as the only physical reminders of the much anticipated event.

And now we can start to evaluate the impact and the statistics, to assess the pros and cons, and to come to terms with the myths and the reality.

Or do we really want to?

As a life-long native of the Strand, I am very much aware of the economic DNA of our Golden Goose, and all the wonderful things associated with it. Despite our small town roots, the lifeblood of an increasing number of people depends on the unending waves of humanity that make the Strand their vacation destination. But if we’re really serious about maintaining those waves, it would behoove us all to hunker down and stare the demon in the eye. And this will, in all likelihood, be the most difficult task any of us could ever undertake, because it means looking in the mirror.

In the aftermath of previous Memorial Day weekend celebrations, some have chosen the “sky is falling” approach to confronting the masses. Under the influence of youthful inexperience or youthful ignorance, the Mayor of Myrtle Beach called upon the Governor to dispatch the National Guard to quell the impending apocalypse that he envisioned to unfold. Regardless of whether his decision was a result of political considerations or a matter of conscience, Gov. Hodges is to be commended for his decision not to pursue such a reactionary response.

Now that it’s over, let’s tally up the results and compare them with other events:

• Number of bike-related deaths from MD Bike Weekend: None.

• Number of bike-related deaths from Harley Weekend: One.

• Number of arrests resulting from public intoxication during Harley?Weekend and MD?Bike Weekend: Full statistics not yet released. (Needless to say, common sense would dictate that in both instances, the number is probably pretty high).

• Percentage of the population exasperated with traffic tie-ups from both events: 100%.

• Percentage of the population left nearly stone deaf from both events: 100%.

The particular type of display that the bikers put on that creates great consternation for the majority white, retired community that comprises the political base and city government of Myrtle Beach proper, as well a the Horry County Council.

The particular type of display that the bikers put on that creates great consternation for the majority white, retired community that comprises the political base and city government of Myrtle Beach proper, as well a the Horry County Council.

• Percentage of exposed gluteus maximuses: 100% (female riders only) Note: Comparison to Harley Week in this category would be unfair due to genetic disposition.

• Percentage of population flagrantly prejudiced: Unknown.

Oops. There it is.

Every reason imaginable has been used by officials, residents and media to make the case against the Atlantic Beach Bike Rally continuing as an annual event. That is, every reason but the one that is really the heart of the matter.

Despite incidents of similar behaviors, nobody seems to mind the overwhelmingly white Harley Week.

Despite incidents of similar behavior, no one seems to mind the overwhelmingly white invasion of golfers.

Despite incidents of similar behavior, nobody seems to mind the overwhelmingly white hordes of college students on spring break and summer vacation.

Coincidentally, no one seems to mind the overwhelmingly African American, Hispanic or Asian legions of workers who cook the meals, wash the dishes, scrub the floors, make the beds, collect the garbage and generally perform all the menial labor necessary for all of these groups – and the locals – to enjoy the good life at the beach.

This isn’t confined to the Grand Strand, or Horry County, or South Carolina, or the South, or the United States. It’s just a sad fact that anywhere there’s a white majority, you can bet that there’s an unspoken mood of uneasiness when any minority begins to congregate in large numbers.

Deny it all you want – over the last three weeks I’ve witnessed and overhead the whispers of fear from one end of the Strand to the other. Businesses have chosen to close their doors for the duration of Memorial Day Weekend. Food and beverages have been stockpiled so that there’s no need to venture out of the house. Mini-vacations and long-overdue visits to family and friends away from the beach have been scheduled. The only other event to trigger a similar response, that I’ve witnessed, is the impending arrival of the dreaded hurricane.

An increase in the number, frequency and gravity of crime along the Grand Strand - and Myrtle Beach in particular - has increased with each passing year, coming to a deadly head during the 2014 Memorial Day Weekend with multiple shootings and several fatalities from the gunfire.

An increase in the number, frequency and gravity of crime along the Grand Strand – and Myrtle Beach in particular – has increased with each passing year, coming to a deadly head during the 2014 Memorial Day Weekend with multiple shootings and several fatalities from the gunfire.

So, why don’t we just come clean and call a spade a spade, so to speak. If we’re hell bent on keeping the Coppertone folks behind the wheel of their Mercedes and Lincolns (hey, isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think?), then let’s get serious about it. I mean, if we can put white men on the moon, surely we can keep the Strand light and bright. I don’t claim to have all the answers, of course, but here are a few thoughts for our leaders to chew on:

• Since we’re already in the process of building new roads to the beach, simply install toll booths and impose a surcharge on all Japanese-made motorcycles.

• Pass new zoning laws requiring all Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises to be located west of the Waterway. Amend the law to include roadside produce stands (watermelon vendors only).

• Further amend above law to include all Taco Bell restaurants.

• Ban the sale of all 40 oz. malt liquor and MD 20/20, as well as Kool and Newport cigarettes.

• Further amend above law to include tequila and Corona beer.

• Make possession of any radio, tape deck, CD player or boom box with a power rating of more than 10 watts a capital offense.

• Require all non-whites complying with above laws to swim across the Waterway before admitting access.

• Amend above law to exclude Hispanics; replace with requirement that no vehicle contains more than 4 blackvelvet paintings of Jesus.

• Further amend above two laws to exclude Asians; replace with restrictions against anyone scoring over 1400 on S.A.T. exams.

• While we’re at it, enact zoning laws restricting the number of beachwear stores to only one within a 15-mile radius.

• Abolish the sale or possession of all Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girl or Justin Bieber albums, tapes and CDs.

• File a class-action suit against God for creating a rainbow.

• Allow the “He needed killin’” defense in confrontations that begin with “Yo, Yo, Yo”. “Que pasa?” or “Well, the way we did it up North …”

Shootings continued during the 2015 event, despite an increased presence in law enforcement. Multiple fatalities resulted from motorcycle-vehicle collisions, including this one where a trailered boat turning across an intersection was plowed into by a stolen motorcycle at over 100 mph, in daylight.

Shootings continued during the 2015 event, despite an increased presence in law enforcement. Multiple fatalities resulted from motorcycle-vehicle collisions, including this one where a trailered boat turning across an intersection was plowed into by a stolen motorcycle at over 100 mph, in daylight.

Well, I’m sure some of vou can extend this list on and on. But until the powers that be consider these options seriously, we should all extend an enormous debt of gratitude to the tireless efforts of the mini-army of law enforcement, the Friendship Committee, and all the normal folks out there who accept the world in which we live, with all of its imperfections.

Because it is the existence of these people that, in the final analysis, will prevent the Grand Strand from being compared to South Africa’s “Sun City.” And for some, replacing ignorance and prejudice with enlightenment and compassion will be too much to ask. But you could at least try. In the meantime, pass the Coppertone.

It would be mighty white of you.

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The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, June 3, 1999.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

This Is Your Brain On Bikes


By Brian M. Howle

I Survived Free Range ParentingThose little neurons that fire off signals to your brain’s memory section must have an interesting genesis. Everyone has them – but I believe some of us have more than most. While washing my car a few weeks ago, I observed a young boy venturing from the safe confines of his driveway to take that inaugural plunge into worldly freedom. His cautious, methodical peddling – tempered with momentary gyroscopic corrections to maintain balance – began to slowly increase in speed. With a determined focus, his eyes were set on the next three feet of asphalt awaiting him; bottom lip firmly in the overbite of concentration. For a few brief seconds, only he and I existed in our little corner of the world. Upon reaching the recognizable border of his next door neighbor’s yard (the grand total of about fifty feet), the realization of his first solo ride cut through the concentration. His little face lit up like a Vegas marquee, and he very carefully negotiated the U-turn maneuver. Then he began screaming to his mother, who was sweeping their garage, “Mamma! Mamma! MAMMA! Look, LOOK … I’m riding WITHOUT training wheels! LOOK!! And Mamma smiled and congratulated him, and as he hopped off his bike she gathered him up in her waiting arms and hugged him amid squeals of delight from both as they made their way inside for a celebratory treat.

I hope his mother keeps that little moment tucked away in her accessible memory, for her to retrieve and relive at her fancy. Because I know for sure the boy will.

In the few nanoseconds after they disappeared inside their home, my mind had transported me back to the day when I, too, had broken the surly bonds of stabilization assisted bicycles. No one was around that day, for reasons unknown, and I sat on the steps at the end of our side walkway, giving my training wheels the evil eye. A serious decision had to be made, and since I apparently had nothing but time on my hands (being a little kid and all), I turned my attention to my dad’s tool box. Now, this signaled two important things:

1) – I was actually motivated to do something, and;

2) – I must have been motivated to plunder through dad’s tool box without his supervision. Hey, I was five, maybe six years old – the difference between a wrench and say, a hacksaw, seemed of little importance at the time. And besides, I had already established that I had time on my hands, so the diversionary task of seeing how many sawable surfaces our yard contained didn’t ruin my time table. And days later, when dad discovered a toothless hacksaw in his tool box, I learned two more important things:

1) – Hacksaws should not be used on steel and masonry unless you use specialized blades, and;

2) – It’s hard to sit for a few days when you do.

Well, after the hacksaw lost its novelty (and its teeth), I again turned my attention to removing the training wheels. It took little while – maybe an hour or four – but I figured out which fit the nuts that held the wheels in place. With the yard littered with wheel pieces, tools and assorted items sawed from their points of origin, I climbed up on the seat, gripped the squishy plastic handlebar grips, put my head down and pushed off from the top of our driveway. A small slope led to the street, and initial inertia always helps when you’re a kid doing something for the first time. It also helps to close your eyes, which I did, and when the driveway bottomed out and the only sound I heard was the rushing wind dancing over my ears, I opened my eyes and languished in the moment of victory of self-reliance. Then it occurred to me that the rest of the world shouldn’t he denied enlightenment to this accomplishment, and I swooped into the big, wide, easy turn to head back to the house to share the news. Aglow in pride, I accepted my parents’ congratulations and encouragement as I stood beside the now tamed beast and reveled in triumph.

Not long after mastering the two-wheeler, a predictable series of events were set in motion. First, every little boy has a genetic code interwoven into his heart and soul, into his very being, that requires him to seek maximum speed in all forms of propelled movement. Second, the same DNA dictates that once top speed has been ascertained, the brain begins to crunch the numbers required to achieve release from the grip of gravity, be it ever so brief.

My friends and I began constructing ramps for free-flight jumping, utilizing such high-tech materials as bricks and two-by-fours. At this point the learning curve is very much in play, as the DNA leads us to discover some of the basic principles of physics: i.e., the concept of weights and leverage, and diminishing or increasing points of fulcrum shift – as when a board’s length exceeds the fulcrum line, resulting in your bike becoming a lawn dart. We learned that when you nail together two or more boards for a longer ramp, always make sure the nails don’t project upwards, ‘cause tires ain’t cheap. Through the painful but rewarding attempts at trial and error, we managed to ride our winged beasts a grand total of maybe four feet – that is, to assure no great injury would be risked. The big, heavy bicycles of the day were simply not destined to fly.

That all changed in the mid ‘60’s when s bicycle designer borrowed front the look of drag racing and invented the “Spyder Bike”.

The Spyder was a gleaming, sexy and seductive sight to behold. Built upon a small frame, it featured highrise handlebars (just like the hippie motorcycles), a “banana” seat with a “Sissy Bar”, a small, thin front tire mounted on an extended fork (again, just like the hippie bikes), and a wider rear tire that was akin the the dragsters’ big, fat racing slicks . The smaller wheel configuration allowed for a better torque ratio for lightning fast acceleration. You couldn’t pedal one wide open for very long, but there was one thing in particular you could do with the greatest of ease:

Pop a wheelie.

Yep, these babies were born to imitate a unicycle, no doubt about it. When I walked into the living room on Christmas morning and saw my metallic copper Schwinn Spyder, I could feel the sensation of weightlessness that awaited me. I walked around it several times, the way a dog does before it beds down, running my fingers over every inch of sparking metal. The bright copper color was offset and highlighted by tons of chrome – the rims, the handlebars, the chain guard, and the fenders; the rear of which were upturned and flared, again … just like the hippie bikes. I momentarily hesitated when urged to take it out for a ride, not wanting to soil its virgin tread. Five seconds later, I was rolling down the driveway.

Well, everyone now had a new bike, and the race was on to perfect the “wheelie”. To avoid embarrassment and humiliation, we practiced these moves alone if at all possible . After a few days of countless falls, I began to get the hang of it. Feeling confident and wanting to show off for someone, I rolled over to visit Louise, a neighbor across the street on the next block. At this point in my life, it was far less humiliating to fail in front of a girl than in front of the guys. For my sake, it turned out to be a wise move.

“Hey, Louise, wanna see something cool?” I suavely inquired as I circled around her big, clunky girl’s bike.

“If you insist,” she retorted, feigning disinterest (I’m telling you, they start that stuff early – it’s in their DNA). “What’s so cool?”

“Hey … Watch this.” I coolly stated, as I swung around behind her to position myself to pass by her in Napoleonic splendor once up on one wheel. I shifted into low gear, straightened out the front wheel and then stood up on the pedal and kicked down; simultaneously pulling back on the handlebars to attain the proper alignment of balance. I was about to learn that the code did not always prepare you for “variables” in the quest for bicycling bravado personified. I failed to allow for adrenaline.

Wanting not just to impress my friend but to absolutely stun her with my ability, I was a little too “pumped” for my wheelie premier. I kicked far too hard, pulled back far too quickly, and proceeded to virtually propel myself backwards into the unforgiving street. The bike shot up in the air as I tried to impale myself – or rather, the back of my skull – into the asphalt. This was not a fall; this was the equivalent of having Mickey Mantle use your head for T-ball batting practice. Completely and utterly disoriented (which I later learned is normal when experiencing a concussion), my one and only coherent thought became inexplicably twisted between thought and spoken word.

“Bike, get my Louise out of the street!” I shouted repeatedly, as I stumbled through the world of cartoon birdies swirling around my immediately aching little head. Louise obliged and rolled my bike over to her yard, then she walked back over to me. I was still trying to get my brain to stop sloshing around my head, but I could sense her growing concern over my well being.

“Brian, you should get out of the road, a car might come by,” she implored, constantly checking both directions as she leaned over me.

“Bike, I am doing what do you think?’ was the best I could manage as I was beginning to abandon any attempt at cohesive thought and speech in favor of moaning in searing, dull pain.

I eventually crawled off to the side of the road and lay prone in Louise’s yard for about half and hour. Shortly after regaining the ability to speak, I struggled to my feet, collected my bike and bid Louise good day. I wobbled back to my house, parked the bike and took a very long nap.

Some time later, I did finally master the wheelie, and would ride with my friends for blocks, all of us peddling along on the back wheel. This soon grew boring, and while sipping on a Coke at Reynolds Drug Store one day, I was thumbing through a car magazine when I came upon it picture of a motorcycle jumping over a car. The shot was taken just as the bike was leaving the ramp, and as I looked at the picture and then looked at my bike parked outside, a little light went on inside my slightly dented head.

I immediately proposed my hypothesis to my colleagues, and we raced back to our neighborhood to dust off the old ramp building materials. In a jiffy, we had the ramp up and ready; not too long, not too steep. Since the revised concept was my baby, I was allowed the first attempt. With the imprint of Farr Ave. still freshly embossed on my head, I envisioned the jump before making the attempt. I took long, deep breaths; I reminded myself not to kick the bike out from under me before I had even started; I lined up the ramp and the landing ramp (oh yeah, we were confident: a full six feet away, with the same degree of incline as the takeoff ramp) and saw myself sailing heroically across the great chasm and landing softly but safely on the other side. I shook out my fingers one last time, grabbed the handlebars and started for the approach. Speed was good, alignment was good, and right up to the point of being airborne, everything looked good. However, once again, adrenaline missed the pre-jump meeting and showed up at the worst possible time.

Just as I reached the top of the ramp, I gave it it little extra “umph” to get me across. I didn’t account for that “umph” coinciding with the rear tire leaving the ramp at the exact same moment. With no resistance against it, the wheel spun freely – and all the force I put into that foot pushing down continued. But without the ground to stabilize it, the bike pulled up under me, as my foot shot off of the pedal and directly into the rear spokes, where my foot was an unwelcome intruder, responsible for removing roughly half of the spokes before stopping. In the fractions of a second that this all occurred, the pain of that intrusion paled in comparison with that which came with touchdown. Now having some surface to grip and counteract the direction of my foot, the wheel reversed itself at the speed of light. It snatched the full weight of my body forward, which pulled my foot through the other half of the remaining spokes. All in all, considering the foot wasn’t actually severed from my ankle or anything, it was pretty cool.

The worst accident I ever had came while I was alone. For some reason I had decided to break out into an all out sprint on my bike. I was standing up on the pedals, leaning forward, pumping my legs furiously as I labored to breath and maintain top speed. I was leaning forward so far, my chin was only inches from the front wheel. And then, the single most surrealistic thing I ever witnessed took place. As I peddled and hung forward over the handlebars, I looked straight down. Unbelievably, and for a brief few moments seemingly suspended in slow motion, I watched in horror as the wheel disengaged itself from the front fork, and with the next pedaling motion that resulted in a slight pull upon the handlebars, it made its way free from the fork and proceeded to pull ahead of the bike.

My small, battered little brain was still trying to process all this when the front fork fell victim to gravity and dug into the old, craggy pavement. I had my eyes open, but remember none of the next minute or so. I knew I was stunned, and I knew that I had just had a pretty bad accident, but I was relatively calm. The whole thing took place a street over from mine, in front of my best friend “T'”s house. Running on emergency backup circuits, my brain guided me to their door, where I politely knocked and waited for Mrs. Gamble to let me in. When she opened the door, she took one look at me and turned white as a sheet, and started muttering those “mom” things that always include a lot of “Oh, Lord “ and “Help me, Jesus “ mixed in there. Confused by her reaction, I stepped back from her as she attempted to put a towel to my forehead. “Let me wipe some of this off, Brian,” she said while trying to steady me, “let me get a good look at it.”

“A good look at what?” I wondered to myself, “What on earth is she talking about. And what’s this warm stuff running down my face and neck?” I reached up – for the first time since the wreck – and felt my forehead. It stung a little, no big deal. And then I looked at my hand and saw the blood. I had finally gone and done it – split my head wide open. At that moment, all of my other senses – especially the one that detects pain – kicked in.

People came running from up to six blocks away, each seeking the source of the mega-decibel screams. My brother, sitting on the walkway steps to my house – no more than 200 feet away – was oblivious to the sound. He and a friend wandered over only after noticing the small crowd gathering in Mrs. Gamble’s driveway. I vaguely remember the trip to Dr. Harper’s office: punctuated by the very strong recollection of receiving stitches while Dr. Harper spun his unique bedside manner that we all came to know and love: “Now, I’ll ask one more time before I close this up … You’re sure he didn’t leak any brains out there in the street, did he? ‘Cause I know this boy, and he’s gonna need all he can get”. Dr. Harper hovered over me, peering over his horn-rimmed glasses and desperately balancing a chewed and worn cigar between his teeth as he looped the sutures shut. “Does that hurt?” he queried, stopping for my answer. I nodded in the affirmative. “Good”, he said as he leaned back in for another stitch, “that means you’re gonna live”.

Sometimes, when I watch how our children now stay glued to the television, video game, computer, cellphone or personal digital device, I worry the simple joy of riding – and crashing – a bicycle might disappear for their world. And that would truly be a shame.

Because nothing prepares you for life like a bike.
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The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, March 9, 2000.
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Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 
 
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